Pest

by Jakub Racek

“I wanted to throw my coffee in his face.”

His eyes don’t blink. He accepts the violence in her frustration.

“How could anyone say a thing like that? I was only following orders.”

The cat jumps out of her lap, its movement muted by its calloused paws.

“People are assholes.”

He rubs her back as they sit silently on the couch before he whispers into her ear. His words are too soft, inaudible from my position. A playful grin rises from the corner of her mouth—my best guess: a seductive proposition. He shows his support with the emotional intelligence of an animal in heat. Resolution in the bedroom is how it always ends. They’ll be waking the neighbours in no time.

She licks her bottom lip but continues her tirade.

“One more scene like this and I’m done. I can’t work for someone whose power trips disregard all sense of reason. It’s abusive.”

The kettle rattles on the stovetop before he can respond. As he stands, the parquet floor resonates beneath me like shifting tectonic plates. He enters the kitchen and opens the tin of loose-leaf tea. The revolting scent of citrus fills the room before he scoops the leaves into her favourite mug, boldface: NEVER HALF-EMPTY.

“How’s your novel coming along?”

He changes the subject as if the tea has persuasive properties.

“It’s ok. Sort of a narrative mess though. It’s like I have one mouth with two voices. One of them has to go.”

He pours the honey in. A drop falls to the retro-tiled floor but he doesn’t wipe it—lucky me.

“Just try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Step outside yourself.”

He hands her the mug and the steam makes her face sweat. Flashbacks tickle my mind. That perspired face—the one she wears on the treadmill. Running from her problems as her surroundings remain the same. She sips the scalding liquid calmly; her lips likely numb from distracting thoughts.

“My therapist says I’m simply manifesting my conflicts with identity.”

She reaches down her shirt and scratches between her shoulder blades where her cardinal tattoo lies. I saw it the other day. The big red bird drowning in the shower.

“Do you agree with her?”

He lays his head across her lap in place of the cat.

“I see where she’s coming from. My mind is a mess these days.”

She runs her fingers through his freshly cut hair. She cut it in the bathroom yesterday. The discarded remains are still littered on the floor.

“It’s pretty clear to me—you’re a brilliant writer.”

She lowers her head and kisses him.

“You’re sweet.”

He places his hand on the back of her neck and pulls her closer. Such intimacy. How I long for it. The barren floor’s inanimate tactility lacks the warmth I desire—a warmth only produced by the presence of another. Will I ever step off this wretched surface and fulfil my carnal appetite?

I make my move.

“Silverfish!”

The rubber sole of death rains down upon me. Its dark shadow marks my bitter end—[squish].

 

Jakub Racek is a Slovak-born writer and musician raised in Ottawa. He holds an M.A. in Psychology from Carleton University and suffers from a self-diagnosed fiction addiction. He also releases indie-rock music under the name Pocket Writer. His work has appeared in The Steel Chisel and he is currently writing his first novel.

Word-of-Mouth

by Alicia Haniford

They say there’s a witch in the woods.

They say some people stumble across her by accident, and some set out to look for her, and others search for years without coming across her little white-washed cottage perched precariously on the edge of its cliff, with the pounding of waves echoing around the sloped ceilings of its cramped attic—she’s that good.

They say she has three cats. Of course. It’s in the job description. Not black, though; two golden tabbies and an enormous Maine Coon, the size of a small Labrador according to some who’ve seen it sleeping on her porch, huge paws twitching and damp nose snuffling as it dreams. Some claim she just tamed one of the wild beasts that roams through the trees at night. She can do that sort of thing. They say she’s a proper witch, with the overgrown garden and the strange things in jars and the skulls (lots of skulls, mice and muskrats and frogs, just little things, strung up from the ceiling with bits of old fishing line, and when the wind rattles in through the windows their delicate jaws start to chatter). But she doesn’t have warts, which is disconcerting. Some say, diplomatically, that she’s rather pretty, in her own way; most agree she’s plain, even a little mousy. But she’s young, they say, and they say young with lowered voices and knowing looks so that you find yourself nodding along, your brows folding into an instinctive frown as you condemn her audacity.

They say you can go to her to make someone fall in love, which is common, or out of love, which is less so—typical storybook stuff. Or you can go to her for luck: good for you, good for your friends, bad (perhaps morbidly so) for your enemies. She can give you directions—back to old mistakes, ahead to half-formed dreams, or simply out of the woods and home to your own front door. You can go to her for curing your baby’s colic, or arranging mysterious accidents, or making sure people’s eyes skip over the patch of earth (roughly six feet by three) freshly dug at the foot of your garden.

For dulling a craving.

For changing your face.

For filling the dark pit that yawns, threatening to engulf you, whenever you close your eyes, or for calming the way your gaze catches and lingers on the scuffed-up black handles in the knife-block, your fingers twitching, your skin itching as you walk past.

And so on. There are many reasons.

They say she’ll do it all—if you’re willing to pay the price. Sometimes it’s a trifle: the first thing you pull out of your left-hand pocket. A homemade loaf of rye bread, or the unbroken sanddollar you found on the beach when you were eight years old and on holiday in the Virgin Islands, the one you’ve been keeping on your chest-of-drawers ever since (she knows, they say). Sometimes it’s more. The memory of your first kiss; the ecstatic contentment of seeing the sun sink over a calm lake. That sort of thing, notable only in the ache of its absence once she’s bottled it up and hidden it
away.

Sometimes the price is too much, or it should be. Your eyes. Or ten, twenty years—of what, she won’t tell you. Or… a child (she’s not picky; it doesn’t have to be the firstborn. She’ll take any less loved than the rest. Or so they say). They say she keeps a jar of stones, smoothed and rounded as quail-eggs, on her kitchen table—stones that seem to shift uneasily, of their own accord. Watch out, they say. If she picks up a stone to roll around in her delicate, sun-freckled fingers, it means she’s trying to steal your soul.

They say—

Well.

And where, in the midst of all their curlicues and fearful poetry, their wide eyed story-weaving, the cotton-candy haze of their romantic reveries—where is that single shining grain? Where is the sliver of quartz in the clouds of dust, dust with the sweetness of icing sugar yet dust nonetheless? Where is the truth?

They say there was a boy in the woods, the carpenter’s son. He went looking for her, they say, not from desperation but curiosity, for the sake of the challenge. See—here he comes through the trees in his torn jeans, his father’s axe slung over his broad shoulders (headstrong does not mean foolhardy). Here he stops, staring up at the cottage’s peeling whitewash. He shifts the axe over his shoulder. He knocks at the door.

Here is the witch serving him tea from her big black kettle. The boy’s lips twitch involuntarily at the first sip, but milk and honey disguise its bitterness. His gaze slides over the skulls, over the strange things in jars. Across the knife-scarred table he meets her eyes: one a muddy, unremarkable brown, the other cobwebbed and blind.

Look, see the satisfaction on his freckled face. This is all that makes her the witch. He’s pinned her down like a butterfly, pierced through the thorax in a velvet box.

“What would you like?” she asks.

“To know,” he says. He sips from his teacup again, grinning his crooked grin, and she smiles. Under the table, the weight of a stone presses into her palm.

The forest’s shadows stretch towards the cottage, spindly branches clutching at the walls until they pull it into darkness. Eventually a dishwater grey dawn creeps in the windows, and the floorboards creak as the witch clears two cups of cold tea from the table. The axe she takes out to the woodshed.

They say (and it may be that their authority is more genuine, more trustworthy, than the truth) that you should visit her if you’re brave, or desperate, or just lost in the woods. But you should be careful, because they say I’ll steal your soul.

 

Alicia Haniford currently lives and studies in Ottawa. She has three cats at home in London with her parents, and is fostering two more with her roommates in Ottawa. This is really all you need to know about her because it is all she ever talks about.

The Snow

by Paige Pinto

When she saw the snow, she thought first that there had been a fire. The white flakes looked like ash as they drifted toward the sun, stony today in the cold sky.

Cassie waited on the library steps. She rubbed her palms together and blew on her fingers for warmth. She scuffed the toe of her boot against the cement step and it grew white with the powdery salt.

“Christ, I’m fagged,” exclaimed Marsha, and she sat down on the step, as well. She tugged the hair tie from her ponytail and let the platinum blonde mop spill over her face.

Marsha pulled out a cigarette and turned to Cassie.

“D’you have a light? I’ve lost mine.” Cassie shook her head.

“Fuck,” Marsha sighed, and tucked the cigarette behind her ear. The wind picked up for a moment and they were numbed by the pinpricks of thousands of snowflakes striking their reddened cheeks. Marsha tilted her head. “Why aren’t we waiting inside?”

 

Inside, the library was warm because it was free of wind and because it was full of books, but Cassie kept her coat on because when she rested her bare hands on the radiator by the window it was dead and cold beneath her fingertips.

They waited until the watch that hung limply from Marsha’s wrist read three o’clock, and then went upstairs. Cassie climbed the three flights behind Marsha, noticing the way the girl’s plaid skirt was ironed so the pleats fell flat, the way her long fingers brushed with practiced casualness
against the cigarette to ensure it was still there. Her socks sagged. Everything about her was bony. Cassie pictured the spine that must jut beneath her pale skin, like the bones removed from a gutted fish; she saw them bend like cheap plastic beneath the weight of that platinum blonde skull.

They reached the fourth floor and Cassie heard the exhausted sigh of the radiator in the stairwell as the building’s heat came to life. She placed a hand on Marsha’s elbow and tugged gently, turning the girl to face her. Marsha, with the chunky heels on her black leather boots, was half a head taller, so Cassie’s eyes were level with her painted red mouth, bowed lips.

“Were you going to tell me? About uni?” she asked the mouth. The air wasn’t warm yet and her words came out on a breath of frost.

“You haven’t given me much of a chance now, have you?” Marsha tugged her elbow away. “If I say yes it won’t matter, because you’ve already found out first.”

“But it’s school – and your future. You can’t just not go. You have to get an education.”

“I don’t. And I don’t have to tell you everything.” Now she was pouting.

Cassie paused. She shivered. She thought of the fire that hadn’t happened, the one in her mind, the one in which the ashes were not really ashes but tiny, frozen drops of water.

“Don’t be like this, please.”

Marsha turned and exited the stairwell.

Cassie took a deep breath and exhaled more frost. The inside of her chest burned. There was a dry, biting quality to the air and Cassie imagined it creep into her lungs and spread as though on a windowpane – she felt it crystalize: a lump of cold, dead glass, lodged sharply at the base of her
throat.

Marsha had disappeared into the stacks by the time Cassie followed her out of the stairwell. She sat down at a table and took out her homework, every so often glancing up to see the pleated skirt bouncing – or the heels, clomping along – as Marsha returned books to the shelves.

 

At three thirty, Cassie was looking at the floor and the boots stopped by her table.

“You ready?” Marsha asked bluntly. Cassie rose and followed her to a door at the back: LIBRARY PERSONNEL ONLY. They went inside.

The room was lit by the same yellow fluorescence as the rest of the library, and was empty but for a couple tables against the wall with two computers and a copy machine, and the guy standing in the middle of the room. His nametag read MARTIN and beneath that, in smaller print, ASSISTANT TECHNICIAN. He had a half-grown beard and sandy hair that hung just a little too much in his eyes.

“’Ey, Martin,” Marsha sang. Cassie hovered in the doorway. Marsha shot her a glare. “Shut the door, dummy.” Cassie stepped in and closed the door as quietly as she could behind her. Marsha reached into her shirt, drawing Martin’s eyes to her chest, and pulled a piece of paper from her bra.

“Can you do this?” she asked, handing it to him. He looked at it for a moment.

“Right. You’ll be Tina, then, and she” – he indicated Cassie with his head – “is Sara?”

He spoke with a British accent and something in Cassie’s mind whirred to life and clicked in placed metallically. Had Martin’s smirk when Marsha reached into her bra been knowing, or just sleazy?

What was she doing here?

Marsha hopped up onto the table and crossed one leg over the other, presumably to watch. Martin walked over to Cassie and put his hands on her shoulders. He didn’t grip her hard but she could feel his narrow fingers through her school cardigan. Long and thin, just like Marsha. He guided her to a spot against the wall and flipped a light switch. The room
brightened.

“Don’t smile too much,” he directed. He flipped open his cell phone and snapped a picture. Then he grinned at Marsha. “Get over here, chickie.” Chickie? He brushed his fingers along Marsha’s jawline as she and Cassie switched places, directed her head up just slightly and let his hand rest
there until the silence became strained.

“Just take the picture already.” Marsha sounded bored, but Cassie heard in her voice what she’d seen when Marsha had self-consciously touched her cigarette in the stairwell: practice. Remembering, Cassie reached over and
plucked it out. She tucked the cigarette into the top of Marsha’s sock. Martin took three pictures and let Marsha pick one.

“You look at least twenty-three in that one,” he said, perhaps knowing that he was deciding for her. Cassie stood quietly against the wall as Martin worked. Marsha had resumed her perch on the copy table and looked over his shoulder. Cassie stared at the clock, not watching her. At four fifteen, Martin turned on the copy machine and laminated the two slips of paper.

“That’s a hundred each,” he said. Cassie untucked her shirt from the waistband of her skirt and counted five twenties from the wallet she kept there. Marsha reached into her bra – the other cup, this time. They handed him the cash and he handed them the cards and they left.

 

Cassie went back to her table and opened her history textbook, but the small print blurred before her eyes. She didn’t care. These were all things that had already happened, nothing that was going to happen, and she had a vague feeling that her history teacher’s conviction that they must learn the past so as to learn from it masked a resignation that they were doomed to repeat it regardless. She sighed and slipped her novel open between the pages of her text, as if she had something to hide.

She pulled a Kit Kat from her bag and meant to chew it slowly and offer half to Marsha, but by the time she caught sight of the other girl, the chocolate was already gone. Marsha was standing in front of the wide window that ran the length of the north-facing wall, perpendicular to the shelves, reading the Dewey Decimal numbers listed on a placard. She was moving her lips and the fingers on her left hand, glancing back to the label on the book she held in her right, counting, it seemed.

The light from the window was flat and gray, but it was still daylight, and even from her distance of about fifteen feet Cassie could see the places where Marsha’s foundation had rubbed away, including that place along her jawline where Martin had touched her, and the redness of her skin
showed through. And, from here, Marsha looked sixteen, not twenty-three; younger, not older. She looked how Cassie felt: small, and only partly covered up, only partly armed to deal with the world. An ID is just a piece of plastic.

A cigarette is smaller than a sword.

Marsha sensed her staring and smiled at her. Cassie smiled back, and when Marsha moved away, back into the maze of shelves, she looked at the clock again. Five thirty. One hour to go.

By the time they left the library, the snow was swirling thickly. They got off the bus and made their way slowly home. A bit of snow leaked into Cassie’s boots but with snow on the ground and streetlamps lit, and Christmas lights beginning to blink on and wink at them and at each other in the dusk, it felt warmer.

Cassie dug into the pocket of her parka and passed her lighter to Marsha.

“You jerk!” Marsha laughed and lit her cigarette carefully. She inhaled and sighed. She glanced at Cassie sideways. “I’ll miss you, you know.” It sounded like an apology she didn’t mean.

“At first, I didn’t believe it but I do, now,” Cassie began. “I just… how did this end? It’s already a little bit over, d’you know what I mean?”

“No, I don’t, but please tell me.” Marsha exhaled a ring of smoke into the sky. “You don’t always have to be a bitch. I know you know.”

Marsha pulled the cigarette from her mouth and stamped it into the snow, leaving the mangled butt there on the sidewalk. She bit her lip and picked at the skin where her lipstick had flaked away. It bled and she touched her lip as if surprised, then rubbed her fingers together until the blood disappeared into her skin. She stopped walking and looked at Cassie.

“You mean it’s only almost Christmas but it’s also already almost Christmas, and soon it’ll be January and just a few months ‘til finals, and then it’s summer, and then…you’ll be at uni and I won’t.” She paused. “But still – I’ll be in Thailand or Ireland or South Africa, which is incredible. And it’s terrifying to know that we won’t see each other ever, probably, but I think maybe if we do we won’t care much because I’ll have a glamorous, poor life and you’ll have a studious one, hopefully, and maybe that will matter.

“So this moment is just this moment, right now, and there’s nothing else yet but soon lots, lots and lots of things, and this – this snow and that cigarette and these outfits – they won’t exist anymore.” Marsha huffed a cloud of breath – her own breath, not smoke – and Cassie could see in it little particles of snow, or ice, water hardening and freezing in the lamplight. She gave Marsha a tug, at the elbow as always, and they started walking again.

“Yes. Yes, exactly.”

They turned onto their road, walking the wrong way down the middle of the one-way street, dangerously.

“Here,” said Marsha, and she held out the lighter. Cassie looked at it and then turned left, shoved her hands in her pockets, and walked up the driveway to her front porch.

“Keep it,” she called.

 

The Revolutionary

by D. Hlady

So this is a college party. A party of six drunk engineering students. We are drunk and unfortunately this has made our personalities more prominent. By some miracle two of the six are girls. They also lack looks, humor and charisma but they are girls. Where are the hot chicks making out, the angry jocks, the beer funnel, the duct tape, the inebriated pets that I seem to feel like I was promised by the sex comedies of the 90’s? The Mario Kart game being played is projected on the wall. It is our evening’s entertainment.

“You son of a bitch! Whose banana was that?” Landon bellows, emphasizing the silence instead of eliminating it. I am in the kitchen, getting myself another beverage. I have not drank enough to camouflage how pathetic this party is. My parents just bought me a new mattress and my old one has been up against the kitchen wall for weeks. It catches my
eye and I have an idea. It’s a good one.

I run from the kitchen spilling my beer a little. When I enter the living room Landon yells, “BILLIAM, young sire!” louder than he needs to, never taking his eyes off the screen. Kyler and Buck are having a bro heart to heart on the couch. They don’t think anyone is listening. Kyler says, “I don’t want too much. I just want an average looking girl with a pretty
singing voice who I can drink with.”

“Anything else?” Buck asks.

“Can’t be afraid of a blow job.”

“Gross!” Ashley looks away from the screen to let Kyler know she is not his future girlfriend.

Landon has the girls and the video game to himself. To him, a red shell is flirting.

“Hey, you GUYS!” I bellow in my best Sloth voice,

“LET’S GO BURN MY OLD MATTRESS!”

“That sounds awesome!” Haylie simpered, “We should do that sometime.”

“Well…Let’s do it now! Come on, guys! This is a party right?”

“I’m kind of tired, man,” Kyler moans.

“I’ll go with you when this game is over,” Ashley flirts.

I’m flooded with possibility.

“I’ll come, too,” Landon says to my disappointed ears. “If we had a camera, we could put it on YouTube.”

I’m still waiting. They’ve played multiple games and the realization is setting in that this is never going to happen. I move the mattress to the door. I’m watching them start another race. Landon is explaining the plot to a comedy show he likes to Ashley. “So Matt and Sandy are in bed and Sandy says, ‘What is your wife going to say? Are you going to tell her?’ and
Matt’s like, ‘Oh. Right! I’m not married.’ She’s all like, ‘But you said you were married!’”

He’s acting the scene out now, complete with male and female voices, “‘I just told you that because I heard you were into married guys.’ She’s pissed. She’s like, ‘You lied to me, like a liar, you liar!’ ‘Well, you like fucking married men, so we’re both horrible. We make a great horrible person couple. Can I pick you up on my motorbike Friday at eight?’ and she’s all like, ‘Ooooh, I didn’t know you had a motorbike.’ and he goes, ‘I don’t!’”

I slip away during the gulf of Ashley’s un-laughter.

I am in the Hillsdale Baptist Church parking lot. Its two blocks from my apartment near the U of R campus. I am stuffing toilet paper and lint from the dryer into holes which I cut into the mattress when I was thirteen. I pour lighter fluid and light a match, then another. I see the first flickers of a slow burn.

It is not as ostentatious as I thought it would be, which leaves me thoroughly depressed. Someone is shuffling towards me from the sidewalk. I throw aside the lighter fluid. I guess no one can prove I did this. I will say I just came across it, same as them.

The figure fills out. He has straight black hair parted in the middle and big, black-rimmed glasses on a wide face.

“Holy Shit, man! Is that on fire?”

“Yeah, I just came across it. Kind of makes you feel like a New York City hobo, huh?” I say, trying to make small talk.

“Good one. It’s like you’ve impregnated me with that question and I’m about to have an idea baby to answer it.”

The stranger is silent for fifteen seconds. I try to break the silence.

“So…”

“Yes. The answer is YES! I do feel like an NYC hobo.

I’m drunk, there’s something burning. Presto! NYC hobo town!”

“Cool. Well, I have a party to get back to.”

The stranger is forlorn. I can tell he wants more from this moment. More than I want to give.

“Wait,” he mumbles and with increased courage continues loudly, “Ok, Ok, Ok. This is how it’s going to go down. I’m going to pull my penis out in ten seconds, if you’re still looking by the time I take it out, you’re the pervert, not me.”

I begin to pivot on my left foot. People always assume I’m gay because I dress well and talk in what is perceived to be a feminine intonation. Because of this assumption people make about me I turn to leave, but I don’t. None of my friends are here to call me gay or bug me and how often do you get to see a stranger’s privates? Maybe this is the wild night I’m looking for. I want to un-sexually see his penis and no one will ever know I looked.

I wait for the ten seconds to dwindle down and, as promised, his penis is flops out like a dead Enjolras. I peer at it unashamed.

“Setting up a temple in Avignon are we?” he says.

“What?”

“You’re keeping an eye on me… I’m a history major.”

A third person has suddenly appeared and joins our party. Neither I nor the penis-pirate notice until she’s right beside us.

“And who started this?”

I find myself pointing to the penis man. He is angry at the accusation.

“Right, and what else have I done? Do I spit on crosses and keep demons as pets?” he looks to the newcomer. “History major. I’m doing a paper on Medieval Popes.”

The stranger talks, “No springs, huh? Should be nothing but a rectangular smudge soon.”

She’s older than us, maybe in her forties. She has a book in her hand. She is wearing a thick, blue fleece jacket.

“Is this a part of a protest? I used to do that.”

“No,” I answer, and quickly add, “I don’t think so.”

“You guys should do more protesting, you know? Regina has historically been ineffective grounds for them. Did you see the occupy Regina protests? Pitiful! And last year ten or fifteen students with a megaphone chanting, ‘Education is a right! Don’t give up the fight!’ and, ‘WHAT DO WE WANT?
Lower tuition! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? Now!’ The whole time I was thinking, first off, this is just a facsimile of the Montreal School protests happening earlier in the year and secondly, why bitch about tuition in Saskatchewan when half of it gets forgiven if you stay in the province and they give you forever to pay it off interest free? Meanwhile, all across the prairies, Native Reserve Schools are in such a pathetic state you can barely call them schools. Do you know a reserve teacher gets paid 20% less than all other teachers in the province? I’m sorry… I’m babbling.”

“It’s ok,” I answer. “I like it.”

The penis says, “I got lost somewhere around ‘fast Emily’.”

“I’ve always been speaking my mind. That’s what got me my job. I was complaining to the Dean of Education so much, when he retired, they gave me his job. Now I’m the only person I have to complain to. It gets a little lonely.”

Penis talks, “You know Celestine the fifth? He was a monk, a hermit. He wrote a letter to the cardinals told them to hurry up and pick a pope, so they made him pope.”

“I know,” she responded, “All he wanted to do was read his books in a cave and now he had to be God’s PR guy.”

Penis added, “That’s why I never complain about anything. If I’m not careful I could end up being part of the solution.”

The Dean looks at her watch.

“Well, I’m done,” she points to his still-exposed penis.

“Isn’t that cold?”

The flasher scrambles for his fly.

“Take your time. Don’t get it caught,” she says as she is walking away.

I go back to my apartment. Everyone is just where I left them. I sit alone in the kitchen near the entrance. The table is so cluttered, there is only space for one person to eat cereal. A pile of flyers a couple of feet high and an upside down bicycle take up most of the table space.

I can hear Landon yelling “Take that baby! Shell shock?” They don’t even know that I’ve gone. I go to the fridge, crack another beer and join my friends.

Dexter and Claire Wilkinson

by Megan Waldron

“Dexter! Get yourself downstairs this instant. You don’t want to be late do you?” His mother’s voice swam under his door. Dexter resisted the urge to groan. It was always a question, a feeble attempt to make him believe that there was a choice in the matter. Everyone knew their parts, from the elderly gentlemen who played chess outside the apartment building across the street, to the four year old next door, perpetually covered in all manner of food stains, so why bother with this game? Sighing, he slid into his crumpled Batman hoodie. He opened the door and the next thing he knew, he could taste carpet, and there was a weight pressing down on him. It was
the same every morning. Why did he never try to avoid her?

“God, watch where you’re going,” Claire said. “Are you always such a klutz?”

It was official: his little sister stalked him. This was a deliberate plan of attack, not anything to do with his klutziness. She waited until the perfect moment before making her move. He ignored the vocal minority in his head telling him that he’d just bumped into his sister. After all, it couldn’t account for how he’d ended up face down with Claire sitting on top of him. That logical voice piped up with the suggestion that she had quicker reflexes than him, but again he ignored it.

“Bugger off Claire,” he grumbled.

“Excuse me, but you crashed into me remember? Just how hard did you hit your head?” She snorted. Then she flicked him hard on the ear.

He struggled for a minute before going limp.

“Alright. I’m sorry. Now will you get off me?” he said, his voice rising to a shout by the end.

Claire grinned, leaping to her feet. She offered her hand, but he ignored it. He pulled himself up. Claire’s head tilted to the side as she scrutinized him, her blonde locks floating over her eyes. Younger by two years, she was the perfect child. She always said and did the right thing, and she never caused even the slightest trouble. If his sister was the puzzle piece that everyone aspired to be, then Dexter was the piece that no one could remember which puzzle it belonged to.

“Dexter James!” His mother’s shout reminded him that he was going to be late for school. Claire frowned at him.

“Be careful Dex.” She danced away. He dimly heard her on the stairs, but his mind was working hard to figure out this latest situation. Dex? Claire occasionally called him Dexter, but only when they had company. Usually she called him moron. And be careful? What the heck was that about? She’d told him that in jest before, as though he was made of glass, but there was something different this time. Was it her face or her voice? Whatever the hint had been, Dexter had the feeling that she was scared for him.

“Don’t make me come up there, mister!” His mother’s shout shocked him out of his reverie. He sighed, and plodded down the stairs. Anything to delay the lecture his mother was sure to give him.

In the kitchen, Dexter shovelled cocoa puffs into his mouth as fast as humanely possible. The clock on the wall said 7:51. He had nine minutes to finish his chores if he wanted to catch the bus in time to get to school.

“Dexter,” his mother sighed. “You are not an animal. Would you please eat civilized?”

He rolled his eyes. Not even a minute since the lecture about not being late. He spooned the last remnants into his mouth. It took three minutes for his room to pass inspection, and another four to empty out the rubbish. Done, and with time to spare. Surely this warranted a ‘good job son.’ He paused on the driveway, unsure why he even cared. 99% of the time, he caused trouble, and made a mess of things. Oh well, there was time enough to figure it out later. He sprinted back to the house, having forgotten his lunch, and said goodbye. He was halfway down the drive when his mother called him back. His feet skidded to a halt, and he turned to see her
out on the porch.

“Must you wear that sweater honey? Can’t you look at least semi-respectable?” She bit her lip.

“Mom, it’s cold. It’s not like I’m gonna be wearing it once I’m at school. Come on, I’m gonna be late,” Dexter protested.

She frowned at him.

“Didn’t seem to bother you earlier,” she hissed under her breath. Forcing a smile onto her face, she planted a kiss on his cheek, and wrapped a black and white striped scarf round his neck. She opened her mouth to say something else, but the beep of a horn interrupted her. “Oh shit. Sorry mom gotta split.” He blew her a kiss as he dashed down the driveway, clambering onto the school bus just before it pulled away. “Gotta knock of making me wait for youse,” the bus driver snarled at him.

“Sorry Paul,” Dexter mumbled.

“Whatever. Get your ass on a seat.” Plopping down onto the last window seat, Dexter plugged into his music, and tuned out the world.

———-

Marie stood on the porch, waving until the bus was out of sight. She walked back into the kitchen. As she closed the door behind her, she shook her head. It’s goodbye, not later my son, and must you use such offensive language? People will think you’ve been raised in a gutter.

Her spirits were lifted as Claire entered the room, and started making a Nutella sandwich. How she wished Dexter could emulate his sister more. She frowned as her eyes landed on the clock.

“Claire. Shouldn’t you be on your way to school?”

Claire’s eyes flickered up. “Mr. Kenton’s cancelled class this morning. His mother had to go to the hospital. He sent an email round about an hour ago.”

Marie inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. She still had Claire to brag about to the other families in the neighbourhood. Claire finished packing her snacks. She disappeared upstairs to get her messenger bag. Marie smiled when she came down, and placed a kiss to the top of Claire’s head. Having said her goodbyes, Marie made her way to the basement to start a load of laundry.

———-

Claire remained in the kitchen, and listened to her mother’s footsteps on the stairs. She heard the washing machine go on, but waited a moment longer. When she was certain her mother wasn’t coming back upstairs, she darted to the shed at the far corner of the backyard. She pulled a loaf of bread, and some apples from a barrel in the corner, and placed them into her bag. A set of clothes were unearthed from a wooden crate, and she hurriedly put them on over her uniform. She glanced at her watch, and swore under her breath. She opened the shed door carefully, and ducking low, crossed to the fence. She peered round, and checked her watch again. Damn it. The Hartford’s would be leaving for their daily walk in 30 seconds. She’d have to wait.

 

Megan Waldron is a 23 years old Carleton student who writes scenes of larger narratives. Some of her favourite authors are J.K. Rowling, Eoin Colfer, Jodi Picoult, and Rick Riordan. She spends more time in the world of fiction than reality.

Teacups

by Nicole Bayes-Fleming

It was almost noon and Lizzie opened the door in a pair of faded blue boxers and an oversized white tee. She wasn’t wearing a bra and you could faintly see her nipples poking out from her small breasts. She was the kind of thin that made me flush with envy – her collarbone cut clean across her shoulders, her legs had a muscular arc preventing her thighs from rubbing together. In this moment, with her strawberry blond hair in a sloppy knot on the top of her head and her face scrubbed of makeup, I could see the light flecks of freckles across her nose and up around her eyes, which were a dull greenish brown, like dead grass.

I’d always been too jealous of Lizzie to be friends with her. She was gorgeous, her laugh was infectious, she had a substantial scholarship, and I was the only person I knew who didn’t like her.

“You can leave your coat on the couch,” she said now without concern, and
wandered back into her apartment without making any special concession to the fact that I’d never been over before and we didn’t know one another well enough to be hanging out without anyone else around. I pulled my feet out of my boots without unlacing them, dropped my coat on the couch as she’d suggested, and timidly found my way from the front door to her bedroom, where she was sitting in the middle of her bed with her legs crossed, blowing on a cup of tea.

I hovered in the doorway. Her room was smaller than mine, and messier. Papers dusted the wooden floor, the bed was unmade, clothes spilled over her laundry hamper, her curtains were rolled at the bottom and tied up with hair elastics, holding them just short of missing the radiator.

I imagined her mother heckling her over the phone: “And make sure you do
something about those long curtains you wanted! It’s a fire hazard to have them hanging down so low when you’ve got the heat on!”

“Yes, Mom,” – squeezing the phone between her shoulder and ear as she rolled up one curtain, pulled the elastic from her wrist – “I’ve got it sorted.”

I was looking for things to prove I was better than Lizzie. My hair was a bit
longer. I was studying science, she was in humanities. I had three more followers on Instagram than she did. She came from a small town up north and I was from Vancouver. Her room was messier.

“Do you want some tea?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

The question wrapped itself around me too slowly and I didn’t acknowledge its kindness quickly enough to be polite. Lizzie sucked in the bottom corner of her lip, peered around her room as if there might have been a chair in there she hadn’t seen before, and finally offered me to sit on her bed. I scooted past the doorframe, picked my way around the papers – they were study notes, lines of poems, grocery lists – and perched awkwardly on the edge of her bed.

“I don’t care that you slept with him,” she said once I’d stopped fidgeting.

“But –”

“And I’m not going to tell Danielle,” she added, guessing my next question.

“Why not?”

There was no pause. She’d thought this through already, too.

“Fuck him. Fuck, he’s the one that looks at her and says I love you. He’s the one that’s supposed to love her. If she finds out you had sex with him, she’s not going to get mad at him. She’ll only get mad at you. That’s what girls always do. You’re not the one telling her you love her. Sure, it was shitty for you to do it, but you were drunk. And fuck him. I want him to take the blame. Not you.”

The anger trembling her voice surprised me. This was a rant, the kind I was used to listening to over milkshakes at Dairy Queen at midnight after one of my best-friends from home had gotten in a fight with her own boyfriend. It occurred to me these words had been rolling around in Lizzie’s head for a while, gathering momentum, and there had never been anyone to throw them at until I showed up at her door.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I opened my mouth by default, to see if anything could crawl out on its own, but when nothing did Lizzie continued.

“Look, I don’t know you that well. And I don’t really fucking care. It’s none of my business. If I tell Danny, I’m just going to have to deal with a bunch of stupid drama. I’m going to have to tell her you’re a shitty friend and he’s a shitty boyfriend, I’m going to have to tell her I hate your guts and his guts and she can do better, and I’m going to have to deal with all her debating – ‘Oh but I love him so much, oh but we’ve been together forever, oh but it didn’t mean anything,’ and fuck, she’ll go back to him and I’m going to have to pretend like I’m happy for her. And really I’ll just be happy all the fucking drama is over, except it’ll come back when there’s a party we want to go to except you’re going to be there and blah, blah, blah. I can’t deal with that right now. Finals are coming up and I have, like, a trillion stupid papers I need to focus on.”

My eyebrows had stretched their way all the way up to my hairline without my noticing. Lizzie rolled her eyes at my face and said, “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not the one that fucking slept with her boyfriend,” and then she laughed.

It wasn’t a malicious laugh, one saying she had me in a corner, she won, was better than me – it was laughter at her own twisted joke. I didn’t know I was going to, but I laughed too, shifted my weight so more of my body was on the bed and I could face her.

“I don’t know why I slept with him,” I said. “It’s stupid. I was just drunk and he was kissing me and it made sense.”

She took a sip of her tea, lifted one shoulder in a bored shrug and muttered, once she’d swallowed, an unconvincing, “Whatever.”

“I know being drunk can’t be an excuse and blaming him can’t be an excuse,” I rambled quickly, choking on my guilty conscience, “The problem is, I didn’t feel bad about it until I remembered you knew.”

“I’m not judging you.”

It was a lie every girl ever had to utter eventually, but it didn’t seem like a lie walking out of her mouth. It just seemed like she was thinking of more significant things, and it made me take a deep, shuddery breath, put me into a sudden frame of perspective: Lizzie was thinking of more significant things.

Lizzie had a dozen more responsibilities to think of before she could contemplate the implications of me sleeping with her best-friend’s boyfriend. And I didn’t. And it was that reason, not her scholarship or perfect figure, which made Lizzie a better person than I currently could be.

Yet inexplicably, I felt this understanding shift something in my chest, smooth away some of the sharp points of loathing I felt whenever I looked at her. Lizzie seemed tired. And I remembered her in the drunken flash of memory I possessed of the party, the door opening – her eyes, darker and smaller with makeup, widening with embarrassment. She had just looked so worn out.

“If Danielle finds out about it, and finds out you knew, she’ll be mad,” I warned her now.

Lizzie smirked a little, then straightened her expression once more into one of impassivity.

“She’d only find out I knew if you told her.” The smirk returned as she added, with warped irony in her tone, “Besides, she couldn’t be mad at you and me. She’d need at least one friend.”

“Ok…” I looked around the room again, the old coral paint faded from the sun, and years of university tenants.

“Ok, well. Thanks.” I managed a smile, surprised to realize it was genuine.
Lizzie rolled her shoulders back and said – “Just stay the fuck away from that guy. He’s a creep.”

“You don’t like him?” I asked, a little surprised. I liked Andy. He was a fun guy, always took the time to say hello to you whenever you ran into him.

“He gave you a drink, didn’t he?” Lizzie asked in response.

“Sure, just a beer.”

“And he told you how good you looked in that shirt you were wearing?”

I pressed my eyebrows together and waited to see if Lizzie was going to make fun of me.

She didn’t. Instead, she wrinkled her nose in a look of ultimate disgust and said, “He fucked my sister, at a party at home, before he was dating Danny. Then he told all his friends about it. He told them she sent him nudes – she never did. She told me to stay away from him, but Danny thought he was cute. And he’s an older guy. There’s always that extra attraction, you know?”

I’d never hooked up with anyone at a party before. I’d certainly never hooked up with one of my friends’ boyfriends before. Knowing he was a crappy guy didn’t make me feel any better. Knowing he’d pulled the same moves on other girls didn’t make me feel any less guilty. I’d taken a beer from a guy I thought was cute and decided to forget who he was dating.

I was a shitty friend.

I didn’t even like beer.

I pursed my lips and twisted the silver ring I wore on my thumb.

“Danielle doesn’t know? About your sister?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lizzie sighed, “Danny loves him. She’ll get over it
eventually.”

“Get over…?”

“Loving him.”

“Oh.”

“They’ll break up.”

“Oh?”

“They have to,” Lizzie shrugged, “It’s too on and off. Or you know, they’ll get pregnant, married and divorced. But that’s so cliché,” and she laughed again, so viciously it was almost a snarl.

I had a strange feeling then, as if I’d rolled the next five years into a pill and
swallowed it down without water. It sat tight in my throat as I imagined us, so far away from this conflict that meant so much now, which would have little impact on our lives less than a year from now. And I felt a little bit calmer. I looked around Lizzie’s room, at the grocery lists and poems and all the clutter reminding us there was something bigger and better than our drunken hook-ups and relationship gossip.

For the first time I realized sleeping with Andy had nothing to do with how
Danielle felt, and everything to do with how I felt. Was I ok? Had I been safe?

“Hey – ” I said suddenly, and looked over at Lizzie, and she jerked her head up from her cup of tea, which she’d been sipping pensively, “– well, thanks.”

Lizzie smirked again. I wondered if she ever got lonely. Somehow it seemed
isolating to have such a flawless life.

“You’re welcome,” she said, and I tried to hate her but I couldn’t anymore, and I couldn’t hate myself either.

Lizzie chewed on the edge of her lip. She peered into the bottom of her teacup, now empty, and rolled back her slim shoulders.

“Um,” she cleared her throat, and it was the first time throughout my entire visit she seemed uncertain of herself. “I’m going to put the kettle on again,” she decided, “You – do you want some too? You could stay a bit longer, if you wanted.”

So I did.

 

Nicole Bayes-Fleming is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, with a minor in women’s and gender studies. She grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and has been writing stories since she was eight years-old. She received an honourable mention in Carleton University’s 2016 writing competition and is the current Opinions/Editorial editor at the Charlatan.

Her Husband is a Jealous Man

by Brittany Greier

I stood alone in the tent. It was hot. The layers of the tent were thick and oppressive, cutting me off from the cool of the night. My muscles were tight, my blood beating in my body, as I stood before an ornate curtain of woven blue, scarlet, and purple thread. The curtain was skillfully designed with many strange and mysterious creatures. Some had horns, others had human faces, but all of them had six wings covering their bodies. It is this holy curtain that showed the forms of the great beings, servants of my God.

My husband is a jealous man. He’s not wicked, and I often take his jealousy as a symbol of his love for me, but his jealousy has led to wickedness this time. It has bred doubt, mistrust, and suspicion. My husband’s jealousy isn’t completely unwarranted. People say that I’m the most beautiful woman in our camp. Sometimes, I feel the eyes of men on me as I draw water from the well. It makes me nervous, but I never return the gaze. They look at me differently than my husband does. Hungrily.

I felt a single drop of sweat trace a line down my back, beneath my clothes, as I wiped the salt from my brow. I looked down anxiously at my gently protruding belly, stroking it, a habit that developed over the past couple months. With the conception of our first child, my husband has scrutinized me even more severely than before. He must know, with certainty, that the child is his. When he confronted me about his suspicions, he looked at me with such an evil eye, such an envy, that terrified me. Nothing I said could quench his suspicion, no confession of fidelity would ease his searching eye. He demanded that I be brought before the camp council to be tested. He had to be sure, and only God could set his jealous heart at ease.

The roof of the tent seemed to sag under the weight of the fabric, the walls seemed to lean inward. I felt as if I would collapse. I had begged him to spare me from this public humiliation and the risk of losing our child, but he was mad, crazed with a desire for assurance. I love him, but this flaw of his, this crack in his otherwise smooth character, is cleaving us apart. Tonight, before the assembly of the camp, before our leader, the Great Shepherd, and before God I stood, ashamed under their speculation before I entered the tent of judgement.

The strong smell of burning spices, cinnamon, and oil, mixed with the smell of cow hides, was suffocating. The light flickering from the lamp stands was a dark light. The heavy curtain to the tent opened and I heard the jangle of sacred stones hitting one another as the Great Shepherd entered. I kept my head down and rested my hands on my belly which grew its own sacred treasure. The Great Shepherd walked, taking each step reverently, toward the stone altar that stood erect before the curtain of God. He held my husband’s grain offering of jealousy, a reminder of his inability to trust me. The Great Shepherd approached me but I lowered my gaze.

He came towards me with the jealousy offering, took my hands, cupped them around the bowl, and left me holding my husband’s guilt. I clutched the thin clay bowl tightly so as not to drop it, but feared it break in my anxiety. The Great Shepherd went around me and roughly pulled out the pins that held my tightly bound hair in a bun, the sign of womanhood in our camp. I shut my eyes tightly, embarrassed as my thick black hair tumbled loosely down my back. The Great Shepherd knelt before me and collected some of the dust at my bare feet. I was torn between opening my eyes and looking down at him, indignantly, or keeping them shut and blocking out the sights, the smells, everything. I decided to stare at the dull white flour in my hands instead. The Great Shepherd rose, still not looking at me, and went to a solid gold pitcher of holy water near the altar. He poured it into a bronze bowl and placed the dust from the ground into the
water. Raising it, he turned to me and spoke,

“If you have defiled yourself, your husband, and your marriage by making yourself intimately known by another man, who is not your husband, may this holy water bring upon you a curse: that your abdomen may rot, that your thigh may swell, and that you will remain childless all the days of your life. This will be a sign to our community that God has cast judgement upon you and that you are cursed. Yet if you have not done this wicked thing, but have remained faithful and pure, let this holy water pass through you without harm. This will be a sign to our community that you are not cursed, but that God has declared you faithful.”

“May it be as you have said,” I whispered into the pale flour.

The Great Shepherd brought the holy water of my judgement to a golden table at the side of the tent, and wrote all the things I had agreed to, under oath, on a scroll with dark sticky ink. He washed the ink, before it dried, from the slick surface of the scroll into the holy water.

I shook as he raised the bronze bowl containing the warm, deadly liquid to my lips. I drank slowly, my stomach churning as the ink of the curse swirled on the surface of the bitter water, blackening my lips. With the last of the liquid drained down my throat, under the watchful eye of the Great Shepherd, I felt faint, my vision blurring. I stumbled and nearly dropped the bowl containing the jealousy offering, but the Great Shepherd grabbed it from me. Falling to my knees I clutched my stomach as if to protect my unborn child from the poisons that now attacked my body. I became vaguely aware of the smell of fire as the Great Shepherd turned his back to me and began to burn the jealousy offering on the stone altar. I lay down, weak, my cheek resting on the rough woven rug as the lights began to dim.

As I faded, mystical creatures came into my peripheral vision. Creatures with feathers and terrible animal faces that had no definition when I tried to focus on them. It was as if images had dethatched themselves from the ancient curtain, danced around the room and come to life, taking the forms of the heavenly beings. Out of the shapes that surrounded me, a hand emerged and touched my belly. Then from beneath a wing, another creature reached out and placed a hand beneath my thigh. The hands were cool and soothing. A voice came, very close to me, and spoke into my ear something that I didn’t understand, but felt. It filled me with peace. My child and I would survive. I slipped into darkness in the presence of those unearthly creatures.

 

Brittany Greier is just a simple pilgrim passing through this world with the hope of leaving behind a little of the beauty she’s collected along the way.

The Denigration of Tom Thompson

by Anthony Sabourin

There are a lot of things that I want to do but it is getting
harder and harder for me to find a shirt that does not have
curry on it. In the quiet of my apartment, I check my phone,
which counts as taking action.

At work today there were tiny Halloween sized coffee
crisps and my eyes turned steely, cold, and my lips tightened,
and I stared at these coffee crisps and thought ‘Yes’.
This feeling was not excitement.
I pillaged coffee crisps. There were seven discarded
coffee crisp wrappers lying on my desk by the end of the day,
and this is where they will be when I come in tomorrow. I could
hunt packaged candies and slow animals provided that they
were in an enclosed space.

My apartment is a series of rooms – one with a bed, one
with a toilet and shower, one with a couch and one with a fridge
and stove. The light in my fridge has been broken for many
months. When it is dark and I want to see what is in my fridge, I
turn on the kitchen light. Oh! So many condiments!
Everything in the apartment is still covered in dog hair.
I was dog sitting, feeding an English Mastiff people food
and trying to change its name to the name of my last girlfriend.

The dog and I had a falling out when I smoked pot indoors
and the dog got high and started barking at me. I thought
that it thought I was people food and I retreated to my
bedroom, ceding the coffee-table/Netflix-watching area to the
dog.
The name change did not take.
In remembrance of this I roll a joint with the dregs of
both dog hair and dime bag that have grown inseparable on the
coffee table. I don’t get high but I do fall asleep on a couch.

Her profile picture did not feature cats and she expressed
an interest in breakfast, the indoors, and the 1990s canon
of Nicolas Cage action movies. We first met at the National
Art Gallery underneath the giant gnarled metal spider, our
awkward introductions preserved in the background of pictures
taken by tourists. We felt like we could live forever as
marginalia.
We cut through the gallery making up names for pictures.
A general in a red jacket lay dying as a crowd of people
who had the same haircuts as the people on our money looked
on. She christened it ‘Butt City’ and if I did not feel love, I felt
the rush of possibility. We knew nothing, but we knew everything.
A picture of a pine tree with its branches sloping
downwards, shrugging eternally under the weight of its leaves
was christened as ‘Morrisey Bootleg’. This was Tom Thompson’s
The Jack Pine, a portrait of the Canadian landscape that outgrew
its creator’s disdain for it. I guess sometimes you think you
did a shitty job painting a tree and the world disagrees with you.
I wonder if my Domino’s delivery man ever felt the same way.
The artwork became more abstract – impressionistic
slashes of green representing more trees; a giant, absurdly large
canvas with an angry red line smouldering, trying to escape its
blue borders; a room that was empty except for a taut cable
cutting it in half. This was the good stuff. You would look at it
and have to create your own meaning, wrestle with your own
emotions.
I felt invigorated. I asked her if she wanted to write
a manifesto, start a punk band, plaster the city with our own
propaganda. To create.
We did nothing, which left its own indelible mark.
Seven more coffee crisps and now there is irrefutable
evidence that I have eaten more than my fair share. At my desk
there are fourteen empty wrappers lying contorted, empty, and
accusatory in their cheerful yellow colours. To avoid suspicion I
make several small trips to different garbage bins in the building.
The next day the bowl of coffee crisps is replenished
and whole again under the fluorescent office lights.

In my dealer’s lobby, a man smiles at me with genuine
happiness and missing teeth and tells me that it is a good day for
whale hunting. I cannot dispute this and when I am buzzed in
I hold the door open for this man, but he elects to stay behind,
probably to inform others of his news.

I share the elevator with a shopping cart. I check my
phone. My friend is texting me about what did I do to his dog,
his dog is acting strange around ceiling fans now, and I ignore it.
My dealer, Glenn, is in his late 40s and he plays in a
two-person rock band called the Check One-Twos. Their entire
set consists of the two members conducting a sound check for
a song that never starts. It builds up for forty minutes – setting
up the equipment for a full band, plucking at guitar strings,
bass tuning, testing snares and cymbals – and ends when Glenn
says “Check. Check one-two,” into the mic. They draw a pretty
decent turnout of clientele when they play at House of Targ.
Glenn is saying “As a society, we can no longer abide by
silence.”
I say “Yeah, man,” and buy a quarter ounce and when I
leave the cart and the whale hunter aren’t there.

We went to Toronto to see her favourite band. A fake
monk in Trinity Bellwoods suckered us out of twenty dollars.
We stayed in a basement apartment we found on AIRBNB that
had no windows but did have shag carpet and smelled like cats
and was very reasonably priced. We pilfered through our host’s
things and made up their life story. The band was stopped at the
border and couldn’t get into the country. We walked past a dive
bar that was playing old Motown music and drank beer from
dirty taps and danced. Our greyhound bus got stuck in traffic
and it took ten hours to get home.

Abide by silence? I fill my apartment with noise. I revel
in it. I watch a movie on Netflix. I listen to a podcast where
people whose opinions I do not agree with talk about sports. I
watch sports. I watch sports on mute and listen to music on my
laptop, and when the music is too loud I turn the volume down
on the already muted TV. Emboldened by my error I turn the
volume of the music up.
Noise is everything.
Noise is blotting out the sun.

Did I tell her I loved her? We had just finished assembling
Swedish furniture against its will in her apartment.
Amongst empty beer bottles and crumpled instructions, with
coffee table as my witness, I told her. She told me the same. We
ordered take-out Indian and watched reruns of Seinfeld and
were in love.
We should meet each other’s families and be embarrassed
in the company of those who shaped us. We should move
in together. We should let each other down. We should go to
a restaurant and not talk to each other; sink into our routines
and let petty annoyances build. We should stop having sex. We
should have sex and take too long to cum, thinking about other
people.
Did I tell her to go fuck herself? We both did, after we
had taught each other how to hate. We are perfect for each other,
in the ways that we let each other down. The Voice of Fire,
that was us – we were the lines along the border being swallowed
up by the flames.
I dream about my friend’s dog running away. It sniffs at
blades of grass in an open field, nowhere, and wagging its tail. In
my dream I join the search, posting pictures on telephone poles
around town. I walk familiar streets and I hear echoes of the
dog’s name from other members of the search party, and I know
then that the dog will not answer to it, and if I only call out
your name the dog will come back.
I won’t.

I do think of The Jack Pine. I think of being outside,
of the release of not being surrounded by walls. I also think of
checking my phone, so I do that. I look at pictures of people I
like on Instagram. I look at pictures of people I don’t like on Instagram.
I read reviews of brunch restaurants and become angry
that a man I do not know and will never meet does not like the
coffee they serve at The Manx. I click on his profile and read the
rest of his reviews while looking for grammatical errors. I wonder
if the feeling that he is wrong is deep in his belly, gnawing
away at him while he feels uneasy but cannot pinpoint why. No,
probably he is oblivious; happy. It is excellent coffee.
Ah, I roll a pretty great joint. I have such dexterous fingers.

At work in the communal kitchen a woman who looks
like the name Deborah and I talk about the weather. The weather
is nice, we both agree. I do not eat any coffee crisps because
Deborah is there. And is it not true that our relationship ended
on a paddleboat? That we rented a paddleboat at Dow’s Lake
Pavilion one hour before rentals closed, as the teenagers who
worked there looked at us with disdain?
We had planned to do a circuit of Dow’s Lake, which
was man-made and therefore a lazy creation of manageable
size. Yes, let’s do this. Let’s conquer nature in our own way, on a
leisure cruise with the sun about to set.
Except we pedaled furiously and went nowhere. This
was not leisure. This was a Viking Funeral. The only sounds
were metal and plastic grinding in response to our pinwheeling
legs, and water sloshing into the boat. We sweated out our life
jackets, which stank of lake water. Happy people dawdled on
the recreational pathway that bordered the lake, reminding us
that yes, it is possible to smile. And each smile reminded us that
yes; we were trapped on this fucking paddleboat. What was the
point.
“We should stop this.”
“Yes.”
“I do not mean the boat.”
“Yes.”
Jumping out of the boat was not an option so we drifted
until we heard the burr of a boat engine reach us. Teenaged
Dows Lake Employees with indifferent faces were our deus ex
machina.
I could go to Algonquin Park. Go and see the tree that
Tom Thompson painted for The Jack Pine. Pack a bag with some
water and cold pizza and pre-rolled joints, rent a car and go. I’d
smash my phone on a rock and walk through the woods untethered,
wearing sneakers. I would venture off the trails and find
a discreet place to get high. I would sit in the quiet of nature,
surrounded by life, look upwards and be awed by the immensity
of the trees, as sunlight filters down through them and fills me
with a feeling of warmth. I could be transformed.
Instead I read on the internet that the jack pine died a
long time ago.

15.1

15.2