The Voice of Arts – Themed Literary Contest
The word Ekphrasis translates to “description” in Greek and ekphrastic writing describes or is inspired by a work of art. Each contest entry was inspired by a piece of visual art from our Annual Juried Show of 2019. Please enjoy the contest winners works below.
Adult Poetry – 1st Place
Sheltering by Leslie Casey of Barrie based on the painting, Chair Series ll, by Charles Choi
Leslie has kindly agreed to share her winning poem with you.
The ceiling-walls-floor of the room painted in rough brush strokes
the colour of bark, a tree in the green shade of early spring.
No coffee table, but a sofa and two chairs in solid blue, ruby,
gray, a single lamp casting reflected flame
onto the framed picture behind it. White accent
cushions cannot soften the pall; silence hangs
like the absence that follows mourning,
earth-dark and palpable.
“Painter must paint what is before his eyes,” Choi wrote.
The chairs of course and the window on the far wall;
in the shadow-gloom he fixed his gaze, painted that opening into light
as if to lift the eye outward beyond the pane –
touches of blue and white, a door out of focus.
At the edge of the sofa he reaches out, flicks the switch
high on the gnarled pole of the lamp. Enough light
to paint for an hour or two until night
already slicing the view outside
creeps closer. He loses himself, the dusk
and the fire. Forest, pooled shadows, the light
outside the window moving to black.
Face in the cushion like the man in the moon.
Time turned inside out.
“By placing the painter inside the painting, a tree, its shade, a moon and its face inside the room, and various aspects of light – a window, a reflected flame, the lamp, both on and being switched on – inside a ‘a silence [that] hangs / like the absence that follows mourning’ , this subtle, atmospheric poem turns not only the painted space but time itself ‘inside out’. How did we get here, and where now, exactly is here?”
Brian Henderson, Judge
Adult Poetry – 2nd Place
Silence by Eleni Gouliaras of Toronto, based on Chair Series ll by Charles Choi
Eleni has kindly agreed to share her winning poem with you.
Once upon a time
a house I built
large bay windows
a worn maroon armchair
by a window
watching arrivals departures.
Once upon a time
splintered wood shattered glass.
I sleep I dream
of a ghost.
The past pulls
I let it
waters ebbing caressing me into memories of your arms.
I lay in your bed like worn pajamas
mouth your name.
I used to call for you
behind the drapes of your silence:
you were a ghost
before you were a ghost.
Adult Poetry – 3rd Place
Hadrian’s Wall by Beth Girard of Aurora, based on Pizza Box by Erin Le Page
Beth has kindly agreed to share her winning poem with you.
It’s about eighty-four miles long,
zigging and zagging across the English landscape
but it doesn’t form the border with Scotland.
That’s just a myth.
It’s there to keep people out, that wall,
and to keep people in,
Walls work like that.
Built up with fierce care, stone on stone,
determined hands chinking every gap,
every space where light comes through,
caressing the hardness, loving it.
It isn’t hard to love a wall.
Ours is less than the narrowest point of Hadrian’s,
the space between our bodies
where they lie together at night.
Adult Fiction – 1st Place
Mother, me by Teegan Mannion of Claremont based on Pizza Box by Erin Le Page
Teegan has kindly agreed to share her winning piece with you.
I put my lips to the bottle looking for comfort and I remember wearing cold cabbage leaves
on my breasts, frozen, to drain the undrinkable
milk back in to my body where it came from.
Swollen hard, rippled like the sand under the edge
of the ocean under my feet back when
I was a little girl dreaming of babies.
I cried into my daughter’s face as she rooted
thinking she was the one I was withholding from,
as she opened her mouth looking for love
and I popped neon plastic poison pills
supposed to make me smile in to mine.
But there are lots of ways to mother and it was my hunger
not hers I couldn’t feed.
She was fine with the rubber nipple
and the milk from mama cow in my arms;
She’s no less whole now.
But I’m still trying to drink oneness
from the bottom of a brown glass bottle,
and though it turns my stomach sour and the
loneliness larger than the place I’m pouring it
I keep swallowing, despite knowing full well
I have to feed myself first if I hope to feed anyone else.
“This is a boldly impressive work that firmly establishes in the mind of the reader a unique and believable first-person narrator. Disquieting and cleverly engaging, artfully structured, the rapid-fire pacing of ‘Mother, me’ will transform your assumptions about what can make an extraordinary reading experience.”
Brian Henderson, judge
Adult Fiction – 2nd Place
The Complete Works of Min-Ju Kim by Tristan Marajh of Toronto, based on Pizza Box by Erin Le Page
Tristan has kindly agreed to share his winning piece with you.
The Complete Works of Min-Ju Kim
Sunlight streaked gently into the dark room through the blinds and settled on the blanket that covered Min-Ju’s curled-up form beneath. She turned sluggishly, raised a piece of the fabric off her head and peered at the clock. 11:04 A.M. Late, by all human standards. Which was the real her, really? This… creature, awakening with the heavy hopelessness that seemed to be the unspoken condition of existence, or the one who could get up and carry on despite it, even if doing so felt like pretentious fakery, a sad theatre? Even the furniture, in their neutrality of presence, seemed to mock her. She drew the blanket over her head again, pulled herself into fetal and squeezed her eyes shut, but sleep didn’t return. Instead, the jagged, disturbing knowledge of the accumulating wasted mornings bore down on her, like boulders rolling down a mountain slope.
She could hear Hyejin moving about upstairs; her sister’s disoriented footsteps moving from the bed, evolving into more determined ones as she went through the business of starting the day: the teeth-brushing, gargle and spit, no-nonsense shower, breaking-bite off an apple’s flesh in the kitchen. “Miiiinn,” Hyejin implored, putting on her heels by the doorway.
“Uhhhnghh?” Min-Ju responded from beneath the covers; hair over her face, some in her mouth.
“Get up. Have breakfast. Go for a run, take your Ipod with you. Go see a comedy film. Take a walk after.” Hyejin noticed the unopened box of pizza – that she’d ordered two nights ago – under the couch her sister lay upon. “Rinse the green beans, and we’ll stir-fry them for dinner.”
“Uhngh-huhngh,” the creature beneath the covers mumbled. Hyejin wondered which task this was a response to.
“I’ll see you later. Get up.”
Another murmur from her sister and Hyejin, shaking her head, left the condo. Min-Ju heard the door close and the lock turn. She was alone.
Hyejin’s exhortations were her personalized version of the same thing Dr. Chung recommended Min-Ju create: structure. She thought about trying Hyejin’s proposed version, but she couldn’t bear the manufactured artifice of it. Didn’t Dr. Chung, MD – especially FRCP(C) – ever hear of the saying: “all structures are unstable”?
The other option, though, was the abyss. There was still yet that other option too, unspeakable yet ever frequent in her mind, but Min-Ju didn’t think she could go through with that either. It would be like killing her Appa too, who wanted nothing more than to garden, see his daughters and read. A curious sight Mr. Kim was now, sitting cross-legged and bespectacled in the library, with his dense beard and Blue Jays’ cap; a man in quiet forgiveness and acceptance that his younger years could have been more wisely spent learning. “How is your writing coming, my jagiya?” he would ask Min-Ju, as if it were something inevitable and supposed to happen; a matter of fact as sure as springtime. Min-Ju knew this was formed from a belief in and a love for her that she couldn’t fathom and even if she tried to, she could picture herself collapsing from within. She too, was after all a structure, able to be brought down by silent, invisible forces.
It was only when Min-Ju felt like her body was feeding on itself that she got up from the sofa. She went over to the glass doors that led to the balcony, parted the blinds and peered outside, a recent, solitary tendency she didn’t quite know the reason for. What she knew now, though, was that her childhood suburbia was a prison, this prostitute of a city was all about the money, and it teemed with creatures of alien races; males and females of each finding each other and perpetuating the precepts of their species, pushing strollers, walking the malls, opening businesses and clustering in communities, each not seeming to have much to do with groups that weren’t theirs, and each not seeming to care. Upset at this separation and wondering if she was the only one affected, Min-Ju would write furious commentary and search for prospective publications to send them to, believing that people needed to know. Skilled immigrants are chosen as permanent residents based on their ability to settle in Canada and take part in our economy, the government’s website said. Money.
These were the words Min-Ju was scowling about to the computer screen when she heard the door lock turn and the door creak open. A lightswitch was flicked on and a swash of light flowed into the living room where she sat. “You remember Min-Ju, right?” she heard Hyejin say in Korean. Min-Ju looked up and toward the doorway, with the bewildered face of someone suddenly summoned but who wasn’t expecting to be at all.
A girl, a teenager of about sixteen, was standing near Hyejin as they both pushed off their shoes. Min-Ju squinted, trying to figure out who this was. The girl was the effortless and thus envy-inducing slimness of youth, pretty with porcelain-smooth skin and soft, acquiescent hair tied back in a sensible ponytail. “Ye,” the girl said, smiling enthusiastically, causing the word radiant to form in Min-Ju’s mind. Min-Ju, suddenly aware that her own hair was a wild, tangled mess and that she was wearing sweats and sweat, decided that she would shake the hand of this girl, who evidently knew of her, instead of approaching her to offer a smelly hug. She rose, walked toward Hyejin and the girl and offered her hand.
“Hello,” she said.
“Anyoung hashimnikka,” the girl said, bowing as she took Min-Ju’s hand. For a moment Min-Ju was startled. Oh right; she remembered: ‘respect’. Multiculturalism policy talked about Respecting Each Other’s Differences. What the hell was respect, anyway?
And now Min-Ju had a new responsibility: show Song-Yi, the sisters’ new guest and second cousin visiting from Seoul, around the city. Song-Yi would be staying three weeks. As they sat around the small table near the sofa, eating the pineapple pizza Song-Yi had eagerly requested on the way from the airport, Min-Ju discovered that she would have to show Song-Yi the city, and not so much her city.
And so a gloomy Min-Ju and an excited Song-Yi zoomed up the CN Tower then dipped flatbread at an Ethiopian restaurant. They sailed to the Toronto islands then noodled at The Thai Express. After wandering through the sprawling gothicism of the University of Toronto and then the quirky Royal Ontario Museum, they walked down Bloor to Fresh Vegetarian Restaurant. They had biryani at a Pakistani joint before trekking near the sandstone cliffs at Bluffer’s Park. And all the while, as a spirited Song-Yi oohed in wonderment, camera-flashing at architecture, markets, Earth formations and colorful cultural festivals – evenjamming with subway musicians – Min-Ju’s mind was in tumult. Outwardly she was the patient guide standing by, presenting herself and the city’s attractions dutifully to Song-Yi, but capital-P Present she wasn’t.
On the second night of the second week of Song-Yi’s stay, Min-Ju couldn’t bring herself to finish the warm, tzatziki-dipped pitas that she and her cousin had taken out. She was disgusted with herself, even as she had taken the first two bites and tried to maintain some semblance of presence with Song-Yi. It was the incident at the bus stop earlier. To ESL-hampered Song-Yi, it initially looked like a man quarrelling with a woman, the latter taking it with a sheepish what-am-I-going-to-do-with-him smile, but the man’s words became so ugly and abusive that Min-Ju herself felt wounded. Song-Yi had edged closer to Min-Ju, locking her arm in her cousin’s as thoughts of telling the man off clenched in Min-Ju’s mind, but just as suddenly – almost simultaneously – a mental scenario of the man’s violent reaction flashed, causing her to freeze. His shaven, tattooed head and bulging forearm veins didn’t help either. A streetcar pulled up with an oblivious, melodic chime and the man and woman entered it. It wasn’t the car the cousins were waiting for but they may as well have entered it too, because the whole scene stayed with Min-Ju for the rest of the day, upsetting her even more because she realized how pathetic she’d become. And now, back at the condo, comforting carbohydrate was an indulgence she couldn’t let herself continue with. Putting the pita down and leaving Song-Yi dozing on the sofa, she went up to her room, opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of paper: the discontinued novel Appa always asked her about. In frustration, on the blank side of one page, Min-Ju wrote:
“You did not say anything to that man, Min-Ju. You should have.”
Things were easier written than done for Min-Ju. During the euphoric World Cup fervor in the city streets, Song-Yi asked to take in a match among its fans to experience the festivity. Infest-ivity, more like, Min-Ju thought. Still, she took her cousin to a pub where Portugal versus Italy was airing. Min-Ju cared little for the whole tournament; it was a gross manifestation of the diversity problem, which was again evident when their waitress – after some idle chatting – went on a pro-Italy hurrahing, which inevitably meant Portuguese bashing. The rambunctious praise and then cackling scorn in her voice were so pronounced that Song-Yi sensed it too. Min-Ju wanted to ask why-are-you-even-living-in-this-city-then, but the woman was so raucously in conviction that Min-Ju again pictured verbal aggression, even slapping – a scene in her mind so detailed and intense that she believed it would really happen should she say anything. And so she did not.
“You could have called out the waitress on her tirade. It was ugly, nasty and you left her in ignorance. This is what fear does, Min-Ju.”
At the end of each day out in the city with Song-Yi, Min-Ju continued to write to herself things she knew she could have done or said in response to the injustices of the day. It is the little things that kill, and this was self-survival now: either she act with courage when courage was called for, or continue on in a fearful state, rotting away. She wouldn’t let herself live with the prospect that silence in injustice is the same as siding with it.
At the airport on the day of Song-Yi’s departure, Min-Ju felt like crying as her cousin dissolved through the doors to the departure gates, waving back at the sisters. Their cousin had embodied a free, exuberant spirit and a genuine liking of Min-Ju’s company, unwavering even when Min-Ju thought her own depression was obvious and affecting. Some days later, as the sisters were having dinner, Min-Ju commented that Song-Yi was one of her favourite people. Hyejin, chewing kimchi and rice, smiled to herself, happy her sister now had favourite people – and that Min-Ju was now venturing out of the condo.
Later that night:
“Min-Ju. Look: Humanity supports you; at least, the idea of them watching you. It adds quality to your composure and actions and it will heal you.
Live as if humanity is watching, Min-Ju. It will lift you up (because you are very much identified with pain and despair). It will help you recognize beauty as well; e.g., with the musicians today.”
Earlier, whilst making her way through Finch station, Min-Ju had heard the sound of two subway musicians: a cellist and a violinist playing together. The music was the raw, aching beauty of humanity itself; rousing and moving inside her something strong and pure, a deep longing for every one to live according to such a sound. An abrupt awareness of the ones now before and around her then cracked her senses open, making her a speechless witness to the moving flesh, limbs and noisy, colorful Earthiness of these limber and fragile forms; the pristine, shining Present. Min-Ju had paused for a moment. She straightened up then approached the musicians, placing change inside the open cello case and smiling to the men. “Thank you,” she said, before walking away. Hell may be other people, she thought, but so is Hope.
With urgent, tunneling need, Min-Ju continued writing herself into moving, functioning life; intelligent design and evolution now married. The personalities of the employment days were now unfamiliar to her: Sunday’s loveliness, the concrete Mondays, the quietly despairing Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Thursday’s hindering irrelevance, Friday’s cheerful triumph, the unshackled Saturdays. And according to what she wrote, learned in settings both social and solitary, Min-Ju started to do. Washed in suffering and now scrubbed anew by her writings, every movement in each moment felt intimate and new, a discovery in the doing. She straightened her posture after two years of existing in slumped mode. She helped laden commuters carry their grocery bags and smiled happily with the drivers of streetcars and buses, chatting on occasion with them. More than one driver insisted she ride for free. She formed friendships with seniors and schoolchildren at the community gym and she helped students with homework at the library. She ate consciously; savoring fruit in a pure, essential way like she hadn’t before and she groomed herself without indecisive pretension. And likewise, so Min-Ju carried on. In the trains, she found that looking away from the young men whose eyes she met hurt her more than it probably did them – it hurt humanity. So one morning on her way to an interview, Min-Ju smiled then winked at one young man, who broke out in a shy grin before quickly looking down at the floor. He looked up again, and winked back, grinning. The subway car was almost full, but it was just the two of them Present. Whatever ill a boy did to a girl, and a girl did to a boy, it was all forgiven.
At the interview in the ESL center, the school’s principal held up Min-Ju’s application, peering down at it through thick-rimmed glasses. “There is a two-year gap on your résumé,” she pointed out, looking at Min-Ju, waiting.
“That,” Min-Ju said carefully, drawing a breath in before a wide grin broke out across her face, “that was when I did the greatest work of my life.”
Adult Fiction – 3rd Place
The Lone Ranger by Beth Girard of Aurora, based on The Boss by Jennifer Burrows
Adult Non-Fiction – 1st Place
The Divorce by Judith McCaffrey of Toronto, based on Misty Morning by Lorelei Lapp
Judith his kindly agreed to share her winning piece with you.
The morning silence is my temple. I used to love the rain, the Nimbus bubbles, grey turning silver and pink. Now the dampness settles in my neck. The veins in my hands prominent, like cold blue water rushing towards the source. My skin becoming thinner like the ozone layer. Nettie had an aversion to aging. She believed in the power of expensive creams, make-up, and designer clothing. A nylon stocking, filled with moth
balls, hung in her bedroom closet next to the red Valentino gown. Her soul aged well,
but her ego tormented her, seducing her into depression. When Nettie was pregnant
with me she said that I watched movies through her belly button. Is my soul peering
out now, navel gazing at a world that is no longer familiar? A world that is covered in a thick
layer of morning mist. My body is unrecognizable to me. It sometimes makes me laugh, like a
blind-date, a set-up. Yet I am getting to know myself again, my very different self. I am waking up after decades of deep and suspended sleep, arriving at an alien destination
like an astronaut, or a mummy embalmed in grief, alive once more.
I am losing my keys, my hair, my precious vocabulary, straining like a lizard’s tongue for
the elusive words. The planet is aging with me, each rotation wearing us down a little more. I see technology submerging us like Atlantis. Miles of black waves over a once thriving continent; powerful crystals becoming dark. We are being divided and conquered by giants worth trillions. Genes mutate like the shapes of a kaleidoscope.
Poisons are concocted to make us better, when there is real healing available. Celebs in rehab,
brothers and sons in Detox. The pain is unbearable. The mind-body goes into shock,
feelings occur at a great distance. The meds make us numb. Our mutual denial
creates intimacy. Shiva rides a dying dolphin across the ocean of dissolution.
I am not depressed, just witnessing what is and what must be, the cataract vision of an ancient time traveller. Time, is the measure for human experience, for painful relationships. The shadow is the master of ceremonies. His brutal commentary used to
invade my dreams. I finally see the inequity. We share our Goddess power with partners, husbands, bosses, even friends, who in turn give it back to us, when it suits them. Why wait to be given what already belongs to us, what already exists within us.
We are all marvellous Marvel Wonder Women. I didn’t know this until recently, perhaps
I was catatonic by the end of my marriage, a soldier with a severe concussion, leaving a
quarter of a century of service to punishment and reward, co-dependency, punitive lectures, humiliation and betrayal, and belligerent drinking. I left the servitude that I
had permitted daily. I left the new house, the new stoneware dishes from England, on sale at Eatons, the triple pane windows that were easier to polish, the brand new appliances that were frost free and self-cleaning. My bank account was frozen, I was frozen. I was invisible by the time I stepped through the front door and out into the unknown, into the uncertainty of myself. I was broken and beyond begging for peace, and sanity, and money. I didn’t even have enough for milk. He corrupted our son with lies to punish me. I was no longer there to hide the alcohol, the sharp knives; my only son carving his wrists like a Sunday turkey.
I was taxed for leaving him. Payment was the Victorian dining room table with it’s fossilized marks of holiday feasts, the four mid-century chairs, my untuned childhood piano, and my coveted books including the writings of great yogis, Jung, and Rilke, all
held for ransom. He was giving away my volumes to his girlfriends to impress them, as I had been impressed. The elegant and abstract thinker, the observer, the quiet man, my Donovan, my British Invasion. I saw him, I wanted him. I was so young. At seventeen the fountain of the Seer is muddy. I could not know that the meteor was gaining speed and plummeting towards me. It would take twenty-five years to hit the bull’s eye.
My parents Nettie and Sol fought regularly. It was their dance of choice. My mother punishing my father for her neediness, which he enabled, but expected and hoped for another outcome. Nettie continuously calling him at his office, screaming like a banshee, psychic flaming ribbons around her head. Sol promising to take her for a nice dinner, a nice vacation. He meant well. Nettie would take her diamond shaped pill and go shopping with her new credit card. Sometimes my father would go to the St. George Hotel for a cooling off period. I was so upset when he left, as it felt permanent. I wanted to go with him. I would run to my bedroom, tearing down my Beatle posters, pulling out hair with the clips and rollers, my face in agony, like the green-light crucifix in Margaret Rose Caiola’s basement window. The green light increasing the torment of the son of God. Nettie would send my brother to the hotel to bring my father home. They were together forty-seven years, for better and certainly for worse.
I was eighteen when I landed in Toronto. I had been living in Greenwich Village with famous musicians and users, coming and going, having stolen my artwork and the 1927 gold and red buddha incense burner that my grandmother gave me. I was happy to leave N.Y.C. in June of ’67, my striped mini dress soiled with menstrual blood as I left the aircraft. I met him three days later. He had just arrived from London, tired and very handsome in his Irish Aran sweater, corduroys, and cowboy boots. There was no real courtship. We began living together like two displaced persons, in a room, in a stately house, on Admiral Rd. We washed the dishes in the old iron claw tub in the communal
bathroom. I served powdered mac and cheese from a box, almost poisoning him with an undercooked chicken leg. Our backgrounds were so different: a N.Y. Jew and an Irishman by way of Glasgow. My father was quietly shocked when he placed his boots on the marble coffee table the first time that we visited. He was not the
potential husband that my parents had hoped I would find. I had left home, the country,
seeking adventure, autonomy, and love, on a spiritual quest to know what was good in me and nurture it. I didn’t know that I would ride to hell on velvet, making choices that reflected my lack of confidence, naiveté, and my youth. I lived out my true conviction that I did not deserve to be happy, which he gladly reinforced to maintain the balance of his power within our relationship. I was minimized to soothe him. The affairs started after our son was born. His fear of being a father catapulting him into infidelity like his father Edward. I tried to leave several times, going back to N.Y. when Eddie was only nine months old. He arrived in Brooklyn in the red Datsun, pleading with me to return, and I always did. He had other women in our home, in our bed! There were affairs with friends and yoga students. The separations always concluded in re-connection. He demanded that I return home after my father’s funeral, then sent an apologetic retraction in a telegram.
I moved out when Eddie was three years old, renting a lovely house in Cabbagetown. The rooming house next door changed occupants weekly, hookers yelling in the middle of the night. I was lost, a polar bear in a blizzard. I couldn’t see myself in all of the static.
Therapy was opening a new frequency for me. My meditation was my lifeline, but the drama ensued. There is a haze around those years, like smog on the hottest day of summer. I can’t seem to put it all in order at this time, but I will because I must.
The new house was our final attempt to be a family. The meat and sweet potato dinners with fresh peas, Enya singing ‘Sail Away‘ in the new kitchen as I cooked.
Dirty dishes everywhere. Our old country auction table covered in the blue and white embroidered Portuguese tablecloth. Big crockery bowls spilling over with colourful bounty. However, I was not present in my body. Just going through the motions. I met him at work. He was a distraction, a challenge, a roller coster ride, perhaps a cowardly way of liberating myself.
Eddie’s cuts became deeper. He wrote a note to us in blood on his bedroom wall. The Clarke accepted him. Under Eddie’s rage was the little boy who didn’t want his parents to divorce. Friends and family advised me to seek strong legal counsel. Lawyers advised me to “get his balls in a bag.” I can’t recall the moment I told him that I was leaving the marriage. He probably remembers it in reverse, which no longer matters. I would stay in the house for nine months, while Eddie was in a dual diagnosis facility in Dallas. I would find an apartment before Eddie returned. I left with a ‘small purse‘ which was paid out over six years, the bulk going to Eddie’s treatment. My final act before I left my husband of twenty-five years was surrounding him in light and symbolically throwing him over a cliff, terminating our history, our co-dependent love, the bullying and abuse, and the karma between us.
“This is a perceptive, honest and introspective memoir of a colourful but destructive 25 year relationship told from a place of entangled karmic understanding and with verve and perfect pitch.”
Brian Henderson, Judge
Adult Non-Fiction – 2nd Place
In Adam’s Eyes by Teegan Mannion of Claremont based on The Boss by Jennifer Burrows
Teegan has kindly agreed to share her winning piece with you.
In Adam’s Eyes
Over the years, in my daughter’s excavation of the basement, while searching for hidden treasure and forgotten toys amid the rubble of things buried downstairs, she’s come across my clown things. I have a cardboard box with a wicker picnic basket inside, a red plastic bubble bear, some empty glasses frames and a few incarnations of my costume. It looks like the sort of thing someone might bring home from the hospital after a loved one dies. Leftovers, from someone who used to be. There are drawings and hand-beaded bracelets with two sets of initials, and crayon-printed notes in bright waxy letters tucked in there too. More than once my daughter’s tried on the red nose and spun around our living room, and after much admiration of the fabric – rubbing the farmer-plaid patchwork shirt between her fingers and up against her face – I let her cut apart my outfits and sew them into dresses and eye pillows and ribbons for herself and her friends.
At the bottom of the box, wrapped inside what’s left of my bright floral dress, is a photo that I won’t let her bring upstairs. Holding it heart height in her small hands, with reverence she says “This is your special friend Adam, right?”
“That’s right,” I say, and turn away, asking her to put it back in the box.
We sat at the dining room table, in their small bungalow in the east end of Toronto; Anna showed me photos of Adam, one by one. One of him at camp, six-years-old, wearing a red life jacket and a huge smile, holding a canoe paddle. Another, taken in their back yard, probably the year we’d met, three-year-old Adam digging in the garden, gripping a handful of seeds and soil, looking like he might have eaten some. The next, at camp again, with the visiting therapy horse, leading the large animal and looking very proud of himself. Six-year-old city Adam, figuring out how to be a cowboy.
Adam’s dad was in the kitchen making me real Chai, telling me through the doorway about the importance of the proper proportions of cardamom to cinnamon, ginger, fennel, star anise and cloves. He and Anna were teasing each other about their culinary skills, each saying that Adam would only eat their cooking, and refused the other parent’s. With Anna from Russia, and Wani from Kasmir, the rich and comforting scents of eclectic cuisine fill their home.
I held onto the photo of Adam with the horse; I couldn’t seem to let it go. I was fixated on two details: the hair peeking out from under his hat, and his eyes. The hair was unlike the soft, downy, baby fuzz I’d always known him to have; this hair was brown, and full, and straight. Only a few inches long, but it knew where it belonged, and lay over top his forehead resting at his temples and at the edges of his ears like it had always been there. It shook me, the hair that had returned in spite of how scary it is to hope. The body doesn’t worry like we do, that it might not last. Adam looked, there in that photo, like any other kid who had never heard of neuroblastoma. But his eyes were the same as always.
In that moment, in that chair, with the picture of my friend in my hands, I felt like my chest might collapse. I was afraid I would crack and crumble, my bones too fragile to support the weight of what I was feeling. My rib cage too flimsy to hold up the mess inside, I was sure I would end up on the floor. Dust and bones and emptiness. Tears poured down my face and I squeezed my eyes shut, ashamed for taking up space with my feelings. It wasn’t even my loss, my child. Wiping my face on my sleeve I turned away, looked down the hall toward the bedroom door that Adam would never walk out of again. I wanted to be present for Adam’s parents. I wanted to give them something to make them whole again, but I couldn’t even meet their eyes.
Anna told me that the camp photos were taken a few months ago at camp Ooch, just before Adam relapsed. “He was so happy there,” she told me, and smiled as she remembered it, “to be in the wilderness, to have the chance to play like other kids, to get a break from hospital appointments.” Anna’s eyes filled too then, and we sat there together – me, not yet a mother, and she, newly childless. She handed me a wrapped gift. I tucked my fingers under the folded paper and peeled it open. Inside was a framed photo of Adam and me taken at SickKids a couple years earlier – me, a tall, lanky ragamuffin clown, and Adam, a wiry, downy-haired five-year-old looking up at me like we were about to make some serious trouble. Wide eyes daring me with a look that said “Are you in?”
Adam and I made a lot of good mischief together. Harmless mostly, but it felt badass to run around inside a building whose walls never let us forget we were not in a fun place. Badass like yelling in a library. Reckless as we could afford to be. It reminds me of ‘clown doctor’ Patch Adams’ response to the accusation that clowns don’t belong in hospitals. “Neither do children,” he’d said.
When I first met Adam I was a newly-hired therapeutic clown at SickKids, at the tender beginning of an almost-decade-long career full of immense learning, deep joy, and more challenge than I was prepared for. Bright-eyed and fresh out of theatre school, I really had no idea what I was doing then – but I knew it was important. Adam was my first long-term, kindred-spirit patient-friend, and his death was my first major loss. Our time spent together, and the easy companionship that grew between us, taught me what I was doing there, and why, and laid the foundation for everything that came after.
We had fun doing anything, doing nothing. We chased each other along the giant-sized rainbow footprints down the long Atrium hallway, hopping, balancing, and toppling, rescuing each other from the bottomless drop to the gray floor beyond the edges of the footprint outline, with imaginary rope, whenever one of us fell off.
We played hide-and-seek and statue in the eighth floor corridors, freezing, invisible except to each other, stifling giggles when we spotted someone coming.
We hung out in the lounge and played the Cars video game I don’t know how many times – quietly competitive Adam inviting me to “just forget the race” and pull my car off to the side of the track alongside his for a picnic of strawberries, and soon as I did, taking off to get a head start, laughing at my naivete in falling for this trick again. I could never resist the promise of strawberries. Wani brought me hot chocolate with whipped cream while we played.
Adam and I reimagined the hand sanitation station in the Atrium into a library, checked out pretend books from each other, and read out loud from them until the space changed into our ice cream shop. Our make-believe ice cream with the gooey caramel sauce and loads of sweet, crispy sprinkles was some of the best I’ve ever had.
Sometimes we just sat beside each other, for a long time, while his chemo drugs dripped. Being together was enough. Just being together, was good.
I remember when Anna took that photo of us. Adam scooted right up next to me on the bench and almost grabbed my hand but got shy.
The last time I saw Adam, we rode the elevator together, the eight floors down to main, and sensing that neither of us wanted to say goodbye just yet, I walked him through the Atrium lobby to the front door. We lingered. He hugged me, and so did his mom, and then they got into the cab that was waiting. I knelt on the window sill beside the rotating door and pressed my red nose to the glass. Adam turned and looked over his shoulder at me, his forehead resting against the taxi window. As they drove away, we watched each other get smaller and smaller. I blew kisses to the back of his head as they rounded the corner. I went as far as I could with him; I would have gone farther.
With my weight held up by the dining room chair in which Adam had sat not long ago to eat the lovingly prepared food one or the other of his parents had cooked, I ran my thumbs over the surface of the picture frame, feeling the texture of the wood and paint. Anna painted it herself, bright green, with daisies, and she’d attached pink, yellow, and white craft butterflies to the front.
“Thank you,” I whispered. I wanted to say so much more. And then Wani placed a steaming mug full of the best-smelling homemade Chai on the table in front of me, and put a hand on my shoulder. “Thank you, Rose,” he said, calling me by my clown name.
Adam would be seventeen this year, but he is forever seven to me. My daughter, my first born, who wasn’t yet on the planet when Adam was my friend, has outlived his short life by a couple of years already, and my four-year-old son, my baby, is older than Adam was when we first met. Despite the shifting forms and shapes our living takes, life does, somehow, keep living.
I left my work at SickKids eventually; it became too hard to carry all the losses that had piled up. I hadn’t learned how to put them down, and absence can be shockingly heavy. I got too tired, and I needed to save some strength to hold my own babies. A few years ago I put the photo of Adam and me away, after having had it on my living room bookshelf for a long time. It hurt to look at what I had lost, and it scared me to be reminded that as a mother, I have a lot more that I could lose.
Anna said to me at the table “The worst thing that could happen, has, so now I am fearless.” I looked at my lap and tried to breathe, not understanding the peace on her face. I thought I was afraid of her sadness, but it turns out I was afraid of mine. She hasn’t let Adam’s absence take the place of everything he left her with. She hasn’t let death steal her son from her. But my fear of loss squeezes itself into the hugs I give my babies, my untended sorrow pressing between us, an invisible distance I don’t know how to remove.
I’m terrified by our impermanence, but I’m pretty sure that in its acceptance is where intimacy lives. I’ve heard it said that the opposite of fear is love, and I’d like to ask Anna if she agrees. I had wanted to give them a gift in their grieving, but it was they who gave one to me. It’s called grace, and shouldn’t surprise me that it came from the mother and father of the boy who taught me how to be a clown.
I haven’t figured out yet, even all these years later, how to let go. I still get a cracking feeling in my chest when I think about Adam. But rather than a crumbling disintegration into dust, it’s more of a crackly kind of breaking, like a glow stick coming to life; and there’s a restless tugging at my ribs that makes me wonder if I can go farther after all. I think I might go look for that photo, unpack it from the box in the basement and bring it back upstairs. I want to look my grief in the eyes like Adam looked at me on that bench in that photo – daring me into something big. Daring me to discover what is on the other side of fear. I want to look my grief in the eyes and say “You bet I’m in,” because although I still don’t know what I’m doing, I’m up for an adventure, and I suspect that whatever’s on the other side, it’s worth the trip.
Adult Non-Fiction – 3rd Place
Negotiations by Amy Baron of Port Perry, based on The Boss by Jennifer Burrows
Amy has kindly agreed to share her winning piece with you.
Negotiations. Every excavation season must start with negotiations. Seated on hand made oriental carpets laid out on the sand, with tiny glasses of strong black tea, archaeologist and sheik face each other. In Iran, in the 1960s this is the way every archaeological dig must start.
Our tall, lanky, Canadian archaeology professor has met his counterpart many times before on cool April mornings like this in the Iranian highlands. His Arab counterpart, dressed in the traditional robes of his people, pauses thoughtfully between each comment. These proceedings are not to be rushed. Niceties, discussions of family and horses, some small gift giving, all are part of the great game. Politics and money are coarse words to be avoided.
Behind each man, either seated on further carpets or standing amongst the jeeps and horses are their respective factions. Amongst the horses, sword wearing brethren of the sheik, strong young men excited by the presence of the foreigners, bored old men who have sat through too many of these discussions before. Among the jeeps, young university students spending their first summer in the Middle East, the experienced archaeological team, and the sole woman on the plateau this morning.
For our Canadian archaeologist travels with his wife. She is robed from head to foot in the manner of local Iranian women so as not to give offence. She is quiet, demure, and mostly stays out of sight. This is not a land of women.
Polite discussions out of the way the two men begin to weave a dance of words to determine whether the archaeologist will be given permission to dig at his chosen site that year. What certainties will the sheikh receive that men of his choosing will be given work? How much of the finds will remain in his country and on his land for the further glorification of his people? What is he personally to be offered to welcome his foreign guest for another season of work? All exchanges are phrased as gifts. Offers on both sides are made with benevolence and generosity on the part of the giver and received with gratitude and humility on the part of the receiver, and yet tough negotiations they are, however they are phrased.
Finally, agreements seem to be in place for what will happen if the bargain is struck. But still the sheikh hesitates. He has known this man for many years and likes him well enough. Perhaps one last piece of negotiation. A joke if you will. A challenge.
“I agree to your proposal. Your terms are acceptable. We may shake on it now,” he pauses, “if, you can race my stallion from here to that tree and back”, smiles the sheikh.
The archaeologist gazes off at the tree, near a quarter mile distant across the grasslands and up at the sheikh’s black stallion. The horse is huge with gleaming dark eyes. Throughout the proceedings he has been pawing his feet and tossing his head, long dark mane blowing in the breeze. This is a creature of motion, of power, a wild thing of the plains and the sheik’s pride and joy. He has heard tell that on cold nights he turns his wives out of his tent to make space for his stallion instead.
He swallows. While his archaeological career has had him among horse people much of his life he has never taken to the beasts. He rides occasionally when visiting sites where there are not yet roads to drive his jeeps, but he has never taken to horses. He must admit to himself that they scare him. This one certainly does.
But, one can never show fear or doubt in negotiations.
He smiles back at the sheikh. “That is an interesting proposal. However, I injured my leg yesterday when loading the jeeps and could not possibly mount today. Would you perhaps accept one of my party taking my place?”
The sheikh looks over this year’s archaeological team. Like many of those he has seen before. The eager young archaeology students look far less eager and he can see the fear in their eyes as they stare at his beloved horse. A few of the seasoned dig team are smiling, they know that the sheikh is having fun at their expense and that the deal will likely go through regardless of the result of this little game. But none of them are willing to take on that fiery animal.
“Certainly,” he agrees, “I am satisfied with any of your people riding in your stead. I would not want you to aggravate an injury.”
The archaeologist smiles and stands, being careful to clearly favour his ‘injured’ leg. He turns slowly to his team and looks over each of them carefully as if making a difficult decision. The unease grows amongst the university students and the smiles increase among the seasoned team. Those smiles, for the first time the sheikh wonders whether he has missed something. Finally, he slowly points at the one member of the party that the sheikh has not considered, the bundled figure of the archaeologist’s wife.
Angry murmurs are heard by the sheikh from his men behind him. How could anyone allow a woman to ride such a noble beast, beloved of their master? The archaeologist turns and faces him and raises an eyebrow as if to say, you did say any member. The sheikh is caught in his own game. Honour bound to accept the terms he himself chose. He nods and raises his hand to silence the grumbling behind him.
Slowly, quietly, the woman approaches with the eyes of all men from both groups upon her. She bows slightly to the sheikh as she passes him, and he gestures politely towards the horse. She takes the invitation and slowly approaches the beast, whispering softly to him she places her hand upon his nose and takes the reins from the man who has been holding him. Still whispering, she places her veiled face up against his long black nose and stares deeply into his eyes. His deep black ones meet her pale blue ones and the horse stills.
She leads the horse a few feet away from the group and struggles a few moments with her voluminous robes before she manages to mount somewhat ungracefully. The horse stands stock still seemingly surprised by this new development. But while his body is still, his nostrils flare, his ears twitch.
One last time she reaches down, pats his neck and whispers into his ear. Then she sits up tall and straight in the saddle and digs in her heels. With an ear-splitting squeal the horse springs to life dancing up on his back legs before crashing down and tearing off across the plain. This horse was born to run, and once released, is pure power. He has been bred for hundreds of years, through generations of Arab stallions for this one thing, pure energy and speed. And he does not shame his ancestors today as he races across the plain with only the wind to challenge him and this lightweight rider upon his back.
The sheikh pales and catches his breath. What has he done? What if his jest ends in the death of the archaeologist’s wife? If she loses complete control both her and the horse could be in peril.
They are down the quarter mile now and the tree that is supposed to be the turn at the end is rushing up. A horse in a headlong run without proper control can be impossible to turn. This horse is hundreds of pounds of pure muscle under the supposed control of an insignificantly small human being. All hold their breath as the tree approaches.
Quick and tight with almost no sign of movement from the rider the huge black stallion cuts a sharp corner around the tree and heads back towards them. A western barrel rider would have been proud of that turn. As they race back across the plain the sheer joy of horse and rider can be sensed by all those waiting. They realize with surprise that she is cheering him on to go faster as she leans down close over his neck, black robes and black mane intermixing as they fly through the wind.
She is not slowing as she reaches the group and nervously men begin to step back to make themselves room to run if she cannot stop the giant beast. But, at the very last second, she reins him in to a sharp halt, and not waiting for him to completely stop, she vaults from his back and lands solidly on her feet next to him.
For a moment, time freezes. The only sounds are the sharp breathing of horse and rider. Both stand there, chests heaving, eyes sparkling, a perfect marriage of human and beast in their glory. The silence is finally broken by the sound of the slow, quiet clapping of the sheikh, getting faster and louder as he beams at his beautiful stallion and the remarkable woman who had ridden him. Released from the tableau she leads the horse back to the sheikh’s servant and quietly resumes her place behind her husband.
Calmly, quietly, trying not to smile, the archaeologist turns to the sheikh. His pride in his beautiful wife knows no bounds. She had grown up as a girl in Iran, daughter to a British diplomat, and been taught to ride the fiery local horses from the age of four. They had first met at a diplomatic ball and she had introduced him to horses the next day on a ride out around the city together. He loved her for her fire, her passion, her love for the Middle East that equaled his own and for forgiving him for avoiding horses their whole married life.
“I believe,” he said, “that completes our negotiation.” And stepping forward, he and the sheikh shook hands.
Youth Poetry – 1st Place
Untitled by Atticus Cox of Janetville, based on Misty Morning by Lorelie Lapp
Atticus has kindly agreed to share his winning poem with you.
i haven’t been here for a while. haven’t been here for a while, some time allowing for my bruises to fade and my cuts to scar over. still, a home that hurts is a home nonetheless, or so i’ve been told. regardless if i believe that, i find myself here again, find myself dragged back with every hardy and strange beat of my heart. pushing through the brambles, breathing air not meant for me, and from there it’s instinct- tracing like rabbit tracks the trails of last summer. so it goes: running home and away all at once. so it goes: a boy, half-wild, half-lost, and half-alone. this is the song of late summer, of lakes and mist and a thousand days spent half-awake. a thousand mornings more until i wake up at home.
“This glancing haunting, unsettling poem, balancing on a dark ambiguity, evoles both a dreaming and a painful space, at once home and not home, where the speaker is ‘here’ and yet will not arrive for ‘a thousand mornings more.”
Brian Henderson, Judge
Youth Poetry – 2nd Place
I’ve Been Wondering, Won’t You Let Me See by Fayth Simmons of Blackstock, based on Misty Morning by Lorelei Lapp
Fayth has kindly agreed to share her winning poem with you.
I’ve Been Wondering, Won’t You Let Me See?
To wonder, I would say
is a staple of living
within a world that can see, and
And I wonder what it sees,
when it looks at me.
As I put one foot in front of the
other, and walk
through forests of doubt
that exist so beautifully,
what could the trees be thinking
And I – of them?
Hidden by a veil that can be felt
but not seen,
the forests invite me to dwell
within the In-Between
And I like it here, in this space
of soft fluidity.
I can see, in whichever manner
I may choose to understand, and
the trees can watch me as I exist,
as I stand in their parallel
wondering separately, perhaps less beautifully.
What do the trees see,
when they look at me?
What is it that I want to see,
when I look at them?
To live and wonder,
to wonder whilst living –
a difficult thing to think about.
Each spot around the table
The food remains, and
I walk beneath the trees
as I wonder, as I look up
and try to see.
They speak to each other,
but they do not speak to me.
Youth Fiction – 1st Place
Conceit by Lyndsey Canini of Port Perry, based on Misty Morning by Lorelie Lapp
Lyndsey has kindly agreed to share her winning poem with you.
In 1856, there was a small village named Innrommet that rested snug at the bottom of a rolling range of mountains, casting a shadow on the murky small below the edge of town. The people there thrived; they each had their proper duties, and the village was bountiful in resources and joy. The bakers baked the sweetest smelling breads, the seamstresses dutifully worked to make clothing that was passed on to the most talented dyers, blending together the most beautiful shades of colours ever seen. Young children could be seen running carefree, chasing each other around Innrommet without a care in the world. The people of Innrommet felt very proud of who they were, holding themselves up higher than those in the other villages. They would often hear of the disputes breaking out to the east or the shortages in the west, and they believed this was something they’d never have to worry about. Everyone was happy, and everyone was beautiful. The people of Innrommet had no flaws.
In order to keep the young villagers in line, an old folks tale was passed on through generations. It told of the horrors of a young woman who used to live up in the mountains, in a small wooden hut all by herself. They all knew of her, but never saw her. She rarely left her hut, and the path up to her house was steep and overgrown with unkempt weeds and thorn bushes that seemed to have a mind of their own, often scratching and slicing through the clothes of those who tried to travel the mountain path. The mystery woman only left her home to pick up fresh loaves of sweet bread from the market. She carried a large black satchel and had a thick hood drawn over her head, veiling her face from the village people. She kept her head down, avoiding the piercing stares thrown her way. No one knew her name or her origins, and that frightened them. They did not like impurities in their system. She flawed their order, not serving a purpose in their well-oiled machine. Mothers warned their young of this unknown woman, threatening them, with the fear that acting out will sentance them to a death of exclusion by their own people.
One day, this unnamed woman was taking her rare trip down to the marketplace to pick up some more food. A gang of rough boys were gathered behind the butcher’s stall, the store next to the Breadmaker. The largest of the group shoved his friend aside, staring straight at the woman. Slowly, he started walking over to her. She had her back to him, stuffing the loaves of bread into her satchel.
He grabbed onto the hood of her thick cloak. She began to thrash, crying out for him to let go. The sudden commotion brought attention to the pair, the boy with his strong head still gripping her hood. He was much bigger and stronger than her, and her struggling could not get him to release his grip.
“Are you… I thought you were only a myth”
Head popped curiously out of storefronts, families and groups of friends stopped in the middle of the street to see what was going on. People of Innrommet did not fight.
“Please, no,” she pleaded, voice sounding worn and full of fear.
Against her pleas, the boy tore her hood off her head, revealing her face to the townspeople for the very first time. A collective gasp ran through the market, as her hood hung limply down her back in betrayal. An uproar sounded through the people. Parents shielded the faces of their children, turning away to hide from what they have just seen. Words were flying through the air, incomprehensible as everyone tried to make sense of the horror they had just witnessed.
“She’s a monster!” one voice cried out over top over all the others. It was the boy.
It was true. This mysterious woman was hideous. Her face covered in dark red blotches, her nose hooked and crooked. Her eyes were dark and colourless, as if all the life had been sucked from her and all that remained was a void where her love and laughter used to lay.
She stood stoic for a moment, with her eyes locked on to the boy’s, before she grabbed her bag and fled into the swamp.
As if broken from trance, the town people began to laugh, pointing at her as she scrambled away into the murky river. Finally, they could truly be perfect. They had been freed from ugliness. They were pure.
Not thinking much of it, the young boy returned to his group of friends. They exchanged a few words of disbelief over what they had just witnessed, but the topic was quickly dropped, and they moved on to more important topics. Obviously, she was not important. She was an error. By nightfall, he returned to his home, tired from a long day and ready to sleep.
The sun was shining brightly through his window, casting warm beams of light onto his bedroom floor, signaling the start of a new day. He tossed his bed covers aside and jumped out of bed, removing hi pyjamas and tugging on his day clothes. After pulling his shirt over his head, he caught the first sight of himself in the mirror on the other side of the room. He did a double take.
“What the…” he muttered to himself, hand rising to stroke his cheek.
The once smooth and perfect cheek was now covered in light red blotches and bumps. Startled by his own reflection, he flinched.
Pushing those thoughts out of his head, he quickly made his way downstairs, skipping the stairs two at a time, and flew out the front door, ignoring the questioning looks from his parents. Once the front door was shut, he began to sprint, feet flying off the ground as fast as they could take him. Unfortunately, Innrommet was not a large village. Being surrounded by mountains, he only had two choices; to run to the market street or to the swamp.
He quickly chose the former, praying that he’d be able to blend in with all the other villagers and go unnoticed among all the other faces. Perhaps if he laid low, kept his head down, no one would take any interest in the new impression on his face.
When he reached the line of stores, he was pleased to see it was bustling full of other people, everyone so absorbed with themselves they took no notice of anyone around them. He decided to look quickly for a scarf, something he could use as a disguise. Darting in and out of clumps of people, he scanned the market for what he was looking for, with no avail. Just as he was stretching up onto his tip-toes, one last exasperated effort to find a scarf vendor, one of his friends from his group of boisterous boys spotted him from far off in the crowd.
They all called to him, grinning, urging him with pleading hands to come over and join them. Being the biggest and oldest, they looked up to him as the leader. He whipped around, frantically searching for a way out. There was no exit, with every turn packed full of more people. He was trapped.
Suddenly, a space cleared in front of him, his group of boys pushing people aside to clear a path to him. One of the littlest boys placed a hand on his shoulder, spinning him around to face the group.
“Hey, are okay?” the little boy asked, sounding concerned. Then, he glanced up at the other boy’s face, and screamed, his hand flying off his shoulder in disgust.
His light red cheek had darkened considerably, now leaking and spreading across his nose and onto the other side of his face. The tip of his nose twisted and turned, snaking in appalling directions. Bumps and sores the size of mountains appeared all over his neck and face. He had become flawed.
“You.. you…” a voice called out, but the boy did not stay to hear the rest. Tearing through the silent clump of people, people that he had once resembled, he tore off into the swamp. There was no where for him in Innrommet.
He did not stop running until he found the old lady, crouched beside the side of a river. The water was surrounded by barren trees that did not appear to have grown leaves for a very long time. The ground was thick and weedy, and his strides shortened as the ground sucked in his shoes with the sticky mud.
The woman was sitting soundlessly on the shore, her back against one of the stringy trees. She did not turn to look at him as he approached. She simply stared at her reflection in the murky water, untroubled by what she saw. In fact, she appeared almost at ease, and gave a soft smile back at herself.
She stuck out her hand and used a two-finger gesture to beacon him forward. Tentatively, he approached her. She patted the ground next to her. He obliged.
“Look”, she said softly. So he did.
At first he was startled by what he saw, having not see himself since the morning, which felt like years ago. Then, he noticed her face, reflecting in the water beside him. She was not scared. She looked pleased.
“How can you be so happy?” he questioned suddenly. “I mean, look at us! We’re monsters! No one wants us!” Not being able to bear the sight of his own face, he turned away from the water to look at her.
She gently placed her hand on top of his.
“Look again”, she said, so quietly it was almost a whisper.
Staring back were two horribly scarred faces. But they were not ruined. They were new. They were different from the rest clean-slate metal of the smooth machine running the town. They were special.
“It is not us they are afraid of,” she said.
Although they were disfigured, it was the beliefs of the town that were ugly, not two of them.
Many, many years later, a new folks tale was passed down among the people of New Innrommet. A warning to those who dared to shame others for their uniqueness, and how ugly their intolerance made them.
“What happens when, in the mists of history, a mysterious woman is confronted on her way to the market by a gang of rough boys? The result is ‘Conceit’, an engaging, entertaining folktale with a modern moral about being special and the two-edged sword of a society’s beliefs.”
Brian Henderson, Judge
Youth Fiction – 2nd Place
The Red Chair by Atticus Cox of Janetville, based on Chair Series ll by Charles Choi
Atticus had kindly agreed to share his winning piece with you.
The Red Chair
When Henry visited my apartment, he sat himself in the red chair.
He was just stopping in for a while, he said, really, he was busy, but he wanted to catch up. His cheeks and nose were red as the scarf around his neck that he’d been wearing for years- I pretended not to remember it, and pretended not to love that damn scarf more than all the world.
“It’s funny,” I told him, speaking from the kitchen, where I busied myself pouring tea. Maybe it was easier to say it with a wall between us providing a false sense of anonymity. “Odd, I mean. You never- you always used to sit on the sofa. Always saying it was-”
“A nicer view,” Henry finished for me. His voice cut through that little fantasy of mine, that lack of accountability the wall loaned. f3.g;
“You always were looking outwards.” I crossed back into the living room, setting two mugs on the table before us.
“Could I have some sugar for that?” Henry asked. There was sugar in his cup already, actually- two sugars, two milk. I told him so.
“You remember,” he said. Of course I remember, I didn’t say, all too aware of how it would sound.
“Your hair got longer,” Henry noted, drumming his fingers against the wooden arm of the chair.
“Comes of not getting it cut.” It had gotten longer, as I noticed that every time I looked in the mirror, though left uneven from nights I had mauled it with kitchen scissors. I found myself strangely conscious of the odd tufts it was growing in around my ears, and made an effort to flatten them.
“It looks nice. You look- well, Francis,” He told me. “Are you well?”
I meant to tell him no, meant to tell him there was a hole in my roof, meant to tell him I’d thrown out three shirts since he hadn’t been around to darn them, meant to tell him that there’d been some great cavity inside my chest since he left, meant to tell him that I had started taking my tea with two sugars and two milk because somehow one human being could miss another so much.
What I told him was “Well enough. And you?”
I didn’t respond, didn’t even look at his face, simply studied the lines of the coffee table and his hands folded over it in mock prayer.
My tea was cold, and his gone, by the time he next spoke.
“I do miss you,” He said. I miss you too, I didn’t say. Surely he knew that.
“You could write,” I suggested, hating my whining tone. “You could write, you could call me-”
“I will-” he insisted. “I will, Francis, and I’ve been meaning to. It’s not that I don’t want to talk, it’s just- you know.” he said.
I know, I didn’t say.
Henry lingered by the door a bit too long before leaving. I told him my number, and he dutifully wrote it down, pretending that he hadn’t remembered it, pretending that he hadn’t dialed it a dozen times only to hang up at the first ring. He’ll call me, he said, of course he’ll call me, and he’ll write sometime, and he loves me. He said that last bit quietly, casually, as if maybe it would escape notice. As if maybe the words hadn’t been lodged in his throat for six months.
As Henry stepped out onto the porch I wanted to cry out to him. Wanted to shout until my lungs gave out, wanted to say to him Please forget your scarf here and come back for it, be in the neighbourhood sometime, please make some excuse to see me again please find some sorry reason to come back.
What I said was “I love you too.”
But maybe that’s the same thing.