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53:3/SPRING 2015
1  PRISM internationa
Congratulations to our National Magazine Awards and Western
Magazine Awards finalists and winners!
"Soft Shouldered" (52:1)
Western Magazine Award Winner — Best Article, BC/Yukon
Western Magazine Award Winner — Human Experience
National Magazine Award Finalist — One of a Kind
"The Actual" (51:3)
National Magazine Award Silver Winner — Fiction
"Urchin" (51:2)
Western Magazine Award Finalist - Fiction
National Magazine Award Finalist — Poetry PRISM internationa
"Doughnut Eaters" by Diane Bracuk
"Sea Salt" by Sarah Mitchell
"The Generation After" by Ann Cavlovic
JUDGE    Charles Demers
Leslie Beckmann, Dominique Bernier-Cormier, Nicole Boyce
Connie Braun, Jane Campbell, Rhonda Collis
Rhett Davis, Jaime Denike, Christopher Evans
Sierra Skye Gemma, Keri Korteling, Laura M. Kraemer
Jennifer Lori, Kirsten Madsen, Collette Maitland
Judith L. Major, Claire Matthews, Karen Palmer
Jake Prins, Shannon Rayne, Mallory Tater
Rob Taylor, Meg Todd, Laura Trethewey
Carly Vandergriendt, Matthew Walsh, Catherine Young PRISM international
Nicole Boyce
Rob Taylor
Clara Kumagai
Jennifer Lori
Sierra Skye Gemma
Dominique Bernier-Cormier
Christopher Evans
Claire Matthews
Timothy Taylor
andrea bennett
Rosemary Anderson
Megan Barnet
Melissa Bull
Rhonda Collis
Elaine Corden
Tara Gilboy
Esrher Griffin
Melissa Janae
Keri Korteling
Kirsren Madsen
Kirn McCullough
Sarah Richards
Matt Snell
Catherine J. Stewart
Meg Todd
Catherine Young
Connie Braun
Sonal Champsee
Robert Colman
Rhett Davis
Jill Goldberg
Sarah Higgins
Ellen Keith
Laura M. Kraemer
Judith L. Major
Nan Nassef
Robert Shaw
Rochelle Squires
Tania Therien
Matthew Walsh
Carly Vandergriendt
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 Cteative 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 Editot, Circulation:
Copyright © 2015 PRISM international. Content copyrights remain with authors.
Cover image © Jonpaul Douglass, "Pizza Pug 2."
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Our gratitude to Dean Gage Avetill 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 the British
Columbia Arts Council.
April 2015. ISSN 0032.8790
a place of mind
BRITISH COLUMBIA §§§     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL <35>   for the Arts du Canada CONTENTS
judge's essay
Charles Demers
Without a Safety Hatch
Diane Bracuk
Doughnut Eaters
Sarah Mitchell
Sea Salt
Ann Cavlovic
The Generation After
Scott Nadelson
Four Nocturnes for Left Hand
Greg Rhyno
Plus One
Richard Kelly Kemick
I Thought I'd Get More
Nora Gould
Five Excerpts from Joy, breathe
Katy E. Ellis
Michelle Brown
Something Funny
Sun Rises in a Chinese Hospital
Patrick Warner
Nicholas Bradley
Todd Boss
Petoskey Stone
I Find It Lovely That We Name Our Boats
A Hoard of Driftwood
Angela Rebrec
Forget the Mousetrap,
Build the Better Bomb
Evelyn Lau
Derek Sheffield
Made in America
A Glass for You
Daniela Elza
autobiography of grief 1
autobiogtaphy of grief 2
what temains
Margo Wheaton
North Street
77 Charles Demers
n some ways, the decision to write creative non-fiction is insane. On a strictly
tational level, it's difficult to recommend: like poetry, it has to be "the right
words in the right order"; like fiction, it needs to come alive with characters and
ideas, to be shaped and sculpted in such a way as to captute the teader and whisk
them through a structure that is neither so subtle as to be missed nor so obvious
as to be clumsy. The composition of good non-fiction, in short, comes with all
the exigencies and responsibilities which attend to any good literature-making,
without the benefit (or safety hatch) of invention.
It seems equally insane to agree to judge a non-fiction contest—to work
through a number of finely-wrought stories of travel, work, and family, violence
and survival, lives internal and external, and then to tty to rank what you've
come across.
So: why did these authors write what they wrote? And why did I judge it?
Well, at least in patt I judged it because J was asked to, and they wrote it
because hey, it's a contest, and contests—whether for singing or for designing
elaborate cakes ot for who can stay on an island the longest—ate one of the only
really fun aspects of late-late capitalist society. But in fact I agreed to judge, and
these writers agreed to write, because we all knew what good creative non-fiction
does when it works: it electrifies reality, letting us see what perhaps we think
we've already known at an angle, or in a light, that, in the words of that old
fascist Ezra Pound, "makefs] it new." (Sorry, the fascism stuff is a total downer in
what's otherwise meant to be an exultant judge's essay.)
As it happens, each of these winning submissions traces over that most
inscrutably familiar tangle of relationships: the family. In "The Generation
After," we see the way that the vagaries and accidents of geogtaphy and history
can work to reverse the dynamics between mothers and daughters; in "Sea Salt,"
it's the erosive effects of sibling rivalry twisted through the prism of mutual
incomptehension, and the love and pain that drives us to overcome them.
Finally, in "Doughnut Eaters"—my choice for first place—we're reminded that
sometimes our families withhold from us the very things which we most need,
but that, in the right (or wrong) circumstances, this absence can be the source of
strength and salvation. Although not without cost.
PRISM  53:3 Diane Bracuk
Otepping out onto my front porch one night to take my dog out for his evening
walk, I became transfixed by the sight of the man who lived across the stteet from
me. He was heading to his car to pick up his teenaged daughter—something I
knew he did regularly from one of the few pleasantries I had exchanged with his
wife since moving to this new neighbourhood after my divorce three months
ago. Mist, thick from a day of solid drizzle, rose up from the sidewalks, blurring
the brown-brick houses. Haifa block away, they all dissolved into a long, black
tunnel, giving the impression that this street—still unfamiliar to me, and empty
except for this man and me—could lead anywhere.
He didn't see me on the porch, standing absolutely still, watching him. A tall,
languid man in his mid-forties, he strolled to his cat, one hand in the pocket of
his khaki shotts, the other jiggling car keys. His head was lowered. Preoccupied,
I wondered? Or with the affectionate, mock-exasperation of the duty-bound
An unexpected wave of bitter longing hit me. Mine had been a long,
combative marriage, my emotions frozen to deal with my husband's hair-trigger
temper, a switchblade that could snap out at any time. My thetapist had warned
me that aftet I left my husband, and broke through the ice-hold of my defenses,
other, long-buried emotions would well up. This would release the hurt of my
damaged innet child, she explained, which made me feel like such a cliche that
I stopped seeing her.
The man's car was parked on my side of the street, a few doors down from
me. Why wasn't he glancing up at me, when sutely he had to be aware of the
intensity of my gaze, my whole being focused on him? "He never does things
around the house, but he'll take the kids anywhere or pick them up," his wife
had told me during one of our brief exchanges. "My father nevet picked me up,"
I wanted to snap back. "In fact, I wouldn't have dared ask him because it wasn't
Wasn't allowed. Such a whiney voice in my head, such an aggrieved, hard-
done-by voice. One that I held in check because I was turning fifty in a month,
and was embarrassed to be dredging up childhood wounds. The admission also
seemed so bizarre, an aberration of the natural father/daughter relationship that
had set the embattled tone for my matriage, and would probably strike again
when I became ready for another relationship.
Even if a marriage is only a shell, a shell still offers protection, I had written
in my journal. And here I was, resentful for feeling stripped so bare, so suddenly
and irrationally vulnerable, just by watching this man.
What would it feel like to be his daughter? To have love that you could
never doubt? That was just there, like air? That wouldn't be retracted if you did something wrong. Used the wrong tone of voice. Called him far too late, as this
daughter had likely just done, laughing, daring to laugh at the inconvenience she
was causing him by demanding, "Hey Dad. Can you pick me up?"
Still unaware of me, he inserted his key into the car door.
Look at me, I thought. See me. Walk towards me. Talk to me. Turn around.
But he didn't. And in his easy walk, that languid, mock-exaspetated, put-
upon father look, I saw all that had been denied me, all that would be denied. A
natutally protective paternal love, one that needed to be certain of a daughter's
safety on a foggy night like this, when a person could suddenly dissolve into the
Mists wtapped themselves around the landscape of my childhood, a long-
vanished rural Germany which was, in the mid-sixties, still reconstructing itself
after the Second World War. My father was in the Canadian Air Force, part of
the NATO alliance, an essential military presence necessitated by the Cold War
threat. From the ages of seven to twelve, I lived in Hugelsheim, a small village
in south-western Getmany, about half a mile from the ait force base where he
was stationed. Everywhere, modern, industrialized towns were springing up, but
Hugelsheim was plucked straight from a Breughel landscape. Horse-drawn carts
clattering on cobblestone streets. Storky blond German boys in Lederhosen.
And the church, with its high, Gothic spire, rising in the middle of town.
We—my father, mother, younger brothet, and I—lived on Hauptstrasse,
the main street, in an old, pre-war house. Like virtually every other home in the
village, it was part of a working farm complex. Our front yard was no suburban
green yard, but rather a long, rectangular strip of gravel with chicken coops
on one side, and bams housing cows, haylofts, and ancient, rusting fanning
implements on the other No one we knew had a phone ot a television set. Even
the toilet in our shed-like bathroom was a luxury, for outhouses were still the
norm in Hugelsheim, intensifying the smell of manure, which was omnipresent,
permeating both the village and the surrounding fields.
Our family was an anomaly, living off the air force base rather than in
the Personal Military Quarters (PMQs) other military families lived in. But
then, my father wasn't like any of the othet servicemen. He was Corporal Al
Bracuk, former amateur lightweight boxing champion of Canada, once slated
to fight Muhammad Ali—still known as Cassius Clay back then—in the I960
Olympics. A tall, green-eyed blond who I once thought was the tiny golden
boxer poised atop the boxing trophies in our house. "Big Al" denounced most of
his fellow servicemen as sissies who were dominated by their hen-pecking wives,
and whose spoilt-rotten kids made demands that bis kids knew we were not
allowed to make.
Chief among his "not alloweds" was eating anything made of white flour and
sugar—candy, Wonder Bread, pastries, and most contemptible of all, doughnuts,
a word he practically spat out. Instead we ate sandwiches made with wild honey
and coarse pumpernickel bread purchased at the local German gasthaus. We were
8 PRISM  53:3 also not allowed to do poorly in school of sports, to whine, complain, get sick,
get fat, or ask him for a ride to and from the base unless it was offered. It was,
after all, only about a mile away, and being his kids, BigAl's kids, we could easily
walk or ride our bikes.
I've read somewhere that childten are natutally conservative and don't like to
be different. Fot us, there was little choice, because in post-war Germany of the
mid-sixties, even the most innocuous Canadian militaty family stood out with
our fashionable clothes, new cars, and prevailing patronizing attitude of having
saved Europe from Hitler. Within that charmed bubble of being Canadian, there
was a smaller one of being part of my family, a difference I luxuriated in because,
to me, it meant being superior.
There is a black-and-white photo of us, the whole family at the Basel Zoo in
1965, swanning through a crowd of reserved Swiss. We are Canadians, the most
stylish family these people have ever seen. Most of them are still dressed twenty
years behind the times, the men wearing heavy formal jackets even in summer,
the women in frumpy dirndl skirts. My father is plowing ahead, as he always did
on family outings, expecting us to blindly follow his lead. Which we are all doing
without question, my mother tripping along by his side, my brothet a few feet
away from her, me taking up the rear.
In this photo a few of the European families have turned to stare shyly at
us, something I was used to back then. Why wouldn't they? Look at my father,
so smart in his Banlon sports shirt, crisp pleated pants, and shiny leathet dtess
shoes; my mothet, so chic in an aqua shift dress made from the latest Butterick
pattern; my brother, the all-Canadian boy in his Buster Brown shorts and T-shirt;
and me, a "swinging mod" in my lavendet bellbottoms and matching pop top.
I hold my ponytailed head high with the air of visiting royalty, knowing—even
at my young age of ten—that I am privileged. Knowing that most Canadian
kids weren't popping over to Switzerland for the weekends, nor did they have a
handsome father who was a magnet for admiring glances, a father who would
not turn around to acknowledge his family unless it was to tell them to hurry up.
And keep pace I did. I can see now in this photo that, like him, my gaze is
tilted somewhete in the middle distance. I don't have to watch where he'll turn
next as I can see my mother doing in this photo, het gay, tight public smile
belying her constant anxiety about making him angry. I am pulled along by his
momentum, his vast impatience to get to an exhibit he wants to see, the clip of
his smart dress shoes on concrete creating a reverberating rhythm of utgency.
That was me, a daughter who knew better than to treat her father like an
ordinary man. Never asking him to slow down. Or begging for one of the slablike Swiss chocolate bars beckoning everywhere from the kiosks designed like
Alpine chalets. (Indeed, I had learned to avert my eyes quicldy, even disdainfully,
from chocolate bats I was not allowed to eat.) I am also aware that I am being
stared at because I may be considered pretty. But without an idea of whether my
fathet thinks I am (for I have been told that I don't look like him, that honour
going to my milder-natured, blond, green-eyed brother, of whom I'm jealous for
that very reason) I can't be sute. But surely these people would see a similarity 9 in my stride, the way I hold myself so straight, the way my brown hair shines
because I only eat food that is good for me, because I am my father's daughter.
There is no photo of what happened to us aftet the zoo outing—getting lost on
our way home. Apart from the majot highways, European roads were not well
marked in those days. Driving back to Germany from the Basel Zoo, my father
missed a sign to the Autobahn, throwing us back into a rural Europe of the
nineteenth century.
On this country road where we found ourselves after dusk, thete wete no
cars, no lights, no sign that electricity had even been invented. Only miles of
dark, empty fields lay around us, the smell of manure plugging our nostrils.
In the gathering darkness, my brother and I nestled against the shiny leathet
seats of my father's new '65 red Rambler, as, swearing under his breath, he
stopped and once again consulted another of the half dozen maps he kept in
his glove compartment. Where do you think we ate, I wanted to ask, but I
knew better. We were not allowed to talk to my father when he was lost. My
mothet held het head rigid in the front seat, ready to flash me a silencing look
if I dared make a peep. But I didn't, partly out of habit, but also because I
was spellbound—in love with being lost. Countries in Europe were so small, a
quarter of the size of most provinces in Canada, so that within a half hour's drive
we could be in a whole new land.
But which one? Belgium? Luxemburg? Austria? Perhaps we had ventured
even farther afield, even dangerously so, and were approaching a Communist
country. Russia!
Steeped in unknown surroundings I wasn't allowed to ask about, the
landscape revealed itself. In the middle of a flat, muddy field, I spotted what
appeared to be two ploughed mounds of earth, but I knew they were a farming
couple. At ten, I had developed an eye for the subtle national diffetences
between farmers. Germans were the friendliest, often waving when they saw the
Canadian sticker beside our license plate, while the French flat-out ignored us.
But this couple seemed different, more suspicious, furtive. Pointedly pretending
they didn't see the Rambler with the lost Canadian family, they crouched
lower, like lumpen mounds about to sink back into the earth. Did they think
we wete spies? Or were they old people, still mired in memories of the war,
feigning invisibility as an enduring habit? We drove past them again and again,
in mesmerizing circles, and I was almost disappointed when my father shouted
with relief as he finally spotted a sign, and bulleted back to the Autobahn.
The day I found myself lost—truly lost—I had wanted to get home quickly.
I had been at my swimming lesson on the base, and had seen a thick fog
rolling in from the day's drizzle. Ordinarily I would have taken my usual route,
a picturesque countty road that curved past the PMQs and a sttetch of the
Black Forest before Turning towatd Hugelsheim, the church steeple reassuringly
announcing the town's presence. But this particular route—a new paved road
linking the base and town, which my fathet drove back and forth to work every
day—was more direct, a twenty-minute walk at most.
10 PRISM  53:3 A ten-year-old girl walking alone is a relic from another time. But back
then, it never occurred to me that I could be harmed. "Watch out fot airmen,"
my mother would sometimes warn me when I went out alone on my bike, but
in those days when "sex"—let alone "pedophile" or "rapist"—wasn't part of a
ten-year-old's vocabulary, she had never offered a clear explanation as to the
nature of these threats. I assumed it had something to do with the pejorative
tone my father always used in referring to men without rank. Usually single, and
living in barracks, these were the men who were out of shape and had Coke and
doughnuts {"just white flour and sugar!') on their coffee breaks. Whenever we
passed such a man on the base, invariably short and pudgy, without the smart
corporal's stripe on his uniform, my father would sneer "Doughnut eater!'Tt was
the most scathing insult he had for a man. So why would I need to be afraid of
Besides, on that foggy day, walking on a grassy footpath that ran alongside
the toad, I had other worries: a surprisingly disappointing swimming lesson.
Apparently I hadn't mastered the front crawl, and wasn't going to advance from
Juniors into Intermediates. My kick was off, too splashy and uncoordinated with
my arms, no matter how hard I tried. "Naw, you still didn't get it right," my
father had said the one time he had come to watch me, and I was gtateful that
he hadn't seen me today. All that healthy eating, and look at me! I felt the weight
of his disgust and how my failute to achieve this thing I had tried to master—a
first for me at ten—would give me nothing to talk about at dinner. For our
mealtime conversations generally took one of two forms: my father pontificating
on some new health theory, railing against the doughnut eaters, or my brother
and I reporting on something we had done well. Otherwise we remained silent.
The ground was slippery, with scraggly, wet gtass that was hard to walk on. I
was wearing a sleeveless, white fitted blouse and a paif of pink pedal pushers that
had become tight around my hips, due to the fact that I was "developing into a
young woman" as my mother noted. My still-wet chlorine-scented ponytail was
clamped to the back of my neck, my bathing suit rolled into a damp towel under
one arm. I kept my eyes on the ground to avoid the puddling parts of grass.
Another failure, as within minutes, the toes and canvas sides of my runners were
completely sodden.
After five minutes or so, I looked up, expecting to see the church spire of
Hugelsheim in the distance. Instead, I found myself heading into a denser bank
of fog, this one weirdly lit from within by a hatsh, leeching light. The road ahead
was barely visible, a smudge, which created a disorienting sensation, as if I would
disperse and become unseen as well. I concentrated on staying on the grassy
path, because I didn't want to get hit by a car. After what seemed a very long
time, the illuminated whiteness thinned, and I could make out the road again.
But still, no church spire. Just a long sttetch of fields and the grass path
ahead. Grass that I was beginning to see—now that I was focused on it so
intently—wasn't ttampled down by other footprints, and looked as if it had
been rarely used.
The harsh hum of an engine flared up behind me, then became more
muted—the car was slowing down. 11 My chest tightened. A new female knowledge seeped inside me. I didn't have
to worry about being hit by a car. I had been seen. And I had been since I was a
tiny smudge in the distance, a lone girl on a road few people walked on. It was
a him in the car. I knew this because of the way he had slowed down to watch
me. A car holding a nice family would go faster because they wanted to get out
of the miserable weather and rush towards the warmth of theit house. This man
had no particular place to go, and was appraising me.
Keep walking, 1 told myself. Do not run. Do not look back. Make sure you
look like you know where you're going. Any minute now, the church spire will
appear like a reproachful parental finger rising in the sky, saying, Where were
you? What took you so long?
But only more fog lay ahead, changing as if alive—light to dark, with an
unnerving boxlike solidity to it, as if I were walking through a compound of
empty rooms. Without turning, I sensed that the car was about five feet behind
me now. Four. Within seconds, its headlights would be nosing my elbow. My
sense of distance and timing was thrown off, but I now had a new sense of
another's timing: how long it would take to stop, grab, and do whatever it was
that men could do to young girls.
My runners were now completely soaked, my shirt clamped to my back,
making me feel like a wet paper bag. Disposable. Like something that could
be crumpled up and thrown away. Why weren't other cars coming from
Hugelsheim? With warm, golden headlights, a familiar face that might recognize
me? Or a hay wagon, driven by a kindly old German couple?
Or, my father?
For the first time in my life, I felt an inversion of things. My home life was
deeply abnormal. Why was I out here alone? Even if we had a phone, there was
no way I could phone my father and ask him to pick me up. And I knew with
a sharp, sudden pang, that the man in this car must know this too. That I was
not just a girl, but a disposable girl, one who was cold and wet in the fog for a
definite reason. My father didn't love me enough to give me a ride home—an
unsettling realization to have at the best of times, and even more so out here.
This man would know that I had done something wrong—or at least not right
enough to deserve my father's care. He would know that a red Rambler wasn't
going to come tearing out from the direction of Hugelsheim, screeching to a halt
in front of me, with a man who looked like a trophy jumping out to say, "For
God's sake, get in!"
An ache—a longing for something as simple as the warmth of a car seat and
a caring male presence—rose up in me as the man pulled up. I suppressed it. He
drove slowly, keeping pace. Then he drove oft, the hiss of his car dissolving into
a welcome silence.
Two more cars pulled up alongside me in this way, paused, looked, then left.
I had been walking fot what felt like at least a half hour now, maybe more.
My neck hurt from holding my head down, but I couldn't chance looking up
to face the growing dread of the illusive church steeple. How much longet did
I have to walk befote the grass turned to cobblestones undet my feet? How
12 PRISM  53:3 much longer could I trick myself into thinking I had merely miscalculated the
A particulatly high patch of thistles scraped my ankles, adding insult to the
indignity of soaked feet. Then I stopped cold, recalling something my father
had once said. We had been driving to the nearby city of Rastatt, and he had
commented on the new paved roads that were being built, so new that they
weren't even on the maps yet.
"Will you look at that!" he had said. "Will you just look at that! That road
wasn't even built a month ago!"
For the first time since I had set out from the base, I raised my head and
looked thoroughly at the landscape around me. Only dark, muddy fields
stretching out on either side, walled by white fog banks. Could I have taken
the wrong road? Was there another road leading out from the base that I wasn't
aware of? One that, in my haste to get home, and with my natutally poor sense
of direction, I could have taken by mistake?
Think, I told myself. Retrace your steps. You were at the base, you saw the
fog rolling in, you wound your towel mote tightly around your bathing suit, you
barrelled off at the checkpoint station. Did you see two roads?
Being lost had always been an adventure for me, those family excursions on
unknown roads that could lead anywhere. Now, with rising panic, I considered
that I could have headed east instead of west. I could be miles away from
Hugelsheim. Miles.
My legs were so tired I could barely stand. If I could just sit down for a few
minutes, I could figure out what to do next. Turning around and going back to
the base seemed to be the next logical step, but I needed something, a rock to sit
on. That round black shape across the road. Was it a mound of dirt, or a boulder?
The hiss coming from the distance was barely audible at first, but it needled
up my spine. This time I turned around to look at the car emerging from the
whired-out horizon. Blurry, matchbox-sized, it was moving slowly, too slowly,
with an odd, pulsating brightness to its headlights. The light created two spangled
whorls of colour, so the car looked like a float in a parade, hovering above the
road in a kind of celebratory excitement.
I looked away. This was the airman my mother had warned me about. The
one whose habits I suddenly, instinctively knew, just as I was undetstanding too
much about men that day, one sickening realization after another volleying in.
This man had no friends. He had been lying about in the barracks, bored. Then
he decided to go out for a drive in this miserable weather because it was better
than doing nothing. This was the airman who wanted to do me harm.
Hide, I told myself. But where? Had I missed anything when I looked around
me? A house, a patch of forest, farmers? Surely, if I squinted hard enough, I'd see
a mound of earth that was teally a nice German couple toiling out in those dark
fields. The utter flatness of the fields, the absolute lack of shelter, made me want
to cry.
And now the fog was clearing into a thin mist, making me more visible. With
nothing else to do, I resumed walking, those exuberantly spangled headlights
boring into my back. Being followed by him felt different than being followed 13 by the others, because I could sense now that there was concern in the way those
men had cautiously inched towards me—they had cared. This airman was taking
his sweet time to prolong the excitement of watching me: two gangly legs jerking
from developing hips, wet feet slipping on uneven clumps of grass. There was no
point in keeping my head down because I knew I was on the wrong road. And
he knew that I knew I was lost.
Tears sprang to my eyes, along with the bitterness of a new, sharp, personal
failure. This was the bleak, debilitating fear of being a lone female, and I suddenly
hated this man for making me feel ordinary.
Thankfully I had no concept of sex, nor had I ever read any newspaper
headlines about bodies being dismembered. I assumed that I would be tossed to
the ground, he would throw himself on top of me, and it might hurt.
My walk was all wrong now, on the point of giving up. When he was a few
feet away, I abruptly stopped, not just from exhaustion as much as the need to
get whatever was going to happen to me over with. Likely surprised, he pulled
up to the side of the road, and after a few seconds, opened the passenger door
and leaned out.
We looked at each other. He was moon-faced, with a fleshy chin nestling on
rounded shoulders and small, dark eyes. Eyes that changed before me, something
deeply restrained leaping out, a trembling eagerness acutely naked in its longing.
My shoulders jerked up in contempt. A doughnut eater! Even without seeing
the rest of his body leaning towards me, I could tell it would be soft and pudgy
from eating white flour and sugar, and I could sense his incomprehensible lack of
self-disgust in that. His lips twitched up in a little smile as if he actually thought
I would get in the car with him. I turned my head sideways, and saw, rising
out of the mist, not more than a hundred metres away, the chutch steeple of
A few months later, my mother heard rumours of a "bad airman" and
wouldn't let me go out alone for a while. Was it this man? I don't know, but if
so, it was pride in my father that saved me. Fear of men became ingrained in
my psyche that day, but contempt for those who were not of my father's calibre
occupied a higher plane.
The man saw it too. My scorn, my unexpected disdain, made him duck his
head back into his car, and in that instant, I took off. Running now, a gazelle,
strength returned from the sheer exhilaration of knowing that someone like him
would never catch up with the likes of me, thrilling as my feet hit the first
cobblestone of the town's street, my fathet's daughter.
14 PRISM  53:3 Nora Gould
The funniest pan—Hazel knew before I did—isn't funny at all.
She'd follow Charl to the potch, then while he put his boots on
come back to the kitchen, stare at me, some days refuse
to go with him. I assumed it was her arthritis.
Neither Farley nor I know how or when
we both knew that we both knew,
or what it was we thought we knew,
but with Zoe home to work on the farm
for rhe summer, we both knew she'd have to know
before she was around Charl and machinery.
It was a Monday in May.
I phoned Matthew and Bronwen,
talked with Zoe in her bedroom.
The slightest pause, she said
I saw without seeing. 15 Through all this, his goodness. I was not
I wanted them gone, never mind
they were not loaded, rifles and shells
under separate key. His anger a break-through
bleed. To know soon enough—what state of undress,
shoelessness, all that open ground,
I'd freeze, unaware I would again
recognize his face, him, a good man.
He didn't see the overtime goal.
The morning was foggy.
He didn't follow what was said on the phone.
The potatoes weten't planted.
The armrest in the truck was loose.
16 PRISM  53:3 Yes. The night before. More precisely, early morning.
In the past. Needing to be documented, held.
We had watched ballet on television: Love Lies
Bleeding. Awake to the dance, he'd gone
to bed—sleep was quick—leaving open
jars of peanut butter and jam; the toaster plugged in,
ready to create heat. A fire
from a cigarette flicked out a vehicle window—this
was afterwards, early evening on the day of. Carryover
grass. Smoke. From the kitchen it looked imminent, not
miles south of the hill. Had it been dark, he'd have seen
his downswing scatter flame, his water-soaked
gunnysack quell it. In sparse stubble
the fire wasn't robust. Lost. All this after he rode
to move the heifers. His dapple-grey, newly trained,
trotted up behind cattle, nipped at their asses. He said
he hadn't had a horse like that in forty years.
After the ballet, putting food away, letting dogs out,
bathing by candlelight, I had read.
Later wondered did his memory come from muscle,
could he know beyond himself,
how knowing came to him, whethet he tried,
could try, to bid it come. 17 I have an ectopic pregnancy
in my mediastinum,
a space-occupying lesion, acephalic,
that bulges into my throat, kicks
at my ventricles, obstructs breath.
I'm expecting a long gestation.
If I outlive Charl, when he dies
my grief will be stillborn—
I will grieve him
and my lack of grief.
18 PRISM  53:3 I am writing to you from inside this,
my confusion. You will recognize yourself.
I don't know you, who you are, how to find you,
but I know I am a person while I am with you.
Please forgive all the simple declarative sentences-
I am exhausted, lonely for you. Your refusal—
I didn't know I had asked, was it something
I said? body language?—told me what I carry,
how impossible it would be.
If you wete to hold me, let me hold you—
these are two different things—
could eithet of us allow either?
I miss Charl. That is
where I would be, where I am anyway,
not in his arms. This is not
guilt or impropriety.
Caffeine-tired, I can't sort this out
in a coffee shop
far enough from home to know that
it is not ttue. Charl is himself,
at the fatm—he will still grab his chin
in mock consternation.
The shelf above the potato pail is
undisturbed. This is all my fault.
I will go home and Charl will be himself.
He is himself. That's the thing. He is.
I miss you. I miss
the possibility of you,
I am in a hay field, snow gathering
in folds and creases—my coat sleeves. 19 KatjE. Ellis
Sometimes I think too much about breathing
and picture the words:   Inhale.   Exhale.
Think of a small country store,
sign on the door says We're open! Come on inhale!
Think of a city bus window
undetscored by the words Emergency Exhale.
I try bringing air in through my nose,
and when I open my mouth
the used air fogs a window in front of me.
I write mine or someone else's name.
They say they have to euthanize the California sea lions
that swim near the mouth of the Columbia
ruining the expensive Chinook salmon recovery program
by gorging themselves on the endangered fish.
I try not to think about what gives and what takes.
I tty to breathe easy. I try to—
Think of a door that says We're open! Come on inhale!
Think of a window that says Emergency Exhale.
20 PRISM  53:3 Sarah Mitchell
1 he barnacles live unfenced, uncornered, and unparalleled
I grew up in a grey house by the sea. The house inhaled salt every morning
and expelled it every night. When the cedar trees swayed with beach winds, the
windows of the kitchen, lidded like eyes, protected us from the sting. When the
horizon splintered the sun's descent, we walked to the shoreline and watched
barnacles flick their little tongues in and out underwater. When frogs overtook
the road's ditches in the summer, we settled on beached logs and listened to the
croaks as we slapped mosquitoes off our arms and antennaed beach bugs off our
legs. We grew up there, on that beach and in that house. The three of us did:
Nicholas, the eldest, with tusted curls and carefully chosen words; Kate, the
middle child, with flame-soaked ringlets and words that bubbled with spunk;
and me, the baby, with blond pin-straights and words that cut, that snared
others and ripped them to pieces.
If I could
If I were to lie, I would say I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't mean to wound
anyone, least of all you. But we both know you see right through me. We both know
I meant to. We both know I cut you, damaged you. And this is nothing if not a place
for truth.
Nicholas cut Kate's hair when we were young, not once but twice, but only
because we asked. He threw open the door of my bedroom so hard that the
spring broke and the doorknob punched a hole through the drywall, but only
because we asked. He shoved glow-in-the-dark marbles up his nose and chased
us up and down the pitch-black staircase—we didn't ask for that. When he was
angry, he screamed and threw books and lamps and plates and punches. Our
little legs carried us away into corners while my mother and father tried to stop
him, to hush him, to help. We didn't ask for that. But he didn't either
We grew in our backyard, spent afternoons and evenings climbing the
cedars. Kare and I bartered huckleberries for one of Nicholas's piggyback rides
and made stew out of mushy moss, pond water, and a stray nut or bolt from my
father's garage. 1 was pethaps five or six when I realized wood bugs terrified me,
instilling a fear deeper than monstets or strangets or the dark. When 1 noticed a
wood bug, I wailed the sort of wail that made a brother come running to soothe
my shakes and wipe my tears. He always came running.
In the winter, when our father heated the house with the woodstove, we
had stacks of firewood in the shed. Fir and yellow cedar and the occasional alder
log. Insects of all kinds thrived in the tower of wood—evetything needs shelter, 21 after all. But that meant the shed crawled with dangerous masses of wood bugs.
I couldn't go inside it.
I remember so clearly. Nicholas was twelve, and I was six, and I stood on the
narrow pathway between the house and the shed, snot and tears dripping onto
the concrete. He crouched down, coaxed a wood bug into his palm. He cupped
his hands and catried it to me. I remember crying. I remember his earnest tone.
"No, it's okay, Sarah. It's Herman. See?"
He opened his hands. A wood bug curled in on itself, a ball of grey shell,
frightened and alone. It slowly unfurled, little legs waving in the air. Sometimes
they have trouble getting back on their feet. He flipped it over and it wove
through his fingers, eventually fell and skittered away. "They're just little
Hermans, all of them," Nicholas said. "Hermans, like friends."
I don't remember whether it took minutes or hours after that. What I do
remember is later that day, I held a Herman in my hand, then another, then
another. To this day, Nicholas still calls wood bugs Hermans. I didn't ask for
that, but he gave it to me anyway.
Whatever it means
Nicholas is autistic. For all my life, others have met this news with furrowed
brows and declarations. But he's normal, said one friend. But he doesn't drool or
anything, said another. I explain over and over that yes, if you were to look at him,
you wouldn't know; yes, he is high-functioning autistic, which is similar to but not
interchangeable with Asperger's; yes, he is very lucky to be able to function in the
world, yes, very, very lucky. I say nothing else because it would take a lifetime to
explain what this means to someone who has heard of autism only once or twice
in their life, or someone else who tries to convince me that vaccines (without-
a-doubt-scientifically-proven-celebrity-confirmed) cause autism (for the record,
they don't). It would take a lifetime, a lifetime that isn't even mine. I say nothing
else because no one, other than my sister, knows what it meant to grow up with
my brother. I say nothing because no one, other than Nicholas, knows what high-
functioning autism means to him.
Lf I could say
As a child, when I lay in bed and listened to the waves pound the shore, I used to
imagine that you lay awake too. I used to imagine that you heard the same waves,
that we would sneak down the stairs together, tiptoe out the front door and run to the
beach. You could show me how to skip rocks across the water, watch them fly once,
twice, three times. I used to imagine you'd fall asleep smiling.
Thirteen years after the fact, I asked my mother why Nicholas had been on antidepressants. She said, rubber-gloved hands deep in a sink full of dirty water,
"Learning you're autistic can be devastating."
His pills were organized into fenced receptacles that squated the days into
lines and corners. This box was Monday, then Tuesday, then Wednesday and
Thursday and Friday until all the days came and went and the cycle began
22 PRISM  53:3 again. They were made only of manufactured powder and gel that melted in the
stomach, broken into nothing by the body's defenses, but even so: they dissolved
in him and changed who he was, what he felt. The pills were two-toned, split
in half by kelly green and the distinct shade of rotting corn. Every night, my
father opened the cabinet above the cutting board, snapped open a Monday or
a Tuesday or a Wednesday, tucked a Prozac into chocolate pudding and said,
"Nicholas, it's time to take your pills."
Nicholas hated them, refused to swallow the capsules until he and my
parents remained at a stalemate late into the night. It was my mother who had
thought to tuck the pills into pudding, hoping that would make it easier for
him to choke them down. It did, at first. Fourteen years later, he still can't eat
chocolate pudding.
Nicholas was twelve when he started taking the antidepressants. I was six and
knew only that, when the time came fot him to take his medication every night,
Kate and I had to make ourselves scarce. Sometimes we didn't clambet out of
the way in time and witnessed him as he choked down a spoonful of pudding,
witnessed my father and mother as they encouraged him to swallow, in nearly as
much pain as he was, witnessed him as he saw us and opened his velvet-coated
lips to scream and swear and yell. So we learned and we hid, and we knew, even
then: our family is not like any other.
Nicholas and I fought. After I hit pubetty, we fought and fought. It didn't really
matter about what. We picked something, drew a line, and threw words at each
othet, ignored the sting that we each inflicted and received. We pretended that
what we said didn't hurt. "Siblings fight," my mother said. Maybe this was ttue.
Maybe it should be said that Kate and I fought too, that all brothers and sisters
fight. But when the kitchen windows were left open and salt blew into our
house, the sting ate away our edges and left us raw.
If I could say this,
Do you remember when you visited me at kindergarten lunchtime? Do you remember
when I ran on the school field and the wind blew in my eyes, made them water'! My
cheeks dripped, unsalted. A different kind of tears. I remember you. You took my
shoulders in both hands and asked me over and over, 'Are you okay! Are you hurt!"
But most of all I remember the look in your eye, the set of your mouth. Most of all, I
remember feeling protected.
Sticks and stones
He was seventeen, then, and I was eleven, and I hid in my room when I came
home from school because the air felt thick and heavy and dangerous. I didn't
know why, but I knew enough to read the signs. Sometimes, if the wind gusted,
we could hear the waves pound like a hammer on ice. Sea salt made my teeth
ache and so I tossed my backpack, ran up the stairs, closed the doot. Nicholas's
bedroom door was also closed, which didn't seem uncommon; what was
uncommon, though, were the scrapes and rapid-thunder crashes, a crack here, 23 a beat there. The noises knotted together on his side of the wall. He had moved
furniture. He had barricaded his door.
We didn't see him that evening, or the next. Friday and Saturday passed and
already it was Sunday and he hadn't come out of his room once. My mother and
father took turns knocking, asking, "Nicholas? Please come out? We don't have
to talk." He answered with eithet a shout of expletives or silence. My parents
whispered at the kitchen table. My sister and I sat in silence on the couch.
Then the phone rang, and when my mother answered, the caller's voice—
angry and loud—shot oft like a gun at a horse race. I heard the woman's words,
but only some, from my vantage point on the couch. We all did. "Your son broke
my son's finger." Pause. Repeat. "They were in the woodshop at school. Your son
broke my son's finger." Inhalation. "Are you there? Excuse me? Your son broke my
son's finger!"
Later, my mother knocked on Nicholas's door again. He moved the furniture,
the scrapes and crashes a little more calm, a little less frantic. He told her what
had happened, fingers in a knot. "They called me retarded," he said. "They called
me retarded."
A sum of five parts
My mother and I drove down the toad to our quiet grey house. The sea slowed
to a calm on the far side of the cedar trees. My stomach rolled and lurched with
the van's movements. We turned into our dirt driveway and my teeth chattered. I
wasn't cold, but in shock: we were coming back from the hospital. "The anesthetic
might make you feel a little woozy for the next couple hours," the nurse had told
my mother before we left. I had been operated on, a minor surgery on my leg.
Though it went off without a hitch, my family and I were terrified.
My mother helped me limp out of the car, past the shed and the Hermans,
into the laundry room where Kate and Nicholas hovered. Gingerly, they
supported my weight up the next three staits into the living room, set me down
on the floral couch, and examined me.
"Mom will be mad if you throw up on the carpet," Kate said matter-of-factly.
"Kate," Nicholas said, his voice a scowl. Both of us should have known then
that his teprimand was nothing but smoke. He leaned forward and squinted,
watched my teeth chatter and my hands shake. Apparently I was in decent
enough shape to be made fun of: reaching over to my father's 4x4 magazine,
he pulled out a cue-card advertisement and tenderly inched the edge between
my teeth. The other end waggled in perfect synchronicity to my chattering. He
Kate covered her mouth with one hand, but a giggle slipped out. My mother,
back from the car, guffawed. My father thumped up the back porch, peered into
the living room through the sliding glass door, and snorted.
White-knuckled stars
Fifteen, and the world spun. I sat on the damp ground in front of a retirement
home, swaying and far too dtunk. Hidden behind clouds, the moon seemed to
swing in the night sky. My rum-soaked breath puffed into steam, then nothing.
24 PRISM  53:3 My mother had given me her cellphone for the evening; she and my father
thought I was at the movies, probably bending their rules by drinking a Coke
and eating buttered popcorn. Instead, I snapped their rules in half by taking
swigs from a bottle of Sailor Jerry's with a boy.
Two hours earlier, I had felt rebellious and free. Now, I felt sick, and not
only because of the rum that sloshed in my belly, but also because the boy had
begun to look at me with hungry eyes, had begun to allow his hands to wander
more and more, and had seemingly grown deaf to the word "no." So I pulled out
my mother's phone and scrabbled the only number I could think of, croaked,
"Can you please pick me up?" I stood and wobbled, gravel in my palms and fire
in my belly. The boy fled. An elderly man walked out the home's creaking front
door and narrowed his eyes. We swayed togethet for a moment, thirty feet apart,
befote he shuffled back inside. When Nicholas, twenty-one now, roared up in his
Ford Focus, I didn't tell him what happened. I didn't say anything but I think he
knew anyway, I think he could tell, because the only thing I remember from the
drive home is his hands white-knuckling the wheel.
If I could say this, if I could say
There's a picture of us up on the wall at home. I must have been about a year old,
and six-year-old you held me in your lap, grasped my hand in yours. A juice box sat
emptied on our other side. I now know that you had held the straw up to my mouth,
had taught me my love of apple juice. Kate crouched on our other side, and in the
background Dad's failing orange tree twinkled with Christmas lights. We grinned
until our cheeks hurt. Immortalized, just in case we ever needed a reminder: it used
to be easy.
The road and back
Nicholas and I drove to Pottland together to visit extended family when I
thought myself mature at seventeen. A six-hour drive, just the two of us. The
trip undulated wildly between great and awful, between laughing ourselves to
tears and yelling ourselves hoarse. We commiserated with each other about our
mother's questions on our love lives, then tore each other's love lives to pieces.
We stopped for food and bought sandwiches. I bellowed out the lyrics to Red
Hot Chili Peppers and he laughed at me. He spilled mayonnaise down his shirt
and I laughed at him.
We argued with each other about music choices, life choices, any othet choice
under the moon. I told him the bands he liked wete stupid and he told me I was
stupid. I told him we shouldn't have even gone on this fucking trip anyway and
he told me to get out of his car. The vehemence in our voices surprised both of
us. For that trip, the bad times made the good disappear. When I remember that
drive, I remember an anger that ate me up.
Things between us became especially bad after that. He had moved out by
then, but lived a five-minute drive away and stopped by the house often. His
visits never started with fights, but always seemed to end with them. The house
echoed with our yelling matches. It didn't matter what we fought about. The
subjects were trivial, inconsequential: movies, grammar, one funny look. On one 25 memorable day, I fled the house in tears after we nearly came to blows about the
merits of the women's fashion industry. Sometimes my mother tried to mediate.
Other times she waited it out and talked to us separately afterward.
I distanced myself from him. I thought it healthiest at first, that the sort
of senseless rage we felt was never going to be worth it. Fot about a year, our
relationship stretched to its thinnest, eaten away by the sting of salt. If we talked,
my voice stiffened and he sensed it. If we looked at each other, he scowled and
I knew. We were family, but not friends. We loved each other, but it had never
been said. I didn't think it would be possible for us ever to be civil, let alone
enjoy each other. That was the worst time.
"You're treating him pretty rough, you know," my mother told me. I don't
know if she said the same to him. "He's having a hard time." I didn't think so.
It was two weeks before my first day of university, and about a year after the trip
that had changed the trajectory of my relationship with Nicholas. My mother
rapidly realized that her youngest had prepared to leave the nest, and so the last
couple days living at home felt bittersweet. I sat at the computer, double and
triple-checking that I had all my textbooks, all the No. 2 pencils I needed and all
the necessities for dormitory living. Nicholas came in through the laundry room.
We were the only two home.
I can't remember what sparked the argument that time. I asked him about it
and he can't remember either. Whatever it was, it was a bad one, and it reached
deepet than any of our fights ever had. I remember swivelling around in my seat
to yell things that tumbled out of my mouth without my permission: "Do you
think you matter?" He yelled too: "I'm your brother!" At one point, I told him to
drop it. He refused. At another, he told me he was done. I couldn't accept that. I
half-rose out of my seat. He clenched his fists, arms crossed, and stood too. The
next words I threw stung us both. "Do you know how much you affected us? Do
you even care?"
We stood there, chests heaving. The corners of my eyes teared with salt water,
but I refused to let him see. He deflated, sat down, and loosened his crossed
arms. His voice shook, but not with anger. With something I had never heard
before. "I do know." The words trembled. "I'm just..." He set his elbows on his
knees and his head in his palms, rust-coloured curls dull between his fingers.
"Are you ever wanting to see me again when you're gone?"
Salt overflowed, ran down both our cheeks. I gibbered through snot and
teats and spit. His cupped hands didn't hold a Herman this time, but reached to
gtab the tips of my fingers instead. "You're treating him pretty tough, you know,"
my mother had said.
We talked. For the first time in a year, we sat down togethet, squished into
the same armchair, and truly spoke to each other. About important things. About
what I said and why it changed things, about what I didn't mean and what I did
mean. About what high-functioning autism meant fot all three of us. Kate came
home then and walked in on us. She saw my wet cheeks and Nicholas's red eyes.
She saw our hands clasped together.
26 PRISM  53:3 When my parents came home, they found the three of us crammed onto the
armchair. Nicholas and I gave a sort of half-smile ("Identical," my mother told
me later) and we all moved out onto the front porch.
The winds from the beach were strong. I told Nicholas three words that I had
never said to him before, in all my eighteen years. He said them back. He, Kate,
and I sat on the creaking porch and there wasn't anything else we needed to say.
The house exhaled, expelled salt in a gentle breath.
If I could say this, if I could say this to you:
I would hold Hermans for you. I would break that boy's other fingers for you. I would
fly to you, run to you, crawl to you if you needed me. I would.
This, here, is what it means to me
Growing up with Nicholas meant that I never had a "normal" big brother
relationship, that he used to play fight a little too rough and I, at eleven,
imagined breaking another boy's fingers in order to protect him. Growing up
with Nicholas meant that I learned how to duck and I learned who to call if
I needed help. Growing up with him meant the realization, over the span of
days and months and yeats, that autism, whatevet pigeonhole high-functioning
is scientifically fit into, doesn't define him, nor has it ever, nor will it ever. It is
utterly subjective, and means different things for different people.
He's an adult now. It's frightening. He still tries to fart on my face or throw
peanuts at Kate's head, but somehow, this has improved our relationship. He still
tries to get under my skin, but I would be lying if I said I didn't do the same to
him. We talk now. About significant things, or not. The important thing is that
we talk. He visits me at school, and whenever I go home for a weekend or a break
or the summer, we make time to see each other, to look, to talk. The house hasn't
tasted of salt fot a long time. 27 Michelle Brown
Here's something funny. A clamshell that you couldn't
open. In a market, and it was definitely funny.
The others thought so. They were wiping their
eyes with ditty napkins as they watched you dig yout nails in.
In the market, as the night was closing up. The people were laughing
and you were angry because you wanted it so bad, wanted
it all, the heatts and brain of it all together, and I was laughing
because it was funny, so funny, and that's what humour is,
it's funny because you're afraid it's true, and here I was laughing
at yout stubby fingets, laughing at the woman scrubbing the shells
in a bucket of seawater, laughing at the sea, that impossibility,
knowing that nothing would ever be funny again
as we stood up from the table and returned to the train,
all of us laughing at you and the timing that death
seems to have, lapping at everything.
As they roll out the dead one
in a party of grieving hands,
I look up "death," my lung
still submerged.
Si, "to die" and also,
"stubbornly." I don't know who is coming
and who is gone, the grown sons
asleep at theit mothers' feet, drank,
as tear water drips lazily down.
A woman laughs when I cough, two
fatties. I don't speak well
and so I don't at all. A man passes
his hand over his eyes. Night, and then
it is not. I eat the strawberries anyways.
My sickness is obvious, mimes the language.
I lick my fingers clean of it.
What a long needle that night was.
Now it is morning, so I remove
the word from my history, and kick
over the chair, dust, all of it, death,
the man being born in the hallway, covered
in light and blood. 29 Ann Cavlovic
J. arrive at the embassy with documents, a CD, and a mild fear of not seeming
Polish enough. Since my mother was born in Poland before World War II, my son
and I are apparently entitled to citizenship. We are happy and settled in Ottawa,
but since my son's birth, I've been imagining the world fifty years from now, and
I want him to have the option to reverse-immigrate to Europe if needed. Most
new mothers fear for the future, and perhaps I'm an extreme case, given my own
childhood filled with stories of war, displacement, and everything being taken
Through a pane of glass, I greet the woman behind the countet with "Dzien
dobry." My accent, honed from listening to my mother chatting with friends,
is convincing enough that the woman responds in Polish. I then see a familiar
expression, a light going out behind the eyes, when someone born in Poland and
older than me tealizes I can't actually speak the language. I present the documents
in English.
"None of your mother's identification cards are from Poland," she says.
I recite the story I've heard countless times. My mother left Poland at
age six to reunite with het mother, who had been sent to Germany to be an
indentured servant. Everything my mother owned was left behind. "It's explained
in the autobiography," I say, pointing to the CD. There was a requirement
for a handwritten explanation of one's departure from Poland, but since my
mother can't write for long, I recorded her telling her story in fluent Polish. Her
identification cards from Canada, England, and the Displaced Persons camps—
or DP camps—in Germany all state her Polish origin.
The officer assigns me several tasks: all our identification cards need to be
translated into Polish, a signed letter should attest that my mother's recorded
statements ate true, and she should come in person to the embassy, despite her
health. If my mother's citizenship is confirmed, the officer assures, it would be
automatic for my son and me.
When I come to pick my mother up, she is cutled up on top of her sheets,
ovetdressed for this hot day, and reeking of sour sweat. I put my hand on her
plump cheek, and her eyes open and brighten like a child's: blue eyes in that
typical Polish shape. As I help peel off her sweatet, I see the name tag of another
resident sewn in the collar. For weeks she has been stealing dirty clothes from the
common laundty hamper in the hallway. I toss the sweater aside, planning to
sutteptitiously return it to the hamper, which the nurses have now moved farther
from her room. She stole turnips as a child during the war, eating them straight
from neighbouring fields. Although she's never since touched a turnip, she's had
sticky fingers most of her adult life.
30 PRISM  53:3 "I was thinking, Ann. Let's not bother with this," she says, sitting on her bed.
"I don't want to get that nice German family in trouble."
That story goes like this: Once reunited, my mother and grandmother
were sent to a German family's vineyard, which was a relatively lighter-duty
assignment, as far as forced labor goes. The German family paid with bottles
of their wine to sneak my mothet into school, but she still toiled alongside her
mother when she came home.
"Mom, it has nothing to do with them. It won't get them in trouble."
She grunts, and grabs her cane instead of her walker, despite my protests. She
shuffles to the hallway, insisting het slippers are fine for a short trip, and calls out
to an orderly: "Hiya handsome. This is my beautiful daughter!"
We slowly make our way to the car, arms linked. She loses her balance ttying
to get into her seat, so I steady het hands on the car.
"Why am I so dizzy all the time?"
"Just part of growing old, I guess." I've stopped trying to explain what
Alcohol-Related Dementia means. At seventy-six, she's among the nursing
home's youngest residents.
At the embassy, I introduce my mothet to the same consular officer. My
mother quickly launches into stotytelling mode in Polish. I know from the
rhythm of her words, and the reaction on the officer's face, that it's her favourite
story—the full explanation of why she left Poland at age six. At the time, the Nazis
were taking one male from every Polish family to work as indentured servants
in Germany. In her family her uncle was selected, a father of five children. The
family decided that his sister, my grandmother, should go instead, since she had
only my mother to support. My mother was to stay with her uncle and his family.
Her father had died when she was an infant, and her beloved stepfather was deaf
and could not take care of her alone.
My mother raises her finger, as she always does midway through this story
when saying: "As soon as the door was closed, my aunt treated me like a slave. So
I decided I'd rather be a slave to strangers than my own family." My mother snuck
out of her uncle's house that first night, and walked several kilometres to the train
station, barefoot. A young couple took pity on her and paid her fare, enabling
her to travel to the station where hundreds of Polish men were being held prior
to ttansport to Germany. Through the gate, she spied her mother in the crowd,
and talked her way into an enclosure nearly everyone else wanted to leave.
The light is back in the officer's eyes. She is charmed by my mother, as
strangers often are. It gives me hope, but now there's another hurdle: that CD
needs to be ttanscribed on paper, a change from what the officer said earlier.
On the way home, I hear the dryness of my mother's mouth when she speaks.
I spot a family testaurant, and park as close as possible to the doot. She gets out
with surprising nimbleness. Fiercely determined despite leaning heavily on her
cane, she proceeds directly to an even closer pub.
"Mama, I'll buy you a non-alcoholic drink, okay?" According to het doctor,
one drink could increase her cravings and interfere with her medications.
She winks. "I just want one little shot, strictly for medicinal purposes."
My attempts to reason with her work as poorly as they do with my preschooler. 31 Once seated, she relinquishes charm and orders me to comply, reassuming the
parental role. I say no, calmly, and try to distract her by pointing out the first
beautiful thing I see—a sunbeam shining through the window. She starts to yell.
"If you love me, buy me a drink now!"
The waitress turns and stares.
I tell her I love her and that I'll do no such thing.
Beside my desk is a heap of documents, the CD, the card of the last translator—
who's no longer in business—and the phone book. I've passed by this heap for
months, each time muttering I should get this over with. Now I can barely
remember what needs to be done. This is unlike me. I'm normally an organized,
multitasking working mother. But I've been incapable of taking a step. Now,
while spring cleaning and seeing this pile with fresh eyes, I'm annoyed. I call the
first listed translator who works in Polish, decide not to care about the expense she
quotes, and hop on my bike to drop off the CD. A week later the transcription
is ready.
When I return to the embassy, the same officer informs me that a new
requirement is now in place: I need an address in Poland to which all government
correspondence would be sent. They no longer mail responses to Canada.
"I'm sorry, I don't know why, but those are the new rules," says the officer.
In university I became friends with a woman named Ilona, who had emigrated
from Poland a few years earlier. I once made reference to us being two Polkas,
and she balked. "I think of you as more Croatian than Polish." Although I was
raised with little connection to my father's culture, it's not the fitst time I've
experienced that perception. When I encounter Croatians they tend to look at
my cheekbones, and last name, and seek to lay claim. I receive invitations to
parties, to visit the homeland, to take sides. But my facial construction and my
last name are both flukes—the arbitrary dominance of one subset of genes, of the
father's name over the mother's. Had the coin toss gone the other way, and I'd
ended up with my mother's blue eyes and the last name Kupinska, pethaps those
perceptions would be different, even though I would still be "half" Polish.
Ilona is helpful when I call about my latest hurdle. "What a pain. I bet my
friend in Poland would do it though," she says.
I have no family in Poland I could ask. When the war was over, and they
were at a DP camp, my grandmother sent my then fourteen-year-old mother on
a rrain back to Poland to see who had survived. My mother got to the border and
saw Russian officers eyeing her while stroking their machine guns, smirking. She
turned back. But because she dreamed of going to North America, she told her
mother that she had made it to the Carpathians, and found no one was left.
I've heard this story, like all my mother's stories, a million times. But in all
the previous tellings, I was not yet a wife and a mother. I only heard it the way a
child would: literally and uncritically. Now, I wake up thinking about this story,
and for the first time ask an adult question: what happened to her stepfather, her
mother's husband, the only father she remembers, of whom she always spoke
32 PRISM  53:3 I call my mother. "Remind me, what happened to your stepdad?"
"We were separated in the war."
"But Mama, remember when you went back? Did you know if he was still
alive then?"
"I assume so. Maybe. Probably."
"You mean you told your mom her husband was dead when he could've been
"Well, if he survived that long without us, he would've been okay."
In her stories, my mother plays the role of victim and heroine. As I put down
the phone, I stop seeing her that simplistically. I can't imagine my own child lying
to me about my husband's death. But she was a teenager who never had a real
childhood. Maybe everything is different in a war. Or maybe what she tells me
are still lies. Did she break her mother's heart, or was he indeed dead, a deaf man
alone in a war? I will never be able to understand her decision, a choice that led
to my birth in Canada.
The house is quiet, and my son asleep. I tiptoe downstairs in the dark and see an
email from Ilona. But the news, translated and third-hand, is not good.
Ann, I got an email from my friend in Poland. She said she can barely
understand what they're saying in this very official letter, but basically, they
don't have enough evidence to grant citizenship. Sorry! They're asking if you
have additional documents you haven't presented yet! (I guess the answer is
no!) They also asked if you tried the International Tracing Services in Bad
Arolsen ( I have a case number and address if you
want to write back.
I click on the link. The homepage explains that the International Tracing
Service is a centre for documentation, information and research on Nazi persecution,
forced labor and the Holocaust. I feel sick reading those words, and cannot absorb
the lengthy and complicated requirements around requesting documents. I close
my computer, and slip into bed.
My son is hurtling away on a black train, crying, and I fling my body forward,
trying to grab on. I awake. My hand is stretched out above me in a dark and
tranquil bedroom. My husband rolls over. As usual after dreams like this, I can't
fall back asleep for hours.
When I tell my mothet the outcome she says: "I knew they wouldn't. It's because
my mother was Lemky."
This word Lemky is another thing I heard countless times as a child. I ask a
Polish woman at my workplace, and she confirms that the Lemko, as she calls
them, are an ethnic subgroup in Poland who speak a dialect similar to Ukrainian.
"They're like Mennonites here in Ontario. They were given a hard time after the
wat, pushed off their land. But they're more respected now."
I make time at work to read about the Lemko, and their stories about war,
displacement, and everything being taken away. A people of blurred boundaries,
they've been closest to the blows each time the lines dividing Poland, Germany, 33 and the Austro-Hungarian empire were chopped into different patterns. Their
current territory is back inside Poland.
"The Polish and the Lemky kids both would say the roof of my mouth was
black," was my mother's way of explaining she belonged in neither of two worlds.
She was, in those days, considered a "half-breed."
When I was a teenager, my mother used to warn against marrying someone
of a different race. But in my downtown Toronto high school, a pale Irish boy and
a dark Ethiopian girl were a cool combination. The distinction between Polish
and these people called Lemky seemed laughable, incomprehensible. My first
boyfriend was Filipino, causing her to panic.
"Think about what it would be like for the children," she'd say.
Four months pass before I reread Ilona's email, and realize I'm giving up too
easily again. I reply, belatedly thanking het, and mention I'll contact the Tracing
Service. She replies the next day.
Guess what! Literally just 2 min ago I got a message from my friend that she
got a new letter announcing they are re-opening the case. They checked the
International Tracing Service themselves!
One of my mother's recorded stories, as well as a legal affidavit, explain why some
of her documents show an incorrect year of birth. To immigrate to the UK, either
my mother or grandmother had to be fit to work. But my gtandmothet was too
frail, so my then fourteen-year-old mother had to find a way to become twenty.
The priest they approached was initially unwilling to make a false attestation,
but when asked what life they'd have in the DP camp or homeless in Poland,
he relented. The picture on my mother's British "Aliens Order — Certificate of
Registration" shows a teenager with an adult hairdo, trying hard to look serious.
So the issue of my mother's changed birthdate stands out in the latest email
from Ilona. It's a long message, translating all the steps Polish officials took, and
why they cannot confirm citizenship.
They received several documents from the Tracing Service for a Zofija
Kupinska, matching my mother's movements through DP camps perfectly: an
identification card from the Polish camp Boblingen; an A.E.F Assembly Center
Registration Card; a list of people resettled from the Flandern Kaserne Stuttgart
Resettlement Center to England in 1947. But the letter notes these are all for a
Zofija Kupinska born February 2nd, 1927, not February 2nd, 1933. It seems
they have fotgotten about the changed birth year.
They also couldn't confirm whethet my mother was born in or out of wedlock.
If her parents were married, she would take citizenship after her Polish father,
Stanislaw Kupinski, who died when she was an infant. If not, she would take
citizenship after her mother, my grandmother, a Lemko. So does that distinction
matter after all?
Even if I had a way to confirm my grandparents' marriage, the deadline for
appeal is only seven days away.
34 PRISM  53:3 At the end of the email Ilona writes:
Sorry my dear!! After all this, you sureyoud want to be a Polka anyway!
I thought I had accepted this outcome a while ago. But it gnaws at me to think
the main obstacle could be an overlooked birth year change. I go to the embassy,
and the officer kindly says she'll see what she can do, despite the deadline.
A few days pass, and I receive an email from the officer.
Unfortunately, we cannot help. It is too late to appeal ivithout further
Poland lost so much during World War II. Above all, it lost so many of its people.
That's why, I had thought, Poland had a citizenship policy extending down the
generations—to get their people back.
Every time I call my mother she asks me to bring her a bottle of Krupnik,
a Polish honey liquor, her consumption of which contributed to het needing a
nursing home in the fitst place. I am as revolted by the taste and smell of Krupnik
as she is by turnips. But by now, constantly denying her seems a greatet cruelty.
I wtite letters to her doctor asking her to let the old girl have a drink, and the
doctot agrees.
When I bring that tall yellow bottle into her room, my mother's eyes widen
like a six-year-old's. She motions for me to slip it to her, but I give it to the nurses,
who've agreed to administer one "shot" daily. At that dose, it won't interfere with
her medications.
Through the window, I hear joyful shrieks from the playground below. My
son and husband are pretending to be monstets, scaring each other, then laughing
about it. I won't let my son see his grandmother around alcohol, after she last tore
open all our kitchen cabinets. He has just turned six years old, and I can't imagine
him walking to school unaccompanied, let alone to a train station to chase after
Like a girl with a soda, my mother guzzles quickly, then smiles. "It warms me
from the inside, all the way down." She slides into bed, and tells me I am free to
Every generation wants to believe they are doing better by the next.
Tucking in her sheets, I kiss my mother goodbye. 35 Patrick Warner
The smell of oranges was all
that would remain of him;
an odour rising from a plate
in a fine hotel, the last strain
of strange before it became
familiar. This was his epigraph.
Departure came with a sense
of peace. Newness nullified
the awful fact that he was
dragging a parachute behind
him that would not detach.
For every yank, a yank back.
His attitude would forge
his itinetaty, buy his ticket.
He would not be arrogant:
that would lead to atrocity.
He would be brave, luminous.
He would pursue appeasement.
His marriage, when it came,
would be a divorce, a sign
that there would be no return,
a thought that reduced
him, made him vomit until
he felt he might disappear.
And yet, he had to admit,
that out of this despair came
promise; such reduction
seemed to pave the way;
seemed to say that all along
this was his plan of attack,
36 PRISM  53:3 only now he understood it:
to reject was to die, to refuse
was to die, to mock was to die.
The forfeit had to be made
before he could partake,
he must fender from himself
to be restored; he must not
glorify loss but beg pardon
from the life left behind;
he must refine, not excuse,
live this double life not as
saboteur, but as open door. 37 Nicholas Bradley
Collisions concentrate the mind.
The first time, I went head-
first into the passenger side
as if to split the caf in two.
The Lexus spurned my bike:
I made the intersection my own
little Kitty Hawk, piloting myself
in stfaight-line flight, a last-ditch
twist of the neck no good.
I crunched. I snapped. A thick part
of my skull smacked the black panel.
I bounced onto the road and lay
in the dark, on my back, in the way,
convinced of physics. The next time,
decked out like a racer, I skidded
across the street. Synthetic fibres
melted in advance of my skin.
Later I scrubbed Lycra
out of my hip until the clean
wound shone like a new coin.
And when a brawny trainee nurse
coarse-clothed gravel out of my shins
and let raw flesh catch its wayward breath,
neithef art nor philosophy
offered consolation. Between take-off
and landing, as gravity clears
its throat, you await metamorphosis.
Silent, solo, you hope to return
to routine. This poem is for my mothet,
who wotries, and the drivers, God bless,
whom I remember each night when I undress.
38 PRISM  53:3 Todd Boss
A hundred thousand years old, you said,
but I looked it up:
Four hundred million's more like it, Dad.
Still, what's a couple thousand
centamillenia more or less?—Man
might as well have stood erect
just yesterday
for all he's come to. Doesn't matter.
You wanted to make a gift and you were trying
to say it was special. That's why
as our summer vacation wore on,
you sanded every day
the Petoskey stone you'd found onshore,
sanded it smooth and smoother
with a fine black wet sandpaper
to illuminate the coral core
fossilized in there, and I was reminded
how I hated standing
at your workbench as a boy, sanding
some work of hardwood, practicing patience
abominably. After the tough stuff,
the numbers get higher
and the sawdust finer and the pores
in the grain take on a radiant sheen you'd
never dreamed was there. The pores
in one's fingers absorb more and more
of the finer dusts, so that soon it seems
one's made of wood oneself,
as indeed we are, as wood is made of us.
I hated that tedium, hated it,
and yet here I am now, smoothing it down,
this poem, revising and revising it,
doubtful it will ever be done—
wanting to make something lasting
of the off-hand way he gave that stone,
polished to a sheen, to my son. 39 FOLDS
A bleat
from the lost
and shivering flock
of migraine sleep
and you've asked
for the black sheep
we call Baa
who went with you
till you were twelve
and so from
the croft in your
closet whete
outgrown you
propped him
we fetch him, and
tuck him into
your arm too weak
to take him close
and how thin and
how sweet
are the peals that ring
from the mountainside
chapels we didn't
know were near
40 PRISM  53:3 and that only
you can hear
as you fall back in
among the folds. 41 I FIND IT LOVELY THAT WE NAME OUR
and that
someone you wouldn't suspect of gentleness
the reed-
of a brush
into the
red paint
in the tin can cupped in his hand and softly slips its
into the
curve of a
S or Wor
thereby begins the name at stern that steers a formerly
skiff or
sloop into
the calmer
42 PRISM  53:3 waters of
the claimed
and tethers it there—knot by loop knotlike a pet
or a mapped
spot or a
fish caught
in a rope net. 43 A HOARD OF DRIFTWOOD
From a sandy stretch of Superior shore one summer
I hoarded a store of tidbits plundered from the driftline:
a glassine shard of hardwood lake-rinsed almost down
to carbon, a flaxen ribbon of rootstem flute-furled,
an oaken knuckle uncoupled from the knot that once
whorled it, a gnarl from a thicker uncoupling laved
smooth as a buckle from ruckling wave upon wave,
a nickel of cambium written with rays as if riftsawn,
a rickrack of spoondrift pine turned ebon, a pillowy
chip of pulley wheel or some likewise ligneous tackle,
and a bindle of sticks spun spindle-thin, silken as scallion.
All dry-weight, drier than stone but thin as air, finer than
hair and softer than skin—as if despite the unintended sin
of being broken down, they'd been born again, beauty-strong
44 PRISM  53:3 Scott Nadelson
Every night, after his stepkids have gone to bed, he searches for their shoes.
They might be anywhere: under the family room couch, in the middle of the
kitchen floor, on the basement landing, or if it's warm enough, out on the lawn,
growing damp with dew. This is one of his contributions to the efficient running
of the household, maybe his most important contribution, though not the most
visible. If anyone has noticed, none has said a word. He performs the task quietly,
without announcing himself, and takes private pleasure in knowing how useful
he has been.
He does, of coutse, have selfish reasons for doing it. To keep the morning
from starting with kids shouting up the stairs and Cynthia shouting down, with
Joy begging him to drive her to school because she's missed the bus and doesn't
want to walk, with Kyle saying he hates school anyway and why doesn't he just
drop out and start his own business like his father did. "Your father dropped
out of college, not grade school," Paul told him. "And the only way he statted
a business was by borrowing money from all his friends and never paying them
But even more important, he likes the feeling of quiet accomplishment.
Neither child has to ask, whete are my Keds or my Reeboks or my ballet slippers?
After breakfast they just walk into the laundry room and find them lined up
beneath their coats, a generous assortment, left foot and right arranged in proper
position. The only mornings they miss the bus now ate those when Joy decides
she has to wash her hair in the morning rather than at night and spends forty-five
minutes in the shower, undeterred by the water going lukewarm and then frigid;
or those when Kyle, having forgotten to study for a geography test, hides in his
closet, or in the basement, or in the shrubs by the back fence, until Cynthia,
exasperated, finally cries, "Fine! Stay home and watch the soaps. What do I care?"
The job is easiest from April through September, when Joy mostly wears
sandals or slip-on flats and even Kyle occasionally spends the day in flip-flops.
Tonight, though, mid-November, temperature dropping to near freezing, he's
guaranteed to find two pairs of sneakers. The first, Kyle's high-tops, he discovers
quickly enough, toppled against each other beneath the kitchen table, along with
three shrivelled green beans and a stale challah crust. Locating the second takes
more effort. He passes through all the rooms downstairs twice before spotting one
of Joy's running shoes: yellow with blue stripes, poking out from beneath a throw
pillow on a living room armchair, where earlier she sat cross-legged, crouched
over math homework. Its mate is nowhere in sight.
He spends anothet half hour searching, twice creeping into Joy's bedroom and
listening to her sleeping breath until his eyes adjust to the dark. Then he checks
around and under her bed, in her closet, and even lifts the end of her blanket to 45 make sute she isn't still wearing the shoe. But he finds nothing. Only when he's
ready to give up, to accept the chaos of the coming morning, or else to leave for
work before anyone else wakes up, does he think to look in her backpack. And
there it is, along with her math homework, a sheet of meticulously written long
division problems, three digits into four, the answers requiring extensive strings
of decimals. He doesn't wonder how the shoe got in thete but rather whether the
kids are aware of his efforts after all, whether they've intentionally set up obstacles
for him. And if so, are they imptessed by his persistence?
The real challenge with sneakets, however, isn't just tracking them down.
It's that neither kid unties the laces before kicking them off. Tonight Joy's laces,
hideously chartreuse, come free without much trouble. But Kyle's might as well
be welded together. Again he wonders if the children know what they're doing, if
they have conspired together to make things difficult for him: tonight you hide
yours, Kyle might have said to Joy, and I'll make impossible knots in mine. But
he knows this isn't likely. They ate as conscious of others' work on their behalf as
they are of gravity. And he knows, too, that it's better this way. Obliviousness to
the lives of adults is the gift of childhood, its crucial freedom. It has taken him
three years of step-parenting to understand this, or to stop resisting it, and now
he has come not only to accept but to savour it, apprehensively, wishing he could
preserve their freedom forever.
So he wrestles with Kyle's laces, digging, tugging, teasing. He gets part of
one loop free, but then something catches it, and he has to ease it back and try
a different angle. From upstaits comes the sound of the sink running, Cynthia
getting ready for bed. Outside, the first flurries of the season bounce against
the window. The lace tangles. He feels sweat sliding from his armpits down his
sides. His knuckles are growing stiff. He reminds himself that he should buy
replacement laces, stock up with every colour and length. If he had a pair now,
he'd cut the goddamn things off and statt fresh. But all he can do is keep pulling,
as patiently as possible, while big wet snowflakes catch the light from his lamp on
their descent.
She grabs his hand and pulls him onto the dance floor before he can think to stop
het. He has a glass in his other hand, the last sips of a Tom Collins Cynthia passed
him more than an hour ago, the ice melted now, the gin and sweet-sour syrup
watery and warm. He doesn't know what to do with it so he clamps it against
his chest and tries to move as little as possible to keep its contents from sloshing
onto his shirt. But this isn't music that allows for stillness, with its hammering
drums and barked lyrics, not to mention Joy thrashing in front of him, all sharp
elbows and knees and shiny thick-soled boots stamping the floorboards by his
feet. She might not mind a drink spilled on her shirt, black as it is and tattered,
slices of skin showing through ragged slits over her belly, the sides drenched with
sweat and stuck to her ribs. Her eyelids are black, too, bruised-looking, and so
are the leather armbands that circle both wrists and forearms. The only colour
she wears are patches of red, white, and blue on her skirt, which she has sewn
together herself out of hacked wedges of a Union Jack. Her hair, recently clipped
46 PRISM  53:3 and dyed, is a dark shade of mauve.
Paul is the only one on the dance floor not wearing black, though some of the
others have words written in radioactive-bright lettering on their T-shirts—"The
Exploited," "Misfits"-—along with screenprinted skulls. Most of the boys have
hair spiked solid, with pomade, he guesses, or glue; a few have shaved heads or
shaggy bowl cuts. The girls wear ripped tights and pointy silver rings on every
finger, and they all stomp boots as heavy as Joy's. He has seen this set of fashion
choices for long enough now—glimpsing his first mohawk ten years ago, on
Eighth Avenue—that they no longer seem strange to him, or dangerous, though
he doesn't know if he'll ever get used to seeing them on Joy. Instead, the kids'
clothes and makeup strike him as quaintly earnest, as do their grunts and howls
whenever the music stops.
These are Joy's new friends, accumulated over the past six months or so, but
the party itself is a holdover from her days as a ponytailed cheerleader on the
Morris Knolls freshman squad, when she wore high-heeled pumps, lace-trimmed
socks, and knit polo shirts with the collat turned up. Last year—a different
geologic epoch in teenage time—she begged her mother to throw her a sweet
sixteen patty like those to which she'd been invited by older girls she admired
and envied, something as elaborate and expensive as her bat mitzvah three years
earlier. And though Cynthia held out for a while, on both economic and feminist
grounds—"Why should sixteen-year-old girls be told they're sweet?" she asked—
she eventually telented, in part due to Paul's intervention. "Is it really worth
making her resent you for the rest of her life?" he asked, and assured her his
annual bonus would cover all the costs.
Joy has since rejected, or abdicated, her old life and all its trappings, and a few
months ago tried to get Cynthia to cancel the party. "It's so bourgie," she said,
which Paul took to mean embatrassingly ordinary. But Cynthia wasn't having any
of it. Paul had already paid a deposit for the room and the catering. "You wanted
it, now you're going through with it." Fights ensued, shouting and slammed
doors, until they finally came to terms when Cynthia agreed to can the cheeseball
DJ and let Joy and her friends take care of the music themselves.
So here they are, in the ballroom of the Madison Hotel, with forty-five of
Joy's sweating, scowling comrades, and a buffet table spread with sliced cheese
and whitefish and marinated peppers and miniature bagels, now plundered of all
but a few scattered pickings. Cynthia has spent the evening ducking out to the
lobby bar and returning with drinks she half-drains on the way, asking Paul each
time if he needs a refill, though until now he has been content to sip the same
Tom Collins for much of the night. Why didn't he ask for at least one more? He
kept himself out of sight, or thought he did, in a corner of the ballroom, watching
the fevered dancing, which has increasingly turned to groping, and admired
Joy and her friends for their spirit, their willingness to turn what could have
been a humiliating event into an ironic occasion, no opportunity for idealistic
expressions of rage or defiance wasted.
On the dance floot, he continues to admire them, is flattered to have been
invited—or compelled—to join them, at least briefly, and when the song ends
he pumps his fist in the ait along with the others. He expects to see Cynthia 47 laughing at him from the sidelines and plans to ham up his enthusiasm, sneering
and stamping and bucking his head. But she's slumped in a chair, chin on chest,
her own cocktail glass, empty, on the floor beside bare feet. He makes a move
to join her, but again Joy grabs his hand and holds him where he is, and this
time another of her friends, a girl with two tiny orange pigtails sticking out like
blunted horns, sttetches out her arms to block his way.
The next song starts, even louder than the last, and somehow brasher, starting
with a chant, "Hey, ho! Let's go!" He begins to shuffle his feet again, but this
time instead of thrashing arms and heads, the kids are all bouncing sttaight up
and down, the floor thumping beneath him, nearly buckling his knees. Joy has
a serious look, of concentration, maybe, or anticipation, her black eyelids half
shut so that for a moment he imagines he's looking through dark holes into the
mysterious regions behind her skull. Why does she want him here? What is it
about her life she hopes to show him? He gives a little hop or two of his own,
forgetting his glass and the liquid inside, a few drops of which splash onto his
fingers. But even then Joy doesn't smile, her mouth set firmly as she springs not
quite in rhythm with the chant, the mauve hair looking almost natural as it flops
across her forehead and brows.
When the chant ends and the song starts in earnest, a fast simple beat and
almost jauntily sung lyrics too rushed for him to understand, the kids keep
leaping, only now rather than up and down, they're bouncing to all sides. The
girl with orange pigtails bumps into his arm, and this time he can't keep the
Tom Collins from spilling. Most of it lands on the leg of a kid who doesn't
seem to notice, too busy is he flinging himself toward another boy jumping from
the opposite direction. They knock shoulders, twist, land unsteadily, and bounce
away. Paul excuses himself to the girl, but she only bumps him again, harder, with
her hip, sending him sideways into Joy, who, grinning madly now, gives him a
rough shove with her forearm.
"Excuse me," he says again, though by now it has dawned on him that the
bumps and shoves aren't accidental. The kids are throwing themselves at each
other on purpose, shoulders, chests, backsides colliding. Some of the boys and
girls slam together and kiss at the same time, lips grazing or mashing, tongues
sliding across cheeks and chins, and all Paul can think is that they have gone
insane. He is standing amidst raving, violent, black-clad lunatics. He tries to
leave once more, but this time a limber pimpled boy lurches into him, knocking
him backward. He holds his balance and then loses it, going down on one knee.
It's all he can do to keep from dropping the glass. The last thing they need are
shards scattered beneath them as they jostle one another. Worse than having kids
barrel into him would be to spend the rest of the night explaining to an outraged
mother how her child ended up with twelve stitches in her face.
He isn't down long before Joy yanks him up, and then it's only a moment
before the girl with orange pigtails comes crashing into him, this time chest to
chest. And when she hits, her arms go around his neck, her legs in torn tights
around his waist, het tongue flicking out and sweeping across his lips. He is so
astonished that he teaches around to grip her to him, but just as quickly she bucks
off and careens into someone else. His lips ate sticky, tasting of some sweetened
48 PRISM  53:3 sharp alcohol, vodka, maybe, or rum, something cheap and diluted with cola.
The girl is drunk—he recognizes that now. They are all drunk, of course they are,
of course they've been sneaking sips from bottles hidden in backpacks lined up
behind the buffet table. Yes, drunk, not crazy, though he can't help believing still
that they have willfully abandoned their senses, that he has been brought in to
witness an ecstatic cetemony, primitive and mystifying. He doesn't think Cynthia
will believe him when—if—he describes it to her.
And just as he thinks so, he glimpses movement in his periphery, black and
mauve and the white of pale skin. It's Joy, chatging at him, not for a kiss but a
tackle. Head down, shouldet cocked, boots lifting high. He doesn't have time to
brace himself. He catches the blow on the ribs. The glass flies out of his hand,
and he waits for it to shatter But if it does, he can't hear it over a new round of
shouting as the song abruptly cuts off.
In its wake comes relative quiet, talking and laughter and clomping feet. He
is on his back on the hard floor. Joy is on top of him, head resting on his chest.
Het breath is boozy, her speech slurred. "You know what I always dug about
you?" she asks. "You're game for whatever." He's mostly sure she's mistaken him
for someone else.
The lights come on. Waiters ate clearing the buffet. He sees Cynthia's feet
move, then hears her groan. "Paul?" she calls, groggily. "Are you still hete?" Joy
stays where she is. Maybe asleep, maybe just enjoying the movement of her head,
lifting and dropping as he breathes. Where her hair separates along a jagged seam,
he can see sandy roots. The patty, a success, is ovet.
He's been working on the letter for almost a week, spending an hour or so after
dinner jotting down his thoughts. If he were to compile all his efforts so far, the
letter would be mote than twenty pages long, carefully handwritten, starting in
cursive and switching halfway through to print. But each evening he starts over
from the beginning and as yet has nothing close to complete. "Dear Kyle," he
writes again tonight, at the little desk that folds out of the bureau in his office—a
piece of furniture he's had every place he's lived since college—where he does bills
once a month and taxes once a year. "First, let me just say how proud I am. Of
what you've done, of the person you've become. A stepfather's pride is different
from a father's, I think. I don't have the same stake in your accomplishments.
They aren't a product of my genes. I can't take any, or much, credit for your
success. So it's just pride by association. I'm proud to have been around to watch
this happen."
He has written these sentiments, in almost exactly the same way, the last three
nights in a row, and he is reasonably happy with them now. They capture, closely
enough, the feeling that struck him last week, when Kyle reported to Cynthia
that he'd been accepted to medical school at Hopkins. At the time, once the
astonishment passed, the intense disbelief Paul was ovettaken by such a swelling
of emotion that he grabbed Cynthia and lifted her, with effort, off the ground.
"I'll write to him right now," he said, without having been conscious of planning
to do so, and without much notion of what the letter might say. All he knew was 49 that he had to say it before the emotion passed.
"You could just give him a call," Cynthia said, but by then he was already
hurrying up to his office and deciding which colour pen was most appropriate.
Black would be too formal, he thought, too severe, but after a number of false
starts, he concluded that blue was too whimsical. Tonight he has returned to
The opening paragraph has always been the easiest, and after finishing it
again he leans back in his chair and gazes out the window, at the cone of orange
light cast by the streetlamp, the dark road on either side, the slick, tender leaves
just unfurling from buds on the neighbour's oak. Then he continues. "I know
we've had some rocky moments over the past few years," he writes, and debates
once more whether or not to refer directly to the cheque-bouncing incident of
Kyle's freshman year at Rutgets, or the DUI incident of his sophomore year, both
of which cost Paul less in money than in sleepless nights and heartburn. He wants
to bring them up only to show that his feelings are complex and deeply felt, not
sentimentalized by selective amnesia. It would be easier to pretend that Kyle has
been a model child, studious and attentive from the start, but to do so would
be to negate his remarkable turnaround, from a kid descending into criminality,
or at least mediocrity, to one who's made the Dean's List in each of his last four
"But I always knew you could live up to yout abilities," Paul goes on, deciding
that "rocky moments" are as much reference to past troubles as he needs. "I always
believed you could do whatever you set your mind to," he writes, and then stops.
He can imagine Kyle reaching this point and laughing a derisive laugh, or worse,
crumpling the letter in anger and tossing it into the wastebasket. In either case,
there's no chance he'll buy this line, Paul knows. He wants to buy it himself, but
the longer he stares at the words the less plausible they seem, the mote delusional.
The truth is, he didn't think Kyle could hack pre-med when he first declared his
major, not even aftet that initial semestet with near-perfect grades. "Wouldn't
he be better off with something less ambitious?" he asked Cynthia at the time.
"Psychology, maybe, or nursing?" Cynthia only shrugged and said, "If he fails he
fails. There are worse things a person can do."
A year and a half later Paul thought Kyle was aiming too high when he heard
which medical schools he was applying to, including sevetal of the countty's most
prestigious, and wondered whether he should consider choosing a back-up or
two. Had he looked at any of the second-tier state schools? And what about
programs in Latin America? Paul had once gone to a gastroenterologist who'd
gotten his degree in Bogota. Again he said these things only to Cynthia, and
he doubted she passed them on to Kyle. Between applications going out and
responses coming in, Paul suffered a fresh bout of insomnia. What trouble would
follow rejection? More bounced cheques? Another DUI? Or something wotse,
something he couldn't yet imagine?
No, Paul didn't believe in Kyle, he never had, and now he thinks he's nevet
believed in anyone's abilities, not his stepchildren's, not his wife's, not his own.
He expects everyone to fail and cringes whenever anyone undertakes the mildest
risk. He tears up the letter and starts again. "Dear Kyle, First, let me just say how
50 PRISM  53:3 proud I am..." This time when he reaches the second paragraph he forces himself
to be honest. "I should have believed in you," he writes, "but I was afraid of being
disappointed, afraid to see you disappoint yourself. It was easier to think nothing
would come of your hard work than to put my hopes in something that might
not pan out. It's always been easiet to expect the wotst and be pleasantly surprised
when the wotst doesn't happen."
He feels sick as he writes these things, disgusted with himself and ashamed.
But he can also sense the relief that comes with confession, the absolution to
follow, shame and disgust already beginning to disperse as soon as the wotds
are down. He wonders if he would have been more pious had he been raised
Catholic, with the promise of dispensation and release every week. Jewish
uncertainty has never suited him. This time he doesn't refer at all to Kyle's past
transgressions, only to his own. He apologizes. He begs forgiveness. He imagines
Kyle reading the letter on the frayed couch of the filthy apartment he shares with
two other boys, neither of whom has much future, as far as Paul can tell, one
an Education major, the other doubling in Spanish and American Studies. He
pictures Kyle's face as he gets to the letter's second page, where Paul promises to
think only optimistic thoughts from now on, the skeptical lines of his stepson's
mouth easing, eyes blinking and going red.
And before he finishes Paul is wiping his own eyes. Pride has returned, now in
equal measute for himself as for Kyle. It's a brave thing to have written this letter,
he knows it, and coming to the end he feels that he can now be brave in other
things, too, he can live with hope and anticipation as he's never allowed himself
before. He signs off confidently, "Love, Paul," and recaps the pen. His only regret
is that he didn't use blue ink, which itself might have been a hopeful act, more
open and vulnerable. He considers calling Cynthia and showing her the letter
but then decides it's braver not to seek her approval, not to have her tell him how
proud she is of his growth. The letter means more if it stays between him and
He reads it through, from beginning to end. There are a handful of spelling
errors he would like to correct, a few places where the wording could be more
concise or elegant. But overall he is satisfied. Moderately so. Except that now he
wonders if it might not be brave aftet all to burden Kyle with his feelings, to ask
for understanding he may or may not deserve. Wouldn't the most courageous
thing be to keep all this to himself and wrestle with his shortcomings on his own?
If so, then the letter, he begins to suspect, is just as selfish and cowardly as his past
behaviour. Only more insidious, because of its facade of humility. Yes, he is now
sure of it. How could he have fooled himself into believing otherwise? He folds
it in thirds, tucks it beneath a stack of papers at the back of his desk, and rips a
smaller sheet from a pocket notepad.
"Big congrats, pal," he scrawls with his blue pen. "Well done. Knew you
could do it. Yours, P." Then he makes out a cheque for two hundred and fifty
dollais. On the memo line he writes, "For celebration or moving expenses." He
tucks the note and cheque togethet in an envelope, addresses it, stamps it, and
closes his desk. Outside, a bteeze rustles the young oak leaves. He is teasonably
content. 51 1998
On eithet side of him, rapt attention. Maybe even rapture. The orchestra charges
into the allegro of the final movement, and he can feel the kids—no longer
children but always "the kids" in his mind—bracing themselves, leaning forward
in their seats, Kyle's elbows on his knees, Joy's hands pressed between crossed
They are listening to Mahler's Fifth Symphony, in the second tier of Avery
Fisher Hall, and even from this distance he can see sweat shining on the bald spot
of the guest conductor, a short round Argentinean bristling with dark hair on
cheeks, chin, and neck, everywhere but a clear circle on his crown. All evening his
movements have been jerky and frenetic, pained even, as if his joints are stiffening
as the concert proceeds. Whenever the music grows softer, his grants are audible
over the hum of oboe ot the whistle of flute, and between movements he appears
on the verge of collapse. Now, when he jabs his baton at the brass section, and
then lifts, lifts, lifts, Kyle makes a move as if to stand, and Joy claps a hand over
her open mouth.
This night is everything Paul has hoped it might be, everything he has
imagined, not just in the houts leading up, but for years prior. It's just luck that
both kids are visiting at the same time, luck that they have an evening free from
seeing old friends on the same night Cynthia has a school function she can't skip,
luck that he's been able to get tickets at the last minute. When, that morning, he
casually suggested the three of them go into the city, catch an early dinner and a
concert, they didn't deflect, didn't make excuses or roll eyes or exchange skeptical
glances. "Sounds lovely," Joy said, and Kyle agreed. "Man, I miss New York," he
said. "Baltimore just doesn't cut it."
In their mid-twenties, they have become urban, sophisticated, cultured. They
travel regularly. They dress well, Kyle in slacks and wingtips, Joy in a sleeveless
black dress, too short, maybe, but otherwise elegant. On the drive in they talked
about other concerts they've seen in the last year—a Cuban jazz trio in a Los
Angeles club, the Czech National String Quartet playing Dvorak and Smetana
in a Prague chapel. At dinner they ordered the most unusual items on the menu,
pappardelle in rabbit ragu, trout poached with sage and blueberries. They have
seen interesting movies, have read interesting books. They tell stories about
interesting friends. They seem to enjoy Paul's company. And now they are moved
by Mahler's heroic composition, by the conductor's maniacal energy, by the
orchestra's delicate skill and rousing spirit. What else can he ask for?
And yet, sitting in seat 13, row CC, second tier of Avery Fisher Hall, he is
terribly bored. Bored! He has never been so bored in his life. The exhilaration of
the music bores him. The precision of all those violins moving in synch bores him.
Even the conductot's hysterics, the wild flinging of his baton, the sweat matting
hair around his bald spot, all of it strikes Paul as flaccid and predictable, not an
original gesture in his entire repertoire, every moment studied and rehearsed,
calculated to bring Paul's stepson to his feet, to make his stepdaughter covet her
mouth with a lovely slender hand. You're so boring! he wants to shout at the
conductor when he slices the baton through the air for the finale, at the musicians
when they hit the last note and freeze, at the audience members when they jump
52 PRISM 53:3 to theit feet and cheer. Boring, boring, boring!
He even wants to say it to his stepchildren, these beautiful young people just
embarking on adult life, armed already with sophisticated tastes and admirable
habits for which he has never allowed himself to take credit but now gives himself
all the blame. What sort of people might they be if he hadn't interfered? Don't
do it, he wants to tell them. Don't wear slacks and elegant dresses and listen to
boring old Mahler. Don't read interesting books and talk about them with your
interesting friends. Stop now while you have the chance. Do something wild and
reckless and unexpected. Track wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. Prospect
for precious metals atop secluded Alaskan mountains. Knock over liquor stores
to support a gambling addiction. Anything. Just, for God's sake, don't be like me.
Because yes, of course, his real boredom is with himself. He has felt it
nagging, with increasing urgency, all evening. In the car, when he struggled to
find something meaningful to add to the kids' lively conversation and then,
failing, fell silent. In the restaurant, where he ordered the same scallops with
asparagus he'd ordered a month earlier, before going to the ballet with Cynthia.
And now, edging down the aisle, creeping along with the buzzing crowd, nodding
in agreement that this was the best performance of Mahler's Fifth he has ever
heard. He wishes he could say something shocking and original. He wishes he
could provide the kids stories to tell their friends. Their real fathet, at least, has
been inconsistent enough to keep them wondering about him all these yeats.
What thought have they evet given Paul when he's stepped out of sight?
Joy takes his arm when they reach the staits and holds onto him as they
descend to the lobby. "That was delightful," she says, and he has the feeling that
she has been thinking the phrase over for some time, maybe planning to say it
since before the concett started. Even het smile seems practiced. "We should do
this evety time I'm home."
Kyle adds, as they push through glass doors into the courtyard, the fountain
lit up and burbling high over their heads, "I'll never hear that fourth movement
the same way again. The CD doesn't do it justice."
The night is warm and clear, a few stars visible despite the city's glare, and it
seems to Paul that he is glimpsing the depths between them, far into that dark
empty place. On and on it goes. One dull life leading to another. What crimes he
has committed.
When they reach the patking garage, however, the kids hesitate. Joy takes her
hand from his arm. Kyle, he notices, has unbuttoned the second button on his
shirt and rolled his sleeves. Their expressions are no longer placid and satisfied
but oddly expectant, maybe uneasy. "Thanks for this, Paul," Kyle says. "It's been
great, really. But—"
"We're heading downtown," Joy says, and takes a step backward. Something
in her voice has changed. There's impatience in it, defensiveness, and he guesses
that this is the first honest thing she's said to him all day. "Some friends ate
meeting us."
"But the car," he says, and gestures at the garage. Wearing the short black
dress, he realizes now, had nothing to do with the symphony, or with him. All
evening her thoughts have been elsewhere. He knows nothing of their lives, not 53 really, except that they are nothing like his own. "I mean, I drove you—"
"We'll take the train home," she says. "Don't worry about us."
"Downtown?" he asks. He knows he shouldn't hope for them to invite him
along. If they did, he couldn't promise to be as interesting as the most tedious of
their friends, though he might order a drink he's never had before. He shouldn't,
but he can't help it. He has never wanted anything more.
But already their backs are turned. They are walking away from him. As soon
as they reach Broadway, they'll slip into the crowd and disappear, claimed by the
city he has taught them to love, by the interesting lives he has wished upon them.
"Enjoy yourselves," he calls aftet them. "I'll leave the back door unlocked."
Kyle gives a thumbs-up without glancing around. Joy peeks at her watch. Paul
hands the patking attendant his claim ticket and, picturing all the roads that lead
away from here, tties to plot a new route home.
54 PRISM  53:3 A ngela Bebrec
Glass shards scattered as seeds across the tile
and all everyone writes about is flowers.
You slammed me against the wall,
rammed your fingers into my body as though
looking for something misplaced
like a petition to ban nukes or
a Save the Whales placard
or the entire collection of nude
Georgia O'Keeffe photogtaphs.
You fixated on the centre.
As seine nets drown white-sided dolphins
the wall held my wrists,
water smothered everything,
a vase from my thrashing jumped
from the bookshelf, the glass splinters
glistened as an Edward Teller bomb
in late evening, a ravenous slap,
shattered every pavement ever paved
in search of the biggest bomb,
the best bomb idea, so huge
you wouldn't need to send it out
you could just set it off in your back yard
beside the lilies and petunias,
a bomb so colossal it would kill everyone.
After, I showered with lavendet-scented soap,
subtle brushstrokes set in oil and acrylic.
I open a can of Ocean Wise tuna,
tread watercolour waves.
The great irony of Hiroshima was a month after
a typhoon came and washed all the radiation away.
Your hands advance in my mind
like seeds scattered to the wind,
a dandelion clock before a breath. 55 Evelyn Lau
The weekend he takes her to the island,
it pours. Rain hisses through the tree canopy,
drips onto cracked sidewalks.
The cement factory, the ocean.
You think of his mouth on her in some bed-
and-breakfast, and the blood vessels in your brain
shrink and dilate, contract and expand—
there's no relief, the antidepressants block
the opiate rush of codeine, that blast of sweetness.
That secret treat like a gumdrop
tucked in your cheek.
At the marina you noticed his eyes
on your scars, wondered what he was taking in,
rejecting. Cold wine in enormous glasses,
the shine of hulls and chrome, the conversation
turning to places you would never see together—
Key West and the Oregon coast,
the adobe houses of New Mexico.
She was thin and dark, with a tight smile
and sunken eyes, and he followed her
through the crowded room. You wore a red dress
and waved at him, but like the fat girl
who takes up too much space
and becomes invisible, he didn't see you.
When you hold your hand
to the stove, the skin crisps up
with the fine translucence of silk,
forms a delicate, drifting balloon.
A fiery locus of pain you welcome,
obliterating finally that other. Beating, beating
all weekend like a second heart.
56 PRISM  53:3 Derek Sheffield
A little destruction never hurt
anyone coming in from the cold,
holding out his hands flat
to the popping flames as if to say "peace"
or "whoa." Whiffs of wood smoke
smell like deep time, taste rich
as grilled salmon. Anyone can lie
like a dog stretching his belly
to brassy heat as all thought
becomes skin and everything
behind the glass and iron door
fractures. So warm
it's hard to see
through the sizzling.
You were eating and laughing
in a restaurant, a table full of people.
They were all smiling, working
knives and forks through their food,
looking up: something you said.
You were booked to fly
the next morning. (When did you
learn Russian?) I was in a pub,
waving through the glass before me
and the glass across the street
behind which you were telling a joke,
I think. I took your picture,
hoping the flash would make you look.
The pint I raised to my mouth brimmed
with foam as I drank, trying to see
out of the corner of my eye whether
you saw, but it didn't matter. The toast
was in time and would do its work
whether you knew it or not and be with you
in that far land through every window.
58 PRISM  53:3 Greg Bhyno
V/n the way over to the church, Jackie started in with the cab driver. Every
couple minutes or so, Todd would look in the rearview mirror to gauge if the old
man was losing his patience.
"So tell me about the real way to have a sauna," Jackie insisted. "What's the
deal with the birch twigs?"
" Vasta f he clarified.
"Yeah. ' Vasta.' People whapping themselves. Is that a spiritual thing?" Once
she'd detected a Finnish accent, Todd's new girlfriend was all over the poor guy
with questions.
"Nah, nah." The driver made a quick left turn and g-forced Todd into a forty-
five degree angle. Jackie hugged the passenger headrest. "It just feels good. You
know? Good for your skin."
"So, what? It's like a sex thing?"
"Nah, nah." In the rearview, the driver smiled. Todd noticed he was missing
one of his front teeth.
As they stepped into the mahogany yawn of the church vestibule, an usher bent
his elbow in offering to Jackie. Todd followed the two of them down the aisle and
felt temporarily cuckolded. The usher was some zit-faced younger cousin of the
bride that Todd had met years ago, before puberty did its thing. Eventually, he
slowed and pointed out the available seating. His pimples rearranged themselves
as he smiled at Jackie and shook Todd's hand. Above the tux and below the gelled
hair, the kid's face looked like the one thing he forgot to put in order.
St. Pat's was filling up and Todd started recognizing people. He'd already
introduced Jackie to Emma's mom on the way inside. He didn't call her his
girlfriend, he just said, "This is Jackie," as if she would've already heard about
Jackie. The famous Jackie.
Once they were seated, Todd saw Nicole Kernaghan with the rest of the
bridesmaids conspiring in taffeta near the pulpit. She mouthed "Oh my God!"
and waved crazily towatd Todd. Todd waved back.
"What's with all the Britneys?" Jackie asked.
Jackie was twenty-six but still used the taxonomy she'd developed in high
school. To be fair, Emma and her friends did fit the criteria. When Todd had
dated Emma, all of his friends, even his parents, had seemed pretty impressed.
Emma was one of those lean, blond goddesses with petfect teeth that everyone
generally expected to be a bitch.
"God, I hate all this formality," Jackie said, looking around. "Get on with it
already." 59 When Emma's white spectre finally appeared at the end of the long aisle, Todd
waited to feel something. Maybe a realization that Emma had been the one
all along. First cut is the deepest and all that. Maybe he'd sutprise himself and
everyone else by standing up when the minister asked for people to Object or
Forever Hold Their Peace. But the minister never asked, and the realization never
came, and when all the ring swapping went down, he was pretty okay with it.
Todd had met Emma's fiance a couple times, and he seemed nice enough, even if
he had the lyrics from a Dave Matthews song tattooed around his forearm.
The reception was at the Island Lake Conservation Centre, this "back-to-
nature" private hall that developers were apparently able to build on Crown land
because they used the word "conservation" in the title. After ten years of weddings
and leadership retreats, there were probably more beer cans sunk in its waterfront
than in its recycling bins. From the front, the building didn't look like much—
mostly roof and a few low windows—but when Todd and Jackie followed a series
of turquoise balloons around to the back, it grew more impressive. Built into a
sprawling hill, the backside of the place looked like a two-storey battleship run
aground. A row of picture windows and sliding glass doors were underlined by
a hovering green-wood patio on which Emma's friends and family stood around
drinking out of wine glasses and beer bottles.
Jackie and Todd stood halfway up the lawn that funnelled down to a stop at
the water's edge. There was a small clearing there, where a curtain of evergreens
parted to let everyone catch a glimpse of the lake. Some of the men had taken off
their coats and hung them on the crooks of theit elbows. Most of the women had
shucked off their heels to walk barefoot in the grass. Todd noticed a pod of three
guests—two men and one woman—smoking cigarettes close to the water.
As a rule, Todd agreed to wear a suit only when occasion absolutely required
it. Even then, he just wore The Undettaket, a shapeless black thing he had bought
for a funeral during his last year of high school. It was a statement. If pressed,
Todd might have made some dim argument that contained the word Marxism.
But the two men near the lake were sharp knives that carved up his flimsy
ideology. Their tailored, linen suits silently asked Todd the following question:
Why the fuck would you wear black wool to a June wedding?
The woman with the two men wore a low-cut summer dress. Just below het
collarbone, a double tattoo of opposing birds swooped toward her cleavage. As
Todd watched her, she squatted and screeched loudly at something one of the
men had said. She held up her glass for one of them to take, and when he did, she
fell on the grass and turned to one side. Her laughter was audible across the lawn.
Everywhere there was the slightest turning of heads.
"I think I'm going to go see if I can bum a smoke off one of those guys,"
Jackie said.
"So, I guess this means you're not quitting," Todd answered.
"I quit quitting. Quitting sucks."
Todd squinted up at the patio. "We should probably go in, find our seats, say
'hi' to a few people first."
"What do you mean 'we'?" Jackie smiled and walked off toward the water.
60 PRISM  53:3 Todd made his way up the hill. He recognized a few people right away, but
none of them seemed to notice him. Nicole Kernaghan's arms were a flurry of
narrative. Mike Coley, who had called Todd a week before to see if he was actually
coming to this thing, was talking to Shane Turrie, who was a huge dick. Everyone
had already knit themselves into small, familiar circles, which Todd was too sober
to penetrate. He'd been hoping he'd run into Emma before the speeches started,
but he knew the deal. Brides were rock stars.
The glass patio door shushed at him as he tugged it open. He went inside
to the relatively empty reception hall and threaded his way through an endless
number of white circular tables draped in long tablecloths. They looked like fat
ghosts, decapitated at the waist. On the opposite side of the room, the DJ adjusted
his equipment. His hait was tied back in a ponytail and he wore a bolo tie.
"Bar's the other way," he said. Without looking up, he pointed to a hallway
behind him.
"Thanks," Todd replied. "Just looking for the bathroom."
"Also the other way," the DJ said, still pointing, now eyeballing a binder full
of CDs.
Back outside, Todd eventually found Jackie halfway through someone else's
"This is Al, and Vincent, and..." she squinted for a moment at the girl with
the bird tats, "Liz!"
Her new friends golf-clapped like Jackie had successfully performed an
excellent trick. There was already a drink in her hand, even though Todd had
managed two rye and Cokes through the crowd and down the lawn. Everyone
looked at Todd like it was his turn to speak.
"Are you..." Todd sttuggled. "How do you know... everyone?"
"Liz and Vincent are cousins with the groom," Jackie explained. "They all
flew in from Edmonton."
"Family," Liz said. "You've got to do these things once in a while."
Todd nodded.
"And how do you know 'everyone'?" Liz asked, reusing Todd's word. Out of
her mouth it sounded polished, elegant.
"This one used to bang the bride," Jackie answered for him. "In high school."
"Oh!" Liz said, pleasantly scandalized, then repeated, "Oh," with darker
understanding. "But you're not..."
"No," Todd said. "I was the guy after that."
"The Rebound," Jackie added.
There was a stumble in the rhythm of the conversation. Jackie took it upon
herself to drain the rest of her glass and throw it on the lawn. It bounced on the
spongy ground and rolled down toward the lake. "Here," she motioned to Todd
and relieved him of the rye and Coke he'd brought for her. They all watched her
drain that one, too. When she thtew the second glass on the ground, it rolled and
clinked gently against the fiist like a well-played croquet ball.
"I love her!" Liz said to Al and Vincent. They nodded and smiled. Todd
smiled too, feeling his status elevate. He had loved her first. 61 "You know what?" Liz said. "When it gets dark we should all go swimming."
"Obviously!" Jackie agreed.
"I didn't bring a bathing suit," Todd said.
Jackie rolled her eyes.
When they finally went inside and sat down to eat, Todd could guess what Jackie
was thinking. For all his talk about what good friends he and Emma still were,
she'd put him at the photogtapher's table—the freak table—farthest from the
wedding party and populated by all the other loose ends that didn't quite fit
into her life anymore. They included Emma's favourite high school teacher—a
thin widow whose canary pantsuit was covered in grey cat hair—and a tall,
squinty man Todd recognized as Emma's mom's ex-boyfriend, Stan. Stan had
been in the picture around the same time as Todd, and he used to do this whole
overprotective dad shtick—have her home by eleven o'clock or else! Now he could
only acknowledge Todd as a fellow dumpee, a comrade in defeat.
Liz and the two men were seated closer to the front. Their table was the
loudest, and was shushed twice by a gang of serious-looking relatives. Eventually,
after the long speeches subdued the party into what seemed like a terminal coma,
Todd asked Jackie if she wanted to call it a night.
"Fuck that," she said. "The bar just opened back up."
Todd stood outside on the patio with Jackie and her new friends, nursing a drink,
feeling the bass notes in his ribcage, and watching everyone else smoke. The
windows of the Conservation Centre were sweating, but through the fog he could
see a circle of dancers, its perimeter occasionally pulsing toward its middle, like
the body of an enormous jellyfish.
"It's like, you have these old friends you've known forever," L,iz was saying
over the music, "and technically, you're still friends, but it's not like they're the
people you'd choose now. You're just kind of stuck with them."
"Ugh. I know what you mean," Jackie said.
Todd ttied to make sense of the figures in the window. Somewhere in the
middle of that jellyfish was Emma. He could picture her, drink in one hand, train
of her dress in the other. He hadn't spoken to her all day.
"I should go back in for a bit," Todd said, mostly to Jackie. "You know.
Vincent and Al stared at him. Vincent's sunglasses were perched on his head
like the sun might come back up.
"Good idea," Jackie said. "Why deny the world your conversational gifts?"
Inside, things were getting thick. Todd waded into the humidity and looked for
Emma. Aunts and uncles acted out their bulky anachronisms on the dance floor,
while bridesmaids flashed theit teeth in a screamy tutquoise mob. The zit-faced
usher convulsed into a series of uprocks. The machinery of his arms tangled and
untangled as a couple other guys his age herded the crowd into a circle. The kid
moonwalked into position and threw himself into a 6-step. Once he got winded,
the groom stepped in and bought some easy glory with a running man. The old
62 PRISM  53:3 folks seemed impressed. When Shane Turrie tried to do the worm and lurched
across the floor on his stomach, Todd broke free of the spectators. The whole
soup of it was starting to get to him. He headed to the washroom, and when
the door swung shut behind him, he felt swallowed up by the cool, porcelain
whiteness. After he pissed holes through the urinal ice cubes, he washed his hands
and yanked out a foot of industrial paper towel. He crumpled it up, ran it under
the tap, and pushed the soggy mass into his face.
He left the bathroom and bee-lined for the bar to order another rye and
Coke. While the bartender fired a brown spear of fountain pop into his glass, the
smell of stale cigarettes and body odour announced Shane Turrie. Todd hunkered
down, hoping he'd pass by, but when the battender handed Todd his drink, Turrie
leaned in and tapped a Coors Light against it.
"So? What's up, bud? Long time no see."
His fat jaw was crosshatched with new beard, and his hair was stringy with
dance floor sweat.
"Hey, Shane," Todd said. "Nice moves out there."
"Yeah," Turrie said, turning around and looking out across the hall. "Love
that old school shit."
Turrie took a swig of his beer. "So are you here with—?" His fingers frilled
imaginary tattoos at his lapels.
Todd shook his head. "That's the groom's cousin, Liz. She's from Edmonton."
"Man. I wonder what kind of ink she's got under that dress, right?"
Todd shrugged.
"So this must be kind of weird for you, huh? You and Emma, right? Jesus.
How'd that ever happen?"
Todd shrugged again and stated at a couple kids he didn't recognize as they
weaved in and out of the crowd. He remembered the party at Nicole Kernaghan's
house. It was the end of August and things were cooling down. At some point
he'd realized that he and Emma were the only ones left in Nicole's parents' pool.
Everyone else had gone inside, and Todd could see all the muted colours of the
party through a dripping layer of condensation. He didn't know Emma very well,
and it was clear she barely remembered him from Geography class, but it didn't
matter. She was drunk and talking about avoiding some guy. Todd was in beta
heaven spending time with a half-naked alpha (and God, those nipples, cutting
through her suit like tiny diamonds). She kept grabbing his wrist and pulling
him underwatet with her. She'd shout things to him down there that he didn't
"Guess what I'm saying," she said, and then down they went.
"Cow's meat?" he sputtered when they broke the surface.
"Come on!" she said. "Dolphins can do it."
The third time they went under, she gave up on talking and just kissed him
Of coutse, Todd wasn't about to share all that with a guy whose greatest
accomplishment was night-shitting on the lawn outside the school cafeteria. (It
was a serious coil, he'd btagged. They had to know it was human shit.) 63 Just in time, Mike Coley materialized.
"Bad news, Shane," Mike said. "I think you missed your chance with that
"What chick?"
"You know. The Tattooed Lady."
"Oh yeah?" Turrie said. "How's that?"
"Emma's mom just caught her and some other freaks skinny-dipping in the
"What? And no one invited me?"
Shane and Mike laughed. Todd finished his drink and put the glass down on
the bar.
Jackie's dress clung to the places where her skin was still wet. She and Todd fell
in step as they ttudged up the incline of the Conservation Centre's lawn. Jackie
pushed on her knees as she walked.
"I'm not saying I wasn't out of line, but Jesus, did she have to be such a bitch
about it?"
Todd said nothing. It was dark. In the neat distance, he could make out two
figures next to a lamp post that marked the statt of the parking lot. Farthet back,
light glinted off the windshields of fotty or so cars. As Todd approached, Nicole
Kernaghan took a swig of wine then passed the bottle to the bride.
"Aww!" Emma made the extended vowel sound she used to express
disappointment or address adorable animals. "Are you leaving already?"
Todd looked at Jackie and said, "Yeah. Yeah, we better get going."
"But I barely even saw you!" Emma pulled at the train of het dress and it
followed obediently. She reached over to give Todd a hug. He felt the wine bottle
swing around and tap the small of his back. "Or you," she said to Jackie, then
went in to hug her.
"Oh!" Emma laughed as they came together. "You're all wet!"
When they broke apart, Jackie gripped Emma's elbow for a moment. "I love
your hair by the way," Jackie said. "It's really pretty. I wanted to do something like
that, but mine isn't long enough."
"Oh, God," Emma said. "Mine's not that long eithet. The girl at the place
must've used an entire can of hairspray to get it to stay like this. Feel it. It's like
Jackie prodded experimentally. Todd smiled at Nicole and tried to think of
things to say.
"Could I get a slug of that?" Jackie motioned to the wine bottle.
"Why don't you just take it? We've got, like, thirty of these left. My uncle
donated a couple cases. You'd be doing me a favour. Honest."
When the cab arrived, Jackie and Todd waved to the bride and bridesmaid.
Todd collapsed onto the seat and was surprised to see the same gap-toothed Finn
smiling at him in the rearview mirror.
"Hello my friend," the driver said. "Did everyone have a good time?"
64 PRISM  53:3 On the way back to town, Jackie sat up front with the driver.
"Hevonpaska," he was saying. "That means 'horse shit'."
"Hevonpaska." Jackie ttied it out.
"And 'paska nommd means 'shit face'!"
Jackie laughed and held out the wine bottle. The driver wrapped his hand
around its neck.
"KippisT he said and took a pull.
From the back, Todd could hear the sound of wine splashing inside glass. He
leaned his head against the cool window and let himself be hypnotized by street
lights that seemed to approach cautiously, then hurry past. 65 Daniela Elza
the copper snowflakes.
the broken boat in which
we sleep     with our backs to each other.
self portrait with bird. replicated,
over and over—    a vow
cast in the heaviest steel
at the centre of our room.
there is no parting—
in the latest unfinished sentence
the image floats homeless
until   someone walks away.
church bells briefly disperse the noise
of the city—
a city hammered out of copper
and clay,     each morning
snapped tight on the forehead.
feet nailed to a floor they know too well.
each day
an altar in the corner burns
as if it were lamp oil.
our silences are geometric confessions now—
acquire more sharp angles    each time.
metaphots are innocuous until we use
the wrong one.
there are no hinges to count on
no formulas to apply safely.
I am looking
for the man      I saw the first time      I met you.
and the narrative circles. see
my story leaning away from yours.
at the end no one knows
what happened.
as if this is some kind of inoculation against
grief. these snapshots
we take in the dark.
in the morning      we develop
see dark
where light used to be. 67 WHAT REMAINS
as a child I went on class trips to the mausoleum,
we lined up for hours waited to get in.
paid respect to an empty shell
once deemed a hero.
at that tender age   of course I had reverence
for heroes. but once inside      I was more
curious what the dead looked like—
when my grandmother lay there        in the chapel
everyone kissed her
when my turn came I was not sure how to kiss
what had died.      I do not remember what I did
only the feeling of candle. her fingers
pale wax
her face   honeycomb
moulded in her likeness.
I think of her fingers when I light candles—
what remains from the mausoleum body is
his serenity     and how cold     how very cold it was
inside. how the blanket was sunken
how he was not all there—
and now I think of us.
what froze in time—
how we barely noticed.
still the warm light on the face I used to know
stirs up my blood in reverence for what is past.
and the silence here no one dares to break—
just the shuffle of feet
in and out
back       and forth.
68 PRISM   53:3 Margo Wheaton
This time of year the days end
sudden as someone slamming
a cellar door.
In the late afternoon, cars go by
flashlighting leaves that step
from the closets of shadows, slick
and outspoken as new vinyl shoes.
Like a soon-to-be-discovered
star transfixing a crowded tavern before
the end of the second song,
in October the trees don't have
to raise their voices to get
your attention.
One's calling you now
from the parking lot beside
the school, branches creaking,
sequined with rain and though
you've seen red maples
in autumn,
like a heart
its breaking is the first
in the world.         69 Richard Kelly Kemick
JL found the bishop in the river mud a couple mornings ago, buried up to his
neck. His white hat poked out of the sludge. I slid his body free and held him
in my hands before throwing him back into the water, then watched him bob
away with the current.
There are a couple things that need to be understood before I can tell this story.
The first is that my dad is gone. Forever. No note, no "Dear Jeremy and Debora,
I'll love you always." No coming back.
The second is that I am not angry. People keep asking me if I am and I keep
telling them no but they ask in a way like they have already decided for me.
The third, and this is perhaps the most important, is that the chess set was
an accident. I took it to the Bull Horn bridge three weeks ago, five years to the
day since my dad had been gone. The railing is a wide wooden plank and I had
thought there was enough room. I'd set up all the pieces and I was watching
how the moonlight bent around their bodies, forming shadows across the empty
battlefield. But then the wind caught the board's corner and the whole set
tumbled into the river.
Last week, I took a job at John Sherbrook's pawn shop. Long John's Pawn. John
flew to Miami for foot surgery and is staying there for ten days. Usually, he
would have just closed the shop but I think my mother talked to him and told
him that I was not doing great and, since he used to be friends with my dad,
asked if he could help her out. I bet my mother told him that I needed direction,
because that is what she always tells me, and I always point my finget far out in
front and say "North." I never know if I am right but I do know that she has no
clue either.
At first, John had said that I couldn't purchase anything, only sell, but then I
said that I wasn't interested in that case, so he allowed me to do some buying. The
things people pawn range from immeasurably valuable to absolutely worthless.
They will either bring in the necklace their great-grandmother smuggled through
Auschwitz or something they bought at a jewellery store that does two-fof-one
Whatever they bring, their response is always the same. "I thought I'd get
more." The worst is the old men trying to sell their taxidermy. "But there's only
five of these birds still alive."
"Well," I'll say, "bring me in another five and then we'll talk."
We will go back and forth for a bit but I never budge. It doesn't matter—once
they are here, they have already sold it. They will leave with the couple dollars of
change in their pockets and I will watch them exit, smug behind my long glass
desk—the kind that has jewels and watches swaddled in velvet within—like an
70 PRISM  53:3 octopus guarding my treasure.
My dad bought the chess set in England. He and a friend of his had gone while
me and my mother visited her parents in London, Ontario. He was supposed
to come with us but a few days before we booked the flight he said that it was
cheaper for him to fly to the real London. He said it as a joke, like he was
bemoaning the price of travel, but when the day came, he veered towards the
international terminals where his friend was already waiting for him while me
and my mother went to domestic. Not a word said between us.
We stayed in Ontario for a week. He stayed in England for two. When he
got back, he placed the wtapped box on the kitchen table on top of my open
textbook. I started peeling off the tape but he said I didn't need to save the paper
and helped me open it. He was already explaining the rules before I knew what
it was. "It's the perfect game," he said. "Everything in balance."
I held a piece in my hand, rubbing its hardwood curves. It was heavier than
I thought it would be. "That's the bishop," my dad said. "A common mistake is
overvaluing it." He told me that it can hit from a long ways away but has to stay
on the same coloured squares it starts on. "Really," he said, "it's just a bit better
than a pawn. But at least everyone knows a pawn is worthless."
He helped me set the pieces up along the board. I asked him to tell me the
rules again but he did so in a mixed-up way, repeating and backttacking. We
started to play and I just moved a couple pieces around until he told me he had
won. I still don't undetstand the game.
I cleaned up the board, thanked him again, and got up to help my mother
with dinner. As I stood to slide the chair back, he asked, "So what did you get
My dad was the only adult I knew who still cared about presents. But that
was usually just for birthdays and Christmas, I didn't know he was expecting one
from a family reunion.
I went back to my room and brought out a hat my grandmother had knitted
for me. I told him it was from a small shop in downtown Toronto. He put it
on and without even looking in the mirror, said he loved it. Sometimes when
I am really missing him, I think of him in that hat—how it was too small and
squeezed his head, how it matted his hair over his eyes, how he told me he
couldn't wait for winter. I think about him and that stupid smile and it kind of
dulls the ache, makes it farther away.
On weekdays, I open up the shop as soon as I get out of school. On weekends,
I have nothing to do so I can drift around the store all day, spending most of
my time alone—my mausoleum of stereo equipment and computer monitors.
Last Saturday, just before I closed for lunch, I heard the sleigh bells above the
door jingle. In walked Tim Hilt, his face buried in the town's newsletter. "John,
you'll never believe..." He looked up at me and we both just stood there staring
at each other.
Tim used to drop by the house when my dad was still around, but since then
we actively avoid each other—at least I avoid him. He is a Shriner and hosts the 71 town's annual Parade of Garage Sales. The Parade is one of the most popular
things we have here. Every household sets up a couple tables in their driveway
and people love it because they can see each other's intimate artifacts—the failed
Christmas gifts, the paint-by-numbers landscapes, the two-piece bathing suits
that still have the price-tag attached. People tour the whole town, scouring
over the baby toys, paperbacks, and hardly-used ellipticals, piecing together the
hidden lives of their neighbours.
These are the relics of our town's unspoken museum. Most of it is worthless
but some of it is made valuable by its story. Last year, Barbara Morris bought the
extension cord that Helmet Deller used to beat his wife with before he found
the Church of Latter-day Saints. Barb got into a bidding war with her sister and
wound up paying fifteen dollars over what the hardware store would charge for
that same cord new. A few months later, I helped her install a bathroom sink and
saw the cord coiled on her coffee table, plugging in a lamp that was already close
to the socket.
That same summer, Lewis Merwin settled with Brandi Turlington on thirty-
eight dollars for her bath towels—the ones her daughter had worn under her
shirt for three and a half months, adding a new layer every couple weeks, until
one day when she was grocery shopping they all came tumbling out and she
had to admit to the miscarriage. Edith Taylor-Billanky paid seventy-five for the
glass tumblers of Martha Babcock. Ron Trest paid sixteen for the steak knives of
Donna Sternberg. Danny Turnbolt's gtandfather sold a framed picture of Danny
and his half-brother for just under thirty. Danny's grandfather would have said it
was the frame he was selling and the picture just happened to be in there, but we
all know the truth. Jennifer Andrews has already announced that next year she is
selling her garden hose, the one that snaked from Thorn Purcell's exhaust pipe in
through his window. She isn't even the hose's original owner—she bought it off
Thorn's wife a couple years ago—but now she needs the money for her scratch-
The Parade is the only thing me and my mother still do together. She will
get dressed up, put on a bright shade of lipstick, and hold my arm as we walk
from driveway to driveway, never cutting across the fertilized lawns. The sellers'
faces are always stoic and disinterested behind their tables, their lives spread out
in front of them. And in their faces, there is something of what Helmet maybe
found with the Mormons: a comfortable confidence, a stubbornness of belief.
My mother has always liked to leave her fingerprints on anything she found. She
would pick up the toddler shoes of Michelle Neilson or the belt buckle of Scott
Christie and try and quibble the price down. I know it is only a couple years
before she starts selling my dad's stuff
And when you think about it, between the garage sales and the pawn shop,
nothing here is new anymore. Someone will buy something one year, sell it the
next, and then buy it again the following. This endless recycling of what we used
to own, this pointless return to things we already had.
The reason Tim Hilt came in was because he had fotms he needed John to
sign. Something about donating money fot the fleet of lawn signs that he puts
along the highway. I told him that John would be back in a week and I would
72 PRISM  53:3 leave the papers on his desk.
When I came back from John's office, Tim was still in the shop, looking at
the electric guitats. "So you're covering while John's in Tampa?" he said with his
back to me, plucking one of the mute strings.
"Miami," I corrected.
He turned to face me. "And you're able to buy on his behalf?"
"I guess," I said. "Whatever I feel is worth something."
Tim said that he would stop by the next day with some things he had been
wanting to get rid of. I told him that if it was a bunch of stuff it might work
better to wait for John but he said tomorrow was best for his schedule. He
doesn't pronounce the wotd "skedule" like everyone else but "shedule." And that
pronunciation is pretty much all anyone needs to know about Tim.
I am always looking for symmetry in life, an end that loops back to the start.
Sometimes it is hard to know when a thing is really finished and not just waiting.
Because it is that waiting that makes everything impossible. My mothet has
taken it the hardest, cannot stop thinking that it is something she did.
The closest I remember to my parents fighting was one Fathet's Day when
my mother got my dad a novel he had already read. He grumbled and pouted
and wouldn't talk to her but then the next day she came back with a different
book and it was like nothing had ever happened.
As a kid, all I ever wanted was for something to happen to me. Anything
at all. Anything that would make my life special and worth something. Then,
when I was eight, I was riding my bike down a hill and the bolt came out of the
front wheel and I went over the handlebars. I don't remember actually hitting
the ground, just lurching towards it. When I came to, I could taste blood in
my mouth and could feel its warm trickle down my chin. I saw the leaves in
the tree above me, its wide and warm canopy, turn into sparrows and fly away.
There were these bright spokes of sunlight that shimmered onto the pavement
and I reached out to touch them. And every shape—the leaves, the birds, my
hand—was like light, changeable and never still. Finally, I remember thinking,
it has happened.
My mother will ask, at dinner or during commercials, if I think it is her fault
that my dad is gone. And it is tough to say. I mean, if it's her fault, then it's her
fault. But I think it is worse if she didn't do anything and he just got tired of her
Two days later, Tim came in with four plastic bags. He dumped the contents
onto the table and they rattled across the glass. "What'll you give me?" he asked.
There wasn't much there. An old cellphone, a pair of mitts, some kitchenwate.
I picked up one of the spatulas and used it to start sorting things. On the left, I
put things like the glue gun, screwdriver, cat's eye marbles, and Star Wars Episode
IV on VHS. On the right, things like the stuffed panda, tupperware, a couple
of BBQ lighters, and a Mitt Romney 2012 campaign button. I pointed to the
VHS. "I'll give you three seventy-five for this pile. The other one, you can keep."
Tim frowned. "I thought I'd get more. That VHS is a collector's item, you 73 know."
I used the spatula to push the tape towards him. "Well, you should feel free
to collect it."
Tim slid the tape back to me and said he would take the money. As I was
counting out the change from the till, Tim shovelled his unwanted stuff back
into a plastic bag. When he finished, I handed him the change and he told me
he had one more thing. He hoisted up a bag that he had hidden at his feet.
The boatd looked exactly the same, varnished so perfectly that there wasn't
even watet damage. From his coat pocket, he pulled out the pieces and dropped
them onto the glass and they rolled in lopsided circles.
"Where'd you get this?" I asked as he lined up the pawns on the board.
"Would you believe me," he said, "if I told you the river?" He put the rooks
onto their corner spots. "You know my place? I have my Americano down by the
water in the mornings and there's a small eddy that I toss my scone crumbs into
for the ducks." Instead of saying "skone" Tim says "skon." "A couple days ago,
what do I see dancing in the eddy but," he rooted into his pocket, "this horse."
He presented it flat on his palm.
"It's a knight," I said, but he didn't hear.
"So each morning I go down to the eddy and there's more and more pieces.
Yesterday," he said, "the whole board floated up." I watched as he got the kings
and queens opposite of where they should be. He had no clue what he was
doing. "Have you ever seen anything like this?" he asked.
I was sure there had to be a scientific explanation for this—something
about currents. "It looks like you're missing a piece," I said, pointing at the white
bishop's empty square.
"Just the one. But it still has to be worth something."
I shook my head. "Until the set is complete, nothing."
Tim stared down at the undamaged board. He then licked his thumb to
work on a scuff in the varnish. I have heard that water always follows the path
of least resistance. And I suppose that path, like so many other things in this
life, must lead directly to Tim's back lawn. As he rubbed his thumb in tight little
circles, the board made a terrible whimpering sound.
"What are you going to do?" I asked. "I can throw it out if you want."
"I guess," Tim said, grabbing the pieces and burying them in his pockets,
"I'll just have to pray that bishop shows up."
Tim and his plastic bags left the counter, hesitated for a second at the door,
and then exited. I waited for him to walk out of sight before I unfurled my
fingers, and there was the pawn that he never noticed had rolled away.
One Christmas, when my parents were staying late at a party, I searched their
room for gifts. They were at our neighbours' so they didn't bother with a sitter. In
the back of my dad's sock drawer I found a ping-pong paddle and an illustrated
veterinary book of the cross-sections of horses. Behind them was a box of ball
bearings and a slingshot—a really good one with an arm brace. There were a few
candy canes and a ceramic figurine of a coyote I had been asking for.
74 PRISM  53:3 By Christmas Day, all I could remember that was coming was the coyote
figurine. I opened my gifts, hugged my parents, and started the thank-you
calls to the relatives I only spoke with once a year. I had laid out my gifts on
the kitchen table to keep track of who I was thanking for what. I noticed the
slingshot was missing. After I searched through the loose pile of wtapping paper,
I realized I had never opened it. I assumed it had been returned—my mother
was always worrying about safety.
I was on the phone with my aunt and she was telling me about how it
was plus ten in Vancouver. She said there were boats out on the ocean and she
couldn't decide if she wanted to go kayaking or skiing tomorrow. All the choices
she had. While she spoke, I heard a rattling out back. Through the window
above the sink, I saw my dad in the yard, a pyramid of beer cans set up against
the fence, firing the ball bearings into them, his fist pumping wildly every time
the empty aluminium collapsed in response.
Of course the bishop came floating down to Tim's eddy this morning. I wouldn't
be telling this story if it hadn't. And so at lunch today Tim came back and set up
his pieces. When he noticed that he was missing a pawn, he dug furiously in his
coat pockets and pulled the lining inside out.
"Look," I said, "when you're carrying them around in your coat, this is going
to happen. The board's not worth much anyways. I'll give you five fifty for it."
It's worth closer to five hundred. It is Belizean mahogany—something called
"heirloom quality." If he had looked beneath the base of each king, he would
have seen a "W," the mark of Westminster. Dad told me all of this when he gave
it to me.
But then it occurred to me that maybe Tim does know this. He was the one
who went to London with my dad, was the one waiting for him on the other side
of customs. I pictured Tim standing with my dad in a department store aisle, my
dad emphasizing the difference between farmed and old-growth mahogany. Tim
placing a hand on my dad's shoulder, telling him it is late and they should get
back to the hotel. Then Tim squeezing his shoulder, saying, "It's late. Very late."
I wondered if my dad got anything for Tim. Something to remember
London. And I was comforted to know that I will never see it, that whatever it
is, it will never be in the garage sales or come into the shop but will stay hidden
in his home, safe on the mantel or in the top drawer of his nightstand.
I looked up from the boatd to catch Tim staring at me. He looked older than
I remembered him being, having aged so much in these past five years. And I
thought, in a different life, we could have loved each other—or at least hated
each other.
"Has anyone ever told you," Tim said, "that you look so much like your
fathet?" I shrugged. "You know," he said, "I miss him all the time." He reached
across the jewellery case and put both hands over mine. "I feel like I can't tell
anyone that," he said, "and that makes it so much harder." I felt his palm gather
heat and become damp over mine. "I love you like a son," he said. "Do you
understand me, Jeremy? Like a son."
I took the board and held it up to the light. "There's also a couple scuffs here. 75 I can't go higher than six."
Tim shoved his hands into his pockets, felt for the pawn one last time, and
nodded. I pulled a crumpled five out of my jeans and was rooting around for a
loonie when he told me that five was fine and left.
Sometimes the things people buy are even worse than what they sell. They swing
between worthless and invaluable, but most people don't understand which is
which, even if the price tag is right in front of them.
Tonight, when I got home, my mother was sitting on the couch with the TV
blaring and curlers in her hair. The room was dark and the television fluttered
its light across her face and glared off her glasses. I went into my room and shut
the door behind me. I took out the pieces and carefully set them up. The rooks,
knights, bishops. The kings and queens. The rows of pawns, stating at each other
across their checkered field of battle, their small bodies trembling with hate.
I waited until the sun had finished burying itself before I took my backpack
and went down to the river. On my way, I walked past the diner, and through
its large window I saw Tim, slumped over a roast beef special and strawberry
milkshake. The first time he came into the shop, when he was looking for John, I
smelled gin on him. Nothing strong, but it was there. In the diner, he dabbed the
corners of his lips with the paper napkin, placed it back on his lap, and then kept
eating. He held the knife and fork gingerly, like they were brittle beyond belief.
In that light, I thought he looked more like me than my father did. I shifted my
weight and the corner of the chessboard pressed against my spine. I watched him
take his final couple bites and then sip the last of his milkshake, taking the straw
out of rhe glass to lick it before he placed it on his plate with his napkin overtop
and his cutlery over that. His life of chores, routines, and idle pleasantries.
For months after my dad was gone, I would think that I had seen him out
of the corner of my eye. Though it was only ever a floor lamp, or a pair of water
skis, or an inflatable palm tree. One time it was the jacket that he had left on the
chair. I looked for him everywhere, but all I ever found were things.
The waitress came and cleared Tim's table as he smiled at het. And while Tim
sat alone, waiting fot the cheque, his hands in his lap, there was this stillness
about him, a look of terrible honesty. A look I caught on my own face earlier
this morning, when I was teaching myself how to shave, when afterwards, in the
mitror, I saw all the nicks and slices that dotted my jaw and cheeks and lips. Red
droplets blossomed against the porcelain and then spiralled into the drain until
all that remained in the yawing sink was a thin line of blood.
76 PRISM  53:3 Todd Boss is a poet, public artist, and film producer in Minneapolis. His
poetry collections are Pitch (2012, W. W Norton) and Yellowrocket (2008). His
poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Poetry, and
NPR. He is the founding Executive and Artistic Director of Motionpoems, a
nonprofit initiative that partnets with major publishers and film companies to
turn contempotary poems into short films.
Diane Bracuk is a Toronto writer. Her stories have been published in periodicals
in Canada, Ireland, and Great Britain. Her short story collection Middle-Aged
Boys & Girls will be published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2016.
Nicholas Bradley lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
Michelle Brown's work has appeared in CV2, Arc, 'The Malahat Review, and
Echolocation, and was recently shortlisted for CV2's Young Buck Poetry Prize.
She lives, writes, eats, and sleeps in Toronto.
Ann Cavlovic's creative writing and essays have appeared in EVENT, Room,
sub Terrain, The Globe and Mail, The Centennial Reader, Alternatives, and the
ttavel anthology This Place a Stranger (Caitlin Press, forthcoming). Ann wrote
Emissions: A Climate Comedy, the "Best in Fest" winner of the 2013 Ottawa
Fringe festival,
Charles Demers is a Vancouver comedian, author, and playwright. He has
performed in clubs and festivals across the country, and as a regular guest on
CBC's The Debaters and This is That. He is the author of The Prescription Errors
and Vancouver Special (finalist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize), as well
as the forthcoming collection of humour essays, The Horrors.
Jonpaul Douglass is an American photographer whose fascination with the
beauty and mystery of everyday life has led him on a journey of constant artistic
expression. Douglass's photographs bend the imagination and leave toom for
endless narrative possibilities. Douglass currently resides in Los Angeles, CA,
where he works as a commercial photographer.
Katy E. Ellis studied writing at the University of Victoria and at Western
Washington University. She is the author of two chapbooks and her poetry has
appeared in many literary journals in the US and in Canada. She teaches writing
to school kids and lives in Seattle.
Daniela Elza's poetry collections are the weight of dew, the book of It, and,
most recently, milk tooth bane bone. Her work has appeared nationally and
internationally in over 100 publications. Daniela was the 2014 Writer-In-
Residence at the University of the Fraser Valley and the 2014 guest editor of
Simon Fraser University's emerge anthology. 77 Nora Gould's second book, Joy, breathe, is forthcoming with Brick Books (Fall
2016). Her first book, I see my love more clearly from a distance (Brick Books,
2012), won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry (AB) and the Robert
Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize.
Richard Kelly Kemick has been published in journals and magazines across
Canada and the United States. His debut collection of poetry, Caribou Run, is
set for publication in Spring 2016 by Goose Lane Editions.
Evelyn Lau is a Vancouver writer who has published eleven books, including six
volumes of poetry. Her work has received the Milton Acorn Award, a National
Magazine Award, and a Governor General's nomination. Her most recent
collection, A Grain of Rice (Oolichan, 2012), was shortlisted for the Dorothy
Livesay Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award. Evelyn served as Poet Laureate
for the City of Vancouvet from 2011-2014.
Sarah Mitchell is a non-fiction and fiction writer living in Victoria, BC. She
has previously been published in the anthology Coastal Voices, the short story
collection The Memory Machine, and on the website Sarah
studies creative writing at the University of Victoria.
Scott Nadelson is the author of three short story collections, most recently
Aftermath, and a memoir, The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress. His work
has recently appeared in Ploughshares, Harvard Review, Prairie Schooner, and
Passages North and has been cited as notable in Best American Stories and Best
American Essays.
Angela Rebrec is a writer, singer, and graphic artist whose poetry has appeared
in filling Station and is forthcoming in EVENT. She lives in Delta, BC with her
three children, cat, and long-suffering husband.
Greg Rhyno lives in Guelph, Ontario with his partner Sarah and their two
children. He is currently at work on his first novel.
Derek Sheffield's book of poems, Through the Second Skin (Orchises, 2013), was
a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. He teaches poetry and nature
writing at Wenatchee Valley College and edits poetry for He lives
with his family in the foothills of the Cascades near Leavenworth, Washington.
Patrick Warner is the author of four collections of poetry. He lives in St. John's,
Newfoundland. "L'Immigrant" was inspired by his daughter's spelling bee
practice list. What stood out to him was the degree to which foreign words had
been assimilated into English. Many are still highly visible while others, because
they are so commonly used, are not. This made him think about the immigrant,
whose ultimate fate is to become largely invisible within the host culture.
Margo Wheaton lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her poems have appeared in
a number of journals and anthologies including The Antigonish Review, The
Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, CV2, and Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry.
78 PRISM  53:3 information + submission
1 F^BE MAY 15> 2015  $6,000
1ST PRIZE $1,250-—
2ND PRIZE $500 —
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
NOV. 30,2015
423-100 Arthur St.
Winnipeg, MB R3B1H3
Ph: (204) 943-9066
Complete guidelines for all
contests at
For inquiries:
Fee: S32 per entry, which includes a complimentary
one-year subscription to Prairie Fire.
'The Poetry first prize is donated in part by TJie Banff Centre,
oho will also award ajeneller-cast replica of poet Bliss
Carman's silver and turquoise ring to the first-prize winner. Classic Yet Contemporary
The UK's Oldest and Most Prestigious Literature and Arts Magazine
Enjoy new and past issues of this unforgettable magazine which has endured for over 280 years.
Enjoy outstanding work from new and established writers including: Michael Morpurgo, Roger Scruton,
Helen Dttnmore. Christopher Reitl, Suzi Feay pius many more
Nearly 40 years of great Canadian poetry.
• iii<
©peettive Writer*!
Rolex is proud to be the printer
for PRISM international.
M PRINTING LTD    Call Toll-free 1-888-478-5553 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 he taken by distance
education. See our website for more details.
Students work in multiple genres, including:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Stage
Play, Screen 8e TV Play, Radio Play, Writing for
Children, Non-fiction, Translation, and Song
Lyrics &■ Libretto.
Steven Galloway
Nancy Lee
Annabel Lyon
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Timothy Taylor
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
Online Faculty CM.F.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  PRISM is contemporary writing
Todd Boss
Diane Bracuk
Nicholas Bradley
Michelle Brown
Ann Cavlovic
Charles Demers
Katy E. Ellis
Daniela Elza
Nora Gould
Richard Kelly Kemick
Evelyn Lau
Sarah Mitchell
Scott Nadelson
Angela Rebrec
Greg Rhyno
Derek Sheffield
Patrick Warner
Margo Wheaton
7 ' 72006 " 86361' 2
Cover image © Jonpaul Douglass, "Pizza Pug 2.'


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