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).

August 8th, 2014

Excerpt from Jade Beach

by Kathy Rupcic, Learner, Writing Workshops

I kick down further to come face to face with the reef. The French Angelfish like these crevices and I study as they float in suspension outside their miniature caves. I’m giddy with the thought that no matter where I drift, I’m in the company of wonderful friends; Blue Tang, Batfish, Yellow bars, Clownfish, Coral Grouper, Parrot Fish, Damsel Fish, Tobies and Surgeons.

I feel uncommonly welcome in these aquatic villages. Today’s location is exceptional. The sky blue water feels as soft as it looks and creamy white sand seems to emanate light from the ocean floor. The splendor makes it hard to accept that on the beach above, a man stands with a rifle.

Read the full story of Jade Beach on Kathy’s blog:
2ndhalfstories.com

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

January 10th, 2014

Untitled

by Shannon Fernandez, Learner, Writing Workshops

And then there was the girl in the pink dress. She sat at a huge custom made, wooden lemonade stand, with smooth edges and a built in bench for customers to sit on. The whole thing was painted hot pink with a string of Christmas lights twisted into letters that spelled  “Alexandra’s”.  Alexandra had the biggest smile of all and Beatrice was drawn to the lights.

“Well hello there dear,” chirped the girl in pink as Beatrice approached.

“Hi,” said Beatrice.

“How are you on this delightful summer day?”

Beatrice shrugged, “You?”

“I’m fantastic thank you.”

The girl pointed to the Christmas lights, “I’m Alexandra, would you like to buy a refreshing glass of lemonade?” Alexandra gestured to the hand painted menu which read:Lemonade $2.00/Pink Lemonade $2.50/Sugar Free Lemonade $3.00

Beatrice fumbled around in her pockets, even though she already knew she didn’t have any money. Her fingers stuck to a forgotten piece of bubble gum that she had shoved in her shorts a few nights ago, wanting to save it for the next day. Now her hand was stuck in her pocket, and she left it there.

“No. But do you want to play?” asked Beatrice.

Alexandra’s smile disappeared and she rolled her eyes.

“We don’t play here,” she said, “We sell lemonade.”

“When is your break?” asked Beatrice.

“There are no breaks,” snapped Alexandra.

“Who’s your manager? You have the right to take a break you know,” said Beatrice. “You should talk to your onion representative.” Her father worked for the local 675, and was always talking about how employees legally had to take a break every few hours. She was trying to be helpful, but was met with a glare.

“I AM the manager, besides if you take a break, you lose,” said Alexandra. “One time, Esme’s mom called her in for a snack. While Esme was gone, a bus of German tourists made a wrong turn down Clearview Avenue, and everyone made at least five dollars that day. Esme made zilch,” she said, pointing three doors down at the girl on the towel with Dixie cups.  “She never ate ants on a log again.”

Beatrice didn’t know what to say.  She stared longingly at Alexandra’s tin can telephone.

“Can I try your can telephone?” asked Beatrice.

“It’s called a tin phone,” sneered Alexandra, “and the network is only for Lemonade Girls.”

Beatrice nodded understandingly.

“Well if you’re not going to buy anything, move along,” said Alexandra. “Make room for the actual customers.” Beatrice looked over her shoulder, she didn’t see anyone, but Alexandra was still glaring so she left.

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

January 10th, 2014

Excerpt from A Workaholic

by Richard Tattoni, Learner, Writing Workshops

I made two mistakes in life. Someone once said that death is not the greatest loss in life. I think the greatest loss in life would be missing out on retirement benefits. Going to school for television broadcasting and then making a career in media were two serious errors in judgment. Not a lie, but just a sane person’s reality. I remember my youthful years when I was a big TV fan. It was a long time ago.

“I want to thank you. That was another great year of internship.” I said in a polite voice. The well-dressed director of programming smiled and shook my hand. He was wearing dress shoes, dress pants and a dress shirt. It looked like he had bought his dress suit yesterday after shopping just to waste time. Maybe only directors wore expensive clothing because other workers always dressed casually.

I was eventually hired after seven years of working for nothing. Another four more years passed while making enough money to pay rent and live in my parents basement. Dad visited me downstairs after dinner one night. The happily retired man wore fancy European denim jeans and a cashmere sweater. I was a little tired from working a ten-hour shift. He said “Sorry I ate the last piece of chicken, son. Do you know who invented the television?”

“No.”

“Adolf Van Strauss in 1939.”

“I really don’t care.”

“The veteran of WWI was sitting in a German monastery in the Bavarian Alps when he transmitted the first live telecast of an expert yodeler attempting the first emergency yodel surrounded by eleven men dressed as Nazi soldiers.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Yes and you’re a chip off the old block.”

There must be some reason why people actually want to waste their time but there was no time to ponder the existence of television in my parents’ basement. I went back to work the next day wearing mended jeans and a soft washed hoodie. Most importantly, I helped produce a commercial about starving kids in Africa.

Richard’s excerpt was written for Cordelia Strube’s workshop: ‘Works in Progress: Writing Workshop’ (CWWR 514).

October 30th, 2013

My Friend Anxiety

by Steph Lindsay, Learner, Writing Workshops

She finds her way into my bed
never wanting to let me sleep
her touch keeps me restless
she whispers sweet nothings
worries and fears

I wake to feel her inside me
her hands twist, squeeze and knot
my stomach
she sweetly strokes my racing heart

I breathe dead air
her hand circles my neck
inhaling fast, short, shallow
lungs barely able to expand
muscles tensed
gasping against her grip

Slowly she dances into my head
filling the empty space with noise
her flamenco
stomping, clapping in the silences
spinning, spinning
trembling, I collapse
into sleep

In the morning, I roll into her arms
She knows how to keep me under the covers

Steph wrote this piece for a course on creative writing about grief and loss: ‘Writing Creatively About Grief’ (CWWR 530).

August 29th, 2013

Excerpt from FOR THE DAUGHTERS, a memoir

by Christine Jarvis, Learner, Writing Workshops

I made two rules when Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed: my mother and our home would not smell, and my mother would know beyond doubt that she was safe and loved every minute of her life to the end of that life. Our journey was a short one – only three years from diagnosis to death. This is one of the stops on our journey.
* * *
I have two kitchen specialties: phone out or defrost and serve. Tonight it’s cook-from-frozen breaded sole and Parisienne carrots, and packaged Creamy Bacon Carbonara pasta. Mom calls it gourmet cooking when I serve it in the white Corning Ware dishes.

“I want to thank you. That was a lovely dinner!” she says in her Lady of the Manor voice. She goes behind her chair and stoops to pick up her shoes tucked under the sewing-machine. They have never been just shoes, of course, but always “my-good-black-shoes.”

“I don’t like to eat and run, but it’s getting dark outside. I’d better go home now. My mother worries if I’m not home before dark.”

I used to say, angrily, “You are home and you’re eighty-two and your mother is long dead!” and march her down the hall to the bedroom she has slept in almost every night for over 30 years. Then, as my knowledge of this foul disease grew, I progressed to “I phoned your mother and she says it’s okay for you to stay here tonight.”

Not a lie, but just…entering into the other’s reality.

That works for a time, but I begin to suspect that the desperate, aching need to “go home” has nothing to do with any physical place. She has no idea where she is when she is sitting in her own chair in the living-room. “Take me home” really means “take me back to a time when I know who I am and life makes sense.”

If I could do that, we’d both go.

Most importantly, I see the impact of the forgetting. Each time I say “your mother is dead,” her face crumples and the tears come, as if she is hearing the news for the first time. I am inflicting a blow to the head and a knife to the heart, over and over and over again. How very cruel we can be until we understand.

Tonight I say, “You get your shoes, Mom, and I’ll put the kettle on. After we have a nice cup of tea we’ll get you home.”

By the time we finish our tea she’s ready to take off her shoes and relax. She pads down the hall to her bedroom and gets into her nightgown. I help her into bed, tuck in the blankets, and she sighs contentedly.

Home safe! Be sure to tell my mother I was in before dark,” she says.

She buries her nose under the covers and is sleeping before I leave the room.

I go back to the living-room and tuck the good-black-shoes under the sewing-machine for next time.

Christine’s piece was written for Ann Ireland’s online writing workshop on intermediate short fiction: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level II’ (CWWR 411).

August 28th, 2013

The Party

by Cameron French, Learner, Writing Workshops

We’ve been at the party for just over two hours, and I’m ready to go. Two drinks in, and I know if I have one more I won’t be able to drive.
I spy Sheila by the stage, wine glass curled in her hand and her face flashing green and red in sync with the lights. I can see she’s talking to Lori. Ugh. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but I’m a little nervous all the same.
Sheila can work the room like nobody else. She excels at superficial conversation in a way I can’t, which is why she makes such a good PR rep. I can’t do that shit. She’s never met Lori before, as far as I can remember, but Lori seems to be spilling her life story, one arm waving erratically and the other balancing a tumbler as she pushes home a point. I’m guessing the drink isn’t her first, or third.
Sheila’s facing me and I wave to get her attention, pointing at my watch. She doesn’t nod, but I know she’s got the message: we leave after the conversation is done. I have our coats and am standing by the door when she walks over about ten minutes later.
“That took a while,” I shout to be heard over the booming 90s dance music, as she takes her coat and walks out ahead of me. The lobby staircase is about 20 feet wide and carpeted black and gold leaf. It combines with the deep red of the walls to give the 19th-century hall a regal, but claustrophobic feel. “Nice spot for a Christmas party,” I say in a more civilized voice after the door to the dance hall slams shut behind me.
“You said that earlier,” she says, looking down at her high heels at she descends the last few steps.
The lobby is decorated like a post-WW II movie theatre, with vintage posters of movies like “House of Wax” and “Singin’ in the Rain” interspersed with historical photos of the venue. A pre-renovation image from the 70s shows a badly decayed lobby, the paint scaling on the walls and a blackened ceiling. Amazing how a building this beautiful could be neglected, I think.
An old man in a tuxedo that might have fit him 20 years earlier pushes open the door as we approach, but Sheila stops about three feet short of it. Cold air washes over us and the old man looks up expectantly.
“Problem?” I say.
“Where were you last Thursday?” she says without turning, her voice competing with the screech of a passing streetcar. I feel a chill down my back, which compounds the effect of the outside air.
“Why do you ask?”
She whirls. Behind her the old man’s arm starts to shake in its baggy sleeve as he supports the thick wooden door.
“What kind of answer is that? I’m asking where you were last Thursday.”
Goddamn Lori, I think. I should have known this would happen. I should have faked the flu so we’d have to skip the party.

Cameron’s piece was written for Cordelia Strube’s advanced short fiction writing workshop: ‘Short Fiction Level III’ (CWWR 402).

August 28th, 2013

Space

by Erin Pienaar, Learner, Writing Workshops

“Are you jealous, Ben?” Martha leaned over his shoulder, scanning the newspaper held in his wrinkled hands.

Ben smacked the paper on the table with the force he normally reserved for swatting insects.

“Jealous? Of some wealthy ass sending a bunch of idiots on a fool’s errand? You know me better than that.”

“But it’s Mars! They’ll be making history!” Noting the frown on his face, Martha turned to the sink and went to work on the breakfast dishes. “Not that you haven’t already,” she added hastily.

Leaving the last plate to drip dry, she joined Ben at the table, resting her chin on her closed fist.

“Would you go if you could? If you weren’t…”

“Old?” he asked, crossing his arms. “Infirm?”

“Oh, don’t be like that. I just want to know if you miss it. Space, I mean.”

“Let me tell you something about space. You come home and gravity’s a bitch. You’re groggy all the time and everything’s heavy, even the tongue in your mouth. You feel like you’ve aged decades even though you haven’t. I’m done with space, thanks.”

“I don’t know. I’d like to see the world from all the way up there,” Martha said.

Ben grunted and took a sip of juice.

“What is it like?”

He reopened the newspaper. Martha watched him for a moment and then sighed.

“Do you want me to make coffee?”

He shrugged and she got to her feet. As she parceled out grains into the filter, Ben cleared his throat.

“Your mind can’t comprehend what it’s looking at. It’s like there’s no frame of reference for it.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “And it’s so small, hanging in space like that. Fragile. Beautiful, but so damn fragile.”

Martha turned, her hand hovering in the air for a moment before she placed it firmly on his shoulder. He didn’t return her touch but he relaxed a little, sagging under its weight.

Erin’s piece was a response to a dialogue exercise for Ann Ireland’s online workshop introducing short fiction writing: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level I’ (CWWR 410).

April 11th, 2013

1962

by W. David Gamble, Learner, Writing Workshops

It was a bitter, fall day and somewhat grey, if memory serves. Just after classes at about four in the afternoon, a group of us were walking towards the tawdry, little hangout, a modest diner, we called the Honeydew in that little town of my formative years. Just as we approached it, having ascended the gentle hill to the east of the high school, the girls with whom I was walking shrieked and giggled their appreciation and not-so- hidden attractions to their favourite teachers, who, in those days, were young and, sometimes, very good-looking.

They were candid and fresh in their comments; I wasn’t really there. It didn’t occur to me that, had the ‘guys’ been there, perhaps this banter would not have been so open. But I was there, and it was.

They went through the litany of the saints: Mr. Gervais the French teacher was decidedly good-looking with a shock of thick hair that he tossed rakishly to the side when it impeded his view of the class; Mr. Black the math teacher had a body of death, having been recently demobilized from professional football; however, Mr. Piedmont whom, because of his unfortunate stature, we called Ichabod Crane was not so alluring. They shrieked guiltily at the thought of their girlish unkindness to the belittled history prof. However, I agreed tacitly to myself that most were worth noticing.

And then Paula said it: “I think Dean Walker is really sexy.”

Now, Mr. Walker, our favourite teacher and collective mentor for the entire school, was special. His influence was felt about the little town in every home from which he drew a student. But sexy?

“No, Paula,” I contradicted confidently, “I don’t think he is.”

She looked at me, I think, with a knowing kindness and replied softly in the stretched atmosphere, “But, Danny, I think he’s sexy.” Observing the emphasis on the pronoun, the others were resoundingly quiet, with the articulate silence whispering at me.

Heat rose into my face; I looked straight ahead, and when the little clique hit the Honeydew steps, I mumbled a quick ‘seeya’ and disappeared into the glooming fall twilight. The evening was as long as humiliation.

W. David Gamble’s short story was written for Cordelia Strube’s workshop: ‘Novel Writing: Level I’ (CWWR 420).

April 11th, 2013

Storm before the Calm: Jungle Hopping in Nepal

by Isabel Dimitrov, Learner, Writing Workshops

Eyes wide open and body tense, I lay motionless, gripping the bed frame as if to anchor me to the ground. I braced myself each time the thunder hit, shaking the frail bamboo walls of the hut. The room was shrouded in darkness, the electricity having switched off long ago. Rain soldiered on relentlessly, like horses galloping frantically on the roof.

“Where is Krishna now?” I wondered, thinking of his proposition just a few hours before to head to the lake at sunset and catch a glimpse of the elusive Bengal tiger quenching her thirst. “I’m a little tired,” I had responded awkwardly to mask the initial reaction that remained unspoken: “That sounds crazy.” Then again, it was a moment of spontaneity (some called it crazy) that had led to this Nepal soul-searching adventure in the first place, armed with little more than a reliance on serendipity. Of course Krishna came to mind now. He was practically raised in the Chitwan jungle, and could sense a crocodile in the water without even seeing it. Surely he would come before this monsoon swept me away.

Beads of sweat dripped down my forehead. The humidity in the room was unbearable, but staying inside seemed to beat running around in a torrential downpour. Wrapped in a mosquito net I looked up, fixated on where the net was attached to the bamboo ceiling. It creaked ominously. “Just close your eyes.” I had resorted to a consolatory saying I heard once: Sometimes things will just be better in the morning.

My eyes opened. A ray of sunlight had peeked through the shutters in the window. I sat up and let my feet touch the floor. Damp. Some rainwater had seeped in. I walked cautiously to the door and heaved a sigh. Mother Nature must have done her damage but I was in one piece. The lodge was probably in total disarray. I opened the door. Krishna’s curious eyes stared back at me. “Good morning! How about some chai for breakfast Miss Isabel?” I followed him wordlessly. Workers were sweeping away orphaned tree leaves and bringing up scraps of wood to patch up the few holes the rain had caused in its wake. “Lucky you,” said Krishna as I sat down and he handed me my chai. “You’ll be on your way before the real monsoon starts!” I sipped the chai, savouring the warm, milky sweet tea for the first time since arriving to Nepal.

About Isabel Dimitrov:

A natural nomad with a heart for community affairs, Isabel has lived in Canada, Jordan, France and Egypt and has travelled to almost 40 countries. Recently returned to her hometown of Toronto (at least for the time being!) she is inspired to write about her adventures abroad but also closer to home, including the trials, tribulations and triumphs of experiencing reverse culture shock.

Isabel’s travel writing piece was written for Ann Ireland’s online course for beginning travel writers: ‘Creative Travel Writing’ (CWWR 952).