“Shania Twain Sang Me to Sleep” by Jessica Mundie

The first years of my life were exhausting. On August 11, 1998, I was placed in my mother’s loving arms, blue faced and cone-headed, after a 36-hour labour, forceps, and many stitches. Sleeplessness began before I had even made my appearance in the world.

Being my parent’s first child, they had no idea what to do with me. I am often reminded of the story of my homecoming: my parents placing my car seat on the coffee table, sharing a look, and my father asking, “What do we do now?”

Little did they know, the rest of my infanthood would be enshrouded by a blanket of colic.

Every evening, around dinner time, the wailing would begin. My mother would sit me in my highchair, beside her and my father at the dinner table, and they would try to talk over my loud screaming. It would continue long into the night. As most people turned off their lights and cuddled up in bed, my parents were awake trying to soothe their sad baby.

They desperately tried to shut me up: I was swaddled, massaged, bathed and nurtured, but I would not relent. Eventually, after many months of little sleep, they discovered I had two weaknesses: an endless desire for food and a love of Shania Twain.

In March of 1999, Twain’s Man! I Feel Like a Woman was released on North American country radio stations. This came seven months after my birth and about when my parents realized they were losing their minds.

I am not sure how my mother made the discovery, but to my parent surprise and extreme relief, they found that if I was bounced up and down, in an excruciatingly consistent manner, while listening to Shania Twain celebrate the prerogative of women everywhere, I would fall asleep.

I could not tell you why I loved Shania Twain so dearly. Maybe as a baby I was already identifying with my strong feminist values, or maybe I just loved Canadian country stars. Either way, now every time Man! I Feel Like a Woman comes on at my local country bar, I can be counted on to belt out the lyrics.  

After the discovery that saved their sanity, my parents played me all different genres of music. I took my first steps with the waltz of the Blue Danube, spoke my first word alongside the croon of Leonard Cohen, and was ushered off to kindergarten to the tune of David Bowie.

Unfortunately, as a preschooler, I still had trouble sleeping. I was too big to be bounced, so either my dad would lay in bed with me until we both inevitably drifted off (a habit that has ruined his sleep schedule to this day) or my mom would sit on the edge of my bed rubbing my back and singing until I fell asleep.

I made requests. At night I liked folk: James Taylor, Peter Paul and Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot were regulars. My mom has a beautiful voice. She would sing me hit songs, hidden gems, and her own creations. I was particularly fond of The Water is Wide, which, accompanied by my mother’s soft hand on my back, would never fail to row me delicately to sleep.

I went through an 80s pop phase in grade school. After dinner, my mom, brother, and I would hold dance parties in in our dining room. We pushed the big table to the wall and took over the hardwood floor. We grooved to Take On Me, shimmied to Tarzan Boy, and head banged to Come on Eileen. Then, my favourite was Girls Just Want to Have Fun, an ode to my roots as a fan of female power ballads.

Middle school came with a love for teenage rebellion rock. An interesting time in my music history. My angst-filled years were fueled by My Chemical Romance and my own evil insecurities. I try not to think of this time: it was painfully sad, as most middle school experiences are.

There was a light at the end of the puberty-induced tunnel, and it came in the form of five glorious teenage boys. One Direction. I often credit my sexual awakening to this group and sincerely appreciate their ability to pull me out of the depressed hole I had fallen into.

My mother got to experience the true power of One Direction at their second concert in Ottawa. Their two shows in my city were held on the first days of my last year in high school. My infatuation had considerably diminished by this point. I was older, and I had a real boyfriend, but I still dragged my poor mom into the ruthless pit of teenage obsession. (She said she had fun.) These concerts would be the end of my “Directioner” phase. They would close the door on boy bands and high school and open the door to adulthood and university.

Unshackled from the world of top pop hits, I was loose and wandering, genre-less. Slowly, I found my way back to the music that started it all, the music of my parents.

It began with Bob Dylan, my dad’s all-time favorite. I downloaded his entire discography one night and listened to his top hits, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Like a Rolling Stone, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Dylan lead me into a whole new world of 60s and 70s rock. The Eagles. Joni Mitchell. The Band. Simon and Garfunkel. Fleetwood Mac. All artists my parents grew up listening to and played for me as a kid.

Listening to this music is my most addictive nostalgia. I listen to the songs from my childhood and am reminded of vacations, dance parties, and sleepless nights. The same thing happens when I listen to music from middle school or find a playlist from a high school party. I can relive these moments over and over again.

My taste has evolved in recent years. I am not a stickler about genre or artist as much as I was, I will listen to anything as long as it sounds good. My current obsessions are Lizzo – a rapper, The Lumineers – a folk band, and Joan Jett – a 70s rocker.

But I will always have a love for the classics.

This summer, my parents, brothers, and I took a day trip to Montreal to drop one of my brothers off at McGill for his first year. I was in charge of music for the drive. My playlist started off with a classic, Super Tramp, Goodbye Stranger. It got a “nice one” and a nod from my mom. Paul Simon followed. Kodachrome. She started tapping the steering wheel.

The noise of the car took over. My youngest brother fell asleep, the other turned to his phone. My parents and I silently enjoyed the tunes. The next song was for them.  

Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under. Shania Twain.

This one got a loud, “Whoa!” from the front seat. My mom gasped, taken back in time 21 years. I started singing along. My dad turned around with a big smile, fingers pointed at me in pride, bopping his head.

“Oh god,” my mom sighed and shook her head. “You were an exhausting baby.”


JESSICA MUNDIE (she/her) is a creative writer and journalist from Ottawa, ON. She is a graduate of Carleton University where she studied journalism, English, and drama studies. When she is not writing, she can usually be found baking or walking her dog. In January, she will begin her master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School in New York City.

“The Meaning of Hockey” by Marie-Eve Bernier

I never cared for hockey. Sure, as a Canadian (truthfully, more of a Québécoise), I was aware of hockey but failed to appreciate its beauty and never quite understood its meaning. I would continue to be oblivious about it for far too many years.

Ironically, hockey shaped some of my earliest memories. Fragments of it can be found in recollections of my grandfather, Léonce, watching Les Nordiques in the living room, or listening to overly excited commentators announcing the scores over the radio on long car rides. I watched my brother play street hockey with his friend on cold Canadian winter afternoons. I witnessed my otherwise shy uncle rave about vintage hockey cards. Not to be forgotten was my introduction to the beloved short story, “The Hockey Sweater” by Roch Carrier, which was the first time I read English Canadian literature, beginning a lifelong love of short stories. So, hockey was, in a way, always part of my life.

In those years where I was uninterested in the game, fond memories unknowingly formed around watching my brother and sister play. I was so proud of my sister whose talent stood out in this male-dominated sport.  I was yet to appreciate their games, which felt tediously long as a little girl. I can still feel the cold on my hands from the arena and the unique smell of the ice, which would often be overtaken by the pungent smell of vinegar and fries that spectators ravenously snacked on. But nothing compares to the excitement I felt  between long periods of boredom when one of my siblings’ teams would score. I timidly felt overjoyed and could not avoid the irresistible urge to join the loud cheering of the crowd, filled with proud moms, dads, and other bored siblings.

I still affectionately remember many charming characters from the arena. The hockey moms and dads who disproportionately cheered for their child and did not shy away from trash talking the young opposing team. The nice boy in the back row with oversized orthodontic headgear, who somehow always seemed to catch the puck when it flew into the crowd. The well-meaning elderly man who sold lottery tickets for charity and allowed me to purchase some unlawfully (I won a tooney twice!). And then there was ambitious Andy, who smugly held the responsibilities of self-appointed executive chief water boy, concession stand vendor, and raffle ticket salesman. He was also the unofficial mascot, the replacement Zamboni driver, and I am almost certain he also sharpened the skates. Andy’s multiple roles were comical, but through them he contributed to town spirit in a way I failed to appreciate at a young age. Andy was not a hockey player, a hockey fan, nor did he know anyone at the hockey matches. He was proudly part of the figure skating club. No one really knows why he hung out at the arena during hockey games.

The even finer details are still fresh. The weight of my siblings’ hockey bags filled with their gear, which were most likely taller and heavier than me. The sound of the skates when breaking quickly on the ice. The terrible smell of the hockey gear post games and practices that no amount of Febreze (purchased in high quantities from Costco by my mother) could improve. The satisfying sight of the Zamboni machine cleaning the ice as the driver (sometimes Andy) waved to the crowd. The long wait for my siblings to get changed after games and practices to finally go home!

As a teenager still finding my feet, I remember my father speaking highly of the women’s Olympic hockey team win of 2002. I never watched that historic match, but I heard so much of it that I get excited just thinking about it. The extraordinary leadership of Danièle Sauvageau, the unfair refereeing, the near loss but how they won with grace and dignity.

My father gave me a speech inspired by that win about time, hard work and practice: “We all have 24 hours in a day, that’s the only fair thing in this world, how will you use your time?”.

I think of those words regularly and I think of that winning match, which I have never watched, when in need of motivation.

In 2010, when I finished my university semester, I found myself living in Montréal with my brother in our parents’ townhouse. I was working as a bank teller during the weekdays, and my brother had his usual high-tech computer job that I will not attempt to explain. We would eagerly meet in the evenings where he would usually treat me to delicious meals out on the town, comedy shows, and movies at the cinema. City life was so exciting.

To connect with my brother, I half-heartedly decided to watch hockey with him and support the Habs. If anything, hockey-viewing snacks seemed so tasty! Slowly but truly, I was drawn in without realising.  

He used to say things like, “It’s just like a story, it’s good to know about their backgrounds and follow them through their success”.

My favourite players (and the only ones whose names I knew) were Subban and Halak, and, slowly  I became invested. I can still hear myself say with blind faith, “It’s impossible for them to lose, we have Halak and nothing gets passed him!” or,  “We are so lucky to have Subban on our side, we can’t lose with him!”.

Aside from learning  the players’ names and enough of the hockey rules (that I no longer recall) to get by, I was, more importantly, starting to learn about a nation’s and my province’s pride and true love. My brother also helped me appreciate Québécois hockey. It is undeniable that French Canadian hockey brings its own charm and excitement. I still giggle when I remember commentators saying “des bons gars avec des bons coeurs” when the team would do well or “ils n’ont pas de coeurs” when they would play poorly. Québécois are passionate about hockey, which is half the fun.

But what I remember most and know I will carry with me for life, is how beautifully connected I felt with the community when I watched hockey. The best part was seeing people in their matching jerseys rush out of the office early to catch the game.  Attempting to find a place with a good seat and a large screen in central Montréal, I would brave the overcrowded metro as people excitedly hurried to their hockey viewing parties. I still recall the infectious happiness that would explode when the Habs scored, reminiscent of the cheers I experienced in the arena as a child. The next day, hearing everyone at work talking about the game made me feel connected to something I had never related to before. What would once have been an eye roll turned into an, “I know, right!”.

I wish I could say that I kept up with watching hockey, but I did not.  In fact, I didn’t even finish the season as I returned to Ottawa early for university. I might have gone to the sports bar once or twice with friends to watch more games, but it was not the same. Was it because my brother was missing, the fact that the games were in English, or maybe I was just over it? I do not really know. I am ashamed to say I do not even know if the Habs won or how far they made it that season. My short-lived hockey fever was gone.

However, that is not to say that the game disappeared completely from my life. Hockey continued to find ways to reach me in many forms. For example, when “playing” floor hockey to support my roommate (I never once touched the puck and was always the first to enthusiastically volunteer to be benched). Flash forward many years, taking my British husband to a Remparts game in Québec City where I witnessed his confusion about Canada’s beloved sport.  

 “It goes so quickly!” he remarked.

To add to the confusion, the dedicated weirdo fan behind us was holding a squeaky rubber chicken and the hockey coach passionately threw his water bottle on the ice rink in a last ditch attempt to persuade the referee to side with him, which only added to my husband’s uncertainty about the game.

My young nephew joining a local small-town hockey team also brings back many fond memories.  I hope he learns the same lessons from hockey as I have, and that his siblings have as much pride watching him as I did with mine.

What surprises me the most is how much those matches I watched long ago had unknowingly inspired me. I have often looked back on them for guidance when facing struggles. What was once a meaningless game became meaningful and still is to this day.

I do not know what my hockey future looks like. I might get into another season and bond with other hockey fans. I cannot imagine myself even casually playing the game, but stranger things have happened! I hope to take my prospective children to play on outdoor ice rinks, even on afternoons that are far too cold. If life throws me an unmanageable hurdle, I can always look back on those games for inspiration. The dedication I observed in those games gone by was my main take away. Many future hockey-based moments surely await me.

What I do know is that I still think of the ice rink where my siblings played hockey, I still think of my father’s unsolicited coaching strategies and I will forever remember the lessons that hockey taught me. For me, the meaning of hockey is not being a player, or watching the games regularly, or even having a great understanding of them. It is not about keeping scores or wins. It never was and never will be about trophies. The meaning of hockey is about the memories of happy gatherings, believing in something that is greater than me, and connecting to my roots.


MARIE-EVE BERNIER is a Québécoise currently living in New Zealand. She loves playing outdoors and reading books. She works in the early years and considers babies her best friends. She has many hobbies but watching hockey isn’t one of them.

“Baby Fever” by Amanda Feder

I was quickly regressing from professional to petulant teenager. Restlessness and a sharp craving for a drink surged into my temples, and I blasted my stereo to mark the end of the work week, releasing a defiant hollar like a crowing Peter Pan.

I turned to my computer for news of the weekend’s potential diversions, and cringed at an empty inbox. I refreshed my screen with reckless abandon, again and again, nearly stomping my feet. Refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh.  And then, a twinge of regret at the sight of a bold subject line.

BABY ON THE WAY!

A reminder that Sarah’s Baby Shower will take place this Sunday at 2:00 PM.

I had completely forgotten.

You have replied ‘Attending’

Click here to change your response

I hovered my cursor over the link. It aroused a faint sense of danger, like swiping a candy bar at the corner store.

THEY’LL BE DESSERTS. DESSERTS. DESSERTS. (AND SALADS!)

“Guess I dodged a bullet there,” my friend Rachel chuckled later.  She had evaded the invitee list. “Remind me to never have one of those,” she said, rolling her eyes. Rachel and her partner were in the early stages of trying to conceive.

“Oh don’t worry, I’ll remind you plenty!” I snickered. Rachel’s laugh gave way to silence.

“Well, we will want to have some kind of party when the time comes,” she said.

“Of course, of course,” I replied.

***

Sarah always wanted to get married and have children. Though she never said so to me directly, it was common knowledge among our high school clique. We all had our teenage persona, and Sarah was the traditional one. 

As teenagers, Rachel and I considered ourselves to have much loftier goals than babies, like building impressive careers and having copious amounts of sex. 

“We don’t have much in common with her,” Rachel said as we gossiped about Sarah’s odd preoccupation with motherhood, our feeling of superiority thinly veiled.

I wondered if Rachel remembered those conversations. 

More than ten years later, I found myself drowning in a sea of new mothers and imminent mothers and fiancées and newlyweds. The click-clacking sounds of high-heeled shoes made for its own kind of chatter, drowning out the female voices. I looked down at my scuffed sneakers and winced. 

I hadn’t seen Sarah in over a year, well before she announced she was pregnant, and she was now six weeks away from the due date. All her sharp angles had curved, her delicate arms and breasts had swelled. She looked as though she had been stuffed to the brim with joy. She had transformed into a life vessel.

The imminent arrival of a child had not thrown off her astute fashion sense however. I looked down, hoping to find her wearing ugly ‘mom-running-shoes’ that would make me more comfortable with mine. Sarah’s sandals were elegant, and even had a small heel. 


“Oh god, they’re so fat,” she said, catching me lookingat her feet. She let out a nervous laugh. “I’m round everywhere.”

The women sitting around her quickly joined in a unison coo, “Nooooooo.” I shook my head in agreement. 

We were lying of course, but Sarah’s new shape suited her. It made me think of ivy growing over a concrete wall, green and lush and hungry. Sarah’s body had gone wild and looked very pleased with itself. 

My gaze drifted to her stomach. Mostly hidden by a loose-fitting top, I could still make out the edges. A sudden urge came over me to reach out and touch it. I was enchanted. Then the heat of embarrassment washed over me. 

I later assured myself that I was mesmerized by the rarity of a socially acceptable protruding belly, and not by what lurked beneath the skin. 

***

“I’m pregnant!”  I blurted out.  

My mother turned towards me. “Oh.” A pause. “Oohkaay,” she said slowly, stressing each syllable, her face blank.  

I was nineteen, home for a visit from university. We were in my parents’ bathroom, and I was perched on top of the toilet seat, looking up at my mother standing in front of the mirror. The fluorescent lights cast a bluish-green hue onto her skin, making her look pale and menacing, her features severe.  

I was teaching her how to apply eyeliner. But watching her practice technique in the quiet began to overwhelm me: her face pushed up against her reflection, one hand pulling at her cheek while the other shook, gripping the pencil. I felt like I was going to burst. I had trouble keeping anything from my mother, which both of us acknowledged as unfortunate.

“First thing is, let’s not tell your father. Okay?” she said.  

I nodded, then crinkled my face. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, suddenly feeling the weight of my confession.  

“Honey, this may surprise you, but I’m totally capable of handling this situation.” My mother is a psychologist and academic, specializing in adolescence, which throughout my teenage years felt like a cruel joke. “We will take care of this situation together.”  I assumed that the word ‘situation’ came up a lot in the literature on teen pregnancy. “When did you take the test?”  

“Oh, I haven’t,” I blurted out. “But I know I’m pregnant.”

My mom looked into my face. Was she searching for that new motherhood glow?

“What makes you feel that way?” Her therapist tone singed my ears.  

“I just know!” I whined.  “I mean, you just know, right? Your body knows!”

I had never been particularly connected to my body, so if I had been truthful with myself, I would have realized that it wasn’t telling me anything.  I had cried and sweated and cursed the alien cyst I was certain had latched onto my insides. But perhaps the reason I told my mom was that I knew that she would recognize this epiphany of mine for what it was. Pregnancy wasn’t living and breathing in my gut, it was an idea floating in my mind.


“Well, let’s get a test before we jump to conclusions,” she said, letting out a little laugh.

I crossed my arms as a show of disdain. My mom looked back into the mirror, then back at me, and said, “How do I look?” 

***

Just as Sarah personified the ideal image of Expectant Mother, the dining room table looked like it had been ripped from a trendy lifestyle magazine.  Every platter of food seemed purposefully placed, according to its size and colour, drawing the eye across the spread.  

And there was a clear focal point: the cake. Resting on top of an elegant silver stand was a vanilla cake, covered with playful splashes of white and salmon-coloured icing, like dripping paint. White and purple roses decorated its surface, with green leaves sprouting out from behind them. I couldn’t tell if the foliage was real or fake or edible. No matter. It was beautiful.

Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman popped into my mind — Sarah and I and all our friends had to read it in high school.  I had a vague memory of a pink cake. Had been in the shape of a woman?  

I remember being so moved by the novel. As she feels increased pressure to conform to patriarchal norms, in particular to get married and have children, the protagonist steadily loses her ability to eat. Like most high school girls I knew, I had started experimenting with obscure and exhaustive diets. I decided Atwood was investigating the common eating disorder, and by extension, my life, and found it thrilling.

Did society play a role in all this? I wondered. Yes, but it has more to do with fashion models, and less to do with family planning, I concluded, not quite making the connection.

The cake had been in the shape of a woman. Marian bakes it at the end of the bookand devours it, reclaiming her relationship to food and her sense of self. 

“Are you going to take some?” A woman asked me as she pointed to the platters of food.

I moved  aside and watched as guests shyly helped themselves to the salads and the meats and the bread. Butno one touched the cake. 

It was far too pretty to eat.

***

When I hit puberty, I started suffering from a recurring nightmare that I was going into labor. The dreams varied, but the crux remained the same: the time had come for me to deliver a baby and I was scared shitless. Faceless strangers dragged me by my feet, presumably towards a delivery room, and I grabbed hold of a door frame with both hands. Like a cartoon character fighting a tornado, my legs flailed up into the air until I was almost upside down, my knuckles turning white as I tightened my grip, a dark fate ready to suck me up at any moment.

“What do you think it means?” my therapist asked me, when I told her about the dreams.

It was the clichéd therapist response, like most of her responses seemed to be, which infuriated me.  

I had been told that I was an angry teenager, and I had been sent to therapy against my will. I promised myself I would rise to the occasion and live up to the role which I had been cast.

“Isn’t it your job to tell me what it means?” I quipped.

“I do have a theory,” she said, maintaining eye contact. My hostility never managed to throw her off balance. “Do you know why you are pregnant in the dream?”

I gawked at her. “Well, have you had sex with someone?” she asked.

The word ‘sex’ made me recoil in my seat. “I don’t know,” I muttered.

She leaned towards me. “Exactly!” 

I looked to the ground, not wanting to participate in her satisfaction.

“Amanda, I think you are carrying a heavy burden. A weight. And it doesn’t belong to you; it’s not supposed to be there. And you need to let go of it, you need to get it out of your system. A good first step would be to talk about it here.” 

I looked up. She was staring at me intently.  

“I see what you are doing,” I sneered. 

“What do you mean by that?” Her smile was taunting. 

No, I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. So, we sat the rest of the session in silence. 

***

Sarah’s parents were hosting the baby shower, and their home conjured memories of teenagehood.  

All of us huddled around the kitchen island countertop, hurling cheese puffs into our mouths. Sarah’s parents had a rare quality in those days: they weren’t bothered by boys in their home.  And while I secretly relished the coed gatherings at Sarah’s, I kept a slight distance from members of the opposite sex in those early days of high school.  

Some of the boys would sneak in forties of beer, hiding the bottles within their oversized sweaters. They laughed nervously with every sip, and the rest of us would try not to stare, pretending to be unfazed by the illicit alcohol consumption.  

Now, rows of mimosas were lined up along the kitchen table. I grabbed one and slurped half of it down.

“Amanda, oh Amanda, I’m so thrilled you could make it!” Sarah’s mom, Tina, pulled me into a hug.  “It’s so good to see you.”  

I was stunned by the sincerity in her voice.

“How are you? How are your parents?” She was beaming, so much so that I couldn’t look at her directly.

“Oh, you know, good!” I tried my best to sound chipper. “Congratulations!”

“I know, I know, I can’t believe it, I’m a grandmother, I’m going to be a grandmother, I’m thrilled!” She said, giddy, as her eyes darted across the room. She turned back to me and lowered her voice. “I’m glad you helped yourself, no one is touching the alcohol.”  

“Oh… ” My voice trailed off as I looked around the room. Guests were holding beverages, but they were drinking something else, something pink.  

“I guess the raspberry lemonade is more of a hit,” Tina added with a sigh. “But have you tried the cake?” She picked up a plastic plate from the coffee table behind her, and plopped a chunk of dessert into her mouth, licking the icing off her fingers. “It’s delicious.” And then she was off, zigzagging across the kitchen, greeting her guests. 

***

“The biological clock is a total myth!” I declared.

My parents and I were sprawled out on their living room couches, sipping coffee after brunch. I was telling my mother about a new fertility study I had read about. 

“Sure,” she said, barely looking up from her book.

“Well, if you ask me,” my father piped in from across the room,  “You’re past your prime.” His face showed a slight hint of a smile, leaving it to me to decide whether he was joking or not. “There is a reason women in other places start having children when they’re fifteen.”

The irony is that when I was that age, my father made no distinction between boys with sex, between sex and babies, and all of the above were strictly forbidden. 

He once caught my teenage boyfriend in our house at 3 AM. “What do you think you’re doing!” my father raged, not a question but a threat, his voice expanding like a cloud of smoke, permeating the whole house. “Get out!” he snarled.  

I still remember the way Tom’s teeth chattered. The blood vessels in his eyes glistened pink in the dark.

My dad was hostile towards any boy that came into his house during the day, and after the incident with Tom, none dared to visit after dark. I was better off burying contraband in the backyard than bringing someone home for dinner. Dating became a weapon I could wield against my parents. Boys and sex and babies merged into one murky symbol of power and rebellion.

“Haven’t you heard the term geriatric mother?” my father snickered.

“Is he still talking?” my mother finally looked up from her novel.  She sighed, took a beat, and then grinned from ear to ear, her way of setting up for a joke. “Anyways, we aren’t destined to have grandchildren. I have accepted that I will have grand-doggies.” 

The gift my parents bought my new dog, a rubber chicken chew toy, shot me a look from the hallway mantle. 

I thought of Rachel. “I’m turning 31 next year,” she said, wringing her hands. “If it doesn’t happen now, it never will.” 

The story had changed when I wasn’t looking. I had awoken from a dream to find myself in a new fairy tale.

***

Women had gathered in the living room. They were comparing smart watches and that current day’s step count.  A few older relatives were arranging the gifts into a semicircle on the dining room floor.   

I felt a wave of nausea, I had forgotten to buy a present. 

I headed to the bathroom but as I hit the staircase, I felt a poke in the back. “So how are you doing?  Sorry we haven’t been able to talk more, it’s crazy in here,” Sarah said, her shoes in her hands.

“Oh please, no problem,” I said.  “How are you feeling?”

“Good, good. It was harder in the  beginning. Now I’m fine.” She rubbed her belly as she spoke, which seemed fitting.

I wasn’t sure what to say but I didn’t want the silence between us to go on long. “Are you scared?” I blurted out, and then felt my cheeks go hot. I expected Sarah to laugh, to brush off my naive question, surely far too personal a question for the time and place.  But she looked like she was considering it thoroughly.

“Not anymore.” She smiled. I smiled back. I had never seen Sarah look this serene.

“Are you ok? You look a little pale.” 

I let out an awkward snort. “Oh don’t worry about me, I’m fine!” 

Sarah gave me a hug and then turned into the dining room, where she was being beckoned to open gifts.

I swallowed hard and followed Sarah into the dining room.

“Do you want the rest of mine?” Tina was suddenly beside me.  “It’s too sweet for me,” she said, and put her mimosa into my free hand. 

“Thanks,” I replied, but she was gone, back into the kitchen.   

The rest of the women were kneeling around Sarah, looking up at her as she held a leopard-printed onesie. I remained standing, smiling sheepishly, with both hands firmly clutching silver-plated flute glasses filled with booze.


AMANDA FEDER is an emerging writer from Montreal. In 2018, she was selected for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Mentorship Program.

“Luna” by Sarah Bensemana

Kenya. 

From the never-ending, dry landscape rose twenty trees in my field of vision. Some were brought down by elephants, but most were left brittle and weak, dying of thirst. It had been my first day in the African Bush and the clouds carefully shielded me from the sun.

#

Friday night dinner. 

The generations sat around the table in soft, sinking chairs. My square-shaped father situated himself at the head with a bible at a thirty-degree angle from his hand. He laughed as he told vulgar stories from his childhood: the constant reprimanding of teachers and his dying need to contest elders.     

And that is when Kayla materialized: the self-deprecating part of myself that I would never truly be able to understand.

#

Zoo. 

As the sun broke free from the morning clouds, the blazing ball of fire seemingly engulfed me. The black pavement warmed my feet, through the soles of my shoes. I hear the cries of a child, a parent, a zookeeper and the gorilla.

#

Award Night.

The evening started nearly twenty minutes ago and I have not yet heard my name. So I guess this is what it is like to be average. To sit here, waiting while seemingly everyone has been called up and congratulated four hundred times. 

Kayla grew short in the past few years, but her presence was nevertheless aversive. She stared at me as she danced in a tribe-like manner. Her deafening screams filled the room, yet no one turned to look at her. 

Why is it that she was not getting any attention?

Why is it that she was looking at me like I was some sort of monster?

#

Kenya.

Kyle, our tour guide with fiery hair he hid under a hat, felt the incessant need to document everything. He insisted that we remain quiet as to not reveal our location. Luna, the lioness, slowly entered the open valley.

#

 Zoo. 

It stared back at me. The only separation between it and I was the tall, rigid glass wall. The glass wall that was tall enough to tower over my father. The glass wall that seemingly rose for miles… 

Perhaps it was not only the gorilla that was enclosed.

#

Friday Night Dinner.

I was filled with joy, surrounded by the bizarrely comforting walls of my childhood home. As soon as anybody walked through the glass door, the light browns and blood reds made it feel as though you were in nature. On the entrance wall hung endless welcome signs in a million different languages. I always found this bizarre since anyone who ever came in only spoke the same three: English, French and Hebrew. Yet, my father bought more and more. 

The walls were once made of cement, but now only glass. My transparent house left nowhere to hide. 

I often wondered if people were watching me.

#

Award Night.

It had been twenty-two minutes, and the secondary four awards were coming to a start. A boy in my class had just been called up for the Awardfor Mathematics, a subject in which he received endless amounts of recognition for minimal amounts of effort. It always came so easy to him.

Kayla grew. 

#

Kenya. 

“Animals are fascinating,” Kyle said.

“Can you fathom how lucky we are to be witnessing this?” he repeated.

“I cannot wait to sell this footage to a documentarist,” he encouraged.

I began to understand the omnipresence of racist colonialism and white peoples’ need to exploit a land and people that is not their own.

#

Award Night. 

“It is with great honour that we grant the award for Scientific Excellence to Rachel Wolf.”

#

Zoo.

I stared deep into the gorilla’s desperate eyes and felt my mother looking back at me. I slowly raised my hand to touch the cold glass. The gorilla started beating against the heavy walls of its enclosure until its hands streamed blood. It yelled and screeched until it sank down. 

Exhausted.

#

Kenya.

The tension was prominent. I felt as though its weight was both pushing down on my chest and forcing the air out of my lungs. I could not breathe. As the two lionesses surrounded the limping cub, Luna followed with silent, soft strides. Despite the deep mating calls of the male behind us, her established confidence radiated through all of us.

#

Award night. 

I ran up there trying to contain my explosive achievement. One would never be able to see it. Unless that one was Kayla.

Only Kayla can see the atoms and compounds of my body exploding and coming back together again. Only Kayla would be able to feel the chemical reactions of endorphins being released into my body. Only Kayla would be able to share this moment with me, yet I could not see her anywhere.

#

Zoo.

A wave of anger came over me. I looked at my father and he became the enemy. The enemy of the gorilla. The enemy of my mother. 

I charged at him and bit into his wrist. I watched the blood stream from his arm.

The gorilla looked back at me.

#

Award Night. 

I held my award close to my stomach like a pillow during a frightening film. 

As I made my way toward my seat, that same boy approached me. All he managed to mutter through his big mouth was that,

“My parents did not think you deserved that award.” 

All of a sudden, that award that I once held so closely, began to suffocate me. It stretched and tightened itself around my lungs like a boa constrictor.

Tighter and tighter. 

#

Kenya.  

I will never be able to understand how two animals of the same species can be programmed with completely disparate mentalities. The male cared for nothing more than establishing his dominance, destroying all of what could never be his. While Luna, covered in scars from battles she fought to protect others, was being punished for a crime that should not exist.

As the male walked toward them, Luna stood still. The sky started raining glass and in her eyes, a reflection of her executioner materialized.


SARAH BENSEMANA is an eighteen-year-old girl who has always had a passion for literature. While she has not shared her work with many people as she find her writing to be very personal, she hopes that her audience can find some comfort, intrigue and familiarity within her short story, “Luna.”

“Lone Pine” by John Alpaugh

Artwork by Victoria Alex

“No word is oftener on the lips of men than Friendship, and indeed no thought more familiar to their aspirations.”

Henry David Thoreau

I left Los Angeles early in the afternoon of a cloudy Thursday after surfing the morning in Santa Monica. I dropped off my rental board at the Rider Shack on Washington Boulevard and made my way out of the nightmare that is L.A. traffic, north on the 405 towards Palmdale. Past Mojave, I rolled onto the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway. I would follow it from there to the Nevada border where it ends in Topaz, on my way to skiing in Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe. Mammoth Mountain is on that stretch as well and my pass allowed me to go to both resorts any day of the week. I tried my best to avoid weekends and the crowds. This meant I had a few days to kill before hitting the slopes.

The East and West aspects of the Sierra Nevada take on distinctive characters. Elevation rises gradually from the west and the Great Central Valley, at an elevation of about 1000 feet, to 14,505 feet at Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. The fall down to Lone Pine and the Owen’s Valley in the east, at about 3000 feet, is more rapid. While the Western face of the range rolls through towering hills covered in vegetation like the giant sequoias found nowhere else in the world, and only occasionally showing off the pure granite below like in the glacially carved Yosemite Valley, the steep faces of the Eastern Sierra are sharp monoliths, like grey teeth cutting through the brown desert.

The Range by John Alpaugh

Along the impressive route are a few well-known rock climbing areas that offer a great diversity in style and test the ability of all skill levels, from beginners to seasoned experts. Mt. Whitney’s bold face offers alpine style mountaineering. Bishop, a town north on the byway, is home to bouldering: climbing short problems without a rope, and often more technically difficult. In Lone Pine, and the Alabama Hills directly below the Whitney Portal, there are countless trad and sport routes, climbs that require a rope and light equipment, what you would typically think of as rock climbing.

The Alabama Hills are maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and are a popular camping site, relatively close to L.A. County. Below Mt. Whitney are clusters and hills of round, alien looking rocks similar to those found in Joshua Tree, but brown and deceptively large – like pebbles dropped by the gods. I had heard about the area, and thought it would be a perfect spot to wait out the weekend. I am an intermediate climber, though at the time I had only climbed indoors in bouldering gyms. My plan was to hang out and wander with my climbing shoes trying whatever looked fun and safe.

Near twilight I hit dirt on Movie Road, where there were campervans and RV’s tucked in the rocks. I drove around for a while before I found an unoccupied site and settled in for the night. After a few months on the road I was used to the evening routine of reading in the dark while making dinner. Having the space to think, I felt like I had gained a heightened comfort with myself, and had ironed out many ideas I had jumbled into tight, convoluted knots.

The Owen’s Valley by John Alpaugh

On Friday morning, it was apparent the weekend crowds were getting an early start. I noticed some anchors and bolts on the walls, signs of climbing routes and, apparently, I had made my camp right in a prime climbing area called the Cattle Pocket. An hour later people were up on the wall behind me, families and friends enjoying the craft and the company. On my walkabout I had found a couple bouldering problems, but I quickly realized this was not the right spot for that. I returned to my campsite to soak up the sun and the rest of my beers while watching others climb, jealous of the state of flow they must be feeling.

Saturday morning, I woke up early to try to capture photos of the sunrise hitting the eastern faces. By noon, seemingly every rock had someone hanging off it. Seeing these people on real rock unearthed a deep longing in me. I was determined to find some rocks to climb. Amongst the boulders, I found a few problems I could complete and returned to my campsite pleased, but not satisfied.

On Granite by John Alpaugh

Watching the climbers right above me, I chatted with some of the groups nearby. A climber from Seattle named Eric was living out of his van for the time being. He had found a few people to climb with for the morning, but they were leaving soon. He asked if I climbed.

“A little bit,” I said. “I have my shoes here, but my experience is in bouldering, and even then, its limited.”

“Have you done any here?” he asked.

“I’ve messed around, but I think the real action is up on the big rocks, and I don’t have a harness.”

“That’s okay. I have an extra one, and I need someone to belay me. Want to go climb?”

“Hell yes.”

Being a boulderer, I was not practiced in belay, tending the rope while your partner is on the wall. I explained this to Eric, but he said it was no problem. He had been taught by people more experienced than him, and he was happy to take part in the tradition. We walked over to an easy route in a nearby section called the Corridors. He led the climb, placing the carabiners and coaching me on how to use a gri-gri, a belay device, from up on the wall. He flew up, and after slowly and nervously letting him down, it was my turn.

For some reason he seemed to be comforting me into trusting him, though he was the one taking the risk. Once the ropes were tied, I got on the wall and started going up. Compared to bouldering, especially in a gym, the climbing was easy, but it inspired a wholly unique experience. It was as different as running through the forest is from being on a treadmill. There was an intimate connection with the space I was a part of.

Looking North by John Alpaugh

Earlier in the day I overheard a man say to his daughter, “Indoor climbing isn’t real climbing. Some people think it is, but it’s not.” In the moment I had taken offence to the comment, but now I understood.

Granite, especially the variety found in the Alabama Hills, is gritty. It sticks to hands and shoes. It means smaller holds give the same security. It stokes a confidence that everything is climbable. But as I rise, my body is aware that I am high above the ground and any mistake could be catastrophic. With each movement, my breath and heart rate accelerate, and my mind must work to settle my body before using it to reach the safety of the top. My spirit hangs inside me as my body hangs above the ground. A deep breath. My right foot moves up, make sure its secure. Okay, find something to grab with my left hand. Move up, and so on.

When I reached the end, I leaned back on the rope Eric held firm on the ground and took in the setting sun and the orange light it casts onto nearby peaks.

When I got back to the ground Eric said, “Now you’ve climbed in California.”

We spent the rest of the night exchanging stories and staring up at the bright stars of the empty desert sky. Eric was on his way to Red Rocks, outside Las Vegas, to climb with some friends before heading to Alaska to fish with his dad for the summer as he usually does. He had biked through Asia and lived in South America. He understood the life of a solitary nomad.

The next morning, we climbed the routes above my campsite that I had been a spectator to in the days before. We talked for a while after, but soon it was time for me to move on to Mammoth Mountain and another experience in the Eastern Sierra. We hugged, exchanged numbers and wished each other well. I turned on the car and pulled out onto the dirt road. When I rolled onto pavement, the road began to drop in elevation until I reached the byway where I continued north up the Owen’s Valley.


JOHN ALPAUGH is from Barrie, Ontario. He attended Dalhousie University and received a degree in physics and philosophy. His work has been featured in Blank Spaces magazine.

“April Showers” by Francis Fernandes

Artwork by Victoria Alex

Before I start typing, on this crisp Corona-filled April morning, I need to draw some warmth into my hands. And so, I get down on the floor and do my sit-ups and push-ups. I do them in the style I believe will help me to start the energy flowing – that is, in the style of Rocky’s intense training, which, if you remember well, Bill Conti did a superb job to enhance with those bright uplifting brass tones. In some countries – North Korea for example – factory workers begin their day with an exercise routine accompanied by the national anthem. I suppose everyone needs their anthem. When I’m done, I go into the kitchen and wash the breakfast dishes in very hot suds-filled water, thinking of how Glenn Gould used to immerse his hands and forearms in hot water before one of his performances of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. It’s true, you have to find ways to make up for poor blood circulation. I can only do so many push-ups. Just to be on the safe side, I stop by the espresso machine and prepare one last cappuccino. That perfect buzz can’t do any harm, I think. Inside the fridge there’s no sign of the cake I baked just three days ago. Did I finish it off so fast? Coming back to the living-room, I take one last look at my tablet, which is connected to the stereo system, and decide to swipe to my favourite jazz album these days, the new one from that Norwegian piano trio. Since my brief workout, the air has gone slightly stale in here, so I open the door leading to the narrow winter garden. As soon as I get a whiff of loam and dust, it occurs to me that I’ve been neglecting the plants for too long. They can’t like that, I’m sure. By the door on the floor is the plant sprayer; I pick it up and begin to moisturize the palm leaves, generating that fine misty rain-forest atmosphere until I think they’re satisfied. The direct sun won’t reach this side of the apartment until mid-afternoon, so I don’t have to worry about scorch marks on the unsuspecting leaves. I put my fingers in all the pots to see which ones need water. It turns out they all do. April has been strangely devoid of its proverbial showers. Which has, on more than one occasion, led me to play Al Jolson’s timeless classic on the stereo. But the song can’t compensate for the lack of humidity. It is dry streaks like this one where you have to be careful or else your plants won’t even make it to the summer. At least not flourishing the way they can. 

Sitting down on the wobbly wooden chair (it’s wobbly because I’ve been rocking back and forth on it – the way your teachers always ordered you to stop for fear you might lose your balance and crack your skull on the floor), I finally turn on the computer and contemplate the screen before me. Just then the phone rings. As is apt to happen in these times of seclusion. It’s my daughter. I completely forgot our arrangement. I’m supposed to help her with her French vocabulary. How could I forget? Yesterday I made her write down the verbs: faire,avoir,être, and conjugate them for all the personal pronouns, singular as well as plural. I told her to learn that for today. I told her you can’t learn phrases like “Marie et Pierre font de la musique ensemble” if you don’t first become fluent with all the conjugated forms of faire. So, I check how much she has learned. Going to school in Germany means that French is her third language. But I grew up with French and so I sometimes get a little impatient with her, unfairly so. My daughter, I would say, has actually benefitted from homeschooling these past weeks. Her teachers have all noted how easily she gets distracted in class. Her mother works during the week, which means she is alone at home, so of course there’s no guarantee she will focus solely on the tasks she has been assigned. But she’s aware that once she’s done with the tasks, she can catch up with her friends on the smartphone. Until then I believe she does her best to concentrate, to home in on what she has to do. 

I have to admit I’m probably to blame for this deficiency of hers. I think it’s in our lineage. I mean, my side of the family. Like me, my mother was a teacher. Back in Montréal. And this is how things worked with my mother:  in her classes, she knew exactly what to do and how to do it; outside of her classes – say, at home – she had to reconstitute the same atmosphere of the class to be effective – or at least to feel that she was being effective – otherwise she would tend to lose her sense of purpose. This is what always made me feel a little nervous inside the house. But today, in this lockdown situation, with the schools closed and the only contact we have with students is through email, I can somehow understand how it was for her. And I can understand my daughter too, although she is on the other side. That is, I see that when my daughter is in a class full of jittery classmates, she tends to lose focus because she needs to feel accepted in the group and, for that to happen, she needs to see what everyone is up to. When my mother and I are alone in a room, where for some reason everything – all the objects and stuff – becomes jittery, wetend to lose focus because no one is there to direct our attention to and apply our expertise on. Another thing, of course, is simply the difference between the generations. The kids today being more comfortable – holding their own, so to speak – in their own company than we were in ours. For me, this thing about dealing only with yourself and the things you do or have to do to keep the self-going – this is sometimes more daunting than getting through a day full of lessons. As teachers we are perhaps more like orchestra conductors, in the sense that we try to create an engaging enough environment so that everyone can contribute to the overall piece and learn something from it at the same time. Without live musicians, a conductor can’t make music for everyone to hear. Which is probably why in these times I need to have the jazz and the Bach going around me— without the unpredictable input from my students, the best substitute seems to be music with contrapuntal structure, improvised phrases, a little bit of dissonance. As for the kids, the music they want to hear and can relate to so easily is everywhere and ever-present, what with their smartphones and other digital media, and all those virtual worlds, flowing in and out of each other like currents in an ocean.  

Anyway, my daughter and I chat for a while about the rest of her day. She tells me about the movie she watched with her mother last night. I tell her about my plants and the cake I polished off in record time. Then I test her one last time: “I do therefore I am”. She hesitates: “uh uh… je f…”. Then the tumblers fall into place: “I know I know… je fais donc je suis!” I praise her, then we hang up so that she can go on with her other homework. And now here I am again, before the computer screen, waiting for something inspiring to rain down on me like an April shower. And hoping it happens before I go off looking for something else to do.


FRANCIS FERNANDES grew up in Montréal. He has a degree in Mathematics from Concordia. He currently lives in Germany, where he writes and teaches. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in What Rough Beast, 3rdWednesday, (Ex)cite, Poetry Potion.

“Eggs” by Dana Foley

I’ve loved eggs since before I even knew how to say, “over easy, please.” I remember going to the market with my mom, where every Sunday she bought a carton of fresh eggs from a local farmer.

One Sunday, after saying thank you to the vendor, she gently placed the carton with me in the stroller. Curiosity got the better of me and I lifted the soft cardboard lid. They were beautiful. Pastel blues, light browns, delicate yellows. I felt the smooth coldness of their surface under my tiny baby fingers.

This is my earliest memory of eggs.

It wasn’t long before I was stealing eggs from the fridge and hiding them around the house in nests I would create from dead leaves and grass. They would be my best friends until mom would find them weeks later, hidden under the bed or behind the couch and toss them in the trash with a sigh.

“That’s where last week’s breakfast went,” she probably thought.

Around the same time, my love of eggs was replaced with baby dolls. Mom, hoping to distract me from the egg obsession, had first pushed one into my uneager arms when I was three years old.

I had looked at her nervously.

“Don’t want this, Mum.”

“This is what little girls play with, sweetie! She’s your baby now. Hold her like she’s your baby.”

I evaluated her genuine and hopeful smile, then looked at the hard, plastic thing with confusion. It’s jewel-like blue eyes stared at me, lifeless but pleading. I squeezed its soft belly.

“Mama,” it said.

Every girl at daycare, whether she was four, seven, or 12, was “mama” to some baby doll. We stuffed our shirts with pillows and induced our own labours. Later we’d push our babies in little play strollers and blush with pride when the teachers asked if we’d had a boy or a girl.

We were good mothers. We would be good mothers.

***

The egg obsession made its reappearance when I was 17.

Ms. Avery, our grade 11 women’s health teacher, had given us one of those assignments where we had to look after an egg like it was an actual baby. We were put into partners and given an egg-child to take care of for the duration of the week.

“Remember,” she said as she placed eggs into our palms, “this assignment is meant to prepare you for the real world – for your future.”

I looked over to see the face of my partner, Lizzo. I didn’t know if this was her real name, but I knew some kids called her Lizzo the Lezzo. Her eyes appeared uninterested under her heavy makeup and she chewed a black nail on her chubby finger.

“You wanna name it or something?” she asked.

I gave a half smile. “How about Egg-atha?”

Lizzo rolled her eyes.

We ended up alternating days with our egg. Lizzo was in charge of bringing Egg-atha back to class on Friday so we could get marked complete for the assignment. To my surprise, she wasn’t in her seat when the class bell rang on Friday afternoon.

When Ms. Avery asked me where Lizzo was, I said she was probably sick. She seemed satisfied with this response and continued labeling various parts of a vagina diagram on the blackboard.

Halfway through class, Lizzo lumbered through the door and took her seat.

“Nice to see you’ve finally joined us,” said Ms. Avery with hands on hips. “Let me check off your name for the assignment. Where’s your egg?”

Lizzo stared at her, face unemotive. “I ate it,” she said matter-of-factly. 

Our classmates nervously twittered and giggled. Ms. Avery’s face darkened. “Excuse me?”

Lizzo just smiled, arms across her chest.

We failed the assignment. 

Later, I walked home in silence. When I got there, I opened the fridge door and peered inside. I moved aside a half-eaten jar of pickles and last night’s roast beef leftovers to find a carton of eggs sitting on the bottom shelf. My stomach moaned with hunger.

I pulled out the carton, boiled some water, and dropped in a single egg. 

When the egg was cooked and cooled, I lightly tapped it with a spoon until little spider cracks emerged in the smooth, white shell. I slipped a fingernail into a crack and slowly, delicately pulled the membrane away. A chill went down my spine as I heard the soft, wet squeak of my teeth gliding through the rubbery white. The chalky, crumbly texture of the yolk stuck to my lips, so I had to lick them once, twice to get clean. 

When I was done, I stared at the tiny flecks of eggshell littering the counter. I was suddenly very tired and went upstairs to bed. 

The next morning I came downstairs to find the table set with cereal and milk. Mom was already sitting at the table, thumbing through a newspaper with a headline that read: New Study Finds Children of Stay-at-Home Moms are Happiest.

She eyed me over her paper. “Orange juice, sweetie?”

I didn’t respond and walked to the fridge to pull out a carton of eggs. 

***

I got my first boyfriend when I was in my sophomore year of university. 

Derrick was on the basketball team and always wore a gold crucifix around his neck, though I’d never once heard of him going to church. 

I met him in the meal hall. I’d just gotten my regular lunch of an omelette from the all-day-breakfast station and was crumbling a hardboiled egg over top, like I always did. Derrick saw what I was doing from the next table over and picked up his tray to move it beside mine. 

“You sure like eggs,” he said as he watched me take my first bite.

I smiled and looked at him through my eyelashes. 

I’d gotten birth control pills from the school clinic a couple of months later. Things had started to get serious with Derrick. A nurse peered at me over the glasses sitting on the tip of her nose as she made notes on a clipboard. 

“And how many sexual partners have you had?” she asked without looking up from her notes. Her pen moved through the air creating spiraled blue waves across the page. I wished I could have swam away in them. 

“Well, none…” I explained, “but my boyfriend and I would like to —”

“How long have the two of you been dating?” She interrupted.

“Just about six weeks,” I said weakly.

She shrugged her shoulders to her ears and widened her eyes as she read her notes over. “That seems like an honourable amount of time,” she said. “Let me see what I’ve got for you.”

Later in the week, I’d sat with Derrick on my dorm room bed as both of us stared down at a pack of pills the nurse had prescribed me. They came in a pink package with a tiny blue lotus flower on the front. 

“They look so…unthreatening for medication,” Derrick said with eyebrows raised. “Almost like candy.”

“Oh, they may look cute and friendly,” I teased, “but this is a pack of lethal soldiers prepared to protect my body from pregnancy at any cost.”

I laughed at my own joke. Derrick met my eyes and frowned. He leaned back on the bed and stretched out, covering his eyes with his baseball cap.

“I still don’t get why you think you have to do this,” he complained. “Why can’t you just be okay with condoms? Why bother messing with your hormones and shit?”

I asked Derrick if he’d ever learned about protection or birth control in sex-ed. He just pointed to his crucifix, indicating his Catholic school education. 

Right, I remembered. No comprehensive sex-ed.

***

The next day, I was making the walk across campus to psych when I saw a crowd of people gathered in the courtyard. Some held picketing signs and almost everyone was shouting words I couldn’t make out. I moved closer to get a better look and read a woman’s sign that said, “Babies’ Lives Matter! Choose Adoption”.

I stood at the back of the crowd, trying not to make eye-contact with anyone in my immediate vicinity, and listened to a woman speaking into a megaphone at the front.

“I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to conceive a child for nine years. I have paid thousands of dollars and gone through years of grief and suffering to try and conceive a baby. How am I supposed to feel when these women so readily destroy and throw away a life that I would literally die to have?” 

At this, the crowd began to roar and cheer. The woman wiped a tear away from her eyes and mouthed a ‘thank you’. 

I accidentally made eye-contact with a middle-aged man in a plaid shirt and glasses and he started towards me. I tried to slip away, but some other curious students had moved in behind me and I was trapped. I saw him pulling something out of a shopping bag as he approached me. He smiled with kind eyes as he pushed a cold, white egg into my hand. 

“Did you know that at 14 weeks in the uterus, your baby is already the size of this egg?”

I tried to say something but couldn’t form any words. Panic rose in my chest. I spun around and pushed my way out of the crowd. 

He called after me, “At 15 weeks, your baby would already have taste buds!” 

I started to run. I only stopped when I reached the alley between the residences and science building. Alone, I finally felt like I could breathe. I didn’t know why I was so angry and scared. I wanted to hit someone, but I didn’t know who or why. I wanted to scream, to throw my head back and laugh, to bury my face in my hands and sob. 

Instead, I rested my forehead against alley’s brick wall and quietly asked to no one, to everyone, “what do you think I owe you?” 

It was only after I calmed down that I realized I was still holding the egg. 

I stared down at it as I took deep breaths in and out through my nose. I could feel my hand tightening around it. I didn’t stop myself.

With a sudden burst of rage, I contracted my fist and felt the shell violently split apart with a sickening crack. The wet, gooey insides ran over my trembling fingers, down my arm and dripped onto the pavement. Though it was already broken, I kept squeezing what was left of the egg until I felt a sharp piece of shell dig into my palm. I opened my hand to see the runny yolk reddened with my blood. I smiled.

I never ate another egg. 


DANA FOLEY grew up in the small town of Perth, Ontario and now lives in Ottawa where she studies English Literatures at Carleton University. Creative writing is one of her newest passions. She is an avid writer, reader, and cupcake-eater who believes in writing as a process of giving, growing, and healing.

“Swarm Times” by Marci Babineau

The early weeks of June had been hot like those stray days of summer when a body takes to the shade to sweat after a morning of gardening. I’d seen the bees rise up earlier that week, flying like a murmuration of starlings toward my neighbour’s old boxwood tree.  Perhaps they were investigating the large hole left when one of its massive limbs had dropped during a spring ice storm.

What I actually knew about this beekeeping venture I’d recently embarked on was pretty damn thin.  How thin dawned on me the day I was talking to a friend who would house sit for us later that summer.

“Honestly Jen, they should be way past swarming by late July,” I said, reluctantly bringing up the subject.

“Yeah. I definitely wouldn’t know what to do with a swarm.” 

This growing needling in the back of my mind sat me down to read about swarming just the night before.  I reassured Jen, “I’m sure it will be fine by then. Don’t worry.” 

My words echoed in their hollowness as I lifted my eyes to see a rising hum that had assembled within the confines of our six by twelve metre garden.  Around the old sour cherry tree that rose up in the centre were hundreds of bees. From my paltry research, I knew that while they probably wouldn’t be swarming in late July, as I’d just told Jen, they certainly were swarming now. The large group outings I’d witnessed had been practice runs.  But why? I had no idea. I had not even opened the hive or pulled out the first frames. 

It had been two weeks since I had placed the hive into the shady gap at the back of the house,

so, yes, I had bees, but I was no beekeeper. Not yet. I had stepped into the breach of hive collapse disorder armed only with a long abiding love of animals. Part of me wanted to skirt some of the science around beekeeping and let the bees teach me about themselves. I imagined a cordial relationship, built on mutual respect. I had hit the wall that nature reserves for that kind of human naiveté. Now I stood between the outer bounds of my knowledge and the growing din of chaos outside my dining room.

“I need to go, Jen.”

That day was already circled and starred on my agenda, but not because of the bees.  That day we would start planting the long-awaited edible planters with the City of Westmount. I nursed this venture—the result of a collaboration between the Westmount Horticultural Society and the city—into fruition.  We’d been working on the details for months, including plans for a photo in the paper to show support for the local food movement.

With no time to process what the afternoon might have in store for me, I went out to the little balcony. The collective buzz penetrated my soft tissues.  Time melded into a spellbinding hum. 

These were not creatures I had ever reckoned with. I had yet to realize that the bees would be unhappy in the damp little shady spot where I had stowed them. Or that the early warm spring would cause a rapid multiplication of their population. Only much later would I learn that housing bees too near chickens would be another point on the growing list of mishaps. As usual, I had launched without a parachute. There I stood looking up, hoping for wings.  

Fortunately, there was no time to wallow. The thick airborne buzz had begun to rise above the confines of our narrow-walled garden. Would the swarm be off now, plaguing some neighbour? Looking above me at the corner post of the upper deck I saw that they might be forming a ball. The night before, I had read that once the swarm was in flight, the bees would find a spot to camp where they could protect the queen from the clutches of birds. From there, they would wait for scouts to report back on potential new homes in the neighbourhood. That meant I just might have time.

I fumbled with our cordless phone to call my beekeeper friend in Tomahawk, Alberta.  Vivian had kept a hive in my garden when we had been in college in the States. 

“Hey Viv.  Listen.  Remember I mentioned that I might get a hive here in Montreal?”

“Marci?  Hey, can I call you back?”

“The hive seems to be swarming, Vivian.”

“Oh dear.”  She took a long breath.  “Has it balled up somewhere then?”

“Maybe starting to.”

“Call me back as soon as that happens.”

My unpreparedness crashed over me. What utter dumb-assery! I took the smoker – the one piece of equipment I’d gotten — and began collecting dry debris from the garden. All I’d hoped to do was to live in peace with the natural world.  To show myself and others that it was possible—desirable even—to grow food in the city.  With one false step, I’d managed to become one of the people who was giving urban growing a bad name.  

Checking the time, I realized that I would have to tuck the swarm into the back pocket of my mind for now. I grabbed my trowel and gloves and ran down to the corner of Prince Albert and Sherbrooke where the woman in charge of city beautification stood waiting.  She would not appreciate the fact that half of my beehive was on the loose.  I would need to keep that to myself, plant a few tame edible planters and smile for the camera. 

When I returned home a couple of hours later, the bees were balled up, waiting.  A textbook swarm.  I grabbed the smoker, got it smoking and tore through the house to the upper deck.  From where I stood, I could see their bodies in layers protecting the queen deep within the ball.  In this density of hundreds of souls, some dangled by two legs.  Others had all six enlisted.  

Only then, as I stood in the presence of this desperate and fearsome birth into a new colony, did it occur to me that this level of animal chaos might not go down too well with the neighbours.

This was in 2010. Internationally, people had begun to grapple with the possibility of using their small gardens to develop local food security in cities, where most human populations lived. To this end, I was determined to put my forty years of growing experience to work.

Beekeeping had been a reluctant addition to my efforts, a venture that began with a French-English miscommunication. The Quebecois farmer I had contacted about buying a hive said he’d have 500 bees and a new queen for me that weekend. After this first exchange, I’d reckoned that it was too much to start the city edible landscape project, keep hens (which I was not sure was at all legal) and add bees, all that same summer. Trouble was, when I tried to backpedal in my bad French, the farmer simply emailed me the address of his farm and a time we should meet.  I knew he’d be waiting.

Well, I thought, on the other hand, if not now, when? 

I stared across the deck at the buzzing chaos around the post, preparing myself for the onslaught.  Then I shifted into action: snapped rubber bands around my long sleeves and my trousers cuffs to keep the bees from crawling up my arms and legs.  I pulled a bandana over my braid and put on my long rose pruning gloves with more rubber bands. Vivian had suggested that I make a trap, so I’d turned a box upside down and propped it up on one end, with some honeycomb underneath to give the bees a scent of home.  Standing level with the corner post, I reached carefully into the mass of bodies, as I had never encountered bees en masse before. As I reached in, immediately the outer layer of bodies lifted off. The plan was to take these double flying handfuls and stoop quickly to release the chaos under the box trap a metre away.  Vivian had said that if I managed to get the queen, the rest might follow and perhaps stay the night there, tucked beneath the box.  I recall her not sounding terribly hopeful. But at least it was a plan. 

Only each time I returned to the gathered mayhem for another double handful of messy confusion, more bees became airborne. Soon, my arms were covered.  The entire deck was vibrating.  I was needling them.  The rising terror at their dislocation shot through me. It was no longer clear where the ball had been or whether any bees had made it under the box. I felt my legs carrying me across the deck toward the safety of the house. When I reached the door, I brushed off the remaining bees. I realized that I was shaking. Then there was the hot burn of my first and only sting. Looking down, I saw the smallest little sister curling up on the back of my heel.  

The ordeal had been more than either one of us could take.

That night, the temperature dropped to well-below their comfort zone and the boxed bees stayed huddled close.  At dawn, I slipped upstairs to the deck with the box lid. All was quiet.  In one movement, I flipped it over and put the lid on.  Now all I had to do was to carry the trap downstairs, through the house and back to the old hive.

Once it warmed up a bit, I dumped the bees at the entrance of the old hive thinking that, somehow, they would simply march in.  Honey, I’m home! right?  Instead, the swarm simply balled up under the base of the hive and waited for mid-day, when they would swarm again, possibly to a less convenient location.  

The moment of truth had come. I removed the cover from the hive.  With the exception of a few protective guard bees, things looked orderly and calm.  This would end all too soon.

The swarm would have to be recombined back into its original hive, handful by handful.  Deep inside the swarm would be the original queen. Again, if she re-entered the old hive, the rest would follow. In swarming, the part of the hive that is left behind would have done what it had to do. Requeen. Combining two queened hives meant that the two queens would soon meet and fight to the death.  

In the world of bees, there can be only one queen.  

With no other hive boxes, I was out of options.  After I’d successfully recombined the hives, the bees had been so aggravated that they’d stung the little granddaughter of my most supportive neighbour. Previously, she’d reminisced with me fondly about how her family had once tended bees in Westmount, decades before. She called that afternoon to say in no uncertain terms that the bees must move away from our shared fence.  

This was something they’d been trying to tell me themselves for days.

*

The early experiment of planting edible planters, while successful, was dropped by the City of Westmount and picked up by Transition Town N-D-G.  In turn, life had called me away to my husband’s birthplace in the UK, where I’d taught gardening in an international high school and joined the allotment-obsessed Brits growing in their extended season.  The community challenges overseas were both rewarding and intense.  

Then just as suddenly as we left Canada, we returned, and in 2018 settled on a place in the Laurentians for a less neighbourhood-intensive growing adventure. We got a hive from a keeper north of Mount Laurier. Beautiful bees. Then at the beginning of September in 2019 came a sweep of unseasonably warm days, just after I’d reduced the hive for winter. 

And yes, the hive swarmed.  This time it was onto a twenty-five foot high branch of the crab apple tree, two days before bee friendly temperatures would be over for the region.  One could trust that bees would not swarm this late as it was a death sentence for the hive, but local beekeepers said there were many “late swarms” last fall.  They attributed it to climate change confusion.

Urban growing still lives in my vision of the future.  However, humans will have to adopt the cooperative spirit of the bees (with the serious support of municipalities) before it will bloom into what is so deeply needed. For now, I am working on my land, keeping watch and trying to listen.


MARCI BABINEAU is a writer and gardener living in Montreal, and working on her little mountain farm in the Laurentians.  She is involved in community activism through development of local food culture, among other things.

“Samira” by Maye Ostowani

(In Loving Memory)

March 2011
Cairo, Egypt

Rummaging through an old Bally shoebox yesterday, in search of a family photo for my 5-year-old daughter’s “Family Tree” school project, I unwittingly fell upon a vivid picture of my maternal grandmother. I turned it over and read the inscription on the back: Grand-mèreSamira, 2008

Holding the precious photo, I moved toward my bed, sank onto it heavily, and gazed deeply at the lady staring back at me. She was seated upright, in a wooden lawn chair in my parents’ lush and colorful garden in Cairo. Her blue-veined, wrinkled hands with long delicate fingers were clasped together lightly and rested neatly in her lap. She wore a smart navy and red checkered dress that reached just below her knees and a pale red shawl around her shoulders. She was smiling widely at the person taking the photograph: my father, no doubt. Her ageing body was bent forward slightly, her silvery-grey hair coiffed gracefully, her eyes twinkled.

I smiled, remembering the day it was taken, just a few years ago at my grandmother’s favorite time of year: Christmas! It was a gloriously sunny day and, despite the cold bite in the air, Samira had been in high spirits surrounded by her children, grandchildren of varying ages, cousins, nieces and nephews. My mother always threw a big lunch in honor of my grandmother on Christmas Day and invited the entire family.

My happy memory of that day quickly receded as I once again registered the fact that my grandmother was no longer with us. We had lost her a few months earlier after a series of complications in the hospital. She was 86 years old. 

Death changes everything. One day you’re sharing cups of freshly-brewed English Breakfast tea and shortbread biscuits, as you do every afternoon with someone you love, listening intently to them recounting stories from their childhood that you’ve heard a million times before, and the next day they are gone. Forever.

September 1980
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

There’s a knock on my bedroom door. I crack one eye open. My head is mostly hidden beneath the bedcovers. It’s early morning, and I want to go back to sleep. I’m seven years old. 

My mother’s face appears in the doorway and she’s smiling in a big way. 

“You have a visitor,” she says, coming into the room fully now. “Come on, sit up and see who’s here!” 

I do as I’m told and slowly unfold my body into a sitting position on the bed. My mother’s excitement is contagious, and I feel myself smiling in anticipation. Then I see her. She comes out from behind my mother where she had been hiding and stands next to her. She has a smaller frame, but her features are remarkably like my mother’s. 

“Grand-mère!” I squeal and leap out of bed in one move. I run to her and she enfolds me in a big hug and laughs. 

Samira stays with us in Jeddah, where we lived and my father worked for many years, for nearly a month and, even though it’s the first, it won’t be the last time she flies in from Cairo to visit us. During her stay, she spends a lot of time with me. She talks to me and tells me stories. My favorite ones are of her childhood. These stories make me giggle. 

“Did I ever tell you about the time my brother Saad and I locked our governess up in the nursery?” I would laugh and shake my head no, even though I had heard this story at least a dozen times. “Ooohh she was horrible!” my grandmother would wrinkle her nose at the thought. Then she would chuckle: “But we were very naughty children too . . .” 

On and on went the stories and I lost all sense of time reliving the memories she wove. 

As I got older, my grandmother shared other stories with me. I remember one, in particular, she used to love to tell . . .

As a young, newly married woman, Samira had travelled from Egypt to Morocco on a journalistic mission for her father-in-law’s newspaper Al-Balagh (which literally means: The News) to cover the current political upheaval in that country. While in Marrakesh, she was abducted by one of the rebel factions opposed to the ruling family. She recounted how scared she had been for her life, but how surprised and relieved she was when they treated her well. The rebels offered her sweet tea which she sipped while listening to their leader talk of his people’s woes. They released her, unharmed, soon after.         

Upon returning to Cairo, she wrote and published an article in Al-Balaghabout her experiences in Morocco. Later that year, she was awarded an honorary badge and medal from the Egyptian Press Syndicate for her story. 

March 2011
Cairo, Egypt

I keep willing my mind to accept the inevitable: that I will never see my beloved grand-mère again. I will never sit with her in her handsomely decorated Cairo apartment, faded now with age, and listen to her stories. 

She had assumed so many roles throughout her life: mischievous daughter, devoted wife, loving mother, passionate writer, talented seamstress, and dedicated charity worker. Over the years, she had protested alongside fellow Egyptian women in support of women’s rights many times and received numerous awards and social recognition for her tireless work with Egyptian charities. 

Samira was born in Cairo in 1925 to a wealthy and politically influential Coptic Christian family. The Copts, who are the native Christians of Egypt, are believed to be the direct descendants of the Pharaohs. It is largely believed that Christianity was introduced to the Egyptian people by Saint Marc in Alexandria, shortly after the ascension of Christ. Christians remained the majority in Egypt even after the Arab Muslim conquest in 639 AD. 

By the 12thcentury, however, Egypt became predominantly Muslim. Today, Egyptian Copts form the largest Christian community in the Middle East and represent 10 percent of the Egyptian population. 

At the time of my grandmother’s birth, Egypt was in the throes of major political change. British rule was overthrown in 1922 and the country achieved full independence, becoming a kingdom until 1952. Samira, the youngest of three siblings, had always been daring, strong-headed and willful. As far as I could tell, she had a happy childhood. 

French schooling was a must for all well-to-do families in Cairo in the early 1900s and my grandmother’s early education was no exception. Breaking from tradition, however, I imagine she must have herself chosen to go on to study at the American University in Cairo, which was a profoundly modern thing to do in her day. It must have been her destiny, because that’s where she met my grandfather Abdel Qader and they fell madly in love.  

My grandfather descended from a politically influential family in Cairo. More importantly (for this story, at least) his family was Muslim. His father, Abdel Qader Hamza Pasha was considered a viable political influencer and a well-respected journalist in Egyptian society. He founded and operated Al-Balagh, a large publishing house and printing press which published a daily newspaper by the same name, and which was regarded as one of the two most prominent mouthpieces of opposition to British rule. 

Upon the death of Abdel Qader senior in 1947, my grandfather took over the running of Al-Balagh, a national treasure by then. In the early 1960s, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who ascended to power after a coup that saw the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, adopted wide-spread socialist policies, including nationalisation of industry. Upon receiving word that Nasser planned to confiscate Al-Balagh, my grandfather swiftly shut it down and it remained dormant for decades. Today, it has been fully restored by my uncles and runs as a printing house.

As my grandmother tells it, when her parents discovered her love affair with Abdel Qader, they forbid her from seeing him and even went so far as to lock her up in a room to keep her away from him. She managed to escape, however, with the help of a sympathetic aunt. 

Samira and Abdel Qader eloped and were soon married. My grandmother’s family was furious and disowned her. The Coptic Church excommunicated her, and the Coptic community shunned her. 

My grandparents had two children and, as the years passed, my grandmother slowly resumed contact with her siblings and eventually her parents. By the time I was ten years old, and we were visiting my grandparents in Cairo, it had already become customary for Samira’s brother Saad and sister Amsal to join us for lunch on Saturdays at my grandparents’ home. 

I remember once when I was very young, we visited Samira’s parents in their home in Cairo. They were well above 90 by then. Their double-story villa was large and dark, but they were kind to me. They died soon afterward and, even though they had reconciled with their daughter, they left her nothing of their vast inheritance, and the Coptic Church never pardoned her. 

Growing up, I spent many summers with my grandparents. My grandfather prayed five times a day as required by the Islamic faith and fasted the whole month of Ramadan. My grandmother, whilst ensuring that the rituals of Ramadan were carried out to a T in her household, didn’t observe the fasting herself. She did, however, fast in accordance with the Coptic calendar, and attended midnight mass every year at a Protestant Church on Christmas Eve. My mother and uncle were raised in a household where both religions were equally respected and honored. 

Abdel Qader died of a heart attack one night in 1996 when he was 73 years old and Samira lost the twinkle in her eyes for a long time afterwards. Ever since he had permanently closed Al-Balagh, some 30 years before, my grandfather had spent the following 3 decades as a retired man at home with my grandmother. 

For many months after he passed away, my grandmother would grab my hand fiercely whenever I visited her, tears welling up in her sad eyes, and whisper distraughtly: “You can’t imagine how much I miss him!” My attempts to console her with words of comfort always seemed hollow, even to my own ears, in the face of her anguish and suffering.    

Now it is my turn to suffer as I come to terms with the realization that I will never hear my grandmother’s voice again. How is that possible when only a few months ago I was sitting by her hospital bed, holding her frail hands in mine, stroking her soft silver hair, and reading passages from The Other Boleyn Girlby one of her favorite authors to her? 

Samira had been an avid reader and particularly enjoyed historical fiction and mystery books. She was as alive then as I am now. She smiled at me when I read to her and playfully slapped my mother’s hands away when she tried to make her more comfortable by moving a pillow here or adjusting the sheets there. She would glance at me and say with a twinkle in her hazy eyes: “She treats me like a baby!”

January 2010
Cairo, Egypt

A single, sharp, authoritative knock on the austere white hospital room door makes my mother and I jump. She glances at me from across the room, a quizzical look in her red-rimmed eyes. I’m seated at my customary position beside my grandmother’s bed. ‘Who could that be at this late hour?’ I wonder too. 

“Come in!” my mother squeaks loudly. My heart goes out to her. She is exhausted, having been with my grandmother at hospital for days, refusing to leave her side even for a minute.   

The door swings open and in walks an older, distinguished man I have never seen before. He is wearing a perfectly pressed dark-blue suit and a designer pale-yellow tie. My mother gets up immediately and hurries over to him. She knows him. She kisses him on the cheek and gives him a tired but warm smile. 

My grandmother, who had been dozing soundlessly, stirs awake. She focuses on her visitor and, suddenly, her face is transformed, lighting up with pure joy. He comes to stand beside her bed, and I move away to give them space. They talk animatedly and seamlessly in French. Samira looks much younger than her 86 years and the twinkle is back in her eye. I smile for the first time in days. 

I find out later that the stranger is her favorite cousin, Pierre Ghali (or Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as he was known in the world of international politics), the United Nations’ sixth Secretary-General from 1992-1996.  

Before Pierre leaves, he reminds my grandmother how much she used to love to dance and asks if she still does? She laughs, her eyes bright with untold secrets and unforgotten memories. He promises to take her dancing again the very next day. 

“The Tango,” Samira whispers wistfully as he walks out the door. 

We get a call late that night from the hospital, telling us that my grandmother had passed away peacefully in her sleep. My only thought is: ‘I hope she’s dancing the Tango in heaven with Grandfather!’


MAYE OSTOWANI was born in Egypt, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has lived in Switzerland, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. She currently lives in Montreal with her two children. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications at Boston College, USA. She has worked as a journalist for the Reuters News Agency in Egypt and more recently as a Corporate Communications manager for the Kellogg Company in the United Arab Emirates, before moving to Montreal where she is currently pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a novelist. A handful of her non-fiction work has been published by CBC Books/Radio Canada and Canvas Magazine (the premier art magazine in the Middle East), among others. 

“Kettle Corn Is For Quitters” by Kate Panagakos

To all the young women who believed they were ready when they weren’t.

 Left by my mother on our kitchen counter was the invitation for Rachel’s annual Halloween party, a tradition carried out for the past several years. The only notable difference per the invitation was that this year, I was invited to a haunted house. Not surprised, as we were now twelve and or on the cusp. Admittedly I was initially thrown by the idea of not attending a mild-mannered corn maze, as we had in previous years. Our evenings would be navigated with a map, most likely in the shape of a cartoon pumpkin. 

We would also be served hot chocolate in small, styrofoam cups. I watched as my peers imprinted their teeth marks around the spongy tops. Some, proudly biting a whole strip off. I never took part as I did not want to reveal an imprint of the prominent gap in between my two front teeth. Each year I continued to brave the, not cool, but unseasonably cold evenings. The outdoor festivities would require I dress in no particular shade of orange and or black. I abided by the laws of festivities, tightly bound in mine and my older brother’s fall coat. 

At the age of eight, I had ginormous eyebrows and was nervous sixty to one hundred percent of the time. This was also the age when I would attend my first sleepover, hosted by my friend Madison, who lived two houses down and across the street from me. Madison’s family lived in a large old home with a wrap-around porch that was always warm and busy. Madison had her very own pocket-sized washroom attached to her bedroom. It was covered in wallpaper with details of apples and peaches, done with love by her mother Kelly. 

Madison’s older half-brother, Blaire also lived in the house. Blaire was no more than four years my senior. Though my image of him is and will always be a dashing young man returning home from war, or something of a similar handsomeness. His hair was color of motor oil that often covered his eyes, which were bright green. He caused me to lose any of my already limited ability to convey basic emotions. Speaking to him or around him was beyond the realm of reason.  

I would do my very best to seem disinterested when he would occasionally interact with us, as I did not want to come across as overeager. The physical reality of this was me, sitting on a chair very far away from him and suffering from a case of severe upper lip sweat. 

The time of night arrived that called for both Madison and me to change into our respective dragonfly pajamas. We began to decide on a movie for the evening. Blaire, with the aloofness of a runaway bad boy, sat down on the couch next to us. 

I engaged with imaginary conversations between myself and Blaire: expressions of love and mutual respect for one another. Blaire then made the real-life suggestion that we watch Edward Scissorhands

If I was not able to out loud- internally I shouted. I would love to! I also love the way your hair naturally wraps around your ears and I truly believe we would work well together, y’know, romantically. I found his movie suggestion both nerve-wracking as well as titillating. The picture on the DVD case seemed something of the out of my league category of films. I feel my prepubescent arousal was the reality of Blaire intentionally speaking those words out loud around me. I chose to ignore my inherent panic that presented itself through my now incredibly active flatulence. Still, I went along with my excitement to watch this film.

The film starring a young Johnny Depp did a rather large number of my developing head and heart. Paying special notice to Edwards’s lips, they were in the shape of a clove and the color of frozen plums. His vacant stares and black, buckled leather suit shook my little bones. 

Neither Madison nor Blaire had any sort of reaction to the film. I, on the other hand, spent the rest of the evening awake, listening to Madison adjust herself in her sleep.

The next night at home, I set myself up and with every intention of sleeping in, a sleeping bag designed for winter camping. I then proceeded to sleep on my parent’s bedroom floor in said sleeping bag, every night for a week and a half. 

Though never spoken out-loud. At the age of twelve, I felt it appropriate that I be deemed by societal standards, an adult woman. I would now have places to be and form-fitting vests to wear. My internal monologue became increasingly loud about the fact that I was no longer scared of “dumb shit” like in years prior. No longer would I be seduced and therefore revert to my old ways when I became fearful. I would not be tempted by the unmatched comfort of sleeping on my parent’s bedroom floor.

So, I felt that Rachel’s party being held at a haunted house only made sense. As we were all grown women now and we must act accordingly. We would have to drive thirty minutes outside of town. Looking back, I am certain it was no more than ten minutes, regardless, we were outside of town! My mother’s hesitancy of my “being ready” was displayed through her presence as an accompanying parental chaperone. 

We pulled up to what appeared to be a mansion previously owned by a wealthy murderer. My ears then remained hot for the duration of the evening. Reassured by the sounds of “Monster Mash” playing in the distance, I gathered myself. The familiar odor of the chemical smoke from the fog machine filled my lungs. We made our way to the house. 

Before entering the house, the upper echelons of girls became transparent as they placed themselves at the front of the line. I delegated myself the cowardly middle. The line to enter the haunted house wrapped around the building descending into small set of stairs. 

At the bottom was the entrance: which was more of a metal sheet with a handle, a door one might find on a meat locker. The door was guarded by- what I can only describe as- a doorman who had passed away but was also a clown. 

 The deceased clown’s job was to inform us of the rules of the house, whilst remaining in character. He stressed that once we entered, we could not leave. That we could not touch the creatures we met inside and they would not touch us. He paused for effect, “Well at least they have been told not to”. 

All the other girls at the party laughed, I did the same. 

I wondered if they noticed my eyes darting around, in the hopes of finding someone who was on the verge of tears. If so, I could bring them to the group’s attention- allowing me to make a clean getaway. My mother stood very close beside me, sending me Morse code signals via hand squeezing. This was her assuring me that I was going to be fine. I rudely and- very of my age- shook her off and began to scan the faces of the other girls. I wanted so badly for one of them to break. I only saw that every girl in line had nicer hair than me and not one seemed afraid.

 We had now reached the doors. I had been swallowing the nothing in my throat for the past several minutes when the clown opened the doors revealing strobe lights, high pitched pleas for help, bodies chained down and seizing violently. 

Then I let out the loudest scream my twelve-year-old body was physically capable of and started to cry. My mom was already in the house when the door slammed shut. I was on the outside. Standing next to me was the other wimp Taylor, who also started to cry. 

 A young woman dressed as a zombie hired to walk around and scare the people waiting in line took our hands. The three of us pushed upstream through those still in line. Onlookers watched as at Taylor and me, with puffy eyes, fled from the scene. Each person who chose to look, greeted us with the universal head tilt and a non-threatening smile. I should have just wet myself to really commit to the character that I was now cast in.  

The zombie/employee lady took us to a smaller house that we had passed on the way in. Inside was a stage and small, cabaret-like tables with lamps to match. The zombie sat us down at a table, smiled, and walked towards the stage, leaving us feeling a burdensome and with a youthful sense of shame. Though I was seemingly relinquished from a truly horrifying encounter, I now faced a much longer-lasting sense of disappointment. The curtains rose on the dimly lit stage and Michael Jacksons “Thriller” started to play. All the other zombies crept on stage and began to perform a choreographed dance routine. 

It was really, very well done. Presumably catered to those who weren’t able to muster up the courage for the main event. Those who didn’t make it in were sent here. 

Taylor and I sat in silence like the babies we were. We watched the performance as a grown man dressed as Betelgeuse stood next to us and made kettle corn.


KATE PANAGAKOS is a 22-year-old woman- beginning to believe in her voice as a storyteller. Kate is a graduate of The University of Western Ontario with a Bachelor of Arts, where she majored in film and creative writing. Kate is a writer of creative non-fiction and essayist. Inspired by the work of writers such as Durga Chew-Bose and David Sedaris.