Jenny Gillespie Mason

The Fruit

We grow the fruit in between rooted clouds of clover and fennel, redwoods. Those trees left standing, charred from some fire that nearly ravaged the hill years before we bought the house on the coast.

The fruit’s flesh is the color of cold bronze evening light. Reams of green, translucent pearls cluster at its center. The pulp quivers as you cut open the darker green skin, but there’s muscle to it, like a birth sac. 

I still lose my head in the mirror a lot. It’s my scar from the ceremony.

According to my teacher Leroy, the world’s expert on headlessness, who Skypes me from the UK, he calls it just seeing what is. None of us have any heads, actually. He writes books on the matter.

“I was intensely looked at, at home as a child, but when I went out into the world, into school, I was treated as a no-one and nothing. So this ‘gift’ has been confusing, to say the least,” I write to Leroy one night. 

He sends me back the plainest smiley emoticon.

“You can’t force a mouth open that doesn’t wanna eat,” Leroy murmurs. Behind him, a wall full of heads, pictures of his children and grandchildren.

Can you even see your own head right now? I try to ask others , in small gatherings, as Leroy has coached me. No, you cant see it, I explain, as someone itches his nose, or another smoothes down her hair. 

It happened the other day. I could feel it coming on at a playdate for my youngest son.  The mother was frantically scooping up the blocks, trains, and plastic food toys the children had left in their wake. “I’m sorry,” she kept muttering. “This is just my thing. I can’t help it.” 

The other woman at the playdate, a new neighbor with a three month-old on her chest, kept offering to help, even as her own bundle squirmed and clawed at her until the wailing began. I squatted down and did my own unnecessary share, but the presence of the screaming baby, the distraction of the host in her desire for order brought it on. Anytime it felt I was not meant to be in this world, or that others did not want to be with me, it came on.

Im not going to look, Im not going to look, I kept thinking. But when my son had to poop and I had to help wipe him, there it was in the mirror— a bare prancing flame above my shoulders, my son’s curly little head aping and cheesing in the glass next to “me,” splashing water all over the sink. “This is how I wash my hands, Mom,” he said, spreading foamy soap into the basin with his palms. 

Back in the playroom I kept touching my face. Yes, sensation is there, Leroy would say, but that sensation of touching your face is a mental object, not the true reality of who you are. An object, like all the scattered playthings before me.

“Is something wrong with your face?” the hostess asked. Our children, on opposite sides of the playroom, were no longer playing together, fixated on their own spontaneous framings of objects meant to look like cars, fruit. 

“Oh, just a bug bite or something.”


My husband has eaten the fruit seven times.

When we argued last night, about my lack of desire for sex, his head seemed to shrink. Would it turn into a flame as well? His voluptuous lips I’ve always enjoyed kissing remained about the same size. His eyes became large green marbles pooled with anguish. The flesh, what occurred around those seemingly solid, private portals into his own sensory experience, diminished, like a child’s balloon a week after her birthday party.

It happened just as the windows in the room we sat in darkened into night. Outside, I noticed the solar paper lantern I’d hung with fishing line now just sat on the grass—one of our sons had batted it down. Whatever the sun had rubbed off into its small battery now glowed through perforated blue paper.

Since first eating the fruit he’s wanted more and more sex, a few times a day if he could. I’ve wanted less—once a month would suit me fine. 

It seems so gratuitous to me, after essentially dying during the ceremony. After first seeing my headlessness in the mirror in the bathroom, in between puking, the guttural flame above my shoulders. 

“Are we dead now?” I remember asking Mim, an older woman who was once very beautiful. The juice of the fruit’s seeds—we had to eat it in big bites in order to get through the foul taste—had dripped all over her linen pants; her white hair lay in sweat-flattened strands on her cheeks. During the ceremony, I saw her take on the body of a very small child, but with her sixty-ish face.

Later, in the following morning’s integration circle, we discussed what we had all seen. We sat on the rug in the big room facing the ocean. That day the ocean was plaintive, silky, and grey, as if it too had taken too many drugs. 

When she was three years old, Mim explained, she had been left in a body cast for two weeks, to repair some sort of hip aberration. Those were the days parents were not allowed to visit children in the hospital. Instead, they sent in a clown who would grumble at Mim, then hurry out of the room as she screamed. She’d returned to that raw state during the ceremony, to that child’s frightened body.


I’d also seen the female shaman grow as huge as “the big man” statue, the one with the black beard and cartoonish muscles in front of the tire store, in the central Illinois town where I grew up. I had always pointed to it from the car as a little girl in excitement, and I did the same thing now—pointing, exclaiming, from my yoga mat. 

Once ten feet tall, she then spread her black wings over us and murmured in tongues. Skull cascades shimmered across my sight in a scowling chainmail swarm. 

One of the women across the room, a heavy chainsmoker with a son in prison, was making her way out of a cocoon of black vapor, grunting. 

Then, in the morning, we were greeted again by the ocean, the pelicans, a stubborn owl, coffee. Talking about nail colors, even. Normalcy was a god reborn to me that morning.

Mim and I would email each other throughout the year following the ceremony. She said she kept seeing angels through her window above her sink, floating above her grandkids’ toys out in the yard. But its odd, she wrote. They seem faceless. I cant remember any of their faces, just that gorgeous quality of light.

Like Jesus rising from the tomb—like a cancer suddenly disappearing—or a beloved friend somehow reappearing, after days of being lost in the woods without food or water. This is how our Earth will regain its strength slowly as each of us ingests the fruit, Hermes Igra wrote. But it must be all of us.

Hermes, extremely rich, heads the foundation for the fruit. My husband and I are two of the top funders, along with being crop-hosters. As the population dwindles, it seems possible a mass feasting could occur.

I’ve always enjoyed staring from his velvet couch into the folds of his oil paintings. They are mostly Pre-Raphaelite women, heaving against windows and walls. 

If it wasn’t for his age, his little tweed cap, his former atheism, his Oxford education, his parents’ deaths in the camps, we would have written off his vision as tomfoolery, just as the government has. 

Leroy would have laughed at me if I were to list these assets of Hermes’, these mental objects, as the trousseau of evidence inviting my trust. 

  “He’s not a guru, or anything,” I tell others, resisting my own squeamishness. “Just a deep soul who’s done a lot of drugs, responsibly, in order to expand his own consciousness, and to even save the world.” 

Hermes is extremely quiet. Once he offered me a Vitamin C IV when he saw me sneezing. Another time, he whispered to me on his balcony over the bay, at his eightieth birthday party, fireworks dirtying up the sky, “You see, my dear, it’s the ones who haven’t eaten this fruit who are going to kill us all. They would never permit themselves anything but a perp walk down the aisle—to marry the last ashes of mindless consumption.” 

Looking back, he was probably high that night. 

The male shaman was a balding, handsome part-time coffeeshop owner from Ottawa. He chanted for six hours, with the warbling, sweet voice of a deeply enlightened goat who has only ever known freedom. At the end of the ceremony, he handed out CD recordings of himself so that we could always remember, and would go back. 

The female shaman was beautiful. I’d worried about her when my husband told me, yeah, shes hot. I couldn’t quite look at her beauty, afraid it would make me judge her, but first her softness took me in, and then her devastating transformation into the angel of death while we are all puking and writhing.

Later I found out the shamans were a couple who broke up shortly after our ceremony. I don’t remember them interacting much, except to stand side by side in the morning in the kitchen, him handing her melon and strawberries from a cloth bag to chop up for our breakfast, and then, as we ate, sharing a hand-rolled cigarette outside.

Hermes says that if my husband wants to join a small group of them, they could summon, through an extremely powerful ceremony in deepest Peru, what is needed to exterminate those leaders who deny what’s happening, what the sun has in store for us. 

The crust of the sunset is scattering through stained glass windows, jewel-toned depictions of maidens, trumpeters, sheep, made all the more intense by the light. But it’s hard to remark on the beauty of those sunset colors anymore, as the sun grows closer, dangerously closer.

It may not solve everything, Hermes continues, but at least we could attempt to eliminate the spewers who declare all the science out there nonsense.

“All we would need to do is look at images of them. It would be a few of us fruit loopers in a circle. If we focused long enough, they would perish.” Fruit loopers are those who have eaten ten times or more.

“So it would be some kind of voodoo assassination?” I ask through a mouthful of cake. We stand in Hermes’ study, in front of a vertiginous De Chirico depicting a map of islands crammed under a jumble of right-angle tools. Hermes’ eighty-first birthday party, unlike his drug-fueled eightieth (were those fireworks for him, but he couldn’t quite admit it?), seemed at first to be more of a fireside chat fundraising kind of affair, now clearly a hitman audition.

“Please don’t do it,” I say to my husband after we get the children into bed that night. “It’s too much. These are fathers, these people, sons.”

He holds me and murmurs that he won’t. I trust him. And slowly, feeling his hands on my breasts, my cheeks, I become an animal performing the act of love again, however headless. Which I am again, later in the mirror, brushing my teeth, a bare flame above my bobbing, naked shoulders.


“It’s all just a movie, love. And you are creating it when you open your eyes! You! The One!” Leroy had sputtered a few nights ago, spit flying out onto the screen between us. A Mickey Mouse bandaid above his eyebrow. “Ah, yes, I banged up my head on the garden shed ceiling,” he explains.

It’s three o’clock by the ocean. I move to get the matches because that’s what my own mother had done—burned the tick off my scalp. The tic wanted my son’s flesh like a blanket to tuck itself under

Nate sees me on his way out in his truck, struggling with a crying child and a box full of matches. Then, after fetching his first aid kit, he tweezes the tic out of my son’s torso so effortlessly. My son hardly makes a sound, then runs off.

Nate lives up the hill, has grown up here, and as an EMT, has seen people die out on the cliffs after doing too many drugs. He’s never eaten the fruit, but, after signing the NDA, we pay him to help us prune and water it. 

We sit on the grass. Nate tells his own childhood parasite story. A sea urchin’s spikes, ejected from his skin over the course of a few days. There was no need to force it. His mother had waited, while mine had taken to frenzied action, as instructed by misguided wives’ wisdom, her own fear. 

I can barely be with the children if there are mirrors nearby. I texted my husband last week if we could take them down here and at home in the city. He encouraged me to face my fear. “Can’t do that, hehe,” I texted back. 

“Could I take a shower, hon?” Nate’s twenty-year old wife, who he met online and moved here from rural Illinois, pretty close to where I’m from—lazy eye, mild acne, but beautiful in her indifference to her flaws, appears on the driveway, in a fuzzy grandma robe. She is six months pregnant. Their house is close enough up the hill that she can pop by to ask.

“Gotta get propane in town, then you can, babe,” he growls softly back.

I don’t know why this simple exchange sends me into such a dark place. It’s probably also the new reports of those faint lesions in the magnetic field, readying themselves for the sun’s next punch.

Hermes has advised in his newsletter that children should begin eating the fruit. I remain adamantly against it. My husband still can’t quite say yes or no to it.

“It’s unclear who to really trust now,” he’s saying.  Tonight is our last night at the house on the ocean for a while. By the fire we know we shouldn’t have lighted, I feel the darkness surfacing in me, feeding off of the material of our tense conversation like a matted animal, coming around for scraps. It’s our tenth wedding anniversary. 

“My body’s falling apart,” he says sadly. His tinnitus has returned, a high pitch like a constant fluorescence when all you want is darkness. Hermes told him it was just tuning into the frequency of truth. But Mim, who works as an ear doctor, who stopped seeing her own residual angels a few months ago (I guess all spiritual experiences must fade, after a while, she sadly wrote) saw my husband last week. She told him there was really no cure for it. That he would have to learn to just live with it. 

Then he tries to find the word for something and can’t. “I’m losing my memory, too,” he sighs as we watch a thread of pelicans air-gallop across our view. I feel so glad to see them doing okay, still.

“Well, it’s not like the word for bread,” I offer. 


I still can’t sleep next to my husband, not really. His body generates so much heat. And that gives me comfort. 

So I go into my older son’s room. He will kick me less in the night than my younger son. I curl up beside him. But not before setting an alarm to wake at dawn so I can go tear out the fifty or so fruit, one by one. 

The young wife, after stopping on her way back to her house, agreed to help me. I told her—unlike Nate, she’s oblivious to the motives of our stockpiling—it was for a surprise for my husband, for our anniversary. To clean it all out, this inedible non-native fruit, for a new vegetable garden. 

I’ll blame it on a thief, whether human or animal. I’ll throw the answers into the ocean.


A photo of a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, red lipstick, and a black and white striped shirt, looking into the camera from a three-quarter angle.

Jenny Gillespie Mason is a writer, editor, musician and mother living in Northern California. She received her MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College. Her poetry has been published in Missouri Review, Meridian, Borderlands, and elsewhere. Her music project is called Sis and her most recent album Gas Station Roses was released in 2019.




Sabyasachi Nag

Pumpkin Flowers

Visma Sen was short, dark, and sported a grey walrus moustache. He was sixty-five. Every now and often his heart would fire up without warning, he would wheeze and choke, swing his hairy arms, and gasp for air. He would feel sweat breaking out along the deep lines on his neck, trickling down his spine. The conch of his ear would crackle with heat and his earlobes would turn red. He would sense a shiver running through his head, face, and then his entire body. His eyes would draw down as if some invisible force were calling the curtains on him. That’s it, he would think, and just as suddenly the shivering would stop. Everything would return to normal.

Almost twenty years ago when the symptoms first showed, his wife Nila insisted they see a doctor. After a short commission in the Indian Army he was still settling into big city. Gomes, a quick-tempered Methodist in his early sixties, was the only doctor they knew in Calcutta. The doctor had a large forehead, listened impatiently, wrote lengthy prescriptions, and was quick on wit. 

“No coffee, no smokes, no booze. Cut the small sins out, if you want to make room for large ones,” he said. They would laugh at his wisecracks and all would be forgotten until the symptoms returned. 

Lately, with Nila dead, whenever his heart added an extra beat, Visma would drag himself to the dresser, pull out an old aluminium medicine box and chew down a couple of aspirins. Later he would talk himself back to his feet. But last night was different.

Last night Visma hadn’t slept at all and they weren’t the regular symptoms. It was late February. In North Calcutta where winters have become shorter each year, fans had started to purr from the high ceilings. The key-wound wall-clock had yet to strike five. Outside, the sky was lit up in patches, as the sun broke through unevenly gathered clouds. The crows were out, cawing. For a moment Visma sat at the edge of the bed; in two minds—whether to get started on his two-mile walk to the park or let it go. 

His knees were sore. He could hear the stray dogs out on the street. They had barked all night as if something terrible was happening to them as everyone slept. He felt the walls around him closing in. As the barks got louder, he thought of the walking stick he had taken to the cobblers to have a piece of leather nailed to the bottom. He hated the loud metallic sound it made when striking concrete. He couldn’t have the stick back until later today, he was told. There was nothing else, and he needed something, walking these streets this early in the day. The strays scared him. More than that, he needed something for his knees to stay straight. He thought of the umbrella.

The dogs shut up after a while. He could feel his heart slamming into his chest and then slowing down. He wasn’t sure if the pounding and fluttering would get any worse. It wasn’t the usual kind of racing. Perhaps he should give it a pass today. The two mile walk to the park might be too much for him to take. 

Tomorrow, he spoke out loud as if announcing his intention to someone out in the balcony past the closed rooms down the hallway. But there was no one. 

Sensing a tug on his bladder, he clambered out of bed and rushed to the bathroom. Back by the window on the south end of the room, he felt a chill touching his bare chest. He switched off the fan and slid back under the wool blanket his daughter had gotten him from Madrid when she came visiting last summer with Enrique, her Spanish husband, and Leo, their six-year-old child who didn’t say a word during their entire visit. 

For a while he thought about them and how it might be different living in Madrid. Then he thought about dying, and how he always believed he would know exactly when he was going to go. Nothing worse than being taken hostage, he thought, more so if you don’t know where the enemy is taking you. 

Visma took a drink of water and looked at the stack of books on the bedside table—Brothers Karamazov turned to Ivan Fyodorovich’s Nightmare. One thought led to another and in his drowsiness, he couldn’t make out thought from dream. 

He may have slept a little before he started up, worrying about the pumpkin flowers in the fridge. He had wrapped and sealed them last night. Would they last another day? Would the scents stay the same? Would the edges crimple? Would they freckle up? He could always get a new bunch, he thought. He knew where to find them. But flowers up in the bazaar weren’t the same as these, he thought. He felt proud—how bright they were and how big. He thought about his son and how persistently he had to pester him to have those pumpkin seeds sent from that farm in Cameron that grew those huge pumpkins he had seen on TV. He thought of the ugly spat he had with the couriers when the package was returned undelivered, and they couldn’t locate it for a few days. His son never called him back to find out if those seeds had ever reached him, or if they were any good. But that had been six months back, or almost. 

He kicked himself out of the bed. On his feet he felt better. He was going to go. He had no choice.

Do it, he said out loud to himself before going about a series of breathing rituals he had cultivated into a pre-dawn program since his time in the army. The habit had stayed long after the seven years of commission and then the thirty years of teaching high school history and then the four years into his retirement, before his wife died. She had suffered a cerebral stroke in the shower. He wasn’t home when it happened. He knew he could have saved her life had he paid more attention to what she kept saying about the throbbing ache in her head during her final days.

They had been married thirty-five years. At first, he didn’t understand if anything would be same again. For days he shut himself up, afraid of questions. Then he felt numb, as if he were recovering from an operation after an organ had been removed. He felt no desire to do anything. He rarely stepped out of home. He barely ate. His breathing got worse. That had been the summer last year when his daughter came home with her family and nursed him back. 

When it was time for her to leave, he didn’t stay up to say goodbye. There were a million strings pulling her away to Madrid: her son’s school, the job at the university, her husband’s business, the dog in their friend’s nursery. He became bitter the instant their taxi turned the corner toward the airport. Anyone with a good ear and spare time became the object of endless whining about how everything was stacking up for an imminent apocalypse. The sky was about to fall, and it would take everyone with it.

Pessimism is that peculiar worm that inhabits our entire clan,” his son had said over the phone one day, “first it takes your intestine, then it takes your brain.” Visma hung up and stopped calling him. He decided he would sell the house, move back to the country, take back to farming in the family acreage they had been leasing out for a quarter century, ever since his own father passed. 

He needn’t have thought out loud before a stream of realtors came calling upon him with countless proposals that would take minimum effort, yielding maximum profit. “It’s crazy being alone in this house of horrors,” one of them said. “Ask your children. See for yourself if they have anything different to say.” 

Those words struck Visma like a rapier on the face. The realtor, a bald man in his thirties, was smoking between bursts of fake laughter, his teeth almost brown, he had a paunch—the kind that would make you wonder if it wasn’t a half-trainer-ball that he had strapped to his belly. Visma sensed something click inside his head—the sound of a gun slider going back and forth. He rose from his chair with a start, without uttering another word, held the realtor by the sleeve of his white voile shirt and dragged him out the front door.

Between the laboured whistling of nostrils, Visma’s mind wandered over to that instant when he had slammed the door on that realtor. Could that be the apocalypse? He remembered how everything else unravelled after that, here in this same house. 

Everything he had, the burden of all his possessions, all that he had been so desperate to shake off a moment earlier, every piece of that life lived, became history and immeasurably precious. He decided he would restore the century-old ruin of the house back to its glory. That would be the blow on the heads of those waiting for him, like vultures, to wrap up and be gone. 

Soon he would find an accomplice in Rahim Ali, the do-it-all handy-man and his young apprentice bride. With their help, he would set about the task of recovery and revival—straightening out the plumbing and the wiring; fixing the floors and ceilings and stairways; painting the walls and doors and hallways. So obsessed he would become with the idea of restoration; he wanted it to never end. 

When Rahim Ali and his wife left, he pulled out whatever knick-knackery his eyes could find buried inside trunks and boxes, drawers, cabinets, and closets—spoons and mugs, seals and flags, trinkets, quilts and photo frames—from way past and near past. He found them and mounted them to the walls, each one at a time. Almost three thousand feet of wall space, spanning three floors in the entire house, all of that turned into a canvas, until all history was exhausted. 

By then Visma Sen, restored to his pristine version, had already found Ju Li, the Chinese Tai Chi teacher at the park. Those pumpkin flowers had been her bidding. Ever since he showed her one, she would always gesture as if to ask if he had any more. He had no idea why she wanted them or what she would do with them. The only thing he could ever think was making frits out of them to eat. He wasn’t sure if Ju Li knew how to make pumpkin-flower frits the way his mother did. Nila had never learnt to do it right; she would always sear them and they would be too crunchy and bitter for his taste.

At the park, her cohorts talked about Ju Li the same way anyone would talk about a red lacewing on a white wall. Widow of a wealthy shoemaker, long gone, she was about four feet and a few inches. About fifty, the bright skin on her round face had darkened around the raised cheeks. Her cheeks and the hair on her nape glowed from the sweat she worked up every morning. The few strands of white on her neatly brushed black hair flew about her face as she walked around the park, nodding at anyone that came close or crossed her path. She had an easy manner about her. To those that didn’t know her well, it was as if she had put on a mask to hide the shadowy dark around her feet. She always had red shoes on. She spoke in Hakka to the fellow Chinese that trained at the park. To Visma’s ear, the rounded vowels sounded magical. 

When he heard her speak, he thought of her in a different way—as though he were listening to a trapped river lap against real sand under a fluorescent sky, as in a photo studio. It didn’t feel real. Yet, Visma thought about her a lot after he left the park. In the park, he was drawn to her by a power beyond any he had known—the power of a temple bell—elemental and unshakeable. Watching the precise movements of her hands and enacting after her—behind closed eyes, under the rising sun—seemed to Visma an act of revival, something that gave strength to a lot of things he had stopped caring about. 

When Ju Li’s husband died in a road accident, Visma heard people in the park say all sorts of things. It’s a rough trade; she’s the outsider they would never let in; she should sell everything when it’s still worth something; leave. But then, the same folks said, she should perhaps hang on. 

When Visma observed her hands—past the perfectly shaped fingers, past the papery skin glowing in sweat, past the precise arc of her movements—he could see a wire-mesh casting holding her in place and yet giving her freedom. It added up to something precious—he knew it was precious—the way he felt, watching her. He felt funny thinking about that, but a tinge of sadness too would cross his mind, thinking about all the rumours about her.

They said she was the kind for whom, when it came to matters of business, no person could ever be too close and no price too dear. Visma wasn’t sure. That she had not merely survived the trade, but succeeded, single-handedly, managing to keep her husband’s Bentick Street shoe store still going —what does that say? they would ask. Visma thought they were plain jealous. In a world where men make all the difference, that she was able to hold on to the same cohort of trusted shoe crafters her husband had gathered, spoke of powers beyond the obvious. “Witchcraft,” they would say, and hold on to their bellies laughing. “But demand for hand-made shoes is no longer the same,” they would add and nod gravely. 

When income from the shoe business dried out, it seems Ju Li started cooking and selling Hakka ramen in the tiny room at the back of the shoe store. So, they said. Visma wasn’t interested. Still, they would tell him about the smells from her kitchen gathering speed, about word going around that Ju Li would sell the shoe business, about the doom impending. Her people, the same band of trusted artisans, are leaving her one at a time, they’d say and look into Visma’s eyes, expecting fear or praise at the fulfilment of a dark prophesy. At the very end, it would be just her, they’d say. Just her and dirty cases filled with unsold shoes; just her and a kitchen running hard to keep up with orders ringing through the phones all hours of day. 

Inside the fridge, the plastic bag containing the flowers had sweated overnight. Visma took the flowers out, one at a time, laid them out to dry and placed them inside a pink hemp sack. 

The crossing at Onrait Second by the butcher shop is worst for the strays, he thought. It was the meat shavings around the open vat. What dog would let that go?

Visma’s mind raced, as he looked for the umbrella to take with him on the walk. It raced as he stepped down the three flights of stairs, out his house, onto the street. Today he would use a different approach, he thought: past Onrait First and Best Cycle. 

The morning was chillier than the day before. It wasn’t much later than usual, but he felt the need to walk faster. He felt his knees were slowing him down, or maybe it was the brand-new walkers his daughter bought him. They felt heavier. He could feel a tug on the chest right in the middle of the thought, almost losing balance. He didn’t know when he would see her again or Leo, the grandson who never spoke. Or for that matter, his own son who never called back. 

The desire to see his children ached with the knee and he could make out one from the other only at certain intervals. A milkman biked past. There was still some distance to the park. It sure did feel chilly today, he thought. It was then that he looked up and saw the sky was overcast. He hadn’t followed the weather lately. Perhaps there was rain in the forecast, perhaps they were just passing clouds that the winds would eventually snuff out. 

Back in the park, Ju Li had already started her Tai Chi practice with the usual band of cohort—Hong, Chang, Hao, Liang, Mitra, Lawrence, Rupert, Fu. They all hung around her in a circular formation. He knew them all by the half names, just as they knew him as Sen. He pierced the circle and went straight to Ju Li with the package dangling from his left hand, umbrella on the right. Without ever pausing, without letting his eyes rise to meet hers, he transferred the pink sack automatically on to his right hand—the hand of good deeds—before holding it out towards her. 

She seemed startled. 

“Pumpkin flowers for you”, he said. 

Her face broke into a smile at the manner Visma held the sack out for her, as if it were a bag of lost treasure being restored to its rightful owner. 

As Visma looked up, he saw Ju Li’s rippled face. Untying the knot on the hemp sack with utmost care, she held it close to her chest. Dipping her right hand inside the sack, as if it were the dark, open mouth of a well, she brought a handful of bright yellow pumpkin flowers out in the open. Now holding them close to her face, she let the petals stroke her cheeks. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at the sky past Visma’s eyes. Visma could feel his ears getting warm; he could feel his heart had started to race again.

Some of Ju Li’s cohorts looked on, politely reining in the irritation at what they thought was much fuss over something quite commonplace. Others, who had never in their lives seen pumpkin flowers so huge, drew close to Ju Li, deeply inhaling the scent of the flowers right off her open palm. 

Eventually, everyone returned to their respective places in the circle around Ju Li and she dropped the flowers back inside the sack. Visma took his place on the fringe of the circle, looking up at Ju Li as she dipped into the sack again, taking the bright yellow flowers out by the handful, holding them close to her face, she put them back again, but not before taking a deep whiff and looking out to the sky. 

She repeated the sequence again and again as if she had enough Tai Chi for the day, as if she were in trance. And when the huge fig tree under which they stood seemed to swoop down at her feet and the skies shimmied with thunder, her trance remained unbroken. 

They smell just as good as they feel she seemed to say, gesturing with her hands. 

Her cohorts laughed. And they laughed even more as she repeated the act, as if relishing the power of her gestures. Then the clouds broke and it started to rain.

Visma came up close to Ju Li. He looked at her in amazement, perhaps even the kind of prurient joy one feels upon achieving consummation in the act of giving. She gestured at his umbrella, and without a word, he flipped it open. Holding on to the sack of flowers in her left hand and Visma’s arm with her right, she egged him on, toward the gates on the south end of the park. Fully aware that his usual approach back home was toward the north, Visma let himself flow freely to the soft tug of Ju Li’s wet arm. They kept strangely silent all this time as they walked, as if she were still caught up in trance and he, fully conscious, was only too careful not to nudge her out of it. 

Weaving in and out of blinkered lanes he barely knew, Visma soon found himself at the doorway of a brick house with a wood archway painted gold. The street sign, craggy with dirt and bird shit, pointed toward Kimber Street. Visma felt numb. The doorway to Ju Li’s two storey house was so narrow he had to fold the umbrella in order to squeeze through. 

Still holding him by the arm, Ju Li pulled him through the dark hallway on the ground floor. As he walked, he could hear the sound of heavy breathing. People were still seeping in rooms lining the passageway. Someone had put tea on the boil; he could hear the kettle murmur. Past the stack of shoe boxes, past the heap of raw hides, past the mound of old bills, Ju Li strode unmindfully toward the red cement stairway to the north of the house. 

The narrow landing at the top of the stairway spread out into a whitewashed corridor that ran the entire length of the second floor. Facing the landing was a room with a bright red door and a grilled window. Behind the black iron grillwork of the window the room was dark. Toward the far left on the corridor where Visma stood, he could see a house help mopping the floor with precise movements of hand and feet. The house help looked startled as Ju Li, facing the closed door, paused for a moment, as if to catch her breath. 

Still holding on to Visma’s arm, Ju Li pushed the red doors open with a delicate foot tap. Visma noticed the doors had been pulled shut, not bolted and locked like he always remembered doing in his own house when he had to leave it to the house help even for a few minutes. 

As he stumbled on the raised saddle of the doorframe, into the darkness of the room, yielding to the tug of Ju Li’s soft hand around his extended arm, Visma paused for a moment, trying to interrupt the flow, to make sense of whatever was happening to him, whatever he thought might follow. 

Familiar objects around the room sprung out of their contours; the bed by a second window far up on the left toward the balcony facing the street outside, a work table on the right, shelves of books with gold letterings, blue and white porcelain, a wardrobe with a red raincoat and embroidered purple boxes stacked on top of each other. 

The chequered morning slimed in through the window slats and lined up on the blood-red bed sheet neatly tucked into the mahogany bed frame. Everything in the room, even ashes from burnt incense sticks, seemed to have a form, a place of its own. In the far-right of the room, toward the balcony, away from the second window, a stone Buddha sat demurely under a red electric lamp inside a carved wood shrine hung up on the wall. A raw sapodilla and a coconut sat inside a wicker basket at Buddha’s folded feet as if set up to ripen in the light. 

Visma looked around the room. Tiny Buddha idols in all shapes and sizes, in wood, brass and china, looked back at him in every imaginable posture.

It was hard making things out in the dark, but Ju Li didn’t put the lights on. Instead, she strode through the breadth of the room, sat Visma on the bed, closer to the window on the far side, and pushed the window out into the balcony. 

The damp morning sun came rushing in. Blue gnomes and angels stared back at him from the balcony between rows upon rows of bonsai banyans, mango and figs and jacaranda, bell, bougainvillea, hibiscus, dahlia and rose-lily. Tiny drops of rain hung from the branches like glass beads. 

Visma looked around for Ju Li. She had been by his side a moment ago, looking out the window. Now, she was back dipping her right hand inside the pink hemp sack again and again. Taking handful of flowers out of the sack, she was letting them fall in a brilliant shower near the folded feet of the stone Buddha inside the shrine. 

Visma felt a tug on his arm. As he turned around, he could see Ju Li holding out the hemp sack towards him, her moist eyes gesturing for him to repeat the act. 

Outside, it had long stopped raining, but the sky was still overcast. The iron grillwork was shining as though it had just got a fresh coat of paint sprayed on to it. He felt he had come a long way to find this place. He was uncertain he would ever be able to trace his way back home.


A black-and-white photo of an Indian man in dark glasses with a close-cropped beard, looking into the camera.

Sabyasachi Nag is the author of Uncharted (Mansfield Press, 2021). He was born in Calcutta, India, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Could You Please, Please, Stop Singing (Mosaic Press, 2015) and Bloodlines (Writers Workshop, 2006). His work can be found in Canadian Literature, Grain, The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, and The Windsor Review, among others. He is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and the Humber School for Writers. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with his wife and son.




Coda Danu-Asmara

A Fair Trade

Ah, Hadassah, you treat me so well. 

There are ten thousand, eight hundred and fifty-three parrots in Madrid. They came here because immigration was not properly regulated at the North African border. It is said that they have taken the majority of manufacturing jobs and deflowered the women. In response, the Spanish government has built a wall around Ceuta and Melilla. The parrot migration has ceased since then, as birds are known to respect land boundaries. 

Essay questions: 

1. Using the historical documents provided, please outline a system of inquisition best suited to differentiate parrots from non-parrots. 

2. Name three other events/invasive species/problems (not including the parrots) that necessitate the beginnings of a second Reconquista. Use descriptive language in your answer.

3. If the sterilization/mass annihilation of the parrots is to come in effect as proposed by the current Spanish government, there is a distinct possibility that one of the parrots may be a master poet of the Spanish language. Draft an apology memo to the public, being sure to highlight his or her achievements in a non-political manner.

{The answers have faded away; only the shadow of a few pencil scratches remains.}

I clutched the yellowing papers to my chest as I entered her room. I have seen her every weekend for years now. She lived at the end of every Metro line in every city, that special stop after every single passenger is gone, behind a door made from multi-colored glass on that empty platform. You won’t be able to find it if you’re not in the know—just rats and old plastic bags. You need to be referred. That’s how everybody meets her. I’d be happy to refer you too, if you like. 

But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Hadassah was a never changing being. In every session we had together, she sat silently, veiled in the quiet shadows, with only her long grey-green beak protruding from the darkness. At regular intervals it opened, slowly, almost imperceptibly. I had always assumed it was a mask, but now I’m not so sure. I sat across from her, on a chair made from a thousand insect legs. The beak nodded, and I told a story about myself. It always began like this.

{There is a photograph of a young couple, smiling on their wedding day. They, two women, are standing on a white veranda, and the rain is pouring down behind them in lucky droplets. In the background, vultures have begun to feast on the guests behind them, leaving a line of sinew and entrails around the newlyweds. According to a small news clipping stapled to the picture, marriage lasted for thirty-three days, before it came to light that they were both already married to each other’s fathers. On the back is a note written in red pen, detailing the above story, and also the words:}

Lot’s Daughters, before honeymoon. Boston.

When I first started going, I thought it would be hard to tell stories without any prompt, without any reason. My even voice shook when I first started talking about myself. It wasn’t even complicated stuff; just the usual—my name, parents’ names, place of birth, number of known siblings, medical history—all that common knowledge. I dipped a little bit into my childhood—focusing on the traumas, of course. I considered it all banal, but apparently it was enough—from somewhere within her unknowable cloak, she gave me that photograph. A story for a story. A fair trade. 

After I left, the door disappeared behind me. I somehow knew I was expected next week. 

FORECAST: 57 degrees is the high, with light showers expected in the evening. Thirty-five people will die in the city today, including Ms. Elena Castor, who will be beaten to death on the corner of Oak and Elm Streets at 11:56 PM. At least twenty people will witness her death-in-progress and make no attempts to help her. If you do not have other engagements, it would therefore be prudent to attend so that the required quota is reached. 

{A black-and-white picture of the woman is included. She looks happy.}

I constantly studied that wedding photograph in my free time, to the point that I even accidentally tore its corner from overuse. I couldn’t find any trace of the women in the photograph, or any record of any such wedding in any Boston, Massachusetts or otherwise. After receiving a few more, I came to conclusion that they were all some sort of experimental art project—complete fiction. Much later, I would realize that they were all true, as every story that has been told is somehow true; if not here, then in another world, another lifetime, or another existence of essence. 

In the next session, I told her another story, this time about a few fears and anxieties. Nothing too special—I wasn’t yet comfortable giving everything away—but I told her that I was afraid of shaking other people’s hands because their skin felt so coarse against mine. The beak nodded and nodded, even during my retelling of a nightmare I once had about falling in love with an ocean sunfish, who ended up being a poor bedmate. “Did I do well?” I suddenly asked. She responded only by giving me another story and motioned for me to leave.

{This story is a large full-color poster. A glossy picture of two men staring deeply into each other’s eyes takes up the majority of the picture. Their left hands are intertwined; their green-and-brown shirts slightly askew. Their bronze skin twinkles in the desert sunset. Behind them, Iraqi insurgents are being shot by a mounted machine gun. Their bloodstained turbans and beards look almost comical. A drone is frozen in flight overhead; its rotary blades still exude movement in the stillness. In its windy wake, the American flag flaps proudly. 

At the bottom of the poster are several words in large block letters.}


I kept every story in a cabinet under my desk. Every night, I checked to make sure each and every one was in pristine condition. Realizing how precious they were, I memorized every story, but I began to mix them up with reality in my head. I confused friends when I talked about last year’s moon landing or the political viability of lizard men in American politics. But they shrugged it off; we were all artists, and they probably just assumed I was on one of those traditional artists’ drugs, like weed, or LSD, or unemployment. 

I tried to go more than once a week. I asked Hadassah if we could meet more frequently, but unsurprisingly, my question received no response, only that little paper story about the Army. 

I resolved simply to ride the line a few days before my scheduled appointment, but when I arrived, I could not find the door in the dusty dark subway stop. I tried again, riding a different train to the end of a different line, and found much the same. I called out her name three times, “Hadassah, Hadassah, Hadassah,” but it might as well have been the crowing of a rooster. I shamefully took the train all the way back, every stop a reminder of my impatience and my failure. 

From that experience, I sank into a deep depression for several days. Although I knew that I would see her again soon, being unable to have her whenever I wanted made me feel so hopeless and so powerless. I refused all food, save for a bit of lentil soup in the evenings, and called in sick to work every day. I must have sounded so terrible on the phone, because nobody questioned it—they always sounded so concerned when they told me to “Get well soon!” 

Lying in bed, doing nothing but rereading the stories, I dreaded the day of my appointment. What if I was too unwell to tell a story about myself? What would Hadassah say? Would she not give me a story at all? I thought about not going back. In fact, I decided, I should never go back at all. It was doing me harm, ruining my social life, making me worry and obsess, and befuddling my brain. Better to be done with the whole affair.

Yet on the day itself, I rose from under the covers and found myself on the subway again, sweating in the heat as a man played a pop song on the bongos for money. And when I was face to beak with her again, all my troubles and my stories just started spilling out. In the end, my worries were unfounded; she gave me a story before I left. 


To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to inform you that Ms. Tan should be excused from work today. She is feeling quite unwell for a variety of personal and embarrassing reasons, such as armpit boils and excessive flatulence, and it would be prudent to not bring them up when she returns to the office tomorrow. Furthermore, she has informed me not to disclose that she has been suffering from bouts of depression due to self-image problems and the isolation of an immigrant lifestyle; therefore, loudly screeching ‘Chino, Chino’ as she walks into the office every morning is unhelpful for her condition, especially since she is Indonesian—I would instead recommend ‘Gook,’ even if it more usually refers to Vietnamese and Korean people.

I have included my personal number at the bottom of the letter if you need to urgently contact me for any more of her confidential medical history.

Sincerely yours,

{The signature is illegible}

After about six months of seeing Hadassah, it somehow got out that I was one of hers. I’m not sure who told on me. It could have been the friend who referred me, or perhaps somebody saw me on the train, or perhaps, although unlikely, Hadassah herself. 

My friends were the first to learn. Over a game of cards in a run-down gay bar somewhere in the Village, one turned to me and said, “How’s the old bird?” 

“Who?” I replied, forcing down a draft of beer I only ordered due to peer pressure. 

“Hadassah, of course. I’ve heard you’ve been seeing her.” 

I opened my mouth to reply but he did not give me a chance. 

“Oh, don’t worry, we won’t think any less of you. We’ll treat you exactly the same as we always did.”

After that night, they stopped returning my texts. I never saw them again. 

I started getting more and more time off from work without asking for it. At first, I liked it—who wouldn’t, working as a pencil pusher? But soon it started to grow excessive. I became restless and bored. 

“Oh no, you don’t need to come in today,” my supervisor said on the phone. “Really, there’s not much work. Stay at home! You need the rest! You have a big meeting with her coming up!” 

I came in anyway. When I arrived, I found that my possessions had been thrown into the trash. Somebody I didn’t recognize was sitting at my desk, typing away at my ancient computer. 

“Don’t worry,” my boss laughed, “we’re just doing a bit of reshuffling to improve team synergy. You can work from here in the meantime.” She was pointing at the broom closet.

I raged when I saw Hadassah again. I shouted and shouted at her, over and over, at her placid, rostrate face. Pacing around the room, I called her a traitor and a life-ruiner. She did not move until I had finished my rant, upon which she gave me another document and bid me goodbye. 

On the subway home my head was heavy with tears. 

The next day, I tried to find somebody else to blame. My friend, the one who introduced me to Hadassah, picked up his phone on the fourth call. He refused to discuss her, no matter how much I asked. Eventually, I tried a new approach. “Do you know anyone else who has met her? Somebody must have introduced you to her,” I asked, my voice ragged and hoarse. 

“I try not to associate with others,” he replied. “I like to keep it a secret. I thought you would too.” 

“I have to talk to somebody else about it. I want to feel normal again,” I said, again and again, until he relented. 

“I was introduced to her by a group that meets behind the Reservoir. They are all her customers, or patients, or whatever you’d like to call it.” He paused before continuing. “I have to say, I’m very disappointed in you. I thought there was something special about you, but I suppose not.” He hung up the phone before I could say goodbye.

They met just before midnight, like all secret societies. I could easily spot them from the general homeless and drunkard population due to the bird masks and black cloaks they wore. The clothing was a cheap imitation of her majesty, but I respected the attempt. They sat around a small tree, without making any noise. At first, I thought they were playing some sort of strange schoolyard hand game—but as I approached, I realized they were exchanging tiny pieces of paper. 

I sat down in the middle of the group. They did not stop me. One handed me a story, wrinkled and worn. I unfolded it:

{It was an X-ray, depicting the mouth. In yellow pen, someone had circled the various oddities. Notes in hurried handwriting appear on the back.}

● The subject came complaining of tooth pain.
● Upon examination, it became clear that the subject appears to have only molars. Not only that, the subject also has three rows of those molars, like a herbivorous shark. 
● Every tooth has had a mark carved deeply onto the enamel. Each row had a single different mark, repeated on every tooth in that row. Being doctors of a certain stock, we quickly identified them as three Hebrew letters. From back to front, the symbols appear to be as follows: אמת. 
● Even more strangely, the subject flosses regularly.
● All these signs point to intervention of the Divine, and that this was His messenger.
● We treated him with appropriate reverence, by plunging the drill into his head while he was sedated with nitrous oxide. As expected, his body collapsed into mud postmortem. Not a single tooth could be saved for future study. 
● I have advised all my colleagues to avoid plane travel in the near future and to vigilantly screen for any possible illnesses, due to the high likelihood of vengeance.

The masked man who gave me the story looked at me expectantly, his beak glimmering in the city night. “I don’t have a story to give back to you,” I apologized. “I’ve left them all at home.” Of course, I would never have given them anything anyway—the stories were too precious to be wasted on these madmen. 

The exchanges all around me suddenly stopped. Carefully and gingerly, they folded away each piece of paper before slowly standing up to surround me. 

The one who gave me the dentist story attacked me first. His gnarled hands, calloused and covered with paper cuts, clawed at my cheeks and eyes with talon-like nails. The rest descended soon after, into a whirling melee of grey masks and red blood. I do not consider myself particularly strong, but I easily overpowered them; these Hadassah worshippers were weak, frail things, whose constitution had faded due to a drifting mind. With a grunt and a heft, I was able to push a great number of them off me and twist myself out from the brawl. The scuffle continued even in my absence. Senselessly, I watched them fight for a few minutes longer. Not a single one cried out in pain or shouted in anger, even as their heads were smashed in by steel-toed kicks. 

I quickly turned and left. I do not revel in carnage. Most of all, I was afraid of becoming like them. Perhaps it was already too late. The normal people had already acknowledged me as Hadassah’s own. I knew now more than ever I had to put a stop to it. 

The Journal of Anthropological ’Pataphyiscs

The Temporal Teleology of Diagnosis: A Survey by O’Nassis, A., Elea, Z., et al. 

Abstract: Through the careful survey of more than thirty-seven medical archives and thirteen weeks of field research, the authors have discovered that doctoral diagnosis (DD), if given by an accredited medical physician (AMP), can in fact extend past present temporal boundaries into both the past and future (P&F). Indeed, not only did perception of the subject by others drastically change for the negative after DD, so did their memories, retroactively making the subject always sick. Furthermore, DD affected the physical body of the subject in the P&F, even if s/he was not sick to begin with. In other words, it was the DD by the AMP that causes illness, not any pathogen. In a case study with eighteen participants, nine healthy (proven so through rigorously screening) and nine ridden with various stages of cancer, all nine healthy participants immediately tested positive for cancer after receiving a DD of lung cancer from an AMP. In one particular case, one healthy patient immediately collapsed and subsequently died upon hearing the DD; later autopsies found that he had died from a stage four disease, even though he had been given a clean bill of health the day prior. The authors then conclude that AMPs use their DD with discretion, especially on the general public; politicians and personal rivals are thus most suitable targets.

On my next designated appointment, I brought every single story Hadassah has ever given me. I vowed to throw them all at her feet. What then, Hadassah? What will you do when I give you nothing more?

When I arrived, she sat there, motionless as always, save for a slowly bobbing beak. I tossed the stories to the ground. I screamed. It was like losing myself.

The papers settled.

Almost immediately, I fell to my knees, nearly sobbing, as I scrounged on the ground, trying to collect every paper that I had dropped. How could I have ever let them go? They were so precious to me. Thankfully, I was able to save every one without issue—only a few bits of wear and tear, here and there. I ran my fingers over every page, counting them over and over. 

I felt the cold touch of leather on my cheek. I looked up to see Hadassah’s long face right in front of me; her gloved hands ran down my neck to my chest. She said nothing, as always, but the message was already clear. I am ill and cannot be saved. There is no magic cure. Hadassah is here to stay. I will always be marked as one of her brood, even if I try to hide it—people will know and judge and hate me for it. Her stories will constantly flutter around me like the wings of a great bird.

And yet, despite it all, I realized I could still breathe and smile.

Hadassah pulled back into the darkness. The moment was gone forever. We went back to routine. I told her my story, gained one in return, and left. 

Somewhere else, maybe in the reflection of foggy glass on a subway pulling into the station, Hadassah’s stories played out to their conclusion. My ancestors were gassed in concentration camps, my other ancestors were colonized, the love was found and lost and found again for good, and I was free to live without the shackles of diagnosis, but here, on the other side, I was still the same as I have always been. 

Through the heavy mask it was hard to read these stories, but I managed. I had to. It’s only fair—she is my keeper and treats me so well.


A Jewish and Indonesian man in dark-rimmed glasses and a short-sleeved white button-down shirt, holding a dark green, fairly large lizard.

Coda Danu-Asmara is a Pushcart nominated writer of many identities, including queer, Jewish, Indonesian, and autistic. His work has appeared in Thrice Magazine, The Write Launch, Punt Volat, and elsewhere. He was born in New York City but currently lives in Sydney, Australia. His lizard’s name is Siddhartha. 




Rosalind Goldsmith

Wall of Glass

She sits in a rocking chair. Alone. Trying to thread a butter knife with a shoelace.  On her lap sits a brown stuffed rabbit. She tries to understand what it might be doing there. 

In the past months, objects in her world have shifted, evolved—a chair has moved from one corner to another, a comb has grown teeth. A bowl melts into a dog’s bark. Sometimes the changes are sharp. Sometimes subtle. Sly. Letters in the alphabet no longer worthy of trust. A j could be a q for instance. In disguise as a y.

She rocks back and forth, the butter knife held up to the light in one hand, the shoelace in the other. She must solve this—on her own. If she takes the plastic cap off the string, maybe then it will fit?

Was a time it would fit—but in a larger thing than a needle, boxier, like a small car with no wheels. A thing she used to wear and would lace up herself without her mother’s help. And she did it, too!

Where is her mother now? Why isn’t she here to help her—at least to move the bed and the chairs and the dresser back to where they belong.

She rocks faster, holding the butter knife and the shoelace. She looks from one to the other, then puts them down on a small table beside her chair. The table, the chair, the butter knife, the shoelace—all shrink into themselves and slink away. Thieves in the blight, slipping away into another room.  

Where is—?

Her mother should be here. 

There’s that colour in the hanging things—like the ones in her bedroom.

And the light is screaming in through the wall, a diffuse light—too bright—a fog and a thickening murk of light seeping in. This light rambunctious to say the least.

This bed in the wrong place, and not hers; nor this chair, nor that picture on the wall—that picture of—a square thing and a yelling roundness that glows all over a floor of glass—no, not quite glass—

It is—outside the room when she looks out before going into the kitchen where her mother is making breakfast—toast and jam—that’s it—that glass out there on the ground after a good rain, looks—and she can hear minnows singing or—canaries, and—what is that sound—like a sound at school. Keep an eye on the door. It’s closed—must get ready to escape—in case.

That sound, not a school sound—more like—she is eight and having her tonsils out, that bing bong sound down the hall and— 

The walls the same colour as the walls in this room, but not the picture—

The picture of glass.

Or no.

She can’t smell any toast. Heart beats fast—this bed—this bed is not hers, was never hers, will never be hers. 

She is—she must be—visiting her friend Katrina and her mother in their little apartment on the Rose Valley Road—that’s it. This bed is Katrina’s bed. But where is Katrina? And her tennis racket is not here either, so how can they play tennis with no rackets?

She’s waiting for her father to pick her up, and Katrina—she’s gone for a swim—that’s it. Lake water, pool water, that colour is: qua qua qua aqua—

That sound—no— 

Duck and cover! Don’t panic, children! If the bomb drops you must hide under your desk and curl up into a very small ball, and the desk will protect you in the event of a nuclear blast. Miss McGarrick, is that so? Are we safe? For God’s sake, Miss McGarrick—please tell us! Are we safe?

But where is her father? He must be coming to pick her up now. For this chair not hers—this bed not hers and that picture on the wall—of glass. 

The light too strong—draw the skirts across the wind. Light is hurting—oh.

That time on the lake in the boat—oh, the sun dazzled on the water and tossed up handfuls of d… of dy… of dying mountains—each one a treasure. The calm, the quiet of the lake and the call of a canary or a crow or no—a seacall. A seacall cries. Carries a fish.

And her mother on the shore waiting for her to come in with the wind—cover the wind—oh! Waves! So she can make breakfast for her. But where is breakfast? She can’t smell any toast, she’s hungry, and this bed not hers—it must be—heart beats fast—Katrina’s?

That bing bong sound. Grade six. Recite: “When I was wandering as a crowd…” Duck and cover, children. Now! Are we safe? The bell—but no—this is not that sound. It is vanilla ice cream and a sore throat. 

Katrina. That must be her bed—but where is she? She’s gone for a swim in the pool. That colour—that aqua aqua aqua qua qua qua—

Duck! Hands on your head. It is, after all, the end of the world, but your school desks will protect you, children.

“Four crows on a pond. A grass bank beyond.” 

That’s it! Grass. The picture—that colour is—grass is green.

The light pouring in now—all lost under the blind sun. Streaking of light—scalding light. Burns. 

Here is a small long thing on the table and a rope to go in it. Who left it here? And this piece of shaggy thing with ears. 

And where is her mother? Or father, who is coming to pick her up.

That sound—

No! We are not safe! Draw up the—cribbage. The castle, the feudal system, the serf and the Lord’s manor and all the knights—those pictures—on horses. Grade seven. Mr. Taylor. He has a beard. Kind.

Ice cream and a sore throat and Mummy standing beside the hospital bed and—no. 

This bed not hers—whose, then, whose? And ginger ale with a plastic straw in a grass full of—sip it in, you’ll feel better—where is her mother now? Is she alright? Is she?

It is—this room—this bed not hers—this chair not hers—that picture on the wall of glass—or no. Not glass.

The light frothing now like waves of the sea—a dense feeling of singing or concussion of light of brightness from the round yelling blind thing in the sky—that—like a baby face or a spoon or the Owl and the Pussycat or no. It was a cow jumped over it.

This rabbit—that’s it—not hers—must belong to Katrina—oh God! Where is Katrina? Is she alright? She’s been so long away, too long away—she’s been swimming in the pool—is she—is she alright? That colour that qua qua qua—  

That—“I wandered lonely as a crowd…” Mushroom crowd—how do we make ourselves small, Miss McGarrick? How do we make ourselves small enough?

Her father is late now and her mother will be waiting for her, breakfast prepared. But she can’t smell any toast—not yet. She’s hungry.

And what is this—this silver pen and this cotton thread which is as thick as a snake.

The light is a flood now, the ceiling a river, the floor a capsized boat, the bed not hers—a sunken wreck of a boat—eels creeping through like snakes, this rust of light. The chair is a tiger, the picture is a wall of glass and her father—is late. Where is he—is he on the way? Is he?

And the door opens and it is—it is—no. It is not her father, not her mother, not Katrina. It is not Miss McGarrick or Mr. Taylor. It is someone she has never seen before, standing there and staring at her, saying “It’s me,” over and over. Standing there, still. With the ocean on her face. 

Are we safe?


A photo of a white woman with light hair. She is wearing glasses and a plaid shirt and standing in front of a tree.

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She began writing short fiction six years ago, and since then her stories have appeared in journals in Canada, the UK, and the USA, including Filling Station, Litro UK, Fairlight Books, the Chiron Review, Into the Void, and Fiction International. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions.