by Rachel Small
Ottawa is always under construction
I listened for the fox making her way through
the feral hill in Ottawa. you don’t extend a
hand towards a tossing head, pulled righteous.
that is our understanding of damage: prevention
methods, seeking resolution before outcome.
her hand is reaching, though, past coiled
roadways and chess pieces of construction.
the city cannot continue without marking a
way through the hill and this is what the fox
knows; a pattern sweeping from river to canal.
she doesn’t remember school boys bending back
fingers and groaning around the flesh of an apple.
what can be addressed about pinning desire beneath
a wine glass, watching it batter itself against
god spun walls? the fox will baptise herself along
the remainders of feral edges, shifting the guilt
from left to right. her walls are different here.
all the missing girls;
I found harm
across the garden
where a man opened
his car trunk like a
magic trick/ and he
never smiled the way
I didn’t/ and sunset
against a flash of
love is a body
at twenty we took bottles
of tequila coloured
gold from ringworm
& told big god our bodies were
invincible folded into
a dozen lecture halls. took fragments
of butcher paper to confessional,
splitting it open in shape
of a poem. tonight
we toss the skin of an apple over
in a bath of fallen stars. The space between
two lungs grows, persistently.
love is a foreign words in our mouths as
our bodies melt in pace with a
The Clipping Curtain
Two dresses hang in a tree/ wrapped in
a plastic bag/ Unidentified/ with numerous
missteps taken/ and high risk lifestyles/
Most are addicted/ moving through their grief/
too cold and wet for any candles to stay lit/
looking for crack/ sense of erasure/
the lifestyle of the missing person/ lying
face down in a creek/ prostitute/ newsworthiness/
still unsolved/ Sex Offending/ there is no hope
regarding the situation of violence/ sisters
and mothers separated/ beauty and tragedy/
described as a genocide/
open the casket/
Gone Under Dark
If Mary’s mother had been alive, she might have said that the old moon in the sky looked deflated tonight, as if the yellow body was folding inwards from some unseen puncture wound. She was the kind of person who was fixated on the moon, always considering the action of piercing it with a flag post, or what the weight of man’s touch would be on it. That’s the thing about men, Mary’s mother always drawled out, her cigarette winking between her fingers with a bright orange eye, they’re always looking for some new space to claim. A woman’s body, land. It was all the same bundle of consequences beneath a judgement.
Mary didn’t like smoking. It was one of the many differences that separated her life from her mother’s. She did favour the same rituals, though, of sitting herself down on the porch step and watching for the lights to flicker on. Street lights and porches each glowed under the lazy moon—an hour before, neighbours would anxiously flip on their floodlights, chasing back at the darkness that ate the twilight coloured lawns, contributing to the hazy, bronze veil of light pollution. She kept a newspaper beside her for companionship, the way her mother would have. Blurred text line switched back and forth from tales of the Night Stalker and the East Area Rapist. They had printed a composite sketch beneath the razor sharp headline, pairing it neatly with a wall of text. A ski mask glowered outwards, looking flat under the weight of cheap paper.
John was coming home from a business trip tonight. She sat there, newspaper at her side, and a trash of evidence at her feet. Mary had loved him when she was sixteen, but it had become less of an overwhelming emotion over the years. John was the kind of man who slipped in and out of their marital home, holding a suitcase full of clothes and gloves and a strange assortment of tea cups. It was hard to love a man that seemed to prefer the obsolete business trips out of the city, slipping in the dusty motels. Those were the kind of places a mother warned a daughter about. If a building had to twist neon wires to spell out paradise, you could only consider the angels fallen from the sky.
His homecoming had been marked in the calendar with a slash of red ink. The first of May. For five days she had walked circles around her home, checking for festering rot in bedrooms and the kitchen. Next door, Barbra had her own rituals of watering the cacti she had planted along the windows of her own yellow house, with their deceptively soft peach fuzz bodies scraping against glass. Already by day five she knew they were destined to die of overwatering. Mary had listened for Barbra’s anxious nighttime habits, of testing the locks of the doors and positioning metal soup cans behind the garden gate. She couldn’t blame a woman from fearing her own home.
The bag at her feet was full of shame. That’s what Mary liked to call it. Shame. Some kind of wretched sin that slipped through the mailbox of the home, with glossy magazine covers featuring some dead looking girl positioned like a trophy. Mary had found a box full of them in the basement by the old weight rack, and she found dated issues hiding behind her neglected cosmetic case in the bathroom and under the bed. John never mentioned this fixation in all the years. She had stumbled upon it, unknowing. If she had been smarter, she would have wondered upon their wedding night, when he asked her to lie very still. Did all men like dead girls? Mary couldn’t ask Barbra that. That wasn’t the kind of discussion she could pull out with neighbours.
John’s blue car made a rattling noise from down the street, pulling up over the gravel. It slid gently into the space at her feet, headlights blinding her. For a moment she couldn’t see the shame or the cacti plants withering next door, roots rotting under all the water. Bursts of light danced across her eyes and tucked themselves into the grooves of her skull. “Honey,” John called out, shapeless. “I’m home.” The lights snapped off, engine dying. He was already slamming the car door shut and leaving the window down. That was tempting fate, she should have said. Rain liked to show up when a fool left a window wide open.
He was home and she should have been glad. Mary felt fear curdle in her stomach though, filling her mouth with a bitter taste. A year ago and she would have had a meal on the table for him. A man liked coming home to a roasted bird waiting on a platter for his knife to slip in, carving flesh from bone. It was masculine sort of artistry, transforming butchering into culinary actions. “You look tired,” her mouth said, separate from her knotted heart strings. It felt as if parts of her body were controlled by a series of wires, allowing for her legs to straighten, lifting herself off of the steps. The moon looked especially sad behind his head. “You should come in and head to bed. You must have been driving all day.”
If she had been smart, she would have investigated the car for evidence. A hair tie left on the floor, or a lingering trace of perfume. John laughed though, as if Mary had told a joke. “I’m always driving. What’s this bag sitting here for?”
“Trash,” Mary said, honestly. She felt old when she looked down on it. She had filled the bag with a dozen dirty magazines and the electrical tape she pulled from his tool box. There was a knife she had also fished out of his sock drawer and some old polaroid of a blurred woman’s face, as if the photo had been taken during a struggle, her eyes looking bruised and low. Mary didn’t know who that woman was but she was afraid to ask, as if her husband would pull out a dozen horrible tales. She was a waitress. I met her in college. Her mother cried at her funeral. Each terrorized thought rolled around her skull like marbles. Perhaps she was no better than Barbra, with her soup cans piled at the gateway like a little shrine to her anxiety.
All the pieces of hysteria and shame were buried beneath a layer of potato skins and brown apple cores. It would be a dreadful surprise for the old lady down the street to rummage through the metal can and find the glossy magazine cover of a woman’s face hidden by a leather black mask. Mary allowed John to pick up the bag, walking it down the little dirt driveway to place it gently into the garbage can, sealing it with a lid as bright as the surface of the moon. He was so gentle to the garbage, she thought to herself.
As he drew closer, Mary thought of her mother. If she were as bold, she would have taken a knife to his throat and asked him for his crimes she already knew. Instead she asked him, “did you meet anyone at the conference?”
She held the door open and he accepted, sighing deeply, as if he were searching for a scent of roasted chicken. “I met several men from New York. I think you’d like them. One even studied journalism, like you did.”
John placed his keys in the dish and his shoes along the little runner leading from the front door and into the home itself. Mary had studied the metal keys, remembering her childhood lesson of positioning keys between her fingers like a claw. He looked as if he had cleaned them recently, polishing away the evidence. Somehow, without knowing it, she had taken the newspaper in her hands and folded it into a tight little square, neatly dividing the ski mask into manageable fractions. “I’m glad to see you,” she said to him as he managed his way towards the bedroom.
“Won’t you come to bed with me?” John asked her, looking strangely childlike as he climbed into bed. “I’ve missed you.”
“What about the other women?” She said, words trembling as they spilled from her mouth. Mary made tight fists with her hands behind her back.
“There’s never been another woman before in my life,” he said, and it sounded like he was lying. John was a man who was hungry for certain things, like women at airports with their cool heels, or the girl working in the coffee shop, her face stamped with glorious disdain.
Mary eased herself down on the bed, sitting upright as she watched him. Sleep took him quickly, pulling him under a wave of exhaustion. His breathing slowly evened out and his face relaxed, blessed under the shadow of night. Next door, the floodlights burst on, brightening their own room by extension. Could it be him? She wondered. Last year, he had smashed a computer keyboard, and he had a habit of slamming doors in moody aggression. A smarter woman would take a knife and stab him silly. It wouldn’t be hard in this position, seated like a wronged woman, her husband sprawled out beneath the weight of her shadow, moon watching from the window. It still looked sad, from its lofty perch in the sky.
She didn’t have a knife, though. Instead she took the folded up piece of newspaper from her pocket and smoothed over the harsh lines. Her hands guided the photo upright and held it beside John’s face and watched, waiting for the features to align under dark.