Archive for December, 2014

December 19th, 2014

Death on the Subway

by Caterina Valentino, Learner, Writing Workshops

Karen strode onto the subway car and plunked herself in the corner seat by the door. She tucked her knapsack between her legs, sighed and, as was her practice, began to study the faces of the train’s patrons mentally creating a Portrait Parle of intriguing facial features. It was in that silence of noting every nuance of visage that her eyes stopped dead. She tried not to stare but she couldn’t help herself. She snatched glances when she thought he wasn’t looking, when no one was looking. She surveyed him up and down. There was no mistaking it. Every detail Karen had ever read about death was etched in his facial features and carved out by his physique. Death sat in subway car 1929.

Bowed over, he cast the image of a vulture crouched in a treetop peering straight ahead searching for its next piece of flesh. Each of his twelve back vertebras curled up and hunched forward forming a smooth arch that met his seven neck bones that shot straight out parallel to the floor. His head’s high frontal bone curved down over what only could be a pea sized brain in an oversized cranial vault to settle at the bridge of his curved and pointed snout. His horn-rimmed glasses sat precariously on the bridge of his nose. In profile, his singular beady black crow eye looked straight ahead focused on the doors that would eventually open to Samarra. His dangly arms rested on his thighs. His smooth skinned hands unaccustomed to hard labour were folded. His fingers intertwined at the ready to snatch any desolate soul that happened by.

His ringless finger indicated he belonged to no one. His jet-black hair streaked with grey swept back off his face, over his ears and terminated in a greasy cow’s lick at the crown of his head. These daunting traits were minimized by the one solitary drop of mucous that hung from the tip of his pointed nose patiently waiting for gravity to draw it to the subway floor. It was that solitary drop of yuck that captivated Karen. Her eyes were riveted to that solitary glob of slime as gravity slowly elongated it for its descent to hell. Did she see his tongue arc to snatch the nose drool? Karen sat frozen in her seat, afraid to move in case Death swooped in and scooped her into his arms. An eternity passed before that bulbous mass of snot detached itself and plunged down between his legs to the car’s floor –splat – only to slowly regenerate at the end of his beak. Karen disappeared further into her seat. The doors chimed opened, she slithered away keeping her distance. Safe on the platform, Karen looked ahead, to the sides. Now a mere shadow in the crush of passengers, Death had escaped her. For how long, she was uncertain. But, for today she was safe.

Caterina’s piece was written for Ann Ireland’s online writing course: ‘Fiction and Non-Fiction Writing’ (CWWR 415).

December 19th, 2014

Excerpt from Consumed

by Sanober Bukhari, Learner, Writing Workshops

Sirens blared as the paramedics pulled up to the bus stop across the street. Amy stopped in her tracks on the sidewalk nearly dropping her bags of groceries. An elderly man was lying on the ground in the bus shelter; the paramedic performing CPR sent thundering waves across the man’s pale stomach, desperately trying to revive him. Amy’s eyes were locked on this man; she couldn’t tear away from him. So she held her breath.

The next few minutes were a blur. The man was no longer being pumped. The paramedic with a grim face moved his hands away to usher another medic to the scene. The body lay limp and still. His shirt still raised above his naval now revealed a still stomach, looking deflated, defeated. The second medic wheeled a gurney in and in one swift motion they placed the body on top. How easy it was to lift this lifeless body, Amy thought remembering reading something about the body losing 21 grams after death. 21 grams. The weight of the soul…didn’t seem like much. She forced herself to blink so she could snap out of her head. So quickly the scene had cleared, so quickly the crowd that had gathered around the dying man, intrigued by whether he would live or die, lost interest and dissipated. Once you were zipped up in that body bag, double doors shut behind you, no longer were you part of the living, breathing human race. We are a cruel people. She was angry at herself mostly, because while she had just watched a man die, at the back of her mind she was very aware that there was ice cream melting in her grocery bag.

Sanober’s excerpt was written for Ann Ireland’s online workshop: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level I’ (CWWR 410).

December 19th, 2014

A Deckhand’s Lunch

by Jim Grindlay, Learner, Writing Workshops

The rhythmic rocking and rolling of the deck beneath my feet, on an undulating sea. The oily stench of diesel exhaust. And now peat smoke – astringent and saccharine – redolent of burning hay and scorched Guinness – wafting across the deck from the galley stove below.

I’m fighting the muzzy-brained, bubbling-stomach churn of seasickness. ‘Just do like they do – focus on the fishing…’

For the past six months I’ve been a hitchhiker. But for this one day, I’m a deckhand on a coastal trawler fishing Clew Bay, a salt water salient of the North Atlantic biting into Ireland’s remote west coast.

‘Lunch time, Lads!’ hollers the skipper. I’ve fished hard and I’m ravenous, despite my teeter-tottering equilibrium. Me, the two regular deckhands and skipper drop into the smoke-hazed galley and slide onto the wooden bench cleaving to the inside curves of the bow.

Then the skipper unpacks our lunch. I’m quietly stunned:  white, store-bought bread and cheap strawberry jam.

We take turns smearing our bread with the runny, sugared redness – one hand upturned as a plate. Then a thermos of milky, sweet tea makes the rounds. My lunch tastes like penny candy. I squelch my disappointment; I chide myself for my middle-class expectations of more.

Then! A startling spectacle. From a bucket at his feet, the skipper scoops out a handful of just-caught scallops and lays them on the stove’s hot metal top. Quiet h-i-s-s-s! of sizzling juices. Delicious aroma of seafood restaurant. One-by-one, each cooked scallop opens itself wide with a small puff of steam. The skipper hands me a spoon. ‘Try one, lad!’ he urges. Digging out the poached morsel, I do.

HOT! Then s-m-o-o-o-t-h…and buttery tender… a whisper of natural salt…then POW! The zesty piquancy of the sea. I laugh with delight and pleasure. ‘Wow! That’s fabulous!’ I exclaim.

Waiting for the next round of scallops, I chomp into my simple jam sandwich. A sudden Jolt! of freshly invented tastes electrifies my palate. Like lager with honey, like cheddar with grapes – the savoury aftertaste of seafood fuses with the sweet strawberry preserve to create a flavour entirely new – greater than the sum of its parts – as ineffable as heavenly manna.

I lean back against the gently swaying hull and grin with happiness.

Jim’s travel story was written for Ann Ireland’s online course for travel writers: ‘Creative Travel Writing’ (CWWR 952).

December 19th, 2014

Excerpt from On the Island

by Leah Sandals, Learner, Writing Workshops

Waiting for the ferry to dock, Julia was inspecting her mint-green manicure when a leaf fell into her cleavage. “Fuck,” she sighed.

Sea winds had already ruined her blowout, and dark clouds threatened to soak her through before she met Martin. She tried to fish the leaf out and scratched her sternum. A deckhand reclined against a bollard, smiling at her. She frowned and turned away, inadvertently crushing the leaf into brown flakes that spread over the front of her black silk blouse. Feeling herself sweating, she tried to brush them off but couldn’t get them all—would Martin think he’d made a mistake? Had she made a mistake? She reached into her pocket for the bottle of medicine the naturopath had given her. As she spritzed it into her mouth, its herbal, alcoholic taste mingled with the diesel smell of the boat exhaust and the salt of the water, and the elixir produced the Dumbo-feather effect she had hoped for. She wouldn’t crash into the ground. Not this time. She watched seagulls wheel over the bobbing steel hull, observing that their crap was nearly titanium white.

When Julia first applied to the residency, it had sounded idyllic: spend four months on an island off the coast of Maine. She’d be far from her dealer, who kept pushing her show in favour of works by younger, shinier artists; far from art fairs where her work resembled a polyester scarf at a mall kiosk; far from the art openings with cheap red wine and everyone gathered to congratulate and envy each other; far from the fertility clinic where the doctor stared steadily at her file, never at her face, while outlining the increasingly expensive options available to her; far from alleyways that smelled like piss and men who stood too close in the subway.

As she stepped off the ferry, clasping her dyed white-blonde hair (a colour which helped hide the grey) to the nape of her neck with one hand and dragging her small, silver rolling suitcase in the other, she felt elated. The sky was clearing. Pale beach grasses waved in rhythm in front of stunted pines and cedars, growing at an angle, hugging the rocky slope. Just above was a small, one-street town, where a drugstore/gas station/beer store/post office advertised ice creams, perched on the rocks. There, tourists from the mainland milled about, priming themselves to taste spheres in every colour of the rainbow.

Martin met her in the store’s parking lot, waving from behind the wheel of a forest-green Mercedes SUV affixed with a magnetic sign: “Byrd Island Residency Program.” They had only talked on the phone before, but she had seen his face in thick, glossy, perfect-bound magazines: “International tech magnate and art collector returns home to found residency centre,” these stories reported. “Believes creativity will revitalize childhood haven.” In those magazines he was often shown wearing a close-cut navy suit while standing barefoot in the sand, or posing in a plaid shirt and Carhartts next to a large, shiny metal sculpture that resembled a ball of fishing nets.

“Julia!” he said, stepping from the vehicle and kissing her on her left cheek, then her right. His hair—brown with white streaks—rose from his forehead in a pompadoured arch that somehow failed to shift in the breeze. As he leaned in, she could smell his cologne—sandalwood and black pepper. CEO-grade styling products plus lots of yoga equals xenoestrogen-compromised yet highly motile sperm? She wondered. “So glad you’re here. Great to finally meet you in person.”

Leah’s excerpt was written for Cordelia Strube’s workshop: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level II’ (CWWR 411).

December 19th, 2014

Untitled

by Christine Jarvis, Learner, Writing Workshops

Readers read not for plot, but for company.

That reminder hangs over my computer.

I don’t read fiction to find out what happens, but to meet the people who deal with what happens. Writers whom I invite back more than once are writers I feel comfortable with, writers who create characters I like to spend an afternoon chatting with over a pot of tea or a few glasses of wine. Writers more and more of bygone days more so than modern times (Hermann Hesse, Ayn Rand, Elie Wiesel, Susan Howatch, PD James, George Eliot). Writers who put their characters in situations I can see myself in, or who set their stories in places I’d like to live (the English countryside, coastal Holland, Canada’s prairies. Places with space, a history, salt-of-the-earth people, weather).

I read a bit of fantasy (JK Rowling, The Hobbit, Golden Compass, The Giver) in past years, years when reality was harsh and I wanted to escape for a while, but there’s nothing new to my bookshelves in that category. I have never read horror stories (life was horrible enough back then—why go through it again?). I don’t read sci-fi (my nature and interests lean toward what’s at least plausible), or travelogues (not financially possible for me any longer and other people’s luxuries don’t interest me). I don’t read “teen angst” stuff. Or any-age angst, for that matter. As a teenager I had no time for angst because both parents worked and I was the responsible “home help” so didn’t have time to get in teenage trouble. There were torments enough in the adult years, but why spend my precious time now with characters who bring me down in situations I no longer want to relate to?

There’s a time in people’s lives, I know from experience, when reality has to be endured. I read career books when I was in the work world, for example, and dementia theory for tips on coping with Alzheimer’s when it moved in. I didn’t read the “plan for retirement” books. There was no time to plan—retirement came suddenly for me, and now I’m in it, experience is teaching me all I need and to know.

I’m working on a memoir of the Alzheimer years, because those memories are in me and want out. But otherwise, for that part of the day when I open my door and my mind to the world, I want company. Quiet and pleasant company. That’s what I invite in to read and to write. To anyone who urges me to read / write outside my comfort zone, I say it took me a long time to find and move into that zone. I’m not leaving any time soon.

People who read fiction give you a few hours of their precious time. Don’t make them regret it. Write something substantial, something challenging, something inspiring, something that will get you invited back again. Readers read not for plot, but for company. Write company for somebody.

Christine’s piece was a writing exercise completed in Ann Ireland’s online writing course: ‘Fiction and Non-Fiction Writing’ (CWWR 415).

December 19th, 2014

Practicing Dialogue

by Paula Hunter, Learner, Writing Workshops

After dinner Jonathan drank most of Andrea’s vodka, then she took him to his bed. They tried. He was flaccid. Outside, the shouts and laughter from the other volunteers, drinking and playing cards. Andrea and Jonathan lay face up, naked, shared a cigarette, their shins covered by a portion his dirty sleeping bag, the ceiling lit by a candle on his bedside table. Andrea let out a laugh overhearing a conversation on the other side of the door. Jonathan looked over at her and smiled.

Andrea sat up and took the Lego Christmas tree off the shelf above his bed. “Where did you get this?”

“My sister.”

Andrea lay back down, passing the cigarette to Jonathan.

“Hhm. So you celebrate Christmas?”

“Yup”, Jonathan took a long drag of the cigarette.

“So you believe in God?” Andrea asked.

“I guess so.”

“Just in it for the gifts?”

“I like the story.”

“I like the story too. Do you believe in heaven and hell, that part of the story?” Andrea asked, turning over to face him.

Jonathan sat up, reached for the cigarettes at the end of the bed, lit another one, took a long drag and lay back down. “What do you mean?” he asked passing the cigarette to Andrea.

“I mean, do you think that if you’re fucking perfect you’re going to heaven and if you’re not, well, off to hell it is.”

“I think we’d better get some sleep. I need to sleep.” Jonathan rolled over to face the wall.

Andrea put the cigarette out, draped her arm over Jonathan’s waist kissing his neck, her other hand holding onto the Lego tree like a children’s favorite stuffed animal. “Well, I think you’re fucking perfect, nothing to worry about.”

Paula’s piece was written for Ann Ireland’s online short fiction writing course: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level I’ (CWWR 410).

December 18th, 2014

Excerpt from Dear Joseph

by Elizabeth Moreau, Learner, Writing Workshops

She wasn’t expecting a photograph. So when it tumbles out of the envelope into her lap, for a moment she thinks the letter is from someone else. But there is the familiar deliberate script, blue ballpoint ink filling every line and both sides of the drugstore notepaper. Five, maybe six sheets this time. She sets the letter and the photograph on the coffee table and pauses, breathing deeply. Realizing she still has her coat on and keys in her hand, she stands and heads slowly to the closet.

Since the first letter more than six months ago, neither had suggested exchanging photos. He had not asked about her appearance, or she his, though from time to time she imagined what he might look like. Then she would tell herself it didn’t matter. There were images, though. How he put on shorts to go for a run in the yard. How he wrote his letters to her while sitting on his bunk. How he got down on his knees on the concrete floor to pray.

The newspaper clipping he sent with the third letter had no picture, but the headline quoted the presiding judge’s regret at not being able to deliver anything harsher than a life sentence. If I could, the judge had said, I would pull the switch myself.

She hangs up her coat, returns to the couch and picks up the photo. Four people—one man laughing and holding a small child, another crouching, a women with her arms around a teenaged boy. Mother and son, she imagines. She flips over the photo, but there is only a date: July 1986. Her first thought is how relaxed they look, except for crouching man, who stares straight into the camera with an intensity that almost makes her want to look away. Almost. It looks like any other family photo, but for the bars on the window behind them. She doesn’t need to read the letter to know which one is Joseph, but later she finds the reference in his letter.

I am enclosing a picture of me and a friend taken recently when his family was visiting. That’s me in front with the black boots. I’ll get a better one done soon.

*

Elizabeth’s short story excerpt was written for Ann Ireland’s online short fiction writing course: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level I’ (CWWR 410).

December 18th, 2014

The Girl

by Lauren Hummel, Learner, Writing Workshops

It was morning, and the girl trekked down the deserted path. The sun came up on the eastern ridge, light piercing through the heavy foliage. The air was heavy and tepid. The stagnant stream that she had plunged herself into earlier had now turned into a raging current. The churn of the water was deafening, drowning out birdsong and her heavy footsteps.

She stopped by the edge of the river to cup water into her hands and drink deeply, ignoring the unrelenting pain of hunger in her belly and the dull ache in her bones. She splashed the crisp water onto her face and neck, and dried herself with the shawl. Her shoes began to peel and her mourning dress was sodden with mud. She ran her thin fingers through her knotted hair and collected it into a simple plait. She touched the side of her face, the blue and red mark still evident, and still sore. Her right hand unconsciously fingered the gold ring on her left, the only valuable thing she had.

Images of her husband suddenly overwhelmed her and her eyes closed. The distinctive shock of red hair. His white teeth in a sneer. His sharp, blue eyes staring at her from across the kitchen table, mistrustful and accusatory. His fist on her face and his knee in her stomach. She fought back the memories, and wiped the tear that had fallen down her unmarked cheek.

The sound of dogs barking suddenly broke through the sound of the river. Her heart jumped and adrenaline coursed through her weakened body. Her mouth went dry and her head spun. Had they finally caught her scent? They certainly would smell her now, as her body was drenched in sweat.

She threw herself in the ditch beside the road and made herself small. She tried to slow down her breathing, but it was no use. Her hands were held together in prayer. She forced her mind clear of the inevitable violence the redheaded men would bring to her. The dogs kept yapping and were getting closer and she could hear footfalls on the loose stones. The footfalls were heavy, but she could only make out one pair of feet, not two. She peered up from the bulrushes. It was a farmer with two sheepdogs, who were yapping playfully at a stick he held in his hand.

The girl breathed a reprieve. Her shoulders loosened and her hands released from their grip. There were no dogs, no men hunting her. She evaded them for now, but this peace would not last. The men were relentless. They would hunt her until she was under a mound of dirt next to her dead husband.

Lauren wrote this as a continuation of the first chapter from The Outlander by Gil Adamson – a young woman is being chased by men and dogs. This piece was written for Susan Glickman’s novel-writing course: ‘Novel Writing – Level I’ (CWWR 420).