it’s been a while…

Sorry it’s been so long since anything’s been posted. August was a doozy.

But hopefully I will be posting more soon. And things are afoot….

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UPDATE (12:51 pm)

I’ve decided to publish on here several short stories that I have published previously in various print media. These include The Stars / Les ÉtoilesTicker Tape Kings, and Kings Cross, all of which I’ve been incredibly happy with and am desperate to share.

Beauty is pain, so they say, and thus the beautiful medium of print is so painfully ephemeral that it would otherwise be nearly impossible to track down some of these now.

The above gif remains applicable to my current mood.

Werk it, tubby bear, werk it.

travel and the art of mental maintenance: II. Madrid, the arrival

This is part of a series I have been working on. The Introduction is here.

the arrival

I was supposed to take the train from Paris to Madrid. It was one of those things that I had planned out well in advance like the responsible adult I had thought I was. I bought my Eurail pass and everything.

If I remember correctly, it was an overnight train. In the planning stages, this was a good thing because it meant a night I didn’t have to pay for a hostel.

But then, as Paris wound to a close, all the ephemeral friends I had made in my hostel there were starting to drift away… some back to their everyday lives, some onto their next adventure. The loneliness was creeping back in. The tide was coming in again.

Suddenly, an overnight train journey was starting to feel a bit too much like claustrophobia. As if the train would trap me with myself and the bleak possibility of unwanted social interaction. Loneliness is strange sometimes in that you know social interaction should be good for you, but you fear it ever-the-more intensely.

This was the beginning of a pattern that would repeat over and over while I travelled, in one of those unearthly hybrids of art and mathematics.

So I looked up Ryanair. It was something absolutely absurd (like only 20 Euros) to fly from Paris to Madrid. So I booked it. I get irresponsible with money when faced with potentially anxiety-ridden situations. Anything to avoid it. Take my money. I booked a flight leaving that night. It would get into Madrid at about midnight.

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I took the Metro to the dying embers of central Paris where I had to catch a coach to this tiny little airport, the name of which eludes me. It was one big room lined with vending machines on one side, and windows on the other. You could watch the rickety planes come in and airport staff push the staircases up to them. For someone who grew up in a city with a major airport, this felt like time travel. As it I would see The Beatles descend at any moment. A pretentious, privileged thought, but one I had all the same.

Ryanair doesn’t book seats. It’s a free-for-all. I would come to learn the best entrance strategy (always go for the back set of stairs; most people rush the first), but at this point, I just went with the crowd.

I had my Lonely Planet travel guide and I spent the flight plotting my route from the airport to the hostel in Madrid. Easy peasy, it looked. Just one metro line, with one change. Doneskis.

But by about one in the morning, I discovered that part of the Madrid Metro was down for maintenance. I had to find the surface and find a shuttle bus. I got on the wrong one.

When I realized something was wrong (which took an embarrassingly long time), I got off the bus, and hailed a cab. I handed the address to a hostel over to the driver and he took one look at it and gave me a long, tired look. Without a word, he started driving.

Madrid in the middle of the night is an odd place. It is funny to compare it to other cities, especially my own, Vancouver, which shuts down at about one-thirty am, just after the last Skytrain pulls out of downtown.

Madrid is one of those cities that goes all night. Sure, it’s quieter than during the day. But there’s still stuff going on. It feels like an underground of sorts. Like you’re somehow complicit in this secret world.

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By two-thirty am, the cab pulled up at the end of a long alley. It was wide enough to know that it was a viable walkway, but narrow enough that the cab driver silently said no fucking way.

I gave the cab driver a look as if to ask where the hell am I supposed to go?

He pointed down this Spanish Knockturn Alley and said, “Down. Just little. On left.”

“Thanks.”

He looked solemn. By now, I had assumed this was his natural state of being, solemnity, but as I opened the cab door, he said, “Careful. Bad town. Very bad.”

I had sincerely wished he’d not said that. How could this have helped? Like now I could watched out for maniacs but before I would have embraced them with open arms? Did he think I was expecting the residents of Spanish Knockturn Alley to break out into a rendition of the Lollipop Guild at my arrival?

I side-stepped a few leering types, but I made it to the hostel unscathed. I managed to get a room and snuck up to it quietly, tiptoeing amongst the already asleep. So as not to cause unnecessary noise, I slipped off my shoes and slid into the bed fully clothed.

As tired as I was after such a long day, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even close my eyes. I pulled the blanket up to my chin and stared at the underside of the bunk above me. My heart was pounding. I could feel my pulse in my ears.

Holy shit! How had I taken the events of the evening in such stride? I had been stranded in the middle of the night in a foreign city I had not even seen in the daylight. And I had been alone. Completely alone. No one had known I was even in the country.

How stupid could I have been?

Once I replayed everything over in my mind, it was impossible to calm myself down. I had to repeat over and over: You’re safe now. Calm the hell down. It’s over.

It was a strange day, but an important one. I realized I could handle it. Things would be thrown at me and I only had myself to rely on. But I could handle it.

And maybe I needed to be a little bit more responsible with myself… and my money. But I wouldn’t learn that lesson until years later.

Kings Cross

Julie’s waiting at Kings Cross for Eric. There hasn’t been snow for a few days now so she didn’t mind walking to the tube. The station is busy like always. But I’ve let time unspool out before me in that way you can do after you’ve died. So it’s after Christmas now, and everyone here is coming back from their holidays or leaving to go back home. People are saying goodbye to friends and family; getting a bitter slap of reality as they step off the tracks. It’s a pretty bleak atmosphere, all and all.

And she’s still wearing black, is my sister. Her black coat is thick wool and comes down to her knees. She’s got it unbuttoned: letting the world see her dress and tights in all their solemn glory. She looks more like she’s in mourning than she did at my fucking funeral.

As she finds the board she’s told Eric she’ll meet him under, she catches herself suddenly wondering what he’s going to look like now, as many months as it’s been since she’s seen him. Her mind pieces in the picture of his face. She’s struck by how easily she can trace those details. Hair falling across his forehead like thin pins. Such a dark, ragged auburn. A rough jaw that only grows rougher when he’s neglected to shave. His lips are thicker in the middle then on the side so even when he smiles they look pursed. When he stands plainly, arms hanging at his side, his shoulders roll forward and he sinks into himself.

Engrossed with creating this picture in her head, Julie’s eyes lose focus on the crowds before her. She looks glassy-eyed and lost. Like some desolate waif abandoned amongst the throngs. The announcer crackles through the din of the station and she jumps. The words are inaudible but meaningless, serving only to catch her outside of herself. No one saw her jolt but she blushes anyway. Her eyes search the crowds again and there he is. Bundled up, is Eric; she can see the blue scarf wound around his neck even at this distance. It’s more bohemian than she’d normally think for him. As such, it gives him an air of self-importance.

As he grows closer, he waves. Julie is suddenly quite nervous. Without thinking, she pulls her coat closed and winds the dark ends of her plait around her finger. Eric hasn’t changed at all since the summer. Not like she has. A few months on her hair has added an extra curl on the bottom, that’s about all. She’s put on a little weight too. It’s easy to blame it on grief, she’s been telling herself, but now she’s suddenly so conscious of it.

He reaches her. His bag is strapped across his back. He’s wearing a fucking motorcycle jacket, she thinks. Eric does not own a motorcycle. If he got one he would have mentioned it. Her fingers clench as her hands stuff themselves into her pockets.

“Eric, my brother,” she suppresses a waver in her throat, “Dapper as ever. Mum let you out the house like that?”

“She don’t know I’m gone,” he says, “Julie, you look—”

She’s well aware what she looks like; she’s just come from work. “Frumpy? Boring? Pathetic?” she simpers, “Let me keep throwing out adjectives, Eric, and you raise your hand when I hit the right one. Tidy? Responsible?”

He raises his hand. “You don’t look like you. You look like a grown-up.”

“Oh, thank you very much. That’s kind of you to say.”

“You know what I mean.” They turn in the direction of the tube. “New job has a dress code, I’m assuming.”

“You assume correct, sir.”

With a grin, she leads him onwards. Julie keeps a step ahead of him, as though some distance must be observed. As they push alongside a crowd of strangers onto the tube, they both cling to the poles around them. There’s a strange intimacy, Julie thinks, on a crowded tube. Such a close proximity to complete strangers: you can hear their breath, smell their antiperspirant, body odour, cologne or perfume, and see the smallest twitches of their face. You can feel their body pulsing around you. Yet everyone is afraid to fucking speak.

Julie and Eric keep shooting each other quick looks. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. Julie looks at Eric. Then looks away. Eric looks at Julie. Then looks away. It’s like they’re on strictly observed schedule. But they dare not fucking speak lest the intimacy overwhelm them.

At last their feet climb up side-by-side onto the sidewalk. Late December hits them snidely. “You should have just given me your address,” says Eric, “I could’ve found my way. You didn’t have to meet me.”

“I don’t mind. It’s on my way home.”

Their feet keep skipping along the sidewalk. The only snow still sticking around in this part of the city is grey slush in the gutter. Only the odd patch of ice in potholes and cracks reminds anyone it’s fucking winter. Neither of them realise it, but they’re both wearing the same shoes they wore to my funeral: Julie’s black flats and Eric’s weird loafer things. Funny the details we remember. And the ones we miss.


Originally published in in Room, 37.1 (March 2014).

Ticker Tape Kings

“A time travel story unlike any I’ve read.” – Black Gate

__________________________

Time travel always has rules. These rules bend to nothing but the will of the narrative.

It is not the case in real life. In real life, I am told, time travel has one un-bending, un-breaking rule: you cannot come back.

Lawrence did his best to make sure I understood this: “We cannot come back, Lisa. We go, we are gone. We live our lives there, in the past.”

He said this with such urgency, such gravity. His usual lectures are never so pointed. When he stands before a classroom, he speaks with the rhetoric of a philosopher. He speaks like a man in love.

What he loves is the Middle Ages. He discovered this in the hall of academia, plaid-shirted and guileless in the pursuit of truth. He discovered this when we were together so long ago now.

Those years broke away in aimless reverie of that period of life that can only be called post-youth. While he grew a beard and photocopied journals, I drifted. He looked out and I looked in. Lawrence placed great symbolism in the death of Chaucer while I placed great symbolism in the memory of my first visit to a library, hand clasped inside my mother’s.

It was the day they were selling off the old card catalogue drawers. Confused my mother was for a moment, abandoned by her intentions. Together we both stood by while the librarian pointed to a computer screen. This memory would come to contextualize my vanished adolescence as the last one the western world to remember life before the internet. I have always supposed this means I will be one of the last people left alive with the knowledge of that distance, remembering what it truly is to be disconnected.

But Lawrence does not know disconnect. He finds something of himself in everything. He finds something of himself in people worlds away, in people who lived millennia ago.

He found something in me once.

I suspect now he pities me.

His face fell when I gave him my address. A studio apartment, I said: brick walls and cracking plaster, exposed pipes, sirens in the air and a metallic tingle in the water. I live on the border: one side a memory of industry marked by empty lots and cheap warehouses; the other a prophecy written by bohemian artists. They predict ten years until gentrification. The neon signs are like banner men: each faux-dive bar and restaurant a noble house of those young, educated and poor.

When he came over, I wondered how far he had to travel. I do not even know where he lives now. He stepped inside as though holding his breath. The way his shoulders sheepishly hunched forward told me he’s not proud of what he holds behind his lips.

I laughed at him as I said, “Hippie,” wanting to reach for his blond beard. But the distance between us was too vague.

“How are you?” He ignored the distance—I should have suspected—and pulled me in.

“Fine.” His body pressed quickly against me; his hand patted my back.

Moments like this remind me so starkly of our genders. When I feel a man pat my back, even a man as level and familiar as Lawrence, I remember I am a woman, in the most biological sense. Even Lawrence does this to me and he is only slightly taller than me and not stocky but lean. But his hand feels so big in the brief moment it sits against me and I cannot help but feel small. I feel weak: fashioned into an object of pity and concern, someone to be taken care of. And I hate it.

I pulled away. As I looked him up and down, it all became apparent. He’d barely slept by the looks of his eyes. That pert boyishness was gone. And that moment where I felt weak and pitiable disappeared. He looked like a child knocking on the first door of Halloween, not knowing what horror mask hides behind. “Lisa,” he said, eyes dark and sallow, “We can start over.”

#

As he sat on my sofa, sipping green tea from a china mug, I flipped through samples of the documents they had for him as if these were paint samples for a house we would build together. This first wave of artifacts—historically crafted bills of exchange, manuscripts, stamped coins pilfered from a museum cache—was like blueprints. He had everything but a Lonely Planet guide.

Months of lessons would await me if I decided to go. Or so he tells me. I would learn the language of English before a vowel shift. I would prepare a backstory. I would have to learn to wield a sword. Time travel is tedious, I thought.

Despite his insistence otherwise, Medieval London hardly feels like a place for a rebirth. I know what looms on the horizon.

Thus Lawrence’s nonchalance scared me. That rule stood out blindly: you cannot come back. The finality is terrifying, but Lawrence seemed to enjoy his idea of a one-way ticket.

Here was a man with a lingering question: who killed a Geoffrey Chaucer? So used he is to the easy answers of the Internet age that mysteries frustrate him. Some things are simply lost to history and that infuriates Lawrence.

He has always wished that the answers were like a missing set of keys: turn over enough couch cushions and they show up eventually. Time travel is just another text book to him, another primary document.

But he does not want to do it alone. Perhaps that counts for something.

While Lawrence grew his blond beard I drifted: I floated penniless across the expanse, taking up ventures Romantic and painful: picking grapes in the south of France, teaching English in Spain.

But there was always a notion of home, of a place that could be returned to if desired. Because the mind builds things into fantasies; it is naïve to think otherwise. The world becomes an impossibly perfect universe of Eiffel Towers covered in Instagram filters where no one is lonely and it never rains.

But life, the life that haunts you daily, carries on just below the surface. Other worlds are two months of culture shock and then the norm.

I tried explaining this to Lawrence as he sat uncomfortably on my sofa, picking idly at an old afghan. Stubbornly, he shook his head. “You don’t believe me,” is all he said, “You just don’t believe me.”

“You’re right,” I replied, “I don’t. But it wouldn’t change a thing. Even if this were true, what can you expect of me?”

His smile peeks out, sheepish and coy: “That you wouldn’t let me go alone.”

“Laurie—“

“Lisa,” he lowers his voice, placing his hand on my knee, at once both intimate and innocent, “You’re the only one.”

#

It took a long time for me to even consider believing him. I thought that he was playing some elaborate practical joke. Then I thought that years spent in libraries and lecture halls had melded his obsession into a waking daydream—that he’d slipped into Shakespearean madness.

At last he’d become the something to rescue. The thought of his hand, strong and commanding against my back, awoke some feeling of spite, or superiority. I would play along, I decided, and let him take me to visit the facility.

The facility is in a part of town I’d always thought full of discount textile stores and auto-body repair shops; where the rent is so cheap it feels like the early nineties.

Walking through the side streets, you could almost believe it was. A sign on a corner store was broken plastic. Fading fluorescent light bulbs shone through. Old adverts hung in the windows hawking things I remember from when I was a kid: Astro Pops and Bagel Bites.

I passed a salon. A cardboard woman, faded from the sun, had blue eyeshadow and sprayed bangs. Behind her, frail, immigrant women gossiped, giggled, and wiped their onion paper hands on their smocks.

Nothing here had changed in years, except everyone was older now than they once were.

As the corner store faded behind me, I nearly tripped over a sandwich board with the daily news. I ignored the headline as I have since Lawrence’s proposition. Nothing seemed new after that, as though the world stopped turning.

We just tell the same stories over and over and pretend we haven’t heard them before. At first, we think we’re perfecting them, as if every tales has a right way to be told and we just need to unlock it, chipping away slowly like Michelangelo discovering David.

If we ever get there, there’s barely a thing left resembling truth. It’s all about the nuance: did we get our comedic timing right? Are the details perfect? We tell it like this, and we keep telling it, over and over. The lies we applied as gloss become truths: a flourish of a brush, a slightly adjusted camera angle. We tell it over and over. We forget what is the lie and what is the truth. And after a while, the story becomes boring. It becomes a routine, just another banal circumstance of our existence.

Is this what Lawrence wants so desperately to strip away, the lacquer that hides just how boring it all is?

Perhaps I did believe something of his story after all. Perhaps I just wanted to. Perhaps the image of Lawrence as a victim sat poorly with me. Perhaps the idea of time travel became comforting, like an escape route, even.

As I arrive at the warehouse, Lawrence waits, hands stuffed in pockets, leaning against a wide hangar door. The door takes up a side of the grey building, but it is closed and locked and looks like it hadn’t been opened in years.

There is nothing to indicate a business: no sign, no mail slot, no buzzer.  Dust collected in the corners and weeds poked through the broken concrete. The sounds of the city faded: I’m not supposed to hear anything distinct anymore; it’s all ambient.

I point to the door. “It’s in here?”

He nods. “They’re so secret. Can you imagine if they weren’t?”

“Yes,” I say, “I imagine they’d be exposed as the frauds they are.”

Lawrence stares. I see the resignation in his eyes: the redness, the lack of sleep. “They convinced me, Lisa.” And now he wants to convince me. He wants me here to witness it too, to tell him he’s not insane. “I need you to see it too, Lisa. I need you to hear it. I need you to witness it. I need you to believe it too.”

“In time travel?” I laugh.

He takes both my hands in his. “Please.”

#

Inside the warehouse it is dark. False walls have been propped up as if to preserve a mystery. A man greets us at the door. He is tall and broad-shouldered; his eyes are near black and his skin brown. He tells us his name is James and then he leads us on. He speaks with a shrouded arrogance that leaves me sceptical, but Lawrence is impressed.

“Just follow him, Lise,” he says, gesturing up the corridor. The ceilings are low; it almost feels a tunnel: dark walls and floors. The corridor twists: we turn left, we turn right. At the end is a single door: a halo of light stretches through the cracks.

“This way,” James says. He knocks on the door, “It’s me.”

On the other side is a woman in an ochre suit. She says nothing but lets her narrow eyes drift up and down Lawrence and I. “Mr. Stone,” she says to Lawrence, “Welcome again. You’ve brought your companion at last.”

“Lisa,” Without looking at me, Lawrence places his hand on the small of my back and steers me in towards the room. Instinct digs my heels into the floor. The room is four blank walls and a single desk with a single stack of papers and two pens: one presumably for signing, the other a spare.

These people have shaky faith in ballpoint pens yet they want to send Lawrence back in time.

I say nothing and Lawrence still will not look at me. The woman starts: “Ms. McLean—“

“Stop,” I say, “How does she know my name?”

“I’ve told them about you,” he says, “I needed to clear you before you could see in here.”

The woman smiles; her lips are like earthworms curling on hot tarmac. “We have something for you to sign. Just some simple non-disclosure agreements.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then it falls on me,” Lawrence replies. At last he looks at me, his stare a plea.

And so I pick up a pen.

I only need one.

The woman dismisses James, my signature in his hand, and leads us from the room. From here on, the doors are steel. They clang as they open and close. The echoes seem designed purely for their contribution to the ambience.

Single file, we make our way down the corridor. I follow the woman with Lawrence’s hand on my back. His fingertips rest gently, only in reminder he’s there, nothing more.

For thirty seconds, no more, we walk like this and I find myself thinking this is the deepest prolonged physical contact we’ve had in years: fingertips quiet on my back. What is it as you age that makes you less easy to the simple intimacy of touch?

In college, we’d collapse against each other as nothing more than a greeting. We’d sling arms around one another, link arms on jaunts across campus, spend whole nights with limbs entwined. There’s a cavalier ephemerality to the motions of relationships at that age, because everything one imagines of permanence had yet to happen. Everything feels transition, a pathway. You’re groping along in the dark.

That path never felt like it led anywhere but one day I awoke older, aware I’d lost the pretensions somewhere along the way.

Lawrence’s fingertips disappear as we arrive at another door. The woman, whose name I still do not know, punches in a code. As the steel lurches open, I realise suddenly that those long corridors have slowly been sloping downwards. Before us is an open tract, easily three times the size of the warehouses. Spinning on her thick heels, the woman faces us; her worm lips struggle to repress an eager smile.

“Ms. McLean,” she says, “This is where it happens.”

“Where what happens exactly?”

The room is lined with glass concealing panels of machinery, like a space shuttle control room. It all seems so markedly scientific. From the ceiling hang bars and cords and lights and pathways, like a fly gallery. In the centre is a hollow, sealed chamber. All contributes to the feeling of a set designed by a grade schooler. Lawrence smiles painfully; I grimace in return.

The woman purses her lips. “The actual science would take hours to explain, days if I had to go back to elementary physics—“

“No useful, one line analogies?”

She frowns. “If you want to hear it, we can go back to the beginning. We have people who can do that.”

“Lise,” Lawrence whispers.

“What? I’m sorry. That just seems the easiest way to package bullshit. I think I have a right to be skeptical.”

The woman laughs; such a haughty laugh she should know does little for developing trust. “Ms. McLean, you need proof, don’t you?”

And proof she provides: enough to convince me at last.

To convince me, it did not take Lawrence’s word; it did not take examples of drafted artifacts for the life we would lead; it did not take seeing the facility; and it did not take the briefcases full of pages of ten-point type spelling out waivers and wills.

All it takes is a calico cat.

The woman holds the cat out to me, pointing out the distinctive markings, letting me run my fingers through her fur. “About six months ago, this cat appeared one instant inside the chamber, as a kitten. I don’t know if you know this, Ms. McLean, but cats have this genetic quirk. You can manipulate their DNA all you like, you can clone a cat, but you will never get the exact same markings in the fur. That is something unique to each cat alone.”

“I did know that actually,” I fold my arms, “What point that does that prove?”

The woman grins as James comes back into the room, a small kitten in his arms. “Then how do you explain this?” As she takes the kitten from him, she presents it to me: a smaller, younger version of the older cat. “This kitten was born just a few weeks ago.”

“That’s not the same cat,” I stutter.

“It is, and it isn’t,” she says, “Time is not a loop, Ms. McLean, it is a line, an arrow. When that cat came to us, we split from whatever line it came from, just as this kitten will split into another.”

I swallow as she places the kitten into the chamber, works some magic with the controls, and the kitten disappears.

“That’s why we can’t come back.”

“Precisely,” the woman says, “Time travel is complicated. In fact, ‘travel’ is a bit of a misnomer. ‘Travel’ implies coming and going. What we do, I’m afraid, is provide a one-way trip.”

I look to Lawrence and the sheepish sadness behind his eyes. “One way? So you meant it? You would never come back? You’d be gone forever?”

He swallows; behind his blond beard he could be almost a little boy again. His blue eyes twinkle. He takes my hand and I let him; it feels like years ago.

“That’s why I want you to come with me. The decision is yours,” Lawrence says, although he does not have to. Of course the decision is mine. “But I’m going anyway.”

I stare plainly at him. He avoids the hard truth of my eyes as his toes shuffle against the cement floor. “Laurie,” I insist, “This machine will kill you.”

But as I look at him, I see such excitement. I see the simplicity with which he will twist the medieval world to his will. I see how he has the great mysteries ahead of him to solve. I see him fantasizing about the world at a crux, a world in 1399 where Henry Bolingbroke showed the true way to make a ruler, where divine right dissolves in the face of strength.

I see me, at his side, no more than Cassandra. Where it feels to me a transformation, a submission, to him it is a quest, a self-actualization. He has the battle-ready glee of an astronaut. It is worth it, I think, to go to the moon if you can’t come back for the parade in your honour?

I reply: “It is impossible to ask me to choose this, Lawrence. I cannot believe you would be so selfish.”

“How is this selfish, Lisa?” he retorts, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“For you. You’ve yet to tell me what I get out of this, other than the pleasure of your company.”

He replies and I retort, and on it goes in that funny way where old patterns thought lost to the years reassert themselves, almost like time travel itself. Lawrence’s inability to realize what he is asking of me takes me back to the moment he assumed I’d move to Berlin with him for grad school, no questions asked. And that realization turns me back into a twenty-three year old.

“We can start over, Lise,” he murmurs, the quiet words of his thin lips like something from another realm.

“Laurie, please,” I whisper, “You can’t ask me to do this.”

As I step out of the room, escorted by James, the calico cat begins to purr.

#

James leads me in silence down the length of the silent grey hallways until we reach the front door. As daylight cracks through again, I turn to give him my thanks. His smile, nothing more than a polite reflex, nearly sets me to tears.

“It is all right,” he says simply, “And I probably shouldn’t say this, but you’ve made the right choice.”

I gaze up at him, at his tailored suit buttoned carefully over a crisp shirt. His eyes meet mine and hold them. “Would you ever do it?” I ask.

James gestures up to his face with a hand brown on one side, pink on the other. “What do you think? When or where would I go?” As he steps nearer to me, his voice lowers, “I am speaking in confidence now. I see all manner of men come through here, waving their cash. They think they can manipulate the world. They want to get rich on the stock market, invent the steam engine, fuck Cleopatra, throw themselves parades, be king of Europe—and maybe they will.”

“But we don’t get to do that,” I say, “you and I.”

He presses his lips together. “Nope. We certainly don’t.”

We stare at each other, James and I, a shared resentment is momentarily relieved by our mutual commiseration.

I will never see Lawrence again.

I will only be able to assume he travelled in time as promised: without me.

The past will always be so for me, but that is nothing to lament; the past is gone and I must let it go.


Originally published in the anthology Redwing: Speculative Fiction Takes Flight (December 2014).

The Stars / Les Étoiles

Just like Scarlett O’Hara, her dress was made from curtains. It was white now but it had once been purple.

A long time ago before she was even born the curtains had been selected for the living room because they matched the wallpaper perfectly. She grew up in a living room of purple paisley. Everything was purple, actually. Her father liked it like that and her mother never thought to complain. But she, their only daughter, never really cared for purple. But they didn’t listen. And so purple it always was.

The last time she had a growth spurt, she outgrew everything she owned so her mother had to spend the morning sewing her a new frock. (She was late for school but no one noticed.) When she returned home, she blended into the wall. Perhaps she would disappear into the drywall, get pulled into the foundations and be left to stew for eons in the dirt under the house. A few years from now, would her father look up over his paper to her mother and ask: “Hey, what ever happened to our daughter?”

It was the only dress she owned. Always she blended in. She had hoped that growing would help. She always wanted to be bigger. And growing would mean a new dress. And so she wished she would be. She wished and wished but nothing ever happened. Little and insignificant she stayed. At dinner times she would pass the salt when requested and that was where she remained.

Then, one day, she heard a rumour: there things upon which a person who desired something could wish. They were called “the stars,” or “les étoiles.” She liked both names and couldn’t pick a favourite. She wished every night now after she put herself to bed: “Please, les étoiles, please. I have grown so little these past few years. I want to be bigger. So big that no one can ever ignore me again. Please, stars, please. I want to grow and grow and grow.”  She wished every night with her head poked out the bedroom window and her hair hanging down in tight braids brushing against the rose bushes below; she wished on les étoiles.

There was something special about one star, she thought. It flickered like the candle she once saw her grandmother carrying down the dark hall when the lights went out. It flicked blue and red. She smiled to herself and felt the cracks between her loose teeth with her tongue as she closed the window. The stars were special, she thought, they would heed her desire.

She knew her wish would be answered. And it was.

By the next morning, she’d outgrown the curtain dress. It stretched tightly against her skin, the seams bursting , the hem skimming far too high above her knees. Again her mother ripped another panel of curtains from the living room windows. Again she haphazardly stitched together a frock. (Again she was late for school. Again no one noticed.) Again her father sat at the dinner table, his newspaper stretched in front of his face: “Pass the salt.”

Again she poked her head out the window. Again her braids brushed against the roses.  “Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

The next morning, she’d grown again.  (She was late for school and still no one noticed.) “Pass the salt.”

That night, l’étoile blinking red and blue:  “Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

By the next week, her mother was setting her alarm clock earlier and earlier in preparation for the new dress she would have to sew.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

Within another week, all the curtains in the entire house were not big enough to make a dress for her.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

A week after that, she didn’t fit in the house any more.

A week after that, she didn’t fit in the yard.

A week after that, she didn’t fit in the local football pitch.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

A week after that, she was sleeping several miles away in the farmers’ fields, the cornstalks making her pillow, the pumpkin patch at her ankles. She wore all the curtain dresses stitched together around her body.  (The school eventually sent a letter wondering why she had missed so many classes.)

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

Her mother stopped sewing all together. Whatever fabric she could find was lashed together with duct tape. They used sticks and wet rags to give her a daily bath. (The school claimed that the field was out of their catchment area and she should longer attend.) But still she had no seen her father. The newspapers did not deliver to fields.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

Her mother and the farmers, gathered together with the sons and daughters who would take over their plots one day, dressed her every morning. The potato farmers hoisted on socks stitched together from a thousand potato sacks. The corn farmers wove their corn silk into rope and thread to bind the fabrics around her limbs. The blueberry farmers used their rakes to comb her hair; it took ten of them four hours to plait her hair and tie the bows. Their field was directly under her; she’d ruined not only their farms but also the bottom of her dress. The curtain-dresses-frock was stained with a blue sweetness that cost more than her parents could afford. Her mother passed along messages from home that the newspapers issued columns reporting on the increase in the price of blueberries and why oh why could these have happened?

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

When the point was reached that her mother, along with all the farmers, had to work out a system of ropes and pulleys to get the curtain-dresses over her growing body, she made the front page of the newspaper. They came out in hoards to see her and this wooden contraption built around her growing body. Photos were taken in endless succession of the docks built up to her shoulders; of the toothbrush, like an oar from an ancient slave ship, which took six men to work; of the now-ragged curtain dress hanging in lashed-together shards from her expansive skin; of the patchwork fleet of tarpaulins strung up over her head; and of her face, freckles the size of hula hoops. They needed to back up nearly a hundred yards to get her in frame.  The flashbulbs sparkled around her and she realized with glee that they noticed her. They asked her questions and questions. “How much do you eat?” and “How do you bathe?” and “Is purple your favourite colour?” They did not ask how or why she grew so large. And so she kept the secret of les étoiles to herself.

That was when her father came for the only time to the farmer’s field.  He brandished the newspaper with her picture across the front, grinning proudly. He wore his best sweater vest when he came to visit. She stopped wishing. Even though she no longer needed to poke her head out a bedroom window, she stopped wishing. She wasn’t sure how many weeks had passed since that first wish had been granted, but it was then that she finally stopped growing.

She was famous for a week.

Then the fields fell back into silence. The farmers finished counting up the money they’d made from letting the reporters and sight-seers park in their driveways. Her mother put her hands back on her hips. Her father returned home, the newspaper tucked under his arm once more.

She tried to wish again: “Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

But nothing happened.

She never shrank again, but she had stopped growing. For years she stayed that size. For years she stayed in the farmers’ fields. She got to know their names, their histories, their dreams. The rains came. The rains went. The snow came. The snow went. The sun came back. The sun left again. The contraptions around her gradually grew more permanent. The seasons swung by: year falling into year springing into year then falling again then bouncing back again. Metal replaced wood; polyester fleece replaced wool; industrial cables replaced corn silk.

Her curtain-dresses faded from purple to lilac to lavender to white.

The crops around her had long since withered. The farmers retired when their money went and nothing else could grow to replace it. The sons and daughters of the farmers, who had once planned on taking over the farms, married, had children, and moved away, leaving the farms behind. She heard occasionally how they went into the city. Eventually none of the farmers were left anymore. When her mother herself disappeared, her knees too old and rickety to row the toothbrush anymore, there was no one left to see her anymore.

That was the first night in nearly ten years that she wished upon a star again.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I don’t want to be seen anymore. I’m sick of being seen. Please. I don’t want to be seen anymore.”

Years later, Stella, grand-daughter of old potato farmers, drove near the fallow fields, remarked casually to her own grandchildren in the backseat of her jalopy: “Look ahead and you will see a giant. I remember her when I was younger than you. She wore all purple then, but it’s white now.”

The grandchildren laughed, “Silly Grandma! There’s nothing there!” As the jalopy disappeared down the lonely, quiet road, the invisible giant let go her breath, sighing again, alone once more.


Originally published in Sad Magazine, issue no. 14 The FANTASY issue (2013).