Prompt: Scent


The last thing Deborah expected was the scent of Vincent. That is, the scent of his cologne, inhabiting her mother’s house like a coat of paint, assaulting her as soon as she walked through the front door.

She put the bottle of wine on the kitchen counter, where there was a note: Put cass in oven 325 back 6. Why did her mother have to write as if every character was as painful as plucking hair from the roots? It’s not as if she was busy, or even working anymore.

There was a clear pyrex dish on the counter, covered in foil. Inside looked like some kind of macaroni casserole. Leave the foil on or off? The note didn’t say. Deborah turned the oven to 325 degrees and put the casserole dish in cold. She glanced at the wall clock. Half an hour before her mother said she’d be back.

Deborah went to the cupboard, pulled out one of her mother’s china plates, and smashed it into the sink. She sat at the table and cried, drying her tears with paper towels. She carefully gathered up the delicate and unsalvageable shards of the plate and put them in the garbage can in the corner. She went into the bathroom and washed her face. She used the face cloth to scrub under her arms too, since the scent of Vincent caused her to sweat into her blouse.

Vincent smelled like lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar. That was the fragrance, Makizmo, that he chose to wear, when he was alive. Deborah knew of no one else who wore it. Smelling it now made her think of Vincent’s arms— he was so proud of his well-toned arms, and was fond of tank tops even though Deborah thought they made him look rough and common. She thought of the way he bit her ear when they made love. She thought about his laugh, the way he threw his head back and there was just that moment of pause before the guffaw burst out. She thought about how he loved and missed his childhood dog, Chummy, and how that creature was the only sentimental topic in his repertoire. She thought about his body, his face shot off, the closed coffin at his funeral.

Vincent was gone. Deborah was on her own. She was recovering. She was back at work. She was able to pay the monthly mortgage on her little house, the one she had shared with Vincent, thanks to financial help from Uncle Al and her mother. She was moving on with her life, like every single person she ever talked to kept telling her to do.

And then her mother goes and lets Vincent back in the house.

Deborah went to her mother’s bedroom. The bed was hastily made. The scent was stronger here. She picked up a pillow and pressed it to her face. It was awash with the scent of lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar.

She heard the front door open, and her mother call her name. Her mother, the whore who let Vincent into the house, who let Vincent sleep in her bed that day even though Deborah was to be her guest that evening.

She went to the bedroom window and drew back the curtains, throwing open the window to a gust of frigid air that raised goosebumps on her arms and neck. In a moment, she felt warm arms reach around her and pull the window closed again, then clasp her tightly, lovingly, silently.

It smelled like Vincent.


Prompt: Yellow

I got a chest x-ray, and the next day took it to a room empty of reading material, including posters on the wall, where I sat alone for almost two hours. The room was painted a whitish yellow. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be thrown in jail in an empty room and suffer from lack of stimulation of any kind, this would not actually show you. It was bad, but only lasted two hours. Still, it’s like sipping sour milk. You don’t need to drink the whole glass to know it is vile.

Then a doctor, recommended for such examinations, asked me to undress and to put on a green paper robe which opened at the back. He told me to touch my toes. He had me lie down, and he lifted the hem of the paper robe so he could look at my genitals. He was conducting, he said, an inspection to see if there were any visible signs of disease.

Personally, I think the doctor was a pervert. His voice was too level, too pandering, too apologetic. He knew he was being a pervert. He liked to gaze upon people’s genitals under the guise of a necessary medical procedure which purported to eliminate those with sexually transmitted diseases from being granted permission.

Previously, I’d submitted my fingerprints for distribution to civil, state, national, and international authorities, filled out detailed forms tracing my every move and activity for the whole of my life, and been interviewed extensively by indifferent men and women.

Many people were friendly and helpful. Others, like the doctor, took advantage of people in vulnerable situations.

Now, this was what I experienced when I wanted to live in the United States. I passed inspection. My genitals were worthy of trust. I am white and had an income. And I would be comfortable if I was returned to my Canadian homeland.

Imagine a woman and a child who are not white, have no income, no home anymore, who are very likely to die by violence unless they can flee to a safe haven. They have no rights, no understanding of the kind of routines they might be subjected to, and in many cases have no advocate.

This woman and child endure a much more rigorous screening process than I did to reach the port of entry.

They are afraid, sometimes terrified by the process. I was inconvenienced. They live in constant, black dread that they might have to return to a place where they might be starved, raped, mutilated, or killed. I was bored. The pervert doctor only went so far with me, because I am white and anglo, yet I was still humiliated. But I was smiled at with sympathy sometimes, because I am a white person. Smiles are scarcer for them, yes, even for a small, frightened child.

There are millions of these women and children. They go through the process or they return to chaos. Now, in some places, they are being denied even the hope of escape. My experience was nothing. Their experience counts now.



Simple Salmon Cakes

Prompt: Simple


Guess what? I was making dinner tonight (I love to cook) and mulling over what to write for today’s prompt, simple. Guess what I was preparing? Simple Salmon Cakes. These are really easy and really good, so I thought I’d share.

Simple Salmon Cakes

Servings: 2

1 – 14 oz can salmon (preferably sockeye), drained
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 green onion, sliced finely
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
S & P
Panko bread crumbs
Butter or oil for frying

Mix all the ingredients except the Panko and butter in a bowl. Form into patties. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes while you make a salad or have a cigarette on the front porch. Coat with Panko bread crumbs, and fry in a little oil or butter until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

Serving suggestions: Good with rice or curried rice, a wedge of lemon, and/or a quarter cup of mayonnaise mixed with lemon, hot pepper, curry powder, or fresh herbs.

Digitally Inclined

Prompt: Ten


Charlie Parsons slept in until ten, so didn’t hear the knock on the door. The post office had neatly place a doorknob notice outside Charlie’s house, with only a few blank spaces scribbled in by the delivery person: Parsons, 1010 Worth (meaning Charlie’s address, 1010 Worthington), Parcel, and Pick up After 4.

He had no idea who the package was from or how big it was, not to mention what it was. He hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon, Cheffy Chef, or Sears, not recently, and it wasn’t his birthday for another four months.

But a visit to Gill at the post office was always a most pleasant diversion. She was pretty, though her looks were startling to Charlie— he had not previously been a big freckle fan— and she always looked one in the eye, in a warm and welcoming way.

Gill had a nasty cold; the freckles on her nose were an alarming shade of purple, and her welcoming eyes seeped moisture, but Charlie refrained from scolding her about spreading germs. It was too late for that. She fetched his package with a smile. It was small and Charlie’s name and address were printed out on a label, with no return address visible. When she set it in front of her on the counter, she hesitated. “What’s that?” she said, her voice hoarse.


“Ticking, Charlie!”

So that’s how the post office was emptied and the RCMP turned up. Charlie wouldn’t leave, and his friend, Constable Horowitz, couldn’t bring himself to force him to leave, so Charlie observed from a short distance behind a helmet with a protective screen.

“Seriously, Glen?” Charlie said, as the officers poked at the package, took pictures of it, and managed crowd control, as about half a dozen people had gathered outside. The constable ignored him. Charlie could hear the ticking sound. Surely modern terrorists were digitally inclined? But, Glen said wisely, you never know.

They’d asked Lionel, the post office delivery man, if he had noticed anything suspicious about the package or noticed the ticking. He said he had noticed, and concluded the contents of the package contained a clock, which, since Charlie hadn’t answered the door that morning, he thought was pretty appropriate.

A form resembling a man, covered head to foot in padding, boots, moon gloves, and a thick helmet, used a tool resembling a scalpel, which slid silkily through the craft paper and tape, revealing a white box.

He gently lifted up the lid of the box.

Inside was an alarm clock, resting in red tissue paper. There were no wires or other devices in the box. Glen told everyone to stand down. Only the eyes of the human being hidden behind the layers of padding could be seen, and those eyes looked vaguely disappointed.

Charlie took off his own helmet and approached Glen, who, with gloved hands, was examining the clock. It was white, with a white face and silver clangers. “Battery operated, alarm set to go at ten pm but not turned on.”

“Where do you even buy one of those things?” asked Charlie.

Glen shrugged. “You know what? This is a serious offence.” He looked up at Charlie. “What’s it mean? What’s the joke?”

“I honestly don’t— hey what else is in the box?”

A piece of paper that looked like it was torn out of a magazine had been tucked in under the clock. It was a coupon for two dollars off a pair of HeatMe! sport socks. Glen held it up and Charlie took a closer look.

According to the print next to the page number, the coupon had been torn out of the February issue of Ice Fishers’ Digest.


The Body

Prompt: Devastation


Tall grasses and weeds had been replaced by creeping ivies and thyme, so the orderly row of houses looked as if their front gardens had been recently tended. It looked almost normal, except for the empty silence.

This was Chandler’s Folly, the purpose-built town with the perfect stone churches, the manicured playgrounds, the houses lovingly occupied, families living in tolerant accord, and the crazy system of never-used underground tunnels. A little girl had fled the town into the woods when the world ended, scrubbing along for weeks before she stumbled upon me and Plato; thin, dirty, and unable to remember even her name.

Now my dog Plato leaned up against the girl, who had named herself Folly, as if to support her, as we three stood in the middle of the road gazing at tidy home after tidy home, waiting for her to move or speak. She’d agreed to come and I’d explained that it might be tough. It was tough for me and Plato to search for my parents and sisters. But strangely, the only way we could have survived was to realize that we were completely alone. My parents were not going to bail me out. My sisters no longer existed.

Finally, Folly said, “Do you see anyone?”

“No Folly, I don’t.” It was probable she didn’t trust her own eyes. “Which way is your house?”

“They look alike,” said Folly.

“What colour was your house?” I prompted.

“Yellow,” said Folly. Well, that narrowed it down to about two hundred.

“What else do you remember?”

“The horses,” said Folly. She kneeled down and wrapped her arms around Plato’s neck. He bore the hug with great fortitude and patience.

Folly then closed her eyes. “Can we go now?”

“Back to the motel?”

Folly nodded, eyes still tightly shut. “Don’t make me look,” she said.

So Plato and I guided her back to the red Jag, and she sat in the back while Plato took the passenger seat beside me. I drove straight ahead instead of turning around and going back the way we’d come. Folly had her eyes closed, but I wanted a bit of a look around.

That’s when I saw a body on the porch of a two storey, neo-Victorian house, not far from the domed library. At least it looked like a body, slumped in a rocking chair, as still and frozen in time as everything else in Chandler’s Folly. I coasted the Jag to a stop. Plato and I had already travelled half-way across the country, and the only body, living or dead, we’d encountered was Folly’s.

Plato saw the body too— hard to tell if it was a man or a woman— and whimpered softly. I glanced at Folly, who was tense and stiff, her hands now covering her eyes as back-up protection.

“Folly,” I said, “I’m gonna go drop you off at the Best Western. Could you find some soup and bread for dinner?”

She said, “Yes. Are we gone?”

“Not yet,” I said.

Reality vs “Reality”

Prompt: Successful

The election, the inauguration, and the President-Elect himself were all successful, if you simply choose alternative facts instead of, well, facts. (The election was successful in the face of foreign interference— the Russian hacking, and domestic interference— voter suppression laws. The inauguration was poorly attended despite alternative facts to the contrary. The President-Elect’s business record is not exemplary despite the alternative facts.)

I felt confused but there is no reason to feel that way. An “alternative fact” is a falsehood. Reality cannot be talked away. I know what I see and what I hear and despite the bombardment of obfuscation and lies I can still trust my judgement. Can you?


Apologies if politics seem to get in the way of story-telling. The situation is too important to overlook, however, and I simply can’t do it. Story-telling can and will resume!


Prompt: Privacy


“There is a problem.”

No, no there couldn’t be a problem. Danny had fixed everything. He and his wife Claire and new baby Zoe were about to start a new life, a new adventure.

The border guard stared at the computer screen, his face passive and blank, a clear message that none of this was personal and that he was interested in nothing but the characters on the screen, and not in Claire who had dark circles under her eyes from lack of sleep, or the baby who was finally sleeping soundly. Snoring a bit, in fact, in the carrier strapped around Danny’s torso. The computer screen said that Danny Jespers had a problem.

“You did not mention your criminal record on the entry card,” said the border guard.

“There is no criminal record,” said Danny, not too loudly as he did not want to wake the baby. Claire was across the room, slumped in one of a row of attached fibreglass chairs in front of a floor to ceiling window, looking out onto a cargo loading bay. Danny glanced at her and she smiled. I know, her eyes said, but we’re almost there.

The job was waiting. It wasn’t much of a job but it was a start, and it was on a farm which was how Clair and Danny wanted to live, once they got settled. Farming and livestock were all they knew. He’d shown the papers from Dr Deepak, the farm owner, stating that he had a legal job with accommodation waiting for Danny. It was all official, and all had been done by the book; or more accurately, according to the detailed and somewhat confusing rules on the provincial website. Danny had even talked to Dr Deepak on the phone. He was an actual doctor. And a farmer. And he needed experienced people to manage and maintain his vineyards and orchards.

“Armed robbery,” said the border guard. He looked up from the screen and gazed at Danny. “A serious offence, Mr Jespers.”

“No,” said Danny, “this is all a mistake.”

“You did not commit an armed robbery… five years ago?”

“No, well, I—“ Danny waved to Claire to come over. Claire brought over the old leather briefcase containing the battered laptop and all their important documents: birth certificates, copies of drivers’ licenses, wills, and bank statements. And a notarized document from Aaron and Sons, Attorneys at Law.

He hadn’t really been armed. His weapon was a toy gun he’d got from Walgreens. He’d covered it in a nylon stocking to hide its obvious lack of authenticity, and asked the clerk politely to empty the till. The till was rigged so that a certain number sequence silently alerted the police.

He wasn’t going to hurt anyone. He needed just a few dollars. He didn’t want much. He was young, stupid, and desperate. All that came out in court, his pro bono lawyer was actually extremely competent, and his sentence was light, only twenty-four months, of which he served half.

“Do you want me to take the baby?” asked Claire, as she handed him the briefcase.

“No, honey, don’t want to wake her.”

“No, we don’t,” Claire said. “I’m just going to find some water, be right back.” The border guard nodded, and turned to Danny.

Danny suddenly had a moment of realization. He froze, thinking of the dead eyes of the border guard, the folded document in his hand, the baby now heavy on his chest, Claire looking for water, an unanswered phone ringing somewhere, a memory of an icy cold morning and a breached calf, the face of Cyrus Aaron, a “son” of Aaron and Sons, his broad face and thick glasses, his reassuring manner.

There would be no new job, no new farm, no new life. Danny decided to show the guard the document anyway. It stated that his criminal record had been expunged. It had a seal on it, and signatures. He had paid 1600 US dollars to have his record legally erased so that he could move to Canada with his then-pregnant wife. They still owed money to her mother for the loan of the 1600 dollars.

Zoe sputtered awake and pooped in her diaper.

Dear Ms Roades

Prompt: Overworked


Dear Ms Roades,

Please excuse Todd’s absence from school yesterday, as he was suffering from diagnosable exhaustion. It had nothing to do with the police, his conflicts at home, or anything other than his devotion to completing his school assignments with promptness and competence. I would appreciate your sensitivity in this matter and hope you will leave us to attend to our own issues without your interference.

Mrs. A. Caper