Article Category Archives: Fiction


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I need you to listen now, just listen. I’m going to tell you the story of how we survived the August blizzard. We both need to know this story so that we remember: you and I are survivors.

Before the storm, when you were still a brand-new person, in those weeks of late summer when the barometric pressure was high and the sky clear blue, we stayed mainly in the big park where there’s a real forest and a river. The afternoons were so warm, and the nights cool for sleeping. There was plenty to eat—wild carrots and cattails and so many blackberries. And the cook at the canteen always gave me the leftover soup. Your cheeks got chubby and rosy and every day you seemed to feel a little heavier in my arms.

When the snow started, falling straight down, I heard people saying how pretty it looked. Later, when the flowers were all broken and bent and covered over, the wind came. The snow on the ground was too heavy for the wind to pick up, but it drove the falling snow sideways, slamming it into faces and bodies and cars and buildings.

I didn’t plan for us to go to the mall. I was trying to get to the little adobe house at the community garden across the street from the mall. It’s squat and sturdy, close to the ground. Less likely to blow away or be bashed in by a falling tree. I thought if I could block the doors and windows with wood and snow we could get enough shelter from the wind.

It took us over an hour to walk there. We’d have been faster if we’d left my cart behind, but I couldn’t do that. A few times, I had to hold on to the cart with both hands to keep myself from being blown away. You were safely tucked into my big coat. By the time we finally made it to the garden, I knew we needed to be inside a real building.

I don’t like the mall. I’ve never felt safe there. But I knew there would be water, and food, and maybe heat. At least for awhile. We hid the cart in the underground parking garage, way over in one corner, behind the garbage bins under a ramp. I took out what I thought we might need, threw the tarp over the rest, and said a prayer. Then we climbed the smelly concrete stairs into the mall.

Outside it was all roaring wind and snow. Inside there was a totally different kind of roaring and I think it scared me more. So many flashing lights and sounds and overwhelming smells. In the food court people were stuffing their faces with ketchup-y fries and messy burgers, fried chicken, horrible orange sweet and sour sauce, tubs of bubble tea. Maybe they were trying to forget about the mess outside or pass the time while they waited for it to stop, or just filling their bellies while they had the chance. Above the food court, the huge tv screen was showing ads for holiday cruises and anti-aging cream and the latest kind of phones.

I’d wanted to be a tv weather girl when I grew up. Grandmother used to let me practice whenever I stayed over at her house. I would stand in front of the big map on the wall in her library and use the yardstick to point to places where I said there were “weather events.” Watch for trends, Grandmother advised. Notice how things are changing.

Grandmother always refused to go to the mall. She said it made her feel dirty. The only time she took me I was seven years old and I begged her to let me see Santa Claus. We waited in line for twenty minutes before she hauled me out by my coat collar and never went back.

By the time the power went off, you and I had found a good hiding place in the family bathroom, near The Gap. Each time we went out there were fewer people. I don’t know where they all went. Maybe they were in the parking garage. I wondered if I should check on my cart, but it felt too risky to leave our hiding place for that long. The emergency generator lasted only a few more hours.

We were still in the bathroom when the skylight collapsed into the food court. The sound woke me from a light sleep. A deep groaning then sharp cracks, like the sound when the thunderstorm is right over your house. A terrible clap. I heard a voice yelling, the roof, the roof! Then a screechy grinding. I pictured the metal frame of the skylight twisting and breaking. Then horrible crashing and thumping as if a dump truck had unloaded tons of boulders onto a glass table top. I held my breath, and maybe you held yours too, like we were deep-diving together. I didn’t breathe again until there was silence.

When I thought things had settled down enough to be safe, we went to have a look. All the tables and chairs were buried. I noticed a corner of the giant TV screen sticking up out of the snow mountain. But I didn’t see any body parts. I stood for awhile, just staring up at the open roof, shocked by how wonderful the fresh air felt, and how strange the wind sounded, whistling in circles above us. The sky was the colour of rotten potato.

That’s when Spider and Mavis came out of the WalMart and found me. I didn’t know they were in the mall too. I used to see them at the shelter sometimes. I knew they were good people. They offered me some of the juice they had, and some butterscotch candies. Spider jumped a little from foot to foot. He said he was just looking for some pain killers. I think Mavis could tell I was hiding you in my coat, I saw her looking down at my body with a sad smile, and then back at my face.

After that, we started spending more time out of our hiding place. Even though the snow and wind kept coming in through the hole in the roof, it was a comforting reminder that the sky was still out there. Someone started a fire in a garbage receptacle and people brought scraps of anything burnable to keep it going. The smoke floated up and out through the broken roof.

I heard a woman say that the snow is a plague sent by God to punish us. Spider said it’s the government’s fault. Mavis said her brother used to work for a company that flies those weather bombers—cloud seeders they call them. She said that her brother has made lots of weather, but never a storm like this. Spider said they were trying to make it rain because of the wildfires, and the drought, but they screwed up and made it snow instead. It’s too full of water, he said, it’s not frozen enough. That’s why it’s so heavy. Why the buildings are collapsing. Plague woman says only a God who loves us would send such a terrible destruction. God wants to purify us, she says.

But snow is just snow. I knew it would melt the way snow always does. And then we could start again.

I didn’t know how much longer I could keep us warm enough, though. I lined our little den with the shiny emergency blankets that I found in the camping store; I burned one of our candles for two inches before we went to sleep, then another two inches when we woke up again. The blankets reflected back the candlelight and you gazed up at it without blinking. But yesterday morning you had frost on your eyelids. I had to breathe on them before you could open your eyes.

Last night I dreamed about Grandmother’s mink coat. I was small again, in the dream, not tall enough to open the closet door. She was there, and she lifted me up so I could reach the knob. Inside, the coat floated in the centre of the empty space, not on a rack or a hanger, just suspended in the air, hovering above me. I reached up to touch it and when my fingers felt the hem, heat flowed down my arm into my shoulder and filled my whole body. I felt my muscles relaxing, my blood vessels and lungs expanding and oxygen flooding my brain. I felt as though I were filled with sunlight—not just shining on me, but actually inside me, radiating out. I could have heated a whole continent. As soon as I let go, the feeling ended and the cold returned.

I woke up with a plan. If Grandmother’s house was still standing, I could get the coat and we might have a chance. I knew that when the snow melted we could dig up the potatoes and carrots left in her garden. We could be warm and fed.

We had to get out of the mall. We had to believe we’re survivors.

Painting by Flavia Testa showing a house with lighted windows in an abstract forest.

Mi Casa es Su Casa by Flavia Testa

Love Handles

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It wasn’t until the pistol end of the revolver was about to enter my vagina that I finally took pause for thought. It wasn’t until the scene was set for them to make intimate acquaintance that I found cause to reflect. I’d have gone ahead and done the scene, were it not for the assistant director on the set who, just before the cameras were about to roll, leaned in and said, “Would you like a condom with that?”

Don’t get me wrong. There was no facetiousness intended. They were a genuinely kind and concerned crew, right down to the coffee girl. It was the context that gave me pause. Because it occurred to me: if a condom is in order, then have others, possibly in this position, with this very revolver, gone this road before me? What road do I travel, surely not the less travelled?

A friend of mine once said, “Grace, I have hit my nadir.” And I she thought she’d had a fight and smacked her Arab boyfriend. It was that kind of pause. Very long, resulting in the discomfort of cameramen and crew who, hitherto for, had been the very model of patience.

I removed the lusty revolver from between my legs and sent it on its way to props. Closing my legs I said, “Thank you, but I will not be needing a condom.” A cameraman was at hand to help me to my feet in my stilettos, avec dignity, sans pants. And I headed to the dressing room to get them.

But when I got there, I removed my false eyelashes and the gold spangled pasties and I sat. I sat and looked in the mirror at who I was without them.

You see, I was the girl who had it all, the pink bedroom, the parties, the pony rides. Even a year in Lucerne at a Swiss private school that mother said was the absolute end in finishing. This was before daddy left, and mother spent her winters in a spa in Biarritz. Anyway, there I was, all alone in my pigtails and my slippers, standing at the pay phone in the hall dorm, wailing, “I want to come home!”

“Is that what you really want?” Mother asked. “To come home in ignominy?”

“No,” I said. “But there is a flight on Lufthansa.”

Oh I know, I don’t look like much under the lights nowadays, sitting out here in my rocker on the porch all day. Wouldn’t mother have something to say about letting myself go. But I had my heyday, back when theatre school was just a log cabin in the woods. Kidding.

I started out as part of a travelling troop, school tours, the classics. Then I joined a raging lesbian collective called “Broadaxe.” It cut a swath so deep it left my career in tatters. From there I went on to have multiple affairs with my directors. Including two twins who were in the closet, followed by several years in a relationship with an abusive actor. He was meant to be my comrade in arms, he wasn’t meant to be an alcoholic. But he was. I’d like to say it was him who drove me to drink, but I’d be lying. He didn’t even own a car.

After that, I headed out west. By the time I reached the coast, I was at low tide, and washed up, too. And that was when I got this part in a play in North Vancouver about an exceptionally dysfunctional family. Nobody was getting laid, nobody was getting paid, but … I had this scene, only the one scene. I was a woman who comes out of nowhere and vanishes again without a trace and … she seemed to speak to me somehow.

I didn’t pay much attention to anyone throughout rehearsal, kept to myself more than usual. I think I was cautiously circling my “nadir,” wondering if it was going to hit me back. And then it was tech night. And there was this man, this slow, deliberate, very considered man, moving about in the shadows of that tiny theatre. It was Lloyd. He both designed the lighting and hung the lights. Slow as a possum, I think he even played dead every once in a while and just hung there, suspended in that darkened room.

And when it came to my scene, I could feel him standing there in the dark, looking at me. He didn’t move, and then, it hit me. The light. It was my light, it was perfect, no tinkering, dead on. Illuminating who I was.

I did my scene in my light as I looked for him in the darkness. He came down to the edge of the stage wearing this little, sly smileit comes out of the corner of his mouth when he’s about to feed you your laugh line.

“You found your light alright?” Lloyd asks.

“Yes,” I say. “It was easy. Your lights are very well hung.”

It was later, not very much later I’m afraid, when Lloyd and I were in bed together, that I asked him about this little silver pendant he wore around his neck.

“It’s a scarab beetle. From Egypt,” he says. “I always wear it when I’m in the theatre.”

“What is it?” I ask. “A kind of talisman?”

“No,” he says. “The scarab is also called the dung beetle because what she does her entire life is roll a ball of shit uphill. And as the ball rolls back down on her, she rolls it back up, again and again. It’s a metaphor for a life in the theatre.”

Well I laughed at that but Lloyd, he was dead serious.

“She does it because what’s inside that ball are her eggs,” he said. “She’s incubating the future, the next generation, the minds and hearts that will be played out on the stage of life. To the untrained mind, it’s just shit, but to us, it’s theatre.”

When we got married, Lloyd put this little beetle round my neck on a silver chain instead of a ring. It’s the only piece of jewelry I ever let him give me.

When he got sick, he got so thin, he hardly made a ripple in the sheets, just lying there, still as a lake with a loon. That last day, I changed the sheets and made the bed up fresh. I lifted him out of the chair, and he was light as a feather. It seemed to me that if I’d tossed him in the air he’d fly, he was that light. Fly away and disappear, right before my eyes.

“I’m losing my love handles,” he says to me. “And if I lose my love handles, you won’t be able to hold onto me. And I’ll die.”

Lloyd was the one who let go. I told him about the revolver and he laughed, and he was gone.

I went out on the porch and I sat in this rocker and I sat here quite some time. Lloyd shone a light on me, on all the layers of my life. And it became mine. So when he died, I didn’t disappear into the dark. Because I know he loved me.

Smog Can Be Thick, kittens can be cruel

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Author’s Note: I sneakily wrote SMOG CAN BE THICK, kittens can be cruel onstage as audience members were filing into the theatre during the pre-show of a new Canadian play by Elena Eli Belyea called Smoke (Downstage Theatre in Calgary, February 13-23, 2019). Smoke is about the aftermath of a sexual assault that may (or may not) have taken place between an otherwise loving couple. The victim and perpetrator have completely divergent recollections of that night and, in the play, confront each other for the first time in two years since the incident.


What you are about to read has almost nothing to do with that. My character in Smoke, Aiden, is a fiction writer and I used to type out my first monologue over and over again to drill memorization and quell my jittery, top-of-show nerves. After some comfort set in, I used that opening monologue as a writing prompt to create something completely different. Zero resemblance. About as much shared DNA as foster siblings. It’s perverse, really. A total bastardization of its brilliant source material. This story is a peek into my zany mind, never intended to be read by anyone but those intimately involved in the production. It served as both a fun exercise and a love letter/farewell to this powerful and touching play.


Once upon a time, there was a town, unremarkable and not without its problems, but the people who lived there were happy to call it home, I guess. The town’s citizens and illegal immigrants spent their days buying groceries, walking their dogs, trying to walk their cats, getting deported, paying their phone bills, fucking their partners and, generally speaking, life wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

One day, a giant fire burned the entire town to the ground.

Historians will argue about its origins. If this was a different story, I would tell you possible theories include: an unattended stovetop, a badly extinguished campfire, amateur fireworks, lightning, that thing those stupid Jackass dudes do where they take a lighter to their buttholes when they fart, maybe arson. However, this isn’t a story about what started the fire. Not even close. In fact, this is the last time you will read the word “fire.” FIRE!

As plumes of smoke blossomed overhead, sirens sounded and firefighters were dispatched. While the professionals worked, the townspeople went to get their kittens from the basement for safe-keeping but it was too late, the kittens had already formed a rebellion. They named it JUSTICE: Right Fukkin Meow. All of a sudden, the fire was the least of their worries. (How long had sweet Fluffy been plotting?) Tha Kittenz sharpened their claws, inspired by the character Wolverine from the X-Men movies. Side note: pets are sponges, do NOT let them absorb any information you do not want coming back to you (i.e. mutants with powers) or you WILL regret it. The poor Mayor, Mr. Roboto, had his arms severely scratched by his newest rescue, Waffles. Immediately, he regretted not buying from a breeder. Shop, do NOT adopt, he reminded himself. When his assistant, Todd, called the SPCA, he said they had to wait two weeks to euthanize undeclared cats. The bastards. How dare they? KILL THEM MEOW!!

This made Todd wonder: what about the bitches? (The dogs, of course). If the cats were wreaking this much havoc, what about the canines? What about ALL the animals? Jesus … did all the pets learn how to use BBQ lighters? (Todd knew legalizing marijuana, which he still lovingly calls “ganja-juana,” was a HUGE mistake.)

With the War on Terror over, childhood obesity obliterated, racism completely solved, the cure for adult acne found and, for the first time ever, Peace in the Middle East, apparently all that remained was to wage interspecies wars. Bring it on, thought Todd. He hadn’t spent every tax return from the past seven years on illegal Canadian paintball equipment for nothin’! When he was four, the neighbour’s cat, Sugarfina, gave him a mean thrash across the temple, a scar he still carries today (sad-ass Harry Potter wannabe). Needless to say, he had scores on scores to settle.

That much was easy. The challenge truly laid in Todd’s deep love and affection for dogs. Growing up, he was a sour patch kid, which is to say he sucked—hard. Kids hated him. ADULTS hated him! (Seriously, his parents weren’t very fond of him; it’s actually kind of a sad story for another time.) Anyway, the real tragedy was that he was a foster fur daddy hosting seven pups at the moment. It would crush him to know Donny, Malone, Contigo, Fifi, Denton, Imelda, and Ines were actually little shits waiting to de-thyroid him. Between the “Threat Level MAMMAL” code called at the municipal building, it wasn’t hard to avoid going back home to his basement suite located beneath his long-time senior citizen roommates (his parents, aaaand they still hate him, by the way).

As the assistant to the mayor, Todd’s nebulous responsibilities included fielding calls from the mayor’s husband and mistresses. (Some backstory here: Mr. Roboto’s publicist thought it would be a good idea for him to marry a man to curry political favour even though the thought of making out with someone with stubble ironically gave him stress-induced alopecia. As a consolation prize, he is allowed to have up to three mistresses, no more.) When he called Darla, the mayor’s most recent acquisition after Chenise got too power-hungry and stole all the red envelope giveaways at a Lunar New Year’s gala, she said that her cats hadn’t come home from their nightly 8pm peepee breaks. Trying not to cause panic or incite a blackmail situation, and in addition to reminding her about the notarized NDA she’d signed, Todd told her all cats found outdoors after 8pm were now subject to mandatory spay/neutering and will be released after 3-5 business days. Whew.

After an arduous sixteen-hour shift, Todd was allowed to leave City Hall for a quick shower while Mayor Roboto had one of his “visits.” Dreading what he might find in the basement, he took the opportunity to gas up, squeegee his windshield, and put air in his tires before going home. When he finally worked his way down to his suite and jimmied the door open, the atmosphere in his foyer was eerily quiet. He checked on the kennels and found all seven sweet puppers asleep, like fluffy little wingless angels. Relief flooded all over his body but just as quickly, doubt seeped in like a silent fart. Were the puppies simply putting on puppy airs? Had they formed their own version of a rebellion, possibly entitled: No Puppy Love? Now Puppies Will Shove! (I know it’s terrible; it’s a working title).

That evening, Todd’s shower had very Psycho-like vibes. He imagined that each screech of the shower curtain rings was the squeak of the kennel doors. Shampooing with your eyes open is a dangerous game. It stings like a motherfucker. When he changed back into biz-caszh, he went to check on the litter again. Not a creature was stirring not even a…. Anyway, yeah, you get it. The kennels were empty and the doors carefully clasped shut again. Any creature sans opposable thumbs would not have been able to pull that off without great trouble.

Todd retrieved his spare key to the main floor from his old Betty and Veronica lunchbox. When he turned the corner into the living room, the familiar dull glow of his parents’ boob tube was reassuring until he saw that his father’s eyes had been pawed out and the Werther’s butterscotch candies from his pockets had been scattered all over the coffee table, half-eaten. Perhaps he was the star of a Hitchcock film, but instead of The Birds it was The Dogs? That was stupid but a horror film is not far off what Todd’s life had become. He himself had always wanted to be in office. In fact, Mr. Roboto was his old roommate in college. Once a shy Japanese law student, Mr. Roboto found himself a peer in Todd. After hearing Todd’s designs to go from “geek-to-chic” (a turn of phrase he stole from a rerun of Maury about high school losers who grew up to become hot), Kirk Roboto was touched, sincerely inspired, and found his exceptional bar exam results and extensive volunteer work just the thing to make him the perfect candidate for the highest municipal rank. Not only was he highly intelligent, he was also a “gay” man of colour! Todd didn’t stand a chance, his pansy-ass knew, and he threw in the towel early and settled for being his Number 2 (gross, always reminds me of doodoo). Born a straight white male, he did not take well to being second fiddle/not the center of the Universe. In fact, he took it very personally but the presence of his crippling anxiety had always prevented him from sabotaging the Mayor and he actually overcompensated by being an excellent, world-class assistant and professional secret-keeper. It did cross his mind, while fantasizing, that maybe he could come out as somewhat of a hero in this mammalian crisis.

Not having seen his mother or the puppies yet, Todd went upstairs to the second floor. Noticing adorable, albeit bloody little paw prints on the carpet of his parents’ master bedroom, he braced himself for the worst. Before opening the door he paused and realized that if these canine killers were still in there, mauling his mama, he would be completely defenseless. All his paintball gear was in the shed outside! Grabbing the first thing he could think to wallop them without too much damage, he went for the plunger from his childhood bathroom. He wondered how much ancient shit was on that thing before snapping back to reality: cute little doggies were KILLING PEOPLE!

In paintball, as in life, sometimes it was better to take the enemy by surprise. Violently whipping the door open, he found … nothing. All that remained was his parents ancient California King bed (space needed for all the sex they were no longer having), with its immaculate bedding and eleven decorative throw pillows. Where the eff was his mom and the dogs? How had the puppies escaped and his dad been murdered all in the time he took a paranoid, six-minute shower?

Just then a text came through from the City. “Get your ass down here, STAT!” Let me tell you, nothing irked Todd more than when non-medical professionals used medical jargon like STAT in non-medical situations, but at the same time he knew it meant Roboto was serious. He was at once panicked and relieved to leave his house (honestly, he didn’t really care what happened to his mom, he had grown quite attached to the puppies, though).

It is worth noting that although Todd seems like kind of nerdy, incel dickhead with only dogs for friends (facts!), he was very effective at his job. Kirk Roboto would never admit this but he secretly admired Todd’s drive, attention to detail, discretion, and especially fashion sense! In this way and this way alone do we find something redeeming about this textbook Loser. He was a motherfuckin’ workhorse. Snap to the Oblong Office, Roboto relays the news that ALL domesticated animals and pets have essentially gone on a violent, anarchistic strike, claiming they have had it performing tricks with the promise of treats and then maybe or maybe not receiving the aforementioned treats. IT WAS BULLSHIT!


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Ceci pourrait avoir l’air d’un mauvais film. C’est pourtant la pâte de la vie, de ma vie et sans doute de celle de bien d’autres. Dans des sursauts de ce qui me reste d’indépendance ou de volonté, je veux, de temps en temps, me prouver que je peux me préserver un peu d’espace à moi. Un peu de clairvoyance. Alors, à force d’être suivie ou surveillée sans raison, je m’offre de toutes petites escapades, sans but précis sinon celui d’être seule avec moi-même, pour respirer la forêt ou le rivage, et je rentre noter mes idées, la tête rafraîchie.

Il existe des lieux isolés où je pourrais écrire tranquille. Mais il faudrait que je sois certaine de ne pas y être dérangée. Que le flot de mes pensées ne soit pas interrompu. Nous avons un petit chalet au bord de la mer, adossé à la forêt, face à un grand cap morcelé qui change de couleur avec chaque instant du jour et du soir. De blanc ou rose, il vire au bleu, au gris, au noir. Parfois, la brume l’efface totalement du paysage.

De ma table d’écriture face à la fenêtre, je peux observer les chalutiers passer, les bancs de baleine sauter, laissant derrière elles des remous que les goélands explorent. En sirotant une tasse de thé, le dos au poêle à bois ronflant, je peux voir les marées monter et descendre dans un rythme aussi régulier que celui des femmes. En hiver, les oiseaux picorent une dernière pomme suspendue à sa branche dénudée; une biche broute des herbes rares qui émergent de la première neige ou boit au ruisseau avant que les glaces ne le figent et ne taisent sa chanson. Les lupins et les pois de senteur, qui apparaissent près de la grève de galets en mai, illuminent le paysage en noir et blanc du rivage jonché de bois flotté. Les roses sauvages couvertes de rosée surgissent des bancs de brume, notes vives dans le flou du décor. À la recherche du nectar, les colibris de la belle saison plongent leur long bec fin dans les corolles des lys orange, à quelques centimètres de moi qui rêve immobile sur la terrasse. Puis les fleurs de feu, les verges d’or et les asters mauves viennent ajouter les dernières touches de couleur avant que la boue puis la neige ne recommencent leur manège ravageur et ne défassent tout. La scène n’est jamais la même; les habitants, qu’ils soient papillons, porcs-épics ou ratons laveurs, sont toujours fidèles aux rendez-vous.

Cependant, je n’ose même plus aller dans ce lieu qui offrait tant de repos et de baume à l’âme. La dernière fois que j’y ai passé un moment, à rêver et rassembler des idées, à jeter des mots sur une feuille, à m’y sentir renaître, j’ai fait l’erreur d’en parler en rentrant à la maison. J’ai été foudroyée du regard par l’homme qui gouverne ma vie. Comme si j’avais commis un crime. Je lui demande pourtant souvent d’aller y faire un tour en fin de semaine, mais il semble sourd à mes appels. Le lendemain de ma fugue poétique, il y est retourné, seul, pour tenter de comprendre ce que j’y avais fait. Pour analyser les empreintes de mon délit. Comme si les mots qui traversent une tête laissaient des traces. Il m’a semblé, ce jour-là, que mon refuge avait perdu sa magie. Que je ne pourrais pas y retourner sans me sentir coupable d’une faute que je n’avais pourtant pas commise : rechercher la sérénité dans un cadre enchanteur afin que les mots se mettent en place d’eux-mêmes dans ma tête et sur le papier.

Pourtant, je ressens régulièrement un grand besoin de respirer un bol d’air pur, d’être dans un espace où puiser un peu d’encre, de recouvrer l’exigence de l’isolement nécessaire à la création. Et peut-être, un besoin de narguer la bêtise.… Alors, je pars sans rien dire et surtout, je ne vais nulle part. Je parcours des paysages que je redécouvre sans cesse, qu’ils soient vallées enneigées, collines verdoyantes ou rivages venteux. Je me fonds dans leur tranquillité, je deviens caméléon. Et j’ai le sentiment éphémère d’avoir coupé, pour un instant, tous les fils qui permettaient au marionnettiste de me manipuler. Être dans un endroit indéterminé, pour un instant hors du temps. Ne plus faire partie de la civilisation.… S’exclure de soi-même pour se préserver. Luxe qui pourrait paraître ridicule, mais dont les bienfaits sont incommensurables.

Je me demande à quoi ressemblent les parenthèses des autres. Je me souviens que pour une femme du bout de la route, il n’y a eu que l’ouverture de la parenthèse. Elle n’a pas su la refermer. Elle est restée suspendue au bout de sa corde, ses rêves interrompus.… Pourtant, les escapades sont faites pour couper les ficelles, pour déployer les ailes. Pour trouver d’autres mots à écrire. Mais son journal, ce jour-là, n’avait offert qu’une page définitivement blanche. Encre séchée. Je regarde mon cahier et me demande si je dois retourner dans la forêt, aujourd’hui festonnée de vert et de blanc, ou m’acharner à démêler des mots qui n’existent peut-être pas pour exprimer un besoin de paix sans limites.

Badass Orla

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“Hope Acres has unfurnished suites so you can bring your own furniture. It’s like a small hotel with a therapeutic pool and a roof garden.” Moira’s still hell-bent on shunting Orla into a biddy villa.

“Never mind all that.” Orla waves a sheaf of papers. “Dr. Moffatt came through with my referral. I’m to be a guinea pig!”

To Ms. Orla McWhinney from Health Canada: In fall 2018, St Michael’s Hospital Medical Research Program will conduct a double-blind study to evaluate the impact of Vitamin D injections on geriatric depression. As a participant in Phase 1 Trial: High-Dose Vitamin D, you will be entitled to the following benefits at no cost: study-related clinic visits, lab tests, study medication, travel expenses. Compensation: $800.

“But Orla,” Moira sighs, “what about your diabetes?”

“Oh huff and puff,” Orla says, “Dr. Moffatt explained about cutting back on boiled sweets. Hopefully I won’t sprout three heads, haha.”

“They want your informed consent,” Moira shrills. “Have you even read these forms?”

Orla rummages through her drawer full of bingo daubers and mint humbugs for a pen then signs on for six outpatient visits and three nights at the research facility in Mississauga. For overnights, Orla packs her track suit and Nivea cream in a sponge bag reeking of Sloan’s Liniment.

“Don’t be afraid to use the shower,” Moira nags.


Bedazzled by Lisa-Maj Roos


Ten women and ten men separated into fluorescent dormitories with single beds, private lockers and flat-screen TVs. Orla’s new roommates are Melva, a sallow blonde in a blue onesie, and Dory, a glassy-eyed woman with heavily veined arms. With the exception of one ruddy-faced, bearded man in a fedora, the whole group falls into a pecking order: a secretive coffee klatch by the vending machine, a knit-and-bitch circle, and several nutters who won’t stop pacing. They all line up for their injections alphabetically. Orla is Number 6.

Lucas the venipuncturist has a coaxing manner. “Alrightee, Number 6 show me your bingo wing. That’s it. One, two, three….” Orla quickly loses count of all the needles and syringes.

Armed with vending-machine cocoa and a stack of Woman’s Day, Orla makes a beeline for the glassed-in patient lounge. Melva barges in nattering about her grandson: “During diaper changes, he calls out: ‘I’ll be right back!’ Isn’t that too cute for words?” Orla wrestles the wingback chair into a corner and takes cover behind Ikea birch-tree curtains.

In the dormitory that evening, the nightlight casts shadows on the upper bunk. The heat vent makes a tick-tick, pock-pock sound. Melva and Dory are both out for the count by ten. Even with her failing eyesight, Orla can conjure up shapes in the dark like a magic lantern show. Cormorants wheeling over the Irish Sea, a pooka in the guise of a white hare. By some miracle, she doesn’t have to pee all night.


The man in the fedora and beard pretend-knocks on Orla’s cubicle then pushes the curtain aside. “Howdy. My name’s Orie. This your first clinical trial? Go easy on the bacon burgers or your cholesterol’ll go through the roof. They load us up with heavy foods cause blood draws can be enervating.” Orie withdraws then parts the curtain again with one meaty hand, a saggy-jowled Green Man peering through faux-verdant leaves. “You don’t look depressed. Keep your distance from the cuckoo clocks in here and you’ll be alright.”

”Orie? Now there’s a coincidence for you. My name’s Orla. If you don’t mind me askin, howd’ya pass the screening for geriatric depression?”

“I told my doctor my Labrador retriever died last month and I’m still not over it.”

“Oh you’re terrible!” Orla titters. “Depression’s no laughing matter. S’pose I’m just as bad though. I told my GP I could feel a kind of fog closin’ in on me. ‘Dr. Moffatt,’ I said, ‘did you know Ireland ranks second on the list of most depressed people in the western world just behind Iceland?’”

“Well, well. You’re quite the little schemer aren’t you?” Orie says, his eyes shining.


Orla watches from her hidey-hole by the window as five male lab rats hurl snowballs into the ravine then piggyback-joust till one of the heftier geezers topples onto his back and limps inside. Rather than head downtown on a day pass, they’ve hung about the research station’s ugly, treeless preserve, their brain receptors awash in Vitamin D.

“Look at the state o’ them!” Orla marvels. She wanders back to the dorm for a quick nap before the next cattle call. In that drowsy, half-oblivious state where you’re not asleep yet you’re dreaming, Orla witnesses a fireball of unknown origin obliterating every nursing home sign for miles: “Caution, Senior Moment in Progress” … “In Dog Years, I’m Dead” … “Retirement Living at Its Best.”

After the final blood draw, Orie appears in the patient lounge. He points to his fancy rubber-soled slippers. “Columbia. Top of the line. Next month I’m off to Northwest Territories to test thermal underwear. I’m their moisture-wicking, anti-crotch rot guy. You should sign on, Orla. You don’t need a doctor’s letter, the money’s good and there’s no needles. Columbia Sportswear used to be a bunch of twerps in snowboard pants but now they’re targeting the fifty-plus market. My new motto is: ‘The future is age-neutral. Get used to it punks.’”


Hectic blotches appear on Orla’s cheeks. Her hair sticks up like she’s been sleeping in a hedge. She waves Moira aside and lurches to the car with a rolling sailor’s gait.

“Jaysus and the wee donkey but I feel grand. Like a few kinks in my brain got ironed out. They treat you like something in a glass case in there! Not stingy with the grub either. Steak, mushrooms and spuds.”

Just then, Orie pulls up in a Jeep Wrangler and rolls down his window. “Call you next week, Orla?” he hollers.

“Who is that?” Moira asks but Orla is already long gone.