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   PRISM digital archive
PRISM international is proud to announce the launch of our
digital archives! With the generous support of the British
Columbia Arts Council, we have digitized over 200 back issues,
bringing 56 years of literary history online. Margaret Atwood,
Michael Ondaatje, and Seamus Heaney are just a few names
from PRISM's long legacy. Digitization of our archives is an
important step in preserving and promoting influential literature,
and we are excited to share our publication history with readers
worldwide.
The searchable archives are free for anyone to access, and can be
reached through https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/prism.
PRISM    &
digital archive
BRITISH COLUMBIA
ARTS COUNCIL
An agency of the Provin<e of British Columbia
British
Columbia
PRISM
OUR ANNUAL NON-FICTION CONTEST
EXTENDED DEADLINE: July 31,2016
THE INAUGURAL PACIFIC SPIRIT POETRY PRIZE
DEADLINE: October 15, 2016
THE INAUGURAL JACOB ZILBER PRIZE
FOR SHORT FICTION
VilikK  DEADLINE: January 15,2017
PRISMMAGAZINE.CA PRISM internati
ona
POETRY CONTEST
GRAND PRIZE
"The Flood of '37" by Kevin Shaw
FIRST RUNNER-UP
"Post Ta Ta Creek-ism" by Stephanie Warner
SECOND RUNNER-UP
"post-its for the girls in the backyard" by Kerrie McNair
JUDGE    Kayla Czaga
READERS
Selina Boan, Rhonda Collis, Jaime Denike
Esther Griffin, Kyla Jamieson, Curtis LeBlanc
Amber McMillan, Shannon Rayne, Meaghan Rhondeau
Shaun Robinson, Mallory Tater, Rob Taylor
Catherine Young PRISM internationa
FICTION CONTEST
GRAND PRIZE
"You Can Do Better" by Taryn Pearcey
FIRST RUNNER-UP
"Montreal River" by Lesley Krueger
SECOND RUNNER-UP
'Bereavement Tax Credit" by Richard Kelly Kemick
JUDGE    Lee Maracle
READERS
Anita Bedell, Nicole Boyce, Alison Braid
Stephanie Chou, Rhonda Collis, Max D'Ambrosio
Alanna Francis, Kyla Jamieson, Anil Kamal
Curtis LeBlanc, Mica Lemiski, Kirsten Madsen
Amber McMillan, Heather Ramsay, Sarah Richards
Kyle Schoenfeld, Robert Shaw, Colin Sterling
Shawn Stibbards, Meg Todd, Cara Violini
Jane Wood PRISM
nternationa
PROSE EDITOR
POETRY EDITOR
EXECUTIVE EDITORS
REVIEWS EDITOR
ASSOCIATE EDITORS
FACULTY ADVISOR
FINANCIAL ADVISOR
DESIGNER
COPY EDITOR
Christopher Evans
Dominique Bernier-Cormier
Jennifer Lori
Claire Matthews
Anita Bedell
Selina Boan
Curtis LeBlanc
Shaun Robinson
Timothy Taylor
Sierra Skye Gemma
andrea bennett
Rosemary Anderson
EDITORIAL BOARD
Megan Barnet, Meghan Bell, Wendy Bone
Nicole Boyce, Alison Braid, Melissa Bull
Sonal Champsee, Rhonda Collis, Robert Colman
Karla Comanda, Marks Cutts, Max D'Ambrosio
Danielle Daniel, Bryce Doersam, Lesley Finn
Alanna Francis, Tyler Hein, Sarah Higgins
Kyla Jamieson, Melissa Janae, Keri Korteling
Mica Lemiski, Kirsten Madsen, Judith L. Major
Kyle McKillop, Amber McMillan, Karen Palmer
Sarah Richards, Meaghan Rondeau, Anjalika Samarasekara
Kyle Schoenfeld, Robert Shaw, Rochelle Squires
Mallory Tater, Meg Todd, Jessica Torrens
Carly Vandergriendt, Cara Violini, Matthew Walsh
Jane Wood, Catherine Young
EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Alison Braid, Matt Cardinal, Maegan Cortens PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four
times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1.
Specific back issues can be ordered from the Executive Editor, Circulation:
circulation@prismmagazine.ca.
Website: prismmagazine.ca
Copyright © 2016 PRISM international. Content copyrights remain with
authors. Cover image © Kourtney Roy, "lis pensent deja que je suis folle N° 58."
Subscription Rates: One-year individual Canadian $35, American $40,
International $45; two-year individual Canadian $55, American $63,
International $69; library and institutional one-year $46; two-year $72. Single
issue by mail is $13. US and international subscribers, please pay in US dollars.
Please note that US postal money orders are not accepted. Make cheques payable
to PRISM international. All prices include GST and shipping and handling.
PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists with other literary magazines;
please contact us if you wish to be excluded from such exchanges.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North
American Serial Rights at $40 per page for poetry and $30 per page for
prose. Contributors receive two copies of the issue in which their work
appears. Submissions are accepted online or by mail. Electronic submissions
are preferred. All submissions must adhere to our submission guidelines,
which can be found at prismmagazine.ca/submit, or can be requested by
mail at the address above.
Advertising: For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM, please
visit our website at prismmagazine.ca/advertise.
Our gratitude to Dean Gage Averill 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.
July 2016. ISSN 0032.8790
|UBCl      a placeof mind
THE  UNIVERSITYOF  BRITISH  COLUMBIA
UBC
CREATIVE
WRITING
PROGRAM
BRITISH COLUMBIA «»     Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
ARTS COUNCIL Ct>   forthe Arts d" Canada CONTENTS
POETRY JUDGE'S ESSAY
Kayla Czaga      8      Leaps and Strange Logic
POETRY GRAND PRIZE WINNER
Kevin Shaw     10    The Flood of'37
POETRY RUNNERS-UP
Stephanie Warner     29     Post Ta Ta Creek-ism
Kerrie McNair     50     post-its for the girls in the backyard
FICTION GRAND PRIZE WINNER
Taryn Pearcey     11     You Can Do Better
FICTION RUNNERS-UP
Lesley Krueger    30     Montreal River
Richard Kelly Kemick     51     Bereavement Tax Credit
FICTION
Jessica Westhead 46 Things Not to Do
Stephanie Yorke 72 Whistle, Click
SJ Sindu 83 Take the Boy
Melanie Mah 85 Chickens
Tyler Keevil 91 The Search
NON-FICTION
Marcia Walker    24     Chinchillas
Ben Merriman    44    Rail
Angela Rebrec    78     The Thunder of Galloping Horses
POETRY
Renee Jackson-Harper     17     (Re) Orchards: Workshirts or Eden
Laura Clarke     18     Athleticism
20    The Movement of Limbs According
to Hemisphere
22     Slaughterhouse Feasibility Report
2016 ryan fitzpatrick     41
42
43
Chloe Catan     59
Sarah Wolfson     61
Esvie Coemish     70
Geoffrey Nilson     76
IT
Jan Zwicky    89
90
Call it a Catch Without Any Strings
Attached
Hold Your Fucking Metaphors
Accountable
Roll Out the Red Flags
Spill
Regeneration (Acornal, Coralic,
Human)
Death Removes Itself: Your Briefs
on Every Door
a poem sampled from page 284 of
1984 by George Orwell
a poem sampled from page 77 of
Candide by Voltaire
Departure at Dawn
Humility
TRANSLATION
Alexander Obando
Translation by
Andres Alfaro
Raed Anis Al-Jishi
Translation by
Amira Rammah
63     Sea of Showers
74 The Arrival of Seagulls
75 ujjo" '(-Jjjtfl
Contributors    101 Kayla Czaga
LEAPS AND STRANGE LOGIC
It is difficult to articulate why I think certain poems are "good," or why
I like certain poems more than other poems. I could highlight the expert
techniques and rhetorical devices used throughout a poem, but identical
things might not appeal to me in every poem I read. Maybe what I like
is the placement of things in relation to each other—certain figurative
language occurring at the "right" point in a line or stanza, in the "right"
order. I don't really know, but I believe there's a spark that sometimes
occurs between a reader and a poem, something akin to falling in love,
which is not independent of a poem's various merits, but takes them into
account and also transcends them. Who I currently am prefers certain
things because of my particular life experience and previous reading.
I felt a lot of uncertainty while judging PRISMs poetry contest. I
second-guessed my feelings and preferences. I made detailed lists of
"merits" of each poem. I even did that thing from Dead Poet's Society,
tracking the poem's prosody along the x-axis and importance of its subject
matter along the y. I discovered that "The Flood of '37" probably isn't
empirically better than the six other shortlisted poems—I could make a
case for any of them being the winner—but I fell in love with it.
"The Flood of'37" is a standard lyric poem. It features a speaker, half-
drunk after the bar closes, feeling things via their surrounding imagery—
pretty standard stuff. On a second read, however, I was struck by how
tightly woven the motif of wetness is threaded throughout this poem.
Without overdoing it, every sentence hints at the flood at the thematic
centre. It continually builds, without being didactic or obvious, a clear
sense of being soaked—sometimes floating, sometimes drowning—in
one's personal and societal history. The poem is peppered with unique
evocative images—"air hopped / at the brewery," the "wet / and yellow
haloes" of cabs, a "violet disaster," and "paperbacks swollen"—which
further helped me experience the speaker's journey. I was also extremely
charmed by the whimsy and hopefulness of its ending—the speaker
imagines floating away on an optician's billboard, of all things, defiant
to, but mindful of, their history. This poem wistfully evokes one of my
all-time classical favourites, "Ulysses" by Tennyson.
"PostTa-Ta Creekism," my first runner-up, dances circles around me.
Its language is so fresh and fast, matching its subject matter. I could say
PRISM  54:4 "stitching its zeros into the switchgrass" all day long. It also combines
lyric with history, its larger context, in a super effective way, using
jump cuts and found language, "post-its for the girls in the back yard"
rounds out my list because any poem that can contain "browsing eBay,"
"infomercials," and "Astroturf" has got to be good. I adore its leaps and
strange logic.
prismmagazine.ca Kevin Shaw
THE FLOOD OF '37
We trace the last of the high water mark
that salts the city like a ring of sweat.
"& Sons" is all that's left of the old sign
as closing time drains the gay bar. We shake
the end of our invisible ink and look for lifts
in the rain. As all the cabs extinguish their wet
and yellow haloes, downtown's a cliche
of April. We walk up Dundas Street
trading directions instead of names, the vague
pre-dawn disclosure. I want to be alone
if the sun rises, but we can't decide who's closer
and so we're wanderers at the meridian,
on the edge of our small and violet disaster.
We don't want to go to bed but shiver
at the abatement, shouldering this dam
against the other's inevitable disappointment.
I sip the city's drunk history, air hopped
at the brewery, and I imagine my apartment flooded
and all my paperbacks swollen and dispersed,
my pills dissolved and meaningless as grist,
the empty bed a sunken ship. The river has fallen
and I too want to be swept, the era's easy deviant.
But I must believe instead of drowning
some great escapes were hatched, and illicit
trysts began again somewhere else,
under a false death's presumed innocence.
We'd overturn the optician's billboard,
use it for a skiff, and staying the course
of press-on stars, we'd drift and drift,
anonymous.
10
PRISM  54:4 Taryn Pearcey
YOU CAN DO BETTER
1 he boy and his mother live down the hall. They are the only neighbours
Emma has seen in two years of renting the apartment. In the beginning,
others left notes, welcomes, a jar of peach jam or small squares of fudge
wrapped in parchment paper. Emma bundled them all up in an old plaid
blanket and threw them out with the trash. As her own mother said, a
stranger is a stranger, no matter how kind.
The boy and his mother did not leave anything. Emma can't say for
certain, but she knows. The mother is too young, walks too quickly in or
out of the building to notice anything but her own velocity.
Emma almost doesn't answer the door when she knocks. It's still
early—everyone should be off at work. The super would have called
first. Someone could have let a salesman in the building. Then comes the
mother's voice, so firm and loud Emma is sure she must be speaking from
inside the apartment. "Excuse me, ma'am? I know you're there. I saw you
pick up the newspaper. Please, I'm desperate."
Emma's slippers never leave the floor as she shuffles toward the door.
She cinches her robe tighter and peers through the peephole. They're
both there, the boy and his mother.
"Oh, thank you," the mother says, hand to her breast, once the door
is open. "You're my last hope, really." She has a mother's shape, all soft
curves and strong bones.
Emma holds the throat of her robe closed. The skin there has only just
started to sag. "What do you want?"
"Please. His daycare got shut down. No one else is around. I'm late
for work. Please." The mother's hair is pulled back but still overwhelms
her shoulders with tight ringlets. She wears a skirt and blouse, one frayed,
the other stained. Her skin is shined copper.
Emma remembers a long-ago slumber party, the look on the other
girls' faces when her mother came to pick her up not an hour after she'd
arrived. "You don't know me," she says.
"My work won't let me bring him in." The mother's leg bends slightly
at the knee. Without more restraint she may have even stamped her foot.
Her clothes could be mistaken for a private school uniform. "It's just for
today, I promise. Please, I've got no one else."
The boy is small for his age. Emma thought he was a toddler, but his
prismmagazine.ca 11 face reveals another two years at least. He doesn't fidget, hardly moves,
like the weight of his mother's hand on his shoulder cements him to the
ground. His coat hangs off one arm, and the laces of his shoes are loose,
will come apart any minute. Emma wonders if his mother has noticed
this, then opens the door a little wider, lets her hand slip away from her
robe to wave them inside.
"Oh, thank you!" The mother doesn't enter but ushers the boy across
the threshold. She doesn't so much as scan the apartment. On her knees
she kisses each of the boy's cheeks and pats down his hair. "Be a good boy.
Behave yourself." To Emma: "He's good. There's snacks in his backpack,
and a colouring book. Don't worry about dinner. I'll be back by six for
him. Thank you again." The mother becomes a blur of dark ringlets
against white blouse. Emma doesn't even hear her footsteps in the hall or
the whir of the elevator. She is alone with the boy.
Emma's father was a tall man—she remembers this much. As a girl she
would curl up in his armchair next to the bookcase, press her face against
the fabric and inhale the scent of him. The wool scratched her cheeks,
but she wouldn't move for hours, not for anything but her mother's thick
heels coming up the front walk. Eventually the smell was lost, replaced by
her own, and the chair became just another bulk eating away at her space.
She would dream one day he'd return, as tall as he'd ever been even
though she had grown. He'd been away on business. He'd been falsely
accused of a crime and was now free. He had been building a house for
the two of them in the woods or the mountains, and he was sorry it had
taken so long.
The boy is good. The boy is quiet. He sits at the small dining table,
colouring book laid out in front of him, coat on.
Emma paces. She is still in her robe, though the skin beneath her
nightgown is damp with sweat. If she leaves the room the child might
tumble out an open window, put his hand on a hot stove. Children must
be watched. Children must be supervised. Children cannot be trusted
alone.
Emma has the urge to call her mother, to tell her how good of a boy
this one is and how much she'd like him. Her mother never trusted boys,
had said if she ever found she was with child with a son she would throw
herself off the nearest bridge rather than bring him into the world. But
Emma thinks her mother just never knew boys like this one. She uses
the wall phone in the kitchenette. She taps her foot on the linoleum
and waits for the ring, but it doesn't come. An automated voice tells her
the number has been disconnected. Her mother may have removed the
12 PRISM  54:4 phone cord from the wall again.
The boy looks up from his colouring book. He seems interested. He
may want a snack—Emma opens the cupboard to generic corn flakes
and cans of tomato soup. There might be some mints left in the candy jar
in the bedroom closet. When she turns back, the boy is working at the
paper again, crayon in his grasp, small knuckles white with effort.
Emma couldn't go to the girls' private school on her mother's salary.
Some days she saw them on the street or on the bus with her mother. The
creases in their skirts were pristine, their socks free of sags, their shoes and
smiles polished. Emma was sure they floated, the soles of their shoes only
appearing to touch the ground. Though they seemed to interact with
the environment around them, truly they existed in a different world
entirely, one that only occasionally intersected with her own, like trying
to wrap her hands around the sun but knowing it's too far away to touch.
Her mother didn't settle, though. She taught as much of the curriculum
at home as she could, using thick books with pictures of ladies sitting
down for tea on the covers. The hardest behaviour to correct was Emma's
slouch, the way she dragged her feet when she walked. For a half hour
every afternoon Emma practiced her form in the backyard, not over in
the trees, out in the open where the neighbours might see.
Emma stomped a rut into the grass, marching in circles and watching
her feet as her mother's voice called from the kitchen window. "Knees up.
Lift your feet. You can do better."
An hour has passed. The boy scrawls colourful shapes on white napkins,
having finished every design in his book. Emma lists to herself all of the
blank objects in the apartment. Paper towels. Bath towels. Sections of
newspaper. The backs of old bank statements. Envelopes. Cotton shirts.
She weighs the cost of replacing these versus having nothing else for the
boy to colour on. She doesn't have a TV or computer. The shelves in
the bedroom are stocked with books, but none that a child would find
interesting. There are always the walls.
The boy books up from his drawing—nothing legible. "I have to go
to the bathroom," he says.
Emma is surprised by his speech. There is hair in her mouth—her
own, she has been chewing on it without realizing again—so she points
to the hall that leads to the bedroom.
He doesn't follow her finger, doesn't turn away at all, and she thinks
he must be waiting for her to take him. She wonders if he is younger than
she thought.
She pulls his chair back from the table and he hops down. With
prismmagazine.ca 13 an instinct she didn't know she possessed, she reaches out to hold the
shoulders of his coat. He shrugs to help her as she slips it off of him,
and the motion is so fluid and natural she feels a small ache in her chest.
Her mother said all children were rotten, squalling things, but this one
is small, could hardly cause a mess if he wanted to. As an experiment she
places her hands on his shoulders again, this time nothing between them
but his thin t-shirt. She feels the warmth of him, the firmness of his small
body, and wonders how any mother could ever take her hands off her
child, her own flesh reborn.
Walter was Emma's height, shorter if she wore heels, which she rarely did.
He handled mortgage payments in one of the private offices down the hall
from where the tellers worked. She watched him come in every morning
and leave each afternoon. It was only coincidence that her station was
last, closest to the hall, or else he may have sought after Miriam instead,
with her horn-rimmed glasses and bubblegum-scented breath.
Her mother seemed to like Walter. He always wore his work best even
to come to brunch. He brought lilies for her table, and sparkling cider,
never wine. He was polite and never so much as touched Emma's hand in
her mothers presence.
Walter had wanted the child badly. He was older by nearly fifteen
years, balding, longed for a family. By that time he'd worked his way up to
branch manager—Emma could stay at home with the baby, would never
have to lift a finger if she didn't want to. He owned a small bungalow,
could hire a nanny and maid.
Years later, the sight and smell—earthy, metallic—of the red clump
stuck to the side of the toilet bowl is more vivid to her than Walter's face
or voice. Afterwards, her mother tucked her into bed, nursed her with
herbal tea. "You're better off now, anyway," she said.
At the new branch, whenever a man spoke to her, Emma would stare
at his chest and picture the stain of red against porcelain. She would
remember the childhood warning that if you hold your face a certain
way, it will remain that way permanently.
Even on the bus the boy doesn't ask any questions. He takes Emma's hand
when offered it, sits quietly, taking up as little space as possible.
Emma adores his colours—the apple red of his coat and the coppery
brown of his hair, in looser curls than his mother's. His skin itself is
vibrant, a light source of its own. Even in a dark room she's sure he would
glow.
She wonders his name, but won't ask. She can't bring herself to disturb
his peace, but she wonders. Matthew. Richard. Christian. Eric. Sam.
14 PRISM  54:4 There aren't any other children on the bus. It's a school day—why isn't
he enrolled in preschool? What mother chooses a questionable daycare
over an early start on education? What mother leaves her child with a
stranger, no questions asked?
She takes his small hand in hers, and the eager trust there reassures
her. She can take care of him—she will show his mother, she will show
hers.
The old neighbourhood is a snapshot in her mind. The buckled
sidewalk pavement, bikes propped up against trees, the settled, suffocating
quiet of a suburban street.
They pass girls along the way, young women with low-cut tops and
fluorescent colours in their hair. They remind her of the newest tellers at
the bank. One day Emma realized she was the oldest, that all the women
she knew had been promoted, or moved on to new jobs, or left to raise
families. The new girls on the line didn't keep their voices down when
they discussed men in the break room. They flirted with male clients
and co-workers. They lived alone in ground floor apartments and asked
Emma if she had gone to school with their mothers.
Emma keeps the boy close as they turn down the right street. She
can already picture him in the kitchen, sitting on the counter next to
the fridge like she used to when she stood no taller than her mother's
waist. Her mother will be making tea, but will stop when she hears
them coming up the walk. They will spend the evening looking over old
photos. There will be some of Emma's father though there never were
before. Her mother will speak with a soft, gentle tone, and the boy will
fall asleep between them. Emma will carry him upstairs to tuck him in,
and she will sit up for hours next to him, watching his thin chest rise and
fall beneath the blankets.
They almost pass by the house. Emma looks twice. The chain-link
fence has been replaced with picket. The roof is new. Instead of flaking
brown paint, the exterior has been redone in white. Next to the front
steps lies an overturned tricycle.
Emma then remembers her mother's house as she last saw it two years
ago—in boxes. Each room divided into labelled cartons, then separated
into piles for keep and piles for charity. She remembers her mother's
last days, sleeping in the den to avoid using the stairs. Some evenings
Emma came home to half-cooked casseroles waiting on the table. Some
nights her mother woke her, banging her ashtray against the downstairs
banister. She would have a dining room chair set up in front of the full-
length mirror in the hall, where Emma would be made to sit, hands
folded, as her mother brushed her hair, pinned it, admired it, began over
again. Hours would pass, with nothing to keep Emma awake but the
prismmagazine.ca 15 occasional tug at her scalp, and her mother's soft muttering about her
precious little girl.
The boy pulls gently at her hand. He looks up at Emma not with warmth
or admiration, but with concerned interest. "Excuse me," he says, "when's
Mommy coming back?"
Emma dressed before they left the apartment, but she notices now
that she is still in her slippers, the toes stained with sidewalk grime from
dragging her feet.
Her palm is sweaty. She releases the boy's hand. She doesn't know his
name, his mother's name, not even how long they've been gone.
At the corner, a crossing guard stands idly next to the crosswalk,
watching cars slowly roll past. Emma only sees the bright colours of his
vest, is drawn in like a moth. "Please," she says, eyes rising no higher than
his chest. She urges the boy ahead of her. "Please. He needs his mother."
She doesn't hear the young man's reply, doesn't check to see if the boy
looks after her. She watches her feet, lifts each to make sure they don't
scuff against the ground. Knees up. Knees up. Knees up.
16
PRISM  54:4 Renee Jackson - Harper
(RE)ORCHARDS: WORK SHIRTS OR
EDEN
This paper is about orchards/blossoms
examines how work shirts become sites
where settler ambitions rest—nestled
goals are played out—how we turn text
to place a failure where masculine and
Edenic narratives and the blossoms
reach-feel-house conclusions:
This paper is about dirt failure work
shirts wrestled in nested goals and
settlers making Edens in their own
dirty hollows—blossoms and played out
nestlings that settle in cuffs house settlers
at/try reach conclusions:
This paper is about men masculine
blossoms and work bratwursts packed lunches
shirts discarded in orchards with conclusions
but more specifically nestled goals in dirt
and shirt sleeves sometimes work
often Edenic in nature or not:
This paper demonstrates that blossoms
sprout from hollows work shirts from
sites packed lunches bratwurst from
cool days from discarded narratives
or again nestled rested the nestling is key
while settling remains dubious or so
the orchard suggests and the blossoms show.
prismmagazine.ca 17 Laura Clarke
ATHLETICISM
There is an understanding between us, a physical fit.
Dance is the wrong word. It is less fluid and more
a metallic click, combined
with a synchronicity on a mental level.
The elliptical machine texted me today:
I plan to grow old watching you grow old. hope that's ok. xoxo
I said haha sure and then I put my teeth in the butter.
That's not the same as eating the butter.
I like the way the teeth marks look.
I like the way the pat of butter with teeth marks looks
lying in a meadow of purple thrush.
I like the way the meadow looks from the 19th floor.
Our connection exists beyond shape or touch —
it has little to do with a dialogue of numbers
and much to do with a sense of love via one's
actions being anticipated. Not to mention
the elliptical machine is a genius. It's developing
a theory that goes something like:
x {actual weight) + y {imagined weight) - z {age of person glancing
over at your machine + level of attractiveness on a scale
ofl-10 - ^[unpredictable factor relating to level of contentment}) =
answer to the question "please enter weight"
The proof will reveal an easily imitable formula for lies
that requires zero cultural, social or economic context.
I think we can agree flowers and butter both look better
behind glass. I've always appreciated blurriness
as a means of survival, which is why I only wear my glasses
during sex and half-marathons.
18 PRISM  54:4 The elliptical machine texted me at 3 a.m. yesterday:
Are you sure you iveren't one of the three seagulls pecking at fish bones
washed up on aplastic No Frills bag at the beach today?
Nah i was at the gym all day was my reply,
but I was only 90% sure it wasn't me,
the feathers drifting from the ceiling
possessing a quality of being both relentless and familiar.
prismmagazine.ca 19 THE MOVEMENT OF LIMBS ACCORDING
TO HEMISPHERE
In the American South, each town contains one scrubby
highway palm tree from which an enormous satellite
provides frequent updates on animal behavioural patterns.
For example: a raccoon is crouched on a balcony, listening
to the glass plate turn endlessly inside the microwave.
A cat is shitting in a garden of tulips at sunrise.
A prairie dog is butchering a fresh litter of baby
squirrels and a deer is eating a nest of song birds alive.
I'm doing lunges under an overpass in the 3:30 sunshine
in Spanish Fort, Alabama. I came here for sex and as always,
it was a bad idea. When I put my mug down on the table,
its weight causes the breast-shaped squeeze balls
displayed in a fruit bowl to jiggle in the sun.
Post-Mardi Gras is a local excuse for many things,
including this. Jill H. texts me to go outside and collect
three important rocks. They look unimportant but I hope
they'll glow when I place them beneath the palm tree
behavior transmitter, advise me of a city where I can hear
roosters crowing in the middle of night, so stupidly
certain are they of a new day. I will lie awake at 3 a.m.
in both New Orleans and Marfa, wondering when
those fuckers sleep. I will see the javelinas spearing
beams from a full moon on the designated animal
highway in Big Bend National Park and I will see
a massive orange centipede winding its way down
a Texan dirt road. Cows will wait patiently in a trailer
in the Dairy Queen parking lot while the driver orders
an ice cream cake. The stray black cat will moan for hours
and hours under the floorboards during a Louisiana
20 PRISM  54:4 tornado warning. But I don't know that yet. What I mean
to say is Dear reader: I've been picking my scalp again.
Dear reader: I've been pulling out my hair again.
I don't want a bald spot but I also don't want to stop.
Reappearances of vestigial teenage tics are bad omens
no doubt but Dear reader: you've known for quite some
time that no skull can have it all. Even the owl swivels
for sight, eyes bolted to head, sacrificial evolution
for field-mouse laser vision and a brain that won't quit.
That owl has a way of gripping tree branches so delicately
the tracking system remains untriggered. The red light
sweeps silently over grey feathers, behaviours unrecorded.
As for me, I've got these rocks in my pocket.
prismmagazine.ca 21 SLAUGHTERHOUSE FEASIBILITY
REPORT 2016
I wake with sparrows and hurry to work. My carpal tunnel syndrome
flares up in the Starbucks line. I dream of meat less than you'd think. I
dream of riding ostriches and blowing the janitor more than you'd think.
The median nerve self-pinches; the median nerve's got its own thing
going on.
Do you know what's coming?
I call those 4 p.m. shaky hands the abattoir blues. I call the faint smell
of ammonia under collar the abattoir blues. I call the entity of the heart,
still connected to the lungs, the pluck. I call you on my lunch break,
talking shit about pus-ringed abscesses and cross-departmental colleague
tension. I tote viscera to the picnic table, leave it roasting in the sun for
the crow-in-residence.
I endeavour to extricate myself from redundancies but it's going only
medium well. Women are three times more likely than men to develop
carpal tunnel. Something to do with a smallness of bones and ligaments
and, in my case, exacerbated by masturbating solely with my dominant
hand.
Some dogs live entire lives on a rooftop in temperate climates. Chihuahuas
circle hammocks strung up with tomato stakes, pause three inches from
the edge of the drop-off, vibrate with the notion of what they could do.
As Temple Grandin will tell you, the difference between holding pen and
hug machine is one of degree: a slight pressure on the skull or arms.
You may choose to be a) touched by a machine conceived of by a grand
gesture of delicacy, or b) a stray dog in Texas, blissfully watching your
nipples sag closer to concrete year after year. It's true I always promised I
would be gentle, but my hands don't always do what I want.
Do you know what's coming?
22 PRISM  54:4 The work/life balance, sweetheart. The latex gloves under fluorescence.
The hearts of cattle, still pumping as the bodies ride the chains. A black
dog and a white dog like a pair of salt and pepper shakers, three inches
from the ledge, scratching concrete, tails pointed to sunset.
prismmagazine.ca 23 A'larcia Walker
CHINCHILLAS
W hat my mother really wanted was a fur coat. She wanted to feel like
a movie star. My father interpreted this as boredom. What she needed,
he believed, was a hobby.
The poor creatures arrived in a white truck one Saturday morning.
We huddled on the veranda, my sisters and I in our matching homemade
yellow nightgowns, and watched the truck tumble down the long gravel
laneway.
"What's this?" my mother asked.
"It's a surprise," my father said, clapping his hands together.
When the truck stopped, he spoke with the driver and then waved us
over.
My mother told us to get on our shoes, but we ignored her and ran
toward my father in our bare feet, the gravel cutting between our toes
and under our arches. She yelled, "I'm going to put on shoes like a sane
person." We begged him to show us what was inside the truck, but he
said we had to wait. My mother strolled out five minutes later wearing
her Wellingtons and a fresh layer of red lipstick.
"Are you ready?" my father asked. My sisters shrieked. I shrieked with
them. My mother covered her mouth, but I could see, underneath her
hand, she was smiling.
The driver lifted the hatch. We took a step back. Metal cages, dozens
of them, were stuffed into the back of the truck. They rattled in the
heat and dust. Despite the smell we leaned in. Then we saw them, the
chinchillas: miniature globes of dark fur with peaked ears. And their
eyes—black moons staring out at us. Carla, Nik, and I began to jump up
and down; we didn't feel the sharp gravel anymore. We had chinchillas.
Dozens of them.
My mother gasped. She had three children under the age of seven.
"Goddamnit, Barry. What have you done?"
"I've set you up as a chinchilla farmer."
She ran back towards the house. She didn't like people to see her cry.
We stopped jumping. We watched her. Before slamming the screen door,
she turned around and told my father to get rid of the goddamn rodents.
He did not do this. Instead, he moved them to the basement,
explaining to my mother during dinner, between bites of burnt shepherd's
24 PRISM  54:4 pie, that the chinchillas were not only a lucrative investment, but that she
could also have her own custom fur coat. Two birds, one stone, he said.
My mother stared at her untouched dinner. "Barry, I don't know the
first goddamn thing about fur farming."
"It'll be good for you, Maureen. Something outside of the house."
Carla said she would take care of them and then Nik said that if Carla
got the chinchillas then she should at least get some guinea pigs. I wanted
more barn kittens but I didn't say anything. I had a slight stutter back
then which my sisters liked to imitate. It was easier to stay silent.
Mom traced her fingers along her hairline and rubbed her temples. "I
don't even know, I mean... how many of them does it take to make a fur
coat?"
My father evaded the question. He's never been big on the nitty-
gritty details of life. Years later, I learned it can take up to a hundred and
fifty chinchillas to make one fur coat, but at the time none of us knew
anything. I thought they were pets.
The next day my dad drove his BMW back to the city where he
worked as an engineer during the week and left the four of us with the
chinchillas.
My mother is not an animal person. Cows make her jumpy. She falls
off horses. Stray dogs bite her. Living in the country was my father's idea;
it was his dream to have a hobby farm and my mother, ever the facilitator,
made it happen. Somehow his dream had resulted in him working in the
city and returning to his hobby only two or three days of the week.
Still, my mother tried with the chinchillas. She stayed up late feeding
the critters and changing their water. She gave them dust baths to keep
their thick fur healthy. During the day we crept down to the basement to
pet them. At the beginning Carla wouldn't let Nik or me touch them, but
then Nik threatened to tell Mom so Carla said we could have one minute
each. Nik rubbed the chinchilla against her cheek and murmured, "Fur
cloud, fur cloud." We couldn't get enough. My mother had to put a latch
on the door because she was worried we'd pet them bald (the unfortunate
fate of Nik's pet rabbit the year before).
My father returned the following Friday night. My mother must have
forgiven him because she wore her blue wrap dress and gold hoops. Her
hair was swept up into a mass at the back of her head. He opened a bottle
of red wine and poured her a glass. They laughed about a joke I didn't
understand. We bugged him to come see the chinchillas. He said he was
too tired, but we wouldn't shut up about them so eventually he gave in.
We showed him our favourites, the ones we had named. Betsey, Fluffy,
Fluffy Two, Sweet Pea, McDonalds. He asked us if we were mother's little
helpers and Carla said yes. She told him we were good helpers.
prismmagazine.ca 25 Two weeks passed. It was mid-summer. I woke in the morning with
a thin layer of sweat covering my body, to the shrilling of heat bugs.
My father was still in the city. Nik and I trolled the house looking for
something to do. Carla had a friend over and they went out to the barn to
build a hay fort. They told us to stay away. Nik and I watched Mom burn
her fingertips sealing hot wax on the raspberry jam. "Shit, shit, shit," she
said, running her hands under cold water. After that, Nik discovered the
basement door wasn't locked, so we crept down to see the chinchillas.
I held onto the elastic band of her shorts because I was scared without
Carla. With each step the temperature cooled until we shivered in the
darkness.
"Turn on the light," I said.
"Shhhhh."
She flailed her hands in the air searching for the string. I was about to
run upstairs when I heard the click of the light. Nik headed straight for
her favourite and I followed, still holding onto her shorts. She opened the
crate, reached in but something was wrong. The chinchilla didn't move.
Nik poked it with her finger. Nothing. She shook the cage. "Oh no," she
said.
Turned out seven were dead and five were breathing funny. Several
others had pus in their eyes. My mother told us not to touch them. Ten
died in the night. I heard her yelling into the phone the next morning.
"Goddamnit, Barry. Don't tell me to take care of it. You take care of it.
You come home and do it." She called him a sonofabitch and hung up.
Then she took out the Yellow Pages and called a vet but he couldn't come
until the next day. By the evening a third of them had croaked. The
remaining chinchillas chattered, barked, and screeched for their lives, but
it was no use; they were doomed. The next morning the fur farm was no
more. One hundred chinchillas totally annihilated.
The vet, an old man who kept complaining about his hip replacement,
said it was a freak bacterial infection.
"They're tricky," he said, "but there was nothing you could do. Once
those things hit, you've got to separate the dead immediately and even
then..."
My mother poured him some coffee and made him some toast
because she felt bad he had driven out all this way for nothing. We hid
on the veranda and spied through the screen door.
"Don't feel bad, it could happen to anyone," he said.
"Oh, I doubt that."
He sipped his coffee. "This is a beautiful spot. What you have got
here, fifty acres?"
"A hundred."
26 PRISM  54:4 "Quite a spot."
"Yes."
She usually kept the patter of conversation going, but she was strangely
quiet. Then out of nowhere she said, "I did everything right. I waited to
get married. I found a man with a profession. I've done everything right."
The vet shifted in his seat. He mentioned his hip again. My mother stared
out the window, over the rhubarb patch and past the raspberry bushes,
to where the dry corn field met the low grey sky. Her face was slack as
though she was sleeping. She held the mug of coffee but didn't drink it.
Every once in a while she blew on it and more steam would rise.
"I have three children. What am I supposed to do now?" she said.
The vet didn't answer. It was obvious she wasn't talking to anyone in
the room.
I was five. What did I know of loneliness and disappointment? All I
understood was this voice was not the voice of my mother and this face
was not my mother's face; another woman had entered the room, taken
her over. This woman scared me. I started wailing and, even though Carla
shoved her hand over my mouth, I wouldn't stop. My mother found us
huddled together outside the screen door and told us not to be idiots and
to stop eavesdropping. We filed into the room and peppered the vet with
questions about dogs because we were keen to have one, but mostly we
felt (even at that age) the need to fill the silence.
My mother still hoped to sell the fur, but it turned out that no one
would buy contaminated chinchilla fur; there were regulations. She kept
calling my dad with updates.
"I've tried everywhere and no one is going to take them. You deal with
this. You get back here and deal with this." She slammed the phone down
and then ten minutes later she'd call him again.
On Friday morning we sat in Carla's bedroom and watched my
father's car inch its way down the laneway, so slow I thought he might
stop and turn around. Usually we ran towards his car, but we didn't that
day. My mother stood outside the house with her arms crossed, waiting.
I thought we'd be able to hear them yelling through the glass, but they
stood for a long time, each on their own side of the porch, not saying
a word. Eventually Mom clicked the screen door closed and withdrew
inside.
I found my father later, dragging the rusted wheelbarrow out of the
barn and flopping the dead bodies inside. I couldn't see the chinchillas
because they were in black garbage bags. He trekked from the house,
over the field and towards the back forest and I followed him. I wasn't
supposed to go that far from the house but I wanted to see where the
chinchillas were buried.
prismmagazine.ca 27 If my father noticed me, he didn't say anything. Sometimes the
wheelbarrow caught in a gopher hole and it would teeter and fall,
dumping the bags in the mud. He'd pick them up and start over. By the
time he reached the ditch he was out of breath. He threw the last four
bags in and they landed with a soft, mushy thud. He shoveled dirt over
the top and whacked it down flat with the back of the shovel but I could
still see the uneven circle of fresh earth.
He didn't to go back to the farm when he was done. Instead he lit a
cigarette and looked up, between the web of branches. He stared for a
long time, straight up, into the severe blue sky.
"Barry," my mother called from the house. "Barry," she said again.
Her voice carried across the field and hovered unanswered. He didn't
move. I wanted to answer that he was here, that I was here too, but I
also knew to stay silent. I crouched lower in the grass. My hands pressed
flat into my chest, and I could feel my heart slam against my tiny damp
palms. The screen door slammed shut. I looked to my father. I followed
his gaze beyond the trees to the open sky but the light was too much. I
had to shut my eyes.
28
PRISM  54:4 Stephanie Warner
POST TA TA CREEK-ISM
Dervishing glass compass rose and the dutiful coupling.
Your heart dimpled, puffer-fish blown, against the rule
flickered in the glinting wheel of amber, molten corona
& the moon, snake charmer, wooing your still-childish blood.
Remember father's zoetrope with the jockey, horse, in silhouette
the feeling you were a god, quite lonely, lingered
at the tower's slotted window. That spin. The horse's rickety
leaping. The eye knitting story everywhere. Shameless, shameless.
1896: the camera is invented and two Englishmen can say, with due fanfare
ladies and gentleman, the hooves do indeed all leave the ground!
And in Italy: A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire,
is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
The rule was in the boys with aces in their spokes, the garter snake's
rictus in the Crown Royal bag. They nailed her to a fence post
by Ta Ta Creek. Stoned her, pulped her into the grain and eyelets
of wood, the heap of their bikes glittering in the sun, the bright metal
of their fraternity. & you found the nest she'd left behind: like super-eight—
without its canister, seething, seething—obsidian threaded with gold
stitching its zeros into the switchgrass. We declare that the splendour
of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed!
prismmagazine.ca 29 Lesley Krueger
MONTREAL RIVER
IN ora Weston might as well have been running inside a bottle, sprinting up
the mountain in the early afternoon. A Kelly-green bottle of forest, Douglas
fir and cedar above and around the tunnelled path. Moisture weighed down
their branches, and the needles were so fat and healthy they glistened like
glass. Nora's retriever, Josie, raced ahead of her, sniffing roots and chipmunk
burrows, kicking up the last grainy snow of winter under the trees before
racing back to snuffle Nora's hand, cold nose on her humid palm.
Sheen, she thought. Not just the sheen of a bottle, but of a photographic
print. It reminded her of a project she'd done in art school, photographing
handsome men when she was aroused. Nora had made them strip down
and moved them into poses, digging her fingers into their arms, feeling
their muscles, smoothing the hair on their heads, their chests, their thighs.
She focused her camera on parts of them, on biceps, erections, and when
she was wet, she started to click.
Arousal, she'd called it: the female gaze.
Nora could laugh at herself now, when life was so much less freighted
and so much more satisfying. Further down Mount Seymour, her garden
said it was spring. The cherry trees and hydrangeas were blooming, the
azaleas coming in. She should probably have dug in the compost two-three
weeks ago, but it wasn't too late to do carefully. It was never too late to do
things carefully.
Running harder now, she listed her chores: strawberries and asparagus
on the way home, put away the winter clothes, pick up the babies from
school. But they'd all need their winter coats if they flew to Montreal next
week...
Montreal.
Nora's gut clenched and she turned clammy-hot, stopping so fast she
stumbled and bent over gasping. Dave had disappeared after art school,
after Montreal River. It was years ago, years, but time fell away and in this
moment she couldn't stand not knowing what had happened. She could
not stand it, going so itchy with panic that the crust of snow beneath her
feet seemed to split apart and drop her into a crevasse. Vertigo whirled her
down through snow, earth, rock, until the molten core of the planet beat
around her like a heart. Caught in the hot suffocating rictus, all she wanted
was to keep falling, falling—to land years in the past on the other side of
the world.
30 PRISM  54:4 Cradle Mountain, Australia. A few days after she arrived, Nora and her
new friends were bushwalking past some tree ferns in the rain. Ricardo
said a platypus lived in the stream, and pointed out a pink ribbon in a
pepperbush.
Pink robin. Nora wasn't used to the accent. Nor to the exotic,
chattering, screeching birds hopping around them in paint-box colours.
"Dave never mentioned the birds," she said, still self-conscious about
saying his name.
Nora and Dave had recently graduated from the Ontario College of
Art, both of them as gracefully proportioned as if they'd been drawn. Nora
was neither tall nor short, Dave broader and much more talkative—a pair
so natural that when they had first got together eight months before,
people were already bored: What took you so long?
Australia was the first stop on their planned trip around the world. It
would be a working trip: they would pick fruit, do whatever they had to,
illegally if necessary, while feeding their art. Dave was legal in Australia,
though. He had been born in Melbourne, and had only come to Toronto
with his Canadian mother when he was nine and his parents got divorced.
Australia was a good first step. See his dad, fix the past, move on.
Their original plan had been to fly straight out of Toronto. Then Dave
heard about a family that was moving to Vancouver and needed someone
to drive their car across the country. Nora didn't want to go, telling Dave
about the claustrophobic car trip her family had taken the summer before
her parents got divorced. They'd only made it as far as Writing-on-Stone
Provincial Park in Alberta before parental bickering had turned them
around.
Lorraine: "You were the one who wanted to camp."
Phil: "For the children. Of whom you're not one."
Nora thought the drive would bring back too many memories, but
Dave had never made the trip and everything was paid for. Already
half-packed, they sat down to discuss the alternatives. Nora was a little
frightened of how mature they were together. In the end they decided she
would go ahead to Australia. Dave would deliver the car and fly out to
join her.
Nora had landed on the other side of the world wondering how she
would be received by Dave's connections, Ricardo and Jane, who had
insisted on meeting her at the airport. Dave didn't know them very well,
and he had only planned to cadge a meal and some advice about where
to stay.
But Jane seemed to assume that Nora would stay with them, and
packed her home like an animal from the Humane Society. Dave laughed
when she told him that on the phone. He said he would explain why soon
prismmagazine.ca 31 enough. He was calling from Northern Ontario, a place called Montreal
River, and said he was making good time.
Nora came to herself canted over, hands on her knees, chest and forehead
gelid with sweat. She reminded herself that Mount Seymour was in
Canada, it was home, while Cradle Mountain was in Tasmania and she'd
been there only once, fourteen years ago.
Standing up slowly, she whistled for the dog. Josie looked exultant;
there was no other word.
"Home," Nora said, and the retriever kicked downhill like a deer.
At home, Nora didn't even take off her jacket before she Googled
Dave. The first time she'd realized she could look for him online, she'd
trembled at the keyboard, unable to type his name. In that breathless
pause, it still seemed possible to find him.
Now her periodic searches were pro forma, like a Catholic crossing
herself. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Dave
Hashimoto. This time, it occurred to her that she had never looked for
Jane and Ricardo. Finding Ricardo's name would be easy, presuming he
was still alive.
Nora got dozens of hits. It turned out that Ricardo wrote aggrieved
funny commentaries for the newspapers from his home in the Blue
Mountains outside Sydney. She found his phone number, calculated the
time. He used to stay up half the night.
"Nora Weston," he cried. "Finally she finds me."
"The net strips mystery from the world." A moment of expectancy.
"Not all of it," she said.
Nora had felt welcome but out of place with Jane and Ricardo in their
Tasmanian beach house. They were older and more sophisticated,
especially Jane, but that wasn't the problem. Her mother being a painter
meant that Nora was used to the company of jaded, louche, accomplished
people. Had learned, in fact, to rate her own freshness highly.
"Look at you," her mother's friends would say at openings, during
studio visits and parties. Some would be drunk. One witch-haired woman
always touched her face the way babies did, a finger trailing down one
cheek. "Look at you."
Lorraine's friends could be decadent and sometimes silly, tittering
about sex, but they were also stubborn. Most had always planned to be
artists, they were artists, and they either worked very hard in that direction
or lost themselves and drank. At least among her mother's friends, there
were few detours, teaching aside. Detours meant failure, loss of nerve,
and if anyone succumbed, they were dropped as if it were catching.
32 PRISM  54:4 Jane's life seemed to be a series of absent-minded detours, each one
broken off to try another, her original objective lost en route. She told
Nora one day in the kitchen, as she made soup, "So I developed my own
line of colours." Nail polish, in Alaska. "You've got to give it a try."
"Nail polish?"
"Everything''
Jane was an American who spent half the day cooking and talking.
Nora sat at the kitchen table, sipping tea and drinking in stories. Jane was
an ice cook, Ricardo said.
A nice cook?
An ace cook. Jane hardly ate the meals she put on the table, but as she
chopped, sauteed, stirred, Nora learned that she had been a reader at a
publishing house, a clothing designer, and a tango instructor, all in New
York. She had also dealt drugs in Hong Kong, "where blond girls go to
end their careers."
As models. Jane's modeling career had ended long ago, but she still
protected her beauty the way that a mother protects her baby. She carried
parasols when she went outdoors, and wore sunglasses, sunscreen, and
long sleeves. Indoors, she often walked around naked. Her skin fit her
muscles like a smooth white glove.
Maybe you did that if you had a younger lover, to prove he was
making a good bargain. Ricardo made a point of telling Nora that he
had just turned thirty. He was also going bald, and shaved his head to try
to hide it. Nora thought he was gay at first, although she couldn't decide
later whether that was true or not.
"You can whinge if we woke you up," he would say in the morning.
Nora refused to be drawn in. It was her secret that she liked sex a lot. It
wasn't a secret among the boys at school, not after her Arousal project,
but she tried to keep it from lewd older men, and Ricardo didn't seem
to realize that's what he was, to her. Nor that she shied away from him,
or felt the urge to court Jane the way that some girls might. Nora liked
them, but doubted she would think of them once she and Dave moved
on.
Now Ricardo wandered back into the kitchen and said, "Isn't your
man arriving today? I can give you a lift to Hobbiton when he gets in."
He meant Hobart, where the airport was. Being from Sydney, he refused
to take Tasmania seriously.
"He's supposed to call from Vancouver before taking off," Nora said.
"He hasn't called? I thought he was supposed to drop off the car,
what—two or three days ago?"
"We know that," Jane said, chopping vegetables. "Thank you,
Richard."
prismmagazine.ca 33 Dave's father, who had bought the beach house, was Jane's most recent
ex-husband. She told Nora that when they divorced, all she'd wanted
was the house. It was beautiful but cheap, so he gave it to her. Nora
remembered Dave saying that men were grateful to Jane even when she
divorced them. That was a good line, but Jane told Nora that the divorce
hadn't been her idea. Not that this seemed to worry her.
The house had a darkroom; that was the main reason Nora liked it.
On her round-the-world trip, she was going to shoot pictures on islands
the size of Ireland, having been named after Nora Barnacle Joyce, wife
of James. Nora had always felt ambivalent about being named after
someone's wife instead of a woman who was notable in her own right.
On one level, of course, it said more about her parents than it did about
her. On another, she hated it. Now that she was part of a couple, she
wanted to think harder about what it meant. They would visit Tasmania,
Sri Lanka, Iceland. Newfoundland on the way home. In a sense, it was a
project about the space people took up. She called it Scale.
Dave had no particular project. Instead, he was taking opportunities.
That was why he was driving out to Vancouver. Also why he didn't mind
stopping in Tasmania for Nora's project before going on to Melbourne to
see his father.
"Dave likes to talk," Nora told Ricardo, who was sampling Jane's
soup. "He might have fallen in with people. Or some guy stole his wallet,
and he has to deal with it. Or maybe he's just taking pictures."
Almost a week had passed since Dave had called from Montreal
River, and he should have arrived by now. Nora realized that she had
now made these excuses several times, often to herself, although she
wasn't consciously worried. Maybe she was a little embarrassed by his
self-absorption, or what Jane and Ricardo might think about their
relationship. In any case, he would turn up.
"I'm going into town tomorrow anyway," Ricardo said. "I can stop by
the airport when the morning planes come in."
Ricardo had never met Dave but seemed curious.
"Can I peg a lift?" said Danielle, padding in on small soft feet.
Danielle was staying at the beach house, too. Her hands and feet were
tiny, but she was a big woman with an abundance of long dark hair,
almost six feet tall and much more than two hundred pounds. Nora
didn't understand Danielle's connection to anybody. She operated the
camera for the documentary Jane was making, but didn't seem to know
what she was doing. Danielle came from Western Australia; her parents
were Irish. No one in the house was from Tasmania, which seemed to
start outside the radiant glass walls.
34 PRISM  54:4 Nora gave the dog a biscuit, asking Ricardo, "Are you in touch with
Danielle?"
"Danielle," he said happily. "Danielle has become the most popular
life model in Perth. The demand for full-figured women. Sculptures,
paintings... In twenty thousand years, they're going to dig up Perth and
find evidence of an earth goddess cult peculiar to Western Australia."
"I remember this wonderful moment," Nora said, scuffing the dog's
ears. "She'd taken an afternoon bath, the sun pouring in those huge
windows. And she said how much she loved the light on her skin. She
loved being herself."
"Acceptance is good," Ricardo said.
Ricardo and Danielle came back from the airport without Dave. Ricardo
said the airline had no record of him, no upcoming reservation, not even
a cancelled reservation, although Nora hadn't expected him to make one.
It was August, not yet tourist season, and Dave had planned to just hop
on a plane when he got to Vancouver.
"Let's go for another hike," Jane said. "Wineglass Bay."
"Are we going to simply shift this off?" Ricardo asked.
"So he's a day or two late."
"You don't leave people hanging."
"Young people do, darling. You're just not young. I thought we'd
established that."
The previous night, they had played a game about how old you felt
inside. Jane said she thought of herself as twenty-five. Ricardo said he felt
thirty-six, although he didn't know why. Nora had no idea how to answer
the question, while Danielle said she had always felt three years old.
Now she looked helpless. "A walk," she said. "That's grand."
They drove to the trailhead. The afternoon was calm and cool, but
it was a long steep climb up the mountain that overlooked Wineglass
Bay, and soon Danielle was wheezing so hard she had to sit down on the
rocks. Jane stood beside her, throwing a circle of shade with her parasol.
Ricardo sat on the steps rolling some weed. He explained to Nora that his
drinking had gotten out of hand again and he had taken time off work to
treat the withdrawal in his patented way. He told her that his father was
an alcoholic; the whole boring mess was inescapable.
Ricardo held out the spliff Jane never smoked. Nora shook her head,
as did Danielle.
"The asthma," Danielle said.
"Did you bring your puffer?" he asked.
She hadn't. They had to stop frequently. The chitter-chitter of bright
little birds continued around them, and Ricardo named species. He
prismmagazine.ca 35 seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Tasmanian birds and
enjoyed showing it off, naming them by their calls. But he teased Nora
by making a secret of his job, the one he was on leave from, insisting that
Jane not tell.
Danielle wheezed louder, making a sound like a drain bubbling.
"You're heading straight for an asthma attack," Ricardo said. "We'd
better go home."
"I'll take her," Jane said. "You take Nora. She should see it."
After Jane and Danielle turned back, Ricardo pretended that the
climb wasn't hard on him. He was wiping sweat on a big man-sized tissue
but only stopped to look at the birds, that was all. After a while, Nora
wanted to get on with it, and strode uphill so quickly that the muscles in
her legs quivered. She was fairly certain by now that she was pregnant,
and spears of spring-like coolness cut through her veins. Over-exertion
might bring on a miscarriage, and it might not.
From the top, Nora looked down on the dry sweep of Wineglass
Bay. Steep mountains cupped it on three sides, their flanks smouldering,
tarnishing like copper in the sun. The bay itself was a new-moon crescent
of white sand edging teal-tinted water. The view looked ancient. Eternal.
Nora focused her camera, then let it drop. This had nothing to do with
her.
"One of the top sights of the world, sweetest, and you're here,"
Ricardo said, clambering up behind her. "Note the perfect curve of bay.
One eschews comparisons to Jane's breasts, but it's more like the left
one."
He stayed behind Nora, giving her an uninterrupted view. "You're
lucky, you know. Most women with big titties go to fat. But you'll stay a
birdie little dancer of a thing."
When Nora didn't answer, he spoke over-casually. "Does Dave take
after his father?"
Nora moved away. "Not much."
Dave looked like his mother, but Nora didn't feel like telling Ricardo
that. When Lorraine had looked at the Arousal project, she pointed out
that Nora had been photographing men who almost certainly took after
beautiful mothers.
"There's a width to them. A very female width. Look at the hips, the
mouth, the eyes. Pouty, pouty. They'll go saturnine as they age. Isn't that
a lovely word?"
Lorraine had a slightly breathy voice that made people lean toward
her. She traced the features in Dave's portrait, her forefinger sweeping the
image, not knowing who he was. Then she came to the pictures Nora had
taken of her brother Bobby. The son of a beautiful woman: it was true.
36 PRISM  54:4 Lorraine was dark haired and blue eyed and Bobby took after her. Nora
only had her eyes.
"Photographic incest," she said, assessing Nora frankly. "Pretty
intriguing." She traced Bobby's hair. He was her favourite. "I told Phil to
keep his distance," she said. "If you're wondering why he's a better father
to his sons."
Ricardo spoke from behind her. "You know my father's half-Maori
from New Zealand."
Unlike Dave, he must have taken after his father, being a brown-
skinned man. But he had lost interest in Dave, and Nora wondered if
Ricardo had been deciding whether or not to be jealous. As she cooked
one time, Jane had said that Dave's father had the softest skin she'd ever
found on a man, and that he was very well hung.
Conscious of Ricardo's breathing, Nora thought about jealousy and
titillation, and wondered if they were the same thing.
"There are some aboriginal middens if you want to walk down there,"
Ricardo said.
Nora turned to meet his eye. "What's Danielle doing in Tasmania?"
"Jane collects people, didn't you notice?" Ricardo said. "I've decided
she doesn't want anything from them. She's kind."
Nora turned and started running back to the car, pumping her knees
like a little girl, reckless, exuberant, unfathomably happy. Ricardo was
right. She had a dancer's sureness and didn't fall.
Jane's documentary was about herself. Danielle, it turned out, wanted
to be a researcher, and she pulled documents and photos out of archival
boxes as well as operating the camera. Jane with the Beatles, Jane with
Fidel. Ricardo asked Jane questions, sitting off-camera. Not that he was
a director. Ricardo was a medical doctor who shared a practice with his
father. He let that slip in the kitchen one morning, after another few days
had passed without any news.
"I can prescribe a sedative," he said, touching the shadows under
Nora's eyes. By this time Nora understood that Ricardo was as kind as
Jane, although she'd decided that neither was really interested in other
people, not as individuals, not in a way separate from their own lives.
Jane would tell Nora intimate details about her men, but she never asked
Nora about hers. The Beatles stories were mainly about Jane's small roles
in their movies, and when she spoke about Fidel, it was mainly to repeat
what she'd said to him.
Jane and Ricardo seemed to skim casually above the world like
Ricardo's birds, crafting nail polish or dealing drugs or doctoring to make
a living, but being more far interested in what they did after hours. They
prismmagazine.ca 37 seemed to collect stray people like Nora and Danielle to see what they
would bring to the table, what they would give Jane and Ricardo to react
to, what they would tell Jane and Ricardo about Jane and Ricardo's lives.
Watching this all from a perch strangely above them, Nora realized
that her visit fit happily into their agenda, and that this made them far
more gracious than most people would have been at finding themselves
in the middle of a mess. However, she wanted a doctor who wasn't as
fond of drugs as Ricardo, a doctor who might trouble himself about
possible side effects. To be fair, she hadn't told him she was pregnant. But
she could picture herself getting hooked on painkillers, and knew Dave
wouldn't have liked that.
"I'll be all right," she said. "He'll be here soon."
After three more days of silence, Ricardo took over. He proved to be
a competent person, making phone calls to Dave's father in Melbourne,
to his mother in Toronto, to the owners of the car, and any friends Dave
might have contacted, and finally to the Mounties.
Nothing. Dave hadn't been heard from since Montreal River. Not
a trace. Every day, not a trace. The phone rang constantly, efforts were
reported, but no results. Not a trace. Not a trace. Not a trace.
Nora couldn't walk more than ten feet from a telephone. She didn't
understand why Dave didn't call and say what was taking him so long.
Her thoughts washed in and out like the tide, the same thing over and
over. It was a joke, a very bad joke. Nothing else got into her. No food,
no sound. It was a joke, that's all she could think. Dave would realize that
any second, would call to apologize, would put them out of their misery.
It was a bad joke. Wasn't it?
After three blank and sleepless weeks, Nora got up at dawn and walked
into a grove of short flowering trees that grew between the house and
beach. They were blooming massively and their yellow flowers smelled
very sweet, a scent made worse by the sugary white sand and the wallaby
prints everywhere that made the sand look as textured as fur.
Nora had come outside to scream. She opened her mouth wide and
leaned forward, straining to let go. Only a high-pitched scratching came
out, a broken skipping that stopped when her vocal cords seized. She
knew she was about to suffocate and curled up dismally on the sand. Her
breathing was asthmatic, like Danielle's. She listened to it. Listened to her
heartbeat like running, fast running.
They would have been happy. Dave accepted her strangeness and her
art. He understood what it was like to be the child of mismatched parents.
She would have been happy with Dave, she would have prospered, and
now that was gone.
38 PRISM  54:4 Nora had no idea of the time. Finally, a shadow blocked the sun and
someone picked her up in arms as big as thighs. Nora looked up and
saw Danielle. Saw her objectively, distantly, as if looking through a
viewfinder. Danielle's blue eyes were grateful. Also exultant, touched.
Most of all, maternal.
Danielle carried Nora inside to the living room sofa, where Jane fed
her spoonfuls of cognac and Ricardo told her that she wasn't going to
die. Nora didn't believe him. Well, he was wrong, wasn't he? Or he would
be eventually. The longer timeframe seemed crucial, Nora didn't know
why. She thought she could photograph Wineglass Bay now, and asked
to be taken back, although Ricardo didn't think that was a good idea,
either because it wasn't, or because he didn't want to make the trek again
himself.
Two days later, her father arrived.
Nora had been angry with Phil ever since he had divorced Lorraine
seven years earlier and married Mei Li. Under other circumstances, this
would have been important. But Phil walked her up to Wineglass Bay
just as she wanted. Not even puffing; he was a wiry old guy. After she
took her photographs, he stood with her silently until dusk fell, vibrating
down the mountains. They walked back down companionably and, a day
later, Phil took her home.
Most of Ricardo's newspaper articles that appeared on Google were
about being HIV positive. He told Nora that wasn't why he had left
medicine. Nora had missed his whole second career: he had just sold his
film distribution company.
"Rolling in it, sweetness. Jane made her documentary, and afterwards
it seemed logical to get it shown. One thing led to another, as they say."
His voice turned malicious. "Jane hits sixty-five this spring, did you
know?"
"Sixty-five?" Nora said. "Janet"
"And she still hasn't given me the flick," he said happily. "Did you
keep the baby, by the way?"
The dog scratched on the sliding door, wanting out. "I didn't think
you'd noticed," Nora said. Opening the door, she stepped out onto the
deck and watched a speedboat skip up the inlet, slapping from whitecap
to whitecap.
"I'm sorry," Ricardo said. "I shouldn't have asked."
"It's fine," Nora told him. "Her name's Dana and she's just turned
thirteen. I also have a ten-year-old, Russell." From a casual father, she
didn't say, met while scrabbling out a living in the type of lightly-skilled
jobs that Jane had once taken. "Then I got married, and Josh and I have
prismmagazine.ca 39 three together, Nellie, Jade, and Larry—seven, five, and four. I haven't
told many people yet, but we're expecting another baby in October."
"My God, little lollie bod. What about photography?"
"When?" she asked. Her sudden aggression silenced Ricardo, but
Nora didn't care. This was a man who had prescribed sedatives when he'd
known she was pregnant. There was a long crackle of distance on the
phone line, until Nora finally relented.
"I think I'm supposed to be a mother," she said. "It seems to happen
pretty easily. Despite everything."
Nora thought that Dave had probably rolled the car off a road into
the dense bush of northern Ontario, where it would be found only by
accident. He might have picked up a hitchhiker who had murdered him
and stolen the car. He also might have run away from the reunion with
his father, felt embarrassed to admit this, and kept delaying the phone
call until it was too late to make it. That was unlikely, however. He would
have contacted somebody. Contacted Nora. He hadn't known about the
baby, and had no reason to run away from her.
Nora thought about all these things, yet she had also stopped believing
in explanations. She believed in momentum—what they said about the
universe expanding. Nora liked to read about scientific thought, and
had come to believe that time was the expansion of the universe. Time
was how we experienced the expansion. Time is how we experience the
expansion.
When one day the universe implodes, time will collapse backwards,
and we'll reawaken to speed backwards with it, and learn what happened
to us, and why.
Maybe not. But the long-term chance of this kept Nora going. Also,
she had five children, with luck would soon have six, and hoped to have
seven. They lived in a suburb called Deep Cove, she told Ricardo, and
asked what Jane was up to. He said that she took photographs now, and
that they weren't very good.
40
PRISM  54:4 rj'anfitzpalrick
CALL IT A CATCH WITHOUT ANY
STRINGS ATTACHED
I'm sure it wasn't very comfortable to lie down on
the pebbles like that. I'm sure it wasn't very easy
to save that handwritten letter for a decade. The
photograph has to be reproduced exactingly.
100 Poets Against the Rape Apologists (Contact
Press, 1966). Telling Irving Lay ton to go fuck himself is easy, but what about his legal team. It's all
about raising awareness of the cyclical waterline.
It's not a backhanded compliment, but an open-
handed insult. The Collected Correspondence of
Jian Ghomeshi (U of T Press, 2054). Blow up the
image until context is completely enhanced away.
But the soft evening light fell on his face when he
lay down. I'm sure that the tides carried him away.
In my dream, I was in a submarine and the airlock
blew. The pooling water thought it was helping.
prismmagazine.ca 41 HOLD YOUR FUCKING METAPHORS
ACCOUNTABLE
In his essay "Two Dots over a Vowel," Christian Bok
makes this analogy: lyric poetry is to William Tell
as conceptual poetry is to William Burroughs killing
his wife. Did I get that right? I stopped reading there.
But Burroughs kills the self'm order to become an
author, right? Is that right? Except Burroughs has to
kill his wife to become an author? I think that's what
I'm reading? What kind of fucking garbage is this?
Danielle and Mercedes both told me Althusser killed
his wife, too. Pat Lowther murdered by her husband.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha raped and killed by a security
guard. How do you measure when a career starts?
In the future, the ultimate expression of love will be
a man tattooing a lover's name on the inside walls of
his heart, set to explode at any thought of harming the
other. Like a body admitting its structural position.
42 PRISM  54:4 ROLL OUT THE RED FLAGS
Where the author of a text isn't named, it's always
Althusser hiding behind the cover. When it's either
do the reading or ruin your career, I try to choose
hiding in bed. Or smirking into the camera like Jim.
Is there a way to connect Epicurus' parallel atoms
to the sprawling drive across Calgary? Wtat if I
swerve into oncoming traffic? Who might get killed
then? What durational stability emerges from that?
I've taken up pointing in my spare time since there's
so much to point at. Aid watching umbrellas held
through the enclosed arcade from the fifth floor
window of the central VPL branch before they open.
But even as Jim and Pam elaborately prank Dwight
through the half-season I binge, the paper still goes
out and they still care about it. And if a book isn't just
a machine but also part of one, how much can it damage?
prismmagazine.ca 43 Ben Merriman
RAIL
Out of Ideas
Once we got on the train she wanted me to whisper what I was going to
do to her. She asked for as much detail as possible, and purred whenever
I said something that struck her fancy. But it was a long train ride during
a summer when there was a great deal of construcrion on the tracks.
Gradually I ran out of ideas for things I would do to her, and started
talking about social theory instead.
Tlie Greek Way
I was standing on a provincial German train platform next to a Greek
man. His train had been delayed, and now he did not know when it would
arrive, or on what platform. I offered to help him find out. (I speak at
least a little German.) He declined: he would handle the problem in what
he called "The Greek Way"—shouting at the conductors of every arriving
train in heavily accented English, mixed with Greek, until a conductor
finally waved him on. He winked at me, and as he climbed aboard, he
said, "Germany's dirty little secret: the trains don't run on time."
Late Review
I was reading a galley copy of Gert Jonke's Awakening to the Great Sleep
War, which I thought to notice in an upcoming issue of Chicago Review.
I had the book out as I rode the train home one evening, and though
the car was nearly empty, a man about my age, carrying a copy of a
Shakespeare comedy, sat down next to me and, after looking at me for
a couple of minutes, said that I read very quickly. He asked what I was
reading, what it was about (as I recall, it begins by telling the story
of a man who can converse with caryatids and other anthropoform
architectural features), and so forth, and then explained his own work:
he was an amateur actor and a professional or semi-professional viola
player. It took me too long—several stops, probably—to realize that he
was flirting with me, and though we talked for several stops more, I could
not think of anything suitably flirtatious to say back to him, and we fell
silent. I continued turning the pages in Jonke's book, though I was not
really reading, but glancing from the corner of my eye at the man, who
was in truth very good-looking, especially when his reading made him
44 PRISM  54:4 smile. I told myself I would ask for his phone number as we got close
to my stop, but before we had gotten that far he very suddenly stood
up, smiled at me, and got off the train. My mind drifted for the rest of
the trip, and later I became occupied by one thing or another and never
happened to look at the book again.
Providence
On a visit to New York City I bought a copy of The Melancholy of
Resistance, a book I did not really want, but one more appropriate than
the less intellectually weighty book I genuinely wished to have but could
not stand to buy in front of the person I wanted to impress with my
purchase. Many hours later I began to make my way back to Brooklyn,
where I was staying. The train became stuck, and I had no means of
escape but the pages of my new book, which I had buried in a coat
pocket. On opening it for the first time (I had not bothered to look
through it in the store) I found that the very lengthy initial episode of the
book describes the experience of a person stuck on a train.
A True Story with a Parable-like Quality
I had travelled to Boston during a week of such uncommon cold that
the transport infrastructure had all but collapsed. At Kendall Square, by
the famed campus of MIT, I boarded the train, which became stuck for
quite a time. I began to sweat from the weight of my coat and the fear
that I would be late. Next to me was MIT's Dean of Science, who was
speaking loudly (one might say shouting) into his phone in a mostly
futile effort to dictate email over the ambient noise. DEAR LAURA
COMMA CARRIAGE RETURN I AM STILL SETTLING INTO
MYJOB AS DEAN OF SCIENCE PERIOD AS DEAN I SUPERVISE
THE FOLLOWING DEPARTMENTS COLON PHYSICS COMMA
CHEMISTRY COMMA MATHEMATICS and so forth. The train sat
and sat. The dean yelled and yelled. I thought it terribly indiscreet, but
the people around me, many of them MIT students, took no notice. This
moment felt as though it brought together many features of American
life, the greatness of its universities and the badness of all its other
institutions, academic solipsism and Yankee reserve, the peculiar unease
eminent scientists often display around ordinary technology, the small
indignities of city living, and so on, yet I could not quite say what, if
anything, had made the moment seem significant. My friend, a person of
a practical bent of mind, listened to my story and said that the strangest
things always seemed to happen to me on trains.
prismmagazine.ca 45 Jessica Weslh ead
THINGS NOT TO DO
1 am the type of person who gets very annoyed at the type of people who
don't pay attention.
As a human being living on a planet with other human beings—as
well as flora and fauna and inanimate objects and bugs, et cetera—my
feeling is, you should have a basic sense of the space you take up in the
world, and at least a general idea of who is occupying the space around
you.
Essentially all I'm saying is, just be aware, okay?
Awareness is your responsibility as a social animal. If you're on a
crowded sidewalk, please, whatever you do, do not stop suddenly in the
middle of it to check your phone. Because, as you should realize, there
are myriad souls diligently traversing an assortment of distances behind
you, and if you cease your own movement, they will by default have to
cease theirs. That's just simple Physics. Which admittedly I know very
little about, and I might have Googled "How does Physics apply" to this
or that situation at various times in my life on various quests to prove a
point with more than just anecdotal evidence once in a while, but in any
case, that's a true statement, at least in this instance.
Because normal people understand that causing hindrance in the lives
of others is unacceptable, always.
My husband says I get too worked up about this stuff.
I say he's wrong.
Once he even said to me, when we were at the airport, coming
home from somewhere, I don't know, the location in this narrative isn't
important, though I will concede that yes, setting does play a vital role in
conjuring up a better picture of a scenario. So let's say we had just flown
home from Fiji. Because I have always wanted to go to Fiji. So obviously
what I've just admitted is that we were not flying home from Fiji. But
that's entirely beside the point.
So we've got all our bags, after obtaining them in the correct way,
which, as every normal person with a functioning brain knows, involves
extending respect to your fellow fatigued travellers by resisting the nearly
irresistible and okay yes, tantalizing urge to yank a suitcase that you are
quite sure is not your own, but that resembles your own, off the carousel,
then proceed to turn it around and around as you search in vain for the
identifying googog that you'd handily attached to your own luggage for
46 PRISM  54:4 quick and easy identification. So, bingo, where is the googog? Not here.
Okay, heave the suitcase back into rotation, because that's definitely not
it.
Because, obviously, that sort of behaviour slows everyone down.
So my husband said to me, when we were bone-weary and once giddy
with too many tiny bottles of riesling but no longer, as the giddiness had
been replaced by headaches, and then anger, and we had all of our bags
and we were so tired and we just wanted to flash our customs form at
the customs officer, and of course even though you know you've done
nothing wrong, there is always that anxiety that the uniformed arm will
point you in the wrong direction. Are they going to direct us down the hall?
Are they going to direct us down the hall? And then the additional anxiety
on top of that, about whatever it is you might be anxious about a stranger
discovering, and then judging you for, and then noting that discovery in
a file for the government, which will never, ever be erased. I do not want
them to find the sadomasochistic erotica I purchased abroad. I do not want
them to find the sadomasochistic erotica I purchased abroad. That sort of
anxiety.
So we had our bags and we displayed our customs form proudly
and openly as befitting innocent civilians with nothing to hide, and
then thank God thank God thank Christ because that would have been
embarrassing and there are some other things in there too, now that I think
about it, fesusjust imagine, and the sliding doors parted and we were free
and blameless and finally on our way home.
And then a woman stopped in front of us.
Came to a complete, dead stop on the exit ramp with her giant
suitcase, one of those absurdly large hard-case ones that you see and
you think, Really? Do you have an actual need for a suitcase that big? You
couldn't have left a few of your precious belongings at home? You had to
bring absolutely every single thing that you oivn with you on your week-long
vacation? Of course you did. Because you always have to be comfortable, and
discomfort is anathema to you.
Because you are weak.
So she stopped. Because she had spotted somebody she knew, someone
who was there to pick her up or reunite with her or what have you. I don't
know, her mother or whoever. And she wanted to hug that person.
So there she was, directly in front of us, hugging, and I cleared my
throat as loudly as possible to do her the favour of first offering this
unspoken directive, to spare her the humiliation of a vocal public shaming,
to instead wordlessly communicate the necessity for her to Move, move
now, get out of the way, you are creating a traffic jam of flesh, and people have
to physically move around you now, because you are in the way.
prismmagazine.ca 47 But she didn't move. She only kept hugging, and obstructing.
So I pushed her.
I didn't push her over. I only pushed past her. More forcefully than I
probably should have, okay. But I was impatient, and with that force I
exerted I was also expressing the amalgamated impatience of every other
bedraggled, jet-lagged globetrotter whose path she was barricading. Aid
I drew strength from that communal wellspring of resentment, and also
used my elbows a little, which my husband later said was cruel, but he
can't even watch the torture scenes on 24 and I have to describe what's
happening while he sits there with his eyes closed. Because even though
he's squeamish about the fingernail-pulling or electrical-cable-whipping
or power-drill-applying or whatever, he doesn't want to miss any of the
action. And then he'll turn around and want me to call him Jack Bauer
during our lovemaking, and I do, because I love him, but I'm always
thinking, Jack Bauer has more manhood in his baby toe than you have in
your entire, overly hairy and too-soft body.
So with that, we continued on, unfettered no more by ignorance and
insensitivity.
And then my husband said to me, "You were kind of being a bitch
back there, Angie."
And I said to him (as I grappled with my own hideously antisocial
compulsion right then to disrupt the smooth passage of other members
of our throng, because I very much wanted to halt my progress through
the arrivals area and point a finger at my husband's stupidly trembling
chin and flaring nostrils, but I didn't, because I am a considerate and
thoughtful person), "What did you just say to me, Robert?"
And he said, "Just the whole thing back there. It was kind of
unnecessary, don't you think? That lady didn't block our way on purpose.
She probably didn't even know we were behind her."
And I said, "Robert, don't you think that's a problem? For a person in
an airport, which is, by its very nature, a terminus—for multitudes—to
be so completely and utterly unaware of her surroundings?"
To which he replied, quietly, "She was hugging her mother, for God's
sake."
And I said, "Robert, she is in a very busy place. She is only one of
thousands who have lives to live and loved ones to greet. Okay, sure,
embrace your mother. But first step to the side, by God. Step to the side,
and do not just stand there and make everybody else go around you."
Robert said something else then, I don't remember what, and I
ignored him.
And we proceeded to the parking lot, and we found our car and filled
the trunk with our regular-sized suitcases, and we drove home.
48 PRISM  54:4 Then we went directly to our bedroom and unpacked our suitcases,
and we put the dirty clothes into the laundry hamper and we put the
clean clothes away in their proper places.
Then we brushed our teeth and washed our faces and applied
moisturizer judiciously and changed into the fresh sets of pyjamas we
had laid out before our trip to welcome us upon our return.
Finally, we climbed into bed and pulled the covers up to our necks,
and revelled in our apportioned sections of mattress before falling asleep
almost immediately. At which point we dreamed about vast expanses
of beautifully unobstructed exit ramps with a glorious abundance of
unlimited space for everyone to use and enjoy.
Because those, right there, are the things that normal people do.
prismmagazine.ca 49 Kerrie McNair
POST-ITS FOR THE GIRLS IN THE
BACKYARD
i
You might enjoy infomercials, file Sundays under heat lamps
and fall asleep on the couch in year-long increments.
But the last time you saw them, they were teething on bacon
and three times the size of your AstroTurf.
Though it's lovely, it's time to rethink that umbrella shade.
Lolita's probably dead now
and all the milk in your coffee is killing your soul.
II
The neighbours are browsing eBay
now, because
they're worried about you.
After all, Jesus made those cupcakes
between puffs. You didn't do anything
but follow measurements and take breaks
when the sun appeared on the checkered backsplash
and pressured your shadow outdoors
for an egg ross.
Ill
You're wrestling with figs again,
not understanding why they won't lie down, benevolently
in your elbow. Most of the vegetables you buy are limp
so if anyone asks, you're already on the lawn
using grass blades as stir sticks and piling profanities
onto ant hills.
50 PRISM  54:4 Richard Kelly Kemick
BEREAVEMENT TAX CREDIT
W hat's that game," he asks, "where somebody says something and
you have to say if they're lying?"
"Life," I reply, hoping for the laugh.
"No," he says. "That's the one with the pinwheel instead of the dice
and has a card that says you've invented a better mousetrap. The one I'm
talking about is called Balderdash, I think."
He asks if I want to play and without waiting for a response he
begins. He tells me that Napoleon is the shortest dictator on record but
is also the one with the largest shoe size; that horses and donkeys sink
in quicksand but mules float; that people who live in Antarctica have
night-light savings time, where they ensure that the dimmest hours of the
midnight sun are used for sleeping.
Down the hill, twenty or thirty blocks away, the bus slinks in and
out of traffic with a lumbering type of grace. I can tell the other people
at the bus stop are playing along with us. Thoroughbred Vancouverites,
beautiful and long-legged.
"You're not embarrassed by me," he says and the sentence straddles
the line between question and statement. He continues. The can opener
was invented before the can. Dissolving Viagra into water will make
wilting flowers stand straight.
"You think they're all true?" he asks.
Of course not.
But I'm in no position to be calling people liars.
Cubic-zirconium earrings are made from the windshield glass of car
accidents. There is an IQ limit to joining the NYPD; too high and they
toss your application. Seahorses are the only animal whose male gestates
the young.
The bus finally arrives, parking seamless against the curb, and the tire
tread has pinched up the gutter's cigarette butts.
"There's something else to that one about seahorses," he says, getting
out his bus pass, "but if I say any more, it'll get dangerously close to the
truth."
Here is what I know to be true: beneath us, tectonic plates have been
rubbing their hands together for nearly five-hundred years, cartoonishly
evil, plotting to rip open this city like a zipper.
prismmagazine.ca 51 At the frozen yogurt shop, Chris introduces me to the cashier, who isn't
wearing a nametag. I reach across the till to shake his hand.
"How's Stephanie doing?" Chris asks him.
"She's good, thanks. Happy to be out of the hospital again. The doctor
says that Janice and I need to focus on her eating two full meals a day. The
third'll come in time."
"Good," Chris says, and accepts our two cardboard cups of yogurt.
"Has anyone told you guys," the cashier asks, glancing between us,
"that you two could be brothers?"
I nod and say we are. Brothers.
I can read the cashier's thoughts. It isn't hard. Everyone would be
thinking the same thing. Then why has he never mentioned you?
But nobody knows what I am thinking. Because I'm not worth
mentioning.
Instead, the cashier asks if I have any kids.
"No," I say. "Just a dog." I'm hoping to bait him into asking me what
kind of breed it is so we can change the subject. He doesn't take the bait.
"I keep telling Chris," he says, "that he's got to settle down and start a
family before he gets too ugly." And from the way he says this, full of
humour and empty of shame, it occurs to me that the people who now
know Chris best are the ones who don't know him at all.
His kid was seven when he died. Slipped out of the tree in their backyard
(a maple, if I remember correctly) and landed funny. Chris was barbecuing
and watched it in slow-motion, like it wasn't a fall through air but rather a
dive through water. His wife left him soon after, not out of anger but just
because she thought it best before anger arrived. He says they still meet
up for lunch sometimes and talk to each other like it's a job interview.
The boy died eight years ago tomorrow, meaning he would've been
fifteen by now. Those numbers are the reason I am here. Eight and fifteen,
they're nothing special. The first five years are too brutal for anything. Six
years later, it would've been his first year as a teenager. Seven years and it
would've been his first year in high school. Nine and he would've been
sixteen, the greatest year to be alive. Ten and it's the decade anniversary.
Eleven and he's eighteen. Perhaps on the twelfth year I'll come back.
Book early, save money.
"It's not that simple," I said to my wife when she asked why I never
visit. But then the best way I could explain it was to tell her how at the
kid's funeral, there was already a halo of space starting to grow around my
brother. When people find out, they can't help but move away. It's like
how the earth can't help but give the sun a wide orbit, warm and content
with watching it burn eternal.
52 PRISM  54:4 And so, eight years later, I am here. Each step placed lightly onto the
concrete, not wanting to anger the ground, not wanting to provoke it
into doing something rash.
At a corner on Cambie, after I've fumbled with a pack of matches and
have finally brought a lit one to the cigarette between my lips, I look up
and catch Chris staring at a six-year-old girl in a Superman cape. I am
drawn to his silent smile the way a spent swimmer is to drowning.
He breaks his trance. "You still smoke?"
"No," I say, taking a long drag and holding it. "Just don't tell the
Mrs."
"It's your turn," he says. "Balderdash."
When I don't say anything, he says, "Okay—then let me tell you
about animals. You love animals."
"Yeah," I reply, "when I was seven."
As he thinks, I smoke and picture a miniature man living in my head,
kicking the inside of my skull again and again.
"In mating season," he starts, "cobras fight not by biting their
opponent but by strangling them. Each year on average, hummingbirds
cause fifty people to go deaf by thinking ears are flowers and inserting
their bills deep into the drum." He waits. "If you chop off a cockroach's
head, it will die."
It is the first time all day he has my attention.
"But do you know why it will die?" he asks.
I shrug.
"Its brain is in its body. But it will starve to death."
He goes on like this for a few more minutes until I steer us into a
library. He lingers in the young adult aisle while I check out the travel
section. Between the stacks, I hear the thin whine of a mosquito but
never catch sight of it. I swat my ear a couple times but the drone always
comes back, much in the same way the topics you never talk about seem
to linger in every conversation.
He is talking with the hostess of a Cuban bistro. It seems they already
know each other. She wears a tight black dress that is a quarter-inch too
short, not enough for anyone to say something but enough for everyone
to notice. They're figuring out a reservation for us for tomorrow night.
"Does eight work?" she asks.
"Yes," he says. "But only if we can arrive at six," and the way her hand
travels up to her hair, without her giving it any thought, shows that she
is a little bit in love with him.
Seven blocks west and then fourteen blocks south is Mountain View
prismmagazine.ca 53 Cemetery. Chris must know this too, must be thinking about it right
now as the hostess's hand lingers on his forearm. It must be in his brain
like the magnetic barb of the North Pole is in a pigeon's.
He whispers something to the hostess and she laughs in sharp little
inhales. I say I'm going out for a smoke. Outside, I can smell the positive
ions ascending. The telephone wires quiver and hum.
On the flight here, I wound up sitting in the middle of a group of
Baptists. As the plane began taxiing across the runway, they linked hands
across my lap and began to pray. They asked me if I wanted to join but
I've always thought that bad things only happen when you think about
them. But they prayed regardless, though not in the way Catholic school
kids do before lunch, mumbles and a rushed cross, but rather slow and
deep, with thick conviction.
Last year, there were earthquakes all throughout the province, circling
this city. The largest was on the northwest shore of Vancouver Island,
rumbling a 6.6 on the Richter scale. One resident, who's house had
been shorn off the cliffside and into the ocean, joked about how he'd
always wanted an ocean-view and now his bedroom, currently forty feet
underwater, had one. When asked how he knew to get out of the house
before the quake hit, he said it was because his three cats had all leapt out
the kitchen window and fled to higher ground. "I went chasing them,"
he laughed, "trying to lure them back."
The cats in the kitchen. The Baptist on the plane. The feeling when
those around you know something you don't.
"It has to be rough to be a male seahorse," he says. "Not only do you have
to carry the kids around but then you have to be the one to break it to
all two thousand of them that they'll never grow up to be a real horse."
I ask him if he's thought about moving to a different city.
"They have schools for humans," he responds, "and they have schools
for dogs. But the best human school in Vancouver is an all-girl one, so
I'm thinking of starting my own all-girl school for dogs. It'll be called
Spayed and Tutored."
He keeps going. "I had to change the name when the bank wouldn't
finance Bitches Be Crazy."
At the seawall, the ocean breaks against the concrete barrier and
the sunlight casts the spray in a glittering fire. My ankles quiver, and I
think it is a tremor but the blitheness of everyone around convinces me
otherwise.
"Here's one for the grand prize," he says. "What do you call a male
dog?"
54 PRISM  54:4 The salt-water stings the air and everything burns before reaching the
pavement. This is earthquake weather.
"A dog," I say.
He pauses.
"Very good," he nods. "Very good."
I used to think that he will be forever in the denial stage, locked in like
cattle behind those invisible electric fences, a lightning bolt that strikes
when you wander too far. But lately, I've gotten the feeling that he's the
only one who's reached acceptance. It's just that acceptance is the worst
stage. To move on from the fact that you'll never move on.
But me, I've never had faith in those five stages. Who would ever put
anger second? Anyone who's ever lived through anything will agree that
anger bookends most things.
We drop in at a post office so I can send a postcard to my wife, even
though I'll arrive a full week before it. Waiting in line, the whitewashed
room holds a monastic silence. I can feel Chris beside me, bristling with
compulsion.
I see a poster taped to the far wall that reads Seven Ways to Prepare
for an Earthquake. I'm surprised they chose the indefinite an instead of
the definite the.
"Have you read this?" I ask, pointing at the poster.
"I've got my own list and it's got just one point: Don't live in
Vancouver."
"Wise words," I say.
"You want wise words? I've got wise words." He clears his throat. "You
don't know what you have been missing until it arrives."
"Is that Psalms?"
"Close," he says. "Fortune cookie."
The line slowly slithers forward, in and around the stanchions. The
woman in front of us is mailing a birthday card. I can tell because she's
writing it against the back of her husband.
"Where can we buy a newspaper?" I ask.
"I have no idea."
"You don't read the news?"
"Nothing is new when you care about nothing."
"Fortune cookie?" I guess.
"Between the sheets," he adds, touching his nose.
If you think about it, a grave is just a way of beating an earthquake to
the punch.
prismmagazine.ca 55 "Have you ever wondered how the pilot's able to warn you before
turbulence hits? I mean, what's he seeing through the windshield? Do
you remember that Windows 95 screensaver? The one with the sphere
floating beneath your desktop and it distorts everything on top. That's
what I imagine he sees."
"I assume it's just a computer," I say.
He says the same thing back in a high-pitched voice. I used to hate it
when he did that.
"How come screensavers peaked in nineteen ninety-five?" he asks.
"The pipes, the brick maze, those two sets of lines bending in and out of
triangles."
I consider offering some "Remember Whens" but find I don't
remember anything. Just the red light of the mouse, burning hot in
idleness, begging to be touched so it can wake up from its dreams of
mindless shapes.
Well into sunset, I tour this city like a visiting diplomat, shaking hands
and answering the same question again and again. "Yes." I say. "We are
indeed."
We are in a bar when his cellphone rings. I'm having gin and Chris is
sipping on a soda. On the line is the woman from the Cuban bistro.
Through the earpiece, I hear her say that she's moved some reservations
around and can now fit us in for six. Chris thanks her and hangs up.
"Have you two dated?" I ask.
"I'm not allowed until the embargo's lifted."
I don't even get that joke. "Well, are you seeing anyone?"
Like a Roman emperor, Chris holds up his hands to the bay windows
that look out onto Broadway bustling with rush hour. "I see everything."
Before I can press farther, he's back to the game. "Did you know," he
says, "that even in flight, snowy owls can still see the symmetry of each
snowflake."
It's never made sense to me how the mind evaluates fear, letting you
do some things and refusing you others. Chris introduced me to a dog
walker who said she was afraid of elevators but then later mentioned she
was soon going on a blind date.
But here I am, in the back of a taxi with a thin strap of nylon buckled
over my waist, thinking I am safe. All the while, the asphalt could
suddenly yawn apathetic and suck us in, with me seat-belted to gravity.
The earth growls and the fertilized lawns roll and rise.
56 PRISM  54:4 We arrive safe. The alacrity of fear dims and sputters. Though it's not
a question of if but rather of when.
I imagine my flight home. I've got an exit row seat and through the
window I will watch the wings bounce in turbulence. But I'll not be
afraid of crashing. I'll be afraid that the earth will have disappeared when
we descend through the cloud cover.
"Eight years," he says, taking a tight-lipped sip and placing the bottle
beside its kitchen table comrades. "That's one fifth of the way to forty."
"What happens at forty?" I ask.
"The grave goes back to the city."
And so, it seems there are no sacred years left.
That night, I dream my wife has decided to go against our deal and now
wants a baby. But, in the dream, she never says this; it's just something
I know. We're at a luggage carousel in Pearson International, and as
each featureless black suitcase revolves in front of us, she begins to grow
impatient. "One of these must be yours," she says.
"No," I reply. "None of them."
"Well, you have to pick one."
"Have to? Why?"
"Because," she says, "you just have to."
I wake up to someone outside trying to start an engine with a dead
battery: the rapid clicks, each emptier than the last.
In the morning, I come downstairs to find him on the couch sleeping off
his demons. On the coffee table is a list he must've scrawled after I'd gone
to bed. The list states everything we could do before I catch the redeye
home. Harbour Centre. Chinatown. Planetarium. Bistro at 6.
I shake his shoulder, increasing in force until he wakes up.
"They've moved my flight up," I say. "Something about a thunderstorm
in Regina. Cab's already here."
I hold my breath. A fact that tries so hard to be true. I wonder if he's
going to call balderdash.
I feel embarrassed and weak.
But also with a hot line of red running through me, something that
crackles with life.
"Regina," he finally says. "The only city that sounds like it smells."
It is twenty-eight thousand dollars to be buried in Vancouver's Mountain
View Cemetery. But it's free for children under ten. A service offered
prismmagazine.ca 57 by the municipal government. If the kid would've stayed airborne for
another eighteen months, Chris would've gotten a bereavement tax credit
for the following fiscal year. An election promise.
When even for a mind-wandering minute, you think about how
absurd this world is, the fractured pieces of it that are forced together, it's
enough to break your heart. And not in the way a sophomore separation
does, sending spider-web cracks splintering through, but rather rips it
open like a zipper, quick and merciless, the teeth shrill with pain.
In the taxi, I am struck blind as I begin to feel the earth shake with anger.
But sight returns when I realize it is just me.
I have eight hours at the airport. I imagine what I'll tell my wife: that
there are more peacocks than clocks in Vegas; that flamingos can't swallow
when they're standing up straight; that Shakespeare never wrote about
bananas because the thought of them made him gag.
And I consider telling her that we talked so long at the Cuban bistro
that I almost missed my flight. Running breathless to the gate, waving
my boarding pass, and at the check-in I turn around and there's Chris
standing on the other side of the bulletproof glass, fogging it with his
breath and then drawing a smiley face. And I'll let her tell me if I'm
speaking the truth.
What is my greatest fear? That the earth will keep itself sutured my
entire life and never reveal its true heart. Because clarity only comes from
catastrophe.
I already knew the one about the seahorse. Bur I also knew why he
gestates the eggs. He wants to keep an eye on them so if there are any
genetic irregularities, he can eat them, something his wife can't stomach.
It's his way of making sure that everything sticks to the plan. Nothing to
do with love.
58 PRISM  54:4 Chloe Cat an
SPILL
For Eve
I.
Chicken wire glass,
a square pane.
No straightjackets, just pajamas
all day. Her brain, she said, was a kabelsalat.
She couldn't think through the tangle.
We sat in the corridor, on recycled office chairs
incongruous as a merry-go-round.
I brought her Clementines
we did not eat.
If only I could remember one thing
I used to like, she said.
A man walked by, looking at the walls.
II.
Mercury once beaded out
and rolled into the crack of my textbook.
It was science homework, grade 6.
I wanted to pluck the silver line from the glass
but the spill slid from the tube into the book's gutter
then dropped to the carpet of my room
and there were landmines among the loops.
prismmagazine.ca 59 Don't touch it
Don't put it in your mouth
III.
At the reception desk
there were Skittles on the sign-out sheet
a packet, split open
the spatter of colour
clamorous against all that white.
Nice, she said, as if embarrassed
for her guest; the mess, the mutiny
and it seemed to me that someone
had proffered their innards,
a souvenir with the words eat me.
I sifted through
and lifted one to my lips.
60
PRISM  54:4 Sarah Wolf son
REGENERATION (ACORNAL, CORALIC,
HUMAN)
With human spawn, apples
fall in certain proximity
to the tree (let that be
a toast: to thee, the tree!)
or are sheep of another
type while acorns, born,
fall and are born(e again)
by circumstances beyond
gravity, e.g. mandibularity
of small mammals or fatted
toddler claw. And coral
by another grace remakes
itself: not birth nor fall nor
fume nor maw. Sumich (1996)
suggests new coral bits
bud off from parent polyps
to expand or begin new colonies
when the parent... reaches
a certain size and divides.
So: newness without
novelty or breakage.
But oh, how humans
prismmagazine.ca 61 love that old roots and
wings cliche. It's hard to
get rid of. Like a
stray. Like a child
you have raised in the
wrongish sorts of ways.
62
PRISM  54:4 A lexdnder Obando
translated by A ndres Alfaro
SEA OF SHOWERS
Dogs, desire, and death.
—Boris Vian
Ach was ist das fiir ein boser Gast!
Nimmer halt eh Ruh'
Nimmer halt er Rastl
Nicht bei Tag,
Nicht bei Nacht, wenn ich schlief.
—Gustav Mahler, Songs of a Wayfarer
Let's just say my house isn't exactly normal. It's the only one in the
neighbourhood to survive the invasion of travel agencies and the "typical"
little hotels for gringos. We're proud to call our house a home and not
something else. But this is really just a half-truth, one that corresponds to
the half of the house that Mom and I live in. My aunt and uncle, Jorge
and Analia, have caved to the pressures of modernity and that's why their
half of the house, or rather, their half of the structure, is a small restaurant.
All the same, the old place very much resembles a church. Two huge
perpendicular hallways join in the middle of the structure to form a sort
of living room/hotel lobby/dining room for guests. What I'm really trying
to get at is that my half of the house is technically open to the public. Each
one of the hallways leads in the direction of a cardinal point. We, I mean,
Mom and I, reside in the east wing. The northern section of this wing is
a large single bedroom/library where I sleep and work on my translations.
Although I have my own room next to Mom's, the library is where I've
created my true living space. The south and west wings belong to my
aunt, uncle, and mom. It's here that they have their world comprised of
a kitchen, my aunt and uncle's room, and a small room where they drink
and play cards in the evening.
The most complex part of the house is the west wing. The south wing,
as I mentioned before, is where my aunt and uncle live, but the west wing
is where the restaurant is. Although I keep mentioning wings and cardinal
points, you shouldn't get the idea that we live in some mansion. Instead,
prismmagazine.ca 63 think of it as a big house that's quite old and poorly laid out. It's gone
through countless renovations such that now, one part consists of a stately
old oak, another part of plywood, and still other parts of God knows
what. There are galerones, empty spaces like patios, and the restaurant's
tables are in the center, extending out into my room/library, which was
divided and later sectioned off with plywood in order to make more space
for the dining room. The biggest drawback of my room is that it is open
to the public: there are windows on three sides. The curtains are tattered
and barely cover anything. People often come into my room mistaking it
for some sort of shop and I'm forced to rudely chase them out. Not even
the folding screens they bought are enough. They're translucent and reveal
everything, like shadow theatre.
Despite the lack of privacy, I sleep quite a lot. Right now it's 11:30 and
I'm still lounging in bed. And there it is. It never fails. A shadow on one of
the curtains. I shoot up like a lightning bolt but what I find upon opening
the door makes me lose my sense of reality.
"Can I come in?"
The voice of Jose Antonio is a little deeper than when he left high
school but it still holds a certain juvenile quality. He looks like a ghost
dressed in a djellaba, and his face is colored like an olive, like he's just
come from the desert. I don't shy away from asking him about this and,
sitting down, he skirts my questions. He only tells me he has something
important to say and asks whether I want to listen. He stands up. He
walks toward the curtains. He stands there a few moments, mulling over
what to say. His presence excites me. I haven't been able to hide the desire
he provokes in me. In high school, it was nearly impossible not to suffer
great embarrassment over how much I was attracted to his animalistic
nature. But it wasn't until he dropped out last year that I realized just how
much I wanted him. I was no longer afraid of getting caught in a foolish
act, but his absence became my good behavior, which sometimes comes
with solitude.
And now. Alone in my room. He, a year older. And still I don't dare.
Jose Antonio stares me down again and wets his lips. The shame burns
and I try to dodge his look. I've always believed he can read my thoughts.
Perhaps this coyness makes him feel at ease and he starts to speak quickly.
He says he needs money and that it's urgent. He says he has no money to
pay me back and doesn't know whether he would ever be able to pay me
back. For that reason he hasn't come to ask me for money, but rather to
sell me something he knows I've always wanted.
"What is it?" I ask, half-dazed.
He becomes thoughtful again but finally sits down on the bed and says
"this" and takes off his djellaba. I get scared and take a couple steps back.
64 PRISM  54:4 Then, by reflex, I get up to close the curtains but the more I close them
on one side, the more they open on the other. Jose Antonio takes off his
sandals and slips into my bed with the seductive allure of an animal. He
does it to excite me. I look over his tanned body, his thick, well-trimmed
eyebrows, his brown hair, and finally the years of repression in high school
overwhelm me. I jump in bed and he accepts my kisses with a sensual
serenity. Kissing his shoulders, I taste the salt that bodies accrue in the
desert. My excitement increases and I start undressing until he stops me.
While I'm still kissing him he starts to set down ground rules. He tells me
what he needs and says he'll let me make love to him once in exchange.
That's where I stop cold, taken aback.
"What do you mean once? You make love as often as needed—and
what's more, I'm not going to make love to you, ok? We are going to make
love. You and I. Together. If not, there's no deal."
He sweetens up and tells me I can do whatever I want in an hour, in
exchange for the money, of course. I'm supposed to see it as a sale. I ask
him when and where. He tells me it has to be right here, right now. Of
course I don't understand his urgency and become dazed again. I try to
reason with him. I try telling him I made the money he wants to borrow
over vacation by helping at the restaurant during lunchtime. But he just
stares, unwilling to bend.
"It has to be here and now. I have no choice. I need that money within
two hours."
His tone is so definitive that I can say nothing more. I have no idea
what to do. My aunt would soon be calling me to attend to the lunchtime
crowd. If there were many customers, the false plywood door would be
opened and my room used to accommodate the overflow, in which case
they would instead be greeted by a naked man in my bed. And I know Jose
well. With his ability to charm women, he's always been quite shameless.
Now I realize his charms extend to men as well. I try to reason with him
again and he just takes off his bandana and the watch from his left wrist. I
try to distract myself with getting dressed. At the same time, I struggle to
close the damned curtains which are practically in tatters.
"This is like a boat adrift," he says. "You never know when it will sink."
I'm not sure if he's talking about the house or the situation our
agreement would generate. I tell him I need to talk with my aunt to see if
she will excuse me for the day and give me an advance on tomorrow's pay.
With what I had saved up from translating, I don't have enough to cover
the tab of the "affair."
Jose mills about in bed and says time is ticking away. I leave my room
so quickly that I forget to put my shoes on. My aunt Amalia is extremely
busy attending to the wonderful clientele, the "chineados"—or "spoiled
prismmagazine.ca 65 brats"—as Leda always calls them. Leda is one of the restaurant's employees.
The chineados are mostly the employees from the nearby banks and travel
agencies, who, according to my aunt, pay more and grumble less. I try to
escape, pointing to my bare feet, but Leda pulls me back saying there are
many dishes to wash. I wash them as fast as I can, taking care not to show
excessive interest in leaving. Nevertheless, as soon as I finish a good part of
the plates and glasses, I tell Leda I need to go back for my shoes and slip
away. In the hallway I see a few young boys trying to peer in to see what's
behind the bedraggled curtains. Panic hits first and I practically shout
them down while chasing them away. The mere thought of a man in my
room fills me with a fear that is almost primordial, conjuring up smells of
the Inquisition and persons buried alive. If Jose Antonio were a woman,
I'd feel less shame. I'd already been caught between the sheets once before
with a female cousin of Leda's and nothing came of it. In fact, my uncle
pretty much celebrated, relating the incident to all my male cousins. But
getting caught with a guy was something different. This was tantamount
to perversion in their eyes and a sort of evil that I still don't understand.
So, when I walk into my room and find Jose playing with his balls, all I
can do is scold him. I tell him those boys can see everything and that he
should cover himself up. He merely stares back at me and smiles without
understanding my misery.
"Twenty minutes are up," he says and points to the clock.
"Yeah, I know."
I'm not sure if I really made that last remark or just thought it. I wheel
out of the room again just in time to see my aunt coming to take me by
the collar to wash dishes. I put on my apron hoping for one of those types
of earthquakes that happen in Chile or Japan, but events take a different
twist. My aunt is floating here and there and smiling at the customers,
attending to their every need. I wipe the tables clean, daring to do no
more. The fear of the commotion that would be sparked between my
aunt, uncle, mother, and the customers should Jose walk out of my room
naked anchors me to my duties, but not for long. After a few minutes, I
go back to my room to find Jose reading my anthology of Vian.
"Did this guy die?" is the only thing he says and throws the book aside.
"Yeah," I answer, sitting on the bed and drying my hands on my apron.
He stares at me fixedly again.
"It's terrible to have to live life against the clock." And right there,
without any further explanation, he grabs me aggressively and kisses me.
I feel like I'm lightly choking on his lips. His kisses taste like he's been
eating or drinking something with anise. His breath tastes like strong
anise absinthe and I am rendered helpless, drugged. His hair smells of
salt and sand like the rest of his body. He must come from the seaside or
66 PRISM 54:4 some other place where people often sweat. The salt of his skin is so strong
that it forms a sort of bittersweet taste when combined with the flavour of
anise. Despite the pleasure of taste and scent, it hardly lasts. The knocks
from my aunt on the plywood door stir us out of the world we occupy.
I adjust my pants and, once in the hall, follow my aunt's furious finger
directly to the kitchen where Leda is motioning her frustration.
"It gets impossible when those bankers show up."
I barely nod and get busy on the dishes. Jose's money problems baffle
me. What he was asking for was less than what an office clerk makes in a
week, twenty thousand measly colones. So why not beg the money from
someone else instead of getting it like this? That is, unless he wanted to
make the money like this; or perhaps he's involved with drugs, or with the
mafia, or maybe he's a spy...but the laughter painted on my face betrays
me.
"Why are you laughing, bandidot
Leda's clear voice stirs me from my trance. I tell her it's nothing
but I can't control my laughter imagining Jose as a spy conducting an
investigation in my house. Perhaps he was a woman dressed as a man
(with such a thing!) in order to figure out how far I'd go with men...
"Where one laughs alone, thoughts of past mischief abide."
I look back at Leda and, as my only response, give her a meaningful
look.
"Bandidol Are you still thinking about my cousin?"
I smile at her to feign agreement and, naively, she cracks up laughing.
The customers continue to file in and my aunt continues to float
happily and lustfully between tables like a Harkonnen or the Heartless
Grandmother.
"A house that looks like a gothic church is a sure hook," my aunt said
when she drew up the plans for the restaurant. The sly dog was right,
which at this moment is making me quite unhappy. I can almost feel the
teenage lips of Jose calling me back to the room. And, as soon as I finish
another round of dishes, I run back to my room. Jose is reading face down
in such a way that his butt cheeks, like two white moons, jut out from the
rest of his body, beyond my bearing. I make the empty attempt to close
the curtains but the damned things open back up on their own. Still, the
folding screens leave the sex of the person reading in my bed more or less
obscured. It could have been Jose, or a girl with short hair, or even just me
reading in bed. Then I catch the scent again, that smell of salt and anise.
Jose has saturated everything with it, like a wild beast in heat marking out
her territory. In that moment I begin to believe it isn't all just business and
I rejoin him in bed with an almost marital reverence. My rapid approach
gives me a sudden, erotic sensation. I only want to get in bed with him in
prismmagazine.ca 67 order to relieve myself from the two or three years of repressed instincts I
had suffered seeing him in the school pool and bathrooms without being
able to say a word to him. But now, with him here waiting patiently,
I suddenly soften. He continues reading the Vian anthology, now with
genuine interest. I ease the book from his hands and begin to caress him
again.
"In less than an hour and a half I'm a dead man," he said. "Please get
me that money. You're the only one left."
This rattles me deeply. Instead of pulling him closer I let go, telling
him to sit tight and that I'll be right back. Not quite out the door, there's
suddenly a great uproar as if the whole house is shaking. My aunt and
uncle are in the process of undoing the false plywood wall of my room/
library in order to make more room for the customers that continue to
arrive in droves. I run up the hallway just in time to stop Leda and my
uncle Jorge from opening the wall. I scream at them to leave the wall
alone, and the two turn around, amazed.
"Why?" my uncle asks, astonished. I have no idea how to respond.
I invent something about privacy and having certain rights to keep my
room the way I want. I can tell from the color of his skin that he's getting
mad. He scolds my lack of familial solidarity. He says I'm crazy and asks
if I realize what an absurd scene I'm creating in front of the customers.
They really have stopped eating and are now much more interested in our
family dispute than the soccer match on TV. My aunt continues to float
gracefully between them and tries to downplay the argument, saying "You
know how boys are," and that they would make room right away for the
new customers that had arrived.
"Not in my room!" I shout. "My room is sacred."
My aunt Amalia smiles even harder but one can easily see that she
would rather cry. My uncle threatens to hit me but doesn't when he sees
my mom walk in. Instead, he rushes up to her, complaining about my
behavior. My mom turns to look at me and asks what's the matter. I tell
her I have a friend in my room.
"So? Why don't you ask him to come have lunch with us?"
"He can't. He doesn't have much time left."
The faces of bewilderment multiply. Of course nobody understands
and the silence spreads out like a huge stingray throughout the room.
"I don't get it," she says gently and looks back at me with genuine
confusion. I lower my gaze.
"It's just.. .we were making love."
I don't know why I say something that corny but it works. Every face
in the room twists in confusion.
"What?" my Mom asks, pale.
68 PRISM  54:4 "We want to be alone."
I say no more. One of the customers begins to laugh but my aunt
quiets him with a fiery glance.
My uncle heads toward his room, cursing and grabbing a fifth of rum
on the way. Mom, after a few moments of doubt, also heads toward her
room, but more slowly, almost as if she had forgotten which room was
hers and was forced to think hard about the matter. When she passes me
she doesn't even glance over and I sense the coldness that has suddenly
cropped up within her. Only Leda comes up to me, looking me in the
eyes.
"Your aunt wants to know if you're going to help her."
"What for? Half the customers are leaving."
She glances down and walks away without asking what she truly
wanted to ask.
I go back to my room, not taking notice of the silence that now
pervades everything. The light of day had already started to dissipate
thanks to the clouds that would certainly pour rain down in less than an
hour. The smell of anise and salt linger in my room while Jose, now face
up, continues on with the book.
"Didn't you hear what happened outside?" I ask, nearly in a tone of
reproach.
"Sure. Everything." he answers dryly.
"So you know I won't be able to give you the money."
"I know," he says, eyes on the page.
So?
"Nothing."
"What?"
"There's nothing to do. I had two hours to get the money or just...
nothing."
I sit down slowly and then lie down next to him. He puts down the
book and caresses my hair before asking, "Would you get horny killing
dogs?"
"Of course," I say, knowing which story he was referencing. "I'd also
get horny doing translations or washing dishes."
"Yeah," he answers as if to himself. He lies there, resting in a bubble of
silence. This disturbs me so much that I decide to offer my help. But he
just looks at me and flashes a taciturn smile.
"I appreciate it," he finally says, "but I'll have more chances alone.
Don't feel bad," he adds, trying to change his tone slightly, "you still have
ten minutes left."
We wouldn't be making love. But the heat of his body against mine
works well to muffle the creak of the planks at high sea.
prismmagazine.ca 69 Esvie Coemish
DEATH REMOVES ITSELF: YOUR BRIEFS
ON EVERY DOOR
Here, O hatchlings, a lamp
warms the glass. To be kissed!
Shallot bulbs tucked in grass
became your face this morning, pixels
blur holograms in nerve hair
surrounds. Cardinals sense
your thousand shades of red
deepen them, their black
mascara, and cock their heads, their feathers
streaming pinkish light above our bed,
where I examine you, where
the undersea is hid. Sing "... a Russian lullaby."
I surf each note like a worm on a branch. The high
wind writes its to-do list
on your shoulder blade: X. shake
my friend, my hero, like a die and cast
her papers through the streets, 3. spin yellow-
engined dragonflies, and rake
a labyrinth through fallen leaves, 1. fake
nothing, for everyone closing her eyes feels
pressure change as harvest
air. Your farm girl casting grain, debonair,
unties her cape. 1. Enough!
Take me with you in grasses
70 PRISM  54:4 tough with thistles. Let's wail Sinead O'Connor
songs at an acorn filled with water. Let's wear robes!
Your tongue on my lip proclaims creation's
laws fluid, the AWOL ship of your mind rocking
beneath the rrrah rrah rah of sea
monsters. How they seethe like lamps
in the blank check of the deep. I press
my breasts to a pillow clad with
your dirty t-shirt, close my eyes, and sleet
drips around us like tallit fringe. Our house
is not a house but a brain wrinkling
with our bed sheets. Chin to chin
we merge in the dendritic
pyjamas of our gestalt.
prismmagazine.ca 71 Stephanie Yorke
WHISTLE, CLICK
J\. spatial grammar. Everything they say, mapped in space. Connotation,
denotation. Sarcasm flips up in the air. When they're serious, the sentence
dives straight down to the aquarium floor.
This is what we understand, though there's a lot more we don't.
I can understand what he's saying only because he knows what I can
understand and says it. Like:
Beak a hole in you beak fuck the hole
Though the translation loses half the sense. He's using a harsh form
of the submersive future tense. Beak — hole — fuck isn't a threat, it's a
commitment.
When Radar wants to talk just to Maya, he'll switch to forms I can't
follow, dodge nouns, leave out anything that might help me learn. Maya
never responds. She went quiet the moment she realised we were starting
to understand her. We lobbed Radar all the fish. Later, we knew he only
let us in so we could hear his avid
Take face keep face down
We tape hours of this every day, every whistle and click.
Years ago, on cable television, I explained how underwater microphones
helped us make our big discovery. The assistants laugh when they come
across the old footage, they can't believe I was ever rhat young.
I was the assistant then, and my boss told me I could be the one to go
on television because I'd done most of the work. That's true: I spent my
waking life in a set of aviator headphones beside the pool, always with
my block of graph paper, rearranging my private signs for every sound
they made. It was tiredness that finally cracked it. I saw the paper and the
glyphs curling when I ripped a page off the block. I realised the flat paper
was our problem, to hear them right you'd have to hang the signs out in
space.
That made me. Now I have an assistant with an assistant. We are
famous and stagnant. Radar's telling one of his favourites about
bludgeoning your pup. He maps the killing of your baby out in the pool.
We always spin Radar's having lured us in as a positive: "we spent years
trying to figure out dolphin language, and as it turns out, the dolphins
spent years trying to teach us!" The volume in my headphones is way too
high. Radar must have sidled right up to the mic.
72 PRISM  54:4 The assistants have been asking if we can get new dolphins. "No,"
I tell them, "each pod has a different language, we'd be starting from
scratch."
"Well, we kinda feel like this is going nowhere."
These days when I put the headphones on I am neither worried nor
curious about what I might hear. The work wore me down and then wore
whatever it wore down away. The rims of my eyes and the lines in my
face run like the gutters in an old city, the hilltop from which everything
drains.
They only have a handful of nouns. The language is not interested in
what is acted upon so much as the action upon it. Once you get a feel
for it, you find the structure really gives everything that extra oomph. For
instance: they only have one word for whole body and one other word for
body part. But when Radar tells me he'd like to take body part from whole
body, he says it so exactly I can see the purple meat in his mouth and the
victory lap he'd swim.
prismmagazine.ca 73 RaedA nis A l-Jishi
translated byAmira Rammah
THE ARRIVAL OF SEAGULLS
I have seen gulls,
in holy visions,
hover and invent
the sound of horses.
I have seen them
give alms to rats
hungry for crumbs of bread,
crucified on the altar.
I have seen them
flap their wings and swallow
common rules of fish.
Reinvent the physics
of a silver talisman's dance
on the sea's curve.
I have seen rats
feast at the fall of dusk.
They claim to be the genesis of light.
74 PRISM  54:4 Ujjll <_>^jjj
ciiUa aSaI^ CjjIjj
L-jjILoaII l^ijr.j (jx Ml inn
<ulc (jjuljiiJ
fcsii (jii jiii
Culjj
L_fljjdl a ia i ■' ajjIj
A i ^a'l >jUu t>o3j (Jj^in'i Jj»jj
prismmagazine.ca
75 Geoffrey Nikon
EXCERPTS FROM CANON SUITE
a poem sampled from page 284 of '1984 by George Orwell
[no other voices are speaking,
the inheritors only:
an inflamed mass with flakes
peeling off, varicose all over
sound-track of the ones
gone partially bald,
the emotion it registers,
morally superior
the conversation
a circle of ancient, ingrained dirt,
bending double
a member of the frightening
had changed different from
the side view. The curvature of the spine
so as to make a cavity of
inner meaning—
the pages of a book
of sixty, suffering from some
malignant disease.]
76 PRISM  54:4 a poem sampled from page 77 ofCandide by Voltaire
[please excuse our one
Westphalia after the other
received as you deserve
to be. everywhere else must be known
what country can this be? some such
wonder in translating place
and whatever to the rest
we are not used to foreigners.
they saw in the country the most learned
neighbourhood retired from the kingdom
so different from what we are.
all the landlord would say was:
the country where all goes well
I often noticed that all went badly.]
prismmagazine.ca 77 Angela Rebrec
THE THUNDER OF GALLOPING HORSES
Sometimes a knocking at the door is jusr the wind. A look through the
peephole will confirm this.
They argue about the blood test, the requisition on the fridge held up for
the past six and a half weeks by a magnet that boldly yells ALASKA in
multi-coloured all-caps.
"What's the point," she growls at him, "It's not like I'd do anything
about it." She hops into the car and drives towards the lab at the local
strip mall, the creased requisition on the seat beside her like an unwanted
passenger.
Barely a forrnight after fertilization the heart begins to form. By the fifth
week, the heart starts to beat and divides into chambers. At six weeks,
blood flows inside the body and by ten weeks, when she's lying on the
midwife's couch and the Doppler wand comes to a stop at her belly's
bottom-right side, they hear their baby's own heartbeat.
A knock at the door can be ignored for only so long. The wind can stand
there for days.
The doctor's voice from the other end of the telephone reminds her of a
pre-recorded message: ... quad screen results positive...no need to worry...
at this point doesn't mean anything... because of how far along you are...
schedule you in immediately . ..hospital. ..amniocentesis.
The heart rate of a healthy baby in the womb ranges from about 120 to
160 beats per minute. A heartbeat that's much faster or slower than that
may signal a problem.1
On occasion, the wind will let itself in with its own key.
He leans over to her and exclaims, "These odds don't look so bad." The
genetic counsellor nods as she preps them with stats, diagrams, outcomes,
results.
A one-eighth chance, she thinks, unwilling to speak it out loud, as
though that act alone will make it solid, breathe into it a life all its own.
78
PRISM  54:4 Cells duplicating and splitting and joining up again like starlings in a
murmuration, pulsing and then cinching together like a belt at the waist.
When chromosomes don't separate the way they should, sometimes they
get stuck together, to travel in threes or to travel all alone. Everyone's
chromosomes are a little bit different. But sometimes, cells get it all
wrong.
The texture of the room sticks to her body like flypaper. Every speck
of dust, the pea gravel the children have carried in their shoes from the
playground that now lies under the rack, the whites soaking in bleach in
the tub, the sun stretching its fingers through the laundry room window,
all chafe her like the sound of hornets.
She sits on the laundry room chair as she answers the call from the
doctor.
The sound of hornets.
The channel between the pulmonary artery and the aorta in a fetal heart
diverts blood away from the lungs as prenatal blood is already oxygenated
from the mother. After birth, this channel usually closes on the first day
of life. If it does not close, it results in a decreased flow of oxygen into
the body.2
A cool breeze staggers through the room while the door is left gaping.
He argues: "Isn't it obvious? It's the right thing for our family. There isn't
even any question." It's an argument she knows she cannot win.
It's what mothers are supposed to do.
In the hospital she asks the doctor. Just in case. In case they got it
wrong.
She almost makes him cry.
Following the diagnosis of a genetic anomaly, some couples choose to
have a legal abortion. However, following later abortions at greater than
twenty weeks, the rare but catastrophic occurrence of live births can
lead to fractious controversy over neonatal management. To avoid this
situation, a fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection is administered
to cause fetal cardiac arrest before induction of labour.3
The walk to the hospital room. The longest hallway. The framed canvas
photos on the wall of wide-awake or sleeping babies. The hallway at its
narrowest. Families passing them in the tightest corner of the hallway,
prismmagazine.ca 79 squeezing them out with their laughter and Mylar balloons. The hallway
and its photos. Baby sounds funnelling into the hallway as if from a
soundtrack. The photos. The hospital room in the quietest corner of rhe
ward. The longest walk. The noisy ward. The longest walk.
In their hospital room, the nurse arrives with several painted boxes
made by ladies from the auxiliary. "You can choose one," she says. "For
keepsakes—footprints, photos—the ladies make them for families...like
yours."
Not until the nurse shows them the last box does one finally speak to
them as an overflowing riverbank: a blanketed baby asleep on a crescent
moon, and behind, a blue-black sky filled with stars.
She tells her husband "Run." She tells him "Go get the nurse." She knows
childbirth and this is too easy, too soon. She squats over the toilet. The
half-dose of Demerol begins to kick in and, suddenly, she's alone in the
bathroom with her motionless baby.
Sounds held up to the light. Clouds shuffle past as a procession, peer into
the hospital window, witness a bed centred in the room, the chair with its
back to the glass, the closed door failing to bar the scarring sounds from
the hallway. From the door's vertical glass panel: flash of purple scrubs, a
jean jacket, Mylar balloons, flowers cradled in arm. Sounds embrace after
having paced the hallway. Murmurs. Whispers. Hush, hush. Meadow
flowers blooming in the hallway. Dappled clouds now peering in through
the door's window, push forward through the hallway's mist, hold flowers
up to the fluorescence. Teacups rattle on their saucers. Kittens mew at
the door. Elbow through the sound. Light and its noise held up so high.
Hush.
She remembers it like a dream. Laughter in the midwife's office and
the fetal Doppler rolling across her belly. Too much laughter. "Quiet,"
chuckles the midwife as she turns the volume up on the Doppler's speaker:
the unmistakeable sound of galloping horses. Their thunder rises in the
room, joins the laughter already jumping on the ceiling like children
tumbling in a carnival bouncy castle.
A rule of the door: always look through the peephole for what awaits
outside.
Nurse barges into the room, breaks the ice-quiet like a pick. "She's so
beautiful," she whispers, as a crocheted-blanketed and flowered-layetted
80 PRISM  54:4 bundle floats across the room. Nurse takes a seat on the bed, and with joy
on her face, hands the bundle first to him.
Not really a bundle: a baseball handful, a kitten, a bouquet of freshly
picked dandelions, a teacup and saucer.
She wonders through the Demerol-half-dose haze: Why so much joy?
Were they wrong after all?
She held her right here, like this. And then she placed her in her palms.
Like this.
He indulges her everything—even the chaplain and the blessing.
She wants to kiss baby's feet one last time, but they are covered in knitted
booties.
"While you were asleep I went downstairs," he confesses. "What kind
of cheap dad would I be if I never bought my daughter anything?"
From her seat in the far corner of the office she watches rain fall onto cars
parked in the lot outside the floor-to-ceiling window. It's the third week
of August and even the month seems to understand.
The funeral director explains their policy: "We don't charge parents
anything for our services. You only have to pay for the casket."
She sits, trying not to crumble to the floor as a cracked teacup.
"We'll take the most expensive one," he tells the director.
The emptied room: where friends came and carried the baby's things
away.
She walks to Safeway because she knows the fresh air will do her good.
Moments through the automatic doors and already she is the fine lines
of porcelain: the music piped through the store composed in D minor;
the aisle with fishy-crackers and arrowroot biscuits; the customer who
rifles through the apple bin as her toddler, strapped in to the buggy's seat,
whines and reaches for a banana bunch.
It's all she can do to keep from chipping, piece by piece.
She grabs a loaf of bread and a milk jug by the handle and heads to
the checkout.
As much as you try, some locks cannot be changed.
There was a knocking at the door.
She stands at the threshold of the doorway, looks out to the bricked
prismmagazine.ca 81 walkway that leads from the front steps of her house towards the sidewalk.
In a neighbour's yard, a tabby attacks an insect under boxwood hedges,
misses a robin pulling at a worm on the lawn. Two bicyclists whiz by and
soon afterwards a minivan follows. Petunias wilt like summer butterflies
from the patio planter as the garden hose suns itself, serpentine, underfoot.
At the threshold of the open doorway, she allows the wind to walk
past her and enter, to pace about the rooms of the house, a cold wind that
reminds her of galloping horses, a sound that magnifies within the empty
upstairs bedroom.
She whispered, She's so beautiful. Asleep on a crescent moon.
1. Moore, Thomas. "When can I hear my baby's heartbeat?" Baby Center: Expert Advice.
n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
2. "The Heart and Downs Syndrome." National Downs Syndrome Society. 2012. Web. 22
Sept. 2015.
3. Fletcher, John C. PhD., et al. "Fetal Intracardiac Potassium Chloride Injection To
Avoid The Hopeless Resuscitation Of An Abnormal Abortus: II, Ethical Issues." Obstetrics
and Gynecology Vol 80, Issue 2 (August 1992): 296-299. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
82
PRISM  54:4 SJ Sindu
TAKE THE BOY
_L hree years ago: Before the guns, before the gangs and the fighting,
before dropping out of school, even before laying eyes on Toronto, Arjun
and his mother applied for immigration to Canada. You can take the boy
out of the war, but you can never wash him clean. The immigration officer
had meant, of course, that the war would rage inside Arjun forever. But
when he stepped off the plane in Toronto, Arjun was afraid he would
cave in, actually implode.
Two years ago: The night his big brother was shot, Arjun was helping his
mother pray. She couldn't walk so well anymore, her feet having survived
a mine explosion in Sri Lanka. But she was a deeply religious woman,
and Arjun was nothing if not a dutiful son. And so, while his big brother
was being cornered in an alleyway on the way to the Pizza Pizza where
he worked, Arjun helped his mother hobble around the shrines at the
Richmond Pillayar temple, three times around each god or goddess,
stopping at each cardinal direction to touch the stone of the shrine wall
and mumble something in Tamil that was too quiet for Arjun to catch.
One year ago: The fight was his friend Kannan's idea. They mess with us,
we mess with them. A handful of Tamil boys with cricket bats, sneaking
into the Jamaican hood in Scarborough. This was the first time Arjun ever
hit anyone, but the scene felt familiar. The smell of blood, he realized,
was the same in every human. They jumped a bunch of Jamaican boys,
beat them down with the cricket bats, and ran away feeling triumphant.
Someone called the police, who never showed up. At the end, only
Kannan was left, hitting a body again and again, even though its skull
had already been crushed in, yelling, karruppa karruppa karruppa, blackie
blackie blackie.
Now: Arjun never wanted to be the kind of man who closed his eyes as
he died. But sometimes the body takes over—with this gun in his mouth,
this warm metal resting right on his tongue, Arjun closes his eyes, and
waits. He thinks of his mother, of the way she cried over his brother's
coffin, her wild hair swinging around her face. He thinks of himself in
the coffin, wonders if the flames will feel warm when they burn him.
Kannan hesitates with the trigger. Arjun thinks of his mother's favourite
prismmagazine.ca 83 god, Murugan, and of the god love she wants so desperately. He thinks
of the way people die in movies, by saying You don't have to do this to the
friend holding the gun. He thinks of the immigration officer. You can
take the boy out of the war. Arjun feels dirty inside, caked over with mud
and soil and blood he can never wash clean. It's better this way, maybe.
This way, the fighting will end. Arjun closes his eyes, and waits.
84 PRISM  54:4 Melanie Mali
CHICKENS
After Miranda July
1 decided to put plastic bags around that part of my brain so that nothing
would leak, but everything goes back to Henry. It's like that William
Carlos Williams poem, "So much depends on a red wheelbarrow." At
first, you think, "Oh, that? How could that count for anything?" But
then you start making connections and whoa.
Country girls are often fond of farm animals. That sounds like the
punch line to a dirty joke, but it's true. For years and years, my sister Penny
was all agog for Holsteins—you know, the white cows with black spots?
For almost a decade, she bought around a cow theme, lowed, impressed,
on Christmas mornings at spotted pens, mugs, shirts, towels, aprons,
calendars, and notepaper. Penny was the oldest and we all followed suit.
Mary had her pigs and I liked chickens. In 1989, our room was a fucking
farm.
By the time I met you, I'd been living in the city for years. "Fuck,
I love Transformers." That was the first thing you ever said to me, even
before hello or your name. We were in a toy store, a big one with a
parking lot the size of five Olympic pools. I was buying something for
Mary's boy. Your arms were stacked high with action figures—special
anniversary editions of Optimus Prime—that's why I thought you'd
understand. But in all the years I knew you, even after we bought that
place in the east end, I couldn't bring myself to tell you.
You might have thought, since I grew up in town and not on a farm,
that I would have been safe with my love for chickens. Most people in
Ponoka bought their meat at the Co-op; I saw them there when I went
with my dad. Three chickens' legs for a pack of chilled thighs. I counted
the lives in a tray of chicken hearts, stroked each plastic-covered one as
I daydreamed of warm, white-feathered, flightless birds. Funny the way
they package meat, disembodied, like with like, as if drums or breasts
grew on trees like lemons or pears.
At home, we got familiar with the whole bird. Hutterites and other
farmers came into my parents' store, trading murky bags of freshly
butchered birds for shoes. Sometimes the chickens arrived alive, and it
was the job of us kids to hold them down while our father sliced their
necks. (My father, as you know, comes from the old country. He'd done
prismmagazine.ca 85 a lot of worse things besides.) Chickens were kept in a shed behind the
store, and there were times I wouldn't go out back. I thought I'd hear
something—clucking or the hard rustle of wings against wood. Maybe if
I knocked lightly on the side of the shed or pushed some grain through
the crack in the door, they'd know that not everyone in our house wanted
to eat them. "Fear will make the meat go sour," I said to my dad. The
shed was dark all the time. He always killed a bird within earshot of the
rest, drained its blood into a bucket in the alley. I wondered for years
whether chickens could smell. I went to the town and school libraries but
no one could tell me.
I managed to get out of chicken duty by hiding in my little alcove in
the men's overalls near the radio and working extra hard at the store. I
never worked harder in my life. Some days I could sense it was going to
happen, then later saw the evidence: Penny or Mary in different clothes
from the morning, rubbing lotion into their hands to mask the smell.
Shut up, shut up, I said in my head as they told stories of where it ran or
whether it cried out or if it looked painful, the sawing of the knife against
its neck.
One day, my dad sent me on an errand. Go plug in the rice cooker, he
said to me in Cantonese. I went upstairs, walked down the hall past our
room, my parents' room, my grandma's room, the reading room, and in
the kitchen, something in my neck snapped. It was featherless, bumpy,
pinkish grey, hanging over the sink by its feet. Its comb and wattle had
lost their colour, and it squinted in the light of the kitchen like a newborn
baby animal, the point of its tongue poking sideways out of its beak. It
reeked. Chicken shit, death, what was that smell? I thought of it coming
back to life, wagging its skinny arms, going nowhere. Four hours later,
a closed-eyed head dried out in the pan, charred bits of feather on the
roast, and I retched, faked the flu, and left the table.
A couple of weeks later, I was pricing shirts, and Mary sidled up
beside me. She wasn't much of a sidler. She smelled like Lubriderm.
"Guess what, Luce?"
I kept quiet, put prices on shirts and the shirts on hangers then
stacked them on the counter. You can hang them all at once at the end
that way.
"I helped Dad with a chicken," she said. "A nice big white one with a
floppy comb."
In my head I saw it, alive then dead. I kept a tiny crystal rooster in a
little velvet box on my bedside table. I thought about that instead.
"It was the same old thing at first—head between my shoes, not that
much blood."
86 PRISM  54:4 "Mhmm," I said. Shirts swished against me and fell on the floor. I
guess I'd piled them too high.
"It took off running down the alley, worried as hell. Course, the
damn thing couldn't see. It kept veering to the right. Ran into the side of
Bauer's," she said, "but even after that, it kept running."
I turned to her, my shoulders tensing, but she smiled, a chubby girl in
a pig sweatshirt. She was telling her story.
She told me how long he ran. About twenty seconds. They just watched
him go, probably with gosh darn looks on their faces. "Eventually, he
petered out," she said. "That or he just calmed down. He stood around,
assessed the situation." I thought she was being cruel, drawing it out
before saying, point blank, that he died, but no. She kept talking—said
his body twitched like live birds on TV, said he scratched in the gravel
like nothing was wrong, that he dipped his neck to the ground like he
was bobbing for apples. That's how I got Henry.
He was too special to eat, my dad said. And he was. He was a real hen's
rooster. We got him a cage and everything. I put niblets down his throat,
fed him milk and water from a dropper. My sisters wanted to be jealous,
but Henry was charming. He shat and strutted and shuddered at the
damnedest of times, at breakfast and lunch and when the punch lines
came on the Carol Burnett Show. He was gorgeous—big and white and
regal, the way he held his foot in the air sometimes. All throughout my
childhood, I'd imagined chickens. Still, I wasn't expecting that. A picture
is nothing like the real thing. They're powerful, in all actuality. They have
a real presence.
I had a year with Henry. He learned to walk straight, and I showed
him to my friends. One of them told me that some animals, special ones,
have brains throughout their bodies. I thought that must have been why
he was still alive: there were enough brains everywhere else. He was hard
to feed at first, but I got more patient, learned some tricks, and he learned
to trust me, and after that it was no big deal. I loved to pet him—he
didn't take well to being held—but if you pet him a certain way, he'd plop
right down like he was warming an egg. That's how you knew he liked
something. He stayed. Penny said, "You'll wash those hands before you
come into this kitchen."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, on my way to the leftover niblets in the fridge.
When he died, I put my chicken things in a box and put it under my bed.
A few years later, I graduated high school and left for the city. Eventually
we met. The way you acted, your smile and ease with machines, I thought
you came from a small town, too, but I learned soon enough you were
a city boy, through and through. We lived together, had a cat and dog.
prismmagazine.ca 87 A few months ago, some friends had a barbecue. You looked surprised
when I refused a chicken drum. I can only assume that you didn't notice
me not eating chicken that whole time we spent together. I realized that
if I couldn't tell you about Henry, there were probably other things I
couldn't say. Did I really want to spend my life with you?
I saw you just the other day, at the toy store near our old house.
Probably, you still live there. (Will you send the call out for a roommate?)
I'm working on a model farm; I was on my way to the aisle where they
keep the mini barns and bales of hay when I saw you with a girl in a white
fluffy coat, buying toys. I wanted to say something, but what, so I hid.
When I left the store, I got into my car and cried. I thought of her coat.
It looked so warm and soft. A few days later, I bought one for myself.
PRISM  54:4 Jan Zwicky
DEPARTURE AT DAWN
Bare rooms, the echo of white light.
The moon, I think,
is a white sail of pain.
The answer isn't love or furniture,
we're always on the move.
A satellite a hundred miles up
paces its slow curve. Landscape
glides beneath it. Scars.
prismmagazine.ca 89 HUMILITY
We find you
in this striving, too:
old pines
on the bluff, the plushing
of the moss in fog.
And in the woodsman's
naked back, the ax,
that, glittering,
falls with the grain.
No folded hands,
but joy, relentless
gratitude. You bow
to wind, to death, and
in that gesture,
freedom. There is nothing
that you cannot sacrifice.
90 PRISM  54:4 Tyler Keevil
THE SEARCH
W hen that little girl went missing, I volunteered along with everybody
else—even though I didn't really have the right. Even though it wasn't my
town. Or my countiy.
We met in the King's Arms, on the high street. That still gets me: how
they call it the high street over here. Not the main street. The high street.
The pub had tar-black ceiling beams, bowed like the hull of a ship, and
so low in places I had to duck to avoid them. There were two sides to the
bar and the volunteers were on one side: thirty or forty men and women,
all dressed for the outdoors. It was eight in the morning but the bar was
open and a few people were having a morning pint. Just to take the edge
off.
The search was being run by the local volunteer firefighting unit.
The police were conducting their own searches and were also supporting
other efforts. That was the phrase they used, on the news. Two of the
firefighters stood at the front of the room. They were both wearing yellow
bibs with reflective grey striping. One of them was a lot younger—maybe
twenty-five or so. He kept shifting his arms: crossing them, clasping
them in front of him, letting them hang at his sides. He looked as if he'd
forgotten how to operate his body.
The older guy did all the talking. I knew him, and not just from
seeing him around town. When I first washed up here, I'd had a little
run-in. I was out walking alone, at night, and a couple of locals started
in on me. They'd been drinking, and I was dressed funny: a baseball cap
and plaid shirt. Or checked shirt. That's what they called it. They pegged
me as an American. It set me apart, at least. They started pushing me
around, and I pushed back, and the pushing turned to punching. I got
my ass handed to me, but they didn't do any real damage: a split lip,
bruised cheek, a couple of tender ribs. I didn't report it, of course. They
were good old boys, and it was a small town. I know how it works.
But this guy, this firefighter guy, he'd been one of them.
That morning he had a map, which he'd pinned to the cork notice
board beside the bar. On the map the areas surrounding the town had
been divided into sections, marked off with different colours. That was
where we'd be searching. He told us when this little girl—Rowena, her
name was—had been seen last: at the park, playing with friends. And
he told us what she was wearing: a pink skirt and red jumper. She was
prismmagazine.ca 91 carrying a yellow backpack.
She was six years old.
"You need to be methodical," he told us. "Don't rush. It's easy to miss
something." He looked at his helper, as if including him in this advice.
"You're not just searching for a little girl, either. Evidence, too. Clothing,
her bag. Tracks, even. Any kind of clue, yeah?"
He had a list of our names and he began to read them out, assigning
us to search groups. Each group was given an area: the woodlands, the
highway, the park. I was put with the river group. When he called my
name, a few of the people in front of me looked back. They all knew
who I was. Everybody knows everybody, in a small town. And they know
who the strangers are. To tell you the truth, that was part of the reason I
volunteered. I thought they might be a bit suspicious of me, otherwise. As
an outsider. Or an incomer. They call them incomers, over here. There's
a word for it in Welsh, but I can't pronounce it.
I can't pronounce many of their words, really.
So I volunteered, to show some solidarity. And I felt obligated to, of
course. They had put signs up—on lampposts, in store windows—asking
for help. You'd have to be pretty cold to turn your back on that, when a
six-year-old girl is involved.
The river group was supposed to gather by the fireplace. I was the
first to get there. The next person to reach it was a woman wearing jeans,
muddy boots, and a rain slicker. She had short grey hair. She introduced
herself as Brenda and shook my hand and I could feel the hard calluses
on her palm. We stood looking around, waiting. After a minute I saw the
two firefighters coming over, and assumed they were going to explain we
were in the wrong place. But it turned out they were in our group. We
were the group, just us four.
The main firefighter nodded at Brenda and told her he wanted her
along because she knew the river best. Brenda was a gilly, apparently.
That's what they call fishing guides, over here. The guy didn't explain why
he'd put me in his group, but I thought I knew. He wanted to keep an
eye on me. He didn't say much of anything to me then, though. He just
talked to Brenda and the younger firefighter.
He told them, "I guess you've heard about the rumour, with the bag."
Brenda shook her head.
The younger guy said, "It's going around Facebook. Somebody saw a
bloke down by the river, with a bag."
"A black bin bag," the older one added.
"Jesus," I said.
It was an accident, saying it aloud. I do that sometimes, when I'm
anxious. It's like a minor form of Tourette's. I've never had it checked out,
92 PRISM  54:4 but I'm trying to get it under control.
The three of them looked at me, as if surprised to find me there.
"That's messed up," I said, and adjusted my ball cap.
Transportation had been arranged for all the groups, and ours was one of
the firefighting trucks. A pick-up truck, with a tonneau cover. We threw
our gear in the back and the older guy drove us down. It was only a five-
minute drive and there wasn't much talking, but he did think to introduce
himself. His name was Alan, and the younger one was Tomos, and I got
the sense that he was a relative of Alan's, in the way they interacted. Not
a son, but a nephew or second cousin, maybe.
"Nice to meet you," I said to Alan, as if I didn't remember he'd kicked
my ass.
At the river we parked the truck above the gravelled bank, just
upstream from the bridge to town. I knew the spot. I go there a lot,
actually, just to be by myself, and take a walk. It's another reason, I think,
that the locals aren't sure about me. I don't frequent the pubs. I don't
make an effort to fit in. I work the night shift at the factory, on the edge
of town, and during the day I just sleep. I'm on my own, most of the
time. That's the reason I came out here, to get away from the old crowd.
To sober up and dry out, if you want to know the truth. The walks, and
keeping to myself, is all part of that. The river is part of that, too. I've
always needed water: the sea, lakes, rivers. I grew up on the coast. It was
when my wife and I moved inland, got landlocked, that things went
wrong.
We piled out of the truck and the others started putting on their
outdoor gear. I hadn't brought any—I was just wearing jeans and a
hoodie—so I went to wait by the riverbank. That morning it was damp
and chilly, maybe five or six above. It had been raining a lot lately and the
river was reasonably high, running swift and slick, with currents oiling
the surface. It was the same river as always, but it didn't feel the same.
"All right lads," Alan said.
They'd come to join me on the bank. Alan handed out maps and
whistles. He said that the best way to go about it was to split up and
sub-divide the terrain along the river. He assigned Tomos to the bank on
the far side, and had Brenda wading in the shallows. Brenda had already
gotten into hip waders so I figured she must have known that would be
her role.
"What about me?" I asked.
They looked at me again, in that same way. Like I'd just appeared on
the riverbank.
"Do you have boots?" Alan asked.
prismmagazine.ca 93 I was only wearing runners.
"I didn't know I'd be down at the river."
"I have a spare pair. You can come with me." He nodded at the other
two. "You go on and get started."
I followed him back up to the truck, and he dropped the tailgate. The
truck bed was filled with sacks of fertilizer and sheep feed and jerry cans
of gasoline. The boots he brought out were all encrusted with mud. I'd
call them gumboots but over here they say Wellington boots, or Wellies.
He handed them to me, and I sat sideways in the cab to pull them on.
He lit a cigarette and waited for me. I thought he might say something,
then. About how him beating me up was just one of those things. But he
didn't. I guess he didn't feel it even warranted discussion.
"They okay?" he asked.
The boots were too big, but I figured he wouldn't want to hear that.
"All good," I said.
"Come on, then."
Before shutting the door, I instinctively reached inside to lock it. He
shook his head, and said something about us being in the country, not a
city. "We don't have to worry about things like that, around here." But
after he'd said it, we both went real quiet. He flicked his cigarette in the
gravel and stomped on it, like a cockroach he was trying to kill.
"We never had to before, anyway," he said.
We started walking, with the river on our right. Up ahead I could see
Brenda, thigh-deep in the roiling water. She had a gaff hook, and every
once in a while she used it to poke or prod something under the surface.
Tomos was out of sight—hidden by the trees on the far bank.
The bank on our side of the river, where me and Alan were searching,
was about fifteen metres across. It ran in a steady and gentle incline from
the water's edge up to the road, which acted as our boundary line. We
decided to divide the area in two, and cover half each.
"I'll take the upper bank," Alan told me. "You stay down here."
It was funny. I got the feeling he wanted to keep me in his sights.
There was a path along the river—the path I normally walk along—
but we couldn't just follow that. We had to search the underbrush. I
hadn't been given much guidance on how to go about it, but what I did
was walk back and forth, adopting the kind of pattern you'd use when
mowing a lawn. The bank was lined with alders, the bark grainy and
fissured. The underbrush was hard going: ferns and nettle and docldeaf,
all knee-high and soaking wet. I was glad to have the boots, but I couldn't
walk properly in them. I hobbled along like a boy playing dress-up. There
was a carpet of leaves underfoot, sodden and rotten and soft. It gave off
94 PRISM  54:4 that smell of wet mulch, of decay. You couldn't hear the river; it just
flowed on and on in silence. There were no birds or squirrels, either. The
only sounds were the ones we made as we thrashed through the bush,
and—every so often—the hum of a car along the road above.
It wasn't difficult to stay on task. I kept thinking I'd seen something
up ahead—some suspicious form or shape in the undergrowth. But each
time, as I got closer, the shape would reveal itself as a mound of dirt, a
jumble of rocks, a stump or a fallen log.
Time passed. It didn't pass quickly, but it passed.
"Hold up," Alan called to me, after a while.
I turned. He was making his way towards me, high-stepping over
shrubs. He looked solemn. I thought he'd spotted something. I thought
he was going to tell me he'd found her.
But he only said, "You smoke?"
He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth. He held the pack out to me.
"Not anymore," I said, and accepted one.
I'd quit at the same time I'd quit drinking. The two go hand in hand.
Or they did for me, anyway. But just then, I needed one.
He struck a match with his thumb and lit his cigarette, then held
the same match out to light mine. Only we didn't quite manage to do it
before the match fluttered out.
"Bloody hell," he said, and struck another.
It worked the second time. We puffed together in the morning quiet.
It had begun to drizzle and you could hear that, now. The drops tap-
tapping the underbrush. Counting time.
"You know this girl?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Don't know many people, in this town."
"I do. Work with her father. He wanted to help. Today, like. I told
him, no. Don't do that to yourself." He looked out over the river, rolling
by. "What if he found her, right?"
"I can't imagine."
"You got kids?"
"No."
"Wife?"
I could tell he was fishing, maybe even hoping I'd give something
away.
"I did. I had a wife," I said. "But we lost a baby."
"That's rough."
"Broke us up, eventually. I was hitting the bottle pretty hard."
He squinted at me through the smoke between us. "So that's it."
"What's what?"
"Me and the lads been wondering what you were about."
prismmagazine.ca 95 I took a drag. I felt that head-spin you get after being off it for a while.
"Well," I said on the exhale, "now you know."
Our smokes were almost done. We turned together to survey the
terrain ahead.
"The bank gets steeper here," I said, "then levels out at the oxbow
bend."
"You know the river, do you?"
He sounded surprised, but no longer suspicious.
"I come down here," I admitted, "when I feel like drinking."
The rain fell harder. The sky was banded with shades of grey, darker near
the top, like chert rock. You could hear the heavy slap of drops on leaves,
and see the poplars shivering as the water ran through them. I didn't have
a jacket and got soaked, my hoody hanging off me in wet, heavy folds,
but so long as I kept moving I didn't really feel the cold. I'd settled into
a pattern—take a few steps, check left and right, study the ground—and
everything else faded.
Where the bank steepened it also narrowed, and it got more difficult
for us to keep to our own side. Alan and I kept coming up against each
other, nodding awkwardly, and turning around. It was tricky, going up
and down that incline. The boots were fine but once the soles got clogged
with mud they didn't have much grip. I held onto branches and trunks to
help myself along, but still slipped several times and went down.
After one such tumble I stayed in a squat for a time, elbows resting on
my knees.
"You all right?" Alan called to me.
I raised a hand. I was looking through the woods, at the river beyond.
I usually took comfort in staring at that water, and knowing it flowed on
constantly, endlessly, washing so many tilings away with it. But just then
that seemed somehow menacing—thinking about what it might have
carried off, cleaned out, covered up. And still it rolled on, regardless.
I got to my feet eventually, and we kept going.
The plan was to meet back by the van at noon for lunch. It was past
eleven by the time we reached the oxbow bend. There the river looped
into a long horseshoe that enclosed a bell-shaped floodplain. The plain
was flat and treeless and marshy and covered in calf-high grass. During
the spring, that area was underwater so grass was all that could grow. A
few scraggly birch trees lined the edge of the bank, and beyond those
I saw Brenda. We'd passed her, and she was maybe a hundred merres
behind. She raised her hand and I waved back.
Alan and I had more ground to cover but, without the slope and
obstacles, it was easier going. As we made our way across the plain, I
96 PRISM  54:4 picked up a stick and swung it like a scythe, beating back the grass. I had
a charged feeling. I kept thinking the grass would give way and reveal
somerhing. I reached a shallow pool where a tributary trickled into an
eddy in the river. It smelled muddy, stagnant. I stepped down into it and
waded across and climbed out. Alan had already reached the far bank of
the bend and was waiting for me there, smoking. Just ahead, the river
met back up with the road, which crossed it via a one-lane stone bridge,
older than anything you'd find back home. Alan checked his watch and
consulted his map. It was near noon. With a pen he marked the spot that
we'd reached and said we ought to take a quick lunch break and then
keep looking. I didn't agree or disagree. He wasn't asking my opinion.
He gave a double-blast on his whistle: the turnaround signal we'd
agreed on. A few seconds later two similar signals came back. In the
river, Brenda began making her way towards the bank. Alan started back
in the direction we'd come, and I followed. Since we were off duty, and
not searching, he walked in a straight line along the river path, which
was basically a dirt track that followed the contours of the river. It led us
to the little pool and we splashed down into it. As we crossed I glanced
sideways—thinking Brenda might be about level with us, by then—and
saw the bag. A black garbage bag. Or a bin bag, as they call them. It was
caught in the branches of a fallen alder, at the point where the pool met
the river. The tree shielded it from the river, so Brenda had missed it.
And since it was right on the boundary between her terrain and ours, I'd
missed it too. It must have floated down and gotten pulled back by the
eddy, then snagged beneath the tree.
I stopped, ankle deep in water. I could feel the coldness of it through
my boots. Alan didn't notice and kept going until I called to him. "Hey,"
I think I said. Just that. Quite softly. "Hey." But he heard. He stopped
and turned and stared. We both stared. He was still smoking and now,
as if the situation did not allow for that, he let the cigarette fall into the
water with a hiss. The bag wasn't empty. You could see that it had shape,
and was about the right size.
Alan raised his whistle and gave three long blasts on it. In the aftermath,
everything felt incredibly quiet. Then came the responses. Brenda wasn't
far off. We heard her coming—the slosh of her waders—and saw the top
of her head above the bank, which was between us and the river.
"Alan?" she called out.
"Over here."
I got up on the grass, so she could see us. She reached the bank and
scrambled over, using her hands to haul herself up. As she did, Tomos
appeared on the far bank.
"What is it?" he shouted.
prismmagazine.ca 97 "Black bin bag," I said.
Tomos, he wasn't wearing waders. But he just plunged into the river
anyway, the water rising to his waist as he fought his way across. His face
looked intent and frightened. Brenda waited to give him a hand up the
bank. Then the three of us turned together and stepped down into the
little pool, to where Alan was waiting. We stood maybe ten feet back
from the bag and looked at it for a while. The bag was half-submerged
and since the plastic was wet it clung to whatever was inside, hugging the
shape and moulding to it. The part above water was rounded. It could
have been a head, or a shoulder, maybe. The currents flowing around it
caused it to ripple like a black shroud.
"Fucking hell," Tomos said.
He looked even younger, now. He was shivering from the crossing
and his face was pale, almost white.
"We should call it in," Brenda said.
It sounded official, the way she said it. Call it in.
"No signal out here," Alan said. "Already checked."
"We have to head back, then. Let them know. Let the police deal with
it.
"It could get carried off," Alan said.
"It's caught, isn't it?"
"Raining, though. Waters will rise."
"There's something else," I said.
The three of them looked at me, in the usual way.
"You'd heard about where to look. If it's on Facebook, and people are
talking, maybe he knows. It's a fair walk to the truck, then a bit of a drive.
He could come back, to dispose of..."
I shrugged.
"Hell," Tomos said. He had his arms crossed, hugging himself, and
his teeth were chattering. "You're talking like it's her. You lot are talking
like it's that little girl in there."
Alan said, "One way to find out."
"Cops wouldn't want that," Brenda said. "Evidence."
"It's been in the water for days."
"Still."
"So we move it up here, where it won't get washed away. Then two of
us stay, and two of us go back. Okay?"
He looked at us each in turn, including me. I nodded. Brenda was the
last to give assent, but she gave it.
There was no discussion about who would fetch it. Alan and I just
stepped forward. The water was thigh deep, there. It spilled in over the
tops of my boots and as we got closer to the river I could feel the drag of
98
PRISM  54:4 the current. Alan reached under the water and cradled the portion of the
bag that was downstream. My end was snagged among the branches. I
had to prise them off in two or three spots. That left little tears in the bag,
but they were too small to see anything through. Once my end was free,
I got my hands beneath and hefted. Whatever was inside was heavy, and
pliable. It could have been a lot of things. We cross-stepped out of the
currents and away from the bank, toward the others. Without putting it
down we managed to stagger out of the little pool and up onto the grass,
where we laid it out.
The rain landed on the bag, spattering the plastic. Tomos and Brenda
joined us.
"Is it her?" Tomos asked. Flis voice was tight.
Alan said, "That can't be his little girl."
Tomos was crying, I think. It was hard to tell, because all our faces
were streaked with rain. But I think his was streaked with tears, too.
"Who's going back?" Brenda asked.
She sounded nervous. Nobody answered.
"We got to leave it, Alan," she said. "We done what we were supposed
to.
"We can't leave it like this," Alan said.
Alan put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a penknife. He peeled
open the blade and held it ready. Then he stood there. Time stretched.
"I'll do it," I said.
He didn't give the knife to me but he let me take it. I crouched by
the bag. I was thinking of my wife. When she lost the baby, she was
eight months pregnant. The baby was breech, so they had to perform a
C-section. Cutting into her, to bring him out. Our dead boy.
I put the blade to the bag, and cut a narrow slit—maybe six inches
long. A smell wafted out: rank, foetid, horrible. I knew that smell. We all
know it, even if we've never come across it. It's embedded in our genes,
our instincts. That death-stench.
I folded my elbow over my nose. Behind me, I heard Tomos retching.
With my other hand I used the blade of my knife to lift up the plastic,
and glimpse inside. I saw hair, but it didn't look right.
I took hold of the opening, with both hands.
Brenda asked, "What are you doing?"
I tore it wide open, revealing the head, the ears, the snout, the lips
peeled back in a death-snarl, the sharp and curving teeth. A badger. It
was just a badger. I stayed crouched there, staring at its dead eyes, its
vacant gaze. It's something that happens, out here. They capture them
and kill them. For sport, or because they're pests. Sometimes both. Since
it's illegal they find ways to dispose of the bodies. At the roadside. Or in
prismmagazine.ca 99 the river, apparently.
"Thank fuck," Alan said.
Tomos turned his back and leaned over and braced his hands on his
knees. He'd stopped retching but his shoulders were shaking.
He said, "I don't think I can do this, anymore."
Brenda nodded absently. I folded up the knife and offered it to Alan.
"If you want," I said, "I can take his side of the river, after the break."
"All right then," he said, and accepted it.
We started back together, with Tomos trailing a little behind. I felt all
light and loose, buoyed up by relief, and took a few deep breaths through
my nose, trying to clear that stench. It wasn't until we reached the van
that I realized it was on us, and on me in particular, from touching the
bag with my hands. It lingered.
100        PRISM  54:4 CONTRIBUTORS
Andres Alfaro is a translator and musician from Iowa City, Iowa. He has
translated various Costa Rican authors including Felipe Granados, Alfredo
Trejos, and Carmen Naranjo. He is currenrly working on translating the
564-page El mas violento paraiso into English. He continues to reside in
Iowa City.
Raed Anis Al-Jishi has published one novel, seven volumes of poems in
Arabic one in French and one, Bleeding Gull: Look, Feel, Fly, in English.
Alongside a career as a writer, he teaches high school chemistry. He is
a feminist by actions and human rights activist, and works on issues
involving children.
Chloe Catan is an art historian, copyeditor and translator living in
Toronto. She is currently pursuing her Certificate in Creative Writing
from the University of Toronto.
Laura Clarke is the author of Decline of the Animal Kingdom from ECW
Press and the 2013 winner of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging
Writers from the Writers' Trust of Canada.
Esvie Coemish is an invention of Michael Barach and Brandi George.
Poems from their collaborative manuscript have appeared in 32 Poems,
Black Warrior Review, Seneca Review, West Branch, Vallum, and elsewhere.
Michael and Brandi teach and write in Tallahassee, FL.
Kayla Czaga is the author of For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood
Editions, 2014), which won The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and
was nominated for Hie Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Governor
General's Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Enemy of the People, which
explores the Soviet Union under Stalin, was released in 2015 by
Anstruther Press. She is the current BC/Yukon representative for the
League of Canadian Poets. Kayla makes her home in East Vancouver and
serves beer for a living.
ryan fitzpatrick is a poet and critic living in Vancouver. He is the author
of two books of poetry: Fortified Castles (Talon, 2014) and Fake Math
(Snare, 2007). With Jonathan Ball, he co-edited Why Poetry Sucks: An
Anthology of Humorous Experimental Canadian Poetry (Insomniac, 2014).
He is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University where he works on
Canadian Poetry after the spatial turn.
prismmagazine.ca        101 Renee Jackson-Harper is a PhD candidate in Literature at York
University and a faculty member in the department of English at Selkirk
College. Her poetry has appeared in PRISM, Room, WTFMagazine, and
The Trinity Review, and has been long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize.
Tyler Keevil grew up in Vancouver and in his mid-twenties moved to
Wales, where he now lives. He is the author of three award-winning
books—Fireball, The Drive, and Burrard Inlet—and a recent recipient of
the Writers' Trust of Canada Journey Prize. "The Search" was developed
with the aid of a Literature Wales Writers' Bursary supported by The
National Lottery through the Arts Council of Wales.
Richard Kelly Kemick's poetry, prose, and criticism have been published
in literary magazines and journals across Canada and the United States,
most recently in The Walrus, Maisonneuve, and The Fiddlehead. His debut
collection of poetry, Caribou Run, was published in March 2016 by
Goose Lane Editions, www.richardkemick.com
Lesley Krueger was born in Vancouver and now lives in Toronto. Her
new novel, Mad Richard, will be published in March 2017 by ECW
Press. She has written three previous novels, a story collection, and two
works of non-fiction. Her first short story was published in PRISM 17.2.
Melanie Mah is the author of The Sweetest One, a novel published in June
2016 by Cormorant Books. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from
the University of Guelph and lives in Toronto.
Kerrie McNair lives in Toronto. Her poetry has appeared in Ditch
Magazine, Occasus, and the Boiler Journal.
Ben Merriman's writing has been published widely—read more at
benmerriman.tumblr.com.   His work previously appeared in PRISM
54.2.
Geoffrey Nilson is a Contributing Editor for Arc. His poems and essays
have appeared in Poetry is Dead, Lemon Hound, subTerrain, PRISM,
The Rusty Toque, and The Glasgow Review of Books. He lives in New
Westminster, BC.
Alexander Obando is a Costa Rican novelist and poet. The work presented
here comes from his 2001 novel El mas violentoparaiso {The Most Violent
Paradise], the first book in his Dionysian trilogy. He currently resides in
La Mirada, California.
102        PRISM  54:4 Recipient of the 2014 Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award. Suburbs-raised.
Maker of pies, cookies, cakes. Taryn Pearcey knows a story is ready when
it makes her boyfriend cry.
Amira Rammah is currently an MFA candidate in the Literary Translation
program at the University of Iowa. She received a BA in English Language
and Literature from the University of Carthage in Tunis and was the
recipient of a Fulbright scholarship in 2014. She translates primarily from
Arabic with a special interest in post-Arab Spring literature.
Angela Rebrec's poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming
in The Dalhousie Review, The Antigonish Review, and EVENT, among
others. Most recently her work was shortlisted for PRISMs 2015 Creative
Non-fiction Contest. Angela is currently in her fourth year of studies at
Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She lives in Delta, BC with her husband
and three children.
Kourtney Roy was born in the wilds of Northern Ontario, Canada. The
Gallery Hug and the agency Carole Lambert represent Kourtney in Paris.
Most recently she was awarded the Carte Blanche PMU, a significant
annual prize awarded to a photographic artist to produce a body of work
based on the world of the PMU. She is also the recipient of the Emily
Award in 2012 and was nominated for the Prix Elysee in 2014. She
publishes her work in various journals such as D-Magazine, TJie Sunday
Telegraph, and Madame Figaro.
Kevin Shaw's poems have recently appeared in Arc and CV2, and are
forthcoming in Grain. In 2015, he won Arcs Poem of the Year contest
and his essays were long-listed for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. He
lives in London, ON, where he's a PhD candidate in Canadian Literature
at Western University.
SJ Sindu's debut novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, is forthcoming in
2017 from Soho Press. She has received scholarships from the Lambda
Literary Retreat, the New York State Summer Writers Institute, and the
Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. Her creative writing has appeared
or is forthcoming in Brevity, The Normal School, The Los Angeles Review of
Books, apt, Vinyl Poetry, VIDA, Black Girl Dangerous, and elsewhere.
Marcia Walker's fiction has been published in PRISM (53.4, Summer
2015), Room, University of Toronto Magazine, and The Broken Social Scene
Story Project by House of Anansi. Her non-fiction has appeared in The
Globe and Mail and on CBC radio. Currently she is an MFA student at
Guelph University.
prismmagazine.ca        103 Stephanie Warner's poetry has appeared in numerous journals across
Canada, and has recently been shortlisted for the 2015 Room poetry prize
and the 2015 Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her first collection will
be released with Fitzhenry & Whiteside in the spring of 2017.
Jessica Westhead's fiction has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary
awards, selected for the Journey Prize anthology, and nominated for a
National Magazine Award. Her short story collection, And Also Sharks, was
a Globe andMailTop 100 Book, and a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Prize.
Sarah Wolfson's poems appear or are forthcoming in CV2, AGNI, MidAmerican Review, and Gidf Coast. She has received a Quebec Writers'
Federation mentorship, was shortlisted for the Poetry Foundation's Ruth
Lilly Fellowships, and has an MFA from the University of Michigan.
Originally from Vermont, she now lives in Montreal. The italicized lines in
"Regeneration (Acornal, Coralic, Human)" come from the article "How
Do Corals Reproduce?" {NOAA Ocean Service Education. National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 21 July, 2009. Web.)
Stephanie Yorke is a Canadian writer. She lives in Johannesburg. She has
published one book of poetry, as well as individual poems and stories. She
also does writing for setting to music. She has a website in case you'd like to
read more or hear a few works: www.stephanieyorke.info. She would like
to thank Nisha for her help editing this story.
Jan Zwicky's new collection of poetry, The Long Walk, will be published in
the Oskana Series from University of Regina Press this fall.
104        PRISM  54:4 423-100 Arthur St.
Winnipeg, MB R3B1H3
Ph: (204)943-9066
www.prairleflre.ca
$6,000
IN CASH PRIZES!
1ST PRIZE $1,250 ■ —
2ND PRIZE $500 —
3RD PRIZE $250 —
THE BANFF CENTRE BUSS
CARMAN POETRY AWARD*
(1,2 or 3 poems per entry,
max. 150 lines per entry)
Judge: Meira Cook
SHORT FICTION
(one story per entry,
max. 10,000 words)
Judge: Greg Hollingshead
CREATIVE NON-FICTION
(one essay per entry,
max. 5,000 words)
Judge: Helen Humphreys
DEADLINE:
POSTMARKED
NOV. 30,2016
Complete guidelines for all
contests at www.prairiefire.ca
For inquiries: prfire@mts.net
CONTEST WINNERS AND HONOURABLE MENTIONS
WILL BE PUBLISHED IN PRAIRIE FIRE MAGAZINE
Fee: S3? per entry, which includes a complimentary
one-year subscription to Prairie fire.
*The Poetry lirst prize is donated in part by The Banff Centre,
who will also award a jeweller-cast replica of poet Bliss
Carman's silver and turquoise ring to the first-prize winner. Reading Service for Writers
If you are a new writer, or a writer
with a troublesome manuscript,
EVENT'S Reading Service for Writers
may be just what you need.
Manuscripts will be edited by one of EVENT'S
editors and receive an assessment of 700-
1000 words, focusing on such aspects of craft
as voice, structure, rhythm and point of view.
Eligible manuscripts include short fiction and creative
non-fiction under 5,000 words, or up to eight pieces of
poetry. The assessment will arrive in four to eight weeks.
EVENT'S Reading Service for Writers costs $100 (pay
online, or by cheque or international money order). You'll
also receive a one-year subscription (or renewal) so you
can check out EVENT'S award-winning mix of writing.
Email:       event@douglascollege.ca
Phone:      604-527-5293
Mail: EVENT
PO Box 2503
New Westminster, BC
V3L5B2    Canada
Visit eventmagazine.ca
Canada Council     Conseit des Arts
for the Arts du Canada ujtite. cat <UBC
Eleven Genres Of Study | On-Campus or Online | All Levels
Write and learn on our breathtaking campus in Vancouver,
Canada, one of the world's most livable cities. Or participate in
a vibrant online community from wherever you live. UBC offers
world-class creative writing programs at the BFA and MFA level,
on-campus and by Distance Education. Join us.
Faculty
Annabel Lyon
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Charles Demers
Timothy Taylor
Steven Galloway
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a place of mind
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www.rolexplastics.com    Call Toll-free 1-888-478-5553  PRISM is contemporary writing
Andres Alfaro
Raed Anis Al-Jishi
Chloe Catan
Laura Clarke
Esvie Coemish
Kayla Czaga
ryan fitzpatrick
Renee Jackson-Harper
Tyler Keevil
Richard Kelly Kemick
Lesley Krueger
Melanie Mali
Kerrie McNair
Ben Mefriman
Geoffrey Nilson
Alexander Obando
Taryn Pearcey
Amira Rammah
Angela Rebrec
Kevin Shaw
SJ Sindu
Marcia Walker
Stephanie Warner
Jessica Westhead
Sarah Wolrson
Stephanie Yorke
Jan Zwicky
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Cover image © Kourtney Roy, "lis pensent deja que je suis fol
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