‘A Pleasant Valley Sunday’ by Lorraine Kiidumae

Valley Sunday

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

“I kept thinking how marvelous it would be if I could somehow tear my heart,
which felt so heavy, out of my chest.”
― Anton Chekhov

 

I knew it. I knew what she was up to the minute I heard she was going to Florida by herself—a piece of trash, I say—one of those women who just can’t stick with it.

It was circa 1967 at our house in Oakville, Ontario, and those were my first thoughts as I sat, telephone in hand, listening to my friend Donna. She was talking about her mother, Mrs. Fritz.

Next door, in the Fritz’s back yard, their fourteen-year-old golden-haired cocker spaniel, Ginger, had prompted Donna’s call. She’d been pacing back and forth on top of a layer of ice and fresh snow for the last two hours, tied to the clothes line, the fur on her toes soaking wet, a high-pitched whine emitting continuously from her lungs.

“I mean, what mother goes off and leaves her children alone for six weeks in the middle of winter?” I thought. “And now, poor Donna has to do all the housework too, on top of her homework, and she’s only just shy of thirteen, not even!”

“Well, I guess she was in love then. That’s what she told me, anyway,” Donna said, wearily.

I, like my mother, was not one to get involved in the messiness of other people’s lives, so I said nothing. But imagine how that must feel—too be responsible for someone else’s death, and he, the father of your own children. It was such a shock—there was no indication at all of heart trouble—or, so they said; what a pity. It’s only nine months since she left, and just three weeks before Christmas too. But I guess there’s no accounting for love then, is there? Still, for Donna and Kevin, it must have been a terrible thing, living in the shadow of another person’s sorrow.

Ginger let out a howl and started to yelp, tugging her leash against her neck. “You’d think someone would take pity on that poor dog,” I thought.

“I can’t stand it any longer. If she hasn’t stopped crying in the next ten minutes, I’m calling the SPCA,” Donna said. “And that’s that.” She pronounced this so loudly it made me jump.

“Oh no, Donna, really? No, don’t do that. You poor thing, you’ve been through enough. She’s just pining. Animals do that, you know; set to wailing. I’ll come over and walk the dog, bring Ginger over here for a bit,” I cooed, trying to smooth things over. “I have a bit of homework left to do, but I’ll be over as soon as I’m done.”

Poor Donna—her brother Kevin up and left her by herself, went off to practice football with his coach. She’d been out running errands again, picking up something for dinner.

“Oh, all right then,” Donna said.

It was Mrs. Fritz who used to walk the dog, to keep her girlish figure, she said. But Mr. Farnsworth, it seems, can’t abide dogs licking at him, he abhors them, and Ginger is just too old to move anyway; so they abandoned her too, on top of everything else.

I went down to the basement, pretending I was going to do my homework, softly closing the door behind me. I sat on the stool next to the record player and put on my album. My first and only album—“The Monkees,” a gift from Donna for my twelfth birthday. I had a poster of them pasted to the wall in my room. I picked up the needle and moved it along to the third song, my favourite, ‘I want to be free, like the bluebirds flying by me.’

Days in our house were usually pretty serene: Not a lot of tension. Not a lot of high drama or emotion either.

This was in direct contrast to how things used to be at Donna’s house. At Donna’s house there used to be life—laughter, music, lights on all the time, the perfect white bedroom set in Donna’s room. And her father, Mr. Fritz, he was the captain of our Saturday night sleep-overs, at the helm in their small, windowless, galley-style kitchen, laughing, smiling. Popcorn made from scratch, rubbing the pot slowly and patiently back and forth over the glowing red element of the stove, salted and poured over with freshly melted butter; we licked our fingers, hand-stirred frozen lemonade, ice cold.

Mr. Fritz was a little portly, with darkish hair, wavy and thick, not handsome in a traditional sort of way, but amiable, a tease, there in his black apron—a gift from Donna last Christmas, ‘The Grillfather’ printed in red letters on the front. He seemed happy in comparison to the composed, reserved countenance of my own father; serious-minded, with a wry, English wit. Things used to seem more fun at Donna’s place.

Mrs. Fritz was the serious-minded one in their house—a school teacher, always dressed tidily in a skirt and stockings, a blouse and sweater; cold as a dead fish. She was slender and would have been pretty—very pretty—if she’d smiled more often. An underlying discontent enveloped her, a judgmental air of Mr. Fritz’s playfulness with his children, and she, the authoritarian, glowered mostly in the background, intervening with directives on teeth-brushing and other disciplinary matters. A swat on Kevin’s bare legs with a belt when he’d delivered some perceived verbal slight on his way out the door to football practice.

Collectively, they were a handsome family, always well-dressed. Kevin, blond, like his mother, and more manly-looking than Mr. Fritz. Donna, tall and slender like Mrs. Fritz, her hair a honeyed blend of her mother and father’s hair colours—boy-crazy.

My family had a sort of blandness about us; faded clothes, loosely worn, handed down from one child to another, the same dark hair; no bright sports uniforms or dressing up for Sunday roast dinner at the dining room table; no formalities to be adhered to; no parental control or expectations hovering over us as we did our homework.

Mr. Fritz was an insurance agent, or he worked for an insurance agency. Anyway, I’m not really sure what he did. His best friend, Mr. Farnsworth, worked there too; they had met there, both just out of university and beginning their careers. And Mr. Farnsworth came to their house often; sometimes stayed for Sunday dinner. I was never asked to stay for Sunday dinner, that was reserved for family, and for Mr. Farnsworth. I was there though, on a few occasions, when Mrs. Fritz would come to life on those Sunday mornings after our sleep-overs, and she would occupy Mr. Fritz’s spot at the helm in the kitchen. It seemed odd: she would move in, after Mr. Fritz had made us breakfast, flipping pancakes on the griddle, our favourite radio station playing with bacon popping in the cast iron frying pan.

We would help Mr. Fritz wash and dry the dishes afterwards, clean up the mess while we danced to the music playing on the radio…‘it’s another Pleasant Valley Sunday, Here in status symbol land, Mothers complain about how hard life is, And the kids just don’t understand’…laughing as we bumped hips in time to the music, Ginger running in circles after us.

“Hurry up Howie,” Mrs. Fritz would command through the doorway, anxious to get started on the roast.

While she waited, she laid the table purposefully as always; first freshly ironing a white lacy table cloth, then flicking it across the table, straightening and tightening it at the corners. Dishes were brought out from the china cabinet; not the round grey tumblers and white melamine Donna and I used from the kitchen—these were crystal glasses and white china plates with a gold rim on the edges; candle light; bottles of good red wine (according to Mr. Fritz, as he dutifully removed them from the sideboard in the dining room).

As the afternoon progressed, so did Mrs. Fritz’s mood; elevated, it seemed, by the anticipation of the Sunday roast;  peeling vegetables over the sink, a crisp floral apron tied tidily over her clothes. Once the pork or beef was in the oven surrounded by onions and carrots and quartered potatoes; cooking slowly at 325 degrees, to meld the flavours together, Mrs. Fritz would dress for dinner, which was held early at five o’clock.

She soaked in a hot bath, lingering to massage and relax herself, and to seep the scent of onions from her fingertips, she said. She always wore a dress those Sundays rather than a skirt and blouse; either sleeveless, or with small sleeves just over the shoulders in blue or cream brocade. The length of the dress highlighted her still youthful figure, her hip bones, the curve of her breasts. All accompanied by a string of pearls at her throat and matching earrings –understated sensuality.

Once, I was just leaving as Mr. Farnsworth arrived (looking attractive, suntanned, charming, as always—Donna running to greet him, throwing her arms around his waist), Mrs. Farnsworth having begged off with the flu. The mild flicker of a smile was in the corners of Mrs. Fritz’s mouth as she removed one place setting from the table, her look willing me out the door. “Time to go home,” it said, “little pitchers have big ears.” I was self-conscious, in my Saturday faded navy cotton pants and runners.

“Bye Donna, bye Mr. Fritz!” It never seemed necessary to address Mrs. Fritz, for it seemed as though she were only half there.

 

For years afterwards, I would carry that image of a woman who would leave her husband for another man; for her husband’s best friend. A woman who from then on seemed in a distinctly different category than all the other mothers I had known—a woman with an aura of scandal, a defiance of conformity, a possible hint of instability and yet, an underlying air of excitement too. I didn’t yet see the danger of such women.

“It must have been dreadful for the poor man, coming home, in the middle of the afternoon like that,” I said to Donna, later.

Mrs. Fritz had called in sick to the school where she worked the next day, and they brought in a supply teacher. Mr. Fritz came home on his lunch hour to check up on her, to make sure she was all right, to make her a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Afterwards the light and noise and music seemed to disappear from Donna’s house. It all disintegrated so quietly: Mrs. Fritz leaving, packing only a few suitcases. The lacy cloth still hung on the dining room table from yesterday’s Sunday dinner on that rainy and dreary Monday afternoon. Was Mr. Fritz suspicious of Mr. Farnsworth’s absence from the office? Or was he really intent on retrieving some aspirin from the medicine cabinet, as he had said, nursing a splitting headache from the two bottles of wine the three had shared at last night’s Sunday dinner—where Mrs. Fritz had slipped off her patent leather high heeled shoes, stretched out and crossed her nylon-stockinged legs underneath the table and rubbing her feet together, slid one foot up Mr. Farnsworth’s pant leg, caressing his shins. Mr. Farnsworth had over-stayed his welcome and the placid Mr. Fritz had left the table and gone to bed early, leaving them there to clean up the residual mess.

Mr. Farnsworth left his home quietly too, Donna said, although, to me, this did not seem nearly as tragic. I had never even seen Mrs. Farnsworth.

There were no more Saturday sleep-overs; no more popcorn or frozen lemonade in round grey tumblers; no more watching movies or the vampires in Dark Shadowson television in Donna’s private, white, perfect bedroom; no Sunday pancakes and bacon, no dancing in the kitchen.

Afterwards, each night after work and on most week-ends, Mr. Fritz would lie down and never get back up again. He took to his bed in the bedroom he’d shared with Mrs. Fritz, with the dark wooden furniture, where he had found her with Mr. Farnsworth. He was always there whenever Donna and I went to her house after school. Donna was often frightened then, fretting constantly and didn’t want to go through her front door alone, so I always went in with her.

When we came around the corner from the living room and past the bedroom door, Mr. Fritz would be there, with all of the lights out, lying still in the darkness on his back with his hands folded on his rotund belly. Over the weeks we watched his hands lower as his stomach slowly receded.

“My Dad is doing pretty good,” Donna whispered, “but he is very lonely.”

He functioned well enough to go to work each day—Mr. Farnsworth had whisked off to Elliot Lake with Mrs. Fritz for a job as a used car salesman. Mr. Fritz summoned the energy to soldier on, working seven to three so he would be there when Donna and Kevin got home from school; standing in front of the stove in a sort of stupor, skimming off greying foam from a pot of over-boiled potatoes, a withered-looking wooden spoon poking through the surface. I couldn’t bear to meet his eyes. He did not appear to find solace in his children, as one might expect, for he and Mrs. Fritz having never seemed that close. I suppose it had all hummed along somehow, like it was supposed to; that last Sunday dinner, to me, seemed picture perfect.

The day before it happened there had been a storm with freezing rain that coated everything with a good, thick sheet of ice. All the hydro lines on our street were broken. Trees cracked and their limbs fell across the road and blocked traffic. We’d been off school and without electricity for thirteen and a half hours. The power finally came back on at 9:45 p.m. The next day, it was a Tuesday, the fourth of December, and we went back to school. Mr. Fritz wasn’t feeling well and after he dropped us off at the front door, he said he was going back home to bed. He was still lying there when Donna and I walked into the house after school.

That lace tablecloth was still there, getting dusty by then and greying. The lights in the house were out, and nothing seemed unusual except for the cold air blowing in through Mr. Fritz’s open window. Donna and I made our way to the bedroom door and stood for a few moments. Far away I thought I heard a window close.

“Dad?” Donna said, as she crept to the foot of his bed. We heard a wheeze and a groan and looked closely at the top of the mattress. Ginger was lying at the foot of the bed, alert, protecting Mr. Fritz, and we realized the sounds were coming from her. But Donna already knew that her father was dead, and she screamed and searched him for movement where there was none.

For years, I didn’t remember Donna’s screams or her anguish. I remembered I stepped out into the hallway, as though I were waiting for something too. But I knew that it was over, like a crime that could not be undone. And I thought then, and now know this to be true: that nothing, nothing in the name of love should ever feel that bad.

 

In my mind’s eye I can still see Mr. Fritz there, lying on his bed, frozen in time with his face swollen with bitterness; and yet, a look of magnanimity graces his countenance too. His heart had given out on him, Donna was later told. But when she’d known back then, that he was gone, she’d continued to scream. Holding her arms around her waist, she stayed there rocking, bobbing up and down. And then she finally slunk to the floor into the fetal position; she lifted her hands to her face and began to sob, and she screamed and screamed until no more sound came out.

 


LORRAINE KIIDUMAE is a graduate of the Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio, fiction cohort, and the Humber School for Writers. Her work has appeared in Emerge, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, the anthology Emails From India, Bandit Fiction(UK), the Nashwaak Review, and the Scarlet Leaf Review. She has forthcoming publications in The Maple Tree Literary Supplement and The Path (USA).

Copyright © 2019 by Lorraine Kiidumae. All rights reserved.

‘The Divan Doesn’t Lie’ by Marjorie Silverman

In your waiting, the
weight of (my) history
weight of (my) body
weight of you
behind (me)
silent

I want to kill.
I want to kill the
part of me that
wants to kill.
I want to be wantless,
weightless

Instead. I
bury. I
suffocate. While
orange flowers
bloom outside
your window.

 


MARJORIE SILVERMAN is a former Montrealer now based in Ottawa. She is an emerging writer whose work has been published in The Maynard and Bywords. She is currently working on a book-length poetry manuscript. Marjorie is also a professor of social work at the University of Ottawa.

Copyright © 2019 by Marjorie Silverman. All rights reserved.

‘Fall from Grace’ by RJ Belcourt

Fall from Grace

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

I was raised on a farm just outside a village nestled like a shirt button in a valley on the Canadian Shield. Most of the wage-earners in this Northern Ontario community worked at nearby nickel mines. My childhood was relatively normal until one autumn afternoon in 1972. I was twelve. Forty-five years later, the horror I witnessed that day still haunts me. My mother, who turns ninety this year, likely has no recollection of the event, unaware of the psychological trauma she inflicted. My perception of my sweet, loving Maman has never been the same.

Every Sunday morning, I’d crawl out of bed, put on my best clothes and, unwillingly, accompany my parents to church. My mother adored Mass. Like a newborn suckling breast milk, she eagerly absorbed every word spewing from the priest’s lips.

I recall the floral scent of her perfume—that sweet smell of wild lavender. Looking up at her from the bench, I couldn’t help but admire her. She was so beautiful in her best dress, her painstakingly arranged auburn hair and her ruby red lips. In those moments I couldn’t imagine she was anything but perfect—an angel.

Despite her beauty, time in church seemed to drag on forever. Uncomfortable, confined and bored, I squirmed around, only half sitting on the hard-wooden pew. I fidgeted with the prayer book and played with the kneeler until the inevitable look of scorn my mother glared at me. An omen, a silent warning of decidedly unpleasant consequences to come.

My father, stiff in his good suit, sat next to my mom. He left the disciplining of the children to her and made no effort to bond with any of us. He was a proud, hardworking man who, despite his faults as a father, managed to provide his family with the necessities: food, clothing, shelter. He fought emotional demons his entire life and sought relief from his tormentors in the bottle. He loved spending time with relatives and friends. Unfortunately, as far as he was concerned, any socializing had to include drinking. Alcoholism established a rhythm in our lives, each drunken episode an orchestrated symphony based on a familiar recurring motif.

My father’s periods of drunkenness affected us to varying degrees, and we dealt with them differently. One child reacted with anger, another with compassion, or hatred, resentment, understanding or pity. Mom’s unwavering devotion to my father, and the care with which she helped him through his weeks of binge drinking and the painful withdrawals that followed, were undeniably fueled by her faith in God. The agony my mother endured during those dark periods was reason enough for me to consider her a martyr.

One lazy Saturday morning, all of my impressions of my lovely mother were about to be broken. I was lying on the green shag carpet in the living room, chin in hands raised on my elbows, watching cartoons. I was interrupted by Mom’s voice from the kitchen.

“Raymond, why don’t you turn that thing off and come over to the Larose’s with me?” asked my mother with enthusiasm.

“Aww, Mom. Bugs Bunny is starting. Do I have to?” I whined.

“C’mon, it’ll be fun. We’re making sausage and I could use your help.”

“Can I bring my comics? I have a couple I want to trade with Yvon.”

“Sure, but no trading until after we’re done the work,” she answered.

Mom grabbed a big ceramic bowl, a wooden spoon and a large knife from the kitchen, and out the door we went. We walked up the driveway and the short distance along the highway to the neighbor’s farm. To my surprise, Mom led me past the Larose’s house itself straight to the barn.

Mr. Larose and my father were already at the barn waiting for us. They were leaning against an old plow, chewing the fat—my father with a cigarette in one hand and a ball peen hammer in the other. Mom instructed me to wait outside. Handing me the utensils, she walked into the barn with my father and Mr. Larose.

A few quiet minutes later, I was startled out of my comic by a chorus of high-pitched squeals. Curious, I set the comic down and opened the barn door to find my father and Mr. Larose both in the pig pen. My father was desperately trying to herd a half dozen piglets into a corner, while Larose approached them with his ball peen hammer cocked. My mom, standing at the pen’s gate with her arms flailing, shouted instructions. Larose swung hard, but missed his target, the hammer glancing off the side of a piglet’s head. The poor animal, screeching in pain, scrambled back into the pack. Cursing, Mr. Larose lined himself up for a shot at another piglet. This time the hammerhead landed directly in the middle of the piglet’s forehead. The animal went down as if its legs had been cut from under it and rolled onto its back. My mother ran into the pen of screaming piglets. Grabbing the injured piglet by the back leg, she drug it out of the pen, past me and out the barn door.

“Raymond, come quick,” she hollered. “Fetch me the knife. Bring the bowl and spoon.”

I ran to do her bidding. Kneeling on the ground, she took the piglet by the snout with her left hand and pulled its head up and back, over its shoulders.

“Slide the bowl under the neck,” she commanded. She tightened her grip on the knife with her other hand.

Before I could question what was happening, the sharp blade sliced deep across the pig’s neck. A stream of blood sprayed through the air, staining my jeans bright red. In shock, I stood watching a stream of blood pouring from the animal’s throat into the bowl, aware that the piglet was unconscious, not dead. The pulse of the spewing blood slowed with the rhythm of the piglet’s failing heart.

In disbelief, I stared at the nightmare unfolding before me. My body froze in place, not fully comprehending what my mother just did. I felt lightheaded and my ears began to buzz.

“Raymond?”

“Huh?” I muttered, in a daze.

“Raymond! Take the wooden spoon and stir the blood.”

“What? What are you doing, Maman? Stir the blood? No!”

“Don’t be silly. Quick. Stir it up or it won’t clot evenly,” she explained.

As if in a trance, I followed her orders; kneeling down, I dipped the head of the spoon in the warm blood.

“Why are we doing this, Maman? This is sick—just sick,” I exclaimed. I couldn’t keep my hand from shaking as I stirred the thickening liquid.

“This is how we make sausage,” she answered matter-of-factly.

The flow of blood from the piglet’s throat having slowed to a trickle. She grabbed one of the rear legs and began moving it up and down like a pump handle. The blood gushed with every pump, getting weaker until the bleeding, and the horror, stopped.

The sweet, metallic smell of the blood made saliva rise in the back of my throat and I fought the urge to vomit.

“Sausage? I don’t understand. This is blood.” I choked, gagging.

“Of course. Piglet blood mixed with bits of apples and raisins makes the best black sausage.”

“I think I’m going to be sick. Can I go now?”

“Yes, I can finish up,” answered my mom, laughing to herself.

“I will never, ever eat black sausage again as long as I live.”

Despite all of her church worshipping and care-taking, from that day on Mom was no longer the angel I imagined her to be. God would not—could not—approve of such a disgusting ritual, even if it was for sustenance. What I witnessed was nothing less than barbaric and evil.

The following day I attended Sunday mass with her as always, but on that occasion, I took a moment from my distractions to ask God to forgive my mom for the black sausage massacre and to save her soul. I hope, for her sake, He was listening.

 


RJ BELCOURT‘s discerning eye for landscapes and natural forms most likely grew out of his love of nature, which developed at an early age. In 2008, he collaborated in the publication of a small book of Haiku poems and photos entitled “Haiga Moments.” His photos were featured in the book and received positive reviews from both Daily Haikuand Book Review. Ray collaborated with a number of provincial artists on a project that combined mixed media art featuring landscapes from across Canada. A book of the paintings was released in 2012 and now is being re-released with a few added pages in conjunction with the publishing of the art featured in Our Canada magazine Dec/Jan 2019 Issue. Ray is now pursuing writing and publishing short stories as well as his first full length novel, “Blood Cove.”

Copyright © 2019 by RJ Belcourt. All rights reserved.

‘exercise 1’ by Cayden Johnson

no words exist in a room without boundaries
in the sense that people breathe underwater
a large open window lets daylight into the white room
transparent fabric hangs a metre in front of the glass
the fabric is not a blind
the words are not a line
they live inside the anti-sentence
in messy vers libre no one respects
inside the cement floor are letters
you can bend down to pick them up
but will notice they slither away to form faces
tiny images descend into the hard surface
on the sheet stained with sweat
appears one strung-together phrase
plucked from a voice that allows us to understand
what barriers we want to cross
discussions important to our time
the fabric does not consult google
letters move up its sheer texture like kids on a rope
this energy spells while tongues choose their own direction
return to where the letters came through quick-sand cement
or crawl out the window like a high-rise burglar
with the wisdom of sage and the innovation of consequence

 


CAYDEN JOHNSON practices experimental poetry and photography. She is an MFA candidate at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. Her poems have appeared on various art show ephemera. She currently works as a teaching assistant and freelance book editor.

Copyright © 2019 by Cayden Johnson. All rights reserved.

‘A Teaspoon of Water’ by Daniel Holden

Teaspoon of Water

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

We were about 500 kilometers from Thunder Bay when I had something of a gut feeling this was the place, we should stop the car. I pulled off the highway and Katherine stepped out of the car on the opposite side, clutching her arms together and hopping from one foot to the other in the cold. She looked around at the surrounding trees, the grassy patches next to the road, and the clouds moving overhead.

“We’re probably the first people to walk on this patch of road,” she said, “after the guys who actually built it.”

Getting out of the car had felt like stepping onto a running track. The exact same drop in temperature you get coming out of the changing room in just running shorts and t-shirt, with goosebumps running up your legs.

The road was a little raised up, and from that slight vantage point it was possible to see just how far the forest spread out around us. The tops of the green trees filtered into the dark blue setting-sun sky at regular intervals. It was truly endless – a vast expanse of pine needles and rounded birch leaves that stretched for thousands of kilometers uninterrupted all the way to the frozen arctic ocean.

“Well off we go,” said Katherine; smiling at me; stretching her arms over her head; looking back at me.

I took a step forward and stopped.

“Oh, I should probably lock the car. Will you grab a torch from the trunk as well in case it gets dark?

Katherine found the torch and delicately closed the trunk. I pressed the car key and the honk of the horn echoed off into the distance.

“Somehow I feel like that has made us less safe,” Katherine laughed, hopping up and down to shake off the stiffness from sitting for so long. “Some psychopath in a cabin in the woods probably heard that – now he knows we are here.”

“Or she.”

Katherine raised her eyebrows at me and smiled.

I was glad she was still in high spirits. It had been a long drive even to get this far, and we still had a few more hours to go before we got to Longlac where her brother lived.

“We probably shouldn’t stay too long unless we want it to be midnight by the time we arrive at your brother’s.”

“Okay, well let’s try to find the lake quickly then.”

We passed under the canopy and immediately the light softened under the shade of the leaves. I looked down and noticed Katherine’s beat up old trainers – the sides had almost completely torn away from the soles – the laces were now the only thing holding them together.

“I hope we see a bear, or a moose, or something – something rare at least,” said Katherine.

“Actually, a beaver would be the best. I’d rather see that than a bear. But even a raccoon would be good,” she added, smiling and turning to face me with a little skip of her feet, scuffing the pine needles across the ground.

“I’m happy just to get some fresh air – it was hot in that car, and it’s a beautiful evening. It seemed like a shame to let it all pass by out the window.”

To be honest, I was utterly exhausted from the drive. We’d been meaning to do this cross-country thing to visit her brother for a while, but the recent news about his diagnosis had really brought a sense of weight and urgency to organising the trip. We’d each decided to take a day off work the next weekend available and try to fit the whole thing into three days.

“First one to see the lake wins a prize,” Katherine said.

“Hey – you have an unfair advantage; you could see it on the GPS . . . what is the prize anyway?”

“Biggest cut of steak when we get to my brother’s.”

Katherine’s brother had been fighting pancreatic cancer for around a year. He had just received a particularly brutal session of chemotherapy after which he had been sent home to try and rest and recover. It was a battle we’d heard about from a distance, and although Katherine had flown to visit him in the hospital in Thunder Bay this was the first time I’d been to see him, and the first time I’d visited Longlac, Katherine’s childhood hometown, so, I was a little nervous about that too.

Thinking about Katherine’s brother, it was impossible not to reflect on the arc of my own life – and sitting in the car I had felt each second of it pass in painful tedium. As the car rumbled along the road, I had found myself imagining Katherine too – sitting in her plane flying to Thunder Bay. Reflected on her face was the light of the live flight map – the plane tracing out a perfect arc of its own over Canada – moving pixel by pixel at an intolerably slow glacial pace.

If anything, it just reinforced the importance of this visit – how could something like a phone call possibly portray even a fraction of the reality of what it all meant? What did “two weeks” of treatment really constitute?

Two weeks? Such a simple concept – but it is easy to forget that two weeks is actually made up of millions of one-second intervals, and each of those individual seconds need to be lived, even if they do not go remembered. Taking a twelve-hour drive across the middle of Canada does a much more effective job at portraying that.

“I see it!” said Katherine.

There was the lake, visible between the trees – long and thin as it had looked on the GPS. It was probably about five hundred meters long, running parallel to the road – maybe one hundred meters across.

We shakily mounted one of the large boulders that lined the shore. Yellow sunlight spread out softly over the deep, cold lake; bright highlights of the setting sun sliding over the surface as if it were covered in a layer of soft fur.

“Pretty beautiful, eh?” Katherine said.

Ahead of us, trunks of dead trees stood upright in ranks spreading out into the water, their peaks incrementally descending further below the surface. I could just about see the far shore, where the forest floor rose quickly, pines and birch trees filling in the little gaps until the undergrowth was no longer visible. Small rocky islands dotted the lake here and there, filled with raggedy, wind-blown trees, their roots gripping the gaps in the rocks. A sudden cold gust of wind hit us from across the lake and I was overcome with an unexpected feeling of loneliness.

“I guess we can just sit here? Looks as good a spot as any.”

We shuffled forward on the boulder, its gentle curve steadily pulling us down toward the water. We sat down and let our legs hang, the friction of our pants holding us in place.

Katherine took off her rucksack and pulled out a plastic container of pasta salad and a fork which she handed to me.

“Sorry, I know it’s not the ideal food for this beautiful moment.”

It really did look quite miserable – all steamed up from the car journey.

“Just the fact that you made anything at all is pretty great – it looks perfect.”

I took the plastic container and fork from her hands — I was starving.

“But imagine if we had the stuff for a barbecue right now on these rocks,” she replied, “that’s what we really need –the smell of smoke, oh, and that little bit of heat. Now that would be nice.”

“We can buy a small one to put in the car alongside the spare tire for next time,” I replied.

“Don’t forget the meat,” Katherine added, “if we put it with the snow shovel maybe we can keep it cold.”

She laughed, turning back to look at the view, kicking a little pebble and causing a small plop as it fell in the water sending ripples outward.

At the far end of the lake I noticed two loons together, tracing their arcs through the water, their own ripples spreading steadily out across the surface and interweaving with each other.

“Look, loons.”

“So, we aren’t the only ones enjoying the lake.”

The two loons dived, disappearing below the water in a single slick motion.

I looked down. Below us, I was surprised to see some small fish swimming around the shallow waters, their dark blobs hiding their tiny intricate detail and warm beating hearts.

The reality was, I thought, that even when we were driving on that long cold road to Longlac we were probably never really too far from some other beings, tracing their own arcs through the vastness of Canada; scuffing their own leaves across the forest floor, creating their own ripples in the lake; thinking about their own next meal. Our car was not the only grand arc out here. They were all out there – meeting and spinning in unison, bouncing off, passing by each other unchanged.

I thought of Katherine’s brother’s arc, far away in Longlac, weaving and twisting around all these others – visitors desperately spiraling around it, trying to pull it this way and that. But, like all of us, at some point his trajectory would end – it would thin out and fade away – and then there would be nothing for the other’s arcs to spin around, and they would fly out and away into the Canadian vastness again on their own paths.

I only hoped this – that Katherine’s arc would not spin out and away from me. There were times before when I had felt it happening, and it had taken concentration, understanding, and patience to stop her from spiraling out into that dark vastness; qualities I didn’t feel I possessed at that moment.

“There they are again,” Katherine said, pointing out over the lake to the loons. “Just popped up.”

The sun was getting lower now, and the sky starting to change color, filling the lake with a deep rich yellow. Golden light splashed around the corners of rocks, and I watched the lake water lap at the rocky slope below.

There was a curious pattern of erosion on the slope. It was covered in these small rounded rock pools about the size of a fist. For the next few minutes I ate Katherine’s pasta salad and watched the water swirl around them.

Then, almost before I could register it, I saw something; a tiny wave of water rippled around one of the small rock-pools and splashed down, spreading out in a pool of reflected golden sunlight.

It was the smallest quantity of lake water. About a teaspoon – lost almost the instant it had appeared – diffused back into the massive quantity of lake water. Compared to the rest of the water in the lake, compared to all the water on earth, it was nothing. Compared to a twelve-hour drive across Canada, the duration of a lifetime, compared to it all: it was something totally, completely, and immeasurably small.

But something about that moment swept over me and burned itself into me. Perhaps it was the quality of the sunlight that spread out like oil over the rocks; or the two loons drifting peacefully at the far side of the lake; or the presence of Katherine sitting and quietly eating beside me.

And, if I could zoom out on the arc-like cord of rope that my life had traced over Canada, that moment would be smaller than the smallest microscopic hair – dwarfed a thousand times over by everything surrounding it. Almost a single strand of atoms – sticking out of the rope at a right angle and shining under the light, there it was, as if under a microscope – that was what I had stopped the car for.

Katherine touched my hand.

“Hey, we should probably start heading back – it’s going to be dark soon.”

“Yeah, we do still have a few hours of driving to go.”

We packed away the plastic container and got up, walking back into the forest.

“Thanks for that,” said Katherine. “It was nice to have a change of pace. It took my mind off things a bit.”

She kicked her feet at some pinecones on the forest floor and they scattered in the dirt.

“Something about looking over that lake,” she added, “a change of perspective you know.”

The trees started to thin out and the road appeared in the gaps. We emerged from the trees and looked down the road. The car was there – sitting on the tarmac like some kind of spaceship as if it had descended from the night sky above.

Katherine walked around the passenger side, passing me the torch which I put back into the trunk.

I got in and started the engine. The instruments lit up. In a few more hours it really would feel like a spaceship. Once the light from the sky finally faded and the trees either side disappeared from view, we would be back in the void again, traveling again through the massive vastness of space at mammoth speeds.

“Will you message your brother and tell him we’ll be there in about three hours?”

“Three hours, Jesus, we really do still have some way to go.”

She looked heartbroken.

“At least we don’t have to get up early – just think about when we’ll be sitting out on his porch in the sunshine with some good food tomorrow,” I replied.

Katherine didn’t reply for a while. She started typing on her phone. I assumed she was messaging her brother. Eventually, she looked up at me with those big dark eyes I had come to recognize so familiarly.

“Do you think he’ll have the barbecue out?” She asked.

“I did see the lake first after all.”

 


DANIEL HOLDEN is a Machine Learning researcher working in the games industry in Montreal. Most recently he completed a collection of code poetry in collaboration with poet Chris Kerr, with additional poetry and visual artwork published in Battallion by Sidekick Books.

Copyright © 2019 by Daniel Holden. All rights reserved.

‘Empath’ by Brian Michael Barbeito

Empath

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

They killed the boy. Not a they, but a single person. ‘They’ is something people say but they mean one person. But words don’t matter.

I know right from looking at the poster of the missing boy that they killed him. The poster is frayed at the sides from the wind and salt air. It’s white. We are at the pier. There are staples along every side of the poster. Old papers have been taken down or lost. I look at the grain of the wood, they look like railway ties. But I don’t know what they are. They are posts. There is a post on the post. We have no money to get on the pier. There is a charge. I think we have lots of money, somewhere, much more money than the average person but maybe not as much as a millionaire. Maybe as much as a millionaire. Yes. Or close to that, but we have no money in the moment. We are in shorts and t-shirts. We didn’t know there was a charge to get on the pier. I won’t die. I fell in the water during the night and got taken out to sea and almost died, but they grabbed me and I lived. That was a long time before. Recently a man, perhaps someone like the one who killed the boy, asked me where I lived. This guy has a wife and two kids playing there. He is what they call clean cut, but he is dark.I lied and told him I lived ‘over there,’ and pointed to a different direction. He knew that I knew he was evil, a bad man, and he smirked and said that, “Oh, I don’t think you live over there, I think you live right there,” and he pointed to where I actually lived. There are many bad people around. Many people who smirk are bad. Not all, but many. I look out to the sea. We head back home along the beach because we brought no money with us. It is a long walk. But a nice one. I feel bad for the boy. He is about my age.

Zenith wants to kiss. She lives in a strange place and smokes cigarettes outside in a chair. She and her friend followed us out of a local supermarket once, and she called us over. I never met anyone that young who smokes. Secondly, I can’t figure out how her parents let her smoke. I don’t ask about it. I actually don’t talk much. But there was a boy on the other pier, and he was fishing and you could see that there were a lot of fish to be caught in this one area. I knew the lines were going to get tangled. This kid was alone. He was native to the area, a white guy with the sandy hair and a permanent tan. He smoked. And he smoked alone, so he wasn’t smoking to show off in front of his friends. The lines got tangled. He said, “I am starting to get pissed. I am starting to get pissed.” He kept saying this. I didn’t like him. He was too old for his age. He didn’t have a good aura but he is not a killer or something like that. He is just a bit of a selfish person. The lines become untangled and we are free of him. He can do what he wants. I kind of like the place and kind of want to get outta there at the same time. I like the night. I don’t always like the people. I can sense who they are: many good, some bad, some very bad. Zenith’s mouth tastes like cigarettes. She is not a very good kisser either. I don’t tell her that. She is beautiful and she is strange. I am strange and I find her strange. So, she must really be strange. We sit in a lot near the fire department on curbings so white they seem to shine in the night. The fire department is in the middle of all the motels. But I guess right there that they have to put the fire department somewhere.

It is morning. There are hurricane shutters on the windows, but they are open, unused. The sun comes in from somewhere over or beyond the Atlantic Ocean. The blimp goes past in the sky but not till a bit later. I forget where I am but then when I realize I am in my room it is like heaven. There will be a lot of trouble in the future. There is not a way that heaven can be much better. Even if it is, I would just as sure stay there in the room. I have my clothing and my homework because I keep going away from school for weeks and they assign me work: Do this chapter, answer questions 3 through 12 on this date, read this chapter on this date and answer only questions 3, 7, and 10. I never did any of it. I never opened a book. I never felt I was from earth in the first place and I definitely was not going to do their work. I was like a visitor. I can see the ships, a couple walking. There are the sounds of footsteps—you know this, you know this and how it is—most people do at some point; the smell of the suntan lotion and the sound continual and calming of the motor from the pool filter. A lizard somewhere on a screen or wall and the light and sun infiltrates all things well.

Sun.

But not for the boy.

Not anymore.

Sometimes my insides ache and it’s like either an otherworldly pain or a very worldly pain. I am not sure which. I go out then and swim in the sea. I have to pass metal railings and green stairways first. That sun is on everything. The sea is full of sand, coral, seaweed. I stand on the shore then sit down. The world becomes full of light but it’s not the light from the sky. It’s another type of light. I know this somehow. And besides, it happens at night. Night is not scary. It is holy. Day is also. Day and night are both good when there is light.

Darkness took the boy.

I go back to the pool. There is a man. He is a good man and he is an old man. He has a British accent. He is talkative. He keeps jumping off the diving board. Though I can swim well, I stay near the shallow end. He is thinking out loud but using me as an excuse to talk. This is what people do around me. I am blank. The most I can figure is two things—that he feels guilty for being there for some reason, and that he must have had a lot of friends or family in his life that were racist. He is fighting against that somehow. He keeps saying, “This here what you got going on is not a normal life. This is a millionaire’s life; this is how a millionaire must live. This is only how a millionaire spends his day.” He must not be a millionaire because he is obsessed with millionaires. Then he says, “If someone enjoys the day with their friend, and the friend is not white but maybe black, then people say, “Why you going along with that guy,” and in the right world you would say to them, “Too bad. He’s my friend and I don’t care and it doesn’t matter and we are friends and that’s it!”’ I just nod. I don’t know anything about it one way or the other. He has a feeling of what it would be like to be rich and to live also in a fair world. Then he disappears, not magically. Just finished his swim, going somewhere out to the beach or into the apartments. I don’t know which.

I am going to find Jimmi. He always used to be game for anything. He was the best at catching lizards and could spot them from far away. He said that some kids from a rival group of skateboarders threw his skateboard into highway traffic. I never knew if this was a story because everything he said was like that. Then, I supposed it could be true. Jimmi and I used to roam around, sometimes with Randi. Jimmi asked me once, right out loud, “Why do you go around with him?” and I just knew, the way you know some things. Randi was a fat kid in Jimmi’s eyes and slower plus uncool. I knocked on Jimmi’s door and his mother opened it. She looked at me and said, “Jimmi don’t live here no more.” My mother used to tell me that the men on the balcony on the top floor of Jimmi’s building were waiting for drugs to wash in from the ocean. She always said, “Look at those men, three men staring all day out to the sea with binoculars. And day in and day out. No way, no way that’s normal. What they are doing is waiting for a large shipment of drugs that was dumped from a boat and is supposed to wash up somewhere near here. When they see it, they will rush down.”I made my way back to the building and found myself in the front lobby because it was spacious and comfortable with long leather couches.

There is an older girl. Her name is Becky. She is about 15. She is talking to her friends. I am just someone’s kid brother or a boy, am practically invisible. She is energetic. We are all in the lobby. She looks older than her age and always has some story to tell. She is explaining to everyone something as I look out the window at green palm trees and the black cement and blue sky. “…and we try to come back in here from the road, and they said come in the car with us, get in the car, we’ll go for a drive…and I say no way, fuck that, I ain’t getting in a car with you, and I didn’t get in the car and they just sit there watching and we came up in here so I ain’t even going out there tonight . . .” And I look back at her and think she is okay—daring, sometimes up to trouble, but will be okay—she has a sense. Street smarts, as they call it.

It’s the boy who is not okay. And they are not talking about him, as in books and stores and movies. People are concerned with themselves, with their own day. But the boy could not protect himself. I know that the boy was good, better than good, and should not have been taken, though nobody should be taken. I try and take a deep breath. We have to go to church. The priest has a voice that is so slow and bored I wonder how he doesn’t fall over. But there is something about the benches and the light from the windows. I just stare around and soon can’t hear anything. There is an abandoned porch or something out there, by the wild trees whose names I don’t know. Later, Zenith will stand there with me. She says, “Does it bother you that I smoke?” No,” I lie, but it’s not exactly a lie. It’s cool overall. I don’t know. Her friend comes, a girl from England. Something is bothering Zenith but I don’t know what and will never know. They say goodbye and walk off, in a good way. I never see any of them again. Nothing bad happened, we just went separate ways.

I go back down the street and follow the grasses. There is no sidewalk and the walking is slightly dangerous, but people walk there anyway. One lady appears in the middle of the street, well dressed and either drugged or drunk. The cars stop to help and a man gets angry. “This is not a game!” he screams. He keeps calling out. What the hell does he want them to do, I wonder, let her get killed? I think to myself then the world is sunny but it is also a bad place. Then when some women try to calm and direct and help her, she gives them the middle finger, which makes everything about the world more complicated. I leave and go down to the sea, cutting across the restaurant parking lot. I am isolated but know I will be safe there and secure. I watch my favorite things, which have little or nothing to do with what the others like. I watch the curbs, white and shining, and the lights from the restaurant, how they are positioned just so. The trees they have planted have green palm leaves and, in the nights, lights shine on the trunks. It’s better than anything.

But I know the boy is dead.

Somehow, I head back to the gates that enter the pool area. There are old men coming back from swimming; towels, light conversations, easiness, no problem.

Later we are near the pier but in stores. The sun is bright. T-shirts with iron-on prints are popular. The smell of the store is beautiful—something about the fresh shirts, the ironing machine on nylon or cotton or whatever it is. I stand near a stucco wall and there is a teenager, a group, near a pickup truck parked where there is no parking allowed, practically in the doorway of a store, and the truck has a sticker that reads, “If it’s tourist season, why can’t we kill them?” These are rough people: shirtless, tanned boys, and girls in bathing suits. The leader puts his hand on one of the girl’s shoulders and says, “You left the party without saying goodbye last night.” She doesn’t answer. She looks down at the ground. I walk away, enter the t-shirt store. I look through the book of iron-on prints: surfboards, the sea, the sun, musical bands, sayings, all kinds of things. Then I see the one I want, a skull with snakes and flowers all around it. It should go on a black shirt, I think, but my mother reads my mind. Not really–not like I can sometimes read minds, but probably because I have stopped the page there.

She freaks. “You are NOT getting that. You are NOT wearing that. I am NOT buying that. If you think you wearing a shirt with a skull and snakes you can think again –NOT a chance.” I don’t say anything. I pick out something with an ocean and a sun and they make up the shirt and she pays and we leave and I am happy enough. There is a dive shop and I am obsessed with how the watches look. There is a red marker on all diver watches that is from the zero to twenty-minute mark. I watch the mechanical bridge go up. It leads to the intercoastal waterway. The sun is shining again, so brightly, upon everything. I wanted the shirt with the skulls. We walk into the day and disappear into the other stores and then the streets and the larger world, and my gift grows but it’s a good thing because the world is, although pretty, often also pretty bad. I am okay, but I am also restless. They find the boy soon. He was taken and killed. Someone took the posters at the pier down shortly after that.

 


BRIAN MICHAEL BARBEITO is a Canadian nature poet and landscape photographer. He is the author of Chalk Lines (Fowl Pox Press, 2013).

Copyright © 2019 by Brian Michael Barbeito. All rights reserved.

‘The Innocents’ by Caroline Misner

Innocents

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Ted placed his face in his hands and closed his eyes. He needed a moment to think. Perhaps two. Perhaps more.

The day had been a disaster from the beginning. Sylvia had awakened that morning to the howl of Nicholas in his cot and she had been in a foul temper ever since. Usually a good mother, despite her wild mood swings that rocked the household from time to time, today she had no patience for the baby or his sister Frieda and least of all for Ted.  He’d become accustomed to her behaviour. Sometimes, all it took was an innocent remark or a gesture that made her feel slighted to send her into a fury.

They had already planned on a day’s outing, somewhere they had never been before, a day’s exploration, preferably to the beach. It was a glorious warm day in late May 1962, perfect for a picnic somewhere beyond the farms of Devon. But Ted had balked at continuing on with their plans so Sylvia had taken matters into her own hands and tossed both babies into the back of the car and revved the engine. Fearing she would do something crazy; Ted had no choice but to accompany them. He let Sylvia drive.

For hours they drove, Sylvia clutching the wheel, her blazing hazel eyes darting across the countryside, heading west and seeking a route to the coast. Ted sat with the map unfolded in his lap and tried to navigate. The roads meandered through hills and farmland, never quite reaching the sea and that had enraged Sylvia even more. He managed to talk her into stopping at a small village to purchase food for the children—a humble meal of biscuits, bread and marmalade and a few bottles of milk and apple juice. The respite from the drive seemed to mollify Sylvia’s frustration, albeit only temporarily. Back in the car, she raged and pounded her fists into the wheel.

“Why do you Brits always keep the roads so far from the shore?” she shouted. “Back in the states you can get to the beach in no time.”

The tone of her voice had set Nicholas to howling again and even little Frieda had tears in her eyes. Ted had tried to calm them as best he could. Sylvia ignored them.

They finally arrived at the base of a jagged coastal cliff hedged in by oak woods and brambles. The shore still seemed a long way off, accessible only by a single path that wound between crops of scraggly brush. Sylvia cut the engine and sprung from the car, slamming the door behind her. Ted followed, hauling babies and grocery bags. He found a small clearing between the beach and the woods and spread a threadbare blanket across the rocky sand.

The tides sparkled brilliantly in the sun, low waves crashing and creaming against Sylvia’s shins. She stood with her back to them, staring out to sea, the hem of her skirt drawn up between her legs and tucked into her waistband. A lone scruffy hound worked its legs up to a gallop as it crossed the beach to chase the gulls that rose, squawking, in the tepid breeze. Ted fed the children and they ate heartily but soon lost interest. Not yet able to stand, Nicholas crawled after his mother, his small hands and knees leaving criss-cross trails in the sand. Frieda padded after them, her milk and biscuits forgotten on the cloth. Ted sat with his head in his hands and wondered what to do next.

It was no use trying to talk sense into Sylvia when she got like this. She was the most brilliant and yet the most stubborn woman he’d ever met. The best he could do was watch the children and wait for Sylvia’s mood to pass. Sometimes, these tantrums lasted for days and the only way to calm her was with the little white pills he kept locked away and doled out as needed. He regretted not bringing the pills with them today.

He lifted his head and saw Sylvia trudging up the beach; Nicholas was perched upon one hip and Frieda’s hand clutched her mother’s. The beach was not what she had expected and the disappointment would likely set her off again.

“I want to go for a hike,” Sylvia said as she plopped the babies onto the blanket.

“Don’t you like the sea?” Ted asked.

Sylvia scanned the undulating water, the pebbled shoreline, the cracked furrowed rocks that lay scattered like uncollected ruins in the nooks and crooks of the inlet. The gulls screamed overhead, safe now from the dog that had abandoned his chase and scampered off to other adventures.

“I hate it,” Sylvia said. “This is not an ocean. Not like the ones back home –too flat, too pale. Where are the big waves, the colourful umbrellas, the lifeguard chairs?”

She headed off into the woods without another word. Ted scooped the children up in his arms and followed. There was no trail to guide them; twigs and acorns cracked underfoot as they made their way deeper and deeper into the woods, Sylvia sweeping branches out of the way with her arms. The roar of the sea faded and a mossy coolness enveloped them, a welcome respite from the heat on the shore.

“Look.” Sylvia paused and pointed into a mound of brush.

A rabbit trap sat nestled beneath the leaves, its sharky jaws yawning open and its teeth gleaming uncorroded; a copper chain snaked round a tasty French bean morsel on the bait plate. It was all too familiar to Ted, having been raised among the farms of the Calder Valley in Yorkshire. As a youth he’d prided himself in being quite the huntsman and had set many similar traps himself. His prey had filled many a Sunday stew pot.

Silent rage-filled Sylvia until she seemed to burgeon—Alice in Wonderland after sampling the bottle. Dull light reflected the mania in her eyes. Without a word, she grabbed the trap and hurled it into the trees, a brown cord whipping behind it like a tail.  The trap snapped shut on impact with the ground and the French bean sprung from it and landed in the brush.

Ted stood aghast at what she had done. It was a desecration, an affront to everything he held and believed in, knowing some poor farmer had probably set the trap in anticipation of his evening meal. But Sylvia wasn’t finished yet. She spotted another trap and another, each tethered together with the same frayed cord as the first. She threw the traps, one by one, into the woods, her face reddening from the exertion and her fury.

“Sylvia!” he gasped. “Stop that! What are you doing?”

“Murderers!” she screamed, tears glazing her ruddy cheeks. “You’re all murderers!  You’re killing the innocents!”

Ted let the babies slide from his arms where they huddled terrified round his knees.  Sylvia was beyond reason. All he could do was let her fury wind itself down. She sobbed, bunching her fists against her eyes once the last trap had been thrown.

“Murderers!” she wailed. “Cannibals! All of them.”

“It’s the way of the land, Sylvia.” Ted tried to sound reassuring but he knew he failed.  “Most people in this county can’t afford fresh meat every day. The traps are a necessity.”

His instinct told him he should reset the traps. Perhaps the farmer who had set them would never suspect. Sylvia raked her fingers down the length of her face; thankfully her nails left no marks. She raised her bloodshot eyes as though beseeching some unseen deity.

“Why is it always the innocents who have to die?” she whimpered.

Ted had no answer to that. Sylvia heaved in a deep breath; her shoulders loosened and her shaking ebbed. The storm was blowing itself out. It would pass soon. But for how long? How long before Sylvia’s grief would overtake her again?

“Oh, Sylvia,” he whispered. Sylvia stepped into his arms and he held his wife close, the warmth of her body as familiar to him as his own skin. Below them, Nicholas and Frieda clutched their parents’ legs as though trying to climb up the trunk of a tree.

And there they stood, in the cool woods beside the sea in Cornwall, a young family, clinging to one another. Ted detected a stir in the brush; leaves rattled. A young brown rabbit scampered through. It paused and regarded them warily. Its whiskers twitched and it scurried on, leaping over the inert snake of the trap’s cord.

 


CAROLINE MISNER‘s work has appeared in numerous publications in the USA, Canada, India and the UK. She has been nominated for the prestigious McClelland & Stewart Journey Anthology Prize for the short story “Strange Fruit.” In 2011 another short story and a poem were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands of Northern Ontario where she continues to draw inspiration for her work. She is the author of the Young Adult fantasy series “The Daughters of Eldox.” Her latest novel, “The Spoon Asylum” was released in May of 2018 by Thistledown Pressand has been nominated for the Governor General Award.

Copyright © 2019 by Caroline Misner. All rights reserved.

‘Shiners’ by Sacha Bissonnette

Kinder peeks around tablecloth
galaxy gazing
revels at the mechanics of
a Lazy Susan
coming of age
“the world is so big,” he whispers
his travelling tooth
eagerly waiting to be
spit shined
bundled up
and pillow talked

a strap of his book bag snaps
weighed down by corner scorpions
rum rangers
chipping dominos
the other remains strong
swings across his shoulder
swings like Sunday palms

his hands are hers
inked curry yellow
mango nectar rich
stuck to handwritten recipes
and first lessons

he sits alone now
eats good
one gold silver tooth
smiles at the crooked horizon

 


SACHA BISSONNETTE is a poet and short story writer from Ottawa, Ca. He was born and raised in Ottawa to a Trinidadian mother and a French-Canadian father. He received an honorable mention for his poem ‘Acheron’ in Carleton University’s poetry competition and recently published poems ‘Rigorous’ out of New Orleans. He is also assisting as a dramaturge on two local plays.

Copyright © 2019 by Sacha Bissonnette. All rights reserved.

‘Meeting Morris’ by Laura Wang Arseneau

From the bakery, I walk down Bagot St toward the smell of the lake. I bought one bagel to share. It is still warm in the paper bag. I asked for butter so it seeps, grease staining brown paper dark. You will not mind.

I walk my bike right at corner

BANG!

It hits a post of steel, bolted down to concrete.

I upright the bike and carry on.

Across the way rattle wheels of a walker, a moving cage for a Mister; a shuffling old man, moving slow, head down.

Passing by black iron fences the front yard of a mansion.

Maple tree denuded of maple keys.

Leaves yellow veined, and fresh blood red, scuttle over and around an overturned urn, empty on the walkway.

All the pretty flowers gone.

Bark.

Gateway opening, closing.

Child’s voice.

A red wagon being wheeled over chalked, hopscotch squares, numbers smudged.

Followed by yellow dress, hop skip cartwheeling limbs and a red ribboned ponytail lassoing.

Hey, I too have a red ribbon on wheel, flap flap flap with each turn of my front bicycle tire.

I do not want to be late to meet you. So I hop on and pump pedals.

Gain speed, taxi runway, take flight.

Too soon

I reach the boardwalk and get off and wheel my bike along. It is heavy going, so off! it goes.

BANG! Wheels spinning Ferris wheel.

Now I am set free to go to our

BEACH.

No Morris. I am early. I am late. You are early. You are late.

I will wait for you just a little while longer. The planks beneath my soles are silvery, stripped down and smooth. I kick one shoe, then the other off foot

FALL.

My bare feet move one step, two steps on wind bleached boardwalk.

Step onto smooth stone.

Bend and pick stone, pocket.

Toward waves.

Break, foam, roll, repeat.

Break, foam, roll.

Plank gives over to sandy grit.

I button my sweater against wind.

Tear a milkweed pod and pocket.

Snatch a gull’s feather, caught in shrub and pocket.

I am early, so

LONG I wait for you. You will see me, here won’t you? Step off the platform. Heels sink into sand. Toes dig shovelling each step. I am looking for

FIVE, six, seven flat stones arranged in a half circle. Here it is. Eyebrow to eye of burnt out fire. I sift through charred driftwood, choose the nicest one that fits snug in the palm of my hand.

Fingers enclose.

Smudge char black markings onto my fingers.

Char

KOHL lines on my face.

I will do my makeup just how you like it Morris.

Eyes rimmed in kohl. You used to say, I like it when you put makeup

ON again off again; here there; there there, there there, don’t worry. Morris, you told me I look like Mata Hari. Dance for me? I pocket a charred stump and move with the wind. Feet spin, slip, twist too the music on the wind. I am your muse, your model, your lover, how oft.

TEN, nine, eight you remember? We promised to meet here. It is getting colder. I will leave a note. But with what?

In pocket, why this charred stump will do.

Sharp end of a blackened wood writing tool.

Big letters on silver wood.

MORRIS I WAS HERE. I write a message for you to see

HOW I kept our promise? Where were you? Where are you now?  Oh! It is getting darker.

Sun’s weak eye through clouded lids.

Time to turn back come back tomorrow is another day

TIME, night-time.

Wind at my back. Hand in pocket. Here is stone. Drop.

Here is feather, buoyed up in wind, fly away little birdie. Bye bye.

Here is milkpod with white soft inside like dog fur, opened and picked clean. Run like the wind little doggy.

Last one

In pocket charred driftwood stump in fist.

Palm and fingers black.

I keep this for you, Morris. You, artist man. You, who gestured charcoal on my body. Do you know

WHY, look here.

Someone left a bicycle, lying on the boardwalk, wheels spinning with red ribbon flapping. Beside it lies two halves of a bagel and a torn paper bag stained black.

 


LAURA WANG ARSENEAU‘s short fiction has been published in Canadian literary magazines such as The Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, The Windsor Review, Hammer’d Out, and JoyPuke. She has been an arts writer and curator, now based in the Niagara region of Ontario.

Copyright © 2019 by Laura Wang Arseneau. All rights reserved.

‘Snow in April’ by Tiah Snaith

When it snowed in April
Did you stand at the window and cry?
Uncontrollably cry the way no adult should?
Did your voice wobble and shake?
Were your eyes too sore to see?
The snow on the struggling green grass
Was unambiguously obvious,
A perfectly picturesque way
To portray how it felt
To be left alone in a house too big for one.
Snow in April
Things that are, that shouldn’t be.

So did you pick up the phone?
Swallow your doubts and call into the expanding distance
What do you fear more⁠—
The echo or the answer?

Or did you not pick up the phone at all
Maybe you know the landline
Could never hold all you have to say.
So did you rest your heavy head against the window?
Try to not think of your shipwrecked heart
Floating among the wild waves swirling in your chest
That make it hard to breathe.
Did you just sit, in your own endless silence?
And with glassy eyes,
Watch it snow in April?

 


TIAH SNAITH is a high school writer from the small town of Macgregor, Manitoba. She was a competitive swimmer and played for her high school’s basketball team before she had to take a yearlong recovery period due to an injury and the surgery that followed it. Tiah used poetry and art as a creative outlet during the difficult time she was having.

Copyright © 2019 by Tiah Snaith. All rights reserved.