“Fiction Baby” by Tamara Jong

At eighteen, you wanted to get hitched to Peter. It’s the Jehovah Witness way and wanted out of your family since you’d been born into it. But then, your feet turned into blocks of ice, because you were straight out terrified to be anyone’s anything. You should’ve had five kids by now, a good-sized Christian family. Though your therapist doesn’t like the word should. When she talks, you listen because her words cost the you’ re-not-covered-by-company-benefits money. Maybe she can figure out what’s so wrong with you.

Peter was your rebound guy with straight red hair, freckles, and the broadest shoulders that’d you’d ever seen. Dancing to every slow song that party, you forgot Tim broke your fifteen-year-old heart, and you made a no kissing rule after him, way before “Pretty Woman” made it a thing. Tim, who was supposed to just be some diary story crush. You always fell for the whitest guy in the room. You didn’t want anything to do with your dark-haired, brown-eyed short mixed-race self. Your heart was full of all those Jane Austen happily-ever-afters. So, when Tim avoided you at the Kingdom Hall, wouldn’t take your calls, and stopped giving you love notes, you kept reading his letters hidden in a binoculars box and wondered what you did wrong.

When Tim moved to Oshawa, you hoped to heal some. Then you moved to Port Perry with all your blah-blahing of never leaving Quebec because you missed your siblings and you were just an Anglophone with a high school education and a dead mom and knew you’d never be seen as a grown-up in this God-forsaken town if you stayed there for one more second.

Tim friended you after your friend married his little brother, and you realized that you could never get away from the first person that hurt you. Tim said he was just a teenager, so he didn’t know why he hurt you and what little truth might have been in that lie, it made you happy to say you couldn’t do dinner, he was one of your first loves, and you didn’t want your hubby hanging out with an ex-girlfriend, and you’re not even a smidge, the jealous type.

Peter made you want to have his red-headed kidlets and filled the hole in your seventeen-year-old heart with love letters, gifts, and pictures that filled a Hefty. You ended it with some fool letter saying you wanted to full time preach and weren’t in love. When you read the letter, Peter kept, you see yourself stretching the telephone cord around your room while talking to him for hours in the last apartment you would ever share with Ma. And now when the radio plays “Two Less Lonely People in The World” by Air Supply, you see two young kids sitting and singing on a park bench in N.D.G., and wish that son he’s so proud of was yours too.


Tamara Jong is a Montreal-born mixed-race writer of Chinese and European ancestry. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper, Room, carte blanche, The New Quarterly, Invisible Publishing, and Body & Soul: Stories for Skeptics and Seekers and forthcoming in The Nasiona. She is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio (Simon Fraser University) and recently had her piece “Thanks for All the Lice, Pharaoh” longlisted in The New Quarterly’s 2019 Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest. You can find her on Twitter @bokchoygurl.

 

“The Summer Before” by David M. Som

I stood around uncomfortably in a shirt that likely would have better fit my twelve-year-old self than my eighteen-year-old self. I awaited my turn to approach the man. There were vases of flowers of all types and colors on pedestals surrounding the massive, person-shaped box he was in. The biggest and most impressive spray, however, lay atop the casket itself. I reached out and poked one of the flower petals, and it wriggled in retaliation. Loss was a complicated ordeal.

To be quite honest, I barely knew the man in the casket. Besides this posthumous meeting, I’d only ever seen him in person about twice in my entire life. Thus, standing before his embalmed body under rose-colored lights seemed like an intrusion. The only connection I had with him whatsoever was my acquaintanceship—if not very loose friendship—with his youngest daughter, whom I went to school with. I twisted my body slightly so I could glance behind me toward her and the remaining members of her immediate family. There were tears in their eyes, but they seemed to lose themselves in conversation with loved ones—enough so that the imminent crumbling of personhood was only internal. I couldn’t fathom the pain they were enduring behind their soft smiles and brave faces.

The peculiarity of this situation weighed on me as I tilted my head toward the man in the casket. I was on the cusp of a new chapter in my life; I’d graduated from community college just two weeks prior. My life would soon turn upside down as I prepared to move and finish out my bachelor’s degree at a university. Meanwhile, the book of his life ended where mine began. Without thinking, my arm shot out to touch the front of his suit jacket. It was almost a comforting gesture on my part, but there was nobody for me to comfort. I stopped myself a mere few inches away, and my hand hovered above him, daring me to move. This was too overwhelmingly intimate to bear. I withdrew from him, collapsed into my own shell, and drifted off to the other side of the viewing room.

How curious it was that life continued beyond the confines of this place, which was now full to the brim with the sorrow of strangers. A few miles away, a new parent showered a new child with love. A freshly broken leg was set in a cast. Existence went on for everyone everywhere else except for this very room, in which I stood across from a dead father and husband. Before I knew it, visitation was over, and people began to file out of the room’s fanciful double doors.

How curious it was that I could put one foot in front of the other, and I did. I was alive. The doors closed behind me as I exited the funeral home. The breeze caressed my face, a lover in a dark place. What a thing. I was painfully, awfully, beautifully, wonderfully alive.


David M. Som is a Rochester, Minnesota, native, though he currently lives in Winona. He is an English major by day and cryptid by night whose writings mostly center around queerness, sexuality, death, and books—sometimes all at once. David also writes for Book Riot. He often spends his free time lurking around his school’s campus or staring into large bodies of water when they’re not frozen. He’s @davidmsom on Instagram.

Photo by Rhodi Lopez.

“After-School with Granny” by Dominic Wright

When I was seven years old, Granny was 86.

Every afternoon she emerged from her screen door of the sun porch.

An elderly white woman whose loose skin fell from her bones. She wore a thin white gown over her hunched body. The grey bonnet on top of her head covered her thinning white hair.

Greeting me with open arms as the words,

“Now, give me my bear hug!” escaped her mouth,

As her nimble fingers gripped the shirt between my shoulder blades and pulled me in as if she hadn’t seen me in months.

Afterward, she grabbed my hand with hers and guided me through her house. From the sun porch to the powder dust hovering in the living room’s space, she sat me down in the kitchen. Extending her index finger to the floor tile, implying that I rest my backpack there, all while pulling out the wooden stool from underneath the table for me to sit on.

“Sit here and open your schoolbooks. I have to go take my medication.” She often said.

As I grew older, so did her Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

During my senior year of high school, Granny had an episode that placed her in a hospital for a few weeks. After school each day, I would visit the hospital she stayed in

My mother, along with nurses, would inform me of how violent she’s been in recent days.

With my backpack hanging from one shoulder, I entered the room she was in. Pulling aside the light blue curtain, I saw her loose skin fall from her face while stuffing it with crushed pieces of Lays potato chips; Her favorite. In her condition, she couldn’t leap out the bed, but her unmatched level of excitement didn’t go unnoticed when she saw me.

We spoke about her Alzheimer’s and Dementia. When she would leave the hospital. And the thoughts about death that she’s been having.

First, I was alarmed, but this has been a normal conversation for both of us since I was 9-years old.

Granny explained to me that she hadn’t feared death since she first had a heart attack in her 50’s and that being in a hospital at her age, you begin to think about life’s journey and the possibility of God calling your name to rise to the gates of heaven.

Fast forward five years, Granny is now 102 years old.

Still, guiding me to the kitchen from the sun porch as if it’s my first time being inside the house. Whatever bag I have, I leave on the floor tile as she drags the same wooden stool from underneath the table for me to sit on.

Her lips push the heavy wrinkles aside as she parts her lips to say,

“Now give me my bear hug.”


Dominic Wright is a graduate of Green Mountain College’s English department. Currently, he lives in New York City where he works as a freelance writer and a mentor to at-risk youth. His writing has been published in Moonchild Mag, Former Cactus magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Elixir. Twitter: @Domiipierre

Photo by James Garcia.

 

“Sister Google” by EC Sorenson

I had a sister. I have a sister. How I say it varies. It depends who I am talking to, the social situation I’m in.

For example, when I meet new people – friends of my husband, work colleagues – I sometimes say something else entirely. Do you have a brother or sister? No. It’s just me.

My sister died in 1987. She was killed in a car crash. She was 21 and I was 10.

It might seem terrible that I skirt around that detail with strangers, but it makes sense. There is a certain social code that says: don’t get heavy. Especially around work colleagues. I cannot begin to explain how wrong I think her loss was – she was 21! – or how it shaped our family.

She was driving on a mountain road when a truck driver veered into her lane. A nurse driving 20 yards behind witnessed the crash and stayed with her on the scene, till the end. The truck driver claimed he was stung by a bee and lost control. Perhaps he was telling the truth. I will never seek him out to ask him.

In the year after her death, I prayed. I sat by my bed and looked to the heavens and asked god to look after her or tried simply to speak to her directly. We were not a religious family, and one day my father walked down the hallway and caught me. I thought I’d get in trouble but he rubbed his cheek in that way he did and kept walking. So I prayed the next day, though I kept one ear to the door, alert to creaking floorboards and footsteps.

Praying was, I realize now, the only means I had of talking to her. To a 10 year old it seemed to be a tried and tested route people took, so for a short time, I prayed.

For a longer time, I lay in bed and felt her gigantic hugs – she was a squeezer. I listened as she talked endlessly about Bruce Springsteen, his silhouette on a poster above her bed. I watched as she sang along to Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”, completely inside that song, gazing out our bedroom window.

And then one day, I lost her voice. I couldn’t hear it anymore.

I trawled over photos. I’d analysed every shot and as I did, over and over, the world moved on. People had mobiles, voicemail, texts. Internet. I often read of recently bereaved people dialing a number over and over, just to hear their loved ones speak. I got it. I get it.

When google landed, I googled her. We are all google-able, reduced to various webpages of information. I tried different search terms, her full name, her first name, her birthplace, the accident date and location.

Google can’t find her.

But I still feel her. There are days when I see a flash of her in the mirror.

I can’t tell you where in the universe she is, but she is there, somewhere. Untouchable, yes, but irreducible with all her flair and warmth and strength.

My sister’s name is Jill.


EC Sorenson is an Australian writer and media producer currently living in Toronto. She has published in various Australian literary journals, and most recently at Monkey Bicycle.

Photo by Henry Lo.

“On Old Grief” by Edvige Giunta

You look at your plants, and notice one is dead. You forgot to water it.

She would have been fifty-seven this year. You left her, like you left Sicily. She died thirty years ago. Her death anniversary comes and goes unnoticed while recent sorrows assail you. You are thinking of another friend, who died three weeks ago—an older friend, the friend of your wiser years. You never left her.

Today you also think of your mother, aging and ailing an ocean away. You watch the political horror show on MSNBC. You share some shit on Facebook about the republicans in Ohio who want to make motherhood compulsory. You put away the white china with gold lines from Thanksgiving dinner. You sort the laundry. You argue with your husband. You call your mother and try to tell her you love her, but she’s tired and wants to hang up. You facetime your brother. You listen to Lucio Batisti’s “I giardini di marzo” and remember dancing with boys in darkened rooms when you were thirteen. You light a candle for your friend, the one who died three weeks ago, and decide you’ll let it burn all night.

You finish revising some writing and send it off. You forget the second glaucoma drop. Then you remember. You don’t forget the aspirin. You have no appetite and so don’t have lunch or dinner. Instead you graze all day: roasted hazelnuts, brie cheese, leftover carrot and orange soup. You feel hollow, and there’s a piercing ache between your throat and your chest. You take deep breaths.

All day you do not think of the beloved girl of your youth on her deathbed in Bologna, thirty years ago, killed by the same cancer that killed your other friend, the one for whom the candle is still burning.

But your body knows.

Your body remembers old grief like a rosary, like a poem you memorized in elementary school, the first Latin declension, a Sicilian proverb, the Angelo di Dio buon amico mio guardami stanotte mentre riposo io you used to recite at bedtime with Nonna. It’s not conscious or volitional. Its syntax and grammar are in place when it surfaces—fresh, pristine, unchanged after all these years. It does not usurp the recent grief. It gathers strength from it.

It grabs you from the inside.

“I’m here,” it says. “You’re mine.”

And in some strange way, you’re grateful.


Edvige Giunta’s books include Writing with an Accent: Contemporary Italian American Women Authors and the coedited anthologies, The Milk of AlmondsEmbroidered Stories, and Personal Effects. She has published in Creative NonfictionRiver TeethAssayLiterary Mama, and other publications. She is Professor of English at New Jersey City University, where she teaches memoir. https://twitter.com/edigiuntahttps://www.instagram.com/edigiunta

Photo by Paolo Nicolello.

“Immortal Appendages” by Clelia Furlan

I was looking at my face in the mirror this morning and discovered something I immediately disliked. My nose has got two creases at the sides, where it abruptly transitions into cheek(s); this spot, due to how close the nose-skin and cheek-skin are, is quite red and tends to develop pimples. It’s mildly disgusting, and it adds to a fairly sizeable list of grievances I have accumulated against my nose over the years (which all, in one way or another, revolve around it being too big and lumpy).

But while I was compulsively (and uselessly, because thirty seconds of smoothness are not going to compensate for twenty years of creases) pulling the two pieces of skin apart with my hands, I remembered something my friend Isabella C (not to be confused with Isabella D, who hates her nose) said a while ago. It was something like “big family noses don’t get enough love”. She’s right, of course: our obsession with tiny, straight noses (especially in women) is a paradigmatic instance of useless conformity and blinds us to what makes us special and to our history. I thought about my parents, neither of whom sports a particularly dainty nose but both of whom have always been (slightly ironically, but with a hint of fundamental sincerity) proud of their “important” appendages (their adjective). And I thought about my ancestors, whose protuberances I inherited, and who were probably often too busy and/or not bombarded by such pervasive beauty standards to care about the creases in their noses. I thought about how sometimes you can find your nose in the portrait of a great-great-etc grandfather from 150 years ago; and in the end I thought, really, why should I care so much about aesthetics? When on the other plate is eternity.


Originally from Gorizia in North-eastern Italy, Clelia Furlan moved to the U.K. to study Philosophy at Cambridge and later at Warwick. She now works in the culture and heritage sector, is training as a live arts producer, and writes bits and bobs in her spare time. She’s currently based in Coventry. WEBSITE: http://www.cavgr.com | SOCIAL MEDIA: @cavgr_ on Twitter and Instagram

Photo by Joseph Greve.

“Beauty Beheld” by Ariel Kravitz

“Yeah, unfortunately, you got the Kravitz eyes. I just think you look so much better with a little bit of mascara and eyeliner.”

According to my mother, reimagined and paraphrased on several occasions. Circa my childhood to present day.

“Your eyes are really small…No, no, don’t worry, I think they’re cool!”

According to the first boy I loved, unprompted, shortly after we met. Circa seventh grade.

“Your eyes. I think your eyes are really beautiful.”

According to the last man who graced my bed, after being asked which of my features he found most attractive. Circa three days ago.


Ariel Kravitz lives in Arlington, Virginia, where she writes and works in product management. In her free time, she likes to lounge in her bean bag and attempt the daily crossword. She tweets from @arielkrav.

Photo by Victorien Ameline.