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THE ATONEMENT

By Gisela Woldenga

“Slow down, Paul, it’s slippery!”

Tina braced her hands against the dashboard of the car and looked into the snow-covered landscape.

“Okay, okay, don’t worry. I’ve got good tires.” Paul eased up on the gas.

“But not front-wheel drive like Dad’s car.”

Paul smirked. “If you weren’t so skinny you could give the car more weight.” He shot a sly glance at his stepsister.

“Oh yeah, very funny!” Tina tried hard to sound annoyed but she was used to her stepbrother’s quirky sense of humour. She expected a certain playful immaturity from a high school senior. Tonight he had treated her to a movie, a belated birthday present. During those two hours new snow had fallen. The streetlights stood like sentries along the road and gave off an otherworldly glow. Random snowflakes tumbled towards the headlights as if they had lost their way and were searching for a home.

Paul steered the car around the corner.

“What’s that?” Tina pointed to something by the side of the road. “Maybe you should stop.”

“You really want me to stop?”

“Yes, I saw something.”

Paul gave the brake pedal a quick touch and skidded to a halt. Tina opened the door and looked back.

“Paul,” she whispered. “It’s a person. Oh God, is he dead?”

Both stepped out of the car and stared at the figure in the snow bank.

“He might still be alive. We can’t just leave him here The least we can do is to call an ambulance.” Paul fumbled in his pocket and looked at his cell phone. “Damn, it’s dead.” He looked down at the figure. The man’s eyes were closed. Was he smiling?  

The dead man smiled. What a title for a movie. Come on, let’s go to the house there. They can phone the ambulance.” 

Paul pushed the chime button on the front door. A man answered. His eyebrows shot up in surprise when Paul told him of the find in the snow.

“My wife will call 911,” he offered. “I’ll come with you. Let me get my jacket and a flashlight.”

When they arrived at the snowbank, he shone the light into the face of the figure sprawled there. “Hm. Strange. He looks familiar. Couldn’t be sure, though.” He shook his head. “I wonder how he got here. Very tragic.”

Far away, they heard the sirens of the ambulance. That was fast despite the icy roads, Tina thought. She shivered in the cold wind. That smile, it’s unreal, as if the man had been glad to die.

“No pulse!” one of the attendants shouted as he knelt by the frozen man. “Let’s get going and try to revive him.”

The man from across the road looked at Paul and Tina. “Glad you stopped. Good of you to care about this person, even if it might be too late.” He waved and walked back to his house.

Neither Paul nor Tina spoke during the last stretch home. At the front door, Tina looked at Paul. “I have a funny feeling about that man. He might not be dead.”

Paul chuckled. “You’ve seen too many movies. Better sleep on it. Want a sandwich?”

“No thanks. See you in the morning.” Cold shivers still ran down Tina’s spine. I probably dream about it, she thought. Before she drifted off to sleep, thoughts about her mother came to her. She had only been two years old when her mother died. Death caused by a drunk driver, her father told her when she was old enough to understand. Tina’s dad had married again, and her stepmother was the only mom she knew. 

Sometimes she would look at the picture of her mother. It was displayed in the hallway next to the portraits of her grandparents. Tina wondered, do I look like my mother, do I act or talk like her? 

Her father never spoke of the accident. All the information Tina got came from her stepmother. She was grateful for that. Why am I thinking of this nowIs my mother giving me a sign? Tina pulled her blanket up to her neck and finally fell asleep.

“Could this mystery be solved? It would be useless to phone the police or newspaper.”

Nothing had prepared Tina for the news that awaited her the next morning. A picture in the newspaper caught her attention. It showed an ambulance with its front tires halfway down a snow-filled ditch. The caption under it read, “Not even an ambulance is immune.”

Tina sat down and read how a man, found frozen in a snowbank, revived in the ambulance, started thrashing around and tried to attack one of the paramedics. In the confusion, the driver lost control of the vehicle and slid into a ditch. They weren’t seriously hurt, but the frozen man disappeared.

Paul ambled into the kitchen. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

Tina pointed to the newspaper. Paul let out a whistle.

“Holy cow! Where could he be now?”

“This whole thing is too weird,” Tina mumbled. “I don’t know why, but this is not the end.”

“For now, he’s disappeared.” Paul snatched some cookies out of the cookie jar and headed out the door. “You coming, sis?” he called. “If you go with me, he might not nab you.”

In spite of herself, Tina had to smile. Paul and his jokes! She grabbed her school bag and followed him.  

Even though school had her favourite subjects that day, she had a hard time concentrating. Again and again, the face of the frozen man appeared before her mind’s eye.

After supper, the T.V. news had another surprise. The announcer reported, “A pedestrian has been killed by a car during rush hour. The man carried no I.D. Anyone knowing this person, please, call your local police station.”

Tina gasped. “That’s him! It’s the same man we found yesterday.” What was going on? One does not die and live and die again. And then what?

Paul got up. “Death number two. Any more? This confuses me.”

Tina shook herself. Could this mystery be solved? It would be useless to phone the police or newspaper. The man would be long gone by now, just like he disappeared from the ambulance.

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The next week flew by, filled with schoolwork and a snowstorm. Tina hoped never to hear from the mystery man again. However, a few days later, the newspaper carried a headline, “Dead Man Disappeared.” While police were still waiting for friends or relatives to identify the body of the hit-and-run accident, the morgue had lost him.

“Lost him?” Paul chuckled. “Man, he was lying on a slab with a tag on his toe. How could they lose him? How about the autopsy? I hope he is still in one piece.”

Tina’s stomach felt like a hand was squeezing it. “It will start all over again.” Like Paul, she had her doubts about the whole thing. How could it be the same person?

The next day was warm and sunny, with a hint of spring in the air. Tina decided to take the long way home from school through a nearby park. The sun felt good on her face. This will bring out my freckles again, she thought. Her friends and Paul would tease her about it. She sat down on a dry bench under a big cedar tree and watched busy sparrows scurrying through the bushes and around her feet. As she got up to continue on home, a shadow fell across the walk. A man approached and stood still. Tina looked up and froze. Her heart jumped into her throat. She heard a deep calm voice.

“Yes, it’s me. Please, don’t be alarmed.”

Tina swallowed; she had a hard time breathing. Did this deep, calm voice really belong to the mystery man who had occupied her thoughts all these days?

“May I talk to you, Tina?” the man asked.

She could only nod; she was unable to control her voice. How did he know her name?

As if reading her mind, he said, “When you and Paul found me, I knew you were sympathetic souls. If I tell you my story, will you help me?”
Tina looked up at him. His dark-blue eyes were kind and a bit sorrowful. How old was he? Forty, fifty? She was not afraid; she was calm now.

“I will make it as short as possible,” the man promised.

“Okay, go on.” Nothing wrong with listening, she thought.

“I have to die to atone for things I did – or neglected to do. It has to happen once more. But don’t worry about it. The important thing is that you come to the playground near your house one week from today at seven o’clock in the evening.”

“What am I supposed to do there? Why do you need me?”

“I need you to be my witness and to forgive me,” the man answered.
Tina was puzzled. “Forgive you? For what?”

The man sighed. “Let me start at the beginning. My three deaths are ones I should have prevented but didn’t. My friend fell drunk into a snowbank and froze to death. Instead of carrying him to shelter, I laughed, staggered home and went to sleep. The second time I was drunk again, ran down a pedestrian with a car and didn’t stop.”

“The police didn’t catch you?” Tina’s looked at him wide-eyed.

The man shook his head. “That punishment would have been easy. The third death started with a fight in a pub over a girl. I pulled a gun I had hidden in the inside of my jacket. I didn’t even remember whether it was loaded or not. I pulled the trigger. Instead of shooting the man, the girl fell. I ran, left town, got rid of the gun. Then strange things began to happen. A voice told me, ‘You must atone for those three deaths.’ I didn’t want to listen. Every night the voice came back. I didn’t know what to expect or where it came from. After my first death, I knew that I had to experience all three of them.” He paused and looked at Tina. “What I have to tell you now will shock you. You might not be able to forgive me. The pedestrian I killed was your mother.”

Tina stared at the man. “My mother?” she whispered.

The man nodded. “Do you remember her at all?”

Tina shook her head. “Only from pictures. I was a baby then. My stepmother is the only Mom I’ve known. When I was older, she told me that my real mother was killed in an accident.”

The man looked away. “I was the one who killed her. Now you might understand why I chose you to find me in the snowbank. I realize that it is a lot to ask you to forgive me and be my witness when my own time comes. It’s all part of my redemption.”

Tina still struggled to understand it all. “How do you know all this about me, how to find me . . .”

“The voice told me.”

“But what do you mean by ‘when your own time comes?”

The man took a deep breath. “That will be my real death. My life has been
bad. I was callous and a coward. I want to try again for a new life.”

“How can you do that?” Tina remembered reading about reincarnation once and how she had been intrigued by it. “Is that possible?”

“That’s my only hope. I believe I’ll be granted that much.”

Tina looked down at her hands. “How are you going to die?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he answered. “Just be there, please. My next adventure will be on the news. But – can you forgive me? If you do you’ll be my saving angel.” The man got up, gave Tina’s arm a light touch and was gone.

She sat still for quite a while. This encounter was too fantastic. Should she believe this man? Could he really be the drunk driver who robbed her of her mother and her father of his wife? Again, she tried to imagine how horrific it must have been for her dad. What would happen if she decided not to forgive him and not show up at the playground next week? No. Somehow she didn’t find it in her heart to condemn him. To go through three deaths was suffering enough aside from the guilt he must have felt all those years. And now, he was facing his own demise. The man would be gone forever.

At last, she got up and made her way home. She had made up her mind not to talk about her mother’s death to her family. What good would that do? Everyone would just be upset all over again. And they wouldn’t be able to understand the man’s plight and his connection to her mother.

“Only a black circle showed in the grass, and a strong smell of something burning lingered in the air.”

“Tina, where have you been?” were the first words she heard on opening the front door. Her mother looked worried. “Are you okay? You’re two hours late.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Something’s happened. Are Dad and Paul home?”
Her mother pointed to the living room.

“Okay, come and listen.”

Paul stood in the door. “Can’t we eat and listen? I’m starving.”

“It won’t take long,” Tina promised. “Your stomach has to wait.”

“It’s this strange guy again, right?” her father asked.

“Yes, and even if you don’t believe me, please, listen, ‘til I’ve finished.” Tina related the events of the afternoon. She was careful not to mention her mother’s accident. She realized how sympathetic towards the man she had become.

“You’re not going to the playground alone,” her father stated. “Whatever
crazy idea this guy has; I’m going to be there! This is rubbish.”

“No!” Tina almost shouted. “That might spoil it for him. It’s going to be all right. If he’d wanted to harm me, he would’ve done so in the park. Sometimes –“ she paused, then “things are not what they seem.” She saw Paul going over to her father and talked to him quietly. Then her father nodded.

Paul switched on the T.V. “Let’s see if he’s died again.”

“Too early,” Tina said. “It’s going to happen tomorrow.”

But neither the newspaper nor radio or T.V. mentioned anything out of the
ordinary the next day.

“The day isn’t over yet,” Tina persisted. “He wouldn’t lie to me.”

Paul looked at her. “You’re so convinced; it’s amazing, almost annoying.”

“If you had met him, you would believe him, too!” Tina shot back.
Against her normal routine, she stayed up that evening to check on the late news. She almost jumped out of her chair when the announcer reported, “There has been a shooting in a downtown bar. A fight over a girl ended in the wounding of a man in his forties. He was last seen staggering into the street. Police have not been able to locate the victim. Hospitals have been alerted.”

Tina flew up the stairs. Without knocking, she burst into Paul’s room. He
stared at her open-mouthed.

“He’s done it! He’s been shot!”

Paul turned off his CD player. “Really? Man, that’s cool.”

“Now, are you convinced that I’ll have to go to the playground on Monday?”

Tina felt triumphant.

“Yeah, maybe that’ll be finally the end of it. You have a way of shaking
me up – again.”

Tina tossed and turned that night with images of guns and speeding cars threatening her dreams. In the morning, she had only one regret: Monday was still five days away.

On that day, the weather was again mild and sunny. Small groups of
parents and children played ball and had fun on the swings in the playground. Tina started to worry. What if their presence interfered with the man’s fate? What if he did not come because of them? Go away, she thought, please, go home.

She leaned against a tree and tried to take a few deep breaths. How must he feel knowing he had to die? “God, let it be fast,” she prayed.
She checked her watch. Ten minutes to seven. Through the pounding of her heart, she heard laughter and children’s delighted squeals from the play area. At five minutes to seven, the atmosphere changed. A breeze came up, and dark clouds appeared in the sky. Tina could have sworn that she heard a faint rumble like thunder. The people looked up, and words like “Let’s go, it’s going to rain” drifted towards her.

She huddled closer to the tree and checked her watch again. Seven o’clock. The air felt heavy. Clouds hung directly overhead. The rumbling got louder. Then she saw him. The man walked from the entrance into the middle of the field. He raised both arms as if to greet her. Tina’s knees were shaking. The next moment a blinding lightning bolt shot out of the cloud, followed by a crash. Where the man stood, flames shot high into the air. Tina covered her ears and screamed. In an instant, the flames subsided, and a deep quiet surrounded her. The dark cloud had disappeared. Then she felt an arm around her shoulders.

“It’s okay; it’s over.” Paul’s voice brought her back to reality.

“Where is he?” A sob bubbled up in Tina’s throat.

“He’s gone. The lightning got him,” said Paul. “I was too curious to stay home. I saw it all.”

They walked over to where the man had stood. Only a black circle showed in the grass, and a strong smell of something burning lingered in the air.

As Tina got closer, she felt a slight touch on her arm, and a voice whispered, “Thank you, Tina, we’ll meet again.”

She wiped away her tears and smiled. He had given her a sign. She knew his atonement was complete.


Gisela Woldenga was born in Germany, came to Canada in 1954. She has published seven books (Black Opal Books, Scholastic Canada) and various short stories and poems in many magazines. Book no. eight is at Black Opal right now. Most books are sold privately, at launches, at Amazone’s etc. She lives in Coquitlam, BC, Canada.

ripples

By Raymond Chen

rain droplets
fall on puddles
forming ripples
that eventually
dissipate.

in puddles
droplets
no matter the magnitude
as they reach the surface
impact,
lose identity,
and
dissipate.

puddles

large but small
deep but shallow
to a droplet –
it’s the world
to a child –
it’s a puddle
let’s be the child
do not be the droplet


Raymond Chen is a beginning poet in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is delighted to have found a home for his poem “ripples” in Goats Milk Magazine. Raymond understands the importance of expressing his feelings and does so by creating poems, drawings, and oil paintings – and also by playing the piano. In addition, Raymond takes great interest in critical thinking and is involved in the study of the interrelationship of fields such as philosophy and psychology. He has an interest in commentating and has taken the role of commentator in multiple community-organized tournaments for games of interest to him. Overall, Raymond is attempting to utilize his passions as tools to better himself and the communities around him.

Friedrich, The Matchmaker

By Jozef Leyden

“Jake, it’s time you started thinking about a serious relationship,” Uncle Maurice says on the day of my thirty-fifth birthday. “Serious,” he accentuates. 

“You need to find a good person. A good woman!” he stresses.

“Character is more important than riches and beauty.” Uncle Maurice is not averse to clichés. 

He should know, he first married when he was only twenty-one; now, he struggles with his fourth marriage at retirement age. 

It is a Sunday afternoon at my parents’ house; early spring sunshine fills the living room; my mother has baked an apple-strudel; my father has opened a bottle of old Armagnac, all in honour of my birthday. 

Listening in, my mother eagerly nods several times; she seems to agree with her brother. In her mind, she adds to his criteria “preferably Jewish, a doctor or a lawyer;” no doubt about it. My father does not offer any opinion, but his facial expression speaks volumes. He does not think highly of Maurice’s wisdom when it comes to relationships. 

Me, I nod too; only once and unconvincingly. Just to get them off my back. My current status of romantic affairs (they have probably dissected this subject already before my arrival) is uncomplicated ̶ single again. A month ago, Luzia and I had split. Not considered as a tragedy by anyone around the table. Not even by myself. No regrets. 

It was a passionate liaison, flamed up like fireworks. We met by chance at Lisbon airport; a week later, we were a couple, madly in love. She put her microbiology research at the University of Lisbon on hold, arranged a sabbatical and followed me to Canada. 

After a year of fiery love, the flame suddenly went out, as abruptly as it had ignited. She could not stop herself from flirting; or even worse, who knows, with other men. Mistrust killed my affection. 

We had a few harsh altercations; Luzia returned to Lisbon; an ocean came between us. Memories and expired love declaration emails were all that was left. Strangely, I was not heartbroken when she disappeared from my life; I was open to new encounters when the time would come.

“It’s hard to find my ideal match, a girl with spunk, characterful, intelligent, an art-lover, well-read.” I pick up the thread of the birthday-Sunday round-table conversation. 

“Nay, Jake, that would be just a retouched, idealized version of you. Seek a goodhearted better-half; you’ll never get bored,” experienced Maurice preaches again. 

No further comments are uttered; the strudel is consumed in harmony.

“Have to leave now; to look for a clairvoyant matchmaker,” I announce and kiss everyone in the room on both cheeks. A family habit inherited from my East European grandparents.

I did not tell them that a quest for a new amour could not be my priority in the coming months. First, I must finish my badly belated study on algal Photosynthesis, already a year behind; my research grant at the university is as good as depleted. 

The whole summer, I slaved away, browsed through zillions of articles online, mostly penned by researchers desperate to comply with the holy commandment of frequent publishing, a prerequisite for entering the iron gates of the remunerated academic world. I am no exception. 

When autumn came, my scientific creativity was drained; I felt I needed to resume my inspirational trips to the National Art Gallery. And I mean ‘inspirational.’ Photosynthesis and visual arts have got to be correlated; both are essentials of human life; both depend on solar light. My proprietary hypothesis. I might quote it in my dissertation if I ever finish it.

For years now, I have regularly sought my refuge in this glass castle above the river. There are specific pieces on exhibit which I favour for a while for whatever reasons. This fall, an oversized bronze bust of Friedrich Nietzsche is my pick. The old guy’s face fascinates me, implies a trove of human insight behind his arched forehead, sage eyes look off into the space, a grin hidden behind a monumental moustache; his trademark. 

He looks intensely pensive; had probably practised in front of a mirror for this pose; now, immortalized in bronze by the artist-sculptor.  

It is not because of the philosopher’s works that I like the sculpture ̶ my knowledge of philosophy is limited to basics, mostly extracted from reading popular literature ̶ it is the aura of the sculpture. Positioned among European post-impressionist paintings; a sombre face between brightly coloured landscapes ̶ that keeps me captivated for months. 

There is a low wooden bench in front of the sculpture, my vantage point for this season. Gallery guards had taken note. 

After all those years of frequently visiting the Gallery, the guards got used to my fluctuating fascination with specific artworks. First, they watched me with suspicion when I lingered too long and too often in front of a masterpiece; now, they wordlessly greet me in friendly acknowledgment of my presence. I have become a recognized regular.

Along with the aesthetic appeal of my chosen artworks that compels me to return to them, I love to overhear observations and commentaries of other admirers of my ‘darling-pieces.’

‘My Nietzsche’ is a hidden gem, strictly for connoisseurs.  

I keep tabs on Friedrich’s incidental aficionados. Some of them are regulars, just like me. 

Father and daughter; he is in his fifties; she is in her early teens. I have caught them twice already, eyeing the philosopher. Father subtly tries to educate his cherished offshoot; the loving daughter pretends to hear his nuggets of wisdom for the first time.  

“You remember this guy?” the father lectures. “A giant among the thinkers; that’s why this bust is so massive. Look at the moustache; you can’t see the corners of his mouth; there must be a message behind growing such a dense, extended brush.”

“A message?” the daughter disbelieves.

“How about ‘Guess ̶ am I smiling or am I sad?’”

“Or ‘Read my lips, if you can.’” 

An original angle. 

Two students in their low twenties ̶ undergrads, my guess; the university campus is on walking distance from the Gallery. They don’t seem to be a couple; not yet. I wonder who is going to try to impress whom. 

Him: “Here he is, my anchor point, my mental watering hole in this plantation of cultural enlightenment! Let me introduce my friend Frederic N.”

Rather pompous for an opening move.

Her: “Your role model? Frederic, eh? Wouldn’t be mine. He was Hitler’s favourite philosopher. Let me show you my favourites.” 

A clincher; they wander briskly towards the Impressionists. Will Friedrich/Frederic get a second chance with her? Or will her friend readjust his preferences, choose some other sculpture to appease her? Hopefully, not the monstrous female spider of steel, dangerously spreading its eight extended legs close to the entrance of the Gallery. 

Now, I must admit that it is pretty cheap to be derogative. At the same time, I watch and eavesdrop on my fellow Gallery-goers. That’s not why I am here. After the summer, my sittings on the bench have an extra purpose, pursuit of a new flame.  

Casually talking to strangers, making contacts in art galleries and museums is the weapon of my choice when on the dating path. It’s a bare necessity; I am not a bar-goer. A date in a bar does not work for me. Loud music and dim lighting distract me, completely kill my sharp conversational skills, and make me appear an undesirable, dull loser. Either way, I doubt my sought ideal alter-ego would be found in a bar environment.  

Meanwhile, the Nietzsche-bench becomes my lookout to discover and select worthy, long-term relationship candidates. I imagine a young woman interested in the classical philosopher could be my true soulmate, maybe even the chosen one. 

With a bit of luck, such a human gem might even fit within Uncle Maurice’s realm of pristine characters. The combination of a penchant for profound art and a heart of gold should not be unusual among intellectuals, should it?

It’s a dark November afternoon; the icy wind blows dead leaves from the curb toward the tall Gallery windows. Not far from the city, deep in the forests, deer hunting season is in full gear. Hunters shiver in cold hideouts, wait for their prey. At my lookout in the Gallery, I am better off. With my buddy Friedrich, I wait and watch. 

It takes a while before my perseverance is rewarded. A dark-haired girl deliberately steps into the space between my bench and the sculpture. Charcoal rib-knit dress, fashionable eyeglasses, expressive face, about my age, a laptop bag over her shoulder. These are not permitted in the Gallery; she must be an insider. Gallery catalogue in her hand.

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She notices me, looks briefly into my eyes. The moment of truth?

“Nice moustache there.” She directs her comment to Friedrich. 

“Movember prophecy,” I respond from behind. 

“Nothing is known about Nietzsche’s men’s health issues,” she comes back, now looks at me, adds, “Are you a Movember fundraiser-professional? Are you waiting here to ambush potential givers? A donor chaser, so to speak? This bronze thinker is a nice decoy.” 

“Far from it. I’m just a humble scientist resting here. I hope this Friedrich will give me inspiration for my concept of quantum photosynthesis.” 

Ouch, what colossal BS, a pretentious introduction. I need somehow to mend my image, to show some genuine interest in her.

“What about you? Are you a urologist? Are you here investigating sculpted celebrities for signs of mortal diseases?” 

“Close. A dermatologist. And yes, you can learn a lot about mental and bodily ailments from artworks. No doubt about it. It’s a study I work on along with the Gallery curators.  

By the way, I already noticed you sitting here last week and critically watching bystanders. Like a deer hunter on a stakeout.”

“Embarrassing; sorry. Believe me, I’m harmless. I’m just curious to see who would be attracted by this impressive artwork. My champion piece of the season. You said, ‘a hunter?’ More like a trapper, though; this bust is my bait.”

“Trapper, eh? Can I buy you a coffee, trapper?” she responds, smiling.

“Coffee? Why not. They brew decent espresso downstairs in the cafeteria.”

We settle at a table beside a large window facing the river, small cups of espresso in front of us.

Time to properly introduce myself, “Jacob Levin is the name.”

“I am Zarah Bergman. Zarah, not Sarah,” she tells me. 

“My mother was teaching a course on Nietzsche at McGill at the time when I was born. She would have preferred to name me Zarathustra had my father not intervened. Zarah was a compromise. It sounds almost like ‘Sarah,’ my grandmother’s name.” 

She looks at me and, out of the blue, declares, “Internet dating doesn’t work for me; I had some disappointing experience. I prefer direct encounters at places of my choice.”

For a moment, I’m at a loss for words; this Zarah ̶ no beating about the bush.

“Zarah, you caught me here off guard, your openness, so to see, we are both on a quest. About online dating, not my cup of tea either.”

But why me?” 

“Well, Jakob, you seem to fall into the category of ‘right guys.’ I mean, into my category of ‘right guys.’ About my age, a museumgoer interested in thinkers. You don’t look freaky. You seem to be single; I checked your hands. Last but not least, I vaguely remember seeing your face last Rosh Hashanah in the shul downtown. 

Tinder wouldn’t be able to find me a better match. So, why shouldn’t I give it a try?”  

A straight shooter is she, this Zarah. Her directness in the delicate matters of courtship is thrilling; I am sold.  

And thus, we started dating, very conventionally, in phases. What a difference from my previous fiery liaison!

Phase One. 

We see each other once or twice a week, have lunches downtown, go to see avant-garde films in independent movie theatres, and needless to say, regularly pay our respects to Friedrich, the matchmaker. 

We become close, tell our family histories, relish each other’s company, reach a degree of intimacy, intimacy, not passion. 

Phase Two.

I like her, I like her a lot. It shows. She is not hiding her affection either. 

We confess our past loves, triumphs and heartaches.

More than a month has passed when Zarah invites me for a Shabbat dinner at her place. She has made an effort to put a great meal on the table. The soft music of Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition in the background. A well-orchestrated evening.

“Zarah, you indisputably beat the culinary accomplishments of my entire clan,” I declare truthfully after dessert. 

“An exquisite five-course dinner with candles and challah; brachot before and bentsching after; the whole nine yards,” I share with my father over the phone later in the week. So far, he is the only one of my kin ‘who knows.’ I don’t tell him that I stayed for the night.

Phase Three. 

Yes, we are now an acknowledged couple. Acknowledged by friends and family. Spend weekends together, my place or her place. Hold hands in public. Admit being in love. A few moderate, controllable disagreements; very civil. 

Rather reluctantly, I have complied with the unwritten code of the step-by-step serious dating course and asked Zarah to meet my parents. For coffee and cake on a Sunday afternoon. 

My smart Zarah, unlike Luzia, has charmed the family panel, smoothly passed the litmus test. 

Do I ever think about my butterfly-Luzia? N-no.

We have been dating for almost four seasons, faithfully follow contemporary social patterns and rituals. Living-apart-together; joint dinners; weekends; visit friends, family; save for a down-payment. 

Her parents, the Zarathustra expert-scholars, live in Vancouver, half a continent away. That gave me some slack to prepare my ‘right guy’ act. We flew to Vancouver for Labour Day weekend. I was approved. 

It is a cold November day, our first anniversary; we pay a visit to our matchmaker. We walk by Friedrich in thankful acknowledgment; we wander from painting to painting, look for our favourite pieces. I feel restless, have an inexplicable urge to provoke my Zarah.  

There is our Mondrian, exhibited in the Dutch painters’ hall; we slow our pace. 

“Don’t you think, Zarah, that our relationship is a bit like this painting; a neat arrangement of rectangular objects in uncomplicated primary colours, straight lines, eye-pleasing?”

Why am I saying this? Am I transmitting that I miss thrilling adventures and fireworks in our intimate association? Zarah looks up, unsettled picks up the gauntlet. She leads me to a large Jan Steen ̶ a messy family gathering tableau.

“Would you rather prefer this metaphor?”

Touché.

Zarah looks agitated; I must have hurt her. She leads me to a Degas, an expressive painting of a young ballerina. She knows that the canvas is one of my favourites. Not hers. 

“If you seek pictorial allegories, would this be your luscious Luzia reminiscence? Do you think you’d be better off with her?

I am startled; try not to show it. Is she right? Have I missed the boat, my Santa María underway to exciting treacherous discoveries of exotic worlds ̶ by letting Luzia go?

Renouncing my stormy affair with Luzia, am I now willingly headed towards the rationality of a well-reasoned ‘tying the knot?’   

The dark clouds above the wintry landscapes on the wall threaten to diffuse into the Gallery’s spaces, to invade and contaminate our comfortably premeditated romance.

Seeking a compromise, neither of us is ready for a caustic argument, we turn to a peaceful Dutch vista ‘Calm at the Mouth of a River.’ The picture of boats with white sails mirrored on unruffled water surface emits pacifying air desperately needed for any reconciliation. The calm before the storm?

In silence, we descend to the cafeteria. 

Mayday, Mayday. God help us.


Jozef Leyden (pseudonym) lives in Ottawa, Ontario. He was born and raised in Bohemia and lived for a few decades in the Netherlands before finding his home in Canada. His writings often reflect on his European roots and his career. He has worked in academia and industry as a physicist, sailor-oceanographer, environmental surveyor, and university professor.

Codicil

By Dylan Willoughby

for Jamie

Break me in two:  
Bury one half of me,
And plant the other.

This is a race past the finish.
Ghosts percolate.
It’s not that I have left you.

I linger awhile on the splendor of rust 
Slowly dying wrought iron,
Its death so much slower than mine.

You once imagined things 
And printed them in 3D.
Consider me an imagined thing.

Among the diffuse abandonments,
Find me.  Whisper your joke about
Muffins in the oven.  Abide.

We spend our lives thinking of the opposite of here.  
But here is everything, here will never leave.


Dylan Willoughby is a permanently disabled poet and composer, born in London, raised in Canada, the US, Chile, London, and elsewhere, and currently living in Los Angeles.  Dylan’s poetry has appeared in Stand, Agenda, Shenandoah, Salmagundi, Denver Quarterly, Green Mountains Review and other journals, and Chester Creek Press has published three limited-edition chapbooks.  He received an MFA from Cornell, and fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell.  He record music as “Lost in Stars,” and have been featured by The Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Echoes (NPR), KCRW (NPR), Nylon, XLR8R, Insomniac, Impose Magazine and elsewhere.

Metamorphosis

By Allana Stuart

i.

exuvia breaks at 
the edge of 40
shell splits to reveal
a tender unfurling
iridescent wings
once dry in the sun
shimmer with shifting colours
and in flight
everything old
becomes
new again 

ii.

my words used to fly like bees
floating on a summer wind
until they holed up and hid  
just like the rogue colony that
built a hive in our porch roof
one July

in the heat the walls dripped with  
sweet syrup
but my mouth stayed 
sealed shut
sticky with silence
like I had honey
smeared across my lips

after I licked them clean
my thoughts took flight again
like the bees 
after the keeper came

but it was me that reached in  
pulled them free 
hands dripping words
like fists full of
honeycomb

iii.

writhing and sinuous
she sheds 
inhibition like a skin
the past slips free
as silk 
slides to the floor 
puddles at her feet

reborn 
she rises up from the
basket of her bed
sways under her own spell 
moves to her own music
marks this moment as

an arrival
an arousal
an awakening.


Allana Stuart was once an award-winning CBC Radio journalist, and is now a wrangler of children and a writer of poetry and fiction. She is also the producer of the podcast Rx Advocacy. A child of the boreal forest, Allana was born and raised in northwestern Ontario, spent several years in Northern BC, and currently calls Ottawa home. Lately, she spends most of her free time roller-skating in her basement. She can be found on Instagram and (sporadically) on Twitter.

Night’s Ransom

By Dylan Willoughby

Your lips mouth an unbearable tongue
You read of darkness fucking night,
A jealous god swallowing his own,
His stomach a second womb

This entrance is not real, says the deceitful clay
We have disguised the banquet as a pile of bones….
You think you have stolen fire
But it is the end of us


Dylan Willoughby is a permanently disabled poet and composer, born in London, raised in Canada, the US, Chile, London, and elsewhere, and currently living in Los Angeles.  Dylan’s poetry has appeared in Stand, Agenda, Shenandoah, Salmagundi, Denver Quarterly, Green Mountains Review and other journals, and Chester Creek Press has published three limited-edition chapbooks.  He received an MFA from Cornell, and fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell.  He record music as “Lost in Stars,” and have been featured by The Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Echoes (NPR), KCRW (NPR), Nylon, XLR8R, Insomniac, Impose Magazine and elsewhere.

London

By Dylan Willoughby

There is no such thing as seeing through 
The windows fail
Is that really rain?
Or the outpouring of lost souls?

I will not decipher you

Lately, you have entered me 
As if I were a mortal thing 
Hungry for life 
Nonetheless, I ask you to remain

Mark the profligate twin clocks
Come closer than I am to myself

I tell you we are not made of the past 
Aitios is fool’s gold
Yet some nights we summon
Beginning…


Dylan Willoughby is a permanently disabled poet and composer, born in London, raised in Canada, the US, Chile, London, and elsewhere, and currently living in Los Angeles.  Dylan’s poetry has appeared in Stand, Agenda, Shenandoah, Salmagundi, Denver Quarterly, Green Mountains Review and other journals, and Chester Creek Press has published three limited-edition chapbooks.  He received an MFA from Cornell, and fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell.  He record music as “Lost in Stars,” and have been featured by The Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Echoes (NPR), KCRW (NPR), Nylon, XLR8R, Insomniac, Impose Magazine and elsewhere.

If You Give a Girl a Pocket Knife

By Sarah Bean

The night we slept in a tent full of stars,
I learned how to use a knife.
How to hold it in my palm, just so,
how to slowly carve layers of life away,
revealing newborn green hidden from onlookers. 

The night we drank the sky’s tears,
I learned how to get in touch with roots.
How to connect to the soil and
facilitate rebirths.
Learned how to sharpen myself to a point,
to turn my canines deadly,
bite back at girl-shaped wolves, 
puncture jugulars to learn my left and right,
my soup spoon a sword.

The night we set the world on fire,
I learned how to tie knots in my tongue to keep from combusting.
How to fashion it around my prepubescent wrist,
lick my own wounds and develop a taste for salt. 
Learned that safety comes with silence, 
and that my knife couldn’t leave the grove.
Found a blade of grass for the trip home, 
kept the handle held in the back of my mind.

The night I buried myself in the forest, 
I learned how to wield a dagger made of flowers.
How to stick it in my bosom for safe keeping, 
to whittle myself down, cut off my offshoots, 
scrape off my bark.
To be just big enough to fit in wheel wells—
to be seen and not heard.

In that tent full of stars,
I learned how to use a knife.
How to ward off enemies in a fighting stance,
firmly planted and prepared,
and I earned the badge for best technique.


Sarah Bean (she/her) is a library technician and poet from Alberta, Canada. So far, her poetry has only appeared in zines that she photocopies at her local public library. She thanks you for being gentle.