Thanks to the many talented writers who submitted clever and compelling stories for our third annual winter writing contest. While the contest is flexible in format guidelines, 2016/2017 proved to be the year of the short story, as all entries arrived in that style of fictional prose.
As is the custom, we ask a local writer to provide the opening line to get the creative juices flowing. This year’s sentence was provided by author Lisa de Nikolits, whose quirky, lovely novel The Nearly Girl was reviewed in this publication last year. De Nikolits also acted as a welcome voice on the judiciary panel.
Congratulations to Beach author Sandy Day, whose lighthearted and hyper-local story A Lifelong Beacher made us smile with its dance along the line where the absurd meets reality. She receives a $50 gift certificate to the Great Escape Bookstore on Kingston Road, the generous sponsors of this contest.
Special mention goes to writer Emily Beaton whose smart story Ollie and Elvira came a close second. Her story is posted below.
A Lifelong Beacher
By Sandy Day
“I don’t have a plan,” she said, “and this isn’t an attack.” Kaffy was insistent but I could tell she was making excuses. You may have known Kaffy Sullivan, a lifelong Beacher. As a girl she attended Kew Beach Public School and later Malvern Collegiate. Unmarried, Kaffy always resided in her parents’ house on Rainsford Road. Most knew Kaffy as a quirky woman who wore her wavy dark hair atop her head in a cascading fall; even as it greyed Kaffy’s head of hair was her crowning glory and her only source of vanity.
There was an old storefront on Kingston Road, just west of Woodbine, where headstones were once sold and engraved for the St. John’s Norway Cemetery. After years of service to Canada Post on Eastern Avenue, Kaffy took early retirement and rented the storefront from the church. It was there in 2009 that she opened The Eternity Café.
Kaffy didn’t cater to visitors or drive-by clientele. The Eternity was for the neighbourhood and it became a cozy and welcome respite from the noisy traffic on Kingston Road. A steady stream of folk music and protest classics played in the background amid the hiss of the espresso machine and the clatter of cups.
The windows of The Eternity looked out on the cemetery, and Kaffy arranged the tables and chairs so customers could view the peaceful sight of dog walkers and the occasional visitor bearing flowers. The monuments closest to The Eternity were among the oldest in the graveyard so few of them received attention from anyone who actually knew or mourned the deceased. Some thought The Eternity a ghoulish location but the bustling popularity of the café was testament to Kaffy’s vision.
We Beachers are accustomed to peculiar and persnickety business owners, and I often saw hidden smiles and twinkling eyes as Kaffy obstinately refused some customer’s preference for almond milk or soy chai while readily producing them for others. Some of us giggled that Kaffy reminded us of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. Kaffy enjoyed most people, not children, or teenagers, and not mothers with strollers, but she liked most other people, and dogs; and although she frightened me a little, I enjoyed her gruff company.
“Have you seen it?” she exclaimed to each and every customer as we arrived one morning. And if we hadn’t, she sent us back out to go read for ourselves the large black and white notice erected above the fence on the corner of Kingston Road and Woodbine.
“How can this happen?” she demanded of me across the counter as she passed my cappuccino. “You’re telling me they’re going to dig up and move all those graves? Where on earth will they move them to? It’s sacrilegious! It’s an atrocity!”
How many of us were shocked and aghast when we first heard that a developer was going to exhume the graves? I think the whole neighbourhood questioned the move, at the time.
But as we now know few of us voiced our concerns as Kaffy did.
The lights were on in The Eternity day and night and I often dropped by and found Kaffy at a table, her once glorious hair dishevelled and frizzy. She’d take off her glasses and rub her eyes with her finger and thumb and enumerate for me her latest efforts to stop the project. On the table would be her futile petitions, countless drafts of letters to editors, her research, newspaper articles, and crumbs of food. I suspected she was barely eating anymore.
Eventually the builder’s hoarding went up along the street so the public would be shielded from the removal of the graves. One morning, I ran into Kaffy, down at the corner, holding a can of spray paint. There was a smear of dried blood on her mittens.
“I don’t have a plan,” she said, “and this isn’t an attack.” I stepped off the sidewalk to look up at the freshly whitewashed boards on which she’d spray painted, “Desecration!”, “Rot in HELL!”, and “E-ville!” It looked like an attack to me.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” I said.
But friends, her objections continued and I know it was Kaffy who collected road-kill and left dead squirrels and raccoons on the doorstep of the model suite. I saw her mittens that day.
Soon after, the developer took over all the church’s holdings and The Eternity Café was served an eviction notice. It was then that Kaffy commenced her final protest. In her long down-filled coat, a bulky toque on her head, her face hidden by a scarf, she marched from the farthest west end, in front of the closed café, over to the eastern corner and then north to the church, carrying her sign. Back and forth she paced each day through the mud of the construction and the slushy spray of salt from the ceaseless Kingston Road traffic; even the cement truck drivers came to know her by name and often brought her hot drinks and Timbits.
It’s hard to imagine now what Kaffy objected to; with the row of charming brick houses lining the corner where once we saw only the gloom of the churchyard and the black iron fence. Oh certainly, the cemetery was pretty on summer days but during the winter when the trees were bare and the rows of headstones stood grey amid the dirty snow, it was a dreary and depressing sight.
Kaffy died, alone in her house and I watched as her body was removed by Giffen-Mack and taken for cremation. The service was private and most of the neighbours didn’t even know she was gone. I could find no obituary so I decided to write this piece for all who wondered whatever became of Kaffy Sullivan. As to the question of where her remains now rest, I cannot say.
Ollie and Elvira
By Emily Beaton
“I don’t have a plan,” she said, “and this isn’t an attack.” My new jailer was much smaller than the old one. She spoke to me in whispers and laughed when I coughed like my old jailer. “You’re mine now,” she told me, trying to coax me towards the bowl of strawberries she had laid out, “I’m not out to get you.”
My old jailer, she used to go about smoking and reading the paper all day. You would think that was not such a big job, but she had to walk all the way downstairs to borrow smokes from the pink-haired girl on the first floor, and the daily paper was getting thinner and thinner so that she had resolved to read each story twice. Sometimes it was evening before these two things were done, and then it was time to go back to sleep.
The new jail was a room that looked like a great grey box. It had square panels through which golden beams were thrust and as the day wore on they danced across the floor. “Oh brother,” I muttered, when it got dark in the great grey box and shadows began leaping everywhere. How long would I sit in silence in this gloom?
I loved sitting on the cold hardwood floor for hours when it was warm outside, but the air conditioning on full force froze the sweat on my face as soon as I walked in the door. I had a way of positioning the horses on my bed, from shortest to tallest, naming them as I placed them gently on the knitted blanket, pressing their plastic hooves into loopholes like buttons in button-holes. The last horse — Bee, he was called — could fly. And when he flew he zoomed all around my room, rescuing a stranded princess from atop my dresser, and making friends with dead houseflies on the windowsill. I got lost in my world often, so sometimes I didn’t hear Dad calling when supper was ready.
“ELVIRA!” he shouted from downstairs. I could hear the clattering of plates on the granite countertop and I let the delicious aroma of fresh-cooked corn draw me on a tear into the dining room where I quickly adjusted the folds of my checkered skirt to form a buffer between my bare legs and the cool chair.
“Elvira, where’s your brother?” Mom asked from the front hall, shutting the door and dropping her purse on the mantle.
“Mom, why should I care? Dad called me to dinner, not Troy.”
“Elvira, wait until we’ve said grace!”
Dad had caught me buttering a dinner roll.
Troy walked into the dining room then — I thought he was probably late on purpose, or else he was about to beat the next level on one of his stupid games.
“I was making Bee save all the cats from the river Styx!” I tossed over to him. “Where have you been?”
“None of your business stupid-head — plus I’m pretty sure that there wouldn’t be any cats anywhere near there with Cerebus around!”
“What’s a sir-bus?” I asked, knowing that Troy was taunting me with facts that I wouldn’t learn until at least the third grade! “Mom! Troy’s being mean!”
“She started it! She was being—”
“That’s enough,” said Dad, rounding the corner with a plate full of carved chicken, “quit playing games.” The way he was holding the platter — so tightly I thought I could almost see his white knuckles through the oven mitts — made me bite my lip and stare at my plate.
That’s what Dad would always say when he was fed up with me: “Quit playing games, Elvira” or “Elvira, I’m not in the mood for playing games tonight.” I hated it. Whenever he said that, I could feel the hardness forming in the back of my throat, the tight itchy feeling on my arms, and all of a sudden I would be crying.
The worst game Daddy ever thought I played was when I begged and begged to get a parrot. Most kids like dogs or cats, and there was even a girl in my class with a rat named Dunkaroo, but no one I had met had ever wanted a parrot. I saw my first parrot in a big illustrated book of animals sitting on Ms. Sylvia’s desk, and I saw my second parrot and first real parrot at the Toronto Zoo the following spring.
“Amen.” I had been daydreaming through grace and the Lord’s prayer as usual, but I snapped to attention now, passing boiled peas and selecting only the skinless white meat for my plate, careful that it kept to its corner, away from the roasted potatoes.
Now it was silent as everyone dug into their meals, and I skidded my feet excitedly back and forth over the carpet, hardly touching my food. I was afraid I would miss my cue, but suddenly I heard what I had been waiting for.
“What in the world?” Mom said.
“There it is again! Do you hear that, Donald? I think it’s coming from the garage.”
“I’m done,” said Troy, “I’m going out to play mini sticks. I’ll see what the noise was.”
I bounded out of my seat, barring his way.
“Move it, short stuff!” Troy sneered.
“No!” I said, planting my feet widely like I’d seen the football players on television do.
“Elvira, let your brother go by,” said Dad, “And young lady—”
“Argh!” yelled Troy as he shoved past me and ran out to the garage.
“Curtchcrghhch!” squawked Ollie, the talking, coughing cockatiel.
I had followed Mom and Dad through the laundry room and into the garage. My bird grinned and ruffled her feathers; we were already friends. “Oh brother!” she said in greeting.
“The parrot has a smoker’s cough!” Troy said gleefully, with a tinge of malice.
“Don’t be rude, Troy!” I reprimanded him. “Meet Ollie,” I said, turning to my parents, “she’s not just any parrot, she’s a cockatiel.”