‘Encounter’ by Jaco Fouché

Encounter.jpg

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Some years before, I had moved to a coastal town thinking that fortune smiled on writers in picturesque places. But after much time had passed, I was in a bad state. I had hardly any friends. Writing no longer interested me. I wasn’t working at a proper job which contributed to my condition. There was a lot of time to waste fretting about old regrets and fears of the future.

So I slept. And dreamt. There was one in which I wandered into a vast building visiting room after room on floor after floor. I could never leave it. I’d wake up with a feeling of searing regret, something that some prisoner might feel, but that did not stop me from turning over for more sleep.

I slept at night, I slept in the mornings. In the afternoons I got up to go to the shops, or with effort write one of the stories that were my mainstay at the time. In the evenings I’d watch television before once again falling asleep.

One day I awoke early from a bad dream. In it I had decided enough was enough, I could no longer bear my own history, I couldn’t stand my own feeble attempts at art. I saw that it had all rushed away from me, everything that constituted a good and meaningful life. What was left to do? I had literary visions of the windswept cliffs the town was famous for. Perhaps I’d gain something like insight or guidance from the gulls and water and bracing sea air.

I dressed and ventured into the strange chilly morning, walking along the badly lit streets to the beach where I stood looking out over the bay.

There were other people there; old people, happy people. So happy did a particular group of three of them seem where they stood at the top of the stairs leading down to the sand that I walked over.

“Morning,” a bald man said, “are you joining us?”

“Yes, do,” a woman said.

All three of them had with them some baggage that made me ask:

“Are you planning a picnic?”

“No, we’re going swimming, of course,” the bald man said.

“Good grief,” I muttered, as to me it was a cold day. They laughed in delight at this. I said I was going for a walk.

“Before work?” the woman asked.

“Work, with that head of hair?” the third man said skeptically. I hadn’t had a decent haircut in a long time.

“I’m self-employed,” I said. I walked some distance along the path from where I could watch them put down their baggage, take of some clothes, and in their bathing costumes go into the water.

There must have been ten of them in the early light, their forms cutting into the backdrop of small white breakers rolling into the shallows. The bald man and his female companion turned and looked in my direction. Were they discussing me? Beyond the breakers, the water was darker but beyond that, across the bay, the sun was rising behind a great bank of clouds.

How beautiful all this was, I told myself. Why wouldn’t I do things like this more often? But I knew the next day would come and I might wake up only to turn over and sleep. I was stuck in something I couldn’t clearly explain. Still, this particular morning was happening and I decided to make good use of it, and followed the path through rocks and milkwood trees. It was wonderful to be out in the chill and the noise of the sea, water churning white against the rocks.

After a while, I returned to the beach where the bathers were leaving the water and heading for their towels and warm clothes.

“Oh, wasn’t that splendid,” the bald man said on noticing me.

The woman nodded and said, evidently for my benefit, “I’d suggest that even the younger generation might have use of such an experience.”

I remained standing there, drawn by their warmth. The bald man produced a half-bottle of sherry from his bag and grinned at me. “How about a toot now,” he said. We drank in turn, small polite sips which were more about the company than anything else.

“What work do you do?” the man asked.

“Writer,” I muttered. “Nothing you would’ve read.”

“I say,” the man said to me, “I hope you don’t think I’m prying, but is everything all right? There’s something about you, some malaise.”

“Yes, and you seem overdressed for the beach,” the woman said kindly. “This isn’t just a walk you’re taking, is it?”

There was very little I could think of to say to that so I laughed as carelessly as I knew how. We drank some more of the sherry, which filled me with warmth as much as did my companions.

“You know,” the bald man said, “fifty years ago I had a head of hair like that.” The woman laughed. The man stroked his pate and looked out over the sea, which had grown much lighter. “I’d just started a business. Construction. Things were great. The economy was strong, my timing was right. I was doing well. Then I got a diagnosis. I was told I had months to live. So I closed my business and moved back in with my folks. I didn’t do anything but read. After some time I’d worked my way through the Waverley Novels, the James Bonds and about half of the Canadians and my dad asked me, ‘So when do you plan to die?’ And I realized even if it was happening any day now, I might as well go out and face life. I went back into construction, got married, had a family, lost my wife, saw my grandkids grow up. Then I met this one. All that in fifty years.”

“And I met you, John,” the woman said softly and then to me, “It’s true it’s not all about good times. Sometimes you have to accept what’s downright bad too. Long ago when I was in my late forties I felt very alone. My kids were grown, my husband had left me. I moved to another town and worked there. I met a man who I had my doubts about. He wasn’t working, but he claimed to be looking for a business to buy and run. After a while, he was still looking and talking about it and living with me. I told friends that even if he was a swindler, at least I would have had someone in my life for a while. But sure enough, I eventually had to accept that he was simply a layabout and a braggart. One day I drove him to the station and bought him a ticket to a town on the other side of the country. He went. He left me without resistance. After some months he phoned me to say he was happy. Despite what you might think, that it sounds tacky, it was sort of special. It was life, you know. And that only happens to you when you allow it to.”

I nodded. I was very self-conscious. The two people seemed so kind and wise to someone who often felt like a foreigner even to himself. I was a citizen of some desolate country. I wondered if I should be concerned that my plight seemed to be written all over my person.

“What we mean,” the bald man slowly said, “is that we could tell something is up with you. If we could, we’d point you in some direction and say, there, that’s the way to go.”

“But what do we know?” the woman said.

Some of the other bathers had joined us and there seemed to be no point in continuing the discussion. I thanked the couple for their time and they wished me well and I walked back to my flat, where I looked around me.

The place was a mess. I cleaned it all day long. Shortly before the end of business hours, I went out for food and when I came back, I cleaned some more. Late at night the people below me knocked on the door to urge me to be quieter and expressed their surprise at the fact that they’d never seen me before. They left. I stayed up to write down what I could remember of the morning’s meeting at the beach.

At around four o’clock I fell asleep and dreamt. Once more I entered a vast building with many rooms and floors. But instead of waking up without having left it, this time I passed through it and walked away and I felt powerful.

When it was daylight, I began to dial numbers and look up businesses before deciding that a more personal touch was called for. I set out for the main part of town where with some effort I managed to ingratiate myself into a position with a retailer situated in a busy street. It wasn’t really sales, nothing so fanciful, just an assistant’s position, but it was a job that I could do while being among people all day. I was with company.

After going home at night, I chiseled away at my thoughts about the people on the beach. A few times I went back there early in the morning. I never saw them again.

Some years before, I had moved to a coastal town thinking that fortune smiled on writers in picturesque places. But after much time had passed, I was in a bad state. I had hardly any friends. Writing no longer interested me. I wasn’t working at a proper job which contributed to my condition. There was a lot of time to waste fretting about old regrets and fears of the future.

So I slept. And dreamt. There was one in which I wandered into a vast building visiting room after room on floor after floor. I could never leave it. I’d wake up with a feeling of searing regret, something that some prisoner might feel, but that did not stop me from turning over for more sleep.

I slept at night, I slept in the mornings. In the afternoons I got up to go to the shops, or with effort write one of the stories that were my mainstay at the time. In the evenings I’d watch television before once again falling asleep.

One day I awoke early from a bad dream. In it I had decided enough was enough, I could no longer bear my own history, I couldn’t stand my own feeble attempts at art. I saw that it had all rushed away from me, everything that constituted a good and meaningful life. What was left to do? I had literary visions of the windswept cliffs the town was famous for. Perhaps I’d gain something like insight or guidance from the gulls and water and bracing sea air.

I dressed and ventured into the strange chilly morning, walking along the badly lit streets to the beach where I stood looking out over the bay.

There were other people there; old people, happy people. So happy did a particular group of three of them seem where they stood at the top of the stairs leading down to the sand that I walked over.

“Morning,” a bald man said, “are you joining us?”

“Yes, do,” a woman said.

All three of them had with them some baggage that made me ask:

“Are you planning a picnic?”

“No, we’re going swimming, of course,” the bald man said.

“Good grief,” I muttered, as to me it was a cold day. They laughed in delight at this. I said I was going for a walk.

“Before work?” the woman asked.

“Work, with that head of hair?” the third man said skeptically. I hadn’t had a decent haircut in a long time.

“I’m self-employed,” I said. I walked some distance along the path from where I could watch them put down their baggage, take off some clothes, and in their bathing costumes go into the water.

There must have been ten of them in the early light, their forms cutting into the backdrop of small white breakers rolling into the shallows. The bald man and his female companion turned and looked in my direction. Were they discussing me? Beyond the breakers, the water was darker but beyond that, across the bay, the sun was rising behind a great bank of clouds.

How beautiful all this was, I told myself. Why wouldn’t I do things like this more often? But I knew the next day would come and I might wake up only to turn over and sleep. I was stuck in something I couldn’t clearly explain. Still, this particular morning was happening and I decided to make good use of it and followed the path through rocks and milkwood trees. It was wonderful to be out in the chill and the noise of the sea, water churning white against the rocks.

After a while, I returned to the beach where the bathers were leaving the water and heading for their towels and warm clothes.

“Oh, wasn’t that splendid,” the bald man said on noticing me.

The woman nodded and said, evidently for my benefit, “I’d suggest that even the younger generation might have use of such an experience.”

I remained standing there, drawn by their warmth. The bald man produced a half-bottle of sherry from his bag and grinned at me. “How about a toot now,” he said. We drank in turn, small polite sips which were more about the company than anything else.

“What work do you do?” the man asked.

“Writer,” I muttered. “Nothing you would’ve read.”

“I say,” the man said to me, “I hope you don’t think I’m prying, but is everything all right? There’s something about you, some malaise.”

“Yes, and you seem overdressed for the beach,” the woman said kindly. “This isn’t just a walk you’re taking, is it?”

There was very little I could think of to say to that so I laughed as carelessly as I knew how. We drank some more of the sherry, which filled me with warmth as much as did my companions.

“You know,” the bald man said, “fifty years ago I had ahead of hair like that.” The woman laughed. The man stroked his pate and looked out over the sea, which had grown much lighter. “I’d just started a business. Construction. Things were great. The economy was strong, my timing was right. I was doing well. Then I got a diagnosis. I was told I had months to live. So I closed my business and moved back in with my folks. I didn’t do anything but read. After some time I’d worked my way through the Waverley Novels, the James Bonds and about half of the Canadians and my dad asked me, ‘So when do you plan to die?’ And I realized even if it was happening any day now, I might as well go out and face life. I went back into construction, got married, had a family, lost my wife, saw my grandkids grow up. Then I met this one. All that in fifty years.”

“And I met you, John,” the woman said softly and then to me, “It’s true it’s not all about good times. Sometimes you have to accept what’s downright bad too. Long ago when I was in my late forties I felt very alone. My kids were grown, my husband had left me. I moved to another town and worked there. I met a man who I had my doubts about. He wasn’t working, but he claimed to be looking for a business to buy and run. After a while, he was still looking and talking about it and living with me. I told friends that even if he was a swindler, at least I would have had someone in my life for a while. But sure enough, I eventually had to accept that he was simply a layabout and a braggart. One day I drove him to the station and bought him a ticket to a town on the other side of the country. He went. He left me without resistance. After some months he phoned me to say he was happy. Despite what you might think, that it sounds tacky, it was sort of special. It was life, you know. And that only happens to you when you allow it to.”

I nodded. I was very self-conscious. The two people seemed so kind and wise to someone who often felt like a foreigner even to himself. I was a citizen of some desolate country. I wondered if I should be concerned that my plight seemed to be written all over my person.

“What we mean,” the bald man slowly said, “is that we could tell something is up with you. If we could, we’d point you in some direction and say, there, that’s the way to go.”

“But what do we know?” the woman said.

Some of the other bathers had joined us and there seemed to be no point in continuing the discussion. I thanked the couple for their time and they wished me well and I walked back to my flat, where I looked around me.

The place was a mess. I cleaned it all day long. Shortly before the end of business hours, I went out for food and when I came back, I cleaned some more. Late at night the people below me knocked on the door to urge me to be quieter and expressed their surprise at the fact that they’d never seen me before. They left. I stayed up to write down what I could remember of the morning’s meeting at the beach.

At around four o’clock I fell asleep and dreamt. Once more I entered a vast building with many rooms and floors. But instead of waking up without having left it, this time I passed through it and walked away and I felt powerful.

When it was daylight, I began to dial numbers and look up businesses before deciding that a more personal touch was called for. I set out for the main part of town where with some effort I managed to ingratiate myself into a position with a retailer situated in a busy street. It wasn’t really sales, nothing so fanciful, just an assistant’s position, but it was a job that I could do while being among people all day. I was with company.

After going home at night, I chiseled away at my thoughts about the people on the beach. A few times I went back there early in the morning. I never saw them again.

 


JACO FOUCHÉ is a South African writer who has published ten books in Afrikaans and who is interested in publishing in Canada. He was won awards for his Afrikaans writing. His most recent award was for an English poem in the AVBOB Poetry Project, “A Feeling like Leaving Harbour”, of which the theme was death and loss and which earned him first prize in the English category.

Copyright © 2019 by Jaco Fouché. 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.

 

Poems by Sophia Magliocca

“Somebody Else” by The 1975: Up Next

Midnight city, chocolate lit, hopeless romantic,
Borderline July, the sound of night mistakes.
Settle down. We met alone, Paris. He’s American.
Sucked the blood out my gums for dinner.
Electric feel. Chlorine. I came out for a good cry.
Cradled his tongue behind my ear for sex. He said
Give yourself a try Cinnamon Girl. Sit next to me.
Kept rubbing me down with that metal handle.
Destroying my bed peace with good morning.
Before he left, took the neighbourhood robbers
For a run around my Daddy issues.
Pumped up strangers slow dance, don’t worry.
He’s danger. He’s reckless. He’s restless.
Sincerity is scary but he felt like home.

 

1999-2017

Forgive my bedside manners, for I am not preconditioned
To twirling and swirling my hips around in modest pirouettes.
You say I’m pink and pleasant. A pretty toy bent for your pleasure.
My perception polluted by your poor penetration.
The pinky promise of swelling around your veiny pulse.
The pattern stained to some pillowcase by your lips on my labia,
Is reflective, sponged up of plain filth, unfit to wash away.
Come a little closer; I’ll let you mess around my circus.  

Chest whipping breaths cut short spelling your name with my spit,
Interrupted by the foamy burst spilling down the mushy part
Of my thigh: a washcloth, another dirty rag.
Pardon me while I press myself.
Please, if you care to intervene,
Rave my afterglow and ruin me once more.

 


SOPHIA MAGLIOCCA was born and raised in Montreal. She is an English Literature and Creative Writing Honours student at Concordia University. She has had her poem “Petals” published in the 2016/17 edition of the Dawson English Journal. After earning her Bachelor’s degree, Sophia plans on attending graduate school to earn her MA in Creative Writing.

Copyright © 2019 by Sophia Magliocca. All rights reserved.

 

‘si difficile’ by April Ford

i wish that i could speak to you
in a language other than love,
speak about you in a language
other than loss. for whenever
i think about you, i become
someone i’m ashamed of. bright
incandescent shame that shows
how foolish i am, my blood
luminescent with recidivism,
my breath sour from deceptions
i told myself to protect you, when
you are as safe for the lover’s heart
as antibiotics on the unsuspecting gut.

 


APRIL FORD is a gender fluid author living in Verdun with her feline rescue family. She’s the recipient of a Pushcart Prize for her short story “Project Fumarase,” and has held fully funded residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Ucross Foundation. Her debut novel, Carousel, is forthcoming Spring 2020 with Inanna Publications. aprilfordauthor.com

Copyright © 2019 by April Ford. 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.

 

‘The city and oneself: fragments about residing temporarily in Montreal’ by Andrea Reed-Leal

The City and Oneself.jpg

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Today, May 3rd, the weather is splendid. Seated on a bench at Parc la Fontaine, I observe people picnicking with friends and family, jogging or walking their dogs. The sky is covered in clouds and we are all still wearing jackets. For a Montrealer, this is a splendid day to be outside. The artificial lake in front of me holds barely any water. The winter froze (almost) everything. Some trees around me start to pop light green dots in their branches; the park itself remains entirely naked. Although not perceived aloud, I can hear the excitement of the city (the real sounds of the urban society, ultimately more poetic than the sound of the wind). Well-liked and popular though it is, this city encompasses great contradictions. But which city does not? Montreal is a city of the multiple: language is fluid and accents abound; diversity is desirable. “Where are you from?” becomes a common line to start a conversation. Montreal, a city of merchants and bankers and, also, of beauty, art, and pleasures.

 

The city is not just an entity—closed, limited, static or invariable; on the contrary, a city is a fluid phenomenon, actively changing through time. A philosophy of the city, proposed by Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes, and others, resolved questions about the importance of the space in the making of communities. Relations between society and the space mold the experience of this alive space. The city changes alongside its society—it is shaped by the movement of peoples and their encounters. A city produces knowledge and continually mirrors the being of its society. Social relations determine the essence of a city, while state and economic powers simultaneously maintain the (dis)order of a city. As Henri Lefebvre wrote, “The city is a mediation among mediators.” How long does someone need to be in the city to become part of it?

 

The resident, as the name defines it, lives in the city. The resident possesses a fragmented space of the city from where she or he can depart and come back to (house, apartment, or room). The migration status limits the time of the resident in the country. If I become something else/someone new—because of the social interactions and intimate mirrorings with a particular city—, the state limits the amount of time I am allowed to be this. Such is the power of states and societies.

 

There is a radical distinction between an inhabitant and a tourist. The temporal resident, however, stands in the borderline between the two. Contrary to someone simply passing by—seduced by the industry of tourism—a temporal resident notices subtle changes in the space through time, because, although he or she still is a foreigner, everything is new. Slowly, she or he becomes accustomed to the city’s specificities that one moment before had produced excitement. Senses are wide open—as a tourist who visits a city for the first time and can only see the space as an exotic object. The temporal resident, however, also perceives the intimate incidents of the city—the freedom in walking alone in the streets, the hours of light changing every single day, the silent irritation caused by a sudden snowstorm or the fact that no one will say “bless you” after a sneeze. The tourist is an isolated being in a city perpetually moving. Whereas, even for brief moments, a temporal resident becomes a part of the wheel of daily life. Tourists observe life as outsiders, as an anthropologist studying a community or as a spectator in a theater. A society produces and recreates culture and the aesthetics of the space.

 

Certainly, the tourist plays an important role in the imagining of the city and on the experience of it. But, what is it? That is a different story. What the tourist sees when he or she visits a city differs radically from the experience of the resident.

 

If the city mirrors the group (or groups) pertaining to a certain historical and social moment, the temporal resident—who participates in the wheel of daily life with actions, decisions, codes, and conducts, shapes the city as an insider. The reality affects the individual: everything, for instance, odors, sounds of voices, errands, sensations of excitement and boredom, mold the experience of being in a place. Somehow, this “reality” defines the temporal resident—who learns to collect instants in memories because he or she understands that all experiences will be soon (or are already) lost. Nothing, then, is more important than the sensations a place gives to you. Only through time, the temporal inhabitant creates attachments to his or her surroundings: some faces become known, temporal friendships emerge, the language transmutes into something less “foreign.” And, suddenly, the resident recognizes himself or herself in the (unknown) other. The attachment resides in how I abruptly feel for the Other: I understand something of the man sited next to me reading Peter Mendelsund or of the lonely woman peeling an orange from afar.

 

Societies share an understanding of how to manage, approach and shape their spaces. Therefore, in the public space, the essence of cohabitation (how to treat each other) references such agreements.

 

To know the habits, the rituals, and the way of life one must spend time observing the continuities and discontinuities of the city. Change and movement constantly reimagine the space. A philosophy of the city recognizes the transitions, disappearances, obstacles, and internal conflicts conceiving the social space. Reflections on the transformation of the city emphasize articulations of being in the city. What am I in this city? How have I changed (because of it)?

 

For a temporal resident, it is acceptable not to treat the city as an object of exploration (although, as a “new” space, in the beginning, it is unavoidable). There is time to discover (and be discovered). The temporal resident appropriates the city by letting it appear by necessity, just as it happens to the permanent inhabitant. Daily life affairs provide excuses to visit new neighborhoods. By giving oneself to everyday life—letting it influence you, while, simultaneously inscribing the space with your own individual history—the resident eventually learns to move around the space. In other words, through daily life, he or she establishes a sense of belonging to that community.

 

For a resident, the city displays both joy and sorrow, abundance and poverty. Experiences of daily life include those affairs that might not be so desirable but are, nonetheless, unavoidable. That is, temporal residents, share the politics of being a citizen—making lines to pay taxes, paying visits to hospitals, and opening bank accounts—. From a perspective of daily life, traffic, city constructions, and work become annoyances—dealings which, commonly, invite boredom, confusion, and dissatisfaction. To understand a place is to see its aesthetics of decline as well.

 

The city is, as Henri Lefebvre argues, “an oeuvre, closer to a work of art than to a simple material product.”

 

Somehow, after some months, I notice the changes in odors. The winter is over, all living things come back (including aspects of myself). Ants make geometrical figures in the pavement. A dead squirrel lies next to the speeding bicycles crossing the park. Owners walk their dogs, taking their time. I notice the smells of new life. My eyes cry and my nose sneezes constantly. The air I breathe changes. I get a terrible (once in a lifetime) sinusitis. I cannot breathe. My eyes continue to cry. I am on antibiotics. I cannot be out (again). Being in this city becomes exhausting.

 

To feel comfortable in a space, I must first inhabit it. After a few months in the apartment, I still felt like a foreigner leaving soon. I transformed the space forme, and suddenly my (temporal) home became familiar. Temporality allows you to modify, in turn, your life according to space. The public pool near my home became a known space after many visits. On a sunny but cold afternoon of February, I swam for an hour, expiring through my nose and inspiring through my mouth (changing the normal structure of breathing). I could listen clearly to the breath beneath the water and the rhythm of this (new) daily life. As I stopped in the borderline to rest, I felt the heat on my skin. To visit this pool reminds me of all the other pools I have visited in other cities: the blue color of the floors, the warm atmosphere, the movement of the water. It is possible, I thought, to link experiences elsewhere to this particular moment.

Learning to be in a new city requires to let your senses identify and understand the surroundings. It is required first, and foremost, to learn how to move around: Is it safe to walk to the pool at night? Is the bus faster than the metro?

 

If the city (buildings, streets, transportation, businesses, universities, etc.) reflects its social interactions—that is, the unconscious multiple daily relations between millions of people, then all public displays tell something about the soul (thoughts, aims, identity) of its society. Festivals, museum exhibitions, and public spaces collect the “essence” of the people. I am amazed by all the experimental art taking place in theatres, galleries, and museums. The city (and, therefore, the people) encourages the exploration of new sensations almost all the time. Artists confidently do so. There is a degree of charm and pride in doing (being) something outside the conventional. All this combined provokes something very odd in me: What am I allowed to do (be) here? May I liberate what I have had to hide all this time? What does this freedom mean?

 

Roland Barthes accompanies me in the library. With him by my side, I notice the particular light of this room: bright white illuminating the walls and shades of yellow and blue coming from the shelves. It is difficult to read Barthes in French, but I try it anyway because I am in a French-speaking city and I desperately want to be like them. I question if, after all this time, I have not become somehow like them and if the borders between “them” and “me” have disappeared. After all, how many people experience the city temporarily just like me?

Hundreds of individuals surround me either reading, writing, or exploring the bookshelves. The couches and tables are comfortable. This is a peaceful space. I sit here for hours until the light of the day blurs out. Today the sun rose at 5:15. The light comes through the green curtain of my bedroom and wakes me. The changing in the space affects me in levels that go beyond the imagined. More hours of light mean more outdoor activities—and more energy in my body and mind.

 

In the metro, quite full of young people, a young woman with earphones stands next to me. I can hear her Spanish audiobook (she is probably a student here). I get off the train at the next stop. I cannot stand being myself just a student living temporarily in Montreal. I started walking in the deserted neighborhood. Construction invades the streets.  I walk until, forty-five minutes later, I arrive home (quite angry). Time has allowed me to be a Montrealer, and soon I will have to become something else. The nostalgia of leaving defines the experience of residing temporarily. I have become attached to this space. How can I accept change again? Thinking about the possibility of never coming back stimulates my melancholia. I constantly remind myself, “you are here”, “remember this.” Already, however, memories disappear. I cannot picture the city filled with snow anymore. I see only tulips on the streets.

 


ANDREA REAL-LEAL is a graduate student of history at McGill University. In 2017, she published her first book El Río que no vemos. Crónicas de Tizapán (CDMX: ITAM, 2017). She has also published essays, book reviews, and short stories, in Opción, Luvina, Acentos Review, and Punto en Línea. Her current research project focuses on early medieval female involvement in the production and circulation of manuscripts.

Copyright © 2019 by Andrea Real-Leal. All rights reserved.

 

‘Consequences’ by Dalia Gesser

Consequences

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

When we live our lives on the edge, with no regard for how we conduct ourselves or how we treat our mates, it’s no surprise that consequences usually follow. I picked up an inebriated man in my cab, late one evening, outside a local bar. He needed to get home or maybe he just ran out of drinking money and called it ‘a night’. It’s all too common for the intoxicated ones, having just imbibed in a ‘bottle of courage’, to rant on about some ridiculous situation they became embroiled in, which of course they’re never at fault.           This forty something-year-old was no different. Having no filter, he began spewing his drunken opinions during the short drive to his residence. I was all too familiar with this behavior and how easily an innocent comment could set them off, so I tried to keep the conversation light. This gentleman, however, most probably due to his uninhibited state, felt the need to share the ongoing conflict he was having with his spouse.

“Oh my wife doesn’t care much for my drinking,” he confided in me.

“Why is that?” I asked sarcastically, trying to humour him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You’d think she’d be used to it by now.”

“Maybe she hopes you’ll change,” I said more sincerely.

“She’s always trying to change me,” he said complaining.

“We all have room for improvement,” I said.

“When she met me, she knew that I like to drink and she did too,” he said trying to defend himself.

“Well, people don’t always stay the same, especially as we get older,” I said.

“You got that right,” he said, a bit upset. “If she doesn’t drink, the least she could do is not bug me about what I like to do.”

“Well maybe she wants the best for you and doesn’t want to see you have long term health problems,” I said.

“I know, but if I don’t care she shouldn’t either.”

“Easier said than done.”

“True.”

Just as I pulled up to the man’s home, we both witnessed someone throwing clothes out of an upstairs window. We watched as the smaller items floated down gracefully while the larger ones landed on the lawn with a thud.

“This doesn’t look good,” the man commented.

“I guess not.” I replied. “Am I to assume that’s your wife tossing out your clothes?”

“Ya,” he said in shock.

This situation was so cliché. I could easily imagine, without meeting her, the script leading up to this scene. The numerous comments and threats she made to him about his drinking or spending money or, more likely, both, judging by the neighbourhood where they lived. Then there were his endless promises to change, which never amounted to anything concrete, only leading to escalating disappointment. The numerous frustrated rounds, voices raised, before he would leave the house in a huff. He would always return ‘three sheets to the wind’ after the bar closed at 2:00 a.m.

Tonight, after their argument, he took off to the bar as usual, but this time her anger brewed. This time, after reaching her limit, she made the decision not to continue on the same path with this man who was incapable of modifying his habits. After a few hours of smoking many cigarettes, pacing around the house, maybe speaking to a girlfriend which included many tears, she came to terms that change was overdue. She brainstormed, possibly with her girlfriend, decided on the best plan, mustered up the courage and carried it through. Good for her.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said as more garments filled the yard.

Yes, he was that clueless.

“Lori!” he called up to her.

Lori stared down at him as he craned his head out of the open cab window but said nothing. At this point what could he possibly say? As drunk as he was, he seemed to understand at least that much. Her action spoke volumes. She popped her head back inside then after a few seconds and resumed her mission, more garments came tumbling downwards.

“I never thought she’d go and do this!” the guy exclaimed.

Was this his best defense?

“Well I guess she had enough,” I said stating the obvious.

As the reality of his wife’s actions sank in, a look of guilt spread across his face. The man got out of the cab, walked over to the clothes spread across the front yard, and began picking them up with a saddened expression. He was clearly at a loss as to how to deal with this pathetic situation.

“Lori, Lori,” this upstanding citizen called up to the second floor again.

It was all to no avail. Lori ignored his pleas.

“Where else can I take you,” I asked the distraught man trying to make him understand that staying here was not an option.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, a few months later, I was requested by dispatch to drive a man home. It was difficult to detect his age, due to his smoker’s complexion and slightly burned-out appearance. This guy was the last of my intoxicated fares so by the time we arrived at his home it was close to 3:00 a.m. When I stopped the cab in front of the house with the porch lights on, I noticed a piece of paper posted to the front door. Next to the door with the handwritten message was stacked a stereo, a briefcase, a few boxes, an ugly lamp, a leather jacket, and a few other possessions. Scattered across the lawn was an array of clothes. My passenger let out a gasp.

“I can’t believe she left my jacket in full view! Someone could have stolen it.”

Of all his possessions this undoubtedly was one of his favourites. He took a couple of minutes to study his state of affairs. “This is unbelievable!”

The now ex-girlfriend found an unmistakable way of making her point. I felt the need to bring the posted message to his attention, as I questioned how cognizant he was with drunkenness now compounded in shock.

“She left you a note,” I said.

He got out of the cab and pulled the paper off the door. He glanced back at me and shrugged.

“How long have you been together?” I couldn’t help but ask loudly.

“Not long,” he paused, “a few months.”

He stood silently, assessing the disaster zone, then took out his cell phone from his pocket. Perhaps he was expecting to get the boot, not knowing exactly how or when it would happen. I waited patiently then, after a couple of minutes, made an arm gesture signaling him over to the cab.

“What are we doing here?” I called to him wanting to get on with my shift.

“Just a sec,” he held up his index finger.

He paced back and forth over the lawn, picking up his clothes while conversing with someone on his cell. “Okay,” he said then hung up.

He walked over to the driver’s window and paid me.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

“Ya,” he answered. “Just like last time, a buddy’s coming over to get me.”

 


DALIA GESSER, a theatre arts/educator and writer, has been running theatre arts programs for children and seniors, since 1998, funded mainly by grants from the Ontario Arts Council. She incorporates storytelling in all her theatre arts programs as everyone has interesting stories to tell. Some of her non-fiction stories have been published in an anthology book series titled ‘Conscious Women’, four in the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ series and four stories in ‘Kingston Life Magazine’.

Copyright © 2019 by Dalia Gesser. All rights reserved.

 

‘Home Tastes Just Like Fried Plantains’ by Silvana Morales

Fried Plantains
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

At five o’clock that morning, like he had done every morning, Ibrahim Delgado woke to the sound of screeching roosters. His old bones creaked like the bed he rose from as he shut off the rusted fan that blew faint wisps of cool air throughout the night. The aluminum shutters opened with a stubborn jolt, allowing the first glimmers of the early morning light to flutter in. It was a morning like any other.

The old man washed and dressed himself, buttoning his white guayabera, not forgetting to slip a cigar into the front pocket of his shirt. He pulled on the cap his son had sent him from Canada, the one he wore every day and loved. It had been a bright blue, red and white once; it was now faded and stained but still represented some hockey team his grandson often talked about during their monthly phone calls. He still did not understand the sport. Ibrahim Delgado remembered that it was the first of the month. Miguel, his son, would be calling him later that day. He felt a jabbing pain in his chest as he thought back to their last conversation.

The kitchen was still that morning, as it had been every morning, and Ibrahim Delgado waited for his coffee to brew. He bit into a guava, the sweetness bursting into his mouth as he inspected the magnets on the yellowed refrigerator door. The plastic magnets – shaped like apples, bananas, and grapes – help up a mosaic of photographs and postcards. Some were recent photos of his family in Montreal, surrounded by snow. Some were of Miguel as a child playing in the Caribbean sun. And a photo of Mirta, torn and bent. She was young and beautiful in the black and white of the photograph. He missed her the most.

Ibrahim Delgado thought about what he would say to his son. He would tell Miguel that he was fine on his own. He would be firm with his son. He would say that if he had been strong enough to survive malaria in Angola, he would easily overcome a simple economic crisis. Besides, what did Miguel know anyway? He was not living there anymore.

The old man sighed. He knew he no longer had the same strength he had had as a young man, fighting in a war on a different continent. Those days were nothing but stories told to his wide-eyed grandchildren now, as they listened to their abuelo talk about the time before the revolution.

He would tell Miguel that things were not as bad as they seemed.

Ibrahim Delgado picked up the plastic bucket he kept next to the back door of his home. He stepped out into the cramped backyard and was greeted by the cool breeze coming in from the sea. And like every other morning, Ibrahim Delgado was greeted by his chickens scattering around his feet as he plucked fresh eggs from their nests. He sometimes spoke to them about his plans for the day, and he liked to imagine that they listened and clucked their responses in return. Before leaving his home, he examined the lone banana tree he had planted beside the house. A cockroach slithered down the trunk. He poked at the fruit, turning them this way and that. They would be ripe in a few days, he guessed.

The sun was beginning to rise as the old man stepped out onto the streets of La Pachanga. It was the same sun he remembered seeing every morning as a child in Pilón, where he would accompany his father, admiring the dark-skinned man in a straw hat who wielded a machete with the grace of Ogún. His father, who, when angry, would cuss in his native Yoruba. His father, who had taught him everything he needed to know about cutting sugar cane. He looked down at the sun spotted hand carrying the bucket. His right index finger with the missing fingernail. The white scar that seemed to shine like a jagged bolt of lightning, where as a young man his hand had slipped, the rusty machete slicing into his skin.

He cleared his throat as he shuffled down the street, listening to the first bristles of the old fishermen’s village come to life. The tin roofs of the houses glinted in the warm light, and Ibrahim Delgado shook himself out of his daydream to let out his first whistle of the day.

El huevo! El huevo!” The old man chanted as the eggs rattled in his bucket. And as he made his way through the streets, he exchanged each egg for one peso, patting the occasional stray dog on the head as the bucket gradually grew lighter.

It was now midmorning. Ibrahim Delgado, empty bucket in hand and a pocketful of jingling coins, made his way to the tiny grocery at the end of the village. He stopped when he saw the mob that had formed around the decrepit building. The people were angry as they had been for days on end. He could hear snippets of the conversations around him, saying the same things he had been hearing every day for the last few months.

“I have been standing in this line since three o’clock in the goddamn morning and you’re telling me that there is no bread?”

“What in God’s name am I supposed to feed my children?”

“Isn’t it bad enough that the government took away the bread and milk rations for an old woman like me? El Presidente must want us all to starve!”

“No oil, no rice, no meat! What now?”

Ibrahim Delgado sagged –of course, no food, again. He would just make do with what he had at home. That’s what he had always done, anyway. He thought back to the grocery stores his son had spoken of when he had arrived in Canada all those years ago; the ones with the shiny floors and shiny lights. The ones that never had empty shelves; where you could find whatever your heart desired. The ones with the jets of mist that kept the vegetables looking fresh and bright. The old man’s stomach growled.

He turned and walked back through the streets, making his way to the stand on the corner of 1era Avenida and Calle 17; where an old lady sold flowers she grew herself. And on this morning, just like every morning, Ibrahim Delgado bought a white lily from the same woman for the last three years with one peso he had earned from his morning labor. She greeted him with a smile that had only become more toothless over the years and handed him the delicate lily. He thanked her with a nod and left. They had never exchanged a word in three years.

As he turned onto another street, the old man paid no attention to the crowd that had formed in front of the house at the corner. He did not need to approach them to know what it was. He could tell by the sobs coming from the woman lying in a crumpled heap, and the screams from the old lady beside her, that they were coming to take the house. The construction workers looked just as miserable as the homeowners. Ibrahim Delgado briefly wondered how they could blindly follow such orders. He knew that they probably had no choice. They had mouths to feed just like everybody else. It was not really their fault. The government had been tearing houses down one by one. To increase tourism, they had said. To build more hotels! A splendid idea! He shook his head. This was not what he had fought for. He had fought for what he thought was liberty. Back in the Sierra, with Che and the others. What a stupid boy he had been; a stupid, hopeful boy. It was only a matter of time before they tore down his house, too.

Passing the restaurant on Calle 13, he hummed to the strumming of guitars coming from the patio, where tourists and locals intermingled and the smells of carne asada and congrí were ever-present. The musicians were playing Dos Gardenias and the melancholic sound of the trumpet made its way into Ibrahim Delgado’s heart. He smiled, his mood lifting itself once again, and clutched the lily closer to his chest. His wedding band glinted in the sunlight and he remembered Mirta.

He remembered how they had met long ago, beneath the framboyán tree in the park he had visited every morning for the past three years –two teenagers in love. It had not been ‘love at first sight.’ He smiled as he remembered how much of a nuisance Mirta had found him to be at first. How he teased her and how her annoyance soon turned into laughter. The tree had become their daily meeting spot. They would sit on the ground, lean against its trunk and chat until it was time for Mirta to go home for dinner. They had gone to different schools. Some days he would pluck flowers from the tree’s branches and give them to her. Her cheeks would redden, matching the petals of the flowers as she would accept the gift. Some days she would bring her little sister to the park and let her play on the seesaw as the pair sat in the shade of the vibrant framboyán. He had grown to love the tree as much as he had loved her.

Ibrahim Delgado was old. He knew it, and so did his son. He could no longer travel long distances on public transport. The heat and the cramped interior of the trucks, the sweaty bodies, the lack of air. It would kill him and he knew that. He had not been to the cemetery in the neighboring town on his own since the burial. He had not visited Mirta, nor had he cleaned her tombstone. So, he did what his body allowed him to do. He had left a lily for her beneath the framboyán tree every day. He knew Mirta would have understood. She had always loved lilies anyway.

This morning had not been any different. The old man checked his watch, a strange digital one his son had given him on his last visit. It was ten o’clock. Miguel was supposed to call him that evening. He already knew what his son would say to him. He had been saying the same thing for the past few months.

“Ay pero Papi, you know you can’t stay like that on your own.”He had said the last time they talked.

“Basta, Miguel! I won’t hear any more of this nonsense.”

“Pero Papi, you’re getting older. You shouldn’t be working like a dog every day. You should be living life! You’ve worked hard enough as it is.”

“I am not working like a dog, Miguel. And I am not going to Canada!”

“Don’t be stubborn, Papi. You know Mami wouldn’t want you to be alone like this.”

“I can’t leave, Miguel. You know that.”

“Yes, you can! Papi, por favor –”

“Miguel! Just let a poor old man die in peace. I’m too old to be starting my life all over again. Besides, I can’t abandon your mother’s grave like –”

“Papi…”

“I said NO.”

“All I’m saying is you should think about it. You aren’t going into exile, Papi. And we’d all go back to visit! We’d go to the cemetery, Papi. You know I always take you when I come visit. You don’t have to worry about that.”Miguel had paused before adding, “And there are more opportunities here.”

Ibrahim Delgado had sighed and told his son that he would think about it. The truth is he had not thought about it. Or at least he had tried not to. But, the thought of Canada had piqued his curiosity. Nevertheless, his heart ached at the thought of leaving everything he had ever known behind.

He turned the corner and followed the trail to where the park stood. It was a simple park. It had been around since he was a young boy and had seen the passage of time in the town just like he had. It now stood between two hotels, and tourists often stopped to watch as the local children played on the rusted slide. At this hour, the children would all be in school. The smile that had earlier played on his lips had now faded, and his forehead was creased with worry. He could see some trucks up ahead, blocking the path. He felt the seams that were holding his heart together coming undone as he urged his body forward. The air was thick with dust, and the old man coughed. He slowed down when he reached the park. He could see the workers, in their ragged uniforms, pulling bits of metal that he assumed could only belong to the swing set. He watched as they tossed the trash into the back of their trucks. Weaving through the trucks, he ignored the surprised cries of the workers as he pushed past them to get a better view of the land.

In the farthest corner of the park, a stump rose from the ground. Scattered around it lay dozens of lilies, both new and wilted. The rest of the tree was nowhere to be seen. Ibrahim Delgado clutched at his chest. He stood, eyes locked on the stump as more workers milled about, some crushing the lilies beneath their feet as they went about clearing the park.

“Excuse me, Señor, but you need to step back.” A young man in uniform had appeared beside him. Ibrahim Delgado did not say a word, his eyes resting on the place where he had met his wife decades before. The young man gazed at him before speaking again. “They want to extend the hotel –build a bigger pool. That’s what everyone’s saying.” He pointed at the bigger of the two hotels, a bright blue building with high walls all around it.

“They cut down the tree…”

A confused look spread across the young man’s face. He glanced back at the stump before turning back to the old man. His face softened upon seeing the lily. “They tore everything down, Señor,” he said softly, “They always do.”

_________________

Ibrahim Delgado walked home with a broken heart. He had spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly around the village, his hand grasping the lily so tightly, the petals had begun to crumble. As he approached the orange house on 1era Avenida and Playa, Ibrahim Delgado realized that the sun was beginning its descent into night. He accelerated, hoping to get home before his son called.

He passed a group of old men playing dominoes at a table they had hauled out in the middle of the street. He heard the clinking of the little dotted tiles, the frustrated knocking of knuckles indicating when someone could not play their turn, the shouts of “Coñó aseré!” Ibrahim Delgado might have joined them on any other night. Only tonight he wondered if they ever got bored of playing the same game every night, if that was simply their way of ignoring the fact that they were all waiting for the change everyone knew was never going to happen.

The old man unlocked his front door and entered the parlor. It was flooded with silence. He flicked on the light switch, praying that there had not been another apagon. He sighed with relief when the room was illuminated by a faint light. No power outage that day, he thought. He entered the kitchen and pulled out a chair, setting the wrinkled lily down on the table before him. He tried to smooth out its fragile petals in vain. He began to stand, deciding to turn on the light in the kitchen before remembering that the lightbulb had burnt itself out days before, and he had not been able to find lightbulbs anywhere. He sat back down.

The weak evening light seeped into the kitchen as the old man sat at his table. He waited, like he always did on the first of every month, for the phone on the wall to ring. He prayed that when his son called the line would not die. He hoped that he could hear him properly. He knew how difficult it was to call. The old man could not afford it either. So, he waited, and although the phone hardly rang anymore, Miguel had never broken his promise.

Ibrahim Delgado glanced around at the empty kitchen. He saw the cracked tile counter and the peeling paint on the wall above the refrigerator. He saw the holes in the towel he used to dry the dishes. He saw the chipped plate he used three times a day sitting on the counter. The phone rang, and the old man lifted himself with a grunt. He shuffled to the phone and picked it up from the receiver. Miguel sounded far away, but he could hear his son’s voice nonetheless. He listened with a heavy heart as his son told him about his life in a country he had never seen. His grandson was doing well in school. His daughter-in-law was pregnant with their second child. The pride radiated through the phone and Ibrahim Delgado beamed at the news. His heart twisted itself in his chest.

“Papi? Can you hear me?” Miguel was asking him.

“Yes, Miguel. I’m here, mijo.”

“You’re quiet today, Papi. Are you feeling well? How was your day? How are your chickens?”

“I’m fine. We’re all fine. What are you doing, Miguel?”

“I’m making dinner, Papi. Have you eaten today?”

The old man glanced at his refrigerator. It only contained two eggs and a bottle of water. “I have. What are you cooking?”

Ropa vieja. Plátanos fritos. You know, the usual.” Miguel chuckled.

“Fried plantains.” The old man repeated.

“Tastes just like home.” He heard Miguel laugh once more.

“Home.” The word felt strange in Ibrahim Delgado’s mouth. For a minute, he said nothing more.

“Papi?”

“They cut down the tree, mijo.”

Miguel was quiet. “I’m sorry, Papi.”

“Everything, Miguel. The entire park was demolished.”

“I know how many memories you had there, Papi. Nobody can take that away from you. You know that.”

The old man coughed. “You’re right about that, mijo.”

Miguel did not speak. He tried to picture his father on the other line, most likely standing in his battered kitchen, in the same clothes he wore every single day. He knew his father was not telling him the full magnitude of the situation.

“Miguel?” The old man took a deep breath.

“I’m here, Papi.”

“Is it difficult to go to Canada?”

“What?”

Ibrahim Delgado gazed at the faded photograph on the refrigerator door. “I want to go, Miguel. To Canada, I mean.”

“Are you sure, Papi?”

The old man sighed. “Yes, mijo. Like you said, I’ll keep my memories with me wherever I go. That’s all that matters. I think your mami would understand.”

 


SILVANA MORALES is an undergraduate student at Concordia University, currently studying a double major in Creative Writing and Religious Studies. She has a passion for writing both prose fiction and poetry. As a Latina writer, Silvana uses writing to explore and stay connected to her roots. She also wishes to provide a different cultural perspective in the writing industry.

Copyright © 2019 by Silvana Morales. All rights reserved.

 

‘The Fringes’ by Vera Oleynikova

The FringesIllustration by Andres Garzon

 

In 2010, I moved into a place that nobody in their right mind would want to live in—a second-story walk-up in a crumbling building on one of the worst streets in St. Henri. It was an apartment haphazardly cobbled together from odds and ends. Leftovers from other projects became slanted paint-stained floors and grey linoleum panels where a ceiling should have been. This ceiling wasn’t entirely solid. The panels lifted up when poked. The building’s foundation was sinking. Something or someone had chewed at the walls. The people who lived here last must have had pit bulls, like everyone else on the street. My friends politely declined to visit and when I showed them pictures of my new place, they asked me if it was a squat.

“No, I pay rent,” I insisted.

My downstairs neighbours were a young, married Spanish-speaking couple and their newborn son. You could tell they were horrified by their surroundings but were too polite to say anything. Every day I watched the husband set off for English classes in the morning, with a backpack and a plastic coffee mug. He looked determined. The same toughness emitted from his wife’s face as she pushed her baby stroller up and down St. Ferdinand on her own, ignoring the yapping dogs that at any moment could have broken through the flimsy fences.

The wife never integrated with the other new mothers on the street—the ones who asked me to buy them a bottle of rum the first day I moved in. I did and watched from my balcony as they passed the bottle around while their children drew on the sidewalk in pastel chalk.

One day I watched the young couple push a twin mattress out their window. Through the same window, I watched a new queen-sized bed being assembled. They weren’t going to be staying in St. Henri for very long. They had too much aspiration for upward social mobility. You could picture them in the suburbs many years later, comfortably settled; in their backyard, with BBQ burgers and margaritas, regaling their friends and neighbours with the story of their very first mattress in Canada, and other such quirky anecdotes about slumming it on the bottom rung.

It came as no surprise that they left without saying goodbye. A French-Canadian single mother of three moved into their apartment. I don’t remember much about her. Only that I thought she was pretty and one of her children was named Brunette. Her only possession, apart from her clothes and the baby clothes, was a huge flat-screen TV. I know this because she didn’t have curtains.

My neighbours across the hall sold pot and eventually got arrested. Even so, my landlord insisted that the building consisted of “mostly students.” It was flattering that he found me so upstanding as to have to lie like that.

St. Henri doesn’t come to mind when you think of the good things about Montreal. I couldn’t tell you why I loved it there. It had nothing to do with the draw of post-collegiate poverty tourism. I’ve lived in other working-class neighbourhoods. And some sub-working-class neighbourhoods. I’ve lived in buildings with appliances in the front yards, windows that wouldn’t open, doors that stuck, landlords that were never there, neighbours who looked either frightened or frightening; where men in sneakers were always shuffling in and out and passersby looked like they hadn’t known a day of joy in their lives. That wasn’t what I was after. Nor was it the French-Canadian joie de vivre that I was so taken with. Hell, I barely even like Montreal. It’s cold and cruel and unforgiving in a small-town sort of way. Past mistakes hang in the air like a thick fog. In a larger, faster city, the bad air would have long dissipated. Your wrongdoings would be broken up and sent in a dozen different directions by the city’s massive subway system. People would have forgotten because they’d be too busy worrying about what to do with their own dirty laundry. But not in Montreal: where everyone’s so laid back and no-one’s ever too busy to point out that dumb thing you did years ago–where you wear your past like a beehive over your head.

Out of town friends ask whether there is anything there. “Is there a landmark? Something I would notice?” Well, as far as amenities go, there’s a strip club, with a sleazy dive bar adjacent. There’s a Dollarama and a pharmacy, a bank and all of that normal stuff. Maybe there is more than the usual number of futon stores. There’s a farmer’s market near the flossier quarters. More importantly, there are train tracks and memories and overdue library books I still have.

The trains brought with them a special kind of traveller; punk kids that fashioned outfits out of fur and aluminum cans and settled around the Fattal Lofts, which was a microcosm all its own. But I didn’t interact with them much, apart from picking up their empties some mornings to return for small change.

“But what’s it known for?” Factories. Factories that used to make all sorts of stuff and then stopped and now exist as is, like dinosaur carcasses, decaying beautifully. There is something peaceful about that. About being in a place where purposelessness and empty lots still exist.

They call it the working class but I didn’t know too many people who actually worked. Meaning that, in the summertime, you got the sense that somewhere someone was drinking sangria on their porch and you could probably join them if you really wanted to. There was always a sense of adventure. That something might happen. Something fun! You might meet someone who shares your views on stuff!

People kept their doors open; let you peek inside their lives. From the street, you could see tiny, well-loved kitchens or bedrooms with fleur-de-lis flags and TVs they don’t make anymore. I liked that. I liked the way it was slightly cut off from the rest of the world. It felt like living in the fringes. I liked the way the sidewalks were cracked and bumpy and uneven. It was a place where you would occasionally see a dead cat on the street. People hung their laundry outside to dry. Everywhere you looked you’d see evidence of lives being lived.

I lived there for a year. Not nearly enough time to claim it as my own. Maybe I haven’t lived in too many other places. Maybe NOLA is nice and Detroit is nice but I can’t get my shit together enough to get a passport and find out. My mom came from Toronto to help me pack the place up. My very accommodating landlord wasn’t so much concerned with cleaning the place (we both knew this was impossible) as me just getting all the stuff out of there. My mom had a real flair for throwing out my favourite things and packing up just the trash.

“This is no way for a person to live,” she observed sharply.

By the time we were done, there was so much garbage, my curb space alone couldn’t contain it. So, we started putting my trash on other people’s curbs. We snuck a little bit of garbage, just a bag here, a bag there, into everyone’s piles, until the whole street was overflowing with my garbage. My whole life spread out like that.

The next morning the garbage man diligently shoved everything into his truck. Mostly everything; throwing my old couch in with one arm. After he was done, some of the garbage was still strewn about the street. I recognized a mannequin’s leg and a plethora of pizza flyers I was supposed to deliver for a local deli, lining the sidewalks.

I moved back to suburban Toronto to live with my parents. There I was confronted by houses and people and dogs and strangers that all spoke different languages. And roofs that all looked the same. And past that suburb was one just like it, but with a different name. I no longer saw pitbulls. Not that I particularly like pit bulls. I just got used to seeing them. They are a part of the scenery that I have grown accustomed to, like the chirping of birds. In the suburbs, there were no sounds here that I recognized as familiar. The noises that I was used to were gone: the train tracks, the dogs, the elderly French-Canadian couple yelling at one another, the police sirens that made me sit straight up in the middle of the night.

Suburban dogs don’t yap or snap. They wag their tails; they obediently follow their owners. They don’t try to jump over the fences. In the suburbs, people tried very hard to be nice to me, and I tried very hard to be nice back. I made small talk with those people. I smiled and said, “thank you.” I was overly gracious with them because I didn’t care about their dreams.

I am no longer in the fringes because when you live in the fringes, it’s acceptable not to work and to drink rum in the daytime and live off of dollar store chocolate. And what’s more, I heard some kid from Fattal built a fully functioning guillotine. The welding shop on Rosa De Lima takes apprentices sometimes if you were looking for something to do. The graffitied walls of the Death House. In the fringes, I’d walk to the dep to get coffee at 8am and would end up at a bonfire that was still going. The old couple down the block who sat outside their house playing cards and drinking Coronas day in and day out. They’ve been doing this for the last 35 years and will continue to do so until their dying day. For them, the sun rises differently. More happiness is possible.

 


VERA OLEYNIKOVA is a set and costume designer, props master, carpenter and freelance writer currently living in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Though Catalog, The McGill Daily, The L Magazine and online music publications.

Copyright © 2019 by Vera Oleynikova. All rights reserved.

‘Sweaty Hands’ by Jude Klaassen

I can’t feel the dish soap or the knives, I can’t hold onto plates.
All I can do is imagine fucking a pen against paper, like
11 year old genitals against couch pillows.

I can’t hold anything, I drop dishes, I drop pens,
I sit on top my fingertips
that tingle and hurt numb.

I can smell co-dependence off the couple at the bar,
but maybe it’s the dishwater still on the utensils, maybe the beer stained glasses.
In any case, she’s leaning – woman

get away from him he’s not leaning back.
The bathroom is upstairs, and the pain in the center
of your gut isn’t just a UTI.

At home she’s creating a dream state on top the length of my fingers
which I poured all my trauma into.
I’m already out and she’s pushing me further out with frantic droning about the seasons.

I tell her September’s shit, the pavement’s still lukewarm.
Wait for January, it’s iced for sweaty hands
that sweat numb everything.

I’m reconnecting with my hands in my mouth,
and down my pants sometimes.
It has a lot to do with balance.

We lie in bed, hands down our pants.
We kiss but not much else, we sleep naked,
but if we’re lucky we’ll pass out in our jeans, smelling like poutine and beer.

Instead, I tell her I can feel my muscles to my bones, which I can’t feel at all.
Instead before we sleep, I ask her to cradle my hands in hers
so I can feel her sweat instead of my own.

 


JUDE KLAASSEN is a Creative Writing student at Concordia University. They love sonnets and combining their enthusiasm for craft and writing into zines. They tend to write about bathrooms, bodies, and disconnect.

Copyright © 2019 by Jude Klaassen. All rights reserved.