‘Midnight is Dark Lunch’ by Ingrid Cui

When my girl is not in the room
I let myself down and climb
out of the divided line. I psychoanalyze
chunks in my skin, that phase of
my youth; your condescending
glance surveying my paper:
stop using that and which
when you don’t even know the difference.
Obey precocity’s flirt,
prostrate nietzsche at stone’s depth,
flaunt abercrombie stitches.

Meet the boys with white shirts
sipping high london tea, dream
chiaroscuro thrillers
in bars at deep midnight –
dorian tried opium
maybe you should too.
When the phase moves on,
give baudelaire a good burial.

My girl cannot stop the time;
she is gone, gone
through the crowd of loose
bodies, and her eyeshadow sways
music into stillness. He did this too, morgan,
smith; there must have been clubs back then.
There is nothing soft
about the dancing of animals.

When we go to denny’s after
I ask, what does a man amount to
if he only lives for three years?
You take my temperature
and tell me to eat my pancakes.

 


INGRID CUI is a student at the University of Toronto and an editor for The Trinity Review (https://www.thetrinityreview.com/). Her work has been published in L’Éphémère Review, Half a Grapefruit Magazine, Ghost City Review, and Poetry Institute of Canada.

Copyright © 2020 by Ingrid Cui. All rights reserved.

 

‘How Edwin Discovered Mile End’ by Anne Chudobiak

It had been a favourite topic of discussion at dinner parties throughout the years. They would go around the table and each one of the guests would explain how they had come to live in their Montreal neighbourhood, Mile End. Jen’s story was shorter than most because it was a postscript to Edwin’s. Edwin had phoned her right after he’d signed his lease, the first of his life, and urged her to take his back bedroom. He could afford the rent on his own thanks to his job at the passport office, which he had been able to secure before graduation in a seamless transition from school to real life. The place, a third-floor apartment in an early twentieth-century row house on St-Urbain St., was huge and he would welcome the company. From the payphone in the shadow of the Byzantine dome of St. Michael’s sham-rocked church, he’d told her the impressions that he would go on to share—and expand on—for years. As he’d walked to meet the landlady Vera and her daughter, it had seemed to him as though the entire neighbourhood was present and accounted for, present and accounted for and outside or within easy reach of it: leaning in their open doorways, sitting on their front stoops, calling out to one another from their balconies, in Portuguese, Italian, Greek. After years of living on campus, years that he had thought happy and full, it was a shock for Edwin to walk past a café and realize it was occupied by old men. “All these old guys, arguing and playing cards,” he’d say, whenever it was his turn to tell his Mile End story. “I realized that I missed old people. That I wanted to see old people again.”

That first evening, he’d marveled at the old men’s counterparts, women assembled to examine vegetable gardens encased in chain-link fencing reinforced with chicken wire, shaking their fingers at the cats that dared to slink by. There were other kinds of gardens, too. Over time, Jen and Edwin had tried to identify them all, an endeavour that Jen’s husband Capa who abhorred yard work and never wanted a garden found pointless. Whenever they engaged in it, he would tune out or leave the room. There were gardens that reminded them of forest bottoms, that were populated with moss, ferns or northern blue violets, or some combination thereof. Because these gardens required little care and were well suited to the shady side of the street, they were sometimes chosen by default by unambitious gardeners in search of convenience. They were Jen’s favourite kind, and she maintained that if she ever got a yard, in spite of Capa’s objections, that she would put in one of these gardens, sunny side or not. There were gardens that were more like meadows overflowing with raspberry bushes and tall, friendly, outgoing flowers: orange, red and yellow tiger lilies, black-eyed Susans, and pink cosmos, which, as summer went on, would get heavier or bolder, leaning over the fence and tickling people as they passed by. Vera the landlady had one of these gardens in the front, and that first year her daughter had taught Edwin how to make tinctures from the coneflowers. Edwin still made this tincture, and every year at Christmas, he would give it out as gifts, saying that it was the reason he never had the flu. There were gardens where fences had been removed, so that the same flowers, bushes, shrubs, vines, and fountains could extend one, two, three properties at a stretch. There were gardens watched over by the Virgin Mary in statue or tile form. There were gardens consisting solely of grapevines, potted tomato plants, rose bushes or potted shrubs arranged in symmetrical formations. There were fences draped in morning glories. Everywhere, there were front fences whose wrought-iron spikes bore lost baby items—hats, rattles, shoes—collected from the sidewalk, in the hope that yesterday’s strollers might retrace past steps. There was the odd garden where the owners had devoted themselves to maintaining a patch of suburban grass, no bigger in some cases than the space one might need for three or four graves laid out side by side. These gardens declared themselves with an extra line of plastic fencing or with a sign depicting in words or, worse, images, of a dog or cat in full squat with a line through it, that this was to be a shit-free zone. There were gardens that had been filled in with cement or replaced with interlocking brick. These were usually accompanied by an old man in a fisherman’s cap and with a hose, whose task it was to keep the space free of debris. There were gardens centred on flowering trees, trees that would only flower for a week or two each spring: magnolia, crab apple, lilac. These gardens were the most common of all.

That first night in the neighborhood, Edwin had walked home slowly, trying to take everything in. He had read outside of the church to learn that dome, name, and shamrocks aside, it offered mass in Polish. The church, he would find out, formed the foundation of Vera’s social life. Two times a year, he would host a Sunday lunch for her small circle of friends, mostly women and a dwindling number of men, who would take refuge in one another, smoking cigarette after cigarette under Vera’s beloved ash tree. That first evening, he had continued down the street, where he had passed a temple to Indian guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Incense wafted out of the temple’s open doors. Edwin recognized the soapy smell; the incense was popular with the girls in residence. Soap and cigarette smoke, that was the smell of the women of his youth, perhaps the last generation of women for whom this was true. On the same block was a Chinese Buddhist church and something called a mikvah, which Edwin would learn, was a ritual bath used by the area’s Hassidic Jewish women. On his way to the apartment, he had walked up Hutchison St., where he had seen other signs of this observant religious community: Men whose beards, side curls, and long black coats would not have looked out of place in an Eastern European village centuries before. Women in wigs and Jackie Kennedy suits, rushing. Children, so many of them. Big sisters helping little ones across the street. Boys on scooters. Girls playing schoolyard jumping games. Toddlers entrusted to stand on the sidewalk on their own.

Edwin left the street for a back alley. The back yards were not as ornate as the front. There was a frugality about them, as though it would have been shameful to spend money on one’s backyard even if one had the means. Some were given over to parking lots. One had a VW Bug resting on cinder blocksMany were used to store unwanted furniture, shelves, coffee tables, couches, and ottomans. There were plastic dining tables plunked amongst the weeds, with an overflowing ashtray as the only adornment. There were back shed fire escapes covered in tin that themselves looked like fire traps. On every pole, an abandoned bicycle. In some cases, these bikes had been smashed up or harvested for parts but remained locked. “I will buy a bike,” thought Edwin, who had never needed one, or even to use public transit on a regular basis, as he’d always been so close to all his destinations while living on campus.

That July, Edwin assembled a team—for him, assembling a team had always been easy—to help him move his and Jen’s possessions into the apartment, where he showed off its many features: the clawfoot tub, the stained glass windows and the intact fleur-de-lis pattern on the lower half of the original plaster walls.

Edwin had been in the same apartment ever since. He had developed a symbiotic relationship with Vera. Her age was a secret, but for years, it had been estimated at 90-something. Edwin cleared her pathway of snow. He brought her paper in the morning. He helped her to the taxi when it was time for her to go out on one of her rare outings beyond the church. He repainted the front stairs. He helped one of her nephews redo the front windows with EnergyStar panes. When it was time to order more fuel oil, he made the call and led the workmen to the tank. He also paid the bill for them both. Vera, in turn, granted him full access to her backyard vegetable garden. She allowed him to renovate his kitchen to accommodate a six-burner range. She even made arrangements in her will so that the next owners of the triplex would inherit Edwin as well. When Jen learned that, she knew that she would never leave the neighborhood either.


ANNE CHUDOBIAK lives in Montreal. Her work has appeared in the Montreal Gazette, the National Post, McGill News Magazine, VIA Destinations Magazine and the Montreal Review of Books.

Copyright © 2020 by Anne Chudobiak. All rights reserved.

 

‘Midnight Inferno’ by Suzanne Johnston

The last time I struck a match, I lit the sky on fire. Up, up, up galloped the pillows of smoke, stacked on top of each other like scorched marshmallows. The flames slithered up the barn walls and nicked the rafters. Embers rained down like shooting stars, feeding the fire that ripened as it borrowed oxygen from the crisp midnight air.

I opened the milk house door to get a closer view of the inferno in the barn’s belly. Two mice scampered out like adulterers, clutching their fur against their naked bodies, choosing the cold rather than risk perishing in this firestorm I’d ignited.

My pores began to unbutton from the heat. I stood back, watching the blaze from the bend in the driveway. I shoved my hands in my fleece-lined pockets, felt my heart chop in two as flames etched yellow streaks into the cracked windows that heaved like winded lungs.

I hadn’t wanted to burn the barn. But it was coming down, with or without my help. Over the years, strong winds had blown boards and shingles across the yard in a mystifying and deadly swirl of debris. I worried a fire in the summer, with the grass daring to light just from the sun’s heat, would eventually toast the barn and take the homestead with it. So, I picked the coldest night in January and doused my childhood barn in kerosene.

A giant ball of flame erupted through the roof, pummeling the night with its fist. The gas cans I’d sculpted into a funeral pyre had triggered the blast. One last big bang ripped through the barn’s innards and flung them out its empty window frames. Its crippled walls kneeled to the earth like captured fathers at war.

Close to dawn, the barn drew its last breath and folded inward.

A smoldering heap reduced to charred limbs.

The heavy, grey clouds snowed ash that morning while I dug through the rubble with my shovel, pounding down glowing embers peeking out from their funeral shrouds of white.

 


SUZANNE JOHNSTON is a writer and marketing professional from Calgary, Alberta. She writes risk-taking short and novel-length fiction for adults, drawing inspiration from her prairie roots. She is a member of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Broken Pencil and FreeFall.

Copyright © 2020 by Suzanne Johnston. All rights reserved.

Poems by Cole Hartin

WAFFLES

 

I woke early in the fog
to take out the garbage at the church.

My sons sprung up with me
while it was still dark.

I grimaced and made coffee.

The aroma of toasted waffles,
the cheap kind, made with buttermilk,
mingled with the cloying scent of children’s vitamins
as I opened their lid.

Before morning prayer,
I fill empty stomachs
and do my best to make banter, crusty.

The morning is cool and dark
with light diffused, deadened by cloud.
I’m in the chapel now,
readying myself to pray.

I love this aloneness.
The quiet before the day.
I think about God and life
and worry about my failures.

It’s so easy for me to deceive myself.

 


 

TO LIVE IN PEACE

 

I hiss fry eggs in my heavy cast iron.
Not hungry, I eat,
though my bowels feel blown up like balloons.
I always feel them inside of me,
pressing, reminding me of the ugliness and filth of excrement.

Looking in the mirror is a relief,
while I brush my teeth.
I’m tired, haggard, even,
but my face is still mine, still human,
still placid, despite the pit-of-stomach dread.

I’ve long abandoned the hope prayer in these situations
Like beads rubbing a groove in my brain,
my prayers never get below the surface.
I say them faithfully.

Each day I force myself out of the door,
like a diver off of the edge of a cliff.
I know nothing of the bottom,
only the terror of the fall.

 


COLE HARTIN is an Anglican priest serving in Saint John, NB, where he lives with his wife, their sons, and a sad cat. He has a Ph.D. in theological studies.

Copyright © 2020 by Cole Hartin. All rights reserved.

‘What is Love and Where Does it Come From?’ by Kathryn Malone

Sarah bit her lip, not out of pleasure but out of the need to steady herself so she did not dart for the door. She was a willing participant and dutiful wife now, but everything felt empty and forced. It was more like a slow-motion attack rather than a celebration of love. She felt like she should be making eye contact, but it seemed like it would make the situation real and somehow even worse. She breathed a slight sound of acceptance. If it became any louder, she feared he would know that she was a prisoner of this marriage and now her own body. She peered up out of the corner of her eye and saw, not a man but a frightened animal, panting and glaring, not at her but at some nearing enemy that knew his form and his secrets.

Michael paced the room, stared at the open window as if it were the window to another world where he was the norm and his parents were the freaks. He was feeling everything and nothing all at once. He looked like the 1950s sculpture of a man, but he felt like a scared kid at a sleepover who was the only one who could hear the monster in the closet, and knew it was biding its time before it announced itself in the flesh. Just then there was a knock at the door.  Not an entrance, but a knock, someone was on the other side also biding its time. Michael cleared his throat and walked to the door. He opened it with sweaty palms, and the door floated open. There, there was the monster and the most beautiful sight imaginable. Michael started to breathe heavily and looked down at the monster’s shoes. “Michael,” spoke the monster, “I think you need to let me in.” He began to cry and shake. “Steven, you need to leave.” Steven walked through the door and closed it behind him. He didn’t wait for Michael to look up, he put his face in his hands and gave him a kiss with such gentle passion that you would swear you could hear a movie overture filling the room, defining a moment that was years in the making. Michael had no more fight in him. He let himself be ignited with a fire that felt so natural and exquisite that he wondered how it could be possible in a world as fake as the one he existed in.

Sarah smiled a natural smile and took Seth’s hand as she stepped over the uneven rocks covered by the darkness of the night sky. The moon was hiding itself and not showing anyone the way home this night. Sarah did not mind at all. The world’s greatest pleasures hid themselves under the disguise of a starless, moonless night. Seth never let her hand go even when the rocks were smooth and flat. Sarah felt her heartbeat in a way that was unfamiliar, and she felt warm, in fact, warmer by the minute which did not make sense in light of the chilly wind coming off the water. Her stomach was a-flutter and her hand became sweaty in the palm of Seth’s hand. It was the strangest thing. It felt almost as if the two were connected. Her heartfelt so vulnerable from the cool feel of Seth’s skin and the rhythm of his pulse. The ground became grass and dirt as she saw a small cottage coming into view. Seth shone the flashlight on to the porch. “There it is.” He looked right into her eyes and smiled.  Sarah smiled back, a seductive smile. She didn’t know she had one. Nonetheless, it just kept creeping onto her face.

Michael sat unimpressed and bored at the rehearsal dinner. He could barely pull off his fake smile as the corny jokes circled the table. He looked over at Sarah, poor simple Sarah who didn’t know the difference between life and obligation. They hadn’t spoken a word to each other all evening. Well, other than a casual greeting and, of course, brief introductions of each other’s distant family at the beginning of the meal. It should bother him, but it actually struck him as perfect. She had Seth, her best friend, and soul mate whether either of them knew it, and he had Steven, his long- time football rival and best friend. As long as both of them were distracted, neither would feel the need to mention that the marriage was a sham. That seemed to go for the rest of the wedding party as well. Michael cackled to himself. My God! What a bunch of fucking idiots!

Sarah could not stop staring at Seth. It was as if she had never really looked at him before.

Maybe, it was really because she had never been allowed to look at him that thoroughly before. Other than him being a poor educator of limited means (according to her parents), there was also the matter of his wife, Marianna, she had been at so many gatherings with them, but not this one and the party was definitely much better without her. There is nothing really wrong with Marianna, but there is nothing really right. Perhaps her mother should be ill more often. Seth smiled at her and tapped her hand. Sarah’s heart skipped a beat. God, she thought, I wish he would hold it.

Michael lay content on the football field, breathless and sweaty. Steven looked down at him laughing. Everything in life could be solved with a good game between friends. Steven calmed himself and looked off into the distance. Michael, all of a sudden felt lonely. He craved warmth in the chilly night air. Steven remarked on the fact that it was a moonless night and said something about a story where monsters roam during such times. Michael felt an ache in his body: it was in his heart this time. He caught Steven’s eye. It wasn’t just physical anymore. Steven looked back at him breathing heavily. They couldn’t hide from it. Michael opened his mouth to speak and Steven softly spoke, “I love you, Michael.”

Sarah was on the verge of tears. Seth shut the door behind him. “I love you, Seth.” Seth turned around. Now they were face to face, no more hiding, no more denying. Sarah burst into tears, “I have loved you, my whole of my life. Even before I knew you, and now especially now because I do.” Seth was shaking. He was white as a ghost. Sarah was so scared. “I know I am not a good person. I know that your wife is and that what I am saying is adding more destruction into a flawed world. Seth, if I continue to lie, and pretend that you are just my good friend and that I don’t lay awake at night wondering what it would be like if you looked at me, the way you looked at her, then I won’t be a person anymore. My last truth, my last connection to the human race is the way I love you and the way I am willing to leave you if you don’t feel the same.”

Michael started to get up but Steven got down on his knees so they could be face to face, without any distance or way to escape. The way they looked at each at that very moment, you could have sworn it was possible to hold another person without touching.

Sarah couldn’t stand the sound of the desperate silence and bolted so hard at the door she could have gone through it. She was stopped. Seth stopped her with his body. She could have passed out. She had never been this close to him before. His hand brushed her cheek then circled the edges of her lips. She ran her tongue along his finger, as his other hand brushed her thigh and went on to outline her entire body. She felt her body blush and she shivered with the anticipation of how it would feel when their lips finally touched.

Sarah and Michael stared at each other and repeated words in a stale sophisticated fashion.  This was no theatrical event, but the rows of shallow boring onlookers didn’t notice. You have to care about something other than yourself to notice when two incompatible souls come together and promise to be miserable for all eternity. This had all the passion of a nineteenth-century royal wedding, for you see as long as there will be an heir, and the evidence of a brief connection, no one will ask any questions. Their parents were elite members of society for the 1950s and they were excellent business people. Things had to seem perfect for them, the type of perfection society could admire.

The day continued in a blur for Sarah and Michael, because nothing really mattered. They had both experienced a full life. They had both known friendship and passion that turned into love and now the next chapter was about to begin, a chapter of duty and family. For the loves of their lives had families of their own and not the courage to choose a better path.

“Michael, STOP!” Sarah rolled out of his grasp. Michael froze then started crying. Sarah started crying too. They looked at each other and saw the other for who they really were. “Michael, I am very sorry this happened to you. I am sorry you don’t get to spend your wedding night with the love of your life.” Michael looked away, he kept crying. He was trying to be reasonable, but he couldn’t find a reasonable thought. Sarah took a deep breath and began to put her clothes on. Michael continued to cry. Sarah went one step further and began to pack. Michael took notice and found his voice, “Sarah, I am sorry, and we can work something out.” Sarah silently packed up her clothes, then her shoes, and then everything else until anything that had her essence was neatly contained. She looked over at her wedding dress hanging in the closet. Sarah cleared her throat, “That would look really nice on my sister if she doesn’t mind second hand.  See that my parents get it, it was very expensive.” Michael looked shocked. He stood up so quickly he almost fell. “Sarah, it’s not ideal, I know . . .

“You are right, it’s not and it’s supposed to be, so I will be the hussy. I will be the disloyal whore that runs off into the night and you will be the sympathetic saint who didn’t know what hit him.” Sarah, with a suitcase in hand, walks over to Michael. She kisses his cheek and whispers in his ear, “Don’t let a group of shallow idiots decide who will be the love of your life and where your life will lead.” Michael, still too shaken to smile, gives a nod. He steps out of the way so Sarah can leave through the door. Sarah enters the hallway and stops just as she is about to shut the door. She smirks and says “Knock ‘em dead.” Michael manages a smile, “Same to you.”  And the door glides to a close.

 


KATHRYN MALONE is a playwright and actress who lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  She has a BA in English and a Concentration in Drama from St. Thomas University.

Copyright © 2020 by Kathryn Malone. All rights reserved.

‘Like a Spore’ by Larissa Andrusyshyn

Marisol scrolls through the appointment list and marks the scheduled patients who have checked in. The waiting room is already full. On Thursdays, the doctors have both appointments and walk-in hours. Doctor Lamarche is twenty minutes late, and all the wait times will be pushed back even more than usual. She knows there will be grumbling, and breaths let out in front of her in long, angry hisses. Doctor Lamarche is a man of shiny teeth and strong cologne who expects that the ‘front of house business’ be kept from him. He has no idea what Marisol faces every day while he prods their wounds and presses his stethoscope to their chests. How people cough open-mouthed right into her face, that meth heads trying to score painkillers sit in the waiting room picking their sores, that she must handle, label, and package for transfer all the samples the doctor takes: urine, blood, cyst and every manner of removable flesh that awaits the news as to whether it is malignant or benign. That people line up despite the sign that says, “The reception staff cannot estimate the wait time” and demand to know how long the wait will be. How she sits, desperate for a minute of silence between phone calls, and patients who complain about the wait, complain about the walk-in hours, complain about the fact that the next available appointment with a specialist is months away. How the germs, diseases and rat sightings seem to grow more frequent and proximate. How she googles air purifiers and pandemics on her lunch break, sure that she’s seen patient zero hunched in the waiting room shaking. How she rubs hand sanitizer into her palms over and over like a salve. How she feels like a membrane, see-through like a snailfish she saw once in a documentary about life in the deepest part of the ocean. How every day she is becoming something translucent, shell-less and drifting.

Larissa … poetry has been shortlisted for ARC Magazine’s Poem-of-the-Year, the 3 Macs Carte Blanche Award and the CBC Poetry Prize. Larissa’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Feathertale Review and Maisonneuve Magazine. Currently, Larissa is working on a new manuscript of poems but taking breaks to write fiction. Larissa facilitates creative writing workshops in Montreal.

 


LARISSA ANDRUSYSHYN‘s poetry has been shortlisted for ARC Magazine’s Poem-of-the-Year, the 3 Macs Carte Blanche Award, and the CBC Poetry Prize. Larissa’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Feathertale Review and Maisonneuve Magazine. Currently, Larissa is working on a new manuscript of poems but taking breaks to write fiction. Larissa facilitates creative writing workshops in Montreal.

Copyright © 2020 by Larissa Andrusyshyn. All rights reserved.

 

‘Heyday’ by Robert Nisbet

It was not promising. The train
went into Swansea High Street backwards.
(Some points thing, they said).
He looked. Landore, copper, steelworks,
smoking with time’s grey industry.
Ahead, an unknown Wales.

But there lay ahead
quotidian reassurance, office and evenings,
espresso’s hiss, the Everly Brothers,
the bouffant Swansea girls, the age’s hum
of liberation. In their heyday then,
to the Mumbles pier, bank holiday,
the candy and the carnal thoughts
of Kiss-Me-Quick.
Young, they invented the weekend
in the immediate sunshine.

 


ROBERT NISBET is a Welsh poet living just a few miles down the coast from Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse. He has published widely and in roughly equal measures in Britain and the USA. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee for 2020.

Copyright © 2020 by Robert Nisbet. All rights reserved.

‘For a Friend’ by Roxanne Claude

The winds here are charged, tensed and pressing against the maple barks. They themselves are holding onto the afternoon sun, anything and something to carry them through the unforgiving season to come. It is fall here, but clearly harsher than the falls in the cities. Every snowflake here seems to be larger, rounder. Its bulk settles on the branches before the afternoon rays are due to melt it away. The quiet amplifies the cold. The silence is not simple but deep and layered with the noise of troubled creatures not yet having found shelter before the first storm to arrive.

The snow has fallen briskly today, covering the ground, although not enough to hide all embers of the last summer. Despite the barren patches, the forest stands tall and rooted in the mountains. The mountains carry the dry land with frankness, with bluff –proud of the tragedy, prouder of the fight and the ultimate conquer of the fire. It carries the dug trenches as pearls, necklaces to be worn in glorious fashion. As the wild creatures step and crack the fallen branches, those too strong to burn, the noise echoes through the forest. It adds to its song of resiliency, its song of demure and tender beauty.

A house stands alone among the snow and ash. The mountain behind acts as a backdrop, too pretty to not be a painting hanging in a museum. The house is simple, even a little stale. There are no flowers left in the ceramic crocks. They were wilted by the morning frosts. The garden, or what was left of it and put back together, was picked dry. The marmalades of Saskatoon berries made it into jars, subsequently to delight the palette of young grandchildren. This house is not precious and there stands no reasonable explanation as to why it was saved. However, it was the will of the mountain to save this land, this house. Mother Edith’s soul said it would be so.

This house is not precious. The wood stove was salvaged and rusted on the legs. The floors creaked. The walls, timbered logs, let in morsels of cold air during the nights. There would be bunk beds in the corner of the cabin, with mattresses lifted and leaning against the walls at the end of summer. There would be no linens. Grandmother took them with her for a good washing. There was an outhouse, long gone now since the fires. There were no remains of swings, no remains of carvings in the barks, those indicating young love. The young love was now long gone too, having faded with every blink of the eye.

There stands a girl, a woman in fact. Her feet were tired and sore after the quarter day hike up the rock. She followed the burn path up. This place seemed so different now. The cabin, the home, she looked at did not feel like a home now. It was much smaller than in her memories and she was much older than she thought she would be revisiting it. She hoped to cry in awe seeing the cabin, to feel a shiver down her spine, but all she felt was the cold against her aging cheeks. Her freckles are the same as they were back then, speckles like on a Bar at the Folies-Bergères. Her blonde hair, now long, looked different than back then. The strands are no longer seasoned with dirt and sap. Her hair no longer smelled like glacier rivers, the same ones she would bathe in as a child.

The evening is settling into the crevasses of the mountains. Soon it will be dark, a blinding darkness that penetrates the soul to make it quiver and taut the hairs at the back of the neck. The woman approaches the cabin, expecting an epiphany or something of the sort. All that happens is the noise beneath her feet. The cracking of pinecones resonates through the air, adding to the symphony of wolves in the forest below and the bear bells around her waist.

She opens the plain door, past the enclosed porch, to a plain room, one that she remembers well. There are no more photographs or needle points on the wall. They had been all taken down by her mother once the sale of the property had gone up.

The woman passes her hand along the log walls. It feels rough and lacquered, just as she remembers. This house is not precious, but the memories within are. Her life is not simple as this space is. Her life is scheduled yet hectic. Her life is expensive cafes, soft clothes, and warm cars. Her life is manicured, well thought out and precise to the word. She is not wild as the fires were. She is not stoic as the cabin is. It stands alone on barren land, on flowerless land. Although a sheet of white covers the metal roof, she senses the rust and the rivets holding the structure together. She feels the strength of the timber, holding steady. The mountain too is hardy and unyielding. Why is she not?

Darkness looms around the corner, behind the distant trees and their needles gently swaying in the wind. She throws timber in the stove and lights it with eight-dollar matches, packaged afar and sold in a high-end clothing store as kitsch. The room grows empty and dark. The only thing that remains are the bunk beds, they had been built into the frame of the cabin. There were no mattresses, only solid boards to lay her sleeping bag on.

It would be rough sleeping, but it would be honest. She settled herself in, her mind as blank as the dark sky. The corners of the cabin were dark and haunting. She stayed by the warmth of the fire, trying to put pen to paper. She did not know what the words would turn into as she held the tip of the pen to the page. Nothing came spewing out of it. Nothing. She was dry.

She looked into the fire for inspiration, some sort of sense of self. She looked for the spark she had lost, consumed by the idea it fell out of her pocket on her last journey away from this very place. It was the moment she would never return to, an era forever lost and rushed too quickly. She was a child, now forever a woman, never to return to the state of pure happiness and innocence of the mountains. She shed a tear looking into the flames that gave her no inspiration. They only gave her sadness. She watched the fire die and turn into crackling embers, begging to soar highly just once more.

Silence encapsulated her. She felt like a little girl again, but not the one she was before. She was not carefree and running around the stumps of tress or throwing water balloons at her cousins behind the shed.

This woman is curled inwards, towards her spine and rests in a place of loneliness and defeat. She had no reason to be, as she had love and empathy towards her fellow woman. She felt low, in a place she had too often been before, driven by the demons in her head. The uselessness amplified, the demonstrative need to succeed, everything she wanted to be but was not. It all lay underneath her, rocking her to sleep as the demented lullaby she knew all too well.

Sleep would come to this woman, painfully, but it would come. It was a dreamless sleep, perhaps driven by the negative thoughts or it could have been the cold. She would convince herself it was the latter, if only to ignore the fact that her feelings of inadequacy were indeed within her.

It may be all too easy to blame it on every dirty finger creeping up the skirt. To blame the sadness and the emptiness on the cracked jaw and the bruised knees would be tempting. But she is woman. A woman is meant to thank every punch and every playful slap. She is meant to bury her blood and speak of it nevermore.

With every step she takes, she sinks a little more into the dirt, weighed down by every terrible thought and image. Here she is. Alone once more to face the demons. She fights with no sword and no bullets in her gun. She fights bare-knuckled against a wall, built by her own calloused hands.

Behind every glass of wine stood a reason. A reason for her to be small, unforgiving, and cruel. It is exhausting to hurt, to weep. With every tear cast off, the voices in her head become louder. They shout at her temples, the curses and harsh sentences reverberating against her skull.

She awoke to the bells in her head. It was still dark. No sunlight would creep through the frosted windows. The air was intense and icy. As she reached for a log next to the stove, she heard it.

It was a humming.

And then it stopped. She looked around her. Nothing had changed, nothing had moved. The humming resumed. It was a low humming, the sort that was unnoticeable and unremarkable unless paid attention to. It was much like her.

Her bare feet slipped out of her down sleeping bag and she gently returned the log to the ground next to the stove. The cold nipped at her toes, almost like a playful tickle. She rose to her feet, her body motionless while her ears focused around the room. The sound came from outside. It was tempting and precious.

Her legs led her to the door as she pushed the panel outwards. The forest presented itself as a picture, perfectly framed by the edges of the covered patio. Suddenly, it was dark no more. The trees were not lifeless as they were this past evening. They were lush and full of adventures. The smell of lunch tempted children back to the homestead, even though the mountain would eventually entice them again every afternoon.

The woman stepped down from the patio. Her feet felt cold, piercing and blood-rushing cold but the sun was out. It was bright and warm upon her skin. She saw the flowers in the painted crocks blooming, their fragrance would fill the air and be carried off by the soft winds to the peaks. She heard the humming once more. It was soft and childlike. She looked behind her.

A little girl sat of the steps, pulling the petals of a black-eyed Susan. Her eyes were downcast, but her slight grin showed her to be at peace. She was small, with freckled skin, blonde hair and dynamite blue eyes. Content in her ways, the girl looked up at the sky and smiled.

The woman looked up too, but in a blink, it was dark once more. She stood on frozen tundra looking at the sky as her toes turned blue.

It was illuminated with thousands of stars and the brushstrokes of the aurora; a light show just for her. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she watched the sky sway and as the harsh wind tickled her sockless ankles. It was too early in the season for such a beautiful display of nature, but the mountain said it should be so. The mountain knows the troubles of those who love it dearly, keeping the rocks in their hearts to carry the memories around the globe. For in each travel, each step away from its base, the mountain knows the pain and sorrow she carries in her pockets.

The mountain is strong, robust yet kind and warm. It is a place to forgive and to offer the little tragedies a place to stay. For they shall not be forgotten but healed in this sacred place. For she is a woman who was once a child does not mean that the spark has since disappeared. Because a woman retains the fire, burying it deep within the soul, ready at any moment to awaken the senses. Even burned to a crisp, the trees hold steady onto the preciousness of a light soul. Each branch is ready to reveal secrets, once lost but now found.

She cries a little more until the peaks are illuminated from behind. She feels lighter, not healed but lighter. She walks towards the cabin. Perhaps this cabin is precious, she thinks. As the ink bleeds onto the paper, creating words of quaint reassurance, she writes. What she writes of is dear to her, an offering from the mountain and her as a messenger. What she writes may be fiction or truth. It may come from within her or simply stolen from what the wildfires left behind.

The woman folds the pages neatly and with intent. She is numb when sealing the envelope. She places it on the now cold stove.

As she walks away from the cabin, all possessions in tow, she smiles and enjoys every single step down to the village below. She hums with the marmots, common butterworts and the wolves, each adding a melody to the majesty of the orchestra.

Following a burnt forest trail stands a home, a beating heart. For each sadness offered in earnest to the sierra, a flower blooms under the ashes. In this land stands a friend, a confidant that tells no lies. Peace is often far-reaching, an unattainable treasure. Put on a pedestal and protected with glass walls, this peace needn’t be so dramatic. Forgiveness is found in crevasses and unassuming curves of the river. Love is found in the winds and carried wherever one goes. All tears shall eventually be swept away by the glacier falls and offered to another. Every dark sky is illuminated, even with just one lonely star.

On a stove in the woods rests a sage green envelope. This letter, written in sober peace, is offered and addressed to a friend.

 


ROXANNE CLAUDE was born in Pembroke, Ontario. Roxanne now lives with their partner and two dogs in Camrose, Alberta and works full time as a Paramedic.

Copyright © 2020 by Roxanne Claude. All rights reserved.

‘Vinyl Record Sculptures’ by Shannon Neeley

The first is “Zora” and is sculpted from plaster and vinyl record sleeves/cover art. The second is “Angel” and is also a sculpture from vinyl records. The third is “Cornelius” it is an elephant head sculpted from vinyl records.

 


Hailing from Quebec’s beautiful Eastern Townships, SHANNON NEELEY is a graduate of Bishop’s University. As a freelance writer, she contributes to online publications and works on her creative writing and artistic projects in her spare time. Shannon loves to surround herself with music, writing, and art. Her heart lies in all-day breakfast joints and she also happens to be mildly obsessed with pugs!

Copyright © 2019 by Shannon Neeley. All rights reserved.

 

‘Brother I choose’ by Ryan London

there is someone who looks just like you
who can speak with pretenders and skeptics
and sing duets alone and untainted
knowing he is out there
knowing he has ever been
i smile to myself

you draw me with small hands
as if i cannot hold you
as if i listen to the music of pretending
knowing my love feels like sandpaper
knowing it burns like your hand on a stove
but heals like a kiss
i smile to myself

 


RYAN LONDON is from Toronto but based in Montreal where she graduated from McGill’s Industrial Relations program. Her poems center around the female experience, mental illness, and suicide. She is a strong believer in language accessibility, believing poetry should be written with the intent that it can be experienced by anyone.

Copyright © 2019 by Ryan London. All rights reserved.