By Sarah Bean

I heard there’s a hole in the sky—  
our very own kaleidoscope,
turning shop windows into fire-starters
and trees into tessellations.
Turning the beautiful into breakable,
climate crisis and heartache 
all too familiar.

I’ve still got pictures of you 
(more than I’d like to admit).
Your smile, a punch to the teeth, but I’m
still laughing through my bloody gums,
begging you to tell me lies instead of secrets
because I know too much and somehow too little
and just want to hear you say I love you again.

I’ve almost earned myself a degree in daydreaming,
imagining possibilities and patterns and predicting our outcomes
but it seems that I failed the final. 
Failed to see this blindspot,
failed to factor in your feelings
(or lack thereof)
instead of my own.

So now there’s a hole in the sky,
and I can’t help but wonder if you see it too.
I taped prisms together,
turned them into rose coloured glasses,
tried to see the world through brand new eyes, but 
it turns out red flags can’t look like red flags 
when they look too much like art.

Sarah Bean (she/her) is a library technician and poet from Alberta, Canada. Her work has appeared in Goats Milk Magazine, The Giving Room Magazine, and in zines photocopied at her local library. She thanks you for being gentle. 


By Stephen Myer

It had been nearly a century since my last visit to the chateau. My light carriage, drawn by two dappled steeds, ascended the steep, narrow road that spiralled up the sides of the mountain in the warm summer evening. The journey lasted but a few hours, and during this brief period, I was serenaded by a myriad of creatures, both delicate and cruel, who inhabited that lofty terrain. Their voices grew dimmer as the elevation rose. By the time I reached the chateau, only the clopping of my horses’ hooves had filled my ears.

At the gate, two servants approached and took control of the reins. They accompanied the carriage to the plaza and stopped at the foot of the main stairway. I stepped out and gazed up at the old building that towered over the land. This enormous structure, with its impenetrable ramparts and unsurmountable parapets, overwhelmed my senses. The gas lamps that lined the entryway of this magnificent architecture replaced the stars and planets that existed before all this came to pass.

I bathed my eyes in this vision of delight, which loomed before me like a fortress rather than a palace. I turned to hail the servants who assisted me. They had unharnessed the horses and were walking toward the stable further up the mountain road, having anticipated the length of my stay.

The chateau’s interior was decorated in the style of Louis XIV, with its marbled floors, massive ornamental cabinets, winding balustrades and crystal chandeliers. Very little, if anything, had changed during my absence.

The habitual patrons gathered in the main hall. Like a silent breeze, I drifted past them. During the years between my visits, Madame, who raised her status within the establishment from chatelaine to host, mingled with her gentlemen admirers. She regaled in their pomposity and saw to their every comfort. Madame was not only a great beauty but a seasoned entrepreneur, satisfying all requirements of her clientele. I heard every word of their feebleminded conversations in which they flattered themselves in hopes of gaining special favours from their host.

Sensing my presence, Madame interrupted her conversations with a bow and excused herself.

“Ah, Count. How nice of you to make an appearance. It has been so long. I presume you arrived safely.”

“Quite. My passage over the mountain roads progressed unhindered.”

Her eyes sparkled like Jupiter and Saturn in a starless sky.

“I do not mean to pry,” she said. “But I sense you seek refuge from your troubles.”

“It is nothing more than a touch of ennui,” I responded. “Tonight, I desire something extraordinary to lighten my spirit.”

“I have just what you need,” said Madame, with a gleam in her eye. “A new girl has made quite an impression.”

“And, for what reason?” I inquired.

“I cannot say. My guests refuse to talk about it after spending an evening with her.”

“I wonder why? I insist you bring her to me.”

“She is a gentle soul, Count. But, she does possess a singular manner.”

“Those qualities are precisely what I seek.”

“It will cost you a bit more than the customary rate,” said Madame. “She’s in demand, you know.”

“Very well. I never negotiate that which must be possessed. Whatever the price, I’ll pay it.”

Madame led me down a winding staircase and through a door that opened into an underground chamber. The dampness of the room caressed my body like the taffeta sheets lining my narrow bed. I inhaled the soothing scents of moist earth and perfumed digitalis. Madame took a sincere interest in my contentment. I adored her. She placed her arm upon mine, and we sauntered across the floor until we reached an apothecary.

Along the far wall lay several mahogany boxes, alike but for slight differences in size. This piqued my curiosity, which was immediately diverted by a gracious offering from Madame.

“Prepare a solution for yourself while you wait, my dear Count. I remember your fondness for a certain potation of which we are replete.”

I enjoyed the touch of Madame’s elegant arm upon mine. She was a homely little waif when first I set eyes on her long ago. Madame had been rescued from the perils of secret streets by the chateau’s baron. The latter had given this indelicate youth a chance at redemption as a chambermaid in his sprawling manor. She blossomed into a beautiful, well-bred woman under the late baron’s cultivation, secure in her femininity and noble character.

Madame uncoupled her arm from mine, and with a coquettish smile, she adjusted the mother-of-pearl necklace, whose cameo pressed deep into the notch of her pale neck.

I began to think of Madame in a certain way, which took all my willpower to repress. I had not come for her that night. The heat flowing through my blood cooled, and for the moment, my arousal subdued.

She blushed.

Ah, Madame, I thought, you have read my mind.

“A sofa for your comfort,” she said, pointing.

She turned upon an axis like a miniature ballerina in a clock. Her back faced me, revealing unblemished skin beneath the décolleté gown, reigniting my passion—a torment I continued to resist.

“There is a small room behind the counter with a mirror and running water, should you require it.”

“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, smiling politely.

Why should I require such amenities? They proved no use to me.

Madame left my company, making her way back across the chamber and out the door to secure the girl.

I cannot say, with certainty, when I first became aware of the diminution of my faculties. I experienced sudden lapses in consciousness during which I perceived time slowing to a standstill. I convinced myself this condition existed as a temporary aberration in my immortality. But, its persistence proved otherwise. My mental acuity, which served me well for centuries, became unreliable.

During these fugues, I often wept, deprived of hearing the glorious cries of lost souls who begged me for release. Their futile appeals became fragmented and swallowed up in these distortions of time.

I became despondent by the frequency of these lapses. I questioned my belief in immortality, fearful there existed an end to everything and that I had entered into the senescence of eternity.

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Yet, with this discontent weighing on my mind, I did not lose my insatiable lust to possess whomever I desired.

And so, that night, I redoubled my efforts to enjoy myself, denying these troubling thoughts but, in truth, barely keeping them at bay.

I prepared a favourite potion by placing a cube of sugar upon a sieve, then poured drops of absinthe over it, observing the little green fairies sidle down the glass. I never tired of spending time with these tiny demons, savouring the bitter taste of their madness with the sweetness of their hospitality.

Suddenly, my tongue began to burn. I could not reconcile this attack on my senses and became anxious, fearful that the pleasures of my addiction had come to an end.

My disquiet was interrupted by the sound of the chamber door opening. I looked up. Beneath the flickering lights of the ceiling candelabra stood the new girl, poised erect like Beardsley’s Venus, in a white, diaphanous gown. A single white rose rested between her breasts. She held her arms behind her back as if concealing a gift.

Oh, Madame. You knew exactly what I needed.

I set the glass down and stepped forward.

“Come closer,” I beckoned. “What is your name?”

“Olalla,” she replied softly.

O-lal-la, I repeated. These three sounds brought more joy than a trinity of elated sighs.

Her name was familiar, but I could not recall where I had heard it before. Perhaps, in a story told long ago.

“May I have this dance, Olalla?”

“Certainly, sir. It would give me pleasure. But, I do not hear any music.”

“How thoughtless of me.”

With a snap of my fingers, the music commenced.

“Ah, the Devil’s Trill,” she said. “How apropos.”

 I wondered if she suspected my designs.

“Apropos, you say. In what way, Olalla?”

“It is a very seductive piece, don’t you think?”

She was poignant in her description, and perhaps, not the innocent I imagined.

The music was indeed a demonic masterpiece of seduction. And now, I employed it to thrill us with trills of forbidden harmony. I took Olalla in my arms, and we glided across the chamber floor like skaters upon virgin ice.

“You move so well, sir. Better than any gentleman I have ever had.”

“I am quite experienced in these diversions,” I replied. “But, never, never have I had the satisfaction of such a blithe companion as yourself.”

“Thank you, sir. What a lovely compliment. I hope you will allow me to repay it in some way.”

As the tempo of the phantom music increased, so did my vitality, for the quivering of the violin’s strings raced through my body in tempestuous arcs of fire. My braided tresses whipped wildly around Olalla, pulling her closer, fueling the mounting flames that would consume her soul.

She stared at my smile, which surely betrayed my intentions. I awaited the moment of her submission when she realized in whose arms she found herself.

This did not happen.

Olalla laughed in unrestrained delight, exposing two curious, pointed teeth. Her eyes grew larger, turning into swirling, crimson pools.

Her abrupt transformation startled me, and my thoughts strayed from their intent. I suddenly recalled the story of a young woman who lived in a shadow-world like mine. She wandered the land, having in her possession the extraordinary power to undo the curses of ineluctable vanity, cunning and deceitfulness in the undead. Each soul she touched found redemption.

“It is time I repaid your compliment,” she said. “You know who I am.”

Before I could respond, she placed her lips against my neck. In her unholy kiss, I experienced the ineffable thrill I had so often given others through the centuries.

The clock on the wall stopped, and I swooned, once again sequestered in timelessness as she feasted on my blood.

I, the heartless predator, had become the unsuspecting prey. Olalla guided me to the sofa on which I reposed. With a snap of her fingers, the music stopped. She prepared a fresh potion of absinthe, for the original had metathesized into a clear liquid, abandoned by the green fairies whose patience I exhausted by my devotion to Olalla.

I looked up at her. The white rose on her gown had turned grey.

“Drink this,” she said.

To my chagrin, each sip of the absinthe tasted more disagreeable than the last. I tossed the glass with my remaining strength. The green fairies scattered across the floor in bewilderment. 

“That’s right. Run, you wicked creatures. I no longer need you.”

Olalla’s crimson eyes flared as she nodded in agreement. She stood above me with her eyes closed, licking the traces of my blood that lingered on her lips. Then she knelt beside me and helped herself to the tinctured remains that flowed through my veins.

I could stand it no more. “Stop, Olalla! I know why you are here. You have repaid my compliment a thousand times over with your kindness.”

The letting of my blood weakened and soothed me. My eyes fluttered as I fell into a reverie, gently floating down the course of a narrow, dark river that meandered over the contour of Olalla’s body, finally depositing me at the fleshy delta of her feet.

I looked up and spoke in a voice I did not recognize.



“There is something you must do.”

She led me into the room that Madame had spoken of. Above the sink hung a large mirror. The truth, always to be found in a looking glass, no longer terrified me, for, in the absence of time, I neither dwelled on the crimes of my past nor considered the depravity of my future. I stared at my reflection in which lurked the sorrows I had caused others. Facing me stood a man I had never seen before. He had white hair and a pallid complexion with layers of wrinkled and mottled skin. A villainous scar ran from the bottom of his eye to the top of his lip. It was a face mutilated by the sins of countless ages.

As I continued to stare, the collection of grotesque features coalesced on the glass canvas into a portrait of something monstrously handsome. Peering deeper into the mirror, I entered the world of Pentimento. I studied the sedimentations within the frame, excavating the goodness left in his soul, revealing a new rendering of this man—one who would no longer suffer from the incalculable cruelties he committed.

Olalla turned the spigot, and by her hands, I was absolved. The sink filled with thick clots of rotting flesh. Her fingers peeled away the scurf amassed over centuries. I gazed into the mirror, astonished by what I saw. A monster changed into a man—one I once would have ruined simply for his course sensibilities. Now, I adored him. How curious that the living and the undead never relinquish their sense of vanity.

Olalla attempted to drain the final drops of blood from my body.

“No, no, my Sweet. You must leave me a small souvenir. Please, let me go.”

She stepped back. The rose between her breasts turned black and withered before my eyes.

“It was the poison in your blood that killed it,” she said. “Now, you are free.”

She led me into the chamber and guided me toward the row of coffins. I lay supine upon downy pillows, never expecting such an agreeable end to my damned eternity. Her lips press against mine, and then she was gone.

Who granted me this undeserved fate?


Her compassion saved me from iniquity, as it had done for others who came before.

Trust my words. She is real.

Prepare yourself. Olalla will find you in the low moments of your high-spirited cravings, between your last kill and your next. Let her drain your veins of madness. She is kind that way, taking nothing more than your tainted blood and leaving you with a peace you could never possess without her.


Stephen Myer is a fiction writer, educator, and musician based in Southern California.

If Silence Could Speak

By Anna Elin Kristiansen

Remembering every insult, every humiliation, each tiny wrongdoing
she twists.
Turns her pillow over, fighting a wee-hour battle with her worthy opponent:

How squeezed she would feel, how terribly frightened
fearful, black thoughts sucking life right out of her
dumping it in the city sewers.

Flattened, shattered, gasping for a drop of life
she lay
still, as death.

But such forces as the one we know intimately
yields to no shadow master.

Sweeps in – no, that’s not its style,
It’s subtle, gentle, caring and kind.
It mends, heals, caresses, all in due course.

Reminds, ushers, helps and supports.
shows the splendor, the greenery, the unapologising
inherent force of life.

It works not in bursts, nor in spectacular shows.
It hums, breezes, vibrates and leads the way.
Step by step, breath by breath
until the force – life – fills every pore

Uncontainable, unstoppable, pulsating
it soars
roaring – if silence could speak –
if I pay for my aliveness with death
let it come.

Anna Elin Kristiansen is a reader, writer, mother and the universe masquerading as a human being. She makes sense of the world – and creates her own – through her own writing. In the evenings, she writes literary fiction, and when inspiration strikes, she writes poems about the experience of being alive. You can find her words at On Mama’s Mind and her Twitter.

Where There’s Light

By Anna Elin Kristiansen

It was not for her
this dimmed existence.
Not for her
to take up space
between pale-faced nods
never intended to rustle fabric.

A wandering soul she was
yet feet firmly planted here
bare soles on hot city asphalt.

Her hips would sway
her feet dance
her breasts gave life.
The conqueror of shame and fear
she was.

Mere survival she tossed aside,
her face, her palms, she turned up
her tongue, out
to taste the salt of life.

Sang out of tune, like it mattered,
shouted, stomped, laughed and whispered;
“Be strong, be brave
you will find a way.”

Anna Elin Kristiansen is a reader, writer, mother and the universe masquerading as a human being. She makes sense of the world – and creates her own – through her own writing. In the evenings, she writes literary fiction, and when inspiration strikes, she writes poems about the experience of being alive. You can find her words at On Mama’s Mind and her Twitter.

Here is a world

By Anna Elin Kristiansen

Here is a world
with all its shortcomings
Here is a world
infinite and new.

It forms, painstakingly slow
and like all the stars in our galaxy
rushes out to meet its fate.

Sucking in energy, expanding
meeting its challenges
head on.

Can you blame it for taking it slow?

All events in surrounding space
All its fellow bodies
will perish.
It knows this
yet persists in paying it forward.

A most mysterious wonder
this new little world
to abide by the governing rule
yet exercise choice.

Here is a world
soon to be gone
like a soap bubble it soars
higher, higher!
until – pop! –
the eye cannot see.

Anna Elin Kristiansen is a reader, writer, mother and the universe masquerading as a human being. She makes sense of the world – and creates her own – through her own writing. In the evenings, she writes literary fiction, and when inspiration strikes, she writes poems about the experience of being alive. You can find her words at On Mama’s Mind and her Twitter.

Enchanted life 1 and 2

By Soph Murray

This room of the living
is now a cathedral holding the stories
of the earth
travelling through the underground network
passing threads of
songs of summer
recitals of autumn
along silken webs among the dead
whispering now in this great sanctuary
with angels dancing on vinyl
ferrying those copper chords
into inner drums that
outside my chest
on my fingertips
fracturing the lines we’ve drawn
so we can venture into the wild dawn
crossing the lay lines
genuflecting as we connect
rising only with the sun

I am an embroidery of experience
each small stroke another small thing
delicately detailed
into second hand fabrics
worn several lives over
pulled taught and tense
each time forced to forget
and forgive the prick of her needle
carrying the memory
on soft threads
in running stitches
colliding into one another
bleeding colour into
this kaleidoscopic life
there is beauty in this chaos

Soph Murray was spurred back into writing because of the global pandemic. It was a necessary tool to maintain sanity amidst working from home and homeschooling a gang of children. Soph taps into motherhood, magic, and innate misanthropy in her poetry to express the things that would otherwise wake her anxious brain at 4am in the morning. She has been published in anthologies by Hecate Magazine, Mum Poem Press, and Faces of Motherhood by Blood Moon Poetry Press. Work can also be found on Instagram.

How much of your mother do you carry with yourself?

By Soph Murray

this bothers me most/ crawling its way into my tired consciousness as I try and find unconsciousness at 3am/ I was an egg in my mother while she grew in her mother/ how can three generations be so different? / how can they all have been one? / how did we breathe and live and feed in apparent harmony? / did we all listen to Frank Sinatra / in deep, hot water that spilled over the bathtub / until our skin was pink and raw / craving something salty never sweet / rebelling against the expectations that each father help for perfect daughters / that never existed / and made bad choices to then suffer the consequences / in empty rooms and full glares while the rest avoided us? / I was an egg in my mother in her mother / she carried her who carried me

Soph Murray was spurred back into writing because of the global pandemic. It was a necessary tool to maintain sanity amidst working from home and homeschooling a gang of children. Soph taps into motherhood, magic, and innate misanthropy in her poetry to express the things that would otherwise wake her anxious brain at 4am in the morning. She has been published in anthologies by Hecate Magazine, Mum Poem Press, and Faces of Motherhood by Blood Moon Poetry Press. Work can also be found on Instagram.

Power Outage – Depressive

R.B. Simpson

Is this a general outage or merely confined to bipolar regions? Suddenly it is midnight at midday.                                                          The meter registers zero and there is no electrochemical technician listed in the Yellow Pages.

You’ve dropped off the grid.

The lift is stuck between floors and the cables are frayed.                 The alarm bell doesn’t work but it’s ringing in your head.

You may be going up or down, either way you’re on your own.        The spark flickers and fades, no one can see you in the dark             and even you don’t know where or who you are.

Manic depressive power surges wreck the system: the sufferer       was born without the contacts to conduct current meaning.

What is this so-called life force then?                                           Chemistry or biology, electricity or eccentricity, science or spirit, mind or matter?

Because even when you long for a complete shut-down,                 even when the mind has lost every last connection to                       the power source, somehow the back-up generator kicks in            and the heart goes on.

Richard Simpson is a freelance writer and journalist, and his poems have appeared in SQ and imPrint magazines. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.


By Sherry Shahan

Daddy had on his red swim trunks with fish that squirmed when he walked. Stains rimmed the armholes of his wife-beater undershirt. The worst name ever. He pocketed his car keys and grabbed the deck of playing cards with pictures of naked women.

I pinched his arm hair. “Can I go with you, please? I won’t make a peep. Promise!

“Not this time, honey. Besides, Mom is on her way home.”


He could’ve at least pretended to have a job—to pack a lunch pail and head out in regular clothes. Every time he left, I had this fear, he might not come back. He was in such a damn hurry he forgot to kiss me goodbye. 

His shadow wobbled inside the truck cab as he backed out the driveway. I pressed my nose to the smeary front window and flipped him the bird. He slowed at the curb to wave, but my nine-year-old fists were frozen to the glass. 

The truck evaporated, and I wondered when mom would really be home. First, she had to stop and scoop up my little brother from a lady with a house full of other people’s kids. 

I slid off the couch and attacked Daddy’s argyles with scissors, making a spiffy skirt for my doll Carol Sue. Then I scampered off to the bathroom, squinting at the peach fuzz between my eyebrows. Mom said I was too young to pluck. Maybe a razor would work? But I worried about stubble.

In the kitchen, I stretched the curly cord on our Bakelite phone. It had a pullout drawer with a thin pad inside. The number of Mom’s work was written in red pencil. I’d only called a couple of times because the manager always sounded like he wanted to smack someone. 

I traced a hole on the dial with my finger, wondering if my friend Bonnie could come over and practice smoking. We’d never truly be grown up until we could inhale without coughing. And I wanted to teach her the right way to hold a cigarette. Not between her two middle fingers.

Our wall clock said six-fifteen. She’d be combed and spruced at her dining room table with cloth napkins her mother had ironed while wearing red bareback pumps. Her father would be passing a bowl of fluffy potatoes made from a box and a platter of pork chops with crispy fat. 

Sometimes it was hard being Bonnie’s friend. 

Roger would ditch dinner to come over; he loved me that much. I picked up the phone and started to dial his number, then slammed it down because there was this birdbrained rule against girls calling boys. Instead, I called the cocktail lounge around the corner. “Is my daddy there?” 

The guy who answered said, “What’s his name?” 


“Hang on, kid.” 

I heard him holler, “Anyone in here named John?” 

“Sorry, kid,” he said when he came back. “He’s not here.” 

“Are you sure there isn’t a John?”   

“I’m pretty sure.” 

“Then what do you people do? Pee on the floor?” He laughed before hanging up, but it didn’t make me feel better. 

I slid a stick of Beech-Nut into the phone drawer for later, snatched a steak knife off the kitchen counter, and wound it in a paper napkin. 

The sun gave up the day beyond the window and backyard fence. It blew me a fiery kiss, and I blew one back, heading to the tree in the front yard. It grew from a square of dry weeds between the sidewalk and gutter. 

Since our nosy neighbours were probably watching, I made a big show of hiking up my skirt before hoisting myself onto the lowest limb. From there, it was an easy climb to the branch that was all mine—the one near the top under the streetlight. Not that I was afraid of the dark. I liked places where no one could see me.

My legs dangled, ankles hooked, as I uncurled a thick strip of bark. The flesh underneath glistened and smelled slightly sweet, as if Green Apple Kool-Aid gushed through its veins.

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I felt light-headed from going all day on a single peanut butter-and-graham-cracker sandwich. The leftover goop that stuck to the roof of my mouth was long gone. I carved a lazy S, pressing down hard, watching the tree bleed. I didn’t care that I was scarring it because there was love in what I was doing.

“Sherry and Roger sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g . . .” I hacked a crooked W for my last name. “First comes love, then comes marriage . . . ” I wiped the blade on my skirt, then dug in to carve Roger’s R.

I heard our Rambler before it floated below me into the driveway. Mom got out and walked to the passenger’s side, her kitten heels clicking. She moved slowly like she didn’t want to get to where she was going. 

Once inside the house, the lights flicked on. She’d put my brother to bed, probably still in his play clothes, without brushing his teeth. I’d never get away with that.

Would she come outside to look for me? Maybe if I faked a cough, she’d smear an old t-shirt with Vicks VapoRub, wave it over a flame on the stove, and smooth it on my chest. 

The porch light twitched. “Sherry, are you out here?” Mom moved into the amber light, shading her eyes, a skinny shadow of herself. “Are you up in that tree?” 

“Coming!” She hadn’t forgotten about me after all. 

“Oh, honey. You shouldn’t be up there in the dark. Where’s your father?”

“Um, at the Piggly Wiggly?” No way I’d rat him out. He got in enough trouble on his own.

Mom took my hand as soon as I hit the ground, and I knew all I needed was her warmth. “Have you had dinner?” 

I took off my headband because the metal teeth were scalping me. “Not yet.” 

“How about a fried Spam sandwich? I’ll let you open the can.”

I loved the tiny key that hooked over the thin sliver of metal. I loved twisting it and hearing the sucking noise of salty jelly just pink enough to let everyone know a pig had been pulverized before being squeezed into a tin. And I loved my mom because she never forgot I loved those things. 

The next morning I threw back the covers and slid from the bed, hoping to catch her in the bathroom before work, drawing on cat eyes with a liquid pencil. She’d paint her naturally plump lips with Pink Minx lipstick in a hairspray fog. I doubted Daddy appreciated his wife’s movie star qualities. 

“Mom?” No answer. “Mom!” 

The house was quiet. Nothing left but her smells. I stood in the bathroom 

where they were strongest, inhaling sprays, sticks, and creams, wondering if my parents even liked each other. 

I’d seen the employee’s lounge at her work—a square room behind the office where the mean manager hung out when he wasn’t bossing people around. The room had a mini-refrigerator, a portable hot plate, and a square table to eat on. If I squinted hard enough at the cot, the manager’s idea of getting off your feet, I could picture Mom’s overnight valise and fuzzy slippers between its wooden legs. 

I climbed on the kitchen counter for a box of Cocoa Puffs, figuring Daddy spent the night somewhere else. Then I saw him in the backyard through the window. He was dead asleep in the hammock in a weird position, looking like a rubber toy. 

Some kids learned to tiptoe on days when their dad worked graveyards. I learned to do the same after one of Daddy’s all-nighters. I eased the sliding glass door over its gritty runners, stepped out and dropped to my hands and knees, then crawled toward the hammock. 

There was no reason to sneak. Daddy probably wouldn’t wake up if I turned the garden hose on him. He never looked like this, not even on his worst hangover days. Pale and grinning too hard, matching that awful snapshot in my dreams. 

I got that upside-down fizzy feeling in my stomach and inched closer when I saw a spider on his shoulder. I figured a spider could kill a man who cheats when playing checkers with a fourth-grader. 

“Daddy, wake up! There’s a spider!”

He jolted from his stupor. “You trying to give me a heart attack!”  

“S-s-pider . . . . your shoulder!” 

Daddy jerked, and the hammock swung, nearly dumping him on his empty beer cans. He seized the culprit, squished it gutless with his fingers, and displayed what was left on the tip of his thumb.

“Damn black widows. Females are the worst. That’s why you have to clap your shoes together before putting them on. Always remember that, okay, honey?” 

“Okay, Daddy.” He pulled me in, and I pressed my cheek to his t-shirt because stinky dried sweat was better than nothing. “You saved my sorry ass, honey.” 

That life-saving deed did something to me; it made me feel it was my job to look after him. Maybe because we didn’t have a dog or cat that would scratch my eyes out or one of those goldfish from the school fair that you get when your Ping-Pong ball lands in a glass bowl. Or maybe because no one else cared enough about him.

That night I felt like such a baby cradling Carol Sue when just the day before Roger and I had been practicing kissing on top of my bedspread. She shook in my arms when wordless voices bled through the wallpaper. First rat-a-tat anger, then a dull sob. “Can’t take it anymore . . . ”

I stroked Carol Sue’s stiff hair and told her the lie that everything would be okay.

Mom pleading. “Just sign the papers.” 

I slipped from the bed and pulled a sheet of paper from my notebook. Using my ruler, I drew a straight line down the middle. A stick figure of Daddy on one side and Mom on the other. I set the paper on my dresser, folded it in half, and creased it until my thumb hurt. Then I folded it the other way and did the same. 

Daddy’s voice. “I’ll get a job.”  

“Really? Who’ll hire you?”

I tore the paper carefully, starting at the top, working to give my parents equal halves because I wanted to be fair. The teensiest scrap fluttered away on its own. I figured that lost piece was me. 

I grabbed a bobby pin off my dresser and stuck it in Carol Sue’s skull. Dumb doll.

Sherry Shahan’s personal essays have appeared in F(r)iction, Critical Read, Exposition Review, Normal School and are forthcoming from Fiddlehead, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and taught a creative writing course for UCLA for 10 years.

Ascendency, or a Story of Pineapples

By Chloe Bourdon

Sitting primly on the mahogany side table was the symbol of man’s greatest achievement: a pineapple. Its green crown rose crisply from the oval body. Each lobe was golden and precise in its anatomy. Beyond being an absolute triumph of tropical agriculture, it was arranged delicately and in the best of taste on the dark side table. Framing it was two silver-gilt candlesticks. Other than these three objects, the table was naked. A mirror hung on the wall directly behind the pineapple. The effect was thus that the viewers were blessed with a double-vision of the fruit. 

Standing in tasteful proximity to this arrangement was Paul Beaujolais. He had chosen his position to make the presence of the pineapple seem like a casual decoration at his birthday celebration, yet close enough that his guests would make no mistake in his association with it. As he stood, he looked at his guests and his pineapple alike with a wide-eyed stare that left a ring of white visible above his irises. The effect was a look of slight Mad Hatter-esqe insanity. Despite his relative youth, his dirty blonde hair was stiff and stood out above his ears in defiance of his earnest attempts to oil it close to his skull. 

Around him, ladies milled in silk skirts that whispered as they brushed against the floor and each other. Paul was pleased to see that all of his guests had dressed in the best of taste. No obnoxious colours or risqué necklines. The year was 1865, for God’s sake! The prudishness of the past was forgotten, and the audacity of the future was yet to come. As such, a little claret was appropriate, and the guests nursed glasses full of the blushing liquid. The men stood in proud groups around the periphery of the room, eyeing the shy women. The overall tone was that of a sparrow singing on a spring morning, one of promise. 

The sparrows had not always sung for Paul Beaujolais. Named for a Christian man and the orphanage’s mistress’s favourite bottle of wine, he had started life as a random spit of a boy. Despite the hard-won luxury now surrounding him, he could not help but think back to that time and its crippling sense of poverty, and therefore, inadequacy. 

In 1848, he had been living in St. Mary’s Orphanage, down on S—– Street in London. 

“Paul!” The screech of his headmistress echoed through his memory. He became lost in a reverie, remembering the sound of the switch cracking across his knuckles. “Paul, you must pay attention! You are too old for doodling. Pay attention, or next time the switch will find your head.” London, at that time, was still bursting at the seams from the explosion of innovation that had taken the world by a storm. That was how Paul ended up behind a desk in an orphanage instead of playing in a meadow, or more realistically, herding some sheep. Like many similar youngsters, he was being bred to run the machines that had taken the jobs of their parents (even though Paul had no parents). The world had outgrown shepherds and playtime. In this day and age, the price of being alive was tuberculosis and fingernails grey with the grime of machinery. 

Paul slowly looked up from his drab paper and stubby pencil to the red welt across his hand. He had merely been drawing a creek and a bridge. This math is too easy, he thought. What else am I supposed to do?

“Paul Beaujolais, I can see that look in your eyes. You may not know it, but God must have some purpose in mind for you that I could never”, she paused to cough, “divine. How else would I get so lucky as to educate you when you should instead be in the factories? Do you know that your peers are begging on the streets with toes so cold that they fall off into the gutter?”

“Yes, madame.” The switch whistled through the air and landed on the knuckles of his opposite hand. He flinched, and his face blushed in shame. Stupid, he thought. Stupid, stupid Paul. Under the desk, where he had hidden his abused hand, he pinched and twisted the skin on his legs. 

“Remember that. You were given a future. You are currently wasting it.” With that, the headmistress turned around and returned to the front of the classroom. The heavy black material girding her from neck to ankle looked suffocating. Maybe she can’t breathe, and that is why I can never please her, mused Paul. He bent his head down and tried harder not to draw attention to himself. And that is how he would have to continue for five more years until he got a job as a grocer. Then he would be in control of his life. Then he would be good enough. 

The headmistress frowned at his bowed head. She bent to her work, switch momentarily retired. 

Paul shook his head and returned to the present. He was pleased to see a group of women ask for more claret and then casually saunter their way in his direction, perhaps to wish him a happy birthday. At the last minute, they diverted to gather ’round the pineapple. He felt prouder than if one of them had walked up and kissed him right on the lips. His eyes bulged with pleasure and hope. 

“Claret, sir?” inquired a servant. 

“Yes, then, go on.” Paul held out his glass. While he was doing so, he saw Amelia Shelby sweep through the doors. In his eagerness, he almost pulled his glass away from the servant before he stopped pouring, which would have resulted in an embarrassing splash. Damn these orphan’s manners, Paul thought to himself carelessly. This thought had tread a well-worn path in his mind, eventually becoming so familiar that he didn’t even notice it anymore. Amelia was handing her cloak to another servant. Afraid of appearing too eager, Paul stayed where he was. His eagerness to talk to her was betrayed by the fact that he was standing almost on his toes to watch her little golden head bob across the room. 

Her eyes were the exact same shade as the proud crown of the pineapple. She radiated a juicy, sugary, fresh glow. Womanhood had just plucked her from immaturity, which lent her an awkwardness that was endearing to Paul. He loved her chewed fingernails, which he knew from experience had probably earned her more than one whipping. He looked down at his own masticated digits ruefully. This flaw, which he had noticed second only to her beauty when he bent down to kiss her hand for the very first time, had stolen his heart. 

He inched closer to the pineapple. When he rented the pineapple from that suspicious Scot, he had not failed to notice that its leaves matched her eyes. Her father, the factory manager that oversaw canned herring from Norway, would surely be impressed by the pineapple. After all, no poor man would have such a symbol of wealth sitting on his side table for all to see! Momentarily, Paul’s gorge rose when he considered the cost of his party, which had almost emptied his pockets completely. The feeling quickly dissipated as he glanced back at the pineapple; he felt a glow in his stomach spread up to warm his cheeks, and he did not think that it was the claret. 

“As a necessary precaution, Caleb took down Paul’s address…”

Two weeks earlier and hundreds of miles north, Caleb Fraser rode through the Scottish countryside peacefully. For once, the sun had defeated the clouds and beat down upon him, threatening to burn his fair brow. Miles of land lay at his disposal for the afternoon, and he intended to make the most of it! His tasks included lounging in the prodigious sunshine, drinking ale from his flask, maybe scaring a few kine, taking a nap, and galloping recklessly through the brush and trees. He sighed contentedly at his prospects. As he imagined it, so he carried it out. 

As he rode back into the outskirts of Edinburgh, he saw the smoke billows that indicated that the train had just arrived. Curious to see what wonders it had brought this time—Caleb had a healthy sense of wonder—he hurried to the outskirts of the city and tied up his horse. Walking quickly, but not hurriedly, he made his way across the cobblestones and mud to the new train station. Some passengers had already disembarked, but more than half were still stretching and working their way off this modern wonder of engineering. From London in less than a day! Caleb hoped to make this journey himself soon. 

He smirked at the people that climbed out of the carriages. Well off enough, he supposed, but certainly no Fraser. Caleb did not fail to notice the dirt on the hems of the ladies’ skirts, a sign that they had worn them many times before. Their poverty made them weak, and this weakness disgusted him. 

He noticed a beggar slumped against a wall a few buildings away. Caleb thought, a beggar is less revolting than the middle class because they do not have any dreams or presumptions. They are at home in their filth. But God above! Look at this lady! 

During this thought, he had given his hand to a middle-aged, tubby woman struggling off of the train. He smiled as he noted the scars on her hands and wrinkles between her eyebrows. 

He decided that she was vile. He wanted to push her to the ground but instead finished helping her off the train and safely onto the platform. 

Caleb wandered down the train, hands clasped behind his back, smiling benevolently on all who passed him. The onlookers were impressed with the quality of wool that bedecked his body. The ribbon in his hair was new, and its dark blue colour highlighted the porcelain white of his cheeks and the gold in his hair. 

With no warning, Caleb froze. Off the last carriage came a cart, filled to the brim with odd plants that Caleb had never seen before in his entire privileged life. 

Manipulating the cart was a man who was not so big but had such an aura of command and Success that Caleb instantly respected him wholeheartedly. Not only did he respect him, but he wanted to be him. He held himself erect and pushed his large cart with precision. With a boldness bordering on petulance, Caleb walked up to this man confidently. 

“Good day there, sir! Can I offer you some assistance?” Caleb asked. The man looked him up and down, an exercise that Caleb adored. Let him see my finery, Caleb thought. It cannot fail but to impress him. In response, the man shrugged and moved over so that Caleb could fit beside him on the cart. Eagerly, Caleb put his hands on his side of the cart and pushed. “Just lead the way, sir! I will make sure that I will not slow you down.” This proclamation hardly merited a response from the stranger. Instead, he began the process of moving the cart down the street. 

“If I may ask, what are these strange fruits that you have here?” Unable to stand his own curiosity, Caleb asked the question minutes after they had moved off the platform. 

“Pineapples, sir. From the Indies,” the stranger said, finally breaking his silence. He had a Cockney accent that had been polished by time evidently spent hawking his wares in London. 

“Do you eat them?” Caleb inquired further. 

“’ Course. Very sweet. So sweet they ‘urt your tongue.” At this, the stranger stopped in front of a nondescript close. “I stop ‘ere. Thank’ee for the help.”

“Wait,” Caleb cried before the stranger even turned to walk away. “I’ll buy a few. Two. No, let me think,” as he paused for barely a heartbeat. “Three. Give me three, fellow.” The stranger shrugged again and sold him the fruit. Without another word, he rumbled down the close into the twisting alleys that so characterize central Edinburgh. Arms filled with his prickly prize, Caleb gaily made his way home. 

A mere moment after he had opened the glass-paned door of his home, Emma Fraser, his young sister, ran up to him, yapping like a dog. He dodged her hugs and questions adroitly, as this was a maneuver he repeated most days of the week. As he started down the hall, having successfully pushed her to the side, he threw a lazy word behind him in answer to her inquiries: “A pineapple! That’s what it is, pup!” 

He took the fruit to the kitchen, successfully bewildering all of the servants. In fact, there was such confusion that he enlisted the help of his mother. 

The loud-mouthed Lady Fraser made her way down the stairs into the kitchen with blistering energy; the sullen clouds of Scotland only fueled the fire that drove Lady Fraser to extremes of activity, claiming that ‘rain is merely a hodgepodge of the tears of the unproductive.’ Much of her focus was dedicated to reading, a habit characterized by her peculiar habit of ceaselessly bouncing her leg as she studied her books. 

Before Caleb could open his mouth, she cried, “Oh, a pineapple!” He shut his mouth in surprise and bitterness. The presumption that he would be the only one familiar with this rarity had entertained him the whole way home, even eliciting a few private giggles. “Well then, cut off the crown and the rest of the green stuff. Serve us the yellow in a bowl. What a nice decoration the other ones will make! They are quite in vogue right now, you’ve heard. Very welcoming, they say.”

As it happens, the information that Lady Fraser was at that moment disseminating was also in the hands of Paul Beaujolais. After a long day at the artisanal grocery store that Paul was running for an ageing gentleman, Miles south, Paul encountered the very same information. In order to take his mind off Amelia, whom he had recently met, and to shake the mental cobwebs of rare spice receipts and the antics of his young assistant, he turned to a popular novel about a famed adventuress. In all her descriptions of wondrous things like cannibals and shipwrecks, the pineapple stood out to Paul for two reasons. First of all, he could sell it in his store. And secondly, more profoundly, it was a symbol of all that he hoped to achieve. It was a splint to all in him that he found broken. His wretchedness, his orphanage past, his aspirations for the future. His fear of Amelia’s father. In the firelight, Paul decided that to have a pineapple was to be a man.

The book in question was—true to Lady Fraser’s proclamation—in vogue. A pineapple frenzy took the nation by a storm. The elitist presumptions that a pineapple granted its owner confirmed Paul’s first impression; that to have a pineapple was to finally grasp Success, that elusive fox. The green leaves became the crown of the bourgeois domestic. Let it be said for Paul that his instinct for market trends was quite accurate. Due to the difficulty in harvesting and importing the illustrious fruit to England, its presence on a side table indicated affluence. 

The book grasped firmly in his hand, Paul saw the entire narrative take form. He would acquire a pineapple—just one; but oh, how it would be the best pineapple in all the land!—and he would put it on his table. Maybe put a candlestick or two on it. Then he would have a party and invite the Shelby’s. Conveniently, his birthday was just around the corner. Amelia would walk in, swoon into his arms. While he was holding her, Amelia’s father would shake his hand and declare their engagement.

Meanwhile, all of his guests would be impressed with his Success and perhaps even be intimidated by his luxury. Then, once they all realized that to have a pineapple was the pinnacle of human achievement, they would rush to his store to buy the golden fruit. A small smile grew on Paul’s face, and he rose to his toes. His eyes bulged with the thrill of a perfect plan. An unsuspecting servant was wrangled into his study and pummeled with talk of his plan for the better part of an hour. 

Caleb sampled the pineapple that evening, surrounded by the delighted cries of his family, and was rather disappointed. At first, the sharp flavour shocked him. It seemed sweet enough to cut right through his tongue. In fact, Caleb feared the flavour—he was uncertain that the thin, fleshy wall of his cheek could contain such a sensation. But pain sometimes joins with pleasure, and his shock prompted him to finish his bowl. Only then did his mouth, born into a land of fried fish and boiled peas, make known its opinion of this new food. Sores opened on his tongue so that he could consume nothing but water for a day and a night. Astonishingly ill-adapted to pain, Caleb found himself permanently in scorn of the bright treat. 

“Mother,” he began the day after the pineapple incident. “I have bought three pineapples but find myself disliking them. You know, though, that I cannot afford to simply throw the extra two away. I dare not waste money so willfully when some are going hungry.” Lady Fraser rolled her eyes at this lofty statement because she knew that it was the fruit of her husband’s purse that had purchased the ill-received treat. “Mother, what do I do?”

“Well, dear, why not sell them again? They probably have another week or so before they go bad. Aren’t you taking your maiden voyage to London on the train? Take them to your friends. The train makes the ride so short that you’ll be just fine.”

Caleb, by his silence, indicated that this plan was the best one he had encountered so far. 

“I’ll have one of the maids get you a special crate. Maybe one that used to hold apples. How will that work, hmm?” Lady Fraser already knew the answer, but she went through the motions of helping her son nonetheless. 

“That’ll do fine. I will sell them in London. We aren’t so savage as they may think!” Caleb remarked. In fact, the thought of flaunting his wealth to the stunted middle-class of London took hold of his mind. That class was so easy to bully. Their desire to belong meant that they followed the slightest suggestion of what may be fashionable and were therefore considerably easier to manipulate than the population of Caleb’s own class. The thought of Up, Up, Up distracted them from those that might take them down. The corners of Caleb’s mouth tightened into a curiously cold smile. 

Two days later, Paul encountered Caleb. Near London Bridge, headed towards Winchester Abbey, Paul had been walking with his hands behind his back. So absorbed was he in thoughts of his upcoming party that he failed to notice that the wind had taken command of his hair and was blowing it hither and thither. In fact, he looked a bit like a tufted dandelion. With the wind tickling his ears and his hair whispering, it is surprising that he heard the faint call at all. 

“Pineapples! I have only two! Rich as the setting sun and bright as it too! Pineapples!” Of course, it was Caleb’s voice that floated on the breeze. Perhaps it was even fate that bore his call into Paul’s ears. A twist of fate is the only explanation for why a dignity such as Caleb has been hawking wares on the street like an urchin.

Paul, on his part, froze comically with one foot in the air. At first, he thought that he had been thinking about his birthday party with such concentration that he had merely heard his own thoughts. 

Faintly, still frozen, he heard, “Pineapples!” from directly ahead, at the base of Big Ben. He put down his hovering foot with startling speed and hurried up the street. This motion, of course, blew his hair into even more of a flurry. His urgency caused his eyes to widen, exposing that strip of white so characteristic of passion and obsession. 

On the slippery cobblestones, there stood Caleb with a pineapple in each hand, like a picture of Justice herself. To his credit, he had selected two beautiful fruits. They contrasted with the grey of the sky, the grey of his coat, and the grey of the street beneath his feet. In fact, they were so bright that they were nearly blinding. Paul was so dazzled that he did not notice that no one around him gave Caleb a second glance. Hypnotized by their beauty into a sort of tunnel vision, Paul saw spectres of Success, romance, and riches etched onto their prickly skin. 

Caleb saw Paul hundreds of feet before Paul reached him. Bully that Caleb was, he knew a victim when he saw one. Though unwilling to learn in most ways, Caleb’s enthusiasm for the art of deception helped him to formulate an immediate plan. He thought I will not sell this pineapple to this pathetic man. He must rent it from me, and I’ll more than make back what I spent. He is so poor, so middle-class, that he could not buy it for what I paid for it, anyway. He’ll never be suspicious. Caleb observed how Paul nearly got hit by a passing carriage without even looking at it. Fool, he thought. 

“You, fine sir!” Caleb yelled at Paul. “Are you interested in renting this exquisite fruit with which to decorate your home?” The question was merely an exercise in redundancy, as Paul was practically slavering over the fruits as he finally arrived beneath the tower. At the last minute, he pulled himself together. 

“Well, yes. But what is the price?”

“Are you a man of quality? Can I trust you with my treasure?” Caleb drew the fruit closer to himself as if he were holding his first-born child. 

“Yes, of course, man. What is the price?” Paul was unconsciously wringing his fingers, and his eyes were bulging so comically that Caleb almost laughed in his revulsion. 

“You do seem like a man of quality. I trusted you the minute I saw you walking down the street. I think that I will deign to rent it to you, how about that?” 

Paul smiled, for he could not have hoped for such good news. “Yes, my fellow, that will be just fine.” 

“Good! We men of quality need to stick together in this strange world.” Caleb raised his shoulder in a friendly shrug that may have even led to a friendly back slap if his disgust at Paul’s tufted hair were not so complete. On the other hand, Paul flushed with pleasure at Caleb’s indication that they stood on equal gentlemanly ground. They exchanged the money and the precious fruit, agreeing to meet back at the same place in four days’ time. As a necessary precaution, Caleb took down Paul’s address. Amid hearty farewells, the two separated. 

“I wonder,” said the old man, narrowing his eyes slyly, “if it tastes as good as it looks.”

Amelia’s golden head, accompanied by her father’s grey one, had finally made their way across to the room to where Paul stood. He saw her father’s eyes flick to the pineapple, watched his bushy eyebrows raise, and exulted. He had impressed the old man.

As usual, he shook his hand and then bent over to kiss Amelia’s chewed nails.

“Welcome! Shall I call over some claret?” Paul bounced up onto his toes to look for a servant, one of which was directly behind his elbow. He turned quickly, almost upsetting the entire tray, before waving his hand towards his two distinguished guests. “There you go then, hand them the brightest glasses we’ve got.” Indeed, in Amelia’s hands, the claret looked like a perfect rose-hued diamond.

“Son, I see you’ve got that fruit, the… ah… willow-pear?”

“The pineapple, sir!”

“Of course,” Mr. Shelby conceded, “A pineapple.” Amelia looked sharply at her father, detecting a suspicious tone that Paul was too excited to notice.
“Straight from the Indies, sir!” Amelia’s eyes widened at being in the presence of such an exotic item, let alone under the beam of Paul’s glittering eyes.

“From a beach?” she asked. “With white sand? Not gray like ours, but white like driven snow?”

“From a beach with sand as white as your own brow, my dear,” Paul rejoined. Both Paul and Amelia blushed charmingly as Mr. Shelby looked on.

“Quite the accomplishment, my young man.”

“I am pleased to hear you say so, sir!” Paul was hyper with joy at the thought that his attempts to impress Mr. Shelby had worked so easily.

“I wonder,” said the old man, narrowing his eyes slyly, “if it tastes as good as it looks.”

More from Goat’s Milk Magazine

“Well, Mother, you’ll be pleased to know that I moved the goods on. For a tidy profit, too,” Caleb announced at dinner the evening that he arrived back to the Fraser Mansion from his trip to London. 

“Oh? And I’ll thank you for leaving that tidy profit in my purse tonight, yes?” His mother replied though she knew her son well enough to understand that she would never see a penny. Caleb concealed his flush of irritation clumsily, and she experienced a flash of that perverse joy that mothers experience from getting the best of their children. 

“Of course. I’ll do that right after dinner.” The sum had actually paid for a ticket to a show to see dancing girls from Amsterdam and no less than five pints of beer. In fact, Caleb already had plans for the remaining amount that that idiot Paul Baudelaire or Bourdain or whatever his name was. That man was revolting from his frizzy, dull hair to his skinny, grasping hands. Caleb had imagined whacking him across the face with the pineapple—imagine the red scratches and dripping blood that would be the result of the spiky skin raking across flesh—but instead decided to steal his money. My better nature always wins out; Caleb had thought glumly as his spindly prey walked away. 

But hope was not yet lost. If the idiot damaged the fruit, as Caleb suspected Paul might, then there was no shadow that Paul could crawl into to hide from the wrath of Caleb. The scheming Scot smiled into his pudding, a smile which gave his mother a very bad feeling indeed. 

“Paul was eager to distract himself from his situation—the impending awkward conversation…”

“Mr. Shelby, I must confess that I don’t know how the pineapple tastes. This is the first of the fruit that I have ever laid hands-on.” Paul had sunken from the balls of his feet firmly back onto his heels. “To tell the truth, I don’t think I should like it.” He didn’t want to admit that he would not even know how to instruct the servants to serve it. “And anyway, it’s been in this warm room all day.”

“No, I insist! A fruit that bright must have a wonderful flavour. Its spikes are all the more proof that it has treasure for its flesh. Let’s dig in.” Mr. Shelby reached authoritatively for the fruit.

“No!” Paul moved his arm quickly as if to knock Mr. Shelby aside but controlled the impulse at the last minute. “Sir, I am afraid that we cannot eat the pineapple.”

“Why shouldn’t we?” Amelia inquired. The Shelby’s were rich from the canned herring trade, and a fruit that was utterly forbidden was a foreign concept in her mind. “You aren’t teasing us, are you, Paul?”

“No, most certainly not! But the fellow I bought this from, a most distinguished gentleman from Edinburgh, told me quite firmly that it was not ripe.”

“Let’s poke it. If it gives a little, we will know that it’s ripe,” suggested Mr. Shelby. Before Paul could dissuade them again, Mr. Shelby gave the fruit a hard prod with the calloused tip of his finger. “There you go! The flesh inside is quite ripe, I assure you.”

By this time, the attention of most of the party was turned toward Paul and the Shelby’s. Inquisitive eyes darted between the object in question and the involved participants. Paul, who mistakenly thought himself in control of the situation, clearly and unknowingly displayed his agitation by wringing his pale fingers.

“What if someone is allergic?” he asked. His voice was noticeably higher in pitch than only a moment before.

Aware of the attention of the room at large, Mr. Shelby turned to face the crowd and asked, “Is anyone allergic?” Nobody raised their hands. The whites of Paul’s eyes began to show as his eyes bulged ever and ever further out of their sockets. “Well then, that’s that. You, maid, take this to the kitchen. I read that you cut off the horny bits and slice the yellow flesh beneath. Bring it to us in a bowl, directly.” The maid curtsied, grasped the strange fruit hesitatingly, and dashed it into the kitchens.

“Yes, go on now, dear, cut that up for us!” Paul called to her, already disappearing back. In an effort to maintain control of the situation, he turned to the crowd. He announced that his surprise for the evening would be that everyone would get to try a piece of this mysterious fruit from the Indies. “I have been considering it for quite some time, and I believe that merely looking at the fruit is not enough. We must taste it, yes?” There were some confused murmurs from the crowd. “And so we will!”

Only a moment after this statement, the maid returned with her laden bowl. Skirts rustled as the ladies bent in to get their taste. The men waited skeptically behind but eventually received their portion. Soft exclamations sounded around the room. Mr. Shelby said, “It is delightful!” and Amelia followed this with a satisfied sigh. In fact, she refused to eat anything for the rest of the night so that she could preserve this taste of white sand beaches in the Indies. Paul was eager to distract himself from his situation—the impending awkward conversation where he would have to tell Caleb Fraser that his wares were in the bellies of Paul’s guests—by reaching into the bowl with his silver fork.

Lo and behold, the guests had eaten every bit of his beloved fruit.

“At their entrance, she threw herself around in a panic, shifting the table back and forth…”

The next day, Caleb took the train into London once more. If he hadn’t had other business in that huge city, he would not have bothered Paul. But as it was, it would brighten up a dull afternoon.

As arranged, the two wayfarers met at the base of the clocktower. This time, instead of bouncing up to Caleb as he had before, Paul dragged his feet. His eyes studied the ground, and he held his hands rigidly behind his back. Only his sense of honesty, inherited from the switch-happy nuns, compelled him to return. All in all, he looked like a guilty child, which, of course, was an arena in which he had much experience. The juxtaposition of his greying hair and his juvenile posture was odd, and Caleb found it irritated him.

“Well?” he asked.

“Sir. I have the rest of my rent. Here it is for you.” Without looking up, Paul held out his hand with the money for the pineapple. Caleb took the money from his hand, and Paul turned to go.

“Wait! Where is the fruit?” Caleb called. Paul paused.

“It is gone.” He moved to continue his slow walk away.

“Gone! You there!” Paul stopped walking once more. “Don’t you walk away from me? You have stolen my pineapple!”

“I have paid you for the rest of my lease.”

“There is a penalty for the misplacement of the fruit.” If Paul had been watching Caleb as he spoke, he would see an odd gleam in the Scot’s squinting eyes. “I require triple the price of the lease.” The news landed on Paul’s ears so forcefully that he whirled around and nearly lost his balance.

“I cannot!” Paul exclaimed.

“But alas, you must.” Caleb rejoined in mock formality. “I have a team of rough men who will come for you if you do not. They shall; I will make sure of it.” Paul’s mouth hung open, and he stood there mute. “Remember, man, I know where you live.”

Without another word, Paul turned and ran. Caleb smiled.

“I am glad that you have run, Paul Boreaux. Now give me a merry chase.”

Caleb turned on his heel and quickly walked to the bar where he knew his friends would be within the hour for their afternoon libations. Made bold by the liquid courage in their cups, the group of pale, slim students left the pub to pay a visit at the ill-fated house on T—– Avenue.

Bursting with energy and hope that Paul would try to jump out of a window or something thrilling of the sort, the privileged group knocked raucously on his door. They shouted insults regarding his wealth, stature, and sexual appeal; that is, they taunted him for having none of the aforementioned. Taunts that elicit no response are hardly satisfying, however.

Lubricated with a strength belying their small bodies, the students threw themselves against the door until it opened.

“Forward, comrades!” Caleb shouted.

Together, they surged into the entryway. Upstairs, they heard a frantic scramble. With their blood on fire, they moved up the stairs, growling in impatience to both witness and dispense violence. Caleb led the group, crowing as he knocked pictures from the wall. Halfway down the hallway, he became so inspired by the mayhem that he drew a small knife from his boot and carved a crooked run down the length of the rest of the hallway. In the end, he gestured for his friends to quiet. They all listened carefully and were almost immediately gratified by a thumping in the door at the end, directly to Caleb’s right.

He grinned with the same expression that had inspired such uneasiness in his mother. Perhaps one or two of the students, raised on warm milk and nursery rhymes, felt hesitation at this time. If so, they only had a moment to question their decision to join Caleb’s quest.

Silently, Caleb put his hand on the door handle. At the same time, he put his shoulder on the door in anticipation of resistance. The group looked on. He nodded and received a unanimous nod in return. He pushed his shoulder into the door and turned the handle at the same time.

Inside, a cat—named Mary, though Caleb would never know her name—crouched angrily across the room, tethered to the leg of an upturned side table.

At their entrance, she threw herself around in a panic, shifting the table back and forth, thereby creating a thumping sound identical to that which had led them to this room.

“Paul scampered from all he had known, not in fear but in shame. He was right to be frightened of Caleb…”

Paul, by that point, was long gone. Hours before, he had realized that he could never make a place for himself in a world that would forever see him as the orphan—and a coward—that he was. A patchwork of bruises across the flesh of his legs, wrought by his anxious fingers, stood witness to the nature of his thoughts. Filled with the knowledge of his own inadequacy and fueled by the ever-present inferno of shame, he slunk through the poorer streets of London that Caleb Fraser would never penetrate. Tucked in a sack and thrown over his shoulder were a few of his most treasured possessions and a bit of money that would have gone to cover the expense of the pineapple. It was little enough.

He felt rotten about leaving poor Mary to the mercy of his hunters. Still, He consoled himself with the thought that no one would torture such an innocent creature. She would be released by his bewildered servants, who would show up the next day to an empty house. From there, he liked to think that she would live a happy feline life, such as he could not give her, hunting mice and exploring Kensington Garden.

He had left an envelope on a desk, a letter saying that all his belongings were to go to his dear almost-betrothed, Amelia Shelby. While he was writing it, he nearly broke his own heart with the romance and sincerity that he poured onto the paper. He did shed a tear, in fact, thinking of her devastation when she learned that he had been called away suddenly to serve in Her Majesty’s Royal Army as a colonel. He would likely never return. War is like that, sometimes. He also left some to St. Mary’s Orphanage, but when he was writing the letter, he found himself doodling on the margins, which helped him recall his lashings. Still, the nuns had given him a home.

Paul scampered from all he had known, not in fear but in shame. He was right to be frightened of Caleb. Still, by running, he had forfeited the opportunity to stand for something, for anything.

In his flight, he resembled nothing so much as a dandelion in the wind—tumbling freely in currents outside of his control, dropping fragments of himself here and there, and utterly, heartbreakingly fragile.

Chloe Bourdon earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Colorado Mesa University. She is currently earning her master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at Northern Arizona University. In her spare time, she loves to write, read, rock climb, and travel. More of her writing is featured on her Tumblr.