Ah, the postcard. Last bastion of letter writing, first sign that summer is well underway. Who hasn’t opened their mailbox and thrilled to that five-by-three piece of high-gloss cardstock that cries, “I’ve got a very small story for you”? We at the Martlet are proud to present the winners of our first postcard fiction contest, as judged by Vanessa Annand (Martlet editor-in-chief), Shandi Shiach (Martlet web editor) and Danielle Pope (former Martlet editor-in-chief and current news editor at Monday Magazine). Our first-place winner, Chelsea Falconer, wins $50 for her melancholic, propulsive tale of life’s beginnings and endings, “The Return.” Second-place winner Nicole Garcia wins $35 for “Pappi,” a story that examines unexpected cruelty in a banal summer encounter. Max D’Ambrosio wins $15 for his third-place entry, a claustrophobic tale of a vacation gone wrong. And our runner-up, Caylan McGregor, takes us on a flight of supernatural fancy along a lonely stretch of road in “CO₂.” Happy reading, and thanks to all our entrants.
The day I met you, my Grandmother died.
We were shy glances and flirtatious smiles across the width of the gallery room. Meanwhile, she stared wide-eyed down the length of her hospital bed, gasping for an eternal assurance her children couldn’t provide. I answered the call, moments after we exchanged phone numbers, standing under the dark forests and swirling skies of Emily Carr.
Her heart stopped beating the moment mine began. Our eyes blinked at the same instant and I knew something had happened. You drove me to the airport two days later. At the double sliding doors to security, you kissed me. The security guard watched while you held my face in your hands. I forgot, for a moment, everything except the texture of your tongue; your lips. You felt so right my eyes could have flooded the pacific, but I had to save my tears for her.
I slept most of the six-hour Trans-Canada flight. I dreamt of nothing. I didn’t talk to anyone.
My father met me at the baggage claim. He was late. We drove in silence to the only motel; it had not seen guests since 1973. The next day, we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the others and shook hands with an army of local mourners I had never known. They tried to make sense of us, but we were the ones from away. I held my father’s hand for the first time in over a decade. He didn’t let go. I held him close when they sprinkled earth onto the container that held her remains. He tried to push me away, but I wouldn’t let him. It was only then he cried tears that worked their way onto his cheeks. I held him until he stopped; we never spoke. We left the Legion before everyone else. He didn’t want to drink. At the motel he fell asleep on my bed and I sat with him for the hours until he woke up.
I flew back to Vancouver caught up in the clouds. The Rocky Mountains had never looked so far away. You met me at the baggage claim, eyes smiling as I came down the escalator. That night, in your bed, her engagement ring hung around a gold chain on my neck. Tears slid down my face not making a sound, pooling at the crevice on my chin. You wiped them away with your thumb and kissed my breasts while I orgasmed.
I met you the day my Grandmother died. I knew you both the same. I didn’t know her at all.
You’re at the bottom of a woods-trail, knee-deep in damp gravel and the depths of summer, when Pappi walks into your life. Your hand’s cold and wet in the shallows of the stream; you’re trawling for baby fish. She wheels her bike down, big and silver as the one in that clown horror book you’ve been reading lately, and she munches a jam sandwich while watching you.
She asks you if you’ve caught anything and you say no and then she shares lunch with you, taking one bite and giving you another. You eat in the shadow of the pines but not under them, to keep sap off your clothes. Pappi tells you she’s been wearing the same clothes for fifty days now and you tell her, cool. You don’t learn her name until the sky’s blazing orange on you both, and she says she’s gotta wheel off. She asks you yours. She says maybe she’ll be by tomorrow, and gives you a sun-splashed smile. You’re dazzled. You’ve never been much of a talker.
Next day you walk into her down another trail (there’s only two here; there’s not that much uneaten forest left to speak of) and you say, hey. She says hey back. Shadows are stark as paint splashes today, over her bare arms and eyes, lost on her hair. You reach out and touch, and she puts a hand on your wrist. It’s nice. Maybe part of you is still thinking fifty days fifty days fifty days and that would have ruined it in the end anyway, or maybe it wouldn’t have ruined it at all, but what really happens is the dog comes.
The dog’s a stray from town and it wasn’t always a stray, pointy-nosed and short-legged with some terrier or maybe even corgi in it, marks of an old collar around its neck. You’ve tossed it stuff before and it rambles wherever it wants, dusty brown and brazen. Pappi stands up and lets go of your wrist and you think she knows the same thing, she’s just gonna shoo it off because you don’t need some mutt playing third wheel in your friendship. The dog doesn’t suspect either because it doesn’t try to snap or anything. It stands there and the next second Pappi’s scuff-booted toe is in its ribs, up its ribs. She kicks it back against a tree before it can yelp and it thuds there deflated and whimpering. Her shoulders are stiff. Jesus, you say, going over to it: you can’t think of her hair now but just her feet. Jesus, Pappi. She goes to kick it again and you throw a pinecone at her.
She stares at you. Her nostrils flare white and she heads off into the trees without another word. And you’re still reaching towards the dog’s rough neck and what’s jammed up underneath its chest now, staring after her ankles, afraid to touch.
> Max D’Ambrosio
The comforter draped over my legs is light and thin, with a regular pattern of small gaps that give it a clingy, rubbery texture. Not exactly a top-tier touch, but the hotel is otherwise very clean and in good repair despite its age, a classic and classy edifice. The professional vibe is only slightly diminished by the fact that it is owned and operated as part of something called “The Personality Collection.”
The comforter’s been keeping me at just the right temperature, but right now any visible contentment would be instinctively frowned upon. The unease in here is physical, pressing into my skin, even with the windows thrown open throughout our fourth-floor room, up where the air is a little clearer.
My mother’s and father’s low voices leak from the line of light beneath the dining room doorway. In my mind’s eye a miasma of fear and panic flows out alongside the tense discussion, diffusing into the living room past the couch where I slouch with my books, whereupon it is sucked in towards the Murphy bed where my little brother is curled up. He pulls the blanket tighter, eliciting a fresh inrush of tainted atmosphere.
One often envisions airports as being sharply divided into “Canadian soil,” “American soil,” etc., just like embassies . . . but at an airport “border,” there is no permanent, substantial physical boundary, not even any lines on the ground to indicate where different countries’ territory ends. An airport is simply a building or series of buildings within one country. Even so, its essence is the same as a wall with a gate in it built along a nation’s border. Like a wall, but perhaps more so, an airport’s power to allow or disallow travel originates not with any inherent physical obstruction it represents, but with its gatekeepers.
There is a wall made of people. It’s a thick one, mostly made of the people’s hands. These are used to open, close, take, examine and, if necessary, restrain. For example, if you were to approach either end of an American airport’s long bottleneck of security checkpoints without being in possession of a passport, since the hands would be unable to take your passport, they would have to take you instead.
In San Francisco there are incredible landmarks, immense museums and galleries, and fine dining of the highest order. I am thinking specifically of savoury-sweet bacon marmalade on chewy bread, possibly the best thing I’ve ever tasted. We have already sampled these diverse pleasures over the course of two days. We will not see more. Our food comes from the convenience store near the hotel.
My brother’s passport is in the back seat of a cab roaming the city, one that will not be searched until Monday morning. Without it, we are penned in by red tape, a substance fundamental to the international community we occasionally like to characterize as united and enlightened. Our delusion of carefree wandering, our perception of being on vacation in the truest sense, has been shattered.
The driver didn’t slow.
I tried again. Wider gestures this time, louder yells. A scorched, clear morning: perfect visibility. Yet the pickup rumbled past, each lump in the road bouncing its unhitched tailgate. No way he didn’t see me, the smoke gasping out my car’s hood.
Jesus, what the hell had broke off now? I stooped, looked under my car. Everything was intact. Nothing had fallen.
But the thud . . . ? Gravel scraping my cheek, my eyes meandered onto the road.
A girl, lying inert.
The pickup and its flapping tailgate dipped over the horizon.
I hustled around my car, knelt beside the girl, reached to find a pulse — but stopped.
I stood up, took a step back.
Her skid marks etched the road, but she was unmarked. No gashes, no bruises. And her clothes: clean.
Her shoulders jerked up, her back carving a perfect parabola. Her eyes kept sealed and she hung there, as motionless as she was before, until —
Tiny cough. Tiny, inaudible cough. Just a slight spasm in her stomach and a slighter cleaving of her lips.
Slight, yes, but wide enough. From her lips: feathers.
Blue, green, yellow. She sprayed them as though exhaling. Her carbon dioxide.
I do not know how long I waited for them to flutter to the ground. They would not fall.
I licked my pinky, stuck it into the air to detect what was surely a gentle, persistent updraft.
No wind. At all.
I dove beside her, into the gravel. Arched my back into a parabola, clenched my eyes, and—
We each had our own placid moment before I peeked: no feathers.
My forearms bled onto the road. She had not moved — suspended, as a sculpture.
I must not have arched my back enough:
I pushed my shoulders until I thought they might brush my heels, clasped my eyes, and—
I counted one . . . two . . . three before opening my eyes to find —
Goddamnit, I must not have coughed hard enough:
I yanked my shoulders back and —
She opened her eyes, peered at me.
Her yellow feather snagged on a mesh fence by the ditch.
I unraveled my back. Flames licked out from under my car’s hood, and I felt relieved. The thing was old, beaten: it needed to exhale, to purge.
I’m not sure, but I think she smiled at me. I need to believe she smiled at me.