The Catoptromancer

Posted on: November 30, 2016


I took a deep breath and picked up his phone. You have to do this, I said to myself.

My husband was watching a 70's action flick in our living room. It looked grainy and washed out on the flatscreen. I stood silently behind our couch, listening to the gunshots and watching the fake blood fly. I considered waiting for a commercial. Can we talk? I couldn't get the words out.

"Ezra," I finally managed. He turned around, saw my face, then clicked off the TV.

"What's wrong?" He asked.

I held his phone out to him. "Someone called this morning while you were asleep."

He looked disgusted as he took his phone out of my hand. "It's nothing."

So shut up about it already, Haidee. I felt hot and cold at the same time as I forced more words out. "They called 27 times."

He looked back at the TV. "I'm sure it wasn't 27 times." The disgust had dripped into his voice.

No, it was. I know, because the buzzing woke me up and wouldn't fucking stop. He wouldn't fucking stop.

"You're going out again tonight? And she'll be there?"

He snatched up the remote and turned the movie back on. Over the sounds of a fistfight, Ezra said, "Don't be like this. You're so much better than that."

***

Adam Tucker's ancient, rust-red convertible was parked on the side of his featureless adobe house. I rang the doorbell and thought about running away, but my feet didn't move before the door opened.

He looked like he always did: junkie-thin and arrogant, with grey bird's-nest hair and a neat, white goatee.

"Haidee Clark," Adam drawled. "I never expected to see you out here. What can I do you for?"

I felt nauseous. "I'd like to employ your services."

"Would you?" He asked with a leer. "I'd hardly think that would be proper, Mrs. Clark."

Proper. The word lit in my brain like a match. It felt like my whole being whooshed into flames while I stood motionless.

Should I scream at him? Punch him? What could I say that would wipe the condescension off his face? I'm not always proper...

The words stuck in my throat, like always.

"Do you take credit cards?" I managed. He laughed.

My jaw tensed. "They say you do readings. Tarot, or something?"

"Or something," he replied. Looking thoughtful, he opened the door further. "Come in."

He led me to a pedestal--a wide basin perched on a column as tall as my waist. Adam stood across from me. The basin was filled with water and our steps made it shiver, threads of light breaking over its dark surface.

"This is mirror-magic," he said. He spoke a strange word, and the water became bright. I could now see a mirror glowing in the bottom of the basin.

"Look into the mirror," he said.

I looked. I saw my face. Then everything went black as I felt myself start to collapse.

***

"You've been out for a couple hours," said a nurse in floral scrubs. She was standing over me as I woke, clearly in a hospital. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Falling," I croaked.

"Did you fall when you were running from the fire?"

"Fire?"

"I'm sorry, miss," she said, "your house burned down. You and your boyfriend made it out, though."

"That's not her house," a familiar voice said from the end of the bed. "I don't know if Tucker is her boyfriend or not, but I'm her husband."

I stared at Ezra, waiting for some feeling to come over me. Nothing came.

I turned to the nurse. "My head is killing me."

She nodded. "You don't have a concussion, just a nasty bump. When you're ready, you're free to go." She left.

"You're alright," Ezra said. His voice and body were stiff.

I moved my limbs a bit, felt at the lump on my head. "Just a little sore."

Unspoken words twisted Ezra's face into something hard and furious. I felt like I should know what was coming next, but I didn't. I watched him and waited.

"Why were you at Tucker's house?" He finally asked.

Why? I tried to remember what happened after looking in the mirror.

"Let me guess," Ezra said. "The house burned down because you two set the sheets on fire."

"I didn't go there for sex," I said.

"You were so righteous yesterday, laying into me over some phone calls. Calls that don't concern you. And all the time you were whoring around--is he the only one? Or do I get sloppy seconds from this whole damn town?" He was yelling, but he seemed to be a little bit happy, too.

"He tells fortunes. I felt hurt and angry and betrayed by you, and I didn't know how to help fix us."

"You know what would help?" Ezra yelled. "Not being jealous or paranoid or whatever the hell you are all the time. Oh, and not breaking our marriage vows. That would really fucking help, Haidee."

Nothing he said made any sense. I felt like I would have known what he meant, before the fire.

"So tell me your fortune," he said. "What'll fix this whole mess?"

"Catoptromancy." Where had that come from?

"What the hell is that?"

"Mirror-magic," I said, and then I remembered. My reflection in Adam's mirror had told me about catoptromancy and had said a word--fuganesydrac. Flames had spread across my reflection, circling my mirror-self. I had said the word out loud and Adam's house had gone up like it had been doused in gasoline.

"You aren't making sense," Ezra said. I ignored him. It had been so easy to say. Fuganesydrac. It would be so easy to say it again. I could burn the hospital down.

"Where's Adam?" I asked.

"Bitch," Ezra snarled. He left, wearing his anger like the cloak of a king. Watching him go, the emotions I had never allowed myself to feel finally came. Resentment, anger, pride, betrayal, joy, and loss all bloomed in me like teddy-bear cholla in the desert, native growth in the garden that was us.

But the feelings were wispy, and they dissipated the moment I recognized them. They were only memories, ash floating in the wake of the mirror-magic's fire. Purpose was what burned in me now. I would find Adam and he would teach me his catoptromancy. I had to learn everything about mirror-magic that I could.

I had finally found words that didn't get caught in my throat.



Written by: Manda Green
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Offers My Hand

Posted on: November 16, 2016

Mother always said I was destined to be married. I wish she could be here to meet you, I know she would have approved. A proper English gentlemen.

I lace my fingers in yours and stare at the simple rings we both wear. You may not have been happy about the wedding planning, cold and detached even, but how the heat of my skin warms your body now. The music working its crescendo in uninhabited heartbeats and razor blade teeth. I see perfection in your Milky Way eyes and absent limbal rings. I close my eyes and hear your voice, each syllable a volcano, erupting paradigms in my ear.

A violin plays in the background, the strings like the sinew between your bones. Amber lights flood through stained glass windows, refractions animate your monochromatic corpse. My black dress caresses the wooden floor of this church as I twirl around you. Its velvet ink billows like smoke, and the dust I kick up dances with me. Fingerless piano players, always missing C sharp.

I make my way down empty pews, thanking our guests for attending our union. Their imaginary smiles and handshakes of congratulations fill me with elation. I spent countless nights creating each guest, complete with ruffles and lace. In the midnight hours my only real company was the spiders, spinning their silken webs of envy. I tried making them tiny hats and ball gowns, but these were fickle creatures. They would attend simply in their Sunday best.

As I dance my way back up the church floor I see you sitting there, all alone, but happy. Ignoring the pleas to sit and chat. I take my seat beside you. I rest my head on your shoulder and bring your hand up to my lips. “Oh darling,” I whisper, “just a little more time, one more dance with our guests.” I place your arm back by your side, smoothing out your cravat. I straighten the top hat I picked out for you this morning and push the corners of your mouth up, trying to create a smile.

Walking up to the front pew I grab Mr. Blakesly’s makeshift hand and pull him to me for a dance. He’s been a nuisance, these three days past. We try to move in unison but his straw filled head isn’t staying upright and I keep tripping over his feet. I tried to fit his scarecrow body into my beloved’s clothes, but I had made our guests too small by comparison.

“Really Mr. Blakesly, is this the first time you’ve danced with a lady?” I scoff and smile at you from over his shoulder. Your head is tilted to the side in what I take as amusement. You were never much of a dancer. I try to twirl us around but my dress is getting caught in your stuffing and my arms are tired and sore. I let Mr. Blakesly find his own way back to his seat.

I flutter in feverish heat across the church, finally having a moment to acknowledge each and every guest. I comment on Mrs. Winter’s Brussel Lace. A gift from my cousin in Essex. Your lips are forming a thin, hard line. I’ve been so caught up in attending our guests, I haven’t offered you any food.

I offer you a plate of meats and cheese but you continue staring off into the void. “It’s quite good you know, the spiders even ate from this very plate. See here, see where their tiny mouths feasted?” I sigh in defeat, not even a single glance since I sat down. “Are you mad at me for dancing with Mr. Blakesly? He’s just a lonely, old man. His wife died last year I think.” My voice drifts off into the very space your eyes are consuming. The hours have again ticked by and the amber lights have turned silver.

The moon is bathing me in its mercury aurora by the time I’ve had my fill of food and guests. Masks and ball gowns are lucid moments in repartee. There are uninvited guests here, I see them sticking to the shadows.

It’s ok, we’re all vampires tonight.

I’m drunk on happiness and tired from the weight of our guests. Conversations that brought joyful smiles just hours before are now exhausting and labored. You’re lying on your side, limp in the throes of REM sleep, I’m sure. A cat nap, what a pleasant idea! My heart races as I curl my body up around yours. I sweep my arm in front of us and whisper in your ear. “Isn’t it so lovely all our family and friends could make it, my love?” I nuzzle your neck and the beautiful coldness that is your skin takes away my fever.

This fever came on months ago. Perhaps it was only weeks, but it’s so hard keeping track of time. I blame it on the stress of planning our wedding. Our families long since passed. You stopped helping me shortly after the fever came on, damn fine timing on your part, if you ask me.

My eyes are beautiful and glassy, filled with the stars of the night sky. My skin is alabaster white, but my cheeks are flushed without any rouge.The looking glass can’t hide the truth. With what seems like every passing day my corset is cinched tighter and tighter. I’m the envy of the town. I’ve heard their whispers behind gloved hands. A porcelain doll walking down London streets.

I try several attempts to get you to stand, but you’re too tired. I struggle, and as the room starts to spin with my effort, I’ve finally gotten you on your feet. Your body moves with mine as we make our way across the floor, your feet dragging behind you, your head lovingly resting on my chest. I lean down, my lips against your ear; “I knew you would be a wonderful dancer, husband.” I whisper, as the hours tick by. “It’s easier to dance once rigor mortis sets in.”


Written by: Tiffany Melanson
Photograph by: Erin Notarthomas

All Alone at the End of McNiven Rd

Posted on: November 9, 2016


Ancaster ladies don't wear black. For funerals they have suits of midnight blue and charcoal grey. Ancaster ladies prefer crimson and gold for the holiday season (Christmas is a big deal for mother and her friends). The rest of the time they dress in the colours of flowers. Pastels, lavenders, periwinkles, fuchsias and hot pinks. Lime green is a favourite in summer, worn with white slacks—both pressed crisp—a perfect ensemble for wedding showers and dock parties. Their daughters wear black. The girls of Ancaster wear little black dresses and Lululemon yoga pants. It's nothing like the black I wrap myself in.

My blacks are complete. I find black jeans and baggy black sweaters at second-hand stores. They are always too long for my limbs. I roll the cuffs and ball the dangling sleeves around my fists. I smudge black shadow around my eyes and paint it on my lips and nails.

I draw in black, too. Mother buys me pastels and watercolours, but I only draw with charcoal. 

“Why don't you paint something cheerful?” Mother says with her head cocked to the side. She doesn't like the drawing I’m working on; It’s of a deformed fetus in a baby food jar. She asks where I come up with these things.

Mother is on her way to book club in a tangerine tunic worn over denim capris. She has her notes scribbled in blue ink in her notebook, but I know each one of those ideas came from Internet searches. It doesn't matter really—all the other ladies will have similarly poached thoughts and comments from online reviews of the book. Mother dabs more blush on her cheeks and tucks her Coach purse under her arm.

“Why don't you hang out with Chloe anymore, Sweety? You girls used to be so close.”

Close. Chloe and I were close to something once. Now Chloe is a bitch with no taste and even less imagination, but I don't bother telling Mother that. I don't tell her that all Chloe cares about these days is cyber-bullying and giving blowjobs to popular boys. Instead, I tell Mother not to call me Sweety.

Down the end of McNiven road. there is a graveyard. It's old and no one goes there anymore; I doubt most people know it's there at all. To get there you need to pass through the remains of an old orchard. The trees are mainly apples, Granny Smith, MacKintosh and Golden Delicious, but there are also pear trees. In the autumn the pears hang awkwardly from the branches. They just don't fit in with the rest of the symmetrical fruit.

If you travel to the very back of the orchard the trees give way to tall grass and that's where you find the graveyard, hidden at the top of a grassy hill. When I'm here I can't see any of the world below. I can't see Ancaster and it’s fussy boutiques and coffee shops. This is where I come to draw and to be alone. I sketch the tombstones mainly. Some are so weathered that you can't read the inscriptions at all. They stand on the hill, crumbling and worn down by time.

Sometimes I sketch the bones that lay buried beneath. I try to imagine what they look like now. A shred of fabric hanging over the empty cavity that was once a pelvis. Long, white, fleshless fingers wrapped around some token of a life lived—a Bible, or a wedding ring. I imagine what these quiet bones once were. They were farm wives and daughters, wholesome and rosy cheeked. They had soft cascading curls, and smatterings of freckles. They would have been sweet and naive, protected from the world by a strong father and a brood of brothers.

The Ancaster girls have the rosy cheeks and freckles of my imagined farm girls, but none of their sweetness. I lie back in the grass and pull my long black dress above my hips. I'm bare. I am exposed for the tombstones, the sun, and the sky. A few meters away the Ancaster girls are walking home from school. They are kissing Ancaster boys in basement rec rooms. I think of them while I touch myself. I think of blond ponytails piled high on heads - perky, like the girls who wear them. I picture Lululemon stretched tight across asses round as apples. I see their breasts - soft and curved - bouncing as they head down Wilson street for their daily jog.

I see Chloe with her mouth—pink and warm and wet—framed by her always pouting lips. My breath quickens as I imagine biting one of her lips. I see my tongue jabbing into her mouth while I hold her head still by the ponytail. I pant at the thought of it. I imagine that bitch’s mouth tastes like bubblegum—the wave hits and I moan into the sky—into Chloe's mouth. I don't worry that anyone will hear me. I'm all alone at the end of McNiven road.

I walk home after with my drawings tucked under my arm and my thighs smeared with charcoal fingerprints. As I turn the corner onto my street, Chloe runs past, ponytail swinging from side to side. She doesn't look my way, she never does, and I don't care. As she passes I know if I reached out at the right moment I could catch that swishing ponytail and jerk back the pretty, vacant head. I could hold her by her hair and kiss her bubblegum mouth with my black lips. I don't though. I let her run past.

She’s on her way to becoming one of the ladies who dress like flower petals and have nothing to think about beyond book clubs and silent auctions. And me? I'm on my way to becoming a woman who wears black.



Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Roger Leege

The Women of Harper House

Posted on: November 2, 2016


Her mother would tell you she’d never been good at climbing; a false hope. At twelve years, Wren Harper mastered ascending the ancient white poplar just beyond the garden gate of the Harper estate.

She climbs now despite her dress, aided by the pair of Docs she found in the back of a closet. She doesn’t know they once belonged to her mother, Sophie Harper, before she graduated high school. 

“Pass it up,” she says to her friend below.

Wren laughs at Atticus as she jumps, trying to hand off the net. The girls are a collection of once-hipster names their mothers magicked back into existence.

Sophie watches with generations of Harper women who've passed before as her daughter climbs above.

The women of Harper House have been held within the tree despite their deaths, bodies buried elsewhere. They exist in earth and root and branch; a punishment for brutality and blood spilled on the property.

Had Wren’s mother known of her fate, she never would’ve slipped her toes over the edge of the roof, arms extended like wings.

* * *

Sophie’s need grew by the day, cradling her newborn. Too often, she wondered what it would be like to spread her arms wide. Would it be like that rhyme? And down will come baby, she sang, always gave Wren those sugared lullabies.

When she was pregnant, Sophie thought about the bedtime stories and the beautiful things she’d teach her child to believe in: kindness, love, the world, herself.

She wanted to mend a broken heart.

But when the baby was born, it broke her. Sophie didn’t feel the connection like she knew she should, but she’d smiled and kissed Wren over and over to prove she could.

The child was a creature who cried and writhed and didn’t need a story or a song, but wanted only breastmilk and blankets. Sophie had a hard time nursing, and in swaddling she felt the tenuous breath slip from herself into the babe, a tiny wraith; she sucked Sophie’s soul and her milk and her everything.

The day of her death, Sophie took the steps barefoot. Her toes curled over the shingles, which had cracked in the summer sun.

Now, she resisted the urge to name the green of the leaves. The backyard trees would outlive her.

Sophie spread her arms, and she flew.

At first, she soared, and then the breaking seared through.

Her dying started slow, breaths weakened. Toward the last, Sophie no longer tasted the sweetness of the almost-autumnal air, instead there was the tang of earth and rain and the gum of worm macerated in her mouth.

“The fall fractured the femur, ruptured the femoral artery, and she bled out.” Someone, the coroner perhaps, told Sophie’s husband in hushed tones: voice soft, succinct.

Sophie’s eyes stilled to glass, but she saw them take the woman she used to be, swaddled in the body bag, bones broken beyond repair. Her thoughts seeped from the roots of the poplar back to the branches above.

* * *

In the years that followed, Sophie never visited her grave because cemeteries were for the living, not the dead, and there was no escaping the tree.

* * *

“What are we doing, Wren?” Atticus calls from below the tree.

The women of Harper House wonder the same thing.

“I’ve named her Ophelia,” Wren says. “And we all know Ophelia fell.”

“That’s a made-up name,” Atticus says.

“Read a book,” Wren says.

Atticus asks her phone about the validity of the name. “But Shakespeare’s just, like, dead,” she says, skimming the wiki.

“So is my mother. But she was probably like this Ophelia and that’s why,” Wren says. She lifts the net above her head and plunges it down, scooping the bird from the branch.

“But the babies, Wren. What about the baby birds?” Atticus’s voice shakes.

“We’ll take care of them,” Wren says, climbing down from the tree. “We have to protect them now.”

Wren’s mother watches as she pulls pins from a pocket in the dress. The pins had belonged to Sophie’s mother, but the heads were still bright red despite their age.

The youngest Harper instructs her friend to hold the bird, and she tries, but it fidgets, and attempts to fly free.

“I have to do everything,” Wren says, holding the squirming shape in one hand, pin in the other.

The first pin stills the bird.

Blood pools in the palm of her hand.

Atticus runs from the yard, sobbing, while the women of Harper House stay silent.

The crimson cools as night descends.

Wren strokes the wings and sings the name, “Ophelia. Ophelia. My Ophie. Sophie. Sophie.”

Her mother would tell you blood never touched the earth, and so the fate of the women of Harper House would not befall her daughter.

But Wren rips feathers from each wing, bone from body; the insides spill like jewels beneath the star-infested sky.

When her father calls from the garden gate, she smiles down at her work.

She buries the bird beside the tree.

Wren climbs back up to the branch, takes the nest. The young cry with her as she carries them back to Harper House.



Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Heather Parsons

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