All posts by sofiacapel

Three or More, fiction by Kyle Beachy

Art: Fear Eats the Soul


I’d like to tell you, my dear, about three people.

Very late in his life, in other words in his mid-thirties, my father was struck by a deep and sudden passion for photography. He began walking through the woods with his camera taking photographs of the many trees that encased our little home. Now, was it strange for us to watch this man we knew violently, who trembled even when sitting and stomped wherever he moved, creep so cautiously through the pine needles, coming at a single tree like something he cared for deeply and feared might run away? Yes. More than anything, we were relieved to have his hands occupied by something other than our bodies. Quietly, we believed our father had gone mad.

I can remember him catching me once when I was watching him move through the forest. Our eyes locked, and he pointed one long finger several times to his head, rolling his eyes in his skull and letting his tongue hang lifeless between his wet lips. By the end, our father might have done quite literally anything. There was no predicting the man; any one thing would have been exactly as surprising as any other. He was entirely and fatally free.

Our mother, my brother’s and my mother, Joanne Howard, was a private person. I mean I sensed as much even back then. Of course, to pursue privacy as a woman is to invite skepticism, at the very least. We will get called, for example, a “cunt,” which we might believe is the worst we can be called until we experience being called worse. I suppose I take after my mother in this private way, which I suppose has become something of a romantic notion these days, privacy.

It was not until much later that I learned my mother was also secretive. Next to privacy, secrecy is more barbaric. Secrecy is an act of violence and faith, or an act of ritual. Secrecy is a term we speak on the tail end of a long chain that begins in the Latin secernere, to separate, and also sacramentum, a form of sacrare, which means to consecrate, or set apart religiously. Secrecy is aggression. Secrecy is the habit of children, and the childish, and also the insane.

But nobody could have known that back then. In those childhood forests of Nevada City all my brother and I knew was that one day it was going to be taken from us. Our father was frightened. He was hateful and he was mean and by then he’d become too strong, too large for anyone’s good. There’s an idea: let’s propose a size limit on men. Let’s breed them the way we’ve bred pugs and other domestic pets. Our father was unshaved and wet-mouthed, always, because he was always chewing, sometimes on his thoughts alone but with no less effort than it took to chew on jerky, or bark. Our father was a young, handsome man who took photographs of trees while chewing on their bark. But when I look now at the pictures he took back then I can see, or maybe hallucinate what he was up to. Over and over and over again, my father tried to isolate one standing object from another. Or to unite them. Either way, I mean that he was attempting to take photos of distance itself — the trees were only a tool, the same way the shutter was a tool, or the strong, weary hands in which the camera trembled were tools. He wanted to solve the riddle of F-stop, the great metaphor that many years later would be my brother’s undoing as well.

Which brings us to my brother.

And here, I suppose, is the process by which the sacred is built. We were never enemies, my brother and I, or not explicitly. I was his older sister and everything that came with it. Maybe you’ve heard by now that the origin of human history, meaning our process of record keeping, was a desire to record who went to war with whom, and why. It would be fucked, wouldn’t it? To achieve annihilation without having left even a path of breadcrumbs?

Well, I have this tendency to not always quite arrive where I plan. I’m speaking frankly, or trying to, but I seem to not always have a point. But writing to you about my brother I’ve begun to wonder: when did redundancy become something to avoid? What else but pride made us believe we could understand anything after hearing it only once, only one way, only by efficient, declarative sentences and action verbs. Deuteronomy, for example. The resilient and, in fact, immortal practice of stoning women for so called sins. Did I, for example, bleed on my wedding night, etc.

Our mother chewed gum with her mouth open and had what my brother and I spoke of as a physical dependency on veterans of foreign wars. Mom was one of those people who looks put-out when she smiles. I remember one time my brother, your father, saying that Joanne took everything in stride but made sure everyone knew about each and every step. This was hands-down the single sharpest bundle of words I had or would ever hear coming out of my brother’s mouth. I was impressed, then, but not for long. If memory serves – which, how about that construction? – if memory serves it was the same day that my brother would stop being a person in whose presence I felt safe.

I mean this – I never felt completely safe around my brother.

I remember it perfectly. A fateful day, as it were. The last time we would see our mother. I go back there sometimes, into these moments outside of the house in San Bruno, sitting on the stoop and smoking cigarettes like if we kept going one of us might admit that the other was better at it. We forget, sometimes, our ability to return ourselves back inside of any day that we choose, whenever the impulse strikes. This too is magic.

Do you, my pet, have any sense how long a day can last? Now I can tell you, having lost — a day can last forever.

And then there is your mother.

We went camping last month, the three of us. Maybe you remember. It was your mother’s idea, as most these days are. I’m here but not, if that makes sense. You are the child that explains my presence. She came home one day with a car full of gear – a tent, sleeping bags, self-inflating mattress pads. Together, we drove to Mirror Lake, Wisconsin, and cooked peppers and mushrooms over the fire. She had a brand new hatchet that you badly wanted to get your little hands on and play with. We had to separate you from it. You had your run of the grounds because it was late in the season and the middle of the week. You made all kinds of noises, and we rushed into and out of the new-smelling tent, trying to keep out mosquitoes. But one made it inside, as one always does. At some point in the night I awoke. And once I heard this mosquito’s whine I was up for good. Sometime before daybreak I walked from our campsite down toward the lake, where the mist was low in the soft, cool light. I walked down the boat launch, up to my knees in the brackish water. I sank and waved my arms slowly, watching the ripples spread. When I got back to the campsite there were three men there, the three people I wanted to tell you about. Seeing them, I assumed must have stopped at our site on their own way to the lake. Then I noticed their long, camouflaged pants and sleeves, and their generally sporting look, as if each had played a key role in rallying the one next to him. I could see that they had been drinking.

Your mother has suggested that we use “threat” as the collective noun for a group of men. Three or more. A threat of men.

Meanwhile I was certain that I must have sensed their coming. I believe that I woke to that whine of the single mosquito echoing through our tent like some blaring siren.

The three men did not notice me right away. They were laughing but moving their feet. Your mother was standing in front of the tent in her tank top and jeans. I could see the hatchet rocking in her hand.

At this point I remembered something, and I began making a great deal of noise, I made a terrible ruckus as if I was being attacked. Like it was already happening. As if these men had already done what they had come to do. I waved my arms and shrieked as if bleeding, channeling some deep memories of those times when I actually had been attacked. I mean that I folded time onto them, and they walked away baffled by my magic. One of these men, as he backed away, even held out a hand and asked if I needed help. I have no doubt whatsoever that your mother would have used that ax.


Kyle Beachy is an author, skateboarder and educator based in Chicago.

Poetry by Line Toftsø

*

The terror of vomiting
in an angel’s wig
I wish you would close your eyes
it feels like dried birds or a cat’s
being pulled over my face
the sound of a hammer
of an ear through hair an ear
attached to the shirt collar
so ear so near soft, colorless
and now the sound has stopped
hasn’t it
it’s petrifying
when the beast closest to my ear
is making his tongue a
U.

*

I want to place a name
silently near the root
of your sore
tongue a tongue
looking like a tongue
I’m watching your words
behind glass in a mouth
in
through the face
out
through the mirror
today I fell in love
with the skewness of a shelf
your finger language
and voices from the geese
the delicate and fragile unrest
in the textures of your mouth
shine
shinier
shiniest.

*

Protecting a dreamer from her dream
one-eye-glazed
one eyed, not empty
no innocence is innocent
lip-read
my almost horizontal yes
and don’t confuse red with red
there are:
reds
other reds and
other people’s reds
my safe word
is in my mouth
it is
always
a blind spot
and desire is wide open
while I watch your hands
resembling the face
of an animal, a blind infant
up- and downscaling
is a rather erotic experience.

*

I am more hungry
than sweet
but
these are just my eyes
my mouth a stingray
tongue-written, circular
from left to round
walls are breathing too
I wish you a hand
I wish we could sit all day
just making hands
we are also hands making hands
we are also hands making catastrophes
your hysteria, my bracelet
made of a forefinger and a thumb
your fingers are dissolving
my wrists
and after fever comes spring.

*

zwer
zwer
everything contains a natural activity
oily like a sun and chaos
according to the myths
I was born here
as early as an eye
the gap the doubt the eyelid lowering
too vulnerable for symmetry
too new for spring
my mouth is
a heart in
your ear
I am singing poison
we call it convulsions
don’t we
cliché is just a sound
and I know
that you know that
what happened never happened
almost is very powerful.


Line Toftsø Nyholm is a Danish poet and artist. Published ‘Jeg bevæger kun øjnene’ (‘I Am Only Moving My Eyes’) in 2015. Lives in Copenhagen, tweets @linetofts

Poetry by Joe Carrick-Varty

Fossil

His footprints are what’s left –
where salmon arrive in pink armies
and heron speak about the water,

how it might be slow this year.
Yellow rabbit runs,
puffin domes,

and the sounds of roots:
drunk trees
leaning where he stood, thin pillars

for the sky. The river drifts beyond –
a grey wheel, waves lapping,
swamping his paw –

his print fills then empties,
hollowed out, dragged under to sink
like noise in the water.

I imagine his eyes –
bigger than mine, brown dappled sun,
silent amber.


Joe is a writer based in Manchester whose work has appeared in Crannog Magazine and The Manchester Review. He has poems forthcoming in The High Window and The Interpreter’s House. It is his dream to one day visit Alaska.

Pheromones, Fiction by Clint Margrave

When their cat pissed on the bed, Glenn had been dreaming about titty-fucking Paulina Santos, a student in his Intro to Astronomy class last semester.

His wife Sid jumped up, yanked off the comforter, and flipped on the light.

“Glenn, wake up,” she shouted. “Cocoa peed.”

“What?” he said, squinting his eyes, registering something bad happening, before his fight-or-lay-in-cat-piss response kicked in and he sprung from the bed, hard-on sticking out of his pajama pants.

Sid didn’t seem to notice.

“I felt it with my hand,” she said. “It’s all wet.”

What time was it, anyway? He checked his phone. 5:37a.m. Right now Jupiter would be nearly halfway to the zenith. This whole Winter Break he’d been out photographing celestial objects on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and was hoping to get a good shot of the planet’s four brightest moons. But last night he’d stayed home. Sid had asked him to. They didn’t do much though, watched some television until Glenn crashed out next to her on the couch after two glasses of wine.

“The door was closed,” Sid said. “Poor thing was trapped in here.”

“Probably been holding it in for a long time,” Glenn said, contributing an obvious statement, as if he’d solved the problem, just to appear normal and not give away the retreating bulge in his pants. He felt guilty when he realized he’d been unconsciously cheating on his wife with a “C” student who had called the sun a planet all semester. But it wasn’t entirely his fault. They hadn’t had sex in almost three months, not since Sid stopped taking birth control.

Before they were married, she’d always said she wasn’t sure she wanted kids and Glenn said he was 99% sure he didn’t, but things had changed.

“Let’s just leave it up to fate,” she had said.

“We’re too old,” Glenn said. Of course, he’d meant she was too old, but you couldn’t say that, could you? They were both 42. And though technically, he wasn’t too old to deliver the goods, he felt too old to take on the responsibility. It didn’t help that the two times they did have sex afterward, he’d pulled out without even thinking about it. But he believed in reason, not fate, and they had a great life together. Summer traveling, happy hour when they wanted, paying for expensive things like a new telescope for astrophotography.

“Help me take these sheets off,” Sid said.

They stuffed the soiled comforter and sheets into the washing machine.

“What are you doing?” she said, when he cranked the timer. “It’s too early to turn on.”

She was right. They lived in a fourplex. Nobody did their laundry so early in the morning. This was unconscionable. He was just tired. And horny.

Luckily, the cat pee hadn’t soaked all the way through to the mattress. Glenn helped Sid put the new sheets on and then she reached for the earplugs off the nightstand, which she wore to bed ever since they’d moved into the apartment a year ago. They lived near a children’s hospital and on most nights, helicopters landing on the roof made it sound like Afghanistan. Whenever he complained about it, Sid reminded him some of those helicopters were saving children’s lives.

What was up with that dream? He didn’t really want another woman. He just wanted Sid. And specifically right now. He put his hand across her stomach and started moving his thumb in a circle. She picked up his arm and his vibe and gave them both back.

“Can you feed her?” she said.

Since they’d thrown Cocoa out of the bedroom, she’d been scratching and crying at the door.

Guess the earplugs were more selective than he’d thought.

“Goodnight,” he said, getting back in bed after feeding Cocoa, “or morning, rather.”

But when Sid didn’t reply, he turned on his side and fell asleep, dreaming nothing remarkable this time.

#

The next night Glenn set his telescope up on the peninsula. Winters meant less moisture disrupting his view of the sky, and a little later, he planned on pointing it at Jupiter for some pre-dawn photos. He still loved to gaze into the infinite. If you let your mind wander too much into it, you’d go mad. The vastness. The silence. The hundred billion stars within one galaxy of a hundred billion galaxies. He liked to blow his students’ minds by telling them more stars were in the universe than grains of sand on Earth. He preferred to work at a community college where he could teach astronomy labs instead of doing research. He still loved the sky and didn’t want to spend his life writing applications for grants like some of his astrophysicist friends. Their work was all indoors—analyzing data, writing reports—and they hardly ever stepped outside and looked up. Other friends had completely left the field, gotten married, had children, used their math skills to become CPAs or some other boring work to support their families. He’d lost touch with most of them since he didn’t have kids. They probably thought he was selfish. People always thought that about people without kids. Yet, the main reason he’d always heard for having them was that you needed someone to take care of you when you’re old. No, he’d never understood the selfish argument. On the contrary.

#

When Cocoa peed on the bed again the next night, Glenn had just come home. Barely dawn, the light in their bathroom glowed beneath the door, Sid already in the shower.

He’d been on the other side of the apartment, planning to upload some new pictures to his Flickr account when he heard her shout his name.

“She did it again,” Sid said. She was out of the shower now, naked except for the gray towel wrapped around her waist.

The wall behind their bed was wet and piss had soaked through his pillow. Sid explained how the cat had come in, turned her butt up to the wall, and started spraying. That’s when they realized they had a bigger problem than originally thought.

“Do you think she’s mad about something?” Sid said.

“What would she be mad about?”

“Maybe she’s mad at you.”

“Me?” Glenn said. “What did I do?”

“It was on your side of the bed. That’s where she sleeps when you’re not home.”

“Maybe it’s the litter box?” Glenn said. “Maybe we need to clean out the litter box more often.”

It’s true he didn’t do much about cleaning the litter box, usually leaving it up to Sid as some unstated rule since Cocoa had been her cat before they’d met.

“It’s not just peeing,” Sid said. “It’s pheromones. She’s marking her territory.”

Pheromones. He loved the word. Ancient Greek. Made it sound like a moon or a planet. Pheromones, the 28th moon of Uranus.

“On my pillow even,” Glenn said. “Terrific.”

Before this, everything had been fine between him and Cocoa. In fact, he’d come to consider her his own. He’d even joked with Sid they already had a child. They certainly treated her like one. If they could have taken her with them everywhere, they would have. He considered her his now as much as Sid did and always teased if they ever split up he’d fight for custody.

“Did we change her food or anything? Are we feeding her enough?” Glenn asked.

“Food has nothing to do with it.”

“Well, I don’t see what it is then,” Glenn said. “All she does is sleep all day.”

“Maybe she’s depressed.”

“Maybe you squeeze her too much,” he said. “Didn’t your friend tell you that squeezing a cat all the time can cause trauma?”

“That’s got nothing to do with it.”

Sid rolled her eyes. She had dressed by this time.

“Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Roll your eyes. It’s not like I’m the one pissing on the bed.”

They hardly ever fought. Sid wasn’t the screaming and yelling type.

Glenn watched as she poured baking soda on the soiled area, shaking it all over the wall, most of it falling into white clumps on the floor.

“My poor baby,” she said, picking up Cocoa.

#

The third time it happened, Glenn had been asleep when Cocoa climbed over him and lay down on the other side. At first, he’d thought everything was all right until he caught a whiff then jumped up, grabbed Cocoa, and lifted her off the bed, the wet spot on the sheet brushing his elbow.

All that night she scratched and cried at the door, until finally frustrated, Sid jumped out of bed and let her in.

“What are you doing?” Glenn asked.

“Keeping her out is making everything worse,” Sid said. “She doesn’t understand. I’d rather have her pee than listen to her cry all night.”

“Well, I wouldn’t.”

He scooped Cocoa back up, put her outside the door again, and shut it.

“What’s your problem?” Sid said.

“What’s yours?” Glenn said. “That makes no sense. She’s gonna pee again.”

“I have to get up early and can’t sleep. You’re on break.”

“I don’t see how you’re gonna sleep any better if we keep changing the sheets all night.”

“Shut up, Glenn,” Sid said. She grabbed a blanket and got out of bed.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll sleep with Cocoa on the couch.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Glenn said. He followed her out. She lay down on the couch and pulled the blanket over her head.

“Seriously,” Glenn said. “This is ridiculous. Come back to bed.”

She wouldn’t budge.

“For Christ’s sake, Sid,” he said. Finally, she agreed and stormed off to the bedroom.

But neither of them could sleep after that. Glenn decided he might know the best remedy and put his arm across Sid’s chest and pressed up against her. A minute later, she gave him his arm back.

“It’s too heavy,” she said.

#

The next morning, when Sid left for work, she didn’t bother to kiss Glenn goodbye, which he thought odd, but not unheard of. Cocoa slept on the couch. She lifted her neck to look at him. Poor Cocoa. He felt bad. But not as bad as he’d feel waking up in the middle of the night to clean up piss.

“Are you stressed, kitty?”

She came up to him at his computer desk and rubbed against his leg. She purred.

If this was stress, he surely didn’t know the meaning of it. Cocoa rolled over on her back and showed him her belly. She seemed fine to him. But when he went to pet her, she flinched and ducked away.

He decided to google How can you tell if your cat is stressed …but immediately noticed the autofill suggestions before he finished the sentence.

How can you tell if a girl likes you

How can you tell if a guy likes you

How can you tell if an egg is bad

How can you tell if a watermelon is ripe

                      How can you tell if a diamond is real

#

That night he went back out to the peninsula. A beautiful moonless sky. On his scope, he dialed up the coordinates for the Ring Nebula. Some 2283 light years from Earth, a nursery of stars existed, across millions and millions of miles, just a fuzzy blue and orange sphere in his eyepiece. Each of those stars would likely form a solar system. And to think there were billions of star nurseries. Just as there were billions of galaxies, or for that matter, billions of sperm. His own ejaculation could populate a galaxy. And yet, he didn’t even want one child. He should’ve been astro-photographing the Dumbell Nebula instead. Life was a miracle. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe life was common and ordinary and humans hadn’t realized it yet. Still, to think the universe had evolved the means to observe itself. To think the universe had evolved a species who could build a bed for a cute fluffy creature to piss all over.

#

Two days later, the packages arrived. Liquid sprays, new litter, Fancy Feast instead of Friskies, a collar supposed to have some calming effect.

“What’s all this?” Sid said when she got home from work.

“Remedies for stress,” Glenn said, opening a few more boxes. “Some of this stuff is probably bullshit, but it’s worth a try.”

Sid picked up a purple collar.

“It’s a stress collar. Supposed to have calming pheromones,” Glenn said. “And check this out.”

He held up what looked like a large light bulb.

“You plug this into the wall and it emits a pheromone mist.”

Over the last few days, he’d read all about the different types of pheromones. Those chemical messengers of meaning. The “Aggregate,” that functioned in mate selection. The “Alarm,” emitted by a member of a species when a predator attacked. The “Releaser,” which caused an alteration in the recipient’s behavior. The “Territorial,” which everybody knew, most common to cats and dogs, present in their urine.

“She’s tried to wear a collar before,” Sid said. “She’ll take it off in five minutes.”

“Well, at least I’m trying. We have to try something, don’t we?”

He handed Sid a spray bottle. They were supposed to squirt the bed with it. More stress-reducing calming pheromones. With all this stuff, they’d be the mellowest apartment in the city. He’d also bought some solution to drop on Cocoa’s food and all over her fur designed to make her feel safe. “SAFE SPACE for Cats” the bottle even said. For cats who don’t feel safe in their home as shown through urine-marking and aggression towards other animals.

Cocoa had never been aggressive. But she had definitely been urine-marking.

“How much did you spend on this?” Sid asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” Glenn said. “I don’t want you to worry about any of it. I’ll handle things.”

“Glenn…”

“And if none of that works, I also bought this tape.”

Out of one of the boxes, he pulled a large roll of double-sided sticky tape.

“From what I read, you put these strips across the bed. A cat’s paw will stick to it and it’ll keep them off.”

Sid sighed.

“You’re missing the point,” she said.

“What point? What am I missing?” he said. “At least I’m trying to do something about it. What’s wrong with trying to solve this? Can’t just leave everything up to ‘fate.’”

“She’s depressed, Glenn.”

They both looked at Cocoa, asleep on the couch.

“She doesn’t look depressed,” Glenn said. “She looks well-fed and rested. Her life is great. She’s pretty damn lucky. What’s there to be unhappy about?”

“She’s acting out,” Sid said. “This is a behavioral problem. Maybe she senses something’s wrong.”

“Senses what? Nothing’s wrong. Besides, cats are independent,” Glenn said. “That’s why I like them better than dogs. Cats are low maintenance. They aren’t needy.”

“Cats are independent. But they still crave companionship.”

“I try to pet her, but she flinches.”

“It’s not about petting. It’s about knowing their human is there for them.”

“What am I supposed to do?” he said. “Have a conversation with her?”

“You could try, Glenn. Do you ever even try?”

“You want me to ask Cocoa how she’s feeling?” Glenn said. “It’s like communicating with an alien. How will we ever communicate with another civilization when we discover them?”

“Maybe she senses your resistance.”

“My resistance? To what?”

“Maybe she feels disregarded.”

“Now you sound like a crazy cat lady. Cats don’t have existential crises.”

“Maybe she doesn’t think you love her enough. Cats need affection. They like their humans to be in close proximity.”

“So you’re saying this is all my fault? That my relationship with Cocoa isn’t fruitful?”

“It’s your side of the bed, Glenn.”

“Okay, fair enough,” he said. “You want me to talk to her? I’ll talk to her.”

He got down on his hands and knees next to the couch and put his face up to Cocoa’s.

“Hi Cocoa,” he said, mockingly. “How are you feeling, Cocoa? Are you depressed? Are you mad at me? Are you lonely? Are you feeling a void in your life?”

Cocoa lifted her head up and yawned.

Just then the apartment started to shake. Another helicopter landing on the hospital roof. Another child’s life potentially being saved.

Cocoa jumped off the couch.

“See that?” Glenn shouted to Sid as she and Cocoa made their way to the bedroom. “I try to talk to her and she just leaves.”

But the noise was too loud and nobody was listening anyway.


Clint Margrave is the author of Salute the Wreckage (2016) and The Early Death of Men (2012), both published by NYQ Books. His work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, as well as in The New York Quarterly, Rattle, Cimarron Review, Word Riot, 3AM, Bartleby Snopes, decomP, Ambit (UK), as well as in the recent LA Fiction Anthology: Southland Stories by Southland Writers by Red Hen Press. He lives in Los Angeles, CA

Poetry by Madeleine Kruhly

Born again

Lifting my head requires more than it should. Was it always
this way, nodding out to plants in the mirror, pinning down
blinders. I tell you I’m losing it, and I’m convinced I mean it.

How do we decide our form, uncrooked and loved, crooked
or loved. I’d like to wake up and be totally sure of one thing.
That white noise can fill a bedroom that most parts of body

won’t go to waste if they’re untouched. Here is how I think:
worrying that you’re wrong means you’re wrong less. Signs
of me going under again, choked up and peachy keen. How

does it end, when the surprise ends? I lay back, hair soaking
and undone. I am an animal who burns its own tail, nothing
left for pretense. But know: being unlike this is even worse.

 

Good

How do you turn it good. My mother won’t know, softly rumbling
in a cot, glass of milk by her head. The windows are shoved apart
orange slices bowled. Nothing is unstill.

You should have been safe, child. And I wasn’t – buckling for it all
printed as a moon for it. Willing to be taken as granted like never
before. A green chair ended up on its side.

To find me returning now: ribs reappraised, clucking quietly at her
doorframe. Don’t end up here again, she warns. I slip under cover
letting air into the damp spread.

Staying long by her side, I could still find fault. She allows me, wall
painted pale, my croaking endlessly. But little can change — being
understood is too much for one body to bear.


Madeleine Kruhly is a graduate of the M.A. in Poetry at the University of East Anglia. Her poems have appeared in Ambit and Thrush, and her reviews have been published online for The Economist and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

First Winter, fiction by Miriam Vaswani

On the five nights a week I worked in the bar, I’d be in bed by 4am. Then I’d wake at six to Tevye singing while he made coffee; a particular song for grinding the beans, another while it brewed. His song moved into my dreams, which were bright, sharp dreams, fast and senseless, while I swam in the adolescent sleep of night workers.

Nine days after he died, his shape in the naked mattress beside mine, though faint, was still there. He had always slept heavily, unconscious as soon as he put his head down. I envied him that, and a few other things.

His mother has his clothes now. I opened my door to Shelly on the day we buried him, and she paused on the threshold, blinking in the grey light, as though he might rise from the sofa to greet her, or call from the kitchen where he would have been making dinner.

I smoked one of Tevye’s cigarettes on the freezing balcony while she did what she did. I thought she’d take the sweater she knitted him for ice fishing with Noah and Levi, or the cashmere scarf he used to wear when he took her to the opera. I waited in a chair with my feet drawn under my body, shivering, for her to come and tell me she’d finished. Tevye’s smoke curled in my empty stomach. I would make tea, I decided, we would try to be friends now, we would start something new. Lunch in the city, occasionally.

When the sun dulled behind a thick ceiling of cloud, I went inside. Shelly was gone. She hadn’t closed the apartment door properly, and Tevye’s side of the bedroom closet was empty. She’d left me nothing; not the shirts that smelled of his soap-scented neck, not his university sweatshirt I wore to go jogging in the winter. She’d taken his socks and underwear from the drawers. She’d even unwound his old ties from my bedposts.

For five days I ate nothing, touched nothing. I slept in strange places; the kitchen floor, the shower, the hallway. I slept in our closet, hidden behind my dresses the way I did when I was a child and wanted to be alone. When I woke up I could see his spare glasses under our bed, covered in dust, and ripped all my clothes from their hangers for something to scream into. I went back to the kitchen floor after that.

Tevye wore contact lenses during the day, and glasses at night. The glasses were part of his evening transformation, a reverse Superman hanging his wilted shirt then standing under the shower, warming, softening. On the nights I worked in the bar, we’d have less than an hour to transform together; he from a tidy scientist, me into a no-nonsense bartender. I didn’t envy couples who had every evening together; I saw the way they pouted at the television and became as ugly as possible in an imitation of intimacy.

In that hour, we lured each other with delicately baited hooks from our day. We were in the shower when I told him about the man who’d masturbated into a paper bag outside the window of the café where I met Marielle for lunch. He was unknotting his tie when he told me about the famous research scientist who’d arrived sweating and drunk for a meeting, and used a racist slur to describe the fisheries minister. I was zipping up my jeans when I told him about our neighbour Bradley who had knocked on every door in the street with a petition to ban Syrian refugees from the neighourhood and been told, door by door, to go home.

Then we added details; the research scientist’s suitcase that seemed to be empty. Bradley’s hockey shirt worn, inexplicably, over a collar and formal trousers. The elderly woman who’d thrown a cup of coffee at the public masturbator. The Sikh teenager who calmly asked Bradley trivia questions about Québecois politicians until he went away.

We were starved for each other. Even the dull stories, meetings and haircuts and conference calls that furred and broke in the middle, were worth listening to. He watched while I rubbed lotion into my skin and tied my hair in a ponytail. I watched while he undid his belt. The apartment was a bottle snatched from the sea and, even in summer, steeped in the kind of inverted light that comes with a heavy snowfall.

With no promise of our shining hour at the end of daylight, time turned brutal. I walked an invisible wire between the kitchen and bathroom, and to the balcony to smoke Tevye’s cigarettes. He had smoked only one, and I rationed the remaining 19. I became better at it; I took the stuff into my lungs, I let it out. I stopped coughing but began to wheeze at night, invoking my childhood asthma. I wondered what parts of me the smoke was ruining; would it bore a hole in my tongue, would it turn my guts to rot. The smoke made my hunger worse, which I welcomed.

In the cigarette packet’s cellophane wrapper was the print of his incisor. He always tore them open with his teeth. Impossible, to have this and not him. A sour smell rose from the sink as the remains of the last dinner we ate together rotted on the plates. The fork he had last used was licked clean. It shone like a dagger.

On the third day I washed, dressed and walked three blocks to a decrepit Tim Horton’s. It had escaped rebranding and kept its plastic seats welded to plastic tables, and a colour theme of beige and dull yellow, from a time when Timbits and children’s birthday cakes tasted like scorched tobacco at the end of the day. I ordered black coffee and waited exactly 12 minutes for Marielle. In the 12 minutes, I watched two truck drivers pay for their food and leave. I saw a man and a teenage girl silently eating their donuts by nibbling around the edges until all that was left was a skinny circle. I saw a sparrow hop on a branch outside the window and peck at its wing. I bit the corner of my thumb and peeled away a sliver of nail, which I tried to swallow but instead spat into a napkin.

Marielle started talking as soon as she walked in the door.

“Leah, hi, oh shit I’m fucking late for your bereavement, oh my god.”

The two truck drivers paused to watch her. The silent girl and man looked up from their demolished donuts. She pulled me up by the elbows and hugged me. I felt the wire bones of her bra against my sad, sore breasts. I wondered why grief would make my breasts hurt, if it had something to do with sleeping on the kitchen floor.

“You look like shit, Le-le.” Marielle was crying. “You look terrible. And you smell like cigarettes.”

“You look good enough for both of us Mar.”

We’d reverted to our university nicknames. It was good to hear an echo from the time before Tevye; a hint that there was a before, and there might be an after. It was true as well that she could look good for both of us; she always had. Even on a grizzling cold day like this, a day congested with unfallen snow, she glowed with health.

“Why couldn’t I come to your apartment Le?”

“I don’t want anyone to go there yet. I don’t want anyone to disturb his dust.”

“Are you insane now?”

“Maybe. How are you?”

“Same as always I think. The British have fucked up the market and we’re all working like idiots to fix the mess.”

“Same shit, different century.”

“You made a joke!”

“Is it normal to sleep on the kitchen floor?”

“I slept on the fire escape when my mother died. Dad thought I’d run away and called the police.”

“But you were seven-”

“-grief has tides, you know? You have to go with it until you see a boat or a beach or something, I don’t know, analogies are Tev’s thing-”

I shut my eyes and the jaundiced room vanished. I was alone in the dark with Marielle’s voice and the smell of coffee and donuts. That’s why people come to Tim Horton’s, I realised; you can look awful, you can feel awful, but someone keeps making coffee and donuts. It will smell like a time before grief, and later, when you come back like your own strange twin, the gurgle and hiss of the coffee machine will say your name.

The first time I heard Tevye’s voice was on the phone, an old-fashioned rotary from the 80s that Noah, the man I was sleeping with, kept beside his bed. I answered it on New Year’s Day and a man asked to speak to his brother. Noah was immovable, impossible to wake. The man on the phone, Tevye, invited me to dinner with their family, which I planned to ignore, but as we showered Noah said he’s right, you should come, so I came. I was dressed all wrong, in my cheap dress from the night before, bought on sale with Christmas tips. So was Noah, but he was forgiven, the youngest son, the prettiest, the darkest shining eyes, the pouting lower lip. Levi poured me a drink and asked me about my job. Ellen ignored me, and Shelly asked me what time she should call me a taxi. I made the mistake of being too friendly with Ellen’s father, the other unfavoured guest, an untended man from the Prairies. Though Shelly pretended to suffer him for Ellen’s sake, I suspected she liked to place him next to Levi’s urbane library and wine collection, to measure the distance she had come. I barely spoke to Tevye, who was with a pediatric surgeon who would break his heart in a snow-covered car before the end of that month. On that night she shone brightly in his eyes, draped in cashmere, seven weeks pregnant with a child only she knew about, fathered by another man.

On the third day without Tevye, an hour after I met Marielle in Tim Horton’s, I turned into my street and saw the chipped post box. Beside it was a pile of wet leaves that had fallen from a young maple. I knelt on the pavement and felt the cold leak through my jeans. I’d left my gloves in Tim Horton’s and my palms felt like they were frozen to the ground. Anaïs, my neighbour, was walking toward me with her two daughters. They came close and Anaïs said Leah, which is a word that means weary in Hebrew but could also mean mistress in some other language. I said I can’t I can’t I can’t do it. Anaïs handed her house keys to the older child and said take your sister straight home, then she knelt on the cold pavement with me and put her bundled arms around me and said I know, I know, I know. I turned and vomited black coffee into the fallen leaves.

Tevye tapped his fingertips on the chipped post box the day we came to view the apartment. The grass was wet with spring melt, which made the realtor’s open house sign tilt. I was secretly pregnant, like the surgeon who broke Tevye’s heart before I knew him, but this baby was only ours. I would tell him after eight weeks, I decided, since the women in my family have miscarriage after miscarriage. It’s our legacy; barely-there shapes of leg, foot, enlarged head slipping away in the night, twisting in the sheets or encased in a perfect amniotic sac.

That’s how it happened to me, the day we moved into the apartment, our new sets of keys still glowing in our pockets, after a fast sale. Tevye sat with me as I curled in pain, our new, ruined sheets hauled up and drenched between my legs. He helped me into the bath, checked that the placenta was out and took me to the hospital the next morning. He kissed me on my exhausted mouth and I thought here is a man I will kill and die for, a man who will kiss me like that while his hands are stained with what would have been our child.

On the sixth day without Tevye I vacuumed our apartment. His skin cells and mine, our breath and sweat and the dust we’d carried in from the street, all of it sucked into an environmentally friendly, reusable bag. I opened the windows. I put music on, the way I’ve always done when I’m cleaning, then switched it off immediately. I pulled our bedding from the mattress and carried it downstairs to the laundry room. I washed the dishes, not looking at his plate and fork. I scrubbed the shower and toilet, I mopped the floors.

When I got dizzy I ate the most tasteless thing I could find; a heel of dry bread, at least seven days old. Only later did I realise his hands had been the last to twist the bag tie, and what was undigested I retched into pine-scented bathroom sink. When I found Tevye’s things; spare keys, half-finished gum, receipts, winter moisturising cream, contact lenses; I put them in a large shopping basket we’d brought back from a holiday in Morocco. It has tough handles and memory that is solely ours. He’ll be safe in there until I can deal with him.

Eight months after the New Year’s Day dinner, I stood in Parc Maisonneuve waiting for Marielle, and a man in jogging clothes said my name. It was Tevye. He wiped his hand on his t-shirt and I tried to remember something more about him than he is Noah’s brother. By then my memory of Noah was fading to a nostalgic tangle of skin and hair and cheap beer from the dépanneur below his apartment, in a neighbourhood I hadn’t visited for months. What I remembered most vividly was their mother, the way her eyes scissored through the cheap stitching of my dress, and my own consciousness, sitting at her table, of my rough bartender’s hands on her smooth wine glasses.

We sat on the grass and shared the chicken salad sandwich in my bag. We talked, about what I can’t remember, until Marielle arrived late, carrying two cups of coffee that spilled and burnt her hands.

Later, Marielle told me that she knew him. A physicist working for a new company, she said; an attractive company, she called it.

“What do they make?”

“Make? Uh, nothing yet, that’s not the point. It’s what they could make that’s the thing. Leah, you’ve got mine, this is the black one.”

“What would they make?”

“Oh I don’t know, they’re into dimensionality. Like, we see three dimensions the way a slug or whatever sees two dimensions, but there are probably more, we just can’t understand it the way a slug couldn’t understand the third dimension.”

“Slugs only see two dimensions?”

“Fucked if I know, that’s how his people explained it to me.”

On the seventh day without Tevye I cleaned the apartment again because someone was coming. Josué-from-digital, a person from Tevye’s company who wanted to write a memorial for the website.

“People,” Josué told me on the phone, “his colleagues, loved Tevye. He was loved. We want you to know that. Lucie can come along if you prefer, or we can meet somewhere. Whatever is most comfortable for you.”

Lucie, Tevye’s boss, a practical woman, spoke at his memorial and came to see me on the day we buried him. Lucie is self-aware, stylish, the kind of woman I want to be in twenty years. Her ass still looks good in trousers. She held both my hands (one cold, one warm) and told me his desk would wait untouched for me as long as I wished. She explained exactly how long his salary would continue to be paid. She looked me in the eye. Not many people look grief in the eye. It’s like being the neighbourhood witch. I remembered that Lucie’s partner died from pancreatic cancer three days after Lucie’s company went public. I sat beside Tevye at that funeral, grateful not to be the one who must go home to a cold space where once lived love, where love would stretch at the end of a long day, where love would brush a hand across your back, where love would open kitchen cupboards looking for something to flavour the pasta and ignore calls from love’s mother because love’s mother can’t stand the sight of you.

During Tevye’s memorial I remembered this, and laughed a barking laugh that hurt my throat. It was big and demonic, as though someone had taken over my body. I was standing on a platform, a wooden lectern in front of me, facing everyone, talking about him in what may as well have been an extinct language, because it’s no use wrapping words around a space where a man used to be. Noah, sitting in the front row, looked at me with something unreal in his face, as though he’d also been possessed. I knew he saw it too; my dead language that lurched into the air, and the way I wanted to scream and claw at Tevye’s corpse instead. Tear into the chest where I used to lay my head, eat the heart that used to beat under my hands. Maybe we’d both start vomiting bile and turning the furniture upside down.

Noah was untroubled when, two months after we shared a chicken salad sandwich in Parc Maisionneuve, Tevye told him we were lovers. We drank beer together, the three of us, and sometimes four with Noah’s peripatetic girlfriends, who often reminded me of myself. We ate Mexican food, Japanese food, food that was a mixture of Cambodian and Indian, Moroccan and Canadian. We went to places where we could wear jeans and lick sauce from our fingers. Ellen was, and remained, indifferent. Levi was unreadable and Shelly was incandescent.

The not-yet-baby was the thing that might have changed things. After the miscarriage, Noah came to our apartment with flowers from the Irving forecourt. Ellen and I exchanged a few emails, but it didn’t stick. Levi squeezed my hand and called me his daughter, quietly so that Shelly wouldn’t hear. Shelly knocked on my apartment door with stiff sympathies and took Tevye away for lunch, where she suggested I drank while pregnant and also didn’t really want the child. He didn’t speak to her for six months, until I told him I don’t care, take her to lunch and be her good son again, I’m sick of hearing her miserable voice on my fucking answering machine.

As I finished cleaning I changed my mind and emailed Josué. Can we meet at the office instead? He said yes, of course. He’d sent a car. Widowhood means being held like a raw egg; handle carefully or something disgusting will slither out. Wash your hands in soap and hot water or you’ll get salmonella. No, I told him. Don’t send the car. I’ll be there in one hour. I would prefer a punch in the face to your courtesy, I wanted to type, but I didn’t.

In the office, I passed desks and locked passageways to laboratories where Tevye was not. I carried, in my handbag, the notes Tevye had been making when he died. Numbers and graphs that made little sense to me. I would give them to Lucie, or if she wasn’t around, the maddest looking scientist I could find, and they would resurrect Tevye, or something.

I sat in a room with Josué , a young man with thick framed glasses. This man has spoken to Tevye, I thought. This man knows the pressure of Tevye’s handshake. He brought me a cup of hot water and lemon, and asked if I was comfortable. I said yes, I was comfortable, though I wasn’t. My heart was broken and my back was stiff from sleeping on the kitchen floor, and I was nauseous with hunger, but I didn’t think he’d want that kind of information for the company newsletter.

“Website,” said Josué, “not newsletter. We want to make it public, if you agree. Our partners all over the world have been sending their sympathies.”

“Can I have them?”

“Have them?”

“Their sympathies. Are they emails, or what?”

“Oh I see, sure, of course you can, I thought Lucie had forwarded them.”

Noah phoned me on the tenth day.

“Tev’s clothes are in the back of my mother’s car. Like, all of them.”

I sighed into the phone.

“Ellen just found them and she doesn’t know what to do.”

Ellen, their half sister, the daughter Shelly had when she was not quite twenty and still a plain, unhappily married Prairie girl, working at a bar on East St Laurent. A bar only three blocks from mine. Ellen wasn’t at Tevye’s funeral, her plane failed to take off from an airfield south of Kinshasa where she doctors women who’ve been raped so viciously they can’t walk. I forgave her, but I bet Shelly didn’t.

“Hasn’t Levi noticed them?”

“Dad’s not here. He went to fucking Florida.”

“He went to Disney World?”

I imagined Levi, dressed in black for mourning, spinning around and around on a slow children’s ride, deafened by terrible music, nauseated by the smell of processed food melting in the sun, weeping for Tevye, weeping and weeping. I saw it in the imperfect colours of a photograph from our childhood; the sky too blue, the grey of Levi’s beard jaundiced.

“Of course not, fuck, he went to another funeral if you must know. Aunt Sarah died.”

Sarah, a sister nearly twenty years older than Levi, unloved by most of her family as far as I could tell. I met her when Ellen first left for the Congo. She told me she didn’t believe anything Shelly said about me. She gave me a chocolate wrapped in foil from her cardigan pocket.

“I’m sorry about Sarah. I liked her. Save his McGill sweatshirt for me if you can. And one of the ties. Do it so Shelly doesn’t notice. She can keep the rest.”

I listened to Noah clear his throat. His breath was full of static.

“I am so fucking, fucking sad. I’ll die too, I think. How are you, Leah?”

“The same. Do you want a drink?”

We met on the eighth day in a bar devoted to hockey and pornography. On one screen the Oilers whacked a puck across the ice, watched raptly by half a dozen men holding beer glasses to their furry lips. On the other screen, a woman knelt to take a penis in her mouth, her hairless vulva bobbing near the camera lens. Noah was sitting at the bar when I walked in, making shapes on a beer mat with a blue Bic pen. He stood to hug me, and his watch clipped the bottle he’d been drinking from. It rolled, empty, across the bar and was caught by the bartender, a woman about Shelly’s age. I was intensely jealous of her; she’d finish her shift and go home to something, or nothing, but probably not fresh grief. Children who needed help with their homework. A sink that needed unblocking.

Maybe, I thought, we take it in shifts. I’m taking the grief shift now. She took it last time. Some people never get a day off. Some people don’t pull their weight. Maybe I’m lucky, or lazy.

The hockey game paused for the news. Another mass shooting, this one in a closed market filled with schoolchildren who had just been released for the day. Their bloody backpacks on the cement. A rainbow of coloured pencils in a gutter. The first terror attack Tevye would not see.

I ordered a beer and picked at the label. The bottle was cold in my hand and the liquid was cheap and weak and bitter, with a taste that reminded me of distant skunk, the kind that blows through an open car window on the highway at night. I wanted to tell Tevye; he liked weird comparisons like that, things that taste the way other things smell, people who look like objects, news stories that are like ancient parables. The beer fell into my dead stomach like acid, then shot to my tender, drugged head. For two or three seconds I believed that I could tell him, I just needed to grasp some mathematical concept that would allow us to communicate. I could picture it, key to a dark channel through time that would dissolve the thin membrane that kept me from Tevye. I just needed to concentrate.

Noah spoke and the idea dropped to the floor, where it got stuck and dirty in old beer and tramped-in snow.

“You look skinny. You’re not eating?”

“Of course not, my husband’s dead. Are you eating?”

“No, a bit. Only when Shelly watches. She’s better when she watches me eat. She can’t stand music, though, it’s been banned from the house. Levi’s been listening to Ellen’s old Nirvana cassettes on my old walkman. I think he thinks they’re Tev’s.”

“You should tell him they’re not.”

“I’ve let it go too long. I can’t tell him now.”

There was a long, thin mirror along the back of the bar. In it, my head and Noah’s head, my shoulders and Noah’s shoulders. Our two drinks, our four dark eyes. All of our eyes had a quality, which might have been a combination of starvation, domestic horror, and the light in the place. Like four lumps of coal waiting to catch a flame. Behind us a Molson Canadian sign glowed vermillion.

“I shouldn’t drink a lot of this. I take pills to sleep. Are you sleeping?”

“I always sleep, even now. It doesn’t seem right.”

“You’re alike that way.” I thought of their old twin beds in Shelly and Levi’s house, with Tevye’s science trophies and Noah’s first cheap violin mounted above the headboards. I thought of two smooth stones in a riverbed. “I’ve been sleeping on the kitchen floor.”

In the mirror, Noah took my hand.

On the first day, when Tevye’s body was not yet cradled in cedar, I fit my hand into his. The chill of his flesh was deep-down cold and it stayed on mine for hours. I still felt the frozen print until night, when I took two pills and three fingers of whisky and lay fully dressed, uncovered on the kitchen floor to sleep. I was angry with him, for not feeling what I felt. The kind of irrational fury that would sometimes overwhelm me if I told him something important and then realised he wasn’t listening.

It was snowing outside the bar. The first snow of the first winter Tevye wouldn’t see. Noah crushed the first soft flakes with the toe of his boot. I lit one of Tevye’s cigarettes. There were only two left.

“Will you and Levi go ice fishing without him?”

“I don’t know.”

“It would be a good place for his ashes. He loved it up there.”

Noah and Levi would go to Saguenay and catch their fish, but Tevye’s would swim away. A cod or a northern pike he would have brought home to me. It would move and move under the ice, and I would move under mine.

“I’d like to stop talking about him for a little while, Leah.”

We walked to my apartment in silence, without looking at each other. Inside, light from the street showed the outline of our features.

Noah wanted the sofa, but I moved him to the floor. The sofa was where Tevye last slid my skirt over my hips and put his mouth, with just a few days of beard that will never grow longer, between my thighs. I was late for work, and I wanted him but I wanted to be on time, and so I rushed, I pushed against his tongue and I said faster faster faster and he understood and made me come quickly. I kissed him goodbye, tasted myself on him, and went to work. He was dead before lunch the next day, crushed between two cars at a junction. The junction was not near his office, it was across the city, past a park I’ve seen but never walked through, near a patch of suburban streets I’ve never visited. Where I don’t know anyone.

The floor was too hard for Noah, so we moved to the bed, our skin against the raw mattress. It was okay because we weren’t making love. We were looking for Tevye. He was somewhere there; we’d slide each other’s skin aside and find the thin membrane that divides our world from his.

I swept four fingers across Noah’s cheek and remembered something Tevye said about tears; that they have different chemicals, for grief and rage and happiness. Then I felt it; the air chilled and I found the fragile boundary, just where I knew it would be.


Miriam Vaswani is a London-based writer and editor, and author of Frontier, a novella published by Pankhearst, with previous publications in Gutter, Valve, Newfound, Tin House, Retort and the anthology Whereabouts; Stepping out of Place.

Colourblind babes, clueless immigrants and other annoying tropes. SRL no 20 foreword by Sofia Capel

Dig, if you will, the picture: You’re sitting in your favourite bistro, enjoying a flat white while editing last night’s copy. Waitresses are rushing around and generic pop music is playing in the background. While trying to catch your waitress’s attention you make eye contact with a beautiful woman a few tables away. She is blonde, slender and wears a baby blue tank top.

Oh no, wait. She isn’t! Because beautiful women don’t wear baby blue tank tops. Coming to think of it, hardly any women wear baby blue tank tops these days. It just doesn’t happen. Take it from me. I am what you might consider a (very) attractive woman and the only baby blue tank top I ever owned was a hand-me-down from my sister given to me in the late 1990s. Yet, hot gals in baby blue tank tops appear to be a trope in badly written literature (especially self-published erotica!) You might as well ask your reader to picture a beautiful woman with a frizzy beard. I’m not judging bearded ladies, but it just throws the reader off. Let’s put it in writing: If you think beautiful women wear baby blue tank tops you are neither a beautiful woman nor are you sleeping with one. Do your research or write about what you know instead!


A rare sight 

This advice comes 21 years too late for Alex Garland. Before writing The Beach he should have taken a trip to Barnes with his notebook in hand. If you don’t remember this otherwise brilliant novel, let me refresh your memory. British youngster joins international volleyball community on an isolated beach in Thailand. Among them are a trio of youngish Swedes, with names either so Swedish they could be taken straight from a Vilhelm Moberg novel, or not Swedish at all. And here’s the quirk, they don’t speak English. Because as we all know, there are no schools in Sweden. And no media what so ever. And in case you forgot: ABBA’s songs were all dubbed by the BeeGees. How am I even writing this foreword? 

Another unbelievable trope that occurs in both erotica and non-erotic-but-occasionally-sexy fiction is the girl who orgasms during her sexual debut. Yes, Murakami, that was a dig at you.
A novel as brilliant as Norwegian Wood loses points in my eyes when such things occur. However, the author was forgiven when I read that he married his university sweetheart. Some subjects should just not be researched even if it improves the writing. Cherry poppin’ is such a subject.

 

Some people are offended by literature that romanticises drugs or sexual deviance but I honestly don’t think that authors owe us moral compasses. They owe us clarity, entertainment and honesty – at least the type of honesty where we feel like we are not being lied to, an illusion of truth. But that illusion cannot be created unless the author has done their research. You want me to feel like I’m sitting next to you at that bistro, perving on women? Go out and look at how women actually dress!

Despite being from London, it is clear that up until he directed Ex Machina, Garland had never met a Swede in his life. (Hint: Alex Garland isn’t sleeping with any hot women.) That trip to IKEA could have saved his reputation among Swedes as a respectable writer. As a Swede myself, you can say I carry a lot of emotional scars from reading that book. I like the way that sounds. I carry a lot of scars.

Hopefully, you won’t come across any annoying tropes in SRL issue #20, going live at 11am BST, 28 May.
It will feature fiction by:

Julia Bernhardtz
Tim Love
Kyle Beachy
Emily Dezurick-Badran
Clint Margrave
Miriam Vaswani

and poetry by:

Caitlin Stobie
Ana Bird
Maddy Kruhly
Allegra Lisa
Line Toftso
Joe Carrick-Varty

Sarvat, Alex, Cian and I wish you a happy reading