‘To a Fallen Leaf’ by Ahmad Aamir Malik

You remind me of the dead and
photographs I dread to glance again.
For, perchance, there are many of
your colour, nature, being, and breath…
None glisten in the dawn dew
for none of them are you.

 


AHMAD AAMIR MALIK is a Pakistani student currently studying Political Science and History at McGill University who believes in the power of poetry as an exploration of the universal emotional core of humanity. His interests span writing, history, politics, and cricket. He has been published in Cambridge’s Notes magazine, was Highly Commended in the Away from the Western Front Poetry Competition 2018, and was the winner of the World Historian Student Essay Contest 2018.

Copyright © 2019 by Ahmad Aamir Malik. All rights reserved.

 

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

The City and Oneself.jpg

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 


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

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

 

‘On You’ by Charlie Evans

On You.jpg

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

It was a long drive back from the cottage.

We awoke hungover in an overcrowded cottage by a lake lacking in food, coffee and cigarettes. Most of us were coming down from drugs, apart from me. But I had awoken in a mood, so I was just about as upbeat and pleasant as the rest. You were one of the most upbeat, something I think you were doing for the benefit of me. You were always good at cheering me up, even when I didn’t want it.

Someone had started playing music, beginning with an Ed Sheeran song – one of the more romantic ones. I remember you groaning because it was loud, and it had woken us up much earlier than we desired. I mumbled something incoherent into my pillow and you laughed, pulling me in closer to you and kissing the top of my head. Eventually we were dragged out of bed by your friends, but you whispered to me that you wished we could’ve stayed there together all day.

We all lingered too long, no one awake enough to begin the long drive back to our respective towns. Someone had braved the roads and driven 20 minutes to buy a pack of smokes for us all to share. You gave me two instead of one. A few people ended up in tears before it even reached noon, me being one of them. It was a bad day. You stood with me on the deck and held my hand, kissing me when no one was looking.

We weren’t together, and all night your friends had asked me why. I began to run out of reasons because, in part, we didn’t know ourselves. It had to do with distance and commitment issues and a big hesitance for either of us to acknowledge that it could possibly be something more than just sex. We’d been sleeping together on and off for a long time by that point, but we treated it as if it wasn’t a big deal. Because it wasn’t, we told ourselves. We’d never put a label on it, always keeping it casual because we didn’t want to rush into things and make them fall to ruin.

The night before, as we’d sat around the fire, I had seen your eyes on me. One of your friends couldn’t help but point it out. You blew it off as if it were nothing but gave me a look. A look I knew well at that point: a look meant just for me. The one that kept your words in when you, with your eyes, tried to tell me how you felt.

You made sure we stopped on the drive back, telling your friends that I was a nightmare without coffee—a hard fact. You let me order first at the Walmart McDonald’s, saying I needed it more than you did. I hushed you and told you to order your burger.

At some point during the drive, you reached across the backseat of the car and grabbed my hand, intertwining our fingers and giving me a squeeze. You didn’t let go for at least an hour.

I looked at you and I finally knew. I let myself acknowledge the truth that I’d tried to bury for God knows how long.

I felt it.

That feeling where you realize that the person in front of you is so incredible. The feeling when you know you could sit and listen to the person ramble on for hours and never be bored. When you know that sitting in silence with them is the best thing you’ve known. That they’re everything. All you need, all you want, all you could ever possibly see that point in life.

I didn’t tell you. I couldn’t.

You looked at me when I was staring at you, reached out and touched my cheek. “What?” you whispered.

I shook my head at you. I didn’t know how to find the words. I still don’t.

“Nothing,” I whispered back.

You can always tell when I lie. You leaned across the car and kissed me, a bit deeper than you normally did in front of people. Your two friends in the front seats made a comment, but you kissed me again and then turned back to look out the window, holding my hand the whole way home. I stared out my own window, trying to think of the sky instead of the colour of your eyes.

We dropped me off first, back in Toronto. You got out of the car with me and pulled me into a hug, holding me tight, telling me that you’d see me next weekend for our friend’s wedding. The wedding that I didn’t know then would cause the end of us – even if it turned out to be for the best. The end of everything. The sex, the phone calls, the whispered conversations under the cover of stars, the friendship.

Losing the friendship just about caused me to lose myself. At least for a little while.

But we didn’t know that yet.

All I knew was the feeling I had felt in that back seat, and all you knew? I still don’t know. I may never know. But that’s okay.

Because for one afternoon, one long car ride back from the cottage, I knew.

And you didn’t.

 


CHARLIE EVANS: I am currently in my second year of an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree at Sheridan College in Creative Writing and Publishing. I enjoy writing both creative non-fiction and fiction, typically writing short stories as well as longer pieces. I am looking to begin publishing my work both online and in print in a more official capacity.

Copyright © 2019 by Charlie Evans. All rights reserved.

 

‘A Coffee Date With Death’ by Ian Canon

Coffee Date

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

“You’re late, Isaac.”

“You’re mistaken, Labe,” he said, raising a finger in the air as he sat down. “The Grim Reaper is never early—nor late. He always arrives just in time.”

Labe, the elder of the two, had a mangy red beard and eyes like fava beans. He curled his fingers around a cup of coffee, the steam somersaulting across his forehead. Isaac had a neat, close-cropped beard and rounded eye-glasses.

“You’re still late.”

“You really haven’t seen?”

“Seen what?”

“It’s all over the news. I was schlepping souls up off the street all afternoon! What a day, a night, a week, if it was a month!”

“Explain.”

“The stock market crashed. Kaput! Nobody has money. Nothing! Zilch! They’re jumping out of buildings left and right.” Isaac threw up his hands as if tossing imaginary paper bills in the air. “The roof to The Bank of New York had an hour wait just to jump. An hour!

“That’s just the way these humans are. Such fickle beings. So proud yet prone to despair. But you, Isaac,” he said, extending an accusatory index finger. “Always with the excuses. Always late. We had a meeting. One you called, I remind you. So souls can wait. God knows they have an eternity.”

“Labe! I couldn’t help it, I swear. You don’t understand the difficulties of someone in my position! The angel of death, the man with a giant, terrifying scimitar. These are not positive things, mind you. A thankless job, if ever there was—”

“Welcome to Monk’s! Coffee?” a young boy sidled up to the table.

“Please, please.” Isaac wiped the sweat from his glistening forehead.  “Oy. I’m famished.”

“Cream or Sugar?”

“Black, my boy, always black. I’m getting old, you know! Weight’s becoming a factor.”

“Black. Got it.” The waiter turned to Isaac. “And you, sir? Need anything else?”

“My coffee is still serving me quite well, thank you.”

“Let me know if you two need anything else,” the boy said. He disappeared behind a swivelling back kitchen door.

“Why do you do that, Isaac?”

“Do what?”

“My weight. My age. These things aren’t real.”

“I like to play the part. It’s fun. What’s it matter?”

“Ugh…” Labe said, shaking his head, waving Isaac away. “I guess it doesn’t.”

“Anyway, what were we on about.”

“Your, as you put it, thankless job.”

“That’s right. A thankless job. One you wouldn’t understand.”

“My appointment is every much as difficult as yours.” He furrowed his thick red brows. “Some might say it’s more difficult, even. Let’s look at the facts, shall we? The crude birth rate, per 1000 people, is 19.4, while the mortality rate is significantly less, sitting at just under 8 deaths per 1000 people.” He slurped his coffee, his mustache coming back damp. “I have to usher into existence twice the souls you usher out on a daily basis, and you’re trying to tell me about difficulty. You have much to learn, Isaac.”

He raised a finger in the air. “Still, still. You’re held up in high esteem for your actions. A hero! Whereas I’m hated, feared, and misunderstood! The humans praise the lord every time you perform your little miracle, while they curse my name. It’s the most thankless job! One that I’ve been doing forever!”

“We’ve both been at it forever. This is nothing new to you.”

“That’s why I called this meeting. I’m fed up!” He collapsed onto the table, still talking into his arms. “When does it end? When do we get a day off? When can I go on vacation? How long are we here for?”

“I’ve never considered the question before.” He stroked his beard. “I would imagine this is our lot for eternity, my old friend.”

“Eternity!” Isaac stuck his tongue out in a mock-gag. “Bupkes! But tell me, Labe, in your infinite wisdom, what was before eternity? What did you do before this? What is after this? These people have their death, their escape, and what do we have? Are we human? Are we something else?”

“I do not know.” He looked up at the ceiling as if the answer were written on a poorly dusted overhead light. “I’ve only known life. This life. That’s it.”

“But you must know more than me! Life by very definition preceded death. What was I before this… whatever this is!”

“These are questions I do not have an answer for, but they are excellent questions, nonetheless.”

“Who does, Labe?” He leaned in closer and whispered. “The humans? Can we ask them? Surely, before they come to life or shortly after they leave it, they must have something to say!”

“An interesting possibility. I do not see why not. Where shall we begin our line of questioning?”

Isaac’s eyes glowed at the possibility of answers. “The beginning,” he said. “And the end. A hospital.”

“Just 12 blocks east.”

“Let’s go! Souls, those weary travellers, are waiting to be ushered into existence!” Isaac stood up and hopped, from one foot to the other, like a school boy playing hopscotch, out of the cafe.

Labe stood in a stiff, almost robotic, motion, brushed himself off, and left a $5.00 bill on the table. Shortly after, the boy-waiter brought over a pot of coffee, shrugged at the empty seats, and pocketed the change.

Despite the bodies raining from the rooftops, blotting out the sun as they fell through the air, it was a beautiful summer day in New York.

“Have you ever attempted to talk to the unborn?” Isaac said, stepping over a body.

“No, Isaac. I never quite saw the point.”

“What are they like?”

“They’re not really like anything. They’re quiet, I suppose. They arrive, from God knows where, these frail winged babes, to be ushered into a body. It’s an unglamorous activity with nothing of note to report. Have you talked to the dearly departed?”

“Talked? No. Listened? Not if I can help it! The damn things don’t shut up. They yap about this and that and the other. Always yapping.” A homeless man leaned into Isaac and asked for spare change. Isaac, ignoring the man, continued. “Yap, yap, yap. I rarely get a word in.”

“What’s the process like when you pull them out of a body?”

“More often than not, they’re confused before they fly off to, as you said, God knows where. Probably the same place they came from.”

“Have you ever seen a dead soul after the ushering? Say, walking around the street amongst the living?”

“Hmmm. That’s a good question. No, I can’t say that I have. I guess they don’t come back, then. Isn’t that odd?”

“I suppose it is. Where do they go off to?”

“Up there, I imagine.” Issac gestured towards the sky.

Entering the hospital, they lost their elderly exterior and took on the appearance of two middle-aged doctors. They carried with them an air of ease, comfort, and respectability as they walked through the narrow corridors of the hospital and towards the maternity wing. With their new skins, no one doubted their position or purpose.

“Where are we going, Labe?”

“Just a little farther, Isaac. At the end of the hall, on the left, up here, there’s a woman a few minutes from birth. A soul will soon be entering her. It’ll make a perfect specimen to question.”

They walked into the room. A woman, legs high in sternums, was red-faced and panting. No one seemed to care or notice the doctors’ intrusion.

“So what happens now?” Isaac asked.

Labe put his finger to his lips. He turned his chin to the sky. A small, wingless cherub floated through the roof, head first, and held out his hands towards Labe. Labe grasped the soul’s hands and gently set him on the ground.

“We have some questions to ask you, child.”

The bodiless soul blinked into the void.

“Ask him where he comes from!” Isaac said, a few feet behind Labe.

Labe glowered at Isaac, annoyed by his impulsiveness, then turned back to the small translucent soul and asked, “My child. Where do you come from? What came before this? Do you remember anything?”

No one said anything for several minutes.

Issac leaped forward. “Well, what is it, human! Where do you come from?”

If there was any effect on the child from Isaac’s outburst, it was not visible on its outward appearance. It remained lifeless and without expression, except for the empty smile on its face.

Labe tried his hand again. “Do you understand my words, child? Do you know what it is I am saying? We must know where you come from.”

Blankness. No response.

Labe knelt down. “Do you have any memory of anything before this?” He stared into the child’s eyes, hoping something would disturb its stillness, but the boy simply looked through him.

Labe stood up and turned to Isaac. “Its small cherub lips would likely not part for anything, man or beast.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t believe it has the capability to communicate. This thing here is a blank slate. It has no memories, thoughts or desires. Before us is an empty soul, waiting to experience the life of a human and to feast on its many experiences. It waits to learn, to play, to love. As of now, it has no knowledge to give us because it has no knowledge.”

“Are you saying there is nothing to gain here?”

“Perhaps not. The soul prior to birth is as lost, if not more so than we are. It is only through life that it gains some knowledge.”

“Then perhaps we must question it after it has lived a full life. We must question the dead!”

“Indeed, Isaac. We must.”

Labe lifted the pre-born by the shoulders and laid him over the pregnant woman as if it were a clean bed sheet.

“We’ve got a head,” A doctor said, as they left the room.

Isaac and Labe walked through the corridors of the hospital until they came upon a small commotion of nurses and doctors.

“This should do nicely,” Isaac said.

They entered the room. There was a man on the operating table with his chest open, hooked up to a variety of machines, the ominous steady ring of a heart monitor, the 21st century calling of the dead and dying, still heavy in the air.

“Is he dead?” Labe asked. He had always been uncomfortable around the dead. He assumed this uneasiness was bestowed upon him, for his duties regarded the living, not the dead.

“A goner.”

Isaac pinched the skin of the man’s shoulders and lifted up a soul, vaguely outlined by the shape of the man it came from. He placed it on the ground and it, as if Isaac stepped on a hidden air pedal, began to inflate. Fully animated, it judged its surroundings with the wide eyes of terror.

“Where am I?”

“You’ve passed,” Isaac said.

“Passed? What do you mean?”

“You’re dead. You’ve died.”

The soul looked around again, seeing its former shell laying, stiff and still, on the operating table. “I… I… I’m dead?” He looked at the pale feet of his old body with disappointment.

“Dead as the day is long.”

“My God,” the man said, throwing his hands around, pacing the room. “My friends. My family.”

“They’ll be fine. What’s your name, soul?”

“B-brian. My name is Brian. Brian Thompson. When will I see my family again?”

Labe walked forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Be calm, gentle soul, your family will be fine.” Labe stepped back behind Isaac.

“We would like to ask you some questions,” Isaac said.

An unnatural stillness, cased in confusion, came over Brian. “You want to ask me questions?

“Yes,” Labe said.

“I have a few questions of my own.”

“If we answer yours,” Isaac said, “will you answer ours?”

“I guess.”

“Then go ahead.”

“First of all, who are you two? What are you?”

“I am Isaac. Some people call me the Grim Reaper, or Death, or the Angel of Death, or Michael, but I prefer simply Isaac.” Isaac looked back at Labe. “And my friend over there is my counterpart. People don’t call him anything. Most don’t know he exists. I take the souls out at death and he puts them in at birth. He goes by Labe.”

“Okay. Isaac and Labe. What happens now?”

“We were hoping you could tell us that.”

The soul’s face contorted, and he took a step back. “I don’t understand. Isn’t that your job? Aren’t you supposed to take me somewhere? What do you usually do with a soul?”

“We don’t do anything. My job is to pull the soul from its body and Labe’s is to place it in a body. Beyond that, we have no clue where you come from or go when you die.”

“And you want me to tell you where I’m supposed to go when I know nothing?”

Yes,” Labe said. “We’ve been here on earth for an eternity, and it appears we are stuck here for an eternity more. What we don’t know, and what we may never know, is what happens beyond death, and you lot seem to be free’d, upon death, from your earthly confinements.”

“Well,” the soul said, attempting to stroke his chin, but slipping through his bottom lip. “Let’s work this out together. What happens to a soul after you free it… Isaac, was it?”

“They’re usually out of their mind, or in shock, or overwhelmingly sad. They ask me questions, questions I can’t answer, then I tell them they’re free to go, to fly off into the sky, wherever they wish.”

“And you’ve never asked one where they planned to go?”

“Honestly? I’ve thought about it.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t really say. Something always stopped me, I guess. Besides, they always find their way, wherever they go.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve never seen a soul return to earth. I haven’t seen them on the streets, or in the supermarket, or at the bottom of a bottle of milk.

“Do you know where you’ll go?” Labe asked.

“I don’t have a damn clue. Where would you go, if you suddenly found yourself free?”

“I suppose I would look for answers,” Labe said.

“Where would you do that?”

“Everywhere,” Labe said. “The universe is unimaginably large.”

“Maybe that’s why you’ve never seen one return,” the soul said.

“Why?”

“There are no road maps out there. Once you’re gone, it’s like finding a spec of dust in an ocean of sand.”

“You believe them—those like you—to be lost? All of them?”

“Or maybe this state gives way too, sooner or later,” he said, examining his opaque exterior.

“Think so?” Isaac said.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned on earth, it’s that nothing is forever.”

“What’s it like?” Isaac asked.

“What?”

“That body. I’ve always meant to ask.”

“There’s a certain lightness to it.” Brian lifted a few centimetres off the ground. “But some things, physiologically, don’t make a whole lot of sense. I can feel, but I don’t have skin. I don’t have eyes, but I can see. I don’t have lungs or hold air, but something is producing a voice. My body has weight, but I’m floating here, seemingly unaware of gravity’s existence.”

Isaac smiled. “Maybe we were once human, you think?”

“Perhaps,” Labe said. “But I am not aware of any death of mine.”

“Did it hurt?” Isaac asked. “Do you remember it?”

“It hurt for a bit, but it was sudden. A heart attack, I think. I was watching my daughter’s school play—her head sticking through a hole in a tree—when I toppled over, digging my fingernails into my chest. Then I woke up here, whatever this is.”

“Whatever this is, indeed,” Labe said.

“So, have I been of any help?” Brian said.

“Absolutely none,” Isaac said. “But it’s sure been an interesting experiment.”

“This experiment has done nothing but double my questions.”

“Answers are a monkey’s paw—they always come with more questions.”

“Where to now?”

Brian looked up, hands on his hips, floating in the room like Peter Pan’s shadow. “Somewhere up there, I guess.”

“Don’t let us keep you,” Isaac said.

“Goodbye,” Labe said.

“So long my supernatural companions.” The soul floated into the ceiling, never to be seen again.

As they left the hospital, Isaac and Labe walked with their heads down and their voices quiet. They pondered the complex nature of the universe, so vast and untamed, a wild horse unbroken by man or ghost until they reached the Bank of New York. The ground was littered with bodies and blood ran down the sidewalk, emptying into a nearby drain.

“Looks like you have your work cut out for you, Isaac,” Labe said.

Isaac put a hand across his brow and looked up at the roof of the building. “Never a weekend, or a vacation, or a day off—an eternity of work—toiling for God knows why.” He pulled away from the roof and looked at Labe. “What difference does it make if I release the souls? Who would be the wiser if I took a month off?”

“It is our purpose for being, Isaac.”

“Maybe I don’t need a purpose. Have you ever thought of that? Maybe I just want to be free! Maybe I just want to wander the universe, a lost soul.”

And at that moment, a body came careening through the sky, splattering the being formerly known as death into a thousand pieces, like a bug on a windshield and Labe never saw Isaac again.

 


IAN CANON is the author of the novel It’s A Long Way Down (2018) and the poetry collection Before Oblivion (2017). He’ll be releasing his second novel What We Do On Weekends in 2020. His stories have been featured in The Sunlight Press, The Spadina Literary Review, Kyler Zeleny’s short story collection Found Polaroids, and he has been interviewed for Vue Magazine. He runs a small writing workshop in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada through which he mentors young writers and helps them advance their work through both traditional publishing and self-publishing. For more, visit thisisallcanon.com.

Copyright © 2019 by Ian Canon. All rights reserved.

‘Ghosts of South London’ by Catherine Watson

South London

Illustration by Andres Garzon

In my grandmother’s garden there was a stunted, knuckled tree near a ramshackle bomb shelter, a sheet of corrugated iron curved over a shallow hole. My grandmother lived in an Edwardian terrace house in a dull London suburb: the house had only four rooms, one front and one back on two floors.  My father was the oldest child and the oldest son – there were three children – and he was the one with the most responsibility and the deepest awareness of how much hope and happiness had been destroyed.  His burden of suffering was part of my childhood: it wasn’t the only way I knew him, but it did form the kernel of my understanding of un-rightable wrong.  Whatever cruelty, violence, fear or disappointment my father had known in his early years lay deep inside him and was never softened or set aside.

As we approached my grandmother’s house, a grimness settled on my father like a deadening blow.  He was someone who could shut off feeling in an instant; when he was really tense or anxious the side of his nose would twitch and the rims of his eyes would turn red.

My mother was scornful of my father’s family. She picked up pieces of family lore and turned them into humourless fun, like calling the house “7GR” – for 7 Guildford Road – which was how my grandfather headed his letters to my father. “7 GR, ugh!” she would say when a visit was planned, and we all knew it would be very unpleasant.  Her reasons were unexplained.

This is the story of what I learned about my father’s family at different ages and what my father’s family meant to me.

 

My father was an internal revenue inspector.  At the height of the Depression he studied by correspondence and sat the open civil service exams.  He passed second in the country, entering the British middle-middle class at a single stroke.  He left school at sixteen and had previously worked as a clerk.  Both my parents were from the same area of London, the northern part of Croydon, but my mother’s family was more stable than my father’s. They helped my father when he was struggling to escape poverty.  My parents married after my father completed two years’ probation with the civil service.

I was born in the spring of 1945, two weeks before the end of World War II in Europe.  (I am now seventy-four.)  I was born outside London as my father worked in Gloucester, about ninety-five miles to the west.  My family traveled up to London periodically to see both sets of grandparents, although I doubt we went often as almost no one had a car.  For me, as a young child, post-war London was an almost mythical land: escalators in the Underground tunneling deep into the earth, bomb sites filled with weeds and rubble, blown-out buildings standing stark against the sky.  In the neighbourhoods where my grandparents lived, houses were older and closer together; they let in less light.

My family moved back into London in 1950, when I was five-and-a-half.  After the move, we also lived in Croydon – in South Croydon, the other side of town.  My first complete memories are from around that time, possibly the year before; I have fragments of memory from a couple of years earlier.  My first memories are still split between those that have colour, movement, cheerfulness (from my everyday life) and those that are darker and stranger (memories of my grandparents, and especially my father’s childhood home).

We continued to visit my grandmother (my father’s mother) almost until she died in 1969.

______________________________________________________

I can recall my grandmother’s house almost exactly.  The front room, called the parlour, was kept for special occasions and I can remember going in there only to look.  There was an upright piano and a short, flat sofa with thin, sausage-shaped arms.  The sofa was upholstered in carpet-like material and the arms were secured at the ends with disks of carved wood.  In front of the window was a table with a large china pot.  The curtains were yellow net, machine-made.

Family visits took place in the back room – was it called the breakfast room?  I can’t remember now what my grandmother called it.  It was there that we sat at a long wooden table and ate bread and butter and small, hard-iced cakes bought at the local corner store.  My brother and I drank what the English call squash, meaning concentrated orangeade diluted with tap water, and the adults drank tea out of stained china cups.  There was a hanging gas lamp over the table lit from a tiny pilot light that flared when you pulled a string.

The kitchen was called the scullery.  This was a sort of annex and had a deep stone sink, a gas stove and a big cylindrical contraption used for laundry called a copper.  The outside lav was reached by a short path through the garden and had a flimsy door made out of wooden slats.

The only running water was in the kitchen.  There was no electric light because no one had had the money to put it in, not grandfather and not the landlord as there was rent control on smaller houses that had been rented for a long time.  My grandmother had lived there since 1915: she stayed partly because of poverty but also because she had an inherited blindness condition, retinitis pigmentosa, and could not live independently anywhere else.  The condition was progressive and, by the time I knew her, she could only distinguish light from dark.  She wore the round, white-framed dark glasses of the blind.

One person is missing from the picture I have of my grandmother’s house – my grandfather.  He didn’t die until I was seven and so must have been present at family teas, but I have no recollection of him there.  I have one clear image of him, probably taken from a photograph: he was stocky and had white hair.  I have another, indistinct memory of the one thick, raised boot he wore.  He had one normal boot, flat to the ground, and another which dragged slightly and made him hobble; this marked him as a veteran of World War I.

The survivors of WWI were still around at that time.  Some sold newspapers on the street.  They were crippled, abandoned men who sat vacantly in parks, resigned and faceless in the weak English sun.

My grandfather’s youngest brother, Uncle Harold, was of this type.  He wore the same boot as my grandfather and occasionally came to tea. My grandfather was more outgoing than my uncle, but his sociability had a disturbing edge.  Once, during a visit to our house, he said to my mother, “You’re looking pasty, Margaret,” and this upset her greatly. There was an aura about him that couldn’t be reconciled: he was neither normal nor abnormal, neither shunned nor accepted as a member of the group.

I don’t think anyone was upset when my grandfather died. Sometime afterwards, my mother told me, “Your grandfather died of prostate cancer,” but I wasn’t sure what that meant.

As a young child, I believed his spirit lived in my grandmother’s bare, wasted garden.  I pictured him living underneath the rough iron roof of the bomb shelter, which I then believed was from his war.  I know now it was from the Second World War, the war my parents lived through and which my older brother had some memories of.  It was an Anderson shelter, assembled at home.

My brother had his own ideas about my grandfather’s last resting place.  After my grandfather died, my brother told me, “Grandpa’s buried under that tree,” meaning the tree in my grandmother’s garden.  My brother is called Robert.  He is almost three years older than I am and can’t have believed himself what he said.  (He would have been at least ten.)  I half-believed it, I think because there was a logic to it:  my grandfather never quite died, not for my parents and not for any of us.

I can’t remember ever seeing that tree in leaf; it was always bare, twisted, like the land you see around the trenches in WWI photos.  I remember Robert said, “If you plant trees upside down they grow with their roots in the air,” and I believed that too.  I knew he was referring specifically to that tree.

When I was eight or nine, I went through a religious phase – we said prayers and sang hymns at school – and I said to my father, “I think we should forgive Grandpa now that he’s dead.”  My mother came and told me my father was very upset I’d said that.  I knew I’d done something wrong.

At the time of our family visits, my father was secure.  He had been working in the civil service for more than a dozen years and had been married to my mother for almost as long.  He had two children of his own, whom he loved.  But I think he was frightened of his father.  My earliest memory of my father, and my first clear memory, is of him coming to pick up Robert and me at another house.  My mother was in the hospital, but coming home, and we’d been sent to stay with another family.  We’d got into some trouble with the other kids, but Robert and I hadn’t been punished because we were guests.  The two of us were waiting at the gate when my father appeared at the top of a slight rise.  I saw him before he saw us, and I remember he looked bereft and alone.  It was as if he’d forgotten all about us, forgotten he had anyone to care for, or who cared about him.  I knew then I was stronger and more self-confident than he was.  I was five.  He was forty-one.

By my late teens, and because I wanted to learn about my own history, I knew most of what I know now about my father’s family. My grandfather was a sergeant in World War I.  He volunteered at the beginning of the war.  He survived but with an untreated shrapnel wound that caused him to spend the year of 1918-19 as a prisoner of war in Russia.  After he got back and got fixed up, he couldn’t get a job anywhere and he didn’t lie down under life’s injustice. He vented his anger on my grandmother and my Aunt Helen, the youngest child and only girl.  He used to say to my father, “I can’t get you, so I’ll take it out on them,” and my father would flee the house.  I heard this from my mother, never from my father.

My father was born in 1909.  He was four years older than his younger brother, seven years older than his sister.  When my grandfather returned to the family, my father was ten, possibly older, making him a more difficult target for my grandfather’s aggression.  This my father understood.  I remember my mother telling me, à propos of nothing very much, “Your father believes he escaped because his father was away in the war.  By the time he came back, your father was big enough to fight back.  That’s why he left him alone.”

My father was the one successful child.  His younger brother worked as a supervisor-mechanic with the Outer London bus service – a steady job but nothing to be proud of in my parents’ view.  My father’s sister, my Aunt Helen, worked as a bank teller until her mid-thirties, when she was admitted for treatment in a psychiatric hospital.  I was six at the time, possibly just seven.  She was hospitalized for eight years and died of a codeine overdose about two years after her discharge.  I don’t think anyone knew if her death was a suicide.  I was sixteen.

My parents connected my aunt’s illness to my grandfather’s abusive treatment of her, but they could never talk openly about what my grandfather had done.  After my aunt died, my mother told me, “Auntie Helen used to sleep on the sofa in the sitting room,” and I knew my mother meant more than she said.  At another time, my mother told me, “Your father found her another place to stay.  She rented a room with another family, at nineteen, once she was working.  But it was too late for her.  She used to eat and eat and eat.”  When my mother spoke about my aunt, she almost always called her “Helen” in a tone of quiet distaste.  It was rarely “your aunt,” never “your father’s sister,” certainly not “my sister-in-law.” My father hardly talked about her at all.

It’s clear to me now that my father authorized my aunt’s hospitalization (although she was a voluntary patient).  After her discharge, my mother told me that my aunt had been arrested for shoplifting and psychiatric treatment was an alternative to being charged in court.  My mother added, “The police came to our door at six in the morning.”  My mother didn’t need to tell me that; I always knew that my aunt had done something irrevocable and bad.

After he retired, my father began to write his autobiography – his early life in fictional form.  He was a good writer and I learnt to write from him, from his letters; I learned to put on paper what was in my mind.  When he was younger, my father had written plays and some short stories, and the theme was always the same:  his uncertain sense of belonging in the middle-class world.  His novel was to be more personal and direct, staying close to his memories of childhood.  My mother typed up the first chapter and sent it to me in Canada.  I was by then married, which for my parents meant that I was a full adult.

The chapter was devastating in its honesty.  It describes how my father and his younger brother used to hang out in a park outside the family home – a place where they knew they would be safe.  The boys talk, they plan, they spot pretty girls, and it was all so unlike my father. My father read books.  He went to work every day in a suit.  He was the decision-maker; his word was usually final, and as far as I knew, he didn’t stray.  But there was something else I didn’t know about him, or hadn’t seen laid out in the clear light of day:  in the consciousness of the main character is an alien presence, a living force which threatens to destroy.

The young man’s father never appears in the novel, and he never acts nor speaks.  But when the young man thinks of returning home, he anticipates a clash over some pointless, nameless issue, and it is then that his father takes on flesh and blood in the young man’s mind.  Only the father knows the reason for the clash and assumes that he is in the right.  Seeing that he must fight, and not knowing why or to what end, the young man starts to shake uncontrollably.  He is humiliated in advance because he knows he is weak.

My father never finished his novel.  My mother said, “It’s therapy for him.”  In the chapter I read the young man calls his father “the old devil.”

Both of my parents died in 1987, my mother six months before my father.  They outlived my grandmother by less than twenty years.  My grandmother died at eighty-nine and lived in the same house until two years before her death.  My parents died in their seventies.

After my mother died, when my father was in the hospital, I stayed alone in my parents’ house.  I found old letters and papers scattered in almost every room. Two of the letters were from my grandmother and my aunt to my father, written following one of my grandfather’s violent attacks.  My father was then married to my mother and living away from home.  The letters were passionate, copious cris de coeur describing headaches, sickness, despair. The two women wrote as if my father was their only hope on earth.  My grandmother’s letter ended with remembrances to my mother, and then, “God bless her sweet face” – in an appeal to a still higher source of help.

There was another letter from my father to my grandmother announcing my birth.  His letter ended, “Here’s dibs for the week,” referring to the weekly money he sent to keep her afloat.

After my father died, I found fragments of his diary, scribbled pencil entries in a hard-cover notebook, written first on scrap paper and then transcribed.  “I had too much responsibility forced on me as a child,” my father wrote, as if his chances for happiness ended there.  Even his handwriting betrays him: cramped, spidery, f’s, h’s and l’s curled in the old-fashioned way, other letters faint and broken, the spaces too large between each word.  It’s the writing of a man who fears judgment at every turn.  My brother’s comment on my father’s private writings was that it was like seeing the other side of the moon.

__________________________________________________________

When my parents left out those old papers, what did they want me to find?  What had they been looking for?  I don’t think they were looking for any sort of justification for themselves or their lives. They wanted to bring back who they had been, what they’d lived for.  They wanted closeness to their past.  Three decades after their deaths, what am I looking for?  I think some sense of how much I am still like them, how far their lives are repeated in mine.

 


CATHERINE WATSON taught sociology for ten years in Montreal and outside Quebec and has worked as a survey interviewer in Montreal.  She has published poetry and prose in Montreal Serai.  She is presently a member of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning.

Copyright © 2019 by Catherine Watson. All rights reserved.

‘Home Tastes Just Like Fried Plantains’ by Silvana Morales

Fried Plantains
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No oil, no rice, no meat! What now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, you can! Papi, por favor –”

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

“Papi…”

“I said NO.”

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

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

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

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

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

“They cut down the tree…”

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

_________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Miguel. I’m here, mijo.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Fried plantains.” The old man repeated.

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

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

“Papi?”

“They cut down the tree, mijo.”

Miguel was quiet. “I’m sorry, Papi.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m here, Papi.”

“Is it difficult to go to Canada?”

“What?”

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

“Are you sure, Papi?”

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

 


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

Copyright © 2019 by Silvana Morales. All rights reserved.

 

‘The Fringes’ by Vera Oleynikova

The FringesIllustration by Andres Garzon

 

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

“No, I pay rent,” I insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Copyright © 2019 by Vera Oleynikova. All rights reserved.

‘Sweaty Hands’ by Jude Klaassen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Copyright © 2019 by Jude Klaassen. All rights reserved.

‘Along the Old North Road’ by Emma Kinnear

Old North Road
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Chained-up whimpering farm dogs, Brexit signs, and lucent yellow fields slowly disappeared. Hedgerow dissipated into copses, pebble-dash farmhouses to rows of limestone cottages. It became hard to concentrate on the tale of Treasure Island once we were on the road.

‘Was it written by an ancestor?’

‘Yes, a distant one. His full name was Robert LewisBalfour Stevenson. A different branch of the same Balfour stem as us.’

No one was listening by then though. Children liked questions more than answers. The wind rose and the rain returned. Everything in the new campervan was modular, had multiple purposes, metamorphosed. Somehow, despite that, it was hard to be excited. Disjointed words were texted.

Sorry for the confusion. I’m just so muddled. Don’t think I am fit to do this. It is an idea though. Sorry.’

Accompanied earlier by a long voice message, unintelligible, between sobs. Everything had shifted, changed, roles realigned. Reincarnated. I was once a daughter. She was once a mother.

Hills rose, the endless flat fields of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and South Lincolnshire were gone. Lambs and calves hovered by their mothers, heads down amongst meadows with poppies and marigolds. Midges returned.

Sheep encaged in small metal boxes were ferried alongside us. Alice, a new vegan, glared.

Grey skies pulled back. The sun lingered above the new landscape: spruce, oak and copper birch. Flowering gorse lined verges. It was early summer and there was so much roadkill: doe, pheasants, foxes, some no longer identifiable, just the bloody innards. A chap I once knew picked up all roadkill, filling his many freezers. Home-grown vegetables, roadkill, and self-caught fish  were his diet.  Dead human bodies are treated with such composure, restricted carefully by legislation, kept cool with the chemically-induced appearance of life until lawful disposure. Yet other animals’ bodies can be hung from butcher’s windows, pickled, stuffed, turned on rotaries, wrapped in freezers, or just abandoned.

Leaning on each other, the children slept while my husband listened to his audiobook. There was no one to ask—did it matter—my anthropomorphism of everything?

An ewe mourns her dead lamb. She was unable to leave his side, curled around his body, lamenting, refusing to eat. She might have never moved, had his body not been pulled from her. When my old mottled guinea pigs lifelong companion died, she cleaned his body, licking him from head to paw, then laid beside him. Hours later, Guinea would not rise; eventually she hid. She would not eat and died soon after.

The signs for Sunderland passed. Briefly I lived in that proud north-eastern city, developed an obsession there for running. Ice, darkness, or sea fret were no deterrence. The ritual was ten miles, thrice a week, along a desolate coastal path—around coves, sea arches, chalky bays, and lighthouses.

Great-great grandfather, George Thomas Balfour-Kinnear, boarded a while at the Grange School in Sunderland.  At noon on 2nd October 1845, a procession of Grange boys were led over abandoned quarries and around what became a coastal park with anchors and driftwood, down to the sandy seashore. You can imagine them chattering, whistling, the sun in their eyes. George Thomas wanted to bathe that day too but was held back on account of failing to finish his Latin homework.  All along the North Sea the currents quite suddenly shift as the tide turns. Their power could drag you back, out, tear the sand away from underneath, knock you to the ground. You forget its strength when floating, staring up to the evening sky, or tugging the children around in a dingy. Likewise, on that day in 1845, all was calm and warm, until the sky darkened, the gentle waves reformed. One of George Thomas’ friends struggled and four others, including the boy’s brother, and their master, tried in vain to rescue him: all five drowned.

Angel of the North, Gormley’s memorial statute, glimmered ahead, momentarily stretching, desperately, above the trees. We stared at her bronze-like beauty. Built with steel from the closed-down pithead baths where coal miners washed before returning home.  Soon she too was gone. So many times I had visited her: built snowmen beside her, sat in the rain eating,  touched her metallic skin,  watched the sunset. Then we moved away, forgot her.  Now we did not even stop.

Off the main road, small squat trees leaned eastwards in the saline breeze, reached towards the sea. Two old men chatted, fiddling with their cufflinks. Both wore faded suits:  one grey, one black. Over the stone humped bridge and into Alnmouth, multi-coloured houses curved around the horseshoe bay. We thought so many times about living there, viewed several houses and never moved. That was long ago, it makes me feel mournful to return, like seeing an old lover, all those unfinished or unformed memories.  Why didn’t we move there?

Parked up, we headed for the beach, wood-fire smoke curled up, sedated us. Onto the dunes, we removed our shoes. There was an acrid stench of salty fish. Sea coal scattered across the beautiful expanse of sands, black shiny lumps from closed mines. Quickly the tide came in, the estuary filled with such velocity, red flags fluttered, the sea surged, and the landscape changed shape. St Cuthbert’s cross on the hilltop, where the estuary meets the sea, stretched further away. Winds rose. The children, who had been lulled into a mesmeric pensiveness, sharpened again, lamented their hunger. Bickered.

Inside the daytime café and nighttime bistro, all was as it always was: prints of the village and surrounding Northumberland covered the walls, the sideboard was brimming with rich four-layer cakes, the waitresses were ever young, fresh-faced and friendly,  the menu still had gunpowder and blue lady tea.

It was time to send mother another message. ‘How are you now?’ She was new to texting and disliked it. Likewise, the first time Granny used the internet, she said it was, ‘Astounding. Simply astounding,’ yet looked away mournfully towards the view she had always known, the heather across the moors.

‘What are we doing tomorrow, Mum?’

‘We’re going to Melrose to see the Abbey.’

‘Why?’

‘Another ancestor, Saint Waltheof, great-grandson of Earl Siward, step-son of King David, he was the founding Abbot of that Abbey. Imagine that, a family saint!’

Waltheof’s Cistercian life of self-inflicted austerity, near starvation, sleeplessness (rising at 2am), devoutness, often solitude or silence, led to hallucinations which exalted him, apparently, to see Jesus impaled on his wooden cross with nails pierced through his flesh and the crown of thorns upon his head. Corpus Christi.

Our food arrived and we start to talk about what to cook for supper and about what they’d do the day I was to visit Edinburgh. They didn’t moan about any of it.  Last holiday we went to Orkney by train and boat; next holiday we’re planning to return to Scotland. I wanted to justify myself, reiterate my interest in our ancestral lands, as a way of addressing ownership and land justice. Remind them of the authenticity of this, backed up by academic research on land rights and years of work for charities in  housing law, mental health law, running a law centre and helping out at the foodbank, but it all sounded pious. They knew the dirty secret too: there is an inner part, ashamedly, which almost relishes in such illustrious ancestry, which whispers. ‘I have direct lineal ancestry from the ancient baronial family of the Balfours of Muquhanny! I have direct lineage back to Robert the Bruce and William the Conqueror!’

It was recorded by Burke, in numerous other books and in dusty archives. This mantra gives courage when nervous, allowing me to hold my head up high. It shouldn’t be true, but it is. My beautiful, auburn-haired son examined my face, reminded me – ‘This is a holiday.’ To show I remembered, we bought some takeaway cake; yes, it is a holiday!

A text message came back, ‘Bit better today. Doctor said to stop the meds.’ Despite beta-blockers, she had a blood pressure reading off the scales. Her young doctor put down the monitor, removed his glasses and rubbed his dark eyes, she relayed. Unable to say anything, apparently, for quite a while, pondering what to do, what to say, then he looked to her as though really, she should be dead. Mother reassured him, made him feel better, it was okay, it was just white coat hypertension. Everything was just absolutely fine. Doctors, though, can be anxious; lives rest in their balance, or so it must seem, so the dose was rapidly and drastically increased. Quickly, Mother became utterly disorientated, confused. Many years ago, a pharma psychiatrist explained that increasing dosages beyond a said point drastically increases the side effects whilst only producing limited positive results. Prescribed way beyond the tipping point, Mother likewise suffered extreme side effects. My daughter tugged my arm.

‘You’re not even listening. Do you care more about your dead relatives than us?’

The sun was low, I lifted her up, though she had suddenly grown so tall and feisty, her golden hair curled down to her waist.  My son stood back to back with me, he had outgrown me. Less than a week ago, I was the tallest.

‘You’ll have to have another baby. We aren’t babies any longer,’ they laughed.

It was hard to pinpoint when that happened.

‘Have a baby, please,’ they insisted. ‘Three children wouldn’t be too many. Go on, please Mum, have three children.’

I corrected my son and daughter, ‘No, it would be four children. Not three.’

They were confused.  Swifts dived between the dunes; sails chimed in the breeze. I whispered, That would be four children. Luminescent blue forget-me-nots and cow parsley rose up the hillside. We all paused, stared in different directions: to the meadows, out to high tide,  up to St Cuthbert’s cross,  west, towards the sailing club. It never got easier. We had three children. One died. My eldest daughter died at birth, fully formed with beautiful dark red hair, tiny fingers and toes, a snub nose, wrapped up in a patchwork blanket which had taken nine months to knit. A decade on, the words still barely came out, fell to a murmur, even after years of counselling. Time makes it easier to forget for longer periods but then it hits, drags you down, pulls you under. Everyone said we should tell our living children, so we did, but it sticks in the gullet each time,  sounds wrong and harsh. My nails dug into skin; the saline air made my eyes water.

Back in the campervan we clambered to our seats—onwards, on our ancestral trail to Scotland.

 


EMMA KINNEAR trained as a lawyer but has worked in the charity sector within housing and mental health law and at Toynbee Hall’s legal centre in east London.

She has published academic and professional papers internationally but after recently finishing a creative writing course is re-focusing. After travelling the length and breadth of the UK, she has settled in Norwich with her two children and novelist husband.

Copyright © 2019 by Emma Kinnear. All rights reserved.

Poems by Felicia Zuniga

It is February and I have been pregnant forever

 

Winter bears down but the baby stays put, he hangs on tight as a migraine
No plans to roam outside in this cold, he holes up in his pot of fluid
I incubate us inside the house, as the blizzard breaks records and entombs everything
Outside the window, I watch the storm’s outbursts, while you stay undercover

He is our first; suspicious of us and this snow globe we live in
He monitors weather warnings, scowling as they say more flakes will fall
When I decide to step outside, he squeezes his eyes shut against the burn of white
Perhaps he wanted to be greeted by heat and honeysuckles instead

I coerce him into a walk and ask, “Do you feel the quiet?” Can you smell the sparkle?
Outside, all is barren. Inside, I am filled to the brim with him
We stumble through snow humps as my bones become numb
He tunnels deep inside, swearing not to surface till spring

I coax him with six sticky sweet Medjool dates daily, hunks of plump pineapple
Where I eat everything including the core, washed down with red raspberry leaf tea
I try to convince him we feast on tropical fruit, surrounded by starfish and seashells
He retaliates by propelling his feet so deep in my belly, I spew expensive snacks

At night, I stuff myself into a pillow fort, wrenched up on my left, while my hips spasm
I cloak him in creamy wool blankets and he plays, satisfied with the sweaty dark
He starts his nightly swim, sometimes he’s too worked up and his hiccups begin
My belly bobbing with each burst from his lungs until dawn

Every morning I rise hopeful, wondering if today he will emerge
Focusing on my feet as I navigate ice sheets on the way to doctor appointments
They poke and knock at your door but you keep it shut, ignoring all visitors
We hear the solid thwomp of your heart and know you must be stowed away

It is February and I have been pregnant forever

 


  

Afterbirth

 

No one will tell me how many stitches
Are binding my insides together
A running stitch, internal and external
Embroidered inside me where I was once whole
Now I’m spun with black thread
Hostile knots knitted to hidden flesh

*

They say it takes a village, to raise a child
For us, having a child, raised a village
An underground labyrinth teeming with cinnamon scones and witch hazel
Gift baskets branch out on our kitchen table
Packages and people surround us, propping us up with walls of support
So we don’t collapse under the weight of this new life

*

We’ve moved inside, the exterior world no longer concerns us
Only the life we created inside the four walls of our home
The rooms where we now sleep, eat and sway with him
He is the sun we rise to and the moon we rest under
The basement bedroom has become our vacation hotspot
My husband and I take turns kissing goodbye
Before floating down the dark flight of stairs to dissolve

*

In baby class, we go round the circle
Exchanging nap tips and apps like scraps of gold
How to make them sleep is the Holy Grail
We all have black eyes and snag only broken minutes of shut-eye per day
Everyone is pleased to hear they’re not alone; we suffer together
Taking turns tucking babies into wraps and comparing peak crying times

*

He is at the breast again, his favourite position
The books say that mothers should be comfortable, but I never am
Back hunched over in pain as I rush to respond
I fold into the letter C and cater my body to all his commands
He latches and slurps like a king
When I try and move, he hisses
When I try and switch sides, he clamps down harder
Choosing to empty one breast, leaving the other full and leaking
I beg him to stay asleep each time I set him down, but he eats every hour
All the minutes of the night become known to me

*

I see his face everywhere, in unwashed piles of laundry
In the folds of the blankets, in all the shapes of darkness
I wake with a start, panicked, even though he lies in the bassinet beside me
My nipples feel like they are being sucked by a phantom infant
And he’s even followed me into my dreams; I will never be alone again

*

I don’t recognize my body; I am one of the giant mother pigs
Spread out on display at the Calgary Stampede every summer
Piglets attached to each teat, swigging milk as everyone stares
My hair is unwashed and falling out of its bun
There’s jam on my arm and crumbs stuck to me from when I shoved bread into my mouth
My stomach is soft and thick and puffs straight out
The rest of me is swollen, hobbling around the house
I’m scared to cough or sneeze in case it disrupts the stitches

*

My skin smells like spit-up, sweat and breast milk
When I feel damp, I don’t know which of the three liquids stains me
If I dare sleep more than three hours, the stinging of my nipples wakes me
Mother Nature warning me I am no longer here to sleep
I am here to serve.

 


 

Moving

 

I have lived many lives

A child with knotted stuffed animals
and missing eyes
books and games dented
with bite marks

A schoolgirl with broken hopscotch handles
and purple juice stained notebooks
valentine cards with the slanted scrawl
of long forgotten best friends

A teenager with pages and pages
of diary punctuated with the initials of her great loves
notes from boys revealing all the secret
things they want to do alone together
notes from girls discussing how to do
all the secret things the boys said
they wanted to do

A university student with sloppy essays
slashed with the red marks of professors
eager textbooks bright with desperate
highlighting and mounds of notes reciting
words and meanings you can no longer remember

Old yearbooks, our faces trapped in time
for one perfect instance of youth
and crushing vulnerability
all thrown out in the rush of moving

Long empty bottles of perfume
that still smell like careless high school summers
cheap jewellery from the boy you swore
you’d never leave
swirled together in the vortex of
black garbage bags

I have lived many lives
and I will live many more

 


FELICIA ZUNIGA‘s poetry has been published in Contemporary Verse 2 – The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing, The Antigonish Review and Freefall Magazine. She has written articles for a variety of magazines and newspapers. She has a Master of Journalism degree from Carleton University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in HonoursEnglish, with a Creative Writing Concentration, from the University of Calgary. She lives, works and writes in Calgary. Her published work can be viewed on her website at: http://www.feliciazuniga.com.

Copyright © 2019 by Felicia Zuniga. All rights reserved.