‘Overcoming Gravity’ by @iamshellshot

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@iamshellshot as a visual artist,  T. “Donatello” Fletcher’s style consists of colourful, energetic movement and imagery stemming from his background in dance. He embraces a conceptual approach towards literal wordplay, expressed through photography, videography, and directing. He makes his bed in Ottawa, Ontario but does with the comfort of being close to his birthplace in Montreal.

JENNY YANG studied International Relations at the University of Cambridge. She has worked for the NATO Association of Canada, INTERPOL, Global Affairs Canada, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). She has published articles related to women in peacekeeping, separatism, and the ethics of lethal autonomous weapons.

Copyright © 2019 by @iamshellshot. All rights reserved.

‘Kanto Series’ Gideon Salutin

 

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GIDEON SALUTIN is a McGill development and history student, and has published photography in McGill-based journals.  He started photography when someone gave him a Fuji polaroid-style camera when he was 15, and later was given two definition film cameras.  The featured pieces were taken on an Olympus OM2000, using 35 mm film on ISO varying between 400 and 800, in Japanese cities throughout August 2018.

Copyright © 2018 by Gideon Salutin. All rights reserved.

‘Hong Kong Series’ by Finn Harvor

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FINN HARVOR is an artist, writer, musician, and filmmaker living in South Korea. His written work has appeared in many journals, both academic and popular. He’s won grants and awards, and been broadcast on national radio (Canada). He’s written and staged two plays, and my visual work has been shown/screened in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece, Ireland, Kazakhstan, South Korea, and Cuba (upcoming in Hong Kong). He has done work in videopoetry, and had work featured as a finalist at the Athens Videopoetry Festival (2017, 2018), the O’Bheal Videopoetry Festival (two videos: 2018), the MIX Conference (2017), Rabbitheart Curator’s Choice (2016, 2017, 2018), the Association of Comparative Literature, Korea (keynote plus screening).

Copyright © 2018 by Finn Harvor. All rights reserved.

‘Smashed’ by Leila Marshy

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LEILA MARSHY is of Palestinian-Newfoundland heritage, which is what she blames for the fact that her life is all over the place. She’s been a filmmaker, a baker, an app designer, a radio producer, a marketer, a chicken farmer, and longtime editor of the online culture magazine Rover Arts. She worked for the Palestinian Red Crescent then founded the Friends of Hutchison Street, a groundbreaking community group bringing Hasidic and non-Hasidic neighbours together in dialogue. She was longtime editor of Rover Arts, and has had stories and poetry published in journals and anthologies in Canada and the US. Her novel The Philistine [LLP, 2018] was published earlier this year.

Copyright © 2018 by Leila Marshy. All rights reserved.

‘Miss Marigold’s Self-Portrait’ by Danielle Eyer

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Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

The summer I turned ten was filled with church bells and local choirs singing the town’s sorrows. The news blared from every television and radio –– they were investigating a death near my old house. A kid had died falling off a rocky cliff on the shores of Lake Erie, and the accident had awakened our small town. That night, police sirens screeched past our cottage. It took the entire fire department to retrieve his broken body by the rocks at the bottom. It had only been a dare. After the boy died, cliff jumping decreased in popularity.

I found Miss Marigold a year later on that same cliff. It was a day in early October, so it was too cold for swimming. The waves were too rough, and the clouds were too low. Miss Marigold sat facing the lake, her back against a boulder.

She was a colourful stain in a grayscale landscape. She looked like she had emerged from a mound of fabric swatches –– the textile equivalent of a scrapbook. Red and green ribbons in her hair, denim and suede patches to cover tears in her dress, a wide-brimmed yellow hat tied to her chin with twine. She balanced an oversized sketchbook on her knees and, trailed charcoal across the blank page in a sweeping motion.

I approached her from behind, half-hidden by the rocks. Her shoulders tensed when I stopped. I held my breath, stood still for a full minute. When I ventured upward again, she was back to sketching, her hat flopping in the wind.

She never acknowledged me, but I knew that she was aware of my presence. She waited for me. I waited for her. The sun waited for no one, and continued its slow descent behind the layers of clouds.

I closed my eyes for just a moment. When I opened them again, it was dark and she was gone.

I returned to the cliff the next day after school. Miss Marigold was back at her boulder with her sketchbook. Today she wore a red baseball cap and a skirt, layered like a wedding cake. A paint-splattered shawl was wrapped around her shoulders to keep warm.

I stopped a few feet before her and rolled up the collar of my turtleneck to keep out the wind.

“What are you drawing?” I asked.

She set down the piece of charcoal, her fingers smudged black. “It’s a self-portrait. Do you know what that is?”

I stepped forward to peer at the drawing. “That’s like, when you draw yourself, right?”

It was unfinished, but I recognized the image of a young lady’s profile, her small nose pointing upward, her eyes soft and shining, her lips full, smiling. It was only the start of a portrait, but it was radiant, even in black and white. I almost wished I could climb inside the picture just to be in the Beautiful Lady’s presence.

“So?” she asked. “Does it look like me?”

“I can’t tell with your hat on.”

She removed her hat. My initial reaction was to step back in horror, but my curiosity overcame my shock, and I inched forward to peer into her face.

Her murky eyes were wide-set. Her nose sank into her face. A deep scar ran from her hairline to her mouth. Her teeth were crooked and yellow, and her crayon-drawn lips were smeared across her face.

I grimaced. “That doesn’t look like you at all!”

She frowned at my words, her lips pressed together. Her eyes flared up as she glared at the image. She tore the page out of the book and crumpled it up, saying: “You’re right! Oh god, you’re right. She’s beautiful, she looks nothing like me!” She flung the crumpled paper over the side of the cliff.

“No, don’t!” I cried. I raced to the edge and watched it sink into the water. My eyes stung. Never again would I see those smiling eyes, the lady radiating on the page. “Why’d you do that? You didn’t have to throw it away.”

“Yes, I did.”

I softened when I heard her voice, high-pitched and near sobbing. She sunk her face into her hands. “I will never look like her,” she muttered. “Never.”

I stuck my hands into my jacket pockets and sat down, close but not too close. I saw the hurt I had caused, and needed to repair the damage I had done.

“You’re not ugly,” I said, and even as I said it I knew it wasn’t true. “Maybe you just need more drawing practice. My daddy says you can get good at anything with practice.”

Lifting her face from her hands, she asked, sniffling, “Really? You think so?”

I gulped and nodded. She smiled at my answer and wiped her face with some loose fabric on her sleeve.

Even now, I don’t remember if she ever introduced herself as Miss Marigold or if I baptized her myself. Her name came to me as I sat with her every day. It suited her, with her brightly coloured hats and clothing.

I’d come home from school every day and find her at that same boulder like a stray dog. I didn’t know where she came from. My classmates shrugged when I brought her up at school. Perhaps she never left, never stood up and stretched her legs. I sat with her as she sketched.

As the month wore on, the lady in the portrait grew clearer. Her delicate features sharpened as Miss Marigold added detail to her sketch: her curled eyelashes, the blush in her cheeks, her slightly upturned nose.

But just when the lady became real, Miss Marigold screamed and tore up the page, whimpering as if she were in physical pain.

It became a pattern. With every attempt, she grew more furious. The mere existence of the image hurt a deep part in her, and she wouldn’t keep quiet until it was destroyed.

The destruction of the image pained me. The lady’s existence, or perhaps her inexistence, haunted me. I woke up in a cold sweat from dreams in which she was burning, writhing in the flames. Her arms flailed like tree branches in the wind, reaching toward me. I watched helplessly.

Perhaps two weeks into this endeavor, whenever I felt one of Miss Marigold’s fits coming on, I would ripped the book from her hands before she could tear out the page. I stood up and held it behind me, stepping back. I thought that after a few seconds, she might calm down from her fit. She would see that she and the picture could coexist in peace.

Instead, Miss Marigold pulled at my hair and scratching at my face until I returned the sketchbook. I tried to push her away, but she was stronger than she looked. I stopped struggling when my chest began to hurt from the weight, and only then did she let me go. Once I had regained my breath, I found her a few feet away from the ledge, staring at the water below. I stayed back until she turned to me, smiling.

“Well,” she said with a contented sigh. “Let’s try again, shall we?”

My parents wouldn’t allow me to go out when it rained. “Your Miss Marigold will survive one day without you,” Mom would say.

I wondered if she sketched then, too. I’d ask my parents if she could come inside from the rain, but they laughed and told me not to be silly.

The day after a bad storm, I found her by the waves. I noticed that her picture was a smudged, watery mess. The pages of her sketchbook were wrinkled and deformed. But Miss Marigold only smiled and continued sketching.

I don’t know why I kept returning. Perhaps it was because I wished to see the Beautiful Lady again. I was drawn to her. At school, at home, in bed, I felt a string tugging on my heart. She called to me. So I returned, day after day, just to see her portrait be torn apart or crumpled or soaked in the lake.

The pain that came with her destruction only increased. I knew what would happen if I tried to stop Miss Marigold from destroying it, but something within me still made me want to try. The Lady stared at me through the paper. She called to me, begged me to save her. I cried at night, wishing that I could.

Snow began to fall. We went to the city for the holidays to visit family, and those two weeks I spent away from the Lady were spent in pure agony. I grew irritated at my cousins and snapped at family members. I spent most of my time in any empty room I could find, lying on my back and staring at the ceiling. Only then could I attempt to visualize the Beautiful Lady. Still, it wasn’t enough. Her image liked to slip away from me just as I began to get comfortable.

When I returned from the city, I rushed back to Miss Marigold’s side and sat by her as she put the finishing touches on the picture.

I knew what was coming. I knew that in just a few moments, Miss Marigold would lose her calm and wouldn’t regain it until she had destroyed the Lady.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that Miss Marigold got to choose whether her artwork lived or died, whether she existed or didn’t. I wanted to decide, I wanted the Lady to be mine. That’s what she’d say in my dreams.

I’m yours, she’d call as she folded in on herself in the flames. I belong to you. Why would you let a stranger do this to me?

“She’s pretty.”

“Yes,” she frowned. “She is, isn’t she?” Her lips twitched. “Too pretty.”

Her body recoiled like a spring preparing to be released. But before it happened, I grabbed the sketchbook from her lap.

“No!” I screamed, sprinting away from her.

“Give it back!”

“Stop it, it’s mine!”

She ran after me, but I tripped on a loose stone and fell onto the rocks. Sharp pain shot up my leg, and my palms tingled when they hit the ground. The sketchbook slid on the icy floor toward the edge of the cliff. The world froze. If the Lady fell over the edge, into the water, it would all be over. But it stopped a few inches from the side, and I jumped up and raced toward it, Miss Marigold a few steps ahead of me.

She stopped at the edge and leaned down to pick it up. Pick it up or push it over. She seemed to catch fire before my eyes, her skirts billowing about her in reds and oranges, a blazing sun silhouetted on a grey sky. In the back of my brain I thought, water.

I slammed into her thin body. Her weight dragged her over the edge.

I didn’t hear her screaming. I didn’t hear her bones crack on the rocks or her body hit the lake below.

Instead, I picked up the sketchbook, and gazed at the Beautiful Lady. She was nearly finished, but a few curls at her shoulders were only outlined, not filled in with charcoal. I didn’t trust myself to complete it. It was enough.

I kicked the charcoal over the edge and tossed her yellow hat away like a frisbee. The rock ledge was just as I had found it that first day in October. Only this time, Miss Marigold had been traded for her artwork.

“Where did you get that?” my parents asked later that evening.

“Miss Marigold gave it to me.”

“Aren’t you getting a bit old for that imaginary friend stuff, Sweetie?”

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’m done with Miss Marigold, now.”

I hung the picture in my room, and the lady watched over me at night. Outside, tree branches tapped on my bedroom window. The rest of the world was quiet.

 


DANIELLE EYER is an emerging writer and playwright based in Montreal, with a fondness for musical theatre, big cities, and typewriters, although she’s never used one and doubts she would enjoy it. Roman Payne said that “all forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art.” Luckily, Danielle benefits from every one of these.

Copyright © 2018 by Danielle Eyer. All rights reserved.

‘A Sense of Dread’ by Mark Towse

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Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Tom has been waking up the last few days with a sense of dread. Always very anxious, but recently experiencing severe bouts of panic, Tom’s heartburn has been almost unbearable. Today is no exception—Tom feels that this impending feeling of dread will manifest itself in some shape or form, and it’s making him even more anxious than ever.

He leaves the bed and pulls the covers back over his wife, telling her he is going to make a drink. He leans over, turns off the alarm clock and heads down to the kitchen to grind some coffee beans. He grabs the pestle and mortar from the cupboard, deciding that he needs to alleviate some stress, and starts grinding the coffee with an unnecessary ferocity. Most of the coffee spills over onto the floor, so he gives up, unable to cope with the prospect of picking it out from the already dirty tiles. He sighs, grabs the teabags and shouts, “I’ve made a small mess, but don’t worry! I’ll clean it up.”

The pots are piled high, so he rinses two dirty cups and fills them with water once the kettle boils. He begins to dip the bag into the first one, but it bursts, so he empties both cups in the kitchen sink and then bends down to spoon the powdered coffee into the filter.

He starts to sob.

Eventually, he gathers himself, pours the coffee and takes the cups with him through to the hallway and up the dimly lit stairs, towards the bedroom. He stops halfway up to look at the picture of him and Judith on the wall, their wedding day, and a snapshot of history when everything was okay—before the accident. He studied the photo as he had done many times—her skin like porcelain and a smile that just drew him in from the moment he saw her. She had Chrysanthemums in her hair. On the day itself, he thought they were daisies until Judith had laughed and corrected him. His own face too was one of genuine happiness; after all, he had just landed the love of his life, and nothing could stop him.

Christ, I love you, Judith.

As he reaches the top of the stairs, he tries to elbow away an annoying bluebottle fly that is buzzing around his head, causing him to spill some of the coffee as he trips over the damned vacuum once again. Tom rushes to the bathroom, puts the coffee on the edge of the tub and grabs a towel from the rack to wipe himself down. He sighs, leans over and turns both taps, watching her as the water rushes in, filling the tub. When it’s half full, Tom turns off the water and heads into the bedroom to help his wife out of bed. She’s heavier than usual, but Tom doesn’t comment. He knows it will only get him in trouble.

Tom carries Judith into the bathroom and helps lower her in the bath. He asks if the temperature is okay, not bothering to wait for a response as he lights some scented candles and pours in some bubble bath—the lavender one she likes. The colour contrasts nicely against her pale skin.

His mobile phone begins to ring, and immediately his pulse quickens. He knows it’s his boss—he didn’t go in last week and ignored the e-mails. Questions were being asked, and it would only be a matter of time before they found out. It had started small, a little bit at a time from a couple of clients, but a few bad bets and he started to get careless. Once a gambler!

He lets it go to voicemail.

Tom checks his reflection in the bathroom mirror and even through the steam, he can make out his sallow skin that frames the large dark circles under his eyes. He has seen better days. His mostly grey hair is matted and unwashed, and he hasn’t shaved for nearly a week. He contemplates showering, but the thought of the required effort distresses him, and so he splashes some water on his face instead and swallows some toothpaste straight from the tube. His wife recently told him that toothpaste causes cancer. He had laughed at this, pinched his nose and asked for a kiss. Tom enjoyed the times they fooled around like that.

He walks through to their bedroom, lifts up his dressing gown and, for the next few minutes, masturbates furiously—a habit he has picked up over the last few days. Once he’s done, he goes back downstairs with his coffee, being careful not to trip over the vacuum. He puts some bread in the toaster and opens the fridge to find he has no margarine left. In fact, there is nothing spreadable at all. He sits and waits for the toast to pop up. Eventually, it does, and even though he prepared himself for the pop, it still startles him, and he estimates his heart rate increases by at least ten beats per minute. He takes the toast and places it on the cleanest plate he can find from the dirty stack of pots, but when he reaches for his coffee, the toast slides from his plate onto the kitchen floor.

He wants to cry again but refrains as he bends over and collects it from the dirty floor and gives it a quick shake. He takes a bite and chews solemnly, washing it down with a swig of his coffee. He stops to pull some hair from his teeth, no doubt gathered from the floor and then pours the remainder of the coffee down the sink.

Tom looks down at his overhanging belly and suddenly feels the impulse to go for a run. He considers it very seriously for a few seconds before deciding it would be quite an upheaval, so he switches on the television instead. He flicks through the various channels until he finds a nature documentary. Settling into his chair, he begins to pick at his immature beard and pulls out a huge dark hair with the follicle still attached. Tom chews off the follicle and begins to think he is losing his mind.

On TV, the deer is running for its life, closely followed by the jaguar that is hungry for its dinner. Tom changes the channel quickly, suddenly contemplating how savage existence is.  He convinces himself that if reincarnation is real, he would no doubt come back as a deer. Or worse, he’d come back as himself.

In his melancholy state, he finds himself wandering back to the early years, before marriage and back when he and his wife told each other everything. Judith said she once ate a worm when she was nine, and that was pretty much the worst thing she had done. He confessed to her about a few things from his not so clean past, including his previous gambling problem and how he had kicked it well before they met. It was true, at least in the way you can ever really kick an addiction.

Tom snaps out if it just in time to see the jaguar bring the deer down.

He shouts upstairs, “I’m just going for a lie-down love. Let me know if the water gets cold.”

No reply, but that’s standard when Judith bathes. She hates to ruin the experience with chatter and normally scolds him if he tries to talk to her before she’s out the bath. He lies down on the couch—eyes closed but his mind is wide open, and the bad thoughts come. He pulls more hair out and realizes there is zero chance he will be able to get any sleep, so he gets off the couch, does one press up, and walks back to the kitchen to put the kettle back on.

Someone knocks at the door.

Tom runs back into the living room and ducks behind the couch, as though the knocker has x-ray vision.

“Tom!”

His breathing increases rapidly, he is very conscious of it, and he is sure they will hear it.

“Tom! It’s Irene from the apartment next door. Are you okay?”

She knocks again, and Tom tries to squeeze into an even smaller shape. Irene shouts through the door, “Tom, I’m coming back with a key. I haven’t seen you or Judith for a few days. I’m worried.”

There is some relief that it’s only Irene, but he doesn’t want the nosy old bag coming back. He curses Judith for giving her a key and estimates that it’s been nearly a year since they went away and left it with her. They still hadn’t got it back.

He straightens up and shouts from behind the couch “Irene, it’s all good. I’m not decent though, and Judith has gone to stay at her sister’s for a while.”

“Oh… okay. Did you take your garbage out by the way?”

When he hears her footsteps moving away, he gets up, moves back in the kitchen and makes two teas with unwashed cups: one for his wife and one for himself. He takes them up to the bathroom and places them on the edge of the bath, next to the cup he made earlier.

“Have some tea darling. You look cold—this will warm you up,” he says.

He smiles at her before disrobing and stepping into the water, “Room for one more?”

As Tom squeezes in on the opposite side of Judith, being careful not to disturb her, there is a loud knock on the door—one with a sense of urgency.

“Tom, are you in there?” a male voice shouts.

He takes a gulp of tea and swills it around his mouth.

He had considered calling it in as an accident when it happened. That’s why he put a dead bulb in the landing area and moved the vacuum to the top of the stairs — tripping over it three times since. In a way, it was an accident. He tried to convince himself of that anyway.

“I think we are going to need more scented candles,” Tom says as he leans over and kisses his wife on the forehead.

The thought of living without her, though, was too much to bear. Not to mention the additional lies and deceit that would be required.

She died for nothing.

Work are onto him now anyway—the emails from his boss and the voicemails asking to see him urgently. He feels like the deer from the nature documentary.

It was a dead cert!

There’s another loud knock at the door, “Tom!”

Tom stands up and reaches across to the cabinet to retrieve the small brown packet and then sits back down on the edge of the bathtub.

He didn’t mean for her to fall down the stairs—he was only trying to stop her from calling the police. He had grabbed the arm of her nightgown, and when she yanked it away, she lost her balance and tumbled all the way down. She moaned for a while—an awful wail that has stayed with him over the last few days. He won’t miss that.

“Tom!”

He just wanted to unload, share the burden—work through it before it got out of control. If they came up with a plan, they could probably find a way to put the money back before anyone noticed and then he could get help again. Going to prison wasn’t an option—he wasn’t cut out for that.

He should have known. Judith was always so black and white.

She is now, he thought.

“I love you, Judith,” he says as he empties the packet into his cup before taking a large gulp of tea.

 


MARK TOWSE has only been writing short stories for two months now, but his passion and enthusiasm are unparalleled, and this has recently resulted in his first paid piece in the publication Books N Pieces along with imminent publication in four other prestigious magazines. Mark currently works in sales and is ready to sell his soul to the devil for a full-time career as an author. He resides in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two children.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Towse. All rights reserved.

‘An Annual Affair’ by Désiré Betty

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Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

In the small town of Hamnia, a healthy baby girl named Melissa was born to proud parents, Mr. and Mrs. Denver Campus.  She would be their only child. Their life together was anything but ideal, yet Melissa managed to bring joy to a loveless marriage.

Denver, a handsome and successful man in his mid-thirties, had recently been promoted to Vice-President of a new and progressive IT Company called Viral X.  Despite his arrogance, he was well-liked by his co-workers. His wife Taborra was an unattractive, stay at home mom that was at least thirty pounds overweight.  As an adolescent, she suffered from severe acne, which had left her with facial scars that contributed to her low self-esteem. She was a loving soul that lacked self-respect; allowing herself to be treated disrespectfully by others, especially her husband.  Denver used to find her humbleness endearing, but over the years became annoyed by her lack of intrigue for excitement and new adventures. Taborra never had many friends and when she resigned from her career as a construction manager to become a stay at home mother, her world became very small.  Denver distanced himself and lost all respect for his wife; seeking adventure outside of their marriage. Many often wondered why a man of his standing would marry such a lack-luster woman, as he was clearly unhappy.

Two years later, on a beautiful sunny day in July, the birds were chirping and the light breeze was blissful.  The Campus’ left with their beloved daughter, to attend the annual Viral X company picnic. They reached their destination just before noon and made their way to where the employees and their families were gathered.  Denver was greeted by his pal and colleague, Steve Adams, a genuine guy. Taborra had become accustomed to accompanying Denver to events, only to not be introduced and abandoned the entire night. The first time this happened, Taborra continued to stand by Denver, introducing herself as his wife and trying to interact, but quickly noticed that he would shut down any of her conversation starters and solely talk business to exclude her.  Within minutes, others would join the group conversation and Taborra would be left to fend for herself.

She was often accused of being an overprotective mother that devoted all of her attention to her daughter.  She instinctively refused to leave her side in fear that something bad would happen to her in her absence. While other mothers sunbathed on the beach and their husbands tended to their children, Taborra built sand castles with her daughter.  When Melissa tired of that activity, she made her way towards the beach. Taborra followed behind, cautiously introducing her to the water. She never left Melissa out of her sight, not even to socialize with other people. Unbeknownst to her, she was nicknamed, ‘the weirdo’ by the other employees and their spouses, simply because her priorities were different.  Her insecurities prevented her from confidently mingling with the other women, allowing her shyness to often be mistaken for mental instability due to her excessive introversion.

An hour later, Melissa fell asleep in her mother’s arms.  Taborra laid her down to sleep in her playpen, situated in the shade, away from the incessant chatter and loud music.  She planned to take this time to relax, but to her dismay, she realized that Denver neglected to bring her straw bag with the book she intended to read.  She spotted her husband walking along the beach with his secretary, andfrantically tried to get his attention, but to no avail; he was clearly preoccupied.

This led Taborra to act completely out of character. She did something that still haunts her to this day.  A young woman she had noticed earlier was walking her way, and Taborra assumed her to be an employee of Viral X.  Taborra politely intercepted her, “Excuse me? I wouldn’t normally ask this of a total stranger, but I am getting rather restless now that my daughter has settled down for a nap.  I was wondering if you would be willing to watch her while I run over to my car to retrieve my book.” The personable stranger did not hesitate to accommodate her request.

As Taborra thanked her and walked away, she felt a chill run down her spine.  Her gut told her to go back, but she ignored it. She felt obligated to go through with her initial request because she feared the gossip that would ensue should she change her mind.

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The woman eyed Melissa in the crib and a surge of hatred rushed through her.  Never in her wildest dreams had she suspected Denver, the man she had spent countless evenings with while eating Chinese food and drinking cheap wine, to have a wife, yet alone a child.

She looked down at the infant with disgust, and felt something come over her.  Hatred resonated through her and she quickly reached down, grabbed the teddy bear, and smothered the child with it.  It was quick, and the child fell still without a sound. The woman placed the teddy bear back the way she had found it, smiling to herself as she took in the child’s soft, sleeping face.  Then, she slipped away before allowing herself to feel an ounce of remorse.

***

Taborra hurried, her heart beating faster as she failed to shake the fear triggered in the pit of her stomach.  She kept thinking that her daughter was in danger, but had no concrete reasoning behind her indescribable fear.  She hoped that she was simply overreacting. She made it to her car, quickly retrieved her book and raced back, all while allowing her mind to wander through the possibility that her daughter would not be present when she returned.  With tears in her eyes, she ran madly through the crowd. Denver spotted her in the distance and he instinctively made a mad dash after her.

As he got closer to his wife, he shouted, “Taborra, Taborra stop!” demanding her to come to a halt.  It did not stop her, in fact, she sped up. He had never seen her run so fast.

Out of breath, she finally reached their daughter’s playpen, still asleep in the same position she had left her.  The young woman was nowhere to be found.. At that moment, Taborra’s intuition led her to believe that the kind stranger was more than just a stranger.  It was not out of character for Denver to attract the admiration of a female employee. Nevertheless, it was rather irresponsible of her to leave after gladly accepting to watch her child.  Taborra swore she would never leave her precious daughter with a stranger ever again.

Denver’s cheeks turned pink from embarrassment and Taborra could tell he wanted to scream at her, but was restraining himself so as not to draw more unwanted attention.  She had demonstrated such erratic behavior in front of his friends and colleagues. She could not bring herself to tell him the truth. Instead of explaining the situation, she allowed him to believe she was crazy.  All was well, their daughter was fast asleep.

Denver sat down by the playpen, put his head in his palms and let out a long, frustrated sigh.  Taborra sat beside him and rubbed his back, but he instinctively moved away from her touch. She apologized for her behavior.  She explained that she had experienced a terrible premonition that had not come true. He snapped and said, “You’re ridiculous.  What is wrong with you?”

Taborra just stared blankly at him as tears filled her eyes.  She got up and walked towards the playpen as her daughter always seemed to alleviate any tension.  She noticed that Melissa remained undisturbed despite all the commotion. She softly touched her daughter’s face and it was then she noticed that Melissa was not breathing.  “Oh my God! Denver!” she screamed.

Denver looked at Taborra with such discontent while shaking his head in disbelief as he retorted, “Holy shit!  What now?”

She picked up her daughter’s lifeless body in her arms and screamed, “Something is wrong.  She isn’t breathing!”

Denver jumped up and took Melissa from her arms.  He cried, “My baby! What happened? What did you do?”

He attempted CPR and told Taborra to call an ambulance.  As her hands shook uncontrollably, she dialed as fast as she could.  Minutes, felt like hours, before an ambulance arrived. Melissa was pronounced dead at the scene.

Denver screamed and fell to his knees.  He could not look Taborra in the eyes. He despised her with every ounce of his being.  The hatred he already felt towards her was now tenfold. He wanted to hurt her, his eyes wide and raging, but she was already dead to him.  Taborra did not mention the woman as she was in too deep and feared speaking one more word during this calamitous moment.

An autopsy was conducted and determined that Melissa had been asphyxiated.  Despite being the doting mother she was, her unstable behavior witnessed at the party and previous work engagements easily led her to be the only suspect.  This was not the first time that her love for her daughter proved to be too intense. Denver often confided in his secretary about how he worried about his wife’s unhealthy attachment to their daughter.  She could easily testify to solidify Denver’s position on the matter. There was no further investigation, and without any support from her husband or witnesses, Taborra was found guilty.

It was an unfortunate reality for Taborra, as Denver had long lost his admiration and respect for his wife; desecrating her true love and care for their daughter into a vile representation of her unfortunate demise.  A judge sentenced her to life in prison, with no chance of parole. Melissa’s death had sucked the remaining life out of Taborra. She did not possess the energy to defend herself, and silently accepted her fate, as she knew that no one would believe her.  She held herself responsible. The mystery woman at the beach had disappeared into thin air. Given all her self-doubt, she believed the accounts that maybe she was the crazy one and that the woman was in fact a figment of her imagination.

Denver was at the lowest point of his life.  He was relieved to see his wife put away for the devastation that she had caused, but incredibly broken by the loss of his precious daughter.  For Stella, his mistress, her eerie fairytale had come true. She stood by her lover throughout this difficult time; consoling him, despite being the cause of his endless misery.  

Denver would never know the truth about that fateful day or his merciless mistress.  Stella had won, she had solidified her spot as his one and only.

 


DÉSIRÉ BETTY is a Mississauga, Ontario based artist that began her innovative journey at an early age.  Her passion for the arts, led her to pursue a career in Architecture; broadening her quest for constant creativity from the canvas to the built environment.  Although content in her profession, there is nothing more fulfilling than creating art, in all its forms.  In 2009, she vowed to complement her architecturally based career with her artistic pursuits. Désiré has since exhibited in several solo and group shows, had her art and poetry published in several magazines and sold pieces to art enthusiasts around the world.

Copyright © 2018 by Désiré Betty. All rights reserved.

‘Old Prints|New Words’ by Natacha Gagné

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« J’aimerais connaître. Grolier limitée Éditions, Montréal. 1974 »

 


NATACHA GAGNÉ has always been fascinated with words and books, even as a child. When she got her old typewriter and some old books, it began to come together. The illustrations served as a catalyst that helped her words come to life. In a world where we can erase and photoshop everything, Natacha finds that the permanence of the typewriter ink helps to let go of the idea of perfection and embrace the little flaws of her work, the double letters, the spelling mistakes, as part of its DNA.

Copyright © 2018 by Natacha Gagné. All rights reserved.

‘Concert’ by Christopher W. Dix

Phil Dix RAF pic 1 for MW story

Flight Sergeant Phil Dix – Author’s Copyright

 

Phil Dix stood alone on the deck of the ship. Dressed in his flying gear, big fur-lined boots and a pilot’s helmet, he looked quite strange. The inevitable cigarette was in his mouth.

He looked at the wide grey sea churning into whiteness on the tops of the waves, and heard the cry of gulls and the roar of the ship’s engines. Nearby vessels ploughed their way through as well, and the long grey shape of a destroyer guarded them in the distance. Twenty-four hours ago they were in Iceland – safe. Now, they were heading for Murmansk with food and supplies. Avoiding the German U-boats was hair-raising because they could be hit at any time, almost without warning. He had made the crossing many times before, but he never pretended that he was not frightened. None of them did. A ship like his was a sitting duck, or perhaps a very slow-moving duck.

SS Manela, Pic 2 Flying Boat Base ship for MW Story

SS Manela dockside – Merchant Navy Association Copyright

 

His hands were cold even though he had gloves on, and ice coated the ships’ railings and exposed metalwork. Life was uncomfortable and rations meagre. Hot American chocolate drinks were about the only thing you could get, made with hot water; milk which was strictly rationed. Everyone longed for mealtimes, even though what you got was virtually inedible. At least being below with your mates cheered you up and made you feel warm for a bit. On a long journey like this, boredom was inevitable, so everyone had a strict schedule of work to carry out: cleaning, organising, and lots of physical tasks. One of the worst tasks was being on watch. The huge Polish binoculars were difficult to focus and use, especially when someone else had been using them all day, and keeping the condensation away was a joke.

Sometimes mines would be spotted, and if they were well away from all the ships, the sharpshooters would take pot-shots at them. Because of the roll and keeling of the ship, very few were ever hit and it wasted ammunition, but a crowd always gathered to watch anyway. If they came close to the ship, the experienced sailors were lowered on huge sheets of webbing to shove them away with long wooden poles. The worst scenario would be being attacked whilst this was underway.

Everything on the ship was primitive: the hammocks, the meals, the toilets, and the mess-rooms. Anything that was remotely interesting had been removed long ago. They were on a bare-bones ship with only their cargo and themselves to lose. Milk powder and clothes were going on this journey, and occasionally the captain agreed to some milk powder being broken open and mixed with boiling water as a treat. It tasted foul, and although they drank it rather than nothing, they pitied the recipients away in far off Russia.

Day after day the routine went on, and sleep was the only relief. Sometimes you could get a book from the ship’s library, but they were old and pretty dull. No letters ever came to the ship. You had to get those at Reykjavik, and of course no-one could not speak Russian or Icelandic. On their days off, they went to the local cinema or to an outdoor hot swimming pool, which was no good, if like himyou couldn’t swim anyway.

There were many Americans on this trip. Consultants in various skilled jobs going to lend their expertise, and if one of them got to you, they never stopped talking even when you were trying to work.

US and GB Officers and Troops possibly on Board SS Manela pic. 3 for MW Story

British Naval Officers with American Personnel, thought to be on the SS Manela – Key Publishing Copyright

 

One day, a Senior British Warrant Officer called him in to a makeshift office below decks and asked if he knew anyone who was musical or could sing. When he said he could sing himself, he was told to find a pianist or other instrumentalists and to put on a show for the Americans, who were bored. He protested that he was also bored.

“Yes, but these chaps are our guests. It will be a break from all this ice snow and tedium…am I wrong?”

“No, sir.”

“Right, get on with it. Concert at 22.00 hours tomorrow, in the main mess-hall.” And that was that.

He searched the ranks for musicians and instruments. He found a juggler, a harmonica player, a chap who did magic tricks that no one thought were especially magical, and a George Formby look-alike who could not sing or play anything. Not much of a collection. There was no piano, not even a guitar. He found a room for them all to practice in and watched painfully as they went through their stuff. It was awful.  The Americans, who loved their dancing and singing, would neither be amused or entertained. Still, it was better than nothing at all. He would have to introduce the lot himself. He could inflict his dry and sarcastic Yorkshire wit on them, but he doubted they would make any sense of it.

Feeling fairly desolate, he planned the order of appearance, leaving himself till last. The harmonica-player was inappropriate to accompany him, and so he would have to sing acapella. He felt slightly nervous, not knowing how so many weary non-sailors would react to what they had to offer. He put up the notice for the event and went through the routine of the day, in which there were no major incidents.

At last it came to the appointed hour, and when the small band of entertainers entered the mess hall it was packed tight full of Americans, most smoking, and many already fairly merry on the meagre supply of watered down Icelandic spirits that had been passed around. The Englishmen had kept well away. He estimated maybe sixty Yanks were there.

First was the Magician. They barely reacted. No one knew George Formby, so he lead-ballooned. Then the harmonica player tried several of his best renditions including a couple of famous cowboy songs, and he hoped at least they might hum or sing along, but they were all from the East Coast cities and cowboys meant little to them. It was going like a real disaster, and he felt it was irretrievable. No one clapped. Mostly they talked or shouted at each other, getting visibly sillier and more careless, some even started little entertainments for themselves or played cards in small groups of their own.

He strode at last on to the small stage they had erected in the middle of the mess hall. He was not a tall man, but in his best RAF clothes he looked smart, handsome and purposeful. Standing there with the light shining on him he used his deep, rich voice to talk to them, and they began to quieten. He hoped they had appreciated what they had tried to do to cheer them up, even if it seemed paltry by their standards, and now he was going to sing for them, unaccompanied.

After waiting for silence, he introduced the song:

“This song means a lot to me. As a boy I lived through the Depression in England, and I know how much your country suffered too. It’s called ‘Buddy, can you spare a dime?’”

Off he went into that song.

They used to tell me I was building a dream
And so I followed the mob
When there was earth to plow or guns to bear
I was always there, right on the job

They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower up to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime
Once I built a tower, now it’s done
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee, we looked swell
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell
And I was the kid with the drum

Say, don’t you remember? They called me ‘Al’
It was ‘Al’ all the time
Why don’t you remember? I’m your pal
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, ah, gee, we looked swell
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell
And I was the kid with the drum

Oh, say, don’t you remember? They called me ‘Al’
It was ‘Al’ all the time
Say, don’t you remember? I’m your pal
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

He put all the feeling he could into it, and as it progressed he realised how quiet they had gone. The final notes echoed in the hall and there was complete silence. Some men were looking down at the floor. Then, slowly, they began to applaud until all were on their feet, stamping and cheering, whistling. Chords had been touched deep inside these men. They begged him for more songs, and so he obliged, knowing the lyrics and the tunes by heart. He performed one in which he whistled quite a lot, and that seemed to go particularly well. Despite the smoky atmosphere, his throat lasted, and as he finished, they begged him for the first song again. After the second rendition, there was more wild cheering and he was surrounded by men shaking his hands, hugging him, men with eyes full of tears, hearts in their mouths or on their sleeves. It felt good to be so appreciated in those cold and dark days.

His Senior Officer came to see him late that night as he prepared to go on watch.

“Well done,” the Officer said.  “I’m told it went like clockwork, and they’re all much happier now. Do the same on the way back if we have them with us. I’ve got a feeling we’ll lose them in Murmansk though.”

There was no concert on the way back, but his supply of American cigarettes had significantly increased, and wherever he went for the rest of the journey there were smiles, handshakes and back-slapping, which baffled the English sailors and airmen around him. It was a moment to treasure in a bleak existence, a moment to pass on to your children he thought, as once again he stood alone on the bleak deck watching the swirling dark grey sea with the stifling storm clouds above him, scanning the horizon with its promise of endless cold, rain, and danger.

Phil Dix in full Pilot's RAF gear Pic 4 for MW Story

Phil Dix on board SS Manela in full pilot uniform – Author’s Copyright

 


CHRISTOPHER W. DIX, after obtaining his BA degree, was first a journalist in South Wales. He later became a teacher, then a high school principal, and finally, a Secular Celebrant, before stopping work at age 65. He is now 71.

Copyright © 2018 by Christopher W. Dix. All rights reserved.