Posted in Uncategorized

Octopi Have Feelings

A fun writing exercise with my writing group.

The tour group was moving ahead of me. I had stalled and lingered to gawk at mundane things, slowly driving further back in the line to create distance. I had made enough distance finally that the group had moved through a door, which swung shut behind them, leaving me alone in the dimly lit room. The room hummed and gurgled with multiple air pumps and filters through the numerous tanks lining the walls. One particular tank had my attention; empty save for a dark shadow in the back corner.
“Octopi are known for their intelligence, but scientists are now discovering that octopi feel emotions as humans do,” the tour guide had told the group minutes before exiting the room. I leaned forward and peered into the tank. A quick look over my shoulders proved the tour had moved through the aquarium without me.
Turning my attention back to the tank, I stepped closer and looked inside once again. The light was dim in this section, and I could barely make out a bulbous shape in the corner of the tank.

I didn’t necessarily wish to come on this tour, but my voice did not carry much weight when the girlfriend’s excitement reached the point of leaving her breathless and squeaky.

“We will get to see behind the scenes at the aquarium! Most people never get to that side.” Her eyes were wide, and her voice cracked on the second syllable of ‘aquarium’.
“Most people don’t want to see what goes on behind the curtain, hence the curtain.”
“Oh, how do you know you won’t like it? Always the critic,” she whined and returned to studying the brochure.
“I don’t need to go backstage for a colonoscopy to know it’s not worth the price of admission,” I say, my defeat lingering in the air.

And so, we went to the museum.

I place my hands on the edge of the tank, pulling myself up onto my tiptoes, squinting to make the details sharper fruitlessly. I dipped my head slightly closer to the waters level. A single tentacle unfurrowed from the bulbous mass, floating closer to the surface. Spectacles slid down my nose as I dared to get closer still.
At the exact moment I heard the ‘plop’ of my specs breaking the water’s surface tension, the lone tentacle sprang to life and snatched them mid-descent.
I quickly let go of the sides of the tank, the sweaty halo of my hands lingering momentarily on the glass and skipped two steps backwards.
The shadowy mass in the tank expanded as more limbs took shape and rose to the surface. A solo arm broke the surface of the water curled around my fallen specs. Two more tentacles appeared, seemingly waving at me, just before suctioning themselves to the tank’s edges, where my hands had been moments before. Rows of suckers appeared in neat rows against the glass while the rounded body rose through the water. Two protuberant eyes peered above the edge of the tank at me, the dark, horizontal pupils appearing to glare at me while tentacles moved in what seemed like melting ice cream from a cone.
The balloon shape rose further up the sides, reaching the halfway point of being as much above the surface as below. The solo limb with specs snared extended towards me in a snake-like fashion.
I took a ginger step forward and extended my hand forward without thinking. In a corkscrew motion, the limb moved my glasses down the length of its arm and dropped them into my expectant hand.
We stared at each other for what felt like endless moments before the dim light was broken by the door swinging open again.
“There you are. What are you doing?”
“I- the octopus – it had my glasses,” I stammered.
“What octopus?” she looks around the room.
“The one in this tank,” I say, hitching my thumb in the direction of the tank i stood beside.
Peering around me, my girlfriend gives me a quizzical look.
I turn to look at the octopus, only to find the bare edge of a tank and water swaying within its walls.
“It hides,” I say, crouching to put my face close to the glass. “In the corner is where it hides,” my nose pressed against the glass. No shadows could be found.
My girlfriend’s head appeared beside my own, completing her search of the tank.
“This tank is empty,” she said before she stood and walked away. “You know, next time, you could just say you don’t want to go,” she tossed over her shoulder.
I backed away from the tank and reluctantly fell in line behind her. Upon reaching the exit, I heard a small splash and smiled to myself; Octopi felt the same way about tours as I do.

Posted in Writing Unblocked

2021 – Finger’s crossed.

I chose the word ‘reboot’ as my 2020 word.  
Oh, how much of a ‘fuck you’ that word has been to me or anyone this year.  

2020: the year that couldn’t. 

I could say many profanity-laced things about the word ‘reboot’ and about 2020, but I won’t. I’ve shed enough tears. Usually, this time of year, I am full of plans and looking forward to a new year, but I have found myself struggling with this yearly post. I am damaged and broken, and I stand with so many others damaged and broken by 2020. So much loss, so much missed, so much that didn’t.  
I learned a lot. I have learned that I work best in quiet environments. I have learned that I carry my tragedies in my purse. I have learned that people fear grief. I’ve learned to trust actions over words. I have learned about life missions. I have learned to ‘be’ and ignore the boxes people try to put me in. I have learned so much this year but, fuck you 2020 if I will give you credit for teaching me a goddamn thing. I’m not bitter; you are. 

2021. I cannot express how much fear I have towards the start of this year. Considering how long 2020 has lasted, one would think I would be eager to leave it in my dust. But I fear it. For years I have trying to start something and ended up doubled over on a different path, and so my past trauma is trying to alter my perspective, protect me, and hide me away. And it is because of this, and I am choosing words this year to reflect that. 

I am.

My word for 2021 is, actually two words. I am.  I don’t remember what I am. I have been gutted by what feels like a never-ending string of tragedies, that somewhere along the way, I just let go of who I was and just fought blindly, dragging my load towards the light. I made of things those tragedies could not take from me, but I don’t remember how those pieces fit together. So this upcoming year, I will spend it figuring it out. I will be fluid and without closure just as those words are not a complete sentence.   

I am.

I have a few goals I am hoping to complete this year of course along the way.  
Complete my novel.  
Make some passive income
Transition into my new life as it is allowed
Freelance
Become a better photographer

Posted in Novel Work (Un-edited), Writing Unblocked

Other Half – Chapter 10

Nope, not time for chapter 9 or any other odd numbered chapters. The teacher needs a name, and this chapter needs some editing still, and perhaps a better ending.

Chapter 10 – October 10th, 1987

Faith looked at the stove’s clock, 8:06 am and set her cup down on the stovetop, a few sips left in it. Stepping out of the kitchen, she moved to the bedroom she shared with her sister. Faith’s side of the bed had the covers pulled up neatly, but there was still a lump where Charity slept. Faith knocked on the wall to get her sister’s attention. The lump in the bed didn’t move. Threading her right arm through the second shoulder strap, Faith knocked again, louder.
“I’m up. I was just tired, still.” Charity answered from under the covers. Faith stepped to the bed and pulled back the covers. Charity was dressed at least and rolled over to face Faith. “Do I have time for breakfast?” Charity asked.
Faith shook her head no.
“Probably isn’t anything for breakfast anyways. Ok, I’m ready.” Charity climbed out of bed and grabbed her backpack from where it sat at the end of it. Faith leaned across the bed and smoothed out the blanket. Leaving the bedroom, she found Charity in the kitchen, finishing up the drink she had left in the stove. The powder chrystals that Faith had mixed with water this morning had left a telltale stain on Charity’s upper lip. Faith pointed to her upper lip as a warning. Charity wiped the back her hand across her lips, but the stain remained. Faith gave a quick shake of her head, but Charity shrugged her shoulders and headed for the door.
Both girls left the apartment they shared with their mother. Chrystal had picked up a job at a bakery, which meant she left for work well before the girls stirred in the morning. Sometimes she would work late at night too, and be gone when the girls were home from school.
“Is there lunch?” Charity asked once they had reached the sidewalk.
Removing one arm from the loop of her backpack strap, Faith reached inside and pulled out the lunch bag she and Charity would share. Charity looked inside.
“PB and J?”
Faith nodded. Charity handed the bag back to Faith, who replaced it inside the backpack. When Faith pulled her hand out again, she held a wide-tooth comb. She extended her arm towards Charity with the comb in her hand.
Charity looked at the comb in her sister’s hand and then returned her focus forward again as they walked. “I don’t need it,” she said. Faith left her arm extended and tapped her sister’s arm with the comb. “My hair is fine. They can say what they want. It’s fine.”
Faith lowered her arm to her side, the comb still in it. The girls walked in silence for another block.
The twins could hear the sounds of the school playground before it became visible. Charity grabbed the comb from Faith’s hand and raked the comb through her hair roughly, strands of hair staying attached to the comb as she handed it back to her sister. Crossing the final street, the girls reached the chainlink fence that surrounded the schoolyard. The sounds of kids yelling and playing was loud. The twins walked closer together, and lowered their gaze to their feet, pushing through the gate into the yard. Neither of them spoke another word and did not make eye contact, even with each other. Stealth on the schoolyard was of the utmost importance when avoiding teasing by classmates. Sometimes, however, the smell of fresh meat brings wolves to the yard.
“Oh look; it’s the grub twins.” The twins had been spotted, moments before the first comment was thrown. Charity walked faster, eager to get to the school’s wall, closer to where the teachers entered, hoping for a sanctuary away from the jeering.
The twins timed their walks to school to arrive close to when the bell rang, to lessen the amount of time spent in the play yard. A few moments after their arrival, the bell rang, and they lined up with their classmates to enter the school.

In class, the twins sat in the centre of the rows of desks, Faith seated behind Charity. Attendance was taken, and morning announcements came to an end. Their teacher stood from her desk and went to the chalkboard, pulling down a map to cover the list of words written.
“Please take out your vocabulary words for the week. I’ll give you 10 minutes to review them, and then we will have a short test on them.” the teacher said. The class groaned while taking their notebooks from their desks. “Now, now. It’s a short test, and shouldn’t be a problem since we’ve been working on these words all week.” The groaning died out and shifted into the sounds of rustling papers.
As the students wrote their test, the teacher wandered the rows of students, the hard heels of her shoes the only sound in the room beyond the scratching of pencils on paper.
Charity squirmed in her seat. She hunched over her paper, scribbled something, sat up to look at it, and then erased it again. She made a sharp sigh through her nose, she brushed the eraser shavings away from her paper, and leaned back in her seat, only to repeat the process all over again.
Faith leaned forward in her seat and peered around her sister’s shoulder. Charity was still on the third question of the test. Charity struggled with her reading. It was something she avoided, often handing things over to Faith to read for her. The last page was filled with sentences with a blank to fill in the appropriate vocabulary word. Faith finished it up quickly, leaving the last word misspelt on purpose. Hearing the teacher’s shoes’ hard heels come up behind her, Faith covered her test, using her arms and draping her hair to create a curtain. Once the teacher had passed, Faith quickly popped up in her seat and dropped her test on Faith’s desk. Having followed this routine before, Faith knew to throw her test behind her and hope it landed in Faith’s hands.
Grabbing the paper, both girls leaned forward, Charity pretending to be hard at work, lightly running her pencil over the letters that Faith had written down. Faith, quickly filling in the rest of Charity’s test, making sure she answered the last question correctly this time.
“Alright class, pass your papers up to the front of the room, and we’ll grade them.” a storm of rustling papers followed the teacher’s request, as piles of papers were passed up the rows and collected at the front of each row by the teacher.
Having retrieved the test papers, the teacher flipped through the piles by the corners until she came to the names she sought.
“Charity, can you tell me how to spell…” the teacher looked through Charity’s test, skipping the parts that seemed to have been erased several times, and paused on a single word that was neatly written, the paper in that spot unmarred. “Spell ‘stopped’ for us, please.”
“S-to, um, p-t?” Charity said. Faith moved so that Charity’s body would hide her from the teacher’s gaze.
“Faith, can you spell ‘stopped’?”
Faith shifted in her seat and looked at her hands that rested on the desktop.
“Faith, I asked you a question. Please spell the word ‘stopped’,” the teacher repeated, the volume slightly higher.
Faith remained silent. Charity sat up higher in her seat.
“So we have two students who both spelt the word correctly on their test, but cannot and will not spell it out loud?” The teacher stepped towards her desk and dropped the stack of papers on top. Turning back to towards the class, she asks “How do we explain this?”
“Faith doesn’t talk much,” Charity mumbled, looking down at her lap.
“Speak up, what did you say?”
Charity pulled her head up and looked at the teacher. “Faith doesn’t talk much, and you know that.” She shouted. The rest of the students gasped and giggled quietly.
“‘Faith doesn’t speak often.'” The teacher corrected, sitting gently on the edge of her desk, hands clasped in front of her. “How convenient for you, Charity. You have someone that will feed you answers, and who only communicates to you, so it’s not like she could ever diverge on a different path than you.”
Charity sat, still at her desk, staring at the teacher, her mouth a straight line, eyelids at half-mast. Faith folded further at her desk, hiding behind her sister. Her focus remained on her hands, which rested on the desktop, palms up. She opened and closed her hands in unison.
A silence stretched within the class. Students looked to each other for a directive on what their task should be. The teacher pursed her lips, sighed, and shifted her eyes to the clock on the wall, breaking contact with Charity.
“Well, there will not be any solutions for this today,” muttering as she lifted herself from the desk edge. “Let’s pass these tests around and mark them together.” The teacher shuffled the tests slightly and passed the tests out to each student.
Charity and Faith remained still, each of them staring only at their desks, while the class revolved around them. The first break bell rang, and classrooms and hallways filled with noise as the students poured out the doors to the playground.

It had rained while during class, and the playground was still dark with water. Mist hung in the air, making hair swell, and clothing damp, within just a few moments. Puddles remained in dips of the tarmacs, and those children whos mothers outfitted them with rain boots, and some who’s did not, jumped in these puddles with both feet, moving on to the next conquested puddle, on a seek and destroy mission.
“Where are you going? I know it’s not to the hair salon.” someone called out, as Charity and Faith entered the playground. Charity balled her hands into fists as she walked. Faith jogged the few steps to catch up with Charity, putting a hand on Charity’s arm once she had. At the touch of Faith’s hand, Charity whipped her arm away, and turned around abruptly, ready to face whoever it was that had dared touch her. Realizing it was Faith, Charity scowled, turned on her heel and stalked away along the wall of the school. Reaching the boundaries of the schoolyard, she turned and leaned against the wall, creeping down, the rough brick scratching her back until she was in a slumped seated position. The wet pavement seeped its way through Charity’s pants, and her underwear, the chill slowly spreading, causing goose flesh on her legs.
Faith crouched in front of her sister. “Yeah, I’m ok.” Charity said, staring into her lap.
An older boy crouched down beside Faith in front of Charity. The change in the shadows caused Charity to look up. “Don’t listen to them, ok?” the boy explained and flashed a wide smile at Charity. Charity returned a small flicker of a smile. Some kids had joined the group and stood behind the boy listening. “They don’t understand how it is,” he continued. Faith nodded her head in agreement. “I mean, my dog doesn’t bathe often, but I still like him well enough,” the boy retained his wide smile, though the smile no longer flickered for Charity. Faith stopped nodding and looked to Charity and then back to the boy.
Turning to Faith, the boy said “And you’re like my dog too. He doesn’t talk either.” Faith stood up and looked down at him as he continued to talk to Charity. “It’s not his fault. He’s just a dumb, dirty dog, with no bathtub of his own.” His smile widened as the snickering of the onlookers got louder. “Seriously, is there no water where you live? Do you even have a place to live?” The giggles from the crowd that had gathered burst into laughter. Someone pushed Faith from behind, and she stumbled forward slightly. Turning to see her assailant, Faith was pushed again, this time, her balance failed and she landed on top of Charity. The crowd pressed forward. The boy stood up and laughed with the group.
“Faith! You ok?” Charity asked as she pushed Faith off of her. Moving her feet underneath her, Charity put one hand against the wall, while grabbing her sister by the arm with the other. Pushing herself up with her legs, and against the wall at the same time, she was able to pull herself and her sister into a standing position.
“Leave us alone.” Charity told the crowd of children pushing closer in on them. Someone threw leaves at Charity which stuck like burrs in the tangles of her hair. The children laugh louder, pushing within the crowd to be the next one to throw leaves at Charity.
“Stop -” Charity begins, the last word cut off as she gets pushed from the side. Faith stood still, her head down, her hair hanging at the sides of her face like a curtain. Her left-hand opening and closing.
Regaining her footing after the last shove, Charity puts a hand of Faith’s arm. “Come on, Faith. Let’s go,” and tugs slightly. Faith is unphased. “Leave us alone,” Charity yells at the crowd again. She tugs on Faith’s arm again. “Come on, Faith. The bell is going to ring again soon,”
“Why do you even bother talking to her.” the boy who started the teasing asks, stepping closer to Faith. “She’s just a; Dumb. Dirty. Dog.” he says, getting closer to her with each punctuated word, the last one spoken directly into her ear.
Without moving her head, Faith blindly grabs the front of the boy’s shirt and throws he down to the ground, the sudden movement catching the boy off guard, making him fall harder than he might have otherwise. He stops himself with his hands before his face makes contact with the cement.
“What did you do that for?” he yells at her, turning himself from being on all fours to resting on his backside, his hands stinging from road rash.
“A whore like you must have taken it like that before. Stop your bitching.” a small, shaky voice says. As quiet as it was, the whole crowd managed to hear it, and the laughter and jeering came to a halt.
Still, on the ground, the boy looks up at Faith. “What?” he asks. The crowd, Charity included, is still, eyes focussed on Faith. Faith turns her head to look at the boy.
A smile creeps over the boys. “I knew it. I knew you didn’t say anything. Dogs don’t talk,” He takes his eyes off of Faith as he tries to stand up again.
“A whore like you must have taken it like that before. Stop your bitching.” Faith says again, louder and steps towards him. The cadence of her words so off-putting that it takes a moment for him to register. The boy freezes and looks up again at Faith, his mouth open wide. “A whore like you must have taken it like that before. Stop your bitching.” Faith says and takes another shuffle towards him. “A whore like you must have taken it like that before. Stop your bitching. A whore like you must have taken it like that before. Stop your bitching,” she repeats this newly discovered mantra. The boy crab walks back from her as she continues to shuffle towards him.
Faith lunges at the boy, landing on top of him. His head hits the pavement hard, the shock of the blow temporarily immobilizing him. Faith sits on his chest. “A whore like you must have taken it like that before. Stop your bitching.” she yells at him while she beats his chest with her tiny fists. “A whore like you must have taken it like that before. Stop your bitching.” she repeats, the crescendo of her voice alerting the teacher on yard duty of the commotion.
The crowd of children part and allow the teacher to approach. She stops at the edge of the group and takes in the scene. Like the crowd of children, she stands still, mouth agape. Describe the teacher and give her a name?
The boy is crying. He remains on his back, Faith sitting on his chest, pinning him to his spot. He hunches his back, arms trying and failing to block the blows. “Stop! Please stop!” he cries.
Charity stands at the boy’s feet, staring at the scene. The teacher turns her attention to Charity. “Faith! Faith!” she yells at Charity. “Faith!” the teacher yells again. Charity turns to look at the teacher. “Help me get your sister.” Charity nods her head. The teacher takes two strides towards Faith and grabs her under her arms. Faith still swings her arms as though she is still hitting the boy. “Stop!” the teacher commands. Once the teacher was sure that Faith was balanced on her feet, she grabs Faith by her fists and holds them still. “Stop, Charity. It’s over.” Faith stops swinging her hands but remains focussed on the boy. “It’s over, Charity.” Both Charity and Faith turn their attention to the teacher.
Still holding Faith by her hands, the teacher commands two students to take the boy to the nurse’s office. He has rolled onto his side and still cries quietly. Helping the boy up, the two students escort him to the nurse, the crowd parting. As they pass, a few students follow along with the threesome. “The rest of you; go play. It’s over.” the teacher addresses the remaining crowd. “It’s over!” she repeats more forcefully, and the crowd disperses.
Charity stands at her sister’s side. Squatting, so she is eye level with Faith, the teacher asks her, “Charity, what happened?” Faith stares blankly. “Charity! What happened?” the teacher asks Faith again.
Faith takes a sharp breath in, pauses and screams. The teacher, startled, stands abruptly, letting go of Faith’s hands, and takes a step back. The sound pushes through Faith’s mouth like a stream, slowly fading to a trickle as she runs out of air. When the last of her breath is spent, Faith closes her mouth, and looks to the teacher, waiting for further instructions.
The activity on the playground is frozen, and all attention turned to watch the threesome. A basketball is forgotten, falls to the payment and dribbles itself to a stop. The sudden silence rips through the teacher, making her shiver like a cold wind.
The end of recess bells rings, and movement starts, and volume builds as children line up to return to class. Charity, Faith and the teacher remain where they are on the playground. The rows of children file inside, leaving just the three of them on the playground. Faith continued to look at the teacher, while Charity and the teacher both looked at Faith.
“Faith, take your sister to the office.” the teacher says. Charity turns her head to look at the teacher. “Take your sister to the office, Faith,” the teacher says again, now turning her head to look Charity in the face. “I’ll be in to speak to the principal soon.” Charity looked from the teacher to her sister, but Faith remained up moved. “Take Charity to the office, please, Faith,”.
Stepping forward, Charity tugged on Faith’s shirt, and Faith followed her sister’s lead inside the school.
The teacher followed the girls with her eyes, waiting for the door to close behind them, before exhaling the breath she held. Putting both hands on her knees, the teacher breathed in and out, eyes clenched shut.

The click of the teacher’s heels creates an echo in the empty halls, making them seem louder than average. Turning into the Principal’s office, the click of her heels had announced her arrival preemptively as the assistant looks up at her expectantly as she rounds the corner.
“You can go right in,” the assistant tells the teacher.
Not slowing her pace, the teacher nods her head slightly and gives the assistant a tight-lipped smile as she continues past her desk to the closed Principal’s door.
Entering the office, the teacher pauses inside the doorway, leaving her hand on the doorknob. Both girls sit together in one armchair that faces the Principal’s desk, leaving the twin-seat empty. The Principal, arms folded on the desk, rested his torso against the desk. Mr Soloman was a tall and slender man, with a naturally pale complexion and thinning hair which aged him beyond his years. Having made the unfortunate chosen a button-down that matched the walnut desktop’s shade, his head appeared to be floating above the desk at first glance. Looking up as the teacher entered the doorway, he nodded his head at the empty armchair, indicating she should take a seat.
“Now that Ms Teacher has joined us, perhaps we can get to the bottom of why we are all here today.” Mr Soloman said to the top of Charity and Faith’s heads. The twins sat with four knees neatly lined up in a straight line, their necks arched with eyes intently focussed on their laps. Neither Charity nor Faith moved when addressed.
“Ms Teacher, could you please tell me what happened? Why are these girls in here today?”
The teacher knit together her brows briefly and gave a slight shake of her head. “I don’t know all the details. I only saw the last bit.”
“Then why don’t you tell us what you did see.” the principals head nodded and bobbed above his desk as he spoke.
“Well, when I noticed the crowd of children, I hurried over. At that point, I saw Charity on top of one of the older students. She was hitting him and yelling,” At the sound of her name, Charity lifted her head to look at the teacher. Her lips pursed slightly, and a small puff of air escaped as her lower jaw fell open. She looked at the teacher’s face, who would not meet her eyes, and then turned to search for her sister’s face, which was still hung low and unmoving.
“Right well, it seems that no one knows why this whole thing started in the first place. Ms Teacher, you may return to your classroom,”
Taken aback by being dismissed before she expected, the Teacher stalled in her reaction, before pushing herself up from her chair with her hands. “Ok, sure,” she mumbled weakly. Unsure of what to say, her voice trailing upwards as she said “Goodbye,” while she shut the door behind her.
The Principal hit a button on his phone, making the phone in the next room ring, the sound being heard easily through the hollow door.
“Yes?” a voice through the phone speaker said.
“Were you able to contact Charity and Faith’s parents?” the Principal replied to the speaker.
“Yes, I have contacted the number on file; however, this is not their home number, just a number to leave messages at.” came the voice again through the speaker.
“And did you leave a message?” asked the Principal, his eyebrows raised, wrinkling his forehead.
“Um, the person who answered said that they hadn’t heard from their mother in years and that he had no idea how to get a message to her.” The voice on the speaker cleared her throat before continuing. “There’s no other number listed in the girls’ files or a place of employment for the parents,”
Hitting a button again on the phone, which ended the conversation, the Principal returned his attention to Charity and Faith.
“Girls, can I have your phone number, please?” The Principal asked, his fingers poised over the number pad of the desk phone.
“We haven’t got one.” Charity said quietly.
“Any number to reach your parents then,” the Principal asked in a rushed tone of voice. Charity shook her head.
The Principal took a deep breath in, pushing it out through his nostrils audibly. “Have your parents contact me as soon as possible, then please, girls. Return to class until I call on you again.”
Rising, Charity grabbed Faith’s hand, pulling her from her seat. Neither child said anything while waling back to their classroom.

Posted in Novel Work (Un-edited)

Other Half – Chapter 8

 

Again, not editted, and this chapter has some flashbacks that might be hard to keep up with. Let me know what you think. Unless it’s to tell me that spelling/grammar is incorrect. I already know that part.

Chapter 8 – September 19th, 1984

 “Ok, let’s play where you are the waitress and I’m the person ordering,” Charity said quietly to her sister.  Both girls had been watching TV with the sound off, perched at the end of the sofa bed.  Faith nodded her head and leaned forward to turn off the TV.  The screen reflected back a dim fisheyed reflection of the room behind the girls.  Charity hopped down from the end of the bed and made her way to the kitchenette and Faith was quick to follow her.   
   The kitchenette was slightly to the left of the front door of the bachelor apartment, and held a small two seater table, with chairs that were high off the ground.  In the middle of the apartment, there was a large room where they watched TV on the sofa.  A bathroom and closet door stood side by side to the right of the large room.  On the floor beside the closet door, a small box of toys sat, inside where the few toys that Charity and Faith had; things their mother had found, or that have been given to them by various men their mother claimed were their uncles they had met briefly.  A suitcase containing their clothes sat beside the box of toys.  Charity and Faith sleep on a mattress on the floor while Chrystal and Uncle Chris sleep in the sofa bed in front of the TV.  Sometimes Charity and Faith have to move their mattress into the kitchenette area because Uncle Chris makes too much noise in bed.  The hum of the refrigerator helped Faith finally close her eyes at night.    
   Charity climbed up into the high chair, and sat up very straight.  Elbows on the table, she held a make belief menu in her hand.  She nodded and said “Hmmph” a few times as she pretended to read over the menu.  Faith walked over to where Charity sat, pretend pen poised over the pretend notebook she held in her right hand.  
    “Um, yes, I think I’ll have the cheeseburger today.”  Charity stated, while Faith pretended to write down her order.  I’ll have fries with that, but no gravy.  I hate gravy.”  Faith finished writing down what Charity had asked for and looked up at her sister.  
   “Oh, right, a drink.  Let’s see.  Is the chocolate milk good here?  I think I’ll have some chocolate milk.”  Charity finished up her order, closed her make belief menu and handed it to Faith, who rushed off to get Charity’s order ready.  

   Chrystal, Faith and Charity had moved around many times since Charity’s hospitalization, never returning to their apartment after leaving the hospital.  Chrystal led the girls through the hospital corridors until they reached an exit.  The cool air of the evening chilled the bare skin of Charity’s legs and her flesh rippled and dimpled immediately, after walking out of the hospital into the parking garage.  Chrystal held the blanket satchel over her left shoulder, and held her right hand down for Faith to hold on to.  Charity held onto Faith’s remaining hand, and the two needed to run to keep up with Chrystal’s swift pace.  Without shoes, Charity’s feet made sharp slapping noises against the pavement that echoed through the garage.   
   “Come girls.  Quickly,” Chrystal said to the air in front of her, not turning back to the girls, and lengthened her stride slightly.  Charity’s legs gave out from underneath her, tripping her.  She held on to her sister’s hand tighter as she fell, pulling Faith loose from Chrystal’s grip.  At the release of Faith’s hand, Chrystal paused to look back at the girls.  Charity was on her side, a nasty abrasion on her left knee bleeding.  Faith was trying to help her sister back up.  Chrystal stood over the twins and looked down at them.  The lights inside the parking garage acted as a spotlight on the tumbled twins.  Chrystal’s grip on the satchel relaxed and it tumbled down her shoulder, arm, and then dangled from her hand momentarily before it hit the cement floor.  Closing her eyes, Chrystal pulled her face upwards, allowing it to flop back towards her shoulder blades.  She pulled in a deep breath into her lungs, pushing it out hard through her nose.  Leaving her head back, she blinked rapidly at the overhead lights.  One more deep pull of air.  
     “Up you get.”  Chrystal said to Faith as she lowered her head again, and set Faith upright.  Grabbing Charity’s leg just below the skinned knee, she dabbed at the scrap with the bottom of her own shirt.  “You’re alright,” she said and lifted Charity to feet beside her sister.  She turned to the makeshift satchel and grasped it again in her right hand and stood up fully.  Both girls stood still and looked up at their mother.  Chrystal bent at the waist to pick Charity up, hoisting her onto left hip with the satchel still in her right hand.  “Hold on tight,” Chrystal whispered to Charity.  Charity wrapped her legs around Chrystal as best as she could, her feet, black from the pavement, left foot prints on Chrystal’s shirt.  She held Charity up with just her left arm, hip jutted out.  “Faith, come hold Mommy’s pinky,” Chrystal said, moving the hand with the satchel down to her side, pinky finger extended as far as it could go.  Faith held on to her finger tight, as the three made their way slowly out of the light of the parking garage and the night swallowed them up.   

   In the kitchenette, Faith tried to reach plates and cups to serve to Charity.  Charity jumped down from her chair, and pushed it over to the counter, the legs making a humming noise as they vibrated across the floor.  Faith climbed up the chair and then onto the counter, passing down a plate to Charity, and then a plastic tumbler with a faded and scratched logo of Lovelies, a local strip club, printed on exterior.  It was a large tumbler and Charity’s hands were not big enough to grasp it completely, before it slipped from her fingers and tumbled to the floor, bouncing a few times before coming to a stop. 
  “Hey!” Chrystal said from under a blanket.  She was laying on her stomach on the sofa bed, her left foot left stuck out from the blanket.  Lifting her head from the pillow, and using her right hand, she moved the tangled mess of hair from before her eyes.  “You guys need to keep it down.  I worked really late last night,”  she said sharply.  The twins could clearly see last night’s makeup smeared under Chrystal’s eyes from where they stood.  
   “Sorry, mom,” Charity said quietly as she fetched the fallen tumbler.  She put her finger to her lips as she looked to Faith, who shrugged her left shoulder in reply.  Returning to their game, Charity and Faith pretended to be cooking burgers on the stove.  They used spatulas and flipped each make belief burger with exaggerated motions, and giggled quietly to themselves.

The girls had met quite a few uncles they didn’t know they had had since leaving the hospital, but often they didn’t stay there very long.  Often there was a fight that happened, and Chrystal and the twins would find themselves out in the night with their belongings, and not always knowing where they might end up that night.
 Chrystal and the girls had been living with Chris for just shy of six months.  They arrived when it was dark, as they always did.  
“Chris is super nice.  You’ll like him, girls,” Chrystal explained when she hit the buzzer for the apartment building.  Faith and Charity brought the duffel bag with their clothes up onto the stoop together.  A crackly voice answered back after Chrystal’s buzz.
“Yeah?”
“Oh, Hi!  It’s us.  We’re here!” Chrystal answered back.  She shifted from foot to foot slightly.  The door to the apartment building made a clicking noise and Chrystal moved quickly to pull the door open.  She leaned her back on the door, while Charity and Faith dragged in their duffel bag.  
“Let’s find the elevator.  Third floor” Chrystal instructed.  
Chris opened the door with a whoosh, when Chrystal knocked on the door.  He swung the door open wide and stepped away from the door.  “Come in.  The games on.” he said, and walked out of sight.  
Both the girls looked up at their mother, waiting to see if this had been their invitation to enter.  
Unsure herself, she straightened her shoulders, shook her hair out of her face, and walked through the doorway.  “Come on in I guess,”  she said.   
Charity and Faith stepped in, but stayed close to the door.  Chrystal shut the door behind them.  Slipping off her boots, she sashayed her way over to where Chris sat on the couch.  He was sitting forward in his seat, elbows resting on his legs, finger tips taping together.  Chrystal curled on leg underneath her as she perched herself on the edge of the couch, and extended the second one closer to Chris, her bare legs exposed up to the thigh in her mini skirt.  
“Thanks again for letting us stay.  We won’t be here long, just until I can get my apartment fixed up,” she said.  With her right hand, she reached up for a tendril of hair behind her ear and twirled it around her finger, her eyes never leaving his face, a large smile stretched across her face.  
“Yeah, yeah, it’s no problem,” Chris replied, his eyes never leaving the television.    
Chrystal stayed posed as she was.  The smile started to waiver from her face, and finally ended with a sigh.  
Chris moved and slouched back into the couch.  Catching Chrystal’s confused expression, he smiled quickly and patted her leg.  “Games almost over,” he said and returned to watching the game.  
Looking over her shoulder to Charity and Faith still standing at the door, she chews on her lip for a moment, before standing up and walking towards them.  Flashing them her brightest smile, she takes the duffel bag from them.  “So good of you guys to carry that for Mommy,” she smiles some more.  “How about you two sit quietly at that table there until Uncle Chris’ game is all done.” The girls did as they were told, and quietly climbed up into the chairs.  They both knew that their room and board often depended on their ability to make no noise and not direct attention to themselves.  
Chrystal busied herself with fussing around the kitchenette.  She picked up a few used napkins, and began a search for a garbage bin.  When one could not be seen, she moved the trash she had collected to the far end of the kitchen counter.  Next she moved on to dishes intent on putting them away.  Failing to find a home for them, she put them back where she had found them.  Opening and closing the fridge, she muttered to herself.
Chris appeared in the kitchenette and startled both Chrystal and the twins.  
“Games over,” Chris stated.  His voice was deep and smooth.
“Oh, you scared me.  I was going to make you something to eat.” Chrystal claimed.  
“I already ate.  But I do have something for you two,”  Chris said, turning and opening up the oven, he bent low to fetch the item inside.  Both twins craned their necks to see what could be in the oven for them.  Standing up right again, Chris turned to reveal a plate full of chocolate chip cookies and place them on the table before the girls. The twins stared up at him.  He smiled at the cookies and then catches the twins staring at him, and the smile dips at the corners.  “Go ahead, have one!” he says.  
Charity looks to Chrystal who nodded her head.  Taking one off the top, Charity looks at it closer.  The cookie is an oval shape and the bottoms are darker than usual.  
“I’m not the greatest of bakers, but they taste good!” Chris says, taking a cookie for himself.  One bite makes half the cookie disappear.  
Charity takes a small tentative bite of her cookie, and then takes larger bites till the cookie disappears.  Reaching for the second one, Charity sees that Faith hasn’t taken one yet.  Faith still stares up at Chris while he munches his cookie, her eyes wide, with tears pooling on the bottom rim.  Chris looks down to see this as well.  
“Oh, come on, they aren’t that bad.  Here you go, give it a try,” Chris says and hands a cookie towards Faith.  Faith leans away from the cookie, but never takes her eyes off of Chris.
“Fate, don’t be rude.  You’re embarrassing me,” Chrystal said
Charity, reached up to take the cookie from Chris.  “Here, Fates.  It’s ok,” she said quietly in Faith’s ear so as not to turn Chrystal’s sudden anger on herself.  
Faith hung her head down low and took the cookie from Charity.  She held it in her lap for a moment and looked at it.  She nibbled on it steadily.
“Sorry, she can be weird at times.  I dunno where she gets her manners from” Chrystal apologize to Chris.  
“You sure that’s what it is?” Chris said.  He leaned against the kitchen counter, a half eaten cookie in her hand while he observed Faith, his eyes narrowed.  Charity noticed Chris looking at her sister, and adjusted herself in her seat so as to block Chris’ view.
“She acts like she’s seen stuff she shouldn’t have, is all,” Chris said.  He tossed the uneaten portion of his cookie in the trash.  He pulled a pack of cigarettes from the front pocket of his shirt, pulled out a smoke and lit it in one fluid motion.  He tossed the pack on the kitchen table beside the plate of cookies.  
“There’s nothing wrong with her!” Chrystal said.  Her voice was shrill again.  
“I don’t mean that as in something is wrong with her, I mean damaged as in someone’s done wrong to her,”  He pushed off of the counter and slumped into a kitchen chair across the girls.  His elbow on the table, he took a long pull from his cigarette and blew the smoke out slowly about the girls heads.  
“Yeah, well… he’s not around anymore…”  Chrystal said, her voice trailing off, deflated.
On the kitchen table, an ashtray sat with a few butts filling it’s bottom.  Two wings expanded from the round ashtray.  Smoke had made the mirrored finished look yellow and rusted.   With a pinky finger, Chris pulled the ashtray closer to him.  
“Good, good…” Chris said, flicking the filter of his cigarette.  Ash tumbled into the ashtray.  “I’ll show you were everyone is going to be sleeping,”
Faith woke while it was still dark out.  Charity slept on the mattress beside her.  Moving slowly, then untangling herself from her sister, Faith left her side and crept toward the kitchen, where just a tiny light above the stove was lit.  Climbing up onto the kitchen chair, Faith hoped to find more cookies.  The plate had been put away, but the ashtray was where it had been before.  She slid it closer to her, the glass making noise at it was dragged across the table.  Two curved ridges came from opposite sides of the ashtray, like wings.  Faith held up the ashtray, one ridge handle in each hand, and turned it vertically.  The butts and ash filling the bottom of the astray fell onto the table.  The smell stung her nose.  She held the ashtray close to her face, and could make out her reflection in the mirrored surface.  A shadow moved behind her.  
“That ashtray belonged to my mom,” Chris said.  
Startled, Faith let go of the ashtray, where it hit the table edge and bounced towards the floor.  With one large step, Chris was able to reach out and grab the ashtray before it connected with the floor. 
“Whoa! That was close,” Chris said, as he stood upright and replaced the ashtray on the table.  
Frightened, Faith pulled her knees to her chest and buried her face with her folded arms.
“Hey, Little, that’s ok.  Nothing broken here.” Chris said.  He took the seat to the right of where Faith sat.  “Yup, this ashtray belonged to my mother.  And she told me that she got it from Elvis.  Do you know who Elvis is?”  Chris asked Faith.
Faith shook her head no, but did not lift it up. 
“Well, he was a singer, who had this famous song about a hound dog, and when he used to dance, the girls would all scream.”  Faith shifted herself so could look at Chris with one eye above her folded arms, but did not respond.  
“Are you scared of me?”  Chris asked.  Faith did not move, only observed him.  “Of course you aren’t scared of me.  I haven’t given you a reason to afraid of me.”  Chris reached for the pack of cigarettes on the table.  A cigarette was moved to the corner of his mouth.  A lighter appeared in his hand, lit the cigarette and disappeared again into the pocket from which it appeared.  Leaning back in the chair, he pulled a short drag from the smoke, and the tip of the cigarette grew bright orange in the dim light for a second, dimming, and then growing brighter still when Chris took a second, longer haul from the filter.  Holding the cigarette between the first two fingers of his mouth, he pulled the ashtray closer to him with his pinky finger, as he had done before.  “No, I think you’re worried about what I could do.  To you.  To your sister.”  He blew the smoke out over his head, and it swirled briefly in tendrils above his head.  He looked down at his cigarette and rolled it between his thumb and index finger.  Faith watched the thin line of smoke as pointed up, and then swirled in the dim light. 
“Sometimes people do not do nice things, Little.  Sometimes, bad people do very bad things.  And that bad thing can stay with you for a very long time.  But not everyone is bad, and as you grow older, you’ll learn how to tell the bad people from the good.  I think your mom is still learning that part, too.  I’m not a bad person, but I’m pretty good at spotting one because I have lots of experience in that department.”  Chris paused and took a pull from his cigarette, and blew the smoke out from his nose as he sat forward in his chair and learned his forearms on the table.  “So, how about it? Will you try to remember that not everyone is a bad person wanting to hurt you, I’ll keep a lookout for bad guys?”  Chris looked over at Charity, who had raised her head up and was looking at his face.  “Deal?” Chris said and extended his fist towards Faith.  Faith looked at for a long moment, before quickly and tentatively grazing her own fist against his; returning to her original folded position at the chair.  “That a  girl!”  Chris said, moving his cigarette to the ashtray to rest.  The mirrored finished made it seem there were two glowing tips.  “It’s pretty early, so how about you get some more sleep, and I’ll stay up to keep watch for a bit longer?”  
Faith nodded her head.  Laying down beside her sister again, Faith closed her eyes.  The kitchen chair creaked up Chris when he shifted.  The refrigerator clicked on and hummed.  Small gasps of breath could be heard as her sister slept soundly.  Faith fell asleep until the morning.  

   Charity and Faith moved to the kitchen table, and shifted their pretend game to a real breakfast.  Cereal bowls were put on the table.  Charity grabbed milk from the fridge while Faith poured cereal into the bowls.  A rapid fire knock came on the apartment door, and startled Faith so that she dropped the box of cereal on the floor. Charity and Faith froze and stared at it. 
   “Girls, I said be quiet,”  Chrystal mumbled from under a pillow.  
   “Someone’s at the door, mama,” Charity explained.  She stood still, facing the door.  Faith took three quick steps so she could stand behind her sister.  
   Chrystal lifted her head again, and jumped out of bed quickly.  Wearing just a long t-shirt, she padded towards the door on the just balls of her feet.  On tiptoes, nose pressed to the door, she looked through the peephole.  “Who are you?” Chrystal said, her lips nearly touching the door as she spoke.  She placed her right hand on the door knob, making sure it didn’t move.  
    “Chrystal?  Is that you?  Chrystal Champagne?  I can’t believe I found you!” a man’s voice could be heard from the other side of the door.   
   Chrystal moved her head to the side slightly more, and pushed her right eye closer to the peephole.  She took a sudden step back from the door with a sharp intake of breath, and stood frozen, her stance wider than usual, knees slightly bent.  Her arms, bent at the elbow, were raised from her sides, as though bracing herself for an imminent attack.   
   The knock came again at the door.  “Chrystal?” the voice said again.  The spell broken, Chrystal stood up straight, both her hands moving to cover her mouth.  “Come on, girl.  I know you are in there,”  
   Chrystal turned around to the twins still standing in the kitchenette.  “Give me a second, I’m not decent!” Chrystal said over her shoulder, and she rushed towards the girls.  Putting a hand firmly on each of the girls shoulders, she turned and steered them towards the closet on the other side of the sofa.  Without being told, the girls knew to be as quiet as possible.  Reaching in front of the girls, Chrystal opened the closet door.  She pulled clothes from the hangers rod inside, and let the clothes fall to the closet floor.  Pushing again, she moved the girls inside the closet.  They stood still on top of the fallen clothes while Chrystal disappeared momentarily behind the open closet door, and returned with the cardboard box of the girls toys, which she pushed to the right hand corner of the closet floor.  She stepped out of the closet, and put her hand on the closet door handle.  Bending low to eye level with the girls, she said in a forced whisper “Not one sound,” and looked both of them in the eye in turn  before standing upright again.  As she closed the closet door, she looked above the twins heads at the remaining clothes hanging in the closet, and paused when the door covered half of her face from the girls.  She opened the door wide again, ripped the long shirt she had been wearing off, throwing it on the floor with the other clothes and grabbed a silk dressing gown.   Naked, she turned her back to the twins, and quickly put on the dressing gown, her left arm getting tangled in the flowing fabric of the gown.  Tying up the gown, she used her right foot to close the closet door behind her.  Through the door, the twins could hear their mother’s quick steps back to the door.  
   Charity reached out to touch her sister with one arm, and found her sister’s shoulder.  “Fates?” Charity whispered.  Faith’s small hand was suddenly over Charity’s mouth, and a hand on her arm.  Faith pulled her down to the floor slowly, making sure not to rustle anything within the closet.  Charity sat on her behind, her eyes slowly adjusting to the limited light in the closet.  A strip of light shone under the closet door, which was both comforting and eerie to Charity. Faith put the side of her head as close to the floor as possible, wiggling forward slightly so her left eye was as close as possible to the strip of light under the door, trying to take in the scene outside.
   The knocking on the door was more intense now and both girls jumped at the sound of it.
   “I’m coming, I’m coming,” Chrystal said, rushed annoyance in her voice.  The jingle of the door chain lock and deadbolt were heard.   The apartment door was swung open, and the shift in the air pressure of the room, rattled the closet door in its frame slightly.  
   “What’s going on?”  Charity whispered.  Faith sat up quickly, put a hand on each of the sides of Charity’s face, and pulled Charity’s face close to her own.  Charity could barely make out the details of Faith’s face, but she understood when Faith shook her head rapidly back and forth.  Faith knew no more than Charity did, except the need to remain quiet.    
   “Hey!  Listen, this isn’t a good time,” Chrystal said to the voice at the door.  
   Heavy footsteps could be heard entering the apartment.  The apartment door was shut firmly.  
   “Oh, I think this is a great time, Chrystal,” the voice said.  It seemed much louder on the inside of the apartment, through the thin closet door.  
   “No, I really have to – Hey, how did you find me?” Chrystal asked, her voice waverly slightly at the end.
   “Oh, it wasn’t really that hard to piece together.  You talk a lot when you’re nervous.”  The footsteps continued into the apartment, across the living room towards the closet door, at a casual pace, often with the scuff of a heel on the hardwood floors before the rest of the tread was brought down.
   “Oh… I guess I was nervous.  Say, speaking of drinking, that was sure fun last night, huh?  I was pretty drunk!”  Chrystal said, adding a tittering nervous laugh to the end.  
   “Yeah, sure.  Except the part about you being drunk.  I know there was nothing but soda in those glasses you were downing at the club.  And I sure didn’t have any fun when I woke up last this morning.”  The heavy footsteps stopped on the other side of the closet door, leaving two voids of blackness in the slice of light inside the closet.  Silence filled the room.  Faith and Charity held their breath.  
   The black voids shifted under the door, and the heavy footsteps switched spots, and shrank as they continued a slow walk back across the living room.  “Now, the way I see it, you owe me.” the voice said; the pitch was lower with weighted pause.  
   “I don’t owe you anything.  I gave you what you paid for last night.”  Chrystal said.  Her voice was smaller and further away.  She must be trying to put as much distance between them by stepping in the kitchenette.  
   “I paid you, but I did not get what I paid for.”  The voice’s footsteps moved quicker to close the distance to Chrystal.  “What was it that you drugged me with, huh?  One minute I’ve got a hooker in my room, and the next; the sun is up, my wallet is gone, and so is the whore.  Were you working with someone?  No chance you’re that smart on your own.”  
   Chrystal stammers, but is cut off by the voice.   “I’ll find out who you were working with, and square up with them.  Right now, my business is with you.”  The footsteps continued. 
  “Ok!  Ok!  Maybe I do owe you something.”  Chrystal said, her voice louder and shrill. 
   “I wasn’t negotiating.”  The voice said.  
   “I’ll meet you at the club tonight, not charge.” 
  “I’m not stupid.  You wouldn’t show.  No, I’m going to take payment right now.”  The voice said.
   The twins could hear the sounds of quick footsteps, the heavy ones belonging to the voice, and the lighter ones of their mother.  
   “No!” Chrystal yelled.  The sound of flesh meeting flesh.
   Charity tried to stand when she heard the smack, but Faith gripped her tightly and forced her to sit down again.  
   Heavy footsteps and wrestling were heard, followed by a large crash a sizzle.   The smell of burnt plastic wafted under the door.  The sound of someone getting hit again, this time with more force; a hit that reached the bone.  Chrystal screamed, the end of the scream becoming muffled.  The springs of the sofa bed squealed loudly like something large landed on it.  Rustling of clothes.  A zipper.  Another muffled scream followed by crying.  The springs squealed in rhythm.  Flesh meeting flesh.  The Voice grunted.  The springs rhythm increased, and heavy breathing was heard.  Chrystal became silent.  The springs reached a fevered pitch finally ending with two loud grunts from the voice, and a whimper from Chrystal.
   “Well, there’s a partial payment.”  The voice said.  The bed spring creaked as weight was shifted.  Clothing rustled.  The sound of a zipper.  
   Chrystal moaned softly.  
   “A whore like you must have taken it like that before.  Stop your bitching.”  The voice said.  The sound of a lighter, followed by a sharp inhale.    
   The air pressure shifts again in the room, the front door can be heard swinging open, and a footsteps.  
   “What’s this?”  It’s Chris.  He’s come home.  
   Chrystal can be heard crying harder now.  
   “Is this your man?”  The voice says
   “Chrystal, what’s going –  jesus, what the fuck happened to you?  Did he do this?”
   “She deserved it.  She ripped me off last night.”  The voice said.  
   “I don’t fucking care, you don’t hit women,” Chris stated.  His voice was reaching an escalated volume.  
   “Dude, this ain’t no women,” the voice chortled.  “This, my friend is nothing but a common whore.  And I’m not going to let some cheap hooker rip me off.”
   Heavy footsteps were heard.  Something else broke.  
   “No, Chris!  Stop!”  Chrystal shrieked.
   Heavy thumps against flesh.  A pause, and silence filled the closet.  A clicking sound.  And then a loud pop, so large the twins could not tell where it had come from.  Their shoulders rose to their ears and their hands covered them.  A second pop came, and the sound surrounded them, and as they huddled together.  Something large hit the floor, and it shook beneath the floor the twins sat upon.
Silence filled the closet again, and the chemical smell, acrid and sour, broke through the fear of making any noise.  Both twins sobbed into the other’s shoulder. 
   The heavy footsteps again, quickly across the room, and the apartment door slamming.
The twins could not hear anything more over the sounds of their sobs, their eardrums still echoing the sound of gunfire.  Chrystal slowly climbed off of the sofa bed, her eyes moving quickly between the apartment door, and where Chris lay on the floor.  Her gown was wide open.  She approached him slowly and quietly, frightened that  disturbing the silence may change the outcome of the situation.  
“Chris?” Chrystal said quietly, she crouched beside him, on tiptoes, her finger tips splayed on the floor to keep her balance.  When no response came, Chrystal reached her right hand out slowly, and placed it on Chris’ chest.  She pushed down.  Using the heel of her hand, she shook Chris.  There was no response from limp limbs.  “Chris?” Chrystal said again, this time above the volume of a whisper.  “Chris!”  Chrystal yelled, putting both hands on his chest and using her weight to shake him.  His head bobbled at the neck.  She fell forward, her knees falling into Chris’ ribs.  She screamed his name again, and slammed her hands down on his chest.  When no response came again, she pushed herself off of him, and landed with a thump on her backside.  A deep hitch of breath caught in Chrystal’s lungs and tears fell down her face.  She looked at her hands in her lap and let the tears fall freely from her eyes, landing on her hands and spreading dark spots on her robe.  
She sniffed once before hearing the click of the closet door turn behind her.  Her head sprung up to an upright position.  “Don’t open that door.” Chrystal said flatly.
   “Mommy?”
   “Just a little bit longer.  I’ll let you know when it’s ok to come out.”  Chrystal said.  She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her robe and scrubbed away the tears with her fists.  Standing up quickly, she stared at the closed apartment door, and did her robe back up tightly.  Nodding her head, as though coming to a decision, Chrystal walked to the sofa bed and pulled a blanket from its foot.  Covering the body of Chris with it, she stood up straight to review her work.  Noticing a fingertip could be seen from under the blanket still, she bent to pull the blanket over them, but paused a moment, the blanket still in her right hand.  She put both hands under the blanket and rolled Chris slightly away from her, and then released him back to his previous position.  Pulling both hands out from under the blanket, she now held his wallet in her right hand, and replaced the shifted blanket back into position.  She stood and turned to the closet door.  She opened the door to the closet and looked down at the twins huddled together on the floor of the closet, their faces upturned to look at her.  They whimpered at the sudden break in the darkness and squinted and blinked their eyes rapidly while their eyes adjusted to the change in the light.  
   Chrystal straightened her shoulders and looked over the twins heads, to the back of the closet.  “We have to go,” she said quietly.  One of the twins sniffed.  “Come on, Littles.  We have to go,” she said and looked at the again, and nodded her head reassuringly.  
   Breaking their hold of each other, the twins crawled out of the closet, one to each side of their mother, and turned to seat themselves on the floor behind her, avoiding what may have happened behind them.  Chrystal undid the robe and slid it backwards down her arms, catching it with her hands before it hit floor.  She brought it around to the front and held it in her hands while she stared at it.  “I liked this one,” she said quietly, before she let it drop to the ground, the silk slipping cooly between her fingers.  Naked once again, she stood before the open closet and rummaged through its contents, pulling a few items that remained hanging, and then through the pile that was on the floor.  Crouching low, the clothing she had chosen held closely against her stomach, she reached further back into the closet, and pulled out the familiar duffel bag. 
  “Mommy?” Charity said quietly.  
  “It will be ok, girls,” Chrystal said absently.  Sorting through the clothes she held, she sorted through them, some of them tossed beside her, most of them ending up inside the duffel bag.   When she had finished sorting, she turned to the pile beside her and put them on, quickly.  Her blond hair remained inside the neck of her turtleneck, but she didn’t bother releasing it.  
   “Mom?” Charity asked again.
   “I don’t know where we are going yet,”  Chrystal didn’t look at the girls as she spoke.  She stood, with a duffel bag in hand.  “Girls, grab your bag,” she said and walked between the two girls, stepping over Chris’ body and made her way to the apartment door.  
   Reaching into the closet, Faith pulled  a second duffel bag from this closet.  The girls clothes always remained packed.  
   “Shoes on, girls,” Chrystal said.  She stared down at her own shoes, not wishing to look at anything else in the apartment.  
   “Are we coming back?” Charity asked.  
   “No,” Chrystal said firmly.  
Charity nodded and understood that they would never be returning here.  She looked at her sister, who remained in the middle of the living room, looking down at the form under the blanket.  
  Chrystal moved to stand at the door, her hand on the doorknob.  Wiggling her feet into her shoes, Charity moved to stand beside her sister, her back to the form on the floor.    “We have to go,” Charity said to Faith.  Faith, unphased by her sister’s statement, let her head tilt slightly to the right, still looking down at the form.  Charity held Faith’s left hand and started to walk towards the door where Chrystal waited.  The slack between the girls arms, finally became taught, and Faith was pulled into motion.  She let Charity lead her to the door, walking backwards, retaining everything from the scene.  Chrystal opened the door, and stepped through it.  Charity continued to pull Faith through the doorway.  Reaching the hallway, just before the apartment door closed behind them, Faith pulled her hand free Charity’s hand and ran back into the apartment.
“Wait,” Charity said.  
Chrystal stopped in her tracks ahead of them.  “What is she doing?” she asked.  
“I think she forgot something,” Charity said.  
A moment later, Faith reappeared, holding something against her chest under her shirt.  
“What have you got?” Chrystal asked.  She crossed her arms, and moved her stance so her right leg was in front.  
Faith looked up at Chrystal, and then looked at Charity.  Charity held her gaze for a moment.  “It’s nothing.  We can go now, Mom,” she said and led Faith forward by her elbow.   Head down, Faith let herself be led.  
Without understanding their reasoning, the three passed the elevator, and made the way to the stairwell, climbing down the three flights of stairs in single file.  The heavy door at the bottom made a loud clanging sound as Chrystal put her weight into it.  
“Where are we going?”  Charity asked again.
After a long pause, Chrystal replied “I have to make a phone call,”  She pulled Chris’ wallet from her bag, and looked rifled through it.

Posted in Novel Work (Un-edited)

Other Half – Chapter 6 (Unedited)

Yes, once again, I am posting Chapter 6 before I post Chapter 5. The following text is not edited. Feed back is always apprecitated.

August 13th, 1983
The sound of a push of air, followed by a soft beep slowly, lulling her to sleep earlier had once again pushed their way into Chrystal’s consciousness. More sounds come to her, the sound of a baby, endless footsteps, and hushed voices. She furrows her eyebrows slightly at the annoyance of the noise. Her back and her neck ache and she feel the pain will worsen if she moves too quickly. Slowly she starts to sit upright. Her cheek has stuck to the vinyl arm of the chair, leaving a red mark on her cheek. The layers of mascara have sealed her eyes shut momentarily. She finally opens her eyes wide, her mouth matching the shape, until eventually, the mascara lets go. She blinks hard, clearing the fog in front of her eyes as well as in her mind.    

   Hospital. I’m in the hospital.  

   Six other beds occupied the ward; each with their own set of visitors. Each bed had a vinyl chair to its left, a bedside tray table, and a curtain on a track attached to the ceiling that ran around the bed area, to offer some degree of seclusion.  
The memory of why she woke up in a hospital room comes to the front of her mind. Balling her hands, she scrubs her eye sockets with them, removing the last bits of crust from her lashes, creating black smears under her eyes, and on the sides of her index fingers. Using her middle finger, she rubs under her eyes, starting at the inner corner, and ending at the outer rim, blending in the smears that she made moments ago. She rubs the mascara smears from her hands onto her jeans. Placing both hands on the arms of the chair, she leans forward and searches the floor around her feet for Faith who was sitting on her lap when Chrystal dozed off but must have slipped off. Failing to see her, she raises herself to look under her chair and then the bed, which was only two feet from her chair. As she searches, she catches a form at the end of the bed and realises that Faith has curled herself at the foot of Charity’s bed like a sleepy dog. Standing fully erect, Chrystal takes a step to the edge of the bed and places a hand on Faith’s head. On closer inspection, Chrystal sees that Faith’s eyes are open. 
   “Are you awake, baby?” Chrystal whispers close to Faith’s ear, pushing the hair off from Faith’s cheek and tucking it behind her ear. Faith does not respond or stir. Her eyes stare at nothing with eyelids at half-mast.    
   Chrystal allows her eyes to move away from Faith’s profile, and make their way towards the head of the bed. She follows the outline of two small legs under a threadbare sheet, a tiny torso, the shape of two arms which she knew where restrained to the bed, and finally up to the face of Charity. She lay on her back, her hair matted above her head, stuck together with leftovers of her stomach contents. Tubes came from different orifices in the small girl, to replace fluids, to help her breath, to monitor her vitals, to keep her sedated. All of them making it hard for Chrystal to look at her daughter for any length of time without feeling her heartbeat so hard she could feel it in the pit of her stomach. Charity’s mouth hung open while she slept, causing the skin of her lips to harden and crack.  
   A nurse noiselessly walks into the ward and grabs the chart notes that hung at the end of Charity’s bed. She quickly read the top page, the nurse flips to the second page, scanning it. Seemingly unaware of Chrystal standing in her way, the nurse tucks the chart under her arm and moves between Chrystal and bed to check the monitors attached to Charity. She retrieves the rolling vital signs monitor that stood to the left of Chrystal. The sound of the velcro ripping apart from the blood pressure cuff makes Chrystal’s skin crawl. As the cuff fills with air and squeezes Charity’s arm, the nurse takes her temperature. When the monitor beeped to signal the test was complete, the nurse quickly writes down the numbers on the chart, replaces it under her arm again, and removes both the cuff and the thermometer, returning them to the rolling cart. 
  Returning to the first page of the chart, the nurse asks in a hushed tone “When was her last bowel movement?” Her pen poised above the paper to write down the intended answer.
   Without eye contact, it took a moment for Chrystal to understand that the nurse was speaking to her. “I – I don’t know.”
   “Has she voided since she has been here?”
   “Void?” Chrystal asks.
   Looking up from the chart, the nurse looks at Chrystal. “Has she gone pee?”
   “Um, no. She’s sleeping,” Chrystal says, shaking her head.  
   The nurse bent and lifted the blanket at the side of the bed slightly, to reveal a hanging catheter bag. “She is hooked up to a catheter. She doesn’t need to be awake to pee.” The nurse explained quietly and bowed her head again towards the chart and made notes.  
   “I didn’t know”, Chrystal said quietly and took a step backwards as the nurse moved between the bed and Chrystal, and replaced the chart at the foot of the bed. She paused and put her hand on the footrest.  
   “They will be taking her off sedation now. I expect her to wake up within the hour. At that point, we will try to get her out of bed and see if her motor skills are still intact.”
   “But she so sick. Is that a good idea?” Chrystal pleaded.
   The nurse looked Chrystal in the eye for the first time. “The child is not sick. She ingested narcotics. There is a difference. We need to assess the damage done as quickly as we can so we can hope to repair and heal her,” The muted tone of the conversation was gone. The nurse’s shoe made a squealing sound on the linoleum as she moved to the next bed in the ward to repeat the process of chart review.  
   Chrystal felt the heat from the eyes of every patient and visitor in the ward on her. The quiet conversations in the room stopped, and the room fell silent. Chrystal could hear her blood pumping in her ears and her face flush red to the tips of her ears.  
  “It – it was an accident. She wasn’t supposed to touch it,” Chrystal yelled out. The nurse stopped what she was doing at the next bed to look at Chrystal. Her mouth opened to say something, but thinking better of it, she closed it again and turned her attention back to the clipboard in hand and the patient in the bed. “She knows better than to touch my stuff!” Chrystal yelled again. Those that had been looking at her turned away. Many people kept their heads down, some shaking their head.  
   Chrystal felt a tug on the waist of her shirt. Looking down, Faith was now sitting up in Charity’s bed and held onto Chrystal’s shirt. Turning again to everyone in the room, Chrystal shouts, “Everyone makes mistakes! It wasn’t my fault!” Looking down at Faith, she reaches out and smooths the hair away from Faith’s face. “Right, baby? Everyone makes mistakes.”  
   The nurse appeared at Chrystal’s side again. Chrystal crossed her arms in front of herself, Faith still pulling at her shirt. The nurse stepped close to Chrystal, gripped her tightly around the upper arm and spoke swiftly but quietly in her ear. “Your reality, whether you chose to acknowledge the facts or not, is not the reality for anyone else in this room. It is yours alone. They have their reality to face; you have yours.” The nurse swept her free hand, palm up, across the room. “No one in this room believes that you are not at fault for what happened to your daughter. Yelling your denial to strangers will not change that. You have the choice to let this moment be the beginning of your redemption story, or let the poison that crawls through your veins ruin two more lives beyond your own,” The nurse released Chrystal’s arm and took a small step back. Chrystal turned to pull Faith’s hand from her shirt and to lift her to her hip. Chrystal’s eyes narrowed, and she pushed her bottom jaw forward was the nurse spoke again. “Visiting hours end at 8 pm. I suggest you find a place other than here to stay tonight if you cannot keep yourself quiet.” The nurse turned and stepped out of the room.
   “Where am I supposed to go?” Chrystal yelled at the empty doorway. “I don’t have anywhere to go!” she yelled again. Faith pushed against Chrystal, first with her hands, but as Chrystal struggled to keep the toddler on her hip, Faith pushed harder and used her knees to pry herself from her mother’s grip. “Jesus Christ, Fates, what the hell is the matter with you? Come here with mama.” Chrystal sharply spoke as she tried to wrestle with the squirming child.
   Freeing herself from her mother’s hip, Faith returned to the end of the bed where she sat cross-legged and looked into Charity’s face.
    “Come sit on my lap,” Chrystal said, reaching once again for Faith. Faith scooted to the edge of the bed, just out of Chrystal’s reach, and returned to sitting crossed legged, looking at Charity. Chrystal paused for a moment, arms still outstretched to Faith to enter them. “Fine. Don’t sit with me. You’re so selfish. I don’t know what I did to deserve that,” Chrystal returned to the vinyl seat, sitting down hard, and allowing her arms to hang over the arms of the chair. Shifting a few times in the chair, Chrystal finally settles with her head propped up in the palm of her hand, elbow on the arm of the chair. Her breathing slows to match the timing of the oxygen pump attached to her daughter.  
   The diminishing light of sunset changes the mood in the ward, and chatter among the visitors’ increases. Chrystal wakes from her nap in her chair by the smell of food. Faith watches her sister, unmoved by the chatter around her. Lifting her head and straightening her back, Chrystal spies an orderly passing out meals to the patients in the bed. Handing out the last meal in his cart, he returns to the doorway of the ward.
   Standing up from her seat before the orderly can leave, Chrystal says “Hey, you didn’t leave one for my daughter.”  
   “She’s not meant to have food.” The orderly replies, pointing towards the foot of Charity’s bed. Chrystal’s eyes followed the direction of the orderly’s finger and saw a food restriction sign hung beside Charity’s chart.
  She’s going to wake up soon, though. She’ll need food.”  
  The orderly shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry, but I’m not permitted to leave anything that hasn’t been assigned to the patient,” Pushing his cart towards the door, Chrystal stops him again.
   “Can you just leave a meal for me then. I haven’t eaten all day, man.”  
Looking at Chrystal’s hand on his bicep, he replies. “I don’t have extra trays of food to hand out. Every tray is assigned to a patient, and there isn’t one assigned to your daughter.”
   Without removing her hand, Chrystal shifts her weight to her back foot, pushing her hips to an uneven position. “Can you at least get food for my other kid then? The one that’s not out cold?” Chrystal’s voice had gotten louder and higher pitched.  
   The orderly looked into Chrystal’s face, his eyes focussed on hers. “I can show you where the cafeteria is if you would like.”
   With a scoff, Chystal removed her hand from the orderly’s arm, pushing him slightly as she did so. “Figures. You won’t help me either. Doesn’t anyone here want to help me out?” She turned her back to the orderly and retreated to her chair. “Come to the hospital for help, and all they do is make you feel worse,” she mumbled as she crossed her arms in front of her and then crossed her legs at the knee, away from the orderly.  
   “I’m sorry. I-” the orderly began. He paused with his mouth open, but when no more words came, he closed it, turned back to his cart and left the ward, the unfinished sentence rolling through his mind.   
   “Can you believe that, Faith? He wouldn’t even leave food for a little kid. No one cares about us around here,” Chrystal said. With exaggerated movements, Chrystal adjusted her position in the chair. She looked in the direction of the doorway the orderly had just exited. One hand gripped the armrest, while Chrystal tapped her nails on the other. She kept her legs crossed at the knee, left over right, but twitched her left foot in time with her tapping fingers. When Faith didn’t respond, Chrystal turns her head to look at Faith, still sitting on the bed. “Aren’t you hungry, Fates?” Chrystal asked. Faith remained still, intent on watching her sister rest.  
   Faith remained silent. As she stared at her sister, she tilted her head to the right. As if rehearsed, Charity made a sound in the back of her throat and rolled her head slightly to the left, mirroring her sister’s movement. Faith still watching Charity, moved her head to the left. Charity again moved her head in the same direction as her sister, this time with more force. Faith moved from her crossed-legged position, so she was sitting on her knees. She moved her hands to her mouth and tilted her head to the right again. Charity made a muffled sound around the breathing tube in her mouth and moved her head again to the left as her own hands moved to her mouth. Faith rolled her head back and forth, turning her hands into fists against her mouth. Charity moaned louder, feeling around the breathing tube, finding a hold on it and tried to remove it from her mouth.  
   The commotion finally reached a volume that grabbed Chrystal’s attention from her feud with the orderly. She jumped from her seat to Charity’s side.  
   “Char, no honey. Leave that alone. Don’t pull that out.” Chrystal removed Charity’s hands from the tube, but once she let go of Charity’s hands, the little girl’s hands returned to their struggle with the tube. Racing to the doorway, Chrystal yelled ‘I need some help in here. Where the fuck are the doctors?”  
   Faith crawled up towards her sister on the bed. She placed a hand on her sister’s hands which were still clawing at the breathing tube. Charity’s movements calmed down, and her hands stilled. Charity opened her eyes to see Faith’s face close to hers. Her eyes became very wide. Crawling further over her sister, Faith pushed the call button pinned to the sheets beside her sisters head.  
   Shifting backwards on the bed, Faith returned to her perch at the end of the bed and crossed her legs. The twins’ locked eyes and both remained still.  
  Two nurses rushed into the ward, the first nurse moving to the side of the bed where Chrystal stood, pushing Chrystal aside where she lost her balance and fell back into her seat. “Hey!” she cried out.   
   “Charity, honey! We need you to lay still! Everything is ok.” the first nurse said to Charity. The second nurse moved to the opposite side of the bed to help hold Charity still. She places a hand firmly on Charity’s forehead, to keep her head still. Charity’s eyes are wide and look from one nurse to the other in rapid procession.  
   “Charity, hold still while I remove some of these tubes from you.” The tape pulls at Charity’s skin, a red mark underneath. Charity tries to move her head from side to side, but the second nurse holds her still. Locking eyes with Faith once again, Charity stopped moving. “There’s a girl. Good girl.” The nurse said.  
   As the breathing tube was removed, a doctor walked into the ward, followed by another lady in a suit. The doctor approached the nurses, “How is the patient doing?” He stopped a few feet short of the second nurse, his hands loosely clasped behind his back.  
   “She seems to have calmed down since she woke up and aware of her surroundings, but we haven’t run any tests just yet.” The first said explained.  
  “Ok, I’m going to be on this floor for a bit. Let me know what you learn.” As he turns on his heel, the doctor sees Faith sitting on the end of the bed, watching her sister. “Who is this?” he asks, directing his question to no one in particular.
   “That’s my other daughter,” Chrystal answers, standing in front of her chair again and crosses her arms in front as she explains to doctor.
   The doctor looks from Faith to Charity and back again. “Twins?” he asks.  
   “Yeah, can’t you tell?” Chrystal moves her hands to hips and leans forward, putting more of her weight on her toes. “Why?”  
   Still looking at Faith, who hasn’t broken her concentration on her sister, the doctor purses his lips and shakes his head from side to side quickly. “The connection between twins, identical twins, specifically, is an interesting study. Particularly in times of trauma.”
   “I don’t have any notes here about twins.” The lady in the suit says as she flips through papers in the manila file folder she holds. Looking up at the two girls on the bed, to the doctor, to Chrystal, and then back down to her papers, she asks again, “So there are two girls then?” She removes a pen from the lanyard that hangs from her neck with an ID badge.
   “Yeah, there’s two kids. Why do you want to know?” Chrystal crosses her arms again.  
   Quickly scribbling notes on the papers in the folder, the lady addresses Chrystal without looking up. “I had no record of there being a second child. I only have Charity Faith on file.”  
   “Yeah, that’s right. My daughters’ names are Charity and Faith.”  
   The lady looks up from her papers at Chrystal, her brows wrinkled, and lips pressed together in a frown. Failing to see an answer in Chrystal’s face, the lady returned to flipping through her papers to search for an explanation. “So, you have two daughters, twins, one named Charity and one named Faith. Not one daughter named Charity Faith.”  
   “Yeah, I think I just said that,” Chrystal rolled her eyes. “Who are you? What’s this about?” Chrystals’s voice was becoming higher, pitched and louder.  
   The lady in the suit continues to flip through the pages and pauses to scan one of particular interest. Her left-hand moves to the lanyard around her neck, raising the name tag so Chrystal could read it.  
  “My name is Linda Anderson, from CDSS. I just have a few questions for you.” Linda raises her eyes to meet Chrstal’s 
   “Your badge says Child Protective Investigations” Chrystal replies, her voice smaller than usual.  
   “Yes, I work in the Child Protective Services department. I work mostly in the field initiating preliminary questioning of casefiles with parents such as yourself.”
   “Well, I don’t know what kind of questions you would have for me. I already told them when we got here what happened.”  
   “Yes, I have their notes here. I just wanted to make sure we have everything correct, and it seems we already found a discrepancy with your child, namely the fact that there are two of them.”  
   “Yeah, well, I just gave them Charity’s information. I didn’t say anything about Faith, so I don’t know how they got that mixed up.”
  “Exactly, and we want to make sure everything else is correct so that Charity and Faith get what they need. I’ll be asking the girls a few questions, too.”  
   “Faith doesn’t need anything. She’s not the one who’s sick.”
   Linda gives Chrystal a closed mouth smile, her eyes remaining neutral.
   “Charity, I’m going to ask you a few questions, ok?” The first nurse says to Charity, enunciating each word.   
   Charity looks away from her sister’s face and up to the nurse standing beside her. Her hands quickly move to her face, but there are no more tubes or tape there. The second nurse removes her hand from Charity’s forehead and smoothes the girl’s hair away from her face. 
   “Charity, can you hear me?” Asked the nurse? Charity nodded her head.  
   “Do you know where you are?” Charity shook her head back and forth.  
   “Do you know who the people in this room are? Who is that sitting at the end of the bed?” Charity looks back at her sister.
   “Char” Charity answers.  
   “No, not your name, baby, your sister’s name,” Chrystal says. She’s turned her back to Linda, but Linda remains in place.  
   “Fates,” Charity says.  
   “Good. Now, who is that lady over there?” the nurse points towards Chrystal.  
   Charity follows the direction of the finger and looks at Chrystal. “Chrystal.” She says.
   “Is Chrystal your mom?” the nurse asks. Charity nods her head again.  
   “Chrystal, can you tell me why you brought Charity into the hospital?” Linda asked.
Chrystal looks over her right shoulder at the sound of her name. “Hmmm… What?”
“I asked why you brought Charity-“
   “I already told them why I brought her here. My boyfriend was watching my kids. When I got home, she was acting funny. So, I brought her here.”
   “Can you tell me what time you noticed Charity acting funny, as you say?” Linda asked as she writes down Chrystal’s previous response on her clipboard.  
   Chrystal turns around to face Linda. “Hey, my kid is in the hospital, can we do this another time. She needs me right now,” Chrystal snapped at Linda. Linda stood silent while she maintained eye contact. “Just later, ok?” Chrystal spoke softer. Her arms slumped from the shoulders, and she tilted her head to the back right. 
  Linda reveals no emotion through her facial expressions. “No, Chrystal. We cannot. I was called here today out of concern for Charity’s safety. We need to finish this interview promptly so that I can ensure that Charity, and now Faith, is in the safest of environments.
   “I keep them safe!” Chrystal replies, wrinkling her nose and forehead. She wraps her arms around herself tightly.  
   “I’m going to ask you to tell me what happened to Charity.”   
   “I just told you. My boyfriend was watching my kids, and when I got home, they were acting funny. So I brought them here.” 
   “And how did you get here?” 
   “I asked my neighbour to drive us.”
  “So, your neighbour saw the girls. Did they ask what was wrong with them?”  
   “No, she didn’t. I think she just knew something was wrong and drove us.”
   “And what did the neighbour know as being wrong? Can I contact her to ask some further questions?”
   Chrystal rocked on her feet. “I don’t know if she knew. I just asked for a ride, and she gave us one.”  
   “How did you contact the neighbour? Did you call her?”
   “No, I knocked on her door.”   
   “Could I have her name and her apartment number, please?”
   “What for?”
   “I’d like to hear her version of what happened.”
   “Oh, well, I don’t really remember her name. And I knocked on a few doors. I don’t remember which one she lives at.”  
   Linda paused to write down what Chrystal had said. “Where were you before you came home to the girls?”  
   “I was meeting a friend.”  
   “Where did you meet them?”  
   “Um, downtown somewhere. I don’t remember.”
   “And how long were you go? How long were the children in the care of your boyfriend?”  
   “About an hour,”  
   “You didn’t visit with your friend long, then. Why were you meeting your friend?”
   “I don’t know. Do you need a reason to meet a friend?”
   “What’s your boyfriend’s name?”
   “Zeke.”
   “How do you get in contact with Zeke? What is his last name.”  
   “I don’t know. He’s probably taken off anyways,”
   “Do you feel Zeke did something to Charity that would make him avoid trouble?”
   “I don’t know. When I came home, the girls were acting funny. I asked him for help, and he left. And then I brought the girls here,”  
   “In your original statement, you claimed that Charity was acting funny, which is why you brought her to the hospital,” Linda flipped back a few pages to review the initial intake form. “However, twice since you have been speaking with me, you have mentioned that the girls were acting funny. But only Charity was checked in to the hospital for a drug overdose. Was Faith acting funny too?”    
   “Well, yeah. Fates was just kind of lying on the floor when I came in. She hasn’t been talking,”
   “Where was Charity if Faith was lying on the floor?”
   “She was sitting beside her sister.”  
   “What was she doing?”
   “I don’t know. Just sitting. She said Faith was sick,”  
   “Sick how?”
   “I don’t know. She just said sick.”
     Linda leans and peers past Chrystal to see Faith sitting on the end of the bed. Faith has turned around and is now facing Linda  
   “Hello, Faith. That’s a beautiful name,” Linda says to Faith. Faith doesn’t change her position, just looks at Linda’s face. “My name is Linda. I’m a social worker. Do you know what that is?” Faith did not answer Linda’s questions, but tilted her head to the side, her mouth a flat line.
   “When was the last time Faith said something?” Linda asked, her focus returning to her notes on the clipboard.  
   “I don’t know, since yesterday I guess. She hasn’t said anything since we got to the hospital. Worried about her sister, I guess,” Chrystal picked at her nails. 
   Linda scribbled down more notes “I notice that Faith is wearing a hospital gown too. Was she checked in to the hospital as well?”
  “Oh, no. I was just in a rush to get here that I didn’t have time to get clothes for Faith.”  
   “Faith was naked when you came in?”  
   “Well, sorta. She just didn’t have on pants or a diaper. Brenda wrapped a blanket around her.”  
   “Does she often go without pants or a diaper at home?”  
   “Well, no. I just- I don’t know why she didn’t have on one. I just came home to her like that. And then when Charity was acting funny, I brought them here,”  
   “Explain how Charity was acting funny,” Linda writes quickly on the clipboard. 
   Chrystal pushes a puff of air between her lips “Like I told the nurses when I got here. She was talking all slurred like, and wobbly. She started to drool. It was like she was drunk.” 
   “We know it she wasn’t drunk, Chrystal. She overdosed on an illegal drug. Where do you think she got it from?”
   Chrystal rocked on her feet slightly. Looking down to the right, Chrystal chewed on the side of her cheek.  
   “Ok, Charity, up you get!” The first nurse says. Both nurses hold onto Charity’s arms to ease her into a sitting position. The second nurse releases her grip and comes around the same side of the bed as the first nurse, and moves a small set of stairs from under the bed. “You’re doing great, Charity. Now, can you scoot your bum over to the side of the bed here? Let’s get your legs working for you,”  
Faith turns her attention back to Charity and moves to the same side of the bed. She dangles her legs over the side as the nurses had instructed Charity. Watching, Charity copies Faith, moving her legs over the side of the bed. Faith puts her arm around Charity  
   “Ok, honey, you stay there,” the second nurse says to Faith, placing an arm out to keep Faith from jumping off the bed. “Charity, can you try and climb down those stairs? We’ll be right here in case you fall.”  
   Charity looks at Faith, who smiles with her lips closed. Wiggling closer off the edge of the bed, Charity reaches her right foot out to touch the first step. Using her hands to hold her steady on the side of the bed, Charity lowers herself down the two steps. Reaching the linoleum, she stood on her tiptoes and griped the pant legs of the nurses.  
   “Great work, Charity!” says the first nurse. “Do you think you can walk to the end of the bed?”
  Charity lets go. The first few steps were slow, but her confidence increased with each step. She turned and smiled at the nurses when she had reached the end of the bed.  
   “Good Girl!” the nurses said in unison.  
   “That’s great, baby!” Chrystal shrinks away from lingering question from Linda and bends down to be closer to eye level with Charity, her back to Linda. She rubs Charity’s back. Charity looks to her mom. The smile she gave to the nurses slides from her face.  
   Linda looks to the two nurses. The second nurse offers a slightly crooked smile. The first nurse looks at the scene before her with Charity and Chrystal, wrinkles her nose and purses her lips. She turns away to busy herself with cleaning up the tape and tubes that were attached to Charity. “What’s the verdict, ladies?” Linda asks.
   “Her motor skills seem to be ok, but there could be problems later on. With her age, it’s not always easy to tell if there has been damage done. It seems ok to me, but the doctor will have the final verdict when he runs some more tests,” The first nurse answers.
   “Did you hear that, baby! You’re going to be just fine!” Chrystal said to Charity.  
   “Fates,” Charity said to her mother.
   “She’s on the bed still,” 
   “Fates sick,” Charity said.
   “No, no… no one is sick anymore,” Chrystal said to Charity.  
   Scribbling down the comment she heard from Charity, Linda says “Chrystal, I think I have enough answers for now. I’m going to fill in the report, and I will be back to visit you later. Spend some time with Charity, now that she is awake.”  
   Chrystal ignored Linda and continued to rub Charity’s back.  
   Finished cleaning up, the nurses left the room as well. Chrystal watched them leave the room from the corner of her eye. Seeing them exit, she quickly stood, lifting Charity with her, and put her on the bed beside her sister. Next, she grabbed the curtains that were next to each bed, and pulled it along the track, hiding the three of them from all other eyes in the room.  
   Chrystal grabbed the blanket that Brenda had carried Faith into the hospital and spread it out on the bed, between the two girls. Next, she haphazardly threw their belongings into the middle of the blanket; Charity and Faith’s clothes, the tissue box from the side table, a box of gloves from the dispenser on the wall beside Charity’s bed, the hospital bed pillow. Both girls sat still and quiet while watching their mother pile things together, having experienced this behaviour before. Running out of things to toss with the rest of the pile, Chrystal stood up straight, surveying the room, head moving slowly side-to-side, her hands held up in front of her, ready to grasp whatever might present itself. She stopped walking and stared at something on the opposite side of the bed from where she stood. Both girls turned their head in the same direction to see what had caught their mother’s attention. 
   “Quiet girls,” Chrystal said, as she moved silently to the opposite side of the bed. On this side of the bed, there was no wall, just a curtain separating the beds from each other. Underneath the curtain, a brown leather strap looped itself onto Charity’s section of the floor. Crouching close to the strap, Chrystal listened intently for noises of movement. Slowly, she pulled the strap, revealing more, the sound of metal scraping across the linoleum is heard. Chrystal stopped and listened for noise again. Hearing nothing but the beeps of machines and the hisses of even sounding breathing, she pulled the strap more. The scraping sound comes again, but Chrystal continued until a large object appeared at the bottom edge of the curtain wall, like a child wearing a sheet like a ghost. Chrystal stopped pulling again, listened for noise quickly and lifted the curtain slightly to reveal the ghost in the sheet was a brown leather purse. Chrystal pushed the curtain further and let it fall on the opposite side of the bag, revealing its entirety. Chrystal paused once more for stirring of any sort on the other side. The top of the leather purse had a long zipper running across its middle, from strap to strap, which was already half unzipped. Reaching into the gap, Chrystal rummaged blindly in the contents of the bag. Pulling out a small zipper pouch, Chrystal quickly unzipped it, no longer pausing to listen for awakenings of the nearest neighbour, but dismissed its content of makeup. She reached in again, more excited this time, less quiet than she had been, and rummaged some more, pulling out a rectangle wallet, with a snap closure. Unfastening it, Chrystal took an inventory of its contents and smiled as she pulled various cards from pockets within the wallet. She tucked the wallet under her arm, and pushed the purse back to its original side, and replaced the curtain wall to hide it from her view once again.  
   “This will help us get out of here, girls,” Chrystal muttered to herself, as she stood again, tossing the wallet in with the items in the middle of the blanket.  
   Grabbing the four corners of the blanket, Chrystal made a sachel that she slung over her shoulder. “Come on, girls. Time to go,” Chrystal walked to the edge of the curtain wall that hid the end of Charity’s bed. Peeking out to make sure no one was around. When she felt it was clear, she turned back to the girls intent on telling them to follow her, but soon realised that the were still sitting on the bed, unable to get down without help, and would not be able to escape far if they were both wearing hospital gowns.  
  Chrystal turned and tossed the sachel on the bed once again, and pulled out Charity’s clothes. Handing them to Faith, she asked her to put them on.  
   “You don’t have a hospital bracelet on, so they won’t ask questions about you leaving,” Chrystal said quietly to Faith, who looked wide-eyed at her mother as she tried to put the clothes on unassisted. Chrystal stood watching Faith struggle to put the shirt on herself. Running out of patience, she grabbed the bottom hem of the shirt and pulled down hard. Faith’s ears folded as Chrystal pulled and the seam of the shirt scratched roughly down the length of Faith’s nose, leaving a slight red mark.  
 “Ouch,” Charity said.  
   “She’s fine,” Chrystal clipped.  
    Pulling the pants up quickly for Faith, Chrystal lifted her to the floor and then reached for her sister. Both girls stood barefoot, looking up at their mother as she threw the satchel over her shoulder again
   “Let’s go. Stay with me,” Chrystal said as she left the curtained room, with Faith and Charity following as close as they could. Visiting hours were just about to end, and the hallways of the hospital had lost their hustle from earlier in the day. The sounds of the girls’ bare feet padding quickly down the hall after their mother did not attract the attention of anyone. Chrystal, Faith and Charity slipped through the door of the staircase and out into the dwindling light of day.  

Posted in Novel Work (Un-edited)

The Other Half – Chapter 4 (Unedited)

No, this is not a typo: I am posting chapter 4 before (way before) I am posting chapter 3. All will be revealed in the end. Please note that this chapter is not edited, and I am aware that there are mistakes within the text.

August 12th, 1982

Chrystal leaned on the wall out front of the dry cleaner. Her shoulder blades touch the brick wall, as well as the sole of her left boot, left knee bent. Her right leg is straight and baring most of her body weight. She bops her head, as though she is listening to music, and purses her lips forward occasionally, while she sucks on her teeth.  

   Although overcast, she wears her sunglasses. A breeze cuts through her thin shirt, and she pulls the lapels jacket closer together. The zipper has broken, so she wraps her right arm around her stomach, keeping the jacket closed, her fingers curled around a few rolled-up bills. Her left arm dangles from the shoulder, the index finger finding and picking at a hangnail she feels on her thumb. Pulling her sunglasses from her face, she puts them on top of her head while she looks from left to right, scanning the passing pedestrians for familiarity.

   The owner of the dry cleaner can see Chrystal through the front window. If he can see her, that means the customers can see her too. She’s not trespassing, but surely that could be considered loitering. Moving from behind the desk, he goes to the door, the bells making noise. He takes one step forward, his right foot on the sidewalk, his left foot still in the cocoon of his business and hitches a breath in, opens his mouth and intends to tell her to move on.  

   Sensing movement, Chrystal turns her head towards the owner. Nothing is said. Chrystal gives her head a slight shake, never losing eye contact with the owner, and curls the left side of her lip up, jutting her chin forward. Closing his mouth, the owner retreats and watches the door until it jangles closed.  

   Although still before noon, a steady stream of people passes in both directions in front of her.  

But no one looks at Chrystal for long. As they approach, they look her up and down quickly, see her stained shirt, the overworn sneakers and quickly look away, worried that addiction might infect their lives via mere proximity. They see the scabs on her arms, the hollows of her cheeks and wonder why. Chrystal knows what the judgements are, and the unease she causes people. She looks down at her thumb and sees that she has picked the skin around the hangnail raw. A bead of blood has come to the surface. She touches it with the tip of her index finger, and it bursts like a balloon, the blood following the path along her cuticles and pooling on the opposite side. She turns her hand, fingers curled, palm up, and looks at her fingers. Soot from last night was still under her nails. Wiping her thumb on her jeans, she shifts her eyes to focus to her right foot. Lifting her toes inside her shoe, she can see where the sole has come loose from the canvas top just under the ball of her foot. She rolls the bills in her hand. There’s that discount shoe store a few blocks down

   “Hey! I haven’t seen you in a long time.” A man has approached her right.    

      Chrystal is frozen. Squeezing the money tighter, she hits play on her twitches. Her head bops a bit faster. “Yeah, it’s been a while,” Chrystal takes a deep breath before as she lifts her head to face the voice.

     He smiles as she lifts her head, but his eyes stare at her lips, as he licks his own. His gaze moves up her face hesitantly and reaches her eyes. She squints at him and pulls her sunglasses back down in front of her eyes.  

   “Oh, don’t do that. I like your eyes. Where have you been? I haven’t seen you around?”

   “Oh, you know, just busy, Jesus. Just really busy.” Chrystal purses her lips forward, her head still bobbing.  

    “How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not the guy on the cross. I’m like the guy with the thunderbolts. You know, ‘Hey, Zeus!’ Jesus bends his knees slightly and shakes two thumbs up towards Chrystal, laughing at hi=]”[=- joke.  

   “Oh, right. Sorry, I keep forgetting. It’s just when you hear it said one way your whole life-“

   “Oh, no, sweetheart, it’s okay. It happens all the time.” Jesus puts his hand on Chrystal’s shoulder and squeezes it. She stops bopping her head instantly, and she looks towards her feet again. He slides his hand from her shoulder down her arm, his fingers easily able to go all around her bicep. “You must be a bit chilled out here in that thin jacket. It’s not summer anymore, you know. Why don’t you come back to my place with me and you can get warmed up.”

   “Oh, I’m okay.” Crystal doesn’t look back up.

   “When was the last time you ate? Come, and I’ll get you some food.”

   “I really do have to get going home.”  

   “Yeah, sure.” Jesus releases Chrystal’s arm with a slight push, that forces her shoulder up towards her ear. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls his hand back out and extends it towards Chrystal as though seeking a handshake. Chrystal pushes her right hand towards him, opens her hand, thumb holding the bills against her palm, as the man slides his hand across her palm, making the exchange.  

“See ya around,” Jesus says, shoving his hand, and the money, into his pants pocket, as he walks past her.  

Chrystal repeats his actions and shoves her right hand into her jeans pocket, with the paper Jesus has passed to her. Looking in the direction he walked to, she waits a moment before pushing herself off of the wall with her left foot and turning down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.  

Her forefinger and thumb rub the paper in her pocket. Eager to inspect it, she looks over her shoulder often. Two blocks further from the exchange, Chrystal ducks into a short alleyway between buildings. Staying close to the wall, her back towards the sidewalk, she walks far enough into the alley that shadows fall around her. Chrystal pulls the folded paper from her pocket and holds it close to her face for a quick inspection. It’s a receipt from the gas station down the street. Some of the logo is missing, where Chrystal rubbed it in her pocket. Inside the paper, is more brown paper folded over the desired contents. She holds the baggy closer to her eyes, her brows furrow in, she shoves the paper back into her pocket and hurries home to make a full inspection of her deal without the chance of being watched.

   Chrystal starts to feel pains of hunger, both in her stomachs and her veins. Climbing the stairs to her apartment door, her legs feel like lead: each foot a dead weight at the end of her limbs. Her shoe scrapped the rise of each step, before slapping down on the run of each stair. Reaching the top, she turns to the first door on her right, her hands shake, making unlocking her apartment door frustrating.  

   Leaning her body weight on the door for support, the key finds it way home. Chrystal nearly falls into the apartment when she turned the doorknob.  

   “Hey,” Chrystal says, closing the door behind her. She fishes the paper out of her pocket and leaning over the single kitchen chair just inside the doorway, she pulls the off the receipt from the brown paper and unfolds it. Inside is a brown clumpy powder. “I grabbed some. Its inside paper, so he must have had to wash it and dry it out.” Chrystal yells out. Setting the paper and its contents on the chair, she places her left hand on the chair, leaning closer, she runs her finger over the power and lumps, inspecting it closer. 

   “Babe?” she asks when she hasn’t heard any response to her arrival. Standing up straight and looking to her left down the hallway to the bedroom, she hears nothing. Behind her, is the living, and turning around completely, she stands in the entryway taking in the scene before her.  

   Both twins were on the floor. Faith lay on her side, diaper and pants missing. She lay at an angle where Chrystal could not see her face from where she stood. A dart stain could be seen on the carpet where she had peed. Charity sat beside her sister, fully clothed, her legs folded towards her chest. Her left hand rested on Faith’s side. Both girls were still and silent.  

“What are you guys doing?” Chrystal asked. Taking a step further into the room, she looks left. The TV is on, but the volume is turned down. News is showing. Zeke, Chrystal’s boyfriend, is passed out on the couch. Both arms above his head on the couch cushion. His left leg stretched and dangling over the arm of the sofa: the right spilling off the couch.

“Char? What’s Faith doing?” Chrystal takes another step towards the twins, and Charity looks up at her mom. She doesn’t say anything, just stares. Crouching down, Chrystal puts her hand on Faith’s side, besides Charity’s hand, and can feel Faith breathing. “Is Faith sleeping?” Chrystal asks. Charity keeps her silence.  

Standing up again, Chrystal walks towards the couch.  

“Zeke,” Chrystal says. She looks down into his face. His lips, slightly parted, revealing the hole where his eyetooth once was. When he doesn’t rouse, Chrystal nudges him with her foot. “Zeke!” she says sharply.  

Only Zeke’s head moves, and he raises it to survey who had called him. When his eyes focus, and he sees Chrystal in front of him, he lowers his head back down to the couch.  

“You’re home. Did you get any on your way?” Zeke says as his eyes shut again.

“What’s wrong with Faith? What happened?” Chrystal asks.  

Zeke lifts his head again and looks in the direction of Faith laying on the floor. “She’s fine. She’s a baby.” Zeke begins to sit up, and as he does, he notices that the button and zipper to his jeans are undone. He quickly does them up, looking sideways at Chrystal as he does so. ‘Girls must have done that when I was sleeping.” he mumbles, chin close to his chest.  

“She’s two.” Chrystal says.  

Zeke sits up all the way. “Hey, Faith. What’s your problem. What are you doing over there?” he yells over to Faith.  

Chrystal steps back from the couch. “Where’s Char?”  

“They were just playing, Chrystal. Nothing happened.”

“No…” Chrystal starts and walks towards the spot that Charity just sat. “She was just here. She was sitting with Faith.” Chrystal crouches down beside Faith and puts her hands on the floor while she lowers herself to her knees.  

“Faith? Are you sick?” Chrystal asked. Faith lay still still, with her back to Chrystal. “Mommy is home from work.” Chrystal puts her hand on Faith’s side and rolls the child over. Faith’s eyes are open, and they focus on Chrystal’s face.  

   Zeke stands up from the couch. “They’re just playing, Chrystal.” He says as he stretches his arms over his head and yawns theatrically. He walks heavy-footed behind where Chrystal sits and moves past her to the bathroom down the hallway.

   Chrystal puts her hand on Faith’s forehead for a moment and then on her own, comparing the two temperatures. “There’s no fever, sweetie. Why are you laying on the floor.” Faith looks at her mother’s face. Chrystal watches Faith’s eyes as they move from her eyes to her mouth to nose to hair. “Are you going to talk to me?”  

  Small footsteps come closer to Chrystal and Faith. They stop when they reach Chrystal. “Medicine for Fates. She hurt.” Charity says.  

Chrystal turns to look at her other daughter. Charity is pale, and her mouth hangs open. She closes her mouth, but the jaw drops again like it is unhinged. Drool hangs in a drop from her chin. In her hands, she holds the brown paper Chrystal had picked up on her way home.  

   “Oh my god. Did you take this, Char? Zeke, go to the apartment next door and call an ambulance.” Chrystal yells. She takes her hands off of Faith and reaches out to catch Charity, catching her just as she passes out. “Did you take this, baby? Oh, no, why did you do that?” Chrystal yells in Charity’s face. She holds Charity across her lap and rolls her to her side when Charity begins to gag. She vomits on the floor beside her sister.  

   “What the fuck are you yelling about?” Zeke says, walking towards the scene. 

   “Just go! Call an ambulance!”

   “She just puked, Chrystal. What are you freaking out for?”

   “No! Just fucking- Somethings’s wrong! Just go call an ambulance!”

   Zeke steps backwards out of the room.  

Chrystal hears the door open to the hallway outside of the apartment and shut behind him.  

She hears the fridge click and hum.  

She hears Charity breathing heavy.  

She hears the heavy door at the bottom of the stairs open, a brief moment of street noise and then hears it slam shut.  

She does not hear knocking on the neighbor’s door.

   Charity shivers in Chrystal’s lap. Hoisting her up, so her head right arms draped over her shoulder, Chrystal attempts to stand but loses her balance as she leans forward before she can stand upright. Charity slides off of her shoulder and out of her grip and lands on top of Faith. Using her hand to push off the floor, Chrystal stands up and crouches down to pick up Charity once again. Faith starts to cry as the weight of her sister is lifted from her. Using a bent knee, and one arm, Chrystal holds up Charity, while trying to coax Faith into a standing position.

   “Come on, baby. We have to go and get help.”

   Hanging on to Chrystal’s hand with both of her own hands, Faith allows herself to be dragged onto her feet but refuses to let go once upright.  

   The threesome make small heavy steps towards the door. Chrystal rips her hand out of Faith’s grip to turn the doorknob to exit the apartment, and who then insists on holding it again once the door is open.  

   Without a hand to knock with, Chrystal kicks the neighbors door with the side of her foot.  

   “What the fuck!” can be heard from the other side of the door. “Who the fuck is banging on my door?” The deadbolt is retracted and the door open. Brenda, the neighbour, stands in her doorway in a housecoat and slippers, one hand on the door frame, the other still on the door, ready to slam it closed at any moment. “Oh, no, Chrystal. Don’t be kicking in my door with those kids in tow and expect me to take care of them at the drop of a hat.” Brenda steps back to close the door.  

   “Zeke. He called an ambulance?” Chrystal asks. Her voice is shrill and wavers.  

   “How the fuck should I know?” Brenda glares at Chrystal through the space between the door and the frame, her eyes narrowed under a lowered brow. Brenda pauses and reviews the three in front of her. Her lips, which were raised as high as they could go, while the corners were turned down, relax. “Where’re the girl’s bottoms?” Brenda says, quieter. Faith, at the sound of the question and still holding Chrystal’s hand, takes a step back behind Chrystal, forcing Chrystal to lean to the side awkwardly. Chrystal tries to redistribute the weight of Charity on her shoulder, but the dead weight doesn’t budge. Vomit drips from Charity’s mouth, down Chrystal’s arm, and landing in lumpy drops on the floor. “What’d he do?”

“Please, Brenda. She needs an ambulance.” Chrystal begs. She stares into space to the left of Brenda’s face.

Brenda nods her head and steps back into her apartment and disappears from view, leaving the door open.  

Chrystal lets out a sob, taking in a deep breath, her chest heaving. It shakes her and Charity. “Brenda, please.”  

Brenda reappears with a thin wool blanket. Shutting the door behind her, Brenda holds the blanket it out in front of her with both hands. She crouches slightly, and she scoops Faith up in her arms, covering her lower half with the blanket. “Ambulance doesn’t come to this area too quick. I’ll drive you there.” She hustles her way further down the hallway to the stairwell leading to the resident parking area. Chrystal follows.

Posted in Recipes

Is-it-August-yet Tomato Soup

Is-it-August-yet Tomato Soup

February is the shortest month in the year and yet feels so long. I crave the sunshine of August; coincidentally the same month tomatoes are in season in Ontario. On days like that, I want warmth and comfort, but with the lack of sunshine, I need to be creative to keep the spirits high. 
Although not entirely a replacement for the warmth of the sun of skin, I like to make myself a mug of comfort while waiting for sunnier days.  

Is-it-August-yet tomato soup

This easy, tomato soup will make the wait for spring easier on the soul. And being low in calories, you can have two mugs of comfort, and stay within your selected meal plan.  
And the best part: no added high fructose corn syrup, flour, or monopotassium phosphate (whatever the fuck that is) like you find in the canned stuff.  

Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 tbsp coconut oil
One cup onion, diced.  
One garlic clove, minced
I cup cauliflower, chopped. 
Two cans chopped tomatoes (make sure there is no added sugar)
¼ cup Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
¼ cup cream cheese
2 cups unsweetened cashew milk
1 cup nutritional yeast

In a large pot, melt and heat the coconut oil. Coconut oil has a lower smoking point than other oils, so be sure not to set the heat too high.  
Add onions, and keep stirring until the onions are soft and light brown.  
Add cauliflower and allow to cook for a few minutes with the onions. Keep stirring to avoid burning the onions.  
Add in the canned tomatoes, and cream cheese, stirring till the mixture is brought up to a slow simmer. Lower the heat, and allow to simmer until cauliflower is soft. With an immersion blender, blend the contents of the pot until smooth. 
Feel free to let simmer longer. You can also transfer it to a crock pot at this point if you are planning to serve later.  
Before removing from heat, stir in the Monterrey Jack cheese. (You can also skip this step, and use the cheese as a garnish once the soup is plated.)
This soup freezes well and tastes even better the next day.  

Is-it-August-yet Tomato soup and Dill Pickle Cucumber Chips

Substitutions:
Feel free to substitute with unsweetened soy milk. To make this soup dairy-free, substitute the cheese, with one cup cashews and ¼ cup of water. Add these at the same time as the tomatoes and increase the simmering time. A blender will do a better job of turning this soup into a smooth texture. Using cashews instead of the cheese will increase the amount of fibre and protein in the dish, but also increase calories. If, after blending, the soup is a bit too thick, add more water slowly until the desired consistency is reached. 

Curious about the Dill Pickle Cucumber chips? Post a comment and I’ll post the recipe. 🙂

Posted in Recipes

Mana’s Protein Bites

Now that we are healing, and heading back into the world big bright world, our lives are getting hectic again. And since I’m the mum, I have been given the unpaid unofficial position of ensuring that everyone is ready, while simultaneously getting myself ready and out the door.
Most mornings, this consists of yelling out a mental to-do list for those within earshot, while trying to do three things at once.
Add in my goal of increasing my protein and fibre intake, and sometimes there just isn’t enough time to make myself, or anyone a decent breakfast. And truth be told, sometimes there is no time, and we shove small baggies of food in our jacket pocket to nibble on the bus.
There are ‘breakfast bars’ on the market that promise to help get the morning going, but a quick look at the ingredients and the nutritional information, and it’s clear that these are mostly just carbs, sugar and other things I can’t pronounce. Convenient, but not something that’s going to keep you feeling satisfied till lunch.
Here is where Mana’s Protein Bites come in. One or two of these on the go, and they’ll keep the hunger away. They have the added value of being low sugar, as well as very portable.

Mana’s Protein Bites

2 Bananas, mashed
3 cups Quaker Quick Oats
1 scoop Protein Isolate (I used Vega All-In-One, Coconut and Almond Flavour but other brands and flavours will work as well)
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°C. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Line a cake pan, around 9×9 works well.
Pour the mixture into your pan, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the edges have turned a golden brown and the centre seems firm. Once it’s cool enough to handle, cut into 15 pieces. Store in a sealable container in the fridge. They’ll keep for about a week.

If you want a crunchier bite, these can also be ‘cooked’ into a dehydrator, but cutting them afterwards will more difficult, so dropping them into bite sized amounts would be better.

Posted in Uncategorized

Reboot

My word this year is Reboot.
I didn’t give 2019 a word, as we had just found out my youngest had relapsed. I had other things I was focusing on, mostly just getting through the year, and any amount of planning was fruitless and frustrating. Looking back over the year, if I were to describe the year in just one word, I would have to say the constant theme of the year was, adapt. Last year, we celebrated our wins, but we also learned to celebrate our losses too.
Each time the doctor would tell me that Leona was too weak to have treatment, or to leave the hospital, we celebrated. Too weak for treatment? Perfect! Let’s dip you in a vat of sunscreen, figure out a way to waterproof her insuflon port, and went to a water park. Too weak to leave the hospital? Let’s celebrate by playing pranks on the nurses and have wheelchair races in the hallway.
I also started ending too many sentences with ‘because fuck cancer.’
We accomplished so much last year. Despite being in the hospital 50% of the time, Leona worked hard to keep up with her class, made considerable improvements in piano, kicked cancer’s ass, and started a non-profit called Bigger Than Brave, and raised hundred’s of dollars for childhood cancer research.
Halia stayed with her sister in the hospital as much as she could. She still managed to keep up with her school work, all the while learning and playing a difficult piano piece in the spring concert, worked hard at managing her anxiety, and amazed me regularly on how mature and independent she is.
And I had my own share of successes, including a book release, completing multiple certificate courses, and worked at starting a new business.
On our darkest days, when we didn’t know how to help ourselves, we helped others, and we always found our way.

This year, my word is Reboot.
This year, we are coming back fresh with new knowledge, upgrades, new insights, new goals, new perspectives. The scars of our past will be the reminders of our strength, not reminders of what tried to kill us in the first place.
There is nothing we can do about the past and worrying it will happen again is just going to sully what we have built, rebuilt, learned and overcome.
We are going to reboot our goals, start them with fresh eyes. My novel will be done this year. I will build Bigger Than Brave. I will build my business, fittingly named Reboot Strong and start training for the National Kids Cancer Ride this summer. Leona is going to work harder on her strength, both physical and emotional, and has started hitting the gym daily to do so. Halia plans on working a building her art, both drawing and music.
I will know that I do not need to move mountains to be successful. I know that improving the lives of others is the greatest success I can offer the world. I know that I am enough, and I have already arrived.
2020 is going to be another crazy year but on our terms.

Posted in Uncategorized

Dear Cancer Mom,

Dear Cancer Mom,
I overheard you on the phone later earlier: your son has been diagnosed with cancer, and just come from surgery to have a portacath put in. You’ll be thankful this was an option later.
I see you, Cancer Mom, and how you’re trying to hold it together. I remember that feeling, still reeling from hearing the cancer diagnosis, scared beyond words, and exhausted from the brave face you put on for your little one. You still must navigate all the information the experts are throwing at you and be able to retain it.

I understand, Cancer Mom.

If I could give some tips, I’d prepare you for the paper that’s about to come your way. Each day will bring new pieces of paper. Appointments, information, reports, forms; the list doesn’t end. At first, a lot of what is written on those pages will seem too big and incomprehensible, that you can’t imagine you’ll understand it any more than you know how your kid got cancer in the first place. But give it time, and you’ll speak doctor so fluently you’ll be mistaken for a medical professional. I started with a binder, but when that got too heavy to carry around, I started scanning each piece and storing it in an online cloud for easy access.
Your phone will ring a lot more, and the conversations will never be about you. Don’t wait for someone to take notice of you.

Stay in touch with yourself, Cancer Mom.

The temptation to Google everything the doctors and nurses have told you is great. Don’t do it. It only leads to heartbreak and more fear. Don’t join those online support groups on Facebook either. Those can twist you up too; keep you on edge, make you bitter and cynical, and just fill you with a more deep-seated fear. You’ll need help to find the shortest path to your inner strength.

Get a counsellor for your self, Cancer Mom.

You’ll see changes in your family dynamics: it will be you and your child partnered together, and resentment for a variety of reasons, from the rest of the family. And every single one of their reasons will be just. Siblings will be resentful at the extra attention your child always receives, the additional gifts they get, how you are always pre-occupied with their treatment, and how invisible they will come to feel, no matter how hard you try. Spouses will be resentful of how tired you will always feel, both physically and emotionally, and how you just can’t do the things for them that you used to be able to do. They won’t understand your requests of “Can you just take care of that yourself?”. You’ll have moments of resentment too. They usually arrive when you realize you’ve spent 10 minutes explaining your child’s cancer to someone when you have been asked: “How are you?” You’ll feel used up, invisible, servitus in a way more soul-crushing than you felt when your child was newly born.

It’s OK to be tired, Cancer Mom.

You’ll start to notice how often your child starts to sigh as if the aches and pains could be expelled this way. Their personality will change. They’ll become more world-weary than you would ever wish on them. Their suddenly developed insightfulness with both shock and impress you. The indifference they will form about being poked, and prodded monthly, weekly and daily, will be interpreted as bravery by most, but you’ll see it’s just them having given up on ever having a choice about what happens. Their tempers will bubble to the surface quickly because they feel powerless. Let them win some fights, sometimes.

Even a small win can change the outlook of the day, Cancer Mom.

Take things slowly and learn your new normal. Cancer will not fit into your old life. You will have to determine what fits into cancer’s life. You’ll find that somethings just aren’t worth finding room for any more. You’ll cancel a lot of plans, and eventually just stop making them, unless it comes with the warning that you may have to cancel at the last moment.
You’ll have moments if you wonder if you’ve become one of “those moms” who hovers over any possible symptom, and worry if there is something you should do or should have done. Munchausen-by-proxy will cross your mind when others don’t understand who you’ve interpreted your child’s small clue as an impending fever. You’ll know your child so well that you can predict how they might be feeling that day just by watching them.

You are doing a great job, Cancer Mom.

You’ll wake up with fear, put on a brave face all day, and go to bed again with your fears. You’ll sleep on high alert, just like when you first brought them into this world, and check on them just as often as you did then. You aren’t going crazy; you are a Cancer Mom.
You’ll start to bring certain things with you everywhere, just in case, and will need a larger purse, one that can fit everything in it for a day at the hospital, or just what you’ll need to run errands with less worry. It will need to be large enough to fit a change of clothes for both of you, for those days when Mom’s lap is the best place to puke, medications, anti-puke pills and Gravol, a sweater cause they’ll be cold often, noise-cancelling headphone because everything will seem louder to them and they won’t be able to concentrate like they used to, wet wipes, thermometer, emla or amatop patches in threes, Tegaderm patches and a roll of Glad press and seal.
Trust me on the press and seal.
I recommend carrying around a list of all his medications, a copy of his most recent blood counts, and the correct needle size for his portacath. These items will save you time and confusion in the ER.

Get yourself a new purse, Cancer Mom.

My last piece of advice: celebrate your losses just as hard as you celebrate your wins. Each time treatment is delayed because counts are crap, celebrate by living your life on your terms during the break. Each time you have to spend another week in the hospital with your little one, celebrate by getting yourself something, a novel, a new craft project, a binge session on Netflix. Celebrate the good, the bad and the downright ugly. You will have dark days; days so dark and so deep that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel might seem as likely as a fucking unicorn on a unicycle, but believe me when I say that there is an end. Find that crumb of good in the world and hang on to it for dear life.

There is good here, Cancer Mom.
There is still good here.