Soliloquies Anthology 24.1
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 Nina Molto 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 custodiands of the lands and waters on which we gather. Tiohtià: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 people. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other people within the Montreal community. Written by Concordia Universtity’s Indigenous Directions Leadership Group in 2017
Contents 7 8
E d ito r i a l Te a m Fo r e wo r d
P o e t r y 13 Shade Garden by Olivia J. Kiers 14 Whirlwind b y W i l l i a m B l a c k bu r n 15 Fisherwoman b y Re no i r G a it he r 16 The Transitory Nature of Happiness b y S he r e e L a P u m a 18 Thornapple Tree b y I l o n a M a r to n f i 20 All Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re Left With b y G ab r i e l M u ndo 22 the latina thing b y L u i s L o p e z - M a l do n a do 24 L i t u r g i e s & Me t a l s b y N i co l e Yu r c ab a 25 How by Benny Langedyk
26 Ghosts by Jimmy Latin 28 Ritual Sestina b y N i k it a B l e ye r 30 Fish Lips b y J e a n F i neb e r g 32 You Will Go b y J a s o n E mde 34 The Body as an Arrow b y C l a y to n L o n g s t a f f F i c t i o n 39 Something to Believe In b y E l i z ab e t h K a t z 49 Dragons in the Park b y A b i g a i l Vy b i h a l 58 The Stoop b y C a r o l i ne B Ăź h l e r 70 Screwtape Visits the Dorm b y Ke n E c ke r t 83 Late Nights by Sarah DeLena 90 Hating Children by Emily Ezzo
C r e a t i v e N o n f i c t i o n 97 My Honcho b y H a r r y Re d l i c h 106 Your Country Store b y S h a n no n V i o l a 115 Funerals for the Religiously I m p a i r e d b y R a p h a ĂŤ l l a Va i l l a ncou r t 1 2 3 C o nt r i bu to r s
Editorial Team Editor in Chief Anabelle Zaluski
Managing Editor Clare Chodos-Irvine
A r t i s t i c D i re c t o r Nina Molto
S o c i a l Me d i a E d i t o r Megan Rivas
Web Content Editors Lily Olivas Saul Carrera Mรกrcia Ramos
P ro s e E d i t o r s
Marco Buttice Olivia Cailliarec Celia Caldwell Abigail Candelora
Constantina Gicopoulos Cecilia Mueller-Judson Abby Stewart Hannah Tolman
Foreword Soliloquies this semester, as every semester, has been a whirlwind. This time around we received more submissions than ever (from every continent excluding Antarctica—apparently, the glaciers don’t write a whole lot). But I think I speak for the whole team when I say that we are so awed by and so thankful for every submission we read this semester. The world is full of so many beautiful things, and we are proud to contribute. It’s not easy to balance school, work, and extracurriculars. We are extremely lucky to have the privilege to dedicate our time to Soliloquies; each member on our team has a specific set of circumstances that has led us here today. It is important to acknowledge this privilege and do our best to provide opportunities for those who are not in the same positions as us. This is why our submissions continue to be free, and it’s why this year we have decided to direct our proceeds to the Quebec Writers’ Federation and their Mairuth Sarsfield Mentorship. It isn’t a huge step, but it’s something, and we hope that we can continue to support the community and the diversity within it. We are also excited to continue offering compensation to our readers. New and young authors are often encouraged to write for free, but writing is still work—and trust me, it’s hard work. Every year, we are able to better contribute to the literary community, and we hope to continue growing in this way.
Soliloquies has always been an open and welcoming space for all, and these spaces are increasingly important as the fight continues for a safer Concordia. We continue to stand for and with survivors of sexual assault. Creative spaces are important places in which we can share our stories and process trauma, and we hope we can provide this for those who need it. We will keep trying our hardest to change the culture of Canlit to reflect the future. I would like to thank ASFA and CASE, because without their gracious financial and moral support, this anthology would surely not exist. I would also like to applaud the beautiful and badass members of the Soliloquies team for putting in so much work with so much care this semester. And I’d especially like to thank Clare Chodos-Irvine for stepping up as the world’s best Managing Editor. The “world’s best” thing is unconfirmed, but I’ve contacted Guinness and they should be getting back to me soon. Please enjoy these poems and stories as the weather gets colder. Wherever you are, whether you are reading this in print or online, with friends or alone under the covers, thank you. We hope you like it.
Anabelle Zaluski Editor in Chief
Olivia J. Kiers
Shade Garden I tried to photograph the shaded hillside infected with cicada shaking.
Its terraces were swollen purple and dark green. Dusk: such a beautiful bruising. A chest-ache re-awakens beneath the catalpa’s cardiac canopy where a tree scab softens, becomes a kiss the colour of my mother’s lipstick— Rose Night, or so I called it. The cupid’s bow lies abandoned in a garden furrow under fleshy pink clouds—too ripe, too soon relaxing. Dusk: a sweet decay. Dust, or a smear across the lens, muddled intentions. Wait too long, and daylilies close like fists over secrets, each terrace a crumpled sheet, the last cloud a pink sty squinting through haze: the cicada air, the purple wing, all iridescence and vaseline.
Whirling dervish dirt devil of detritus ensconced upon the sky Sky masked with particles, exhausting mist, cloud made Made for spouting water, a hose within the heavens leaking Leaking acid raining down upon our furrowed brows thinking Thinking, thoughts chewing away masticating our time and energy Energy bursts, blast of wind, strike of electric lance Lance the boil, astringent for the earth, sore from digging Digging pits, exhuming precious ore, popping zits with relief Relief agencies summoned to the county, roads washed out Out of time, out of sync, sinking lower each day settling Settling of contents naturally occurring force of gravity Gravity of the situation worrying, Mama donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t care about yours Yours: toys left out in the rain, vacuumed up: her dervish whirling
Fisherwoman “Sex with a billionaire is like fishing sesame seeds
from the bottom of a shallow gimlet with a cocktail stirrer,” she said, removing the last anchovy from the sterling tray of hors d’oeuvres, lips as red as a gondola plying the histogram of shoring mists.
Sheree La Puma
The Transitory Nature of Happiness Before the baby, she sat rocking a rainbow. Clutching a bear against swollen breasts, she is happy. A river of blessings cut through the yard. Truth be told, it is a rainy day in March 1989 & I am in my 5th month. Violently ill for 18 weeks, or 126 days, I am depressed, anxious, cradling head in hands to squash the noise. Today is my mother’s 2nd week in rehab. It’s like plugging a dam with a tissue. My three-year-old is somersaulting through the kitchen. “Look at me,” he says. I am the same age she was when she started drinking. Three breakdowns later, mom’s still going strong. My Doctor says I’m right on schedule. It’s been one hell of a year.
Last night, a gathering of wives, Disney. Who are these people? Tight assed, Cinderella glass slippers, long fingers gripping Riedel Sommeliers. I rub my bulge, look down at my feet, swollen. “I’m having a girl,” I say to no one in particular. My husband laughs, some nervous banter. I demonstrate the kind of unreliability of a woman looking for an ending to fall into. We avoid eye contact, settling into ritual, a kaleidoscope of blues. He never says, “I love you.” Or he does. I can’t hear him. He is a modern-day ghost. We pace, eat, pace, some more. Music’s loud. He looks at the clock. My baby swims away from me. Or in circles, signals are often misinterpreted. Always dreamt of being mother. But first I need to breathe out the sea.
Cyanotype prints stained aubergine with tea tannin. Bleached with soda ash, small sky. The kitchen, unpainted concrete floor. Bare bulb on ceiling. Wood stove. Ilka lives in a two-storey red brick house Halle 7, attached to a factory shed, roofless hallway. Rumpelkammer windows blasted. Blue glass eyes of a porcelain doll. Fairy tale books. War refugees and all those in that town. In the schoolyard, a thornapple tree. Shooting marbles. Skipping. Playing hop-scotch. Pigtailed nine-year-old. Fen peatlands, white chalk hills of Pirka Wood. Danube river wetlands. In a scene through a camera lens. Willow reeds grow in bomb craters, yellow forsythia. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s nineteen fifty-one.
Ilka’s mother bakes kalács, a sweet bread, with wild blueberries. Ilka’s mother does not know teacher touches her. It’s nineteen fifty-one. Pressing a shutter button. Colourless negatives. Draping treated papers over ladders and fences. This is that monochrome.
All They’re Left With As I watch the apartment burn, I hold the hand of one of the neighbour girls. Her skin brown as peach pits, braids tight as stitches. Do you think they’ll be okay? I hope they’ll be okay. Her voice is more than a breath but less than a whisper. Here, a home burns with every season. Inevitable as spring showers, fall leaves.
At least theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be warm. At least for tonight, I say and she punches me in the stomach and runs off somewhere into the orange night. I probably deserved it. But in the end, all theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re left with is heat, the prayers of the neighbourhood, a glass jar in every corner store with their faces.
the latina thing
you know, the not putting up with crap not allowing unwanted hands up our skirts shirts our skin the colour of some dirt, but we ain’t dirty or broke so don’t slap those labels on me dude bro bruh, you know, the Latina thing the not giving up giving in giving some man or woman all our Frida Kahlo without introducing them to our Niurka Marcos because we say when and where and with who because you know, the Latina thing is not something you learn in school on Google from your bff, but it comes with birth with blood with pain con las mismas venas que nuestros antepasados raíces de maíz de oro de sol, you know the Latina thing inside that spicy exotic bitch you want to hit that shit with but can’t because your broke ignorant ass ain’t even good enough for our ankles, you know
the Latina thing that defends our own with bald eagle claws bull horns scorpion tail, that enters a new space like lion that bleeds like heart like cut like bruise like the thing between our brown thighs, you know the Latina thing that white mouth of that white girl on that white set on TV said, you know, because Twitter trending AOC sounded too smart too good to be true to be real to be politically correct, but that thing she has we have is something not for sale, not for adoption, not for relocation and that voice will get larger stronger longer and that Latina Latino Hispano Mexicano thing will continue to grow like flowers like trees like weeds, you know, because la cosa Latina because of justice because of privilege because, just because
Liturgies & Metals
You prefer the uninterpretable ones, especially the ones melding Shevchenko and Eastern Orthodoxy to loudness. We listen to the first-release vinyls bought from an independent record store. We stay awake until two & recite Kostenko, Antonych, Zabuzhko, Zhadan. You know my childhood’s language—its intricacies, its intimacies, quiet complexities & diminutives. When the record stops, you move the needle back to Side A’s beginning. I want it again, you state, the crackling thin in our bedroom’s air. What is ‘it’? I ask, wondering if it is Ukrainian flowing from our tongues. Or do you possibly mean me, naked, except for your fading fatigue jacket? Or perhaps you mean the poetry— yes, that’s it—the poetry, always waiting. Waiting, like me, for your return, nights, these records and thirty-five minute funerals. Waiting for the needle’s movement through four tracks, Side A’s nineteen-minute mass. Waiting for your explication of myths & symbols, tremolos & screams & growls. Waiting, wordless, for Side B, the side I know you’ll ignore (my favourite). Waiting, clutching the Cyrillic cross I wear around my neck, for an answer.
With the felt tip of a magic marker we trace the diaphragm of a strangled plastic bag coated with cum and with the illustration of a lion or a colt or an occult sensation stuck on the felt tip of my tongue drying in the Minden sun I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel queer under because the days float by like boulders in the nameless lake; home to a few burlesque turtles and more than a couple secrets, so teach me how to shower in sand how to sweep sand from a cube & how to sketch wizards in sharpie because I never learned how
It was cold and damp and had been raining For three days straight on the day I revealed The argument I used to defeat my father. One-by-one and without being able to say why, We had all come to be seated at the kitchen Table—my father and I at opposite ends, and my Mother, younger brother and sister occupying The sides. We sat in silence while the sound of Rain on the roof marked out time with its Steady, dull applause. If I hadn’t known my mother was not a religious Person, I might have believed she was praying—with Her hands clasped together and her gaze bent upwards, Towards the skylight’s grainy hue. While beneath their Chairs, my brother and sister kicked their feet, Distracting themselves from some dim apprehension. But my father would not let go of a certain torch He held in the grip of his eye—though to us its Light had long since faded. He believed the rain would stop; The rest of us were not so sure.
A flash of lightning lit the room and the sky Rumbled, as if clearing the phlegm from its Throat in preparation to speak. “The Argument”—as it was known from that day forward— Did not make a lot of noise. Not like the bombs Dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor like the Ordinance that fell over Baghdad, or the Reports of Those weapons that rang through Colombine’s halls. Neither was it malicious, like the twisting of the blade after it has already been set in the Flesh. But it was as subtle and unstoppable as gravity. Its only visible effect: a small break In my father’s posture—barely registerable, But evidence enough that in the tall dark column Only he could enter in to, that shadowy tower in Which he had often taken refuge had crumbled. He sat crestfallen. We looked away. But we were relieved and soon he would be too: The rain would not stop but at Least we could go back outside.
The cold bathwater is slick with oil I submerge myself and I feel holy And coffee and cream is too rich to drink And I think my best friend thinks I’m a jerk. In the bath I am blue but I want to be pink, The white soap lathers and gets in my eyes. It smells fresh but shouldn’t be in my eyes, Shiny and green and clean like olive oil, I’m a pink-eyed-freak, a freak-eyeing-pink. I wish I could smell like all things holy But I can’t so I sit up and jerk My oil slick body out of the drink. I don’t even feel like having a drink. I wish I was in the hurricane’s eyes Where me and the storm could wrestle and jerk And milk from me some of that golden oil And loosen up what’s in me that’s holy. I wonder if it would come out all pink.
My hair is fading to a lighter pink Which would be alright if I didn’t drink My bathwater as if it was holy. It’s stained pink now and it stings in my eyes, Either from the dye or the jasmine oil. I’m blind to it when I’m being a jerk. My new vision is the same as some jerk Who makes me want to be shiny and pink. I wonder if maybe he oozes oil And cleverly offers it as a drink. I’ll go back home and from behind my eyes I’ll see if we could make something holy. Something sweaty and loud, but still holy. I embody my God when I am a jerk As if I had seen It with my own eyes In this time of Gemini sex and pink Things that I swallow as much as I drink Oh, boil me down into golden oil.
You were splayed across the sand, a plastic bag clinging to your mouth and one eye staring. How long have you been here? I asked. Since the Cambrian explosion, you burbled, exhaling despite the bottle cap lodged in your gill. No, I mean you, yourself, I said to the eye. Not the point, spat Fish Lips. First there were the forks, then the straws (RIP my sister), then the clamshell packaging, (so insulting to clams).
You hominids, a mere six million years old, threaten forebears, a hundred times your age. All four nostrils flaring, you flipped me a pectoral fin. Annoyed at this unfortunate interruption of my otherwise perfect day, I stepped over you, as your caudal fin spanked my sorry ass.
You Will Go
I am contained in this body; all of us move in the spheres of our grief our private joys. Look at the mailman and his dizzying happiness, the housewife next door, her heart a trembling needle — Sarah Tsiang, “You Are Gone”
When you die Dad I’ll have a particular private Japanese sadness all to myself, your vapor anchored to my concretes here—my couch, the castle, Kyoto, Kochi, my street, my desk, blue mountains, the river, big table in Bier Hall, the sake shop, graveyard on Koya, Nara, Nikko, Tokyo with its dazzling pulse, giddy, gaudy. Temple to temple and mountain to mountain when we walked a thousand Shikoku kilometres—fussing with ghosts even then: your wife, my mother, loosed, disembodied. I am contained in this body and you in yours but you’ll be loosed too—to international saddening—heat, ash, the ceremonies that stitch pain to the future. What’s to be done? Nobody knows. So we drink and read, connect and bend head to head to help, to hear, to touch when we can. Our mouths with their talking, maps, pain, Dief the Chief, the stars in their wheeling, Tarantula Nebula, lightning on Jupiter, your days in the Navy, the girls unkissed, the mill, the past— but it’s ok if we never could provide the final rim of relief: all of us move in the spheres of our grief. 32
Around us the many, neighbours, spiders, salesmen, sons, Joe with his singing—Here comes the sun—Sasha calling for bananas at bedtime, the ceaseless sewing of our lives together, and always the chance to notice, accept, pause in astonishment—the needle stilled—like when Maho looks, stops, says “This is happiness.” Self-pitying doesn’t deliver and fear is the killer, which leaves us what? The compass needle quivers, points to distant blues. It won’t last but being happy is this: unashamedly feeling our private joys. Look at the mailman with his dizzying. When you’re dead you’ll be scattered freely to flow over my map, ghost-marked, daily encountered, closer than ever, maybe closer than now. Who knows? Wind through pine tree branches, lightning on the castle, a grief, a pause, unintegrated, vast, broken into joys spent in sprees with me here, and here, and here. Chances to be gleeful, the Beatles and travel, books and wine, loss transformed into visions beautiful with that blue. Letting go with a laugh. No more achievement, no more struggling to be heedful. Happiness, the housewife next door, her heart a trembling needle. 33
The Body as an Arrow
is to say that I am One though words are many—or, perhaps it is to say that youthful springs today will dry and soon become next summer’s dust—to say that rot is in the seed. The body as an arrow otherwise may point its blind determination to proceed, the quiver’s incommunicable glimpse of the hand that freed it—lost its grip. Or may, like the single ivory bead that punctuates the greyness of the river, the stony breathlessness of a Nova Scotia winter scene with those funny clapboard houses so familiar to those who’ve known them (left, then later loved) puffing out from their chimneys plumes of our shared histories—the births, miseries, marriages of the lives that lived here, their deaths, too, remembered and forgotten in a solemn dab of white. The body as an arrow might just be a way to say Thank you, I will, waving as you pass.
Something to Believe In Whenever I am well, I think this perfect thought: that before I was born, there was nothing. I look myself in the mirror and smile, imagining that everything came from me—the moon and oceans and the night sky and all of New York City. It’s all so clear. I unleashed tulips and kissing and fire escapes and music. I matter and I am everything. I made this world perfect—all of it created within six days. And on the seventh day, I will finally be able to rest. Whenever I am well, I am a myth that I can believe in. But today, I am not well. It is a September afternoon at the Union Square farmers market, and I am in desperate need of saving, when I see Him. He wears a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a gray leather jacket, and his dark brown hair curls around his ears. It is him that I see because he is gorgeous, he carries himself like a god. The crowds bend around him like he’s known, and I can feel it—he is the person who will complete me. He stops at a stand called Bread Alone; I watch from a fruit vendor as he studies the sourdough and ciabatta rolls and demi baguettes. I get a big swollen feeling in my ribs, the air tastes new. Then, he is next to me. His hands feel the ripeness of the peaches, a thumb strokes the fuzz. He picks up a plum, the skin giving be39
Elizabeth Katz neath his fingers. I stupidly choose an apple and pretend to inspect its bruises. His eyes are on me, big and angelic. “Is that a Honeycrisp?” I look back, and the sunlight hits him just right. He glows. “Uh, I think so.” “Did you know they’re extremely hard to grow? Apparently, the skin is so thin that it makes them prone to sunburn and storage rot. They’re a total nightmare for growers.” “Then why do they even bother?” He shrugs. “Necessary evil. They’re the most profitable variety on the market, which I guess makes it worth all the trouble. Because sometimes you get the perfect result.” He leans in so close that I can feel his breath. “So that’s really quite a delicacy you’ve got there.” “Huh.” I marvel at the piece of fruit. “Why do you know all that?” “I know everything.” He smirks and buys us each an apple. I want him more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. He leads me to a room where I will matter, where I will be his everything for a moment. I follow blindly. The room is a white box that he calls his apartment. The walls are blank, waiting for our braided breaths to paint them. It begins as we press ourselves into one another—a mural crawls up to the ceiling, engulfing the room in lush greens and blues. A garden sprouts, and you can reach out and touch it. Soon, we’re covered in moss, damp with life, and we’ll grow up the tree we choose forever. Everything we do here is sacred. 40
Fiction I bow down to a plea. When I look into his eyes, they’re Holy Water; my face calm in the reflection. He lays me down, his bedsheets rustle with the summer breeze. Devotion is my name in his mouth. We worship here together until morning cries out. When I go, it is with the promise of a new life. I chose Gabriel because of his divine beauty, and he chose me back, so I must be divinely beautiful too. I float down 3rd Avenue with a cup of coffee and an almond croissant that he bought for me. It’s like he has given me wings. I have a good week, still reeling from our night together. I feel so good that I don’t take my medicine. I don’t need it. The more I think about him, the more I realize that I am too big for the world I was born into. I am too big to study Semantics and eat cereal in the dining hall and talk about who’s sleeping with who. I start to hate my roommate Serena and the loud, boring sex she has with her loud, boring boyfriend. She puts a sock on the door and I wait in the common room, listening as she fakes an orgasm. I pity her, because she’ll never know true rapture. But I do. Gabriel taught me. I start to hate my professors for the mundanity of their lectures, my friends for the pettiness of their problems, people on the street for their lack of self-awareness. Everywhere I am, no matter what I’m doing, I’d rather be with Gabriel. But he’s elusive in his grandeur. He doesn’t answer my texts. I get it, he’s all-knowing, he has a lot of miracles to perform. So maybe if I pray at his altar, I will be anointed. Maybe I too will become powerful and untouchable. Maybe I will feel so well that my myth will just become true. I decide 41
Elizabeth Katz to stop going to class. I decide to stop seeing my friends. I decide to stop going outside. Instead, I’ll practice what we did in that room. I will call it Adoration. My ex-sister-in-law Bria is the only person I tell about my new routine. She says, “That must be hard with your weirdo roommate home all the time, right? You don’t jerk off with her in the room, do you?” I tell her it’s not about jerking off. She doesn’t listen. She says I can stay at her apartment on Bleecker if I need a change of scenery while I find myself. I’ve already found myself, and it’s in him; but she’s spending half of the year in Barcelona at an artists’ residency and she didn’t bother to find a sublet, so the place will sit empty if I don’t accept. I move in over the weekend. Her studio has high ceilings with crown molding and huge windows overlooking a private patio. There’s exposed brick and a fireplace, and I feel like the person I’m supposed to be when I sit on her blue velvet chaise. A month ago, I would have felt like an imposter here; just a sad and ugly bitch sucking all the air out of the room. But because of him, I know now that this is what I deserve. Bria has a king-sized bed with a handcrafted headboard. She has a closet full of silk dresses and beaded corsets and pinstriped suits; she just left everything because she is immersing herself in the culture on her retreat. She’s a 2 and I’m a 4 on a good day, but I squeeze into what I can. Bria is a prophet leading me to divinity. She realized she was too big for it all too and that’s why she left my brother. She understands me. My mom would be devastated by my irreverence, so I call to tell her how well I’m doing. Classes are great! I 42
Fiction have lots of friends! I’m feeling really healthy! She asks if I’ve been going to church, her prescription when things got bad. I say yes, thinking humbly of his dick. The truth is, I haven’t left Bria’s apartment in days. Instead, I stay in bed, paralyzed by the thought of him. The sun stretches a hand onto my pillow, I barely shift. By noon, there’s a thin layer of sweat settling on my skin, so I make myself shower. Then, back to the bed where I do not sleep. When my mom hangs up, I get down on my hands and knees and touch myself with the tenderness he taught me. He is my idol. And after I come, I am purified. I settle into my routine of veneration. I wake, amble to the kitchen, tear off a hunk of bread, drink wine straight from the bottle. It’s probably spoiled, but it puts me in a haze of warmth, so I chug. Sometimes I order Indian or Thai on my mom’s credit card, when I remember that I’m hungry. I never go out. I pick through Bria’s clothes and choose something extravagant, like a sheer slip and a long silvery kimono and heavy chainmail jewelry, just because I can. This feels good. Then I light candles around the perimeter of the apartment, make a pallet of pillows on the shag carpet, and lie down to Adore. I’m in the room again, and Gabriel rests beneath our tree, shadows of foliage decorating his skin like lace. Birds sing to announce my presence. Suddenly impassioned, he leaps up and pulls me into his embrace. We sway and laugh, falling into each others’ perfect, innocent bodies. We are unashamed of our passion, because though this garden is teaming with life, we are the only thing that matters. The sound is of soft earth giving into rain. It nourishes the 43
Elizabeth Katz ground where we lie. We roar a primal sound, knowing that we were built to live the story everyone will be told. There is only bliss when our flesh becomes one. When I open my eyes, my heart is racing and my body is pulsating. I want to hold onto this. For the rest of the day, I doze and try not to cloud my mind with thoughts of the outside world. Bria calls on November 1st. She’s drunk and hysterical, and I can hardly understand her with the ridiculous fake Spanish accent she’s putting on. “It’s just... I... I should be happy, because I have like, cómo se dice, uh... everything I ever wanted, you know, like career and money and hot Spanish men buying me drinks...” She slurps from a straw. Latin music plays in the background. “Pero like... it’s not what I thought it’d be. I wanted it so much and I gave up the life I had for something better and... now what do I have? What the fuckdo I have?” “Everything, Bria. You have everything.” I have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. “What if that’s not enough?” “Don’t be stupid.” She inhales sharply, then her breath shudders. “I... I’m coming home.” “What? Bria, you’re drunk. You’ll be fine in the morning. Just go to bed.” “No, I’m coming home tomorrow, I can’t take it, it’s too much, it’s all just t oo much!” “Bria, come on—” “Don’t try to talk me out of it, this is not what I need right now! I will see you tomorrow, make sure my place 44
Fiction is clean.” “Bria—” The line goes dead. I start frantically pacing, knowing that the world I’ve built for myself is about to implode. She will return and I will go back to my unbearably plebeian life. The myth will be disproven. It will become a truth that I am in fact destined to be unwell for as long as I live. I drain the rest of the wine and reach for another bottle above the fridge. But there’s nothing. I open every cabinet and all of the drawers in search of a cigarette or pills or coke—any sort of distraction. My great looming fear is filling the apartment. Maybe I’m not too big for it all, maybe I’m actually so so small; just an undeserving body taking up space, a burden. Maybe there is no saving me, no matter how much I want it. I stop, because I remember. Gabriel, my saving grace. My heartbeat slows, my muscles relax. I light the candles, fluff the pillows, and summon beautiful thoughts. I’m in the narrow hallway that leads to his room. On each side, one white door. They look identical, and I turn back and forth between them, unsure of which is mine. Something is wrong, I can feel my mind turning poisonous. But there is no entrance and there is no exit, so I choose one and don’t look back. Inside, everything is built just the same. He’s there, and I’m there, and we are both divinely beautiful. But it’s too still. There’s no cool breeze ruffling my dress, no sweet perfume enrobing us. I watch as the walls begin to bleed themselves dry. Suddenly, he pushes me into shadows I didn’t know were there, and from them leap angry flames. 45
Elizabeth Katz There’s a heaviness that’s hard to swallow, and it snakes its hands around my neck. My body is starved like an animal, so I have no choice but to give in. We conjure a toxic wasteland, where the air is metallic and sharp; I smell a distant forest fire. He throws me onto a bed of nails and thrusts until I splinter. He forces me to devour his sin. I become the sacrifice. When the smoke clears, we are shrouded in darkness. His eyes are black holes that consume any bit of me that is left. Here, I am no myth—I am real and I am my own ruin. He sleeps, I wait for the stone to be rolled away, so I can be resurrected. No one comes. I don’t feel good after I finish. No clean feeling, no rebirth—I feel like I can’t breathe. I tell myself it was a horrific hallucination and nothing more. But I’m putting on my jacket and I’m grabbing my keys and I’m walking outside for the first time in over a month. I face the sleeting November night. I’m headed uptown, and that’s all I know. It’s windy and slushy and my socks are soaking wet. I’d forgotten how horrible New York can be. There’s a small eruption in my chest when anyone makes eye contact. All the thin, glittering women are Bria, reminding me that I’ll never be either of those things, and even if I am, I won’t feel any different. The stocky, wide-eyed women are all my mother, condemning me for being a selfish, lazy liar, too caught up in her own sadness to see that God is always the answer. Every tall body I pass might be Gabriel, except the hair is too frizzy or the nose is too long or the lips are too thin. No one is beautiful enough. 46
Fiction On the other side of the crosswalk between 12th and 13th, there’s someone who might be him. If it’s my Gabriel, we will surely bump into each other, the myth will be restored, and I will be okay. I watch as he hunches down in his coat to avoid the weather. My Gabriel would celebrate the storm for how it nurtures the earth. He turns his head as a bus passes, revealing a severe jawline and heavy brow. My Gabriel’s face is cherubic and kind. The light changes and he comes directly toward me. He meets my eyes, I wait for some look of recognition. And this stranger continues on his way. It is all that I can do to put one foot in front of the other. I try to breathe. I try to smile. I try to remind myself of the perfect thought. Before I was born, there was nothing. Before I was born, there was nothing. It's not working. I’m in Union Square now, and it’s mostly deserted. A few shivering men smoke a blunt near the steps. I try to remember the day we met. September 15th. The day after I tried to end it all. Entirely ill-equipped to deal with me, Serena suggested that I go for a walk to get some fresh air. Something made me take her advice, and I wandered through the city looking for a reason to stay. I was hungry I guess, so I went where I would be surrounded by food fresh from the ground, unadulterated by human hands. I was in search of something pure when I saw him. I made him a martyr, an icon, something he was not. “Is that a Honeycrisp?” 47
Elizabeth Katz I looked up. His eyes were dull, even in the sun. “Uh, I think so.” “Oh, nice. Cool.” “Do you... like Honeycrisps?” He shrugged, shoulders curved, bored. “Eh, all apples kind of taste the same, don’t you think?” “Right, I guess.” I remember now the stubble on his chin, the tiny blemishes on his cheeks, the greasy wet lock of hair dangling on his forehead. But I didn’t notice them then. “What’s your name?” “Hope.” “Hope, do you want to take some apples back to my place?” And that was all. I went with him, believing in something because I needed to. He fucked me, I went home the next morning. I recall only now that his bedroom floor was littered with apple cores. I find a bench in the park and let the sleet strike me down. My hair hangs limp in my eyes, and I imagine what God must think of me. A stupid, sorrowful slut with nothing to believe in. For some reason, I laugh. There is nowhere to go, so I sit here alone—letting my mind be my own for the first time in a long time. I raise my head to the sky, open my mouth, and let the beads of ice melt on my tongue. It tastes like Communion.
Dragons in the Park Kathy Papadaki smudges the sand from her hands onto her shorts. She spits out a curl of hair tickling her tongue and tugs her Dragon Tales shirt from her sticky chest. It’s humid. The wind tangles in her hair and ruffles the leaves of the trees, carrying with it the smell of cut grass. Kathy squints up at the monkey bars. They loom high above her and stretch over the sand. They are connected to the jungle gym, a construction built to resemble a castle with yellow and green bars. The monkey bars stand beside the swings, near the red slide, and just beyond are the restrooms and soccer field. Kathy wonders whether she should try crossing the monkey bars one more time. But the sun burns the top of her head and her hands are sore with blisters. So she jumps to her feet and races towards the big oak tree, the tree she and her younger sister, Tania, named Goliath. The shade of Goliath climbs up her arms and cools the dust of pink on her cheeks. The aroma of her grandmother’s hand-cream softens the air. She smiles. Her grandmother is sitting on the wooden bench, brushing away the mud from her sister’s hair. Her silver bracelet, the one she bought long ago in Crete, sways as she does so. “Yiayia, I almost crossed the monkey bars,” Kathy says. “I know, I saw. I’m so proud of you.” Her sister squeezes her hands around the hem of 49
Abigail Vybihal her polka dot shirt and wobbles onto her tippy toes. “Me too, me too!” She says. “You’re not allowed, you’re too young,” Kathy tells her. “No!” “And you’re too short.” Her sister makes a face and says, “Not true.” Kathy is eight and Tanya is five. They are standing at either end of the monkey bars. The sky is clear and the air is hot, but the branches of Goliath loom over the jungle gym and block the sting of August’s sun. The park is busy today. There is a line up at the restrooms. It curves around its brick walls and follows along the dirt path. The field beyond it is packed with kids as they run and kick a soccer ball. Grownups sit and stand on the edge of the white lines, shouting, cheering. The peace of the park is lost amidst the uproar of voices. Her grandmother continues to watch them from the bench, and when Kathy glances over, her grandmother sends her a smile. She and her sister each grab bars, wide grins on their faces. They giggle and say, “Three, two, one, go!” Kathy steps off the platform of the jungle gym and races across the monkey bars to meet her sister in the middle. The sun-baked bars burn Kathy’s palms and the smell of hot metal reminds her of their mission. Beneath them is a sea of lava. The sand that once sprinkled over the earth is swallowed and destroyed. Their kingdom is overthrown by trolls and monsters who threaten to eat them, shouting, cheering. But hope is not lost. When reunited, they can 50
Fiction open a portal to a new world and escape. Kathy reaches the middle first. She huffs and puffs and her hands begin to slip, but she holds on. Her sister hurries over and she swings her legs to increase her momentum. The monsters’ screeches grow louder and the lava threatens their feet. Time is running out. Her sister struggles to quicken her pace, but as she swings her legs she flings them too far and kicks Kathy in the knee. Kathy winces and loses her grip. When she falls, she lands on the point of a nail hidden in the sand. She cries out. Her grandmother jumps up from her spot and scurries over. Her sister grows pale and lands beside her. “I didn’t do it on purpose, I’m sorry!” “Of course you didn’t do it on purpose,” her grandmother says, “don’t worry.” She bends down and brushes away the hair from Kathy’s face now twisted in pain. “I want you to look at me, okay koritsaki mou?” My sweet girl. Kathy looks at her, tears in her eyes, jaw clenched, and her grandmother plucks the nail from her sandal. Kathy whimpers. The tip is licked with a drip of red. “Come,” her grandmother says and lifts Kathy to her feet, “let’s get this treated, okay?” She nods. “I’m sorry,” her sister says. Kathy frowns, but allows her sister to hold her hand. Kathy is eleven and Tania is eight. They’re sitting on top of the monkey bars and dangle their legs over the edge. The wind is sharp, but their sweaters are thick and protect them from the cold. Kathy tells Tania a tornado is coming. 51
Abigail Vybihal “And it’s going to sweep up all our—” “No, not a tornado,” Tania says. “Hey I wasn’t done talking.” “It should be a gigantic wave.” Kathy hums. “Yeah, ok.” Tania points in the distance and Kathy follows it past Goliath, around the kids on the swings, the red slide, over the restrooms and beyond the field. There, a wave like no other is thirty hundred meters tall. “What do we do?” Tania cries and shakes her sister in a panic. Kathy loses her balance from the push, but quickly holds on to the monkey bars and saves herself from falling. She nudges Tania away from her, who smiles sheepishly. “Please be careful,” their grandmother says and hovers close to the jungle gym, her forehead wrinkled with worry. “Don’t worry, Yiayia,” Kathy says. “We’re dragons, and this is our mountain-palace.” “You should join us!” Tania says. Their grandmother shakes her head and laughs. “I’d break my back trying to get up there. But you girls have fun.” Tania nudges her sister. “Let’s do the upside-down thing together,” she says. “Ok!” They grab onto the edge of the monkey bars as tightly as they can. With a nod from Kathy, they fall forward and hang upside down. Their grandmother gasps and holds her arms out beneath them. 52
Fiction “What are you girls doing? You better not fall down.” They laugh, and the blood rushes to their heads. Tania is eleven and Kathy is fourteen. It is April, cloudy and the park is quiet. The grass of the soccer field is wet with slush and the sand beneath the jungle gym is soggy and dark. Kathy stands at the edge of the monkey bars, she grips the first bar but does not go any further. The beams are cold and the air smells like wet pavement. Kathy asks Tania if she wants to join her, “like old times,” but Tania shakes her head and stays close by with their grandmother. The breeze is still cool from winter, and Goliath is naked, shivering, waiting for its leaves to bud. Kathy rolls the gum around in her mouth and spits it out onto the sand. It has lost its taste. “Can I have some of your hand-cream, Yiayia? My hands are dry,” Tania asks. “Sure. It’s in the big pocket,” their grandmother says. Tania steps behind their grandmother and unzips her bag. She fishes around and brushes her finger along the stubble of a comb before grabbing the smooth surface of a tube. She pulls it out, admires the illustration of a flower, and pops open the cap. She breathes in the aroma, fresh, warm and creamy. Kathy looks down from the jungle gym. She can smell the hand-cream. It thickens the air and makes it hard to move.
Abigail Vybihal Once Tania has closed the bag, their grandmother flattens the sand in front of her with her boot. She bends down, pulls off her glove and traces an image into the sand. Kathy leans against the railing of the jungle gym and watches her draw. “Is that a sailboat?” Tania asks. “Yeah.” “You’re missing the beam that holds the sail.” “Oh, but it looks good without it.” Their grandmother draws curly waves under the boat and a sun in the sky. Her silver bracelet slips down her wrist and rests at the base of her hand. “Hey, Yiayia,” Tania says, “when was the last time you went to Crete?” “I’m not sure,” their grandmother answers. “Sometime in the ‘80s, maybe ‘85.” Kathy glances around the park. She takes notice of the few kids hovering about, too intimidated to play on the playground. She slips her hands in her pockets for warmth, but her pockets are cold too. She looks at the ground. The sand is polluted with mud, rocks, soda cans and slush. Once the snow disappears the park will be crowded again. And this time there won’t be enough room for her. Tania laughs and nudges their grandmother. “I tried,” she says and reveals a deformed drawing in the sand. “It’s supposed to be an island, a beach actually. That over there is a dock, like the wooden ones where those motorboat-things are parked.”
Fiction “Very nice, but where are the waves?” “Oh yeah.” Tania stares at the sand. “Meh, It’s good enough.” Kathy jumps down from the jungle gym and lands beside Tania. Kathy is shorter now. “I’m hungry,” Tania says and hooks her arm around her grandmother’s. “Let’s go home.” “Alright, come on Kathy.” They walk away and pass by Goliath. Kathy glances back and watches several children filter away from their parents and run over to the monkey bars. Tania is fourteen and Kathy is seventeen. They, in addition to their grandmother, are sitting on the bench near Goliath. It’s May and the weather is getting warmer, especially during sunny days like these, but the budding leaves of Goliath soften the heat of the sun. They chat and snack on the raisins their grandmother insisted on bringing. Summer vacation is three weeks away, and so is their trip to Crete. Tania asks her grandmother if she feels weird going back after thirty years. “I don’t know about weird. But I haven’t really missed it because of you crazy girls.” Her sister laughs. “But it would be interesting to see my elementary school again, if it still exists.” “I’m sure it does,” Tania says. “You’re not that old.” Three months later. It’s noon and hot, but the sun isn’t as strong as it was in Crete. Tania opens the front door of their house and steps outside. She adjusts the spaghetti straps of her polka 55
Abigail Vybihal dot shirt and stretches her arms in the air. Her sister follows close behind. “It’s weird being back home,” Tania says. “The air smells different, like fresher or something.” “I miss all the fig trees,” her sister replies. “I don’t. Figs are disgusting.” “They’re not disgusting.” Tania ignores her. “We haven’t been to the park in a long time,” Tania says. “I know, right?” They walk along the sidewalk, Tania walking closest to the road. It’s quiet. The road beside her is empty; but full of weeds, cracks and potholes. Tania’s hands are dry and itchy. She glances to her sister when she sees her digging around in her bag and slips out a tube of hand-cream. “Can I have some?” Tania asks. “Sure.” The grass of the soccer field has just been cut. Its smell is thick and tickles Tania’s nose. Beyond the restrooms she can hear the chaos of children’s voices, talking, screaming, laughing. She points to a squirrel that is staring at them by the red-bricked building. It’s sitting on the garbage can with the hole in it. Two kids run by and the squirrel jumps and hurries over to Goliath. It climbs up the trunk and hides within the cluster of leaves. Tania glances over to the playground and is stunned by what she sees. She nudges her sister and Kathy is just as surprised. The monkey bars are no longer there. In fact, the entire jungle gym is gone, their kingdom of yellow and green bars, their mountain-palace. A strange-looking con56
Fiction traption with five legs and seven warts occupies the place of the monkey bars. There are no platforms to jump off of, no bars to hold, and its legs and warts are grey. The sand that once sprinkled over the earth has been replaced with small wooden pieces, and the red slide is no longer there but taken over by another set of swings. “What the heck is that?” Tania says. “And why did they take out the sand? Isn’t it dangerous to have little pieces of wood on the ground? Kids can get splinters.” She and her sister stare, confused and disturbed by the downgrade, but children play on the bizarre contraption nonetheless. Her sister shakes her head. “Those kids don’t know what real fun is.” She and her sister walk over to the old wooden bench near Goliath. The great oak is in full bloom. Tania looks up, jumps and grabs hold of the lowest branch. She hoists herself up, grunting in the process. Her sister attempts to follow suit but falls. Tania watches her smudge the dirt and grass from her hands and onto her jeans. Her sister looks up at the branch as if wondering whether she should try climbing it one more time. Tania snorts. “Ha, you’re too short.” Her sister makes a face and says, “Not true.”
The cold autumn wind streaming through my hair makes my shoulders shiver and, as I look up from the graveled ground beneath my feet, it feels as if the sunflower across from me is shivering too. Its thin stem rises well above the pick up truck parked behind it. It has long leaves that droop down at the ends and follow the movements of the sunflower’s body in a slow circular motion as they appear up the stem. Its head is large and round, crowned with meticulous golden petals. As the sun is setting, the thin streaks of light make the details of the sunflower look like a faded shadow. Its head is propped downwards. She’s bowing; it could be to the sun, perhaps to me, or maybe to the specks of dust I can see trailing down like snowflakes. My right hand moves up to my lips, the tip of the Pall Mall Red cigarette flickering. I take a drag, watching the burning paper swallow the untouched body. The smoke feels warm in my throat—maybe a little heavy—and I breathe it out in a loud exhale, watching the dirty air fly away. I flick my cigarette a few times, mostly out of nervousness, and rest my arms on top of my knees. My eyes slowly pick apart the view in front of me: the trees coating themselves with warm autumn colours, the electric pole on which a squirrel makes its daily climb, the small apartment buildings across the street from mine, and of course, the sunflower. Looking at the sunflower now, it’s hard to imagine 58
Fiction a day when it wasn’t seven feet tall with a head twice as large as mine. It has been there, its roots dug into the ground, for months, and as I watched it grow, it saw me decay. The longer I look at it, the corners of my lips tense up and my eyes become heavy. Crying on the street has not been a big fear of mine lately; there’s a certain amount of public cries a person needs to have until any of the shits given fly out the window. The first time I cried on the stoop, I had just come home from a date. I collapsed on the snow covered stairs and let my body settle into the icy stone. It was two thirty in the morning in February and the street was empty, except for the few snowflakes I could see illuminated in the lamppost lights. Montreal looked particularly lonely during winter with its near empty streets and foggy skyline. I took a few deep breaths and finally gave in to a loud sob followed by spools of tears, landing on my scarf and freezing up immediately. I felt a small buzz in my pocket. I sniffled a few times and removed my right glove to retrieve my phone and click it open. It was a text from him: “I’m sorry about tonight. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” My eyes were blurred from the tears and I whispered “I don’t know either,” somehow hoping he could find an answer to that question. I flipped through my apps and called Maria. Ring. Ring. Ring. Rin- “Adeline?” I took a deep breath and sniffled a few times before speaking. “We broke up again.” Silence. I could hear Maria sighing slightly over the phone. “What did he do this time?” 59
Caroline Bühler “Nothing, really… We were having a good time, we were talking and drinking, and then he started getting mean and aggressive,” I could feel another tumble of tears coming but I held them back. “Adeline… Pablo always does this,” she paused and sighed. “Don’t you remember last time? Or the time before? He knows what hurts you and he always breaks you before you realise that he’s not worth it.” “I always thought he was worth it… I love him. I don’t know what to do without—” and then it hit me. Waves of pain and sadness crashing against me all at once, as if all of my ribs had suddenly broke. I felt lonely; knowing that I loved someone who couldn’t give me what I needed, but somehow craved him more than anything. My body ached with my a burning fever, oblivious to the cold truth that I couldn’t manage to love myself first. “Adeline, you will be okay, you hear me?” I nodded my head but couldn’t utter a response. “We will get you through this, I promise.” I whispered a weak, “Okay,” before slumping my head downwards and letting the cold wind wrap its arms around me. I sat on the stoop for a while, rocking back and forth, hugging myself. I cried all I had to cry and cussed out all I needed to cuss out. When the snow had covered up by boots and parts of my ankles, I stood up, shook my legs, and went inside—into the warmth, on my own. After my first big cry outside of the comfort of my room came a lot of other firsts. By March, I was slowly re60
Fiction covering from my heartbreak. Going out alone and coming home with a decent stranger became part of my weekly routine. The few stairs that led to my apartment greeted a parade of men; short hair, long hair, stocky, tall, vegan, metal head, jock—one by one they trotted up the stairs and disappeared into the light past my front door. One morning, after an awkward goodbye with Jack—who spontaneously sang Eric Clapton to me during sex and had a condom with Vladimir Putin’s face on it that read “Put In” —I sat down on the same spot on the stoop, digging my hands into the snow and feeling the stinging coldness it provided to my fingers. When my skin was numb enough, I looked up and saw the sunflower, small and frail, its body fluttering like a butterfly with every breeze. Its small leaves poked their heads out of the snow that had already piled up around it. I scraped at the snow until the front of my shoes touched the gravel. It was rough and the small rocks rolled against my soles as I swayed my shoes back and forth against the ground. The sunflower was young; it must have been planted earlier in the morning. Its head was shaped like a dumpling—the green petals circled their way around the center like a gate. The sunflower was the first thing I looked at when I went outside in the morning, and the last thing I saw when I came home at night. Its thick stem and furry leaves danced in the late winter air. So did I in April. I was sitting on the stoop with my two roommates; it was late and we were so tired that we found anything funny. One of my roommates, Mathilde, had given us fishing hats. We sat on the stoop, huddled 61
Caroline Bühler together to stay warm, with our fishing hats on. Mathilde had brought a speaker outside with us, and when “Dancing Queen” by ABBA came on, we all stood up and started dancing. Our feet kicked at the snow and sent it flying towards the sunflower, and our arms reached high up towards the sky—trying to grasp at something that lay hidden in the midnight stars. We danced for three other ABBA songs until we were too tired and cold to move. We walked back inside, our heads bobbing at the beat of the songs as we went to bed. A few months later and the snow has been replaced by puddles of rainwater staining the concrete. The autumn air is gentle against my skin and I bob my head lightly at the song playing through my headphones. The frenzy that I felt that night no longer drives me like an electrical conductor. It had fried me, boiled me up until there was nothing left of me but bits and pieces to be picked apart by vultures. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment at which I snapped and began leaving my mind and body behind only to be taken over by someone or something else, but by the end of April, I had crossed that line. I only saw the sunflower in the early evening light when I mustered up the courage to get up and go outside for a Pall Mall Red. My heart would start racing at a hundred miles a minute and my head would start spinning as if it were lost in space. I came home nearly every night with a new stranger, trying to cope with my feelings of loneliness by letting a sweaty unknown body slowly cut it off of me. The sunflower watched as I made mistake after mistake. Between smoking pot on the stoop and having a 62
Fiction panic attack, doing lines of coke off of some guy’s credit card, or trying to send this man home but not knowing how to because my mind had already left me. The sunflower watched, again and again, as I slowly lost grip. Vodka replaced water and sleeping at night was replaced by sleeping during the day; the two ingredients that could never make a flower grow. The feelings of loneliness and helplessness that coursed over me for all those months had turned into monsters. I spent my days scared of myself and of others. Opening my eyes felt like an Olympic challenge. Paranoia wore me like an expensive fur coat; even taking a drag from a Pall Mall Red made my mind twirl in directions I didn’t want to go. I ignored phone calls, no longer spoke to my friends; there’s no way to know for sure how bad it got because I can’t remember most of it. All I remember is that, one night in mid May, I was sitting on the stoop smoking the same Pall Mall Red, when Pablo appeared in front of me. “Hi Adeline,” he muttered. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. So I did both. “What are you doing here?” I asked, sniffling. “I haven’t heard from you in a while… I thought something might be wrong,” he gestured at me with his hand, as if all of me might be wrong—I guess he had a point. “Can you blame me for not reaching out to you?” I scoffed. “And I’m fine.” “So what have you been up to?” he sat down on the stoop next to me. “Nothing, really, I’ve been keeping myself busy I 63
Caroline Bühler guess.” “By getting high and fucking random guys?” I looked at him with a confused look. “We have friends in common. They told me,” he added. “What I do with myself and others is none of your business. You made that pretty clear three months ago,” I retorted “I’m really sorry, Adeline, for everything I did and said…” His voice became soft. “I was a jerk and I treated you like shit. I’m so sorry.” “It’s fine,” I said half heartedly. “But seriously, how are you?” “I’m lost. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I want to be. All I know is that I don’t want to do this anymore.” “Well then stop,” he snickered. “That’s easy for you to say,” I sighed. “Look, no offense, but I want to go inside and I don’t want you to follow me there.” “Okay,” he said, with a tender smile, “you know I’m always here.” I pursed my lips and nodded before slowly making my way up the stairs. I looked back as my fingers touched the doorknob and saw Pablo still sitting on the bottom stair, looking at me. “Seriously, go home,” I said with a smirk. Pablo has come back a few times since. The first couple of weeks following that cold May evening, he came by to check in and see if I was doing alright. Naturally, I lied. I didn’t tell him when I had a stranger hiding out in my bedroom or that my days were still looking bleak, but 64
Fiction we would sit outside at dusk and look at the sunflower. It became a tradition throughout the summer: getting comfortable on the stoop, watching the sunflower grow bigger by the minute, and smoking the same Pall Mall Red. After a month, he asked me out for a drink. We went to a small bar around the corner from my apartment and shared a pitcher of sangria. It was genuine and familiar, as if nothing had ever come between us. We joked about when we met in twelfth grade and only knew how to talk to each other through petty insults in math class, and how the first few weeks of us dating were terrifyingly awkward and unnatural. At the brisk of midnight, he walked me back to my place. We stood in front of the stoop, our conversation slowing down and the words turning into hurried laughter. The sunflower was only a few inches away from us, towering above our heads when he grabbed me by the waist and kissed me. It felt good, comfortable, intimate; as if the past four months had disappeared and we had started over again. His lips were warm and our teeth bumped together as we smiled through the kiss. Eventually, he grabbed my hand and led me towards the stoop. We sat down, holding each other, my head nestled in his neck. “Am I a bad person?” he asked hoarsely. I sat up to look at him, “Why would you think that?” “I feel like I keep hurting people. You, mostly…” I took a deep breath, “You didn’t… Okay yes, you did hurt me. A lot. But what I’m going through right now, whatever mess I’ve gotten myself into, it’s not because of you. Mostly. It’s because of a million things that even I can’t explain.” 65
Caroline Bühler “I just feel responsible for all of this,” he gestured at me, my worn down eyes, cracked lips, tired body. “But you aren’t. I am responsible for all of this,” I gestured at myself the same way he did, breaking out a small chuckle. “I wish I hadn’t fucked things up so bad,” he whispered. “Me too,” I answered as I rested my head on his shoulder again. He laid his hand on top of mine, intertwining his fingers with my own. We sat there, feeling the warmth of each other, looking at the sunflower, sitting in complete silence if not for our quickened breaths each time we squeezed each other’s hands. What started off as a failed relationship turned into a meaningful friendship. Pablo still comes over once in a while and sits on the stoop with me. In this late October weather, he’d be talking my ear off about how Vincent van Gogh’s Autumn Landscape with Four Trees looks exactly like the four trees on the other side of the street. “I’m telling you, it’s like he came all the way here to make that painting! The trees are the exact same!” he’d exclaim. “Well. Except for all of the buildings behind them.” Sitting alone without him, I notice that he’s right about the trees—they look the same. I’ll never admit it to him though. The summer went by quickly. As the weeks passed, I stopped bringing home half of Montreal. I started waking up earlier and going to bed less drunk. I gave my weed to my 66
Fiction roommates and went to the gym whenever I craved some; in retrospect, I’m disappointed I didn’t get completely ripped. I craved weed a lot. The sunflower was starting to bloom. Its head would lift up to the sun in the morning, gazing at it peacefully, and in the evening it would bow back down. Each day, dozens of people would stop as they walked by and glare in awe at it. They would see me on the stoop, smoking a Pall Mall Red, and give me a warm smile before walking away. In late August, a small girl ran across the street to see the sunflower. The mother, petrified that she could have gotten ran over, bolted in her direction. “Anne, you can’t run across the street like that! You could have scared me to death!” she yelled, as she took her daughter into her arms and squeezed her tightly. “But mom, look,” she said pointing at the sunflower. The mother’s face softened and she set Anne down to observe the flower more closely. “It’s huge!” Anne exclaimed. She turned her small head towards me and waved. I waved back. “Do you think it’s taller than you?” she asked me. “Hm, I don’t know, let’s find out!” I set my cigarette down on the stoop and walked towards the sunflower. Its head was at least twenty inches above mine. “Ah,” I clicked my tongue, “I think I’d have to grow a little more.” “It’s huge!” Anne repeated. I looked down at her round face and curly blonde hair circling it. She looked up at me and gave me a warm 67
Caroline Bühler smile before turning to her mom. “What are we having for dinner?” she started running up the street, “I’m starving!” “Sorry about her, she gets very energetic when she’s hungry,” the mother said to me with a graciously kind smile. “Have a good evening!” she exclaimed as she followed her daughter up the street and asked her to slow down. I walked back to the stoop and picked up my cigarette with a smile glued to my face. There was something majestic about her innocence—how drawn she felt to the sunflower and how little worry she had for the world. I wished to myself that I could protect her from it; build a bubble around her and the sunflower, keeping them together and apart from the wickedness that swarmed around us like wasps, only to be stung and catch the same parasite. My days passed by quickly as I took on a normal routine again. I limited the crying-on-the-stoop-like-a-crazy-person to a minimum, slowly weaving down my suffocating sadness. By the time October swept by like the breeze tickling my arm, I found myself sitting on the stoop smoking the same Pall Mall Reds. My skin finally feels like my own again and there’s a life in my eyes that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I still doubt myself and I crave my old ways on lonely days. Pablo steals a kiss away from my lips every now and again, and sometimes a cute guy in a bar does too. Maybe one day I won’t crave another person’s touch every time I feel hollow inside. The sunflower hasn’t stopped growing. Its head is getting too heavy for its body, so it’s permanently bowing down to every passerby. 68
Fiction I hear a small creek behind me as the front door opens and Mathilde comes out. She sits down next to me, pulling the sleeves of her coat down so that only the index and middle fingers are visible. I hand her a cigarette and, seeing that her hands are tucked into the sleeves, I place it between her two fingers. “Pall Mall Red?” she scoffs. “I prefer the blue ones.” “I’m not gonna change my old ways.” I light her cigarette. She takes a drag and, as she exhales, she points her cigarette at the sunflower. “Oh man, its head is drooping! It looks so sad now!” she exclaimed. “She’s doing all she can,” I say with a smirk before putting my cigarette out and walking up the stoop into the apartment.
Screwtape Visits the Dorm “We’re on in five!” Brian’s voice rang through the green room commandingly, as he threw his last bit of cigarette to the floor in a careless flourish. “And get ready to move to a drop D tuning when I signal.” The bassist was pale, and warbled like the pimply teen on the Simpsons: “But we’re not practiced enough. And we’re playing Wembley!” “I’m not asking you,” Brian answered as he cast on his guitar strap and winked with his bad-boy insouciance. “Hey, rock and roll ain’t always pretty.” The roadies grinned at each other as Brian stepped into the lights and the audience noise exploded. “Bry’ll get us through. There ain’t no groupie, bourbon, or crowd he can’t take...” As the roar of a packed Wembley stadium faded from his imagination, Brian sat alone in his dorm room. He had played for about fifteen minutes now, but had found it difficult to concentrate this evening. It wasn’t that the dorm was noisy—if anything, it was now October, and the initial carnival partying of the first weeks of September had settled down into a mid-semester torpidity. The studiers were evidently studying, the video gamers were evidently gaming, the pot smokers were probably on the back step of the building with whatever pop-bottle contraption they’d rigged up to soften the smoke through water. Somehow he didn’t 70
Fiction want to join any of these tribes today, or felt somehow unwelcome among them, or perhaps just felt a vague, irritable sluggishness on no account—the sort older people recognize as no more than ordinary tiredness. From a distance, someone was playing “The Macarena.” Wonderful. The finest of the end of the century, this fin de siècle treacle in a foreign language. And so Brian, with an increasing feeling of dull futility, plucked listlessly at his electric. The jam had begun by warming up with power chords to conjure some artificial excitement; then he’d tried “Whole Lotta Love” and “Smoke On The Water,” followed by “Talk Dirty To Me.” Then he’d tried to work from there to C.C.’s guitar solo for the song, perhaps getting too ambitious—what was already a slightly cheesy song mocked him all the more, for his solo sounded like shit, and what was a mildly transgressive bubble-metal song had all the rock-and-roll defiance of an already filled-in crossword puzzle. He felt like a fool. With one last attempt at, at least, looking like a rock-and-roll god, he leaped to his feet, made a David Bowie Ziggy-Stardust era pose, and launched into some arm-swinging, mixing up his moves with Pete Townshend’s, and flying into a fury of angry power chords and aggressive downstrokes. Was he more fit to be an old-school ‘60s/‘70s guitar hero, à la Hendrix—or more punk or new wave—or more like the underground metal the guys were starting to play in dorm, like Rammstein or Rage Against the Machine? But just looking like these guitarists, or name- dropping band names, or dressing like them, was—even clearly in Brian’s mind—inadequate. Appearances didn’t make it so. 71
Ken Eckert He knew that playing an electric guitar was work, real work; it involved practice, and careful study of chords and key signatures and progressions, and slow work at fingerings and chords and arpeggios and all sorts of techniques built up by repetition. But all these guys do is scronk babes and take drugs and look cool in shredded leather and chains, Brian protested in his mind—surely they don’t actually spend time studying to become better guitarists? Do Judas Priest really read tablature theory books? Isn’t that what they dropped out of school to do, less drudgery and more girls and partying, before they fly off to Valhalla on silver dragons? He played a last flurry of chords, attempting to fool himself into thinking it sounded sufficiently defiant, and wondering if there was some occult craft, some back door wizardry where he could unlock the enigma—the secret which pro guitarists didn’t tell anyone, allowing him to sound great without practice or skill. Was it the gear, the effects, a better guitar? Or maybe he could be some nujazz wonder who found some atonal clash of notes by freak accident that upended everything, as the front cover caption below him on Rolling Stone would indicate, he depicted topless in sunglasses with a naughty topless blonde on each arm. He was rewarded by his own amplifier mocking him with a sonic fart, a flat, rumbly cacophony of frazzled notes. As ever, he sounded like shit. With his last angry chord he tried whammying the note for stage effect and broke his high E-string. Turning off his amp, even his body betrayed him by enjoying the silence. His own playing had given him a headache. “I’d do anything to be a guitar rebel,” he thought. “Anything. Didn’t people used to sell their soul to the dev72
Fiction il, and stuff like that?” Robert something did, apparently. Wouldn’t the prince of the underworld show up? He said out loud again, half in fun: “Hey, where are you guys? I’m offering to sell my soul to the devil if I can be a guitar legend.” What was terrifying, what made it especially eerie, is that he wasn’t answered by a sudden flash of thunder and lightning. It was simply a foggy presence, an emanation that trickled up from behind his dorm bed and in a few seconds condensed into a person—not totally human, for it was very slightly translucent, but still with a heavy presence. As it solidified, the body wore a lounge suit with black tie; the face was serious but featureless. The presence was what was frightening, the sensation that the figure in the room with him was so weighty as to almost have gravity drawing Brian toward him. The figure spoke in a sharp baritone. “Wind on another E-string,” it commanded. Brian did so. As Brian hurriedly spooled on a multi-pack string, he eyed the stranger nervously. “You’re here for my soul?” “Yes.” “You’re here to deal?” “Perhaps. Let’s see what you’re offering.” Obviously this was a dream, this wasn’t real. But Brian felt more awake than he could ever remember feeling—ironically, it was the sense of hyper-awakeness that suggested it was a delusion. People don’t appear in violet clouds. He wasn’t a terribly religious person. Some of his request had been made in angry joking. But here he’d summoned the thing. If he wasn’t sure heaven or hell really existed anyway, why not go on with it? “I want to be a rock guitar legend,” Brian said with 73
Ken Eckert false bravado, “in return for my soul.” “Like Robert Johnson and all, is that it?” said the demon, in a cold, bassy monotone. “Yes,” said Brian. Damn! Years later, he’d be explaining to Rolling Stone, or some trio of post-coital groupies, how it all started, and even this was already lame. I want to be a rock guitar legend in return for my soul. It was a cheesy way to phrase it—that’s not what Slash or Eddie would say, man. It was already a bad start, all wrong. “That’s what you want? In exchange for your soul?” said the demon with impatience, calling back Brian from his reverie. “Yes.” “Let’s see you play.” Brian theatrically stood up, took off his shirt to simulate feral aggression, turned on his amp, setting it up to a rock-and-roll eff-you 8 in volume, then turning it back to a slightly less eff-you but still rebellious 6 so as not to bring the R.A. to his room with a noise complaint, and giving a, well, devil-may-care shake of his hair, launched into some shredding which Brian thought really wasn’t so bad. This is actually pretty good, he thought, doing his best “Crazy Train” lead line. He played for a minute or so through the main verse, and then tapered off anxiously. The demon had shown no real emotion—was this good or bad? “Any more?” the demon asked. “Just getting started,” Brian growled back, with a slight Billy Idol sneer. He played the riff to “More Human Than Human,” transposed down for better effect, and because it was easier to play—and realized, perhaps too late, that there wasn’t much else in the guitar lead for the song 74
Fiction besides the soaring glide and low stabs. Maybe—maybe White Zombie itself, its name, the hellish iconography of the band and members—maybe this was enough, surely? But the demon just sat on the bed doubtfully. Sure, demons did not have normal human emotions, at least not good ones, he thought. But—nothing? The demon looked—bored. “That’s it?” the demon asked. “Okay, you asked for it,” vowed Brian with the patina of courage. Squinting his eyes to give a Clint Eastwood diffidence, he eyed the demon straight on and blasted into Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell.” That should do it, he thought—the lyrics, the attitude, the thunderous crunch, the underworldly anger of the song, were all there. Whoops. This was hard. He wasn’t Dimebag Darrell. The lead had, well, a bunch of notes. He’d screwed up the rhythm badly, and decided to throw in some other chords, hoping that a fast flurry of sound could cover up his incompetence. Looking at the demon, who now sat with eye-rolling bemusement, he stopped and gave a short rebel-yell hoot, announcing, “Brian. Waverly. Occupation: Guitar. Legend.” The demon snorted. Brian blinked. And looked again. Even when dealing with a demon, there’s a universally recognized difference between a feline snort of anger or warning or the like, and one of derision. The demon was laughing at him. “Brian Waverly? Occupation… guitar legend? Really?” “Yes! Guitar legend!” “I feel like I’m watching Bill and Ted’s Wyld Stallyns,” scorned the demon. 75
Ken Eckert Brian’s heart sank. The demon continued as he chortled, “You’re serious? You want to be a guitar god with Jimi Hendrix, with Jeff Beck, with Steve Vai—with a name like Brian Waverly? You think people are going to tattoo that on their shoulder blades in Gothic? How does that look in a thunderbolt font on a black shirt, on a roadie? You think bad girls are going to ask you to sign ‘Brian Waverly’ on their tits?” “There’s Brian May.” “That’s not Brian Waverly. That sounds like a tax accountant.” “So does Lenny Kravitz.” “Maybe. But it’s still more exotic. Yours doesn’t exactly scream Lizard King.” “I know—The Wave!—like… as in Waverly?” “Trying too hard, man. And it’s just a ripoff of The Edge.” “We can work on the name!” Brian spluttered. “We can come up with something cooler. It’s the playing that’s important, anyway,” he protested, trying to sound principled. “The playing is terrible,” quickly returned the demon. “Terrible?” “Terrible.” “What do you mean, terrible? I nailed that lead on White Zombie.” “No, you didn’t. It was a half-tone flat on the high end. The rhythm was wrong on the low chords. Don’t you even know time signatures? You mangled Randy Rhoads’s playing—your fingers were in the wrong position and you 76
Fiction tried to cheat by playing the right notes on the wrong strings to save time, and it sounded thin and tinny. The Pantera was just ridiculous. You completely bungled it and then tried to play something else. You summoned me for this?” Brian felt humiliated. But the best defense was a good offense—or lacking that, when dealing with a demon, was at least to negotiate. “What difference does it make anyway?” “What do you mean?” inquired the demon. “Well… if I’m offering you guys my soul, the deal is that you make me a rock guitar god. Why does it matter if I’m not all the way there to begin with? If I was a perfect player,” Brian reasoned—it seemed fair to him—“why would I need to sell my soul?” “Were.” “Were what?” “If I were a perfect player,” explained the demon. “Fine, fine. Whatever. I’m offering you my soul. That’s the deal. Make me a guitar legend.” The demon paused and then answered, with an annoying flippancy, “No, I don’t think so.” “What do you mean?” said Brian. “No sale. I don’t think you’re good enough.” Brian was getting angry now. He raised his hands and answered, more loudly than he’d intended to, “What do you mean, no sale? I’m offering my soul to you. You have to take it.” “No, we don’t.” “You don’t want my soul?” “I never said that,” intoned the demon. “Then what?” 77
Ken Eckert “I said the deal is not a good one. You have no potential to be a guitar god. Your playing stinks. Your posing is cheesy. You’re as edgy and exciting as the weather channel.” “But you’re a demon. You work for hell. You and the devil or whoever can make me a guitar hero, for my soul. Isn’t that worth it?” “No. Of course we can do it. We can do almost anything,” said the demon in a flat, emotionless tone. “Almost. Sit down.” Brian sat at his desk chair, facing the demon, who sat heavily on Brian’s dorm bed, pressing down sulfurously on the mattress. “Earth still has rules. It has to be believable, plausible. If Robert Johnson, as you say, sells his soul to us in hell, he already had the raw potential to be a guitar icon. But if we make a pig fly, people would get suspicious, and it’s not in hell’s interests for humans to know more about us. And with you, you’re never going to be cool or dangerous, and you’re never going to be Jimmy Page. You just won’t. You’re more likely to work in an insurance office and lose your hairline. To make you a rock hero, we’d have to make huge changes in you and in everything else—in order to make an amateur in a dorm room who can’t play into a sexy rebel. It’s not worth it for us.” “How about the greatest guitar player in just the United States?” “No.” “The greatest guitar player in the state?” “No.” “The greatest in the city?” The demon shook his head. Brian felt insulted. 78
Fiction “Now, you’ve done it.” The demon made a wry face. “Done what. I’d be edified if you’d tell me.” “You said you don’t want humans to know about us, because the best trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people he doesn’t exist.” “Congratulations, you saw the movie,” scoffed the demon. “Well, isn’t it true? If you’ve come here, you’ve proven to me that if hell exists, so does heaven, and then so does God,” said Brian. “That’s quite the feat of logic. You really should write a book.” Brian paused for a moment. “Okay, the greatest guitar player in dorm?” “Maybe. But Darren’s a better player than you, downstairs. Even Susan’s better than you. It will take some work. And frankly, you’re not worth it.” Brian felt stung. “Even Susan? Come on! All she plays is folk! You’re saying her covers of Jewel are better than my Ozzy?” The demon shrugged, rising to leave. “This is bullshit. Metal music is all about hell.” “You’d be surprised. A lot of its fans aren’t on our side; it’s just for fun for them. Now opera, that’s where the really great sinners are,” said the demon with a cold grin. “But you’re always supposed to want my soul. And I’m still right that you’ve proven to me that there’s heaven if I know there’s hell.” “Congratulations. Mention me in your Nobel speech.” 79
Ken Eckert “In books and movies the devil and his minions always take people’s souls.” “Faust and Dorian Gray are fictional characters, sunshine.” “Who cares,” snipped Brian. The demon said nothing for a moment, briefly looked annoyed, and then calmly sat closer on the dorm bed to Brian. “You just don’t get it, do you? You humans need to get over yourselves. I’m going to leave in a moment, but first I’m going to explain something—not for your benefit, but I will. Yes, hell will gladly make bargains where a human gets what he wants and we get what we want. But we don’t have to do it where it doesn’t benefit us more in the end. We aren’t obligated to make deals with you.” “But you want people’s souls in hell,” mused Brian. “Yes. Collectively. But you’re not necessarily valuable to us as individuals. You seem to feel, like a typical member of your generation, that everything revolves around you. Do you think it’s a service we provide, that it’s our job to interact with you? Hell is not run for your interests. Hell hates humans and so is involved with them; but that hate is not always in the form you assume it is. You creatures insist on this idea called ‘love,’ and some shades of hate share its obsession for the individual targeted. But sometimes with hell our interest in you is only instrumental. For some humans we have an active concern for your downfall, and with others we just don’t care about you.” “You don’t even care if I go to hell?” asked Brian. “We hope you do,” sniffed the demon, standing. “But really, if you do go, what value do you add? A Hitler, 80
Fiction or a Stalin, or a Manson—these are creatures who add some spice to hell with their fire, with their insolence, with their boldness. It’s worth it to invest in their downfalls. But you? Even your sins are lame—your petty, whiny resentments, your second-hand Playboys, your trivial selfish acts—it’s all so beige and unoriginal. So we opt not to care much about you. You had your chance. Hell has no requirement to cater to rebel wannabes.” “Go to h— oh, for—” Brian paused, clenching his fist, and then let an anticlimactic “shit” pass his lips. The demon rolled his eyes. “It’s been nice dealing with you. Your talents aren’t worth making you a pan flute legend,” said the demon, nonchalantly disappearing, leaving behind an acrid odor. Once Brian had calmed down, he sat in silence and decided that he felt sullied somehow. He showered, felt cleaner, and getting into bed, he opened the window a handwidth to let in the crisp autumn air. The next morning as he woke late the sun glinted in his window, a few last birds chirped, and he felt better. While dressing, he reflected—what on earth had he wanted, expecting a demon to be pleasant to him? Right before leaving the room for breakfast in the cafeteria, he paused and picked up his guitar and gave it a few tentative strums. He let the final chord ring, and listened to its faint tone off the strings without any amplification, noting how the strings resonated in frequency off each other. He made a point of listening to the note for some time in the still of the room, and tried to inhabit the warmth and texture of the chord, without worrying about how it was a means to an end of being cool or rich or getting laid. Laying 81
Ken Eckert the guitar down on his bed as he rose, he perceived that it sounded better.
Late Nights I didn’t hate our late-night drives or the constant fear of death or even the cigarette smoke my father blew into my face on the way home from his treatments. I didn’t hate the long nights when I’d sit next to him as he would cough up blood and mucus into the toilet or when I’d lay on the rough beige carpet floor beside his bed as he wheezed into sleep. It was simply the moments in between those moments that I couldn’t stand, the moments of silence where we would be thinking so loudly, but never say a word. We would both take turns taking a breath to speak and then never end up speaking, the hum of the car’s engine filling in the gaps where words should’ve been. I wanted to tell my father a lot of things. That I was scared. That I didn’t want him to die. That I was in love with someone. That I missed mom. In the passenger seat, his pale skin glistened with sweat under the street lamps and under the music from the radio, I heard his strained breathing, his lungs labouring to keep him alive. I imagined sometimes when he was having a coughing fit that his lungs were no longer lungs, they were punching bags hammering against his ribs, pressing, clutching, holding onto that last gasp of air. I pulled into our gravel driveway and before I could put the car in park, my father was out of the passenger side door, his oxygen tank banging after him over the gravel as 83
Sarah DeLena he swayed back into the house like a ghost. I sat in the idling car and glanced in the rearview mirror, my own red-rimmed eyes staring back at me. At some point, I would have to speak to my father. I would have to look him in the eye, hold back the tears that were desperate to make my voice waver, desperate to stop me, and tell him the truth. It’s more than he’s ever done for me; it took months for him to come clean about the cancer. I turned off the truck and went inside the little one-story gray house. Inside, it was dark except for a small amount of light peeking out from underneath my father’s bedroom door. I watched the light flicker as his shadow moved back and forth, haunting the room as he got ready for bed. I put my hands out and felt my way to my own room, leaving the lights off in an attempt to somehow avoid bothering him with my presence anymore that night. I passed by the unkempt kitchen on my left where mom’s brilliant blue china was still untouched and on display in the china cabinet. I ran my hand along the top of the ratty green sofa in the living room on my right, guiding myself along until I found the wall. My fingers dragged over the gray paint chips that stuck out from all angles as I made a left down the hallway and into my room. Just as I flipped the light on and wedged the partly hinged door back into its frame, I felt my phone vibrating in the back pocket of my jeans. Jacob. I was always thinking and wondering, somewhere in my mind, how I would start that conversation, how I would ever willingly open up a wound that has scarred over and over and over again since Mom left us. I imagine finally getting the words out only to see my father scowl and hear him start mumbling about what his father would have done 84
Fiction if he had ever said such a thing and what he should do to me to keep those family values alive. I imagine him struggling to stand up from the sofa fast enough to get away from me and swatting my hand away when I offer to help. I imagine him walking out that door. There were almost one thousand alternative endings that played every day in a loop in my head and only two or three were ever positive. The negative ones mostly ended with my father being in so much despair that he just, you know, grabbed his chest and kicked the bucket right on the spot. Jacob, ever the realist, usually reminded me that being gay was nowhere near as bad as having lung cancer and that it certainly wouldn’t kill my father, but I always reminded him back that it couldn’t possibly help him either. His death was constantly looming like a billow of cigarette smoke, clouding and shadowing every move I made, every breath I took, every word I said. Its stale stink lingered in the air every time we refused to speak to each other, every time we refused to say what we needed to before it was too late. I took a breath and answered the phone, the smoke still inching its way under my skin. “This is call number four today, Jacob. I’m starting to think you’re more in love with me than you’ve let on,” I said. My voice was cool like the chill that was dripping down my spine, vertebrae by vertebrae. “I suppose it could be that or the fact that you never answer your phone the first time,” Jacob replied. My skin prickled as I felt my father’s presence even stronger now from the other room and I sat down on my bed to anchor myself to something. I lowered my voice to just above a 85
Sarah DeLena whisper, still trying to sound okay. “I’m a very important person, you know. I can’t be taking just any call that comes in.” Jacob groaned, as he does at all of my jokes, but I knew he was smiling and that made me smile too. “I’m on my way.” I tip-toed from the bed to the window and parted the blinds, waiting for the blinding headlights. “Right now?” I whispered. My nails dug into my palms as my father creaked past my bedroom door. “Right now,” Jacob sang. In minutes, the headlights faithfully appeared, casting a brilliant yellow glow on my face through the window. The music was so loud it was vibrating in my chest, making my palms sweat and my throat feel tighter than it already was. The lights and bodies around me didn’t help my anxiety either; the rainbow lasers passed over my eyes and blinded me every now and then as strangers repeatedly bumped and shoved past me. I pulled my arms close to my chest so I wasn’t in anyone’s way and so eventually I could shrink so much I wouldn’t even be in the place at all. In a moment of panic, I reached behind myself to grab Jacob as an anchor, but as I turned I came face to face with an older looking man with long, curly hair dyed bright blue and a long blue beard to match. “Are you here alone?” the man asked, a smile spreading across his face. I looked down and realized I was holding the man’s shirt in my fist and quickly let go, nearly sprinting to the end of the bar to exit the situation. 86
Fiction “Hey, don’t start without me!” a voice hollered over the music and I looked back into the crowd to see Jacob emerge, already with a beer in his hand. I grabbed my boyfriend’s wrist and pulled him closer, my voice an angry whisper in his ear. “I cannot believe you brought me to a gay bar.” I was lying, of course. This had Jacob written all over it—I should’ve been surprised he hadn’t tried to do this sooner, now that we had passed the two-year mark. He was toeing the line, seeing how far he could push me before I fell off the edge for good. He’d already taken the leap for me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do the same. There was just too much smoke. “Oh come on, you know you love it. I mean, look at this crowd!” he said, gesturing toward the dancefloor. The place was unbearably packed and every man was pressed against another whether he wanted to be or not; the bar was packed full of guys jumping along to the beat, with drinks in every single visible hand. “Everyone around is at least twenty years older than us,” I said, deflecting again, but Jacob was undeterred. He put his own drink into my hand and kissed me for one long moment, running a hand through my hair, then down the back of my neck. I felt him smile against my lips. “Where did you even get this drink? Do you have a fake?” I asked as we broke apart, but Jacob was pushing the beer to my lips, grinning. He wouldn’t be letting me ruin his fun tonight. “Less talking, more drinking,” he insisted and I, for once, obliged. Soon the alcohol was calming my thoughts and I found myself on the dancefloor with Jacob, my body 87
Sarah DeLena brushing up against a dozen other ones and sweat running down my face. Jacob was laughing and probably saying something stupid. I couldn’t hear him over the speakers that sat at the DJ’s booth just a few feet away. But it didn’t matter. I was looking at Jacob and his brilliant smile and the way his dark skin glistened with sweat and suddenly we were both laughing and I just couldn’t get enough of him. As the lights and sounds all seemed to warp and mix around us, I could only see my best friend, my boyfriend singing and dancing and I was right there with him. My whole body was vibrating from the music, from Jacob, from the endless drinks, and from the dancing. At some point in the night when we were off the dancefloor, I even grabbed Jacob and was kissing him sloppily, in public, our teeth banging together once or twice. Stepping out into the blue-black night, the air chilled me straight to my bones and it felt so good. I turned and waved goodbye to Jacob, watching as the taxi driver had to coax him back into the car, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Past Jacob’s abandoned car parked on the corner, through the front door and back into the little gray house, past the shining blue china, the smile stayed on my lips as I swayed to my room, almost floating. But very quickly, the floating failed to carry me to my bed and I fell just outside my bedroom door, the ground swinging up to greet my face. The bang shook the little house and I laid there for a second, my face in the rough beige carpet, smelling nothing but cigarettes and bleach. The combination sent me whirling and I sat up, my stomach flipping violently. 88
Fiction “Oh shit,” I was saying, but my feet were already moving. I stumbled into the bathroom and began vomiting into the toilet, green, pink, and brown hitting the porcelain bowl and the linoleum floor. I leaned left, feeling another dizzy spell coming, when an arm came around my midsection and caught me. I looked up at him and his pale blue eyes, his cheeks still shining a sickly white, the cannula still pushed in his nose, and he looked down at me and my dark blue eyes, my cheeks a rosy red and my chin covered in spit and vomit. He helped me down onto my knees and cleaned my face with a rag, and he touched my back ever so slightly as I threw up more liquid than I’ve ever seen in my life. When my stomach was finally empty, he got me into bed and though I’m not really certain if I was hallucinating or not, I think he stood there for a while, watching me fall asleep, staying silent but not completely. I still heard his breathing.
Hating Children “Why do you hate children?” your grandmother asks, salting a baked potato. “I work in a preschool,” you say. “I don’t hate children. I love children.” “But you don’t want to start a family with a husband?” “I want to start a family with a wife.” Your grandmother recoils. She digs into her potato like a shallow grave. At work, your favourite child is named Deepa. She’s four and always wants to be carried. One day, on the playground, when she’s wearing a little dress, she leaps into your arms, without warning. From the awkward hold, her dress rides up, so you pull it over her underwear. Across the mulch, past the slide and monkey bars, your boss watches you like a referee. She marches through a game of Freeze Tag (where some of the boys keep forgetting to freeze), and she tells you to put Deepa down. You guide the child to the mulch, as she squeezes onto your shirt. Eventually, she lets go and decides to ride a red tricycle. You smile until you see the severe look on your boss’s face. “Be careful,” she warns. “You don’t want anyone to 90
Fiction think anything.” You don’t know how to respond. She adds, “You shouldn’t hold the children anymore.” You’re dating a professor named Susan, who has a PhD in Developmental Psychology. Her mantra, the mantra you share: “Family comes first, family is everything.” While her sister is in Paris for a business trip, Susan watches her six-year-old nephew. “Don’t tell him,” she says, washing vegetables for dinner. “He doesn’t need to know.” “Why?” you ask indignantly. “Is your sister afraid we’ll make him gay?” “It’ll just confuse him.” “Two people in love will confuse him?” “Please,” Susan says. She turns the faucet off and faces you. “Don’t be like this. It’s a religious thing, you have to respect it. My sister loves us. She just thinks…” “...that we’re sinners.” Susan says something about Christianity, something about how “sin is sin.” You hyperfixate on her marble countertops: the dark blue lines that look black. Susan is not done talking, but you storm out the front door. A fight isn’t worth the strained vocal chords. This relationship is over, anyway. You can’t see a future here, no matter how many times you’ve imagined it. Your childhood friend, Maya, lives in Australia. She’s fifteen hours ahead of you. This year, alone on Christmas Eve, you scroll 91
Emily Ezzo through social media. While you microwave a potato, Maya shares a photo of her daughters opening presents: three golden-haired girls in flannel pajamas, by the living room tree. You type, “They look beautiful.” You delete those words. You type, “They’re so grown-up!” Delete, delete, delete. You type, “Merry Christmas!” That’s better. Maya won’t think anything. During Inside Play Time, a group of your preschoolers play “House.” They assemble in a pink, plastic cottage. “I wanna be the mom!” Kelly says. “I wanna be the mom!” Ira says. You crouch on the carpet to address them eye-toeye, through the cottage’s tiny window. “Hey,” you say, “you can both be moms.” Deepa emerges. “I wanna be the mom, too!” “Okay,” you tell them. “Three moms.” Kelly takes charge, sighing like she’s exhausted. “Now we need three boys to be the dad.” You feel a tickle in your throat. You walk away from their game. At four years old, these kids enforce what “normal” families are. You roll over in bed and gaze at the empty space where Susan should be. You miss the comfort of her arms around you and how she smelled like lavender. You miss the crinkle between her eyebrows, the one she hated so much, the one you swore made her sexier because she looked dis92
Fiction tinguished. Most of all, you miss her nighttime murmur, how she’d whisper, “I love you,” and how the timbre of her voice made you forget to hate your sexuality. Maybe you won’t have children. Maybe you can bite your tongue around Susan’s family. Maybe you can settle for a life in the shadows and become the nice lady who lives with a friend. You love children, but it doesn’t matter. The world doesn’t want you to raise them. You love children, you value family, but you make your grandmother sick. In the darkness of your bedroom, you reach for your nightstand. Your hand brushes against the bible your mother gave you last Christmas. You retrieve your cell phone carefully and pull it to your chest. You type a message to Susan: “Can we talk? I’m sorry.”
My Honcho In 1977 I was fifteen-years-old. We didn’t have the internet back then, which meant we were cruelly deprived of pornography. All the pictures of naked men were hidden away in special places called Adult Bookstores. One Saturday, when I was all alone in the house, and my parents would be gone for several hours, I had a brilliant idea. Why not drive my father’s Oldsmobile Cutlass to the Adult Bookstore, twenty miles away! The fact that I didn’t have a driver’s license only made the idea more exciting. The only hitch was our neighbour, Mr. Hotfalavee. Mr. Hotfalavee was a Hungarian immigrant who was deeply in love with his red, convertible, Fiat Spider sports car. He was always in the street, across from our driveway, tinkering with the engine, and revving it up. I was afraid that Mr. Hotfalavee would see me pulling out of the driveway and tell my parents. Mr. Hotfalavee didn’t like me. He used to say in his Hungarian accent, “Why don’t you mow the lawn for your family? What is it you do? You are spoiled brat.” I think Mr. Hotfalavee’s resentment came from the time my mother banished his daughter Rita from being our babysitter. This was back in the days before cell phones, and they charged you for long-distance calls, even if that distance was only the next town over. Well, it turns out that 97
Harry Redlich Rita was calling her boyfriend who lived a couple of towns away, and when the charges appeared on our phone bill, that was the end of Rita. I remember Rita standing at the front door in tears, begging my mother to let her keep her babysitting job. But my mother had a strong sense of right and wrong, and from then on, Lisa Watt was our babysitter. Lisa lived right next door to the Hotfalavees. There were the Hotfalavees, the Watts, the Benfords, the Morfords, the Davis’, the Grossmans. I could go on and on, naming families three, four, even five streets away. You knew every family in every house in the neighbourhood. I didn’t mow the lawn, because the gardener did that. The gardener was Mr. Domenico, who lived a couple blocks away. I went to school with his daughter Mary. My family was Jewish, and as such, we believed it was dangerous to operate lawn mowers or any kind of machinery heavier than a blender. Furthermore, my father was a personal injury lawyer, so he was constantly reminding us that people were losing hands and feet to power mowers, motorcycles and the shallow end of the pool. Plus, if I lost a hand operating the power mower, my father would have to sue the insurance company, and that would have taken far too much time away from his golf and gin rummy playing. We were a country club family. There were well-defined roles for men and women at the country club. My father, whose country club nickname was “The Champ,” spent his days on the golf course, followed by hours sitting in the gin rummy room, betting on cards. My mother played Mahjong with the ladies. They sat at round tables, under umbrellas, mixing up the Mahjong tiles, careful not to chip their manicures. My sisters played jacks and tried to 98
Non-Fiction kiss boys. I swam underwater alone most of the time. There weren’t any gay men or women at the country club, or at our Temple, or anywhere else in our lives. Well, except for rich Cousin Glendon and his boyfriend. But we never saw them, except for once a year at the Cousins Club Hanukkah Party. Once, we went to their big, stately home, when they gave the bat mitzvah party for Glendon’s niece. It was excruciating. I was terrified that one of the relatives would think I was like Cousin Glendon. Guilt by proximity. I stood under the white tent in the backyard, silently drinking punch and scowling. And then there were the two men who lived around the corner, in the house next to the Davis’, on Morrison Avenue. We referred to them as “The Gays.” Once, in The Gays’ back alley, I pushed their garbage can down the hill and it spewed trash all over their backyard. I have no idea what The Gays’ real names were. Isn’t that sad? They were the only house in our neighbourhood not identified by their last name. In my house, we didn’t talk about gay people. The only clues that such people existed came from the TV in the den. There was Paul Lynde, who played wacky Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. He acted gay, but it was funny. And Rip Taylor threw confetti at the audience on The Mike Douglas Show. He wore makeup and waved his hands in an embarrassing way. And of course, Charles Nelson Reilly, who ran around screaming in fear, on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. They were all so affected, and over-the-top. I did everything I could not to be like those men. I played football, and made out with girls on the dance floor at the junior high dances. I slow danced with Amy Pripstein, 99
Harry Redlich our lips and tongues smearing her viscous, cherry lip gloss all over our faces for hours. I sat in the backseat of Steve Grossman’s car, which he nicknamed, “The Roach Coach.” We smoked joints and sang along to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Seasons Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Seasons don’t fear the reaper Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain, we can be like they are… On the bookshelf, in our den, there was a thick, hardback book titled Human Sexual Inadequacy. The book jacket was kelly green, with the title and author in large white type. It was pretty clinical stuff, and I don’t remember if it had any information about homosexuality. Was that book on the shelf for me? Did my parents suspect I was queer from my infancy? When I first came out to my parents, in my early thirties, I asked them if they had ever had any issues with their own sexuality. My mother said angrily, “Our sex life is perfect!” And then later, my father took me aside and whispered that he had once had problems with premature ejaculation. So maybe my father bought Human Sexual Inadequacy for himself, and then put it on the bookshelf after he read it. Who knows? Besides that book, there were paperback copies of The Happy Hooker and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. Those thrilling tomes lived in my parents’ bedside tables. I read them both, cover to cover, by the time I was twelve years old. I had a real soft spot for Xaviera Hollnder, the Happy Hooker. She smiled her playful smile from the front cover, with her coral lipstick, her frosted hair stick100
Non-Fiction ing out of her fur hat, and her tight pink dress, gathered at her ample bosom. She unabashedly celebrated sex, and I was enraptured, reading about her adventures, amazed at the possibilities. But, by fifteen, those books weren’t enough. I wanted to see pictures of naked men. And nothing was going to stop me. I put on an old Halloween wig, and a pair of my Mom’s Jackie O sunglasses. I got behind the wheel of my Dad’s Cutlass and turned the key in the ignition. I clicked open the electric garage door and pulled out of the driveway, doing my best imitation of a mysterious female cousin, who was borrowing the car to go to the mall for an Orange Julius. It was thrilling to put on that costume! It ratcheted up the whole experience into “Auntie Mame Irreverent Escapade” status. When I was nine, I found an old copy of Auntie Mame in my grandparents’ basement. It was from the 1950s, and on the black and pink cover was a whimsical line drawing of Auntie Mame’s forearm and hand. On her wrist were the jangling bracelets that got her into so much trouble when she played Lady Iris in Vera’s play. And in between her index finger and middle finger was her cigarette holder, with one of her famous Melachrino cigarettes sticking out of it, a wisp of smoke curling up from the end. I loved the “Irreverent Escapade” as it was described in the title; Auntie Mame, an Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis. I read Auntie Mame probably ten times by age fifteen. I tried to pepper my speech with Auntie Mame-isms when I could. That’s no easy task for a fifteen-year-old boy who played pulling guard on the junior high football team. I never talked about that book with anyone. Ever. I knew that a real boy, a straight 101
Harry Redlich boy, wouldn’t be interested in Auntie Mame. I had no idea that she was an icon of gay culture. I mean, nobody told me that, but I connected to her immediately. I knew. There was a line in the book—Auntie Mame says something about going to visit “some very amusing young men in Fire Island.” It was a clue, a bread crumb. In those days, you looked for even the tiniest bread crumbs to show you the way. The masquerade in my father’s car made me feel like Auntie Mame and her nephew Patrick, when they wore disguises, in the chapter where Miss Gooch got pregnant. It was all very exciting. At that time in my life, I reveled in getting away with anything that an adult would disapprove of. But driving to the adult bookstore was in its own category of forbidden encounter. It was like reading Auntie Mame. Nobody could know about it. Not an adult, not a kid, not anybody. I was alone with the secret. Thankfully, Mr. Hotfalavee was not in front of his house. When I got out of the neighbourhood, and onto the main highway, I tore off my disguise and I was home free! At the Pennsylvania Turnpike entrance, I took the ticket from the toll booth operator. And then I was driving on the Turnpike! Just like I’d seen my parents do a million times on the way to and from the country club! It’s was so easy! Why did anyone even need a license? I got off at the Murraysville exit, handed over the ticket, paid the toll and motored down the exit ramp. I found my way to the sleazy strip mall, parked the car, and there it was. No windows, just two, splendid words painted on the side of the building. Adult Books! My heart was pounding as I walked through the door. It was like stepping through a magical portal into a forbidden netherworld. My head was spinning and I felt 102
Non-Fiction kind of high, like when I smoked pot in the Roach Coach. But this high was from the intoxicating, Play-Doh scent of four-colour ink on glossy paper, wrapped in fresh shrink wrap. There were hundreds of dirty magazinest—maybe thousands! It was like the glorious smell of school worksheets, fresh off the ditto machine. I’m sorry if you don’t understand my references. This was 1977, and the world was filled with distinct smells that no longer exist. In school, teachers used a “ditto machine” to make copies of worksheets and handouts and stuff they passed around. The ditto machine was a precursor to the Xerox machine, and it used a foul-smelling ink that was like catnip to us kids. When the teacher passed out the worksheets, still wet from the ditto machine, we would immediately press them up against our noses and huff them like airplane glue. In 1977, disco was in full swing, and that year, my friends and I went to the 18 and under disco, in a strip center, out past the new mall. I had a pair of peach-coloured, polyester, bell-bottom slacks, like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. I wore a long sleeve, print shirt made of Quiana, which felt like silk, but was just some kind of ultra-silky polyester. We danced in a line, boys and girls, like they did in the movie. Everyone was in sync under the shimmering disco ball. Up and down. Side to side. Twirl, twirl, twirl. Stayin Alive! Stayin Alive! Inside the Adult Bookstore, my hard-on was like a divining rod, leading me through the racks of porn to the gay section. I tried to be casual, like the other men around me. Well, I wasn’t a man. I was a kid. And this was illegal. I was only fifteen. Would they kick me out? I looked older 103
Harry Redlich than my age. I acted as nonchalantly as I could. I stood in front of the gay rack, my heart pounding, wondering if my hard-on was showing through my jeans. I tried to determine which title would have the best pictures. Blue Boy? Hot Jeans? Cruise? It was overwhelming. My whole body started to throb and I felt warm all over. I was afraid to pick up a magazine, terrified they’d see I was underage, and kick me out, or worse, call the police. I reached out and grabbed one at eye level. It was called Honcho! The hunky, shirtless, cowboy sitting on a bale of hay grinned at me through the shrink wrap. I carried him to the high counter where the cashiers sat like prison guards, looking down on us lowlife porno sinners. I paid, and walked quickly to the car, trying to negotiate my hard-on through my jeans. I got in and slammed the door shut. I ripped off the shrink wrap and whipped through page after glossy page of naked “cowboys,” with their cocks and their asses and their come-hither, “Aww shucks lookee here! Ah’m nekkid!” grins. It was an exquisite panic, trying to take in all those pictures at once. The artful portraits were quaint compared to the raunchy buffet of WTF on today’s internet porno highway. But I had never seen naked men in a magazine before, and my adrenaline was racing. Sure, I had seen my father and the other flabby, middle-aged Jewish men in the group shower at the country club, and naked boys after swim practice and gym. But there was nothing sexual about them. Not for me. Not like the studs in Honcho! At the first red light, I pulled down my pants and started jerking off, and in seconds BOOM! I came all over the steering wheel, my jeans, and the radio volume knob. The light turned green and I floored it. I got home and ran 104
Non-Fiction upstairs, down the hall, and into my parents’ bedroom. I locked the door, jumped on the bed and continued my jerkfest. I came once, twice, three times. There was one picture that was my favourite. He was a gorgeous blonde cowboy, all nice and tanned, standing in a pond, in some remote, bucolic Gaylandia. He was hipdeep in the pond, and his manhood lay just on the surface, half in and half out of the water, like a big, fleshy submarine. That picture just turned me on so much! I loved him, my big, beefy cowboy with his pecker just sitting there on top of the water like a penis lily pad! And then, as I lay there on my parents’ bed, finally spent, leafing through the pages, the magazine morphed into a radioactive shit pile of disgust and shame. I carried it out of the room, down the hall and into the den, where I sat on the stone ledge in front of the fireplace and ripped out each page, one by one. I crumpled them up, threw them onto the grate, and lit the whole pile on fire with one of those foot-long wooden matches that my Dad kept in a long, narrow box, with a painting of a matador on the front. I watched as my beloved cowboy burned up into nothingness, and even that magical pond full of water couldn’t save him.
Your Country Store Unwillingly, I have become a country store maven. Back home from graduate school in Montreal, I spent the summer as an apple scout, blazing across Maine to orchards on ridges, lakes, and hills. Even though my colleague, Ethan, neither ate nor used a bathroom during our deployment, my bladder was almost always full. We pulled over in dozens of nondescript towns. I was so bored that waltzing into The Milk Room in Waterboro was the highlight of my day. While The Milk Room seemed like it would be special with such a fun name, the inside was just like any other country store. Linoleum; spiders darting under your feet; mechanical humming; handwritten menus; Humpty Dumpty chips; one guy in work boots and a Red Sox cap, leering in the shadows with his arms crossed. My top three country stores are The Village Tie Up in Harrison, which opened to lakeside picnic tables and served coconut iced coffee; Twin Bridges in Leeds, manned by a girl who leaned over a composition notebook titled summer’s notebook please do not touch ; Your Country Store in Hollis, purveyor of bacon ranch chicken wraps. At every country store, the cashier looked like they hated their lives. The only happy cashier I met was at the Big Apple in Corinna. I bought iced coffee and Twix. Ethan and I were en route to our last orchard of the day, and I needed the sugar rush in order to survive it. The cashier 106
Non-Fiction chatted with me about how she was going swimming after her shift and cheered when I gave her exact change. I left the Big Apple lighter than when I arrived. Ethan was waiting in the 2000 Ford Ranger. I slid into the passenger seat while he took a swig of his purple Powerade. Big Apple sold two Powerades for one dollar, and Ethan always took advantage of that. I held my breath as the tang of imitation grape flavor filled the car. Once we were on the road, I opened the window and remarked that the cashier was friendly for once. “Really?” Ethan took the fingers he was biting out of his mouth. “Because you gave her the fakest smile I’ve ever seen.” “Excuse me?” “Yeah, it was bad.” I rolled my eyes. “Sorry.” Ethan thought that genuine smile I gave the cashier was fake because he had never seen my genuine smile. He assumed that the thousand fake smiles I gave him were real. Ethan and I were polar opposites. Itinerant library student; former high school quarterback with a family whose names all start with E. Last summer, Ethan was an apple scout. I was an au pair in the Anglo suburbs of Montreal. In Montreal, a country store is called a “depanneur.” I took the apple scouting job because my applications as an archaeology technician, barista, and spa receptionist failed, and graduate school was not an easy bill to pay. My cousin, Lindsey, told me that the farm she worked at for years was hiring. Because the farm was a research site for the University of Maine, I believed that working there would beef up my resume as an academic librarian. All I had 107
Shannon Viola to do was travel around Maine and look for apple maggot flies, juicy apple scab lesions, gypsy moths. Technically, I was collecting and processing pest management data from orchards. In reality, I traipsed through grass as tall as my hip and found almost no bugs of note. As I plucked ticks off of my back in the shower, I felt that I retreated from a threshold of identity. I was no longer myself. Our first day working together, Ethan and I had to clean apple maggot fly traps. Designed to look like a juicy apple, the traps were glazed in glue and hung in branches to attract flies. The traps from last summer had not been cleaned yet, so the glue was peppered with gnats and aphids. Ethan showed me how to scrap the glue off and scrap it into a bucket of black goop. Black because the carcasses of insects were ground into it. “How do you want to split this up?” I asked. “One of us scrapes, the other puts clean glue on?” “Well considering that I cleaned these all myself last year, I think you should do them all.” Ethan’s laugh sounded like clattering dishes, and it boomed around the room. He had been burping in the car all day and tried to trick me into making mistakes identifying scab, so I was in no mood to humour him. “Don’t hold me accountable for what you did when I wasn’t here.” “I still think you should do all the work.” He laughed again. How did he not notice the scowl on my face? “I’ll scrape three, and then you scrape three, and we switch like that.” I sat down on a stool and picked up a trap. “I like my idea better.” “I scrape three. You scrape three. We switch.” 108
Non-Fiction “No, I don’t think so.” His grin was absurd. When Lindsey first heard that I was working with Ethan, she wished me luck. “He has a comeback for everything.” I traveled across Maine with Ethan. I smelled his burps and cringed as his wet lips smacked against his fingers while biting his nails. His Mainer accent was fake, and I hated how he paused before saying “Okay.” Exploring country stores was the only solace I found. Whenever I told Ethan to pull over, I felt a pang of guilt because I knew he didn’t want to stop. Why would he? He neither ate nor peed, and he wanted to get home as soon as possible. I convinced myself that stopping at country stores was a gift to myself. Perusing chip displays preserved my sanity. I worked at a country store when I was sixteen. Lindsey’s family owned Oak Hill Cash Market in Sabattus. The months before I got my braces off, I mopped those linoleum floors and served pizza to the leering man in the corner. July was steamy, and when the oven opened, July doubled. I got a dollar tip for making a ham Italian. I understand why most of the cashiers I met at country stores looked miserable. They were exhausted. My aunt also owned a consignment store in the building adjacent to Oak Hill, and in addition to scouting, I worked Saturdays there. I played my CDs for ambience. Ethan and I listened to the radio all day in the car, where DJs complained about their mothers, and the same fifty songs played on shuffle. Oak Hill, the country store I had toiled away in at 109
Shannon Viola sixteen, was close enough that I could order a dagwood, walk over, pick it up, and walk away. That country store was serving me instead of saving me. While at the consignment store, the threshold that retreated while I was scouting was within my footfall, and I stepped over it, and breathed deeply. No longer littoral. I wore my hair curly instead of braided, rippled blouses and a prasiolite ring. All of the accoutrements of my life in Montreal. Some days my aunt, who managed Oak Hill, killed time in the consignment shop, which was her own oasis. I complained about Ethan, who wasn’t exactly a bad person, but we were so different that we clashed, and what’s funny to me is snobbish to him, and what’s funny to him is annoying to me. Sometimes he does something aggravating, like reading my text messages aloud, but then I see him pumping gas, slack jawed red face staring into the sun, and I feel bad. I know, he could’ve been a creep, so I guess it could be worse. My aunt loved the drama, but she left when a customer arrived. I reminded her that everything was twenty percent off today. She browsed while I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and when she was done, I rang up a tee she had pulled from the 99 cent rack. “That’s 99 cents... with the twenty percent discount.” “It’s your lucky day,” I said, grinding my teeth. Even on the days when I was not an apple scout, I had to fake-smile through irritating comebacks. Yes, you will get twenty percent off your 99 cent item. Why would I cheat you out of chump change? As she was leaving, she stopped at the shoe dis110
Non-Fiction play and inspected a clog. “You know,” she said, “these are damaged on the sole. I used to work in a dry cleaners, and that’s why I notice these types of things. I think they’re overpriced.” I cocked my head and fabricated a smile. “Thank you, I’ll take a second look at them.” She was like Ethan. Tainting something as simple as a cash transaction with mediocre greed was like slicing the silence in orchards by making fun of me for disliking liquor. When she presumed that those clogs were trash, I had a flashback of Ethan accusing me of being pretentious because I’ve never had Jägermeister from a nip. Next door at Oak Hill, my aunt did not tolerate nonsense. When a customer told an employee to “fix her face,” my aunt berated him in front of the whole country store. If anyone told me to fix my face, I’d crack a fake smile. When it was Ethan’s turn to drive, I stared out the windows and imagined myself in each house that passed. I loved air conditioners; each unit poked into the room that everybody spent their time in, and the cold kept everyone there. In the orchards, I imagined that the buzzing of gnats around my head was the whirring of air conditioners, and that I was in a dark living room, painting my toenails, watching subtitled reality TV. I hated Ethan’s company so much that I packed headphones and listened to short stories from The New Yorker during our drives. I also painted my nails in an array of pastel colours. The stories and the peppy colours perked me up, softened the boredom of driving around Maine and finding nothing, nothing, and more nothing. They were al111
Shannon Viola most as effective as watching ribbons of iced coffee fall from a machine into my cup inside a country store. When I first unveiled my headphones, I said to Ethan, “I brought headphones to listen to stories to help pass the time, so don’t take it personally.” The headphones and nail polish were not enough. I came home after a ten hour day of trekking and collapsed, yapping at anyone who dared to talk to me. I was dreading the next day of work, of doing nothing but looking at nothing, and smelling Ethan’s Powerade. My mother urged me to quit, and I quoted my tuition bill. I contemplated skipping the last day of scouting. The night before, I was feeling guilty. Last week, on my birthday, Ethan gave me a pair of socks. After mucking around in dewy grass all morning, my socks were always wet, and I brought extra pairs to change into. A pair of socks was always drying on the dash. Ethan also turned twenty-three that summer, a month before me. I bought him a pastry since he didn’t eat breakfast. The socks had the Walmart receipt stapled on the back, prices slashed with a Sharpie. It would be cruel of me to leave Ethan alone, since the majority of the reason I didn’t want to go was because I didn’t like him. I could lie to Ethan and say that I had been vomiting all night. Or, my sister’s car had a flat tire, so I could take a picture of it and send it as “proof.” Sorry, doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere today.He was a country boy, though, so maybe he would be able to tell that tire wasn’t from my car. The reason we clashed was because he was a country boy; cross a couple of town lines, and people don’t get along. I crossed many town lines with someone I didn’t like, and we still could not transcend our hometowns. 112
Non-Fiction I could ease my anxiety by telling him, honestly, that I could not handle another day of scouting. He had been asking me all week if I was excited to be done. He knew I loathed this job. He might have pitied me. I unbraided my hair in a mirror and clipped it all up. The nape of my neck was sunburned. I was, officially, a redneck. I closed my eyes and saw fuzzy leaves fluttering in the wind and wasps floundering on apple maggot fly traps. Ethan saying, “Fuckin’ flies are dumbasses.” My mother said I was spiraling and that I needed a mental health day, so take the day off. “It’s one day. Just tell him you’re not feeling well. Because you’re not. You’re too much in your head.” “I hate leaving him alone to do the job by himself.” “Didn’t he do this job by himself all last summer?” “He did it alone until I was hired. Some other scout quit on him.” “You’re not you. You come home angry at the world. This is a summer job, not your career.” After I texted Ethan that I wasn’t feeling well, he responded, “Best of luck on your future endeavors.” I am back in Montreal, free of linoleum, imitation grape, and the threat of Lyme disease. I’ve been in a depanneur once since my return. While walking across the Plateau, a jewel-toned neighbourhood both indifferent and conscious of cultural trends, my new loafers were cutting up my heels. They were rubbing the same spot every new pair of shoes rubs. That’s why there are rosy scars on the wrinkles of my heels. I stopped in Depanneur JZ, which used to be my spot for Kilkenny Irish Ales on Fridays. The 113
Shannon Viola proprietor was blasting Chinese music and singing along. I asked for Band-Aids. He pulled a sheet of them from a high shelf and asked how many I needed. I paid forty cents for four, and I paid with my debit card. While I was outside bandaging my wounds, my head was down to the ground, but I heard Quebecois girls murmuring and stomping. The girls who were not wearing Reeboks were wearing Birkenstocks. The feet in Birkenstocks had identical grimy Band-Aids on each heel and probably rosy scars underneath them. In the orchards, the soles of Ethanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s shoes peeled off in the heat and the wet. His shoes were flapping about in the tractor ruts. I offered him the rain boots I stowed in the back of the truck. I followed the Quebecois girls to a thirdwave coffee haunt. I ordered cold brew, the cosmopolitan doppelgĂ¤nger of country store iced coffee.
Funerals for the Religiously Impaired I’d just like you to know that I’m not big on ceremonies of any kind, and that I’m very badly versed in everything religious, having grown up in a very atheist household. Don’t tell my parents, but when I was younger, I’d invent my own religions and stick to them for a week or so, because I wanted to understand what people felt when they believed. My eight-year-old imagination would churn out rules and sacred texts (Me circa 2004, 12:15: Thou shall not forget to do chores). I suck at picking up social cues, and I like small groups; both something you need and something you’ll find at big family events, like weddings and funerals. I don’t like funerals, for obvious reasons, but also because I can’t handle the flux of human emotion that just radiates from every single person in the room. Funerals are like going to a party and there’s this new dance you never learned, but is all the rage. You kind of know where to put your feet, but you’ll avoid dancing if you can. The fact that I’ve only attended three or four services in my life doesn’t help. Once, I went to Sunday Mass. I was five or six, and I highlighted every line in my grandmother’s Bible. She laughed, didn’t show my granddad, and got another one. She’s not in the religion anymore, but I think she kept that one. Once, I attended a wedding cere115
Raphaëlla Vaillancourt mony. I was nine or ten, and one of my older cousins was the bride. I begged my father to leave the service early, and I ate too much cake at the reception (Me circa 2004, 27:3: It’s not gluttony if you’re at a party). My dad hasn’t been in the religion for a long time, and I think he was glad for an excuse to leave. Thrice, there were funerals. First things first, you walk into church and thank your lucky stars you aren’t burning alive because you are unbaptised and ‘sinning’ is marked as a strongpoint in your CV. Mind you, you’re not on fire, but the bleeding Jesus hanging from his cross at the other end of the church is looking right at you, with an expression of you did what, now? Then again, if I ended up nailed to a cross—knock on wood—I’d be judgy too. Now, pat yourself down and go give your condolences. Cue the straight faces. Someone might be crying. Once the formalities are dispensed with, you meet up with your favourite cousins, you stick around your brothers and sisters, and you talk. You catch up. Here comes your great-aunt asking you how’s school, and why your boyfriend isn’t here. “He couldn’t make it, he had work,” you’ll say, but that’s not true; you just told him not to come. He hasn’t met the whole family yet; today is certainly not going to be the day. “Oh, pauvre cocotte,” she’ll answer, even though the deceased is a great-uncle twice removed and only related to you because someone no one really likes called Suzy remarried again. You can “pauvre cocotte” me if you mean to say, “pauvre cocotte, let’s make you wear a dress and come pinch your cheeks and ask you what you’re doing in school, then look at you funny when you say Creative Writing because 116
Non-Fiction that’s not gonna get you a job, is it?” You’ll give everyone a peck on the cheek, even the relatives you don’t know. Well, technically you do know them, you just don’t remember; you were four years old when they saw you last. It was probably at that one Mass, or a wedding. My, my, look at how much you’ve grown. No shit. “The last time I saw you, you were about this high!” Cue a story about how you fell on your ass or couldn’t reach something because of said height impediment. People will laugh, and I’ll probably laugh too, just because that’s the appropriate response. Let Relative #15 retell the same story about you setting the Christmas tree on fire at every gosh darn family event; it might be the most interesting thing to have happened to him, ever. When the service is about to start, you all move to sit. How well you knew the departed will determine how close to the front row you are. I was never that close to any of the dead, but somehow, I always find myself center-stage, in the very first pew. “He just loved you, won’t you please come sit down with me?” Suzy will say, as she starts dragging me by the arm. “I don’t know if it’s my place, shouldn’t—” She looks at you with a smile on her face, but her fingers dig into your skin and stop you short. Her eyes are watery and red, and you saw her pop a pill of some kind or another when she thought no one was looking. Fine. Somehow, it’s always my shoulder we want to cry on. Call me the Messiah of positive platitudes and pass the Kleenex. Finally, the service begins. They signal that by playing a thing called the org, more properly named piano sur 117
Raphaëlla Vaillancourt stéroides. Sometimes, a choir will sing. And on even rarer occasions, Mister Holy up front won’t stick to his day job, and will start singing too. He cannot, and he should not. God can’t possibly think your screeching is commendable, please abstain (had I still kept up with my own religions, that would have made it into the commandments). At my funeral, I want confetti. When I tell Suzy, she looks at me, appalled and says, “Well, that won’t be proper at all!” The choir dies down (figure of speech), and the Holy whatchamacallit steps up to his microphone on the tabernacle, and it’s prayer time (side note, I only know what a tabernacle is because when saying esti de câlice de tabarnak in proper Quebecois, you’re actually talking about that dry cookie thing they put in a fancy cup on top of a table). I just move my lips silently whenever we’re expected to answer. Funerals are a pain in the ass for that alone; I don’t know the dance. I’ve never learned to pray, I don’t know any of the important words. I hardly know any of the words. Except amen. Plus, it’s a confusing sort of workout: you have to get up and sit down and get back up and go on your knees. Once, I kneeled down when we were supposed to sit. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if I should just go with it, and wait for the next prayer right there on my knees, or get back up right away. I was going to wing it there on the floor, thinking people would believe I was doing extra-curricular prayer, but grandpa pulled at the back of my collar with a curt, “For Christ’s sake…” So, no extra credit for me. But that was a long time ago. I’ve learned not to freestyle in church anymore. I lean over and ask an uncle why they didn’t bring a 118
Non-Fiction TV in and karaoke the prayers. “At least it would be fair for those of us who never learned how to talk to God.” Cue a chuckle from said relative and a death-stare from Suzy. She seems to regret inviting me up there. Inevitably, there’s always a sigh in the ceremony. A lull, when people have stopped crying and everyone’s lost in reminiscing good times with Dead Relative X. Right after the choir stops singing and just before the guy in the robe starts talking again. That’s when it happens. Someone laughs—someone always does. This time, it was me. Not out loud, of course, but I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. You know the kind; you’re not making a sound, but your whole body is shaking and your breath gets all ragged because you try to hold it in (stupid idea) to help you stop. “What the heck is your problem?” Suzy hisses. Between breaths, I tell her I’m sorry, but can’t stop. My uncle wasn’t over the karaoke thing, so that just got him going again. “Here,” he says, passing me a tissue. “But I’m not crying.” He clears his throat and gets all serious. “I know, but at least make it look like you are.” I take it, and hold my breath, dabbing at my eyes. I thought that maybe if I stopped breathing altogether, the laughing would ease. Like holding your breath when you can’t stop hiccupping to try to make it stop. I felt it bubble up inside me. I’m not sure whether it was Suzy’s disapproval beside me, my uncle’s own struggle to remain composed, or just the fact that I thought the whole idea of a funeral to be the weirdest thing, but I burst out laughing again. And you 119
Raphaëlla Vaillancourt know how they say laughter is contagious? Well it’s true, and it spreads like wildfire too. Next thing I knew, the whole pew was passing tissues back and forth to make it seem like we were all devastated and crying. And I mean no disrespect to the dead. He was a great guy, but it was half-past one and my stomach was rumbling because I hadn’t had breakfast. So, when the Holiest of holy men at the front rang a bell to commence another prayer, my inner voice said, lunchtime. It wasn’t my best joke. Not even close to my top 100. But it did it for me at that moment. As we headed to the church basement for lunch (finally), I avoided Suzy as best as I could. I probably wasn’t in her will, but she might try to get other people to take me out of theirs. As I was in line with my paper plate and waiting for my pick of finger sandwiches, I got all sorts of responses from other family members. “I don’t think I’ve quite laughed like that in ages, kid,” someone said as they passed. Others came up and asked, “Was it something someone said?” not knowing I was the instigator. “I’m not sure, I think [insert Dead Relative #3’s name] just wanted us to have one last good laugh with him.” The auntie that came up to me earlier held her paper plate in one hand and put the other on her heart, and go, “Oh, sweetie, I’m sure he did.” Once my sister and I sat down, we picked at our crustless ham sandwiches and sipped at our juice boxes. “Are you going to have a funeral?” my sister asked, and the question took me by surprise. Could it be that as much as the concept of funerals, 120
Non-Fiction and the religious aspects of them astound me and leave me feeling clueless, I’d never thought of not having one? For a long time I wanted to believe in something as hard as some people believe in God (or as much as Suzy believes in her right to speak to your manager), but I never thought of what rituals I’d follow through with, or what rituals I’d omit. I set my sandwich down and downed my juice. “If I do, you better pull some shit during it, or I’m coming back to haunt you forever.”
Contributors Currently based in Ohio (USA), William T. Blackburn struggles still to find his car keys. A graduate of Westminster College, he holds a BA in English : Writing and Music Composition. His work appears in SCRAWL: 94, Emerald Press, Route 7 Review: 6 & 7, Edify Fiction: Teen, and Thirty West-Weekly Degree 6/19. Newer work will appear soon in Castabout Anthology: 2, The Blue Mountain Review: 15, AbstractMagazineTV-Contemporary Expressions, fws:journal of literature & art: 2, and Soliloquies Anthology: 24.1. He contributed to Adirondack Center for Writing: PoemVillage-2019 and 2020. Nikita Bleyer is a Montreal based artist originally from Brooklyn, New York. They like to write about insects, the mundane and magical, and cute gay crushes. Caroline Bühler, an aspiring writer studying at Concordia University, wrote “The Stoop” in hopes of using her personal experience to create a story of self growth, working through pain, and the importance of close relationships. She started studying English Literature and Creative Writing at Concordia University in September 2018. The following year bled out multiple experiences—some painful and others treasured— but the outcome of it is what created “The Stoop.” It served as both a personal catharsis and a fictionalisation of those events in the hopes to touch those reading it and inspire them. Sarah DeLena is a graduate student in the Publishing and Writing MA program at Emerson College. She hopes to become an editor and writer of YA literature, own at least two golden retrievers, and continue to defend the legacy of the 123
Contributors Oxford comma. Jason Emde is a teacher, writer, amateur boxer, Prince enthusiast, and graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also the author of My Handâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Tired and My Heart Aches (Kalamalka Press, 2005) and the co-author of the parodic action novel The Crunch Gang Meet the Deadly Zombie Ninjas of Japan (Amazon e-book). His work has appeared in Ariel, The Malahat Review, Anastamos, Miracle Monocle, Prometheus Dreaming, Panoply, Cleaver, and Who Lies Beautifully: The Kalamalka Anthology. He lives in Japan. Kenneth (Ken) Eckert is a native of Canada living in South Korea. As an English professor most of his writing is academic, with a recent book, Middle English Romances in Translation (Sidestone), though he has published a novel, Shorter of Breath, and most recently a short story in Havik. He is an alumnus of Memorial University in Newfoundland and University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he studied Chaucer alongside creative writing students such as Alissa Nutting (Tampa) and Juan Martinez (Best Worst American). Emily Ezzo graduated from Rutgers University in 2019, with a double major in English and Classical Humanities. Prior to attending Rutgers, she graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where she studied musical theatre and acting. Emily is a lesbian writer who finds it important to represent gay women of every moral compass. Jean Fineberg is a professional jazz musician with an M.Ed. in Psychology, who teaches at a music conservatory in Berkeley, CA. When she was growing up, her father would leave a new poem on the table every day, for her to discover after he went to work. That was probably her greatest writing catalyst. 124
Soliloquies Anthology Jean recently unearthed a book of poems she wrote when she was eight. She has been gifted with seven music composition residencies, and when she burns out on music, she writes. Renoir Gaither resides in coffee shops, watches his shadow inside street puddles, and picks pebbles out of bike tires. His poems have appeared in The Write Launch, Berkeley Poetry Review, and Thin Air. Elizabeth Katz is a writer and filmmaker, and a recent graduate of New York University Tisch School of the Arts. She is currently working at a literary scouting company, where she looks for books to adapt for film and television. She lives in New York City. Olivia J. Kiers is a poet, artist, and museum professional in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is a poetry co-editor for Crack the Spine Literary Magazine. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Panoply and Sunset Liminal, and her art criticism can be read in The Boston Art Review, Art New England, Big Red & Shiny, and others. Benny Langedyk is a Montreal-based writer of poetry and short fiction. He is the managing editor of Concordiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Hindwing Press. His chapbook Manipulated Shed was published by Serif of Nottingham Press. Sheree La Puma is an award-winning writer whose personal essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in or are forthcoming in WSQ, Juxtaprose, Heron River Review, The Rumpus, O:JA&L, Plainsongs, The Main Street Rag, Burningword Literary Journal, I-70 Review, SWIMM Every Day, Inflectionist Review, Levee, The London Reader, Bordighera Press - VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, Gravel, Foliate Oak, PacificReview, Westwind and Ginosko Literary Review, among others. She 125
Contributors received an MFA in Writing from California Institute of the Arts and taught poetry to former gang members. Jimmy Latin studies Creative Writing and Literature at Concordia University. He is from Kamloops, British Columbia. He has also lived in Vancouver and spent time travelling through South Korea and South America. To occupy the time between all things serious, Jimmy aims to hold the deepest conversations, imbibe the darkest stouts, and thumb through the weightiest novels. He also hopes to have the good fortune of writing until the day his body fails him. Clayton Longstaff is pursuing an Honours BA in English Literature at Concordia University. Raised in a farming community on the outskirts of Victoria, BC, he relocated to Montreal with his partner Shelby Fondrick after a brief sojourn in France. His work bridges cultivated interests in both cognitive science and poetry, focusing on language as a mirror to the mind in motion. Luis Lopez-Maldonado is a Xicanx poeta, playwright, dancer, choreographer, and educator. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California Riverside in Creative Writing and Dance. His poetry has been seen in The American Poetry Review, Foglifter, The Packinghouse Review, Public Pool, and Spillway, among many others. He also earned a Master of Arts degree in Dance from Florida State University, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame. Ilona Martonfi is an editor, poet, curator, advocate and activist. Author of four poetry books, the most recent Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna, 2021). Writes in journals, anthologies, and five chapbooks. Her poem â&#x20AC;&#x153;Dachau on a Rainy Dayâ&#x20AC;? was nominated for the 2018 126
Soliloquies Anthology Pushcart Prize. Artistic director of Visual Arts Centre Reading Series and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. QWF 2010 Community Award. Gabriel Mundo is from Highwood, Illinois and is currently a student at Carroll University in Wisconsin. In the spring of 2019, he served as Poetry Editor for Portage Magazine. His most recent work can be found in Nightjar Review, Tint Journal, and Burning House Press. In the fall of 2019, he was selected as a finalist for the Scotti Merrill Award. Harry Redlich grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. He lived in Los Angeles for many years, and now lives in Florida. Harry has been published in OUT magazine and Temenos, the literary magazine of Central Michigan University. Harry has written short films, two of which have been shown at the American Film Institute Festival, and The Miami Short Film Festival. He is also an actor and playwright. He is currently shooting a comedic web series, which will air in 2020. Harry became hooked on memoir writing in 2012, after taking a workshop with Cheryl Strayed at The Esalen Institute. Raphaëlla Vaillancourt is a third-year student at Concordia University. She is working on completing a BA in Creative Writing, with a minor in Professional Writing. A survivor of the flesh-eating disease, she blogs about the experience and her journey since. She also spent a year under the mentorship of Montreal author Monique Polak. Along with her work in non-fiction, she does freelance editing online. In 2016, a piece of her writing called “Breathing Lessons” was published in Carte Blanche. Shannon Viola is earning a Masters of Information Studies at McGill University. Her nonfiction and fiction have appeared 127
Contributors in Cleaver (2014 and 2015), Chicago Literati, and The Merrimack Review among others. Abigail Vybihal is a Montreal artist and writer. She is studying Studio Arts and Creative Writing at Concordia University. Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist, who teaches at Bridgewater College and serves as the Assistant Director to the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Whiskey Island, Raven Chronicles, and many other online and print journals. While her poems often focus on Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian diaspora experience, her essays primarily focus on US Army Special Forces. She lives in West Virginia, and she holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University.