Broken Bones

By Sophia Canzonieri

It all just feels like broken bones,
Joints and teeth.
I wish the fracturing of my skull

Would allow me to be pretty.
The blood will seep through my pores.
I will finally be yours.

Divinity is not a perfect goal,
I know that, I know.
But if that’s the only way to feel beautiful,
Then that’s the way to go.

Hey I’m spilling my guts here man
They’re all on the floor
And as you play in the puddle,
Watching it seep through your fingers
Maybe then you’d finally remember,

In the end the meat will decay.
The bones will win.
I will finally be whole
Again.

The Decomposition of a Flower

By Sophia Canzonieri

 

Maybe I am withering

Who are you to say

It’s hard to understand

The things you can’t say

When you’re trying not to vomit

It all just comes, bubbles up

I thought I was hardened

Like the calluses on my feet

But really I am a fragile pansy

Too much of a wussy pussy cat

To tell you the things I need to know

“You’re not the only one here who’s helpless”

I feel the need to remind you

But would you care

If you stepped on

My already trodden flower?

Then will I be allowed to speak?

To let you know the things I need

Who’s to say?

Maybe I am withering.

 

Leviathan

By Benjamin Wexler

The sea monsters: these are the great fish in the sea, and in the legends, this refers to the Leviathan and its mate, for God created them male and female, and He slew the female and salted her away for the righteous in the future, for if they would propagate, the world could not exist because of them.                                                     Rashi, on Genesis 1:21

         The leviathan was blue. As blue as the beach you would never go back to. Blue like the heavens imagined by a painter with pigment from a fancy Afghan rock. Blue as your mouth after eating those popsicles that come in unmarked, transparent plastic. The blue shone through the plastic of the tank.

         The leviathan was thirty-five millimetres tall, or it had been the last time she measured it. At its shortest width it was two centimetres. However, trying to apply any accurate measurement to the creature was…complicated. It undulated in the water, tendrils curling and unfurling with lazy purposelessness. Of course, she was a biologist. She had no qualms about sticking a dead thing to a board with pins. In fact, some of her happiest childhood memories were of doing exactly that, and she had neatly colour-coded pins for the purpose. But whether the tendrils should be pinned with green for legs, grey for tentacles, or pink for phalluses seemed irrelevant, given that the creatures somehow kept wriggling. They did not respond to drugs, or oxygen deprivation, or any other banal method of assassination. They did not turn up desiccated on the shore. Some chucklef**k had even tried putting one under a hydraulic press, but the creature popped right back into shape once it could. Only those who were serious about killing had succeeded, and Josephine still suspected the shriveled grey corpses she had seen were just waiting to reanimate.

         “I wish I wasn’t a scientist.” Jo pulled away from the tank.

         “Hmm. Why is that?” Amy was busy on her notepad.

         “Because it would be so easy to just look at that thing and say…‘you know what? I’ve got it. It’s the semen of some virile God who got horny over the sea and couldn’t bother to wait until land appeared.’ ”

         “I think it would be unscientific of you to rule that out entirely,” said Amy.

“Well then scribble it down quick and we’ll pursue it tomorrow, because I’m sick of being a scientist.”

“You go ahead. My notes need patching up, and this is ten times quieter than the apartment. I was going to stay for another hour or so.”

“No you’re not,” said Jo, removing her lab coat and turning around with it neatly folded in her arms. “Come on, when was the last time you ate out?”

Amy blinked in the blue glow of the tank and did not move.

“Besides, I’m scared to leave you alone with that thing. Who knows what the fuck it’s going to do next.”

“You’re paying.”

“No way! I’m doing this for your benefit!”

“Sure you are. At least you have a gainfully employed roommate.”

“Kat is already pulling way above her own weight. To be fair, that girl is tiny.”

Jo told the campus bus terminal to take them to the downtown water. Their shuttle would arrive in –five– minutes, bring them to their destination in only –fifteen– minutes, and compromise –zero– passenger’s journeys. A late time of night, so there wasn’t much competition.

They hopped out a block above sea level, and then walked up the nearest dock towards the long barge. A sign proudly proclaimed one-hundred years on the Halifax water and fifty floating, the best vegetarian food in the city. The meals bore little resemblance to any live organism, and happily, none to wriggling blue ones. Jo paid under the agreement that drinks were on Amy the next time they had a real night-out. If they ever had a real night-out.

“Why do you think we call them leviathans?” asked Amy, in between crunching on noodles.

“Probably because of the enormous amount of time and thought wasted on them.”

“Funny. Seriously, don’t you have any idea? This has been your focus for much longer. And then I’ll stop talking about them, promise.”

“I don’t know. I always figured it was ironic. Small thing. Call it leviathan. Funny.” She contemplated their pad thai. “The world is disappearing up its own ass.”

Jo took one fortune cookie on the way out, Amy two. Amy’s first recommended she Seize the day. You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For all the teasing in the world she would not open the second, which she always saved for home. Because, she explained, the fortune was hers but she did not know it yet. If she waited a few hours her future would still be hers, and she could enjoy its unexpectedness while being comforted by the assurance of an orderly universe.

Jo’s opened neatly in half. There’s always a bigger fish.

The city was darker than she had ever seen it, and the ocean glittered with dots of the bluest blue as it lapped at the shore. She remembered when the high tide still had beach to swallow. As they passed over the dock, they let the papers slip through their fingers and into the crack between plates, where the day’s fortunes clogged and trickled into the murky water.

 

The Bowl is Upside Down

By Arueny

 

My roommates are funny.

  Sometimes they do this thing,

making  

voices — run out of voice,

cupboards — arise from nothing, even the

floor — runs out of space,  but

Now my soup is stuck on the ceiling. 

 

A funny house made them that way;

Stick doors and stone walls

That want to breathe you out, like a paper bag in turbulence.

 

When they looked away, that one time,

The coal window that was meant to protect our eyes

Had aged itself into a diamond.

Now the sun is blinding — to everyone.

 

The Society of Frogs

By Tanis Korzekwa

INT. RANDAL’S OFFICE – AFTERNOON

The office is messy, file cabinets that line the south wall have the occasional random, half-open drawer. There’s a carpet on the floor in the center of the room with various stains on it. Its colors are so faded its old pattern is virtually unidentifiable. RANDAL, 39, Darwin’s frog, brown suit with gold pinstripes, sits at his desk, which lies in the southwest corner of the room, pondering at an old picture of a younger Randal and some friends which sits against a lamp among the clutter on his desk. A knock comes at the door which resides in the north. Randal adjusts himself, he dips his hands in a small bucket of water under his desk and begins rubbing his hands and forearms, covering them with water.  

RANDAL

Come in!

The door creaks open and in steps ELIZABETH, 27, strawberry poison-dart frog, long black dress, red satin gloves, holding a suitcase in her hands. She closes the door behind her and leans against it.

RANDAL

So what can I do ya for?

Elizabeth begins walking towards the desk.

ELIZABETH

Well, I was hoping you could find someone for me.

She opens the suitcase and pulls out a picture of ARTHUR, 38, northern red-legged frog, the picture has him wearing a white vest and a caramel shirt. She puts the picture on the desk.

RANDAL (V.O.)

Arthur Pond, mayoral candidate, 38, well-liked by enough of the right people.

ELIZABETH

He’s been gone for three days and so far the police haven’t been able to find anything substantial enough to say whether or not he was killed or kidnapped.

Randal looks at the picture a little more and then turns to the one against his lamp. He looks at Arthur in the picture.

ELIZABETH

I understand that you two knew each other so I was hoping-

RANDAL

If it’s been three days why wasn’t this in the papers?

ELIZABETH

We didn’t want to take any risks. Art is doing pretty well in the race thus far and him suddenly disappearing could throw off the voters.

RANDAL (V.O.)

Damn politicians.

RANDAL

I see…so who are you exactly, how’d you come across this?

ELIZABETH

I’m his secretary, last one to see him.

Randal takes a moment and stares at Elizabeth.

RANDAL

So you want me to find him because you think that the cops’ll pin it on you for an easy out then?

Elizabeth chirps a few times in astonishment.

RANDAL

Relax I just needed to take care of that possibility, most of the time stuff like this ends with the secretary getting got.

RANDAL (V.O.)

She’s not as dry minded as the last dart he had trailing behind him.

ELIZABETH

So you’ll look into this then?

RANDAL

Yeah I’ll take your case miss-

ELIZABETH

Elizabeth Strawberry-Dart, I go by Liza.

RANDAL

Might I ask how a dart frog such as yourself gets a secretarial job with a politician?

ELIZABETH

I did some interning for Art and his old business partner Adrian Wood a few years back. He called me when he decided he was running for office.

Randal nods. Elizabeth stands up after checking her watch. Randal stands up after her.

ELIZABETH

I am afraid I’m running late, thank you for taking my case, Randal.

She bows and chirps once. Randal responds the same. Elizabeth then leaves.

RANDAL (V.O.)

My first course of action was going to be checking in with the cops but Liza had mentioned Adrian which is a name I hadn’t heard in a while but one that rang a big enough bell to look into.

Randal begins to gather his things to leave, putting on a coat, hat, and taking a spray bottle with him as well.

RANDAL (V.O.)

So I gathered my things and left.

Randal leaves, locking the door behind him. Text on the door reads ‘Randal Darwin – Private Investigator.’

 

Mile-End

By Mariana Chajon

Her zipper clips bounced on the top of her bag. They moved in sequence to the beat of seconds; ticking in minutes of breaths, counted in. They didn’t know how to count to a minute without catching their breath.

The zipper clips kept bouncing, and their sound could be used to trace the steps of two young adults walking a street that wasn’t Saint-Catherine (but if it was, you could’ve seen me, because you work on Tuesdays, somewhere on Saint-Catherine street).

Their shoes were dirty, but not once did she look down at them. They could’ve been clean. The laundromat they passed held stories of somebody else, but she felt she was a part of them as she heard them, because in the seconds and the breaths that they couldn’t measure in a minute, the words were directed to her: they were hers.

Since it was almost the end of October, and it was cold (even though I didn’t feel cold, and that morning I grabbed my lightest jacket), the breaths with words that couldn’t be measured in minutes that were directed to her seemed to trace currents of air, and wash away.

As he washed away his words on stories of somebody else at the laundromat, his zipper clips were on the left side of his bag. They didn’t make noise; they couldn’t trace back his steps.

Her bag was always heavy, but in the past couple of days it felt oddly light, so she walked on, past the laundromat, leaving her stories behind.

But more stories became hers and suddenly they became one, of her own.

His dad brought him into the church they passed by years ago and told him there was no god (I didn’t bother to capitalize).

So they kept walking leaving a trail of sesame seeds as they chewed on bagels that weren’t warm.

Oddly spaced, their steps were measured, not by minutes, but by two 20/20 visions reading street signs.

Every step they took, they could see clearer.

They knew where they were going, but they didn’t know where it was. They didn’t know where they were going.

A thought settled in one of them, like a feather falling down from the sky. They crossed the street in the ease of steps and zipper clips clipping, both sides of the street stared at each other’s eyes waiting to be noticed, but the dirty shoes kept walking in an oddly spaced sidewalk, and they didn’t turn their heads around.

Thirty seconds might have passed, as that is all they could have counted in the space of an hour.

The street was dusty, and the bagels they were eating rained sesame seeds and gathered dust.

Reflective windows.

It wasn’t a windy day, but for some reason the dusty street turned into dusty bagels, that turned into minuscule specks in their eyes. For the thirty seconds they could count in an hour, they closed their eyes.

Restaurant signs decorated the street with alliteration.

His tongue sounded like a prosody teacher as he named the businesses on the single street they walked in.

(In the end, we reached the theatre in time for the play).

 

And Church Lay Silent

By Mayan Godmaire

It

 lay in the grass. 

From

 the other side of the rutted road, it appeared to sleep. The plants flourished around it, nourished, it seemed, by its presence. Beneath my own feet the harsh beige stalks of winter wheat sprouted grimly. I was transfixed. My gaze, glassed over, searched the

 naked thing in helpless curiosity. How often had my thoughts wandered to this very shape? How often had my mind’s eye caressed the soft curves, conjuring the giving of skin to perfection?

It is here.

My heart, which lay tranquil in my chest, gave a sudden kick.

 The sun disappeared behind a stray gray cloud, dimming the countryside with sickened light. The grass around

it,

 however, only grew with vitality, thrumming, it seemed, with a life more alive than even the new spring. Still, I was rooted to the ground, unable to move even a finger.

It

caught my eye mid-step and froze me; I became marble. In this marble casing, my thoughts raced, the beating of my fragile heart speeding gradually to a frenzy. I imagined that my skin grew hot, and in my fantasy, I was as vibrant as the nurtured plants which

 lay around the subject of my excessive passions.

I

 licked my lips, tasting salt. My eyes blinked once, twice, blurring the world and then clearing it once again. The figure in the field across the road still rested there in bloated paleness. With incredible effort, I lifted my foot off the hard ground and set it onto

 the street. There was not a car in sight, only the long stretch of country highway, diving towards the horizon as straight as could be. The wind whistled past my ears, passing me on its journey through the lawless plains. Above, the sky reached: an impossible, immense,

 grey-blue-early-spring, glutinous globe… I felt horribly small, electrifyingly alive, 

like

 a poisonous tree frog

in

 the clutches 

of

 a mother eagle…

 I

 will kill your young, I thought and stepped fully onto the worn,

 pale asphalt. Your hatchlings. Destiny is written

 in my skin, in red, dripping danger. They are already dead. My head

 swam. 

Movement was once again possible; I

 had thawed from my stupor. I crossed the highway in its entirety and found myself only mere feet away from

it.

 I drew a breath; my lungs felt tight. The wind gusted briefly and I froze— my chest turned to ice—

had I seen it move?

For half a moment the naked thing appeared to expand, to swell

 with the rising wind, grotesque in its horrid beauty… but no. I spun around, tearing my eyes from my prey on the ground. The other side of the forlorn street was silent: there was not a creature, but instead the chopped, dead wheat. My heart pumped dully, quickly.

 Not a thing, yet I had felt eyes. Oh, I had felt

 them and they looked- at me- and they were piercing, like…

I gave a furtive glance at the steel-like

 sky which soared overhead before my attention returned to the thing before me. I approached, and I was now so close that the tips of my feet touched the flowering young plants. 

I

 bent down. The sky, silent, watched me, but I ignored the feeling. My goal was all too close. I lifted a trembling hand over the body, perusing the skin with my eyes. Blooming under the skin, delicate-like, were patches of blood, perhaps where bones had been broken…

 I touched it, then snapped my hand back, quivering, expectant, fearful. Nothing moved. The wind continued to whistle mournfully—viciously, it seemed. It parted on either side of me. I was a rock in a stream, an obstacle in the constant, unending flow. I was

 in a sea of infinity; this wind which stroked the skies with an artist’s knife tousled my hair like a hurried mother. It was infinite in its scope, in its reach; it journeyed past the prairie, even. I lifted my head to the horizon and sat back on my heels.

 The body had not reacted. So, I ventured to touch it again, but this time… and then… And then?

And then what?

 

“I

 need you to focus, please.” 

There

 is perhaps not a single word in the world that can describe the sluggishness of my mind, the unwillingness to release the dream, the vision, the lapse. I could barely see my surroundings; it was a slow, slow, half-return, a confused state of mind. I could

 barely think, much less talk, or so I thought. But when I did speak, it wasn’t me that spoke. It was pure instinct; my mind was elsewhere. How could I have controlled my mouth?

“Yes,”

 I said, “focus.” I blinked hard and the field flashed momentarily before my eyes. I felt the wind, but the thing was gone. When my eyes opened again I could see the brightly-lit world before me, the sun shining through the window, barely fractured by blinds.

 There was still a vague impression, superimposed on reality like a film of dirt, of grit, of lawless western plains, and the wind tousled my perceptive. I felt, from a distance, so far removed, light-years away down the rabbit-hole of my swirling, whirling

 mind, filled with wind, dust, dry plants and sky, myself smile. 

“I

 don’t mean to intrude,” the woman began. She was fidgety. I saw this because my focus was on her hands, her white hands, with a flashing ruby ring. The rest of “reality” was blurred. Her face, looming above, grave, dark, stern, like a hag, like a hag,

 like a beast, like looming death, like power… The air I breathed turned sour with fear, a rippling, tearing anxiety. “But I couldn’t help being somewhat worried about you today. Is everything all right?” Her phrases sent me deeper back into my head; the wide

 lenses of my treacherous eyes increased, her looming figure threatened to topple over me, her head was both in front of me and overhead.

“Yes,

 I’m okay… Just…” my mouth mumbled a few more meaningless pairs of vowels and consonants, then laughed. The laugh resounded around the room, ran on a pair of wings, stirring up wind, the same motherly, oceanic wind from the empty, mindless plains. My body got

 up and left.

 

The

 infinity of a city street snaked away before me, roiling like an ocean. Cars, like boats, passed, riding the waves like electricity along a wire. Buildings loomed, swooped, detached from each other, swelled grotesquely like murdered brats, drowned, swollen,

 drooping and sliding like jelly onto the sidewalk I walked on. Above me, the sky, the

real

 sky, so, so, so, blank-slate, a cold, indifferent stare, distorted. It watched from above: a cosmic vulture hunting for dead, lost prey. It watched with eyes, my walking shape so small, dark, and insignificant in the eyes swirling, whirlpool-like, in the tyrannical

 void. My legs carried my body forward, I saw

 myself walking from the perspective of the sky; I saw, ahead of

 me, of us, of the street, a yawning mouth.

A

 mouth that gaped open, hungry, ancient, new, pristine, and decayed. Vile teeth, dripping like stalagmites, devoured the grey, twisted street, tearing open the warm flesh of existence, murderous, and growing ever closer. A tongue danced inside, twisting the

 natural into a forbidding haze of the void. It stretched before me, yawning hugely. We drove on steady, like an army, like a passionless soldier, eyes void, unseeing, yet seeing all there was to see. 

At

 this time

I

 became void as well— 

if

 one could say there was a part to something which is nothing, then I was this. My perspective swelled, ballooned, rotted immensely, ’till I could feel the earth’s very life-fire, throbbing energy, below and around me. Limitless. Limitless. Limitless like the

 wind in northern plains. Yet even the breeze most free felt imprisoned compared to the dispersed vastness of my awareness of nothing. My sense of self, usually situated in time and space, transcended through dimensions I —

is it even proper to say “I”?

— knew nothing of.  Births, deaths, lives, sailed through my body

 in colours imagined only by the gods: swirling masses, hieroglyphs of the language of the universe. There was colour and darkness — a combination — colour and lack of colour, as one, brightness that was dark, physical light, vibrant hues that hid in their very vibrancy

 a dullness. Sound, dissonant but harmonious, painted. Still, there was nothing. Cradled in the palm of a giantess, whose eyes were stars, and the next moment fire, whose face shifted like mountains, like glaciers melting, like growing trees. She showed me

 time, showed me the slow passage of time, the immensity of this dimension of passing. I felt the toll of ages on the mountains in Colorado. Death loomed around every corner. Death lived in everything. Eternal sleep, like DNA, was written in the faces of all

 humans I passed, hung upside down by my ankles, walking on the sky, touching heads with my physical form, hopping from cloud to cloud, which writhed in agony under the pressure of the atmosphere, and dissipated as I touched them just as they stayed the

 same. The sky was an endless river, a mire, a mirror into eternity. I sunk through and fell far through space and time. I was made aware of the hieroglyphic colours once again as I tumbled and vaulted and crossed galaxies and harshly, harshly, harshly, slammed

 into the back of my own head, walking on that city sidewalk. My body crumpled, skinning its knees on the unforgiving earth. The eyes of the Goddess stared me down as I reached out a hand to my body, lifted its head— and in sudden disgust let it drop, kicked

 it aside, where it lay on its side, looking at me with earthly eyes, calling to me. The mark of death upon its forehead.

I am eternal,

I gasped, and colours flitted to the music of my lack of real sound.

 With every passing second, with each tick of the clock, my awareness shrunk. 

I don’t want to go. 

 

Yet

 it killed me. I came into myself again.The world cloaked itself in mysteries and wills of the ego. My knees stung and ached. I closed my eyes and saw the universe alive and dying inside me. My cheek was on the hard ground; every rock felt like a star. I saw

 my own discomfort in the terms of the universe and I felt ashamed until I saw that a macrocosm was represented in the microcosm of my being. At that, I pushed myself up and opened my eyes.

They were flooded by sunlight; I had broken the clouds. I stood up, feeling

 the pain in my knees like little suns, burning like fire. There was life here, life in death. Cracks in the city sidewalks admitted tiny weeds which worshipped the sun, there was moss on the stones, breathing gently, gently. My universal mind was free of

 care, of the burden of others. The sky loomed overhead, the earth spread below; I was still in the palm of the giantess, and her eyes stared from every corner of the sky, benign.

 

Skin of a Wolf

By Anonymous

Living as a man had been stifling, like constantly trying to squeeze into a hole that wasn’t meant to fit her in the first place. The inside of her head had been man up this and stop crying that, and a whole lot of what the fuck are you doing every time she had so much as thought about — well, gender

But living as a woman — or trying to, at least — is different. It’s better, in a lot of ways, Jack tells herself. It still feels wrong, for lack of a better word, less “claw-at-your-skin” and more like a stone lodged in her throat, the irrational, suffocating feeling she hasn’t quite learned to quell that she’s deceiving people. Most of the time she can swallow around it and move on.

She picks at the corners of her press-on nails until she can see the edge start to pop up. Naomi smacks her hand, a quiet thwhip noise as she does.

“Stop that,” she hisses, nudging Jack in the waist. “We can trim those later if you want, but leave them on. They look good.”

And she is right — they do look good, Jack supposes. She stares down at the coffin-shaped acrylics and frowns. It’s not that she dislikes the way that they look or even the way that they feel. At most, she maybe feels like it might signal to other girls that she’s straight like Naomi is — which Jack very much isn’t. Surprisingly, she finds defining herself as a lesbian more difficult to wrap her head around than defining herself as female. But on the whole, they make her feel good. They look feminine, and in that way, function as a constant reminder of her gender to herself and everyone around her.

When Naomi had first gifted her the set, she had said that even when she was fourteen and hated herself, hated her body and the puberty she hadn’t wanted, had been years away from getting hormones — being able to look down at her own chippy black nails made her feel better. It’s one of those things that trans girls just have to do.

That’s what she tells her, at least, and Jack doesn’t have it in herself to really disagree.

“Over here.” Naomi taps on Jack’s shoulder, her weight shifting almost imperceivably as she leans back. She’d brought her to the monthly meetup of a local trans organization — she doesn’t go to the meetings themselves, of course. Jack had asked her why, at some point, and Naomi had just scrunched up her nose and quietly muttered something about the ‘atmosphere’

This is her second time here with Jack, though. They’re at a bar, and there seem to be lots of members of the organization proper. Naomi knows most of them already, and Jack figures eventually she’ll get up the courage to make a friend or two of her own. For now, they stick close together.

“You see that girl behind me?” Naomi gestures with a tilt of her head to a girl standing a few feet away from them. “And how those stripes make her look even taller?” Her voice is low and careful, barely audible over the rest of the chatter. She clicks her tongue. “Vertical stripes make you look slimmer, and taller, while horizontal stripes make you look broad and short.” She turns to Jack, giving her a once—over. “You might be able to work with horizontal stripes since you’re already tall. The danger with horizontal is they make your shoulders look big.”

Jack nods. Makes sense. 

“And she contoured her jaw all wrong; just look at how it draws more attention to the sharper parts. You remember what you were doing earlier, where you don’t blend down your chin? That’s what that looks like when it’s worn out.” Naomi spins in her barstool, turning around briefly to grab her drink. “Don’t listen to youtube tutorials by cis women, Jackie. They’ve never had a mannish jawline. They speak only lies.” She giggles, and takes another sip.

Jack nods again, sliding her fingers in between her knees, anxiety building in her chest. What Naomi is saying all makes sense, and Jack knows why she says it, too — knows she has a strong jawline and a flat chin, her nose a bit too big. The years she spent as a teenager, where she had worked out in an attempt to look less like a scrawny high schooler, had broadened her chest and shoulders. At the time, she’d believed it might make her feel less shitty about her body. In hindsight, she regrets it. But otherwise, Naomi says, otherwise she has soft features. That will help her, apparently. Naomi says she can’t wait to be able to get facial feminization surgery herself.

“You’re lucky you have me.” She sighs as she reaches over and sets her cheek on Jack’s shoulder. “It’s been so nice, having you to talk about stuff.”

Jack blinks. She hadn’t thought Naomi was happy to have her around at all — was more convinced she was a burden than anything actually, up until that moment. There are so many basic things she’s had to teach Jack just for her not to make an embarrassment of herself, trying to exist in public.

“Oh, don’t give me that face.” She smiles, leaning her elbow onto the bar. “It’s hard to find people, you know, who get it. Even when it comes to other trans women, it’s just — ugh, like half the time. And then there are the trans guys and I don’t even — who would want to be a man? Being a man sucks. Imagine wanting testosterone.”

She pops her hand over her mouth, quickly glancing off to the side.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I probably shouldn’t say that.”

Jack nods back, but she’s not really listening. Maybe, she considers, looking down, the reason she dislikes the nails has less to do with the result and more to do with the implication that she has to wear them.

“Excuse me, is this taken?” 

The girl in the striped shirt from before smiles at them, gesturing to the stool next to Naomi, and Jack’s breath comes to a halt. She hadn’t really thought — or maybe just hadn’t quite realized until now — the person her and Naomi had been talking about is a real human being. A flesh-and-blood person, who’s probably not that far along into her transition, and probably in almost exactly the same situation that Jack is herself, except — she didn’t have another trans friend to bring to this. No one is going to tell her that her shirt looks awkward, no one will teach her how to minimize the breadth of her shoulders or pick out just the right shoes that swallow her feet to a more palatable, womanly size, and guilt boils through Jack from head to toe, but —

Naomi doesn’t even blink. “Go ahead,” she smiles, sweet and charming as ever, and the girl sits, oblivious.

“You should settle on a more feminine name sometime, Jackie,” Naomi comments, nursing her drink as she turns her attention to their conversation again. “It’ll help.”

Jack doesn’t really appreciate how factually the sentence is presented, and yet knows deep down that she’s still right, even if something about it doesn’t sit properly. Even though she likes her name. Knows no one will ever take her seriously if she just gives up and settles.

She shrugs, uses her thumb to flick off the faux nail that’s already peeling off her index finger, and watches it go skittering under a table.

 

Charlie

By Chaily Bitton

I remember excruciatingly long summers in my childhood. Hot summers, red hot.  There was always a camping trip, even though we all hated camping. I suppose it was the principle of camping: family time. The running around on the bare grass and the smell of horribly burnt barbeques. The high pitched sounds of my cousins and I tripping and stumbling all over one another.  The river that flowed through all the tents, the river that was filled with the most agonizingly cold water. That pinching cold water that reminded you you were still alive, still breathing in this suffocating heat.  That cold that reminded me of the dead. 

No one was ever truly dead in my family. Physically they were gone, but their memories, the ideas of them, were so vivid. So alive. As a child, it sounds absurd, but I never really thought of my grandfather as dead. We would sing for him on his birthday, and make his holiday cards with glitter and stick figures with an arm and a half. To me, his gravestone was a home like any other. I’d even sit at the edge of the grave as if I was sitting on his lap.

He was, in a way, this godly ominous being. Unfamiliar territory. The feeling of having a grandfather has always been unknown to me, but what’s strange is that I didn’t feel a strong connection to my father’s father, which isn’t to invalidate him or his significance, but with my mother’s father, it was different. There was always this unspoken connection between him and me, a vulnerability bestowed on me because I had his name. And I always searched for more from him. I wanted to be like him. The gold chain with the life amulet, the high cheekbones, and the gap in his teeth. For my birthday I was given a chain, but mine was smaller and softer. My cheeks aren’t full, but there’s a gap between my teeth, so small, but it’s there. Almost like a remnant of him. Throughout my childhood, I looked for things like this. He was quiet like me, he smiled a lot, like me, but this was only a fraction of who he was, only a memory of good. To me, as a child so innocent, so pure, he could have done no wrong.  

I remember tapping softly on the window of my mother’s living room, my knuckles cool to the touch of the frosty glass.

 “Look at me, look at me,” I whispered lowly, a sound too shy to be heard. My tiny hand unclenched and leaped forward in a soft wave. The veil of the curtain wrapped around me,  hugging me, enclosing me between the shade and the window. There he stood, tall and dark. His smile, charming and welcoming, full cheeks so satisfied with red; you would think he was still living.  His arm was welcoming. He was exactly as I had always seen him, how I’d always expected him to be. 

“Who are you waving at?”  My mother crept up beside me.

“He’s there, can’t you see him? There, look, he’s calling to me. Reaching for me.”

My mother, unfittingly, played along, with what I now look to as childish antics, and crouched beside me. 

“Who?” She asked again, and I rolled my eyes, because how could she not see him?! He was tall and regal and, not to mention, her father. I reached for my brother, who was sitting on the floor, and asked if he could see him too. He could! He too started waving alongside me.

“Who are you two waving at?” My mother laughed loudly. We waved in such synchronicity, it was like something out of a horror movie.

“Papi,” we both said in unison, and at that moment, her laughter stopped. After I looked at her face, I turned back to the window to see no man, but an empty street. He had gone away. 

It’s funny that we would use such a familiar name for someone who was essentially a stranger, but he really wasn’t a stranger. And as I grew more and more, I thought my curiosity for him and his life would die out, but it’s only gotten stronger. 

“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” my mother had always said to me. His real life was like a secret shared between a few people in my family. There was one time we were sitting in my aunt’s living room, talking about a DNA test for Ancestry. My mother refused. 

“I wouldn’t like to find out I have a couple of long-lost siblings somewhere around the world.” I was maybe eleven, or twelve. I sat there and didn’t even think before saying, “Why would Papi cheat on Savta?” (Savta means grandmother in Hebrew.) Looking back, it was such a juvenile response. But this was a reflection of how he had been perceived to me: this holy entity.

My aunt looked at me, then at my mother, then back at me and said, “there’s a lot of things you don’t know.” I grew tired of this response, for my curiosity was only growing.

It was at this time that I had discovered a tactic.  The drive back from Long Island, New York to Montreal, Canada was a gruesome six hours. Six hours spent between just the two of us. It was at these times that my mother would be most vulnerable with me. I don’t know if it was the distraction of driving or the idea that we were truly alone, but she opened up to me most at these times.

This was the first time she had told me her father was an addict, and about the not-so-good days. The enthralling gossip within the bundle of siblings: which sibling fought with the other, which brother slept with which wife. I was sworn to secrecy, but I was twelve. This news was only the surface. When my mother first told me my grandfather was an addict, it was more of a warning for me, and she had told me it was cocaine. She thought that if she told me he was actually addicted to heroin, I would somehow be afraid of him. My mother so badly wanted my perception of my grandfather to be pure; she clung on to that memory of him. As did all my family. 

We were back in New York,  sitting around the table. Just my aunt, my cousin, my mother, and I looking through photo albums. When we’d move on to videos, someone would cry. The first time I saw my grandfather in a video, I cried. It was more of a surprising cry, a cry of  “I can’t believe he was actually real.” 

As we sat there, engulfed in our mothers’ pasts, we came across a photo of my grandmother and my grandfather’s brother, Edmond.  My cousin reached for it, recognizing the man he had visited this summer. 

“He has a funny way of drinking wine.” He chuckled and put the photo down, turning to my mother. “Have you noticed?”

My mother shook her head and mumbled, “No. I haven’t spoken to him in a while.” I looked at my mother, then at the picture, and then back at my mother.

“Why not?” He responded curiously. I knew the reason, and it became clear that neither mother was prepared to elaborate. My mother does not speak to her uncle anymore, because when my grandfather was selling drugs and doing heroin, my great uncle would cross the street and pretend he knew nothing of his little brother. But my cousin didn’t know that.

There was a tension-filled silence until I jokingly cheered, “I know all the secrets,” and my mother laughed because I was very aware of her father’s past. My aunt, however, much like the rest of my family, was not. 

“Oh, that’s so cute that you think you know!” My aunt laughed. She probably didn’t mean for it to come off as condescending, and I wasn’t offended anyway. None of my family could possibly imagine that I knew my grandfather was a heroin addict because that would taint the figure that has been presented to all the grandchildren.

I love him because my mother loves him, and I love my mother unconditionally. But perhaps because I  am not blinded by a child’s unconditional love, perhaps I can see my grandfather for who he really was. The cold water that still haunts me to this day pierces me and allows me to see the dead more clearly. I saw him as more than just a memory of someone else. I understood that this man was an addict. That he lost his mother, clinging to her grave as a young boy, and was beaten by his father. But I also saw that this man had anger deep inside him. He could be harsh and abrasive and aggressive; he would not always be happy, not as charming as the ghost I once saw when I was so little. He was vulnerable, loving, and caring. Always giving. I saw him, but most of all, I saw my mother clinging to the memory of her father and harbouring it. I suppose when you get married a year after your father’s death, there is never much room to grieve. So instead of grieving the dead, she celebrated the living—his living. And she took his life and bottled it up, keeping him perfectly and extraordinarily frozen in good, forever.

 

What’s In A Name?

By Chaily Bitton

I am eighteen years old and I still call my mother “Mommy,” and I don’t think that will ever change. It’s partly because, at this point in my life, calling her anything other than that would be odd. I had tried out saying “Mom” a few times but it felt so strange—like I was calling out to a stranger. I quickly started calling her “Mommy” again, because that’s who she is; that’s who she’s always been. 

 I think what was so hard about seeing my mother getting sick was the fact that she had always been so strong. That she had always been there for everyone and anyone. My father was and still is constantly working, so when I was younger she was always the one who was there.

I remember when she took us sledding on top of a hill at Beaver Lake. We had one sled for my brother and I. It was scarlet red and had one long opening at the bottom that looked like a scar.  The snow was thick and fresh, and it was everywhere. As you can imagine, sledding with a broken sled is futile—but still, this is my happiest memory. 

She did everything. She was the chef, the sheriff, the entertainer, and the handyman all rolled into this one heavenly creature. And I never saw her as a human before, because to me she had always been a sort of Wonder Woman. Never ill, never tamed, and certainly indestructible. 

She had been complaining of jaw pains for a while. She had just had gum surgery without any numbing drugs, out of fear of dependence. This wasn’t shocking to me. I had already been through this conversation. 

“Your grandfather was a drug addict,” my mother said in the oral surgeon’s lobby. I was just about to get my wisdom teeth removed and the surgeon had prescribed me some Oxi. I was holding her pinky tightly in my hand.  “Addiction runs in our family.” I nodded my head and suggested something less strong. 

I had always been a nervous person; my palms were always sweating. It was so bad, my mother wouldn’t hold my hand; every time I’d reach for her, she’d make this weird “tut, tut” sound that she often did, shake her head, and offer me her pinky to latch on to. 

So when I’d skipped first period to take her to the doctor’s, (because I’d taken her everywhere: to the dentist when we thought it was a cavity, to the pharmacy when she needed Tylenol, and to the MRI when reality hit) my head and my heart and my chest felt completely disconnected from one another, disunited because of this foreign feeling.

That night I spent hours begging anyone above to give me her pain. I held my hands to my ears to block the screams. I wanted to help but I couldn’t. I remember crying so much, I forgot how to breathe. 

I woke the next morning with this pain in my chest. Pain so thick, so hollow—I thought for a second that my prayers had come. That this was her pain I was feeling. That I would go to her room and she would be fine.  Wrapped under the protection of cotton sheets, her thumb in her mouth, and her dreams giving her peace.

But that’s not what I saw. And it was silly and naive and juvenile of me to believe this. It is so hard to see the one person you have the highest regard for being at their lowest. And there she was, her cries of “make it stop,” and her crushing of my pinky; as if our roles had been reversed, as if I was the one she needed. At that moment she wasn’t my mother, she wasn’t the chef, she wasn’t the sheriff, she wasn’t the entertainer, and she wasn’t the handyman; she was a human being. 

She was a regular person just like me, who at times gets sad and self-conscious. A person who had a childhood, and experienced love and heartbreak. That veil of motherhood was long gone and what was left beneath me was a tortured and suffering girl. This broke my heart.

I was absolutely destroyed. I was all-consumed with thoughts of “who am I without my mother?”. Who am I without her guidance, without her unusual bursts of energy that sprung from the most uncommon times? Without her witty responses and her knowledge on just about everything? I could not fathom the possibility of living in a world where my mother did not exist.

I don’t know why, but for some reason, the one thing I couldn’t get out of my head was my wedding day, which is strange, because I don’t even know if I want to get married. But I couldn’t stop. All I could think about was her not being able to see the dress she had been going on and on about since I was eleven because she was on the floor crying in agony. That her sickness was so torturous, she wouldn’t be able to be happy, and I wouldn’t be able to relish in her joy. 

And even now, when no episodes have come. There’s still dread. It’s like a cloud. Dark and looming and threatening. We didn’t talk out of fear of expressing it into existence.  

We went to a funeral not too long ago for a mother of four. I tried so hard not to get emotional; I barely knew the woman. I felt guilty. Here I was, my seemingly perfectly healthy mother beside me, physically with me while these four orphans were broken. Even in adulthood, they were distraught without their mother.

Every one of the daughters had said the same: “I couldn’t explain it, but the urge to start calling her ‘Mommy’ again had been so strong. I think on some level I knew.”

I grabbed my mother’s arm onto my lap, my fingers wrapped tightly around her long pinky, as though I was still a child; still her little girl, with clammy, sweaty palms. I rested  my head on her now-sturdier shoulders and whispered softly, “I will never stop calling you ‘Mommy’.”