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Issue 13

 June 2024

Cannery Row Magazine

A Literary Journal . . . with Benefits

Through the Looking Glass

by Tanja Rabe

Editor's Desk

Ode to I Owe You

by Katerina Fretwell

Poetry & Musings

The Myth of Maturity

by Matthew Del Papa

Mat's Musings

Da Vinci's Duality

by Craig Matheson

Poetry & Musings

Winter's End at

Lake Nippissing

by Rebecca Kramer

Fishbone Gallery


by John Jantunen

Short Fiction

We Are All Canaries . . .

by John Jantunen

Editor's Desk

Two Astronomers Chat

at a Coffee Break

by Roger Nash

Poetry & Musings


by Randy Eady

Natural History

Black and White Dusk

by Rebecca Kramer

Musical Interlude

Dark Window to the Sea

by Gregory Patrick

Short Fiction

Rob Roy

by Michael Caton-Jones

Screenshots w/Tanja

  Born in Kingston - Made in Canada




Through the Looking Glass

by Tanja Rabe


“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.

       Alice replied, rather shyly, “I - I hardly know, Sir, just at present - at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

        “What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar, sternly. “Explain yourself!”

        “I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir,” said Alice, “because . . . I am not myself, you see.”  

        - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

There are days it feels like the whole world is on the verge of descending into complete insanity. Personally, I find myself struggling more and more with the contradictory nature of 'life-as-we-currently-know-it' and it seems, at times, the proverbial rabbit hole has sucked me down into a sort of Bizarro world dreamed up by some psychopathic megalomaniac.

         I know, dramatic words and believe me, I've racked my tired brain to come up with a lighthearted topic for this editorial, but anything I tentatively explored appeared irrelevant and decidedly escapist in the grand scheme of things. So I finally resigned myself to the inevitable, sadly assured that, in the very least, there'll be more than a few fellow souls out there able to relate and, hopefully, find some comfort in joining this dive into the present absurdities that so detrimentally affect the lives of many amongst us; if nothing else, reassure the odd reader that their fragile mental health is not due to some weakness or failure of their own but due to a plethora of destructive forces outside themselves they have little to no control over. 

It started with a single word that kept popping into my head these past few months: Paradox.

      An intrinsically dangerous term, let me warn you. Once the contradictory nature of modern civilization starts taking a grip on your mind, the freefall down that rabbit hole is almost assured for all but those tenaciously dedicated to the Art of (Self)-Denial. For any emphatic soul that can't help but cry out against the injustices of the world, there's no mental safe harbour to seek refuge in from the macabre clown show presently dominating the global circus - besides maybe the temporary escape offered by mind-numbing chemicals so generously pushed at many a doctor's office and street corner. 

Looking Glass

Now, anyone who relies solely on Big Media for their daily injection of corporate-censored, global news coverage might be blissfully ignorant of what's truly going down on the world stage (or in their own backyard for that matter) and, to be honest, there are times I do envy those able to stick their head in the sand to tune out this crap show. And I wished my mind could just shut the fuck up for a while trying to make sense of it all, but it appears to be stuck in an insidious loop of inquiry. Frankly, as much as I've generally enjoyed playing the 'Connect-the-Dots' brain game in the past, it has become a rather obsessive-compulsive trait with anxiety glued like gum fast to its heels. 

I used to quip sarcastically, "If this world doesn't drive you at least a bit crazy, there's something wrong with your head." a statement unintentionally paradoxical in itself.

       That was long before the truth of my own words hit home not just on a mental, but also on a physical level - as anyone who deals with bouts of anxiety is all too well aware of. And anxiety works on a sinister feedback loop just like its exacerbation, panic attacks. The fear of recurring episodes frays your nerves and feeds the angst which sets off the next round of terrifying quivers that wrench at your stomach, send your pulse through the roof and make you struggle for air like you're caught in a wave's relentless undertow threatening to drag you down into the ocean's deep.


The fact that this enervating condition has become endemic to human (and animal) life on this planet offers little solace to those struggling under its yoke and points squarely to one major culprit: the paradox between what we're told to believe and the reality of what's actually happening around us:     

         The lies we're expected to happily swallow; the conformity to a system that eats at our creative souls and ravages our bodies prematurely; the destruction of everything necessary to our survival as a species that we're supposed to blindly support in the name of progress (towards what?); the victimization of whole populations for the singular benefit of a few soulless ghouls vying for world domination as they lead us like sheep to the slaughter in the name of 'unlimited growth' (a paradoxical term in itself); the vilification and persecution of those self-same victims here at home and abroad in a twisted perversion of justice and political cloak-and-dagger theatrics that serve only to further the already obscene wealth and influence of the rich and powerful . . . I'm sure, you catch my drift.


Unlike Alice in the intro quote, many of us don't even manage to spy a fleeting glimpse of who we truly are or endeavour to be in the early light of morning, let alone are able to pretend a confident sense of self as the day's events progress to chip further away at any resolve towards a tolerable level of serenity. The confusion works its way into the night's rest we so desperately need and, often in vain, seek refuge in, only to face the new day already dreading what lies ahead. All those motivational quotes abounding on social media do nothing but add more insult to injury by suggesting our problems are but a lack of positive, go-getter attitude that can easily be remedied with a deep gulp of that proverbial Kool-Aid and a well-fitted set of rose-coloured glasses - or black-out blinders in more challenging cases. 

Just to give a few examples of what I consider life's paradox in the 21st century that have such a dire effects on an ever-growing number of people, even those who previously considered themselves fairly insulated from such strife. Let's start right here at home, in the merry land of Ford Nation where we're always "Open for Business" (Big Business that is, of course):


Even the most out-of-touch citizen has got to realize by now that Douche Ford is all about privatizing public services so his business buddies can stick their greedy fingers in the government's honey jar, aka our tax dollars. This is coupled with deregulating any government oversight he can get away with so his partners-in-crime won't be bothered with accountability for their nefarious actions down the road. The trick is to underfund public services to the point of imminent collapse, then sell the 'magic bullet' solution of private business swooping in to rescue us from the pratfalls of our 'misguided' socialist endeavours.

      How this is supposed to be more cost-effective and offer better accessibility to services for the general population is anybody's guess but who has time in today's hectic world of targeted distractions to do the math and check the facts, especially when the spin doctors keep hammering away at our hive mind until we are sufficiently brainwashed to swallow their BS. We're talking healthcare, housing, utilities, infrastructure, nutritious food and clean water, city services - all the cornerstones for a functional, semi-equitable society - now at the 'mercy' of for-profit entities whose only accountability is to their investors/shareholders and their insatiable bank accounts/lifestyles. 

What's even more twisted is the commonly held belief that the ever-increasing number of poor sods being pushed through the cracks in this macabre scenario deserve what they have coming to them. Victim blaming has turned into a national, media-sponsored pastime not just, as typically expected, amongst the conservative element, but even amidst self-professed liberal followers. And what's our government's solution to the troubles that more and more people find themselves in?

       "Feel free to do away with yourself. If you just can't cut it in this life and feel better off dead, here's a ride to the pearly gates, courtesy of your dysfunctional care provider. (Disposal fees not included)." This has become so widespread that even our government-censored public broadcaster, the CBC, had to admit MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying)  is more and more frequently offered to vulnerable citizens - like the disabled and homeless - which puts us squarely in the arena of Eugenics. ("Wait, didn't the Nazis . . . ?" - "Oh yeah, we learned from the best!")

And what about our enshrined rights and responsibilities to speak out against the injustices so rampant in our society? Well, the backlog of complaints with the Human Rights Commission has reached such epic proportions, they might as well scrap the institution for its complete ineffectiveness to right any wrongs. And sure, you can certainly voice your opinion 'publicly' in a semblance of free speech but only within certain, acceptable parameters and no yelling or throwing stuff, please! We strangle any smouldering of rebellion with a raised eyebrow and a pronounced "tsk, tsk". Expressions of discontent, particularly in the Arts and Independent Media, go unfunded, ignored, dismissed as in bad taste. or labelled 'fake news' and consigned to oblivion.

Soft censorship is a deceptively slippery thing and so much harder to fight than the open banning of free expression. It's more subversive, difficult to expose (the 'Conspiracy Theory' smear effectively defies even the most intelligent inquisition) and large parts of the population are unaware that they've been rendered complicit through culturally imposed norms. For those who dare break these unwritten rules, police in riot gear will quickly remind them of what's good and proper behavior for the lowly masses and you better tow the line before you lose your job and home to join the discarded voiceless slowly dying in our streets. *

       Thank goodness for MAID, guns and street drugs though taking out our 'human trash' . . . right?

I likely don't have to remind anyone of the obscenely widening wealth gap out there that's been sucking the last drops of blood from its anemic host at an ever-increasing rate under the pretense of some mysterious 'hyper-inflation'. Same goes for the final, massive attack on our planet's resources that is currently hurtling us towards assured extinction, despite our leaders' bogus commitment towards a green transition to appease panic and rebellion amongst the populus.

        And let's call the web of lies they weave by its true name: Propaganda - although intrinsically more pervasive and treacherous than the rather crude-yet-effective version employed by the Third Reich almost a century ago. What we're dealing with nowadays is a form of mind-manipulation rendered so sophisticated through extensive psychological research and experimentation - past and present - most of us are generally unable to consciously discern a lie when it smacks us right in the face. All we are often left with is an uneasy feeling in our gut ringing the alarm that something is deeply wrong with what we're told but - akin to being duped by internet scammers that create a maze of web addresses to throw us off their trail - we find ourselves hard-pressed to prove we're being led around by the nose. 

         We have now reached a point where the divisiveness amongst citizens caused by said propaganda and their lives' surrender to the tyranny of the market has become so distracting and entrenched that our corporate puppet masters and their political henchmen believe themselves completely immune from any repercussions or accountability for their destructive greed.

Point in fact, our representatives openly support and help finance genocides across the planet (the systematic extermination of the Palestinian people is just one such example) and are little but spokespeople for corporate interests at home and abroad; be they the obscenely lucrative weapons industry that is tied directly to an ever-expanding fossil fuel market that our reps subsidize in the billions every year (despite claims to phase out this assured harbinger of the apocalypse) or the chemical, food and pharmaceutical conglomerates poisoning our land, water, air  and, thus, all life for obscene profits.

And, even though protests and rebellious uprisings against the inhumanity of it all rage across the planet, our overlords charge full steam ahead, rolling their tanks over anyone who slingshots a pebble at their weapons of mass destruction.

     We now find ourselves at the mercy of a pack of rabid dogs brawling over the last crumbs left of a dying earth in their fight for world domination, a literal Death Cult that cares for nothing but absolute power even if it means ruling from within their luxury fall-out bunkers over the ashes of the planet they destroyed. The signs of fascism abound around us, yet the spin keeps us sheep from revolting, trained to obediently fear and run from imaginary wolves while our shepherds are sharpening their knives at the slaughterhouse. Animal Farm 2024, here we come . . .

In this upside-down world where government-sponsored terrorism and complicity in genocide are the soon-to-be-expected norm, being labelled a terrorist by these self-same, barely disguised despots, simply for standing up against their criminal psychopathy, becomes a decided badge of honour. Environmental activism and pro-Palestinian protests sweeping campuses worldwide have been condemned and persecuted as terrorist entities, so maybe 'We, the People' should proudly appropriate the term and create an international movement under the banner of "The League of Conscientious Terrorists". There's the potential for a graphic novel in there, as well, that could inspire the next generation of rebels to the cause; if there is a next generation, that is.


On this rather depressing note, I shall take leave from our esteemed readers with my sincere apologies for dragging them down that rabbit hole in such a haphazard and disjointed manner which sadly reflects my rather fractured state of mind at the moment. The paradoxes culminating in this century have finally got me to a point where even the sarcasm I used to reach for to stay on top of life's kicks-to-the-groin can't manage reality's fall-out any more.

         The fact that we've had to look for a new residence in this dire and discriminating housing market as our present abode is being sold from under us has added renewed trauma to our already heightened state of existential anxiety. I can literally feel my stomach churn and waves of dizziness threaten to tow me under at more times recently than I care to recall. And, being privileged white folks with a modicum of resources, our situation isn't even a smidgen as precarious as many others' out there.


This editorial also serves as a temporary farewell. Since our family needs to adjust to personal changes and less spare time to pursue creative endeavours due to rising costs of living, we will have to put the publication of our magazine on hold for the foreseeable future.  

      I would like to offer my most heartfelt appreciation to all our precious contributors for keeping Cannery Row Magazine relevant and enjoyable over the past four years. It's been a pleasure collaborating with each and every one of you and we will certainly want to stay in touch for a possible reunion/resurgence down the road. My deepest gratitude for all your generous support and companionship on this literary journey.


Tata for now and may the Numinous ever smile upon you.



(Tanja Rabe)





I Owe You

Ode to I Owe You

by Katerina Fretwell

I owe a debt to octopus and ostrich
that they may live their lives in joyful sport.


I owe a debt to the millions wrenched into migration
that they may land on welcome mats and abundance.


I owe a debt to the downtrodden majority
that they may rise in dignity
and befriend their mirrored reflection.


I owe a debt to the billionaires
that they may gaze true to care, share and repair,
finally aware their hoarding bereaves billions.

I owe a debt to love
that it may repeal lethal divisions.


I owe a debt to family and friends
that they may smile wide as a moonlit sea.


I owe a debt to myself,
to view mistakes as rockets to stellar evolution.


I owe a debt to our planet
for the mulberry trees I cherish
to forage and disperse their bounty in pies.

(Inspired by Jane Hirschfield's “Debt”)




The Myth of Maturity

by Matthew Del Papa


As much as I try to stay out of the raging culture wars currently dividing the West, every once in a while someone spouts something so egregious that I simply have to comment. The fact that most of these hateful and ignorant arguments tend to come from the religious right and the MAGA crowd ('Make America Great Again') says more about them than their so called ‘arguments’ - most of which are nothing but prejudiced BS wrapped in either a Bible verse or the Flag.


These extremists’ latest boogeyman are transgender youth. Admittedly, I’m no expert in childhood development or sexual identity but it doesn’t require a university degree to know that attacking kids, regardless of gender, is just plain wrong.

      Vilifying people - no matter their age - to make a political point is pure cowardice. But, looking beyond the moral depravity, their logic tends to be badly flawed to boot. Recently, I came across one of their ‘maturity’ rants. Right-wingers simply cannot wrap their heads around children recognizing who they are and so, wrongly, assume that they are being pressured into transitioning. Citing the scientific ‘fact’ that our brains don’t fully develop until we reach our mid-twenties, opponents argue many undergoing gender-affirming procedures are too young to know themselves or their sexuality.


None amongst the ‘But what about the children?!’ crowd ever specifies at what age they think others should be allowed to make the decision . . . because conservatives don’t want anyone, regardless of age, cause, or merit to transition. Gender reassignment gives these self-proclaimed ‘traditionalists’ brain seizures and so, citing their rabid moral objections and faulty readings of Scripture, they grasp at flimsy straws in an effort to defend their untenable position. Arguing that their discomfort outweighs a troubled youth's traumatic struggle with gender dysphoria is weak, selfish, and, ultimately, self-defeating.

       Most of the loudest objectors know next to nothing about the process involved, they simply find it ‘icky’. Let’s not ignore the fact that many of these anti-trans folks are the same people who argue that fourteen-year-olds should be allowed to marry, that twelve-year-olds have the constitutional right to openly carry assault rifles in public, and that ten-year-old rape victims ought to be forced to bring their attacker’s spawn to term.


Look, if you want to argue that teenagers aren’t mature enough to transition from their birth gender, then maybe don’t try to claim these same kids are mature enough for marriage, weapons of war, or unwanted babies. Maturity is not a number. We all know teens who display a maturity well beyond their age and grown adults barely able to care for themselves. “It’s not the years. It’s the mileage,” as one famous adventurer framed it so aptly. I’d argue circumstances matter too. Living a lie, not being able to be your true self, and otherwise feeling like an outsider has forced many of today’s youngsters to grow up in ways previous generations simply never had to consider.

        Transgender therapies save lives. There might be some points made amidst the political right that are worth considering but, unfortunately, the hateful vitriol they self-assuredly spew makes it hard to accept any of their reasoning. Vilifying children might garner them votes for now but, as society becomes ever-more progressive, that tide will turn against such divisive partisanship.

        The only question is: How many lives will be ruined before then?

(The Capreol Express, December, 2023)

Myth of Maturity
Da Vinci





Ode to Leo

by Craig Matheson

Create or die. Uplift — blue sky.


Renaissance guy. Mona Lis cry?


Bright open eye ~ L d V sly.


Artistic fry? V-Man’s right eye.


Dark atop dye.  Guise of a stye?


Dan Brown no buy? Question of why.


Power in lie? Only hurts thy.


Love: can’t to buy. Hate: all too wry.


Say why not ‘Aye’? In safety ‘Nye’?


Buzzing gadfly. Socrates-guy.


Saddle up High. Ride hard n fly!


Yippie Ki-Yi … all breath a sigh.


Stubborn Strong

by Craig Matheson

Riddled with bullet, riddled with rhyme,
In the mix in overdue time.
Art is a scene, art is where thou,
Work toward piece of work in the now.



Arrested for this, arrested in that,
Eyes up and down . . . a rat a tat tat.
Look to the left, look to the right,
Opposite dark for its other so bright.



Vitruvian Man, Vitruvian stand
Leonardo da da Donatello?
For each and every woman & man,
Truth, tilted, split circle.



Swept up debris, swept up Divine
Ego my leego – smashed up is fine.
Saved from myself, save the child
Thrown all about, into the wild.



Riddle me this, riddle me that,
Look for the triangle . . . how about that?
It's upside down, an inverted state.
You can still see . . . it's never too late.



Experts, experts, all about,
Guiding the ship, absent to doubt.
Crashed in the night, darkness is there,
in the end . . . horns of no blare.



The chorus was sold round to all,
Trust in me – a brick in the wall.
The size of the image blocked the view,
Tumblin' down, a cycle anew.



Position was held, facts ignored,
Everything ‘known’, resonate snore.
Bored is strength, charmed to death,
They mocked and jollied ‘til a last breath.

Winter's End

Winter Lake

(Rebecca Kramer)

Fishbone Gallery

Winter's End at Lake Nippissing
Rebecca Kramer

Turned the white silence into sound:

Bird after bird rose up in song.


And those made mummy by the freeze

Spangled their mirrors on cold air.

Winter’s End

by Howard Moss

Once in a wood at winter’s end,

The withered sun, becoming young,

The skeletons of snow-blocked trees

Linked thinning shadows here and there,


Was hard to tell, since shade and sun

Mingled to hear the birds recite.


That swung on a sun-and-ice seesaw

And fought to have its leaves unfurled.

Whether they moved — perhaps they spun,

Caught in a new but known delight —

No body of this sound I saw,

So glassed and shining was the world


The wood’s remoteness, like a drum,

Beat the oncoming season in.


And, in a renaissance of rings,

I saw the heart of summer start.

Hanging its harvest in between

Two worlds, one lost, one yet to come,

Then every snow bird on white wings

Became its tropic counterpart,





by John Jantunen

MicrosoftTeams-image (1)_2_edited_edited

Monday was a big day for Martha and she wanted plenty of time to get ready.

        Sunday night she set her alarm for ten after six, an hour earlier than usual, and she drank a glass of red wine to make her drowsy while she read the mystery novel that she hadn’t been able to finish during last week’s commute. The book made her feel even more restless than she already was and twice she set it on the night table beside her bed, the second time with only five pages to go.
     What’s the point? she thought. There’s only two ways it can end and neither will be good. She reached for her wine glass but it was empty. She wanted to have another, just a drop, and looked at the clock on her dresser.
10:33. Better not, she reminded herself. Hard enough to get up at six as it is.


She picked up the book again and turned it over so that she could read what the critics had said about it. A real nail bitter - a fellow from New York had blurbed on the back. I couldn’t put it down - that from some mystery writer Martha had never heard of. Then a whole lot of one-word exclamations: Shocking! Riveting! Extraordinary! The same comments as on the last book I read. Made you wonder if these so-called reviewers had even bothered to take a peek beyond the cover. They certainly couldn’t have read a book every week for the past fifteen years, as Martha had on her daily commute to the bank.

        During that time she’d learned something that had somehow eluded the critics: mystery novels can end in only one of two ways. Either the author gives away too much and there’s no doubt as to who the culprit is, or the author seemingly chooses the culprit at random so as to surprise the reader. Neither was satisfying to Martha. She wanted a book that would tease her, draw her into the mind of the detectives, reveal to her the doubt, the uncertainty and, finally, the blind leap of faith each must take to choose a culprit from so many misleading threads and dead-end clues. It wasn’t much too ask for, at least Martha didn’t think so, but still they always came up short.

The current one was no different.
       Riveting? Martha fumed as she reached The End and tossed the book onto the floor. Ridiculous is more like it. Turning the light off, she lay down and weaselled her hand between the two pillows, getting comfortable. She closed her eyes and, in what seemed like the next instant, was startled awake by the slamming of the neighbour’s door. The digital display on her clock was blurry. She blinked and, when her vision cleared, she saw that it was 4:41. Her neighbour, a hulking thirty-something man whose name she didn’t know, worked the night shift and six days a week Martha was awakened between four-thirty and five when he came home. She had long since grown accustomed to the disruption and rarely had a problem falling asleep again.
    This morning was different. Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt thick and sticky. She remembered the glass of wine and the mystery novel, both of which she’d hoped would distract her from the annual review scheduled with her district manager at nine o’clock.


Now, with only the bright glare of the clock and the faint clatter of pots and pans from the neighbour’s kitchen, the familiar dread crept into her stomach. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath trying to calm herself. It didn’t help, these days it never did, and after a few minutes she gave up and went back to staring at the clock.

      “I have a bomb,” she whispered to herself. Then, a bit louder, “I have a bomb.” Next door, the neighbour’s apartment stilled. Had he heard her? Martha listened.
     Five o’clock came and went soundlessly. Ten minutes later, her neighbour’s footsteps creaked sluggishly through the thin wall of her bedroom. She heard water running and the toilet flush and followed the soft whine of the floorboards, cringing, as he made his way into his bedroom. Two muffled clomps sounded, he was removing his shoes she guessed, and then nothing.
       There is no place on earth quieter than my apartment, this room, at this moment. That thought gave her little comfort. Peace she found not in quietude but in activity. Work. Exercise. Reading a book to the last page, sipping a glass of wine to make her drowsy. These things all served a purpose. They were a means to an end: another salvo in the neverending war with her stomach, with the pit that the doctors had assured her was not an ulcer, nor a gallstone or anything else 
they could find. It wasn’t in her stomach at all, they said. It just felt that way.

In the morning, the way It made her feel was almost intolerable. When she awoke, It forced her out of bed, hurried her to make coffee, to shower, to put on makeup, to choose her clothes. It drove her out of her apartment and had her all to Itself as she walked towards the Skytrain station while It fermented, quickening her steps. On the platform, with people bumbling and jostling against her for position, It clamped her teeth shut, made her cling to her shoulder bag, made her fight, push back against people who might take the last seat and leave her standing, unable to read for the twenty-two minute trip. Two minutes to find her page, to gather herself, left twenty for the book.

       While she read, the pressure eased and, by the time Granville Street Station was called, she’d be ready to face the seven minute walk to the office, seven minutes during which she’d sort in her mind what needed to get done that morning and then she’d be there, at the office, where It had no hold. If everything went smoothly, as it almost always did in her department, the evening was hers as well, and It would have to wait until morning, for the quiet.

5:14. Martha exhaled, then slowly drew another breath. She played a game, trying to distract herself. Find a sound. She pretended her ears had feelers, could probe outward past the door to her bedroom. Turn right, down the hall towards the door. Now left into the living room. Towards the window that faced the street. What was that? Into the kitchen past the sink. No drip there. Stop at the fridge, reminded of the clinking of bottles in the door when it was opened. Pause. The fan at the back of the fridge whump-whump-whumped as it picked up speed then settled into a listless whirr.

5:15. It has to be later than that, Martha thought. She turned onto her back and stared at the ceiling.

5:17. Picking at a frayed thread on her duvet cover.

5:18. Thirsty.


5:21. Touching herself.

5:22. Smelling her finger. Bitter, like vinegar. And finally:

5:23. Martha pushed away the covers and sat up, wondering what kind of state she would be in when she left the apartment two and a half hours from now. The cool hardwood floor, rippled in places from moisture and wear, felt good against her bare feet as she padded into the kitchen. She busied herself with making coffee, selecting a cup and taking out the milk, trying not to think about what she would say to her district manager.
        “I have a bomb,” she said aloud again. No, that wouldn’t do. Certainly not. You don’t have anything to worry about, she reminded herself. It’s just the annual review. You’ve done this fourteen times and it always turns out the same. She watched the black drips slowly fill the pot and inhaled the scent of coffee brewing.
        “Mmmm, good,” she said, but it rang hollow. It was from a TV commercial and culled up the image of someone, just like her, pausing to enjoy the aroma before gulping down that first cup of coffee before rushing off to work. The message, in thirty seconds or less, was that coffee could take you away. No worries, no stress, no future. Only coffee. She wished it were true but even while the "Mmmm, good" still tickled her lips, It was gaining ground.


The same won’t be good enough this year, It said. Last year, the same was barely good enough. You haven’t had a promotion in five years. You don’t have the drive. - I do the work, I take the courses. I improve. - You stay above water, nothing more. Sink or swim is not good enough. They want someone who can fly. This year alone they’ve laid off two thousand people and each one of them did the work, took the courses, improved. - But I have an edge. I, eh, I . . . - Say it!

      With both hands Martha gripped the counter, steadying herself. “I have a bomb”, she whispered forcefully. The coffee machine gurgled and hissed loudly as the last of the water evaporated. The noise didn’t startle her but she acted like it did. He hands recoiled from the counter, as if there was an electric current running through it, and she took two carefully considered steps back.
      “I have a bomb,” she repeated. The coffee machine quieted, waiting for Martha to reach for the carafe before releasing one last, defiant sputter. The clock on the counter, identical to the one in the bedroom, read: 5:41. Filling her mug, one of four plain green ones that Stephanie had given her as a housewarming 
gift, she turned on the radio. A familiar song was playing. At least the radio was on her side, no need to threaten it. She added two heaping teaspoons of sugar to her cup then, humming along to the music, she filled it with coffee and sat down at the small antique table next to the window that overlooked the street.

The King George, the building in which she lived, was the oldest on the block and the only one without an elevator. She had a corner suite on the fourth floor of five. The landlord had said it was the nicest one bedroom in the building (and she agreed). She'd furnished it when she had first moved in, buying only the essentials out of a catalogue that offered free home delivery, with the intention of adding some personal touches later on.

Ten years later, those personal touches amounted to little more than a few plants, a bookshelf filled with mystery novels, two ceramic masks she’d bought as souvenirs on a trip to Cuba and the antique table at which she drank her morning coffee. A tree with peeling, yellow bark and eye-shaped leaves concealed her from the people on the sidewalk below and on the balconies in the concrete, bunker-like condominium complex across the street. It was because of the tree that she had put the table in the kitchen even though it would have made more sense to put it in front of the row of windows in the living room where there was more space.


One time, when she’d sat down to read, there'd been a bright green parrot settled on a branch no more than six inches from her window. Martha had watched it for a few minutes. It was trembling on its perch, whether from the chill morning air or from fright Martha couldn’t tell. She'd rapped a knuckle on the glass, trying to get its attention, but it just sat there quivering.

       Later, on her way to work, she’d regretted not opening the window and trying to entice it inside, maybe with bread crumbs. That’s what she would have done if a parrot had landed outside her window when she was a kid; she wouldn’t have thought twice about it. If it had flown away that would have been okay too, her parents wouldn’t have let her keep it anyway. At least she would be able to tell her friends at school that she had come this close to catching a real, live parrot.
        She’d told Stephanie about it while they were making their cappuccinos in the staff kitchen. Steph said, “Those things cost a fortune. You should have tried to catch it.” Martha laughed. “What would I do with a parrot?”


This morning the tree was empty. Under the tree, a middle-aged man and a young woman speed- walked around a fat, orange-and-black striped cat licking itself on the sidewalk. The coffee stung her teeth and she set it down. The song on the radio ended and the announcer came on to read the news.
        The first item was about the Lists. A young man, of no fixed address, had been apprehended in the act of adding his name to a List on the east side.

        “He is a terrorist, plain and simple,” the Mayor said in a recorded interview, “and anyone who tries to make him out to be some kind of hero or martyr is a terrorist too. One day soon -”

       "Yes, one day," Martha murmured, retreating into the bathroom. "And soon," she added turning on the hot water tap. Always soon.


It had been almost three years of 'one day soon' since she’d first heard about the List. The original one had been created by Dmitri Prago, a post-grad visual arts student at the smaller of the City’s two universities. For a few months afterwards, Dmitri had become a local celebrity and appeared on a breakfast show where Martha had heard his story.

        Hard pressed to come up with an idea for an assignment on public installations he’d, instead, gone drinking one night. His favourite bar, the Ivanhoe, or the “I Vanna Ho” as it was called by most of his peers, was on Main Street next to the last porn shop left in the city and was renowned for having a puke barrel beside the bar with a beer stein hanging from its rim and a sign that read, “Miss the Barrel, Drink a Pint”.

      It was late when he'd stumbled out and realized he’d forgotten to use the bathroom. In the alley beside the bar where he’d gone to relieve himself, he found a half-empty can of spray paint. He picked it up, certain it was a sign, but couldn’t think of what to draw. He searched about the alley, looking for inspiration, and came upon the front page of a newspaper someone had used in place of toilet paper.    

He stuck it to the wall and read the headline: Is The City Under Siege? Below it were nine pictures: the first nine. Dmitri took the can of spray paint and wrote their names over the bricks, then below he wrote 63; the number of people they’d killed.

       The next morning, on his way to class, he'd stopped by and taken a photo of this, the first list. He gave the picture to his teacher, thinking it wasn’t much but was at least something. His teacher agreed, giving him an F, one more in a string that would bounce him out of school by Christmas.

The second list appeared on the wall of an abandoned warehouse slated to become artist lofts, three blocks from the Ivanhoe. This time there were ten names on it and the number 75; Lucas Brown having walked into his grade eleven classroom with an assault rifle the previous week, killing twelve and then himself.

        The third and forth lists, respectively, also had ten names and were written on walls within several blocks of the original. The fifth list was written on the interior wall of the gymnasium at Lucas Brown’s school. It was painted over by the time the morning bell rang but that did little to prevent photocopied pictures of it from appearing, glued to some 850 public spaces around the City. The City had them removed and Dmitri Prago was brought in for questioning. He swore he had nothing to do with any of the other lists. There was no evidence to suggest he was lying and they released him with the warning that they would be keeping an eye on him.

       The sixth list was written over the front doors of City Hall by a man wearing a black mask and had twelve names on it and a question mark instead of a number. It was later determined that it had been written by George Palanus, a man who'd added his own name to the list before heading to the call centre where he worked and detonating several pounds of explosive he’d made from fertiliser. He killed seven people besides himself. The next day, City Council passed a resolution, making it illegal to either write any new lists or add to an existing one, but the lists continued to appear, if anything, at a greater pace as did new names and escalating numbers. The City was indeed under siege.


After what seemed like an hour Martha turned off the water and reached past the curtain for her towel. Her skin was red and, as she dried off, it prickled the same way it did when she went for a swim after getting too much sun. A noise throbbed faintly in the background. The alarm, she thought dully. I forgot to turn off the alarm.
      Wrapping the towel around her, she stepped quickly out of the bathroom. Three sharp, violent bangs stopped her in the hallway and she turned to look at the front door.
       “Turn the goddamn alarm off.” The voice, she realized with dread, was that of her neighbour, the hulking security guard. Martha froze. The bleating alarm was now loud and grating, like a piece of machinery. Martha took a cautious step, on tippy toes, towards the bedroom.
        “I can hear you in there.” The front door shook and the chain lock rattled against the wood. “Turn the goddamn alarm off!”
    Martha hurried into her bedroom and hit the snooze button. The rattling stopped almost immediately. She waited until she heard the neighbour’s door slam shut then sat down on the bed and removed the towel from her head. Through the wall, a violent, crashing noise erupted followed by breaking glass, then a moment of silence. Floorboards creaked and Martha clenched the damp towel tightly between both hands. The creaking grew louder, he was in his bedroom, walking towards the wall. He was less then five feet away with only a thin layer of plaster and wood between them.

A steady, rhythmic pulse like a heart beating on cement rose from the other room. Thump, thump, thump. He’s banging his head on the wall. Martha shook, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. He’s crazy! Three more thumps then quiet again.
       “You fucking cunt.” The voice was low but clear and Martha jerked her head towards the wall. Its smooth surface seemed to bulge inwards, pressing towards her. He’s coming through! 

         After a moment of staring frozen at the bulge, footsteps creaked moving away again and she heard his bedsprings protest as he slumped down onto his mattress. She reached out and touched the bulge. It was solid, hard as a rock, and she remembered that it had always been there. Somebody had done a shoddy job of patching a hole, hadn’t sanded the plaster or something, and then had just painted over it. The shadows made it look bigger than it really was.

       She wiped a tear from her cheek and tried to focus on her closet, on what she would wear. She felt cold, she was tittering, and she looked down at herself. The towel was open and below the folds of flesh that eclipsed her navel she could see beads of water clinging to dark, curly hair. She pulled the towel tight around her and thought, I have a bomb, but it wasn’t enough to push away the word her neighbour had called her.


At 7:10, when she would normally just be getting up, Martha stood in front of her door with her black leather bag slung over her shoulder. The bag was heavier than usual (because of the bomb, she reminded herself) and she could feel the strap cutting into her skin. She shifted it off the muscle and onto the ridge of her collarbone. She wore a pair of dark, blue slacks, a navy blazer and a pale, yellow blouse. Blue and yellow where the colours of the bank where she worked and she felt the outfit sent the right message.

      In one hand, she held her book. On Friday, distracted by the upcoming annual review, she had neglected to buy a new one, so she had to content herself with one from her shelf that she couldn't remember the ending of. She slid it into her pocket and peeked out through the peephole. The hallway was empty but that didn’t do anything to ease her mind. The word the security guard had called her was hard to dismiss. It wasn’t a word that just popped out. It was a word that seethed and bubbled until it couldn’t be contained. It was an explosive word. A man capable of saying that word to a woman he didn’t even know was likely capable of worse things besides. She took a deep breath and unlocked the chain, then the dead bolt. She swung the door open and peered into the hallway.
     A few apartments down, a man in a bathrobe bent over to pick up the morning paper. Martha grabbed her bag, locked her apartment and ran for the stairs. Two steps away from the first floor she grabbed the hand rail, jerking herself to a stop. The coffee maker, she remembered. I forgot to turn off the coffee maker. 
She fretted for a moment, trying to think of the worst thing that could happen and remembered that she had left the radio on as well. At least they will keep each other company, she thought, forcing a smile.

On the sidewalk, thinking of the last bit of coffee in the pot hardening on the hot plate to hourly news updates, it struck her that when her neighbour had said that word, he’d said it the same way the man on the radio had said terrorist. Was that what she was to him? Surely he knew that she hadn’t meant to leave the alarm running, that it was a simple mistake.

He’s just looking for someone to blame. Something happened at work. Maybe he has a female supervisor. She quickened her stride as she crossed the street. The elevated, grey concrete track of the Skytrain station appeared, spanning the distance between two massive condominium complexes at the end of the block and her hand went instinctively to the book in her pocket.
       That early in the morning, Martha rarely had trouble finding a seat in the third car. At Granville Station, her car stopped right in front of the exit tunnel and, from there, it was a short walk down the hallway to the escalators. The train was only half-filled with commuters, none of 
whom were the teenagers in private school uniforms who always made such a racket during her regular time. She read the first chapter of her book, a measly three pages, but on the first page of the second chapter the son-in-law was introduced and she remembered that he'd done it; he was the one who had killed his wife and child.

        She stuffed the book into her bag and stared out the window, telling herself that if she’d just get an e-reader like Stephanie kept pestering her about - But no, she couldn’t, there had to be a line, she was certain of it even if she didn’t know why.

In the distance, Martha could see the mass of office buildings cramping the downtown's core. The sky overhead was a solid mass of clouds, the colour of ashes. Between Metrotown, the station closest to her apartment, and Main street, two stops from Granville, there were mostly houses and low-lying buildings. The only things that rose to the level of the Skytrain’s track were the billboard-sized screens spaced as evenly apart as street lights.

         The one they were passing by now, its message triggered by the train’s approach, seemed to reflect the car she was sitting in except that the mirror image was overflowing with commuters. Inside, the faces of men and women were tightly pressed to the windows' glass while others, not so lucky, rode on its top, clutching their briefcases and holding on for dear life. The second and third billboards in the sequence were the same but, on the fourth, an old man lost his grip and flew backwards, knocking off a nun and two small children.
        An electronic chime sounded and, over the loudspeaker, a woman’s voice announced, “Broadway.” As the train entered the station, its breaks softly hissing, the half-dozen screens on the station’s wall picked up on a sporty Sedan racing along a winding mountain road. The doors whooshed open and, as the few people waiting on the platform hurried inside, Martha looped one hand around the shoulder strap of her bag resting on the seat beside her. On the video billboard, the car effortlessly swept around a curve and drove straight through a pristine waterfall, glistening with a rainbow. The electronic chime sounded again and, timed to the doors shutting, a caption appeared on the screen - 'Give Yourself A Break. Lease A New Nexus Starting At $125 Per Week'. The train eased forward and picked up speed like the car, effortlessly. The idyllic scene on the screen dissolved into a map of the three branches of the Skytrain, red-flashing lights showing train locations, and 
beyond it her bank’s logo on top of their building crept out from behind the horizon of another, taller building.

“I have a bomb.”
       It came out as no more than a whisper. A breath really. A single exhalation. Martha glanced about the train, worried that someone might have heard. The man across the aisle read from a newspaper. The woman beside him wore earphones. That left only the man sitting directly in front of her who could have possibly been within range. The back of his head, curly brown hair spiralling around a small bald spot the size of a quarter, gave her no indication whether he’d heard or not. The train slowed as it approached the next station.
      “Main Street,” chimed the announcer. Martha rose and hurried through the doors and onto the platform.

In her mystery novels it was common for characters to feel that they were being followed. Martha always scoffed at the notion. You can’t feel someone following you, just like you can't feel when someone is staring at the back of your head (something else that happened far too often for her taste). Writers who did this, Martha felt, were just being lazy; creating suspense where there was none.

       Now though, she understood what they meant. As she walked away from the station, it really did feel like she was being followed. Martha hazarded a look behind her. On the sidewalk, a group of people waited in line at a bus stop. There was a man there who could have been the one sitting in front of her on the train, but Martha wasn’t sure. All she could notice about him was that he was wearing a brown leather jacket and had short, curly dark hair. Martha stopped and stared at him. He didn’t look back at her. The people in front of him moved forward onto the bus and he followed them up and in. The doors closed and the bus pulled away. Martha checked her watch. Ten to eight. She still had over an hour before she had to be at work.

A block from the station, Martha cursed herself for being so foolish as to try and walk from Main. The buildings on either side of her were either boarded up or filled with dark windows coated with grime and the people on the sidewalks weren’t much different. None of the dozen or so that she passed were moving, instead they leaned against the walls or sat or lay, not sleeping, all of them watching her with vacant eyes, like animals staring out of their cages at the zoo.

        Martha quickened her step. At the end of the block, a man stood with his back to her. The light on the far side of the street changed to the 'Walk' signal but, still, he stood there. He wore a dirty grey, ankle-length jacket and a wide-brimmed hat so that he resembled a gunslinger. She could smell him at twenty paces, rank like a newspaper at the bottom of a dumpster soaked through with garbage juice. She edged closer to the building, slowing, holding her bag tight, watching and waiting for him to turn, but he never did. She skirted left following the sidewalk around him. The man was saying something, but she couldn’t hear what it was, his mumbles lost to the traffic. He was wearing running shoes, held together by duct tape. She saw it out of the corner of her eye and also that his scraggly beard, its red pitted with streaks of white, and sagging eyes made him look more like a fisherman than a cowboy.

Ahead a high-rise, deep blue in the grey light and shimmering, rose beyond the facade of vacant storefronts; the same building which appeared on posters plastered to boarded-up windows. “The Remnants: All That’s Left Of The Good Life” it read in bright, yellow letters over an artist’s rendering of the City’s newest condominium complex. It had been the next, big thing in an effort at gentrification and she’d taken a virtual tour when it was still a hole in the ground. It was self-sustaining, that was its gimmick. The tour had climaxed with hordes of the virtual undead attacking the front doors as solid steel plates slid down, crushing them. Martha thought it was a little cheesy but the units had sold out within a week.

Halfway along The Remnants' complex, the refurbished storefronts collapsed dramatically into fake rubble and bits of broken glass. There was a mannequin fixed onto a barber’s chair in the middle of a checkered floor, and beyond it a football field’s worth of carefully arranged debris, piles of concrete with rebar sticking out of it, shopping carts twisted and burnt and car wrecks strewn amongst neatly tended gardens and fountains. A cobblestone path wound through the grounds to the high-rise’s vestibule doors.

        It was The End in meticulously cultivated symmetry. A mock-up of the apocalypse for the benefit of the chosen few who’d ride it out safely inside The Remnants. Martha stood, marvelling at how well it blended into the surrounding streets, and had a sudden feeling that it was all pretend, the empty stores, the parking meters lining the sidewalk, the man at the corner, and the others lying or sitting or standing in doorways with their smell and the lost look in their eyes. It seemed like a lot of effort to advertise condos though and, as Martha walked on, she saw an elderly Chinese man on the other side of the street sweeping the sidewalk in front of racks of vegetables and fruits and the feeling faded.

       She caught a glimpse of her bank’s logo amongst the low clouds, her office no more than four or five blocks away now, and she shifted the bag on her shoulder, the straps leaving a trench in her skin that she could feel even through her jacket. The simulated rubble gave way to storefronts again, some with lights in their windows this time, with goods on shelves inside, stereos and bicycles and clothes. One had its door open, a bakery smelling of deep-fried dough and roasted sesame seeds. Martha thought of getting something to eat to calm her stomach, but she’d already passed it by the time she’d finally made up her mind.


She turned back and saw a man with dark, curly hair wearing a brown jacket standing on the sidewalk and staring at The Remnants. She stopped breathing as she watched him, as unmoving as the mannequin in the barber’s chair. Then, gasping, she steadied herself on a light post, gulping air like she was drowning. That’s when she saw the List. It was painted on the sidewalk. She backed away but it seemed to be following her, scrolling out from beneath her feet.

       Names, two dozen of them or more, and then a number: 128. She stuttered to a stop and forced herself to look up. The man with the curly hair was on the other side of the List. His hands were in his pockets and he was smiling, looking at her, rocking back and forth on his heels like a child waiting for his mother. She wanted to call out to him, to tell him that he was wrong about her. That she didn’t have a bomb, that it was only a rock she’d found in the park. That it was all make-believe, a crutch, something to steady her nerves . . . but she couldn’t. Facing him now she was worried that, if she opened her bag, she’d find that there really was a bomb inside.

       The man stopped rocking on his heels and reached inside his jacket pocket. He’s going for a gun, Martha thought, or a knife.
        “Please”, she whispered. The man slowly removed his hand from his pocket. He was holding a can of spray paint. He bent with it to the List and wrote something in great looping letters at the top, then stuck the can back in his pocket. He smiled at Martha again, turned and jogged back down the sidewalk.


From where she stood, Martha couldn’t read what he’d written. She thought about walking over and seeing what it said, but it was getting late. She’d have to hurry if she wanted to be on time for her review.

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