Mornings, I draw a bath for him, follow his footprints around the house calling out so as not to distress him.
Where have you been? Out swimming? I can smell the river on you.
He doesn’t answer. Eats toast over a map of Europe, buys a pair of hiking boots, disappears for three months.
He posts pictures of the Alps. He meets a girl named Martina. She likes to swim, too. She teaches him how to breathe underwater.
He comes home the day the planetarium closes down. We go to see the last performance: a slideshow of the cosmos. This is how the morning star travels, in a crooked arc across the sky. The stars are never perfectly aligned despite what you might think. Things are happening outside our galaxy, he says. Big important things. He holds my hand and switches seats with me when the woman beside me starts weeping.
At 28 he’s too old for dancing. I go out alone, meet a girl by the toilets, suck crystals off her hand. Where is he, your friend? she asks.
Men in white jeans descend the stairs above us. Are you ever tempted, they want to know. The girl stretches out her legs and lays her head on my lap.
I’ve lost all my friends, she says. On one of these floors.
Sit with me for as long as you like, I tell her. And she does.
In the morning, I open the windows. Let the river in.
Last night I met Martina, I tell him. She asked me a lot of questions.
Who’s Martina? He laughs, frightened. That’s impossible.
I begin swimming laps at the public pool. The water’s warm and smells of men’s sweat, though there are hardly ever any men around. One afternoon I spot Martina. She’s wearing a one piece and has almost no breasts, just a steady flat line running over the hook of her ribs. Her armpits sprout miraculous black hair. I hover on the edge of the pool in my goggles and watch her spear the water in a perfect crawl.
The next time I see her she’s teaching kids backstroke. She’s taller this time and larger and her hair is pulled back in a sharp tipped ponytail. She removes the inflatable rings from the kids’ arms so they float weightless. Their bodies barely dent the surface. They don’t always float. Sometimes they go under and she scoops them out, and tells them not to overact, which is something he tells me when I mention that I’ve seen her.
You’re imagining things, he says.
You used to like that about me, I say. I’ll stop imagining her if you give me the facts.
There are no such things as facts, he says. Only moments.
In the New Year he throws a party for his friends and announces that he’s moving to Japan. He’s always wanted to go. It is the closest thing we have to the future, he says.
I thought you didn’t believe in the future, I say.
I don’t. That’s why I want to see it.
No one argues with him.
In recent months I’ve met people who look like him, others that don’t but sound like him, exactly like him, even in foreign languages. “Kosmos” translates to ornament, he explains or someone explains in his voice. We are the ornaments of the universe.
He posts a picture of his new room. The walls are made of rice paper. A roll-up mat, canter of rice wine. Everything’s made of rice, even the trees.
In Japan your only luxury is the length of your hair. He’s grown his past his shoulders.
There’s even a tax on dreams, he tells me. All your dreams must fit into a teacup.
What if they don’t, I ask. What if they don’t fit?
Then you have no other choice, he says, but to stay awake.
Kasia Juno is a writer, teacher, and aspiring comic book artist. Kasia studied literature and creative writing at Concordia University and the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in Maisonneuve Magazine, The Hart House Review, The Puritan, and The Rumpus.net. In 2009, Kasia received the Quebec Writer's Federation prize for short fiction. Kasia is currently at work on a book of short stories.
In the middle of the last century Leland spoke in a way that smoothed North Avenue down to a plain field and rolling prairie under a rounded sky in the pastel spirits of pink and grey. He held the magisterium of speech over pastels and rolling stock and over everything round. His speech couldn’t produce anything that wasn’t round and smooth and that wouldn’t in some respect roll away.
He spoke of sleek and festive cars with weighty but rounded fenders made for the maharathathas, the chariot warriors of the neighborhood. They drove their grand cars into martial lines, like the chariots on Kurukshetra, and they rolled away. He spoke of the wheels and balls of games of chance, of rounded figures and full chords, of the always round faces of gods and goddesses, whether open or concealed, of the rolling motion of every proceeding and of the cloverleaves of the distributive round on round, on which the chariot warriors drove.
Yet while everything Leland spoke of in the middle of the last century was smooth and round and rolled away and was gone Leland himself was never round or smooth but statically thin, angular and pockmarked. He smoked harsh and reeky foreign cigarettes. Even in the summer, he never wore pastels, but black shirts and slacks that were torn and shiny with wear.
He sank, repeatedly, onto a bench in a corner of the poolroom reserved for everyone living under a curse. All of his friends slumped there with him, dressed in black, and they all lived under a curse. They gathered at the back of the poolroom like a colloquy of embalmers. Sunlight in streaks flowed through the skylight and turned their faces to stone.
All of his friends were driven by the greatest anxiety and had been for uncounted days. They had discovered that they had no story and therefore no self. That was the nursery rhyme of their curse. They once had a story. Now they had none, and they had no immunity to this lack of story, which rolled through their minds like moonshine and left them sour and hung-over in the morning. Their anxiety made them calculating, mean, cold and sour.
It was that simple, but it was their business to make it appear less so.
Maybe it would have been better if they had never had a story, for now they kept re-casting the old story, which they no longer altogether knew or even cared for, into ever more violent, calculating and sour colors, flavors and scents, inciting disturbances and disasters up and down the Avenue.
Remote and middle kingdoms along the Avenue had never known the old story when it was fresh, and so had no hope of resisting the effects of these sour re-castings, which acted on them like moonshine at a strange remove. It sent their people raving and slaughtering with iron machetes through the woods and fields. They rampaged along North Avenue, shattering storefronts and house fronts along the way, encumbering the sidewalks and doorways with fragments of stone, splinters of wood and broken glass.
The shopkeepers and householders were squat and round as Inuit. They had no use for anything splintered or broken or for anything that wasn’t in some sense round. They made very good lentil soup.
The Avenue was thus encumbered, but Leland walked freely among the householders and shopkeepers, unencumbered. All of the others stumbled over their own ruptures and fragments, exchanging curses and gambling for their own cloaks. But everything Leland said rolled away, and his view was left undamaged and unobstructed.
But it was hard to say why he was immune to the disarray and debris of the old story, the jagged but rugged old story and its endless knock-offs, parodies and plagiarisms, which had all the virtues of not making sense, like a mirror to North Avenue but translated to a glowing sphere. Maybe he was just lucky.
Jane lived in an old house on a modest street up the hill from North Avenue, on an upper floor with a balcony made of timber encumbered with bicycles and folding chairs, shielded by a bamboo screen and looking out over the gulf.
Further hills rose higher behind and each had a kind of temple at the top in the form of a track house, service station or burger franchise, with singular clouds overhead. The hills were green and demanded temples, so however ugly the building or method nothing else could be built.
On an island in the gulf, Ravana brooded his next move. His brooding introduced iridescence and choppy waves over the surface of the water.
Jane had just moved into the neighborhood from some yet more remote kingdom alien to the old story and its sour re-castings, but she did keep a representative collection of all the epics, and could cite the appropriate passages. She moved about securely behind her bamboo screen.
Looking for sunshine, Italians, maybe Romans, had cleared the way of trees, and lined the sidewalks with stone cherubim and stone artichokes. Sunshine built up the street, brick by brick, up the hill to Jane’s house. Whitely, the summer heat ballooned the two narrow lanes into a wide boulevard. There was nothing rounder than the white light rolling down and up the hill.
Still, up the hill Leland’s walk was herky-jerky and uncertain. His hands were empty of gifts. His gaunt frame and fractured gait were no help. He smoked one of his reeky foreign cigarettes in the sunlight. One rounded sentence, and then another, was all he had to offer.
* M.W. Miller is old enough to have devolved into an article of clothing, a talking hat. At present, hats are more sold than worn, so that few people even know how to wear them. Even worn badly they may help in the rain.
Places You Should Avoid (They'll Remind You of Your Dead Sister)
THE GROCERY STORE
Two years after his sister's death, Matt starts seeing her everywhere.
Ice cream always melt so easily and it's not even summer yet; strawberry-flavored from the grocery store five blocks from where he lives is an even worse choice, fingertips not just sticky but also pink-red in the end. There she leaned against the music magazines with childhood scratches in milk-white scars under the knee. Here Norah from two rows behind in school beats him to the counter and makes him three minutes late. It's not late if you have nowhere to go, but Matt is annoyed nonetheless. Maybe annoyed by the way the white uniform socks roll down on Norah's ankles just like they did over Claire's.
The girl takes the classic cone with a bar of Cadbury chocolate half-buried on top.
`You know Margaret Thatcher invented soft ice cream?´She tells him.
And that's the kind of thing Claire might say, on a day like today, and the kind of gesture she would make, lick a drop of ice cream fallen on her knuckle.
THE END OF THE STREET
Towards where he and his sister used to walk every morning and then wait at the bus stop and then get in the bus together because his school and her high school were two blocks from each other. Claire never minded that people saw her chatting with her little brother on her way to class. Not even when she was sixteen and he was fourteen, or when she was seventeen and he was fifteen and things like being cool and hard had started to matter for girls.
Now he kicks the air or some invisible dust along the street and notices the weeds slowly eating their way up the steps to Mr. Tyler's front porch and Matt cheers them to grow even faster, swallow up the whole house, the whole neighbourhood like a sci-fi novel.
`Why are you here? This is not on your way home,´ he asks Norah one afternoon.
She shrugs and Matt thinks she is making fun of his habit of not answering her questions but then again maybe it's the only way she can really answer, the only way that means nothing and everything all the same time and Matt thinks, as an afterthought, without realizing, that she is pretty. But not as pretty as his sister (and this part is definitely not an afterthought).
It was weird to see mum at the funeral, after so long, old and her mascara smudged and looking like she was about to cry, face bloated and all, but then she didn't cry, which was a let down, if you ask Matt.
`Where were you yesterday afternoon?´ Norah asks during History, leaning into Matt's desk and blocking the sun that was falling on the wood, in patterns that had started to make sense in his mind, after twenty-one minutes of Roman conquest and set-backs in Germany.
`I was- Mmm- You know,´ Matt shrugs.
His textbook open on a page with a drawing of what the south of Germany must have looked like in 15BC and Matt thinks it all looks terribly cold and frozen and suddenly he feels sick to his stomach.
THE BENCH IN FRONT OF THE FOUNTAIN
The spring Claire shortened her skirt by 2cm she and Matt discovered this spot on the park where they could sit and close their eyes and let the murmur of the water dripping fill their heads until they were blank. After class it was “wonderfully distracting”; after Saturday morning football practice it was “blissfully cooling”. Those were the expressions she used.
Claire loved sunlight and her legs turned pink then brown then golden during the summer. That's why Matt thinks it was particularly cruel the way she died, and he hates to think about her trapped in the cold forever.
And that's why when Norah makes him walk to the park with her and takes his hand and says Hey, I know a great spot, Matt's heart fills with dread and an irrational dislike for Norah.
But in the end Norah just wants to show him the kiosk where some times bands play, string quartets and, some holidays, the wind section from the police orchestra.
Matt feels a bit disappointed it's not the bench.
HIS OWN ROOM
It's still odd and some sort of treason, the way it catches him by surprise, the way his body expects to turn a corner in the hallway and into his room and find Claire sitting on his bed, or messing with the filing system of his homework in his study table.
`You never paid any attention to me,´ Norah protests, when he finally invites her in.
Matt shrugs, not wanting to examine any cheap excuse going through his mind now, a throwaway line from a B-movie, like you make me remember and all that stuff.
Norah stands on the bed, shoes knocked to the floor, and examines the tiny white spots on the otherwise-blue ceiling.
When she was eight Claire took liquid paper and painted little white dots on the ceiling of her room. She had been vying for that star-map wallpaper for a long time but she didn't want to ruin her own room without trying it out on her little brother's first. But they don't glow in the dark, Matt pointed at the obvious flaw in her DIY plan.
SIXTH FORM CLASSROOM B
Claire never carved her name and some guy's on the class desks.
Matt looked for those at the beginning of the year; he looked under the desks too, the part were the wood is unvarnished and soft and rough at the same time, hoping to find a trace of her handwriting, her blue felt-tip pens, like he did at home (a moment of great discovery, on the side of the table legs in her room, random lines from Buzzcocks songs, but he only found that out much later, after research). It's just coincidence and family tradition that he ends up in the same high school, but still.
For some reason he starts doing it again, looking for clues, these days, after months of leaving it alone.
He gets down on his knees and studies the underside of his desk, maybe there was something he overlooked in his first examination.
Mr. Collins catches him.
`History class is up here, Matt,´ he says, pointing at the blackboard. `Not down there.´
The whole class laughs at that and Matt can make out Norah's laughter through it all, shrill and accusatory.
If your body temperature goes down to 28-30º C there's risk of hypothermia quickly leading to clinical death.
If it approaches less than 2º C outside it's time to salt the roads to avoid traffic accidents.
Matt wonders if he should tell Norah all this, warn her.
Dad couldn't get rid of everything.
There were things that were, simply, stupid to throw out. The books (Claire's collection of Japanese horror novels, paperbacks always with black covers and a character named Ryoko) for example. Matt admits to salvaging some things, under his father's nose, illegally, like a smuggler.
Claire's pink lipstick for example.
`It's chipped now,´ Norah declares.
Matt wants to point out that it's two years old now, of course it's chipped.
Norah puts it on, in any case, spreading it over her lips with one fingertip. She leaves it on the desk -Matt makes a mental note to retrieve it later, and return it somewhere safe- and sits by him at the very edge of the bed. Her weight makes the mattress move and waver, like a raft, like they are rowing through a wild river, full of crocodiles.
Norah leans in – a bit awkwardly, as they are side by side – and kisses him.
Lara Alonso Corona was born in a small city in
the north of Spain. She completed her Film and TV studies in Madrid
before moving to London to work towards a Creative Writing degree. Her fiction has been showcased in ABC Tales and
the Glass Woman Prize, and more recently she has been published by The
Copperfield Review, Devilfish Review, 50-word Stories and The WiFiles.