Conversations with Kitchen Appliances

“You are diseased,” the oven said to her. It was a massive white metal design of masculine engineering, an accomplished anchor to chain a housewife to. Her purse on the kitchen table was rattling, full of white plastic pill bottles. Some were effective for sleep and others were ineffective for living. Sylvia liked the ones that tasted like fake oranges best but her doctor had stopped prescribing refills for those. Now the new ones tasted like old shoe leather.

She tried to think loudly and clearly, making her voice loud with false bravado. “I hadn’t realized that you were a certified doctor.”

“The only one who is certified here is you,” it spoke, not unkindly, and with a slow grumble from within. Sylvia had left the oven door open a crack so she could feel the heat rise from within. It was trapped in the kitchen, with the doors sealed shut with tape and blankets. “Have you taken your antidepressant today?”

Everyone liked asking her that question. Her mother, her doctor. Even her oldest child had started parroting the phrase at her now, making her feel uneasy and unkempt beneath layers of navy blue emotions. “I did,” she admitted to herself as she considered the chalky taste of regret on her tongue. “Don’t ask me personal questions like that.”

The water pipes were gurgling now, matching the noise of the babbling fridge. At some point in the past few days it had become empty so she had placed an Oxford dictionary inside. Now it choked on syllables whenever it tried to speak up and it was better that way. She could never starve as long as she had the English language pressed to her tongue, knotting her vocal cords into pretty bows.

She was curled up on the floor in a nest of failed suicide notes and stunted poetry while her oven talked to her, words caught in the breath of a burnt roast she had failed at cooking two weeks before. Sylvia had spent hours with the narrow windows open trying to rid the apartment of the scent of her domestic failure. “The hospital had kinder windows,” she told the oven. If she didn’t keep talking to the oven, the can opener would start to pitch in with that awful, tilting voice that made her head ache. “They were painted shut but it was a better illusion.”

“The hospital was a safer place,” it agreed.

She thought about the bright lights in long hallways and the headlights at night. Her mind seemed to run on a loop of attempts alone and the moments spent afterwards. “Safer than driving a car.” The memory of swerving made her laugh shrilly because she was so safe in her apartment now. She could make a list of failed suicide attempts the way housewives could list off groceries.

Photo by: Elinor Friedman

Photo by: Elinor Friedman

The oven made a clicking noise from within and she decided it was laughing with her. She tried to mimic it, clicking her tongue off of the roof of her mouth. They sat together, a shared space of heat and failed poetry. The chaotic glee that she had savored for a few moments shrank when she heard a child’s movements from within the walls. Suddenly her mood has punctured and she’s sad again, thinking about hospital stays and cotton candy hair, the taste of rubber between teeth. Hospital beds on wheels had made a nasty sound sliding across long white hallways. “I felt less real in the hospitals.”

The tea kettle whistled at her, angry and sharp. She flinched at the noise. It seemed to quiver from where it sat on the tabletop.

“All feminists think that hospitals suppress their rights,” the oven told her and the fridge incoherently agreed with it.  “They all say that they’re factories meant to break down their gender. You’re just hysterical, dear.”

Sylvia doesn’t like the oven anymore. It is seated across from her, a twist of red hot coils burning away with superiority. She’s only a girl turned disorder, framed by a lackluster bell jar. “Hospitals are not safe spaces for sick women.”

“Safer than burrowing under the ground, vomiting up pills?” the can opener said from the drawer. The voice made her shriek, yanking at her hair. A month ago she had attempted to open up a can of peaches with it and had made such an awful jagged mess that she sliced her fingertips. The can opener had been thrown into the drawer along with the set of knives that chattered at her too long over breakfast.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Sylvia said to the muffled voice that spoke through the wooden drawer. “We don’t need to talk.”

“You ought to get your affairs in order,” the kettle pitched in from where it sat bright red on the countertop. “Consider brewing yourself a cup of tea and take a moment to think.”

Sylvia thought about the over-brewed cups of tea she had drank throughout her life and pressed her lips together. Instead she reached for the white pad of paper, the pencil behind her ear. Pressing the tip to the page she tried to sort words out. The air was orange from heat and it was difficult untangling the broken bits of sentences she had running around her skull.

“You’re diseased,” the oven reminded her. “No one expects poetry from you now.”

“I’m good at poetry, though.”

“Adequate,” it told her.

Sylvia frowned, waiting for the tea kettle to speak on her behalf, for the knifes to pitch in about her own worth or maybe for the fridge to stop choking on a dictionary. No one disagreed though, and she felt a bit lost in the silence. “People might say nice things after I’m gone.”

“Everyone says nice things about a dead person.” The oven groaned, looking tired as air danced from heat. “They’ll hate you but they always respect a dead person more.”

“I might be alright,” she said as loudly as she dared, starting to scratch out a list of complaints against the oven. By the time she finished the list she felt worse. Smudged grey irritation about talking appliances. Instead of folding it up neatly like she intended to, she erased the words away.

Sylvia thought for a moment that she should write a note to her mother or maybe a doctor. There were a lot of people that she could address her final words to but none that she wanted to.

“Are your sure your doors are sealed well enough?” the tea kettle asked, voice high and pitched as it rose about the hot air. “You ought to think about your children. Have you thought about what your husband might think?”

“They’ll be fine,” she said, thinking about the layers of towels and blankets she had pressed to the doors. “They have to be fine. He’s gone now, anyways. You don’t need to worry about him. Everyone will be fine.”

“Maybe they will,” said the can opener. It spoke more clearly now, despite being locked away. Sylvia wanted to throw it out the narrow window, narrow enough that it was impossible to fling herself out. “Don’t you worry that maybe your children will just inherit the wrongness that you feel?”

She clicked her tongue but she wasn’t laughing this time. “Maybe you ought to shut up. Try and think less about them.”

“Try and think less about Daddy,” the can opener told Sylvia in her own voice. “You’re a damn train wreck.”

“No,” the oven said with a long suffering sigh. “She’s diseased.”

The fridge was rattling out the alphabet as she got down onto her hands and knees, pulling the oven door down. It felt uncomfortable kneeling against the wall of heat against her skin, lips drying out and eyes squeezed shut. Sylvia imagined it a little bit like praying, fumbling words around in her mouth until she could spit them like bloody nails.

The can opener gave a loud screech and Sylvia gave a sigh.


Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not small. She crawled out of the void one night and began to demand justice for Shirley Jackson.

Snow Angels



I wake up to the sound of fluorescent lighting, a penetrating vibration over my head. I feel trapped under that light, like a lab animal. I’m lying on my back and the light has made sunspots in my eyes.

I sit up; I feel small and bare-skinned in my thin blue hospital gown, which drapes my body to the knees while only touching the skin of my shoulders and hips. I’m wearing thick, unfamiliar, mismatched socks and I stare at them dumbly for a moment—are they Robb’s? He’s gone—visitors leave by 10 p.m.— but he has promised he’ll return, with donuts, in the morning. There are no windows in this hallway, but the clock says 3:57 a.m.

Everyone else is asleep. I should be asleep, too—I feel the pressure of heavy tranquilizers in my brain—but I’m not asleep, I’m awake, in this insidious near-silence broken by the buzzing of the fluorescent light. The woman in charge of watching over our sleeping forms is asleep herself, and the nurse must be on a break because her station is deserted. There’s a good chance I could make a break for it.

We were overflow, you see. ER was too full so us emotionally disturbed got shoved into an abandoned hallway, an improvised commune with faulty lighting and no privacy. We could be moved, they said, we were healthy, hearty, strong. There was nothing wrong with us, no broken legs or heart disease or kidney failure. Nothing except our rotten, rotting brains. I never thought I would so urgently miss the small privacy of a curtain between beds, the acknowledgement that I needed my own space in which to disintegrate.

I attempt to stand—they’ve got me so flushed with pills no physical movement is a sure thing—and hold onto the railing of my cot until I’m sure I’m not going to fall. The corridor is an inky gray at the far end of the hall; they managed to turn off those lights, but not the ones down here. I walk towards that grayness, seeking quiet—that fluorescent buzzing is drilling small holes into the top of my head—quiet, just quiet, no more noise, no more static, no more shouting.

When I reach the end of the hallway the absent nurse still hasn’t returned, so without thinking I slip past her work station and turn into an adjoining hall. I hear the distant noises of the ER, but they’re soft and muted like a television program turned to low volume. More cots are pushed up against walls, and their unconscious occupants look wasted, tired, some with IV’s in their arms, or oxygen masks, or other various tubes and wires. I had never felt the instant wave of chemical change until I was in hospital; when the liquid in the IV hit my bloodstream, I was instantly not myself—or whatever “myself” was left after previous, subtler chemical alterations—but a drowsy child or a turtle on its back, wordless, supplicating. I had trouble speaking to the nurses and the doctor’s aids, I had trouble forming words. I could only tell Robb I needed a sweater, needed water, I could only look at him with my terrified child’s eyes and beg him silently to get me out of here. He told me about his readings and his papers, he talked to me about Christina Rossetti and D.H. Lawrence, but I couldn’t reply, I couldn’t form counter-thoughts, I could only listen, his words like moths batting their wings against a screen door.

I suddenly wish he was here, with me. My keening, trembling brain needs the solidity and reassurance of his presence. Without him I am not sure anything around me is real, even myself.

I am not sure how many turns I have made, how many hallways I have crossed. I could be a minute away from my cot or on the other side of the hospital. The walls are taupe, all the same. I hear the echoing sounds of the ER, but farther away now, and closer the sounds of patients in rooms—rooms with doors—shifting and coughing and gently snoring. I am jealous of their doors. I would like a room with a door. I would like a room with a large, soft, four-poster bed with white translucent curtains I could draw around me like a shroud. I would like a large window through which I could watch the changing light, and a comfortable chair for Robb and a shelf for his books. This is the furthest my imagination can stretch: I would like a room with a door and a window and a comfortable bed. Being on display among dozens of other young people in a fluorescent-lit hallway with a smiling unblinking mannequin watching us in case we have episodes and a single nurse trying desperately to cool our boiling brains—this seems Hellish, disquieting, terrifying, and no matter how many sedatives they pump into me or force down my throat, I can’t sleep through it.          

Someone coughs. This area of the hospital is empty, asleep, but as I turn the corner, I see a man standing with his back to me, the elevator doors reflecting his tired face. He doesn’t look like a patient. He’s wearing a dark suit and tie, wrinkled but presentable, a black button-up coat, black leather gloves, an old scarf.

I instinctively take a step backwards, but he hears the whisper of my sock feet—except for the ringing in my ears, the corridor is silent—and turns towards me. I say nothing; I’m unsure I could speak if I wanted to. He looks at me for a moment, studying my hospital gown and my sweaty, vacant, moon-pale face. I can feel lines of dried salt on my cheeks and I know my pores must reek of anti-psychotics and hospital food.

“Are you waiting for the elevator?”

Yes, I think, and then, with a concentrated effort, say: “Yes.”

He gives me a slow nod, his eyes moving from my face to my neck, where there are purple bruises fading to a sickly sort of yellow. “It’s late.”

 Yes, I think, and make myself say: “Yes.”

“I was visiting with my wife,” he says quietly, adding, “They know me by now. I bend the rules. She doesn’t like to be alone.”

Even through the massive fog of tranquilizers I understand his wife is like me—like us.

“Does she have a room with a door?” I ask.

He laughs, bemused. “Yes. She’s an in-patient, psychiatry. She has her own room.”

I’m jealous, but I don’t say so. The elevator door opens but he doesn’t move towards it. Instead he looks carefully at my hospital gown, and even more carefully at the (I assume) glazed look in my eyes.

“They’re keeping us in a hallway,” I say. “Psych unit full, ER full…. Nowhere else.”  

He nods, thoughtfully. Small, deep lines are etched into the skin around his eyes. “My wife has been staying in psychiatric wards on and off for 20 years. Or units, I guess they call them now… not so scary. A few weeks here, a month… sometimes three. She woke me up two nights ago because she wanted to go out in the snow and make angels. But she was crying while she said it.” He smiled ruefully. “She’s my sweetheart, you see.”

I do see. I am Robb’s sweetheart. I don’t understand his devotion, and I don’t know why I am a beautiful girl in his eyes, but I am.

The man in the black coat shakes his head. “Psychiatry is a joke,” he says. He speaks carefully, almost without bitterness. “Of course, it’s all we have. So we use it. What have they put in your brain?”

I don’t answer. I don’t remember all of it.

“We don’t know what we’re doing,” he says. “Any of us. Therapy and counselling and drugs and shock treatment and surgery—they save that for the really tough nuts, don’t they. She’s lost but sometimes she comes back to me. I guess I’d rather that than the alternative.”

The elevator door opens again, and this time the man turns to enter.

“Are you supposed to be somewhere?” he asks.


“But you want to make angels in the snow.”

I say nothing. He moves aside to make room for me in the elevator. I join him, cautiously. My bare legs are covered in goosebumps. 

He presses the button for the ground floor and we ride in silence. When the door opens, he looks at me again. His eyes are pale and gray. He looks again at the bruises around my neck, at my ragged face, at my blue cotton gown. He shakes his head.

“It’s not my place to tell you Jesus loves you and every life is valuable and things will get better. It’s your place to decide whether or not you believe it.”

He gives me a small, pained smile, then turns and leaves the elevator, walking quickly past the mini-Starbucks and the gift shop and out the front doors of the hospital. Snow is falling outside, blocking out the sky, blocking out the roads and the cars and the people. The world has gone white and still. Quiet. So quiet.

I take a few tentative steps towards the front door, and that beautiful oblivion. The Starbucks is deserted. The gift shop is closed. There is a Paddington bear on display complete with thick blue duffle coat and a tag that states, “Please look after this bear”, and I think of Robb, how much he loves those stories. When I reach the doors, I place my hand on the cool glass and watch the snowflakes fall in a thick white curtain on the other side of the pane.

You want to make angels in the snow.

I push open the door, and feel the first cool snowflake kiss my face.


Meagan McDonald

Meagan is a survivor of the Ontario mental health system and a graduate of the University of Ottawa. She writes plays, poetry and short stories around the subjects of mental and emotional health. She has a depressing blog called Depressed Mermaids. She also loves guinea pigs.

Lighthearted Landlord

I didn’t realize I was alone in the house. I thought my landlord and two roommates were somewhere about, doing their usual thing. I heard something unusual so I left my room and went downstairs.

The kitchen was empty except for the usual clock-radio playing CBC Radio One endlessly. The landlord kept it on twenty-four hours per day. She told me that it was a habit she got into during her time alone after her husband left. Then her two children moved away, far away: one to the opposite end of the country and the other to the United States.

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Image courtesy of wordpress.

I reached for the volume control. The volume was louder than usual. I turned it down slowly. As the volume faded, the sound of laughter became audible. It was coming from out front of the house.

I peeked out the window briefly but saw nothing, so I went to the front door and opened it. The volume of the laughter increased as I pulled the door open to reveal the twilight. The cool spring evening air hit my face. I stepped outside. Cautiously, confused, I brought my sight upward. 

I just could not believe what I was seeing.

There was my landlord and two roommates floating—hovering!—above the street out front of where I live. They went up and down, left and right, chasing each other in circles, flipping and flopping around in the air.

I didn’t know how they were doing it!

“Hey Christopher!” my landlord yelled over to me. “Why don’t you join us!?” She laughed loudly.

“Uh,” I stammered, feeling confused and left out. “I don’t know how to fly!”

She was flipping forward in circles, round and round, then stopped, got herself upright, and turned to face me, levitating above the street. “There!” She pointed in my direction. I followed the tip of her wavering finger and found it aimed at a tall can sitting on the patio. It was unopened. I picked up the can. It was light as air—completely sealed—and brand new. It felt empty.

They all laughed again, louder than before.

“There you go!” my roommate Cici shouted down to me. “That’s what you’ve been looking for!”

They chased each other in circles through the air again, rising and falling, spinning, and twisting, and flipping.

I picked up the can. It was a dark bluish-purple. The label read—

Doctor Aether’s Starlight Serum.

It looked like fun, so I opened the can. A gust of wind pressed against my face and hit my nose. It smelled like a million different fruits all mashed together, racing around in circles. A bright, purply-violet light burst out of the can. The radiating neon fluid had no weight at all. I could feel the warmth of the light against my face. It tingled and beckoned me to partake in its mysterious ingredients. I shut one eye and gazed into the can. Tiny points of violet light swam amidst a neon purple haze, a strange mix of liquid and cloud—and something else. The fluid sat liquid-like for a moment before gently spinning into a mini tornado, which gently pushed more air out of the can as I peered into its depths. The glow pulsated and oscillated, bright and then dim.

I had never seen anything like it.

It made a sound like that of a ghost trying to break in through a tiny crack of a window uninvited, openly declaring its intention to enter without fear of repercussion.

“Go on!” Cici yelled down to me in between flips. “Don’t be shy!” She swam through the air and giggled. It looked like so much fun.

I put the can to my lips and took a small sip. It was delicious! I downed the whole can in one big gulp, then…

I began to feel strange. Really strange. 

A silence descended upon the air around me as they all stopped frolicking at once and shot their gaze upon me, looks of awe spread across their faces.

“Are you crazy!?” my landlord burst out. “Why did you drink the whole can?”

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I just stared back at her as a warm sensation crept into my entire being. My stomach felt warm. Some kind of heat crawled through my body, inside each vein, each pore, every inch of skin. A wave of gentle pinpricks rolled across my scalp and made its way down my arms and legs, stopping at my feet, pulsating. My right foot lifted off of the porch for a moment and then returned to its original spot. Then my left foot lifted off of the ground for a moment. I tried to press it back into the porch but it did not obey my command. Gravity let go of me, its grip opened up without second thought or regret.

I felt myself lift off the ground gently. They all had their palms pressed against their faces; they stared at me as I floated upward. I looked down as my feet dangled in the air—the ground shrinking away.

They became like tiny ants in my vision as I ascended into the sky. The top of my house became smaller and smaller, along with the rest of the neighbourhood. Up and up I went until I recognized the outline of North America as seen from a globe.

The warmth of the atmosphere covered me all over. It didn’t hurt at all. The red haze covered my limbs. I looked at my hands—red transparent heatwaves moved over them like a rushing river. My heartbeat shook my eardrums like a dance club. I was too stunned to be afraid, too shocked to cry out. Further up I went until the Earth was the size of a blue dinner plate and then—


I gently slammed into the moon. I stood up, legs wobbly, my mind disoriented. I looked up at the blue dinner plate in the sky. Earth. My planet. My home.

This is just great. How the fuck am I supposed to get back?

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Christopher Sire

Christopher is a second year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. He avoids TV like the plague; he sings and plays guitar in his spare time.

To The Sky



I lean over the edge and my view is consumed with a hundred foot plummet to death. The shoreline is made up of broken rocks and large boulders, with pieces of wood scattered throughout. The ocean creates waves that crash against the cliff, only to be dragged out and hurtled back. It never ends, allowing the sound of the sea to wash over me.

A shiver flies down my spine as the thought of falling fills my head. I have been here so many times, but I am only scared this time. It’s funny how something doesn’t terrify you until it’s your turn to face it.

I quickly take a step back from the edge and look up to the sky above, hoping the thoughts and the fear will disperse before the test. The sun hasn’t risen but I know it will come soon enough. The ocean shimmers from the moving sun as the darkness of the night sky starts to turn a bright orange. The stars still try to shimmer through the brightness that creeps into the sky.

It won’t be long now before the test begins.

I turn around to see my family waiting along with me. They have come from all over to congratulate me on my day, and some of them I haven’t seen for years. They have separated themselves throughout the backfield of Nana and Grandad's house as if we do not share the same blood. It is sad to see that not everyone feels welcome here.



At the far edges of the field lies the forest that separates our house from that of our neighbours, and that’s where I see my cousins from Egypt: Monica and Nadia. They lean against the trees to keep themselves upright. They watch us from afar as they eat their morning snack to protect the rest of us from contracting the bird flu. But when it comes time for my test they will come over and watch. Although they are sick, they will want to give me as much encouragement as we have given to everyone else.

On the outskirts of the stone walkway stands my aunt and uncle from Australia: Ava and Oliver. They seem to look as ill as Monica and Nadia, yet they have not gotten the flu. I walk over to them and notice a bandage on Oliver’s arm. He holds his arm very carefully.

“Oliver, are you okay?” I ask

“Yeah, we just had a bad flight here,” Oliver answers.

“Oh no, did you hit anything?” I say.

“There was a flock of seagulls,” Ava says, which surprises me. She is normally a shy person, and for her to even speak to me is shocking.

“That must have hurt–” I start to say before my arm feels like it’s yanked from its socket.

I look down and see my cousin from my dad’s side, Alexis. She is only a toddler, but we can all tell that she is going to be a great fighter one day. I pick her up and place her on my hip.

“Well, what are you doing walking around? Aren’t you supposed to be staying with your dad?” I ask.

“Daddy’s talking with Uncle Mike,” Alexis answers, pointing over to them.

I follow her finger to see them sitting on the bench, not far from Nana and Grandad. Uncle David has his arm around Uncle Mike. I see tears fall and I feel so bad for him. He has been living alone ever since Aunt Patty passed away last year, and I can’t blame him. Patty was his high school sweetheart; she was his whole family.

“What about Liam?” I ask as I look back at her.

“He’s playing with cousin Sean,” Alexis states.

“How’s your arm, Oliver?” Isabella asks with her Spanish accent as she walks over with Nicolás. She carefully grabs Oliver’s arm and takes off the bandage to look at the cut. There is a large gash that runs along his arm; it is from his wrist to his elbow.

“Better,” Oliver answers.

“You’ll have to clean the wound every morning and night, and you’ll…” Isabella starts to explain but I start walking away as Alexis places her head on my shoulder so she can’t see it.

“Did you ask if you could play too?” I ask.

“No,” she answers.

“Well, why don’t we go and ask then?”

I look into the field and see them lying on the grass. They lay on their backs to make their toy planes fly around in the sky. They are typical five-year-old boys. I walk over to them and stand at their feet.

“Hey guys, whatcha doing?” I say, tapping each of their feet.

“Playing with our planes,” Sean answers.

“Can Alexis and I join?” I ask.

“No, we only have two planes,” Liam states, wanting to hurt his little sister.

“Well, can we lie down with you guys?” I say.

“I guess,” Sean says.

I lie down beside Sean and place Alexis on my stomach. She immediately starts pretending her own hands are planes and starts quickly swerving them around, making me smile. I only wish my eyesight was that easily manipulated by imagination. I put my arms around her stomach, so she doesn’t fall as I look around at my other family members.

In the corner of my eye, I can see Aunt Jen taking care of baby Charlie. She jumps around to keep Charlie happy so she won’t have to take Uncle David away from Mike. I can hear Charlie screaming with laughter as I see the resemblance of his father in him. I smile until I realize that I may never see him grow up, or any of my other younger cousins grow up. I may never see the rest of my family after today.

“How’s your eighteenth birthday been so far, Teagan?” Emily, my cousin from Britain, asks as she lies down beside me.

“Not that bad,” I say, knowing I won’t be able to get anything out.

“Don’t worry, Teagan, you will do great,” Emily says, seeing my flushed face. “You are a pure blood, so you have a better chance of surviving . . . You are going to pass the test. I have faith in you.”

All I can do is nod because either way, my life will never be the same. If I don’t pass, I’m gone from this world forever. If I pass, I will be part of the family, but I will lose every friend that I have ever had growing up. And it’s not even my choice if I fail or pass; the universe decides if I am worthy.

“Come on, Teagan. It’s time,” my brother, Todd, states as he walks to my feet.

“Okay… Alexis, I need to go now, but you can stay right beside cousin Sean. Okay?” I explain as I carefully get up and place her beside Sean.

“Okay,” she says oblivious to what is to come.



I leave her with Sean and Liam as I follow Todd and Emily to the rest of the older cousins. Emily’s brothers, Alfie, Luca, and Callum, stand with my other brother Tommy at the edge of the cliff, just feet away from where my death might take place. Alfie, Luca, Emily, Todd, and Tommy have all gone through the test, whereas Callum and I are the only ones left to take it. He has his in a couple of months, which I hope I will be able to attend.

“We will see you on the other side,” Alfie and Luca state, nodding to me before leaving and heading to their places.

“You’ll have to tell me how it goes. These buggers won’t tell me jack,” Callum explains before rushing to catch up with his brothers. Emily just nods at me before following him.

I look over at Tommy and he smiles, but I can see through the lie, while Todd just stands on the edge. I still remember when the three of us were kids; we were always so close. Nothing came between us.

“Billy’s Burgers joint tonight?” Todd asks, putting his hand in the middle of the three of us.

“Hell yeah. I’m craving some of his burgers,” Tommy answers, adding his hand to Todd’s.

“If I make it out alive, why not,” I state and place my hand on top of Tommy’s.

I look at both of them. It may not always seem like they love me but right now I know we love each other. I take a deep breath before they go their own ways and I head to the cliff that is marked by the stones. I can see the peak of the sun emerge from the ocean. The warmth that radiates from its light almost takes away the fear that has settled within me.

“Make Mom proud,” Dad states before he places something in my hand and falls backward over the cliff.

I open my hand and realize it’s mom’s necklace, the one that has been passed down through generations. It is a blue stone that has been crafted into a gem, marked with the initials of my five times over great-grandmother. It is hung on a long silver chain, which I can still remember playing with it when I was a kid. It seemed like my mom never took it off.

“I’ll see you on the other side,” Todd says as he pats me on the shoulder, while I wipe away my tears.

“Too slow,” Tommy states before he pushes Todd off the cliff and they both follow my dad’s fall. I can hear Tommy screaming all the way down. He has always been one of the radicals, I guess it’s why he fits in with Alfie, Luca, and Callum so well.

I take a deep breath as I place the necklace over my head and lay it over my old shirt. And with the sun’s light finally reaching the top of the cliff, it shines, almost glimmering.

I lean over the edge one last time and see the rocky bottom; a fifty-fifty chance that it will be my end. I take a few steps back, and without allowing myself a second thought I run off the edge of the cliff, following my brothers.

The wind races at me as I am barely able to open my eyes, but I do and see my worst fear approach. The rocky shoreline gets closer as I watch more waves crash against the boulders before receding. I can smell the saltiness of the ocean air even stronger now, but all I can focus on is my beating heart that races faster than I ever thought possible. I have never been this scared in my life.

Before I meet my death, pain sears through my back. The pain is excruciating: it’s as if my bones are reforming and breaking themselves apart. I take a deep breath as the rocks get bigger. I quickly close my eyes, not wanting to see my own death. I can feel the wind still racing at me as I get ready for the impact.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I state as I grab hold of the gem and tighten my hand around it.

I feel a quick jolt before the wind stops and I feel as though I am hung in complete darkness. I feel the warmth radiate within me and I feel as though I am on a cloud. I guess I died.

I try to relax my body, but I feel a big splash and I am soaked in water. I carefully open my eyes and find myself just above the shoreline. I realize that I have vertically straightened myself out. I am faced with the sun that has now risen above the water and its reflection is fully formed in the water.

I look down and realize that my shoes are just inches from a sharp rock, but I also notice that my feet bob up and down. I quickly look behind me and see something white move up and down in rhythm to my bobbing. I concentrate on it and see the white feathers, then recognize the long wingspan.

“Welcome to the sky, Teagan,” a soft voice echoes.



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Marli Jago

Marli is an aspiring writer in the Professional Writing Program. On the off chance that she isn’t writing, she is playing card games, reading, or hanging out at the nearest Tim Horton’s with her friends.

Summer Flounder

Photo by  from Pexels

Photo by from Pexels

On paper, a day at the beach sounds like a good idea to Gilbert Theodore Darby. Beach Day is an annual event he attempts every summer on a predetermined weekend when he knows his wife and daughter will not be busy. He wakes in his bed, stretching the sleep from his limbs, and swings his legs over the side to feel the grey carpet between his toes. Gilbert dresses in his Beach Day outfit: a lightweight beige shirt, a pair of beige cargo shorts, and the Crocs gifted to him by his mother-in-law, which are also beige. By coincidence, Gilbert Theodore Darby’s entire outfit is beige—much like his life.

Despite the protestations from his wife, Cindy, and the grey skies obscuring any hint of sun, Gilbert insists on their annual beach day. To him, Beach Day is not about the weather, or the swimming, or even the beach. Beach Day simply means time with his family, which is a rare occurrence in his household. To his wife, Beach Day is a nuisance from which she sees little escape. They have never told each other this, and this year is no different.

On the ride there, they are lost. Gilbert Theodore Darby is behind the wheel, red-faced and yelling at Cindy, who sits in the passenger seat equally enraged. She insists they follow the map she has on her phone instead of relying on memories of the previous Beach Days to guide them. Gilbert is sure he knows the way and refuses to hear any more on the subject. From the backseat of the minivan, their daughter Elizabeth watches in silence. This will not be the thing that traumatizes her today.

As they approach the beach, they do not encounter the usual salty, muggy scent that accompanies Beach Day. Instead, they are met with a smell so horrible that Cindy begins to gag and Elizabeth begins to cry. Gilbert Theodore Darby willfully ignores the odour. It carries the usual salty twinge of the ocean, as anything on the coast does, but is tainted with the sickly-sweet smell of rotting flesh. Unbeknownst to Gilbert Theodore Darby and his family, the remnants of Hurricane Claudette, which had recently swept through the area, caused a disruption in the migratory pattern of the summer flounder. It was a large, ugly fish that was only close to the shore at this time of year to lay eggs. The tumultuous tides had confused the poor sea creatures and hurled them ashore in a manner that suggested Claudette cared very little for their spawning season. This resulted in a layer of dead fish half a foot deep that covered the first ten feet of beachfront. As the waves continued to crash over this scene of death and gore, bringing with them more dead fish in various states of decay, it gave the tumorous growth the semblance of life, twitching and pulsating in the dim, grey light.

Not to be robbed of his yearly Beach Day, Gilbert Theodore Darby insists that he take his daughter over the sand dune to properly see the sight he refers to as “awesome in the most literal sense”. His wife steadfastly refuses to leave the minivan, and cites understandable complaints regarding the stench and the visceral nature of the spectacle. Gilbert insists. Cindy does not want to argue; she is so sick of arguing. Elizabeth, silent as ever, watches her mother begin to cry as her father pulls her out of the minivan towards the awful smell. This will not be the thing that traumatizes her today.

As Gilbert Theodore Darby pulls his daughter along behind him, a great many things run through his head. He finds himself frustrated: the ruination of his Beach Day; the arguments with his wife, which had become increasingly more frequent since the last year’s Beach Day; and the spawning ground of the summer flounder. Above all, Gilbert is angry with himself for thinking that any day, even Beach Day, could bridge the widening gap between himself and his family. And as depression moves in to cloud his mind, his ankle catches the branch.

Interestingly enough, the branch came from a national park on the coast of North Carolina, belonging to a virgin longleaf pine that had fallen victim to an invasive species of beetle. This caused it to rot from the inside, weakening it more and making it susceptible to the winds that ravaged the coast when Claudette moved through. Almost miraculously, the branch was carried more than six-hundred and eighty-three miles north along the coast where it was caught up in a school of terrified summer flounders and unceremoniously flung ashore with their corpses. Continuing its streak of poor luck, the branch was tossed onto the dune only yesterday by a young boy named Joseph when he was done with it. The child had been busy picking through the bodies of dead flounders with the branch thanks to poor supervision by his parents. Winds buried it under the sand where it remained, unknowingly waiting for Gilbert Theodore Darby’s ankle.

Gilbert Theodore Darby is not aware of any of this, but as he tips forward he becomes acutely aware of the fact that this is probably going to hurt.

As his ankle wraps around the branch, which sticks hard in the sand, he feels a shot of pain run up his leg. There is little he can do but watch the ground come up to greet his face as he begins his final descent down the dune, a twenty foot fall which would end in the graveyard of summer flounders. Gilbert at least has the foresight to let go of his daughter’s hand so as to not take her with him. Elizabeth watches her father fall down the dune silently, his grunts of pain covered by the sound of the crashing waves. She is unaware of the fact that this is the thing that traumatizes her today.

At the bottom of the hill, buried under a layer of rotten, slick flounders, lies a rather sharp rock. The rock, unlike the branch, is native to this area and has been for some time. The rock has never harmed anyone, save for yesterday when an inattentive and poorly supervised Joseph tripped on it. It is as ill-prepared for Gilbert Theodore Darby as his neck is for it.

And then, a brief pause, only for the doomed man tumbling down the sandy dune. Not enough time for his life to flash before his eyes or for deus ex machina to swoop down and intervene. Only enough time for an image of a New Orleans bachelor apartment in the summer of 1995.

At that time, Gilbert Theodore Darby, who back then went by Gil, was determined to find what he called the real New Orleans, not the artificial city lauded by tourists and exhaustive collegiate types that waxed philosophic, bragging about the food and the jazz and the voodoo. After a week in the city, Gil could feel he was barely scratching the surface. The tours he had planned were of little help–-historical, white-washed re-tellings of the area led by towering, minimum-wage guides with smiles that would melt your heart, whose only goal on their shifts was to get rid of all the tourists on their bus. Gil’s tour guide was named Sebastian.

Sebastian, who at the time went by Seb, took Gil aside after the tour to talk to him. He would never explain why he picked Gil out of the crowd—he would never get the opportunity. But the young man from out of town followed the local back to his apartment, and eventually toward the French Quarter, the place Gil had, unbeknownst to even himself, wanted to go this entire time.

Above all, it was the smell of the city he remembered the most. The damp air carried with it the scents of a dozen restaurants, the smells of a hundred cooking fish mingling, mixing with the smell of the bayou to create an intoxicating perfume with which Gil fell in love.

And the people. By God, the people there were alive. Back home, Gil couldn’t remember a single person who lived like they did in New Orleans. Seb insisted that he was only seeing the surface, that many people outside the tourism areas lived like he did—or perhaps worse. But Gil always laughed it off, saying Seb was too close, too jaded.

By their third day together, Gil had gathered his things to stay at Seb’s apartment. For a short time, Gil managed to convince himself that he would stay in New Orleans forever, living with this wonderful man he had been lucky enough to happen across.

In spite of all this, all they had done together, the one memory that plays before his eyes as his neck careens towards the sharpened rock that will soon pulverize his vertebrae and scar his daughter for life is of a quiet afternoon in Seb’s apartment. The two were hungover and tired from the night before and wordlessly agreed to a day inside. A small air conditioning unit hanging from the window screeched as it poured cool air into the muggy apartment, providing the two with what little relief there was to enjoy. Dampened music, pumped out from the bar downstairs, could be heard through the thin walls, a local jazz musician whose name Gil had never bothered learning.

Seb was sketching the view from that very window. It was a scene he would end up drawing hundreds of times in his life, perfecting every angle and shadow across a dozen sketchbooks. It was meditative, Seb explained once, something he did to relax and center himself. Gil was attempting to read a book his grandparents had given him, insisting it would help him “get his head on straight”. But he found himself distracted by the movement of Seb’s pencil across the page.

It was a simple moment. A sliver of time where Seb yawned, stretching his hand out with the pencil clutched in his fingers. Gil watched as Seb bared his teeth, looking up at the sky and arching his back. It was a strangely visceral moment that Gil could not tear his eyes off of. He remembered seeing into Seb’s mouth, seeing the back of his teeth, watching the sweat trickle down the nape of his neck only to vanish beneath the bright, floral shirt he wore almost every day. It was peaceful. Humanizing. It brought this God, this Adonis, down to Gil’s level for just a moment. And Gil loved him for it all the more.

The moment only lasted a second before Seb resumed his drawing. He took no note of Gil’s attention on him. A few days later, terrified of what his grandparents would do to him if he arrived home late from the trip, Gil picked a fight with Seb and found an excuse to leave. The last time he saw Sebastian, he was seated on the foot of his bed, tears streaming down his face. A drawing of the scene outside Seb’s window lay at his feet, ripped to pieces by Gil.

It had been decades since Gilbert Theodore Darby had thought of his time in New Orleans, and of Sebastian. A pang of regret crashes his heart seconds before the rock collides with his neck. This is his last sensation as the murderer, hidden by a half-rotten summer flounder, pierces him at the precise angle required to shatter vertebrae. Gilbert Theodore Darby has only a few seconds of life left as he enters spinal shock, sinking into the desiccated pile of fish. He does not hear his daughter screaming at the top of her lungs, nor the crashing of the waves as they carry more flounder to bury him. He only hears the dampened music of a local jazz musician whose name he had never bothered to learn.


Ian Mitchell

Ian Mitchell is a pro-wrestling fan who also happens to be in the second year of the Professional Writing program. When not telling his friends about how he would run the WWE, he can be found playing video games, doodling, and writing a rules system for a pro-wrestling tabletop roleplaying game.