October Flash Contest Winner: Erin Vance!

A Half-Life

It was the landlord’s policy to do an inspection of his property every six months. He had been trying to contact his tenants for several weeks, but his phone calls, emails, and letters went unanswered. The occupants of the other apartments in the building were no help, either. They kept to themselves. One woman, in the apartment above his, a violinist, told him that she hadn’t seen the couple recently, but that she did hear a keening most nights, coming from the apartment. The landlord waited until the snow and ice melted to go to the apartment in person. His son had died after being impaled by an icicle that fell off the building’s roof- the reason he rented the apartment out, now. The landlord did not go outside in the winter months, if he could help it. It was lonely, yes, but he did not want to risk what the newspapers had dubbed “the Canadian Lobotomy.” He knocked on the apartment door. It was a ground level and had its own entrance. He shivered, standing right where his son had died. The landlord looked up at the eaves. He knocked again. No answer. The landlord began to knock harder, louder. A black shape slammed into the large window adjacent to the door. Its wings flapped against the window. The landlord could hear a low shrieking through the thin glass. He pulled out his keys. It was right on page three of the lease that no animals were allowed in the apartment. Full stop. As he turned the key and opened the door, the creature flew right into him, knocking him back with its weight. The landlord swore, lying on the ground now, watching the bird slowly ascend before landing in the elm outside the apartment building. Its wing knocked loose a lingering icicle, thin and ragged in the March sun. The bird continued to shriek, “Help! Help! Help! Help!” The crow’s feathers were mottled, unkempt. They did not resemble the oil-slick feathers of the birds he was used to seeing. The landlord stood up. Even from outside the apartment smelled of bird shit and metal. And a bit like a bottle depot. An awful hissing came from the kitchen. One of the radiators was covered in the animals’ excrement, which had eaten through the metal plating. Steam hissed, rising from the holes. Water spurted onto the floor. The landlord rushed over, closing the valve. “Hello?” He yelled into the apartment, “Is anyone here?” There was silence. And then a wailing came from the bedroom. It sounded like a woman sobbing. He walked across the apartment. All of the blinds were drawn. The landlord fumbled for the kitchen light switch. On the wall, where there had once been a pantry, hung eleven rabbits, skinned and rotting, their flesh sloughing off onto the hardwood. The landlord gagged and stumbled towards the bedroom. The door was ajar, but only just. Inside the landlord expected to find Mrs. Crawford, one of his tenants, emitting the high-pitched wailing. Instead there was only a crow, tucked neatly into the bed as if ready to go to sleep. The lamp on the bedside table was on. The crow wailed, burying its head into the pillows. The landlord stood in the doorway, unsure what to do next. He heard a something behind him, something rummaging around the den. He turned from the keening bird in the bed and closed the bedroom door. A crow stood on the couch in the small den. It thrust its beak at the television remote. The flat screen sprung to life. The landlord walked slowly into the den. The crow looked at him. The landlord felt like a child being silently berated by his schoolteacher. And that was the first time the crow spoke. “You don’t know your ass from your elbow, Mr. Linden. This place is a shit hole. I’m sure you see why we haven’t answered your calls. This shithole’s cursed or something.” After that, there was no keeping it quiet. The landlord was taken aback by the words, more so by the fact they were coming from a bird who was watching The Trailer Park Boys. Not knowing what else to do, he moved closer to the crow, “go grab a beer and I’ll explain.” In the fridge, the landlord found cases of cheap beer. He brought two cans into the den. “You fool, put it into a dish.” The landlord and the crow drank their beers, the other crow still crying in the bedroom. “She hasn’t adjusted as well as I have. She misses her mother.”

soundbite Preview: Danica Lorer’s “Regret”

We know we’ve already launched the volume, but we can’t resist spotlighting Danica Lorer’s “Regret.” This fishy flash fic will delight and leave you with none of what the title’s promises! Click the excerpt below to hear her piece, and why not listen to the rest of the volume while you’re there? Her story opens it after all!LorerDanica Lorer has been a storyteller in Saskatchewan for more than 20 years. She’s been hit by lightning, a moose, a rogue semi-tire, vehicles, and the odd strange idea. (She is also tied with Chris Kelly for best bio in this volume.)

antilang. Preview: Steve Passey’s “Borealis”

PasseyOur second last preview before we launch antilang. no. 2 is “Borealis,” a flash fic by Steve Passey that instantly locates and characterizes its narrator with a distinct voice. This story is a perfect lead-in to fall, when the auroras become more frequent and visible in the chill evenings.

Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the collection Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock and the chapbook “The Coachella Madrigals,” among many others.

August Flash Contest Winner: Erin Vance!

Hello! About a month ago we started our monthly writing contests for our donors on Patreon and promised to post our top 3 picks on our blog–we only have 1 contest entry for this month, but it’s really good. The first contest has closed and the second is launching later today (bonus round: if you start donating before Wednesday you’ll get a hard-copy of antilang. no. 1 and get to participate in the writing contest!).

Without further adieu, Erin Vance’s “Happy Hour”

After she let the rhubarb rot with its roots still anchored in the garden, Aoife filled the prescription. The pharmacist’s ivory coat was stiff like rawhide. He handed her the medication. Aoife plodded home along the dirt road, breathing the dust until her chest felt tight and her head spun. Meclizine hydrochloride. Take two tablets at onset of vertigo symptoms. If dizziness and nausea persists, take one tablet each hour, not exceeding thirteen in a period of twenty-four hours. Do not operate heavy machinery or drink alcohol while taking this medication.

Aoife swallowed hard and coaxed saliva to the front of her mouth. The medication was fetid, chalky. The tablets stuck to the sides of her tongue, began to dissolve as she choked them down her throat. Aoife rounded the corner to the house she shared with her mother, to the porch, to the overgrown garden, the decrepit oasis where the mosquitos were still leeching the blood from her mother’s hands. Aoife’s mother sat on the porch in a pink housedress, a gin and tonic in one hand, the other lingering over a jar of Arbequina Gourmet Stuffed Olives. Aoife’s mother had a proclivity for the anchovy stuffed ones. Aoife liked them because the image of the goddess Mnemosyne was transposed onto the label in faux-gold leaf. Aoife kissed her mother’s forehead, the white hair soft like feather grass. She dropped the paper bag from the pharmacy on a table and went inside to mix herself a drink. Three o’clock meant gin and olives. It was three forty-five. Just enough time to have two or three gins before four o’clock ushered in vodka and soda crackers.

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Aoife settled in a plastic chair next to her mother and flung her dirty sandals off the porch. The two women sat in a dry sort of silence, the air around them astringent, smelling slightly of formaldehyde or insulation. Aoife refilled her glass, and her mother’s. Her hands were clammy from the condensation. A pigeon impaled itself on a metal spike, upon which had previously hosted a citronella candle until it melted off in the sun. The macabre interlude prompted Aoife to bring the vodka onto the porch. She sucked on unsalted soda crackers, her head spinning again. She wondered if she should take more of the medication. She popped two tablets into her mouth. They were lost in the wet sludge of crackers and vodka and saliva. The pigeon twitched. It let out a sound that was half-squawk, half-scream, a multi-lingual death growl. It was only three feet away from where Aoife and her mother sat. Aoife sucked on a cube of sugar, filtering vodka through the cube as it dissolved. The bird whirled around on the stake, like a child swinging a hoop around on a stick. It made Aoife dizzy. It wasn’t really whirling. It couldn’t be. She wondered if she should take more of the medication.

Aoife stood to refill her mother’s glass. Her feet were wet. They’d been damp for a long time. She picked up the crystal glass and it splashed onto her hand, stinging where she chewed the skin away from her nail beds. The astringent vapours coated her body. Aoife felt unclean. She turned to the pigeon on the stake. Flies were swarming it. They formed a big, black cloud. Aoife cried out and they were gone. The pigeon was gone, too. Not even its bones remained.

Aoife wondered if her mother had also seen the bird, had also seen it whirl and disappear. Her mother was silent. Aoife sat. The plastic chair dragged against the wood with her weight. Aoife closed her eyes against the spinning afternoon. When she opened them, the sun had set. Out of the corner of her eye the porch light bounced off of the pink fibres of her mother’s housedress. She wondered if she was an amnesiac and brought the drink, still stiff in her hand to her lips. The liquid was warm. Her mouth buzzed with fruit flies. Aoife wretched. She flung herself onto the ground. She writhed, spitting and gagging, tearing at her lips, scraping her cheeks and tongue with her jagged nails. Her head was full of bugs. Aoife ran screaming, straight into the stake. It caught her in the neck. A pigeon cooed in the distance. She gasped, but did not struggle. She fell and closed her eyes, clutching the wound, and went to sleep.

Her mother did not stir.

On Genre (Stories Can Be Good Short Writing Too)

It seems our contributors are also astutely aware that poems make for good short writing, since of all the submissions that we’ve now received, only one (1!) is a prose piece. And while we love pointed poems, we’d like to see some prim prose as well.

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

-Margaret Atwood

Pointed, political, immediately recognizable.

The Sweetest Little Song

You go your way
I’ll go your way too

-Leonard Cohen

Less well known, but beautiful in both its simplicity and its message.

All haiku
Are good short writing
Aren’t they?

-me right now

The genre of poetry seems inherently ideal for good short writing: haiku, sonnets, epigrams, rondeaus — they all beg to be brief and, considering they’ve been around for centuries, they’d better be good!

It seems our contributors are also astutely aware that poems make for good short writing, since of all the submissions that we’ve now received, only one (1!) is a prose piece. And while we love pointed poems, we’d like to see some prim prose as well. So, in hopes of remedying this generic imbalance, let’s unpack an extremely pithy piece of fiction.

Whenever I’m teaching undergrads a text, no matter what length, I always get them to ask the same three questions. What does it say? What does it mean? And what does it do? And when you combine these questions and move through them cyclically you get what we call close reading.

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The piece I’m going to unpack is the “baby shoes” flash fiction often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The are several stories behind the story, as is often the case, but the one I’ve heard is that Hemingway and some buddies were at a bar chatting about writing. One thing led to another and they decided to have a contest to see who could write the shortest short story. Hemingway obviously won because he’s Ernest Fricken Hemingway. His story was only six words long and has become a literary legend: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Ugh, gets me every time! Six words and I’m like “nope, I’m tapped out!” So let’s take a look at what’s going on in this piece.

First, what does it say? Well, it says there are some baby shoes for sale and that they’ve never been worn. Phew, one down, two to go! What does it mean? It means the baby doesn’t need the shoes… so the baby probably died. What does it do? It punches you right in the feels. Why? And this is where we wonder. This is where we’re curios. And so, this is when we go back to “what does it mean?” and read a little more closely.

“For sale: baby shoes never worn.” It’s definitely in the last two words that you get the emotion, the weight of the implications, the subtext of the dead infant. But what do the other words mean? What do shoes do rather than clothes? Clothes could be for any baby at any stage while shoes are something you buy in a specific size and in anticipation of a specific action: walking. Were it baby clothes for sale the child might have been stillborn. Shoes suggest that the baby was born, that it was alive, and that it died before being able to walk.

The difference is the implied loss of potential life vs the implied loss of an infant; a life stolen away just before it could start acting on its own. And what about the opening words? The shoes are for sale, the parents or guardians did not give them to a friend or to someone in need, because they themselves are in need. They can’t afford to be charitable, they need the money from the shoes even though the child who was supposed to wear them died quite recently.

So now back to the third question: what does the story do? It hits us where it hurts. Why? Because it draws on what a lot of people would call universal themes, like existential dread and the fear of losing a child. “Think of the children” is a common cliché and rhetorical tactic; you can’t help but think of Helen Lovejoy on The Simpsons: “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”

But what does this do? Asking the question again and again is how you get to the social implications of the text, how you connect media to culture. There are tons of different avenues you can pursue here, and some will be more productive than others, but let’s just talk through one as an example.

American literary critic Lee Edelman unpacks the “think of the children” trope in his chapter “The Future is Kid’s Stuff” from his book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Edelman argues that all politics are heteronormative because, whether you’re conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, all policy is made with the future generation in mind and therefore privileges straight reproductive people.

Following Edelman’s theories, you could argue that the baby shoes story reinforces heteronormative politics by appealing to the public’s emotion through the “think of the children” cliché. Alternatively, you could argue that the story’s casual tone and classified ad format expresses a disregard for the child, both the literal one who died and the figure of the child in the cliché, and that the story is actually about money and the struggles of the lower class caused by the expectation that families will have children. Both readings are viable and largely depend on whether you read the story as impassioning or as detached.

The final question that I always ask is “So what?” After you’ve argued what something says, what it means, what it does, and what that function does, take a step back and think about the implications and consequences of your own readings and interpretations. The baby shoes story either reinforces or challenges heteronormative family structures and “think of the children” rhetoric. So what?

So, you have to decide your position on what the story does (and there are a lot more than these two options or this one topic) and you have to ask why you read it as doing that. Then ask “so what?” again. How does your position on this issue, which stems from your reading of a six word story, affect the way you think about politics, about health care, about the economy, about society’s expectations concerning sexuality and family?

This is what we call close reading. And as we all know, reading occurs after writing, so while you can’t anticipate every reading, you can see what might be done with six simple words. We hope this energizes your good short prose writing and that you send it our way!

No. 1 Lives Online!

Who says no one lives online? antilang. no. 1 lives online!

Our inaugural issue is live, and best of all it’s free! Read it, share it, tell us what you think about, and stay tuned as we get ready to open for general submissions for no. 2.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this publication possible! We hope you enjoy this beautiful magazine that we have all created together.

alpfix

Get-to-Know-the-Editors: Allie

Calgary born and raised, Allie completed two BAs (English, with a creative writing concentration and honours; Law and Society with honours) at the University of Calgary. She left for colder climes to pursue a MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. Allie writes novel(la)s that explore female experiences in Western society (or futuristic dystopian societies). She favours prose, with excerpts from her manuscripts appearing in filling Station Magazine, Nōd Magazine,  and forthcoming in In Medias Res. However, various sources have accused Allie of being a poet in disguise, and her poetry can be found in The Boston Accent, Hooligan Mag, and FOUND, the second chapbook by Malform Press.

During the last year of her BAs, Allie was the managing editor at Nōd Magazine (the undergraduate-run literary magazine on campus). She works odd jobs such as copy-editing a manuscript about the history of women’s prisons in Canada, researching environmentally inclined artistic endeavours in Vancouver, enforcing Chicago-style citations on legal papers for an upcoming collection, and teaching first-year creative writing.

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Although Allie has no musical talent she often insists on singing while writing (her roommates go to class and are grateful to avoid Allie’s ‘metalicizing’ of country songs). When forced to interact with people, Allie will offer snacks in an attempt to trick unsuspecting persons into playing card games.

Get-to-Know-the-Editors: Jordan

He dabbles in Marxist poetry, conceptual translational poetry, and short fiction.

Jordan Bolay hails from Northern Saskatchewan. He first migrated South (like an hour and a half South) to Saskatoon where he got first a BA and then an MA in English. He then moved to Calgary to pursue his PhD in English. He studies videogames, the ideology of canonization, comics, and (when he actually works on his dissertation) social politics in the archives of Western Canadian writers. While not working on his research (procrastinating), he dabbles in Marxist poetry, conceptual translational poetry, and short fiction. His chapbook how to make an English exam interesting was published by The Blasted Tree Press in 2017 and his long poem “Rest (an erasure of the Regina Manifesto, Cooperative Commonwealth Federation Programme, 1933)” was published in ti-TCR and was an honourable mention for The Capilano Review’s Translate and Transform Contest, also in 2017. (Jordan is working on making future titles more concise.)

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Jordan in full-blown adventure mode near Haines Junction, YT (photo by Allie McFarland)

During his MA he was the poetry editor of The Fieldstone Review at USask, and has been the fiction editor of filling Station (Canada’s experimental literary magazine) since 2016. In his spare time, Jordan enjoys hiking in the mountains surrounding Banff, homebrewing craft beer, and rocking out on his Geddy Lee signature jazz bass.