When Gopi turned thirty, his parents signed him up for a matrimonial website where prospective brides and grooms uploaded their profiles, photos and their preferences for a mate: height, colour, salary, location (India or abroad). Gopi’s parents asked him for photographs for his bio. Gopi refused. Then went to a studio to get a few clicked. He spent a long time there, telling the guy with the whitest eyes ever to shoot him this way and that. He chose his favourites and left them in an envelope on the dining table for his parents to find.
Every week Gopi’s parents sent to his inbox profiles of girls they had shortlisted for him.
Gopi acted nonchalant but secretly clicked on the links and fantasized about being with these women.
Sometimes, after dinner, his mother prodded him awkwardly for answers.
—How do you feel about Sujata, that doctor from Hyderabad?
—That HR Radha from Bombay?
—HR person, you’re just calling her human resource.
—I’ll ask your father to send more profiles.
Two years passed and while his friends got married or started production on their first or second child, things weren’t working out for Gopi. Then he met a girl, not from the matrimonial website, but at a friend’s wedding in Coimbatore. She was the bride’s best friend; beautiful with big brown eyes and shiny hair. She made the first move.
— Hello. His hands were sweating.
— Don’t think we’ve met. Guppi.
Gopi didn’t know how to talk to girls. He was stumbling his way through the conversation when he got an opening to shine. The groom’s mother requested Gopi sing, the one thing he was good at. He sang a Sai bhajan. Guppi heard his voice and died. Not literally. Of happiness, of excitement. She told him she’d never met anyone with a voice like his.
But Gopi returned to Pune without asking Guppi for her phone number or her email address or her last name, so when he tried to look her up on Facebook he couldn’t find her.
A month went by. He kept saying no to every profile his parents showed him and they were starting to get annoyed. They were after all paying a monthly subscription fee for the website. Gopi could only think about Guppi, often wondering whether he should pursue the matter. He went to his friend’s Facebook profile—the one whose wedding he met Guppi at—but the friend had only made his mutual contacts public. He decided not to ask his friend because Gopi didn’t want him to know he was interested in Guppi. Because then that friend would tell their other friends and the next time they all went out, they would tease him about it.
Then one evening Gopi got a friend request from Guppi.
They were exchanging texts the same evening. The following week they talked over the phone. She’d heard his other songs on YouTube. She said his voice was very emotional and touching. Soon they were getting naked on Skype; she’d flash him her breasts from Chennai, he’d unzip his pants in Pune. Then they got married. But Guppi didn’t like his parents that much.
—They’re so narrow-minded.
—I’m 23, not a child.
—Can’t cook chicken at home; can’t wear the clothes I like; can’t kiss you in public?
—Why would you kiss me in public?
—They can hear us having sex.
She wanted to move.
—Yes, where I grew up.
—I’ll find more work there than here.
So Gopi quit his job and joined a different company in Chennai. Role: content writer; salary: fifty-thousand rupees per month. Guppi was an actor but months passed and not much work came her way. When she did get roles, they were for student films that promised exposure but no pay, which meant he had to pay for most things.
Within a few months she wanted to move, again.
—I’ll get more work there than here.
Then she found out that the rents in Bombay were mad. That she’d have to share one tiny apartment with four others and still pay fifteen thousand rupees every month.
Gopi did the math. Fifteen minus fifty thousand: thirty-five. They were already paying a rent of twenty-thousand rupees, which meant they would be left with fifteen thousand, in which they had to manage food, travel, phone, health insurance, life insurance. Say they did that in ten thousand; there would be a balance of five thousand. That wasn’t going to be enough. She didn’t move but gave him grief about it.
—You’re thirty-three. How come you have no savings?
—People your age are already in senior positions and earning so much.
—I didn’t marry you for your money, but money is important to me.
They blinked and three years whizzed by. Gone was the romance, what was left was dishoom-dishoom, bang-bang!
— I don’t think we should’ve gotten married.
—We should’ve waited.
—I should’ve married someone my age.
—I had a vision of how my life was supposed to look like. This isn’t it.
—I don’t feel anything for you anymore.
—As usual I’m doing all the talking, while you stand there like a fucking statue.
When he didn’t react or respond, she asked him to get out of the house. He did. He kept walking and didn’t worry about where he was going. He wanted to see how far he could go. But he forgot that he was terrible with directions. Several times in the past, either while going to work or on his way back, he’d find himself in a completely new territory. He’d have to show his home address he’d saved on his phone to a passerby or call Guppi to come get him. Also, his memory was awful. He could hardly remember anything.
Whatever happens he wouldn’t go back home, he decided. He went to parts of the city he’d never been to before. He walked by streets and parks and buildings. Stray dogs gathered around him, snarling, but also hoping for some food. He shooed them.
Soon, he ended up near The Plaza. It was midnight. He should head back. How though? He turned and there was nothing but empty roads, and a group of cows rummaging through heaps of garbage. He should call a taxi. Call his wife from the taxi. Tell her he got lost again. Can she give the driver the address? She’d be relieved and forget about the fight. Guppi would weep and apologize. Now where was his phone? It wasn’t in any of his pockets. Only his credit card. Somehow. The phone must be at home. He’d wait for someone to pass by. He’d tell them he was lost and they’d take pity on him and let him into their car and help him find his way back. No one drove by.
As he walked further, he came upon a store. The signboard outside said: Launching iPhone 6. October 17, 2014 at 10 a.m. Be the first one to get it.
Three days till the launch.
He decided he’d wait here. A few metres from him, near the intersection, labourers drilled holes and a large crane scooped mud and dropped it at another spot. Such tough lives these labourers led. The boundary fencing had signs with Chennai Metro written on them. It was strange; the louder the drilling noises got, the more it relaxed him, helped him think. He thought he and Guppi would always be in love, but then he’d also thought he’d always be able to climb a flight of stairs without hyperventilating.
She was the nicest person he knew when he’d first met her. High cheekbones, full lips. She was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen and her laugh was coins falling out of a purse. Seeing her getting naked for him on Skype had made him happy and he’d thought he’d never be this happy ever again.
Then they got married and marriage changed them as people. What was new once wasn’t new anymore. Gravity stopped pulling the Ferris wheel back down. They were both stuck in the topmost gondola, hundreds of feet above ground and he had nothing to say to her.
It was surprising how blank his mind went when he was around her, as though someone had turned him upside down and emptied all the words out.
Gopi spent the night resting against the aluminium shutter.
Day two: The next morning the shopkeeper grinned at him and held both his thumbs up in the air, telling him he was the first one in line. He must be so proud. For sure he’d be on TV. Gopi spun around and found human bodies stretching for miles and miles behind him. Some even had chairs and umbrellas. Some had tents.
He thought about his job. He hadn’t said anything at work. His boss might yell. He might fire him. Not like he enjoyed working there anyway.
The construction was still going on. It seemed like a different set of labourers were working now; their faces looked the same: overworked, but focussed. The jangle of voices behind him first made him anxious, then hungry. He recalled he hadn’t eaten since last night. He ignored his groaning stomach. Before, Guppi would’ve never let him leave home without him having eaten something. Lately she couldn’t even talk to him without making a face. Everything had become a controversy; a disagreement, an argument.
He liked winning: at monopoly, at tennis. Guppi liked to win too and she did on the account of his memory. He never knew what the score was, or that he had to collect 200 dollars every time he passed Go. She also liked to win arguments. She had nuclear weapons under her sleeve, launching one after the other at just the right moment, because her memory was Dracula-teeth-sharp. She remembered every little fight, every word he had spoken, merely thought; she used her arsenal well.
—January 6th, 2011, 5.12 p.m. You said my breasts were ‘nice’ when I asked you what you thought of them. They are not nice, they are spectacular.
—December 12th—six and a half days before of our marriage—you said I should maybe consider going on a diet.
Just a few nights ago, Gopi was in bed listening to binaural beats so he could fall asleep and Guppi suddenly said she hated the fact that the girl’s family was expected to pay for the entire wedding.
—As though we are literally “paying” the man to marry us.
—As though we’re saying, “Sorry, I was born a woman, here’s the penalty.”
—My father is in debt because of our wedding.
—Why didn’t you or your parents offer to split the costs? I’m just curious.
—Typical! So frustrating to live with someone like you.
He tried to shake that bleak feeling off. He was here now, at the head of the queue and surprisingly felt like an important man, an unequivocally elected leader of the masses.
—How does it feel? Someone asked.
—I mean I’m second in line, which isn’t so bad.
Gopi could try to get home but don’t experts always say, “If you’re lost, stay in one place?” Guppi would find him.
Towards noon, he felt weak. News reporters were filming the proceedings. They kept coming up to him to ask questions.
—Just a day before the launch, how do you feel?
—How long have you been in the queue?
—What’s wrong with him? The reporter asked the guy behind Gopi.
—Oh, he doesn’t talk. Maybe he’s taken a vow of silence. Like you know how you negotiate with God? Please help me pass my exams and I’ll circle your temple a thousand times? Maybe something like that?
The reporters lost interest and went further down the line to interview other people, all the while glaring at Gopi. Gopi wasn’t interested in the reporters. A couple who were walking by caught his attention. They were taking photos of people in the line, then of themselves with the line in the background. Young lovers. He noticed the way they looked at each other. Gopi felt their love, like a tremor during an earthquake. His thoughts jumped back to Guppi.
He’d change. He’d be a better person. He’d talk more, like really say what was on his mind. He’d avoid arguing with her. He’d go days without saying anything negative to her. He’d be sweet to Guppi. He’d eat right. Go to the gym. He’d have the kind of body Guppi has always wanted him to have. But you can’t clap with one hand. Would she be nice to him? Now, now, those things were for later. He’d just had a good moment, an epiphany, and he’d not let that go to waste. There was, he believed, still a lot of love left between him and Guppi, and it was only a matter of pointing her in the proper direction: take right, go straight, slight left, there... love.
As it grew darker, he and others in the line prepared for the night. They wrapped their blankets, scarves, propped their pillows.
— Good night, Champ, the man behind him said.
Gopi hugged his knees and closed his eyes.
Day three: People were getting jittery, desperate for the store to open. The drilling continued. It was early morning still and Gopi could hear his own teeth chatter. The air around him was punctured with people’s bad breath.
The owner of the store came along, making a big show of it. He waved and smiled at the cameras. Someone asked him to stop wasting time and hurry up. He frowned but pulled the shutters open, and the cameramen, and the reporters with microphones in their hands jostled to get ahead, to get clear shots of the line-up, to talk to people. The shopkeeper approached Gopi and shook his hands like he was shaking hands with a celebrity. The reporters asked them to pose for the camera, which the shopkeeper gladly agreed to. He gestured and led Gopi towards the shop, and they climbed up the short flight of stairs strewn with empty Styrofoam chai cups and cigarette butts.
Outside, everyone tipped their toes, craned their necks to get a good view, to see what was taking Gopi so long. Soon Gopi walked out with a brand new phone in his hands. The crowd erupted, applauding, as though he’d just safely landed a plane that was about to crash and kill all of its passengers, including the ones travelling in business class.
The shopkeeper came up from behind Gopi and laid his heavy, hairy hands on Gopi’s shoulders. The reporters asked the shopkeeper to clear out, get out of the frame.
—Tell us, tell us, they asked Gopi, have you always been an Apple fan?
—What are your favourite features?
—You’re the first one to get your hands on this most awaited phone. Your thoughts?
—Are you excited?
—I just want to make a call.
—He talks, he talks, the reporters cried excitedly.
Everyone was staring at him now, which made him self-conscious.
—Who are you going to call?
In truth, he was unsure if he should. The drilling sounds had amplified. Would he be able to even get a word out to Guppi? He struggled with the packaging, unable to open the box. He finally did. Reporters nearby offered to hold the lid for him. Gopi removed the gleaming black phone out of its groove and cameras went flash-flash-flash. They asked him to hold it up to get a better view.
—Turn it left.
—Turn it right.
—Hold it flat.
—Remove the plastic from both sides.
Everyone gasped when Gopi slowly pulled the plastic, teasing his audience.
—Hold it up again.
—Power it on.
Hello flashed on Gopi’s screen. Hola.
Someone offered to hold the bottom part of the box as well while he set up the phone.
—The display is popping, someone said.
—It’s a wow.
People were trying to touch Gopi’s phone. He glared at them and they pulled their stubby fingers away. He wiped the smudged screen on his sleeve.
He tried to recall Guppi’s phone number, but he couldn’t. But because so many people were watching him, he pressed some random numbers and stuck the phone to his ear.
—Are you calling your wife?
—She’s going to be so proud of you.
—Is it ringing?
—Is she home?
—How’s the audio quality?
—How’s the reception?
—She’s not picking up.
First a small ripple of laughter broke out, a titter here, a titter there, then the ripple grew and soon it was an ocean with hundreds and hundreds of vibrations, people openly laughed.
—You could use mine, someone offered, but it’s not an iPhone, hope that’s O.K.?
He tried her number again but the crowd kept interrupting, asking him to stand beside them for a selfie and in all this activity and confusion and excitement, his phone slipped out of his hands and fell face first on the concrete.
People jumped back as though someone had coughed on their faces. Gopi picked it up. It was shattered, little silvery rivulets running across its black face.
—What will you do now?
—Are you going to buy another phone?
—How will you call your wife?
Kailash Srinivasan is a fiction writer living in Vancouver, and has recently completed his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. His work has appeared in OxMag, Santa Ana River Review, Going Down Swinging, Regime, Tincture, Bluslate, and Them Pretentious Basterds and others.
I grew up in a town where people’s heads exploded. Well that’s not exactly true, it was actually an unincorporated community.
It was much like any other small town that was actually an unincorporated community, albeit with far more brain matter littering the sidewalks. People took to walking around with buckets hanging from their necks, a courtesy for those left to clean up the eventual mess. My father, however, fashioned a sort of birdcage for his head (meant to prevent head explosion) eventually forcing my mother and I to do the same.
I remember summers as a kid we’d run down to swim at the docks and you’d have old Bill Proudfoot standing there handing out fresh towels. Bill’s head never exploded but he did develop gout. Every year his capacity for towel handing seemed to diminish. First he had a cane, then he sat on a stool, then a wheelchair. Then his figure sagged into a mushy pile of skin that lacked the buttressing of a skeleton. Eventually Bill just left towels on the bench next to a crudely drawn sign that read: Towel for Good kids. ONLY!
When Bill died it was a shock for the community as he went peacefully in his sleep. There were eulogies and tributes and someone thoughtfully placed a stack of fresh towels on his casket. I think Bill would’ve appreciated that had he not been dead.
As Dad’s birdcage fixation grew I began finding my mother’s pleas for mercy nestled in my lunch bag. Notes scribbled with a shaky hand read “make the best of it” or “forgive him/us.” These accompanied dad’s daily prescriptions regarding mandatory safety-cage use. The list of “best practices for optimal performance” grew to a few pages by the winter.
And in the spring, as snow defiantly clung to shadowed ground, I (refusing to wear my cage) watched the houses on our street brighten at dusk and understood my birth planted a seed of tyranny within my father. Inside he raged amid walls and furniture covered in plastic.
Joe Thomson is a writer living in Toronto. His previous work can be found in The Matador Review and The Collapsar.
IN THE WAKE OF YOUR FATHER’S DEATH I AM PLANNING TO COMMIT SUICIDE, she wrote. XOXoXO, LOVE, MOM. She cc’d all three of us. Plus Peter. I had just gotten out of the shower. Behind the white-blue lines of the e-mail program were three open windows and in each one some manner of grainy copulation was occurring. My hand stopped abruptly when I pulled up my mother’s e-mail, which I probably would not have bothered to click had it not borne the subject line “I AM GOING TO KILL MYSELF.”
“What? Nooooo....” I typed. I was going to call her but I thought that first I should put on pants. First I should I quit jacking off. In the second window a young Russian-speaking couple laughed and cavorted on a bed. The girl had just taken off her shirt and the guy was running his hands along the inside of her thigh. Concentrating on a point just beyond the computer screen I kept going until I came. After I cleaned up and closed the windows I checked my e-mail again and there was her response: about a hundred “ :( ” signs one after the other with no spaces in between. Had she manually typed them all or just copy/pasted? With my mother it was difficult to tell. Beneath her response was a message from my sister: “Agh! Not during finals!” (She’d reply all’d.)
“Mom,” I asked her on the phone, “why?”
“Hey, my little starfish,” she said, her voice slurred, “don’t forget the inheritance.”
“But you won’t get the insurance...”
“Mom! No! Why are you so selfish?”
She hung up.
I called my sis. There was no answer.
It would take at least forty minutes via transit but I did not have tokens and the service in fact was not reliable. She could be buried by the time I got there. George was in Alaska. Peter was dead.
He had been dead a long time.
I checked my e-mail again. There was a message from George. Reply all, again:
mother I came online to announce that i am engaegd to holly and this is what i find. i have tried calling but the connection was bad and the line was busy. pls provide an explanation. i am sure this is a mistake in any case. mother pls give me a call when you get a chance, love, george.
“MOther—I repeat—do not—do not—do not kill yourself!! Under any circumstances.” I sent the e-mail before I noticed the typo in “mother” and frantically searched for the Undo until I realized that too many regrets had caused me to disable that Google Lab.
Starfish was her nickname for me ever since I was child. I always thought it was so coined because I had a tendency to wave my arms around as if I were lost, to lay back searchingly on the living-room carpet, and to immerse myself in water (I was always the last one out of the kiddie pool). None of the other children had a nickname and I could never quite be sure if that made me pet (like Peter), or neglected. For instance: while a cute name, the starfish is known for its ability to regrow torn limbs—does she/did she feel as though my limbs (physical and/or emotional) could be torn and regrown at will? Furthermore, a nickname is a reduction: specifically, “starfish” de-emphasizes my human characteristics and emphasizes animalistic, passive, mysterious aspects of my personality. I cannot forget that a starfish is perhaps the least anthropomorphize-able creature on the face of the planet, known more for its alien weirdness, for being dried by the bucket and sold to tourists in Florida than for any human resemblance whatsoever. But of course there was always the possibility that “starfish” was just a cute nickname for my mother, one which did not call to mind any of these, or any, particular associations—just a verbal tic that stuck.
I looked outside and saw my neighbour unloading the car with her children. Each child that was able carried a little bag of groceries. Surely my mother’s impending death was a situation dire enough to necessitate the commandeering of a neighbour’s vehicle? Besides I had been paid on Friday and could fill the tank up, if needed.
I tried to call my mother again but the line was busy. Maybe it is sis or George or a suicide hotline, I thought. I sent another e-mail: “MOther: I have decided to borrow neighbour’s car. Will be over soon to talk you down from metaphorical ledge. Starfish.” Again I made the typo, again I didn’t notice until it was too late.
Next door I knocked until a child answered, who then turned and ran back to get his mom. She hustled over frantically, a child in her arms, a small bag of unopened corn chips being worked by that child’s hands. She was too busy to notice. “Yes?” she asked, somewhat breathlessly, for another child had appeared in the hallway and was tugging on her shirt. Outside the home the mother and four children always looked put together, kept—inside I was surprised at their raggedness. “Hi. I’m a neighbour. My mother,” I began, making sure to put on a heavy sentimental emphasis, “has recently expressed a desire to—and pardon me for saying this so bluntly—kill herself.” The woman gasped. She put a hand out to silence the boy with her shirt. “As this is an extremely complicated emotional situation and haste and tact are required, and as I don’t have a vehicle of my own and my mother lives across town, and the transit, as you know, is unreliable—” My voice trailed off as I watched her react to my spiel. It was work for her just to hear my words.
“Yes?” she asked.
“I’d like to,” I said, “use your phone. You see, my own phone is dead and so I need—to call the police, perhaps, or an ambulance. Is that alright?”
There was no way I could have asked her for her car.
The toddler in her arms cracked open the bag of chips and a shower of tortilla sprayed onto the floor. The mother put the baby down and began to clean the shower up, while another child made away with a handful of chips. She waved me in. “Yes. That’s fine. I’m sorry. The phone’s in the kitchen.”
Picking up the phone from where it hung on the wall, I decided to call George first. The line was busy. I called Sis instead.
“Sis,” I said, when she picked up, “can you believe this?”
“Where are you?” she asked, as there was a baby wailing in the background and the mother raising her voice at another child to stop.
“Look—that doesn’t matter—do you think you could go over to mother’s and calm her down and make sure that she’s okay? Just for an hour, or so, or maybe longer, I’m not exactly sure if the transit goes there today or how long it will take. I may have to walk between connections. The schedule is different on weekends.”
Sis sighed on her end of her line. “I don’t think she’s going to do it. Dave. I’ve got to study. I have a 24-page paper due tomorrow. I am not leaving this chair for anything but coffee or the bathroom, and I’ll probably be combining the two for maximum efficiency.”
I said alright, goodbye. I thought of calling the cops, but instead I dialled George again. The line was messed, like an eagle was using it as his lute. Somewhere out there in the rocky mountains. Which is I think what the line would have to cross.
“Dave! Good to hear from you. Have you called to offer me my congratulations?”
“Congratulations? No—I called about mother. She’s threatening to kill herself. Do you remember?”
“I just got off the phone with mother. She’s fine. She said you were coming over. She ordered a bottle of wine from that service. She’s not killing herself.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Well, the connection wasn’t great—”
“I’m engaged. To Holly.”
I said my congratulations and hung up. My neighbour was coming down the hallway with spit-up all over the front of her shirt, child in tow behind her, the baby in her arms. She eyed me somewhat warily I thought so with my next call I dialled the police. “Hello,” I said. “I don’t know who to speak to exactly, but my mother has threatened suicide, and I—” Hold on. The operator transferred me to the right department. I felt somewhat embarrassed, as my throat had cracked and my voice had wavered on “mother,” as if I was some whining teenager just learning how to speak.
Someone so bored she could barely form complete sentences picked up the phone. I told her what was happening. She said they would send someone over right away to check up on my mother. “Great,” I said, as I hung up the phone, “I’m relieved.” I leaned into the hall, where my neighbour was dabbing at the spit-up with a small towel.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll be going now.”
I went to wait for the bus.
At my mother’s apartment building I stood patiently in the lobby while the system dialled her phone. Finally it clicked and gave her voice. “Starfish! What took you so long?”
“I couldn’t get the car.”
She pressed 9—that’s how the system works—and the door unlocked. I paused a moment to let someone who’d been waiting by the door in. I had a bad feeling. In the elevator I hunched my shoulders and kept my eyes on the floor. When my mother answered the door I could smell wine on her breath.
“Mom—are you drunk? What about the police?”
“The police came.” She staggered backwards. I shut the door. Behind pulled curtains the city lay black and silent beneath the glass. A couple lamps were on. My mother found a chair. “I told them it was all a misunderstanding. That there was some trouble with the phones. They understood.” For some reason I could not look at her. She looked old and vulnerable. The empty bottle was on the table.
I knew that if I looked at her I would break down crying. I do not know why. The phone started ringing. It was George. My mother asked me if I was going to pick it up. I just looked at it. I put my hand on the cold windowpane. Cars swept through the intersection.
André Babyn is a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where he is working on translation and annihilation in Medieval religious literature. His fiction has appeared in Maisonneuve, The Fanzine, Hobart, Grain, Pank, and elsewhere. His first novel is coming in 2020, but he isn't yet allowed to say more than that.
I don’t remember much of what she said. When the phone rang I was writing at Al Purdy’s desk. Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend had bought it at an auction, but didn’t have room in his new apartment. Its surface was worn, front and centre, around the section where a piece of paper would most logically be placed. I felt a sense of Al’s enthusiasm hovering above me while I’d write there. As I shifted around at the table I’d think about his elbows, his wrists, where his pens would roll.
As a sort of favour, I’d been sharing my friend Rebecca’s apartment in Kingston during the even months, helping to renew it post break-up, and returning to my life in Toronto for the odd ones. That visit was almost up but I wasn’t ready to commute home yet. Staying there was a gift to me as well. I loved being at that desk.
The phone rang three times. I was trying to finish a line, but it was already nudging itself out of my mind, smearing. Still, I was trying to hold onto it, save it. I swiped at the green circle on the screen of my phone. It was Jemma. Something had happened, she said. She had to let me know. “Something bad?” I asked. “Ellie died.” I laughed. I looked down at the shag carpet and watched it turn from purple to fluorescent violet. I looked up and saw Rebecca’s screen-printed band posters peeling away from the walls, trying to get away. As I moved to the couch I listened to Jemma, trying to stay with her. The corners of the room were barfing up gear: distortion pedals, mini amps, mic stands, synthesizers. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them.
Rebecca had left something plugged in; I hadn’t noticed earlier but the static was so loud all of the sudden in that little room that looked out onto a patch of trees, on that street that was named after fruit, in that neighbourhood where old farm houses had been converted to family and student homes. Through the electric waves Jemma’s words were mushy; they were gruel. Squirrels squeaked as they ran past the window, along the telephone lines, diving off into garbage cans, to finish the leftover beer and pizza that frat guys had half-consumed and littered around the city the night before.
They were biking on country roads. It was the evening of fall equinox so the sun was still in the middle of the sky. The three of them. Jemma, Ellie and Ben. It was shitty of Ben to start dating Ellie. His and Jemma’s agreement had been that they wouldn’t get involved with mutual friends. But he did, apologetically. And as expected it caused problems. This was their attempt to work things out. Two decade-long pals, and their mutual boyfriend, on a reconciliatory camping trip.
On their second evening – biking along, looking for a place to make a fire, anticipating marshmallows and the harvest moon – Ben heard tires squealing and yelled to the girls but it was already too late. The car was two blinding beams hurtling up the road. It lost control and veered onto the shoulder, hitting all three of them in a row like bowling pins. Ellie absorbed most of the impact. She was in the back. “Will you come be with me for the funeral? It’s on Monday,” Jemma asked.
In the pew with her two days later, I turned to watch Ben hobble up in his full leg cast and crutches. He squeezed in beside Jemma, who was unmarred except for some cuts and bruises. On the other side of me was Simon, Ellie’s best friend. I held his hand. He didn’t have a girlfriend. Ellie had always wanted to be his girlfriend. He was going to sing a song for her, he told me. His eyes were wide and red. The sun was scraping a patch of light across the front wall of the chapel. It was coming through the back door. The last of the twenty-somethings outside smoking let the heavy thing shut behind them and found their seats while the organ started up. That patch of light narrowed and narrowed, squeezing itself away until it disappeared completely. No one in my row was crying. My friends looked alert, stricken, but not yet with grief.
The last time I saw Ellie her face was blotched with tears. One of her legs was slack while the other peddled her bike slowly, just a bit ahead of Ben and Jemma, away from where I stayed standing on the sidewalk. We had gone to a comedy show at an indie theatre at Queen and Dufferin that doesn’t exist anymore. Ben hadn’t been paying Ellie much attention. Jemma had been vibrant, and Ben’s arm had been around her in the dark. Ellie was sensitive. Jemma tried to comfort her. They all decided to leave together, to get something to eat and talk it out; polyamory wasn’t easy. It was still summer then.
Two years after the accident, on our first date, I felt present inside my body again – walking down Roxton Blvd with Lenny, and stopping at a triangle patch of concrete, a lot big enough for a house. For some mysterious reason, instead of installing a valuable downtown rental property, a few trees had been injected into the awkward looking field of extra sidewalk. Stark as it was, in the moment it seemed beautiful, something growing out of the dead earth. He watched me absorb this. I could feel his eyes on my cheek. “You’re really pretty,” he whispered. “Would you mind if I kissed you?”
I was already falling in love with him by the time we got to the next block. I wanted to know who he really was. I asked if he had a best friend. “He died. He was me in the skin of another person. We were so close that in the note he left, the part that was addressed to me said: Lenny, you are now me. His name was Larry, and sometimes when people mix up my name they call me that.” When I added him on Facebook later I saw that we had a few mutual friends. One of them was Ellie. R.I.P.
I didn’t bring her up for some time. One night after I had given him a thorough blow job in the guest room of his mother’s suburban home in Port Credit, the neighbourhood where he’d grown up with Ellie, we were holding each other and talking about all the places we might have met before we actually did. “You were at that strip club with the shower in the middle for the world poetry day reading last year?!”
“House of Lancaster, man. What a spot.” He laughed, smiled softly, and planted a kiss on my neck.
“Were you at Ellie’s funeral?” I asked. His arms stiffened around me.
“No. I wasn’t. I’ve been practicing letting go and I’m getting better and better at it.”
“I loved her,” I said.
A few months later he left me for a secret woman. The night of our confrontation he wrote a post on Facebook announcing that he was deleting all his dead friends. He included a YouTube link for Ariel Pink’s “Picture Me Gone” and dedicated it to Larry, Ellie, and his dad.
The day of the funeral, after the service and hours hashing out the accident over and over with Ellie’s parents and our friends in the reception room of an old community centre near the church, Simon offered to drive Jemma, Ben, and me to our homes in the city. He decided to let Ben off first. I hadn’t been to see his new place yet. He’d moved during springtime, when things had been starting to get serious with Ellie. This was his first time going back to his room alone. The sky was black, with little lines of grey cloud stretching through it. “Ellie’s stuff will be all over my floor,” he told us. “She forgot her journal here. She was anxious about it the whole time we were on our trip.” Simon pulled up to the house and I realized an old friend of mine used to live there, someone I had a crush on, got drunk, made out with, and lost because of it. I wondered which bedroom was Ben’s, and whether that all happened in the same space where Ellie and he had last had sex, played music, read together. Jemma asked if Ben was sure he didn’t want to stay at her place again that night. “I have to be alone sometime,” he said, and then shut the car door on her.
After Lenny left me I thought of Ellie even more often. I biked along Queen Street past Dufferin looking back all the time, hoping to see her pushing on one pedal again. On days I left my new therapist’s office in Kensington Market I often thought I saw her out the corner of my eye. I used to run into her regularly around there. After one particularly teary session, in which my despair transformed itself into a disembodied haze, I imagined her on the street and reached out to grab her hand. I felt the energy of her in my grasp, held her knuckle to my heart. Then realized I was alone on the sidewalk, accidentally performing my grief.
Three years after the accident, I’m with Jemma in her new hometown in the Yukon. We’ve just seen indie-electronic-saxophonist Colin Stetson play a show at the Dawson City Music Festival. He has blown his energy at us through alternating tenor and baritone penis pipes. He was so powerful, fucking our ears with his brain rhythms that I start to cry as we walk out. Jemma rubs my back as we climb short blocks of the miniature city. Within minutes we’re ascending the ledge of its little mountain and entering a plot of forest at 7th street. Protected by the trees, I wail and sputter air like I’m the saxophone music. We stop and kneel down together in the dirt, so I can get it all out. Eventually I calm down and Jemma raises her pant leg to show me the tattoo she’s just gotten on her ankle. It’s a triangle. One point for each of them – though Ben’s been living with a new girl and has refused to talk to her for almost a year. She tells me he texted her back once asking to be left alone, explaining that he was “moving on from the grief.” I hate him for leaving Jemma. I hate myself almost as much, knowing I’m about to go back to Toronto.
When I return home in time for fall, I find my walls sweating in the forty degree humidity, and the water colour drawings I’ve made of flowers and trees sliding down them. I peel the sticky clothes off my body and sit down at my desk in my bra and underwear. I see that I’ve gotten a Facebook invite to an event from my Kingston pal, Rebecca. Her performance art- feminist-rap act, True Matriarchy, are coming to Toronto to open for the band of an experimental filmmaker, who I remember, in a chest falling second, is Lenny’s mentor. Reading on I see that Lenny is managing the band, organizing the show. Shit. I send Rebecca a message asking how she knows my old flameout and warn her that she should be careful. He keeps liking every goddamn thing on her wall for months.
In early January I’m in the same spot, draped over my desk, writing as fast as I can all day until my pale fingers shake as they hit the computer keys, still sweating because now my landlord has the heat on too high, and I don’t have access to the thermostat. I’m trying to finish enough of the story I’m writing about Ellie, to feel like I’ve earned going out. There’s a campfire at Dufferin Grove Park that Simon invited me too. People will be throwing shit into a pit to blacken, getting rid of what they want to purge from their souls. There will be sausages and a cauldron of grog. The Facebook event calls it “Fuck Winter, Let’s Burn it Down.” Simon wants to visit the tree in that park planted in remembrance of Ellie. He wants me with him.
It’s been ages since I deleted Lenny from all my social media, but something in me twinges as I re-read the description on the event page, looking for the exact location in the park. I glance at the rhino figurine he gave me, still standing at the corner of my desk – that agro, art-jock horn jutting up at me – and I just know that he’ll be there. I check the list. He’s “going” and so is the girl he left me for. I tell Simon to please hug Ellie’s tree for me.
On Valentine’s Day I throw a boozy afternoon tea party at my house. There are hearts twinkling and winking at me from everywhere. Even the love cookies I’ve made are obnoxiously shiny – iced red and too sweet. I don’t know why I’m taunting myself. I go into the kitchen to boil the kettle and see that Simon has just plugged it in. There are plates of squares and cakes crowding the counters all around us – nowhere to lean. It’s the first time we’ve had a chance to talk since the day I bailed on the fire, so I ask him how it went. “I finally met him, your old guy,” he says.
“He gave me bad vibes, and his girlfriend seemed sad and mean.”
“Do you think she’s sad because of him?”
Simon shrugs. “Who knows? He was such a dick to you; either way you’re lucky.”
I feel a flicker of something. I want to kiss Simon. Or maybe I just want all of this to mean something, to be a story that leads to something that makes all the awfulness worthwhile. I really don’t want either of us to be alone anymore. And then I hug him, and the tension drains away, and I’m thankful.
I manage to give out the dozens of extra cookies I’ve made, to my guests as they leave. I take down the decorations and hand them out too – impromptu loot bags – joking that they’d make fine décor for the bedroom. I get rid of every ounce of heart I have, finally.
Sarah Feldbloom is a writer, audio producer, and facilitator. She recently completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and teaches in the English department at Humber College. You can find her writing in publications including Carousel Magazine, The Town Crier, and The Feathertale Review. Currently, she’s working on two novels: Schooled, and Where She Was Young, which explore youth culture and resilience in Canada.
Brianna, Justin, and Justine were doing dead man’s float in Christy Pitts pool one fine summer’s night. There was, momentarily, a deep stillness between all three of them. There was the fact of chaos and its interaction with order to create the present moment. The present moment was, admittedly, a little discordant.
Justine and Justin were in an open relationship. Justine lived in Seattle and Justin lived in Toronto. Justin and Brianna started seeing each other a few months prior. He did not know whether Justine would return, and he only seemed kind of upset about that. Justin told Brianna about the relationship early on, so as to be fair. Fair fair fair. And now here they were being the fairest people of them all.
Brianna was specifically preoccupied with being fair and good, of all three of them. She had made the effort, over the past months, to add Justine to social media and like her pictures and some status updates. She tried to see Justine as Justin did, to really lay down in his mind, if that is possible, and understand not only that he loved Justine, but also that there were many different spaces in there, many different interactions and reactions, and that Brianna also filled a space. Perhaps, Brianna thought, if her and Justine were fish swimming around and Justin’s brain was a fish bowl, they would intersect and dance around each other, or sometimes keep to their sides, or sometimes look at each other and mistake the other for a reflection.
This day was a bit of an experiment, a peace offering. They had all decided to hang out together, to be so open and ideally free. They woke up early and bought sunglasses in Chinatown, and then lunch, then back to Justin’s apartment, then basketball, then dinner, then drinks, and now here, pool hopping. No one quite knew how or when to leave the hangout. It was the 11th hour. Brianna thought “this is good, we are doing a good job, we are being so good.” Brianna looked up at the bright full moon above while Justine and Justin held hands, floating and smiling. Brianna stared at the contours of the moon, a little drunk, watching them waver, the space between the circle and the dark sky: a ring, alit.
“Would you look at the moon,” said Justine, breaking the moment. “I love it.” Justin said “yes it looks so good, I love it too.” And Brianna’s body became rigid, sinking, full. “You can both go fuck yourselves,” she said, and then she went home.
Okay so last time we met up, we all went around the room and said what we’re studying, what our area of focus is. But THIS TIME I want to go around the room and for everyone to say something very UNIQUE about themselves. You know what I mean? Okay. I’ll start: My name is Deborah, and I used to have my own Youtube Pilates channel, with over 6000 subscribers! That’s me.
Hi everyone. Thank you for being here. Okay, next.
Hi guys, uh my name is Paul and um, apart from doing this program I’m actually also a data analyst, haha which I think is funny because this is nothing LIKE data analysis, so it’s cool, because I get to really work both parts of my brain. The left and the right. So yeah, that’s something unique about me.
Hi Paul. Hey Paul.
[Deborah snaps fingers and points them at next person. Is like ‘yer up!’].
Hi everyone, my name is Ruby. And something unique about me is that I just got engaged!!!! [Ruby makes a high-pitched noise, lays hand down ‘prostrate’ on table]. I mean everyone gets engaged but like, or erm lots of people do or whatever, but it feels really unique and important. His name is Devon, he’s actually such a Special. Real. Life. Angel! He even hid the ring in the bottom of an entire cake! He made me eat the whole cake like in Matilda which I mean look at the size of me I’m so small I almost died eating all that cake but sure enough right at the bottom was this ring! And I washed it off of course. But yeah, my fiancé and I think it’s gonna be next spring with the –
Ruby, we can get into the details of the wedding arrangements after class okay? I really appreciate it and I really appreciate that you wanted to share that but we only have a few minutes for this activity and to be honest a lot of what you’re saying is a bit triggering –
Okay, sorry Deborah.
It’s okay, Ruby. It’s an exciting time.
Everyone say hi to Ruby.
Okay next, your name and something unique. You. Go.
Hello ladies and gents. Or. Maybe I shouldn’t be addressing the room like that anymore haha sorry. Hi everyone! So my name is Ronald and one fucking thing is, oh shit, can I swear here? Yeah we’re all adults here right. I mean Ruby you look pretty young but. I guess you’re ‘legal’ or whatever. And like, globalization etc. you know what I mean? Everything is everywhere, it’s all like a big information pizza. Yeah anyways. I don’t have to say fuck, it’s fine. Name’s Ronald, or Ron actually.
[Ron stands up to address the room, takes off his baseball hat, smooths hair. Variegated streams of light pour in through the old linoleum shutters, accentuating dust and spit. Ron opens his arms to the room and a million tiny particles of dust swoosh together].
One unique thing about me is that I am a twin, like identical, and him and I dressed the same until we were 35. Lived together, did a lot of the same shit. Yeah, if we didn’t dress exactly the same we would at least coordinate. I’m actually doing this program, in part, to like, really get away from that whole side of stuff. The twin stuff. I want to set myself apart. But I think this is a pretty unique thing, like actually unique, haha, no offense Ruby. But um yeah, so, like I think? It’s? hard? To? Know? Yourself? When there’s always another person with like basically the same brain there telling you what’s up? So yeah. My name is Ron, I’m a twin. My twin is Cyril.
Hi Ron [One person says hi Cyril by accident, possibly Deborah. Someone else quietly gasps at this mishap. Everyone takes a sip of water].
Hello all. [Ron sits back down].
Last but not least!
Uh, yeah hey. My name is Sue-Ellen and I am a top.
Aley is in the Creative Writing MA program at U of T, where she is completing a manuscript that mainly consists of short fiction about desire and ambivalence. In 2018 Aley read at Vacant Nobodies, the Gemini Metatron reading series, With/out Pretend The Vault Launch, and Probably Theatre. She is a Trampoline Hall curator and did a Trampoline Hall on Dilettantes in the fall that will soon be archived on the podcast. She lives with Lena and Margot and listens to the new Chilly Gonzales album a lot.
It is Friday and he reaches for his satchel. Travis produces a silk blanket hued a Sunny-D yellow. He grips it by two corners and whips it up; it falls with a belligerent air. Travis Parker lays it over a swathe of dog excrement on the pavement.
It is sock-darning season and Travis darns all weekend. Sunday, seated in the study of his mother, Mavis, Travis darns his favourite socks. The ones with beavers. Mavis Parker rolls a joint, and when she later stubs it, Travis covers her ashtray in orange silk. Mavis rubs her temples and her eight bangles clack as she does it. Travis and Mavis Parker look each other in the eyes for a minute. Mavis says several things in her mind. Travis is silent.
On Monday, Travis sits up in bed. He flexes his shoulder blades, bat-like. After a shower, Travis is equipped with hiking shoes and his satchel of silk blankets.
He arrives at the grocery store. Travis Parker covers a rotten banana in the display with silk. He swaddles the offending fruit with a deep plum cloth, sets it back in the pile. He next obscures a discarded switchblade laying in the parking lot. Red prints speckle the grip. The periwinkle makes a clever pale oasis on the concrete.
For a long while, Travis sees nothing to cover. His mind rises and sinks as he sees kids having a spitting contest. He considers doing something about the constellation of saliva on the lawn, but his feelings shift as he notices how the liquid looks diamond-like in the light. He moves on.
All week Travis has done what he does best. On Saturday, Travis again visits his mother. In her calico chair, small and imperial, Mavis sits. Her bangle usage has upped once again. Ten bands on each arm. Her clothes are a rough linen popular with a certain cohort of elder lady. Mavis sits Travis in the seat facing her. She dings and clacks as she reaches out, grips his face. She keeps her voice low–Mavis says the things she has been thinking about Travis.
Slow, in between breaths, Travis reaches for his satchel. He produces a pure green blanket. Mavis watches as he whips it up, sees its shadow on her wallpaper. She lets her lids fall as Travis places the silk over her head. Mavis sits back. Her arms come down; two thumps. Listens to her son leave in his hiking boots. Mavis Parker sees lamplight through the silk and sighs so hard the blanket slumps off her head.
Cristina Holman is a writer with a degree from the University of British Columbia, where she studied Psychology and Creative Writing. She was a participant in the 2017/18 Artspeak Studio for Emerging Writers as well as the 2018 Banff Centre Emerging Writers Intensive. Her debut chapbook, published with Artspeak Gallery in 2018, is titled Stop Wincing/We're Fine.
No one knew how to talk to my sister. She lay her mildew limbs by the pool, downy and seventeen. There was bleach in the water. There was a bottle of bleach at the foot of the passenger’s seat the day she found me, just off the highway. We weren’t in Toronto anymore.
She had to hop to get off so I knew it wasn’t her car. My clothes were stiff. She brushed my hair back from my face and helped me on. She even clicked my seatbelt in for me.
When we were ten she wrapped the seatbelt in our father’s car around her neck, and it’d started to recoil. My father raised his voice. I was upset. Something lifeless slapped itself onto my sister’s neck and wouldn’t let go. You couldn’t reason with a moment.
We both try to speak at the same time then we ride in silence for twenty minutes.
The police never knew what to say. They stood there in their bulk, thumbs hooked into the armpits of their bulletproof vests. All they did was paperwork.
“They got him, they got him,” my mother said from the other room. She said this to herself.
My sister dropped onto her stomach and slid beneath the bed. She found my ear and whispered: they got him. We were thirteen that year; there were bruises on my neck.
He says, your skin is so smooth, I say, you have hairy arms. He says, thank you.
Two children were found naked in the kitchen, covered in flour. I pushed my sister down when she wouldn’t answer my question. I pushed the other girl down too.
Something in me always rose.
He says, can I come in? I say, I’m peeing. The door opens and he stares down at me, I’m on the toilet. He blinks away the yellow light and goes back to bed. I spread my thighs and look down at the blood.
“Is that a hickey?” someone asks.
“Can you tell us what he looked like? Do you remember the time?”
I don’t think I look like my sister. I don’t think we look alike at all.
I didn’t want anyone to die, ever.
I’m hiding under the bed so they ask my mother all the questions. What does my mother know? She won’t even speak to me.
I’m hiding because I’m angry and my face is red. When it’s quiet I go to the pool.
“Chlorine damages your hair,” says my sister. Sunlight dapples on her ivory skin. She reaches for my hand—she moves as if the air guides her—and brings it to her hair. I go back inside and return with a bottle of bleach. I tip the nose over the edge of the pool, then I get in, and my face is red, and my family doesn’t own a pool.
When I emerge I am twelve and the top of my bathing suit has rode up and the other children are laughing at me. The only light comes from cheap fluorescent tubes; my skin snaps beneath them.
I am thirteen and Toronto is a big place and if you get lost now you’ll never get out.
When my sister found me I felt no particular rush, no release. The years between us did not collapse.
“You can walk to anywhere in Toronto,” she said.
I didn’t respond, so she added, “We could go somewhere, it’s just that this isn’t my car.”
I looked out the window, I opened the door.
They got him, she whispers, but I already know that.
They got him, but that’s not what I want to hear.
There was my sister and then there was me. There is you and then there is another, you see? You killed yourself. You live and live.
He kisses my neck and I pull him closer into me so he can’t see that I’m crying.
I am her and I replaced her: she became me. I stepped into myself and I replaced me.
Lily Wang is the author of the poetry chapbook Everyone In Your Dream Is You (Anstruther Press, 2018), and Oh(!) (forthcoming with Dancing Girl Press). She is the founder of Half a Grapefruit Magazine and you can soon read more of her in Peach Mag and Cosmonauts Ave.
For a time, Sainte Eulalie Sur-Place was a flat stretch of occasionally-fertile farmland, accessible by a two-kilometre-long Rue Principale on which there was perhaps a gas station. The yields were lessening, and one of the farmers opened a petting zoo and a pick-your-own raspberry patch, which were quickly ravaged by suburbanite families to such a degree that their operation was not profitable. Everything was sinking into the mud.
There were, in hidden offices somewhere, a group of developers who became interested in the region, and watched it as it fell into destitution over some years (some of the farmers shot themselves), and finally pooled their money, bought it up for practically nothing, and divvied it amongst their number. They had it in their minds to start a neighbourhood.
After some negotiation, the provincial government put in an expanded electrical grid. The length of the Rue Principale was doubled, and the fields were razed and organized into branching streets, and they were all thematically named. SESP was two hours from the city without traffic or road closures (two weeks out of the year) and the lots were sold for cheap, and the developers had still managed to make good money off them.
The people who came to SESP had outgrown their apartments and duplexes, and were fat from their salaries and their children, and dreamed of the sort of houses which could be given names. They were the sons and daughters of immigrants; Jews, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, Arabs, all educated and all thirsting for any achievable distance from their impoverished origins.
They began to go up, the castles. They had uncountable gables and minarets and spires. They had columns adorned with stone heads of lions and spikes of black iron. They had balconies and archways and all of them lit up at night. They had garages. There was not a house without a pool. They said that more of the water by volume in SESP was chlorinated than not. Every bad architect’s firm in the province had jobs lined up for a decade.
Along the Rue Principale, where the developers had put skeletal strip malls, restaurants, coffee shops, car washes, car dealerships, furniture stores, dollar stores, convenience stores and drug stores and pharmacies, clinics, dentist’s offices, gymnasiums, bars, and daycares all sprouted up. There was a private school, and, after a while, a public one. Squat, glass office buildings began to go up, and two avenues perpendicular to the Rue Principale were soon flanked by low warehouses.
To accommodate the working people who filled these establishments, a leaf of streets with cheaper housing bloomed just off the service roads, forming the South Side. Apart from brick colour, the houses were identical. And to the north were the castles.
A residential street on the North Side of SESP was a grotesque thing. The trees and shrubbery were too young, too skinny, and too bare, against the monstrous keeps. Looking down the street you would see the myriad roofs stabbing the greyish sky in every which way, like mismatched teeth.
At the bus stops waited scores of nannies and cleaning ladies. Half the year, there were gardeners, and the other half, snow removal. These were Filipinos and Haitians and French Canadians, and they lived on the South Side.
Trucks and sports cars rounded the roads in rapid, wide turns. The police force made a killing on traffic tickets, and crushed squirrels and rabbits were pasted always to the asphalt. The lavish, green parks were full of kids playing, and eventually, smoking, drinking, and fucking. The public security force made a killing on affluent teenagers.
In the summer nights, one could hardly drive, with the adolescents stumbling drunkenly, arm-in-arm, from one party and across the street to the next. Their parents either vacationed, or fixated further on the improvement of their houses, and either way could not see their children.
It became fashionable to build guard towers, because it showed that one could afford to bribe contractors to break city codes and ordnances, and then to bribe the city inspectors when they inevitably showed up. Soon, the North Side houses all rose absurdly high, and it was not uncommon at night to see groups of middle-aged men smoking cigars in them, or teenagers firing BB guns from them.
IT consultant and under-the-table salesman of stolen software Norman Scheiffer was surveying his lawn for the effects of the new weed-killer he had bought when he was shot by Eric Jiang, his neighbour’s son, and the BB ripped through his earlobe. It was in reconstructive surgery that he had the idea of building walls.
He commissioned them from his architect, to be styled after those of a medieval fort he had stayed at with his mistress, Janice, in Andalusia. The stone had to be imported. He had the contractor put in functional crenellations, and an authentic murderhole above the entryway. He had his contacts still, from when he built his tower, and they didn’t give him too much trouble. He had to sell some of his Google to pay for it, but he considered it well worth it, and his wife loved the privacy, and shade it provided.
When Norman’s daughter, Jenna, turned sixteen, he threw a marvellous party, where he famously had scenes of her favourite movies projected onto the walls (the Jiang’s were not invited). He gave her the gift of a pellet-firing replica of an M1 Garand, with a beautifully-stained wooden stock, a telescopic scope, and boxes and boxes of ammunition.
He took Jenna aside at midnight, Audrey Hepburn demurely munching on a croissant across the rock behind him, and offered her a doubled allowance if she would man the tower regularly, and shoot Eric Jiang on sight (the surgery had failed and he was left with two-thirds of an ear, which had become painfully infected).
Jenna took to the task, and within a week had nailed him no less than three times, even managing to blow off his right thumb, seriously damaging his prospects at passing the Royal Conservatory examinations.
When the autumn came, the Jiang’s built walls.
That school semester was one of the most eventful on record. Very soon the richest streets, Rue Chopin and Rue Cardamom, were entirely walled. There were extended firefights. Through the night, the popping of the BB’s could be heard. The closest neighbours built passageways into each other’s yards, for the uninhibited flow of supplies and personnel.
When parents went off to their lunch meetings, they brought their children, swaggering, pubescent retainers armed to the teeth with novelty weaponry. Some of the teenagers became too bloodthirsty or were too undisciplined for their parents’ liking, and were cast out into the streets. These formed roving mercenary bands, raiding the dépanneurs or ambushing Range Rover’s at stoplights.
One Joshie Bloom ran a bayonet through a cleaning lady, and his parents were forced to pay her entire family’s way over to North America to avoid legal action.
Ironically, many of the North Side parents were thriving professionally, thanks to the violence in and around their homes. The lawyers were mailing out thick packets of subpoenas, and the private doctors were treating every species of unorthodox wound. The architects and civil engineers were employed to dream up wonders unprecedented in the history of suburban housing. They were becoming unassailable.
The adolescent ronin in the streets were growing in number and in restlessness. The people had long since given up going outside, so the only profitable sort of piracy was in intercepting the supplies going to the houses. The parents knew this, and had their lieutenants defend the UPS and FedEx trucks by forming elaborate convoys. The kids who lived with their parents were better equipped, and more tactically-minded. The ambushes were largely smacked down.
Sarah Feldman, who had been ejected from her home after threatening to remove her mother’s lymph nodes with her teeth, was pulling a Velcro wallet from the bloody hands of a young landscaper when she thought of it. That night, she stood at the gathering fire, and proposed that they attack the South Side.
“They are not prepared for us, they are not warriors, and have been afraid even to defend themselves here, on our side, because they fear to lose their jobs, because they fear our parents and their powers of high office. And their houses: without walls, without towers, and we could go through their land like a divine wind.”
And that was how it was. They went, the rich sons and daughters who had never known hunger before, into the pathetic, uninsulated hovels, tore through the thin walls, rattled the flimsy screen doors off their hinges, blew the sleeping and work-exhausted out of their way, with fire and with sharp metals, and went into the cupboards and cabinets and stores and cheap, humming refrigerators, and took, and ate.
Adam Haiun is a writer of poetry and prose. He lives in Montreal. He was shortlisted for the Irving Layton Award for Poetry in 2017. His work can be found in Bad Nudes, The Void, and Soliloquies Anthology.