Van Sun

I like Vancouver when the sun comes out.
When Australian accents and bad butterfly tattoos emerge from the corners of white tank tops that are seeing the light of day for the first time in eight months.
When tourists get off at Waterfront and circle in groups, like dogs deciding where to sit.
Money belts hug bulging waists,
archaic paper maps flap in the thick Gastown breeze.
Locals tactically navigate through families of weary kids
being dragged by at-their-wits-end Moms
and hoisted onto the shoulders of don’t make-me-turn-this-thing-around Dads.
Their on their way to Jericho, or Third, or Sunset,
or some other body of water that turns winter pale pink,
blushing at the prosperity of what could lie ahead.
Rouging at the possibility of warm nights and painted toenails
and the kind of unabashed shamelessness that only comes in July and August.
There’s something different in everyday nuances,
a kind of delirium that beckons dreaming.
There’s Birkenstocks and dizzying bicycle wheels
and a rotating carousel of euphemisms for love that
spill from teenagers lips under fireworks.
There’s a constant buzzzzzzzz of foreign languages that hum out of rolled-down windows,
the smell of SPF 50 following close behind.
There’s sweat pooling on the paved backside of the Seawall
and the mountains sigh with relief as they shed the weight of snow.
Summer’s here—we made it.

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Raw

i reach for my notebook, and flip to fresh pages.

my index finger lands on the pulp,

the insides of it’s skin are raw

fleshy and throbbing in staccato stereo sound

from rubbing the flat spot between my joints with my thumb.

 

like beckoning a tip from a rude customer,

i spend the late afternoon at my desk,

back and forth, back and forth sawing with an even-tempered metronome pace

until pale turns pink,

until smooth turns calloused,

until I was too tired to sleep.

 

general anxiety?

the name itself is oozing with the kind of unforgiving vagueness;

inducing sweaty palms, fidgety feet, a lurch in my chest.

 

there’s nothing general about the way I can’t breathe.

the way my mind swirls like a fiddlehead recoiling into itself.

the time I passed out on a plane.

the late July road trip that never left my house.

 

the specificity of these things etched into my memory like a personalized locket—marked:

forever, ever, ever, ever

ever-ything seems too hard and I’m too soft.

 

i rub and rub until the skin breaks in the small bend of my finger

and, smiling then, I reach for my pen.

it fits nicely in the new, widening gap.

The Royal Mile

The streets looked different than last year—of course, last year she was drunk. Bourbon drunk. The kind of drunk that makes you sway like a cowboy; self-confident and resourceful, you feel certain that you could wrangle a cow despite having never been within 500 feet of one.

She met Tom at the bar down the street that year. Glass was shattered on the floor near the exit and bartenders scurried over with brooms and dustpans to clean it up. They pushed aside the inebriated crowd and passed a moldy towel to Tom’ friend Liam, who grabbed it from them and held it against his bleeding head. A scuffle had broken out that ended with Liam going headfirst through the large glass window by the door.

She had seen it all—sitting there, sipping her bourbon—and now surveyed the aftermath. People buzzed with the kind of quiet excitement after something bad has happened. Loud murmurs, slow head shakes, billowy laughter (because you’re glad it wasn’t you) and an extra shot of tequila to wash it all down.

Tom grabbed Liam’s free arm by the elbow and steered him towards the empty seat beside her. Blood trailed down his forehead and followed the path of his wrinkles by his eyes all the way down to his lips, the way cross-country skis follow deep tracks laid out before them. It looked like he was crying red.

“This fucking hurts!” Liam yelled, falling into the seat next to her.

His voice had all the Scottish nuances she had come to love. Rolling R’s, deep vowels, and a melodic tone. She took another sip and looked Tom’s way.

“Sorry about my friend, he tends to forget his manners when he knocks his head through the window like a bloody idiot. Isn’t that right Liam?” Tom gives him a sharp jab in the arm and laughs.

“Fuck off,” Liam retorts.

“I’m Tom,” he reaches his hand across the table.

“Rose,” she replies. They shake. He smiles.

She was reaching the bottom of her glass now and could feel her body warming from the inside-out. Her arms felt like tentacles, slippery and long, anxious to get stuck on something.

“Will you ever forgive us?” Tom asks and leans closer to Rose. She can smell sweat on his neck and tobacco on his fingers. That was something else she’d come to love, how Scottish people rolled cigarettes like it was no big deal. She marvelled at how they always had a tiny bag of tobacco stored somewhere in their jeans or jacket pockets and could always pinch just the right amount to fill a cigarette. They smoothed the coarse brown plant into rolling paper with ease and with a flick of their fingers it was rolled, red embers already forming at its tip. She had picked up smoking simply because she liked it so much. Lung cancer, be damned.

“I’ll consider it,” she replied, her eyebrow raised slightly. She was flirting and slurring her words and she didn’t care anymore.

Tom smiled back. He noticed her accent for the first time then and realized she wasn’t from here. Her cheeks were flushed from the bourbon, despite the cold Edinburgh air coming in through the broken window, so she looked sunburnt in September.

Rose signaled to the waiter for another drink and Tom moved closer. Liam bled beside them.

****

Rose rounded the corner and began walking up the Royal Mile. She had forgotten how much she hated it at this time of year. Tourists threw money into open hats at the feet of bagpipe players in kitchy kilts and bumped into each other while they rushed to The Castle.

Rose wasn’t one of these people, she had lived here, she had been to the castle three times, she didn’t wear a fanny-pack or a money belt, she was above it all and hurried her pace to meet Tom.

****

“I know how to make sure you do,” Tom said.

Rose crinkled her eyebrows, “Make sure what?” she asked.

“Make sure you forgive us,” he elaborated. His voice growing louder over the noise of the bar. The glass was still being cleared and makeshift caution tape made out of scotch tape (Rose recognized the irony here) was being wrapped in the now empty window frame. There was a tension still in the air, the guys who started the scuffle were yelling at the bouncers outside, Liam was whining into his beer, the bride of a hen party had blood on her tiara.

“Oh yeah? How’s that?” Rose asked. Tom pushed his chair back from the table and walked towards a small stage in the back of the bar. An old karaoke sign hung above that said, ‘Sing in the Shower? Might as well Sing Here!’ in bright neon green letters.

Liam ordered another pitcher and poured Rose a glass. She watched the beer slosh into her her empty pint, the froth almost overflowing like seafoam, porous and full of possibility. She took a swig and felt the beer mixing with the rum, hugging each other like old friends.

Tom grabbed the microphone from a stand propped in the corner and tapped it twice. A loud screech followed by a thump, thump filled the room.

Liam rolled his eyes, “Not this again,” he mumbled.

“Not what ag–,” Rose began to ask before she was interrupted by the opening bars of New York, New York playing from the speakers. She looked up at the stage and Tom held the mic in his hand, the room hushed and he tilted his head to the side.

“I’m Tom, and this is Frank.”

And then he began to sing.

****

Rose was almost at the top of the hill now. She could see the back of Tom’s head in the distance. He had an uncontrollable cowlick that whipped the back of his brown hair into a spiral like a snail’s shell. She wanted to rub her face into it. She quickened her pace and held back the urge of yelling out to him, she was so close.

****

Rose slammed down her glass and applauded loudly until Tom reached his seat.

“You’re forgiven,” she whispered in his ear and took his hand. An hour later she led him out of the bar and that night, as they stumbled back to her place (a small dorm room that her university’s exchange program paid for), she leaned into Tom so their hips bumped into each other and decided that she wanted him more than anything else.

The rest of the Fall continued like this. Rose would go to classes, Tom would work in his father’s butcher shop and they would meet up after for drinks—her smelling like chalk and worn-out erasers and him smelling like linked sausage. The year passed with unconflicted passion. It was simple, it was love.

A year later her degree was finished and she had to fly home. Back to old friends and an old job. Back to messy relationships and a town known for it’s World’s Famous Double-Decker Sandwich!

Five months had passed since she had seen Tom but now she was back, and only metres away. She smoothed her hair and fixed her sweater. God, her heart was beating fast. Did it always beat this fast? It felt like a hummingbird was stuck in her sternum, surely this can’t be normal. She swallowed hard to push it down.

She was within arm’s reach of his shoulder now—a shoulder she hadn’t seen in months, a shoulder she used to bite under the covers or playfully at dinner. She wanted so badly to—

“Rose!” Tom yelled and picked her up, his arms wrapped around her and his shoulder gently knocked her on the chin.

This didn’t feel right.

She didn’t fit. It had only been five months and she didn’t fit anymore. It came quickly and all at once; a rushing feeling like she didn’t belong, like she had walked into the wrong classroom and suddenly realized she wasn’t supposed to be there. But how? She knew the street names and the bus numbers. She could navigate to the University better than any local and she remembered every shortcut to High Street. She had hailed a taxi just over there, and lost her scarf down that alley. She knew Tom had three moles on his calf that reminded her of Mickey Mouse and that he got five stitches in primary school from a boy named William who punched him in the chin after Tom told him the Celtics sucked. She knew all these things, but they didn’t know her.

She was an imposter, a novelty, just some girl who had spent a year abroad and fallen in love. Nothing but a cliche.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Tom said and kissed her, long and deep. His beard scratched her chin and she pulled away.

“When did you get a beard?” she asked.

“Oh, this has been a few months’ work. Do you like it?” he replied.

She didn’t, but nodded anyway. A long piece of her hair was stuck to it, hanging off his jawline like a thin kite string struggling to escape from a tree branch. She watched it flutter on his face and her hate for the beard grew deeper. It changed his face and hid his scar, it wasn’t the way she remembered him.

“Great, well I thought we could go to The Bramble and then I have a whole night planned,” Tom relayed eagerly, “what do you think?”

The hair bounced with every word he said, Rose stared at it.

“Sure, sounds good,” she replied.

Tom grabbed her hand and gave her a wink. They took off down the way she came, weaving in and out of the crowds, Tom smiled back at Rose every few feet like a puppy and Rose returned the gesture like a treat. Her head hurt, her feet hurt, everything was dizzy. This wasn’t how she remembered things. What did she think was going to happen if she came back here? That everything would be the way it was?

“Tom, wait,” Rose stopped walking. Tom turned to face her.

She looked up at his stupid beard and his cowlick and his tobacco stained fingers. She knew everything, and she hated it.

“What?” Tom asked.

She reached up and pulled the stray hair off his face.

“Nothing,” she replied.

Tom took her hand again and they walked on. He hummed Frank Sinatra and she followed behind, the Royal Mile disappearing behind her.

Losing Sleep

On Wednesday night I’m losing sleep over a love I never had.

Over a one night stand in your parent’s basement suite, and an early morning coffee run.

Over two dates, one awkward kiss, and a pair of tickets I paid too much for.

Your elbows rested on the handlebars of a second hand bike,

while you told me you didn’t want anything romantic;

tell that to my fingers, your hand on my calves, my cheeks,

your face on my back.

I drove home under hazy amber lights and green flashing signs tearing up the grey

asphalt like Gatsby’s East Egg.

I park crooked between the lines but I’m too tired to care.

Under the West Van sun you laughed at all my jokes,

“You’re a funny girl”, dimples on your left side, a toothless smile.

You can fit loose change in your laugh,

Quarters and nickels and dimes under a silver tongue.

You told me you didn’t want anything romantic—

I wondered how to make a joke of this.

 

 

 

Adam’s Picture

There’s a photo of your cousin, Adam, on the bench in the foyer. Early mornings, we sit on the bench and double knot Converse sneakers and thread waxed laces into bows on dress shoes. Each morning, the photo gets pushed further and further to the left edge of the bench.

“We should really remember to give that back to Nathan,” we echo down the adjoining hallway or out the front door as we race to respective cars, always forgetting to do just that.

The picture, stuck on the bench: Adam left alone, frozen in a glossy 5” by 7” frame atop Grouse Mountain. His snowy white chest is flushed a patchy rosy pink from hiking, a sweaty t-shirt is draped loosely across his right shoulder, like a badge of honour. It shouts to the world, WE DID THE DAMN THING –THIS IS TRIUMPH HANGING OFF MY SHOULDER SWEATY AND SHINY WITH YOUTH AND EXURSCION. The glare from the Summer sun blocks out half the mountain top view behind him, leaving Adam superimposed against a hazy downtown scape. This fact however, remains unknown to him, a permanent grin caught forever in postcard proportions. One hand on his hip, the other unsure of what to do, freckle faced, squinty eyed and wearing athletic shorts embossed with his alum university and a hole near the crotch he never fixed.

This is Adam at twenty-three.

Just months ago, he earned his wings. When asked why he became a helicopter pilot Adam preferred to answer, “I like the view.” If he had a drink in his he would pause for dramatic effect, take a sip, tilt said drink, and reply with a wink. (He only added the wink if he was around women).

He did like the view. He liked pushing through the thick cloud and breaking into clear sky – it was like poking your finger against tight cellophane until it bursts apart. He liked watching the patchwork quilt of Earth below him as he flew over farm sections and rectangle plots. Watching the stitching of railway tracks and freeways intersect each other and form the industrial seams that led into suburbia. He did like all that, but it often made him feel small and ubiquitous, it was too much responsibility watching all those lives below. It was too unnerving to watch all those human lives carrying on underneath him, going about their daily lives, forgetting the milk and losing their keys.

What he really loved; was knowing.

Knowing exactly where everything was and how he fit into it all. He knew precisely what every gauge did and how they worked. He knew exactly how his hands fit on the steering wheel, his calloused fingers folding around it and resting in their respective divots at the back. Each meticulous detail was accounted for, each whir of the propeller measurable in distance and movement, chopping through the sky in large sweeps. The unknown was suddenly known in altitude and a magnetic compass – knowledge found in the approaching horizon and mountain dotted skyline.

Adam was on holiday when he came to visit you. He had a few weeks to soak in the west coast sun and plant his feet on the ground, before taking off again. In the picture, you’re standing next to him, baseball cap turned backwards, the straps of your backpack cutting into sunburnt shoulders, your shoes and socks tossed aside to reveal ghostly white feet. You’re pointing at something out of frame, not really paying attention. Not really knowing that it would be the last time you see Adam.

It was a routine flight. That’s what they’ll say to you after it happens. As if this phrasing will justify the helicopter accident robbing twenty-three years of life. As if the fact that it was routine will mask the fact that everything else is not.

“We should really remember to get that photo back to Nathan!” I yell as I head out the door today.

But we never do.

Come September, when the leaves begin to blush and the trees shed their weight, it will still be Summer with Adam on our bench in the foyer.

Forget to Remember

The walls of Calder’s apartment were empty. He sat on the edge of his queen-sized bed, his bed sheet folded over like a dog-eared page of a book, creased only on the one side he ever slept. A blue pilled towel covered his waist and his chest heaved as wet hair hung in front of his eyes, dripping shower water onto the floor. There was a gun in his hands. It lay across the palm of his hands like a paper weight, holding them in place.

A mangy cat appeared at his side and weaved figure-eight’s between his legs, stopping to lick at the puddle of water forming on the ground. The rest of Calder’s apartment matched the matted disheveled fur of the cat. There was a small kitchen table with a single blue paint-chipped chair. It faced onto the adjacent living room that housed a half-empty bookshelf of half-finished novels, and a faded brown couch whose dust danced above it when the sun shone through the barren room’s window in the afternoon.

The cat meowed up at Calder who remained unfazed by the distraction; the gun still resting in his hands. His thirty-year-old body was sculpted in a way only hard labour can do—giving him thick forearms, strong quadriceps, a sun kissed forehead, and a bad knee. His shins were covered into tiny scratches and bruises from catching the corners of two-by-fours and scraping against cinder blocks. His eyes drifted for a moment to a note that lay next to him on the bed. In chicken-scratch there was an address written in his handwriting. It read, Room 217. He gripped the gun’s handle and pushed the cat out of the way. In even strides he crossed the length of his bedroom to face his open closet. There was a few t-shirts and button-ups hung inside. He took his free hand and leafed through the clothes methodically—trying to choose what to wear to kill another man.

He settled for a grey crew cut shirt, a light jacket, and a pair of jeans with the gun synched into the back of the waistband. It protruded under the cotton tee in a small bulge, like a pinecone-sized tumour, imprinting into his flesh.  He waited outside of the apartment building for the taxi he called to show up. There was a park across the street cluttered with kids running in clumsy circles over the bark-mulched playground. They weaved under the plastic arches of slides and over the planks of brightly painted teeter-totters with ease. Despite the crisp fall air, sweaters and scarves flanked the backside of the park benches, discarded at the first signs of flushed cheeks. Calder watched them with a fading smile. He cracked his knuckles and looked away. Grabbing for the pack of cigarettes lodged in his front pocket, he pulled one out and sucked back the smoke in greedy gulps; it was good to feel full.

The taxi stopped as he stubbed out the butt of his cigarette and climbed in.

“The Motel Inn on Fourth Street,” Calder told the driver, who nodded and began to pull away.

Calder reclined into the back seat and closed his eyes. He always liked being driven places and the hum of the engine quickly lulled him to sleep. It came to him most nights in broken fragments, always beginning in his childhood home. He is watching morning cartoons and finishing a bowl of cereal, the room around him is covered in family photos and small knickknacks on shelves. There is a heaping pile of throw blankets mounted on a green recliner chair that sits next to the TV. Calder’s mom used to sit there every day when she was sick. She couldn’t watch the TV directly because the bright light hurt her eyes, so instead, she sat beside it nestled under a plethora of crocheted blankets always complaining it was cold. A year ago she had passed away, and the leftover blankets took her place.

Calder slurped the last of his cereal and got up to toss the empty bowl and spoon into the sink. The house was quiet. Calder’s dad worked the night shift and was sleeping in his bedroom. His dad did that a lot since his mom died. Always coming home at the beginning of the day and retreating to his bed, without more than a head nod to his son. It paid good overtime, he would say to Calder, in justification. Calder looked out the window above the kitchen sink just as Darren pulled into the narrow driveway of his front yard. Darren was in the throngs of a growth spurt, his lanky arms and pointy elbows stuck out in all direction while he gripped the handlebars of his bike. He slouched when he walked and played baseball and basketball mostly from the sidelines of their fifth grade teams, waiting for his coordination to catch up to his height. When Calder’s mom had died Darren started biking to Calder’s house every morning before school — it was summer now, and Darren kept coming.

“You’re always late,” Calder yelled down the lawn at Darren as he left the house.

“Since when can you tell time?” Darren joked, “I mean, I knew you were getting smart, but time?”

“Whatever,” Calder said smiling and grabbed his own bike that was leaning against the front of the house. “Let’s go to the Co-op store.”

“Wow, he knows direction too” Darren laughed.

The two peddled out of the driveway and turned left at the stop sign at the end of the road. They rode past one-level rancher homes with brown lawns and dust-covered trucks parked outside. They biked past the only gas station in town and cut through the only main street. They speeded past the mini-golf course that closed last year when the owner couldn’t afford to keep it open. Weeds sprouted through the shingles of miniature windmills and fake rivers. Spare change jangled in their pockets with the promise of ice cream.

Darren could ride with no hands. He dangled them idly at his waist and then raised them above his head and yelled. His shirt rose up as he waved at the sky and Calder watched the base of his best friend’s back swerve left and ride down the town’s gravel roads. Distracted, Calder hit a pothole in the road, his front tire popped on impact and he slide forward off his seat and into the ground. The tire hissed escaping air as Calder stood up slowly and surveyed the damage.

“You okay?” Darren circled back and asked.

“Yeah, I’m alright,” Calder picked at the loose skin on the palms of his hands, “My bike doesn’t look good. My dad’s gonna be pissed.”

“We’ll get it fixed,” Darren replied, setting his bike down beside Calder’s.

The bikes lay on top of each other, the spokes and pedals crisscrossed over one another seemingly joining together, becoming one. The sun pulsed down and caught the lit against the bicycle’s metal bars. It shone into Calder and Darren’s eyes as they surveyed the popped tire and looked up at each other.

“He doesn’t have to know,” Darren added. “Come on.”

Darren took off over the lip of the road and into the adjacent ditch. He ran down the gradual slope and weaved through the adjoining field. Calder followed after, running to catch up. The boys sprinted with high knees over the tall grass, they circled the field in long ovals, like running an imaginary track. Calder finally caught up and tackled Darren, pinning him to the ground. They crashed into the grassy dirt below them and panted with arms outstretched in a ‘T’ like martyrs.

“I don’t think I’m gonna play basketball this year,” Darren said.

Calder rolled onto his side to face Darren, “Why not?” he asked.

Darren shrugged and pulled at the tufts of grass between his fingers.

Calder looked up at the sky, “I don’t think my dad likes me anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because my mom’s not here to tell him that he’s supposed to.”

Darren rolled over onto his side to face Calder. He ripped some more grass out by the roots and sighed. “Well,” he hesitated, “I still like you,” and reached for Calder’s hand.

They could hear a car’s rumbling engine approaching from the distance. The gravel cracked under the weight of the black Buick Riviera as it approached the boys’ discarded bikes and lulled to a stop. A car door opened and slammed shut. The boys broke apart and rolled quickly onto their stomachs like soldiers, watching the car through the crisscross mesh of grass. A pair of dark brown leather boots emerged and walked slowly from the driver’s side to the rear of the car. The boys tracked each step through the crack between the undercarriage of the car and the ground until the silhouette of a tall man appeared in full.

“Can he see us?” Calder whispered. The man took a step toward them and revealed a worn-out face. There were sunspots on his chin and neck and his eyes were tired from seeing too much. He took a long sip from the beer bottle in his hand before setting it down on the trunk.

“You boys need help?” the man yelled, “I see your bike has a flat tire.”

Calder looked at Darren who remained quiet and motionless.

“Can you hear alright?” the man asked.

Calder looked at Darren again. Unsure of what to do next, he stood up in hastily while Darren pulled at his pant leg to come back down.

“Yeah,” Calder replied quietly.

“Well, that’s a good thing, now isn’t it?” the man bent down over the bikes and pushed up the sleeves on his jean shirt. There was a black and white tattoo stretching the length of the inside of his right arm of a pin-up woman. Calder stood a few feet away and stared at the tattooed woman who pulsed in unison with the man’s muscles as he lifted the bike over and balanced it on its handlebars, tires up in the air. With each movement the woman seemed to jilt forth like she was trying to escape.

“Looks like you need a tire patch,” the man said.

Calder nodded.

“Is this your friend’s bike?” the man asked, nodding towards Darren who still lay in the field.

Calder shook his head, “No.”

“Oh, so you’re the one who ruined all the fun then?” the man laughed under his breath. “Well, that’s alright. I can get you all fixed up.”

Calder stared at Darren in the field, willing him to come to his side. Darren stood meekly and walked over.

“Are you a baseball fan?” the man asked, pointing at Darren’s Chicago Cubs t-shirt.

Darren nodded.

“Me too,” the man said, turning the bike back on its tires. “I think I’m gonna need my patching kit to fix this and it’s somewhere in my car. How ‘bout one of you stays by the bikes while I go grab it? And the other one can help me look for the kit? The car is such a mess I can barely find the steering wheel sometimes,” the man snorted. The boys shifted their weight back and forth and stared at the ground.

“I’ll tell ya what,” the man continued, “I’ve also got some baseball cards in there somewhere and if you find any while you’re poking around you can go right ahead and keep them. Sound good to you?” he asked Darren, who paused momentarily and then eagerly nodded. The man rounded the front of the car and began looking under the driver’s seat while Darren moved to the back of the car. Calder stood by the bikes and watched his best friend peer into the back seat. He rolled the bike back and forth over the road and meticulously studied the tire tracks in the gravel as they imprinted the ground like fingerprints. Suddenly, he stopped. The car’s engine roared to life and the headlights illuminated the empty road ahead.  Calder ran to the car’s side and saw Darren in the back seat banging frantically at the window. Calder yanked at the door but it was firmly locked. He watched the it speed away, kicking up dust. The news would report a few months later that Darren’s body had been found in the basement of an abandoned house.Calder was left alone in the vacant road. The man had been right; he had ruined all the fun.

The back seat of the cab jerked Calder forward as it stopped in front of the motel. He was drenched in sweat and his hands were shaking.

“You all right?” the driver asked.

Calder nodded. He shook his head to clear the memories away and paid the taxi fare. The Motel Inn was painted a light teal, with white doorframes and awnings that had been scraped away like a weathered fresco. Calder took a deep breath and patted the gun that still sat in his waistband. He wandered past the empty check-in office and up a set of metal stairs to the second floor. Walking the length of the outdoor balcony pathway he passed the corridor of vacant rooms until stopping outside the third to last door.

The brass coloured numbers hanging on the door read 217. The door had been left ajar and Calder wedged his foot into the open space, slowly pushing it open. The inside of the room smelled musky and a haze of dim lighting covered the disheveled bed where a man lay sleeping. His back was turned towards Calder and his face was covered by his arm like a shield. Calder stepped behind the man and stared at his body, he watched the man breathe in and out, his chest rising and falling. His legs were thin underneath a pair of baggy trousers and a belt was synched around his hallowing waist. His sweater hung loosely from his neck and avoided falling off his skeletal frame by protruding collarbones that caught the loose fabric like a clothes hanger. The underbelly of his right forearm peaked out from half-rolled sleeves. There she was, the pinup girl, still trapped in her ink outline. She was stretched with age and folded over in parts from wrinkles. Above her, in the bend of his elbow, there was a small collection of dark dots from needle points. The man coughed in his sleep, a guttural thick lurch from his lungs that made him roll over and caused his arm to roll away from his face.

Calder stared at the man’s closed eyes. He thought of how strong the man had been—how he had lifted his bike with one hand and turned his world upside down. How weak he looked now. Calder exhaled and took out his gun. He held it at his hip and grasped the handle tightly in his palm, he wanted to make the man hurt. Raising the barrel so it pointed into the man’s head, he took a step closer.

The man stirred and opened his eyes. They were bloodshot and swollen; the deep brown irises had faded away and were replaced with a filmy beige drug-induced haze. He quickly stumbled to sit up and pushed himself backwards across the bed, his hands came up in surrender.

“Listen,” he said, “Please.”

Calder took another step forward and the man scrambled back further to the edge of the bed, his toes hanging over the side

“Please,” he repeated.

Calder could see the whole frame of his body now, its bent frame folding over into himself like a crumpled tissue, and just as thin. He brought down his hands and pleaded with Calder in a prayer. Calder listened and he saw himself, his empty apartment, his lonely cat, and his sore muscles. He saw the man, his blue veiny arms, his vacant eyes, and his secluded motel room. He saw them standing side by side, big and small, looking into Darren’s warm smile. Except, he couldn’t see Darren’s smile, he could only see a dirty Cubs t-shirt, grass-stained and worn-out. He could only see the memory of the thing. The man sighed and stared at Calder, a flash of relief crossed his face — until Calder raised the gun and pulled the trigger.

The man fell backwards absorbing the brunt of the bullet and fell off the bed. He landed crumbled in the alcove of space between the wall and the bed, blood draining from his already pale complexion and seeping into the old carpet. Tears formed in Calder’s eyes. He let them fall for a moment, as they seldom ever came, and then wiped his nose. He tucked the gun back into his waistband and headed downstairs. He walked the five miles back to his apartment, getting lost along the way. He tried to forget what it was like to remember.

Open Possibilities

The roof collapsed under the weight of it all. The humidity of the heat sunk into the shingles, bending and twisting the wood until it cut through the thin ceiling. Sliced it open like halving an apple, the core of the house exposed. Dale looked up from the uncovered living room below.

“Karen!” he yelled to his wife, “You gotta come here!”

Dale sat down on the sofa and peered up into the gaping hole. He stretched out his legs and leaned back, his head tilted into the beaming sun that poured in thick, like heavy cream. It lathered his forehead and cheeks in warmth.

“You can see the sky from our couch,” he smiled.

Changing Faces

The stucco of the pale blue diving board scratched the bottom of Maddie’s feet as she stood on the edge. She eyed the crowd of sunbathers and mother’s basking in each other’s summer gossip for her best friend. There she was—all legs and a haze of nut-brown tanned arms waving furiously up at her. Maddie breathed out, jumped up, and flew down. The moment right after she reaches the water is what she liked best. It was quiet. The chlorinated world muffled everything above it and muddled the silhouettes of everyone standing over her—toes curled over the ceramic pool tiles and ice cream cones dripping over Band-Aid hands—into fuzzy mirages. She pushed off the bottom and emerged from the noiseless underbelly of McPherson pool to be greeted by Lindsay’s outstretched hand.

“Come on,” she ushered Maddie out of the water and back to their outstretched towels. A supply of chips and freezies had been safely packed in a cooler by Maddie’s mom that morning and due diligently encouraged to be kept in the shade. She sat cross legged as she tore open a pink freezie with her teeth and ignored the small cut the tough plastic always made at the corner of her lips. “Want one?” she asked Lindsay.

“No thanks,” Lindsay replied. The pool was a maze of lawn chairs that had emerged from the hidden corners of people’s garage’s at the first sign of sun—soon to be mournfully carried back to their respective alcoves when school started in a week— discarded flip-flops, and chewed up noodles. Three summers ago they were finally allowed to go to the pool by themselves. Maddie had crashed her bike on the way there, popping a tire, and leaving her in a dismantled clump of torn jeans by a speedbump. Against Lindsay’s advice, she had refused to go home and the two of them pushed the disheveled bicycle the rest of the way. Lindsay carried most of the weight with Maddie leaning on her arm and limping blissfully into an afternoon of independence. When they got home, Maddie’s mother took her to the hospital and scolded her as the doctor sewed six stiches on a right angle into her knee. She smiled the whole way through. Lindsay called later that night and they snorted into the telephone while watching syndicated episodes of ­­­­All That. That’s just the way it was.

“He’s coming over here,” Lindsay said in a hushed voice. Her face went a splotchy shade of red as she quickly lay down on her towel. “Who?” Maddie asked, throwing her head back and slurping the last of her freezie. She gulped the remaining bit of syrup in time to see Shawn approaching. Shawn was fourteen, he parents spelt his name with a ‘W’ rather than an ‘EA’ to try and distract from his otherwise un-remarkableness. To the on looking adult he was gangly and awkward and had stubborn ingrown sprouts of facial hair. To Lindsay, he was God personified.

Shawn sat down beside Lindsay, knees folded into his chest and his skinny concave frame hugging his legs. He nodded at Maddie, who waved back. This was the most they had ever interacted and she could feel her face going flush. Suddenly it felt weird to sit. “Hey Linds,” Shawn said. Lindsay had closed her eyes under her sunglasses and turned her face up towards the sun, her shoulders pressed back and chin pressed forward a little too much—an air of indignation that had only appeared on her repertoire of faces in the last year or so. Maddie watched Shawn’s eyes and the way they kind of ogled over Lindsay’s body contently, like watching a watching a balloon float away, tracing it rising into the blue canvas sky as it ebbs and flows in curvy ascent. His eyes landed on the sharp corners of her hipbones peaking out like anatomical mountaintops from the waistline of her bikini. She pressed her hands against them, arching her back with a heavy sigh before flipping onto her front. Maddie looked down at her own hips and squeezed her sides. They were soft. The contours were round and forgiving, not angular and acute like Lindsay’s. She looked down the barrel of her nose and eyed her belly button with a newfound disdain. Last summer was the first time she had worn a two-piece to the pool—because now it mattered if you were a two-piece or not. Persuaded by Lindsay’s reflection in the Sears mirror she had been encouraged and convinced it looked good. “That blue is such a nice colour,” she had said. Now it looked out of place and taught, it cut into her thighs and the top’s straps kept falling off her shoulders. It was like a top-coat of paint that didn’t cover the walls quite right. She laid down on to her stomach.

“So I was thinking,” Shawn continued, his gaze undeterred, “Do you usually walk to school? Are you walking next week? Wanna walk together?” His questions rattled off one after the other not waiting for a reply, getting it all out while he could, in a hurry of courage. “Linds and I usually walk together to school,” Maddie chimed in. Lindsay turned to her annoyed, “Yeah, but we won’t be going the same way anymore. The high school is closer to my street so it doesn’t make sense. I’ll walk with you Shawn.” He muttered a cool and walked off.

The girls packed up their towels, donned a set of oversized t-shirts, and grabbed the cooler out from under the shade, exposing its porcelain white plastic to the blazing elements, charring the sugary insides.

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Standing near their lockers after lunch Lindsay told Maddie that she gave Shawn head last week. There was a group of four girls, Maddie, Lindsay, Sara, and Melissa. Melissa wore too much make-up and sweat it all off in gym class to the embarrassment of her teacher who had to keep thinking of creative ways to explain that gym was not the best place to wear runny eyeliner. Sara didn’t believe in zippers, she was well-endowed with a set of cleavage that sprouted last summer and was happy to show it off. Lindsay’s legs had grown into the rest of her body and she was now proportionally exceptional. The three of them had persuaded Maddie to steal handfuls of lip glosses and sample concealers from London Drugs which she now wore on and off in a cosmetic blend of guilt and excitement. Like a Catholic at confession. Sara and Melissa screeched and whispered various high pitched WHATS in enthusiasm to Lindsay’s big news. Maddie wrestled her books out of her locker and looked at her friend. While she was smiling and explaining how it happened, all Maddie could wonder was if Mrs. Sherman had been home. “Was your mom there?” she asked. The chatter stopped. “Well, no. I mean, she was in the kitchen I guess but we were in my basement.” Lindsay replied. “Oh,” Maddie nodded, “I think you still have my toboggan down there.”

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Maddie was late again. She had taken off during lunch to buy cigarettes and time had gone by too fast. Her jacket smelled of smoke and her throat hurt. She still hadn’t gotten used to smoking, but it was social and had a purpose. Buy, smoke, talk, laugh, stub, walk. She slipped into the back row of seats and pulled out her portfolio. Pages of thick parchment were covered in pencil sketches and charcoal rubbings of blurry faces and distinguished portraits. She etched a freckle onto the face of a girl and rubbed pencil shavings into her dark hair. Maddie had found art by accident. She dropped out of Biology because she couldn’t keep up and transferred into Mr. Walker’s class. He was short and pudgy and wore a set of thick round glasses that hid his green eyes. He offered Maddie abstract pieces of advice and obscure art analogies for life, like, there’s only one sharpener and a box full of pencils. Maddie would laugh under her breath but go back to her desk and wonder if she was the sharpener or the pencil. She could never come up with an answer. Today, he came back and tapped her on the shoulder. “If you’re late again I won’t be able to give you your scholarship,” he said. Maddie rolled her eyes, he winked, and she went back to drawing a world of faces she would never meet.

Lindsay sat at the front with her usual troupe of girls who wiped the seats off before sitting on them and took black and white photographs of chain link fences for group projects. Sometimes she would turn around and her and Maddie would lock eyes for a few seconds until one of them looked away.

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Tequila is for the strong at heart and the weak in peer pressure. This is what Maddie was thinking as she stumbled to the bathroom in a house she had never been to before. It was one of those kinds of parties when someone throws up in the sink and it clogs and suddenly everyone is a plumber, arguing over plunger protocol or yelling, “Don’t worry about it!” because cleaning at a party sounds counterintuitive. Maddie tried the locked door handle and knocked loudly, there was a muffled scramble across the tile floor and the door creeped half-open, blocked by the bunched up teal bathroom mat on the ground. Lindsay sat leaning against the bathtub.

“Madssssss,” she looked up at Maddie and slurred a series of sauced S’s together. “Hey Linds,” Maddie walked in and closed the door behind her, “fun night?” Lindsay smiled, eyes half closed into thin slits like blinds that won’t open in the right way. “We’re graduating,” she sighed, “and I hear you are an artist.” Maddie sat down beside her friend who cracked her knuckles, always picked her nail polish off, and made running look fun. “That’s what they tell me,” she replied. “Always ‘they’, never ‘us’,” Lindsay replied slouching over the ceramic tub edge. “I guess so,” Maddie added. “You know what,” Lindsay paused and stared at the framed needle point picture hanging on the adjacent wall with the phrase, Don’t Distress, Keep the Mess, “Sara and Melissa are dumb,” and puked into the toilet.

Maddie handed her a wad of Kleenex to wipe her mouth, “Why do you hang out with them then?” she asked. “They never ask me, ‘and?’” Lindsay answered, “I tell my mom I joined soccer and she goes, ‘and?’, or I tell teachers I get pretty good marks and they go, ‘and?’, or I put out for Robbie and he looks at me like, ‘and?’ Sara and Melissa never ask me that. They don’t think about adding anything else to what already is.” She closed her eyes and rested her head on Maddie’s shoulder. Maddie reached over and pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail and tucked the few straggling strands behind her hair. She grabbed her under the armpits and helped her to her feet. Lindsay bent forward and sniffed her t-shirt, “Do you smoke?”

They walked home together, a mess of arms and shoulders and unbuttoned cardigans that managed to not be left behind on the back of chairs. Maddie’s frizzy hair was caught in a perpetual tangle of wind and summer humidity. It was June and the pool would be opening soon. Lindsay tried to mount a slight sidewalk curb and broke the strap on her sandal; she bent down to fix it – MacGyver style. She twisted and fumbled with the leather strap until finally she tripped and fell apart over the thing she was trying to hold together and landed roughly on the concrete. The bottoms of her palms were scraped raw from the asphalt and her left knee was cut into a bloody crescent moon. Maddie bent down and took her shoes off her feet, held them in her hands, and helped her up. She balanced Lindsay on her hip and they started to walk again. Later that night they would snort together in laughter as they watched syndicated episodes of All That until they fell asleep. The next day they would return to school, pretending they didn’t know what the other one looked like while they were dreaming.

Nightswimming

Night swimming, we threw our clothes haphazardly in a heap on the kaleidoscope of grey pebbles by the lake. Like dipping ourselves in honey, the silk ripples of each passing wave stuck to our bodies. Our faces floated, barely peaking above the surface of the water. We looked like fleshy mountain caps, our noses and lips pointed to the sky. Our suspended bodies curved into crescent moons as our arms stretched out like shooting stars in the lake. “We were never really that old,” I hear someone say. “We’re never really old enough,” another echoes. I nod in agreement, my head bobbing like a buoy – like a boy who has all the answer. “I think we’ll get there,” I finally say. I hear a quick flick of feet and someone disappears beneath the dark blanket of the water, diving towards the clay earth at the bottom. They anchor their hands into the soft sediment and grab fistfuls of the spongy dirt. They press it into their palms and roll it between their fingers; they are a part of it all, while we drift above. “I think we’ll get there,” I repeat to no one in particular.

These Guys

These three guys sit in the corner of the room. No one sits next to them. I turn and stare. These are the three coolest motherfuckers in the room.

They sit, silver-haired, crossed legged, with untold stories you can see behind closed lips. The one that sits on the far left, let’s call him Mick, because he conjures images of two finger whiskey pours on the rocks and late-night-slip-away-from-the-party balcony smokes and kisses. Anyway, he’s rocking a a faded Dead Head tour shirt with a hole in the sleeve the shape of crescent moon. This legend of a guy probably fixed Frank Zappa’s car somewhere in America’s mid west and got invited to the show, only to decline. He’s leaning back on the uncomfortable blue plastic foldable chair nonchalantly. He makes it look like leather. His dark denim jean pockets are weathered from the contours of an iPhone 6 and curved notebook. The two items are an effortless nod to practical nostalgia and an acceptance of modern technology. He sits with his thumb and forefinger cradling the outline of his chiseled jaw and rubbing a salt and pepper scruffy beard. Wrinkles are apparent around his eyes – most likely from winking at women too much. I’m certain, now more than ever, his name must be Mick.

Centre stage between the two guys we have a bald beanie wearing bastard with a cheeky grin on his face. This guy is probably a retired member of the Lords of Dogtown and busted up his right knee cap hopping backyard fences. Cooper Goodman (that’s what we’ll call him) is known by his last name, in an ironic sort of way. He has no hair left, shaved it all off at the first signs of thinning with a straight blade and never looked back. Didn’t hesitate for a moment, didn’t pause over self-doubt or scrutinization, he just did it. He always just does it. He has a faded jean jacket on and form fitting black denim pants. He stuffs his hands in his pockets like a dignified delinquent, whose seen too much but still managed to smarten up and get his PhD in literature. He hated his Dad, but still visits his mother’s grave every Christmas, and on her birthday, pretending that he has quit smoking to make her feel better.

That leaves us with the fedora wearing fiend, Salvador, but call him Sal. He’s pulling off a Tom Selleck moustache easily and has a healthy glow from a holiday in the South of Spain. His wife is 15 years younger, she is witty and funny and of course gorgeous. He came into his wealth partially due to his economic insight and investor knowledge, and in part because he’s just one of those guys that gets lucky. He’s modest enough and won’t bring up the fact both his kids go to ivy league schools or he has a garage full of vintage cars, but his well tailored suit jacket and form fitting boat khakis subtly evoke envy. His fedora is reminiscent of Sinatra, not tacky like Pitbull. It takes everything in me to not yell, “Will someone please get this man a cuban cigar?!” He laughs at a joke Mick makes under his breath and ever so gingerly tilts his hat off and runs his hands through his silver hair. I would give anything to be that hat.

The three of them settle into their chairs and wait for the presentation to start. Goodman clears his throat and slouches a bit forward to listen. Sal smoothes his suit jackets collar. Mick tucks his thumbs into the belt loops of his jeans and purses his lips in a devilish fashion.

These are the three coolest motherfucking guys in the room.