Tag Archives: Canadian creators

A Gathering of Leaves

By Jessica Lee McMillian

On a shelf of volumes bound to me, binding,
I extend the vertebrae, the body, a gathering
of sewn leaves, limbs of multiple endings,
luminous spines in column palette
 — stacked either way, verticals to heaven — 
tattooed with lofty cursive,
worlds folded under covers
ready for open palms

Under my jacket, I spill anatomy,
my vellum skin, organ of written word
and backbone stacked in raised bands, up
to my ink-cartridge head,
tongue inscribes paper scars

On porous pulp, under nose musk vanilla scent,
under fingertip, text densifies, nerve ends
to cellulose walls — acid-pregnant
and fading bones on shelf, hinges split
under inherent constituents — 
tactile script imprints fingers
in archeology of touch

In fullness and fall of leaves
we harbour the word
in the cycle of autumns
in demise and rebirth of book,
the body ever writes, is written


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

Ephemeral Gold

By Jessica Lee McMillian

November in ephemeral gold
pauses, scales tipping
to shine’s burial

sun drop apparatus,
draws last breath of dream
before spilling rain,

before architecture of dark
makes widow of colour
this tilt of brazen tone,
of diffused focus
is richest in mind,

fully in the eye
but dies in the heart sweetly


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

The Anatomy of a Funeral

By Jessica Lee McMillian

Standard-issue funeral option
tombstones are concrete slabs
like ashes in a cardboard box,
aggregate mixtures of concrete sprawl,
a parade through life and death 
we can’t commemorate.

The horizontal sidewalk ribs
set the tone for every street,
like every memorial,
each fine, horizontal line
strains eye to expansion joints
dutifully stepped over, 
lest a spine you break
the spaces you went rogue–
that which is left out of the eulogy–

courteous platitudes,
and no reminders
of an untimely end,
in lieu of dead flowers,
paths are trawled clean
to keep appearances neat.

Slipped into the gutter lip
down the steel grate
 — the surfaces of psyche — 
resist the wood forms we fill,
the coercion rebar hiding the quakes,

the defiance of footprints
cast in wet, unfinished selves
begging for grass,
begging for a roast, not a speech.


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

Reading Gutters for Grass

By Jessica Lee McMillian

The sky is brittle paper 
on a salt-rimmed horizon,
a smog bath ring
blushing unwashed skin
of alleys,

bruised mint not cutting
garbage juice breeze
or piss in the park

but my eyes are scanning
for more than just survival,
reading the gutters for grass

brushing off grey plastic
as musty cracks in concrete
feed the earth more moss
with scraps for sight

and scent nebulized sweet 
in river algae, a trade-wind 
sucking away city char 
and exhaling perfume 
from the toasting bones
of wooden beams

in weary-of-century-homes
— front doors agape — 
dressed in a décollage
of dust matte paint 

where this baked street 
has green shade 
under its sharp tannin maple
sugaring the signs of triumph 
in such muddle


Jessica Lee McMillan is an emerging BC poet with an MA in English. She likes crooked, shiny things, and her writing explores architectures of perception, existentialism and longing in nature and music. You can find her work in A Poetry of Place: Journeys Across New Westminster, ShabdAaweg Review, RCLAS Wordplay at Work, Bewildering Stories and Pocket Lint. When not writing, doing front-line legal work or teaching, she spends time with her little family and buries herself in books and records. She writes from a charming, gritty, historical river city in British Columbia.

THE DAWN AT NIGHT

By Bruce Crown

Have you stumbled and wandered the streets,
Searching for beauty and splendour like this?
Every evening, she sleeps tucked in your sheets,
Every morning, she wakes you with a burning kiss.
But everyone knows nothing in this world is eternal;
Watch the sunrise from the roof; and become the sky,
She’ll always greet the day to the forever nocturnal,
Her touch is a dream, you might as well jump and fly.

Oh, how that hair is caught in the morning breeze,
The goddess of the dawn who departs silently
And with a quick glance does our souls freeze;
Reaching out, touching, she takes our hearts.
All night we yearned for her coming pleasure:
The light of sex, sparkling sweat, bodies shining
Beyond any earthly desire or divine measure,
Becoming the night, looking at the stars, pining. 
An apparition, a love which always has a cost…
Your dreams are only dreams, awake tired
When the sun arrives, your heart now lost,
With no care to what you last night desired.

Have you stumbled and wandered the streets
Searching for beauty and splendour like this?
Every evening, she sleeps tucked in your sheets,
Every morning, she wakes you with a burning kiss.
But everyone knows nothing in this world is eternal;
The sunlight always surprises, becoming the sky,
She elegantly rises and lovers are cast to the infernal,
How harsh these prizes, if for love you wake and try.

You are special, to have the pleasure of her presence
Even though she may tire of those hearts and desires,
To chase away those bright moments of pleasance
And sleep in her arms made of ice and purging fires.
Will she return with the moonlight as the light fades?
You can’t compete with the sun in this daily hell,
Wandering those avenues waiting for those shades,
So many people around you but not a soul to tell. 

Have you stumbled and wandered the streets
Searching for beauty and splendour like this?
Every evening, she sleeps tucked in your sheets,
Every morning, she wakes you with a burning kiss.
Only the sun has the pleasure of her daily company,
Your dreams are made of glass, broken by her gaze
When night comes to pass; those moans a symphony
Of ecstasy that fades like the ashes of a dream ablaze.

You’re on the streets, cold in the drunken night,
Searching, bewildered, but Aurora’s gaze is gone,
Until her indelible fingers wake you at first light 
And that burning kiss leaves your heart undone.
Every morn and night, she smiles until she departs
To brighten other souls for the long coming day,
But yours, she happily adds to her collection of hearts
And with a smile, condemns you to your merry way.


Bruce Crown is from Toronto. He is an alumnus of the University of Toronto and the University of Copenhagen. He splits his time between Copenhagen, the Riviera, and Toronto. Find him on Twitter: @brucecrown, Instagram: @wittyoutlaw, and on his website brucecrown.ca.

DREAMS THAT FLY

By Bruce Crown

I woke with the dawn
Shining on my face,
Away from you
My love. 

I went to the bakery
And I bought bread
For you
My love.

But you’d already left. 

I went to a florist
And I bought flowers
For you
My love. 

But love was already blossomed in you.

I went to hell
To bring fire
For you 
My love.

But you were already ablaze.

I went to a jeweller
And I bought a diamond
For you
My love.

But you stole its sparkle.

I went to the sky
To bring you the sun
But I found you there,
My love.

And you were already alight.

I had a dream
Of heavenly paradise,
You were there,
My love. 

And you told me to leave without you.


Bruce Crown is from Toronto. He is an alumnus of the University of Toronto and the University of Copenhagen. He splits his time between Copenhagen, the Riviera, and Toronto. Find him on Twitter: @brucecrown, Instagram: @wittyoutlaw, and on his website brucecrown.ca.

The Best Man’s Speech

By Anita Haas

Pam

Ping. Pam, hair wrapped cold and wet on her head, fumbled in her bag for the cell phone. It was not an easy task. She was sitting in the salon where she came to get her hair done every Wednesday before meeting Ted. 

It was a message and friend request from someone called “the best man.” 

Hi Pam. Stewart Wallace, here. You may remember me from one of Ted’s parties. I suppose you know he is marrying Noreen, our boss’s daughter. He asked me to be his best man. As Ted and I have not worked together long, I thought I’d ask some of his old friends for anecdotes or funny stories I could incorporate into my speech. It’s my first time as best man! I ask that you keep this a secret, as I want this to be a surprise for Ted. Thanks in advance for any assistance.

Shock waves washed through Pam’s body. Ted marrying Noreen? He hadn’t told her that. They met every Wednesday, and the whole time he had his own plans! 

Should she not go? Should she confront him?

“Pam …” the hairdresser’s sing-song voice called her back to the present. 

“Oh, sorry, Romi, Yeah, go ahead, do it the usual way. Looks great.”

Forty minutes later, Pam was in her white sports car, the one her husband Curtis had given her for her last birthday, just after she had started asking him about a certain woman named Rita. She checked her make-up in the mirror and drove off to the law firm where Ted worked. He never wanted to meet there, insisting on a restaurant or his place. Now she understood why; his fiancée Noreen worked there too. 

Shaking, she waited a moment. She imagined herself storming into his office. He would just laugh at her angry face. Maybe she should act cold and dignified. He would see through that, too. 

“What’s all this about?” he asked, irritated as she presented herself at his door. “I thought I told you not to come here. We were meeting at Clanetti’s for lunch.”

Pam felt her willpower failing, but she had to go on. “What’s this about you getting married?”

“Oh, you got the invitation already? Noreen just sent them out yesterday. That was quick.”

“You never mentioned it to me.”

He was reclining in his chair, his long, lean body stretched out, and chuckled, “Well, a man doesn’t talk about certain things when he’s … are you sure I never mentioned it?”

Pam collapsed on the chair opposite him. Her anger had lost its steam. How did other women do it? The ones who marched around demanding explanations? 

“It’s just that I thought maybe someday we’d ….”

“Come now. You’re perfectly fine married to Curtis. He’s too busy with work to notice. He buys you everything you want, and you have the time and money to stay beautiful. And you are beautiful.” He stood up and strode around the desk. He placed his hands on her shoulders, pulled her long tresses back and started kissing her neck. “We can go on as we are. I’m only marrying Noreen so that one day the company will be mine. Oliver Wendell likes me. He thinks his daughter is too naive to run the business, even though she is a lawyer too. He has her working here as a receptionist because he doesn’t trust her!” Ted chuckled. “That’s where yours truly comes in.”

Pam squirmed, making a timid show at pushing him away. He insisted. “Well, since you’re here now, we can get to the good stuff before lunch.”

This had happened before; in fact, every time, they disagreed. He just had to touch her, and she would give in.

She gasped as his hands slid down into her bra and cupped her breasts. He pulled her up gently and guided her towards the table. 

“Your colleagues?”

“Out for lunch.” She leaned forward over the table. He held her down with his left hand and undid his belt with his right. 

Pam was still furious, but she would think about that later. For the moment, she pushed her new lace thong down and arched her back.

He smacked her butt and groaned. “Knew you wouldn’t stay mad for long. Wish all women were so easy to tame.”

When they finished, he sent her off, saying he didn’t have time for lunch in the end, too much work. “I wonder if Curtis knows what a slut he has for a wife.”

Pam shivered. She pulled her sweater closed and turned her face away when he tried to kiss her goodbye. He smirked. “Okay. Go be dignified. See you next week.” 

That night Curtis came home late, as usual. He was surprised not to find Pam watching TV and keeping dinner warm. She was at her computer instead, clad in a tracksuit, no make-up, hair in a ponytail and glasses on. Her dog, Midgy, given to her when she started talking about kids, snoozed on her lap.

“What’s this?” he barked. “You look like crap.”

“Oh,” she removed her glasses and turned to him. “Sorry. What time is it?”

“Ten o’clock. Who’ve you been chatting to?”

“Just Romi. She’s having problems at work.”

“Well, tell her you to have to sign off. Your husband is home. God, next thing I know, you’ll be fat and wearing huge flowered house-dresses with your hair in a bun.”

Pam got up and slipped past him into the kitchen. She avoided his eyes but could not avoid the reek of whisky. She opened the fridge, “There’s some leftover chicken. Or a frozen pizza?”

“Should have picked something up somewhere. Yeah, okay, chicken.”

The kitchen chair creaked as Curtis sank into it and started leafing through the mail. 

“Hey, guess what? Ted’s getting married again.”

Pam, her back to him, opened the micro-wave and shoved in the chicken. “Oh?”

“Yeah, and what a guy! Didn’t even tell me himself. I got this weird message from … do you remember that dude we met at a party once? I think that’s him. Someone Ted works with named Stewart. Says he’s going to be the best man.”

“Strange he didn’t ask you again. You are his best friend.” 

“Naw, I don’t care about that stuff. Better this other guy.”

Pam heard the waver in his voice. Why did he have to put on the act? And for her?

“What does this Stewart guy want?”

The microwave dinged, and she withdrew the dish.

“Something about funny stories. You know how the best man has to make a funny speech.” He hooted too loud. “That’s probably why Ted doesn’t want me to be the best man again. Remember the last time?”

She did remember. It had been pathetic. Curtis had been so nervous he got pissed drunk beforehand and then embarked on a slew of dirty jokes and tall tales. 

She brought the steaming plate over to the table. “So, I guess he’s marrying that girl from the party too. What was her name?”

“Can’t remember. Not much to look at. Then again, neither was Paula. Ted sure has bad taste in women. Not like me.” He leaned forward and tweaked her cheek. “Hey, sorry about what I said before, kid. You will never get fat.”

Her plate was empty, as usual. She watched him eat dutifully.

Pam remembered how they used to laugh about Paula. Dark, short, tubby, with heavy eyebrows and a faint moustache, while Ted was so tall and attractive. Now, she wasn’t sure there was so much to laugh about. Paula had recovered from the divorce, she was a success in her job, and the last time Pam ran into her in the mall, she looked radiant. Maybe not tall, tanned and gym-toned like herself, but radiant.

“What are you going to tell him?”

“The truth, of course!” Curtis snorted, his mouth full. “Going to tell him what a bastard his new friend is!” He raised his beer glass to her, “Hey, aren’t you eating?”

“Not hungry.” She hadn’t eaten since breakfast. 

“Better. Nothing worse than a fat wife.”

What would you like me to tell you? she had asked Stewart on chat earlier that evening.

Tell me how you met.

Here at Somerleigh University. Ted and my husband were best friends. Well, best friends and worst enemies.

Oh?

You know, rivalry. Both are tall, good-looking, smart, competitive. Both are successful in their careers.

I see.

I’m younger than they are. They played basketball. My girlfriends and I would go and cheer them on. God, how silly that sounds now.

Before she knew it, Pam was telling Stewart intimate details she hadn’t even shared with her closest friend. She told him about her marriage and about her various failed attempts at developing her own interests; the shoe boutique, the design studio, even a stint at selling cosmetics. 

She was on the point of disclosing her affair with Ted when Curtis arrived. She was grateful for the interruption. It cooled her head. How could she possibly tell a perfect stranger about that? But when she heard Curtis snore, she felt drawn to the computer. Would Stewart still be there? There was something in his distant yet understanding way of “listening” to her … 

Curtis

The next night Curtis lingered at his desk. It was past quitting time, and he had had a gruelling day. He considered going for a drink but was too exhausted, and at home, he would have to chat with Pam. 

He thought about writing this Stewart guy to reminisce about the good old days. It was strange writing personal things to someone you didn’t know. It reminded him of something that had happened in his office a while back; he and a couple of other guys on the floor had played a joke on Russell, a shy, nerdy type, by inventing a girlfriend for him on Facebook. 

But this was different. This was a real person, and he’d actually met him at least once. But it seemed a bit unmasculine to hide behind a social media page. Couldn’t he just call? Or better yet, meet for a few beers?

He opened the chat. 

Hello Stewart? You wrote me yesterday about Ted.

Hi Curtis. Thanks for responding. Hate to bother you. It’s just, I’d like to know some odd things about Ted. Nothing too serious or personal. Maybe just tell me how you met.

Sure.

Curtis had poured himself a whiskey. 

We met during the first year of university. Both top of the class, good at sports, good with the girls. LOL.

LOL. I can believe that!

But I was better at that last one than he was.

Interesting! Tell me more!

Don’t get me started, LOL! My wife, for one. We both ogled her. He started going out with her, but she dropped him like a hat when she met me! LOL, That really pissed him off.

I’m sure it did!

Curtis took a sip of whiskey.

So, he started going out with this ugly chick named Paula. What a dog! Smart though, gotta hand it to her. Maybe too smart for Ted.

Oh?

Curtis took a swig this time.

You know. Both lawyers. She got better grades, got a job before he did. 

What happened to her?

They got married around the time we did.

Curtis reached for his glass, realized it was empty and poured some more.

But that isn’t funny anecdotes. Wait till I tell you about the camping trip!

Okay.

Curtis took another swig and paused as his eyes readjusted to the screen. He was feeling a bit foggy.

We used to go camping.

Yes?

LOL, you know how us guys are!

I’ve been on my share of camping trips, yes.

’Course you have. There was that time when …

Curtis paused. His face was red and sweating. 

Curtis, still there?

Yup, still here.

The camping trip?

There were these girls.

What girls?

Just some girls. Came along in a canoe. We were partying with some other guys.

Curtis paused again, glanced at his empty glass, and rubbed his eyes. He wondered if he should continue. It had been so long since he had thought about that trip. Maybe he had never really thought about it at all. Why was he telling this to some complete stranger when he had never confided it to anyone, not even his wife? In fact, he and Ted had never mentioned it again. Why hadn’t they? It would spoil the fun. He felt the sudden need to share it now. He looked at the whiskey bottle but didn’t pour himself another glass.

We were too drunk to think straight. Young. 19, 20, can’t remember.

Yes?

Yes? Yes? What are you, a psychiatrist? Didn’t you say you’d been on your share of camping trips? Can’t you imagine what happened?

You raped one of the girls.

Curtis stared at the screen. The words imprinted themselves on his retina.

Is that what happened, Curtis?

Curtis suddenly remembered he was chatting with a lawyer. How could he have been so stupid? What had come over him? He decided to change his tune. He poured more whiskey for assistance and forced a big belly laugh, all alone in his empty office.

Oh, now, I wouldn’t call it rape! Those girls came in their boat knowing what they were getting into. They were looking for a good time!

Were they drunk?

Drunk and high. We had a good supply with us.

Who went first?

Ted. It was his idea.

You held her arms and covered her mouth.

Ted covered her mouth. 

And, when it was your turn?

Curtis stared at the screen. He had done it again. Damn lawyers! Well, this one had no proof, no names, nothing.

Look, what are you fishing for? Do you plan to use this in your speech?

No, sorry. Didn’t mean to pry. Just seemed like you wanted to get it off your chest.

My chest is fine. And I have said enough!

More from Goat’s Milk Magazine

Gabriel

Gabriel headed to the ChitChat Café at 8a.m., as usual. Wendy and her mom arrived earlier to start baking and get the coffee perking. Some students would already be there. 

Lately, his role in the business was taking a backseat, although he had been the one who opened it years ago, barely out of university. 

Gabriel was a Spanish immigrant on a student visa then. It would have been difficult for him to start a business with no one to back him. Still, his friends, Ted and Nick, were geniuses in acquiring money and getting around the law. Both were too slimy for his liking, and now he was married to an honest, hard-working girl who would be shocked if she discovered the tricks he had been involved in. 

Ted and Nick needed Gabriel’s computer skills, creating an army of false identities to promote their businesses, cloning sites, hacking, email scams, industrial espionage and more. He had helped reluctantly but dutifully, knowing he owed them. Nick was already in jail, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Ted would soon be on his way. Gabriel wanted to have as little to do with either of these characters as possible.

When he opened the cyber-café, it was at the heyday of computer technology. Students came to write their essays and make long-distance calls. Now, everyone had tablets and called home using Skype, Messenger or FaceTime. The only customers he had lately were older people who came to his workshops in the backroom to learn how to use their devices. 

Thankfully, his resourceful wife had turned the place into one of the trendiest cafés in town. Soft music played, and coffee brewed as the warming smell of cookies, muffins, and squares wafted from the tiny kitchen. Patrons sat in comfy wicker chairs, either in the reading corner, surrounded by magazines racks and small potted trees, or out on the sidewalk, under the big awning which stretched all the way to the street. Sheers flitted in the breeze, and the walls were always decorated with the exhibitions of some local artist or other, who would celebrate their openings there. Every day of the week was booked; a writer’s group, a book club, language exchanges, children’s hour, even a knitting circle. 

He knew he was fortunate with his in-laws too. Wendy, being an only child, her well-off parents had accepted her marrying a dirt-poor foreign student, investing both time and money in the business. 

Gabriel’s duties were limited to the technical side. He had to ensure the phones, computers and photocopier were working, and give his classes.

He hadn’t thought about Nick or Ted in a while, but this morning on his way to work, he heard the Messenger ping on his phone. It was a message and friend request from someone named Stewart, explaining that he was going to be Ted’s best man. Gabriel shook his head. Ted getting married again after what he had done to that poor girl, Paula. Stewart said he wanted some funny stories to use in his speech. 

After several hours in the backroom doctoring a sick laptop, he wandered to the counter where Wendy and his mother-in-law, Joanne, were attending the regulars. 

“Can I help?” 

“No!” They answered in unison. Joanne stuffed a peanut butter cookie in his mouth and shooed him away, “This is woman’s work.” But he knew better. It was because he was a clutz; he kept dropping things, spilling coffee on customers … it was embarrassing. 

There were no workshops today, so he thought he’d busy himself by looking up some new programs, but he’d quickly check his email and social media accounts. He saw Stewart’s message again. Well, it wouldn’t be polite not to answer. May as well get it out of the way. But what funny anecdotes could he tell?

Stewart? Gabriel here. Got your message this morning. I don’t know how much of a help I can be.

Gabriel! Thanks for responding. Maybe just tell me how you and Ted met.

Well, I’m from Madrid. I came to study Computer Science here in Ontario. I met Ted and his friend Nick through some Spanish students here. Nick was going out with one of them.

And Ted?

Gabriel hesitated. There were so few good things he could say about Ted.

Ted was going out with a girl named Paula.

Yes, I know, but …

You know Ted better than you say you do! LOL Yes, he was seeing one … at least one … of the Spanish girls, too.

How had he let that loose? He could feel the anger well up again after all these years. A mixture of jealousy and protectiveness. He thought of Angeles. It’s not that he had wanted to go out with her exactly, but he envied the awe Ted inspired in women, especially because he knew how he treated them. 

LOL, Good ole Ted. I wouldn’t have expected any less of him☺ 

It was so long ago, and we haven’t kept in touch.

Ted mentioned you run an internet café.

Yes. With my wife.

You and Ted must have given each other a hand sometimes. Professionally, I mean.

This question seemed a bit impertinent to Gabriel. 

Occasionally. I thought you wanted anecdotes. Do you intend to talk about work stuff at the wedding?

You’re right. Sorry for prying. If you can think of anything else …

Suddenly Gabriel felt a rush of remorse. 

Ted helped me a lot. I am very grateful for what he and his contacts did when I needed help starting my business.

There. That was the manly thing to do, wasn’t it? Credit where credit was due, even if to a bastard.

Paula

“Mommy! Mommy!” Five-year-old Adéle hopped up and down to get Paula’s attention. “Remember you have to pick me up from ballet today!”

“Yes, sweetie. Don’t worry. And if I can’t, Daddy will be there.” Paula glanced up at Justin to be sure he was okay with it.

Justin smiled back at her. Everything was okay with him, but she liked him to know she wasn’t just taking it for granted.

“Okay, we gotta go now, princess.” he was saying, as Paula heard a ping in her phone, “Don’t wanna be late.”

Maybe it was Jan from the office. A bit early for messages. She would check after Justin took Adéle to school.

She kissed them both goodbye. Paula had some meetings today, so she was going into the office a bit later. She pulled out her phone. It was a message from Stewart. She remembered him. He worked with her ex-husband, Ted.

As she read, old emotions flooded back. Ted was getting married again. She couldn’t care less. The divorce was the best thing that had happened to her. She was a million times happier with Justin. How could two men be so different? She was so lucky not to have fallen into the same trap as so many others, repeating negative relationship patterns. It hadn’t been easy, of course. She had needed two years of therapy. 

Stewart wanted funny anecdotes to tell at the wedding! 

That poor girl he was marrying, so shy and naive. Ted would eat her alive!

She would think about it later. As she moved through her day, Paula’s mind kept pulling back to the request. That had always been her problem; putting other people’s needs first, never being able to say no. An unanswered email would nag at her until she sat down and answered it, even if it was only to say she would get back to them later.

So, by the time Adéle was in bed that evening, and Justin was busy grading papers, she sat at her computer and stared at the message. Snippets of memory had been snaking through her thoughts all day. 

She began typing. 

Hi Stewart! Nice to hear from you. Of course, I remember you. Love to help, but as you know, haha, Ted and I divorced. Not sure there are many funny things I can tell you. And I don’t want to be a bore and rant like a disgruntled ex-wife. LOL.

There was an immediate answer. 

Thanks for responding, Paula. I suppose it is strange to ask the ex-wife for info. LOL. But you know him better than anyone! Maybe just tell me how you met.

In kindergarten! We are both from a tiny farming village in Northern Ontario.

No! What was Ted like as a kid?

LOL, you won’t believe it. He was the shyest kid in the class.

What?

Yes! I felt sorry for him. I adopted him like a little brother. The other boys wouldn’t play with him, and he was really hurt by that.

I would never have imagined.

He doesn’t want anyone to know that, so please don’t mention it.

No, no. I’m glad you are showing me a different side of him. His family?

God, horrible! Father was a brute. Belonged to some weird sect. Super-strict. Mother left, but Ted stayed with dad and grandmother, who was just like the father. They turned him against his mother. When she tried to get him back, he wouldn’t go. Now he tells everyone she was a whore and abandoned him.

Yes, I think I heard him say something like that once.

Came to our house a lot. Better atmosphere.

Is he in touch with his family now?

The grandmother died, the father is in a home with Alzheimer’s, won’t talk about his mother. Flew into a rage if I mentioned her.

Wow. So, you were sweethearts as kids already!

Oh, no! I always took care of him, sure. But later, he got more confident. That loud, tyrannical confidence his father had. He grew tall, smart, good-looking. Soon, girls noticed him, and boys respected him. I was like a sister. In university, he was with pretty Pam. Don’t know if he was in love or if it was a status thing. All the guys envied him.

Pam? The woman married to his friend Curtis?

Right. Ted and Curtis met in first year. They became great friends, well, you know. Who said that “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”? That kind of friendship. LOL

So …

Suddenly Paula realized she was revealing a lot of personal information. She certainly didn’t owe Ted any loyalty, but what if he found out and retaliated? 

Stewart, I shouldn’t be telling you this.

No. Sorry. I just wanted to know how you met.

Paula felt terrible. It was true. He had only asked her that. What was it about this Stewart that made her feel she could trust him so? 

No, I’m sorry. You weren’t nosy. See, Ted was kind of the leader among his friends. They admired and hated him. Pam ended up with Curtis. I think that was the most courageous thing she has ever done because of abandoning Ted … but the poor thing went from the frying pan to the fire because Curtis is cut from the same cloth.

What is Pam like?

She’s changed. When I first met her, she was a typical empty-headed bimbo, only thinking about make-up, clothes and marrying money.

And now?

She still worries about those things, but I think she realizes she has missed out. But she’s not sure on what or how to find it. I saw her a while ago in the mall. She seemed drained. Beautiful, thin and perfectly made-up with great hair, but sad. I felt sorry for her for the first time.

So, how did you and Ted end up getting married?

I guess you could say I fell for it.

What?

I always loved Ted. Somehow, I always thought we would end up together. It would just take time. I kept him in line, helped him study, was the one he confided in. I even wrote his papers for him. God, what an idiot I was! Of course, I am not the kind of girl who attracts those kinds of guys. After Pam left him, he came to me. Told me he always loved me, how blind he had been, etc. Later I realized it was because I had a job, could help him, and also Curtis and Pam had announced their wedding. Imagine! Ted being upstaged like that! Of course, he acted like he didn’t care. He sang my praises to everyone, and I must admit, I loved it. He insisted we get married the week before they did. Just because. I was thrilled. I didn’t want to see reality. Tell you the truth, I think Curtis only snatched Pam away to show off. So, there we were, LOL, two happily married couples!

I’m sorry.

She had gone and done it again. Why was it that once you were on a roll, it was so hard to stop? Was that what confession was like? 

How long were you married?

Two years. I got him a job where I worked, but that backfired immediately.

Oh?

Ted has these underhanded ways. I told him I didn’t want trouble. My first job as a lawyer, and I wanted to make a good start. He got us both fired.

No!

But he had other deals going on. Wanted to get me involved, and at first, to avoid fights, I did.

Deals?

It’s complicated. Real estate gimmicks, false companies they got people to invest in. Terrible. And other things. Stopped telling me about them. I finally got a job in an NGO, the kind of thing I love. Still there. He laughed at me, called me a martyr, a goody-two-shoes, all that. Haha! Maybe you can use that in your speech! But he knew how to wiggle his way out. He and his friends Nick and Curtis. Then Curtis got a job in a company. Good for him. Pretty above-board now, more out of fear than honesty. Not as reckless as Ted. And Nick is in jail. Ted should be there with him. Now, he has this Wendell family fooled. I wish I could warn them. 

Thanks for writing. And sorry if it stirred up bad memories.

I am happy now. What bothers me is the memory of that vulnerable little boy. How I took care of him. Always did. Until we divorced. My question will always be; Was he a good little boy who turned bad because of his hurtful circumstances, or was he always a bad little boy, afraid to show it until he had the confidence to?

The Wedding

Oliver and Cecilia Wendell forced smiles as the guests’ cars meandered up their long driveway. Oliver glanced at his watch. “What the hell is going on?” he grumbled to his wife without losing his smile. 

“Don’t know.” Her smile was as stiff as her golden hair. 

“Well, I know she wanted a small wedding, but this is ridiculous!”

It was almost four o’clock, and so far, the dozen or so guests present were his employees and some friends of his daughter. Where were his business associates?  

He peered at his wife. “Did you send out all the invitations?” Cecilia had been known to show vengefulness over the years, but this would be going too far.

“Noreen insisted on sending them.” Cecilia waved to an incoming vehicle. “Look, here come the Wallaces. Jake! Fiona! Stewart! Hello!” Then, she murmured, “Fiona told me Stewart has been kind of depressed lately. Hope he gives a nice speech!”

“Send them herself? How could you trust her with a responsibility like that? It’s a good thing I found her a husband who will take care of things.” He was annoyed that his wife was taking this all too lightly. “Stewart depressed? He has been a bit quiet lately. To think that before Ted came along, I thought that he and Noreen might … well, thank God Ted came along!” He spotted his daughter greeting some musicians pulling instruments out of their trunk. 

His irritation softened at the sight of her. Tiny and thin with wispy light brown hair and pale, freckled skin, she was his nymph, his fairy. More like airy-fairy! She was wearing a satin wedding dress and a delicate wreathe of lilies. 

Although she had been a good student, he did not intend for her to work as a lawyer. She should be a lady, like her mother, taken care of by a strong man, while she occupied herself with things like home decoration and entertaining. Although she hadn’t done so well in that department this time around! His irritation returned, “Noreen!”

She waved to him, “Not now, Dad! I’m getting the musicians organized.” 

Oliver’s jaw set. Not now, Dad? Who did she think she was? 

Cecilia slipped her arm through his, “Come on, dear. It’s time.” No more cars snaked up the drive. They followed the flagstone path to the back garden with resigned smiles, where several rows of folding chairs had been set up near the swimming pool, facing a podium under Cecilia’s rose arbour. A violinist and solo singer squeezed in between the arbour and a hedge. 

Oliver and Cecilia looked around. Everything was lovely, but very small scale. Noreen skipped towards them with a young minister. “Mom, Dad. I know you must be surprised. But you’ll understand later. I really couldn’t have a big, showy wedding.”

“My little girl.” Oliver touched his daughter’s hair. He had lost the irritation again. “You know you are going to have to overcome this shyness of yours sometime. I was hoping that would be today.” How could she ever have considered being a lawyer if she couldn’t bear being the centre of attention? 

“Oh, Dad. Forgive me. Let me celebrate this day my way. Mom, Dad. This is Reverend Beasley.”

“But Reverend Carlson has always officiated at the services in this family!”

“I’m afraid he is not feeling well today.”

“We’ll see about that! I’m going to call him right ….”

“Oliver!” Cecilia took his arm. “Let’s not make a scene. Thank you for coming in his place, Reverend Beasley.”

Noreen flitted off to greet Ted, who had just arrived. Ted looked as perplexed at the attendance as Oliver, but Noreen ushered him to his place. “Quickly, now, Reverend Beasely has a funeral in an hour!”

The ceremony took exactly fifteen minutes, after which Noreen shooed everyone to the other side of the house, where some tables had been arranged around a make-shift dance floor. A three-piece band had just finished setting up.

Oliver felt faint and leaned on his wife for support, “A finger-food buffet!” he wheezed as he observed the table offering potato chips, olives and other scant snacks. 

“Come on, Dad!” Noreen bounced towards him as the band started up, “Let’s waltz!” She already had a champagne glass in her hand. Ted led Cecilia onto the floor to the cheers of the guests toasting glasses. No one had ever seen Noreen so lively. 

After two waltzes, the musicians fell silent, and the bridal couple took their places at the head table. The moment for speeches had arrived.

The guests took their seats and eyed each other nervously. Pam recognized Gabriel and Wendy, the couple from the cyber-café. She also recognized Rita Clanetti and her new husband, Eddie. And there was Paula and her husband! Did Noreen and Ted have no other friends?

Pam’s stomach twitched when Stewart got to his feet. What if he mentioned something she had said? What if he alluded to her? Curtis poured himself another glass of champagne and began clearing his throat. She knew he was nervous. She glanced over at Gabriel. He was shifting in his seat. Rita Clanetti stared fixedly at Stewart’s face, and Paula didn’t stop fanning herself and wiping her brow.

But Stewart’s speech was nothing more than a mundane list of office anecdotes – poking fun at Ted for little foibles like using the ladies’ room the first day at work and having mistaken his own future bride for a cleaning lady, followed by a tribute to Noreen’s virtues, “I will close now by congratulating my rival (haha), Ted, and by asking him to please care for her and honour her as she deserves. You are a lucky man!”

The guests burst into a round of applause and cheers, as much for the touching speech as for the great wave of relief that washed over them. As Oliver stood up to sing his son-in-law’s praises, Pam could feel the collective release of tension. 

Then Ted stood up to praise his father-in-law, and by the time Noreen opened her mouth, everyone was chatting and checking their cell phones. 

But people started paying attention when they heard their names mentioned. 

“I would like to say thank you to everyone here for helping me put my speech together.” She raised her champagne glass. “Pam, Curtis, Gabriel, Paula, Rita …” 

The chatter stopped, and the phones were put aside. What was she talking about?

Noreen

Noreen felt scared. Noreen almost always felt scared. When she met new people, she was afraid they would find her boring or stupid. Before some new challenge, she lay awake at night, fearing the worst. 

She had been scared in university, always feeling like an imposter. 

And at work, where colleagues waited for the boss’s daughter to screw up. 

And with men. Especially Ted. After he discovered she was not the cleaner, Ted’s attitude toward her took a dramatic turn. It acquired an intensity that both flattered and terrified her. 

The giggly airhead mask had served her as a child when a wide-eyed smile pacified an impatient father and from behind which, she could observe others, like Ted, in the moments when his own mask slipped. She often wished she could exchange it for another, but this was the one she believed she was stuck with. 

And today, Noreen was so spectacularly scared she felt giddy. Risking everything gave her a heady liberation. She found herself in that wonderful moment when you realize it is too late to stop what you have started, like jumping off a cliff. Just close your eyes and hope you land in a better place than where you jumped from. 

Noreen had always allowed herself to be pushed into corners. This time, she had literally smiled and giggled herself into one. It seemed easier to go along with things than to fight back, and there was always the chance that people would stop pushing. But the more she surrendered, the more was demanded until she feared for her own breath. This particular corner – marriage to Ted – was worse than being disowned, ridiculed, or left to fend for herself. 

But what could she do? Couldn’t just run away or stand at the altar and cry!

But crying was just what she had been doing that day not long ago, right here in this very garden, when her mother found her …

Noreen giggled at the surprised faces. “You see, I haven’t known my husband long, and I wanted to find out more about him before I took the plunge.” The group was silent. She had their attention. This had never happened before. It was seductive. 

And that day in the garden, Noreen confided her terror to Cecilia.

“My father wanted me to marry Ted because he was sure I wasn’t capable of running the firm.” She was sure of it too, but where had that certainty come from? Every day at the office, she was relieved when colleagues were entrusted with tasks she found overwhelming. And yet, they floundered too. Often, she would timidly point out a problem or offer a solution, but when she took Oliver or Ted aside to propose her ideas, they hardly listened. Now they all were! She spoke rapidly, so they wouldn’t lose interest and pull out their phones again.

And that day in the garden, she and her mother came up with a plan. Some daring ideas popped into Noreen’s head. And as Oliver well knew, his wife was known to be vengeful at times.

 “Well, Dad, I have done some investigating. You shall be the judge!”

Oliver stood up, “Noreen! You’ve had too much champagne!”

Ted tried to lead her into the house. The guests shifted and murmured. 

Curtis took a gulp of his drink and raised his hand. “Umm. Can I say something”

Noreen ignored him. “Our guests have obliged me well by confiding in our best man, Stewart.”

Stewart got to his feet, “What?”

“Thanks to Stewart’s emails, WhatsApp and chats, he discovered all sorts of fascinating information!”

“Noreen, I never … I don’t even like social media. How could I ….”

“Of course, you didn’t. I did! You don’t think they would tell me the truth, do you?” Stewart sat back down, his face a mix of admiration and fear. 

Noreen reached into her handbag for a roll of paper tied with a white ribbon and handed it to her father.

 Among other things, she had found Ted guilty of rape, wife abuse, and fraud. Once given the opportunity, everyone had spilled so much more information than she had hoped for, like they needed to cleanse themselves of everything Ted. 

“Thank you all.” Was this how the rest of the world experienced life? No worries about offending others or sounding pompous? Like a euphoric actress after a performance, she smiled and curtseyed. 

“I have found Theodore Falk to be guilty of a lot of things, but mainly just of being a jerk.” 

“Noreen! You’re drunk.” Ted shouted, white-faced. “Do something, Oliver!”

But Oliver was squinting at the pages. He raised an eyebrow at Ted.

“Let me see that!” Ted got up and tried to snatch the pages from him.

“Oh no, you don’t! Stewart, my boy, come take a look at this.”

The tension among the guests buzzed. Noreen, delicate fairy gone mad, reassured them, “This is, of course, a kangaroo court, the purpose of which was to show my father that he had made two mistakes.” She looked over at Oliver, expecting his wrath. He looked up from the pages, expectant.

“One, about my husband’s credibility, and two, about my professional abilities.”

Oliver chuckled and shook his head. “I sure underestimated my little girl.” He handed the pages to Stewart and gazed at Ted.

Ted glared at Oliver, then at Noreen. “If all of this was a farce to implicate me, why did you marry me?”

Noreen giggled. “I didn’t! Beasley is no reverend. He is an actor friend of mine. Thanks, Bease!” she waved. Everyone turned. No one had noticed Beasley behind them, now dressed as a waiter. Beasley had been her confidant since university when she had tried theatre to overcome her shyness. Beasley and his boyfriend, Sheldon, the violinist and caterer, had assisted with all the arrangements. 

Car doors slammed at the front of the house, and Bosco, the family dog, barked. Ted, Curtis, and several others tensed. “Oh!” Noreen trilled. “It’s five o’clock. That must be Reverend Carlson and the other wedding guests.” 

The guests gasped and murmured. 

Noreen had successfully shamed Ted. She had won the respect of her father. The last and most daring risk of the evening had arrived. If she screwed up here, all would be lost. But she had momentum on her side. That, and the encouraging smiles of Cecilia, Fiona, Beasley, Sheldon and Candy, her maid of honour. They had helped. With both weddings. The small one here in the side garden, and the larger one behind the pool. 

There was one more close friend whose face she sought out. 

Cecilia Wendell and Fiona Wallace had met in the ChitChat Café’s Thursday night book club. The two families soon became inseparable. They vacationed together, and Oliver had even given Stewart his first job. Noreen and Stewart acted like siblings. Although neither of them made a move, their parents wondered if the friendship might develop into romance. Of course, there had been one or two alcohol-induced indulgences the parents knew nothing about. Still, embarrassment caused the young people to feign forgetfulness.

All that changed when Ted appeared and blinded Oliver with his self-confidence. Who could compete with such charisma? 

And just about the time that Noreen confided in her mother, Stewart confided in his. And so, the final, most important touch was added to their plan.

 What a spectacular way to teach Oliver and Ted, those two puffed-up bull-frogs, a lesson!

Noreen took a deep breath, squeezed her eyes shut and blurted like a child on a dare, “Stewart Wallace, will you marry me?”


Anita Haas is a differently-abled Canadian writer and teacher based in Madrid, Spain. She has published books on film and music, two novelettes, a short story collection, articles, poems, and fiction in English and Spanish. Her fiction has appeared in some publications, including Falling Star Magazine, The Tulane Review, Literary Brushstrokes, The Zodiac Review, River Poets Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Terror House Magazine, Wink and Adelaide Magazine. She spends her free time watching films and enjoying tapas and flamenco with her writer husband and two cats.

Secrets and Whispers

By Mohini Takhar

Since I was five years old, I’ve known him, and we started dating when we were seventeen. In the tenth grade, I had the biggest crush on James Gabe. I tried to hide it, but the thing is, my contagious laughter and gentle eyes can never hide anything. James never said anything; until the day we were hanging out in the foyer of our high school, and I was rambling on about some book I loved, and he suddenly kissed me. Since then, it was and could never be that same; in the best way, of course.

You know, no matter how much we knew about one another, there was always so much to learn. We both had the small quirks that made us work. I would watch the smirk on his face as he leaned against the wall while he waited for my arrival; he’d have this look that would say, why don’t you come a little closer. I thought he would be hesitant to pick me up and twirl me around. After all, this bulky wheelchair of mine had always been an obstacle. But no, that didn’t stop James. No, James wanted me, and he made that clear with the way he would mouth the words I love you in the middle of a crowd. I’d laugh and blush. Those late-night dance parties in my kitchen? He used to want to dance with me, no matter how different it would seem. I never wanted to dance in public, at a wedding or in a bar because it made me feel vulnerable, and James understood that. I remember it like it was yesterday. James would grab his phone from the living room.

“You’re cooking!” I’d say.

“So? No one said that we can’t have a little fun.” James winked at me. He held my hand and his phone in another.

“What are you doing?” I laughed

“Oooh, I found the perfect song. You ready?”

I rolled my eyes, smiled, and pushed myself onto the kitchen counter. I swivelled my body onto the counter and pushed myself up using the seat of my wheelchair. “okay, yeah.” my eyebrows made an arch.

“This is for you, babe. ” He blew a kiss towards me. James pushed play and started dancing all around the kitchen. Spill the wine by The Animals, and Eric Burdon started blaring from his phone.

“Spill the wine, take that pearl!” James sang along as he danced in front of me.

I laughed and swayed along to the music, and we both started snapping to the rhythm of the music.

“You love this song!” James put his hand out. “Come on, dance with me.”

“James, you’re ridicu – you’re cooking! The sauce will burn!”

James sighed, gave the sauce a quick stir, and turned the heat on low. “Now, may I have this dance?”

I sighed as I put my hand in his. One of my arms swung around his neck, and just as that happened, my eyes fell right into his. He slowly removed me from the kitchen counter until I was in a standing position, facing him.

“How’s this?” James held his free hand and found mine. Our fingers intertwined, and we slowly swayed back and forth.

“Are you okay? Do you need to sit down?”

“No, I’m okay right here.” I smiled at him and kissed him on the cheek.

Somewhere between this bliss, I started feeling a little tired after three years. Honestly, I did love, James. There was no question. My girlfriends would constantly tell me that feeling this way is completely normal. You just need to find new ways to spice it up. As if it wasn’t already. James stopped putting any effort in after a while, and it made me go crazy, not knowing why. I could tell by the way he’d be notoriously late whenever we’d meet up, the way his mind would be elsewhere when we’d be together. The way he’d reply with one-word texts at times. It made me wonder.

It was a Saturday night when I decided to invite some of the girls over for a girls’ night since James said tonight didn’t work for him, or so he claimed. You could never trust him these days. Daniella, Madison, and Julia came over. We all were spread out among the couches in my living room. Between us, there was a coffee table with nail supplies, hair straighteners, hair ties, makeup, and all the snacks you could imagine.

“So, what’s the tea?” Madison asked as she plopped her body onto the couch and looked at the state of her nails. “Oh, Paula, come over here, and I’ll make you look hot for that cutie of yours. She winked at me.

I chuckled and moved closer to her. Did James even count? He was so distant. So what was I supposed to say? The questions went on and around in circles in my head.

“Paula, where is your head at?” Madison shook my body; I suddenly remembered where I was. “You were about to burn yourself with the hair straightener!”

“Oh my gosh, I don’t know.” I sat up straighter and took a deep breath. For a moment, I spaced out. Or maybe it was more than that.

“Are you okay?” Daniella asked as she grabbed a Cheeto from the chip bowl.

I nodded. “What are we doing?” I said as I cleared my throat.

“I think that I want to play with that hair of yours,” Madison said.

“Absolutely!” I let down my hair that previously was in a messy bun.

“Welcome to my salon! Are we thinking straight hair or curls today?” Madison asked

“Obviously, curls.” I proceeded to do a hair flip for a dramatic effect. Madison and I chuckled as she continued to separate parts of my hair with leopard print butterfly clips.

A concerned look remained on Julia’s face as she leaned back on the couch with a soda. “What were you thinking about?”

“Uh…well, James,” I replied. The facial expressions of the girls brightened up, but not the way they should have. It wasn’t their fault; they didn’t know. I flinched as I felt the hot head of the hair straightener against my neck. A curled strand of hair bounced down as Madison was deciding what part of my hair to unravel first.

“Oohhh, James,” Julia threw a slight wink in my direction. “how is he these days? I mean, how are both of you?”

I shifted slightly when Madison pulled the hair straightener away from me momentarily. “Things are…off.”

“How so?” Julia asked.

I brushed a curl away from my face. “He used to be different, James used to send me cute text messages in the morning, and I don’t know, I think somewhere along the line, things changed.”

“What if – I don’t know – is it possible that he’s just having a bad week? Why don’t you give him the benefit of the doubt?” Julia asked.

“That’s the problem – he usually tells me. He’s just so distant these days.”

“What if – I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t say it,” Julia said. The rest of us looked at each other with intrigue.

I leaned forward. “What? What do you think it is?” I chuckled and put my hands up midair. “Because I’m running out of ideas.”

“I’m sorry, I think he’s avoiding you. I mean, do you think there’s someone else?” Julia asked.

“No, ” I noticed the way she tugged at her fingers and looked at her phone. I look away for a moment. “At least, not until now. Do you know anything, Jules?”

Julia sighed. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispered. Julia put her drink down and headed for my room. Daniella and Madison looked at each other, confused.

I followed Julia into my room and closed the door behind me with my back tires.

“I think I saw something – once. I mean, it wasn’t too long ago, but I wasn’t sure if I should bring it up.” Julia said.

“What was it?”

“So, you know how I work as a server at Cactus Club.”
My face stiffened up. “Yeah?”

Julia sighed, ” I saw them at dinner together…”

“And you didn’t tell me? You said nothing?”

“I wanted to tell you! Paula, you have to know how badly I wanted to tell you. James messaged me that night after my shift, begging me not to tell you, ” Julia sat on my bed. “But I’m telling you now. James said that he would tell you or that it was a mistake. It was late, and I wanted to get to bed at the time, so I agreed.”

“How long ago was this?”

“A month ago. I’m really sorry.”

More from Goat’s Milk Magazine

I felt my heart stop. 

James and I decided to have a date night, you know, the ones where you want to dress up with your favourite little black dress and your go-to makeup look. I was in my bathroom as I looked myself in the mirror where I wore the black dress, and my makeup was close to done; I had to add some finishing touches. My hair was straight; I had asked Madison to come over the other day to help me out with my hair. She asked me why I was trying to put in the effort for him and said that this was for me. In all of this, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to lose myself in the process of losing James. Madison nodded as she listened to my spiel, then continued to drink coffee with me as she worked on my hair. I looked in the mirror with my black dress on, a full face of makeup, and I put on some rings. There was a pair of earrings that James bought me for my birthday; I thought tonight was perfect a night as any to wear them for the first and last time. This was a night I wouldn’t forget, and I knew that; I wanted to look my best so that I would want to remember something. There was a knock at the door; I put a shawl over my arms, grabbed my purse, and opened the door.  

“Hey,” James said with a warm smile and flowers in his hands. 

We were at Milestones, a restaurant we went to often; tonight felt like the last. There was a candle in the middle of the table, and the restaurant was mostly dim. People came to milestones to meet a friend for drinks or to have dinner with a significant other like James and I. Both of us looked at a menu as we were deciding what to order. 

“What are you thinking?” James asked. 

Honestly, I wanted to ask about the night at cactus with some woman I didn’t even know, but I didn’t want to know – I couldn’t. “I’m feeling the chicken bites. How about you?” I caught James staring at me. “What?” I chuckled. 

“Those earrings – I got you those for your birthday. You’re wearing them tonight,” he seemed shocked. 

“Yeah, I thought tonight was a perfect night as any.” I smiled at him. Someone approached us before James could speak.  

“Hi! I’m Annabelle, and I’ll be your server for tonight. Can I start you guys off with any drinks?” She had a notepad in her hand. 

“I’ll take a root beer,” I said. 

“Make that two. Oh, if you could bring a straw for one of those?” He smiled at me.

“of course,” Annabelle said as she made notes on her pad. “have you decided on what you’d like to order?”

I looked at James, and he seemed hesitant. “Maybe we need a minute?” I said. 

“Absolutely. Take your time.” Annabelle left the table. 

We sat in silence for a moment while he looked at the menu. “Is everything okay?” I asked. “It’s just – we come here all the time.”

“Yeah, of course. I just wanted to switch it up. I think I’ll get the chilli chicken bowl.” He closed the menu. “You still want the chicken bites? Should I get a plate of fries?” 

“Yes, I’m craving those chicken bites now. I don’t think I want fries; you can get your own if you want them, though.”

“So you can steal some?”

“It’s tradition.” I smiled, and then we both laughed. 

Annabelle approached us again. “Are you two lovebirds ready to order?” 

“Can we get the chicken bites, a chilli chicken bowl, and one plate of fries?” James responded. 

Annabelle wrote down the order. “Anything else?”

“No, I think we’re okay,” I said. She left.

“You look wonderful tonight.” James reached out for my hand. His phone rang, I caught a glimpse of the caller ID; when James realized who it was, he instantly pulled his hand back. 

“I’m sorry, I just have to send a quick text.”

“Of course.” I looked around the restaurant; at the corner of my eye, I spotted a man who was looking at me. He was at the bar, and I swear his sparkling smile was towards me. Perhaps it was James’ lack of affection, which made me think that. When I turned my direction back at James, he was still on his phone, and he didn’t even try to get off it any faster. I sighed and looked back at the man at the bar. He had a drink in his hand, his body was relaxed on the barstool when he mouthed, “What are you doing with him?” then I opened my mouth but couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t say anything because, technically, I didn’t know. 

Annabelle returned with our plates and set them on the table. “Let me know if you need anything else.” She smiled at both of us, then left.  

I started eating my chicken bites. I guess my face gave off a sour reaction because James began chuckling. “What?” I scoffed. 

“You love a good kick when you eat,” James said as he took a bite of his chicken bowl. 

“You know that I do.” I gave him a nod. The type you couldn’t describe; it was like we spoke a different language. It happens when you’ve known someone for a while. “I’m the one that got you into it.” 

“Yeah, and now it’s a habit. What can I say?” His phone rang yet again. He silenced it right away then looked towards me. “It’s just work. We have a big deadline at the office, but I’m with you.” He attempted to reach for my hand, but I pulled back. James was in school for journalism, and he was an intern for a newspaper.

I held a fry between my fingers with a serious look on my face. “Was it work thing a month ago?”

“What do you mean?” 

“No, it’s just – Jules said something really interesting. I wanted to ask you about it. I mean, I know work follows you home, and I get that. Mine does too as a writer, but I’m not sure if it’s something else as well.”

“What did she say?” James nervously asked. 

“James,” I softy chuckled. “is there something I need to know?”   

“Do we have to do this now?” He whispered. 

“I’m just saying – you have an opportunity here,” I whispered back.  

“You know.” He sat back. 

“I want to hear it from you.” I crossed my arms together.  

“I kissed someone else that night. We met through work, and it was late that night -“

“You know what – don’t finish that sentence.” 

Annabelle approached our table. “Can I get you guys anything?”

“yes, the bill, please” I rotated my body to get my things gathered together. 

“of course, I’ll be-”  

“No, we don’t.” James cut Annabelle off. “Paula, you cant leave. I mean, not like this.”

“I can. This is over. You lied. “

“Let me explain…”

“I don’t want you to!” I said. 

“I’m sorry, did you still want the bill?” Annabelle asked. 

“Yes, please.” I put my coat on; my hair got caught on the inside of it, only for a moment.   

Minutes later, I paid my bill at the front as a way to avoid James and headed outside.  

Summer came around; I thought about James for a while after the night at Milestones. A long time. It still felt pretty raw. He would text me once in a blue moon, but I never replied. On the off chance that I did, it would be one-word answers. He didn’t deserve more than that. I was at Waterfront, and as I looked out into the ocean, I felt the breeze on my skin. Then I realized, for the first time in three years, I forgot how to be alone. How to be happy and alone. When I wasn’t with James, I was with my girls, so in the midst of that, I never got the opportunity to experience the beauty of solitude. 

I rolled down the street, away from the water, as I headed towards my favourite coffee shop, Trees coffee. It was always my favourite place to go after a long, warm day by the sea. I got so much writing done there every time that I went. My order was usually a piece of chocaholic cheesecake and some kind of latte. A buzz came from my phone; I checked the notification, and it was James. It read. I’m sorry. Please, can we talk?  As I shook my head, I put my phone down, opened my laptop, and continued working on my novel. As I took a bite of my cheesecake, Madison texted me do you regret being with him?  Ugh. She did that now and then. It was annoying, but I think it was her way of saying I love you. I’m here if you need me. I texted back no, that was three years of my life. And I loved him. I mean, I still do. So no.  When the dust settled, we grew up together, and I think, for a while, he was the only guy I really knew. 

After I wrote a good chunk of a chapter, I looked at the time and decided that it was the perfect opportunity to catch the sunset.  

“Same time tomorrow, Paula?’ A woman from behind the counter called out. “Maybe.” I laughed. “Do you think I could get this to go?” I pointed at the half-empty mug in my lap. “Anything for you, love!”

I drove back down the street to Canada Place, where I searched for my usual dock. There was a man who was already there. I’ve always watched the sunset from this dock, so I went up on it anyway; I got out my beach towel from my bag and set it on the floor. Then I slid out of my wheelchair and sat on the beach towel. I leaned against my wheelchair for back support. I needed that once in a blue moon. 

That evening’s sunset was mesmerizing. The sky looked like cotton candy; colours like pink, orange, and hints of blue peeked through the spread apart clouds. 

It’s a beautiful sunset tonight, isn’t it?” The man turned his head slightly but kept his eyes on the sunset. 

“Gorgeous.” I spent the rest of the evening thinking about how sunsets made everything fade away, even with someone next to you. It made me think about how crucial solitude is. The birds were chirping away in the sky, perhaps because the day was turning into night. The air was much calmer, and the temperature became cooler, just the way I liked it. I put a shawl over my body; I always carried one everywhere in the summer, took a sip of my latte, and enjoyed the silence of the night air as the sun continued to go down.  


Mohini Takhar is a disabled writer and spoken word poet based in Vancouver, traditionally known as the unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. She studies Creative Writing at Douglas College. She was a featured poet in June 2020 for pulpMAG. Takhar has performed spoken word across virtual stages such as Vancouver Poetry Slam, Hot Damn It’s a Queer Slam, Canadian Individual Poetry Slam, and Voices of Today, where she was a 2020 finalist. Her essay is called I’m Different; You Know It, I Know It. Let’s Talk About It was published in Pearls 40: An Anthology Of Work By Douglas College Creative Writing Students. Her poem If Our Forever Were Different recently was a part of the Roundhouse Community Centre’s Balloons That Flame Poetry Exhibition. Pieces Of Me is her newest collection of poetry available through her Linktree. 

Blotting out the Itch to Cling

By Wim Owe

What does it mean that I can’t control the urge to write you 
from work to tell you that I woke up with my clothes off 
and it rained all morning. You’re cinched around me 
and I’m melting into a fantasy that you’ll call my work line 
just to moan into my voicemail, and shake the lie out
of a professionalism I hide behind.

 I can’t tie my words

as strings around you from so far off any more than I 
can warm you with my distant body. Next to it you were 
Small and fearless. I don’t attach easily, but fly from here 
in my mind. I don’t need to be back in bed to be lost in 
the memories that you left there, rubbing one foot against 
the other.

You have a clear crystal voice that needs to call

my ass and announce the weather, and how the plants 
and bugs around you will like it, how you feel about it 
and what all the gossip flock needs you to be feeling in 
a moment before it passes out of groupmind. I’m doing alright – 
right? How do you remember me? I’m at work, looking for 
a chance to say something nasty with the taste of sweetbread 
and whiskey in my mouth. Your knee stuck out of the blanket, 
chilly in someplace secret. The tingle turns into a tremble.

We spent a week together and I’ve been sleepwalking ever 
since, carried on by the hands of your words.

Your letter tells me your reading went well –

I can picture the anxious half-nap you woke from when 
you called me to tell me about the sun and the wind. Closing 
your eyes for sensibility’s sake, because soon everyone will 
be watching you, you work through the last-minute worries. 
Reading the round of faces, hoping that their focus is for 
the pleasure of listening to you, then bubbling through 
the night, delirious with immense satisfaction, too ecstatic 
in your own skin for the sleep you know you need, tickled 
by the waking dream.

Can you feel the arc of night

stretching over you, slipping through your body, as your 
pulse beats in your ears? The seeming sounds of ceasing music, 
wearing your coming dream like an armour for investigating 
shipwrecks. The poems vanished in a flash, leaving nothing 
but sounds and markings in the books each of us hides beneath 
our pillows. They are the homes of a million different things 
singing to each other long after we have forgotten each other.


Wim Owe is a dual citizen from Seattle living in Victoria, BC. You may have met him in a moss-filled basement suite in Vancouver, a dust storm in northern Alberta, or perched atop a spinning curling rock in sweaty, sweaty Gatineau. He’s had poems in Pages Penned in Pandemic, Peaches and Bats, and Slightly West. For private opinions made inadvisably public, see him on Twitter.

At the U-turn curve on Billings Bridge

By Wim Owe

I hold my breath as the 

articulated one-eleven bus

turns a full loop just before 
the bank, imagining the finesse

it takes for the driver to guide
The right front corner so that it hovers

Just over the sidewalk, without
Scraping the wheel when its turn

Comes around, knowing by the wedge
In the snow how may drivers

Have made it fit before


Wim Owe is a dual citizen from Seattle living in Victoria, BC. You may have met him in a moss-filled basement suite in Vancouver, a dust storm in northern Alberta, or perched atop a spinning curling rock in sweaty, sweaty Gatineau. He’s had poems in Pages Penned in Pandemic, Peaches and Bats, and Slightly West. For private opinions made inadvisably public, see him on Twitter.