Soliloquies Anthology 23.2
Copyright © 2019 Soliloquies Anthology Soliloquies Anthology retains first North American Serial Rights. Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or website review, no part of this anthology may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Manufactured in Canada Printed and bound by Caïus du Livre Design and layout by Bronwyn Carere Photo by Das Sasha on Unsplash Soliloquies Anthology, c/o Concordia University Department of English 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8 ISSN 1496-4910 (Print) ISSN 2369-601X (Online) soliloquies.org We would like to acknowledge that Concordia University is located on unceded Indigenous lands. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters on which we gather. Tiohtiá:ke/ Montreal is historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. Today, it is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other peoples within the Montreal community. Written by Concordia University’s Indigenous Directions Leadership Group in 2017
Contents 7 8
E d i t o r i a l Te a m Foreword
Po e t r y 13 14
Shugofa Danesh LĂŠo-ng Distance Joshua Sassoon Orol Trans Girl at the National Gallery Shaatnez Kalie Palmer Clean Summer
Birdie Bergeron Bahay
Sherre Vernon In Nebraska
Hannah Korbee things the moon has been Ilona Martonfi The Facility Black Rain Catherine Ragsdale Valencia Maggie Odom kiss through osmosis
24 25 28
Stacey Park Open Hand
Ann Huang In the Desert of Eternity
Dorian Bell hand summernote v folding
Katherine Westbrook Aloe Vera
Fict ion 39 49 55
Elizabeth Wing Morbid Curiosity Heather Nolan How to Be Alone on Boulevard Saint-Laurent Clare Chodos-Irvine The Thing
Hanna Allan mosquito in a frenchmanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ear
Rose Quacker Getting Rid of Freckles
Non-Fict ion 79 83 95
Jancie Creaney A House in Hudson Leah Mueller The Desert Visitors Hunter Therron Shit-talking Before the Apocalypse
Jude Thornberry My Gun
F Cade Swanson Letting Go
Editorial Team Editors-in- Chief Gabrielle Crowley RaphaĂŤlla Vaillancourt A rtistic Director Bronwyn Carere Managing Editor Nicole Harris Po e t r y E d i t o r s Elena Dakka Paige Keleher Faith ParĂŠ Abby Stewart Prose Editors Celia Caldwell Avelynne Kang Lynn Sharpe Anabelle Zaluski On line Content Editors Brenda Odria Hania Peper Socia l Media Editor Bea Keeler 7
Foreword It’s been another busy year, and this semester has flown by— as they always seem to do. The climate in the Concordia English and Creative Writing Department continues to be fractured and frustrating, to say the very least. Among the blur and business, it is the glimpses of words, snippets of sentences, brief passages of poems and stories that stick. Endless thanks and support to all who continue to write, make art, and push back. This year, Soliloquies received an incredible number of submissions across both issues of the journal, receiving over 375 submissions for issue 23.2 alone. It made deciding what would go into the journal difficult, but we couldn’t be happier with what we’ve chosen. In these pages you’ll find awkward stage kisses, familiar moon cycles, and a Walmart in Nebraska. You’ll read stories involving really bad nudes, a sour cream freckle treatment, and a rather curious mosquito. Thank you to all who submitted to Soliloquies this year. Thank you for sharing your work with us. Thank you to our local contributors for reading at our launch event and for making the evening all the more special. Thank you to the Arts and Science Federation of Associations for your continued financial support. This year, Soliloquies was thrilled to be able—for the first time—to offer compensation to contributors who read at our launch events. Far too many creative pursuits lack proper compensation, and while this is a small step, we hope that it will be the first towards a more accessible future of sustainable creative work. Many thanks to the Concordia Association for Students in English, and to all of our Soliloquies staff for your work and dedication. Thank you especially to Bronwyn Carere, our
wonderful artistic director, for taking beautiful words and giving them an equally beautiful home. Spring is coming, reader. We would say it is already here, but Montreal always has one last snowstorm up its sleeve, that hits just when you think winter is finally over. So enjoy the sunshine and the warmth. Find a blanket and a fresh patch of grass. Let these stories and poems fill you up and unfreeze your bones from the brittle winter. Happy reading.
Gabrielle Crowley & RaphaĂŤlla Vaillancourt Editors-in-Chief
Léo-ng Distance When I returned home, my brother told me: “He’s an imaginary friend.” He says that long distance relationships Are sinking ships Fighting waves of miscommunication Heart strings tied to an apparition I remember We sketched each other under the moonlight I imagine my drawings litter your room now, Scattered like autumn leaves Or folded in between books. The smell of Aleppo soap, A scent I previously despised, grew on me It became my way of finding you in the dark Until we smelled the same Summer nights with a forest view The air is crisp The cicadas stopped singing long ago, But our summer isn’t over. 67 days in counting, Paris —> Montreal Our time zones will be the same.
Joshua Sassoon Orol
Trans Girl at the National Gallery I never got to roll my eyes at Georgia O’Keefe and her colourful vaginal blooms because I was too busy improvising prayers— may it be a simple truth that not everything is unyielding, erect, and unwept as me.
I can’t figure out why the boys in Hopper’s Ground Swell stare at the crests, the tilting iron channel buoy, the hard blue line of horizon, why stare at anything other than her wide, white back. Straight men crave women in a way that’s never about finding one more black box full of dress up, one quiet closet where lace goes unremarked.
Joshua Sassoon Orol
Shaatnez And your clothes the mixture Shaatnez Do not let it come upon you (Vayikra 19:19)
ובגד כלאים שעטנז לא יעלה עליך ()ויקרא יט יט
You already know the bible bans linen with wool and how much I care about such silly archaics so you must know too that I’m weaving this miniskirt hemming this crop top with no intention of wearing either I say Doesn’t matter if I wear the right clothes they’ll strip me every time and you, Beloved Abomination wrap yourself in my forbidden scarf and pour for us both one glass from a blended wine
Clean Summer the morning we woke in the car to the rain and the mosquitos on our neck i knew i was afraid then of coming back but you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look that much different than home itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s late enough to climb down and knock on the walls in code using our hands to tell each other: it feels light to be by your side to meet tender between your teeth to peel you like the oranges my mother fed me as a child all the comfort you keep soft and tucked under your rib, where i grab when i am most afraid of the dark call me your favorite name, the one you say when no one else is listening ask me if it is not too much to stay, to come home and make me holy when the light looks strange
I am your niece, I am your pamangkin. I am called Urduja but I want to be Maria, too. I am trying so hard to hold onto that bitterness, spit up our Panay history, but I’ve fallen in love with a bloodless Spaniard, I have never been so sorry.
I am your eldest daughter, I am your panganay. I am a heathen I am a bore I am Iloilo painted across California. Call me Judy, Esther, Raquelle, Rebecca in that order and sometimes backwards. I can’t seem to find my capital anywhere but Staples in English English English. I haven’t seen myself in so long.
I am your mother, I am your naynay. I named you Maria, tossed you religious girls into the ocean, watched you swim to America, mouths full.
I am your granddaughter I am your Apóng babae too white to be Pinoy in anyone else’s eyes but I am all Tagalog and all Visayas and all legs and all collarbones and no one will believe me in English in “Filipino” in tag-a-log in Québécois and I am completely lost upon myself while you stare at a wall and think in no language.
I am your sister, I am your ate. The Philippines don’t recognize us, the US can’t name us—we are in a jewelry box, Pearls of The Orient strung around someone else’s neck.
In Nebraska In Nebraska, I ask the woman behind the Walmart counter for something to stop the spotting. She looks at me like I’m too old for leggings, too far East for these tattoos. She’s right. I’ve been chasing this poem across the plains, through towns without a heartbeat, at gas stations synonymous with wakefulness and hunger. Now, I’m chasing you, too. My body seems to be saying I have to choose. She says there’s nothing to help but rest and water, and can’t I stop for a bit? There’s a hotel up the street, and I should let my husband drive. I want to tell her that I’m out here all alone, that I’ll be thirty-nine by the end of the week, and that your father is sleeping in the concrete blooms of a city that is suffocating me. That splitting and growth are the terms of your conception, that I have spent a decade as still and silent as the highway through the Kansas plains and only now have you considered arrival. I want her to know that tomorrow a good-ol’-cop will pull me over, and I’ll say I want to turn around, but I’m due for this retreat, that I’m terrified of the way the trucks block the view and the left lane is so much leaner. That by the ocean, we read by the light of the left. How he’ll tell me that alive is safest but he’ll cut me a break and knock it down to 75, and have a good day. I’ll say
thank you, grab the water, head back to the car. Thinking how foolish I am to risk this, how selfish to want the sunlight and the stars, and the sleeping bag in the trunkâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and you.
things the moon has been A lost toenail A coffee ring An upper row of yellow teeth A grapefruit slice A pock marked cheek A cue ball An ink splotch A bloated bag in the ocean
The quiet vigil beside a robotic body. Eldest daughter in the psychiatric ward. Still I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t tell her about the spotted t-shirt, stale pizza in the refrigerator. Acrid odour of cat litter. Flat-faced white Persian cat. Her possessions. The crinolines in the style of the fifties from her teens. I remember music blasting from a boombox. Unfinished canvases. Boar bristle brushes, tubes of acrylic. The skips in language. Monosyllables catching the moon through the glass. I created a shadow box. I went to cut lilacs in the walled garden. Used a double key to get back in. I cut an old cloth-bound book and put the blossoms into the book. By night I compiled a dictionary: spaced out. Filthy. Lazy. Aged thirty-three. As she battles a chronic immune system disease, pulmonary sarcoidosis. Fatigue. Dry cough. Melancholic depression. Hum of traffic on Decarie Boulevard near Monkland Avenue. Codes for a locked door. Daughter admitted for psychotic episode.
Black Rain Kamishibai, street theater storytelling, is conducted as part of an ongoing campaign to promote world peace. Yoko Shizuka created a kamishibai based on the story of her sister, Keiko, who died in Nagasaki. School books ignite I could not see. Even my hands. Rice fields dark green Nagasaki 11:02 a.m. August 9, 1945 roof tiles, iron and glass could look south to the sea bluish-white light mulberry trees on the island of Ky ĹŤshĹŤ caught in the black rain claw-like fingers skin coming off, holes where eyes had been it must have been night I headed toward a hill. The children were crying. I need to find you, Keiko.
Valencia For Becca We walked like that for a while, children with orange peel grins. I made my eyes wider to show you I was really smiling. It wasn’t just pithy teeth and the wax used to make the fruit shinier. In the gardens, duller teeth hung from trees. You tried to peel one and taste sweet but they used these mouths for marmalade, more bitter than the white we stroked with our tongues. We knew men would come in the spring to haul them into baskets for a great gossip. Chattering teeth, smashing gums into sugar, like how your mother showed us in the kitchen. The steam would burn our eyes, but it didn’t count as crying. We walked with gleaming mouths, shot round oranges into hoops, snapped tender fruit into thin training bras. When we took our teeth out we could still make oranges out of the circle in our eyes. We grew. We know how to look at each other now— how to make the other eat.
kiss through osmosis
like step two the sound. (cue a thousand movie smooches / upon further consideration, cut this) i
enter two young girls, give or take a few sweet summers. step one the shaking. tender tremors, letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s talk through this shall we? set the scene center stage with sticky sweat and crushed up coke cans like cherry lipstick (we are too young for lipstick, too old for cherry pits between our two front teeth, stick a tongue there instead)
(or, how to direct a stage kiss for the first time when you yourself have not kissed anyone in your life and you yourself are a gangly high school theatre geek utterly overwhelmed by the idea of true love)
step [whatever we are on], there are things you have never noticed, things they never show on a tv screen, like hand position and head position and leaning and leaning and i wonder, how
for example step three, exhale the shakey idea that this is reality (or, rain on the chalky line between all that is you and all that is not you) and unshield yourself from the sight of innocence entering and exiting the body all in one breath
watch her lilac whisper â&#x20AC;&#x153;this is my first timeâ&#x20AC;? there are some things in this life that cannot be scripted
and the observation, for the first time, that you have a future.
and what do you say when they are going and going and suddenly, there is the wonderful feeling that your life is an open mouth,
do you breathe, and more importantly, how do you quantify the success of a moment that is not truly yours to begin with,
Open Hand As a child, it took zero to nothing for me to strike any moving/immobile/unlucky thing or being. The impulse—like a demon/a maestro—raised my hand from the dead. Each time I hit, my mother hit back: the arbiter of conflicts (me vs. whatever), My Lady of Justice—the performance of punishment, the drama, the build-up of it all was kind of— beautiful/painful. I knelt, presenting my palms before her like a soldier returned from battle. The ruler came down like a clap. She said use your words—like that, a knight/a brute who traded fist for speech. So for a while I thought the word was more valuable than the action. Because it compelled someone to act, to believe a truth to be a truth. But how do I speak before molding what’s spoken into a shape I want? Out of anger, I want to spew tacks. Out of love, wrap someone in a pashmina. How could I send each syllable to land on a target? The years were slow to reveal the sticky trail of each utterance that ever left me, printing my insides in invisible ink—I don’t need to read it all to know whatever I said/I say is both in/out of me, whatever leaves me will be heard/ or not and the transcript will fall short of what I meant/ what I ever mean and intention is buried in marrow, pumping through vessels. I hold my palm to my ear, trying to hear how my language sounds before it’s born.
In the Desert of Eternity after Joan Miroâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s The Singing Fish Drain your teapot, a future will be your emptiness throughout. As smooth as a feather, you will be deemed smooth at its branch. Soft what you are, you see that altogether even though will you fly from outcry, too sweet a trait, your mindâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s outreach momentarily. Then loveliest your nest thrusts, will you merge with me in the desert of eternity?
hand a way hand touches mine touches yours / now interconnect and bridge / flutter and collapse / divert in river’s belt / (tell me your pants don’t fit / that your belt loops are too small) / i slip below the cotton stream / paddle your stomach’s edge / wave the fabric you protect / wrinkled / hover your / touches mine touches yours / hand guiding wind bending / to rediscover resonant frequencies / to collect our debris and reassemble two / hands into one
summernote v a time tomato shaped / when i fed off vine and latched walls / when i hid from light and ripened june / said time has passed to plant seeds in plots of dirt / infrequently nourish responsibility / time spent in the garden is still less efficient / is still for adults of preternatural habit / who soak flowerbeds only once wrinkled / they tend to over soak / who pick petals round base of stem / chew their colours mush
folding in the event of a crash relax your neck / surrender to collapsing metal / let your body shape / beams into waves into pools / reject the natural instinct for breath / do not lose a hand / do not reach upwards / they wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t pull for life / wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t wrap you around unstained desire / only sheet / it is cold being a corpse / it is difficult folding a rectangular page into four even corners / even then / the crease bludgeoned by tracing thumb / the press and pull the stretch and bruise the crack / shattered windshield / web of obstruction / blow glass particles away from your eyes / plug your purple nose and wish / for the best
This is the chrysalis I am caught in. I murmur dreams through silk envelopes, born again as the chill of an autumn morning. All I know is that my fear can breathe; all I know is the word for this kind of dying runs my tongue with needles. Sometimes I forget things stop happening after they
The robins on the powerline clench the wire as if it were a thread of music. I ask myself what an electric current must feel when running through the body, or the rain as it cradles a grass carpet, or the thick sheets that tangle meâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;
The rain collects in every pore like blood clots. For this moment, coiled small, a silhouetted figure shaking sleepâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; I move. Water smudges the dented car hood three blocks down, and there is a caution to both of our actions.
Rain dampens everything into a lullaby, the robins feverish upon the powerline. I see myself finally, stumbling through an endless tunnel of light The body does not forget a thing like this.
The robin positions itself and begins knockingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Earthen doors collapse and the worm appears, manages a glimpse of sky, sees it for what it really is, shelled flight patterns and aimless directions.Death has visited me as shadows, as stillness.
Stop happening. An earthworm wrought to topsoil by a wad of spit. Broadcasted light on the empty stadiums. Snow falling parallel to the moon. How my chest softens with the slowing of hands or heartbeats.
Morbid Curiosity Elizabeth Wing The rain let up and it was getting dark by the time we got to the beach. Jasmine got out of the car and stretched while I unloaded the trunk. We’d stopped by Safeway and picked up donut holes, firewood, and some kind of juice thing for me and the other designated drivers. We could see the glow of the fire on the beach. Jasmine pulled on a sweater. We were both underdressed—tank tops and shorts because we’d seen a Pineapple Express on the weather report. Usually when one of those sweeps the California coast from way out in the tropics, it brings warm nights. The clouds parted above the ocean. “Clearing up,” said Jasmine. “Looks like it,” I agreed. I usually agreed with her. She was a year older than me, and a whole lot cooler. She had this black bob with bangs like a silent film Cleopatra and she played the electric cello. Our mutual friend Emma had gone missing a month earlier. There are posters at all the rest stops on the interstate. 5’1, Brown Eyes, does a bad job of describing her. The poster should say, Smells like IHOP strawberry pancake syrup, walks with her thumbs in her front belt loops, yells at pigeons. We got to the fire and dropped our stuff. “We got firewood, chaser, donut holes,” said Jasmine.
Elizabeth Wing “That sounds good,” said Joey. “There’s a dead whale down the beach. Over by the lighthouse.” Mark blew on the fire. “It reeks somethin’ boggin.” Mark was hard to read with his Glasgow patter. Everything he said sounded abrasive. Ami gave Jasmine a hug. “Earlier Ari was all like, ‘let’s go check it out,’ so we went over there but then we started smelling it and I was like, ‘I don’t fuck with this,’ okay, so we left. It’s pretty disgusting.” Jasmine dropped her bag heavily. “Okay, then. Anyone want donut holes?” She introduced me to her friends. They were all two years older than me, one year older than Emma. I’d seen them around but it was my first time officially hanging out. “This is Lil,” she said. “She just graduated.” I liked that none of them slapped me on the back. They just nodded. “You guys meet at school?” asked Mark. I sighed. “Not really. We, um—” Jasmine glanced at me. “Well—” “We met through Emma.” We talked about what we’re all doing next year. Ami and Ari and Joey were moving up to Portland. That means a certain script of barista-ing and dating girls from Lewis & Clark and trying halfheartedly at community college. Jasmine would be working in the music shop in Garberville and living at home. Mark talked vaguely and
Fiction hopefully about Colorado. I was the only one headed to college. It was a little awkward. “Someone tell a scary story,” said Joey, taking a swig of the juice. “Nafty,” said Mark. “Stop drinking that. It’s for the DDs. You want a nip of it, Lil?” I shook my head. Someone told the Russian sleep experiment story and someone told a hitchhiker story and someone told one of the many variations of the ditzy-babysitter-with-stalker-upstairs story. Then we poked the fire with sticks. We tried burning salt grass too, but the smoke made Ari and Ami cough. Jasmine dropped her sweater to cuddle closer with Joey, which morphed into making out. I popped another donut hole in my mouth. The sea crashed on the sand. Joey and Ami and Mark got drunk and started telling smuggling stories. “Dude,” said Ari, “there are these guys who bring sheep and goats through tunnels under Palestine.” “But sheep stay still, at least,” said Mark. “I heard about this chick who tried to bring two chinchillas through customs. In her bra.” “My favorite things,” said Jasmine, “are those smiling ceramic pigs they sell in Tijuana that people fill with weed. Like, that’s actually their only purpose. I mean, have you ever seen someone put one on their patio? No one wants a dumb pig. It’s just useful because it’s hollow.” Ami nodded. “Or instruments. Flutes, clarinets.
Elizabeth Wing Anything that’s hollow.” Joey and Mark exchanged a glance. Mark let out a sputtering laugh. Joey shook his head. “Don’t.” “I know,” said Mark. Joey took a swig of beer and kicked a little sand in the fire. “It’s nasty AF, man.” “What’s nasty?” Jasmine cozied up next to him. “It’s a crazy story and it’s not even real,” Joey said. Jasmine fingered the veins on his neck. “You didn’t have any problem telling us those creepypastas.” “Fine,” said Mark. “Think of it as a creepypasta. If you want to hear it.” Jasmine rolled her eyes. “Of course I want to hear it.” Mark cleared his throat. “So there’s this gringo American couple in Mexico, and their babe goes missing. Not a scooby where he’s gone. This mum an’ dad go to the constables, the constables begin a search. A bit later, a bloke is arrested trying to cross the border holding the wee babe in his arms. Asleep. At least, they think it’s asleepin’. When they unwrap it... well, I’m not going to go all honkin’ gory here, but suffice to say, they’d chibbed it. The babe’s body cavity had been hollowed out an’ filled with cocaine.” There was silence as we tried to figure out our responses. “Whoa,” said Ami. “Uh, okay.” “Fucked.”
Fiction “Aye, mate.” “You think it’s real?” “Not to be all social justice warrior on you guys,” said Jasmine, “but it’s interesting that it’s an American couple. Realistically, it’s way more likely to happen with a Mexican baby. There are far more Mexican babies in Mexico than American babies in Mexico. And anyway, all the American babies in Mexico are being watched pretty closely.” “But in the story, it’s American,” I said. “It’s a fear thing. Just like all the finger-in-the-soup stories. Why in those stories it’s always a Chinese restaurant.” Joey starts snickering. “What happin’?” asked Mark. “They’re being all smart about it. Now it’s, like, some intellectual shit.” Jasmine buried him in a kiss. “I dunno,” Joey said. “I bet that’s what happened to Emma.” He let out a high, nervous laugh. I looked over to Jasmine with my really? eyes, but she was already all over him again, so I got up and said I was going down the beach. No one really listened, but I waved goodbye anyway and started south towards the lighthouse. The fog and rain had packed down the sand. It was easy footing. I found a big stick. I dragged it behind me making a line. When I turned around the thick fog obscured the beginning of it. It looked like I’d been drawing it forever. I smiled, kept drawing. You’d think that all the scary stories
Elizabeth Wing from the fire would be prickling my spine, but they weren’t. It was probably ‘cause of the ocean. When you’re on the edge of infinity, it’s hard to be afraid of that kind of stuff. The wind picked up, gusting low-hanging clouds over the sea. In the breaks between the clouds, there were stars. Back in middle school Emma and I were in choir together. Every time we went to a church to sing we’d pretend to be nuns. Call each other ‘sister’ and cross our legs. Usually, we ended up laughing, but occasionally the parody would slip away and I’d feel this purity settle over me in a fine mist. Ahead, the lighthouse flashed three times. The intermittent light revealed a rough bluff, concrete pad, candy-striped shaft. And below on the beach, there was a huge dark mass of something. Throwing down my stick, I went to take a look, trotting until I reached the Thing. Fifty feet of dark, reeking meat: the dead whale. The side facing the bluff was intact: inky skin, ribbed rubbery stomach, a single flipper sticking up. The mouth lolled open and the tongue spilled onto the sand, big as a queen-sized mattress and jellified. The other side was a wreck. The blubber had been shattered over rocks till it was rubble and the sand was impaled with spears of baleen. Ribs the size of driftwood logs jutted out. Garden-hose-thick veins wound into the grooves on their sides. My anatomy textbook had shown the same thing on a clean white page. Here was the diagram in real life, the stench abysmal. The lighthouse
Fiction flashed again, illuminating every detail of the flesh. Raindrops repelled by grease pooled on the skin. I walked in a wide circle around the whale, then found a driftwood log a few feet upwind. The underside of the log was relatively dry, so I rolled it over and sat. Sat and stared at the whale. The intestines, meshed as tree roots, tangled gently with the surf. I didn’t want to look away. The smell was bad but I found myself sniffing the air again and again. The rhythm of the waves and the flashes of the lighthouse were lulling. I must have stayed there twenty or thirty minutes. Then the burst of light revealed a figure coming towards me from downwind. “Lil!” called Jasmine. “Lil!” “Over here!” I yelled. “You there?” “Yeah.” Jasmine slogged past the whale. When she got to the log I scooted over to make room for her. She sat. She was wet from the rain. “You didn’t have to do that,” I said. “I brought you a blanket.” “Thanks.” I took it and pulled it around our legs, covering us both. “You okay?” “Yeah. I think it’s a humpback. Or a juvenile blue?” “Sorry about Joey. He gets stupid when he’s drunk.” “It’s okay.”
Elizabeth Wing We sat in the quiet, then the light flashed. I tried to turn away but it didn’t work. She saw my puffy face and said, “You’ve been crying.” “Actually, I think it’s a blue whale. The fins are the right shape and everything.” “It was gross. The story and everything.” “By everything, do you mean what he said, or how you kissed him right after he said it?” I gulped. I hadn’t meant to sound so harsh. I scrambled to lighten the conversation. “So what if he’s morbid? We’re all morbid.” “I’m not morbid.” “Do you want to take a closer look at the whale?” “Okay.” We found two big sticks and started poking the chunks of blubber that had been sheared off by rocks. I prodded at the mash of intestines. On the intact side there were blisters forming under the blue skin, so I poked at one of them. “What does it feel like?” asked Jasmine. I searched for adjectives. Was it rubbery? Soft? Gooshy? But I couldn’t find any quite right, so I told her to try it herself. “It’s squishy,” she said, like she was talking about a bit of gummy candy. “I know.” “Soft.” “Yeah, kind of... pretty.”
Fiction “You think?” I nodded and poked at a small blister. It shifted under the skin. Jasmine found a dinner-plate-sized boil. Together we pressed it, soft at first, then angrily. Gritting our teeth. Daring it to do its worst. It burst. Bloody bile spouted. Jasmine winced but didn’t make a sound. I recoiled. We dropped the sticks and looked at the mess, the pus sprayed across our bare arms and legs. We both laughed for a minute. Then Jasmine said, “Okay, how do we get clean?” There was the ocean, but the waves were rough. There was the iced tea back at camp to wash off with, but Joey and Mark had probably finished it. We decided on a rainfattened freshwater spring coming out of the bluff. Water trickled into a shallow pool, ringed with yellow lupin, cress, mint. We undressed. Goosebumps ran up my skin. I slipped into the water, teeth chattering. After a minute, there was a splash and Jasmine was beside me in the pool. We looked at each other the way deer look at each other when they’re negotiating a road to cross. She grabbed a handful of wild mint leaves, and I scooped up a fist of sand and we scrubbed each other. It was cold. When the wind picked up we crawled out and wrapped ourselves in the fleece blanket. Damp skin against damp skin, trying to warm up. We redressed in the shadow of the whale, then jogged back up the beach. I felt clean. I thought about Emma and
Elizabeth Wing imagined the horrible things that might have happened to her. She was a friend and I cared. I could worry and fixate and think morbid things, and I still felt clean. When we got back to the fire we found everyone enraptured by Mark. “I read me this article in Vice the other day,” he was saying, “about these people in India called the Aghori. These loons, they do all this mad shite, like, they eat reekin’ flesh. It’s canny in a way. They find the divine in it.”
How to Be Alone on Boulevard Saint-Laurent Heather Nolan Do you ever think that the laughing children and hum of deeply engrossing conversations and chirping birds are just some background track for a movie because the real world is actually a silent morose tomb we all suffer in alone? No? Ok.
This girl I have a crush on just answered my text. Literally 6 months later. Should I give up hope Y/N?
Christ if my body has the nuance to sweat when it gets overheated, you would think I could manage a basic human interaction.
That feeling when you sit on a bench in a park but it’s uncomfortable so you want to get up and go sit on the grass but you don’t want everyone in the whole park to know you’ve got commitment issues.
Heather Nolan I went through this weird phase where I slept with way older men and one of them was in this band that I like and I went to his show recently and he didn’t remember fucking me on the couch in the green room? Which I thought was pretty rude of him.
This other older man likes to text me jokes and weird facts sometimes and some of them are pretty good. But then he said he wanted to send me a sexy pic and I was drunk and a little uncomfortable but I didn’t want to make him feel like an ass so I just said well where is it then and I guess that was a bit of a mixed message? But he sent the photo like two days later and it was of a woman sucking his dick and I can’t put my finger on it but that felt weird so I avoided him for two years.
Wasps have been circling me all week. Fucking sting me already. I’m tired.
One night me and Jessie and Derrick stole a bottle of wine from the restaurant after we got off work and we climbed up the fire escape and sat on the roof and I kept staring at the way her fingertips traced her collarbone. Or maybe I was just staring at her collarbone. I think I was kind of in love
Fiction with her but I wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t out yet back then.
When I woke up this morning there were outbound calls on my phone to a bunch of men and women that it would have been very inappropriate to booty call. Like one of them lives in Vancouver.
Did I close my tab last night?
Me and Adam were walking up Saint-Laurent a few months after Leonard Cohen died and Adam pointed out his house and I said we should drink a bottle of wine in front of it and so we did, we just drank a bottle of rosĂŠ on a bench in Parc Portugal facing the house and I left a pack of Du Mauriers on the step when we left. Ok it was one cigarette but I think he would have appreciated the sentiment.
Am I hungry or do I just have a myriad of tumors/stomach ulcers/etc.
She’s not texting me back do you think it’s because the government shut down my phone because I didn’t pay that parking ticket.
I had a dream that I was playing on a set of monkey bars and I fell straight on my back in the sand and broke my back and an old client came over and told me my newsletter sucked.
Do you think these wasps were sent from hell to punish me for using my roommate’s hair conditioner.
I feel like I will die if I have one more cigarette.
Literally is there anything worse than a restaurant full of people having a nice time.
Remember that time when a dude literally texted me a photo of another woman sucking his dick.
I was sober for 6 months once. That was 4 years ago and it’s
Fiction still my biggest accomplishment.
What the fuck does touch and go mean.
That time my friend Derrick assaulted me and my prick boyfriend at the time Bryan called me like 6 times to tell me he was a feminist and he was so angry or whatever. He never asked me how I was doing. I started drinking again after that and when my prick boyfriend Bryan saw me smoking he just said gross and when he kissed me he said gross and I said it’s a fucking coping mechanism and he looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about.
My life falls apart every time I touch it—is that the opposite of alchemy?
It’s so hard to find a good bar to drink alone at in this city.
What a prick I mean how can you be 30 years old and not know a woman who has been sexually assaulted.
On our first date I told him I was an alcoholic and he told me he was divorced like it was the same thing.
It kills me that all my memories of Jessie are with Derrick too like the three of us spent so much time together we’d get off work at 3 a.m. and go to the after hours bar until 8 a.m., pass out for a few hours and be back at work for noon. We spent every night together in that dingy bar, and then Jessie didn’t come for a few weeks and when she came out again I kept buying her shots and finally she said I’m not supposed to drink right now because I have cancer and holy shit. She said honestly it’s no big deal, it’s one of those easy routine procedures and I had no idea she was lying. I drove to Cape Breton and found her grave. It was new, I had to search for hours through the little placeholder wooden crosses ‘til I found the one with her name in faded Sharpie. Holy shit. How are you the one down there it should be me it should be me it should be me.
I always kind of skirt around losing control but I guess that depends on who you ask.
The Thing Clare Chodos-Irvine You stand on the street corner, wrapped in a large scarf and a coat that’s a bit too thin for today. You watch people, store away these observations in your little brain and think you know something about the way humanity functions. You check your watch, it’s 1:21. You wonder if anything important will happen to you today. There’s this thing about the way you are. You’re so judgemental. You smoke a cigarette, warming your insides as cold air nibbles your wrists and knuckles. You flick the almost-butt to the ground under your heel like the bug your slipper crushed this morning. You barely look up crossing the street. You walk down a short flight of stairs and push open the coffee shop door to cover up that you haven’t showered in a couple days. You’re so judgemental. You think the barista’s tattoo is ugly, an octopus wrapped around a boat with a dropped anchor on her shoulder. You smile at her through thick lips and teeth. You raise your voice when you go to order your drink from her, a holdover from your year as a waitress. Almond milk latte. Please. What size? You want to know if the barista makes her voice higher
Clare Chodos-Irvine when talking to you. Large, I guess. Four shots, if you can. I won’t charge you extra, just this once. She winks at you. You think the whole world is flirting with you. You think you’re attractive. It’s what you’ve been told and you like it. You like the winks and unsolicited comments. The old man on the subway who told you that you had great tits made you feel greasy inside, your face flush, but you liked it. The validation. You don’t tip the barista. You think almond milk is better for you, and you better for it, but you eat cheese at stupid hours of the day. Your neck is getting sticky under your scarf, the heat is cranked up in this whole city. Large almond milk latte. She smiles at you again. You step forward, scratch under your scarf and curl your hand around the paper heat. You’re sweating even though your coat is too thin for today. You push the door open and step back out onto the street. The sweat on your neck freezes immediately. Your phone buzzes in your pocket but you ignore it for now, because today you’re trying to “unplug,” trying to pretend that you don’t care about who might’ve just texted. You strut a bit down the street, aware of the way your feet move in your boots, the way your pants brush against your skin. You’ve decided to take the day for yourself, as if you deserve it. As if you have a right to spend five dollars on a drink that’s mostly sugared almond water and not tip.
Fiction You think you look good today, you think you’re a proper Montreal young artist. Starving artist with the five-dollarcoffee. Starving artist choosing to be starving. You sip the coffee. It warms your insides. You hate those women with their “But First, Coffee”, but you’re no better. You would probably be better if you were one of those women, unashamed of your caffeine addiction and basic-bitchness. But you are too judgemental of these women, who you think are just soccer moms and girls in California. You strut and you sip and your phone buzzes again in your pocket. It keeps buzzing. Hello? Hello? Mom? Hi. Oh, sorry, couldn’t hear you. How are you? You pause on the street, tuck yourself against the brick side of a building and turn your back to the wind. I’m good, how are you? Good, good. Is something up? Well you didn’t respond to my text about coming home for the holidays, so I thought I’d call. When do you want to come home for the holidays? You click the balls of your shoes against the sidewalk. You crack your pinkie knuckles. I guess the twenty-first? I have a couple finals the week before, and I don’t want leave Kate in the apartment all by herself for too long.
Clare Chodos-Irvine Are you staying through New Year’s, do you think? You bite the inside of your cheek. You should be nicer to your mother, she just misses you. You hate living in her house again because you’re an adult now and your bed in her home makes you think you’re a kid again, back in high school. Yes, I’ll stay until the first week of January. I’m sorry I haven’t bought the tickets yet, just been busy with writing. Really you’re just busy procrastinating and writing a single essay about a poem written three-hundred years ago. I’ll send the itinerary to you tonight. Dad and I’ll pay you back, just let me know how much we owe you. Thank you, mom. Starving artist with daddy’s money in your pocket and a mommy who misses you. The wind bites your ears. You didn’t bring a hat, could’ve brought the one your mother knit you, but you didn’t. It wouldn’t go with your outfit. I’ve gotta go, mom, I’m on the street and it’s cold. I love you! I love you too, sweetie! She pecks three quick kisses into the phone. Bye. The cold air turned your fingers bright red. You stuff your hand in your pocket. Didn’t bring gloves either, idiot. You fancy yourself an adult now but maybe everyone on the street looks at you in your too-thin coat and lacedup boots and lipstick and turtleneck layered under not
Fiction enough sweaters and thinks you’re just a kid playing dressup. Starving artist dress-up, complete with a Moleskine notebook in the tote-bag slung over your shoulder. Nothing about you is authentic, that’s what sits as a truth in your chest cavity. Five-dollar falsity in hand. You wish you had told your mom you’re not writing enough. That you’re worried you’re wasting your money on coffee and wine that’s sixteen dollars a bottle, because you fancy yourself an adult now and your tastes are growing. But hiding things from her makes you feel like an adult, like the lipstick does. You continue down the street, it’s a Friday early afternoon and there aren’t a lot of people out yet, at work or working, like you should be. Instead you’re strutting St. Denis. You didn’t put your headphones on today because you’re trying to take in more of the city. You burrow a bit into your coat and try to take in more of the city. Collecting fodder for some thing you’ll probably never write. The sky is bright grey, the air is cold, crisp like a glass of ice water in a mint gum mouth. Fall in Montreal is just winter. Winter in Montreal is barely bearable. Someone is walking towards you and you are so wrapped up in staring at your own feet that you don’t notice until she almost runs into you. It’s a girl from your class and she’s got an eager Hi! in her mouth and she’s clever and kind of pretty and she’s a better writer than you are and so you resent her. She’s so friendly and she says, I didn’t know you live over
Clare Chodos-Irvine here. And you return that smile with a fake grin. You say, I don’t actually, just thought I’d come over here and shop around. Cool. I love this area, it’s so nice even when it’s cold out. She’s got one of those expensive down jackets with the real fur rim and you wonder why she’d buy something so cruel. You’re shivering in your thin coat. Have you done the reading for class yet? She tucks a floating curl behind her ear and your coffee cup is empty. Not yet, I’ve been busy with other stuff. You really should stop spitting that lie at people. I thought it was really cool. You both stand and nod at each other and your neck is starting to get red because the silence is lasting a moment too long and you think she must think you’re an idiot. Well, super nice to see you. I’ve gotta run, I’ve got a date to get to. She wiggles her shoulders back and forth. I’ll see you on Tuesday! You smile without showing your teeth. Good luck. You’re desperate to get back inside for a minute because you’re weak, your body wasn’t built for anything below freezing. You push open a shop door, a door to a shop you scoff at, one you know is bad for the environment and over-priced, but it’s warm in here and you unwrap your scarf, letting it hang like a dead bird around your neck. Stay awhile, why
Fiction don’t you. Waste more money. You thumb through racks of t-shirts and skirts, trying not to let anyone see you check the price and put it back on the rack. Wouldn’t look good on you anyway. You take the stairs to the sales section, pull some dresses and pants off of racks, each in three sizes because you never know. You make your way to the dressing room. You tell yourself this is self-care. That this loneliness is fun. Vous avez combien d’articles? The salesgirl asks. She looks cooler than you, no bad tattoo to focus on this time, just skinny legs and a tight skirt and shiny hair. Uh, dix. Your voice doesn’t quiver but your insides do. Est-ce que je peux avoir votre nom? Her lips are freshly glossed. She does not show any interest in you. You take too long to respond, you swear she rolls her eyes. Your name? You let out a nervous, annoying titter of a laugh. She doesn’t smile back. She leads you to a dressing room, writes your name in chalk with a heavy hand on the door. Let me know if you need anything else. But she doesn’t sound like she means it. Her English is barely accented. For a split-second you feel that judgemental hatred rise up in you because she is prettier than you and you know it and you hope she’s a bitch because then at least you’ll be better than her. You sigh and hang up the items on a hook on the wall. You pull off your thin black overcoat and throw it on the
Clare Chodos-Irvine bench. You set down your thick, acrylic scarf, pull off your sweater and add it to the pile. You pull your shirt over your head and avoid eye contact with the mirror. You unbutton the five buttons on your jeans and drop them to the floor. The lighting in the store is white and ugly and so are you. A year in this city of beer and poutine and your stomach grew a little bit. You’re fleshy and pale and hairy. You stare at your face in the mirror and wonder when your skin got so dry and who the fuck gets pimples on their neck. See, there’s this thing about the way you are. This thing is, you’re disgusting. You’re judgemental and fat and poor and stuck up. You’re a fuck up and you’re fucked up and fuck you fuck you fuck you. Fuck you, you whisper to me. You, wishing I would go away. Fuck you too, doll-face, I whisper back. I spit in your ear, coil around your abdomen. I know you love me. You need me. I am the flutter in your stomach. I am what makes your heart race. I squeeze tighter around your middle, stick myself as the lump in your throat. I know you need me.
mosquito in a frenchman’s ear Hanna Allan
Dear diary, I have been in this ear canal for five hours now and not a wink of sleep. The snores of this babouin of a monsieur keep me awake and irritated, but I must wait here until the chill passes and I can fly without my wings breaking to bits in the colds. It is not ideal, but I have been in this canal before and I have come to know Leopold’s ear quite well. I am thirsty and hungry but this ear is thin and a bit waxy for my tastes. When I am here I spend my time singing songs and flying deep in the canal to listen in on Leopold’s dreams. I don’t know why I do this. Sometimes they are nice and he wears no pants, sometimes they are sad and he cries for his Mama. Tonight’s was peculiar, and I must tell you about it. I had been twiddling my thumbs waiting for an innocent dream to blink or stream by, when the soft fold of an accordion rang out and caught my attention. I flew forth until I could see the dream projected inside the man’s head. In this dream, vibrant crudités, sumptuous wine, and tealights adorned the seat of a gondola occupied by two men. I felt at this moment a sense that maybe I had been
Hanna Allan here before, and should maybe not watch this dream, but again, I was bored. This dream man was handsome and rugged and he sat slowly stroking the oars with a pair of large biceps that rippled like the water. Dream Leopold was also rugged and had a head full of hair, and no longer had a cock-eye. He looked at his gondolier eagerly and sipped his wine. When the gondolier met his eyes and with his cleft chin gave Leopold a generous nod of approval, I felt compelled to fly away from the dream but his long and agile fingers quickly unzipped the gondolier’s pants. With twinkling eyes and a quick breath he looked up at the gondolier and said, “Mon Dieu! Garçon, your baguette.... Eets so beeeg!” The two started making love soon after. I flew away in slight embarrassment and was pleased by the quiet that followed Leopold’s shuddering sigh of sleepy relief. I think I will rest my weary wings and sleep now. Until next time, xoxo
Getting Rid of Freckles Rose Quacker Cal cranked up the music until his thoughts shut up and the view in front of him settled into a rough self portrait. In his bathroom mirror, he could see where vessels had burst under his skin in protest, faded bruises that decorated his arms, his jaw, and his left eye. And there, in a splash across his face, was a batch of freckles. On the counter in front of him, everything he had brought up looked like the beginning of an improvised cooking show: a bottle of Fresh ‘N’ Tart lemon juice, a half empty container of sour cream, a pile of honey packets from the coffee stand at school, and a Ziploc bag of onion slices he had cut up an hour before. The items looked like the assortment of stuff they gave contestants on Chopped. Sometimes, on lazy Saturday mornings, Mom and Cal watched reruns of Chopped. That was stupid. That was a stupid thought. That was stupid. The bottle of Fresh ‘N’ Tart would be the first thing on the list to try. The instructions online said again—and again—to wash hands before and after every method. While he rubbed the soap over his bruised knuckles he thought about how the instructions also said he needed a real life, fresh lemon. But Cal was working with the best he
Rose Quacker could get. He didn’t have enough cash to grab everything at the grocery store and if he had bought stuff at the store with his debit card, Dad would have asked questions about the charges. Dad had to work late and an empty house was Cal’s personal unwritten requirement. Cal squeezed the bottle of Fresh ‘N’ Tart into his open palm. The smell was a punch to the nose, strong and stinging. He rubbed some lemon juice on his cheeks and his forehead, across the constellation of marks on his face. But even after rubbing the lemon juice above his upper lip, the punch wasn’t enough. The scent only reminded him of air fresheners, candles, bitter candy. When Cal had pushed aside week-old takeout boxes on the lower shelf of the fridge, he had been a little afraid. He had been a little afraid when he opened the bottle of Fresh ‘N’ Tart that it would smell like real lemons. Lemons with skin that could be scratched and gashed for the full experience. Lemons like the ones Mom bought at the farmer’s market on Wednesdays. Lemons like the ones she used to make pound cake with. The three minute alarm on his phone went off. He jumped and paused it, squeezing the bottle of Fresh ‘N’ Tart with white knuckles that ached from the endless supply of bruises. He squeezed out thoughts of fake lemons and pound cake before church on Sundays. The instructions said to try the lemon process consistently over a period of weeks but he wanted results now.
Fiction The next item he’d experiment with was sour cream. Cal began mixing the homemade facial and plastered it on his face. Years ago, when he was just young enough for things to hurt him, Mom dropped him off at Grandma’s house in Humble, a neighborhood full of golf carts and pools that cost too much. His grandmother offered him worn coloring books with pages of crinkled, yellow skin. She sat in front of the television to watch the Houston news, grumbling about the crime statistics while Cal tried to keep the crayons steady as he colored in smooth, happy faces. Between several glasses of red wine that she never missed the opportunity to pour, Grandma said, “Calix, Calix, Jesus Christ, keep in the lines.” Cal drew a smiley face with a blue crayon, “Okay, Grandma.” “Calix, don’t get smart with me.” Grandma took a sip of wine and stared at his scrunched up face as he attempted to read the faded letters that distinguished the crayon colors. “You know what, Calix? Huh? You know what?” “What, Grandma?” Cal asked, keeping his attention on the outline of a guitar stretched on the page. “You know, you get those from your mother. You get those right there from your mother.” She pointed to her own cheeks and then pointed back at him. “I’ve told her again and again about this nice makeup lady. This nice makeup lady, Abby—Addy, makes her rounds on Tues-
days. She could cover them up, she’s really good.” “Okay, Grandma.” “Because you know what? You know what? Oh Jesus Christ, Calix, it looks like a chicken stepped in mud and walked on your face.” When Cal didn’t say anything in return, Grandma went to pour a little more red wine into her glass. He picked up the coloring books with the faded yellow pages and the shoe box of crayons. Downstairs, he locked the bathroom door to be alone with his chicken scratch skin. A while later, he could hear Grandma yelling about something upstairs. “No... you know what, if you don’t transfer me to human resources... I know you know where my daughter-in-law is... no—” But her voice was muffled through the door. “Oh, Jesus Christ... no, I don’t know where he is... I don’t know… ” Cal sat cross legged against the bathtub when he heard the door handle move. “Hey... Calix?” He didn’t know Mom was going to be there so soon. He opened the bathroom door and she peered in with a look of concern that quickly changed to laughter. He had colored in his freckles with markers, trying to make them look like human skin. She tried to stifle giggles. “Hey baby, how’s life?” Mom winked and picked him up. “Baby, you’re getting me in trouble here. You’ve gotta let Grandma know when you decide to leave like that.” She propped him up on the pristine counter and took a wash-
Fiction cloth from the wicker basket. “Grandma said my face looks like chicken skin.” “Grandma said,” Mom ran the washcloth under water, “That your skin looked like a chicken stepped in mud and stepped on you, baby. I know, she told me. You know, when I was a kid, some kids on the playground used to hold me down and connect the dots.” Mom pointed at the freckles that collected under her eyes before leaning forward and wiping his face with the washcloth. “Oh.” “But guess what, baby? Your freckles are so important. Without them, how would I know you’re my kid?” Mom laughed, but stopped when she saw that Cal kept quiet. “Hey. Hey, baby?” “Yeah, Mom?” “Baby, listen to me. It doesn’t matter what Grandma says. Or what the kids at school say. Or even what I say. What’s important... is that you can’t hide yourself. No matter how scary it is. Baby, you’ve just gotta be you.” Mom thanked Grandma and called up the electric company. She told them she had to attend to a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to come back to work. She winked at Cal over the receiver. At home, he sat on the couch and watched his Mom set the Chex Mix, bags of pretzels, and leftover pound cake on the coffee table. They watched reruns of old cop shows with the same storylines that Mom couldn’t get enough of. An hour before Dad
came home, Mom remembered she still had to wash the dishes. In the kitchen, Mom ran the water and scrubbed at cereal bowls while Cal dried them. The beat up CD player on the counter next to him played Mom’s favorite, “Come and Get Your Love.” But now, in front of the dirty sink upstairs—his cheeks covered in sour cream—his chest felt too tight. That was stupid. That was a stupid thought. That was stupid. The next trick was honey. He ripped open packets and massaged pure stickiness into his pores. In that moment, Cal couldn’t believe that he had resorted to honey on his cheeks. Nothing was happening to his freckles—he should just scrape this stuff off and get back to his math homework. Maybe Cal would text Dad before he headed home to see if he could pick up burgers from that place on Polk Street. Maybe Mom would call again. Maybe this time Cal would answer. Mom was the one who named him Calix. It was an old Greek name that she had read in a book somewhere. She told him that his name was special and ancient and that it meant “handsome.” The jibes at school started with Caltits or Caldick, years ago, when he was just old enough for his survival instincts to kick in, so he settled on Cal. During third period today, Jackson was just trying to be
Fiction funny, getting in Cal’s face, bobbing in and out of his sight, repeating some stupid questions and those stupid nicknames that defined Cal’s school experience. The day had already been shitty and Cal held his own patience under water. When Jackson bobbed in again, Cal leaned forward and grasped Jackson’s hair between his fingers, slamming Jackson’s face down on his own desk with all the anger he could muster. Jackson, in his attempt to break free, jolted back in his chair and crashed to the floor. Mr. Ortega had to pull them off each other, as they spat and pawed at one another. They dove at each other again and two security guards had to hold Cal down. Mr. Ortega demanded to know over and over again what happened, but every time Jackson started to explain, Cal leapt at him. The principal was silent during Cal’s broken recollection of the fight. The bruises had already started to blossom on his knuckles and his arm. His jaw felt swollen and his left eye hurt. “Calix, your guidance counselor mentioned that this isn’t a first time occurrence. Jackson already told us his side of the story, we just want to hear it from you.” The principal pushed and prodded him. “It’s Cal. And it wasn’t just the dumb nicknames,” Cal muttered. “He was saying some stuff... he was saying some stuff about my mom. He said something about his parents.” “His parents?”
“His parents said something about my mom not being a good influence.” Cal stretched back into his seat, trying to keep his hands from shaking. “Something about how they saw my mom downtown... with someone who wasn’t my dad.” The principal raised an eyebrow and shuffled his papers; apparently Jackson hadn’t told him everything that happened. “Alright Calix, that’ll be enough for today.” “It’s Cal. And everytime that stupid worm said something, he’d end it with one of those stupid nicknames.” “Cali—... Cal, that’s enough, your parents have been notified to come pick you up.” “One of those stupid nicknames... no one calls me Calix anyway.” “Cal.” “No one except—” He stopped himself and gripped the bottom of the chair. “... I mean... no.” “Calix.” “No one calls me that.” Cal was shoved out to the waiting room next to the principal’s office. He waited, hunched over, cradling an ice pack. Mom was going to come in from the electric company any second now. She’d come in and bring a full annotated lecture with her. But hours later, the receptionist stopped craning her neck over and asking, “Sugar, you want some sour candies?” and “Sugar, why hasn’t anyone picked you up yet?”
Fiction Hours later, Cal sat in a neon folding chair with his phone on the lowest setting, listening to “Come and Get Your Love.” It was Dad who picked him up in the early afternoon. He filled out the paperwork and told Cal in the car, “Cal, come on, I can’t believe you got in a fight. I had to take a break from the plant for this, Cal, come on.” Cal stared out the window and kept his fingers from drumming against the seat. Mom was always the one at PTA meetings, bake sales, extra tutoring sessions, breaking him out of the receptionist’s waiting area; whatever it was, Mom was always there. When Dad drove up the driveway, he cleared his throat and told Cal, “Kid, you can’t keep picking fights like this. Listen, I’ll be back tonight and we can talk about this. But Cal. Kid.” Dad turned off the car and the two of them sat in silence. “Cal. Your mom isn’t at a work conference.” That was stupid. That was a stupid thought. That was stupid. It was the onion method that made him cry. He tried to brush away a tear and touched his eye. Cal stumbled around the bathroom cursing, grabbing at anything, bottles crashing to the floor. He turned on the water and doused his face, making everything worse. Cal stopped struggling and held onto the dirty counter, his back shook, and a broken sob burst from his body. He hit the counter with his bruised fist again and again. In the background he heard the first chords of “Come and Get
Your Love.” He fumbled with the phone, trying to change the song, barely able to see anything. He gave up. Washing off the onion juice, the leftover honey stuck to his hair, and his pride, Cal took a good, long look at himself. He was soaked. One eye was puffy and red, the bruises looked irritated, and the freckles were unchanged. The song continued in the background. Cal exhaled everything in him, and with shaky fingers, he went to change it. It was Mom trying to call again. There was an ache beneath his chicken scratch skin, an ache that stopped his blood inside his chest. Was it going to be a choppy, “Sorry for leaving the family for my coworker, Linda”? Was it going to be an emotional, “You’ve got to understand, I couldn’t hide myself anymore”? Was it going to be what Mom always said when she first saw Cal? He remembered the soft smile, the wink, and her voice lifting musical notes in her everyday question, “Hey baby, how’s life?” Cal didn’t care. He pressed answer.
A House in Hudson Jancie Creaney Cobalt blue paint chipping off the steps and signs on the door that say Come on in! We’re open! when we’re closed. Up to the second floor where no amount of lamps can brighten the room. A window in mid-July that won’t open; I hurt my shoulder trying to. Pulling rusty pins and staples out from hundred-year-old birth certificates, and death certificates, and report cards. Good thing I got a tetanus shot. The nurse said why not and I said alright, why not. One melody lasting three minutes plays off of a DVD repeatedly for three months. The first month I wasn’t bothered. The second, I was sweating, scratching the blue paint off with my fingernail, violently humming over the tune, reading causes of death out loud. Boat tipped. No one knew how to swim. The third, I started doing laps around the property, through the communal garden and across the parking lot, pausing beneath the maple tree in the yard to practice breathing exercises. The committee wanted to throw the kettle away but I used it everyday. It never stops boiling the water, she says. I unplug it when it’s done, I say. One person a week, on average, visits the museum—a little house in Hudson, Quebec. I could turn off the DVD player, but I never know when someone might walk in. Like Elizabeth Barber, a
Jancie Creaney woman in her eighties who tells me she was hit by a car yesterday, pinned down beneath a utility pole. Today, she’s wearing a helmet. She rode her bike to the museum. She is looking for a job. Everyone here is a volunteer except myself. I’m lucky, she says. I look like Judy Garland, according to Elizabeth. You and I could be a famous duo. It is day 75 of solitude and I’ve run out of death certificates. When good people do nothing, it’s evil, says Elizabeth, referring to a celebrity couple she read about in a tabloid. She sings to me before riding away. I’m relieved to have heard something other than the infinite slideshow music. It is delightful when seventy-year-olds roll their eyes at eighty-year-olds. I didn’t put that doily there, Elizabeth Barber did. They roll their eyes. Marilyn warns me of a certain Helen. If she asks you to tend the garden, you tell her no. I was thinking if an old woman asked me to water her hydrangeas, there’s no way I’d say no. When visitors do come, my heart races. I pretend to read a history book. They ask me where they can spend the night. You can try the Willow Inn. That’s too expensive. You can try the Motel 8. The next day I find out it burned down last spring. I have only one fun fact about the town. The only place in the province to have English stop signs. Someone from Georgia says I heard about that! I think how is this the only fact I know? At lunch I sit on the back porch and lock the front entrance. I forget to take down the Open! sign, so that’s
Non-Fiction on me. Pants rolled up to my knees to tan my scarred legs. Bees circle my knee. A bunny tinier than you can imagine hops as fast as it can. Close behind, a cat follows—slow, practically dragging its paws. I scold him. Kitty, no! Kitty is startled. For the first time in history I’ve noticed a cat before it has noticed me. Inside, I circle the vitrines in the main hall, whispering to myself, former frozen water exporter but likely best known for the popular antique market—down the street—taking its name from the founder’s dog, Finnegan. The volume on the television is turned down to one. Still, it is too loud. Then I hear voices other than my own. Outside, people tend the garden. Why did Marilyn warn me about Helen? It seems there is a club dedicated to the task. I peer out the window from the second floor. Cheek to the glass. Day 78—I wonder what it is like to have a conversation. I could go outside to say hello. That seems too difficult now. I’ve made friends with the wooden ducks in the display. The clinic is down the street. I get my blood tested when I start thinking the music from the DVD is making me sick. Maybe I was sick before. I wasn’t alone long enough to notice. They prick my veins. The nurse says I’m sorry, you have small veins, it doesn’t usually take this long. I start wondering what kind of summer is this? Walking back to the museum, I run into Mackenzie from high school. What are you doing in Hudson? I tell her. I didn’t know we had a museum. No one does. Why are you holding your arms out
Jancie Creaney like that? I tell her they had to stab both arms. I walk up the cobblestone path to the front door. Smell the hydrangeas. I walk slow. Drag my feet to the dim room full of bibles, portraits of three-hundred-year-old babies, and paintings of every church on Main. Newspapers from September twenty-eleven, and then twenty-twelve, and then twenty-fifteen because thirteen and fourteen are missing. I lay them out on the hardwood. Pins and staples I flicked off the counter have settled in between the floorboards where they will stay for years because I don’t think anyone vacuums. And strands of my hair too gather in corners because I’m part of this museum now. Someone calls about wooden ducks. He wants his displayed. I say I’ll check with the committee. Marilyn says, He’s a bad fruit. He calls every few months. We have enough damn ducks.
The Desert Visitors Leah Mueller Sex in your dead mother’s bed is a lousy idea, even four months after her funeral. The grim setting might add a sordid, erotic appeal, but the act is bound to have repercussions. I should have known this fact, but my lust misled me, as it so often did. I’d come to Bisbee a week beforehand, to settle my mother’s estate and list her building for sale. She owned a decrepit four-flat in the oldest part of town. Sam, a musician and failed writer, lived a couple of blocks away. The guy was a major distraction. I hadn’t even made it to the realtor’s office. Sam bucked on top of me for several minutes, then sat up abruptly. “I have to go home now,” he said. He pushed a lock of hair away from his face and grinned at me with a sly, triumphant expression. I gazed back at him, horrified. Tears formed in the corners of my eyes, but I blinked them away. I was pathetic. Most likely, I looked like a puppy who had been swatted by its owner but had no idea why. Sam sighed. “Okay, I’ll stay for exactly an hour. But you have to let me talk, for a change.” Sam had spent too many years in Bisbee, baking his brains in the desert heat. That, and his prodigious 83
wine intake combined to create a disjointed, stream-ofconsciousness conversational style. His ramblings ran the gamut from extraterrestrials to Madison Smartt Bell’s review of his book in Spin Magazine. Sam had created a minor splash five years beforehand with a memoir of his years as a junkie in 1970s Tucson. Lately, Sam’s stream had dried up, since he lacked a computer and stayed in bed until noon. The poor man had to do all his writing at the public library, which always closed soon after he arrived. His book was already out of print, and he’d been reduced to hawking his author copies to passing tourists at a local art gallery. Sam’s resentment knew no bounds. I was a seasoned veteran of his passive-aggressive vitriol. I nodded and clucked as he recounted his failures. He rose to his feet mid-sentence and wandered towards the bathroom. After he returned, I noticed a crumpled length of toilet paper, wrapped around his dick like a bandage. “What the hell is that?” I asked. Sam shrugged. “My penis drips for a while after I use the bathroom. I don’t know if you noticed, but I only have one testicle. The other was lopped off accidentally by an incompetent doctor.” “Damn,” I replied. “I hope you were able to sue the asshole. That’s terrible.” Sam glared at me with disgust, like he could hardly fathom my idiocy. “Attorneys cost money. Not everyone
Non-Fiction can just hire a lawyer.” Sam was laboring under the misconception that I was wealthy, able to toss money at problems without a second thought. People often thought this about me, but I couldn’t imagine why. I owned a dilapidated house in Tacoma, which I shared with my boyfriend Dan and my two kids. Dan was the father of my youngest, but he and I had never bothered to marry. Dan and I had fallen in love five years beforehand, after meeting at a poetry reading in downtown Seattle. I was there for the slam, but my scores were abysmal and I bombed out in the first round. A sore loser, I retreated outside to sulk in the rain. Dan stood in the doorway, smoking a cigarette. We fell into conversation, and I wound up driving him home. Everything had gone to hell since then. Dan was drinking himself into oblivion, and I was doing my best to hold the family together. My feelings for Dan had changed from tenderness to seething resentment, and there was no going back. It was no wonder I’d resorted to searching for love from somebody who was incapable of giving it. Technically, what Sam and I had just done didn’t qualify as adultery. There would be no divorce to worry about. Dan and I were hanging on by a thread, and he was bound to move out as soon as he heard about my recent behavior. I didn’t care. I was happy to tell him everything, if my revelation would hasten his departure.
I winced and stared at the rumpled blankets. “Well, I’m sorry,” I said, for the umpteenth time that week. Sam sighed again. “It’s not your fault.” He settled himself on the mattress, kicked the blankets aside, and stretched out his legs. I glanced furtively at his toilet paper bandage. Sam and I had fucked three separate times, but I’d never noticed anything strange about his testicles. Perhaps he was right—I didn’t pay enough attention to my surroundings. “I saw three saucers this morning,” Sam said. “They were flying in perfect formation above the mountains. One of them dipped into a cloud bank, and when it came out, it had completely changed color.” I nodded. “You’re lucky to see saucers. I’ve looked up in the sky many times, hoping to catch a glimpse of one. They never seem to appear when I’m around.” “You just have to look,” Sam said haughtily. He rearranged his legs on the bed, and continued. “My exgirlfriend Cheyenne and I were visited by extraterrestrials for years. It was terrifying. There were two beings that came only at night. I called them the Incubus and the Succubus. They would put their hands down my pants and squeeze my genitals until I cried out in pain.” I glanced at Sam’s bandage again. Perhaps the doctor had done him a favor, since the extraterrestrials would have a harder time getting a grip on his testicles. On the other hand, they were capable of anything.
Non-Fiction Why was I so enamored by this man? Sam was brilliant and looked like Richard Gere. He was an outlaw, to boot. Several months earlier, stoned out of his mind, Sam had broken into a drugstore to filch some pills. Unfortunately, he didn’t count on the fact that crashing through the window would set off the alarm system, or that the shock would cause him to lose consciousness. He awoke, a few minutes later, to the sound of sirens and the angry voices of Bisbee’s finest. After spending a few weeks in the local slammer, Sam was released on probation. For the most part, he’d behaved himself since then. I’d first met Sam two years earlier. He approached me at the local art gallery, memoir in hand, and asked if I liked to read. I gazed into his tortured eyes and nodded, then got out my checkbook. Later, I showed my new purchase to my mother. Mom never accompanied me on my Bisbee excursions. She rarely left her bed, except to buy cigarettes and check her mail. After glancing at the jacket photo, she said, “I’ve seen him around town. I like his face.” Two years later, she died in a Sierra Vista nursing home. I flew out for the funeral but decided to attend a poetry reading the night beforehand. Once there, I picked up Sam, and followed him home. He lived with a couple whose teenage daughter had recently been sent to a juvenile facility in Tucson. Sam and I fucked on Muppet sheets while watching Nick at Nite. My mother wouldn’t
have minded a bit. In fact, she would have found the whole thing hilarious. I still hadn’t read Sam’s memoir. When I returned to Tacoma, I slid the volume from my shelf and read it in furtive gulps, like a drunk sneaking shots. Afterwards, I carefully returned the book to its exact spot between the other volumes, so Dan wouldn’t suspect anything. Sam glanced at his wristwatch. “Twelve more minutes,” he announced. “I’ve got some writing to do in the morning. Maybe I’ll get an earlier start, like before noon.” He laughed. “Fat chance of that happening. Did I ever tell you about my reviews?” Thirteen minutes later, Sam rose from the bed and stretched his arms towards the low ceiling. His long fingers grazed the plaster. “Well, time to go. Thanks for having me. I think we both needed that.” I studied Sam’s face. He gazed back at me without expression. In the morning, I would visit the realtor’s office. After signing the paperwork, I’d climb the steep desert highway in my rental car, take a final look at the town, and head towards the Tucson airport. I felt certain I would never see Sam again. “I wish you wouldn’t leave,” I said, before I could stop myself. I extended a hand in Sam’s direction, hoping to make contact, but couldn’t quite reach his body. Sam rolled his eyes. “You’re used to getting exactly what you want, aren’t you?”
Non-Fiction I recoiled into the bed. “Do you really think so?” I stammered. I couldn’t imagine why he thought of me as rich, spoiled, and accustomed to people who catered to my whims. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Folks rarely gave a damn what I wanted. Sam’s behavior was a perfect example. Sam nodded with satisfaction. “Yep.” He strolled from the room, wandered into the kitchen. “I’m taking my portion of the stir-fry,” he yelled. The refrigerator door opened, then slammed shut. I heard the buzz of the electric can opener, and the faint meowing of my mother’s feral cats. My brother was supposed to take care of them, but he was shacked up with his girlfriend on the other side of town. “Poor cats,” Sam said. The guy was a real piece of work. He could treat me like meat one moment and express compassion towards Mom’s pets the next. “I hope they survive. Well, I’m off now. Good luck with your writing. Remember to just write the way you talk.” Sam had uttered his last sentence on several other occasions, hoping to give me tips that would improve my meager literary output. It was big of him. He didn’t think much of my work. I listened as he opened the front door, then descended the long stairwell towards the street. One of the cats wandered into the bedroom, stared at me, and uttered a low cry. “Yeah, he’s gone,” I said. “Sorry.” I crawled under the covers, turned to face the wall. I
couldn’t imagine how Sam had figured out the intricacies of my vocal cadences, since he’d never listened to me. It didn’t matter anyway. I was well used to his shit. Sam’s grip on reality was tenuous, at best. There was no reason to worry about the opinion of a guy who claimed that extraterrestrials manhandled his genitals. A long day lay ahead, and I needed my sleep. As I began to lose consciousness, I heard laughter, and a loud banging, as if somebody was moving chairs in the building. This feat was impossible, because my mother’s four-flat was unoccupied, except for me. Polly hadn’t had tenants for months, since long before her death. Nobody wanted to rent from her. She’d earned a reputation as a difficult landlady, and news traveled fast in Bisbee. I rolled over on one side and listened more closely. The laughter and banging grew louder. The noise sounded like it was coming from my brother’s apartment. Josh had visited earlier in the evening and returned to his girlfriend’s house afterwards. He would have let me know if someone was staying at his place. The guffaws were masculine and raucous, with an edge of inebriation. I heard a muffled thud, as if somebody had tossed a heavy object on the carpeted floor. There was more laughter, low muttering, and finally silence. Obviously, Sam’s departure had unhinged me. I was the only person in the building. My mother’s dwelling was one of the oldest structures in Bisbee. During the 1800s, it had
Non-Fiction served as a miner’s rooming house. My two siblings were reluctant to sell, but I’d insisted. I knew my brother well enough to realize that he would let the foundation crumble into the ground. Besides, I needed the cash. Just as I began to drift back to sleep, the noise started up again. It was louder than before, like a party had gathered steam and was beginning to take off. A chair scraped across the floor, then another. What the hell was going on? Perhaps some drunks had shut down St. Elmo’s bar, let themselves into the building, and were enjoying a few nightcaps. Why not? Most likely, they thought the place was empty. Nobody ever locked their doors in Bisbee. Well, this was some bullshit. I needed my slumber, and my mother’s house wasn’t a goddamned after-hours club. Feeling enraged, I rose from the mattress and marched from the bedroom. Josh’s apartment was only a few feet away. Without hesitation, I yanked open his door and groped along the wall until I located the light switch. Those bastards thought they were crafty, having a little party in the dark. Well, I’d show them. A faint ray of light illuminated the spartan room. My mother had always tried to save money by purchasing low-watt bulbs. Josh’s worldly possessions consisted of three chairs and a couch. They sat upright in the room, untouched. The furniture’s outlines appeared fuzzy, like
they weren’t sure if they wanted to be there. “Hello?” I called. “Is anybody here?” The only sound was the low hum of the refrigerator. It made an electronic coughing noise, then subsided. “Hello?” I yelled again. Josh’s apartment remained silent. There was nobody else in the empty, cavernous building. Perhaps I had been hallucinating. After the week I’d endured, anything was possible. I returned to my mother’s apartment, crawled back into bed. A deep longing overwhelmed me. Polly and I would have had a good laugh about my false valor. The two of us had fought hard most of our lives, but I’d made peace with her during the past couple of years. Sam laughed when I mentioned this, insisted I was secretly angry. Perhaps he was right. His parents had been dead for years, yet he still despised them. As I pulled the covers over my shoulders, the noise resumed. It grew louder, then rose towards a crescendo. Another man had joined the party. His voice was higher and grated against my ears. The group laughed simultaneously, then subsided. A thump emanated from the room, followed by a loud scuffling, as if somebody was shoving a pair of heavy boots across the floor. I wandered back into the hallway and opened Josh’s door, more slowly this time. My fingers found the light switch. Once again, weak light illuminated the living room and shone on the empty furniture. No one was in my
Non-Fiction brother’s apartment, except me. I had never been more alone. Bewildered, I returned to my mother’s place and crawled into bed. I’d always adopted a tolerant but skeptical attitude about noncorporeal visitors. As a child, I’d huddled in closets with friends, flashlight clasped underneath my chin, solemnly chanting, “Mary Worth, Mary Worth.” Though we tried our hardest to summon spirits, the only response was somebody’s smartass older brother kicking the closet door, hoping to scare us. After a while, we gave up and went back to playing Monopoly. Like extraterrestrials, ghosts never seemed to manifest in my presence. Try as I might, I couldn’t imagine why they had decided to pay me a visit now. Was it grief over Polly’s death? Romantic disappointment? Worry about what would happen once I got home, and told Dan I’d had sex with a published writer? My bewilderment gave way to irritation, and finally to rage. I shoved the pillow over my ears to drown out the noise. In less than five hours, I needed to head to the realtor’s office, so I could unload my mother’s place. The goddamned building was infested with spirits. Perhaps Sam had sent them, to teach me a lesson. Or maybe the ghosts had waited until he was gone, so they could catch me unsupervised. Either way, I had no time for their shenanigans. Fucking ghosts.
The party was winding down when I finally fell asleep. In the morning, I wandered over to Josh’s place and pushed his door open. The chairs and couch remained upright, untouched. They looked oddly majestic in the morning light. I wondered whether Josh would make it back home that evening, or whether he would spend a few extra nights at his girlfriend’s place. It might be days before he returned to the building. I decided to lock his apartment door so no unauthorized guests could enter. It was an exercise in futility, since ghosts were immune to locks. Spirits came and went as they pleased, regardless of barriers. At least they’d kept their cold miner’s hands off my genitals. Too bad I couldn’t say the same for Sam. Fucking writers.
Shit-Talking Before the Apocalypse Hunter Therron A bamboo tattoo tiger jumps off a womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s neck as she pushes herself against the bright, 5pm goldish-blue light as the black smoke-stack ferry laps over the green water. I listen to a song about a post-apocalyptic war-scene through my glitchy headphones while Koh Samui, the big turtleshell island where I live, shrinks against the tomato sun. A man wrapped in a blue blanket waves from the pier. A woman sitting behind me pets her teacup dog that curls in her purse. And still, even as the wind picks up, the woman stands against the railing, barely blinking. Her presence compliments the shifting bass, and the longer the song runs, the more and more these people feel lifted from their reality as commuters on an air-conditioned boat. They rise into these loose, random things existing, and breathing, and eating, and shit-talking before the apocalypse. Almost pressed against it, like the woman, becoming heightened as the wind begins to rise. We all want red shoes, I think. The thing about being an internal person in a foreign country is that you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know that people are watching you sing. Are seeing your right two fingers thump against
your thigh to the rhythm of watery base. You look up, and realize that you are the only foreigner on this boat, but this cannot phase you because you are stuck in this world that is not a world but a feeling: turn to the dark glass, death-starlooking cruise ship off by the harbor shooting tiny boats out to shore. What if it was the year 3030, and the boat was sinking? What if it were a movie of a movie, and the last survivors had been driven mad by starvation, and sexless monotony, and put a blast in the hull with the last of the diesel gasoline, saying, “Fuck the children—scatter on the deck! Foam at the mouth, and push those god-damn rafts off into the water while the three violinists play American Blues on the deck.” And then a green light shoots out into the air, which is the shrinking sun shooting through the poison clouds. Through the violins, you look to the island. It’s hazy round hills caught in leaf smoke. The dogs on the beach, chasing crabs and pulling fish from the water. You see them become dots among other dots that are people laying on the beach. And the people become dots like the hotels become dots. The big concrete buildings with bars and lights. This same island, you imagine, will be nothing but granite, brine, and strangling fig snags by the year 3030. A century passes in a blink. The hotels fall into the water. The dogs eat the rust. And from the ferry you can’t hear the noise of the survivors paddling with their hands. Kicking up the water. Floundering in it. And then I remember: I owe 27,000
Non-Fiction dollars of student loans to the U.S. government. I left my father back in the Chicago winter, trying to call me over the gurgling coffee machine that echoes off the walls of the empty kitchen at four in the morning. And sometimes I wake up and feel that something is definitely wrong with me, but I don’t know what or why, and all my favorite movies end with the hero sloshing up to the tropical shore. But not today. “Not today,” says our hero from the portside bow of the leaking orange canoe. He has filled his pockets with rocks, and is laughing like Virginia Woolf.
My Gun Jude Thornberry I think I hardly ever went outside. In photos I am pale and soft-looking, always in chairs or on laps under lamps. I think I was quiet and hard to love. When visiting my grandparents after church, I would press myself into the coolness of their green leather couch and speak to no one, picking at half-portions of potatoes and mustard-fried venison. The creatures on the wall were friendly to me and sensitive of my limits. Largest and most respected was a whitetail buck from Texas. I forget his nickname. He had brothers on either side, who complimented him in a thick-necked symmetry that was pleasing to my nerves and impressive to my grandfatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s friends. The deer emerged from the wall with no visible backboards, validating my assumption that if I were to visit the other side, I would find three fuzzy backsides hanging there, poking through shoulder-shaped windows. There were also two warthogs from South Africa named Precious and Poopsie. They were massive, hairy twins with polished yellow tusks and docile expressions. Unlike the bucks, the hogs were preserved from head to hoof, and sat politely, one by the computer and one by the guitar stand. They were so far from home. My grandparents had killed them and dragged their bodies halfway across the world.
The glaze on their hooves was scuffed from the journey. I always assumed they were brothers because they looked so similar, but they probably never knew each other. Then again, I didn’t look anything like my brother. People who didn’t know us usually assumed we were just friends. Outside of making music, hunting was the family business. I didn’t really have an inclination for either, and the bucks knew it and the hogs knew it, and they laughed about it when I turned my back and asked for some more iced tea. The way I saw it, the brutality of my family’s craft was absolved in song. They created more than they destroyed. What could I create, being this awkward, miserable thing? This silent, angular thing? And what could I destroy? I had no strength to siphon nor boyish restlessness to expend. I was attracted to the stillness of hunting. I loved the idea of waiting around for so long that you become part of the forest. I had never been, but the adults in my family talked about it like they talked about praying. They would go in with their questions, and when they came out, with blood on their cheeks, they would tell us all the answers they had found. Sometimes they would even write entire songs before pulling a single trigger. But the gun terrified me and the process of dying made me want to weep. I would always refuse my grandfather’s invitations, no matter what sacred, creative force lived in the woods of Alabama. Back then, almost everything overwhelmed me: the sun when it was too hot, grass when it was too sharp, movies
Non-Fiction when they were too loud. My siblings were my best friends, but even they shied from my particularity, my tendency to shrink. I think I embarrassed them. One Christmas, my brother, sister, and I got BB guns from our grandparents. I sat under the bucks and unveiled my brand new rifle. I stared, transfixed. My own name stared back at me, embossed on the grip in gold type. My brother chuckled, gasped, said, “Oh, no way!” I broke my shameful trance and cried out, “I don’t wanna kill animals!” “Baby, that’s not for killing animals!” my mother laughed. “It’s for fun.” I sobbed for a while. It was a long, heavy thing. When I touched it, I became conscious of my deadliness. I knew animals feared me. They would run at the sight of me. The neighbourhood cat would stop sleeping in our yard. The birds would lift their nests from our tree and carry their babies far away. My name was on that gun forever. I looked up at the whitetails, pleading. Their eyes were just marbles. Down the hall, Precious and Poopsie bared their teeth, but they too seemed altogether lifeless and inhospitable to imaginative games. My grandparents must have felt horrible after my reaction. I think I wanted them to regret it, too, because I felt that they didn’t know me at all. I set the gun down next to my other gifts (books, watercolour paints, a mermaid doll). It looked bizarre in comparison, otherworldly and uninvited. I only used it once. My grandfather took me outside a
few months after Christmas. He set up three targets: big red splats against the cool, dead yellow of the yard. I remember there was too much air around me. I couldn’t breathe it all in. The sun was in my face and my hands were sweaty and weak. My grandfather demonstrated, and then I tried. I couldn’t stand his eyes on me, or his enormous stillness. Maybe he laughed after my failed attempt and told me I had piano hands. He probably walked me back inside and set the gun down on the top shelf in the garage, knowing I would never look for it. Later, when we left Alabama, my parents decided not to bring the rifles. My brother was upset, but only for a moment. He would have other weapons. I was happy to leave. I said goodbye to the bucks and the hogs but they didn’t say it back. I was no longer a child to them. I was a very small, thin man with bloody veins, breathing all over their territory. Recently, I asked my grandmother what happened to Precious and Poopsie. She said Precious is in her attic apartment, and Poopsie is at a ranch in Texas. It saddened me to learn of their separation the way it saddened my grandparents to watch me cry over their gift. Had I turned out differently, I wonder what I could have killed.
Letting Go F Cade Swanson
Just look for the blue Dodge Durango with the Guam sticker, she said. It’s June 19, 2012. The following day marks the three year anniversary of meeting Jaylen, our eldest son, at a playground in Tacoma. Today, though, Adam and I are driving to Ellensburg from Seattle to meet Noah. And I’m not doing well. We had barely talked with his aunt, other than to make arrangements to pick him up, and to hear how caring for him and her own four kids was just no longer possible. How she was sorry. How there was no one else. How it had to be now. How she couldn’t wait any longer and her husband’s family was away. How much pressure she felt from them to raise Noah, and how she just couldn’t do it anymore. She’d meet us halfway—maybe in Ellensburg? There’s a McDonald’s there, she said. We’ll meet in the parking lot. And so we asked Aunt Jen to watch Jaylen, hopped in the truck and headed east. We would have two hours on the road, and it already felt like an eternity. We had only seen one picture of Noah, which his aunt texted a few days before. We didn’t know much; he was 18 months old; he was Chamorran; he needed a home. He’d been through three sets of relatives and the State couldn’t
F. Cade Swanson
find anyone out east to care for him, so they expanded their search to western Washington and found us. They connected us to his aunt, who was anxious for him to go. So we drove east on I-90, arriving early to a town where we had never been. There would be no social workers. No court appointed special advocates. Just Noah, his aunt, a friend of hers, and us. We were nervous. And eager. And anxious. And the weather was hot. We weren’t naive like we were with our first child, or broken like we became with our second child. Not this time. This time we were awake. Painfully awake. Fully conscious and fully aware of everything we didn’t know. We drive in silence, and I start imagining all of the things waiting for us. Who will this child be? What will he need? Will we be able to do this again? I’m making lists in my head of the friends and counselors and connections we might need. Let go, I tell myself. It’ll be okay. You’ve done this before. You know what to do. I sit up tall in the passenger seat of our black truck, grab at the handle on the dash board but not too hard, and try to relax. We see a Starbucks. Something familiar. Drive-thru? No, we have time to go in. Brown wooden chairs greet us. Green straws. The smell of espresso grounds me, resituates me back in my body. I order an iced Americano, and feel the cool bitter taste against the back of my teeth. Adam orders a green tea, because we were in shape back
Non-Fiction then, and green tea was on the diet. He’s wearing a grey polo and I’m wearing green plaid. What do you wear to meet your child for the first time? With Jaylen it was a red tractor shirt because we were told he liked farms. With Jade it was baby blue and orange. For Noah I wanted to look approachable. For his aunt I wanted to look parental. The coffee is helping me calm down. Adam is giddy. We post on Facebook, “One quick coffee before we get Noah—15 minutes and counting!” and the likes begin to appear. We get back in the truck and head to McDonald’s. We know we won’t be able to turn back once that Durango arrives, and the responsibility of parenthood that awaits us makes it feel like our truck is moving even faster but at the same time the road feels sticky. Like hot asphalt before it cures—you wanna go faster so you won’t get stuck, but moving fast doesn’t keep you from sinking in deep. And even after you get through it, remnants stick to you to remind you where you’ve been. Adam and I were at one of our lowest points just before getting the call about Noah, 18 months into a state-ordered separation of Jaylen, our son, and Jade, with whom he shares a mom. Jade lived with us from birth to nine months, at which point the state identified and introduced her to her birth dad, James. Nine months later, on Christmas Eve, they moved her in with James and his girlfriend, and separated her from Jaylen, whom we had adopted. Brothers and sisters have a right to grow up together, and
F. Cade Swanson
parents have a right to raise their kids. When those two things don’t align, it gets difficult. The next 18 months were spent building relationships with her dad’s family, and keeping Jade and Jaylen connected with weekend visits. The State is clear that kids do best with their birth parents, and foster parents don’t have a say in where kids land. At first, James’ girlfriend took great care of her, and though there was a lot of adjusting, we all seemed to be doing alright. Weekend visits were filled with laughter. We hosted Jade’s second birthday at our house. Shortly after that party, James gained full parental rights. The State closed the case. And then things fell apart. James fell into a very dark place. His girlfriend left. For the next year, I wasn’t sure who or what would be waiting for me when I would drive down in the black truck to pick up Jade on Saturday mornings. Her smile had faded. She became distant, withdrawn. The car rides, once full of laughter, grew silent. She stopped growing. Her dad became increasingly irritated, and his mom, Jade’s grandmother, increasingly confrontational. Jade and her dad moved several times, lived out of his truck for a bit. They stayed with friends. We offered for him to let her stay with us until he could get his life back on track, but he wasn’t ready for that. We brought him mattresses for them to sleep on.
Non-Fiction Jaylen could see the changes in his sister, but wasn’t old enough to understand why she left, or why we weren’t bringing her home. And the State, who had delivered her to her birth father, was not interested in checking in and seeing how Jade was doing, since the case was closed. So we kept her room ready for her to sleep in every weekend, and promised to have a warm meal and a hot bath for her every Saturday. We offered Jaylen assurances that we would do everything we could to keep her safe. And to keep him safe. We told him no one was going to come and get him, as they had five times before he arrived in our home. I would lay with him until he went to sleep, because that was the only way he felt safe. But after he went to sleep, Adam and I would cry and argue as we slowly fell apart. And over time, all of our love was spent on Jaylen and Jade, and there was none left for each other. We pull into a spot in the front of the McDonald’s parking lot and wait. Adam lets me choose the music because he knows that calms me down. I recognize I’m still holding on to the handle on the dash, even though we’re stopped. It’s hot in the car as I scan for a blue Durango. I’m thinking about Jade, who was 18 months old when she left. Noah is 18 months old now. Jade just turned three—Jaylen helped Adam and me make her a green cake for her birthday last weekend. I’m wearing a green plaid shirt. Approachable. I see the Durango pull in. The Guam sticker is glittering on the back window. I take a deep breath, let go of the handle, and go meet our third child.
Contributors Hanna Allan is a Creative Writing/English student, dill enthusiast and loves a good belly rub.
Dorian Bell writes, sometimes doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t, sometimes forgets. Dorian also studies electroacoustics and likes to take blurry pictures of walls.
Birdie Bergeron is a nineteen-year-old student of Creative Writing and English Literature in her second year at Concordia University. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, her body of work consists of prose fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, all heavily influenced by her musical upbringing, background in modelling and a childhood on the Atlantic ocean. Her goal in writing is to capture the chaos and beauty that life in the present era has to offer.
Clare Chodos-Irvine is a second-year English Lit and Creative Writing student at Concordia. She was shortlisted for the BBC Young Writerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Award when she was 16 and is still trying to ride that wave. She loves second-person stories and never having a real plot.
Jancie Creaney is a writer and filmmaker from Quebec currently studying at Sarah Lawrence College in the Nonfiction MFA program. She lives in Manhattan and spends summers in Montreal.
Shugofa Danesh graduated from an Honours BA in English Literature and minored in German.
Ann Huang is an author, poet, and filmmaker based in Newport Beach, Southern California. She was born in Mainland, China and raised in Mexico and the U.S. World literature and theatrical performances became dominating forces during her linguistic training at various educational institutions. Huang possesses a unique global perspective of the past, present, and future of Latin America, the United States, and China. She is an MFA candidate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and has authored one chapbook and two poetry collections. Her surrealist poem “Night Lullaby,” was a Ruth Stone Poetry Prize finalist. “Crustacea”, another of her surrealist poems, was nominated Best of the Net in Priestess & Hierophant. In addition, Huang’s book-length poetry collection, Saffron Splash, was a finalist in the CSU Poetry Center’s Open Book Poetry Competition. Her newest poetry collection, A Shaft of Light, is set to come out in 2019. Huang’s poems follow the surrealistic gestures that weave between reality and divergent realms of perspective and perception.
Hannah Korbee is a Toronto based writer and visual artist. She recently graduated from Concordia University’s English Literature and Creative Writing program. Her work has appeared in Open Minds Quarterly, Feathertale, The Rat’s Ass Review, and The F WORD Volumes III and IV.
Ilona Martonfi is the author of three poetry books: Blue
Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012), and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming Salt Bride (Inanna 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna 2020). She writes in chapbooks, Canadian Woman Studies, carte blanche, Vallum, Soliloquies, Fiddlehead, and elsewhere. She is the Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. Ilona received the QWF
Soliloquies Anthology Community Award in 2010.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks and four books. Her most recent book, a memoir entitled Bastard of a Poet was published in 2018 by Alien Buddha Press. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, The Spectacle, Outlook Springs, Crack the Spine, Drunk Monkeys, Summerset Review, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and many other magazines and anthologies. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.
Heather Nolan is a writer and musician from St. Johnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s, Newfoundland. Her most recent work can be found in Viator, Newfoundland Quarterly, The Paragon and Paper Mill Press, as well as on the longlist of the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize. Her debut novella, This is Agatha Falling, was published by Pedlar Press in March 2019.
Maggie Odom is a fifteen-year-old poet and playwright based in Hawaii. Her work has appeared in the Oahu Fringe Festival and Hawaii Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Voices Festival and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She believes in using the power of conversation and communication to make the world a better place and applies this belief to her work.
Kalie Palmer is based in Oklahoma City. Their works focus on the duality of the inner and outer world, incorporating natural imagery and dynamic voices. Their poetry has been published in Soundings Literary and Visual Arts Journal, as well as presented at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention.
Stacey Park is currently in the MFA program at California State University, Long Beach. Her previous work can be read in RipRap, Foothill, and r.kv.r.y to name a few journals. She is a Korean-Canadian writer from Vancouver, B.C., but has been living and working in southern California for a few years. She also holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto.
Rose Quacker is an undergraduate English student at the University of Houston. She is a stand up comedian, writer, and artist. One day she hopes to be good at one of these things.
Catherine Ragsdale is from Austin, TX. She is currently pursuing a masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in poetry at Texas Tech University and holds a BA in Spanish and a BBA in Marketing. She is the recipient of the 2017 Stephan Ross Huffman Poetry Award and the first-place winner of the 2017 Pride Week Poetry Slam.
Joshua Sassoon Orol is a trans Jewish poet from Raleigh, NC, writing with the texts, tunes, and stories passed down from their mixed heritage family. Joshua completed an MFA at NC State University, and received an Academy of American Poets prize while at UNC Chapel Hill. Their poetry can be read in recent or forthcoming issues of Driftwood Press, Nimrod, Santa Ana River Review, and Storm Cellar.
F Cade Swanson is a former Fulbright scholar and dad who runs a nonprofit by day and writes essays at night. He grew up in southeast Virginia, spent a good deal of time in Chicago, and now lives in Burien, Washington.
Hunter Therron, a recent honours college graduate, currently teaches English at a college in Thailand. His novel-in-progress
Soliloquies Anthology was accepted for a six-week residency at the Red Gate Institute in Beijing. Over the past year, Therron has received over $1,500 in grant funding to research and present his novella. His prose and poetry have been accepted to the Little Patuxent Review, the Barely South Review, the Merrimack Review, the Albion Review, and others. Last year he worked as the media coordinator for Switchback Books.
Jude Thornberry attends Concordia University. He is incredibly interesting.
Sherre Vernon is an educator, a poet and a believer in the mystical power of words. Sherre has written two awardwinning chapbooks: Green Ink Wings, her postmodern novella and The Name is Perilous, a 2008 poetry chapbook. Sherre’s work is heartbreaking, richly layered, lyrical and intelligent. She strives for linguistic efficiency by stepping outside of familiar phrases into a dynamic, shimmering grammar.
Katherine Westbrook is a literary artist, currently in her senior year at the Mississippi School of the Arts. She enjoys writing works of poetry, fiction, and prose. She will attend the University of Iowa in the fall, pursuing a degree in English & Creative Writing and History.
Elizabeth Wing is a freshman at the Pratt Institute. Her work has appeared in venues including Hanging Loose Magazine, Up North Lit, Jet Fuel Review, and Euphony. She has fiction forthcoming in The West Marin Review. Her story “Leda’s Daughters” was nominated by Gordon Square Review for a Pushcart Prize.