We’re so excited to launch our latest issues of antilang. and soundbite! Check out some amazing short work from established and emerging writers across Canada and beyond.
I can still remember as the embers –
like the stars wrapping ‘round the globe –
faded last December.
We were made together, in November,
and I’m reminded of you by the wind;
its seasonal scent carrying you back to me
with hints of nutmeg, vanilla, and cinnamon;
its chill bites me like you did
after I first held close your shivering sleeve;
when it slows, and writhes and wraps ‘round my face –
like you, as our lips met when I tongued at your sweetness.
I’m mulling over my soul – steeping it in solitude –
when they say you’re back in town.
You – with your raw dark spirit and body like cream –
let me breathe you in;
let me drown in you;
let your arousing aromas
turn my lonely haze – If only just for the holidays –
into a dream of love in fog.
… and eggnog.
I have a champagne flute in my hand. The bubbles have gone flat. The liquid is warm. I scan the modest crowd for my date. He is handsome but I don’t love him. I wear a gold dress like the Goddess Brigid.
Sláinte! A man smacks his pint of Beamish into my champagne flute as he grins at me and then rushes past. Most of the drink spills onto my dress.
Cliona! Finish your drink and come dance with me! Clare rushes over and kisses my cheek. I pour what is left of the champagne into my mouth and grin, my cheeks puffed out. Clare laughs and tugs me towards the dance floor. It’s so great to see you out, Clio! It’s been what, two, three months? I thought you’d followed Beck to Canada!
Twelve weeks and seven days. Tomorrow it will be thirteen weeks. I haven’t seen Clare for around ten. Beck left eight weeks ago.
I’ve been really busy with classes is all! Clare laughs, stumbling backwards into a man with long hair gathered into a bun. He turns around and smiles, grabbing her around the waist. She keeps facing me while they dance together.
And it looks like someone’s in the honeymoon phase with a new man!
What’s his name? Darren?
We’ve only been on one date, it’s nothing serious.
Whoever helps you get over Beck is A+ in my books, Clio! She winks, and swivels to grab the man by the cheeks and kiss him hard on the mouth. He looks surprised when she pulls away and she throws her head so far back that she can wink at me. Clare dissolves into giggles.
I’ve got to go to the toilet. See you later, Clare. Stay safe, okay?
The toilet is quiet. It smells of vomit but at least its quiet. I check my phone. The only message is from my mum. Happy New Years, sweetheart! Play safe! I open Instagram. A little red circle tells me @BecktheWreck has posted a new story. I debate whether to click on it, knowing he’ll be able to see that I’ve viewed it. He unfollowed me when he went home to Toronto. I scroll through posts of friends and family celebrating the New Year. Glittery dresses, champagne flutes, kissing couples, my best friend Asha posing with her cat for a New Years kiss. I click on Beck’s Instagram story. He is smoking a joint in his bedroom with a redheaded girl. She smiles at him. I used to smile at him like that, I think. Back in TO where I can ring in the New Year with 5 ounces of premium legal Mary Jane! He laughs and adjusts the camera. This is Mary Jane! The girl laughs. It’s Catherine, you dummy! I watch the video four times. I pause it when Beck’s smile is wide. I cry in the bathroom at 11:05pm on New Years Eve.
My phone beeps. An email reminding me of my appointment at Reproductive Choices Clinic in the morning. I know they will probably turn me away. I know I should have let someone who can actually qualify take the appointment. But, just like I know I should tell Beck about the baby, I ignore it and hang my head between my legs.
I wake up and Brendan is open-mouthed, snoring next to me. I roll over and scroll through Instagram, stopping on a photo of Beck and the redhead, kissing while confetti falls around them. It’s captioned Third NYE with the love of my life. So happy we found our way back to each other in 2018. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2019. #blessed #couplegoals I want to comment on it. More than that I want to message him and tell him how angry I am. My appointment is in an hour on the other side of Dublin, though. I tell Brendan he can let himself out and eat whatever’s in the fridge. He grunts and rolls over.
I hold my wool coat close around me and lean into the wind. I pass St. Brigid’s Primary School. I stop at a stained glass window depicting the Saint.
Please. I whisper, before carrying on towards The Liffey.
At a newsagent by Beckett Bridge, papers have Abortion Legal Today! Splashed across the cover.
Quite frankly, Ms. Boyle, I am shocked that you would book an appointment for an abortion, knowing you would not be eligible, therefore taking this time away from a deserving woman who is eligible. I know this is upsetting but there is nothing we can do. I can direct you to Marie Stopes in the United Kingdom if you’d like. I know it isn’t ideal but you would have ten more weeks to make the trip and get the funds together. Perhaps the father can help out with the cost?
The nurse hands me a pamphlet and I leave the clinic. I cry and I think about all of the statues of the Virgin Mary weeping. She was probably weeping because she couldn’t get an abortion, either. Protesters flock me as I leave the clinic. Do you really want to start the New Year with murder, ma’am? A few women with signs chant Reinstate the Eighth!
I spit at the stained glass image of Brigid as I walk past the primary school. A little girl playing in the playground runs over to me.
You can’t spit at things! That’s not allowed! The girl is six or seven years old. I wonder if her parents wanted her. As I walk back to my flat I wonder about every child and parent I see. I wonder how many children were actually wanted. I wonder how many women chose to be mothers. I stop at a Macdonald’s and order a large fries. I open Instagram.
My girlfriends are posting about the first day of abortion access.
Beck is posting about the dispensary in his neighbourhood.
My cousins are posting photos of their kids asleep before midnight on New Years Eve.
Clare is posting photos from the party the night before. In one I am clutching my stomach and grimacing at the camera.
I click on the messages tab.
Hey, Beck. It’s been awhile. Text me when you can. 00353 1 830 0700. C. I don’t expect him to message me back, but I need the money to cross the border and get the abortion. He bought the condoms, after all.
As I finish my fries and lick the salt from my fingers I wonder about the redhead. I wonder if she’s ever been pregnant. I Google “abortion in Canada.” No legal restrictions on abortion at any stage. Outside, a group of girls with pink pussy hats hold up signs that say We did it! In big letters above a photo of Savita Halappanavar. In October I saw on Instagram a photo that Beck’s best friend posted of the two of them outside of a dispensary in Toronto, holding little baggies of weed. It was captioned We did it!
I wonder if there is anything wrong with the fetus that could warrant an abortion after twelve weeks. I wonder what the chances are of a medical emergency that would warrant an abortion after twelve weeks. I wonder if the herb mix I saw for sale online could actually induce a miscarriage after twelve weeks. I wonder if Beck will message me back. I wonder if I’ll be able to tell him. I haven’t told him in any of the twelve weeks I’ve known. I wonder if the Virgin Mary wept because she could not get an abortion after twelve weeks. I wonder if God is laughing at me, spitting on St. Brigid, comparing myself to the Virgin Mary, and just a week shy of being able to get an abortion in Dublin. I wonder if God is laughing at my bank balance and the extra 800-euro I need to make in order to go to England to get an abortion after twelve weeks.
I throw up in the MacDonald’s bathroom.
Mind the Gap
you say of things that behave in unexpected (unexplainable) ways that they are haunting (haunted).
but to haunt is to occupy a place you are not supposed to be, to exist when you should not.
a sense of uneasiness, the gap between the expected and the unexpected, the wanted and the scorned, the comforting and the scaring.
that’s where you find us.
it’s a place like the gap between the train and the platform when you need to take that single step to enter the train and you hesitate.
“Mind the gap!” the speakers would blare in London bellow, and like that gap, a haunting feeds on — and draws out — the irrational.
we revel when we are not paid attention to.
like tripping into a train, a good haunting best happens when you’re looking elsewhere.
And now i must excuse myself, and, while i appreciate your offer, i must refuse.
you invited me here.
you opened the doors and let me in.
you showed me around.
i am wanted here.
i am expected.
i can’t haunt you.
so, good tidings to you.
someday, we will catch up.
your unesteemed interlopers.
They can’t see what I see beneath me; marooned & timbered stories.
The sea of history resurfaces, It,
Trauma creaks and seeps and seeks its ghost.
It finds familiar feelings.
Wound in the wound it writhes with time’s tithes – the tides;
the black-bile-mould that festers beneath floorboards that
pours forth from holes in the souls that line these walls
until it touches something – someone warm.
An ember to hold onto to turn house into its home.
But this chill house’s hearth cannot house a lively flame
and so, it smothers shrouded Allison with love beyond the grave.
I sit, bitter as unwashed and overripe lettuce. I cannot move.
My fleshless limbs dig into the bones of the old chair. It creaks beneath me, wheezing like a mucky lung. The moths flutter like angry feather dusters against my hard, plastic eyes.
A backdrop of yelping coyotes situates me in this house, a stinking carcass holding me in its shuddering frame. The wind licks the pipes and the bricks and I feel it sharp and prickly on my bare legs.
I want to go home.
At first, I was thrilled to taste air again. I was thrilled to be a part of a household again, posed by a man with rough hands, breathed on by strangers wandering through the house.
Eventually, my joints became stiff. The sun burnt my eyes. How I wished I could close them on those hot days. I felt each layer fade, become smaller, weaker.
I want to go home.
The crew left months ago. They muttered something about asbestos. Rats. The house was condemned. Me, with it.
I want to go home. Even if home is a plastic bin in the basement of a department store. Even if home is an incinerator. Even if home is a dumpster, reeking of diapers and mouldy pizza and stale beer.
I want to no longer feel the twitch of cold against my chest through this moth-eaten sweater. I want to move from this chair towards the hollow rattle of the radiator and melt a little bit at a time until I am pliable once again.
The rats quiver in the walls. Their scuttling keeps me awake at night. Their abject screeching scares the moths who perch still and twitch on my coarse lashes.
They crawl into my open mouth. They taste chalky and restless, weighed down by my silicone saliva.
I want to taste the wetness on the air, to blink away the moths and smell the skin of a plucked wren. I want to crawl out of this place, bloody my knees on the wood floor, drink from a cold stream, and taste fresh dirt in the evening chill. I want to be like the moths, and fly away, into the light.
I want to go home.
“what is this ground?” from-jonah-of-the-kiln da-thumps in anxiousness. even though all of-the-kiln are near, the rustle of the tools against the brushes and their sweaty-earthy smell reassuring, they can discern just one other muffled step-talk.
“why can i hear no one else?” from-jonah dada-thumps then turns to their closest companion, hoping to smell their identity, giving up on recognizing their gait.
from-jonah mouth-sings relief as mother nuzzles them.
“there, there, come, come” jonah-of-the-kilns swish-thumps close to their feet, then again and again and again until they stop shaking and ta-thump back “i am well mother. where are we?”
“you were sleep when the translation happened, that is disorienting, isn’t it?”
“yes. i couldn’t feel the grass anymore, the ground is difficult to listen to and smells like bad water. i don’t want to translate anymore.” from-jonah pa-thumps with finality.
jonah mouth-sings exasperation and nuzzles them again.
“not all translations are this bad, and it is better if you’re awake. you will try to be awake next time, won’t you?” jonah tata-thumps.
“yes, mother, i will” from-jonah ta-thumps.
“come now, the elders know of this place, we will find better ground up the slope, but need to keep close together and pay attention,” jonah tata-thumps, “this is important,” papa-thump, “warning will travel slow on this ground, you need to listen with your ears to noises you don’t know, not just step-talk,” pa-thump, “tell me when you hear anything,” pata-thump.
from-jonah-of-the-kilns nuzzles their mother back, mouth-singing resoluteness as they move out.
“this was bad for your first translation, but you will get used to it, then learn our histories.” jonah sings resolve da-thumping for only they to hear “then perhaps you will open ways yourself one day.”
It wasn’t supposed to rain that night, but still, their shoes and boots filled with moisture within minutes of arriving. They stood around the spot where they’d be digging and crossed their arms over their chests, in part to keep the cold away, but also because the closing off of the body brought them some sort of comfort. One wore running shoes with mesh tops soaked through with water. Many wore practical work shoes, only one wore rain boots, and one wore a pair of rubber flip-flops that sunk into the mud. They stood around the time capsule with mud crusted over its corners like sand paper. When one person began to speak, it was as if they all exhaled collectively and four conversations began simultaneously. It sounded something like this:
God, you’d think we’re a coven standing out here in the rain.
Didn’t you used to be a witch in high school?
I was a Wiccan.
Who are we missing?
I think this is everyone.
Why are there so few of us? Wasn’t everyone from our class invited?
Maybe people don’t want to go back to who they were in high school.
I got divorced last year.
I had the time of my life in high school.
It wasn’t for me.
I got sick, but I’m better now.
I’m in publishing.
What happened? Didn’t make it as a writer?
I’m sorry to hear that.
No, I just got a better offer.
I hope things start looking up for you soon.
I settled down. I took on the family business.
Oh god, the funeral home?
That’s the one.
Really though, who are we missing?
That place used to give me the creeps.
It’s not so bad once you get used to the smell.
Have you sold any houses yet?
Still waiting for that first catch.
Do we start without her? Him?
Wait, you guys don’t know Dani?
I don’t remember anyone with that spelling, but I’m sure I’ll recognize them once they’re here.
I checked my yearbook, but I couldn’t place them.
Should we wait?
Does anyone have Dani’s phone number?
Well? Should we start?
Leaning his weight on the shovel he’d brought, one man inched closer to the capsule, his knees cracking like the springs of an antique couch as he went. No one responded. When the shovel pierced the lid of the time capsule, a small sound that none of them recognized came from beneath the lid of the box.
Turn on any news program or open any social media app and the world comes in. And you realise, that right now, the world is ugly. Fascism dominates, and with it all the ugly -isms and -phobias that generate and feed on hate. When people aren’t killing or hurting each other, they’re destroying the planet. When you see all this, hopelessness becomes inevitable. The words “thoughts and prayers” ring too hollow and you don’t know what to do, what you could do, to make a difference. You aren’t a politician, you aren’t a scientist, and words feel too feeble. Why write?
At the ALP, we’ve been quiet as these tragedies continue. We’ve been hurting. And we’ve been asking ourselves: why write? Why dedicate our lives to writing?
We have two answers: beauty and empathy. We write to create something beautiful in an ugly world. To remind ourselves and others that beauty does exist. And that taking the time to notice beauty and to appreciate it enough to write it is important. This takes us back, to a time before, when we didn’t see the ugly in the world. Who didn’t start writing poetry out of love? You fall in love, that first time you have a crush on someone, so young, and you can’t help but write it. And maybe those first love poems weren’t the best poems, but they tried to capture something beautiful. So, why write? To get back to that.
But what if you didn’t start with love poems? What if you saw the ugly in the world and started writing your anger? Who didn’t, as they wrote love poems, not also write angsty poems about injustice? Even if that injustice was only your parents disallowing you to be with the one you loved, it was still felt, deep enough to write. And this brings us to empathy, because sometimes you can’t write only beauty. Sometimes you must write anger and hurt. Why? Why write? Because you feel a pain so acute that you must communicate it. In this communication we find community–other people with the same pain or other people wanting the same change. That’s what writing does: communicates.
We can’t understand the suffering of other people or the planet. Those hurts are too big. So we put it in writing. We use our craft to create characters, worlds, and we invite readers to know these people, to start to know each other. We begin to recognise others and ourselves, and we start to understand how to support each other.
So, while our mission at the ALP is to curate good. short. writing., what we mean by this is that we want to bring people together. We believe that through writing we can remember to notice beauty. And we can connect to each other, regardless of our backgrounds, to create a community of writers and readers, aware of our differences, and supportive, nonetheless.
All the speeches and rhetoric used for destruction can be turned around. We can use story and poetry and memory, delivered through well-chosen words to understand each other and to create something better.
Why write? Because it gives us hope.
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.”