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 internationa  PJaIoM digital archive
PRISM is excited to announce that our archives are going digital! With
the generous support of the British Columbia Arts Council, we will be
digitizing PRISMs 200+ back issues this summer, bringing 56 years of
literary history online.
We've partnered with UBC's Digitization Centre to complete the
project, which will be integrated with our website. The searchable
archive will be available before the end of the year, providing a free
resource for historians, literary scholars, and writing enthusiasts.
Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Seamus Heaney are just a few
names from PRISMs long history, and we look forward to sharing our
archives with readers in Canada and worldwide.
If you are a former PRISM contributor, and you would like to have
your work removed from the digital archive, please contact us at to opt out.
PRISM     &
digital archive
An agency of the Province of British Columbia
Columbia PRISM
'The Bride and the Street Parry" by Kate Cayley
"Admissions Interview" by Taylor Armstrong
"The Emigrants" by Colette Langlois
JUDGE    Marina Endicott
Taylor Basso, Anita Bedell, Nicole Boyce
Adrick Brock, Stephanie Chou, Francine Cunningham
Gena Ellett, Christopher Evans, Shane Goth
Melissa Janae, Keri Korteling, Clara Kumagai
Kirsten Madsen, Colette Maitland, Judy Major
Claire Matthews, Kim McCullough, Malgorzata Nowaczyk
Karen Palmer, Sarah Richards, Jeffrey Ricker
Shawn Stibbards, Meg Todd, Laura Trethewey PRISM internati
"Regional Transit" by Phoebe Wang
"Morning Bells are Ringing" by Jessie Jones
'First Death Ever Filmed" by Jennie Malboeuf
JUDGE    Ken Babstock
Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Alison Braid, Rhonda Collis
Elaine Corden, Ruth Daniell, Emily Davidson
Curtis LeBlanc, Zach Matteson, Claire Matthews
Sarah Higgins, Shannon Rayne, Ellie Sawatzky
Rochelle Squires, Catherine Stewart, Mallory Tater
Rob Tavlor, Matthew Walsh PRISM
Nicole Boyce
Rob Taylor
Clara Kumagai
Jennifer Lori
Sierra Skye Gemma
Dominique Bernier-Cormier
Christopher Evans
Claire Matthews
Timothy Taylor
andrea bennett
Rosemary Anderson
Tuled Giovanazzi
Megan Earner
Melissa Bull
Rhonda Collis
Elaine Corden
Jill Goldberg
Sarah Higgins
Keri Korteling
Kirsten Madsen
Kim McCullough
Robert Shaw
Rochelle Squires
Tania Therien
Carly Vandergriendt
Matthew Walsh
Connie Braun
Sonal Champsee
Robert Colman
Tara Gilboy
Esther Griffin
Melissa Janae
Laura M. Kraemer
Judith L. Major
Sarah Richards
Mart Snell
Catherine Stewarr
Meg Todd
Catherine Young
Alison Braid Leveret Burnspark
Nadine Clark Maegan Cortens
Kelsey Savage Hannah van Dijk PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1.
Specific back issues can be ordered from the Executive Editor, Circulation:
Copyright © 2015 PRISM international. Content copyrights remain with authors.
Cover image © Davide Luciano, "Knitting a Stitch."
Subscription Rates: One-year individual Canadian $35, American $40,
International $45; two-year individual Canadian $55, American $63, International
$69; library and institutional one-year $46; two-year $72. Single issue by mail is $ 13.
US and international subscribers, please pay in US dollars. Please note that US postal
money otders are not accepted. Make cheques payable to PRISM international. All
prices include GST and shipping and handling. PRISM occasionally exchanges
subscriber lists with other literary magazines; please contact us if you wish to be
excluded from such exchanges.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American
Serial Rights at $40 per page for poetry and $20 per page for prose. Contributors
receive two copies of the issue in which their work appears. Submissions
are accepted online or by mail. Electronic submissions are preferted. All
submissions must adhere to our submission guidelines, which can be found at, or can be requesred by mail ar the address above.
Advertising: For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM, please visit
our website at
Our gratitude to Dean Gage Avcrill and the Dean of Arts Office at the University
of British Columbia. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the
UBC Creative Writing Program, the Canada Council for the Arts, and rhe British
Columbia Arts Council.
July 2015. ISSN 0032.8790
a place of mind
BRITISH COLUMBIA $»     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL C±>   ^heArts du Canada CONTENTS
Ken Babstock      8      The Weird One-Oils They Always Were
Phoebe Wang      10      Regional Transit
Jessie Jones     62     Morning Bells Are Ringing
Jennie Malboeuf     69     First Death Ever Filmed
Marina Endicott      12     A Sense of Lightness
Kate Cayley      13     The Bride and the Street Patty
Taylor Armstrong      31      Admissions Interview
Colette Langlois     42     The Emigrants
Zach VandeZande     74     Walden
Marcia Walker      84     A Meditation on Dresses
Trevor Corkum     63     Articles of Faith
Phoebe Wang      11      The Hydro Men
Aislinn Hunter     24     I Came to See the Beautiful Tilings:
Four Poems from the Beaty Biodiversity
Museum Collection
Chris Banks     30     Trophy Case Steven Heiehton
Suzannah Showier
Sandy Shreve
Laura Matwichuk
54 Evolutions
55 After the CT Scan
56 June Cancellation
57 In Order to Burn
58 Can You Rare Your Mood?
60 Diagnosis
83 Vacation's Worth
Dionisio Canas
Translarion by
Orlando Hernandez
70 Lagrimas de ahorcado
71 Tears of the Hanged Man
72 Soy Patricia, deja tu mensaje
73 It's Patricia, Leave a Message
Contributors     91 Ken Bah stock
r's not unalloyed pleasure, doing this judging thing. It comes with ambivalences,
sinkholes of subjectivity, looming paralysis. You're in an aviary inhabited by a
flock of what seem to be birds. They've been grouped here in a holding pen,
therefore they must be of a set. Feathered, winged, perched on the rubber
branches and AC outlets. But time passes. You've overnighted with this crowd a
few times, taken lunch by the Koi pond, whiled away some hours doing Top Ten
Lists and Sudoku. The creatures no longer meaningfully resemble one anorher,
no longer blur together by virtue of likenesses. They're well into the process,
now, of individuation, have fallen into focus as the weird one-ofFs they always
That one over there only moves in shadow, an ocelot's stealth and mottled
coat. This one's become clingy, overly familiar, a domesticated baby hippo asking
for heads of cabbage. That one in the rafters is part reptile, part bacterium. That
pair, cowering under a giant fern, feel grafted from their natural environs; they're
going pale, failing to flourish, and nothing seems fair about the place they're in.
What am 1 doing here? I've conraminated the place, brought in foreign bodies,
synthetic pathogens, the wrong clothes—and I keep staring at them, poking
their abdomens, forcing water down the wrong aperture, keeping them up
during daylight hours when they're screaming for sleep. I'm fascinated, though.
The aviary is now some manner of biosphere. I'm one sentient visitor alongside
these others and the reverberations of our being together are their own new
music, new set of ineluctable problems and harmonies. It's not possible to fully
disentangle. I've been altered by shifts in tone, image clusters, turns of argumenr,
speed of thought. It feels as though qualities of each poem have transferred into
me, and I confuse them for my own rhought patterns. I think and feel to an
extent just as these poems do by virtue of having lived with them. And now I'm
tasked with pretending to know each from a distance, as though through glass.
This is futile, and my only way out.
"First Dearh Ever Filmed" wasted no time injecting real tension into
its movements. This is a tight, fast lyric, gambling with a recognizable trope
or scene. That opener is negation, an emptying out of authorial control and
dominance. The medium of transmission gets a metaphor as lucid and weighted
as the carcass we're waiting to see. The hot points are rhe off points and convince.
Being engaged on all perceptual fronts by a poem straight out of the gate is
a charm not easily faded or erased. "Morning Bells Are Ringing" sets up a rich
array of association, an immediate net of readerly mood waiting to receive what
comes next. What comes next? A collision of sonorous richness and cognitive
shorr-circuiting that arrives like an intruder.
PRISM  53:4 "I tell my students it should be clear" may be the best understatement followed
by super-charged line-break to appear in the entire batch of submissions. It does
its own local alchemy and misdirection, but also keys us up for the rest of the
droll assessments of "Regional Transit." I don't know how some poems achieve
this, but when I read a voice calmly saying itself and its opposite simultaneously
on almost every line, I simply give over to it. It's as though the entire lyric is
predicated on metaphor, its mask the only way to its subject. I became a student
of "Regional Transit" and will remain one. Phoebe Wang
Bringing the future into the present—
I tell my students it should be clear
what the participle's modifying, not to misplace
meaning or to leave it dangling.
The billboard's out of date,
the line already built, though I'm still
running behind. A. ten-year-old
asks if the world was always
in colour, and I say yes but we lacked
the means to capture light's crowded spectrum,
wavelengths of visible difference.
All he knows is grainy,
spent soil and farmhouses fading to white,
juxtaposed with jewel-toned
box stores, condos leveling up beside
the spiciest Szechuan north of the expressway.
Let's take a step back—
my accent's flat as these fields,
cadences climbing up the old bed
of glaciers that stalked off without a word.
It took me ages to get here. One minute
fitting my essays into narrow departmental slots,
the next driving home the take-aways,
the bigger picture. From the Old French essai
we get the sense of a trial, an attempt.
The wind's doing its best to make it
up to Newmarket by six. Each week, I show how
to make transitions. They follow my example.
I almost saw the feet of the creature
who took us by storm, tripping over utility
poles as if unaccustomed to land,
rubbing the rooftops' raised dots
with a blind man's hand. Its breath petrified
the trees, left them weak-kneed.
Overnight, it wiped out the middle
ground, but there's no going back
to the drawing board. We've established that
A little north, it gets nicer, but streets are voided
of their grisaille colours. Over shattered.
display cases of ice, dismantled maples,
sequoias like empty shelves,
flick a long dragon's tongue of yellow
caution tape. It wasn't much of a canopy
to begin with, but 1 looked up to it.
Since the white, flashing man is on the blink,
one of the crew gives me the go ahead.
They're getting us back up to speed.
They—the same "they" who etched
horse cart trails and rail ties, whose names
are fast and quick as penny nails—
Harry, I'd, Sam—where'd Sam get to?
Leapt off the ledge of time like a master
who leaves his work unsigned.
You can't miss their cathedrals.
Without them, satellite dishes are empty
as windowpane oysters, deaf to the world's wind
and we drain cell batteries like children
needing wisdom—one bar remaining.
We're disconnected. At the city limits,
guy-wired transformers are grounded,
pointing ray guns at our ancestral darkness.
Unleash them and they'd slay our monsters. 11 Marina Endicott
W hat are we looking for in fiction? An experience not our own, conveyed so
successfully that it becomes our own, becomes part of our understanding of how to
be human. 1 guess we are all reading alone in company, wanting that understanding,
that connection.
Here are three very good stories. 'Ihey all combine shock (shocks of recognition,
and plain old fear-shocks) and subtlety. They are about people alone in company,
although that company may be children or the dead. They are inventive and
accurate, even if the accuracy is invented; they are funny and uncomfortable and
miserably sad. They deal with people's complicated and desperate problems, from
the hollow reach of space to the warm space inside the bed, where the Crooked
Man haunts our dreams.
We write to understand the world we live in now. Kate Cayley's winning
story, "The Bride and the Street Patty," holds a painful intensity of observation
and experience, and uses the exact, exacting language to carry that weight. I
loved the difficult son, his heart "beating like an old-fashioned watch," and his
mother, navigating the inland sea of family and community to maintain a moral
keel. The deeply-layered reality of their neighbourhood and rhe tension of possible
consequences at every turn of this stoty alarmed and involved me until I felt like
one of the watchful, cunning toys with their too-black beaded eyes.
We write to examine out early actions and experiences, and how those may
ripple through the rest of our lives. A quiet story on its surface, "Admissions
Interview" by Taylor Armstrong asks for attentive reading to unravel a strangely
submerged threat, odd and understated, possibly some kind of joke—and captures
the mesmerized rabbit-like young girl's gaze, that feeling that everything is our own
fault, somehow.
We write to imagine the experience of others, to bring the faraway nearby.
Contemplative, angry, lonely, and brave, "The Emigrants" by Colette Langlois is
a remote story, bifurcating to trace emigrant experience in radically opposed but
loving and reflective iterations.
I've read a lot of stories this year, and find myself more and more impressed
with the energy and thoughtfulness writers are putting into their explorations of
the form. As I read this patticular batch, the PRISM competition's very strong
shortlisted stories, I was looking for vivid emotional life—although that doesn't
always mean dtamatic ructions—and for tangible, evocative physical life. And 1
was searching for the mysterious leavening of art, for a sense of lightness, a lifting-
off from rhe dogged quotidian plane, the concrete we walk all day.
That lightness makes the reader so happy. We recognize it, in the first few lines
of a good story: Ah! We will be alright with this writer, this story. Read on, we tell
outselves. Read on.
12 PRISM  53:4 Kate Cayley
iVlartha regarded herself skeptically, and imagined skepticism from the other
mothers at the table. She had too many children (four), and not for a discernable
reason (religion, twins), she was too young (twenty-eight), she was disordered
and apologetic. She made stuffed baby toys out of felt and organic wool, her
breasts strained through old tank-tops. Her blondness was suspect. It was not
an alarming, seductive blondness. She was freckled and angular and snub-nosed.
A child, pinkish, peddling a bike home from a violin lesson, earnest and a little
sad. She did not convince.
Her breasts were leaking. Denron was probably carrying their crying
youngest through their house, cursing lavishly.
"I know this is going to be a difficult one, but we need to talk to the family,"
Bronwyn was saying, raking one hand through her hair, "and ask rhem if they
can route the car somewhere else or just have her walk ro rhe car, rhat might be
even better, if the car was on a different street. We've got the chalk drawing on
their street. And the lemonade and bake sale. And one of the bands. And the
craft table. They'll have to understand this is a community event. It's for the
whole community. I'm sure they'll understand."
"But it's her ivedding," Martha said plaintively, louder than she meant to.
"It's a shame, isn't it? It's her wedding."
Bronwyn, Marley, and Alison looked at her expectantly, and she looked back
at them over the table in Bronwyn's kitchen, and then down at her hands laid
in front of her, limp and white among the mugs of tea, the lists and phones and
plate of cookies. She should have used her evening better. She didn't even want
to be on this committee. Outside, she could hear her son Noah and Bronwyn's
son Max playing.
Martha had the watchful aggrieved boredom of mothers, but she smiled
often as cover for her sleeplessness, and so was praised for cheerfulness. The
women surrounding her, on or beside benches, in yards and community centres,
at school pickups, on her street, calling greetings from the open windows of
their cars, their open screen doors, appeared competent and discerning. They
complained freely, and their complaints seemed more forceful and justified than
her own. She had not put a hard-won career or artistic practice on hold in order
to raise children. Her memory before the birth of Noah went as far as the first
half of a degree in history. After: diapers, splatters of yogurt, little jars of fruit
mush, tears, mysterious srains. The other women seemed to have had more
time to consider rhe question of what they wanted, and they had refined and
elaborated on that question, as a moral problem to be excavated and solved.
Her own problem was Noah, eight, loner, lonely, prone ro abrupt rage. At
first they said he was like his father, but Denton had a friendliness and self- 13 assurance that made her shrug off the swearing, the jumpiness and occasional
door-slamming. He was a big, jovial man, already losing his hair, and his whole
back and his arms were blue-black with ink (Bronwyn had a few tasteful tattoos
along her back and shoulders, delicate as leaf-veins), and he roared his approval
and disapproval. He was liked. She liked him. He liked himself.
Noah was different. A thin boy, taut as a tuned string, his blue eyes frantic,
his hair sticking up in light brown tufts. He reminded Martha of a fledgling—
something quivering and naked, perilously close to an edge. At six months old,
he'd screamed if she tried to put him down, and yet being touched seemed to
hurt him too. She'd dreaded changing him so much that she'd let sores fester
along his bum and legs.
He was sly now. He said mean things, cried if another child stared too
hard in the playground, hit children running past. There were meetings,
conversations that altered course when Martha approached. She did not want
to seem defensive; she could not defend. She lay in bed picturing the confusion
of his wide-open eyes, often red-rimmed (he was a strong swimmer, and loved
the nearby public pool, his clothes carrying a whiff of chlorine). He was not
invited to the houses of classmates after school, or to birthday patties. Max was
his one friend, a vigorous and noble busybody, like his mother. Like his mother,
he wanted dependents. Martha watched as Noah bore patronage, came home in
furtive sorrow that she, from experience, pretended not to see. She trembled for
him, she loved him, but sometimes, as he passed by her with his head down, or
looked away when she spoke, she imagined him kicking someone in the face,
throwing a match into the rainbow slick of a gasoline spill, in front of a stranger's
quiet, sleeping house.
Outside, the boys played.
"But it's her wedding," Martha said again, more loosely.
Before she had to say anything else, Max ran in with a nosebleed and Noah
behind him, eager and fearful from the look of blood, and in the scuffle and tears
and exclamations that took over the kitchen, the question of shame was left. The
nosebleed had nothing to do with Noah, Max had fallen off his skateboatd with
Noah nowhere near him, and in her relief Martha forgot to bring the wedding
up again. The meeting finished with Max sitting on Bronwyn's lap with ice on
his neck, and Noah standing behind Marthas chair, gripping the back of it with
both hands.
"I'll talk to the family," Bronwyn said to Martha in the hall. "I'm sure they'll
understand." She waved as they all walked down the stairs.
"I feel like we live in a village," Bronwyn called to Martha, "don't you?"
Martha had never lived in a village, but she nodded, and envied Bronwyn
her emphatic goodwill.
On the way home, Noah let her hold his hand, and the small victory buoyed
her up enough that even walking in the door to Denton calling out, "Where rhe
fuck have you been? All she wants is boob!" only made her laugh and kiss him
hard so rhat he grinned at her, delighted as a child offered a present. Ella stopped
crying, smothered into Martha's breast. And Noah was already climbing the
stairs; she heard the water running as he brushed his teeth. It will be alright, she
PRISM  53:4 thought, and kissed Denton again. Maybe it will be alright.
It is all well-meant, goodness knows. None of ir is intended as hostility to the
people who have lived in this part of Toronto since the seventies, who seem older
than they are, who attend church, who wish to launch their granddaughter from
the house in which she grew up, who have rented the shining white limousine to
which she will descend, on the morning of her wedding, swaddled in synrhetic
lace, the groom only a willing accessory to her brash, temporary magnificence.
The streer festival has been carefully planned, and every effort has been made to
include everyone, and these efforts have been made in good faith by the families
who have organized it, families who have begun to buy the houses that the older
people have sold, or that their children have sold after their deaths. They have
moved into these small houses and they have made them beautiful according
to their ideas of beauty, they have painted the walls in the friendly deep colours
of Van Gogh paintings, they have exposed the red brick that was hidden under
brown or yellow vinyl siding, they have laid new floors and built back decks.
They have worked hard, and have a right to stake a claim, and the street festival,
the chalk drawings and sidewalk sale and music and cookies and bubble machine,
are part of that claim. They are good people, and few of them are rich, though
they have the pliancy of some money, and may safely accumulate modest debt.
Even though Martha and Denton bought their house through an estate sale, a
leaking and rotting shell of a place, and Denton worked over every inch of it
himself while they lived with his mother and Martha helplessly nursed Sam, the
second of her babies, and felt sidelined and useless, the down payment came
from her grandmother. She knows that, however uneasy it makes her, she falls
on the side of the radianr houses, the vigorous, educated people, who don't clip
coupons even though they are daunted by the price of groceries, and that these
worlds, the world of those burnished floors and new kitchens, and the world ot
bleached sidewalks and tiles with pictures of the Holy Family, will not be entirely
She looked out the skylight that Denton installed in their attic room, and
listened to Denton's heavy breathing and FTla's soft whoosh, and thought of the
wedding, and, on the floor below her, her three other children—Noah sleeping
lightly or also awake, looking out the window, his heart beating like an old-
fashioned watch.
"Mama! I want you!" (Sally, three, scooped up from the table with one arm
while Martha reached for Sam with the other, his glass of milk teetering.)
"Mama! I spilled!" (The glass rolling on the floor, though not shattered.)
Denton left the house early, trying to finish a job installing cabinets, working
for a friend who paid him in cash, then going to his other job, putting in windows
and doors on the four tiny new houses down the streer, squeezed onto one wide
Martha counted to ten in her head, like Bronwyn recommended, watching
the grey-white flow. When that wasn't enough, she turned away in time to see
Noah lift Ella down from the change table, swinging her around fast, her naked
legs hunched against him. 15 "NOAH! STOP!"
"She's a superhero!"
"Sam, get a towel."
She resolved to be kind. Putting Sally down, she approached Noah.
"Give her to me, sweetie."
"She loves it!"
"She's not a toy."
"She's flying!"
"She'll pee on you!" Sam yelled from the kitchen doorway.
Noah dropped Ella. There was a moment of hush that Martha found riveting,
as if everyone might, in that moment, agree to let whatever had happened pass
unmarked, though no one ever did. Ella wailed, Martha screamed at Noah,
Noah flung himself away from her, Sam gawked, Sally squealed.
She sat on the couch, nursing Ella, half-noticing that Sally and Sam had
carefully spread three large clean towels over the spilled milk and left them there,
After collecting the late slips from the school office, after cursory pats and
goodbyes ("I love you!" she called anxiously after Noah, and he smiled his
flinching smile, waved one raw pink hand), Martha walked along Dundas Street,
a list of groceries in her head, Ella purring in her sleep, curved in the sling, her
smooth forehead warm against Martha's chest.
Worming through the grocery list, the necessity of an evening meal, the
towels she had left on the kitchen floor, was the sense she should say something
to Bronwyn. She rehearsed speeches about the street party and the car that
would take the bride to church. In her imaginary speeches she withdrew her
offer of the craft table, she provoked a disagreement that resulted in the scuttling
of Max and Noah's friendship, which she needed more than Bronwyn did, she
took a principled position and became subtly worthier, she exiled herself from
a society she already stood on the fringes of, and was left with no one to talk
to, and all this happened in her head before she crossed the second light to the
She'd stepped into the road when she saw the man on the bike. The bike was
too small for him, and his addict-thin body was bent over it, his spine curled like
a scythe. He wore a red bandana, track pants, a black windbreaker buttoned up
to his scrawny throat. His eyes were red-veined blue, and the knuckles on both
hands were bruised. He clutched the handlebars as he wove in and out oi traffic
at lull speed towards her, his head held low, his face rigid with anger, ignoring,
or maybe enjoying, the honks and panicked shouts as he swung into the path of
the cars. She ran to the other side just in time, and turned back to see him hurtle
out into the oncoming rush of the intersection. Cars swerved or stopped, he got
through to the other side, shouting, and disappeared down a side street. By the
time she kept walking, nothing had happened, except the rush of blood inside
her at having seen his eyes.
Denton managed to come home early; Martha took Noah to the pool, leaving
16 PRISM  53:4 Denton in the playground with Ella sleeping in the stroller, Sally and Sam
digging in the sand. She hoped Denton wouldn't smoke, another thing he did
that made their family unwholesome, though she felt this reflected only on her,
while Denton, blowing expert rings over the back of the bench, reading a novel,
carried off a rakishness that was forgivable.
She tried to swim beside Noah but he wanted to dive and splash, affronting
a stately old man who ploughed, puffing, through the deep end, so she lapped
away, leaving Noah to his territory. The water flickered under rhe halogen lights,
sound bounced off the walls as each person found an orbit, avoiding touch or
speech. She loved the strange order of the swimmers, the way each person found
a flare path, rarely colliding even while striking out apparently at random. It had
the civility of eighteenth-century dances.
She floated on her back, thinking of the man on the bike. She'd looked at
him and he'd looked back at her and sped up on his bike, towards her, towards
her baby, his expression unchanging. He was willing to make her a casualty of
his anger, making him inhuman or more than human ("Nietzsche!" Denton had
yelled at her, years and years ago, waving Beyond Goodand Evil'in her face as she
laughed, naked in his bed). She spun around in the water, warching Noah dive
and hover at the bottom of the pool, fighting the buoyancy of his body, his fists
A row of Styrofoam heads were lined along the wall of the pool deck, used
by the lifeguards in first-aid training. Faces perfectly smooth, pert flapper noses,
cursory swirls of ear, and mouths forming sterile open circles, reminding her of
the porcelain lip of a sink. One of the heads slumped sideways, its mouth caught
over the ear of rhe one beside it, faintly obscene.
She pulled herself our of the water, shaking her head.
She should have sent a text first, but she didn't know what to say, so she walked
over to Bronwyn's house in the dusk of the summer evening, pretending to
herself that she was putting Ella to sleep, gripping the stroller as she eased it onto
the curb, hoping she would find Bronwyn on her porch. The porch was empty.
Steeling herself, she lifted Ella out and reached for the bell. Before she touched
it, her phone rang.
"Come home right now."
They'd fought, they always fought, she thought, putting ice on the blue bulge on
Noah's forehead. Denton had no malice in him, but his son baffled him. Denton
was solid, Noah liquid. She should never leave them alone.
"I'm sorry."
"I know."
"I didn't think he'd.—"
"I know."
A fight about homework: Denton had yelled, Noah had cried, Denton had
yelled louder, and Noah had run up the stairs, with Denton in pursuit, Noah
had run all the way to the top floor and, turning back first to see if Denton was
watching him from the bottom of the stairs, he'd bashed his head into the brick 17 of their exposed chimney.
"And he just came back downstairs like that, bleeding, and he looked-it me—"
"You weren't listening!" Noah shrieked, "You never listen!"
"—And I know I shouldn't yell—"
"Mama, it hurts—"
"I don't know what to do anymore—"
"We don't need to talk about this now," said Martha, in the voice she hated.
A loving, brittle calm, the chime of maternal reassurance. She kissed Noah to the
left of his bump. He received rhe kiss passively. The bump would be deep purple
by morning.
It was eleven-thirty, she wanted to go to sleep, and Denton was crying. He
was failing, a failure oflove or patience, a failure, he said, of sympathy, he was
not the right father tor this easily broken child; he cried. No one would have
believed her, if she'd told anyone how Denton cried, and how easily afterwards
he let it go, how grateful he was for her permission, which allowed him to finally
shrug, and laugh, and fall asleep before she did, one arm slung casually across her
waist. Her own eyes were dry as sand. She turned away from him to PUla, who
clawed lightly at the sheet, looking for milk.
"You came to my house?" Bronwyn asked the next day as they walked away from
the school doors.
"You saw me?"
"Max said he saw you come up the steps."
"I got a call. Noah—you know."
Bronwyn touched her shoulder, nodding.
"Can we sit?" Martha asked.
They sat on a bench.
"Are you okay?" Bronwyn asked, her brow creased. "I mean, you seem—are
you really okay?"
"I'm fine."
"Noah's fine." She sounded angry, and then she felt angry.
"I think we need to move all the stuff off that street," Martha said.
"What street?"
"The street where Zalia's wedding is."
"The bride."
"Oh—you. mean—oh. No, Zalia's the grandmother. The bride is Ashley."
A short pause. If I were Bronwyn, Martha thought, I would make a joke, I
would turn this into a joke and make us both laugh.
"I'm soriy. I've rhought about this a lot. I think it isn't fair to make her walk
to the car."
"I know it's supposed to be for everyone, and it is, I know it is, I can see that,
I agree with you, I agree, but it isn't really, I don't think it is, and I can't sleep, I
PRISM  53:4 think we need to move everything over, or I'm not going to do it, the craft table
I mean, I can't, I just can't."
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
"I do. I do."
"It would be a loss."
Martha wanted to speak but couldn't. She wasn't going to cry, she wished she
could, even if crying was the way women threw punches.
"But I talked to them," Bronwyn was saying. "I've already talked to them."
"Yesterday. To Zalia."
"She doesn't speak English, I thought."
"I speak. Portuguese. My mother was from Lisbon. Did I never say?"
Martha shook her head, mortification complete.
"I thought I did," Bronwyn said, tiny flicker of a smile. "Of course, the
dialect is slightly different. They don't mind. Really, they don't. Anyway, no one's
making her walk to the car. How did you get that idea? She'll just be picked up
a little earlier, that's all. A scenic route to church."
Ella mercifully woke up, was lifted out, cooed over.
"I miss that age. You're lucky. All those babies."
"You shouldn't worry so much. You have so much to wony about. And it's
all been settled. But if you'd rather not run the craft table—"
"No, no, of coutse—"
"Maybe that would be better anyway. You have so much on your plate."
"It's fine."
"I do wonder if it would be better. For the whole thing. If we didn't have it.
I've been thinking. Maybe better to skip it? It's such a generous offer, but those
things can be so messy."
"I don't mind."
"I think it might be a better choice not to have a craft table. Maybe next year.
When you're less overstretched."
This was final, Martha could see. She got up. Bronwyn remained on the
"We should really get the boys together. Maybe on the weekend?"
"That would be grear."
"Saturday? No, wait, Max has a birthday party. Sunday morning?"
"Sunday morning."
She made herself walk, home along a different route, past the controversial house.
She thought of the bride, whose name was not Zalia. She could barely picture
her. Whereas Bronwyn knew her grandmother, probably knew some of rhe
derails of her life. Am I like Noah, Martha thought, miscalculating the world?
Seeing malevolence where there is none?
The stroller caught in a crack in the sidewalk, she stumbled and cursed as
loudly as Denton would, and as she recovered herself she imagined, behind rhe
curtains of the bungalow, a flicker of interest, a pair of peering eyes. 19 She put the ready squares of cotton for the craft table away, stuffed the finished
animals into a bag in the back room, which was full of boxes and empty bottles
and jars, mismatched things, postponed things. Her for-later room, when there
was time. And she'd still be young, when she found time to finish all her projects,
to sort and divest. Bronwyn had been forty when Max was born, but Mattha
could get Ella launched on the school system and still be still-young. It was smug
to feel that (she gave an oddly proportioned rabbit a punch, loosely knotted the
bag), but smugness might need to be the thing that got her through.
She'd embroidered the animals with red and blue thtead, and they had black
beads for eyes. She'd kept them simple: these were models, to show the children
how to do it. Another time. And she could always give them as Christmas
presents, or new baby presents. They were sturdy and artless. Only, the beads
were too black. It made them look watchful, the way real animals and birds were
watchful. Cunning. She would snip them off and embroider complicated and
beautiful eyes, friendly brown eyes, with fine lines of thtead for lashes.
Bronwyn was right anyway, Martha thought, on the day of the festival. She could
never have managed it. Sally had the flu and was home with Denton, watching
a movie. It was too hot to fiddle with stuffing, guide small sweaty fingers. She
had very little sympathy to spare, when it was this hot. She would have spoken
sharply to other people's children, been impatient at their disappointment, when
the thing they'd imagined in their head and the thing they had made didn't
The streets were crowded and it was hard to push the stroller. She kept losing
sight of Noah and Sam, briefly allowing herself to panic, then spotting a flash of
familiar t-shirt, the back of a head. Swathes of the neighbourhood were cordoned
off; she saw Emily, Alison's younger daughter, gleefully leaping from the curb to
the road and back. Martha was afraid of cars, and had made her children afraid
(she was also afraid of strangers, highways, crosswalks, airplanes, and other, less
tangible things), but the zest of Emily's jump, her manic eyes, felt sad to her. As
if she, Alison, all of them, were raising a generarion so obedienr, so correct, that
the smallest, most sanctioned deviation took on more weight than it could bear.
There was a mythical kingdom, somewhere in her head, in which her children
and the children she saw every day ran loose in open fields, built structures out
of discarded wood and rusted nails, like the clips she sometimes watched on
YouTube of rural communes in the seventies, in which grubby, jubilant children
ripped up handfuls of dried grass beside their hoeing parents, or helped out in a
makeshift dairy. She knew that those places had been full of infighting, that the
food had run low, that many of those children had grown up eager to move to
cities and assert their private and precious identity as best they could, insulating
themselves with their houses and possessions. Bur there was something about the
tecords of that time, before her own birth, that was luminous and tender, making
her feel that she had cocooned and shortchanged her own children through a
failure of nerve. Maybe that would have saved Noah, she thought, catching sight
of him standing alone, and then wondered why she thought he was already lost.
They ate fish and chips on the sidewalk before pushing their way on into
PRISM  53:4 the park. Bronwyn had made a dance for the end of the evening, working with
volunteers, some professional dancers like herself, some not, and a choir made
up of older people who liked to sing. It was growing dark when the audience
gathered, sitting on the steep side of the hill looking down into the soccer field,
and beyond that a parking lot.
The soccer field was edged with huge white paper lanterns. It was a still
evening; they did not move in the wind. Noah sat on one side of Martha, Sam
on the other, Ella slept. The waiting people grew quiet, the park grew darker.
As rhe light emptied, out, the lanterns seemed bigger, solemn. Music began:
something instrumental, vaguely familiar, a blurred soft-industrial sound that
pulsed and looped, and a row of white lights came on at the far side of the field,
Christmas lights probably, or smaller versions of the paper lanterns.
When the lights came on Martha saw a row of people sitting on the pavement
where the parking lot met the grass. It looked like forty or fifty people, sitting
thete, close to each other but not touching, men and women and children, all
wearing pale shirts and grey pants or skirts and brown ties. 'Ihey looked across
the field at the audience, and they smiled, and seemed to be listening to the
music. Then they stood and began walking slowly over the half-lit grass. The
formation broke—some people came forward, some held back, some walked to
one side while others continued straight ahead, a few people sat abruptly down
on the ground. Martha snorted, internally. But as she watched, the sheer size of
the group overwhelmed her, and their deliberate movements, their hesitations
and digtessions, began to be beautiful. Closer, they lost the look of clones of one
another, even though she didn't know who all of them were. Max was there, solid
and formal, moving slightly out of step. Marley, holding her daughter's hand.
Martha noticed the glint of grey in Marley's hair. She recognized more people,
surprising people: the man who owned the convenience store, an older woman
who lived alone on Martha's street and who was so hostile to the children that
they called het a witch, but here she looked frail and sincere, walking in time to
the music, looking out over the heads of the watchers.
The music stopped. The dancers kept moving over the grass. Then Martha
saw the choir, standing to one side by a big tree. They were dressed in the same
uniform, but they were all old, standing a little stooped, deep lines in their faces
like creases in dough. And they began to sing.
Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face!
Martha cried. Not much, no falling tears, just a few small pricks around her
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die!
She saw Bronwyn afterwards, standing in a little knot of people. Her broad
white face, her hair foaming over her bony shoulders. She was hugging one of
the dancers, closing her eyes as she held the woman, and Martha saw she was
crying benevolently, like it was nothing. Whatever it was in Bronwyn that she
wanted to thank was not present in Bronwyn's face. She wanted to thank the
dance itself, for being simple and ardent and making her feel loved and known,
but that wasn't true of Bronwyn herself. Flxcept it was. It must be. 21 She got up from the grass, she found her sons, she took them home.
When she saw Bronwyn next it was Monday, and both were worn down by
weekend, the long stretch of Sunday after the party. A spattering of confetti still
clung to the church steps like dirty snow, but Martha had seen the grandmother
going into her house with her groceries, bent with the weight of an ordinary
weekday morning, in her flat brown shoes. She wondered if Ashley had gone on
a honeymoon, and tried to picture her, but could only imagine scratchy white
lace, the swooping train of a cheap wedding dress.
Bronwyn hugged her.
"Come have a coffee."
Martha hesitated, and agreed.
They walked companionably towards the cafe, and Bronwyn did not
mention the wedding, or the craft table, or the dance, and Martha was grateful.
Noah had had one of his dreams again, in which something was chasing him.
She and Denton called it The Crooked Man, and when he had this dream he
screamed in his sleep and for a long time afterwards, held between them like a
bundle of sticks. She wondered if it dated from the nursery rhyme, read to him
casually, years ago, before she realized how careful she had to be.
There was a crooked man
And he walked a crooked mile
He found a crooked sixpence
Upon a crooked stile
He bought a crooked cat
Which caught a crooked mouse...
This man staggered through Noah's mind and sometimes broke to the
surface, grinning, reaching out thin arms.
"I really loved the dance."
"Thanks, thanks so much, that means a lot to me."
She is going to say something, Martha thought. When they reached the cafe,
when they sat curling their hands around the mugs. Bronwyn would cut her out
in some way. Cut Noah out.
Crossing the street, they both saw him. The young man on the bike,
furiously threading his way through the cars. He was shouting something but so
many horns were sounding rhat Martha couldn't hear what it was. She grabbed
Bronwyn's arm to pull her back onto the pavement but before he reached them
he darted into the oncoming lane and was hit by a white van. The man flew over
the low handlebars, with his arms flung wide, describing an arc in the air, and as
he flew Martha sensed the same hush she felt before she screamed at one of her
children, a lull in which it might still be possible for his unhappy body not to
meet the road.
Bronwyn ran forward and held his head as another driver got out and dialled
911, and the man in the van stumbled onto the pavement, shaking.
"He came at me. He just came at me."
Martha found herself taking the man's arm, supporting him.
"Is he—is he dead?"
PRISM  53:4 "No."
"He's dead."
"No. No, he's not."
"I killed him."
Blood ran over Bronwyn's lap.
"I fucking killed him."
"No. No."
Sirens, getting nearer, the intersection swarmed with paramedics. Martha
couldn't see Bronwyn through the huddle of uniforms, and then Bronwyn was
led away, someone was wiping her hands, covering her shoulders with a blanket.
Martha stayed beside the driver. He was grey under his stubble, his hands
working together, his whole body trembling. It wasn't his fault, but he would
think it was, if he were a decent man, even if it wasn't true. She'd rather be guilty
and decent than convinced of her own innocence. The young man was lifted
onto a stretcher and into an ambulance, which sped away. Maybe they would be
able to save him, Martha thought. I can't. I can't. 23 Aislinn Hunter
Start small. Wonder
if I should name them:
orders, genus, species—
and wonder, too,
if I should make death's
dark similes beautiful—
how, eyeless, the birds appear
to be feigning sleep—
children squinting too much
to be convincing.
I did not expect death
or preservation, did not expect
stasis to smell the way it does—
tang of some unknown
ointment, sharp burst
of ethanol the body
was chrisrened in.
It is amazing to me
in this world's traffic,
that this hummingbird,
posed in her
downward drift
towatd the honeysuckle,
will last five hundred years.
When we are dust
on the dust of our
dead children's graves
she will still be here—
the petal of an improbable flower
24 PRISM  53:4 a few inches from her beak-
its gold coin of pollen
a fee for the ferryman
It upends us, returns us
briefly to ourselves:
the jar held up to the window,
clutch of eggs swaying in the light—
a hundred slow curtsies
in filmy skirts—
a dance that goes back millennia,
that once saw
Simon Eraser's paddle
dip down through green
streaming chandeliers
on his way to a river
that would one day
carry his name.
Each egg a bathysphere—
a pip-sized possibility,
a helmet diver, scooped
with the stick it was moored on,
out of the wind-stirred stream.
How clear it is here
in the filigreed cloud of this
ancient bedding,
to see that being born is the rarity-
to see how the odds are stacked
against navigation—
to marvel at the possibility
of arrival, at how anything
becomes anything
at all.
They begin in the butsting chamber
then move to the wind shed,
the proving ground—
aerosole the pathogens,
coronate the clouds,
count time.
How to do death better?
The squirrel monkey
has three kinds of call:
squeals, whistles, chirps.
A black cap, long red tail,
largest brain of any primate,
relative to body size.
Sprayed with sarin, one monkey
convulsed at six minutes
and died at twenty-nine.
What does that interval,
that Suffield winter,
look like to you?
This plush little bit
of history, these yellow bones
set, this morning,
against the backdrop
of a CBC radio documentary
on beheadings.
How in some countries
they crucify the body
in the public square 27 and "float" the head above it.
This monkey's skull
is the diameter
of an elaborate
men's wrist watch:
dial-less eyes, one of time's
teeth missing.
It is like a horror-of-war
film, except here
someone has stopped to pen
a set of numbers
in fine black ink
on the top of his skull.
His body
flayed clean
down to his hands—
to two cuffs
of copper fur,
like those worn
bv kings.
There will be a soon we cannot imagine
and words sought for that new colour—
songs that slip out of our heads,
plants we nurture that do not flower.
The sky will turn out its pockets like a street thug,
display its empty hands.
We will walk more miles than we thought possible
to kiss a lip of water.
The news will come in swarms,
the broadcasters grow tired.
We will stand in gutted fields and marvel
at the unholy quiet,
stop speaking of golden things:
sunshine, loosestrife, rows of wheat, corn.
Words become locked boxes we push
under our beds, store in gun cabinets.
Out laughter as canned as the reruns
pirated through satellite stations.
How easily we were once amused!
Duck Dynasty, 19 Kids and Counting—
the nature show where a man sticks his hand
down the throat of a crocodile and pulls out a radio.
The bees will have seen it coming,
our own fading signal, the distant
and zigzagging static
of our extinction—
now in front of us,
now behind. 29 Chris Banks
The last passenger pigeon Martha
dies in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914
as Europe sinks like a mastodon
beneath the mud of battlefields.
What does it feel like not to exist?
I've been alive forty years, and will
never see a black carpet of birds
a mile wide, thirty miles in length,
pass over Southwestern Ontario.
An avian eclipse. Evening all afternoon
as Mr. Stevens says. I picture huge
migrating flocks, great phalanxes.
A cathedral of wings flying high over
big cities and towns. Dark miracles.
Who would believe such things today?
Audubon writes of a swarm so large
it takes days to pass over his head.
I keep thinking of little Martha asleep
in a museum, America's trophy case,
dreaming of extinction, while families
go to church Sundays, singing hymns,
praying to be taken away. I am afraid
of a world where I may cease to be
which is why I imagine a green hill,
a storm of pigeons passing overhead,
myself a wirness to a heavenly host.
PRISM  53:4 TaylorArmstrom
Otephanie believed her interview was sunk the moment her phone began to
play. Maybe she had knocked it while fidgeting under the table, but however it
happened, suddenly the Gloria was on in the background, the same piece she'd
been listening to in the car beside her mother. Vivaldi relaxed her, and closing
her eyes and listening to the strings while they drove was the closest Stephanie
could come to performing it herself. Some of the other girls in her ensemble
worked so hard for their sound, srrained to hit proper notes, but for Stephanie,
when she was on, her playing was effortless. The connections between her fingers
and the bow and the instrument and het shoulder became an impenetrable loop.
There were no connections or joints at all, only a flowing arc, the horsehair of the
bow and the strings simply extensions of her motor tract.
There was no recreating that comfort sitting at the table across from
Nathaniel Gold. She fumbled with her phone and apologized, her hands trapped
in the cables from her ear buds, tripping as she tried to shut the damn thing off.
She felt the burn in her cheeks as the skin flushed.
Gold stopped her and said to let it play. He leaned his ear in closer. "Is that
Vivaldi?" he said.
She nodded.
"You have Antonio Vivaldi on your phone?" He opened his palm wide and
asked her for the device. "You don't mind," he said, and proceeded ro scroll
through her playlist.
She shouldn't have handed over the phone; that was another mistake, because
what began as a harmless tour of her music tastes became an expedition through
photographs of her mom and dad, her friends in costume on Halloween, and
Elijah, whom Stephanie prayed would ask her to his graduation formal. She
wanted that, almost as much as she wanted to get into Princeton.
Gold peered at the screen. "Where was this one taken?" he asked, turning
the device around and showing Stephanie a picture of her and Elijah. Her dad
had taken the picture at the fall concert, the one with her solo part that put tears
in the eyes of the audience. Elijah had spent years at the foot of Stephanie's bed
jeering her for how much time she spent with the violin at her shoulder. "Has
anyone ever mentioned that the cello might be a better fit for you?" he'd say,
teasing her for her height. At the concert, however, she'd achieved her arc, and
afterwards her mother had told her that they'd all fought tears, even Elijah.
"Who are you with there?" Gold asked.
She took a sip from her tea and dodged eye contact. "He's a friend. But
he goes to a different school," she said, instantly feeling stupid for saying it.
Gold smiled back, knowing as well as she did that boys weren't allowed where
Stephanie went to school. 31 "He goes to watch your concerts," he said.
"We like the same music."
"Elijah also walks around listening to Antonio Vivaldi on his phone?"
"Not exactly."
"But when you play he listens." He put her phone down for a moment and
looked, across the table at Stephanie. "Let me take a guess," he said. "Elijah hasn't
applied to the kind of schools like Princeton."
He'd tried. Stephanie had helped him study for the standardized tests and
calmed him before they went in to sit the exams, but in the end he'd scored so
poorly that Stephanie had needed to lie about her own scores.
"You see," said Gold, "this is the type of wonderful material Princeton could
never know about you from any essay you wrote on your application, or your
embarrassingly high SAT results. These pictures. The songs. You're in love with
your friend and now you're about to go off to school in another country, and
who knows what that will mean for you and this Elijah. But here you are anyway,
even if going away to school means you could miss your chance to have him as
more than just a friend. Princeton is that important to you. That's the kind of
student we want. And you're brave to let me see this side of you."
He told her to relax, that she was doing very well. And at that moment,
sitting across from him, his words calming the tremor in her hands and the
storm in het belly, she believed him.
Stephanie took the phone call in her guidance counselot's office. Only a few days
had passed since the interview with Gold, but already Ms. Lawson was aware of
the whole mess. Ms. Lawson wore long dresses that reached down to sensible,
inexpensive shoes, always with flat soles. She made no fuss over her coarse grey
hair, some of which had given up and turned the shade of well-worn piano keys.
Padding around the school without a sound from those shoes, if she came upon
any girl in the hallways it didn't matter who they were, a notorious truant or the
council treasurer, she would squint in over her glasses and find something about
them that needed fixing. Ms. Lawson's eyes were a piercing sea-blue against the
grey of her suit and hair, making Stephanie think that if the woman would only
let the muscles in her face rest a little, men might fall down after her. Instead,
the question hung between the girls whether Ms. Lawson had anyone at all to
love her.
From the beginning of the year, Ms. Lawson had never hidden her distrust
of Stephanie's precious American schools. The same admiration she held for
Canada's National Paries and the Queen, that made her an effective teacher of
Canadian Hisrory, served her very differently as a school counselor. She had even
less imagination for a student's future than for her own outfits. Ms. Lawson's
clear opinion was that there was no merit in an education at some fancy, overrated Ivy League school when perfectly good universities could be found all
around the province. To her, Stephanie's dreams were silly and irresponsible.
"Surely, Ms. Cunningham, you can stop playing with those tassels for a
moment," Ms. Lawson said.
"Yes, ma'am."
32 PRISM  53:4 When the phone finally rang, Ms. Lawson couldn't overcome her disdain to
make the effort to answer it promptly. She let two rings go, then a third before
putting down her pen and reaching for the receiver.
"We've been expecting your call," she said, as if the person on the other end
of the line was a student arriving late to the door of her classroom.
Only it wasn't a student calling, it was Princeton University's Dean of
Admissions. The morning had been a whirlwind, with all the calls back and forth
between her parents, her own school, and the university, so that Stephanie hadn't
had the time to think about the step that was upon her. She hadn't expected a call
from Dean Bower himself, that was for certain. Surely he had more important
business to attend to than the story of a silly Toronto high school student who
had been duped by some sham interviewer. He hadn't a clue who she was,
although Stephanie could see him as clearly as she had on the day in October
when she had toured the campus. He'd taken the time to shake the hand of every
student. Dean Bower was a house of a man, and she'd feared she might lose her
hand in his grip, but it felt just the opposite in fact. His fingers were all twisted
and knobbed from years of rugby or rheumatism, so rhat when they greeted one
another he smiled, as if thankful for a chance for his hand to rest awhile, held
firmly there in her own.
Dean Bower introduced himself again over the phone and asked if Stephanie
remembered meeting him in the fall.
"Yes, sir."
"This is upsetting, what we're into here," he said. "But before we get to any
of that, tell me Stephanie, how are you doing?"
"I'm a little confused, sir," she said.
"That makes two of us."
Stephanie's mother claimed that she knew something had been wrong about
the interview as early as the car ride home from the bakery. Stephanie just
wasn't herself; regardless of how well or poorly she'd done, she seemed different
somehow, she explained to Stephanie's father. But it wasn't until a couple of
days later that everyone became alarmed, after Stephanie took a call at the house
from a woman who claimed to be a Princeton alumnus, who also said that she
had been instructed by the university to meet with Stephanie for her admissions
Stephanie listened carefully as Dean Bower went over a few things with her
on the phone. He apologized again and assured her that the first priority was
to make sure that no other young applicants would fall into a similat trap. And
though she hadn't even been thinking it, he assured her that her application
wouldn't be compromised in any way by the events. She would have her
interview—a proper interview. She had his word on it. For now though, he
needed to know what happened between her and this Gold character.
"He said you were brave," he said.
"Yes, sir."
"Tell me what else he said."
Stephanie starred from the beginning; she didn't know how else to make
sense of what had happened between her and this man. She told the Dean about 33 the spot where Gold told her to meet. Though the neighbourhood was foreign to
her, rhe bakery was exactly the kind of place she would have hung out with her
friends. She had recognized the song that was playing overhead as she walked in
the front door, and the smell of coffee was strong, and she'd walked the length
of the gallery, admiring the pies and cookies and baked squates. It all felt so
familiar, surrounded by other teenagers with laptops and music magazines open
on the tables, so that Stephanie suddenly worried about how much attention
she would draw to herself, talking to this man about all the reasons why she was
desperate to go to his university.
Before the interview, Stephanie and her mother had done their research. They
typed his name inro the computer—"Nathaniel Gold"—and sure enough, there
he was, founding partner of a small architecture firm downtown. Stephanie's
mom knew exactly where the building was. There were pictures oi churches and
century homes that he had restored handsomely, similar to the ones that were
being renovated just down the street from Stephanie's own house. He'd studied
architecture at Princeton. Then on to graduate studies at Columbia, followed by
work at a New York firm. He had accomplished so much even before ever moving
to Toronto. There were reviews of his buildings posted online, photographs of
him in white tuxedo pants at a fundraising ball, side by side with the lieutenant
governor. Stephanie and her mother read ir all before the interview, and her
mother blushed and said no wonder the Rosedale women would call him up
with their big plans.
When the mix-up first came to light, Stephanie wondered if the university
had made a simple mistake, accidentally assigning her more than one interviewer.
She gave over Gold's name, told the other woman about him majoring in
architecture and earning all-Ivy honours for lacrosse. Then she stood by as her
mother and father argued in their bedroom about whether they should contact
the police. "Dammit, Jim, we're talking about our own daughter here!" her
mother yelled. But Stephanie was squarely aligned with her father's hesitation.
In all likelihood, there would be a simple explanation for the whole thing, like
a glitch in the online system perhaps. But then, almost as soon as Stephanie had
that reassuring thought, the woman called back. Stephanie listened silently on
the other end of the line as the woman told her mother that she'd searched, she'd
even made some calls to be sure, but there was no one by the name of Nathaniel
Gold in the school's alumni system. Stephanie and her parents went back online
to search for the man again, to prove to themselves that they hadn't made up his
whole history. The three of them huddled around rhe screen. Gold's website had
come up so easily before, but now it was gone. All of the newspaper pictures, the
tuxedo, his business: gone, gone, gone.
Stephanie felt like a fool as she retold the story to Dean Bower, every detail so
clearly suspicious now as she turned them over in her mind again for him. Sweat
beaded at her forehead and slid down the back of her shirt. She pressed the
receiver to her shoulder to free her hands, and then wiped her palms across the
front of het skirt. She couldn't tell him the websites to look for, because there
weren't any. For all anyone knew, she could've been making up her story just as
34 PRISM  53:4 easily as Nathaniel Gold had impersonated a proper alumnus. She didn't know
what was worse, having the conversation with the Dean of Admissions, or laying
out the tale of her humiliation right there in front of Ms. Lawson as the old
woman marked up essays.
Stephanie had wiped her hands in the same way while standing in the bakery,
scanning the room for Gold and his tie of orange and black. You can't miss it,
he'd written to her over email. But then there was no email address anymore.
Gold was up from his chair before Stephanie saw him. "You must be
Stephanie," he said with a smile. His bottom teeth were off, bunched together in
the middle like an impatient crowd on the subway pushing to get through the
open doors. She hadn't noticed the teeth on the website, but otherwise it was the
same friendly face.
Nathaniel Gold was also shorter in real life than what Stephanie had
imagined for a man who spent his days strerched over a massive desk, arranging
drawings and models. But he was handsome, in the same way that Mr. Ross, her
calculus teacher, was handsome, with his trim beard and small glasses. Even the
wool sports jacket he wore was like rhe one Mr. Ross came with most days. And
there on his tie was the Princeton emblem with the words Stephanie knew by
heart and the familiar orange and black. Stephanie had stared at that emblem
time and time again, on the school website, on her application forms, and on
the coffee mug she had bought on her visit to campus over the Thanksgiving
weekend. Instead of a proper turkey dinner she had insisted that she and her
parents split a pizza from the restaurant the tour guide promised made the best
pics in all of New Jersey.
"Of all the school uniforms in this city," Gold said, walking behind Stephanie
to help her with her coat, "I like yours the best."
"You get used to it," Stephanie said.
He offered her a drink. "I'm not really supposed to," he said, "but doesn't it
seem silly to you that we can't enjoy a hot drink on a day like today just because
of some recruitment rules. It's not like I'm offering you a sports car to come and
play the violin at Princeton. But a cup of coffee? Tea?"
She said a tea would be nice.
He came back with two white mugs, the string from the tea-bags hanging
over the edge and steam rising off the hot water. "Two teas then. And we'll just
have to keep this between you and me."
The interview didn't have a defined start to it, which threw Stephanie off.
There was no anticipatory hush to the crowd around her, or the first down-stroke
of the conductor's baton to signal the beginning of her performance.
"You should show me where your mom's sitting," he said, "I'd love to meet
her." When he came off his seat a little to scan the room, the table tipped, causing
Stephanie's tea to slosh over the edge.
Stephanie worked to wipe up the ring of tea around her mug. "My mom said
the same thing," she said, "but I told her to wait in the cat."
"That's good," he said. "And you'll be fine. Already, you're off to a great start.
You're lovely."
He reached inside his suit jacket and brought out his phone, which he then 35 laid out on the table. "I hope it's okay with you," he said. "I like to record the
interviews." He found raking notes too distracting. "This way I won't miss a
Then he picked up the device and snapped her photograph. He turned the
phone around and showed her the picture of her huddled around her drink
trying to get warm. She had half a mind to put her coat back on.
"We can do better than that." He asked her to put the cup down and sit
up straight. "You're tall, which is a good thing," he said. "Let people know that
you're tall."
Stephanie hated being tall. If she had been a ferocious hitter on a volleyball
team, then maybe her heighr would be something to celebrate. But her version
of tall was an awkward one, all pointed elbows and oversized fingers when her
violin was set in its place. She was also nearly blind, a veritable cave dweller, so
that when Gold reached across the table and lifted her glasses away from her face
by the heavy frames, the cafe around her was suddenly knocked out of focus.
"There," he said, admiring his work. "That's better."
Mention of having her picture taken was cause for Ms. Lawson to finally look
up from her stack of essays.
"1 know now that I shouldn't have accepted the tea," Stephanie said to the
Dean. And the worst thing was she didn't even drink tea or coffee. But she'd
felt trapped, and hadn't wanted to come off as ungrateful if she didn't accept his
"He seemed harmless," she continued, wriggling her arm so that the sleeve
of her sweatshirt slid over her hand. She pressed her eyes with the thick cotton.
Wonderful, now she was crying in front of Ms. Lawson.
Ms. Lawson beckoned for the phone. "Dean," she said, taking her turn now,
"Ms. Cunningham's next class is about to begin, and with an important test for
her to write. Surely we've all had enough talk of this matter for one day."
If Stephanie's hopes for Princeton weren't already doomed, then Ms.
Lawson's tone would certainly take care of any faint hope that remained. There
she was, offering a curt "yes" or "I'll be sure to tell her" to the Dean. At last she
disconnected the phone, without a word of thanks for the man.
The dreadful woman got up from her desk and Stephanie took her cue to
follow. But Ms. Lawson stopped her. "You stay here," she commanded. "I'll tell
Mr. Ross that your test can wait for another day." Stephanie began in on her
objections but Ms. Lawson would have none of it.
"For heaven's sake Stephanie, take a moment."
Ms. Lawson waited with Stephanie after her afternoon rehearsal until her mother
pulled up the long driveway. This was the arrangement for a while, imposed in
place of Stephanie taking the subway alone. Later on she was allowed to hitch
rides home with friends, and because Stephanie was easy to have in the backseat,
polite and more likely to pull out a novel than gossip, other parents were happy
to drive her without prying into the teasons why they were being asked.
Stephanie's make-up interview went smoothly. It was a woman this time,
36 PRISM  53:4 and she was nice enough. Most importantly, she had no knowledge of the
situation Stephanie had gotten herself into the first time around; Dean Bower
had promised this to her. Stephanie wouldn't be seen as anyone special. Ms.
Lawson had them talk in the music room at a time when it was empty of other
students, leaving Stephanie to answer questions in front of an audience of only
music stands, xylophones, and the cellos and basses standing upright in their
hard black cases. There was no tea for her to spill. She made sure to leave her
cellphone in her locker.
The woman worked in the same tower where Stephanie's mother practiced
and knew Stephanie's favourite guard at the front security desk, the one who
told her jokes and fed her packages of Oreos while she waited for her mom to
finish work some Friday afternoons. The woman had a page of questions she'd
prepared, and she took notes in the margins. Most of the questions she asked,
Stephanie and her mother had anticipated and rehearsed the night before at the
kitchen table. Only the last questions took her by surprise: what would Stephanie
say in her speech if elected valedictorian? Her classmates were already convinced
this would be Stephanie's fate, but until that moment Stephanie hadn't allowed
herself to give the matter any thought. She had to come up with something
though, so she cringed and started in on her answer.
Aftet a minute or two the woman smiled and made a few last few scribbles
on her page. "That answer right there," she said, "I suggest you write it down
when you get home."
The second interview wasn't so different from the first, except that there
hadn't been any talk of Vivaldi, compliments on Stephanie's uniform, or an
invitation for a follow-up meeting. Gold had such a good feeling about her,
said she was a perfect fit for Princeton, and yet he knew it would also be an
adjustment for her no matter how thoughtful and mature she was. He gave
Stephanie the address of his office and a time in the evening on a day when he
planned to have some old friends over. They were all Princeton Tigers, just like
the two of them, and they would have some nice words of advice for her. One of
his closest friends even played clarinet in the Montreal Symphony.
She didn't have to, he said, holding her coat up behind her. "I understand
if it feels like getting too far ahead of yourself." It was just so rare that he met
students like her. A future valedictorian. A marvel with the violin. He didn't
think she had anything to worry about. "Princeton would be lucky to have you,"
he said. "That's exactly what I'm going to tell them."
Stephanie didn't tell the police about Gold's plan for them to meet again, but
not because he had made her promise not to. Over and over she was asked if he
ever thteatened her, and the truth was that he hadn't. Her mother pleaded, with
her not to hold back. "No one would be upset with you," she said, fighting back
Stephanie didn't need to give him up, because the police went to Gold's
address to investigate anyway. Of course there wasn't anyone by his name there.
No one was there in fact. When Stephanie went herself, weeks later, all that was
in the spot was an abandoned bookstore. She got up close to the glass and peered 37 in at the empty shelves, imagining the despairing owner throwing up his arms up
at another rent increase, looking around for all the people who used to visit and
buy his books.
In April, Stephanie was back in Ms. Lawson's office. "I'm told you're expecting
another call," Ms. Lawson said. "I can't decide whether this is still my office,
Stephanie, or your personal phone booth."
"I'm sorry," Stephanie said.
Ms. Lawson had been good to Stephanie since the first time they had been
in this position together, yet Stephanie still struggled to feel at ease whenever she
was in her presence. She looked around the room for anything to keep her eyes
busy as Ms. Lawson plucked away at her keyboard. She was so determined that
when Ms. Lawson spoke to her, Stephanie missed it completely.
"My dear, please pay some attention."
Stephanie apologized again.
"I said the ensemble will miss you when you're gone."
Stephanie thanked her, but then quickly made a comment about how well
some of the younger girls could play.
"I'm sure they can," said Ms. Lawson. "My daughter used to play. Not as well
as you, mind you, but she enjoyed it."
"Does she still?"
"No, dear. But then that's a story for another time."
There were no pictures up on the walls of Ms. Lawson's office. No children
or grandchildren to take her attention away from her work. No keepsakes on the
shelves. If she indeed had a daughter, there was nothing in her office to suggest
the poor girl's existence.
"You never asked me for a reference lettet," Ms. Lawson said. "Even though
you were my best history student."
"You told me to ask my math and science teachers."
Ms. Lawson stopped her typing and looked at Stephanie. "I did say that,
didn't I?"
Ms. Lawson picked up the phone after the first ring. "Good morning, Dean."
And then, "Yes, she's right here."
The Dean said it was good to talk to her again. He asked how her speech was
coming, somehow aware that Stephanie had been elected valedictorian.
The phone call lasted only a lew minutes. Stephanie thanked the Dean at the
end for taking time to share the news with her directly. She was flattered.
Ms. Lawson asked if Stephanie wanted to call her parents, but she wasn't
ready for that yet. Sitting in the office a while longer, that was what she wanted.
She considered the news, this answer she'd fantasized about for two years, since
she'd first read the brochures and seen pictures. She'd stepped onto the lawns that
were still thick and soft in fall, and walked beneath the giant oak trees filled with
colour. Standing on the stage of Alexander Hall, in the spot reserved for the first
violinist, she'd called to her parents who were up in the balcony chairs. "This is
where I want to be," she had said.
That was the problem. She'd wanted it so badly that she would have done
38 PRISM  53:4 almost anything for that call from the Dean. She'd practiced longer and harder
after she was home from her visit to campus. Already with so thin a margin for
her grades to rise in Biology and Calculus, perfecrion became her goal. And as
for Nathaniel Gold, after handing over the contents of her phone, how close
she'd been to meeting him at his home, talcing off her uniform piece by piece,
exactly how he would have instructed her to. After enough tea and wine and
whatever drugs he fed her she would have laid herself open for him. Whatever
horrors he had in his mind for her, she would have asked for it, if it pleased him.
"I don't understand it," she said to Ms. Lawson. "He wasn't cruel to me. Just
the opposite. He was kind. A little sad, even."
The school auditorium was packed for the graduation. Mothers and fathers
and therapists and grandparents from out of town filled in the seats and joked
together about the times when they had questioned whether the day would ever
come. Teachers invited spouses to come and see the students they had heard so
much about at dinner tables all around the city.
Stephanie's string ensemble performed a piece from the Gloria for the
academic processional. They'd rehearsed and performed the Vivaldi so many
times that they could play it by heart. Still, Stephanie was distracted. Her strokes
with the bow rushed ahead of the rest of the players, and she couldn't reign in
the tiny muscles in her hand. As she watched her teachers walk the centre aisle
in their black robes and brightly coloured hoods and take their seats up on the
stage in front of her, her pitch went sharp, enough for her music teacher to shoot
het a look of annoyance.
After the Vivaldi came the national anthem. Then Stephanie was finally able
to put the instrument down and join the rest of her graduating class in the
seats that had been reserved for them. Some of her friends were already in tears,
while others couldn't wait to be done with it all, to be able to throw off their
ties and pleated skitts for the last time and open their arms out wide to the
months of summer, time that would be filled with trips to Rome or Algonquin
Park, or swims at nighttime with their boyfriends, while parents—the same
attentive parents who held their programs tight and were filled with pride as the
headmistress began her address—were away at their cottages.
All Stephanie could think of was her speech. Her anxiety pushed any
sadness or joy she may have telt to the fringe. She was past her fretting before
exams and all the concerts she'd ever played, and yet here she was, cheated of
this opportunity to bask in her accomplishments, as her father had put it that
morning. Whar reason did she have to feel so rotten? Elijah had asked her to
formal, and was sitting with her parents somewhere in the rows behind her.
Countless exams were also behind her. So what if she hadn't aced Biology in the
end—she'd gotten close enough to raise eyebrows. And in August she would be
packing up, getting herself ready to drive to her dream school.
Stephanie was so on edge that she missed most of what her headmistress
said in her opening. Awards were announced and she took her cues from the
crowd for when to clap, but really she was unable to focus on any of these
achievements. Her turn was coming up next. She turned around and looked out 39 into the audience for her family, but of course she had arrived so much earlier in
the day, for one final rehearsal, and so had no idea where to search for them.
She'd done just exactly what the nice woman had suggested and written down
as much of what she could remember from her answer during the interview.
The ideas had come surprisingly easy in the moment, even though she'd been
caught off guard by the question. Perhaps rhat was the trick: she'd been given no
rime to think about it. But after the facr, after rhe election resulrs went in and
the honour was hers, all she had was time. Time to wonder why she had been
chosen. Who was she to try to capture the essence of a high school experience on
behalf of her classmates, all of them different, all with their own set of memories
to take away with them? What authority did Stephanie have over any of it? They
were even bigger fools than she if they thought she was the one for this job. But
what could she do about it now, as she was being introduced?
She didn't see him until she was already well into her speech. She was so
focussed on her notes that she hardly looked up after managing smiles for Ms.
Lawson and Mr. Ross as she climbed the stairs toward the podium. The speech
started out well. When Stephanie joked, the parents laughed, and harder than
she had expected, and when she held a more earnest note, the room was as quiet
as when she commanded an audience with her best playing. It was so quiet
that she was suddenly aware of her own voice, its subtle inflections and when it
snagged on a word.
He was in the back. Her mother had reminded Stephanie that if she was
nervous to look out at a spot at the back row, past the faces in the audience. And
sitting in that very spot was Nathaniel Gold.
She botched the Whitman quote in the shock of seeing him there. He wore
the tie with the orange and black stripes as he had before, the same sports coat.
He sat quietly in the back, still and attentive to her words. All of them were.
Then Stephanie skipped over an entire paragraph of her speech. Even with
her glasses she cast around her notes blindly, then at last she managed to moor
herself back to her speech, although to a place that had little connection to
the last thing she'd said. The sheets of paper quivered in her hands. Stephanie
reached for her water and took a sip, then spilled it all when she tried to put the
cup down on the table. The crowd was patient with her, waiting. Gold nodded
for her to continue, and then lifted his phone to film her. Finally, he smiled at
her, and the chaos of teeth in his mouth was as startling as it had been the first
time, even from a distance of thirty rows.
Stephanie raced through a bit about celebrating friendships, and thanked
her parents—all the parents, really—for their love and support and the sacrifice,
so that she and her classmates could grow this wealth of education that would
surely stand up to the challenges that lay beyond, her words sounding as hollow
and insincere as all the teenaged breakups that would come at the close of
The audience was quiet for the moment it took to decide if Stephanie was
finished, and then came the kind applause as she stepped away from the podium
and rushed back to her seat. She took some deep breaths. Her best friend put a
hand on her shoulder from behind but Stephanie jumped and pulled away. She
40 PRISM  53:4 dared not look back. She didn't know where to look, so she stared down at her
hands. Holding them out wide in front of her she begged the muscles to stop
Names were being called out once again, beginning with the As and then
marching through the alphabet. In time, the parents and graduates forgot all
decorum and let out great whoops and cheers for each name that was called.
Camera flashes bounced off the ceiling and walls. The row in front of Stephanie
filled back in with girls giddy with the feel of the certificate in their hands and
freedom in their hearrs. When her own. name was called Srephanie said to herself
"just a moment," still staring down at her hands. She was like a surgeon, looking
over a break or visualizing the tendons beneath the skin that needed repair. She
was a jeweller, fitting a ring, or a new lover, discovering the scar on her partner's
palm for the very firsr time. Like those people, the hands in front of her were not
her own. They would not play for her or hold a glass of water reliably.
She didn't know how much time had passed. The cheers had stopped and
her name was called again, but this time by a different voice. She stared up at the
renewed hush in the auditorium and found Ms. Lawson standing in the aisle,
reaching out to her. It was her turn, she told Stephanie. She asked her to come,
said there was norhing to fear. All Stephanie could do though was hold up those
shaking hands and explain that she was nearly ready; if she only had another
moment, then she could make them stop. 41 Colette Langlois
31.03.2070 station 1 / If you come, bring bamboo.
Lasr night I slipped under the cover with James, and though he didn't say
anything—hadn't been able to speak for days—a slight pressure when our arms
touched answered he felt me there, and was glad.
Then I thought of the bamboo sheets I once owned, their soft weight both
warm and cool, their spring fern colour and faint wooden scent. 1 can't remember
whether they ended up at the Salvation Army thrift store or in one of the boxes
that went to the salvage area at the dump with all the other too-heavy luxuries we
couldn't take with us. We who made this one-way journey stopped talking about
things like that when we realized it was a kind of torture for each other, and those
kinds of memories were best kept to ourselves.
James is dead. Sometime in the night two of us were breathing, then only
one. That faint contact of skin when my arm nudged his as I lay down was the
most we ever touched. I can only hope my presence in those last hours brought
him some comfort.
Later I'll put him outside with the others, but for now he's lying where I left
him, under the weightless silver sheet. Even after thirty years I still hate those
flimsy covers, reminders of long ago over-baked potatoes. I refuse to call them
blankets, whatever their little yellow labels might say. The product of some mind
that thought the only purpose of blankets was ro keep us warm.
The responsibility of reporting now rests with me. The complicated processes
we once used to choose a successot each time a lead rapporteur died—usually
culminating in acclamations, rarely a secret ballot required—all seem so quaint
now. Our concern for fairness, avoiding unnecessary conflict and hurt feelings.
How important those things seemed when there were more of us. By the time we
were down to four we settled it with a crib tournament. James and I went with
No contest this time.
I'm writing in the garden, the only place I can stand to be now. The fibre-optic
sttands funnel in the scant sunlight, and the plants give oft a slight humidity that
makes breathing just a little easier. They grow surprisingly well here, as I expect
James documented in much more technical detail. Aside from the cold, the red
planet is naturally kind to them, with plenty of subsurface water and minerals in
the dust that, mixed, with our compost, provide all the nourishment they need.
About the garden: I should tell you a few things, in case James forgot to mention
them, in case you come and no one's left. For example, it is important to blow on
the carrot tops. In the still air they droop, weakened, until they touch the ground
and turn yellow. But a little brearh, like the breezes from home, seems to give
them the strength to grow sturdy and green.
42 PRISM  53:4 I will do my best to remember anything else that you might not think of on
your own, and leave notes for you. Just in case.
I'm dreading moving James' body. For one thing, it means putting on my
space suit. Also awkward and. silver, like the sheets. It has always annoyed me that
everything in space is silver. As though all the imagination got used up on the
mechanics of things, with nothing left over for colours and textures. He's light
enough after being sick all these months that I could probably carry him, but I'll
use a cart anyway. It wouldn't do to throw my back out, being alone.
I'll need to be much more careful from now on.
I'm back in rhe garden, and it's done. James is outside with the others. The
botanist has joined the two medical doctors and gaggle of engineers frozen naked
and staring empty-eyed up into eternity.
And then there was only the psychologist.
The most useless and unskilled of the entire group, but someone at
Fleadquarters must have thought it would be a good idea to include one. Five
hundred, years ago they would, have sent a Jesuit along on an expedition like this,
but in 2042 they wanted a PsyD. And now here I am. Who would have bet on
this old. girl to be the last?
About the arrangement of the bodies: Headquarters told us to preserve them
for future research, but they didn't give specifics. I wonder what those hypothetical
future researchers will make of our artistry. Maybe they'll think we invented some
new religion, when the truth is it was only a mix of aesthetic pleasure-seeking
and boredom. We started out lining them up, but later someone—I rhink Sonny
the water engineer—had the idea we should arrange them in a circle, with toes
touching. Back then the circle was only a little more than half formed. Now
there's just one wedge left, for me, although I don't know how I'll get to it when
the time comes.
I took my time getting ready to move James. The death-smells of emptied
bowels and. decomposing tissue, I'll be honest, made me retch, but I lingered
anyway, knowing these would likely be the last human odours I would ever
breathe, apart from my own. Outside, I jumped on his knees to break them
so his legs would go straight like the others', and when rhey cracked under my
feet I nearly threw up in my helmet. I should have positioned him when I first
woke, when he was still a little warm and the rigour had not yet set in, instead of
wasting time writing and crying in the garden. I would say I'll know better for
next time, but there won't be a next time, will there?
It's occurred to me I may seem a little flippant about James' death, and I apologize
if anyone's left who cared for him and is offended, as unlikely as that is. After
all, those of us who came on this one-way trip were chosen partly for our lack
of human ties to the blue-green planet. Ejniced here by advertisements hinting
at adventure and new beginnings, perhaps not unlike those that lured my third
great-grandparents from England to their Saskatchewan homestead two centuries
ago. 43 Though James and I were alone for over a year, I still feel I hardly knew him,
and for that I'm sorry. He was a soft-spoken man. He had a wife and child once,
I think, killed in a car accident on a Florida holiday in the 20s. He liked spinach
and backgammon. I will miss him.
About the bamboo: I don't expect you to bring all the machinery and materials to
make sheets, or even to know where to begin with that whole process. We'll find
other uses, food to start, though I admit I like the idea that one day, even after
I'm gone, bamboo sheets will exist on the red planet. I can't say what insights and.
lucky coincidences and inventions will be required between now and then. I just
have faith the mere imagining that something's possible can be enough to set it
on the ttajectory to being. Like Da Vinci's helicopter sketches. They waited lour
and a half centuries on paper, but the day came when they flew.
Anyone reading this should be aware there won't be many more messages,
maybe none. The solar cells that power the transmitter are failing. James noticed
and warned me about this a few months back. At least the water and air systems
ate holding, even though all the parts were supposed to have been replaced years
ago by later missions. The ones that never came, let me remind you.
"Delayed" was the official word. "Budget cuts" the truth, revealed in one
final unsigned message, right before Headquarters shut everything down. After
some discussion, we agreed to keep that last transmission a secrer to avoid getting
anyone else in trouble. However, after revisiting the issue with the surviving red
planet settlers, i.e. myself, I've decided after all this rime to spill it.
Whichever board or committee made the decision to cut us off knew it was
our death sentence. Of course, they also knew they could get away with it. Who
would have bothered to organize protests and petitions? Who would have cared,
given our lack ot human ties to the blue-green planet?
AH I want is some shred of accountability. I don't expect you to do anything
about it now, but it makes me feel better to know you know I know. If you're even
reading this.
That's all for now. The carrots need my breath. / cmb
Red Jacket, Assiniboia East. September 8, 1885
Dear Sister,
I regret I have not been able to write to you since my last letter from Montreal. We
have had much to do to secure provisions and make a cabin liveable for winter,
which our neighbours who arrived rwo years ago tell me is fierce and long in this
part of the countiy. The journey was as the agent forewarned: the prairies seem
endless, days and days to cross by train, and, I'm told, they continue days more
to the west of us all the way to the Rocky Mountains. For now, we live under a
44 PRISM  53:4 warm sun and cloudless blue sky, with green and golden fields all around save a
stand of trees they call Cottonwood along the small creek that runs nearby. Your
nephews are growing strong with hard work, fresh air and sunshine, and your
nieces lovelier by the day as every breath fills their lungs with Nature's raw beauty.
Lucille is finding the conditions harsh, I fear, and suffering for the lack of
female company. I assure you the cabin is no poorer than some of the lodgings
you and I knew in our childhood, but it must be remembered my wife was raised
with mote comforts than you and me, and it is to be expected she would find this
change in het circumstances difficult. I thought she was bearing it admitably until
the last of our trunks arrived, and we discovered the one containing all the quilts,
so carefully stitched over countless evenings, had gone missing. I do believe her
heart broke ar that moment. In a poor effort to raise het spirits, I joked I would
ride off every dawn to hunt buffalo and. wolves until I gathered enough pelts for
us all to have as fine sleeping robes as any Sioux chief, but I fear this only caused
her more distress. I am sorry necessity required me to trade Mother's little pewter
pin box, among other small treasures, for a few of the Hudson's Bay Company
blankets. I do hope you will forgive me this loss. Our new blankets are plain, but
made from heavy wool that will keep us warm in our beds through the winter.
I must end here, Dear Sister. The trader who has kindly agreed to deliver this
letter to Moosomin Station will soon depart. I trust you and Jimmy and my little
nieces are well and wish you good health until I may write again.
Your devoted brother,
08.04.2070 station 1 /1 saw what you did.
I'm not even sute where to start this report now. From the beginning, I guess.
'Ihe latest dust storm ended overnight, and today I was able to get out to
complete all the routine checks and maintenance. The winds were especially
fierce, and the clean-up took much more time than usual. First, I climbed the
outside of the dome over the garden to sweep off the solat panels. The station's
layout from rhat petspective reminds me of a medieval cathedral, one that
endured extensive additions and renovations every hundred and fifty years. A
few saints and gargoyles would fit nicely. My dusting job worked: the lights have
stopped flickering now.
Next I went down to the main roof to inspect for the beginnings of fractures
or other damage. Nothing to report. Ihe robots who assembled the station before
our arrival clearly took pride in their craftsmanship. They've all long since been
pillaged for their parts, donating their viral organs ro keep water pumps and
climate control systems operating. To keep us humans alive. J know they weren't
sentient (I haven't gone crazy if that's what you were thinking), but it seems unfair
to me how they ended up despite all their diligence and industriousness.
Aftet the roof, I walked the building perimetet. No damage to the walls either.
They are smooth and the same silver as my suit, designed to be easily visible from
approaching vessels—the ones you never sent. They glow reddish orange in the 45 fainr sunlight.
Last, I visited each of the solar panels arrayed around the station. Again, no
damage, just in need of cleaning. All the storage cells are in good shape, except
for those connected to the transmitter. Very little charge left—this may well be
the last time you hear from me. If anyone's left to hear. After what you did.
By the time I finished my spit and polishing, sunset was near and both moons
had risen. I checked on my fellow settlers, also dusty, but otherwise as I last left
them. The summer breezes will blow them clean again.
Flight women and eleven men, a mandala for the stars to gaze down upon.
The oldesr ones, from twenty years ago, are desiccated but otherwise intact. They
will start to thaw in a few weeks, but in these anaerobic conditions they don't
decompose, and most nights they will refreeze anyway. No wild animals to feast
on them and scatter their bones. No worms to eat them from the inside out. They
will be here like this until our swollen red sun swallows the solar system, then
explodes evetything into Stardust to start it al! over.
1 have a childhood memory of a brief stop on a long road trip at a gtaveyard
somewhere between the Qu'Appelle and Assiniboine rivers, near the Manitoba
border. Weathered tombstones, some sinking inro the soggy ground, others
toppled over on their faces and lying under two inches of water. Wind snaking
through the flooded grasses and shaking the tops of the cottonwoods. Somewhere
beneath the watery surface, rhe blind, muddy bones of ancestors born on the
other side of the Atlantic, who once must have found solace standing or kneeling
in that quiet patch of earth on the outskirts of their village. As we who came here
found solace in our mandala.
I still had nearly an hour of oxygen left. I lay down in my wedge as I
sometimes do and nudged my frozen neighbours in greeting. The twenty of us
all together again. Ihe mandala complete. Jupiter rising between the two moons,
and the shimmer of the terrifyingly near asteroid belt between us and our giant
Spring is here and the days are lengthening. About -10 degrees now, quite
bearable compared to the typical -103 winter's day. If only I could, take my suit
Spring. Olfactory memory is the strongest and rhe most easily recovered. I
conjured up the smells of late April on the blue-green planet. Fresh grass in wet
peat. Melting dog shit. Hall-decomposed leaves. Thirty years, with no idea what
spring smells like here. If I ever do find out it will be with my last breath. Death
by hypercapnia, which I imagine to be quick and painless although I don't know
lor sure, since none of us went that way.
They screened us for suicidal tendencies, of course. Even now, despite what
you did, I have no intention of hastening the end of my lite. I am tar too curious
about the possible endings to this strange story of mine, and all rhe moments in
But if there were a way to arrange it, if I could be sure I was about to die from
say, a massive heart attack within the next 120 seconds, and if I could only have
the time to strip naked, then hold my breath long enough to run out the door, lie
46 PRISM  53:4 down, and. get into position with the others, I would. From my place in the circle
I would open, my eyes wide and inhale through my nostrils, sacrificing the few
seconds 1 might have had remaining just to grasp that one last bit of knowledge.
The blue-green planet twinkled just above the horizon, becoming brighter
and more distinct as the sun sank and disappeared. I lifted my hand and waved
with my clumsy silver arm. On the way here, if you can believe my naivete, I
imagined a crop of fashion designers inspired by our expedirion—for a brief time
before our departure we were minor celebrities—creating new and improved
space suits in a variety of colours and cuts to flatter various body types to be sent
along with the next vessel, and with each vessel to follow. New trends for every
season. Well, it was a pleasant thought for a while.
As I lay in the mandala, imagining the scent of the red planet spring and sleek
fuchsia space suits, fc^arth suddenly shone bigger and brighter than I had ever seen
it before. An illusion created by the dust still floating in the meager atmosphere,
I thought, but alluring nonetheless, like a candle in a distant window on a black,
pre-electricity night. Then there was a moment when awe and wonder at the
loveliness of it switched to horror as I realized what you must have done for that
to happen, right before the starburst flash, brief fireball, and complete darkness.
"Iwenty-three years since I last had news of you, I have no idea what unsolvable
political crisis or technological fuck-up could have made blowing up the entire
planet inevitable, but I have to tell you, from here it all seems pretty unnecessary.
I guess I'm in shock.
I wonder if the moon is still there, and what will happen to it now. Catapulted
into the sun, flung into outet space, or left to inherit the blue-green planet's orbit
and continue its silent path in peace?
I am going to send this. I waited. I considered. Here it is: even if there is only the
most infinitesimal chance someone is still left to read this, sending these wotds is
the right thing to do. Whether or not anyone receives rhem is not my concern.
1 wish someone would breathe on me the way I breathe on the carrots. / cmb
Red Jacket, Assiniboia East. 12 April 1889
Dear Sister,
My news is sorrowful, and I pray you do not find yourself alone as you read it.
Yesterday we buried Lucille. Her heart failed her, the doctor said, though he
had no need to tell me. To think she would have had her fiftieth birthday this
September. Ihough I often feared for her when she was bearing our children,
always mindful of how you and I lost our own dear Mother, once our last was
born I imagined she was safe and we would grow old together. How foolish I was. 47 Poor little Leo is inconsolable. Being the youngest, he was still accustomed to
clinging to his mother's skirts and climbing into her lap, an indulgence for which,
I now regret, I often reproached her. Amelia and James have taken him and Sarah
into their home, where they will stay until after the harvest or perhaps longer. It
gives me some comfort that, though deprived of their Ma, the littlest ones will
know at least the care of their gentle sister. The orhers will remain with me to help
ready rhe fields and sow the crops, which must be accomplished soon, the land
and elements caring nought for our grief.
She is laid to rest in the yard of our new little brick church, I assure you, as
good a Christian burial as she might have had in Faigland. My neighbour the
Swede built her a coffin from lumber which I believe he had intended to use to
repair his barn, and would accept no payment in return. His wife brought us
breads and stews made in the style of their country, and was most kind to the
children. It grieves me Lucy never sought to befriend her, nor the German ladies
who live nearby and who, when they learned of her passing, also came to clean
the house and attend to us. Though their Earglish is halting and they do not share
our faith, they are of good heart and would have made her fine companions.
All of our fellow countrymen regrettably dwell at some distance from our little
The coffin was plain, but well made. It only pained me to think, of sweet Lucy
lying on its bare wood, and, as there was no finer fabric ro be had for a lining,
God forgive me, I placed inside one of the Company blankets she so detested.
Aside from you, Dear Sister, only Amelia knows, and like me she thought it was
the best to be done for her mother under the circumstances.
I am told the Reverend spoke well at the setvice, though I confess my head
was so filled with other thoughts I hardly heard him or recall what he said.
The little church was full of our friends and even our Catholic and Lutheran
neighbours came to pay their respects. Two young North-West Mounted Police
officers who boarded with us for a few days when they were caught in a terrible
blizzard last winter, on hearing of our loss, rode up from White Bear Post. In their
fine scarlet coats they made a handsome addition to the funeral procession. I am
certain Lucy would have been pleased.
I fear in some of my letters to you I have written things that may have cast
my dear wife in an unfavoutable light. I beg you to put those out of your mind
as the unkind thoughts of an impatient and obstinate husband. I have had no
true cause to judge her so harshly for her unhappiness here. She was raised a
merchant's daughter, with many comlorts, and had just hope and expectation ol
living her days as a merchant's wife. She was so until the decision, which was my
own, and taken with greatest insistence, to uproot us from our homeland. She
bore me fourteen children and was a most devoted mother. Though, as you surely
remember, we both grieved deeply the loss of brave Henry at the brink of his
manhood, I daresay it was she who comforted me more than I her in that darkest
of times, when I could not find rest for the dreams of my beloved son sinking
to his death in the Pacific. It is I who am at fault, having brought the sorrows of
these recent yeats that broke her dear heart upon her, and for this I must and shall
beg forgiveness to the last of my days.
48 PRISM  53:4 Dear Sister, I am sorry to write with such melancholy, but I trust you of all
people will grant me your pardon, for like our dear Mother you are disposed to see
the greatest and most good in all, and possessed of a patience and understanding
your wretched brother could never hope to find within himself.
I enclose a letter Lucy wrote only a week ago to her friend Mrs. Anson, and
ask that you would deliver it in person along with the tidings of her passing, as
I fear the dear lady will be most grieved. Perhaps you would also be so kind as
to call upon Lucy's brother Charles and his family. Though I will write to him
myself, I would wish you to convey my respects with the kindness and sympathy
only you could.
Your devoted brother,
12.04.2070 station 1 / I've been practicing.
I count to ten, take a deep breath, open the door, and run. So far I've only been
able to get about two thirds of the way to our wheel before I can't help myself and
let the air out. I blame it on the suit. Awkward and clunky as it is, it slows me
down. Naked, I think I could get there in time, but I need to be sure.
As if this whole plan weren't already complicared enough, 1 thought of yet
another problem after my practice run this morning. Most of the surface is fine
dust and quite soft, but there are pebbles and larger rocks, some of them with
razor-like edges. The smaller ones are what I worry about, because they're harder
to see and shift from place to place with the wind.
My conclusion: I don't think I can pull off complete nudity. I might need my
boots. I picture myself almost making it, then puncturing the ball of my foot on
a sharp stone, crying out—and you can imagine the rest. The researchers would
find the mandala with its one empty wedge and nineteen peaceful bodies almost
god-like in their serenity. Nearby would be the corpse of a naked old woman,
awkwardly clutching her loot and her face contorted with some mixture of pain,
surprise, and profound disappoinrment.
No, I don't want to be that woman. I still have some sense of dignity. So in
my breath-holding practice I must factor in a few extra seconds to take off my
boots and toss them away before I get into position.
I am well aware the odds ate close to nil that I will have the just-right notice
of my impending death which will allow' me to even attempt carrying out this
sequence. But if it happens, I intend to be ready.
After my practice, I repeated, all the routine checks. I have been, experimenting
with changing the order of tasks to get through them more quickly, and was
pleased I set a record today: four minutes and fifty-three seconds less than the
previous one. It's not an obsession with efficiency, only that at seventy-something
years of age, I would like to conserve my energy where I can. In any case, no
structural damage or systems malfunctions to report. I will say now, conclusively,
the transmitter batteries are completely gone. I held out some hope they would 49 recharge at least a little after my last message, but after several days they fail to
show the faintest sign of life.
Why am I still writing? One could say I went ahead and sent my last message,
even after what you did, out of shock, with my internal processing of what had
just happened incomplete. But I'm beyond that stage now.
Perhaps a sense of duty. We were, after all, senr here at considerable expense
with the expectation we would notice things and report them, making our
contribution to the collective knowledge of humankind. They screened us lor
qualities like diligence and responsibility. No social loafers on this mission. Given
the slightest possibility someone survived total destruction of the planet, and
even more improbably, was still picking up the signal, simple duty demanded I
send that message.
But now? Now I no longer even have the means to transmir, yet I continue
to write. Could I really still be clinging to some fine thread of hope? If someone
survived the explosion of the blue-green planet. And. if that someone received my
final transmission. And if that someone had a way to travel here. And if, when
that someone arrived, 1 was still around to let them in the door or they had the
wherewithal to figure out how to open it themselves. And if they found this room
and the systems were still functioning, so my words were still on this screen.
Then... what?
I tug a little on that fine thread and it stubbornly reiuses to break. Am I
deceiving myself into improbable hope, not wanting to admit I am only clinging
to a habit, some vestige of normalcy in the lace of a really fucked up situation?
Could it be these words are just a pathetic attempt at sorting out my thoughts, at
maintaining sanity with some reasonable measure ol comfort? That in the end I
write only for myself?
I have no answers to these questions.
I have been lying in my little wedge in the mandala. It may seem morbid to you
that I spend so much time with corpses. I too might have thought so once. When
I left the blue-green planet, in my country it was customary to dispatch the dead
to morgues, funeral homes, crematoria, and to leave the handling of the remains
to professionals. Perhaps an afternoon or two might be spent in the company of
an open coffin with the loved one's embalmed shell inside. Cosmetics artfully
applied to give a semblance of peaceful sleep. More often a closed casket, or not
even a whole body, only a small urn of ground bones and ash.
It was not always so. Once, in the not-so-distant past, bodies were laid out on
kitchen tables, where they were washed, groomed, dressed, cried over by family
members. Homes were small, and all the daily activities of cooking, bathing,
nursing infants, mending clothes, conversing must have gone on all around. The
men of the family, or perhaps a kind neighbour, would have built the coffin from
wharever lumber was available, and loved ones would have laid the body inside
and nailed it shut. There might have been an undertaker to dig the grave and
cover it over, but even that task was often left to the mourners.
I was forty-one when I boarded the ship that brought us here. My parents had
50 PRISM  53:4 died in a plane crash when 1 was still in grad school, I was ten yeats divorced, had
no children, no siblings, and had lost touch with any remaining aunts, uncles,
cousins. Lack of ties to the blue-green planer.
Headquarters deserves some credit. They did at least put substantial
thought and effort into selecting the fight combination of people. Not only
complementary skill sets, but a balance of gender, personality traits, values,
interests. For the most, part they succeeded. We were a remarkably harmonious
group. A real community. Of course there were some limits. Most importantly,
they screened us for fertility—a test I passed with flying colours, thanks to a
hysterectomy two yeats earlier. As cold and indifferent as Headquarters could be,
even they understood the absolute horror it would be to allow a baby into this
living experiment.
So you see, this is my family. When I lie in my little wedge I feel no horror or
revulsion toward my dead, companions. Rather, I take comfort in their presence,
the feelings and memories that resurface, the smiles and tears they bring. I. have
tapped into that ease and. understanding of life and death all my ancestots must
have had until a mere cenrury or so before I left our planet. Here, in my part of
the mandala, I feel only a sense of belonging, of being in my rightful place. Of
being home.
There is one more observation I need to record. When I was looking up today,
toward the dusk horizon where the blue-green planet should have been, I saw
something. A handful of faint twinkles. I noticed them yesterday evening too,
but today they are slightly bigger and. I am certain I did not imagine them. They
are approaching. Perhaps some of the debris field, a few molten rocks that will
collide with this ball of red dust and complete your destruction. Or, dare I hope,
perhaps a handful of ships carrying survivors. And bamboo.
Either way, I will be ready. / cmb
Red Jacket, Assiniboia East. October 24, 1889
Dear Sister,
I received your letter some weeks ago, and regret I have not been able to reply
sooner. The harvest demanded every ounce of my physical strength so that,
hungry as I was, for weeks I often fell asleep mid-supper and had to be nudged
awake by one ol the boys to stumble off to bed with my belly only half-full. The
wheat was plentiful this year and. the prices fair. I am relieved the children will all
have new sets of clothing, those of the youngest having become quite threadbare
with use. It pains me my dear wife is not here to partake with us in this long-
hoped-for bounty. She might at last have allowed herself a few small luxuries, and
perhaps her hopes might have been rekindled and her spirits lifted by the sights
of the full pantty and all her brood in tidy little trousers and dresses trundling off
to the Sunday service. 51 Your words as always brought me grear comfort. It eased my soul to read that
Lucy, though with some trepidation, also approached our journey with a measure
of excitement and anticipation, and not merely in obedience to her husband's
stubborn will. I am grateful she so confided in you, and that you have seen fit to
now share those confidences with me.
You asked, most delicately, if I might in the next year or two remarry. I think
not. Lucy's memory is yet too dear, and I should hold myself content to dwell
with it alone to the end of my own days, though I suppose this causes you some
concern for me. You wrote of our father remarrying in less than a year, I think,
in yout kindness, to assure me it would be no disrespect to Lucille were I to
do the same. He was younger than I, and ourselves much littler, when he and
Maggie were wed. Fwen were I of a mind to take another wife, there are but a few
unmarried ladies dwelling nearby, only a widow or two who I should not think
suitable due to age or temperament. The children are mostly old enough to see to
the running of the household, and where there might yet be want of a mother's
hand, Amelia has supplied, that of eldest sister with such grace and gentleness
as would have much pleased Lucille. You should not think even me helpless in
these matters, Dear Sister. When Mothet was ailing, was it not I who let you suck
my little finger while I rocked you ro sleep, cooked porridge for the rest of us,
read stories aloud, and yes, even combed and braided my little sister's hair! Of
course you would not remember yourself, but I assure you it is the truth, and our
siblings will bear me up should you doubt me.
You also asked if I might now rerurn to England. Ihe answer, Dear Sister,
is no. As I have written, the land is at last yielding us some profit, and I have
hopes our continued, industry and determination will see us to greater, though
still modest, prosperity in the coming harvests. In any event, it must be some
years before I should have the means for us all to cross the Atlantic again, even
were I to wish it so, and 1 do not. Rather, it pleases my heart the children have set
down little roots of theit own here, like the tenderest ol carrots in early summer,
and I would not now pull them from this earth.
I. confess I too, in spite of all the losses and hardships we have endured, have
grown to love this soil. When we first alighted from the ship in Montreal, the
thought came to me I should never set foot on such a vessel again, nor suffer
the reeking ports and grey seas I had so come to despise. The fiercest of prairie
blizzards could not change my heart. Those dark waters that took our Father and
Mother to theit early deaths and lured my beloved Henry to the furthest reaches
of the globe only to drown him, I should never again take their salty stench into
my nostrils, nor bear their fetid touch on my skin.
I have instead discovered a new ocean, one of blue skies and swaying gold, and
green. I have discovered my home. Of course you should always be welcomed
with joy and warmth in any home of mine, Dear Sister, should, you and yours
ever be moved by some calling in your hearts to join us. On many a dark eve
I have placed a candle in my window with a thought to you, perhaps at that
very moment climbing from your bed to glimpse the same stars disappearing
below your horizon that now rise over ours. Often now 1 recall the years when
you and I and our siblings shared table and bed. I think on the small rooms
52 PRISM  53:4 that once contained the whole of our family, and how strange it seems to me
that our children are separated by a vast ocean and hardly acquainted, and our
grandchildren never likely to meet. I suppose it must be that they too will venture
forth someday, to search out their own homes under these boundless heavens.
Your most affectionate and devoted brother,
I.M.B. 53 Steven lleighton
Diving beyond the light, the swimmer
carries down with her the sun
as a dimming nimbus of heat on skin
or trapped under the cap with her hair;
as sun-warmed air in the soft tanks of her lungs;
a thermal reserve in that minor star
ol moody hydrogen, her heart.
As if she might colonize and humanize
these depths any more than deep space;
as if this time, despite quantum odds,
after how many dives, she might be able to stay—
evolve in one lunge, like rhe ancesttal
monster portrayed in musty bio texts:
bold, panting pioneer who flippers up
onto land; proto-mammal who returns to the waves,
switching elements as simply as changing address.
And at times, in dreams, you do the same—
find yourself flying, atoned in the upper air,
or a gilled thing plying a placental abyss
beyond gravity, grave or ego—the full sorrow
of self-knowing—at least until waking, when,
yet again, you birth yourself back up onto shore.
Larynx shattered in a crash and the doctor
orders you to gag it: "Pen and pad, pal—write
what you need to say." The wife and daughter
too delighted for words. So you branchiate
goodbye, pack for the camp at Desert Lake,
mute's retreat now, where you'll nod from the dock,
at dawn-drunk anglers (bass, trout, and walleye),
who deem your pantomime thoughtful, fish-friendly.
Bit lonely in lack of the dog, who so loves
to boat in beside you, lunge onto the dock,
as you ship oars and then vanish for hours.
But without your clamour to collar her back...
3 a.m.—outside, naked, you re-inflame
your throat chiding woodchucks chewing the frame,
your "yells" like whispers of a Scorcese thug.
(A long lag before they deign to scatter.)
It's like you're an ancient, dreaming you're defunct,
striving to holler home across the river
that lets no sound slip back, not to wife, daughter,
even the dog with her large-array ears
who's loyally listening, shores apart—
who'll be listening for your tone ol praise
and love until the hour her last faculties
fade, and she hears only the boatman's oars
stroking toward her like a muted heart. 55 JUNE CANCELLATION
You make this small deposit to bank away, draw down
maybe years from now, in some sleeping-pill season—
how the teens you're coaching, women,
almost, are all relegated to girlhood
by the storm.
A synaptic charge
arcs the dusk—grand mal in the grey
matter of the clouds—and already the crash
cleaves you. Reieree's whistle,
firsr drops spatting, and the girls
are fleeing, cleats in hand, teams mixing
amid synchronous laughrer,
none knowing now or caring
who won or lost,
as in the lost
novice seasons, years before this June
of mind-shears and limbic storms, self-
hunger, self-harm, many torrents far less
dodgeable than this storm,
and they will dodge this one,
and they know it,
hence this riot
ol evening reprieve, the school year almost served
and they shoeless on these rain-cool fields,
running—as if there is, while there is—home.
In a sleeping pill season, in a rem stage remission,
revisit a curve in a certain cold river
where rhe birches are in full business
and the grass of the banks is wild mint.
It's yeats, yet you're both stretched out here still,
rib to rib, hearts happily talking over each other,
and above you somehow the same southerlies,
same sunfish school of pewter leaves
pulsing in ultramarine. Remembrance:
how every touch and utterance
seemed tender calamity, so even now,
in the locked-in stasis of this sedation,
the couple you made is still current
on that earth. You were conscious, then,
even sleeping, and what's wholly lived keeps looping
through some unforgetting amnion, so pulse
to pulse, fully personed, you return. (Not that she can-
yet see how, even now, she is nowhere else.) 57 Suzannah Showier
Which I take to mean: does the word
comorbidity feel a little cozy round
the mouth? Professional advice: snap pics
ol your moles beside a ruler every six months.
Progress appeals to me about as much as
reincarnation. That is, enough to delay
the thought a little while longer. Besides,
the best argument lor repetition is any
morning, how it's a one-way hinge
on a trap door. Then there's the rest:
strangers beetling their way down wet stairs
to the train, umbrellas receding into armpits
like anemones startled by underwater
cameras, and the station's creak machine
warning birds: this is not your resting place.
Each bird may be a consciousness recycled
to dumb, puttering translucence, who once knew
the cosmos as moving vapours, or took storms
of living things into a basin mouth,
swallowed through the fluttering goodbyes.
Then onto the next. This possibility is one reason
not to kick a pigeon in the chest and watch it try
to flap its way back into gravity's good graces,
even when you know you could. I still recycle,
by the way. Just as 1 cleave to most civic fictions,
like thumbing the eager button at the crosswalk,
PRISM  53:4 declaring myself to the disconnected registrar
of pedestrians. What if my mind is just
a vety long public hearing, and the inevitable
crackpot has been at the mic all the while?
For this, and other reasons, I don't insist
on what I know comorbidity should mean:
a kind of love, or brand loyalty. A good excuse
to get the whole gang back together and ruminate. 59 Sandy Shreve
i thank You God for most this amazing
day for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
—e. e. cummings
What shall we say to Death
with Yes defeated by No
and only the winter of loving left
only the snow!
—-Al Purdy
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for leaf-mulch and garden-thaw
spiked with lily beginnings, for their wraparound skirts unfurling sashays,
for bird-song surround in thrush-
coloured shade... While this sap-singing
uprising-everywhere spring rides in,
what shall we say to Death?
For the leaping greenly spirits of trees
are at it again, wind-waving away as gum-
booted slicker-dressed we yank weeds
plant spinach plant peas, hope lor the best
from this golden-crowned sparrow-lull
ground all bird-scratch and peck, knowing
even a well-tended garden is filled
with Yes defeated by No
and a blue-true dream of sky for everything
(o Flicker o Downy your drill-drumming
rat-a-tat-tatting all-day-denting metal
reminder: o sustenance o noise). When
alter-bloom and wilt come along shock-
sudden with never-ready-for-it news
we give in we protest until we have
only the winter of loving left—
PRISM  53:4 which is natural which is infinite which is yes
to black-and-white dazzle, its every-
colour-under-the-sun-in-our-eyes shimmer;
yes to the unexpected in less, to first
flake-fall and last, to whatever is next yes
even thanks to the meantime of blizzard
and drift. Yes to what is, after all
only snow. 61 Jessie Jones
Patient ambulance boils over
the roads and when it arrives,
I'm starring in the role of bandaged
head wound, ambulating the haunted
white rooms of Jubilee, an elixered
bouquet in each arm.
The bedside linguisr rips flash cards
in the blank ward. Diamond. Bone. Cactus.
Masterpiece. For days, 1 can't find my foot
or middle name, but my mouth keeps filling
with kid French, rhe bald lark, the brother
singing Dormez-vous! Revez-vous!
My self comes back in turns,
in sunburns, in the symphonic shift
to spring. But sometimes the rattle
resumes, Hungarian opera with its razor
strings bringing the smell of a picnic
basket once burned by an aunr or rhe scrape
of a skirt in an allemande left ivith the corner.
During nightly walks, 1 make tender goals
towards healing. When the firs appear, I will turn
home; when I hear the grass risen of a deer
bed: I will recite the body includes, and is, the meaning;
when forgetting seizes, brain knocking in its saddle,
hold on, goddamn. I'll slip from under the overripe sky
dropping ides and turn in the direction ol light.
Peel back horizons of recollection
until, like a plainsmen lost
in not-yet-Saskatchewan, I'll follow
the scent of a phantom ocean.
PRISM  53:4 Trevor Corkum
Outside the scratched plastic of the plane's oval window, the mottled, blue face of
the Mediterranean stares back up like a blotted Rorschach test. Miniature white
sailboats and hulking container ships from Hong Kong and Russia and Panama
arrange themselves below us like toys, or like minor constellations created by
benevolent gods. Deepet undet the sea, the lost bones of civilization: scattered
wrecks of ships sunk in medieval wars; a watery graveyard of dreams for the many
young Romans, Greeks, Persians, and Ottomans who raced from coast to coast
in search of something holy.
"Tea?" asks the flight attendant, in flirty, broken Eaiglish. She's tall, a young
Turkish woman, with heavy make-up around the eyes and an engaging smile. I.
nod, and she hands me a paper cup, leaning over the two elderly Turkish men
folded into the seats beside me, their shaggy faces and sad-looking eyes studying
this exchange as if trying to decipher how someone so young and North American,
so earnest and polite, could end up crammed beside them in this ancient hulk of
a plane, hurtling toward Cyprus.
" Tesekkur ederim," I say in halting Turkish, accepting the steaming apple tea.
One of the men nods in approval, his opinion of me, I can see, softening.
It was the year 2000, the jittery year of Y2K, that fated solemn year on the hinge
of a new millennium, an almost Biblical year, a few heady months before the
events of 9-11 and its long tail of terror hijacked the thrill of flying forever. I
had travelled a bit already, backpacking around Europe, spending a gap year in
Scandinavia, but this was my first time travelling for work. I had been hired by
a university on the west coast of Canada to conduct a preliminary market study
fot the university's ESL programs in Turkey. I spent several weeks in Istanbul
and Ankara, and. cities in the south, visiting schools and colleges, meeting with
students and theit parents, education agents, representatives of the media. 'Hie
final part of the assignment was to attend several days of university fairs in
the Turkish-controlled northern region of Cyprus, separated from the Greek-
controlled southern part of the island during the civil wars of 1974, and otherwise
known, by Turkey only, as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (T.RNC).
When I booked my flights in British Columbia through the university's travel
agent, she had trouble locating an internationally recognized flight to Etcan, the
TRNC's designated airport.
There's just nothing showing up. Are you sure they even have an airport!
After a couple of days, she called to tell me she had found a small airline
called Kibris (Cyprus Turkish Airlines) that could handle the outbound flight
from Istanbul. A no-nonsense woman with a frizz of grey curls, funky cat's eye 65 glasses, and a phlegmy bark of a laugh, she warned me not to expect much. She'd
never heard of that airline in her thirty years in the industry.
Ihe existence of the airline even became something of a running joke between
us, culminating ominously in het final words of warning, when she delivered the
package of tickets to my office.
Have a good trip. Be sure to send me a postcard from Ercan. That is, if the plane
even manages to take off!
During my weeks in Istanbul, I became friends with a young Turkish man
with serious brown eyes and a melancholy smile. Yasin was an alumnus of the
university I. worked for. He served as my official translator during my meetings
and events, expressing, in his mother tongue, lor wide-eyed, often rowdy younger
students, the pleasures and challenges of studying in Canada.
A devout, modern-minded Muslim, like many Turks his age, Yasin was proud
of his country's recent emergence onto the global stage as a growing middle
power, bridging the ancient, dynamic cultures of East and West. He had studied,
business in Canada and radiated a sunny optimism for the future. In our spare
time, he took great joy playing tour guide, showing me his favourite cottiers of
Istanbul, from the medieval Galata Tower, snaking up the skyline in the heart of
the old city, ro the bustling Spice Market with its sweet-tongued hawkers and.
snake-charming charlatans, to the winding, cobbled streets that grew like tangled
vines from the long, cafe-filled pedestrian avenue called the Istiklal. Several times
in the course of those weeks, we rode the packed ferries across the Bosphorus,
from the centre of Sultanahmet—which officially sat in E'urope—to the grimy
Asian suburbs where the citizens were poorer, but the families large and loving.
Out on the deck of the ferry one afternoon, after a meal of white fish and
saffron rice, we sat watching the spires and domes and rough, sandy architecture
of the old quarter.
I had the urge to say something profound; to express to him the emotion
I felt, exploring the city and growing close to him. It was a sense of something
poignant unmooring and floating inside me, of becoming unsettled from myself.
"You're so lucky to live here," I said.
Yasin turned toward me, affixing me with his earnest gaze.
"In our country," he said, "We thank Allah for what we have. It is our duty, to
enjoy and. to give our gratitude for our gifts. We are not long on F'arth. It is our
duty to honour this world, for the short time that we are alive."
A few hours earlier, we had boarded the plane in a tiny airport in a city called
Adana, on the southern Turkish coast. The airport was a dilapidated, cavernous
building, a bustle of hijab-covered women with bright, flimsy headscarves and
anxiety-lined faces, scores of young children in tow. The airline attendant did.
not speak Eaiglish, but I managed, with creative and emphatic hand gestures, to
indicate that I preferred a window seat.
There was only one security gate, powered by a trayed-looking cord plugged
PRISM  53:4 into a grotty, punched-in wall. 'Ihe single security officer looked as if he were
entering late adolescence, and although the swirling red light flashed and the
machine screeched loudly as each passenger passed through, he dismissed nearly
everyone with a bored wave of his hand, patting down just one or two of the
men in a cursory, obligatory way. Handbags and carry-on luggage, including the
ubiquitous red and white canvas bags bulging at the seams, rolled through the
X-ray scanner at a quick clip, as there was no one to man the machine. Passengers
simply collected their bags and then stood, shoulder to shoulder in the tiny, frigid
holding area.
When we finally boarded the flight, herded out onto the tarmac and then up
the pottable metal stairs, rhe plane was like something from an old war movie.
The squat metal body was dented and wotn, the paint had peeled from the
company logo, and the workers filling the giant gas tanks appeared no older than
boys. When I found my seat and opened the overhead compartment to store
my bag, a clutch of exposed wires fell out from a hole in the panel. The flight
attendant smiled, not at all concerned, and helped me move the wires to load my
The recent history of Turkey, the Coles Notes version, goes something like this.
In 1922, the Republic of Turkey declared independence from the former
Ottoman Empire, ending nearly five hundred years of ironclad Ottoman rule.
Ihe founding father of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, introduced wide-sweeping reforms
and a new constitution establishing Turkey as a modern, secular state in which
education and the rights of women were valued, and strict new laws banned
religious symbols, such as the fez cap or the hijab, from, all public buildings,
including the Parliament.
Ihe Ottoman E,mpirc, in the centuries prior to the founding of the republic,
stretched deep into northern Europe, across Persia into the Caucasus, and south
through the present-day Middle East and into large swaths of Northern Africa. At
its height, the E,mpire was one of the largest and longest-lasting in history, with
Constantinople, modem-day Istanbul, as its capital and seat of the Sultan.
It was inspired by Islam and flourished under Islamic institutions.
The Empire was at the heart of interactions between Western and Eastern
wotlds for nearly six centuries. And there I found myself, in. the heart of the old
E,mpire, like some kind of postmodern explorer lost in the folds between East
and West, here and there, the past and whatever shimmering future lay just out
of reach, beyond those dream-filled days.
I'm about to go back to watching the sea, dreaming of Roman warriors and
the expansive Ottoman Empire, when the scratchy intercom comes on with a
low, panicky-sounding beep. The pilot clears his throat, pausing in the squeaks
and screeches of feedback, before making a brief, terse-sounding statement in
Turkish. 'Ihe intercom then shuts off, without any E'nglish translation.
Almost immediately, in the seats all around me, women break out wailing, 65 clutching the worn-out sleeves of their husbands and sons and brothers, and the
elderly men, stoic looking, lumble in their pockets lor their ropes of wooden
prayer beads. I catch the eye of the flight attendant, see the bolt of panic there, see
the crease in her perfect forehead, before she averts her gaze entirely and hurries
the cart with its apple tea and small bags of pistachios back to the tail of the plane.
There, she buckles herself into her seat and assumes the crash position.
Before I can react, before I can ask what's happening and try to make sense
of myself with hand gestures, the plane veers hard, dropping altitude, and then
turns onto its side like a dog curling up for sleep so that we're hanging sideways
over the Mediterranean and I'm gazing down directly into its cold, glassy abyss.
One particularly sunny afternoon, Yasin and I made our way to the Blue
Mosque. The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, was constructed in the
early seventeenth century and dominates the skyline of old Istanbul. Its name
derives from the stunning blue tiles lining the inside roof of the mosque. Inside,
I removed my shoes, washed my feet in the ceramic basins, and knelt with Yasin
and a few hundred other Turkish men to offer our prayers. Crouched in the
ancient building, with the crimped smell of incense, the hushed voice of the
murmuring imam, and Yasin kneeling beside me, I felt as though I were lifting
away from my mind, and time seemed to become something both larger and
smaller than itself, dissolving altogether, as if we were no longer human, bunched
up in our bodies, but were in fact parr of a giant cloud ol formless cosmic love.
Leaving the grounds of the mosque, smiling solemnly, Yasin said he wanted
to leave me with a memory of our day. So he purchased, from one of the hawkers,
a set ol Islamic prayer beads formed from expensive polished charcoal stones.
"When you are back in Canada, and you pray, you will think of me," he said.
As the plane hitches back to its right side, I. come out of what feels like a deep,
almost sleepy trance.
"What's happening?" I ask. the man beside me, holding his warm, rough hand
at the wrist and gently applying pressure.
Fie opens his eyes slowly, as if he had forgotten I was there.
"There is bomb," he says, continuing to finger his prayer beads, never losing
his place. "Bomb on plane. It is PKK. PKK! It is going to explode. Soon."
The PKK is the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a revolutionary group that has
advocated, often violently, for the cultural and political rights ol the oppressed
Kurds in eastern and southern Turkey. Deemed a terrorist organization by the
USA. and the European Union, the PKK has been and continues to be responsible
for suicide bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and violent armed struggle.
I let go of the man's hand and hold his gaze fot a second. Underneath the
calm demeanour his dark eyes are disbelieving, disappointed that the world with
all its glory should come to such a predictable end.
66 PRISM  53:4 9
'Ihere were moments with Yasin when I entertained, fantasies of never returning
ro Canada, of creating a new life for myself in Istanbul. Part of this imagining was
born of the wonder of youth, the idealism of creating a world of purity and grace.
I would convert to Islam and spend my time among the men in the mosque,
reading ancient texts and. forsaking the glittery world of the West for something
more profound, a culture whose ancient values would anchor and prorect me.
I would sit with Yasin ovet tiny mugs of Turkish coffee, eating feta and olives,
arguing over passages from the Koran. I wouldn't be the type to gtow out a beatd
and become someone grim and fanatical, but would find the devout, loving self,
scoured of sin and doubt, which had. resided for so many years beneath my soft
Canadian skin.
"In the West, you think you are happy," Yasin said. "But it is material things
that make you happy. Money. Cars. Flashy clothes. They make you happy, for a
moment. And then they make you sad.
"Here, we have lived through hard times, but we know no one can take the
peace inside away."
As the plane continues to veer hard to the fight, it seems we are descending
ominously onto out side down into the ocean.
The wailing around me rises in pitch. The two men beside me pray furiously,
eyes closed, laces furrowed. In the tiny aisle across from me, a woman clutches
her children to her chest, burying their faces in her bosom, like the scene in the
movie Titantic when everyone knows for certain that the ship is going down.
Grown men cry, and screams of "Allah" reverberate through the aircraft. Out the
tiny window, the sea, getting close, seems richer, a more luminous blue, almost
mesmerizing in the sun, and I think for a split second about the lifeboats and
life jackets, of sliding out of the plane and riding the ocean to a secret land, like
something out of Robinson Crusoe.
When I left Yasin, when we parted for the final time near the bustling ferry
terminal in Kadikoy, he had tears in his eyes. We'd been meandering through a
sun-filled square where men with graying beards played leisurely games of chess,
women huddled together over cups of apple tea, flapping theit arms at pigeons,
and young boys kicked a half-deflated soccer ball while a skinny dog gave chase.
As we walked together, he held onto my arm in the way of Turkish men of that
time—in a sweet and carefree manner that might seem, to Western eyes, like an
intimacy reserved for lovers but, in Turkey, is a sign of enduring respect between
"We'll stay in touch," I said. "I'll write to you when I'm back in Canada."
He embraced me warmly. I could smell the sweat on his neck and feel in his
wiry frame a nervous, restless heat. When he let me go, moments before I boarded
the ferry that would shuttle me back across the Bosphorus towards my hotel,
Yasin did not turn around. I watched him disappear in the warm afternoon light, 67 his silhouette growing smaller, until at last, like some extended, final goodbye, he
turned a corner near the mosque and was gone.
What I remember now, years later, is that as the plane made its convulsions
toward the sea, I hadn't felt fear, exactly. More like an overwhelming stillness, a
space like a quiet room sealed off somewhere inside me.
Is this what it feels like to die!
To have a few quick seconds, to recognize that you're about to end a journey,
leaving consciousness and all its wonder, all its beautiftd terror, someivhere far behind.
Alone on the plane, miles above the sea, surrounded by tetrified strangers—
the dishevelled women weeping, the wordless men with their lonely eyes—I
thought again ol Yasin. His melancholy smile. His body, full ot warmth and
energy. And of the prayers he had left with me, and the beads he had offered, so
freely and without guile, which I held onto in my pocket for the duration of the
flight as I considered my late and the fate of the world, ol everyone I had ever
known and ever loved.
As-Salamu Alaykum, my friend.
As-Salamu Alaykum.
May peace be upon you.
PRISM  53:4 Jen n ie 1 fa iboe.uf
It isn't clear who was there,
because you don't watch them;
you see the elephant, chains
on her legs, the milk and crackle
of old film around her. It's hard
to make out how it happens,
but in seconds she falls stage right.
Her tons no thing at all to electric
current, her fingerlike trunk
with scars the shape of a cigar tip.
Topsy seems a joke name
now, but the same was done
to Big Mary. In fact, after she swung
and stomped that circus worker
for poking her sore tooth,
she was hoisted by a railcrane,
neck   c r a c ked
from the weight of her body,
ears hanging like cold cuts,
tiny smile still plastered to her
clown lace. 69 Dionisio Cartas
translated by Orlando Hernandez
Me acoste con tin future ahorcado.
No era mi intencion hacer el amor
con la Muerte, pero la vida es asi.
FT amaba a las mujeres mas
que a si mismo, y pensaba
que enamorarse era una tonteria.
Yo pensaba lo mismo, y sin embargo,
era hermoso foliar entre los arboles.
A lo lejos se oian ladrar los perros.
Un dfa, cuando volvi a mi pueblo,
alguien me dijo, "fulanito se ahorco."
Yo hice como si no le conociera.
A veces sus lagrimas me visitan,
y sueno con nosottos, amandonos,
los dos colgando de una cuerda,
como si la Muerte no existiera.
I slept with a future hanged man.
It wasn't my intention to make love
to Death, but such is life.
He loved women more
than himself, and thought
falling in love was foolishness.
I thought the same, and nevertheless
it was beautiful to fuck under the trees.
In the distance dogs were barking.
One day, when I came back ro town,
someone told me, "So-and-so hanged himself."
I acted as if I didn't know him.
Sometimes his tears visit me,
and I dream about us, loving us,
both of us hanging from one rope
as if Death didn't exist. 71 SOY PATRICIA, DEJA TU MENSAJE
La muerte de repente me parece extrana,
un animal ligero, una planra que se expande
sobre el cero de los dias sin saber como ni cuando.
Y luego me desnudo, salgo a la calle,
le tiro del pelo al perro del vecino, me ladra,
le ladro, y salgo corriendo bajo el cielo nublado.
Las nubes me persiguen y yo les escupo.
Pasa el cartero que me saluda, extranado
de verme desnuda, corriendo, buscando
un lugar para dormir siempre con siempre.
La luna ha salido por el lado opuesto a mi ojo izquierdo,
la sigo con la mirada, unos pajaros entran,
salen por mi boca y me ladran. Las casas ladran,
la gente ladra, los coches ladran, los ninos ladran...
Son las doce, me como un bocadillo de jamon,
me limpio la boca, me voy a mi casa, duermo.
Creo que alguien se ha muerto, pero no ahi afuera,
donde todo ladra, sino dentro de mi, en el silencio
de esta mosca que soy y que ahora reposa
sobre la nariz reluciente de una hermosa jirafa.
Death seems suddenly strange ro me,
an agile animal, a plant that extends over
the zero of the days without knowing how or when.
And then I get naked, go out, pull the hair
of the neighbour's dog—who barks ar me,
I bark back, and run away beneath the cloudy sky.
The clouds chase me and 1 spit on them.
The mailman passes and waves, surprised
to see me naked, running, looking lor
somewhere to sleep forever with forever.
The moon has risen on my left side,
I follow it with my eye, a few birds enter, exit
through my mouth, and bark ar me. The houses bark,
the people bark, the cars bark, rhe children bark...
It's twelve, I eat a ham sandwich,
wipe my mouth, go home, sleep.
I have the feeling that someone has died, only not out there,
where everything is barking, but inside myself, in the silence
of this fly that I am and that now reposes
on the shimmering nose of a beautiful giraffe. 73 Zach VandeZande
Lenry David Thoreau says from his spot on the couch, "What is once well
done is done forever, Claire."
I stare straight ahead while I crack the eggs into the pan. The backsplash of
my oven is covered in grease and flecks of crusted spaghetti sauce. Tell him to get
lost, Claire. Tell him to get his ass off the couch and get a goddamn job. Tell him it's
over. I say nothing.
"Go back to sleep."
He comes stumbling into the kitchen sctatching idly ar his stomach in my Joy
Division shirt. He's a scrawny one, but it still bothers me that we wear the same
size. Plus he's got a head like a sack of potatoes and tugs clothes on carelessly.
"Don't wear my things. 1 told you."
He looks down at the logo on it, as if he'd just noticed, and shrugs. "I like ro
smell of you."
I push the eggs around the pan with a spatula and ignore him. He comes up
behind me.
"I was up with the dawn and didn't want to wake you, so I grabbed what was
in arm's reach."
"Still. It's my shirt. And I heard you."
"Just in the pan like that?"
"I've found that whisking them with a little milk beforehand makes a better
"It might."
He sighs and pouts himself some coffee. Yesterday's newspaper is spread over
the kitchen table, and he sits to read, perched forward with his head supported
by his hands. I'd subscribed to it as a kindness to him—not even my parents still
read an actual physical newspaper. This was before I realized that Henry David
Thoreau, my Henry David Thoreau, was a goony lucking mooch that would
sit on my couch most of the day being alternately fascinated and horrified by
daytime television and the 24-hour news cycle. About once a week at work I get
a voicemail from him full of stentorian yelling.
We mer ar a bar a few miles down the road in Denton. I'd gone to school
there, and then hung around for a time until 1 found a good enough job halfway
between Denton and Dallas that seemed like the beginning steps of adulthood
without really being a full commitment to the projecr of growing up. The bar was
a converted house off the main square, and the entire back yard had been turned
PRISM  53:4 into a huge open-air patio. It was an unseasonably warm winter Satutday, and I
met some friends from college up there. He came and sat down at a table with
us after wed had a few drinks and fell into the conversation with ease—it was
that kind of place. My friends thought it was hilarious that he was Henry David
Thoreau. They treated it as a joke. I was charmed, and though I maybe didn't
believe him, I wanted to. He talked of making things of your own, of what it is
to be connected to the land, of his brother the pencil-maker. Later, when we were
kissing against my car, he said my name with reverence, like he was glad it was me
out of everyone. I had his complete attention. A tare enough thing, lor me and
I scrape the eggs into two bowls and hand him one. We eat in silence, him.
absorbed in the paper, me leaning against the kitchen counter. There are dishes
in the sink that I don't have time enough for. I look around to find my keys and
then I'm out the door, into the thick Dallas morning.
I work in the last cubicle of a row that's five deep, up on the fourth floor of
an anodyne beige office building. I have the choice spot—it's up against the
window, and no one has any reason to walk, by except to see me. It's a space I have
fought and scrapped for through other people's pregnancies and transfers, even
one person's death. I like to think of this as my making the best of a temporary
situation. There are no pictures on my desk, no signs of me aside from my lunch,
in a Tupperware and my actual physical presence. I have a view of my Saab in the
parking lot, and that's a great comfort to me.
Being team leader is mindless work that mostly involves being at my desk
and ready to deal. Everything I do is just reacting. A thing I'm starting to think, is
leaking into my life. Like everyone here, I used to be a whole other person.
This morning, an email was waiting in my inbox that used the phrase "There
is no reason to be concerned!' 'Ihe word streamlining appeared, as did efficiency. All
day I have been looking up to see a new pair of coffee-cupped hands held close to
the chest—my whole team right now is mousy women in Old Navy sweaters who
stand as if they're trying to collapse into themselves. I answer their questions in
my most reassuring voice. All of this is news to me, I say, and. if something were
really worth worrying about, I would know. I try not to say it with a pinched face.
My boss Max shows up while I'm licking the last of my yogurt off a spoon.
"Hey," he says.
"Look, Max. I am eating lunch at my desk. I am productive and efficient. I
am streamlined."
Max and I ignore how much we don't like each other ever since I rold him
he had a dog's name and then asked if he was maybe named after a dog. It
bothers him that I see this job for what it is, meaning necessary to my survival. At
meetings he says we are a family.
"I can see that. Good initiative, Claire."
I do not roll my eyes. I say, "What do you need?"
"Listen," he says, putting one butt cheek on my workspace, "did you see the
link that's going around about us?" 75 "No. But I saw the email and have a brain."
"Well, what are you telling people?"
"I'm telling people not to worry."
"Okay, good," he says. Then he says it again, to himself.
"Should I be telling them different?"
"No. It's good, Claire." He stands up and gets partway down the aisle before
turning back to me.
I call after him. "What?"
"Nothing. Just... nothing."
When I walk through the doot Henry David is playingTetris in a chair I. got from
my grandparents' house after they went to the retirement home. I stand over him
and put my hands on the chair back.
"You found my Gameboy."
He looks up at me without actually looking all the way up at me. "It's
fascinating, but I worry about all this dependence people have on technology."
"Why's that?"
"Boredom can be important," he says, but he hasn't stopped playing. I wait
for him to elaborate and he doesn't. I flick him on the top of the head and
walk into the kitchen. The dishes ate still there. They make me think about the
possibility of losing my job, which I'd managed to put aside all day. The meaty
fist of possible unemployment wtaps my heart up for a second, gives it a hard
"Henry," I call, "can you just...can you clean up when I'm gone?"
I look in the fridge. There's nothing much in there. "And can you go to the
grocery store tomorrow?"
"Yes, but I don't have money."
"I'll leave money and a list. You want a grilled cheese and some soup?"
"Yes, darling."
I crinkle my nose, unwrap the cellophane from some single-slice cheese, and
get a pan going on the stove. The soup stands firm and can-shaped in the pot
until I stir it around. It's the dinner of a four-year-old, which I try not to think
He comes padding into the kitchen and picks up the cheese wrappers. "All
this plastic," he says, and clucks his tongue.
"Well, recycle it." I don't tell him it's cellophane, and probably not recyclable.
"I intend to."
"Okay then."
"I miss Walden," he says. "You know, I grew much of my own food there."
"I know," I say, flipping a grilled cheese. "Everybody knows."
He stands there like a child lost in the grocery store. I scratch at some of
the spaghetti sauce stuck to the surface of the stove, and it gets jammed hard up
undet my fingernail. Then I let mysell say something.
"What are you even doing with yout life besides telling me what I'm doing
wrong with mine? You and your fucking privilege."
He looks at me blank-faced, like he might cry, those sad, alive eyes set into his
76 PRISM  53:4 daguerreotype features.
"What?" I say.
"I am only trying to do good."
"Yeah, well," I say as I plate up his grilled cheese, "look around. It's not doing
any good."
I hold out the grilled cheese for him. He reaches past it to pick up the soup
can and the cellophane and throws them both in the gatbage.
"'there, 'that's how you want me to be. Waste and waste and waste."
I push the edge of the grilled cheese plate into his chest. "Eat yout goddamn
grilled cheese." I walk past him with my own plate and bowl ol soup. "And maybe
next time you want to be passive aggressive, don't announce it. That's aggressive
He joins me at the table. "What do you want, Claire? A wooden man who
does things without considering them?"
A long moment passes between us. I scowl at my soup. "What I want," I say
softly, "is a normal fucking person for a fucking boyfriend, with a fucking job,
and a fucking commute. I want someone who doesn't tub my nose in the fact that
they get to be the kind of person they exactly imagine themselves to be while I'm
over here with my mortgage and my car payment and my student loans."
He stands up in a huff and storms off into the bedroom, and I can hear him
sniffling in there. After a minute he says, "If you want me to leave, you can say so.
Trying to belittle me is just cruel."
I sigh. The truth is I don't know if I want him to leave, but I definitely want
him to feel like I want him to leave. More than that, I. want him to be Henry
David Thoreau, the one who kisses like he means it, or the one who wrote what
he wrote, either, or borh, or whatever. This, though, this whiner, this thinker who
doesn't do anything—it's too much.
"Look, that's not what I'm saying. I just need some help around here. I'm
sorty. I'm really stressed with this thing at work."
The bed groans, and he comes back in, rubbing at his face.
"I can do more," he says. I point at the chair, and he sits down to eat.
"I just don't understand why you're sitting around the house all day. You're
Henry David Thoreau. Don't spin your wheels like this."
"You're right, of course." His eyes are downcast, and he chews his sandwich
"I mean, I don't know. You should be writing, or doing something political.
Or making something. You know?"
"I suppose so."
"Well, my mom always said you have to get out there and chase your
"1 will." He reaches across the table to grip my arm. "Claire, I will." He seems
to mean it, and he lets himself smile a bit.
1 ieel a little reassured. He's listening to me, he's thinking about his life.
Maybe things can work out after all. I smile at him, a tentative warmth between
Aftet dinner, I sit on the couch, and he comes over with a bottle of wine and 77 two mugs. The way he sets the mugs down, opens the wine, pours it—there's a
graciousness to it, a careful attention, the goodness that's always there in him. I
know that in a minute, he'll kiss me, and I'll let him, and then he'll move into
me while kissing me until I lay down on the couch, and then other things will
happen, and that afterwards I'll feel alone and a little hard toward him, and if he
asks me what's wrong, I'll lie.
In the morning, he's up before I am. I stumble out in a shirt and underwear to
find all the windows thrown open and coffee brewed. Henry David is outside,
framed by the window, sctatching at his beard and staring hard at the lawn.
I pull on some pants, grab coffee, and walk out there. He turns toward me,
his lace brightening. "Claire!" he says. "I hope I. didn't wake you. You were right,
of course, that I need to consider who I am. I've been needing this."
"Needing what?"
"A new Walden!" He walks the lawn, heel-to-toe, as if he's measuring
"Figuratively speaking, ol course."
"Of course!" He is beaming. He winks at me.
Inside, the morning's paper is spread out on the table. My company's name is
on the front page. Ihe layoff rumors have gone airborne. I ignore it.
"I'm getting started straight away. I already ate breakfast," he says.
"That's good, Henry. It's good. There's a difference between living simply and
living directionlessly, and—"
1 turn around, and he's wandered back outside, leaving the door open behind
him. I write down some stuff we need on a piece of scratch paper and leave it on
the table with some cash.
There's another email at work. Ihe language has taken on a desperate, grim tone.
By ten in the morning the CEO has resigned. By lunchtime the usual murmur of
office chatter has become loud and manic as a gaggle of employees hover by the
community break area drinking generic soda. I use the time to get ahead on my
quarterly reports, because surely we can'r all be fired, and surely those of us who
keep our mouths shut and our work impressive might be up for one of rhe jobs
that has an office with a door.
In the early afternoon, I return from the bathroom to find Max sitting against
the wall by my window. He looks crumpled, tossed there.
"Claire, uh."
"Max, I'm trying to keep my head very deeply in the sand here, and you
sitting on the floor is not helping."
He stands up and leans on my desk, stares out the window. I wait. He turns
toward me and takes a pen out of my company coffee mug and runs it across his
palm. It's a nice gel pen, so it leaves a thick smear on his skin.
"I bring those from home, Max."
He looks despondent. I think he might be drunk.
"Did you read the paper today?" he asks.
78 PRISM  53:4 "Nope. I avoid it as a matter of policy."
"Has Henry told you about it? 1 know he follows the news."
"Don't talk to me about Henry, okay?"
"Why not?"
"Just don't, okay?"
He looks back out the window. "Okay, I'm going to tell you something, and
I want you to tell me if I'm fucked."
I log on to my computer and mime working.
"Say... say that maybe someone in out IT department uncovered, a massive
security loophole with the way out software processes credit card transactions,
and say that maybe someone brought that info to me, and I told them to close the
loophole, but then in the course of my other work I forgot to authorize the code
for the version update that went out a few months ago, and say that then maybe
it's possible that someone walked off with fifty of so million of our customers'
credit card numbers as a result of that oversight, and, say, that, hey, it's an honest
mistake, and—"
I turn to Max and he stops.
"Well, am 1 fucked or what?"
I look down the row of cubicles. "Who knows about this?"
"Nobody yet. But it's all there in my email and the workflows."
"You're fucked."
When I get home Henry David's out there in the front yard sitting on a fifty-
pound bag of mulch with a rake balanced on his knees. There's a large, ragged
rectangle on the lawn where the grass has been torn up and turned over. In the
context of the neighbourhood and its lush landscaped yards it's obscene, the dry
bare earth of Texas out in the open like that. Spread out in front of him, like a
fanned deck of cards, are little packets of seeds.
"What are you doing?"
"Thinking how best to plant these."
"I see that. And where did. you get the money for the rake and the mulch and
whatever else?"
We both already know the answer ro this. He looks away and starts twisting
his beard between his fingers.
"Goddammit, Henry."
"We'll have no need for groceries in a few months. I bought enough seed
"I don't give a shit how much seed you bought, or how we're gonna be
swimming in zucchini, or what it is to grow something with your own hands.
I care about groceries, and eating, today and tomorrow and the tomotrow aftet
that." I am standing over him and pointing and yelling like a feral mother and I.
don't like any of it.
"Oh, Claire."
"Don't start. Don't even try and tell me anything. We live in a system. Get 79 over it.
"I thought it would be run. For both of us."
He looks dopey then, like a sad cartoon duck. I realize he's probably been
waiting lor me to get home, hoping that I'd want to help. He spins the rake in his
lap, looking cute doing this, but also misguided and a little pathetic. He might be
in love with me, and that's kind of awful and also heartening in a way that makes
me queasy. I gtab him by the shoulders.
"Henry. This is not helpful. The world doesn't work this way. I get why you're
doing this, but you just can't."
"What else can I do?"
"I don't know. You've got to find a way to be useful."
"This is useful."
"No, Henry, it's not." I sit down in front of him on the grass. "Look, I go to
the grocery store, 1 buy food. Everything beyond that, how it got there, where
it was grown, that stuff is basically magic. I don't know anything about it. And I
don't need to know."
"That's awful, Claire."
I look past him to the wound in my yard. "I know it is. But what can you
"Plenty. You can't let other people do yout surviving for you."
"I can, and I do."
He Iers out a long, shuddering sigh. His hands are dirt-caked. I reach out and
dtag a nail down one of them, leaving a thin, clean line.
"Look," I say. "I like you, Henry. I like all this. But it's time to tell me. It's an
"What is?"
"This." I wave my hand in front of his face. "The garden, the beard, all ol it.
This whole thing."
His face turns sour with rage. He stands up, throws down the rake, and
storms down the street. I watch him go, call half-heartedly after him. It's a shock,
but also I guess not, because why would I say a thing like that unless I wanted
something like this to happen?
I don't see him for the resr of the night. I feel guilty about it, but also: it's
peaceful, my space feels like my own, and I order dinner in, and. I watch a show
about rich people being horrible, and I turn up Patti Smith's "Land" on my record
player and dance around shouting "Horses! Horses! Horses!''while spilling gin and
soda on the carpet, and all night, no one says anything about it.
The next morning I'm hungover at work. It feels about the same as usual, but I
must be feeling vulnerable, or at least susceptible to kindness, because when Max
comes ovet with his loose-knotted tie and his flop-sweated everything I don't even
have it in me to make fun of him or give him the boot. Though I could get away
with it. Probably I could get away with anything, knowing what I know.
"I need to, uh, I need your discretion. On what we talked about." He looks
out the window instead of at me, but he's turned toward me, like looking out the
window is just something he's doing and not a deliberate avoidance.
PRISM  53:4 "You got it, Max. I. don't want anything to do with anything." I'd been,
holding a Diet Dr. Thunder from the fridge, and I press my cold palm against my
forehead. It feels nice. I close my eyes.
"No, I mean it."
"Yeah, me too."
A second goes by. I'm in the dark behind my closed eyes. Nothing can get at
me in here.
"Look, I pinky swear, or it's a blood oath, or whatever holds up best in a court
of law. Just leave me alone, okay?"
"No, you need to look at this."
I open my eyes and he's pressed all the way up against the window, looking
down. I stand up and walk ovet to him. Out the window, in the parking lot near
my Saab, is Henry David. He's holding a sign that says, "Men first. Subjects
afterward." There are a few other people I don't recognize out there with him, and
they're lounging around like they're waiting on more before starting whatever it
is they're going to start.
"Ah, shit," I say.
Max., god bless him, busts out laughing. He slaps the glass twice with his
palm and wanders off. Down below, more people are walking up.
By noon they are organized and marching, about twenty in all. The next
day there are a few more. On Friday the local news is out there for an hour. I
send an email about moving them out of the parking lot, at least. I pretend. I'm
concerned about vandalism of cars. I get a response from Toby in security asking
if I really think my boyfriend, is going to key my car, so I drop it. Meanwhile,
people around me aren't doing their work. Instead, they're putting together their
resumes, taking long lunches, while I sit here in my undecotated cubicle. I don't
have to tell them to do any of this—they can smell it. As soon as Max's fuck-up
gets traced back to our team, well, I'm sure it will be swift, whatever it is.
I could've put something up. A photo, a little cactus in a ceramic cowboy
boot, a plastic flamingo like Janet down the row. Something to prove I was here
after i t's all over.
On Saturday morning 1 wake up to Henry in the front yatd. He's finishing the
work on the garden. I watch him out the window with coffee in my hand. He
sees me, and I wave a little bit, though I'm mad as shit at him, and part of me
wants him to light himself on fire in the office parking lot. Ar least then he'll be
interesting. I'm not typically a violent or dark-thoughted person, but this is what
he does to me.
I feel guilty, so I pour him a cup of coffee too, though it's already too hot out
fot it. He takes it from me anyway.
"You've been busy," I say.
"1 suppose so." He takes a sip and sets it down in the gtass nearby belore
going back to turning the earth. "Save me the coffee grounds, if you would. We'll
put them to use out here."
He sees the look on my face when he says we and. goes all crestfallen before 81 saying, "I'll get these planted. Spread your coffee grounds over them as mulch.
Then it's just a matter of watering and checking in on the seedlings. You might
have to get some herbicide or natural repellants. The internet can tell you a lot of
the rest, I'm sure."
"Okay, Henry."
"It's worth doing," he says, bending down to put his hand in the dirt.
"Okay." 1 can see why people would believe him, but looking down at him
there on my lawn, I just don't. Mostly I feel lousy, like I'm mad that I was naive,
or I'm mad that I can't be nai've any more. They're the same feeling, really.
On Monday the story hits about Max's mistake and we're national news. When
the guy who's supposed to re-stock the break room every week doesn't show up
I know it's over. Down in the parking lot, Henry's little group ol protesters has
tripled in size.
Max walks up while I'm watching out the window. I say, "I mean, we're fuck-
ups. A tetrible company in the process of going under. But why do these people
care enough to be out there?"
"I don't know. He's yout boyfriend."
"I'm talking about the test of them. Henry makes perfect sense."
"I guess they just feel betrayed is all."
I look over at him. He's nor my friend, but at least I get a sense of him as a
human being now instead of as an extension of a corporate ideology.
"You should screw up more often. It makes you more likable."
He gives me a tepid smile. "You're fired, Claire."
Henry has got a megaphone now, and he's shouting something up at us.
From behind glass it comes out as a low drone. People behind him pump their
"I know. So are you. At least you deserve it. At least for you it'll make some
He presses an index finger onto the glass at the protesters so hard it goes
white. "Fuck these little limp shirs." Then he turns to me. "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry," I say, and I turn around and grab my purse, my car keys, my
lukewarm coffee. Some of my co-workers look up, but none of them stop me.
The elevator is on my floor already, so there's no wait, and in the lobby I give Toby
the security guy a wave.
He calls out, "Do you want me to have him arrested?"
And. I say, "I'd say yes if he wouldn't love it so much."
I walk past all of them without making eye contact. To their credir, they don't
mob me or yell. Henry says my name inro the megaphone once, though. I don't
stop. I'm in my car. I'm pulling out of the space. I'm going home to see whether
or not I can make an honest thing happen. I'm going home to tend my garden.
PRISM  53:4 I Antra Matwichuk
500 eucalyptus trees line Maliuhi Road
near Koloa'Fown. Planted in 1911,
gift from a pineapple baron,
they point the way to his final resting place:
8th hole of a golf course on the southern coast.
Driving beneath, them, I can't see any evidence
of two recent hurricanes. Subtropical climate
encourages instantaneous regrowth,
abundant foliage. Leaves form a feathered
ceiling over the road. I feel compelled
to turn around in my seat
like Maria Schneider in The Passenger,
try to catch from this new angle
details that may have passed undetected.
There's a fear in me: of watery depths,
crusts of lava, headwinds that threaten
to blow us back where we came from.
At the blowhole near Poipu, molten rock
layered over seawatet makes a spout
for the ocean to squirt through,
a place to stare at when the sunset
is not quite enough. Above Mount Waialeale,
the wettest spot on earth, the sky clears
its throat between two torrential downpours.
South of there, past a deep, bean-shaped sand trap,
a vacarion's worth of golf balls toll into the ocean. 83 Marcia Walk
Dress #1
Tie first dress you remember is creamy white, covered with wildflowers the size of
nickels. The blooms are condimenr-coloured: mustard, ketchup, marmalade, and
the foliage a neon relish. You wear it everywhere. It smells like you, a mixture of
calamine lotion, baby shampoo, peanut butter, and grass. The curved collar folds
over your clavicle and a bow cinches your five-year-old waist. Your mother helps
you with the long zipper up the back in the morning. Her fingers, cold as logic,
brush your skin, making the bones of your back stick out.
- Hold still. Stop wriggling.
Her touch is utilitarian; she doesn't like to linger. She stiffens if you hug
her too long. Tie dress is whar touches your body. You're aware every time it
grazes your kneecaps, how the worn cotton sleeves brush your elbows and wrisrs.
During nap you suck on the fraying cuffs.
In kindergarten, your class sings "Where have all the flowers gone?" Years
later you will find it odd, a meditation on death sung by five-year-olds, but now
you like how the melody and words fit together. "Long tiiiime paaaasssinnng."
You sing the loudest except at the refrain because you stop then and wait for
them ro point at your dress. All those pudgy four and five-year-old fingers, dirt
squashed under the nails, aimed at you, as if to say, "That's where the flowers are.
Look. Just look at them." You are where the flowers are.
Wear the dress until the grass has stained the elbows and the hem is up to
your thighs. Your underwear shows when you sit cross-legged. You're wearing
that dress when you tackle Jonathan P. at the Fun Fair and kiss him under the
watermelon stand. Afterwards you twirl around, the hot pavement burning your
feet, and the dress flies out. Cool air blows through your panties.
Dress #2
It's the year you wear black tights and oversized t-shirts every day and would like
to forget you have a body. The dress is a fashion departure. A seamstress makes it
because prom is special, once in a lifetime. Plus it's cheaper than The Bay. You go
with your mom to Fabricland to choose the material. She holds reams ol fabric
next to your cheek, your head held in profile like a mug shot. Peacock blue. Royal
blue. Ultramarine.
-Your skin is blotchy, your mom says. She doesn't like to say words like acne
or zits.
You don't say anything but your silence is a protest. You chose a bluish purple,
almost silk material, with a sheen.
- Don't go near any fires, it looks flammable.
- Oh come on, she says later - I was kidding. Don't be so sensitive.
Spaghetti straps make your arms appear thinner. Two frills below your waist
84 PRISM  53:4 camouflage your hips. Your mom suggests these styles and the seamstress agrees.
When you try it on you look like someone older, someone with a sex life. Despite
yourself, yout views on fashion, your feminist ideals, you love the dress. You buy
heels and shave your armpits. You wonder who you are as wet mats of black hair
clog the shower drain.
The form-fitting style means you can't really dance or walk. This is a
standing dress. There are photos of you in the dress standing on your lawn, your
neighbour's lawn, in front of the green electrical box and next to Mike's rusted
brown Chevrolet. Your mother insists on more photos. Het frenetic enthusiasm
makes you wonder if she's jealous.
Go to prom. In the gym you gulp rum and Coke from a green thermos.
Swallow, keep it down. Mike dances around you, jumping and flailing his arms
to the ceiling. If only this was attractive. You bob to the music, keeping your legs
together, worried, the dress will tear at the seams. Your feet ache and so you ditch
the pumps; their purple-blue dye staining your feet so they looked damaged and
bruised. Mike stops dancing and watches you leave the dance floot. You are not a
good prom date.
You peel offyour control-top pantyhose in the bathroom and use toilet paper
ro wipe the deodorant that has piled in thick white rows under your arms. You
stay too long in the stall, hiding, the cold sweat from the toilet bowl pooling
against your calf eventually running down to your ankle. Girls come and go,
laughing. You think: I am, on a very deep level, a faker.
When the washroom is empty, you open the stall, stumble towards the mirror,
and gaze into your eyes like a lover. Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" plays,
muffled, from the gym. You whisper, I love you. You blow yourself a kiss. You do
it again. Now mean it. Now kiss the mirror. Stacey Wheedon runs in, sees you,
and then pukes before she reaches the stall.
Dress #3
- A good basic, the saleswoman says, eyeing you in the mirror. - Every woman
should own a navy blue sheath. Just add some pearls and you can wear it for
evening. So versatile.
You try not to feel intimidated by het, smoothing the dress over your hips and
posing in front of the mirror, as jazz piano tinkles through unseen speakers. The
silk lining is cool and weightless next to your skin. Very professional. The hem
cuts sharp at the knees and the sleeves stop at your triceps. In the mirror your
arms and legs look vaguely detachable and you wonder what it would feel like to
to have a stump for a body. At certain angles you can see your hipbones jutting.
This makes you confident, in control. You want him to see you in this dress.
- I'll take it.
Your fingers leave pin-drops of sweat on your credit card and you wipe them
off on your shirt before handing the card to the saleswoman. Over two hundred
dollars on an item of clothing. A first. You buy fake pearls as well and think:
someday I'll go to cocktail parties.
It's your power dress. You save it for important days when you're the junior
attached to his file, following him to court or a tribunal. On research days, when 85 you're alone in your office, you wear your cheaper black suit with the loose hem.
You're more articulare when you wear the sheath. Words like anathema and
etymological slip into your conversations effortlessly. He says you have a good
analytical mind one night when you're working late, but his eyes linger on your
You work harder—an upcoming trial, a demanding client, it doesn't matter.
Yout hands smell of printer ink. There's a photo on his desk of him and his wife
rollerblading, those tacky white helmets, and after the third week of working late
you point to it and tell him his wife is pretty. Mmmmn, he says. You stay later
than needed. You buy a matching navy blue blazer on the weekend to cover the
sweat stains forming on the sheath. Half-moon salt stains under your arms.
In the morning you rush to put on the dress. It has a side zipper, hidden,
seamless. Careful—twice you've zipped up your flesh. You nick yourself again.
Small dots of blood form scabs like ladders up your fibs. Later, he kisses your
skin, still sore, along the trail of the zippet.
- Take more time, he says, outlining your ribs with his index finger. Then he
adds - This doesn't mean anything.
Wonder what he's referring to: Ihe kiss? The cut from the zipper? The
relationship? Don't ask lor clarification.
Forget the daywear/nightwear separation—throw caution to the wind!—and
wear the pearls with the dress ro work. He asks you if you're going to a cocktail
party. You tell him you're going on a dare. Wait for signs of jealousy. He says that's
good, you should get out more.
Consider forms of revenge: spitting in his coffee, lighting his office chair on
fire, calling his wife. Decide to work harder. Question your self-worth.
When you meet your mom for lunch (it doesn't happen often, the drive to
the city wears her out), she says you look, tired and thin. Then she complains
about her fat stomach, fat thighs, fat knees, fat neck. She asks where you got the
pearls. Roll a hard white ball between your thumb and forefinger and consider
making up a boyfriend who gave them to you as a present. Let her question
linger. lor the cheque.
— I used to have pearls like that, she says.
— Did you?
-You're just like me. I could never afford the real ones either.
Make a point of paying even though she holds her cash in front of you like
sticky candy. She puts away het folded money and tentatively iondles the seam of
your dress, her eyes soft, and murmurs — Expensive...
Show her the office. She always demands a tour. Don't linger. Avoid his office,
his enrire hallway. Don't introduce her to the partners. Don't introduce her to
anyone except the support staff. Tell yourself you're doing this for her, saving her
from embarrassment. She never went to university. She doesn't know anything.
- So this is where it all happens, she says.
Pity her. Then press the elevator button. Keep pressing until it arrives.
Dress 4
PRISM  53:4 You meet in the produce department on a Saturday morning. You're wearing your
"getting shit done" dress, $7.99, on sale at Winners. One hundred percent cotton
jersey and shapeless, a pillowcase with two holes cut out for your arms. Changing
into this dress is the fitst thing you do when you get home from work. You used
to add a belt, but since you switched, jobs you let it all hang out. The jersey reveals
every imperfection of your body: the dimples on your thighs, the extra flaps of
drooping skin tugging around your bra, the lines of your underwear. This used to
bother you. Now you think: Hell, at least I'm wearing underwear.
On the walk over to the grocery store you compared the dress ro the colour of
the sidewalk. If you laid down, you'd blend fight in. Notice the polished, concrete
floor in the produce aisle of the grocery store and wonder if you'd blend in here.
Resist lying down.
- Are these ripe? a short man asks, statding you and pointing to the stack of
You think: What a lame come on. Really? Melons? Then you notice an oil
stain next to your crotch and shimmy behind the grapes to hide it. He apologizes
and says he really has no clue about these things. You shake the melon next to
your ear, listening fot its seeds sloshing and pass it back to him.
You say-Yes, these are ripe melons. You don't smile, not wanting to encourage
him, but he's encouraged all the same.
Over the next few weeks it becomes clear you both grocery shop on Saturday
mornings and a game develops. "What's ripe now?" He covers the gamut of fruit:
watermelons, cantaloupes, pineapples, nectarines, plums, grapes. It's summer.
There is a lot of fruit.
Somewhere between peaches and. tomatoes you learn his name is Jeff, go
for coffee, then out for a movie. You throw out the cement dress, embarrassed
rhat you wore ir in public, but also relieved that's how you met. He likes you in.
your most depressed state, which is a good sign he will stay with you through
On labour Day, when everyone else has left the city, you end up back at his
place and make out standing in his hallway. His hands hold your shoulder blades
like a steering wheel.
You say — Let's go inside.
His nervousness relaxes you. After a lot of jangling with his keys, he opens
the door. His apartment is cleaner than yours with slick, shiny suffices. "Look
Ma, I can see myself," you want to say when you stare at your reflection in the TV
stand. Don't say this. Mentioning your mother isn't sexy. Still, you hear her voice
in yout head saying: don't settle. Ignore the voice.
Dress #5
You get married. You wear a white dress.
Dress #6
It's the only dress that still fits this far into your second pregnancy. This baffles
you because it's not a maternity dress and you found it used at a rummage sale. It
still smells of the previous owner (incense and pickling juice) and though you've 87 saturated it in lavender oil, the old scent always wins out. You carefully sewed two
ribbons so the back ties up and stretches the material tight over your belly. Arch
your back, show it off.
The dress is inky black with tiny orange paisley patterns running through it.
Henry, your four-year-old, says you should wear it for Halloween. You tell him
you wore it when he was in your belly and he rubs your bump like it's a genie
bottle, closing his eyes. When no magic happens, he loses interest.
Your mother arrives for dinner and you help her with her coar, purse, hat, and
dollar-store bags. She has nor been ro your house in almost a year and her clutter
in the empty hallway seems out of place. Each plastic bag is filled with cheap toys,
candy, and polyester baby clothes that you will throw out once she has left. Henry
hides behind your leg. She takes out a bag of sour candies and tells him to catch.
The candy lands at his feet. Jeff takes the bag from Henry and throws you a look
when Henry srarts to cty. He carries him wailing out of the room.
— If they're not crying about this, they're crying about that, your mother says
and sighs, collapsing onto the couch.
— We don't give him treats, you say.
— Have I already done something wrong?
You make a tea and sit with her ar the other end. of the couch. Rub your belly
to the rhythm of the clock, feeling an entire universe pulsing inside you. Black
piles have formed along the tummy of the dress where your hands, Jeffs hands,
your girlfriends' hands, co-worker's hands, and the trembling outreached hands
of strangers have Touched. Your mother watches you. Her fingers rattle on the
table. On an impulse you shimmy closer to her on the couch, take her hand in
yours, and plunk it on your stomach. Wait for her to pull away. Her hand is as
still as water. The unexpected heat of her palm seeps through the material. You
think: We've changed. I've changed. We're better now.
She pulls away as the baby kicks your left rib.
— Did you feel that? you ask.
She straightens up and pats the pillow with two strong punches.
— I should probably eat soon. I don't want to get caught in traffic.
Several hours after she has left, you lie in bed with Jeff, rrying to get
comfortable. He passes you an additional pillow for between your legs but doesn't
say anything, still put out by your mother's visit. After a long moment in silence
he says he doesn't want your mothet coming over for Thanksgiving.
-You understand, right? She brings all that crap. And she never does anything
with her grandson, she just lies on the couch the whole time. I don't get how the
two of you lived together for so many years. You're nothing like her.
This is a compliment; it's kindly meant. Stop short of saying thank you.
An image of your mom springs into your mind. Her reflection in the store
window, wearing her puffy grey Michelin Man coat. Your old Boxing Day
tradition of window-shopping in the most expensive area of town. She stood
stoically in the cold wind because she refused to step inside the fancy stores, too
embarrassed in front of the sales staff. You both looked past your reflection to the
floor-length purple dress, embroidered with silver beads.
88 PRISM  53:4 — Imagine that, your mother said, her voice high and clear. — Like wearing
Jeff is still talking and your focus returns to what he's saying.
— We'll just go to my parents' place at Thanksgiving, you'd probably prefer
that anyway, right? It's not like we spend much time with her anyway.
You say it's no problem but something inside falls away. You decide it's not
important. It's disposable. Like your appendix, you can get by without it.
Dress #7
Find youtself staring into yout closet more, blankly shifting the clothing, scraping
the hangers to the side, clearing space, and searching for something that does
not exist. You do not own this dress though you've carried it with you through
the years. You imagine yourself wearing it. Your other self. Tie self you didn't
become. Her.
Tie dress changes. Sometimes it's a thin yellow silk numbet, the colour of egg
yolks. Another time it's a burgundy leather wrap dress. Sometimes you glimpse the
dress before you go to bed, as you put down your book-club book, on loan from
the library. When you close your eyes it appears, a wedding dress, so enormous
it needs its own storeroom. Tie ruffles poof out the door. Its extravagance makes
you blush in the dafk. Lately the dress sneaks up on you.
Talking to your oldest friend, Nancy, also recently divorced, while watching
the Oscars pre-show fashion, the phone crooked between your shoulder and your
ear, you tell her to check out the one in the crazy short number.
— The one nominated for best supporting?
— Oh my god, look at her. If she bent over we could see her ass. What was she
— Her legs are really skinny.
— Even if your legs are that skinny. Still.
— Hey, Nancy says, her voice changing, lower, with intent. You know what
she's going to ask. — How's your mother?
— Tie same. She should be out by next week.
— Back home?
— No. I'm arranging a care facility.
— In the city?
— Closer to where she lives; I didn't think of here.
— Well, that's probably better in the long run. She sips her wine and sighs.
- God, I'd kill to have legs like that. Do you think she'll win best supporting?
Nancy takes a bathroom break at the commercials and you turn off the
volume and rest the phone on your lap. Tie kids are with Jeff. Tie house is
quiet. Closing your eyes you imagine the other life, the one that you could have
had if you'd made bigget choices. The not good wife, the not good mother, the
not good daughtet. Picture yourself as her wearing a black drape, fine as warm
breath. Material you would be afraid to touch, pages from an ancient book that
disintegrate between your fingers, but she moves about comfortably, seductive
in bare feet. The dress brushes her thighs, pools at her ankles. You try ro sustain
yourself as her, but even with your eyes closed you think: This isn't me. And then 89 another voice says: This could have been me.
Out loud - I could have been a contender.
- Whar's that? Nancy asks, picking up the phone again.
- It's starting again, you say, and turn up the volume.
Dress #8
Your morher doesn't have anything suitable in her closet so the funeral director
suggesrs you dress her in her everyday clothes. You tell him that for rhe lasr six
months she wore her nightgown.
- Tiats unconventional, but not unheard of, he says.
- Ir's open casket.
- Lots of people are buried in their pyjamas.
- Lots of people are assholes.
He clasps his hands loosely in front of him and respectfully says nothing.
You'd like to drive to the expensive department store downtown and buy
her an evening gown, something outrageous with sequins, but you need to find
something quickly. The funeral home needs an outfit by this evening. There is no
time there is no rime there is no time. Don't think. Go to Sears.
The stale perfume lingers from the scent counter. It's cold from too much air
conditioning, but still, you sweat. Walk towards the sale rack where she always
went. The dresses are leftovers from last season and heavy to the touch. Tiey are
wool, durable. Each is a dark wintry colour: dirt brown, slate grey, midnight blue
and black, the obvious choice, the colour ol oblivion. Pause on the black one, but
fret over the size. Hear her saying "An extra large? I'm not that big." But worse,
to buy it too small and have her flopping out of it. You figure the attendants can
tuck it in if it's too big. It's marked down with overlapping red srickers, $145 to
$99 to $75 to $49.
Cries erupt from your body. Heaving, terrible sounds. The Sears saleswoman
brings you tissues and asks if she can help. Tell her that you can't pay $49
for rhe dress your mother will be buried in. You can't. You can't do that. She
misundersrands and offers to ask her rnanaget if she can get it further reduced.
Explain that you want to pay the full price of the dress. This is important to
you. You try not to cry on the dress but your tears, snot, and saliva create darker
black spots on the material. At the cash, the saleswoman is unable to charge you
anything but the reduced sale price. It's in the system, she tells you several times.
Accept that you will bury your morher in the dress marked seventy-five percent
In her coffin she looks like a real estate agent. She fills the box as though her
body is a batter poured into it. Part of you wants to crawl inside with her. Instead
you stand next to het coffin like a protective guard. The luneral director plies you
with coffee. Free refills. You spill it onto your shirt and half expect your mother
to leap out of her coffin and blot it with a handkerchief. Even now she speaks
to you. Welcome it. Rub your earlobe between your fingers and tilt your head as
though you're enjoying a poignant memory. Tien walk out to the parking lot and
Taylor Armstrong lives in Toronto, where he works as a child and adolescent
psychiatrist, and is a teacher with the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine.
He was a finalist for TheMalabat Reviews Far Horizon's Award for Fiction and the
University of Toronto's Random House Award for Creative Writing.
Ken Babstock is the author of five collections of poetry: Mean, Days into
Flatspin, Airstream Land Yacht, Methodist Hatchet, and On Malice. He is a
Governor General's Literary Award finalist, and the recipient of the Atlantic
Poetry Prize, the Trillium Book Award and the 2012 Griffin Poerry Prize.
Chris Banks is a poet with a Mastef's degree in Creative Writing from Concordia
University. He is the author of three acclaimed collections of poetry: Bonfires, The
Cold Panes of Surfaces, and Winter Cranes. He lives, writes and teaches in Waterloo.
Dionisio Canas was born in Tomelloso, Spain, in 1949. He has published dozens
of books of poetry and essays, most recently Los libros suicidas (Horizonte drabe).
With Juan Ugalde and Patricia Gadea, he founded the art collective Esttujenbank.
He lives in La Mancha.
Kate Cayley has published a collection of poetry, When Tins World Comes to an End
(Brick Books) and a collection of short stories, How You Were Born (Pedlar Press).
She is a playwright-in-residence with Tarragon Tieatre and has written two plays
for Tarragon, After Akhmatova and Tl)e Bakelite Masterpiece.
Trevor Corkum's fiction and non-fiction have been published widely across
Canada. His work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and
a Western Magazine Award, and longlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize. He lives
in Toronto where he is at work on a novel,
Marina Endicott's novel Good to a Fault was a finalist for the Giller Prize and
won the Commonwealth Writers Prize; Tlie Little Shadows was shortlisted for the
Governor General's award. Her new book, now out, is Close to Hugh. She teaches
writing at Banff and the University of Alberta.
Steven Heighton's most recent book is The Dead Are More Visible (stories). His
writing has received four gold National Magazine Awards. He has been nominated
for the Governor General's Award and Britain's W.H. Smith Award. The poems in
this issue will be included in a new collection to be published by Anansi in 2016.
Orlando Hernandez is a writer, translator, and tap dancer from Hoboken, New
Jersey. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Fence, Prick of the Spindle,
New American Writing, and Centra de Estudios Puertorriquenos: Letras. He lives in
Providence, Rhode Island.
Aislinn Hunter is a poet and novelist. Her latest book The World Before Us won
the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. These poems were written during a month- 91 long residency project at UBC's wonderful Beaty Biodiversity Museum. PRISM
published her first short story two decades ago.
Jessie Jones' work has appeared in CV2, Tlie Puritan, Poetry London, BODY, filling
station and is forthcoming in Echolocation. She has been shortlisted for The Malahat
Review's Open Season Poetry Award, Arcs Poem of the Year, and PRISMs 2014
Poetry Prize. She currently lives in Victoria, BC.
Colette Langlois lives in the Northwest Territories when not wandering the blue-
green planet, on which she is grateful to have found many homes.
Davide Luciano is a conceptual photographer based in NYC. His work is
detailed and vibrant with amazing surrealist qualities, which ate elaborately staged.
Luciano's work was exhibited in Canada and the USA and featured in countless
international publications. He is the recipient of an award ol excellence from the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in NYC.
Jennie Malboeuf is a native of Kentucky. Her work is forthcoming in Unsp/endid
and The Cortland Review, and has appealed in Poet Lore, The Potomac Review and
Your Impossible Voice. She was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Award and
was a finalist for the Arts and Letters Rumi Prize. She teaches writing in Nofth
Laura Matwichuk's poems have appeared in CV2, EVENT, TheFiddlehead, Riddle
Fence, Vallum and The Best Canadian Poetry in English 20.13. She was a finalist
for the 2013 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. She lives in
Suzannah Showier is the author ol Failure to Thrive (ECW Press, 2014), a finalist
for the Gerald Lampert Award. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Btonwen Wallace
Award in poetry and the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer.
She lives in Ohio.
Sandy Shreve has published five poerry books, most recently Waiting For the
Albatross (Oolichan, 2015). She received the Eatle Birney Poetry Prize (for "Elles",
in PRISM 39:1). Sandy founded BC's Poetty in Transit program and co-edited,
with Kate Braid, In Fine Form — The Canadian Book of Form Poetry.
Zack VandeZande is the author of Apathy and Paying Rent (Loose Teeth Press,
2008) and the forthcoming Lesser American Boys (Queen's Fetiy Press, 2016). His
work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Portland Review, Cutbank, Passages North,
Atlas Review, Necessaiy Fiction, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere.
Marcia Walker's writing has appeated in The Globe and Mail, UofT Magazine,
CWS, You Forgot it in People (a short story collection celebrating Broken Social
Scene's 10th anniversary) and on CBC radio.
Phoebe Wang is a writer and educator whose work has appeared in numerous
journals. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from U of T, and her chapbook,
Occasional Emergencies, appeared with Odourless Press,
[*P'*S? m
PACK OF BOOKS (valued at over $806 eacM) FROM
1ST PRIZE $1r250—
3RD PRIZE $250 —
(1,2 or 3 poems per entry,
max. 150 lines per entry)
Judge: Ken Babstock
(one story per entry,
max. 10,000 words)
Judge: Diane Schoemperlen
(one essay per entry,
max. 5,000 words)
Judge: Fred Stenson
Complete guidelines for all
contests at
For inquiries:
Fee: $32 per entry, which includes a complimentary
one-year subscription to Prairie Fire.
'the Poetry first prize is donated ;n part by the Banff Centre,
who Hill also award a ie«e!ler-:ast replica of poet Bliss
Carman's silver arid tofquoise ring to the iirst-eme winner. mmk,:m :i
The Creative Writing Program at U.B.C.
The University of British Columbia offers both
a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master
of Pine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The
M.F.A. degree may also be taken by distance
education. See our website for more details.
Students work in multiple genres, including:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Stage
Play, Screen & TV Play, Radio Play, Writing for
Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song
Lyrics 8e Libretto.
Steven Galloway
Nancy Lee
Annabel Lyon
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Timothy Taylor
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tjregeboy
Bryan Wade
, r.   -.:■. : .,     ,:    :.    ■ ■:
Online Faculty CM.P.A.):
Luanne Armstrong, Gail Anderson-Dargatz,
Joseph Boyden, Brian Brett, Sioux Browning,
Maggie deVries, Zsuzsi Gartner, Terry Glavin,
Wayne Grady, Sara Graefe, Stephen Hunt,
Peter Levitt, Susan Musgrave &? Karen Solie ©ongpatulations
©peative Wpitem!
Rolex is proud to be the printer
for PRISM international.
id PRINTING LTD    Call Toll-free 1-888-478-5553  PRISM is contemporary writing
Taylor Armstrong
Ken Babstock
Chris Banks
Dionisio Canas
Kate Cayley
Trevor Corkum
Marina Endicott
Steven Heighten
Orlando Hernandez
Aislinn Hunter
Jessie Jones
Colette Langlois
Jennie Malboeuf
Laura Matwichuk
Suzannah Showier
Sandy Shreve
Zach VandeZande
Marcia Walker
Phoebe Wang
7 ' 72006 " 86361' 2
Cover image © Davide Luciano, "Knitting a Stitch."


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