The following three students were successful applicants to the Liz Krehm Mentorship in Creative Writing, a 13-week mentorship that matches a writing student with a Writing Workshops instructor to work one-on-one. The students receive the mentorship for free, thanks to a generous donor. If you have taken at least one course in Writing Workshops at The Chang School in the last five years, you may be eligible to apply for the next round. Visit the Writing Workshops website or contact Ann Ireland, Academic Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Joanne Jackson, Mentee, Liz Krehm Mentorship in Creative Writing. Mentor: Ann Ireland
I’m in the lobby when the elevator opens and a group of people step out. They’re silent as they squeak past on their rubber-footed walkers and crepe-soled shoes, eyes looking neither right nor left. Like a school of fish they turn down the hall, stopping in front of a closed door. A shaky hand reaches out and rattles the knob; the door doesn’t open. The group melts back a few steps and waits in a huddle. I frown at this peculiar scene until it dawns on me what it’s about; the letter carrier’s due to arrive.
I remember decades ago when I delivered mail to places like these. There was always a crowd in the lobby waiting on my arrival, parting the way like I was Noah himself. They’d smile pleasantly and pat me on the back, feigning interest in me. But it was a ploy. The moment I turned that key and entered the mail room, they would crowd in behind me like they were kids at a rock concert heading to the mosh pit, bony hands and frail arms half carrying, half pushing me across the floor. There were times I was afraid I was going to gasp my last breath smothered by soft breasts and bald heads. Somehow they always managed to deposit me beside the mailboxes, then stand in a pulsing group of flesh — butterscotch breath and Old Spice mixing together in an ungodly odour — waiting for me to pull out my master key. I would slide that panel up, exposing all of the boxes at once to the same smattering of applause, as they commented on how marvellous it was I didn’t have to open each one individually. The moment I put my hand into my mail bag, like marionette dolls on one set of strings, the group would lean closer and squint cataract-clouded eyes at what I drew out. Then as surely as winter always arrives, someone’s arthritic fingers would reach forward and pinch a piece of mail from my hands with the words, “I’ve got one,” shouted out for all their peers to hear. I’d have to threaten them to back up or I’d leave, taking the mail with me.
Today the front door opens and the letter carrier enters. It’s a rookie: she has her Tilley hat on backwards — the Canada Post insignia is at the back of her head. The crowd murmurs with anticipation. She pushes her brim back and a look of terror crosses her young face. Then using her bag like a shield, she rushes the mail room. The group moves in for the kill, crowding her towards the knob. I hear the keys clang as they hit the floor. She bends down to retrieve them and for a moment I lose her as she’s swarmed by grey heads and crooked backs. Finally she stands and holds the keys high in the air, momentarily triumphant in her victory. With shaking hands she unlocks the door, and the crowd surges inside. The last thing I see is an age-spotted hand gently tugging the door closed behind them.
Novel in Progress
by Kim Murray, Mentee, Liz Krehm Mentorship in Creative Writing. Mentor: Susan Glickman
The problem with smoking was all the other smokers. Alexa had hoped to enjoy a quiet moment out on the terrace while watching the sun come up over the Edgewater grounds. Instead she found herself wedged against the door as one of her fellow patients blew smoke in her face. He had the desiccated build and rotted teeth of a hardcore meth addict.
“I miss those days when time had no meaning,” he said, inching closer until her back was pressed against the wall. “Days and nights that just passed by in this beautiful haze. Now it’s like I can feel every minute, every second passing, you know?”
She did. She was on day twelve of a thirty day stint, and Alexa wasn’t sure how she was going to survive the next eighteen days. Her stay was voluntary, they’d made that very clear when she’d checked in, but it had been made equally clear to her that her job depended on her completing the entire treatment.
“And the conversations! Such gorgeous conversations, you know? About life, real life…”
Alexa took a drag from her cigarette, enjoying the dark pull on her lungs. Before this week she’d been nicotine-free for six years, and it surprised her how easily she’d slipped back into the role of smoker. But cigarettes and coffee were the only vices allowed in this place and the distraction they offered helped to break up the monotony of the day, which always followed the same pattern – breakfast, followed by Yoga, group therapy, lunch, individual therapy, meditation sessions, more group therapy, dinner, “reflection” time and then lights out by nine o’clock. All of it conducted under the sharp-eyed watch of trained therapists and dozens of fellow addicts. She’d barely had a moment alone in twelve days.
“…you can only really know someone once they’ve unhinged themselves from the great, dark mechanism of the world and…”
Alexa nodded as the man rambled, and took a couple of steps to the left, hoping for some avenue of escape. Over her captor’s shoulder she spotted Verne, one of the orderlies from her wing, climbing out of his van. “I’m so sorry,” she broke in. “I really need to go talk to Verne about the toilet in my room. I had a bit of a…accident last night.”
“No problem, sister.” He touched the side of his nose and stepped aside. “I understand completely.”
Alexa crushed her cigarette beneath her sandal, not bothering with the lovely, hand-carved ashtrays they’d provided at well-placed intervals along the terrace. She managed to catch up with Verne just as he was heading through the back door towards the kitchen. “Hey,” she said, startling him enough that he almost dropped the box of assorted herbal teas he was carrying. “I need you to get me my phone.”
Excerpt from “The Geologist”
by Leah Sandals, Mentee, Liz Krehm Mentorship in Creative Writing. Mentor: Cordelia Strube
With her hands covered in tears and mucus, Lila went and stood on the balcony. Gazing over the large prairie city emerging from winter into spring, the land resembled a graham cracker, the grasses still light brown, with sunshine cutting through the downtown skyscrapers like a benediction, a blessing for the oil industry in which she and so many others worked. The mountains, large mounds of rock blue and white in the distance, said, “You are here for good reasons; we are watching over you; there is grandeur in nature; and great skiing, too.”
Skiing. Lila’s mother in old, faded, yellowed photos, poised in heavy, black leather boots with silver buckles, in bell-bottomed snowpants, in parkas with pointy, shirtlike collars. Her bottom lip a small, upturned smile, never too ecstatic—except for maybe the rarest of those old photos, where her teeth beamed in a laugh.
By the time Lila arrived, what with three kids to raise and a husband with a bum knee, there was no time for skiing, and then no husband at all. Yet when James and Melody were too teenaged and too cool to be seen with them, Mom would pack Lila into the rusting sedan with a packed lunch of waxy apples and brown-bread-and-orange-cheese sandwiches, and they would drive out to her beloved mountains, to walk them. The hard, city-life line of her mouth would flex, her eyes would soften and open, and Lila felt protected by her gaze. Once, when Mom was losing her ability to speak, they ran into a bear; she clamped her hand hard on Lila’s neck to tell her to remain perfectly still, and Lila waited until the bear walked away.
A fall from 12 stories up would bring stillness. The hardness of concrete might vary, of course—would be difficult to know if what they used on the condo entrance was a 5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale (Medium/Soft) or an 8 (Very Hard). No doubt, it would be hard enough.
Lila took her phone from her pocket. She’d felt it buzzing for an hour. Her screen was filled with messages from Dick:
let m xpln
we need 2 talk
don’t be stupid
don’t be crazy
you can always get so crazy
we can work ths out
at least let me back in 2 get my stuff
yur the only 1 for me
she meant nothing
where r u