Article Category Archives: Fiction

A Pinch and a Wiggle

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Shannon runs her fingers over her upper lip and chin, her way to tell when two weeks have passed. With the esthetician closed in Queen Charlotte, she wonders how long she’ll last before she will pluck her chin hairs, one at a time. Only a select few friends know what grows below her mask. The same is true for her red tunic-like sweater. Daily meetups with recipe books and the refrigerator haven’t only added to her cooking skills but also an inch to her waistline. She squeezes her legs into her pants, feels the pinch of the jeans’ button.

The phone rings and it’s Roz, one of Shannon’s few in-person contacts. Twelve years her senior, Roz is fearless when it comes to sharing her opinions, most of them well-founded. So, when Roz asks Shannon to come over, Shannon looks forward to tea and conversation, but doesn’t expect to hear: My freezer quit working.

Shannon grabs her license and her raincoat and goes to her car. Empty spruce cones squish below her soles; the squirrels have been busy all winter. When she turns the key in the ignition, she gets the same warning as a few days before. The cooling fluid is almost empty, although she filled it just yesterday. The heater isn’t working, but the radiator might be overheating. She calls the auto repair shop, but they are all backed up, and her car will have to wait for a month. William, one of the owners, says he’ll swing by on his way tomorrow to help Shannon bring it to the parking lot. Best not to have the car stall midway between hers and Roz’s house, so she decides to walk the mile along the highway by the inlet.

Raindrops pelt her nose and cheeks. She lowers her head, pulls the hood’s drawstring closer, her eyes focused a few metres ahead. Spray from oncoming traffic lands on her jeans, grey-brown speckles on dark blue: lingcod colours. No one will offer her a lift, masked or unmasked. Five years ago, she would have run to Roz’s in all kinds of weather. Some aches and pains now take longer to heal.

Rivulets of rain stream from her hood when she knocks on Roz’s door. She fishes for her mask that is now all damp and ineffective. The door is unlocked and she shouts “hello” but no one answers. Shannon walks around the house to the well-insulated basement. She finds Roz bent over; it looks like the freezer might swallow her up. Boxes and totes are piled up by her side. When Roz lifts her torso carefully, strands of hair that are usually tied up in a neat bun look like an assemblage of bull kelp washed up on a basalt shore, the colour of her undereye circles.

Roz fixes her stare at the freezer until Shannon says, “Let me help you,” and lifts out two large turkeys, deer meat, and fish. Shannon has never seen Roz waffling about a decision, becoming immobile. Roz finally says, “My neighbour inspected it, he thought I could try to order a new capacitor and starter relay, but what if that isn’t going to work?” Roz stares down at the freezer.

“I can store most of the meat in my freezer. All you need is to call one more friend.” Shannon carries the half-full totes up to the house, suspecting that Roz’s arthritis may be bothering her today. Then Roz tells Shannon that Annie already agreed to take some of the frozen food.

Shannon says, “But I walked here.”

Roz reaches for her purse, pulls out a set of keys, and hands them to Shannon. “Take my car.”

Indigenous art showing mirror images of a fish

Split Fish by Shoshannah Greene

When Shannon returns from her freezer run to Annie’s, she notices two more totes of fish that will need to be re-homed. Roz has done up her hair again and served lunch from a casserole of Greek pastitsio that Shannon eats with gusto.

“I phoned Kiebert’s, but they don’t have a freezer in store, and shipping one from Prince Rupert will take more than a month.” Roz looks at her lap. “Unless there is a storm.”

“At least we’re used to that,” Shannon says. Groceries in winter may not arrive on Monday, everyone’s shopping day. That is why putting away deer, fish, and fowl is still so important.

Shannon scans Roz’s living room and kitchen. A statue from one of Roz’s African trips sits on a counter, woven hats line the walls with paintings and prints from Southeast Asia. Shannon herself has seen three provinces and travelled once to Mexico before the kids left home. Unlike zipping off a wax strip from her chin, Shannon was slow to remove herself from two relationships, resulting in protracted pain as well as substantial legal fees. Even so, Shannon doesn’t believe that marriage contains a planned obsolescence; Sylvia, her oldest daughter, talks about the institution of marriage in those terms. Take Roz and Ben, Shannon loves to tell her, a couple who met in their twenties are still together in their seventies.

“How is Ben doing?” Shannon asks.

“Okay, he has taken on a lot of his father’s personal care. He’ll stay in Kingston for now.” Roz pours Shannon some more jasmine tea.

“Remember last summer when we were talking about smoking and canning fish?” Shannon says. “We didn’t want to bother with flies so sipping wine on your deck won the day.” Shannon had moved her smoker and canner to Roz’s place in anticipation of a work-bee.

“Good idea,” Roz says.

“Glad you’re in.”

Shannon goes to fetch the totes full of vacuum-sealed fish and cuts them open. She admires the intense crimson of sockeye. Then she carries the two canners up from the basement, one matte-grey like the sky, one a shiny aluminum, and finds canning jars. When the fish has defrosted, she starts a brine. She checks out the smoker on the deck, gives it a quick wipe down. She inhales the faint smell of smoke and salmon—a smell she loves, and one that will ooze from her skin over the next couple of days. At least her fingers won’t be covered in fish scales; that part belongs to last summer’s cleaning and gutting.

Roz winces as she settles into her armchair.

“How is your shoulder?” Shannon asks.

“Some days worse, some days the usual. Thanks for taking the food to Annie’s. I couldn’t have done it.”

“No problem,” Shannon says. “Did they give you a date for the specialist yet?” She immediately regrets her question. So many appointments have been postponed: flights from Sandspit to Vancouver have been cancelled and flights out of Masset are touch and go.

Roz says, “No, everything is on hold,” and she turns her face and pulls up the blanket she got from her last trip off-island. Even a hospital stay would have meant that Roz could connect with her city friends.

Roz suggests a movie, but the download is slow. The twirling symbol reminds Shannon of squirrels chasing their tails. Everyone is zooming and streaming, resulting in low bandwidth. Roz switches to the news and they see a Brazilian woman looking upon a row of dug graves. Roz covers her face briefly then says, “We are so fortunate here.”

Shannon doesn’t respond but goes to put the fish in the smoker; she guesses that Roz is embarrassed over her helplessness. Little by little the old Roz reappears: the Roz who until three years ago caught all the fish herself, who is a skilled cook and makes entertaining look easy. Roz is now on social media, sending pictures to her family, discussing the best lox recipes, best restaurant meals. Roz scrolls through her phone and says, “Martha Brown passed away. She had an aneurysm.”

“This is so hard with only one person allowed in,” Shannon says and thinks about the family-sized palliative care room at the hospital, how no one will go over to sit with the family before the funeral, how numbers for burials will be restricted to the immediate family, and how there won’t be a tea at the community hall with Haida women bringing out plate after plate of salmon salad sandwiches on homemade bread, along with three kinds of chowder and pies.

Still, Roz makes a few calls and announces that this evening there will be a drive-by procession: people can gather by the roadside to show their respect for Martha and their support for the living. Roz places her phone on the counter. Shannon watches as Roz cuts the fish, adds salt and oil, and stuffs them into the jars. “Just like when you’re catching them: a pinch and a wiggle,” Roz says. Shannon laughs and laughs and Roz chimes in.

Listen to Astrid Egger read “A Pinch and a Wiggle.”


Deep Pool Bridge

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When Clara was eight, her mother asked her if she ought to leave her father. She did not say that Clara would go with her, though they both assumed it.

“We could live in the country. The little cottage at Deep Pool Bridge. We had fun there, didn’t we?”

“Yes,” Clara said, not fully committing.

“Can Daddy come?”

Her mother said no. If Daddy was involved, they wouldn’t be going. They’d be stuck in this miserable apartment forever.

The apartment was miserable, full of dark corners and walls in the wrong places. There were gloomy cupboards that Clara would rush past, singing loudly, and a room she would not sit in unless the cat did too. Her mother peeled the curtains away from the windows as far as she could, but it was never bright enough for her to paint and, she said, her work suffered.

They had visited Deep Pool House that winter. It was not a little cottage in Clara’s memory, but an imposing grey stone and slate house, set in a valley of skeletal beech trees. A river rushed past at the bottom of the garden and poured away under a hump-backed granite bridge. Her father drove too fast over the bridge, with a bounce that made Clara squeal.

When she had taken her rain boots off in the large farmhouse kitchen, her toes curled against the cold of the flagstones. There was a glass conservatory that looked out over the river and would make a perfect artist’s studio, her mother said. The couple who lived there were going away for a year because the woman had a job in America.

They went to look at the river. The man said there was a deep spot under the bridge and you could jump off when the water was high. Clara said she’d like to try, but the man said it was the wrong time of year and everyone laughed. She hadn’t been serious about jumping and wished she hadn’t said anything.

photo of a long wooden bridge over shallow water at twilight

Twilight Bridge by Karin Hedetniemi

There had been arguments after that day and then, a few months on, the question. The marriage had run its course, her mother said, but everyone still loved everyone and no one was angry.

Aunty Val drove them. She came and went from the apartment a few times before they left. After each visit, the rooms got barer. Clara barked and squeaked to hear the sound bouncing off the walls until her mother told her she was being annoying.

Eventually, on the last trip, they piled into Aunty Val’s car. Daddy was at work and there wasn’t time to wait for him to get back. Clara had already said goodbye, her mother insisted. That was goodnight not goodbye, Clara tried to explain, but her mother was putting on lipstick in the visor mirror with sharp, jerky movements. Clara feared there might be a row, and in the end there was. About the cat. Her mother said Marlow would come with them, but it turned out he wasn’t.

“You’ll see Marlow when you visit Daddy,” Aunty Val said, leaning round and thrusting a handful of Werther’s toffees into her lap.

It wasn’t just Marlow. Daddy was even ground. Clara wasn’t sure what would happen without him there to moor them, to shore them up and tie them down. Deep Pool was a long way out of town and her mother didn’t drive. Aunty Val promised she would be there nearly every day, though her mother had grimaced at that.

Their things were scattered through the house when they arrived, but there were not enough of them and it felt like they were living in someone else’s house, with her toys and her mother’s pictures and ceramics plopped in.

Over the summer, her mother painted in the glass extension. Clara swam in the river when Aunty Val was there, but she wasn’t allowed to jump off the bridge. Once, she dared herself to wade out to the deep spot to see if she could touch the bottom. Water shadows licked the underside of the bridge and a roaring sound bellowed off the granite bricks, so loud it hurt her ears.

The pool was still, as if darkness had sunk to the depths like rocks, and all the sparkling, rippling water was flowing carefully around it. Aunty Val sat on the bank with two glasses of lemonade and Clara pretended she couldn’t hear her calls to come back. Aunty Val worried too much about everything, her mother said. Suddenly, the gravel bed fell away, and Clara bobbed down over her head. Cold, peaty water rushed into her nostrils and she was flying, kicking out into nothing. Breathing out fast, as Daddy had taught her to stop her nose stinging, she imagined hungry eels snapping at her toes. She shoved at the current with her arms wide and scrambled back to the safety of the gravel.

Aunty Val was running along the bank now, shouting. Clara waded back as if nothing had happened but when she tried to call, her breath stuck in her throat, so she waved instead.

Her mother was happy. She spent her time painting in the glass room and when Clara went in, she was dreamy and sweet, in a far-off kind of way that made Clara feel that nothing she could do would upset her. When she visited her father and Marlow, she asked when they would come to Deep Pool House: “We’ll see.”

In the autumn, Clara was to be sent to a local school. She cried when she found out and it was this, she believed, that shattered her mother’s peace. She heard arguing downstairs in the big kitchen. “Of course she’s upset. She won’t know anyone,” Aunty Val said. They often talked about her. Clara knew from the sh-sh sound of She this—, She that—. Like a flurry of ripples breaking against the bank, sometimes building to waves. Aunty Val was shouting, which was unusual. “Alright, alright,” she said, but her mother was too angry by then and screamed at her never to come back. Clara watched from the window upstairs as Aunty Val drove away. She wanted to run after the car so badly it hurt, like something thorny clasped tight around her chest.

When Clara went into the glass room, she was interrupting. Screwed-up papers spread across the floor like a fall of rocks. The light was bad now the sun was lower, her mother said, and there were too many trees. She had painted them at first but now they got in the way and the paper rocks kept tumbling.

Clara walked alone to the school bus stop. She always lingered on the humpy stone bridge. Sometimes the river glistened like spun gold, at others it was dull and made a whispering noise that shivered against the trees. The deep spot was almost black, with crumpled leaves spinning slowly. She was scared to jump from the bridge now, though she had wanted to all summer. Clara didn’t like being scared and the more she thought about it, the more she felt she had to, or would go on all winter with this breathless, prickly feeling. She imagined jumping every time she crossed the bridge until one day, when the water was particularly sparkly and golden, she dared herself.

She put her bare feet in the river at the bottom of the garden first. It wasn’t too cold, so she took off her coat and sweater and went back to the bridge. The big splash would frighten any eels away, she reasoned. She clambered up onto the low block wall and jumped quickly, like Daddy had taught her, before she changed her mind.

Clara curled herself cannonball-tight and hit the water with a satisfying smack. But plunging down through the surface, she felt something sharp, something crack. She thought she’d jumped straight into the teeth of a lurking eel and everything went red and black.

Cold water crashed in, not just to her nose and ears, but into her mouth, like she was being swallowed. There was no bottom, just sinking, but then stones came up fast and thumped into her back. Clara’s eyes opened and to her surprise, she saw light. The pool was not black and eel-ridden. It was clear as day and when she looked up, she saw a shimmering mosaic of trees and leaves and sky.

Aunty Val came. They drove to the hospital in silence. When Clara came out, with a big cast on her foot, her dad was there. Her mother was quiet and said, “Yes, yes.” She and Aunty Val drove back to Deep Pool and Clara went home with Daddy. Marlow wound around her legs as if trying to trip her up. Daddy said, “You can’t break it again,” but Clara knew she could. She knew how easily things broke by then.

Listen to Louise Dumayne read “Deep Pool Bridge.”



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The whole family started acting weird. They weren’t sick, like with the flu or whatever, just pained and hobbled and whiny, Donna said. Like they’d all caught the menopause.


Not when you hear how it ends.

She told you this at work?

In the lunchroom. Donna said it started with the woman’s own decay, which happened like that [snaps fingers]. “Imagine a needle scraping across your greatest hits,” Donna said, “and then, boom! It’s over. The only sound is….” Wait, I gotta get this right: “The fulsome circling around the dusty finish.” Scritch, scritch, scritch.

Did Donna make that sound?

That’s the record player sound.

You added that part.

You wanna argue sound credits or hear the rest of the story?

OK… complex record-player metaphor, sick family. Go.

She and Donna met and shared an apartment at university. They partied, lived on processed cheese and cheap draft, graduated together. They’ve been close ever since, even live in the same neighbourhood. Donna told me once, “Picture yourself at a rock show at midnight, standing in front of the stage with cowboy boots on and a drink in each hand, cheering and spilling and going deaf.” That’s basically how the woman lived her life.

Basically, not literally.

Well, d’uh! The spirit of that, though. Living in the moment type deal, full of risk and audacious energy.

Audacious energy?

You don’t deserve to hear this story, Anusha.

I’m listening!

So outta the blue, the woman starts, well, aging. One day she’s out for a long run, uphill both ways, with zero stretching or anti-inflammatories. Next day she wakes up and her bedside table is covered with pill bottles and cross-stitch and self-helpy books. She gets up, achy, sweaty, exhausted. Tries to get dressed but nothing fits because overnight, she got fat!

What do you mean “overnight?”


OK, because before you were being metaphorical.

No, literally.

How old is she?

I don’t know, like… ten, fifteen years older than us?

Early fifties.

Around that. So this woman is totally baffled.

And delusional.

No, no. Donna’s known the woman since forever. The woman told her it felt like someone was playing a trick on her, like she was starring in some reality show about old women.


Gets weirder. The woman wanted to ask her husband what the hell was going on but he was in the basement huffing and puffing on his stair-climber fitness thingy.


Yeah. I’ve never tried it.

Great exercise and easy on your hips and knees. Apparently, if the tension’s right, you can get the same workout as running.

You an elliptical saleswoman now?

Just passing on gym scuttlebutt, Marie.

Anyway, woman puts on an old pregnancy skirt and oversized concert T-shirt and sits on the bed confused and sleep deprived. Then bingo, she figures it out: she’s menopausing.

More like meno-fastforwarding.

Haha. Right?

Did she have a dry vagina?


I hear your vagina dries out in the menopause.

Jesus, I don’t know! Donna didn’t say.

Anyway, you started by talking about the family getting sick.

Well, if you’d let me continue! So her mind starts racing. What’s next, the woman wonders. Sweater vests? Polident? Sunday morning aquafit?

Thick ankles. Age spots. Downgrading your investment risk.

Right? So all these horrifying things are coiling in her head when her uterus starts cramping like the devil himself is trying to squeeze out one last period. She starts weeping, partly because the best years of her life are over and partly because the pain feels like a sucker punch to her empty ovaries. Ovaries like compost bins for dying strands of DNA. Surprise! the punch says. Remember when you were lusty and fertile? Me neither!

That’s a lot to unpack.

Absolutely. So she’s wiping away tears when her daughter knocks on the door, also crying, because, guess what? She just started her period!

Like, first time ever?

First time. So, despite the strange coincidence and her own suffering, the woman shifts into mother mode and tells the daughter it’s normal and has to be endured and offers the girl a pill.

A painkiller.

What other pill’s she gonna give her, heroin?

I don’t think heroin comes in pills.

Oh for Crissakes!

I’m sorry! If you’re gonna use examples, be accurate.

The girl can’t take a painkiller because, remember? When you’re a kid it seems impossible. Like you’ll choke and suffocate. So the woman crushes the painkiller in peanut butter, feeds it to the girl and sends her off.

Is the peanut butter relevant?

Try to keep up Anusha, OK? The mother’s own cramps are getting worse—tells Donna it feels like her uterus is being corroded with acid. So she reaches for the painkillers and, oh shit! Her shoulder!


Shooting pain like she’s being stabbed by a shaft filled with molten lava.

Isn’t all lava molten? Isn’t that the definition of lava—molten rock?

Just lava then, OK brainiac? So she sits on the side of the tub and is practically hysterical at this point. I told Donna that’s funny because in the olden days, they used to call menopausing women hysterical. It comes from the Latin word … hysteronia I think, meaning insufferable, middle-aged woman.

Hystera you mean.


Embroidery by Natalia Tjiang with the words Happy Wife, Happy Life

Happy Wife, Happy Life by Tali Tjiang

From the Greek, hystera, meaning uterus.

Whatever! Did you know women in the really olden days never went through menopause.

What are you talking about?

They died before it happened.

Ha! The blessings of a short life expectancy.

Totally. You know, some women bleed non-stop when they’re menopausing.

You’d die if you bled non-stop.

Not literally!

Literally. Not literally. Make up your mind!

You want more coffee?

Love some.

Aaaanyway … after a short pity party in the bathroom, the woman stands up to wash her face and when she looks in the mirror, she sees movement on her head, like she’s got lice or something.

Ewww! You didn’t tell me there was lice in the story! You know I have a thing!

Calm down. It wasn’t lice. It was just grey hairs blooming from the part in her hair. She told Donna they looked like “dusty wires pushing through drywall.”

Speaking of drywall, we just renovated our bathroom.

Oh yeah? Nice.

Wait, she could actually see grey hairs growing?

Before her very eyes. But she told Donna no point wallowing. Menopausing didn’t magically erase all the stuff a mother has to do right? So off she goes to wake her son for school.

He older?

Younger. Like eight or something. Boy says, “Please don’t make me go to school.” “What? Are you sick?” she asks. “No, it’s my shoulder,” he says. “There’s a pain when I try to lift my arm, like a hot poker stabbing me.”

Same pain as mom.


Is Donna sure this woman isn’t suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

The hell is that?

You know, when a parent ascribes fake symptoms to a child, pretends they’re sick when they’re not.

That’s messed up. No this sounds legit. Donna says the woman’s son explained the pain in detail and it was the exact same symptoms she had. So, mothering kicks in again. She swallows her own pain and they do some stretching thing together but it was too painful so she rubs the boy’s shoulder with a topical ointment.

Those creams are useless.

Waste of money. So she says to the boy, “Go eat your breakfast and you’ll be fine.” Then she goes to the basement to find her husband but he’d already left for work.

What’s he do?

Insurance broker, apparently. So the woman gets the kids out the door and decides to do laundry before tackling a report she’s been working on. She’s a graphic designer, works from home. The cat comes into the laundry room to use the litter box but it’s acting funny. Walking in circles, eyes kinda milky, lame back paw, stomach dragging on the floor. Cat’s barely two years old!


It was like the cat was menopausing too!

C’mon! This is a joke, right? Punchline coming?

Donna swears it’s all true.

I don’t know about this Donna.

She’s the head of HR. Masters in social work. Comes to work in pant suits. Volunteers at an animal shelter. Not the embellishing type.

I don’t know what to say.

Good! Just listen then. The woman’s on her way up the stairs to her office but has to stop and sit because she’s so tired, seeing white spots floating before her eyes like she might faint.

Drop in blood pressure.

When she goes to stand up, holy dyin’ she falls back down!

What now?

Her hip! Donna says she got a sharp pain like her hip just cracked.

Like the head of the femur or further down?

How should I know?

Is that part of menopausing?

Oh yeah. Bones crack like toothpicks.


So the woman scoots her way downstairs on her ass and crawls to the living room couch where she sits, weeping and looking through old photo albums of when she was young and beautiful: hiking up mountains, dancing at Burning Man, swimming in the ocean, stage diving at The Ramones.

Why doesn’t she call an ambulance?!

I know! That’s what I said. But Donna said she just hates to make a fuss or be a burden. After a cup of tea and rest, she hangs the laundry, finishes the report, makes a double batch of blueberry muffins—her daughter’s favourite.

So, slacks off, in other words.

Haha. Yeah, unbelievable.

This coffee is great by the way.

Thanks. It’s from that fair-trade place in Little Italy. Hipster hellhole but great coffee. So… as the day goes on, the woman’s condition worsens. Her head gets super heavy and starts sinking toward the ground, rounding her spine like a fish hook.

How does Donna know all this?

I guess the old photos made her nostalgic and she called Donna late that afternoon and told her everything. Donna freaked and told her to go to emergency—even offered to take her—but the woman refused. Said she had too much to do.

Haha. Of course she said that.

And now, well…. Donna’s totally beside herself with grief.

Wait, why?

A couple hours later, she called Donna again. Said her son got home from school and when she asked about his shoulder, he said he had a new pain. Guess where?


Yup. He said when he stood up before lunch, it felt like his hip cracked. The teachers didn’t think it was serious enough to send him home but the boy was obviously distraught.

What did the woman do?

Well, by now she’s bent over like a crone, aching all over and trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. Is menopause contagious? Can kids get it? Is her pain real? Is theirs? Will she ever find relief? Apparently she handed the boy the TV remote and a bowl of chips and left him there with Netflix.

With parental controls on, obviously.

Maybe, maybe not, right? She told Donna the daughter was whining when she got home so the mom crushed another pill—painkiller—and sent her to bed with a hot water bottle. Then the husband gets home.

Finally! So…he takes her to the hospital.

Nope. Husband goes straight to the den without saying hello. The woman follows but it takes, like, a half hour to get there because she has to keep sitting on the floor so she won’t pass out. When she finally arrives at the den, husband’s got a drink in one hand and his face in the other, and he’s crying!


Blubbering like a baby. When the woman asks what’s wrong, he says something about his withering male virility and the pointlessness of his monotonous job. Says he’s tired of people calling him in crisis. Says he’s depressed!


So the woman says “You can’t be depressed, I’m depressed!” And he says, “Look, I didn’t ask to feel this way.” And of course, the woman shifts into loving spouse mode and asks if he’s hungry and he says maybe some spicy dip with garlic bread would be nice and she shuffles off to make it.

The hell is wrong with this woman?

She gets to the kitchen and the cat comes in, moaning and slow blinking up at her, pawing the woman’s foot. So the woman leans over to pet her but something cracks in her back and she can’t straighten up so she just tips over and lays on the floor.

Oh my god!

She calls for help but nobody hears her so she drags herself to the phone and calls Donna.

Not 911 of course. That would be too sensible.

She tells Donna about the cat and the husband, says she’s on the floor and can’t get up. Donna says the woman was wheezy and barely audible. Donna told her she was calling 911 and coming over.

What a relief!

Donna lives a few blocks away so she arrives before the ambulance. She knocks on the front door. No answer. She goes in anyway and finds the woman….

Yes, and…?





From menopause?!

Donna screams and the family comes running. Guess what the husband says?


“Looks like I’m making supper tonight.”

Shut up!

Donna was right there!

Beyond belief. When was this again?

Couple weeks ago.

Je-sus. Funny, not funny.


Scary, actually.


I mean, that’s us in a few years!

Well… you sooner than me.




You gonna finish that brownie?

No, no. You go ahead.

Good Game

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Second Half. The Cunts are down two-nothing against their rivals, the I’m Not Letting You Merges. Number twelve, center-forward, has the ball wedged beneath her fancy Nike cleat, laces grey and unwieldy as her pubic hair. The ref is a teenaged boy, pudding-faced and porn-addicted with a whistle-leash draped around his neck. He hates reffing the over forty, division-three women’s league. The players scare him. They are emotional and in constant pain. Braces are scaffolded to their legs, and tensor bandages cut off their circulation, cut off their feelings. They run on gluten and wine and animals they can’t stop eating. And then there are the players that flirt: number three on the blue team, number sixteen on the white. Ref scans to make sure they’re on the field. To make sure they’re not on the field. He adjusts himself.

“Keeper ready?” Ref asks, eyeing the goalie guarding the net on the west end of the field. She is familiar to him. She is every woman in an ad for life insurance, except with a youthful high ponytail and thick white socks. The keeper waves, or gives the finger. Ref can’t discern which.

He turns to view the opposite end of the field and repeats the question. Keeper is not ready. Keeper will make everyone wait while she takes a parting sip of vodka-water from her stainless steel Marshalls-purchased bottle with BORN READY written in gold meme script across the rim. Her power is making people wait: contractors, customers, her husband when he comes home for dinner with fish and chips and someone else’s titties wafting from his moustache. Keeper sets down her bottle. “I’m always ready,” she shouts. Ref blows his whistle.

cartoon by Dawn Mockler showing women's soccer team attending an outdoor party and knee-bouncing the food

Soccer Party Dawn Mockler

Twelve passes back to Three. Three is distracted. She is contemplating whether she could ever go down on a woman. Specifically Barb, from accounting, possibly even Fourteen on the Cunts. Why would Twelve pass back? It’s indoor soccer. The field is short. Three chases the ball, tries to get a touch. She only knows a few lesbians, and certainly none well enough to ask what it’s like to get it on with a woman. Maybe if she got high first. A blue jersey is in front of her. Fifteen from the other team. Where the hell did she come from? Twelve yells, “Man on!” Man on? Three thinks. Man already gone. It’s why she’s thinking about Barb’s spreadsheet. Three wants to yell at Twelve, ask her what she was thinking passing the ball back. Instead, she complains to Four.

“Offside!” Four wheezes. There’s no offside in Indoors, everyone thinks, everyone knows, but Four insists. Four believes. She storms down the field, a petulant child with fallen arches and roots that need touching up. Someone will pay for Fifteen’s offsidedness. Her credit rating, her cholesterol. Her husband, the next time he tries to cop a feel when she’s watching Dead to Me on Netflix. She’ll slap his fucking hand. Tell him to change the friggin’ light bulb in the closet so he’ll stop asking her if the pants he’s chosen to wear are navy blue or black.

“Play on,” the ref calls. Fifteen hasn’t stopped playing. She always has the ball because she’s faster than everyone else. Younger too. She likes to surprise her opponents. Sneak up on them like a credit card balance, like age. She likes to remind them that they are closer to death than they think. Closer to death than they’ve already come to accept. That they graduated from high school forty years ago, and that there’s no time left for them to write a memoir unless it’s a cancer one because nothing interesting has happened in their life.

Ten races toward Fifteen. Fifteen is getting cocky and loses the ball. Good riddance, Ten thinks. You should’ve passed it when you could. You should’ve had children when you could. Ten feels good that she has the ball. She feels good that she has four kids. She feels good that right now she doesn’t want to knife anyone. She smiles. A teammate cheers her on because she’s dethroned the infallible Fifteen who just sits home all day. In her effort, Ten loses her balance. She steps on the ball, a wonky circus bear, and falls flat on her back.

“Ah, come on!” Seventeen yells.

“Foul,” Four echoes. “She tripped her.”

“She stepped on the ball,” Fifteen retaliates, pacing against the boards.

Thirty steps onto the field, a middleweight Jesus with mahogany hair. No make-up. She’s in the medical profession. No one really knows what that means. Physiotherapist? X-ray tech? Hospital clerk?

Ref can see his reflection in the glass boards surrounding the playing field. He fixes his hair. He wants to check his phone to see if Adelaide snapped him back. He wonders if she’s the kind of girl who sends nudes.

Thirty hovers over Ten. “Breathe,” she commands. Then she waves a trio of fingers in front of Ten’s face. “How many fingers am I holding up?” She says it loud enough for her husband, who is watching in the stands, to hear. He will praise her later because she is important and very valuable.

“Three,” Ten replies.

“Did you check her pupils?” Twenty wants to know. She’s heard others ask this in similar situations.

Thirty pulls out her glasses for effect, says that Ten’s pupils are good, and then turns back to her patient. “Any nausea?” she asks. All the players reply yes.

Miraculously, Ten is okay, and she gets to her feet by herself. Nothing too serious. Just that same hamstring she tore in Gettysburg. She is replaced by Five.

“Drop ball,” Ref says.

Newly-arrived Five squares up with childless-by-choice Fifteen. Ref leans away expecting to be breathed on, or whacked by an inadvertent fist, a rogue knee. A sexual assault. He drops the ball between the players.

Five and Fifteen miss the ball and punt each other. Four sees this as her chance. She barrels forward and takes both players out, including her teammate. Having been bitten by an unsuspecting midfielder on the I’m Not Letting You Merges, the Ref doesn’t see who’s at fault, and therefore doesn’t blow the whistle. Instead, he cradles his cheek.

Four kicks the ball too far ahead of her. Always, thinks Seventeen, always too far. Four tries hard to recover the ball but gases out and has a heart attack on the field. At least I’ve landed on the ball, she thinks in her dying moment. They’ll have to move my cold dead body to get it now.

The players move Four’s hot dead body to the bench, noting the smudge of moustache on her upper lip. She smells like garlic, but no one lets on.

Back on the field, a fistfight is underway. Keeper-with-juvenile-ponytail and Seventeen have suggested the Ref just call the game, given Four’s death and all, but Fifteen and Three still want to play. Both argue they might die if the game doesn’t continue.

“It’s just a game,” Twenty chirps.

“Everything’s a game to you,” Five replies.

Five isn’t wrong. Twenty does believe that life is just that—a game. It’s what motivated her to embezzle a hundred grand from her daughter’s private school. It’s why she sleeps with her financial advisor. It’s why she sleeps with his wife.

Ref presents yellow cards to the fighting players. Keeper-with-juvenile-ponytail and Seventeen leave the field peacefully, but foam pours from Three’s mouth, and Fifteen has wrapped a piece of orange net cordage around her own neck. Her face turns the blue of her jersey. Ref sighs, stuffs the yellow card back in his pocket and whips out a red card instead.

Adelaide sends nudes!

Three combusts, blackening the turf. Fifteen loses consciousness. Ref shakes his head as the ball sails by him into the rafters. The remaining players on the field have decided to continue the game on their own, even though Ref never blew the whistle. Even though he never said, “Play on.”

Ref follows the ball as it arcs beneath the dangling fluorescent lights and lands inside the pub beside the spectator’s lounge.

“It’s still in!” Thirty hollers.

“My ball,” Ten replies, charging by. She kicks the air, and the air goes into the top right corner. Nothing but net.

“Nice shot,” Five whoops.

“Whoo hoo,” Twelve adds. “Perfect angle.”

“It was your pass,” Ten replies, jovially punching Twelve’s arm.

Ref looks at the clock. Seconds count down. There’s no time for another kick-off. He looks at the Away bench. The players appear to be eating Four. A head rolls onto the field and stops at Center, where the ball should be.

Ref points to the scoreboard and blows his whistle three times to signify the end of the game. The teams spill onto the field, collapse into each other and shake hands.

“Good game,” they say.

Number Three sends nudes.

Listen to Ali Bryan read “Good Game.”

The Pandemic

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His very darkest brown eyes sparkled and were so vibrant in contrast to his blond, prairie-field fluffy head of hair flowing freely in the wind. His eyes jumped with the excitement he carried in his nine-year-old body.

He was as excited as any nine-year-old boy would be with the notion of going home. To be reunited with his maternal brothers, hopefully with Father and all his paternal extended family, too. Especially his friends. His excitement soared.

This time it was different, as this time he had to be extra careful, donning gloves, a mask, and sunglasses. He called it The Corona. It was his friend he retorted, likely his way of remaining calm and showing he can be a big boy.

Nanny drove with them most of the night. A police car followed them for kilometers, turning onto a road leading from the shores of the South Shore Atlantic toward the airport. They passed the time with idle chitchat, mostly about Corona. Covid-19 they called it. A global pandemic. The streets of the little town they had lived for the past few months were bare.

Nanny reminded her daughter at least a hundred times to wear her mask and gloves and glasses, not to touch her face. Wipe things down with the carefully, thoughtfully, hesitantly packed Clorox Wipes, neatly wrapped in two large baggies.

She really didn’t want them to go. She was deathly afraid. So afraid she was almost immobilized. She didn’t know how to express her fears let alone hide them. You see, she was the Matriarch of her little family. Most big decisions went through her. Now, her only thought was: How do we get through this?

There were at least sixty wipes folded into each bag. Every time Nanny reminded her daughter, she said, “I know, Mom!”

Nanny had planned to go too, but then changed her mind. Who would to be here to take care of the rest if indeed her daughter became infected and died? What if her daughter brought it back? Someone else in her care could lose their life.

Air Canada changed their flight at least six times. One time her daughter even accidentally cancelled the flight with the link they provided, thinking she could change it. She was in a panic after two and a half hours of waiting on the phone. The second leg of the flight had now been reserved but with a ten-hour wait at the busiest airport in their country. Her daughter was frazzled but thought maybe the airport agent could help them get a better connection. No such luck. The government was directing flights.

It was now late afternoon. Time for them to go through security. Nanny’s heart sank. Could she hug them? She looked at the Security Agent. At first he wasn’t going for it, but Nanny’s boy came and gave her a hug. Nanny had tears in her heart, hoping and praying for their safety.

They did make it to that big metropolis and once there decided to get a hotel room for the ten-hour layover. When it was time, they got on the last leg of their travel and finally arrived late at night. Nanny could sleep when she heard they were safely at their destination city and their true home.

(Original link with readers’ comments here.)