‘Teen Spirit’ by Amanda Feder

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

Teen Spirit

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

On the cusp of teenagehood, I was increasingly preoccupied with a search for the elusive Cool, and suspected that this exciting, slightly nauseating sensation in the pit of my stomach was it. I brought home Live Through This, a seminal grunge album of the 90s. When I heard Courtney Love alternate between singing and screaming—her voice, throaty and off-tune—my whole body tingled and my heart sped up. I had no idea what she was screaming about, but I understood.

You’ll love her. My favourite song is Teenage Whore.’ It’s so honest,” Jen said when she introduced me to Courtney Love. She was trying on her sister’s plaid skirt in front of a full-length mirror, rolling it up at the waist until the hemline cut across her upper thighs.

Does this look slutty?”

Jen had invited me to her house that afternoon and soon after announced that we were best friends. By association, I was deemed equally close with her other friend, Carly. Jen was tall and thin with thick brown curls. She had a sophisticated way about her; she drank coffee and encouraged us to do the same. Carly was petite and blonde, a creative type who wrote haikus and tore holes in her jeans. They were the prettiest girls in our sixth-grade class, and I was in awe of them. I was chubby, still being dressed by my mother, and soon to be starring in a children’s production of Charlotte’s Web.

Acting must be intense,” Carly said once when I told her I had rehearsal. I had no idea what they saw in me.

Both Carly and Jen had older siblings, and they mined their stuff to feed our cultural education. When Carly shared her brother’s Stone Temple Pilots album, we listened to one song on repeat for hours. The spoken word track was called “Wet My Bed,” a focal point of the lyrics being a search for cigarettes. The singer’s voice was hoarse—his heavy breathing, scary and sensual at the same time. We decided the song was a drug-induced improvisation, proud for being able to spot such a thing.

My brother gave me a puff of his smoke,” Carly confided in us as we lay on our backs on her attic floor, listening to Scott Weiland slur his words. My heart ached with envy.

While my friends kept introducing us to new cultural artifacts, perhaps in quiet competition to outdo each other, I had nothing to offer. I cursed my parents for making me their first-born and giving me a sheltered upbringing. I became irritable in their presence. My growing frustration with my life deepened my feelings of kinship with Kurt Cobain.

I scoured boxes of old books and records in our basement, hoping that my mom and dad had once entertained interests of some redeemable quality that I could use to impress my friends. Sifting through a pile of dusty VHS tapes, I found a film with the handwritten label, Rocky Horror.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack spun on the rickety family record player throughout my growing up. My sister and I choreographed dances to most of the songs in our living room. My sister insisted on wearing her pink tutu for every one of those dancing sessions. She was five years old and tiny for her age, quiet, with dark eyes and a button nose. I was four years older, and I threw her little body around the room, barking orders and correcting her movements. We knew most of the lyrics by heart but had never seen the film.

Years later, my family drove by a repertory theatre screening the movie. I was stunned to see the number of people waiting in line outside. My parents explained that these screenings had a cult following, and people would dress up in silly costumes and sing along, even throw popcorn at the screen. I watched with wonder as a young woman in line wearing a purple wig and fishnet stockings licked the cheek of the man next to her.

I detected traces of sex and drugs and decided that the VHS tape would establish my proximity to both. A story about a mad alien scientist was my best shot at proving my maturity and good taste to my friends. I invited Jen and Carly over for a special showing on an afternoon I knew my parents would be out.

When the girls arrived at the door with three male friends in tow, I felt a tightening in my chest. In the last year or two, male schoolmates had shape-shifted from nuisances to mystical sources of validation.

Hear this is gonna be the bomb,” one of the boys said as he passed me into the house.

My cheeks went hot. Illicit spin-the-bottle games had become a staple at unsupervised social gatherings, and I wasn’t sure if their attendance signified a change in agenda.

We went down to the basement. My five guests crammed together onto the large couch, the boys digging their hands into the bowls of snacks I had laid out. I turned off the light and pressed play on the VCR, pulled out a foldout chair beside them and cracked open a Coke.

The smallest of the boys flicked jellybeans across the couch as a campy wedding scene played out before us. The first musical number prompted giggles, and the restless boy, emboldened by the tittering of the group, slid up onto the armrest.

Stop!” Jen squealed, her prepubescent chest now the target of a candy attack.  The impish grin smeared across his face made her brutal assailant look more like an elf.

Oh, you don’t like it?” he quipped, the multicoloured ammunition whipping through the air. His face flushed as he triggered high-pitched shrieks from his mark.

The soda began to bubble in my gut. The film wasn’t grabbing my audience’s attention as I had hoped. I shoved a handful of Cheetos into my mouth to quell my nerves.

The room did go quiet for “The Time Warp.” There was no way for us to tell that the scene was iconic, that the song would be played at every high school dance and wedding and Halloween party we would go on to attend. We watched, dumbfounded, as old people in neon bow ties and cummerbunds, cheap party hats and sunglasses, jumped to the left and stepped to the right.

This is weird,” Alisa snorted, throwing her legs across a guy’s lap. I kept my eyes glued to the screen and guzzled down my pop.

Soon Dr. Frank-N-Furter made his dramatic entrance, wearing heavy purple eye shadow, dark red lipstick and high platform heels. As soon as he belted out “I’m just a sweet transvestite!” the boys erupted into a performance of distaste, snickering and cursing and slapping the sofa. When the “sweet transvestite” threw off his cape to reveal a bustier, garter belt and thigh-high stockings, one boy yowled, “Shiiiiiiiiit,” stretching the word out as far as it could go. I cringed.

Shut up!” Jen commanded. She lurched forward and narrowed her eyes. “I love this,” she said with a sincerity I had only heard her use when describing her favourite icons like Kim Gordon and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Her admirer turned towards the television, still jabbing his friends’ shoulders but the impact softened. The boys’ mockery subdued, quieting to a chorus of clicking tongues. Sensing this was a moment I needed to exploit, I started mouthing the lyrics, hoping Jen would notice I knew all the words.

But watching the actor strut and thrust his hips started to make me feel light-headed. I thought of my sister in her tutu, looking like a cartoon pixie, spinning and jumping in our living room.

My mother sang “Hot Patootie Bless My Soul” to my sister and I at bath time. I discovered that in the movie, this song ends with Dr. Frank-N-Furter hacking Meatloaf to death with an ice pick.

Awesome!” Alisa cackled. I plastered a smile across my face, kneading the ends of my sweater sleeves.

My head started throbbing during Susan Sarandon’s Toucha Toucha Touch Me,” where she begs for someone to make her feel “dirty.” I had heard these lyrics countless times but had somehow never bothered to reflect on their meaning. I thought of my parents’ faces, watching our afternoon dance recitals, exchanging glances as they smiled and clapped.

I mumbled an excuse to my friends, ran to the upstairs bathroom and promptly vomited. I returned to the basement and sat through the rest of the movie.

At first sign of the credit roll, I lied and said my parents were on their way home. My guests got up to leave.

I watched from the doorway as they filed down our front steps. Jen pivoted when she got to the end of the driveway. “Let’s watch Carrie next time!” she called back at me. I smiled and nodded. When she turned away, I noticed the logo on the back of her t-shirt for the first time. It read Tragically Hip,” and had an illustration of a woman holding her hands up to her face, crying.

I was puking for the next two days. My parents fussed over me, told me there was a bug going around at school. I didn’t mention Rocky Horror.

Do you want to watch a movie together?” my mom asked, stroking my cheek as I lay in bed.

I swatted her hand away. No, Mom, I’m fine,” I said. Can you close the door on your way out?”

I felt sick and yearned for my mother to comfort me, but I knew I had to face this alone. I wasn’t a kid anymore, and I needed us all to be on the same page about that.

 


AMANDA FEDER is an emerging writer from Montreal. By day, she works in television broadcasting. She was grateful to be selected for the 2018 Quebec Writers’ Federation Mentorship Program, during which this story was completed.

Copyright © 2019 by Amanda Feder. All rights reserved.

‘Headphones’ by Mo Duffy Cobb

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

Headphones

Illustration by Andres Garzon

When she puts them in, I become an advisor, an educator. I become an author, an editor of a literary magazine with comments and readers. I am a seasoned traveller, a writer scribbling madly in the dark. I am a freelancer, an English teacher propelled into the chaotic throes of entrepreneurship. A presenter, an authority, a reference—an adult.

When she takes them out, I am her mom.

When she puts them in, she is my little girl again, the one I nurtured and disciplined and watched grow through the ages. She is one month old, two years old, five and seven—all at the same time.

When she takes them out, she is almost twelve and she wants a grilled cheese.

When she puts them in, she hears her dance tunes and her hands square her face like she’s in a musicl.ly video. She bends her knee in and out in a plié, unaware that she’s doing it. My baby girl has grown into a dancer, with a body that leaps into rooms ahead of her.

When she takes them out, I am a maid in the middle of my fifth load of laundry. I sort and pile and hang, folding my education degree into my Master’s degree, my world a blur of baby socks and dishtowels and an endless cycle of grass stains. I wonder if I should start working on my PhD, then become plagued with the irony of whether or not I would ever use it.

When she puts them in, I become the questioner. Have I outlined the boundaries, the daytime hours of tech talk and screen time, the dangers of the online unknown? With transitions on the horizon, she is growing up faster and faster. What is she watching, is it appropriate? She hasn’t yet tried deception, and for now she adequately self-polices. I’ll never tell her that when I was young, I tried to get away with everything. I look at her and squint. I want her to know the fear that somewhere, I am lurking.

When she takes them out, she asks me what I’m looking at. Intuitive, this one. Maybe she senses a shift in me too. We are growing up together, I always tell her. The days of consent are coming, the days of nerves and new relationships and mom fears. But I try to pace my answers to her questions, and never to project the panic I sometimes begin to feel. “Nothing,” I say, and go back to planning the Home and School auction.

When she puts them in, she feels grown up. She joins her friends in the Cloud, texts, laughs, and uses hashtags rhetorically. She is smart and funny. She sends her girlfriends videos, pictures, and writes messages, making jokes about the boys in her class. She has style and reputation and status, seethes a confidence that I never quite achieved. I wait for the phone to ring, wonder when the baby might wake, and wash the same dishes over and over again. I have my own life, sometimes it feels like I used to. With the oldest bridging tweenhood, the youngest a decade her junior, and a son who will start kindergarten in the fall. The age gaps are real. I catch myself thinking, “this is temporary,” to the mayhem, the midnight interruptions, and the constant ground breaking of new frontiers, but then swallow the lump in my throat when I consider for a moment leaving all of this behind. The velocity of motherhood and the heartbreaking speed at which it passes is both its blessing and its curse.

When she takes the headphones out, she is planning. A sleepover this day, the mall that day. What we will do this summer, how many friends she can have? The movies, adventures, ice creams, and swimming. Where will she have wifi? I tell her to slow down. She says she can’t. She reminds me so much of my younger self: bright, sparkling, vibrant—before age blanketed me with the comfort of routine. It is so easy to become paralyzed with the mundane and, every day, this small, wild spirit reminds me to shake it up.

When she plugs her headphones in, I badger her—re-focusing her attention on her responsibilities. Has she done her homework, is her room picked up, has she practiced her lines or studied for her math quiz or sold those tickets for the draw on Saturday? It is hard to tell where her chores finish and mine begin, between fundraisers and event planning and remembering the nuances of an overscheduled life. The lines are blurring.

The internal conflict continues. Why do I only need her when she puts those small white buds in her ears? “It’s not a competition, Mom,” she would say. “I love you more than headphones.”

But something in me feels that she is travelling when she wears them—leaving for places unknown. When the headphones go in, her world doesn’t collapse, it expands. It becomes Hollywood and wrecking balls and princess rap battles. It becomes cake channels and tour dates and cat videos. I struggle to believe that people watch YouTube channels on DIY fashion hacks, but she says it’s true, and they have millions of followers.

When she takes them out, she can’t wait to tell me about them. She regales me with how she plans to cut up her t-shirts to make purses. She’ll get an old zipper, and could I get some thread? Where is that craft box, the one with the old patches? Her ideas overflow, from tickle trunks to Halloween boxes and deep into the back of craft shelves. “Before you make new clothes,” I start, “Could you put away the ones on your floor?” When did I become no fun?

When she takes them out, she is the one who badgers me—in the middle of this one article an editor is waiting for, or a proposal for an idea I must get down before it spins away. She crashes into my world with questions like, “Who is Trump anyway and why did he get elected?” Her whole class is upset with him. And when she walked home with Claudie, she said he made the people go home, to their home countries. As if they had a choice, Mom! Grampie’s TV has weather all the time, Mom, all the time. And she needs a new white shirt for choir, bigger ballet shoes and to go see her friends. And her science fair project is just around the corner. And could I pleeeeease just let her dye her hair pink. French tips, Mom. Everyone is doing it. And she’d really like to have the class party this year and get Dad to DJ it. He would be so great at that. And could I serve ice cream cake, it is graduation from grade six after all. I ask, “Honey, did you LOSE those headphones? Please, please would you put them in again?” Yes, yes, she promises, but could I please butter some toast first? Yes, anything for peace and quiet!

When she puts them in, I think of my first Walkman and the long list of songs that flowed from battery operation to the human cochlear. Smashing Pumpkins, Runaway Train, Lenny Kravitz, the Grateful Dead shows, Zeppelin bootlegs from the shops in Dublin when I first left the country by myself. Phish. The music I searched for in dingy old basement record stores, in the days of authenticity. You had to become an inquirer, to follow leads looking for certain albums, to borrow and tape from your friends. Active participation.

Peeling off the plastic of a new CD and reading the poems of the music inside was considered a major thrill, even if it was only a selection of the month from Columbia House. What’s it like to have all the music in the world flow straight into your consciousness? Google Play, Sonos, Spotify, all competing for your attention, marketing and advertising and commercials along for the ride. I will always remember the slowing of the music as my Walkman batteries on a long bus ride died. Siri, will she miss this?

“Siri, do you love me?” she asks. The headphones pop out and she giggles. For the moment, the wrinkles have come out. We have built a bridge, in the dark, over time, over history. “Come on, Mom, you’re okay,” she says, comforting me and finally, reversing our roles.

I am learning new skills, a new design, and gaining understanding. The information superhighway has us both journeying on new waves, as mothers and daughters. Connections haven’t changed, although AV ports may have. We have become an old tune played on a new mode, fiddlers in a grand dance.


MO DUFFY COBB is a freelance writer, editor and the author of Unpacked: from PEI to Palawan(Pottersfield Press, 2017). Her essays have been published in The Rumpus, Literary Mama, Damselfly Pressand more. Duffy Cobb holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she is the Founder and Editor ofCargo Literary, a digital imprint that publishes transformational travel experiences. She lives in beautiful Prince Edward Island, and is the President of the PEI Writers’ Guild.

Copyright © 2019 by Mo Duffy Cobb. All rights reserved.

‘He Hoped Baseball Would Fix What Was Wrong With Him’ by Alex Dela Cruz

Non-Fiction, Short Stories
Baseball
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Baseball was his first love.  In his second year of little league, Allen improved, becoming the best player on the team.  He ran down ground balls like his favorite Blue Jays. Roberto Alomar Jr. and Tony Fernandez were like acrobats snagging the ball out of the air with incredible precision and coordination, making throws to first, disappointing the opposing player’s futile attempt to reach base.  Grounders, pop-ups, one hoppers …  Allen emulated the heroes he saw on TV for his own team.   He was surprised at his progress.  He was having fun, more fun than ever.  Each game, every practice, he was learning more and more.

 

Year One: 

His father took Allen to the store to pick out a baseball glove.  They were at the counter to pay.

‘Ok, where’s your money?’

Allen looked at him.  He didn’t have any money; did this mean they had to go back home without the glove?  His father laughed before taking out his credit card.

Coach Capobianco was around the same age as Allen’s father. He was soft spoken, very helpful, but didn’t yell and scream. He told the new players that if the ball is hit towards them, to use their body to form a wall; if the ball doesn’t go right into their glove, it will still be blocked and they’ll have a chance to make a throw to first.  Allen thought of him like a baseball Santa Claus without the beard and with an immense amount of baseball knowledge.  His son was friendly, and one of the best players.  Allen wasn’t.  He was in the bottom of the lineup, starting in right field, where the ball is hit least often.

Allen moved to left field as he got better, then to center. By the end of the year, Allen had played at third base.  Sometimes, he was moved up to fifth in the batting order.

Coach Capobianco gave out game stars for good plays during a game to be sewn onto the uniform.  Allen had two red stars for fielding and a white star for hitting.  The best player on the team had seven stars.  Coach C’s son had six.

 

Year Two:

Tony was Allen’s new coach.  He was lanky and thin, but athletically built. A vibrant young man with a few scarce pimples, he carried the energetic maturity of a college student.   He liked being called Tony, not coach. He was like a cool older brother who knew a lot about baseball.  Players did what Coach C said because he was old and wise, they listened to Tony because he was cool and smart. He was a person the younger kids wanted to hang out with.

 

The Day Tony Helped Create a Monster: 

Batting practice.  The worst part of Allen’s game: hitting.

He got some hits, and walks to get on base once, rarely twice, each game during his first year. Most of the time, he’d take a swing and the ball would land safely in the catcher’s mitt.  Allen hated swinging at air but, dejected, had gotten used to it.

With a watchful eye, Tony spoke to him,  ‘You’re seeing the ball OK, but you’re late on your swing. Put your elbow higher.’

Allen’s swing was pretty good.  Coach C gave some good tips the year before: a wide stance gives better balance, put your weight on your back foot, watch as the ball comes in, and transfer your weight.  All these small details.  When Allen watched the Blue Jays on TV, he saw how they did all these little things perfectly.  Fundamentals, Coach C called them.

Tony, however, was good at finding details unique to each player that would help them.

‘Elbow up, like this.  See, when you swing, you bring your elbow up even when it’s down at your waist.  If it’s already up, it’s ready to hit the ball. Try it out.’

Allen took a few practice swings.  It felt different.  Faster.  He walked up to the plate.  Mike, the best pitcher on the team, gave an easy toss.  Allen took a swing . . . and missed the ball by a mile.  He looked at Tony. Weird, Allen thought to himself.

‘Ya, you were way out in front of that one,’ said Tony.

The weird thing was that he had swung at the ball way too early. After a few more pitches, he couldn’t miss the ball.

‘Hey, Mike!’

‘Ya, coach?’

‘Enough with the easy stuff.  Let it rip.  Let’s see how he does.’

Practice was one thing, but an actual game?

The ball cracked off the bat.  He learned how to throw all his power into a good pitch, pulling the ball to left field into gaps between the outfielders, or simply over their heads.  If a pitcher threw a fastball that was hard to catch up to, he swung defensively to deflect it into gaps on the field.  He could see the ball clearly and figure out what to do depending on how good the pitcher was.

Allen was always on time to practice.  He could pick who he wanted to start warm up and drill with.  When he was early, he had a better chance to practice with someone he liked: someone who was cool and had good skills, not someone who was too good for practice or who just sucked.

Now he was batting in the heart of the line up.  He had decent power and often got on base.  He didn’t have the power of some other kids, but he regularly crossed the plate, scoring runs thanks to his teammates’ great hitting.  The practice was paying off.  Sometimes the ball seemed like it was in slow motion as he snagged it in his glove or bounced it off his bat.  Good times.

Sports build character, fostering integrity and discipline . . . as they say.

 

Home:

He was a good student and teammate. At home, however, he always seemed to be doing something wrong.

‘Punyeta ka! You’re always leaving your shit around. Why don’t you try your shit somewhere else?’ he heard many times from his father.

‘You left the light on in the bathroom again.  What, are you stupid? What’s wrong with you? You left your socks on the couch.  Do you think you have a maid?’

That day, he left his bag in the middle of the hallway where it was dangerous as his mom and dad said because someone could break their neck. 

‘I forgot, sorry.’  He forgot a lot.  ‘You don’t forget things?’

‘I am tired of your shit attitude.  This is my house and if you don’t like it, you can get the hell out!’

His deep voice bellowed when he was angry. Time and again, he’d tell Allen or his sister what was wrong with them, not to mention everything wrong with the world —all the things he knew about it.  Everyone tried to tune him out, especially Allen’s mom.  He was harder to ignore when he was angry. As he raised his voice, his eyes went beady and he’d explode into a seemingly endless tirade, yelling about what was wrong with Allen and his sister and how hard he worked for everyone.

He called them stupid, lazy, and disrespectful, with bad attitudes. Why couldn’t JoAnne get good grades in school like her brother?  Why couldn’t Allen keep his room from being a ‘pigsty’ or keep the house clean like his sister?  His dad repeated these helpful reminders daily.

When Allen was younger, his father would often help remind him with a slipper.  One time, the Chinatown leatherette slipper broke in half.  Allen laughed through his tears at the look his father’s face, who was holding half a broken rubber sole in one hand, the other half dangling by leatherette straps.

He noticed that his father yelled at him more but hit him less often as Allen grew taller than him.  His sister often got yelled at too: she was a teenager who didn’t have good grades and liked long showers which wasted water.  Teenagers.   In a few years, Allen would also be a teenager.  His mom said he would even like girls.  Gross.

After they moved into the new five-bedroom house with a skylight and Jacuzzi, they didn’t have a lot of money. They were just getting by. Allen’s dad only got the new TV because it was on sale; he said Allen used it most of the time anyways. True. His dad said it was his mom who really wanted the new backyard patio but that he was the one who paid for most of it. He helped design the patio of interlocking bricks with a low wall. He was like a lord in his little courtyard villa.

His teachers wrote beaming comments about Allen’s effort and good work in class. However, they suggested that he read slower when the students take turns reading aloud. Allen had a habit of reading too fast and mumbling.  Other than that, he liked his teachers a lot.  His classmates . . . not so much.

His family had moved into a nicer neighborhood a whiter neighborhood, when he got to the new school, a classmate asked him if he was Chinese or Japanese. Allen said he was Filipino, this was met with a blank stare.

‘Oh, so are you a ching chong, ding dong, or wing wong?’

His classmates laughed at Allen and asked why he wore the same clothes all the time, or if he was poor because of his cheap BiWay clothes.  Some kids were surprised when they saw Allen go into his house and asked if he was loaded.

‘No,’ Allen said, ‘My dad says there’s barely any money after the thing called the Mortgage.’

Before baseball, Allen was always watching TV. In the old neighborhood, he hardly ever watched TV. All the old neighborhood kids would knock on each other’s doors, wanting to play, ride bikes, run around, build sand castles, and pet dogs.  In this new neighborhood, he didn’t know anyone.  His mom asked why he didn’t make friends. He had never made friends at the old house . . . he just always had them.

There was a time at the new house when Allen played ping-pong with his dad in the basement. One day, his father mysteriously stopped playing.  When Allen was younger, his dad would always win.  After a few years, his father was scoring fewer points against Allen and hadn’t won a game in weeks.  Eventually the sound of the ping-pong table could no longer be heard.    The chess set was never used anymore either.  His dad had taught him how to play chess years ago but after an older kid at school gave Allen chess advice, the beautiful hand-carved Staunton chess set his father brought from the Philippines never left the top shelf.

‘Why aren’t you doing your homework?’  Allen’s father asked him.

‘I did it already.’ It usually took him less than an hour.

‘Did you clean your room?’

‘Yes.’   Allen hadn’t forgotten to clean his room since the time his dad took everything on the floor and made him set it on fire in the backyard.

‘Don’t you have anything better to do?’

‘I did everything. What else do you want?’  He actually remembered to pick up all his shit and make sure nothing was lying around.  His school bag was neatly against the wall, not laying in the middle of the hallway where it could break someone’s neck.  No light left on.

It helped that there was a rerun of GI Joe playing. It wasn’t a very good episode, but he had already watched it at least three times.

‘Always watching that idiot box with your bad attitude.  Someone has to teach you respect.  You don’t have any discipline.’

Allen could tell that this particular time was more of a rant than anything really threatening . . . if he just kept his mouth shut, his dad would eventually go away.  His dad wasn’t really angry; he was in a mood for complaining but couldn’t find anything wrong today. Allen heard this a thousand times before and would hear it a thousand times more.  Only this time, there was nothing to find wrong.  This time.

‘The sun will be down soon.  Don’t forget to close the blinds.’

‘Yes, sir. Of course, sir,’ he mumbled sarcastically, like his mom.  Except his mom didn’t mumble, she shouted when she had enough of her husband’s barking commands.  For the most part, she was a stoic woman who spoke only when necessary or when pushed too far.

His dad stared at him.

Oh shit, did he hear that? Allen thought.

His father steamed a few moments in the kitchen, eventually going up to the master bedroom, the heavy footfalls of his Chinatown leatherette slippers clicking up the stairs.  The door snapped shut and Allen could soon hear the muffled sound of TV coming from above.

Tonight was an ok night. Allen could watch whatever he wanted on the family room TV. No screaming, yelling, or crying.

It was another humid Mississauga summer evening.  Allen and his father were playing catch in the backyard. They practiced, his father tossing, grounders, one-hoppers, and pop-ups like the team.    Playing catch in the yard made it easier during a team practice. His mom liked that his dad was getting some exercise.  He wasn’t rambling her ear off, nagging, screaming, or yelling.  They made it a habit after dinner most nights to play catch, hours quickly passing until the sun went down.  It was like in the old neighborhood when all the kids went inside at the sunset that always came too soon.  Where did the time go?  Father and son tossed the ball back and forth countless times. Happiness.

A few of the kids gave and amused stare when Allen came onto the field with eye black.  Two black lines, one under each eye. He always thought it looked cool when some of the Blue Jays did it. It was supposed to help with the glare.  Allen used leftover Halloween makeup, probably not what they used in the big leagues.

No one really cared about the eye black until Allen hit a double and scored a run.  He scored a few more and got to base. At bat, he hit the ball regularly now. Allen made a few good infield plays. He’d leapt at a line drive, catching the ball in mid-air before landing on his stomach, glove raised so the umpire could see it was a clean catch for the out. He loved playing second base.

‘Hey, sexy, your mascara is running,’ some kid from the other team said.  Allen had gotten another hit and was on first base, eyeing second for the steal.

‘That’s the best player on the team,’ the opposing coach said in a matter-of-fact tone to an assistant.

The chubby little Filipino kid with black lines under his eyes pretended not to hear.  Wow, he thought.

The season had come to an end.  They had a heartbreaking loss in the playoffs.  Forest Glen was usually one of the worst teams.  Forest Glen making the playoffs was rare.

 

Year Three:

Allen had struck out again.  And again.   And again.  He was now in the next age group.  The kids were bigger, stronger, faster, and had more experience. Allen showed up to practice but didn’t receive helpful advice.

Batting Practice. Vito, the skinny, left-handed, mouthy kid who somehow had a rocket for an arm, blew the ball past everyone. The coach’s son could barely throw the ball over the plate. He was always dropping the ball into the dirt just in front of, or to the side of, the plate, making it nearly impossible to hit.  Allen couldn’t wait to go home and watch TV.

The team was in last place.  Late into the season, Allen’s dad walked with him to practice.  Just before Allen headed onto the field, his dad pulled out a batting glove.  He’d been asking for one for a while now.  His dad stared at Allen for a moment before screaming, ‘HIT THE BALL!’ his brown beady eyes bulging.

Allen looked at the glove, then looked at his dad.  He wondered if Tony might find a detail that would help him hit.  He missed Tony.  He was so cool.

Allen took the glove and headed to practice.  He decided that he never wanted to play baseball again.

 

Epilogue:

Allen’s dad wanted him to get a part-time job, he hoped a job would fix what was wrong with him.

 


ALEX DELA CRUZ is an artist from Mississauga, Ontario and has lived in Montreal for the past twelve years. He has won a literature award for creative fiction way back when at the University of Toronto. This story was submitted to tackle his writers’ block and cathartic reprieve.

Copyright © 2019 by Alex Dela Cruz. All rights reserved.

‘Messmer, Leonard Cohen, and a Baby’ by Lea Beddia

Non-Fiction, Short Stories
Messmer
Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

The hypnotist’s voice is a glacial lake: smooth, distant, cold, and piercing. It says, “Close your eyes and put your hands together in front of you.” The tips of my fingers touch, as if in prayer. “Your hands are fused together.” My hands are magnets. My arms shake from the force.

“You feel the bond increasing as your hands squeeze together even stronger.” Vines sprout from my wrists. Cold and heavy, like wrought iron, they twist and tangle around my fingers. I can no longer keep my hands lifted in front of me. The weight forces me to bend forward so I can rest my elbows on my thighs. The vines get so long they yank my hands to the ground. I separate my knees to spare my feet from getting caught.

In this position, I realize this is what anxiety feels like. It creeps up on me and weighs me down. I struggle against it, seeking control. Mostly, I try to hide it, which is impossible when I’m being pulled down.

“Your hands will not come apart,” the voice, interrupting my thoughts, stings my ears, like a caught bee. I try to tear my hands apart, but the vines are unyielding, and I am their prisoner. I hold my breath.

“If your hands cannot come undone, stand up.”

Despite the weight, I stand. Okay, someone is going to help me. Good. I don’t panic. This is a minor inconvenience. Now someone has gardening shears equipped with a blow torch to get through the vines. I exhale.

“If you are standing, you will be able to separate your hands on the count of three. One, two, three.”

The spell is broken. The vines loosen and fall to the ground. I kick them under the seat in front of me.

The voice speaks again, “Raise your right hand.” Freedom! “If your right arm is in the air, open your eyes.” The vines melt into the floor.

The power of suggestion has infiltrated.

I am suddenly aware that my husband, his sister and her boyfriend are looking at me, chuckling. I laugh too, but I don’t know what’s funny.

I remember that I’m in a vocational studies auditorium in Joliette, Quebec, and Messmer has hypnotized me. There are about two hundred other people attending the show.

I had always been curious about hypnotists, wondering if the people who end up onstage at these shows are paid actors. Could someone really tap into another’s subconscious with their voice? I went to the show to find out.

We sat through the first act in hysterics at the absurd things Messmer made audience members go through. Two men, who did not know each other, were spooning on the stage floor while their girlfriends watched from their seats.  Another chump, who had been under the spell, started dancing the merengue. It was good entertainment, but how much of it was real? We all have that voice inside our head telling us not to embarrass ourselves; so, I figured they were actors.

After the intermission, the hypnotist asked us to close our eyes and listen only to the sound of his voice. I didn’t think that it would be my turn to be hypnotized in a few moment.

The voice continues, “If your hand is in the air, please join us onstage.”

An usher approaches me, holding out his hand in a welcoming gesture. I’m one of the chumps. My friends are laughing at me, but I’m not bothered by it. It must be the voice, calm and cool, telling me I am happy and having a great time.

I walk onstage, where Messmer puts a microphone to my lips.

“What’s your name?” the voice is still cool but inviting.

“Lea.”

“Like the princess?”

“Yes, but not spelled the same.”

“And those are your friends?” he points.

“Yes.”

“Okay, Lea, have a seat.”

The usher nods to a chair behind me, and I join several others.

“When I count to three, you will all close your eyes and sit comfortably in your chairs until I call your names.  One, two…”

My eyes are already closed, my head is tilting down.

“…three.”

I slump in my chair. This is like a dream: reality is distorted yet I feel in control. I am comfortable, like the voice told me I am. Even though I am fully aware of the audience, they seem to be a part of my dream; I am not embarrassed to be in front of them. I can ignore them if I want. I can get up and leave if I want. Like watching a horror movie, I stay to see how this will end. The voice makes me feel safe.

I sit comfortably, aware of what is going on and, when I am not included, the suggestions don’t affect me. I sit with my eyes closed and listen.

The voice has convinced a girl that the number seven no longer exists. When she counts, she skips it. When she adds three and four, she has no answer. When she counts her fingers, she is astonished and confused to find out she has eleven.

“Lea, join me onstage.” I like the way the voice says my name, it is as if we’re friends.

The next part of the show includes us acting out a scene from the Lucky Luke comics. We each have a role and the voice gives instructions: “Lea, you are Luke’s girlfriend. You are sitting in a saloon, drinking a beer. You haven’t seen Luke in months, and you will greet him passionately when he arrives.”

It doesn’t take any more convincing for me to believe this than for the previous woman to forget the number seven.

“On the count of three, you will begin the scene. One, two, three!”

We come to life in unison as though we’ve rehearsed it a hundred times. I blow the suds off my invisible mug of beer. A moment later, I hear the hooves of a horse. The spotlight is in my eyes, so I can’t see who it is. Then I recognize him. It’s Luke! I see him on his horse as he rides from the back of the room. He’s here at last and I can finally be with him, but he’s riding so slowly, I ache for him.

My hand shoots up, trying to get his attention. I call out to him, “Lu-uuuke!”

At long last, Luke reaches the stage. Climbing down from his horse, he races towards me with arms extended and lips puckered for a kiss. I hesitate. That little voice in my head is still there. She’s resting with her feet up on a coffee table while the voice onstage does most of the work.  When Luke approaches, my little voice kicks her feet off the table and comes to the forefront. Yeah, that’s not happening, she says. I nod to her then hug Luke. There is no passionate greeting, as the voice instructed, because this is Luke, not my husband. I still know who I am and, although I am Luke’s girlfriend, I will not cheat on my husband. I find this confusing but shrug it off as the hypnotist explains to the audience that I will not go against my moral judgement.

The scene continues, there is a showdown outside the saloon. Luke and one of the Dalton brothers face each other. The voice says the spotlight is the blazing sun; I wipe sweat off my brow and grab the base of my skirt (although I am wearing jeans) to fan my legs.  They draw their guns and I hide behind my chair. I duck, afraid to see what might happen, but I peek anyways because that’s my Luke. I want to run to him, but if I get in the way, I’ll get shot. The gun pops, and Luke crumples to the floor.

I run out from behind the chair, and rush to his limp body. Kneeling beside him, I scream, “Luke! No!” tears blurring my vision.

When the voice tells us to do the fight scene again, but backwards, I wipe my eyes and repeat, “Luke!  No!” I stand up and walk backwards, duck behind my chair to hide my eyes, and look up again. I fan my skirt and wipe away sweat.

When the voice tells us to do it again in slow motion, I remember my every move. This time when Luke is shot, I stretch out my arms and legs in a pantomime of panic as I run to him. When Luke falls, I hear my own voice, deeper than usual, echo in the room, “Luuuuuuuuuuuke!  Noooooooooo!” I hear my friends laughing. When I look towards them, I see my husband has his head in his palm and his sister’s mouth is open. They must also be in shock that Luke is dead after I’ve been waiting so long to see him.

The scene is over on the count of one, two, three. We freeze.

“Well done, everyone,” the voice tells us, “You may go back to your seats onstage.”

We follow his suggestion.

“You are not embarrassed. You are feeling good and happy and comfortable.”

Thank goodness.

“Next, you are all going to work together in a rock band. You will each have your instrument to play. Lea, on the count of three, you will stand up and join me. One, two, three.”

I get up to play the bass. I don’t just want to play a bass guitar, I want the big bass, so that’s what I conceive in front of me.

“On the count of three, the music will begin, and you will each play your instrument.  One, two…”

I spin my bass as I have seen musicians do.

“…three!”

Jet’s “Are You Gonna be my Girl” plays. The singer is lip-syncing to it but so am I because this song rocks. We are on fire.

As the song ends, the voice introduces each of us to the audience once more. “And on bass, ladies and gentlemen, is Miss Lea Beddia!”

I spin my bass appreciatively and hold my right hand up, two middle fingers down. Rock and roll! The audience cheers.

When the second act is over, the voice reminds us again that we feel great. He counts backwards from three and we snap out of it. The evening is done.

Until this experience more than ten years ago, I always thought of hypnosis as a mere magic show illusion. Being onstage with Messmer made me realize that although there may be things I cannot control, I can manage how they affect me. I did not panic when the vines restrained me, because the voice made me feel confident. In a strange and unexpected way, experiencing hypnosis gave me self-assurance.

When I told my sister about the show, she said, “I guess you have a weak mind.”

Normally, this would upset me, but my husband corrected her. “You have an open mind, Lea. Where most people would shut off any possibility of something unconventional like hypnosis, your mind is open to learning. That’s not a weakness.”

Three years ago, while I was pregnant with my third child, I decided to use self-hypnosis during birthing to help manage my pain and stress. I had an epidural, but I wanted to go further, to see if I could control how the pain affected me. During my previous deliveries, the epidural had a minimal effect and I was on the edge of panic by the time my boys were born. I felt my stress had a lot to do with it. There are not enough hats in the world to tip to mothers who go through childbirth without an epidural, but I didn’t want to go through it again. I wanted and needed to be in control. I researched tactics for self-hypnosis. With practice, I was able to get myself in the right state of mind. My trigger was a simple touch to my abdomen and a one, two, three. 

The book I read suggested making a playlist of songs to help me relax. Much like Peter Pan needs a happy thought to fly, I used songs triggering serene memories to get me through contractions.

When my pain became more intense, I requested the epidural, but had to wait for the anesthesiologist. Listening to my playlist, a live version of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” began. The rhythmic waltz tuned out everything else for me. For about an hour, while my contractions persisted, I used that rhythm to breathe. Cohen’s voice, like a pendulum, veiled the discomfort so it was dim and far away.

When the nurses wheeled me to the anesthesiologist, my mind and my muscles were relaxed, just like when I sat onstage at Messmer’s show. By the time I saw the anesthesiologist, my body was open to receiving the pain relief.  Moments after the injection, I felt warm, easing into a gentle wakefulness, index finger resting on my abdomen. It was as if I was in a room with the door closed. I heard voices on the outside, but everything was muffled.

I was calm and, twenty minutes after I hit ten centimeters dilation, my daughter was born.

Hypnosis has become synonymous with control. On occasion, my anxiety is much like the vines growing from my wrists, weighing me down. I don’t always have the voice to free me, so I had to create my own method. Had I never considered self-hypnosis to manage my pain, I would not have learned to adapt these techniques to cope with my stress and anxiety.

It is a part of my coping system, giving me confidence to tell my anxiety to take a hike. I use it to get through crowds, elevators, boat rides, awkward family gatherings, messy diaper changes in public places, and parallel parking. I keep “La-da, La-da, la-da, La-da, Dance Me to the End of Love” on repeat in my mind. I tell myself, Count to three and breathe. One, two, three, and go. It seems simple for the magic spell to work: I needed an open mindset and a ticket to see a hypnotist. I was embarrassed after that show many years ago, but I’m glad I kept the spell.

 


LEA BEDDIA was born in Montreal and now lives near Joliette, Quebec, where she’s been a high school English teacher for fifteen years. Her passion for literature has bred into a passion for writing. She studied Education at McGill Uniersity, and is currently completing a Creative Writing certificate at Concordia University. She enjoys all forms of writing, especially literature for young adults, and children. She aspires to have her young adult manuscript published. When she is not teaching or writing, she and her husband care for their three children. She spends her free time reading anything from Shakespeare to Stephen King, usually with a warm cup of tea, or a slice of her mom’s homemade pizza! Find her on Facebook @LeaBeddiaWriter and on her website: http://www.leabeddia.com.

Copyright © 2019 by Lea Beddia. All rights reserved.

‘This Thought, This Circle’ by Emily Blatta

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

 

this thought this circle

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

When does a thought become a curse? 

On the plane ride home after a long year, I am weary of the question, and profoundly scared.  Amidst the circle of thoughts that inhibit me, it’s hard to see this one clearly. There have been so many inquiries, trials, and attempts to break free—most of them now futile, or exhausted, or abandoned. It takes a spark of curiosity to lead me down the road of obsession and I feel as though I am already burning. 

However, I wonder if this is a necessary start in my attempt to build an observation deck first above a series of moments and then into the heart of what might be stored away, maybe even undone. Like a curse, such a question demands to hold something accountable, something outside of me. It also demands that I be held accountable, no matter my reservations, no matter the nausea I feel from looking down.

How does a thought move? 

Perhaps in downward strokes from where it originates, but I can’t know this for sure. What I do know is how it travels through my bones and fills the whole of my body. I know it moves in circles because that is the shape I am. It makes a two-dimensional cut-out of the shape, mocking the weight I carry. Where the potential to thrive exists between us, there is also the commitment to die. We are stuck together, alternating this way. 

In a lineup for the bathroom above the prairies, I have a thought that I am capable of doing something terrible. At any moment I will lose my grip on control, kill someone I love. It is startling how real these thoughts feel, and I am terrified that if I pursue them, they will actualize. Even their meaninglessness coerces me, and points to a chaos I don’t feel equipped to look at. 

Over the Rockies it happens again, then once more above the West Coast. Days later I am similarly blindsided, this time over dinner with my mom. She is sitting across from me in the nook by the window, sipping a glass of wine. It’s a comfortable scenario: we share Greek food at our favourite restaurant, pacing ourselves to a rhythm of honest talk and loving pause. Listening comes naturally to such dinners, and when we eat it is to the sound of two inextricable lives. I am grateful for the bond. 

Before the Baklava there is the same thought from the plane — the possibility that I am capable of doing something terrible. There is the reminder to push against where I am fragile, the vivid unrealities to which I am chained.

Blood in the wine, a broken arm, my knife in the side of the woman who birthed me  . . . I keep my knife under the napkin where I can’t see it. I have the thought that, from now on, each of us is kept alive this way. 

We make it home, where afterwards I tell her about the protection of the napkin. 

“So how did it feel to stab me?” she asks. We laugh. Later, I wince. 

Sometimes the suspension of oneself feels like an invitation to become vulnerable.  Above the prairies—that belt of land I’ve never seen up close I feel the weightlessness of a thought’s ability to unleash me. In the bathroom, where I have come undone before, I feel desperate not to go that way, to go back and reverse it. Not now, I think. I brace myself for the descent into something difficult, unforgiving. I know about the undertow of a brain’s mistake, how there is that pull of an unruly direction. 

When does a thought become a curse? 

I’m not sure it does. Nor am I convinced that we become our thoughts, although they convince us of something. Mostly, we shapeshift, humming across a spectrum of reactions to ourselves. Any therapist or poet will tell you so. They, or I, might also say that in the narrow mind of rumination, this separation is difficult to remember. To think is an impulse. Perhaps this is the curse.

Down here on the crust, nothing seems to change. There are no sudden answers. There are, however, the routines people create to cope —those of seeing, of believing, of lunch. I make my own individual routines too: I avoid certain places, I research compulsively, I spend too much time alone. Sometimes, they feel like answers. 

Laying in bed one night, I think to check how deep the ocean is, the Straight of Georgia by where I grew up. It has a mean depth of 157 metres and a maximum depth of 448. Less deep than I thought. In one way I rely on this information because it is a quick fix to the question of what I might know, a treat I have been brought up on. It hangs there in the search bar like bait. In another way I rely on the reminder of how much one thing can hold, evolve, vary. It is confirmation of that, if I am one thing, I am also many.

When does a thought become a curse?

Reads the sign in front of me, reads the sign in front of the circle of my body. I yell at it to shut up, that I don’t know. It spits at me. I stare it down. This time it leaves.

Most times when I’m out at a restaurant, I will excuse myself to the washroom more than once. I require such moments alone. The privacy is permission to be real, to walk myself through the fear of something imaginary. I am so often irrationally afraid, and this is frustrating. But it’s also simple and therefore I feel it justified. Fear is unborn, it is necessary, it is unnecessary. To exist at all, it must exist somewhere inside us. 

One night, returning to my seat from the washroom, I trip on another thought, or rather another question. 

Are you good, and strong, and worthy? 

This has been happening lately. As expected, I don’t know the answer. I only know what I can feel. Right now, just the floor, its point of contact with my heart. I can feel our togetherness. Perhaps this is the curse—to not know. Perhaps like this I am brave. 

 


EMILY BLATTA is an emerging journalist and creative writer based on the West Coast of Canada. She graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto and holds a BA in Creative Industries. Her work strives to sift through delusion, and creates a sense of empathy out of the abstract.

Copyright © 2018 by Emily Blatta. All rights reserved.

‘Kinderchor’ by Ilona Martonfi

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

kinderchor

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

Begin to deliver a verdict a long time coming: “Guilty. Guilty.”

On the first day of fourth grade, Teacher gives me a pet name: “Schwarze, write on the blackboard.” 

My hands get dirty with chalk. Teacher touches my leg above the white ribbed knee sock.

The town Neutraubling G’Schichtn–Stories. I, Ilonka, as a pigtailed nine-year-old war refugee from Budapest, in 1951, was abused by Herr Anton Mathes, my teacher in Lederhosen. The man with a slight lisp. 

“Open your songbook,” Teacher says. 

My mother, Magda, buys me a Liederbuch. Boys and girls sing a Volkssong from Memelland with clear loud voices, “Zogen einst fünf wilde Schwäne, Schwäne leuchtend weiß und schön.” Once flew five wild swans, swans white and beautiful. 

“Schwarze, you can’t sing,” Teacher says. 

Dieter, Rudi, and I don’t make the school choir. Saturdays, I hear the children from the street, the Schlangenbau school windows wide open. 

Bavarian Forest chalk hills ridge. Danube River wetlands. Willow reeds and forsythia grow in bomb craters. A small pond. Just fifty meters downhill from where SS war prisoners worked in the factories of the Luftwaffe Messerschmitt airport. Flossenbürg subcamp for Russians, Poles, and Jews. A mass grave by the round well. 

Our renovated two-room Volksschule, the classrooms: tall windows, heavy oak door. And in Bavarian tradition, schoolchildren dress up and celebrate carnival during February Fasching at the Hofbräuhaus. Parade through winter streets. Snow on the concrete airport runway. 

Sankt Nikolaus and Christkindl. Iced gingerbread, Pfeffernüsse. My new fairy tale book by Brüder Grimm creates the surreal magic of witches and princesses during my childhood. Langer’s hill, where we take our wooden toboggans.

Gustav Jaich, the school principal. Teacher, Elfride Scholz, a young war widow. The Catholic priest, Pfarrer Böhm. Saturdays sewing and knitting with a Dominican nun, Schwester Anna. First Communion and Confirmation at the Regensburger Dom. Black and white school photos.

During that fourth year, my teacher, Anton Mathes, rides his scooter from Regensburg: Medieval Roman town, ten kilometers distance. Stalks this refugee settlement, families from Schlesien and Sudetenland. We are the only Magyars living in the old airport: Halle #7 by the Moosgraben creek. Butter yellow poplar trees. Birch trees. Using his classroom to meet kids, Teacher grooms relationships with the pre-pubescent. Married with two young sons. 

Movie days in the classroom, shades drawn. Whirring film reels. Classmates who see the fondling. Teacher stands behind me, his big body in the dark. My flowered cotton dress. My pigtails. I tell my best friend, Ingrid, one time. 

“Ich weiss es schon,” she says. I already know it.

Time and again, it is I whom Teacher chooses to target.

Five decades later, now living in Montréal, Canada, I still keep contact with old school friends. Send Christmas cards to Helga, the principal’s daughter. Spill my story in an email.

“Did you tell anyone?” Helga asks.

On and on it went. Year after year after year. He also molests boys. Finally, Anton Mathes is imprisoned. Sent into early retirement. 

“Er war in die Berge verzetzt, weisst du schon warum,” my friend Ingrid tells me. I am taking an overseas vacation in Europe with my family. Riding a train to Neutraubling. He was sent to the mountains, you know why.

Propped up by the illusion of a teacher’s work. Anton Mathes has nowhere to run, no tale to tell. 

“Guilty. Guilty.”

That happened to me. I thought I was the only one keeping it secret. Yes, it had happened. That’s where he parked his scooter.

 


ILONA MARTONFI is the author of three poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012) and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna 2020). Founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. QWF 2010 Community Award.

Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Martonfi. All rights reserved.

‘No Flowers on the Psych Ward’ by Ilona Martonfi

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

You Don't Bring Me Flowers

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

“Katarina! Katarina!” A female patient shouts in her room. Her voice, coarse and grating. “Come Katarina!”

“Shut up! Shut up!” A male patient yells back.

My eldest daughter lives in St. Mary’s Hospital psychiatric ward. Her name is tacked on a billboard. Patient status: Number 1. Date: January 8, 2001. Her backpack, salt-stained ankle boots, and parka are in a locked room. She can’t leave the ward without her doctor’s permission.

A pink slip of paper. A psychiatrist’s report. Cleaning her overheated, cat litter smelling, hardwood floor apartment a couple of years earlier, I found the hospital report: cognitive disorder associated with epilepsy, chronic. Borderline retardation and psychotic episodes greatly impair insight and judgment. Patient regressed to the mentality of an eight-year-old. Suffers from generalized anxiety: Permanent. The contribution of a chronic disease, sarcoidosis in the lungs, to mental state, is unknown. The hospital is requesting public curatorship.

Room 23 is filled with the sound of a radio blaring. The sun is streaming in through vertical blinds, across apple-green walls. With four female patients to a room, I find her lying on the bed. Short-sleeved, sky-blue cotton gown. Strings, untied. 

“Marisa, you’re not cold?” I ask. She is recovering from pneumonia. Ten days on antibiotics. 

“The doctor came by. He is going to take another X-ray.” 

My daughter half-smiles. Close by, a middle-aged woman snores loudly, a rumpled lilac blanket pulled to her chin. A typical Sunday visit. 

“Who are you?” one roommate asks. 

“I’m Marisa’s mother,” I respond. Terse. Clipped. I don’t want to be here shaking this woman’s hand. Sadness grips and twists my unshed tears. An ill daughter’s life. A dirge. The special daughter. Our three other children are not ill. 

My ex-husband remarried. They don’t visit here. Don’t call here. And Marisa doesn’t call them either. Medicated and growing heavier from side effects. The white-painted door closed to the static noise of a television in the common room. 

The little girl in a red top and blue cotton shorts, Marisa, who stuttered in first grade, took a yellow school bus. A Montreal suburb bungalow. Apple trees in the yard. Geraniums. Jasmine. Wild roses. At six, she stood up to her father, “Stop hitting mama.”

I busy myself: Organize tapes and CD’s. Trash old magazines. Hang up fluffy white towels that are thrown on the bed.

“I want to leave the hospital. I want to go home!” Marisa complains. 

Six years earlier, she had a house and a home. At thirty-six, she is the mother of three. Two daughters and one son. Youth Protection Court. Divorce Court. “Unfit mother!” Full custody to the father. I supervise her children’s monthly visits in my downtown studio “to prevent accidental harm to children.” 

During two hours, she hugs and kisses her children. Not a single word escapes her chapped lips. She smiles. Hugs. Is angry with me because I supervise. 

“Will we become sick like mom?” they are worried. Beautiful, smart, sad, and lonely grandchildren. Raised by their father, his new partner, and great-grandparents.

“I want to leave the hospital,” Marisa continues her complaining. 

The Old Brewery Mission for women. Home for my homeless daughter. Marisa rents a curtained cubicle with a single bed at the shelter. Roams cafes nearby until suppertime.

She is here in the psychiatric ward, because she suffered a panic attack. Picked up by ambulance at metro Beaudry. “A woman sitting beside me, called for help,” she’d said.

“Do you need anything?” I ask now. 

“Let’s go to the cafeteria,” she says. 

“We’re going to the coffee shop,” I tell a doctor. 

“Marisa, you can’t go out today,” says her nurse. “You have permission for daily thirty-minute outings. Yesterday, you were fifteen minutes late coming back.” 

She doesn’t own a watch. Doesn’t wear earrings or a pearl necklace. Doesn’t wear chiffon dresses. Walks in snowstorms without a wool hat or scarf. Parka unbuttoned. Boots, unlaced. Short cropped hair, unkempt. She refuses to cut her nails. When married she washed her hands all the time, until they were red and sandpaper dry. Her lung sarcoidosis exploding into pneumonia. She likes to test the rules and the patience of the staff. Exhausted, she exhausts me. For years now.

We settle for the dining room. I watch her sip apple juice through thick plastic straws. Her large hazel eyes look at me innocently. “I don’t belong here with these people,” she says. I look around: the room is deserted, except for a man and a woman. They sit alone, staring at their stoneware mugs. Islands of maple wood tables shape their Sunday afternoon. A nurse hands out cups of medications. Gives one to my daughter. 

After an hour I get up to leave. Plant a kiss on her cheek. Promise to visit the following week. An electronic door buzzes me out. I quickly walk away. I look back only once: a woman dressed in a hospital gown and blue jeans. Unlaced running shoes. Marisa ambles slowly down the corridor.

 


ILONA MARTONFI is the author of three poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012) and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna 2020). Founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. QWF 2010 Community Award.

Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Martonfi. All rights reserved.

‘A Great Disturbance in Nature’ by Jason Bentsman

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

A Great Disturbance in Nature

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

(from The Orgastic Future)

The following is a self-contained excerpt from The Orgastic Future, a novella the author comepleted recently about consumerism, plastic pollution, climate change, runaway ego, and other threats facing the planet— in a sense the literary equivalent of a Bruegal or Bosch painting.

The excerpt deals with the ramifications of Climate Change, and asks what it will take for people to finally ‘wake up’ to our precipitous path?

 

A Great Disturbance In Nature

As I write this passage in late September, there has been an unprecedented heatwave in Montreal for the last ten days. Right now it is almost 90° Fahrenheit (32° Celsius), with 90% humidity. Feels like a suffocating hothouse in the tropics. Simply walking outside generates thin sheets of sweat and shortness of breath—I’m like a fish gasping for water. I’ve always wanted to know what walking through warm soup feels like, and now with the wonders of climate change, I do! Another goal accomplished. #lifegoals (This hashtag is a shout-out for the kidz. Not my kids; don’t have any. Just the kids at large. Very unliterary of me, I daresay.)

And this is Montreal, mind you—Quebec, northward part of the world—where for 375 years since its founding, and thousands upon thousands if not millions before, temperatures this time of year have been consistently chilly or wintry, sometimes snowing. A number of records have been broken: today is by far the hottest of this date on record (since 1742), and several other days have been as well.

The natural world is confused. The leaves change color and dry out, branches grow denuded, everything settles in for quiescence and sleep—and suddenly a rip-roaring heatwave and burning sun. The leaves perk up again, vacillate this way and that. Some of the plants and flowers begin to release pollen; suddenly pollen is in the air again. The bees—still mysteriously dying out, most likely from widespread pesticides, their leagues growing thinner and thinner—buzz about akimbo, this way and that, confused. Squirrels save up nuts for the winter, and then say, ‘Ah, what?! Fuck it.’ Flocks of migrating geese, long black V-shaped silhouettes far on the horizon, start flying backwards in rewind. Water freezes, liquefies, boils, vaporizes, condenses, freezes again. Fires burn over waters. Ashes dust across prairies. The whole body and innards of the planet are having trouble communicating.

Clearly, there is a great disturbance in Nature. Animals feel it, plants feel it, insects feel it…bacteria and viruses…the entire planet…even particles feel it. Anyone with even a remote connection to nature can feel it. It takes a great deal of disconnection from the natural world, and one’s own subconscious, and/or willful blindness and repression, not to feel it. Unfortunately, contemporary society facilitates all of the above. At this rate, John Keats would only be able to pen odes to Summer. Vivaldi would only write music about the One Season. The documentary Endless Summer will no longer be a fond metaphor.

These drastic climatic changes have come about in the last fifteen or so years, especially the last several. Before that, they were scarcely noticeable. In only my thirty some years on this planet, about a nanosecond (a billionth of a second!) of its age, I’ve watched the weather go from multiseasonal, regular, reliable, sane, and self-regulating—no one questioned this self-contained logic, it was taken for granted, seemingly self-evident—to quasi-seasonal, irregular, unpredictable, schizophrenic, spastic. How much it has changed in the last decade! The perennial, cyclical, intuitive, reassuringly fond processes have been upended and spliced about like a deck of cards adulterated randomly with extra cards and Jokers.

And then, incidentally, think of the monumental technological and informational changes. Inventions thought distant science fiction are already embedded fact. DNA manipulation. Cloning. Brain-computer interfacing. Bionics. Realistic holograms. Immersive Virtual Reality. X-Ray Vision. Self-piloting vehicles. Invisibility cloaking. Nanobots. Workable androids. Flying cars. Intergalactic travel. Jules Verne would bescumber himself! And all of this in but a nanosecond of the planet’s existence!

My generation likely has witnessed more exponential and radical change by far than any other in history. An eminently interesting time to live in: and eminently terrifying.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a strange time.

Half the planet lived in primitive poverty and disease. The other half in profligacy and technological disarray.

In fact, the prevailing social-economic system relied on producing innumerable products of every size and variety made to be disposed of as quickly as possible.

When for ages people had gone to cafes and coffee shops for conversation, they now did so to stare at computer screens.

When once books had been written mainly by persons of learning and read by the public, now they were written by the public and read by nobody.

 


When All Is Said and Done

What will it take for enough people, a critical mass, to wake up and a large-scale movement to happen? Wide-ranging cataclysms, near-Apocalypse? Or will nothing reverse the tide? Are we too irrevocably brainwashed by the consumerist system? Are the evolutionarily older parts of our brains, and even our prefrontal cortexes, just too bygone and maladapted to the exponentially changing conditions of the 21st century for us to be widely judicious, compassionate, responsible, and wise? And humanity’s fate is to be flotsam, shorn against the ruins?

One might say cavalierly: “but this is the fate of all things anyway.” Yet, what a shame for a run so promising—of some 350,000 years, or if one considers the ‘archaic’ and ‘proto’ ancestors ‘modern humans’ developed and branched off from, millions—that in spite of teeming horror, self-inflicted suffering, and wastefulness—particularly in the last ten millennia or so—also yielded so many beauteous artefacts, amazing artworks, magnificent architectures, inspiring attitudes, and acts of worth, to be snuffed out so obtusely and crassly. And maybe at the cusp of an evolutionary transition into something Finer. Maybe.

An absurd end. A black mirror. A whimper, not a bang. Although, yes: a bang for the buck. ‘Well, the world’s in ruins, and humanity’s decimated. But for one glorious moment in time, we sure turned a lot of profits for our shareholders!’

And indeed, when all is said and done, when all is buried and disintegrated, when the buildings, bridges, and tunnels have crumbled; when the businesspersons’ enterprises and empires have long since gone out of business, or been coopted and remade; when the new inventions long outmoded and assimilated; when the politicians long past flapping their lips and now fertilizer in empty graves; when theorems incorporated and far surpassed—what are humanity’s most vital and enduring contributions, which it can be proudest of and might like to show other cognizant species in the Universe?

These must be its deepest and most arresting artworks. Its profoundest philosophies. What could be called its genuine ‘spiritual practices.’ And in fact its secret noblest feelings, thoughts, and deeds. For all seems to aspire towards luminosity and rarefication. “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being” (Carl Jung).

 


JASON BENTSMAN is a writer, philosopher, poet, and occasional humorist. He was born in Minsk, Belarus (formerly the USSR), grew up in the US, and has spent quite some time sojourning abroad, with Montreal as a periodic home-base. He recently completed The Orgastic Future, a novella about consumerism, plastic pollution, climate change, runaway ego, and other threats facing the planet. You can read (and listen to!) another excerpt here: (http://forwhatitsworth.be/prose/excerpt-every-bondperson/).

He is currently working on a long philosophical novel and two short novels, among other writings. He also takes fine art photographs. Some of his writing has appeared in Unvael Journal, The Real Us, Metamorphoses (Smith College), HirschworthFlaneur (NYC), FIRE (Oxford), and other publications; some of his photographic work in LensCulture, Feature Shoot,and the Ellohomepage. You can check out his Literary Website FWIW (www.ForWhatItsWorth.be), sign-up for his occasional Literary Email Digest (http://eepurl.com/cd81ZP), or purchase a fine art photography print (https://bit.ly/2MBazqd).

Copyright © 2018 by Jason Bentsman. All rights reserved.

‘Distantly Connected’ by Jessica Fernandes

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

Distantly Connected

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

When I was in seventh grade, I was introduced to The Beatles on a rainy day. Our school’s recess hour was cancelled due to bad weather, but none of us were really bothered by this. We stayed inside and passed around our MP3 players, listening to each other’s playlists. One person picked out the tune while two of us shared an earphone each.

There wasn’t a need to seek things elsewhere. We simply relied on each other’s recommendations. As this memory distances itself from the ones I am currently making today, I realize that collective oriented events are slowly diminishing due to the expenditure of digital services. Instead, we unconsciously choose to partake in isolated experiences that supposedly bring us together online.

I don’t think things have changed because I’m aging, but because the nature of our society has changed. The world has become fast-paced and time is not easily gained; so, we fall for any trick that saves time. Whether one wants to find a new friend or even love, there are now shortcuts to making these connections: shortcuts to eliminate the awkwardness and uncertainty of first encounters. I realized that friendships would no longer be made through a developed passion for something and that new technologies would hinder the authenticity of how relationships are naturally created.

Being born in the 90s, I recently began to comprehend the obsession revolved around being a 90s kid. Perhaps, it’s because we had the privileged experience of being the last generation to have an organic childhood. As I reflect on my own memories, I realize I miss the sense of proximity that was once guaranteed when we met friends at a given a place and time. Today, we remind people of our presence by pressing hollow hearts that turn red or by giving a virtual thumbs-up. All this to say, the sense of connection felt a lot closer. All we do now is preserveour status in people’s lives in an effortless manner. Thus, I wonder if true friendships can be maintained online and if digitalizing the world is leading us in a good direction. This being said, I worry about our future. I worry that this upcoming generation will be raised by Alexa and turn towards generated responses for guidance; that communicating with our close ones would be too difficult to plan.

I may sound like a whiny millennial, criticizing my generation’s habits, but I often find myself talking about this concern and am told that it’s just the way things are now: that all my memories occurred because time allowed them to unfold this way.

Whenever I take the subway or walk in the mall, I end up coming across those popular “90s kid” or “made in the 90s” fluorescent t-shirts. I develop some sort of connection to the people wearing them due to our common situation. However, I can’t help but chuckle because I don’t think any other generation has worn pieces of clothing that displaysa sense of pride in their decade of birth. I guess it’s just the sense of privilege in experiencing the world through two lenses. One, having the opportunity to experience the world for ourselves and not digitally. And two, letting time decide our encounters.

Sometimes I wonder how fast connections will be made twenty years from now, and at what pace? Will it be the same, or will things speed up even more? I can’t think of anything grander than what we currently have, and I don’t think there should be a need for something “new and improved.” We could continue outdoing ourselves, but eventually we all desire what we started out with. I know connections are made in different ways and mean something different to each person, but I don’t want our connections to be sustained by wires. Instead, I want to return to the roots of how connections were madeduring my childhood and through my teenage years: through face to face interactions.

I guess we remain a game of connect the dots, or maybe stars mapped out in the night sky—out of reach but linked by our interests and similarities.

 


JESSICA FERNANDES was born in raised and Montreal. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and is currently doing her Masters at McGill University. She has an interest in writing personal essays that focus on teenagehood and current social issues. If she isn’t typing, she is probably reading about mid-century modern designs. You can spot her wearing turtlenecks and drinking coffee on most days.

Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Fernandes. All rights reserved.

‘SHE: Daily Essays on the Unspeakable’ by Yves Gravel

Non-Fiction, Short Stories

SHE Essays.jpg

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

The Beauty (Monday)

She walks in ways that can be seen on runways bridging Eden to New York. Assertive yet delicate, her beauty leads with a rhythm only those with magical hearing can dance to. She reinvents style, unaware of her influences left inked in the eyes of observers. Her wild and blinding golden locks purify the air they bounce into. The coating of her skin slightly exposes imperfections, scars redefining what it is to live through death. Touching it caused ripple effects in the lives of men who now wander Earth with the infectious perfume it emanates in souls. Her legs extend from the soil her soles clean with every step she takes. She hosts a bosom calling for repopulation: shapes Bouguereau imagined but certainly only witnessed in dreams. The taste cunnilingus leaves on lips reveals how much work bees must endure to create such nectar. My hands tremble at night from withdrawal when her back is unavailable for caresses. Oh, her eyes! What can a poor poet say that isn’t a Tinder cliché? These celestial blue organs will dilate yours to your core when she stares into them. You’ll see yourself in them though the wisdom she shares, a self you’ll know will never rest from a thirst that cannot be satiated: her.

 

The Mama (Tuesday)

She knew the fruit of her wound would be nurtured to sweetness. They said, “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree;” I say it has never fallen. Their union tied like a stem to an apple. Their gravity as centered as the stone of a peach. In one birth, she made humanity ten times better, a seed that will multiply from its future bloom. One plié at a time, it announces to the world it has arrived. She will endure sacrifices with divine pleasure and ask for the painful path as reward. Armed with the possibilities of the unknown, she carves a path through the deep wild. Loaded with unshakable doubts, she acts with certainty. She is a mother to all she encounters. She leads the young heart to dance as a principle with the humbleness of an understudy. Separated yet together, they carry the flaming torch from mountains to steel towers 52 times in repetition. She was given a body to carry and a love that carries away. Oh, Mother, disciple of Marie and virgin to evil . . . hold us all. Heal the stone doctrine of the soccer mom’s pursuit of wasteful dreams. Take pride in her because it is you she is a vision of. Your legacy can be withdrawn without penalties. I have seen the future and your capital is safe. Mama, your intuitive investment has matured and I long to spend it with you.

 

The Brain (Wednesday)

She engineers ingenious schemes and brought me home using the biggest one: false advertising on Tinder. I wasn’t intending to purchase, but her wit made me a buyer. Oh, yes! Those golden locks got me looking, but her grey matter enslaved me. Business, literature, or love, you are witnessing the evolution of humanity. I have walked the valleys of shallowness and swam through waves of glibness. I have committed lustful crimes in the name of loneliness and degraded love, for which I was sentenced to excruciating nights of wasteful talks. But pardoned I have been by Coeus de Titanby kneeling at the altar of her intelligence. A renowned master of intuition, she balances the red vital organ with anxious thoughts on the human condition. Decisions emanate from places that are neither understood nor meant to be. The proof is in the pudding as the tiny dancer displays encouraging signs only expected in a devoted disciple. Humbled I have been, more will I be, for her silent wisdom speaks loudly. An architect of ideas, she draws lines following god’s design. She . . . makes me smart for loving her.

 

The Writer (Thursday)

She moves pens like Chopin’s fingers on keys. Effortless in her discipline, the daily rituals come at sunset or when darkness descends. Dates, places, and facts merge seamlessly with utopian philosophies on what should be. Notebooks are filled with pain and overloaded with hope. Fear is not present, yet courage is buried in pages of blood. She values words at a price only rivaled by the gold in her hair. Manuscripts are maintained like breathing artifacts and stored for all to lay eyes on. It is this vulnerability she longs to expose, hidden on the surface of sliced trees. Paper serves her like a master. The ink reveres her as it forms shape dictated by her soul. Unware of her post-life literary fame, her beauty is invisible to common mortals. Death did not dare to fulfill its duty in respect for the incomplete masterpiece. It left some scars but spared her talent. She loves the stories of scriptures while disobeying them. But she kneels before the prophet’s artistic delivery.  Humble poets worship her, though she is unaware of her godly ways. Publishers are soon to know the meaning of regret and acknowledge their blindness. Employers have awakened to spread her gospel through poetic proposals. The culmination of her experiences immortalized in black fluid. She’s a writer.

 

The Lover (Friday)

She loves in angles and straight lines.In new fashion or ancient ways, it is for me to select. This is where the Beauty, the Mama, the Brain and the Writer settle without borders. Love is her muse; the muse is hers. Embraces put on display a thousand year of practice. Gently yet firmly, she tells stories about it that only her heart can translate.  Rivaled without warning, my crown was ripped away; she possesses a stronger love. She climbs me and descends unannounced, my mouth cleaned by her purifying fluids. As I move in her, boundaries are crossed, awaking the unspeakable. The shadow of her buttock enchains my sight. Enslaved to her curves so are my hands. As my sweat pours down her breasts, our need for culmination approaches, and yet our desire for continuity expends. In the comfort of her nest, our naked vessels know they are home. Every inch is accounted for and appreciated. She creates in me waves of pleasure that return like tides. Her humanity envelopes all, but in these moments, I am her chosen one. Until her, these nights were out of reach of my imagination. The bridge to reality above this river was a smooth ride. But now that my manhood has been delightfully enjoyed, I must swim back to her.

 


YVES GRAVEL first picked up the guitar at age 8 and at age 14 found a kindred spirit in Leonard Cohen—beginning a life long journey with Cohen’s romantic, somber and avant-garde devotion to song writing, poetry, and literature. Yves spent over a decade between Montreal, Vancouver and Kelowna exploring purist theology and philosophy before relocating to Alberta.  It was here that his desire for personal renaissance manifested into song writing, resulting in bilingual Canadiana anthems of love, anguish and resolve.

Yves has explored diverse genres and credits an open approach to collaboration with The Talent as the major source of influence for adopting new sounds. His personal playlist includes genres of punk-rock, French folk, opera and electro. Yves currently resides in Calgary with his cat Leonard, where he devotes himself to an unapologetic life of wine, romance and the daily commute.

Copyright © 2018 by Yves Gravel. All rights reserved.