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Shai Ben-Shalom

Lindsay Foran

Jerry Golland

Seymour Mayne

Christal Steck

Doreen Taylor-Claxton

Nicola Vulpe

Betty Warrington-Kearsley

Erwin Wiens

Lindsay Foran

Lindsay is a freelance writer and editor. Her fiction and poetry can be found in a variety of journals, including Carte Blanche, The Toronto Quarterly, and Maple Tree Literary Supplement. When she’s not holding her breath waiting to hear back from agents and literary magazines, she’s busy writing, mothering and proving that work-life balance is a hoax meant to make mothers feel either permanently exhausted or eternally guilty.



Cracked Windshield

“I’m getting rid of it,” Anne said.

“You can’t make that decision without discussing it with me first,” Kevin warned. Anne laughed, throwing her head back and letting her long auburn hair shake out over the couch. They were in their living room, Anne a glass of red wine in hand.

“You shouldn’t even be drinking. What are you thinking?”

Anne looked up at him, her smile fading, a drop of warm wine slowly trickling down her throat. Something knotted in her stomach. It was too soon to be the baby. It wasn’t even legally a baby yet. Just a cluster of cells. Like a parasite or a disease. As she watched her husband pace the room, she allowed herself to wonder, just for a moment, what kind of father he’d be. He’d always done a good job of taking care of her. Kevin turned to her, his eyes squinting as though trying to read her mind. There was something happening to him, something Anne had never seen before. Hope? Longing? No. He needed something from her. He needed this from her. For the first time since they’d met, he was powerless, which left her with all the control. She placed the glass of wine on the table, and swallowed her last gulp, the warm liquid burning its way down her throat.

***

Something’s not right,” she told him for the fifth time that day. She was in her second trimester. There was a girl growing inside of her, although Anne never called her a “she”. Anne often said, “It’s moving,” or, “It’s hurting me.” Everything the child was doing was on purpose, of this she was certain.

“I told you, it’s fine. Everything is fine,” Kevin said, kneeling down so that his face was right next to her protruding belly. “Aren’t you, sweetie? You’re just fine, my little girl.” It took Anne a while to realize that this new form of baby talk wasn’t actually meant for her. She hadn’t expected that Kevin would love this new thing, this growth, more than he loved her. She was sure that he did already.

“I’m telling you, something really doesn’t feel right. My stomach burns. Like it’s burning me from the inside out.” She wanted to tell him that she was certain the black hole was stretching, sucking the child into it, that whatever came out in the end was sure to be evil, dark, and it would be her fault. Kevin would never forgive her for that. “It burns,” she whispered, leaning against the kitchen counter, her eyes closed. Kevin stood, keeping his hands on her belly.

“What are you so worried about?”

“Everything.” She grabbed for his hand and pressed it up tightly against her belly. “Don’t you feel it too?”

“I love you,” he said, leaning in and kissing her on the lips. “I’m off to work. See you tonight.” The baby kicked Anne’s ribcage hard, and Anne wanted to hit it back, but she refrained and instead breathed deeply, as Kevin had taught her.

***

“Come on, you can’t really say, that as a woman, you don’t want to have children,” Kevin had said to her, his green eyes squinting as though trying to see through her, piece together this alien-like woman he’d fallen in love with. They’d only been dating for a few months, but Anne could already tell he was falling in love with her. He wouldn’t be the first. In fact, he’d be the eighth guy in the past six years to fall in love with her. With the others she’d simply woken up one day and left, decided it was over and never looked back. But with Kevin she felt she could be different. He looked at her with hope, as though he were planning out their entire future together. She wanted that – wanted to be what he wanted, but it was a constant struggle to perform.

“What’s that supposed to mean? That as a woman I should biologically want kids?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s biological,” he stressed the word “biological” as though there must be something inherently wrong with her. Anne shrugged her shoulders and instinctively placed her hand on her belly. How could she tell him that she felt as though there was a black hole inside of her? Or worse, that it sometimes felt that in her deepest core, there was a dark, hard ball, growing, sucking in everything it touched. What would happen to that ball if it had to make room for a fetus? She was certain the darkness would come out and infect the fetus. There was no doubt about that.

Anne smiled and removed her hand from her stomach, reminding herself of all the reasons she had never wanted kids in the first place. Her life was good as it was; she hated other people’s children; kids were messy, whiny, and she preferred her own company. Kevin reached for her hand, kissing her palm, as she used her free hand to reach up, pushing the shaggy brown hair from his eyes. But if Kevin wanted one... In one scoop he lifted her from the couch, holding her small frame against his large chest. He was taller than most of the guys she had dated. Normally she liked to be the same height as her boyfriends, at least when she wore heels, but Kevin was almost six foot four and she was just over 5'7. When he pulled her in for a hug, her cheek rested perfectly against his chest. Often she fell asleep lying this way, listening to the beating of his heart. She often wondered if she liked him, or simply the size of his arms wrapping around her tightly, shutting out the rest of the world – just the two of them.

***

“Girls like us, we’re just not destined to have children,” Anne’s mother had told her for as long as Anne could remember. Anne’s mother had been young, only nineteen when she’d had Anne. And there was no father, not even a mention; Anne knew better than to ask. As a young child she believed that if this strange man really loved her, that he’d find his way back to her, but as a teenager, she began to think that he probably didn’t even know of her existence.

“We’re more like sisters, right? You could tell your friends that I’m your sister,” her mother had begged when Anne first started high school. Anne had agreed, even though she knew no one would believe her. It wasn’t worth it to fight with her mom – she was all Anne had.

***

They’d met accidentally, as most couples do. Kevin had been out on a terrible date with, as the story would be told for years later, a woman who belched in public. He’d politely left the date early, claiming there was a work emergency, and as he strolled along the Rideau Canal, observing the sun bathers on the grass, and the kayakers in the water, he caught sight of a woman running towards him in three inch heels. She waved her hands frantically, her hair, long and dark, flew into her mouth, and eyes were as though she were running directly into a fan blade. He stopped abruptly, smiling at this beautifully disorganized looking creature, but to his surprise she ran right past him and into the arms of the man standing only a few feet behind him. Kevin shrugged his shoulders, but something caused him to look back, just once, and as he did, she turned her head slightly from her embrace, and winked, shooting him a smile, her the other man’s lips still pressed gently against her cheek.

***

Anne had warned Kevin that the child wouldn’t be normal. She remembered her words, frothing in her mouth: “There is something wrong with this child.” She had intended to whisper the words, allow them to gurgle from her throat and dangle from her tongue just long enough for her to rethink them and suck them back in. But that’s not how it happened. Instead, she felt the words scratch their way out of her chest, launching themselves at Kevin as he stood, pressed up against the newly remodeled kitchen counter.

“There is something wrong with this child!” She had her arms wrapped around her belly as though trying to protect it from him, but he didn’t move. Kevin stared at her blankly, the corners of his mouth drooping slightly, his jaw clenching, protruding his perfectly shaped chin, his eyebrows descending, his entire face seeming to fall beneath the weight of her words. His mouth parted; he inhaled as though preparing to fight her, and then exhaled deeply, his fresh morning coffee breath warm on her skin, threatening to push her now heavy body over.

Struggling, she lifted herself from the cool, pastel green tiled floor, took two steps back and sat on the high wooden stool that was pushed up against the island. The entire kitchen remodel had been her idea, before the baby. Kevin had seemed distracted, and she had thought the two of them trapped in a kitchen together, every weekend, for months on end, would somehow bring them closer together. When that didn’t work, she came up with a different plan.

Her shoulders were slumped, her belly protruding out in front, separating the couple. Without knowing where else to place her hands she let them rest softly on the top of her belly, and then hated herself for it. There is nothing more maternal than resting your hands on your baby, and in this moment, she needed Kevin to see her as his wife, not as a mother.

“What do you want me to do?” Kevin asked. “Just tell me what you want me to do.”

“Take it out of me,” she whispered. The room was too quiet, the plea echoing through the small kitchen. The dishwasher began gushing water as though in silent protest of her demand. “Please.” She dropped her hands from her belly, her head thrown forward as the sobs wrenched themselves from the deepest part of her gut. “This isn’t what I want. I don’t want this!” She slid herself from the stool, falling to the floor, the tiles cold on her bare legs.

“Isn’t it though? Wasn’t this your idea?”

“You don’t understand!” she begged.

“The nine months is almost up. You’re almost done.”

***

“I don’t think this is working,” Anne said, pizza cheese dripping down her chin.

“The food?” Kevin asked.

“No, us. This. All of it.” She spoke without making eye contact, her small hands reaching for another slice.

“Maybe we should leave the pizza and go for a walk.” They were sitting in the park outside of Anne’s apartment. The sun had set, the children had all raced home. This was Anne’s favourite time of day, when the park was hers.

“No, not a walk. I don’t want to miss this. The silence.”

“Anne, there’s something I want to ask you.”

“Like I said, Kevin, I don’t want to miss the silence.”

“I want you to marry me.” She knew the words were coming long before she actually heard them. In later years, she’d wonder if he’d actually asked her at all, or if he’d simply placed the ring on her finger and waited, expectantly.

“I always forget why I love this place. It’s only when the kids leave, and the sun sets that I remember why I chose this place.”

“Anne?” Kevin held the ring in front of him. He didn’t get down on one knee. Anne wouldn’t have expected him to. She nodded her head, more as a way of acknowledging that she saw him than an acceptance of his proposal. He pulled the ring from the box and slid it onto her finger. It was too small and caught around her knuckle.

“Take if off!” she screamed suddenly.

She remembered the first time she’d seen him, by the canal, her lips pressed against Matt’s, or Marc, she’d only just started dating that guy. Something about Kevin caught her attention – maybe his large sunglasses, or his perfectly tanned skin and chiselled jaw line. He’d been a conquest, so didn’t this mean she’d won? Wasn’t it time for her to move on?

He pushed her to the ground and climbed on top of her, his green eyes glowing in the dark. Yanking up her skirt he smiled to discover she hadn’t been wearing underwear. It was a joke between them, just a foreplay game, but now he took it as an invitation. He quickly undid his jeans and immediately shoved himself inside of her. She winced at first, then wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him closer. She didn’t care if anyone saw them – fucking in the park. What a cliché. And yet, she suddenly felt that he really loved her. With each thrust she was more convinced that he needed her. None of the other guys made her feel this way, although all of them had sworn it, over and over with each climax, their eyes shut tightly, avoiding her stare.

“Anne?” Kevin whispered, pulling her back to him. Her eyelids fluttered closed. “Open your eyes,” he challenged, one hand holding her face so she couldn’t look away.

***

Kevin held the child in his arms, a thick layer of Anne’s innards pasted across the freshly pink skin. Anne wanted desperately to close her eyes, a sharp pinprick stabbing inside her head.

“How long will the numbness last?” Anne asked, as the nurse washed the child, wrapping her tightly in a fresh white blanket.

“Not long. Nothing to worry about. You’ll be back to normal before you know it,” the doctor reassured her, patting her on the knee. She saw the doctor’s hand, but felt nothing. At first this seemed odd, to be nothing but an upper body, but then she wondered when she had ever felt anything, other than the child jabbing her insides.

***

“You have to breastfeed,” Kevin urged.

I’m too tired. Can’t we just give it a bottle? There’s nothing wrong with a bottle. It’s not going to die from having a damn bottle.”

“Samantha.”

Anne’s hands started to shake. She shifted her head on the pillow.

“Breastfeeding is better for Samantha.”

His mother’s name. Sa-man-tha.

Anne pulled herself upright and held out her trembling hands. Her breasts ached. “Give it to me, then,” and she took the child into the loose hinges of her elbows. Her breasts ached, but she could tell the milk was drying up. Only a few days ago they were hard nectarines, and now, she noticed they were more like overripe melons. She held the baby in her arms and in a brief moment she debated letting go – her arms, one by one, opening like a trap door, and the small bundle, hanging for a brief second in the air, then dropping. The only sign of discomfort, her small face scrunching in protest to the soft breeze against her cheeks. Instead, Anne held her tighter, her head resting perfectly in the crook of her arm; the baby’s eyes closed, and her mouth moving rhythmically begging Anne for milk. Anne’s stomach tightened, as something in her buried itself deeper from reach, and she swallowed hard, trying to reach her tongue down to search for that lost bit, but it escaped – somewhere between the fabric of everything.

She pulled the child closer, trying to feel her against her chest, wanting their hearts to beat as one, but Samantha’s blue filmy eyes flung open and stared at Anne for less than a moment before the child shrieked, her voice piercing through the walls.

“Take her away,” Anne said, passing the child back to Kevin.

***

“Are you breastfeeding?” the doctor leaned in closely to Anne, reaching the stethoscope up her shirt and placing it on her chest.

“No.”

“Just breathe normally.” Anne nodded, but she was no longer sure what that meant – normal. “You’re not breastfeeding?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“She doesn’t like it.”

“It’s really what’s best for the baby. You know that, right?” Anne didn’t move. She sat on the examination table, a flab of belly fat rolled over the top of her jeans. “Anne?” The doctor sat in his chair and began scribbling things down in her chart. “Is it because there’s no milk?”

“I haven’t really checked.” There were some light murmurs rumbling through the room, which almost immediately turned into screeching. A shiver raced through Anne’s body, and she shut her eyes tightly, wishing it away.

“Anne, Samantha’s hungry. She is very underweight.” The doctor reached into the carrier and gently pulled the baby girl from her seat. Her large blue eyes locked with Anne’s, searching for something. Anne was certain this child could not be hers. This whiny, hungry, underweight child was not hers.

“I think we need to consider medication.”

“For her?” Anne responded, pointing toward the child as the doctor tried hand her off to Anne.

“No, Anne. Not for Samantha.” Anne reluctantly took the child from the doctor’s hands and then quickly placed her back in the carrier.

“If she’s so underweight, then there must be something wrong with her. I mean, I told Kevin. I told him she wouldn’t come out right.” Her entire body began to shake as though a large window had suddenly opened; drafts of air swept through the room. She wrapped her arms around her body, trying to hold herself still.

“Postpartum depression, Anne. It’s much more common than you would think.” The doctor placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to be reassuring, but this only increased the severity of Anne’s shakes. Soon the entire examination table was vibrating beneath her body. The doctor stared at her, waiting for some type of response, but the diagnosis seemed wrong. She knew it wasn’t postpartum, it was something else – the hole. Kevin was wrong to make her have this baby. She nodded, pleased with her self-diagnosis, but the doctor misunderstood this as an acknowledgement and quickly wrote her a prescription.

***

“I had big plans before you came along, Annie.”

Anne’s mother lay on the couch, the television blaring, the curtains drawn tightly shut, keeping out all slivers of light.

“Don’t you ever leave me. I could never survive alone. Just us two, forever.”

This is how Anne found her mother on most afternoons after school. Anne would race off the bus, throw open the front door, and step into a dank and hollow room. The only furniture in the apartment was the couch, which was there when they’d moved in. The light blue fabric was faded from the sunlight and stained dark red. Anne would drop her backpack on the floor, a loud thump echoing through the room. She’d sit for hours on the floor next to her mother. Whenever Anne went to her room alone, it felt as though the walls were moving, about to crush her. A tightness balled inside her chest, and the dark room threatened to eat her whole.

“I love you, mom,” Anne would respond, throwing the line out and waiting for her mother to bite. Most times her mother would smile, “I’ve told you, call me Lizzy,” and then close her eyes, letting the room around her fade away, leaving Anne alone in the dark.

***

“Maybe you need a break,” Kevin had suggested, a few days after Samantha’s first birthday. The doctors had promised her that she would begin to feel better. At her last session she tried to explain to them what was happening to her. The hole inside was growing bigger. She couldn’t eat because there wasn’t much room left for food. She could feel the darkness stretching and at times, reaching up her throat. 

“You’re just trying to get rid of me,” Anne sobbed, lying in bed, the covers pulled over her head.

“Not at all. I love you.” But she didn’t believe him anymore. She dozed off to the sound of Kevin packing her bags. She wanted to protest, beg him to stop, but she had given up fighting him long ago. Now she wasn’t even sure if she ever had.

“Wake up, Anne. It’s time to go. I’m going to drive you to my mother’s.” Anne sat up in bed, her heart racing. “We’re all really worried about you. Mom will take great care of you.” His words were meant to sound comforting, reassuring, but they left Anne feeling like she was being banished. “It’s just for a week. It’ll be good for you. I promise.” She ran her hands over her face, pulling at the skin, and looked up again at Kevin. He was pleading with her. There was nothing left for her to do.

“I’ll drive myself,” she whispered, crawling out of bed. Kevin opened his mouth to protest. “It’s the only way I’ll go,” she threatened, pulling off her pyjama pants and grabbing the nearest black yoga slacks.

As she walked out the door, Kevin stood in the entrance holding Samantha in his arms. The child lifted one hand in the air, as though to wave at Anne, but Anne looked away clutching her stomach, the large black hole wrapping around her intestines and squeezing tighter.

Part way across the bridge, on the way to her mother-in-law’s, traffic came to a halt and Anne sat, anxiously tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, trying not to look at the car seat, trying not to think about Kevin or Samantha. She had told Kevin not to bother putting a car seat in both vehicles, and she was right. Samantha had never ridden in Anne’s car. She looked in the rear-view mirror again and caught sight of the stuffed cat that Kevin had strapped into the seat. He’d wanted to show her how the buckles worked, but she could never remember. It all seemed so complicated.

“Just us two, forever,” she whispered to herself, eyes on the road.

A large black tarp on the side of the bridge caught Anne’s attention. The tarp was strapped to the  bridge where the guard rail would normally be. There was caution tape, keeping pedestrians from wandering too close. The wind lifted the tarp, held it in the air for a moment, revealing the water below, then let it drop once more, covering the water from sight. With each gust Anne felt more and more deflated. And she knew what she needed to do.

She put the car into park, jumped from the vehicle, unstrapped the car seat from the back and carried it towards the side of the bridge. She leaned over for a moment, the dark waves below crashed violently into the bridge’s post, and she wondered how it was nothing moved – the bridge stood still. With one large inhale she lifted the carrier over the edge and dropped it off the side of the bridge, watching as it seemed to float, catching some drifts of wind, and moving slightly, then crashing into the cold water. The child’s stuffed cat broke free from the seat and lingered in the air, its blue eyes staring up at Anne. For a moment she felt as though she would burst into tears, the hole inside of her growing, but the numbness came back, spreading through her body like a cracked windshield. She exhaled deeply and smiled.

* *** *