(parenthetical) nineteen: editors' (fiction) choice

Page 1

(parenthetical) nineteen

editors’ choice: fiction

is that a word? yeah,it means kind of off to the side; part of the whole, but ultimately inessential.

so like poetry? yes - adds colour.

so like art. with thanks to siblings & friends writers & readers coffee & tea moms & dads ISSN 2368-0199 fifteen dollars cdn

(parenthetical) issue nineteen editors’ choice: fiction

(parenthetical) issue #19 © 2017 all copyrights remain with respective contributors ISSN 2368-0199 (Print) ISSN 2368-0202 (Online) fonts used include Kingthings Trypewriter 2 © Kevin King 2010 FFF TUSJ © Magnus Cedarholm 2009

www.wordsonpagespress.com words(on)pages is: william kemp, co-founder and poetry editor nicole brewer, co-founder and fiction editor michael brewer, director of business operations

Y contents

Swimming Lessons

by Monique Cuillerier

Forest for the Trees

by Ailsa Bristow

#5 from Maman

by Alana I. Capria


by Patrick Doerksen

Even Greater Apes

by Jordan Moffatt


by Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt

I Meant What I Said When I Told You I Could Buy Six Falafel Sandwiches for a Hundred Liras

by Hana Alharastani

our fiction picks This is it: the hiatus is now upon us. We are so proud of these last two issues for a few reasons, not least of which is that the month of their release marks our three-year anniversary of starting this crazy venture! It’s astonishing how much we’ve learned in those three years, from tiny design tricks (that make a huge difference) to grant applications to business bank accounts and beyond. More than anything, we are grateful for the hundreds of stories and poems that have come our way and broken our hearts, opened our minds, and changed our world. Narrowing down the submissions into a single issue was always the hardest part, and narrowing down those selections into these editors’ choice issues was damn near impossible. (In fact, in order to accommodate as much writing as possible, we’ve forgone the space for contributor bios in the print version. To find out more about the writers within, visit wordsonpagespress. com/parenthetical.) The stories in this issue are not necessarily the best we’ve published. They’re not necessarily our favourites, either. These are the stories that stuck to us, that have defined and represented us as a magazine, as publishers. They are stories that have pushed us outside of what we believed to be our editorial norms: stories we debated over, stories that forced us to grow. At every point in our journey so far, we have paid extra attention to the writing that sits outside of our own experiences, the writing that makes us uncomfortable, and the writing that made us start re-reading immediately. There has been so much more to (parenthetical) than what makes it out in an issue. We started (parenthetical) as loudly as we could, pitting ourselves up against the establishment of CanLit. Along the way, we’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet and publish writers in all stages of their careers, from being a first-time publication to being just one on a list of dozens. We have met the quiet writers, the quiet publishers, and they are an inspiration—to us, and to Canadian literature. Loud is still good—we will always need loud writers, being the traditionally quiet bunch that we are—but right now we’re looking forward to stepping back and turning down our volume a little. With that, we leave you with these selections from our previous eighteen issues. They are at once quiet and deafening, and they have lingered with us for—in some cases—years. We hope they stick to you the same way.

Nicole & William

Swimming Lessons The class had just started when I arrived. Two rows of white plastic chairs faced the pool, pushed against the tile wall. The row nearest the women’s change room door was full—six men and women sitting shoulder to shoulder in the warm, humid air, inhaling the biting taste of chlorine. I walked between the chairs and the pool awkwardly, making my way to the second, further, row. Another six seats, but only one was occupied, by a woman with thin blonde hair and a fixed smile. I left two empty seats between us. “Hello,” she said before I had had time to settle. She leaned towards me, stretching out her hand. “I’m Brenda.” “Hello, Brenda,” I answered automatically, taking her limp, damp hand and shaking it as briefly as I could. “Your name is?” she followed up with. “Alice.” It escaped from my lips before I could stop it. I didn’t know why I had said it. It was there before I thought twice. However— I had always liked the name Alice, with its pretty dresses, blue ribbons, hurrying rabbits. “Nice to meet you, Alice,” Brenda said with a shark-like smile. The plan had not included speaking with anyone. When I had played out the possibilities in my mind that was not a part of it. “My son is the one with the blonde curls. There,” Brenda pointed out, “wearing the red and black trunks. His name is Dafydd, spelled the Welsh way.” Of course, I thought. She pronounced it wrong, was the thing I thought next. But both thoughts were pushed out of my mind by the twisting feeling in my stomach. Would I have to return the progeny introduction? My discomfort only lasted a moment, however, because Brenda ploughed blithely on, barely giving me time for more than indistinct sounds and the odd nod of the head in between her revelations. Over the next twenty-five minutes, I learned: 1) Dafydd was an only child, but not through lack of trying. 2) Brenda—and her husband of eight years, Camden—were originally from Montreal and had only moved to Ottawa because of Camden’s job.

3) Brenda found the strong smell of chlorine in the pool area to be quite distressing, but was willing to put up with it for the sake of Dafydd learning to swim. 4) Brenda was a stay at home mom, but she felt judged for it and she was planning on returning to work soon so that would stop. 5) Before Dafydd was born, she worked as an office administrator at a real estate office, but she hated it and she wanted to do something different but she was not exactly sure what. 6) When she and Camden got married, they struggled with the size of the wedding but ended up settling on their 175 closest friends and family. It was, she had lamented, a bit small, but she had enjoyed the intimate feeling. By this point, I felt like the discussion had really run its course, but I was mistaken. I had almost forgotten that I was at the pool. The sound of the children’s lesson—squeals, splashes, and whistles— had faded into the background as Brenda regaled me with her life. It was only when she started to dwell interminably on her wedding—when she was describing the exact details, how many bridesmaids (eight), how many flower girls (two), her “colours” (champagne and blush, which I would have thought were the same colour, but did not want to ask for an explanation), and the menu (something called a “duo” plate of lobster and steak, which, as a lifelong vegetarian, I was both appalled by and curious about). And then, just like that, there was a final sharp whistle and a stampede of children leaving the pool and not-quite-running on the pool deck. Brenda rose in Pavlovian response and picked up a towel. “Dafydd!” she called unnecessarily, as the boy was already coming towards her. She wrapped him in the towel and threw me a small smile that accompanied a brisk nod of her head. I was dismissed. She hustled the child towards the family change room and was gone. The next week was marked by a protracted debate with myself as to whether I should return. I had previously invested a great deal of thought into the swimming lessons and I was loathe to abandon the project so easily. Another half-hour with Brenda, however, was not precisely what I had signed up for. However. Even I could admit to a degree of curiosity. Had she managed to work out the Thanksgiving dinner issues with her mother-in-law? Would Dafydd attend French immersion for kindergarten or would she be waiting until he was a little older? (She had, after all, planned her pregnancy so that he would be advantaged by being one of the older—if not the oldest—children in his class. She did not want to waste that advantage now.) And then it was Tuesday again and there I was walking out onto the pool deck. I was a little earlier than the previous week, but there was only one empty chair in the closer row. The people on either side of it were speaking to each other, leaning across the slight space. Before I could excuse myself and slide

into the spot, Brenda was waving me over. I waved back reflexively and walked past the others towards her. “Hello, Alice!” It took me a moment. Somehow, I had forgotten. “Hi!” “How are you?” she followed up with as I walked towards her. I’ll admit, I was taken aback. I had not expected that I would be required to provide content. But my confusion only lasted a moment, because Brenda took up last week’s monologue without further diversion (or, indeed, waiting for my response). In short order, I learned that: 1) Camden’s twin sister, Kaelin, was visiting from Vancouver. This was difficult for Brenda, as she and Kaelin (a lesbian doctor mother of three teenagers) had little in common and she (Brenda) felt that Kaelin looked down on her. Camden insisted that this was, in fact, not the case and Brenda needed to get over herself as Kaelin was a lovely person, but Brenda knew better. 2) Brenda had told Camden he could go and sleep in the second guest room while his sister was visiting. 3) Dafydd was (and she said this in a quieter voice) seeing a speech therapist but this was not progressing as quickly as Brenda had hoped. She was also annoyed that the therapist used candy as a reward during the sessions and “how would Dafydd’s speech be when his teeth were all rotted out from the sugar?” 4) Brenda’s best friend, Anne, was going through a painful divorce, but Brenda was not sure how much longer she could support her, as she (Brenda) was finding the whole matter to be quite stressful and unpleasant. I nodded my head as appropriate, as we sat, inhaling chlorine and sweating in the humidity. The small downtown community pool was kept at a high temperature for chronic pain and disability swimming sessions. It was good for the small children, too, of course. I remembered when Jessie was a baby and going into the pool was the opposite of an unpleasant shock. Rather, it was like returning to the womb. 92 degrees of comfort and warmth. Week three. What am I doing here? I confess I am morbidly curious. What more can there possibly be to Brenda’s life? It seems so full already. And complicated. I never realized there were people who struggled with so much… material in their lives. Everyone Brenda knew only added to the drama. This week progressed along the same trajectory as the others, with new events and the introduction of yet more characters: an old boyfriend of Brenda’s from high school (Rick), Camden’s mother and father, Brenda and Camden’s neighbour Penelope—all ailing or nosy or pissy or on the edge of a breakdown. I left with a list of six new items, the star of which was Dafydd: he could not decide between a Mickey Mouse birthday party and a Cars one. They had gone to Disney World last summer and Dafydd had liked Mickey. But Cars! Camden thought it ought to be Star Wars, but Brenda said Dafydd was too

young for that. I felt breathless by the time Brenda wound down and the children exited the pool. The weeks passed by, piling one upon the other, and any hesitancy or fear I had at first—well, I couldn’t remember why there had been a problem. I began to look forward to it. I was running late. It was snowing something awful outside and the traffic had been difficult, cars sliding here and there, pedestrians hunched over, trying to find their way through the blowing snow. “You,” was what the woman began with, as her hand reached out and touched my arm as I moved past the first row of chairs. “Yes?” “I just wanted to say…” Her voice trailed off and I was standing there, her hand on my arm, feeling awkward. Should I say something? I had no idea what she wanted to tell me, so I waited. “Brenda,” the woman began and so I stood there, eager to hear what would come next. “She isn’t easy.” “No,” I replied, an understatement if there ever was one. “Marika, who sits here with us sometimes? Sometimes she skips the lesson—just drops her daughter off and comes back at the end. When she does, you’re welcome to sit here.” “Thanks,” I managed. “Really. We feel bad there isn’t always space for you here.” The other parents nodded in unison. “We all know what it’s like. When the lessons started, we didn’t know.” “Didn’t know?” “We didn’t know what Brenda was like.” “Oh.” “We all made that mistake—of sitting down beside her. And, well, you know how that goes.” “I do.” “So.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” “I’m not sure how I could not sit with her at this point.” The woman sighed, deeply. She had a neat dark brown pixie cut and a Lululemon jacket, the logo obvious. “I understand, I guess. But just know you’re welcome here. If you can. If there is space.” “Thanks.” I continued on to the other chairs. Brenda was already there and I hoped she didn’t know what the others had said. I don’t know why I cared what she thought. “Hi, Alice,” she greeted me, the same as always.

“Hi, Brenda.” It felt like a long moment, but I am sure it was no longer than usual before she continued. “You would not believe the week I’ve had,” she began. The remaining weeks melted away. Brenda’s life could not have been more fascinatingly bizarre. When she spoke of her constellation of friends, family, and neighbours, the problems with her husband and child, she said the words slowly, savouring them. I couldn’t understand it and that was what brought me back. I wanted to get a feel for her substance. “I can’t believe this is the last week of the session,” she began, to my surprise. “It has gone by quickly,” I answered hesitantly. “Dafydd isn’t really all that enthusiastic about swimming lessons.” This was such a complete understatement that my mouth dropped open before I could stop myself. Dafydd regularly had tantrums—full blown, lying on the ground, arms and legs flailing tantrums. It was utterly off-putting to witness in a child of four who could speak. And Brenda would just sit here beside me, shaking her head slowly and watching the instructor deal with it. “Oh no.” “But this is important, swimming. It’s a life skill.” “Of course.” “Not that we do much near the water. I don’t like boats, of any sort or size. And we don’t have a pool at home, of course.” “No.” “So…” She said it almost slyly and it made me look over at her, look more carefully. There was a speculative look in her eyes. “What are you going to do for the next session? Your… daughter? son? I don’t think you ever said.” And it was as simple as that. My mind froze and black spots swam in front of my eyes. I could not catch my breath and my stomach clenched and I wanted to vomit. What was it that I had decided I would say? The words were just on the edge of my memory, taunting me. “My—” But I couldn’t look at Brenda and I rose unsteadily. Don’t get up, I told myself. You need to calm down. Stop, breathe. But there was something that propelled me forward and I teetered one way, then the other, stumbling blindly away. The floor was wet, of course, and I had not taken more than a couple of steps before I slipped. Everyone, I knew, was looking at me now. There was no embarrassed child in the pool, though. No child of mine to look over and furiously blush or laugh or sigh and shake their head. Certainly not my dear, forever three-year-old Jessica.

Monique Cuillerier //

is sue f our

Forest for the Trees Jessica fell in love with a tree. She had been walking through the forest, taking extreme close-up shots of the veins of leaves for an abstract project she barely believed in. But the grant application had been made and accepted, and so. When she first saw the tree, she snapped a quick and dirty shot of it, slap bang in the middle of the frame, no rule of thirds, or anything. And it wasn’t even the most attractive tree in the forest. She’d bypassed stoic oaks, with their promise of stability written through the core of their solid trunks. She’d rejected the charms of the quick-silver birches, standing in aloof beauty but unable to cause as much as a tremble in her. No, she had fallen in love with a tree that if it were an animal would be described as the runt of the litter. Spindly branches waving ineffectually in the breeze. Limp and slightly browning leaves that looked ready to drop even in the spring. The kind of face only a mother could love. The fact that her tree didn’t have a face, nor a mother in a conventional sense was not lost on her. She found it pretty funny, actually. (She made a note to check that out later, whether you can trace a tree’s lineage somehow. Genetics, or—something?) She had spent some time thinking about whether she might be loony, mad, insane, suffering from a “clinical disorder.” Whatever the politically correct term for her condition might be. She thought that maybe if she could find the word for her feelings it might make telling other people—by which she meant telling Greg—easier. She’d found lots of words, as it happens. When Greg left for work in the morning she would flip open his sleek laptop and make notes on her research in her notebook. Pages that used to be filled with photography annotations, figures denoting shutter speeds, f-stops, white balances, gave way to detailed notes on the lacunae of romantic and sexual attractions, the unspoken gaps where the desires of so-called “atypicals” lurked. She carefully cleansed the browsing history at the end of each session, erasing her trail through paraphilia, animism, object sexuality, dendrophilia. She spent every afternoon with the tree. Sometimes she photographed it, discovering new details, capturing it in different lights. Sometimes she would just sit, content. Often, she practised the conversations she would have with Greg, to see how it might sound to say it out loud. “I am in love with a tree,” or, “I may be suffering from a condition known as dendrophilia, which is causing me to believe I am in love with a tree,”

or, “I don’t know how to explain it. I feel connected to this tree, I feel its presence and I love that presence.” No matter the precise formulation of the words, the imaginary conversations circled uselessly. Even though she was controlling the dialogue, Greg would always get the better of her. He would point out that you can’t marry a tree, a tree won’t keep you warm at night. People just don’t fall in love with trees. She should just join Friends of the Earth and be done with it. She accepted these arguments, found them completely logical, and yet they did not satisfy the aching love she felt. Perhaps if she shared images instead, he would see what she did. She could bring him to the tree, press his hand against the granular roughness of bark. She could present a slideshow of the memory cards full of images of the tree, show him the timid way it arched its back to reach towards the shredded sunlight. She could play him a recording of the soft song of its rustling leaves. But then, perhaps it was meant to be difficult to communicate. Perhaps something real, something felt in the body, cannot easily be expressed. She thought back to the early days of her relationship with Greg. They’d met at university, and everyone had wanted them to put a label on it, to endlessly analyze the alchemy of attraction. Is he your boyfriend? And: Well, what do you like about him? Exactly? Jessica remembered a conversation like this where she’d struggled to tell her friends what she saw in this guy, this slightly pompous, not-quite-overweight law student who was a stiff intruder into their arts and music circle. “He’s sexy,” she’d settled on. “I like how serious he is.” And those things had been true. She had found his politics, his over-confident opinions, his need to argue every point, appealing. The minute details of him made her dizzy—the way he flicked tension out of his wrists when he was writing up his long pages of notes. Or how even the more annoying of his traits—putting on the same pair of socks that he’d worn the previous day, say—had filled her not with disgust but with a kind of tender protectiveness. I will love you in spite of and because of the very worst things about you. It was strange to think of how long it had taken her friends to accept Greg, and yet now she felt it would be no easier to explain to them the end of her love for him. The distasteful dwindling of fascination into familiarity. There was nothing dramatic in the thousandth argument about her hatred of mushrooms, and no she would not be eating that risotto, she didn’t care how many hours he’d spent making it and would he please just stop shouting and listen, please? She wondered if the fact that she has not photographed him once in the six months since they moved to London would feel as explosive to someone else as it does to her. The move had been Greg’s idea and she knew that for him it signalled a new stage of maturity. Living together was one thing—buying a house was another. Taking a job at one of London’s largest corporate

law firms was the moment in which his success would solidify, become an undeniable part of him. She knew that she probably should have stopped this long before she’d made it to this point. Before she’d left all her friends, moved away from her family. Before she’d sacrificed her hard-won network of contacts, steady stream of freelancing gigs. If she’d been a different type of person, a braver or more determined type of person, she would have acted sooner. It wasn’t really an excuse that Christmas, or a birthday, or a holiday that had already been paid for always seemed to be round the corner. And then, there had been the fact that being JessandGreg still felt good, even when Greg’s charm as an individual had worn off. The secret knowledge that single friends felt a twinge of jealousy about her rich, perfect, doting boyfriend—however mythical he might be. She didn’t want to be the villain, to be the one who threw away a perfect relationship for no reason at all. She daydreamed that Greg would cheat on her, that Greg would drain their joint bank account and disappear, that something would happen that would put her undeniably in the right. They had established a routine for the weekends. Greg would have a lie-in, around 10.30 or so she would bring him a cup of coffee, and he would read her the comment section of the newspaper. She was forced to forgo her trips to visit the tree. It wasn’t that she couldn’t just say she wanted to go for a walk but— what if he decided to join her? What if he asked too many questions? It felt safer to keep everything even remotely connected to the tree a secret. She would overdose on the tree each Friday, stock up on digital memories to parcel out throughout the weekend. On Mondays she would relapse, rushing back into the forest as soon as she heard the definitive click of the door closing. It worked until it stopped working, until she awoke one Saturday morning feeling sick and stifled. Greg’s leg was draped over hers, heavy and sweaty. She flinched from the mammal hairiness of him, the blood and guts heat of him. She longed for the clean light of the forest, the deep earth smell of the tree. It was a little before seven. She had plenty of time to slip out to the tree and be back before Greg even noticed a thing. But—just in case—she scrawled a note and left it on the fridge. Needed to clear my head. The dew in the long grass tickled her bare shins. The day held a promise of warmth, but it was early enough for there to still be a shiver on the air. As she moved from the thin border of fields into the forest proper she disturbed a flock of still-resting birds, paused to watch them crack out of the branches and away. On reaching her tree, she felt the familiar release of tension. The dawn light played across its leaves, and in that instant she felt its strength, its essential kindness. She felt enveloped by it. She pulled off her thick wool jumper, stooped to untie her bulky walking boots. She stood barefoot in front of the tree, trembling slightly. Her feet sunk into the damp black earth. Her toes crunched into twigs and leaves. She hadn’t changed out of her night-dress, and she realized how flimsy it was. One strap slipped. She

felt unsteady with anticipation, overwhelmed by the sense that something fundamental was about to shift in her relation to the tree. She moved towards it, trying to press every inch of available skin against it. It could have been an hour or a moment. It split apart with the sound of a voice. “What’s going on, Jess?” She turned but kept her body pressed against the tree. Felt the bark clawing into the skin of her back. Greg was tousled, bleary, looking ridiculous in his striped pajama bottoms and a pair of trainers. “What is it, you’re meeting someone here or what?” As a photographer, she understood the way a moment could slow down. How all the elements of a photograph would magically seem to compose themselves into the shot they were always meant to be. To recognize that instant—and then to prep the camera, find the correct setting, slip your finger through a delicate half squeeze through to a decisive full press of the shutter release—to perform the series of mental and physical leaps that it takes to capture that moment was what separated a photographer from a person taking a picture. She could see this moment composing itself. The balance between his body and hers. The way his raised arm would bisect the shot. She could picture how the soft gauzy morning light would create a jolting discord for the viewer: beautiful light flares in tension with the obvious violence of the moment. The way the splayed branches of the tree would frame the scene. She closed her eyes. She would often wish she had taken her camera that morning, that she had the photograph of that moment. She would be convinced that it would tell the story she could not. It would exonerate him. (And then he had a stone in his hand and I don’t really think he knew what he was doing.) It would justify her. (Look it wasn’t just any old tree. It was a special tree.) It would collapse the sides that everyone seemed to want to be on. There wouldn’t be police statements, or counselling sessions. There wouldn’t be words, so many words, until Jessica felt dissected or desiccated, emptied and dried out. A husk. There would just be a moment in which everything visibly changed, and that would be enough.

Ailsa Bristow issue five

#5 from Maman There was a howling behind the walls. It was long and loud and constant. It shook the shutters. It hung from the eaves. It whipped the curtains. It made the beds lumpy. Mother stood in the midst of that howling with her mouth closed. When she breathed, her nostrils flared. The howling grew louder. We clapped our hands to our ears to drown out the sound but it wove its way between our fingers. It pushed into our heads. We begged mother to stop the howling but she barely looked at us. She sat on the floor in front of us, her knees on the floor, and when she finally looked at us, it was with a wide, tight-lipped smile. The howling came again. It dripped from the ceiling and rose up from the floor. It came from each wall. It surrounded us. The howling was deep and piercing. It had metallic undertones, a tinny after-melody. When mother cocked her head to the side, the howling deepened into a yowling. The yowling was just as terrible. The yowling made our stomachs loosen. We were afraid we would wet our pants but we did not. We kept our urine in. Mother stood up. She went to the refrigerator, took out a gallon of milk, and poured us each a glass. The milk foamed into a thin head at the top of each glass. Mother brought the glasses to us. She offered them with the same smile she wore before the yowling. She gestured for us to drink. We were afraid to. She nudged our fists with the glasses. The glass was wet with condensation. The house always had a clammy coldness but the milk was chillier than that. Beads of water dripped down the glass sides and struck the floor. We took the glasses from mother. The yowling was in our ears. It was in our throats. If we opened our mouths, the yowling would come from those deep places we were


not supposed to know. We opened our mouths. The yowling increased. The milk was not fresh. We smelled the sourness. The white was off. Yellow bits suspended in the milk. But mother insisted that we drink. She went through all the trouble of pouring


the glasses for us. It would be wasteful if we refused to drink what she gave. We placed our lips to the glass rims and sipped slowly, our eyes raised to mother. She nodded

her head as we drank. She encouraged the sipping. She mouthed, More, more, more.

She made us drink until the glasses were empty. The milk’s sourness was worse in

our mouths. It was on our gums and teeth. We licked the taste from our lips. We swallowed what was left. We sipped the remaining bubbles. The dairy settled in our stomachs heavily. Mother nodded her head. She took the glasses away. The yowling came again. It swooped and fell. It struck our faces. Our stomachs gurgled with discontentment. Mother crawled forward. She crawled fast, the yowling pursuing her, and her limbs rotated around one another. She pressed an ear to one stomach, then another. She listened to our digestive troubles. The grumbling grew louder. It was almost worse than the yowling which raised in tone until it was again a howling. Mother opened her mouth and blew into our belly buttons. The howling was in the soft breath. She howled into our bodies. She grabbed our hands to her throat and howled into our palms. She howled while looking up at our faces. She howled into our ears. She howled until she fainted upon the floor, pale in the face, limp in the limbs. And still, the howling went on. The howling came from her and from the empty chairs and from the windows. The howling came snaking up from the basement. The howling was produced in the back of the oven. The howling grew and grew. It was so high-pitched that we thought our ears would bleed. We called to one another but the howling overtook our voices. Even our screams were faint. Then father came home and slammed a door. Then the howling stopped immediately. Then the house was so silent, we were desperate to yell. We took turns in the bathroom, vomiting whatever in our stomach needed to be vomited.

Alana I. Capria is sue nine

Leech Why do mom and dad shut their door every night? Liz says they do. I haven’t seen it. I go to bed too early. I wonder if they have one too, coming after them. I wonder if they know a door can’t stop it? I’ve never thought that maybe everyone has one. If Liz has one it would be something with wings. Liz spends all day with her friends in the tree fort. She likes to jump from the high dive at the pool. She says if she had one super power she would choose to fly. If I had a superpower I would fly too, but for different reasons. Mom and dad are in the military. It’s nothing to do with guns and bombs. Actually, it’s more boring than even being a plumber. I watched the plumber last week fix the sink. He seemed much happier than dad. Dad’s behind a desk and sometimes he doesn’t talk to anybody at all for a whole day, except on the phone. Mom’s behind a desk too, but she’s the opposite, all day she’s talking to people. She’s a chaplain. That’s probably just as boring. In the military you always have someone telling you what to do. Mostly they tell mom and dad to move here, now move there. We’ve moved twice in the last four years. This is great for me, it keeps me away from it. I don’t like to think what will happen when we stop moving. Liz hates moving, but maybe she should be grateful if she also has one. I dreamed last night about a forest of bonsai. Bonsai are trees shrunken by a laser beam so that people can put them in their house. I don’t really believe that, but how else do they get so small? Dad says he has a friend with a shrink ray, and now we have a bonsai in the bathroom. I like to imagine an owl got caught sleeping when they shrunk the tree and woke up tiny and now lives on the sow bugs behind the toilet. In my dream I was walking in the bonsai forest trying not to break the trees. It turned out the whole world had become a bonsai. I could see everywhere, over mountains even, like I was looking at a map, and I could see it coming towards me. That’s not so different from what I imagine during the day though. When we’re in a circle and Mrs. Schulz is reading I look out the window and am afraid it’s there moving along the fence. A couple nights ago I imagined it wriggling through the muck beneath a river somewhere miles and miles away. It’s something like a slug or a leech, shot out from some weird place in the ground, or maybe from space. It’s very slow, and that’s my only hope. It takes an afternoon to cross a road, a year to cross a state. But it’s still scary because it never stops moving. It’s not annoyed by buildings or lakes or anything in its way, it just keeps going. It doesn’t need to sleep or eat. I don’t know where it gets its energy from. Everything needs energy to keep it

Y moving. Maybe there are things that don’t? Maybe it’s not doing the moving, maybe it’s being pulled, reeled into me like a fish. I’m not sure what happens if it catches me. I used to have nightmares of falling into a pit of leeches. Something like that I’m guessing. I tried to explain this to mom. She just kept asking me why I was so sure. But I’m not sure. I can’t be sure. So sometimes when I’ve been playing for too long with lego in the basement, or reading too long under the trampoline, I need to get up and go somewhere else, just in case. Today Mom did something she’d never done before. She brought back a map and a big sheet of paper from work and spread it over the kitchen table. Where did you see it last, she said. When we were camping by the lake near grandma and grandpa’s, I said. It’s summer time and I do a lot of exploring. I collect things. I was climbing a tree to get this huge pinecone when I thought I saw it across the lake. How long would it take to get from the fridge to where I’m standing, mom said. Half an hour, I said. Mom wrote all this down on the paper. I stood on my tiptoes watching her write down numbers and cross out numbers. Eventually she circled one big number at the bottom. I’ve calculated it out, she said. From the lake to us it will take a year and three months. I looked at the paper but it was just a bunch of numbers. Are you sure, I said. I’ve used math, she said, and math is the surest thing in the world. I’m not sure I saw it at the lake, I said. Mom grabbed up the paper with the numbers and crunched it into the garbage. She was mad. I’m sorry, I said. I didn’t know she was going to do all that work. She had her hands all tangled up in her hair. The only sure thing is that it always moves towards me, I said. She sat down at the table then and told me to sit down too. I want you to imagine something for me, Hans, she said. Imagine it showing up right here in our kitchen, right there on the floor where the carpet becomes tiles. It’s so slow, you could leap right over it! You could even tap dance around it if you wanted! I’d be too scared, I said. Then I’d help you scoop it up into a box and ship it to Africa, she said. When it arrived there it would just start crawling back towards me, it wouldn’t even be angry, I said.

We could send it into space, she said. No we couldn’t, I said. We could confuse it, she said. Maybe it was tracking me by my hair, maybe we could cut off my hair and send it to uncle Bernie out east and make it go there? But we can’t confuse it, I said. The only way we could confuse it would be if I died. I didn’t say this though. It was a new thought. Last night mom and dad were yelling with their door closed. I only know because I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking the new thought again. I was thinking that maybe if I did kill myself it would finally get annoyed. But when I try to imagine it out there, growing slack and stopping under some rock, not moving at all, I can’t. It’s like it needs me. To be itself. It would be like if a rock were falling and suddenly the whole earth disappeared and the rock was left with nowhere to fall. Is this what would really happen? I feel weird when I think about it, because I can never know. It’s set up that way. If I die I won’t be able to watch what happens, but if I don’t die nothing different will happen. Today Liz told me that we were going to live with grandma and grandpa for a while. Five minutes later, mom told me the same thing. I’m really scared. Mom didn’t make any calculations for that. It would reach me much quicker, I can’t say how quick, but a lot quicker, since I saw it out there when we went camping. I told mom that I wasn’t going. She just hugged me and kissed me again and again on my forehead. Please mom, what should I do, I said. I was crying. Mom was crying too. I’m laying a spell on you, she said. She was still kissing me. What does the spell do, I said. It’s so that it can’t touch you, not for moment, she said. If you see it, if it comes to your door when you’re in bed, don’t be scared. How long will the spell last, I said. Two days, she said. That’s not very long, I said. It’s the best I got, she said. But I will renew it every two days. I will never let it expire. I’ve been at grandma and grandpa’s now for five days and I haven’t seen it. Mom’s come twice, dad’s come once. I’m not sure kisses are enough to stop it. I’m not sure because Mom kisses Liz too and Liz is starting to get really sick. I think hers is getting really close. Everyone has one, I’m pretty sure of that now. I’m telling mom and dad we need to get Liz back home, we need to or something horrible will happen, but mom and dad don’t understand, they just keep kissing us like that will make everything OK.

Patrick Doerksen //

issue e l even

Even Greater Apes


My name’s Sloane, and I’m a genetically engineered super-intelligent bonobo. Bonobo’s the key word in that — I’m super-intelligent for a bonobo. You can usually tell straight off the bat when I start talking. Although my life began as simply an experiment at the Primatology Research Institute of Toronto (PRIoT), I’m now a full-time employee. I’m a field researcher, and a good one. As a bonobo, I’m able to infiltrate the social circles of other bonobos much more effectively than a human would. PRIoT sends me to zoos around the world, where I live for a few weeks taking notes. The bonobos I study don’t realize I’m super-intelligent of course, because that would spoil the whole thing. I work five weeks in a zoo, five weeks back in Toronto at PRIoT. It’s a rewarding job, and I’m glad I can make an impact in the field. We need to work as hard as we can using the gifts we are given. But one day my routine was interrupted when my boss and creator Dr. Rhea Dosanjh called me into her office with a concerned look over her normally stoic face. “Where to this time, Doc?” I said, sitting down on a bean-bag chair opposite her desk. “Cincinnati? San Diego? Utrecht?” “It’s about Jedediah,” she said. Jedediah’s my brother. Not a real brother in the conventional sense, but a brother in the sense that he’s the only other genetically engineered super-intelligent bonobo in the world. He’s working on getting his Master’s of Architecture (M.Arch) at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto. “Is he okay?” I asked. “He’s dropped out of U of T to pursue improvisational comedy. We need you to steer him back to the light.” “Isn’t that up to him? What does he need steering for?” “Look, we operate thanks to the continued support of our wealthy donors. A star bonobo architect has more prestige to these people than a struggling bonobo comedian. I’m afraid if he continues down this path, our funding will dry up and the whole gen-eng program will be considered a failure—yourself included.” While I believed it was important to Jedediah to choose his own course, I also recognized that he had a responsibility to everyone at PRIoT to live up to the expectations set for him. And besides that, it seemed like he was throwing his gifts away. I saw some of the studio work he made in the first year of his M.Arch, and it was remarkable. Tree-based condominiums. I accepted the assignment, and decided to dive in undercover like I would at the zoo. I signed up for a beginner’s improv class with The Second City. The instructor for my first class, Reeve, was a tall, white, bearded twenty-something wearing plaid. I thought I’d have to fake any

interest in improv, but I was wrong. The class changed me. Reeve told us all that improv was based on collaboration, a shared sense of living in the moment, and a genuine interest in being surprised by your own imagination. He said that the number one rule was to say “yes, and…” when your scene partner presented you with an opportunity. “Yes,” meaning accept the offer, and “and…” meaning build on it. Just by his articulation of these concepts, I realized that they were both immensely valuable and also completely missing from my life. We played exercises and games over the next two hours that demonstrated those concepts. I discovered how valuable it was to connect to the present. It was the most fun I’d ever had in my life. My body felt untethered, and my mind was clear. I was hooked. I stayed after class to talk to Reeve and I was so enraptured with our discussion that I completely missed Jed walk right past me. Luckily, he didn’t miss me. I’m hard to miss. “Sloane?” He asked. “Jed!” I said, feigning surprise. “Do you two know each other?” Reeve asked. “We’re brother and sister,” I explained. “Ah, I can see the resemblance now.” “What are you doing here?” I asked Jed. “I’m on one of the house Harold teams. What are you doing here?” “I’m taking classes — I just had my first one with Reeve.” “She’s really good,” said Reeve. “Runs in the family.” “You mean that?” I asked. “Yeah, you should take more advanced classes for sure.” “Cool!” I said. “I’d love to immerse myself as much as possible.” “You should come to my Harold show tonight,” said Jed. “I’ll comp you.” “That would be great!” When I saw Jed perform with his Harold team CHiMPs that night, I totally got why he dropped out of U of T. Jedediah was an amazingly talented improviser. At first, you could tell that the audience was laughing just because he was a bonobo. But his characters were so rich with depth and his commitment to helping his scene partners was so pure, the audience began appreciating him just as an improviser. After the show, I told him he was amazing, and he said “I know.” The next day Jed asked me to join his Harold team. Of course I said yes. Over the next few weeks, we bonded in practices and in our Sunday night show. After a month and a half, I emailed Dr. Dosanjh and told her that while I wasn’t enjoying the assignment, it was going to take much longer than initially anticipated. It was a lie. I wanted to explain to her what was actually going on, but I knew she’d be disappointed. What was actually going on was that I felt like I found my place in the world. My whole life I’d been an outsider. As one of only two genetically engineered super-intelligent bonobos, there weren’t a lot of

people who could identify with me. The research scientists I worked with never let their guard down— they always viewed me as an experiment. And the bonobos I spent time with in the zoos sure looked like me, but they made awful conversation and were always aggressively reaching for my genitals. But my Harold team exhibited neither of those qualities. On and off-stage, they were gentle, giving, dynamic, inclusive, and hilarious. Every Harold begins with a group game, where everyone on stage develops something together without having any real idea of where it’s going to lead. This is the most exciting process you can experience on stage, and when you do it with people who you love and trust it feels like what I imagine a warm hug from a family would feel like. There’s magic in improv. I didn’t want to succeed in my assignment to bring Jedediah back to his M.Arch, and I didn’t want to go back to PRIoT either. I wanted to stay at The Second City forever. After three months, however, Dr. Dosanjh got impatient. I met her at her office to discuss my progress. “I’m thinking about quitting primatology to become an improviser,” I said. “But your residency at Emory University working with Frans de Waal starts next week!” Frans de Waal was my hero. When the residency was first offered to me, I considered it the highlight of my career—but now I was willing to throw it all away. “Tell him I’m sorry.” “No Sloane, I won’t. You need to work as hard as you can using the gifts you are given. You’re a superintelligent bonobo, and so only you can bring a unique perspective into primatology. Anyone off the street can do comedy.” “Improv is more than just comedy!” I yelled. “It’s about life skills! It’s teaches cooperation, acceptance, intuition, and spontaneity! It helps you handle adversity, connect with the moment, appreciate the little things, and be open to suggestion!” Dr. Dosanjh let out a deep sigh. “Have you ever heard the story of the squirrel and the acorns?” “No.” “There was once a squirrel who collected acorns. And with those acorns, she built a house. It had acorn walls and acorn floors; acorn tables and acorn chairs; an acorn roof and an acorn door. It was a beautiful house. And then the squirrel starved to death.” “I don’t get it.” “She didn’t eat the acorns, Sloane. You need to use your things for what they’re made for. If improv is teaching you amazing life skills, use them in your life.” Dr. Dosanjh was right. I met with Jedediah the next day over coffee and bananas to let him know that he should put the skills he learned in improv to work in architecture. I told him that improv skills were wasted on improv. He took this as a personal insult. He told me he’d been cast as an understudy for the next Mainstage Revue, AI: Artificial Intelligentsia, and expected me to be happy for him. I told him I’d be

happy if his comedy can inspire someone else out there to apply their skills to become a great architect. We haven’t spoken since. The next day I met Frans de Waal in Atlanta. He had made reservations at a nearby restaurant, and we walked there discussing our favourite anecdotes about our time in the field. When we reached the restaurant, the host told us they were unable to honour our reservation because having an animal in the establishment would be a by-law violation. We explained that I was super-intelligent and had impeccable table manners, but that didn’t matter—we weren’t welcome. “Well,” said Frans, “I guess we’ll have to improvise.” My eyes lit up. “Yes, and…”


Jordan Moffatt issue fift een


Houseboat 1

It’s summer. My parents are away at a week-long marriage retreat, but I don’t know that. At my grandmother’s house in the country, I spend most of my time in her swimming pool, studying the lifeless bodies of frogs who drowned thinking they’d found a lake. 2

In the afternoons, my grandmother sets me up with a movie while she sleeps upstairs, an air conditioner dripping and whirring in her dark bedroom. She is part of a generation of women who sleep to forget. 3 One afternoon she sets me up with Houseboat. In the movie, Sophia Loren plays a socialite on the run. Cary Grant plays an inept widower with three kids. Where is their mother? says Sophia Loren playing Cinzia Zaccardi. You’re lookin’ at her, says Cary Grant playing Tom Winston. 4 The men are the first to go, my grandmother reminds me. That’s how it’s always been. Over Deluxe Kraft Dinner, she looks wistfully at a framed photograph of my grandfather, who died before I was born, on the wall. I note a resemblance to Cary Grant. 5 There is a scene in Houseboat where Sophia Loren playing Cinzia Zaccardi slaps Cary Grant playing Tom Winston across the face. After, she lets out something between a whimper and a squeal. 6 My father is the first to go. He doesn’t die, but rather, moves out. I start spending more time in my grandmother’s pool. 7 I grow up. My family doctor, who likes to wave her speculum around threateningly and name drop diseases, writes me a prescription for the Pill. I date, and eventually, I marry. My husband does not look like Cary Grant. 8 After a few years, he starts talking about children.

9 Then my prescription runs out. I do not make an appointment with my family doctor. Instead I decide to stop taking the Pill altogether because it kills my libido. I am part of a generation of women with dead libidos. That, and estrogen-ridden urine. Entire fish populations are being feminized by our piss. 10 My husband mentions having children again. I explain that waiting to have children fits my progressive worldview and ask him if he wants to go Dutch on condoms. He agrees. 11 This progressive worldview is probably why it troubles me to think about all the non-biodegradable condoms we use ending up in a landfill. 12 In time, there is some confusion over whose turn it is to buy the next pack. So neither of us buy them. Then we stop having sex, for reasons unrelated to my resurrected libido. It doesn’t occur to me to propose a marriage retreat. 13 There are other things we stop doing, too. Dishes. Sleeping in the same room, bailing out the water flooding the hull of our houseboat. Speaking. 14 Eventually my husband brings home another woman. They hole up in his room. They are definitely speaking to each other, and doing a lot of other things, too. I don’t have to hear her whimpers (squeals?) to know. 15 I pass the time staring wistfully out my window at a school of ladyfish in the water below. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, one of them croaks, probably trying to console me. She is wearing lipstick, and, believe it or not, fishnets. 16 My husband’s new wife is not on the Pill. Or at least, that’s what I surmise when I hear her giving birth in his room. I enlist one of the ladyfish to deliver a note suggesting they move out. They refuse, on account of the houseboating market bubble.

17 Years pass. They have more children, and their children take a liking to me. After a while I start to think of myself as Sophia Loren playing Cinzia Zaccardi in Houseboat, though I am neither a socialite on the run, nor Italian. I don’t have her breasts, either. My husband and I start speaking to each other again. Tentatively. Where is their mother? I ask. You’re lookin’ at her, he says. 18 But I am looking at my own reflection in his eyes. He explains that his wife left him. Or more precisely: I left him. 19 I say I don’t remember doing that. Haven’t I been in my bedroom this whole time? I must have fallen asleep. While he cries, I am secretly thinking of initiating sex. 20 It occurs to me that going on the Pill might help me grow breasts like Sophia Loren’s, so I go see my doctor for a prescription. With her speculum high and waving, she name drops a new disease that is turning women into fish. 21 At last she gets my fins in the stirrups and takes a looksee. Wow, she says. Spawning must have really done a number on you. I ask her what she means. She asks me, out of curiosity, if I experience any sensation at all during intercourse. I say no, because fish don’t have penetrative intercourse. Then she scribbles me a prescription. 22 Riding back to the houseboat, I pass a landfill. Or more precisely: I pass a bunch of garbage floating on the surface of the water. Among the trash, I see a used condom and ingest it. Inadvertently. 23 When I get home, my husband is upset. She can be a real Sophia Loren when she’s angry, but I don’t have the libido for it. No one slaps anyone across the face. We are part of a generation of fish that do not do that.

Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt // issue




I Meant What I Said When I Told You I Could Buy Six Falafel Sandwiches for a Hundred Liras

You just had to be smart about it. First you go to Amawi road, next to that old mosque with the white marble floors and flocks of pigeons circling above. Go to Abu Ammar’s hole in the wall shop in the haara just a block away. If he says marhaba and doesn’t move from his stool, he’s not Abu Ammar. Ask for Abu Ammar. When he comes, he’ll say ya hala and lean against the massive counter, readjusting international call cards and moving boxes of chocolate as if to make room for you. He’ll ask you if you want foulle or hummus. Ask for falafel. He’ll smile and say ala ainy and disappear into the back room. Leave the shop and walk two blocks down to Hamza and Abbas. You can’t miss the big blue sign with the yellow lettering. Stand and enjoy the air conditioning and the smell of pastries. Wait at the counter until a flour-puffed young boy greets you. Ask for three sugar buns. Threaten to seek them elsewhere if he tries to give them to you in any state other than taaza. He’ll ask for fifty liras. Tell him you know Abu Ammar. Pay twenty-five. Head down the street to pick up pickles and pickled turnips. Tell the vendor you want to have a taste. He’ll hand you a small jar with an assortment and wave you off. Slide over twenty-five liras as a thank you, but he’ll tell you to keep it. Leave it anyway. Go back to Abu Ammar’s. He’ll greet you as warmly as before, this time sliding over a white bag with grease stains blotting the bottom. Nus dizzineh, he’ll say, opening the bag to show you the six patties lined in a ring around a small tub of garlic yogurt sauce. The smell will captivate you. Abu Ammar knows this, which is why he’ll take one from his personal batch, dip it in yogurt, and hand it to you, on the house. The crunchy exterior made savory by the sauce has you all but drooling. Pay him fifty liras that he’ll be insistent not to take. He’ll tell you to send his salaams to your father. You know he doesn’t know your father, but you’ll do it anyway. When you arrive home, split the buns in half, slice them open, and then fill with falafel, yogurt, pickles, and samma’a. Your mother will definitely have it in her spice cabinet; it’s sour and red, you can’t miss it. Invite your family to eat. Tell them about Abu Ammar. Tell them about how you bought six falafel sandwiches for a hundred liras.

Hana Alharastani //

issue seventeen

—to be continued in issue twenty.


This publication—issue nineteen of the literary magazine (parenthetical)— was published by words(on)pages in the month of May in the year two thousand and seventeen. It was designed, printed, and bound in Toronto, Ontario, by words(on) pages co-founders William Kemp and Nicole Brewer, who used Adobe InDesign for layout, and was typeset and designed using Kingthings Trypewriter 2, Adobe Garamond Pro, and FFF TUSJ. It was bound by hand with paper, thread, needle, and patience. Front and back covers were printed by Sebastian and Brendan Frye at Swimmers Group in Toronto. (parenthetical) could not be produced without the support of Michael Brewer, words(on)pages Director of Business Operations. For this issue, we were unable to pay a proofreader, and don’t like asking for free work—please forgive any inconsequential errors.

Y including

I Meant What I Said When I Told You I Could Buy Six Falafel Sandwiches for a Hundred Liras by Hana Alharastani Forest for the Trees by Ailsa Bristow #5 from Maman by Alana I. Capria Swimming Lessons by Monique Cuillerier Leech by Patrick Doerksen Even Greater Apes by Jordan Moffatt Houseboat by Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt