On “The Myths of Girlhood” a poetry collection by Christine E. Ray Reviewed by Rachael Z. Ikins

With an intense almost Gothic darkness, reminiscent of the novels of Ann Rice, “Myths of Girlhood” entices us into its pages. Christine Ray references familiar fairytales, song lyrics and expressions from childhood as she leads us from a place of mental illness, through the pain of the growing-up years into self-discovery. We deal with the past by putting it down again and again.

Through her use of strong, stark imagery we look in the mirror with the poet and face ourselves and all the monsters who maimed, the demons we’ve survived, and the dragon who longs to burst out of her self-actualized breast to embrace her freedom.

Ray’s elegant poetry tells us 3D stories of a real woman’s life. We root for our hero as she tears off layers. Grows into herself. Names herself; poet, boss, lover, mother, SURVIVOR and with a small, two-word line as loud as a thunder-clap, “my own.”

Rachael Ikins, author of the award-winning poetry collection “Just Two Girls,” (claresongbirdspub.com) and of poems in the anthology “We Will Not Be Silenced” (Indie Blu(e) Publishing)

The Myths of Girlhood will be released January 2019 by Indie Blu(e) Publishing

From Nicholas Gagnier: Leonard the Liar Excerpt #2

The bright lights give off an obnoxious combination of red, yellow and white glow. A visual overdose is spread across every corner of the travelling carnival like a neon bed-skirt. Kids infest every intersection. Games booths are commanded by charismatic university students over loudspeakers.

Carnies are the sheriffs of this lawless little land, when they’re not smoking pot or copulating with each other, shuffling folks onto rides and pressing a green button. Ferris Wheels and Gravitrons spin to life and slow with circadian rhythm, primed for the moments leading up to pushing the Big Red One.

Shuffle people out, shuffle people in.

It’s all routine.

Parents, single or otherwise, bring their offspring here in what they perceive to be a family night. It’s not even close. I can hardly blame them. It’s a night to set their monsters on a civilization of bells and whistles.

Teenagers travel in groups, beating the younger, less agile kids at games, contributing to anarchy any way they can. Maddening carnival music finds its way to whatever wondrous nook I find myself in, reaching peak volume somewhere along the House of Mirrors.

Skylar walks alongside me, buried in a sweater and thick glasses, having opted for sneakers over style. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail which sways with her swagger from side to side. Unnaturally focused on her environment, sentimental even, she constantly smiles at things she sees- a landed robin picking up food crumbs or a baby who lays eyes on her over a mother’s shoulder.

“I’m glad you called me,” she says. “I didn’t expect you to, but hoped.”

In return for three fucking days of torturing myself, I decided to act.

We arrive at the merry-go-round. Steel fences double as leaning posts for adults loitering around them, savoring a moment of peace before returning to ritualistic mollycoddling. Our fingers wrap around the horizontal bar, looking off into spinning abyss of colorful thought.

“Can I ask you a question?” Skylar asks.

“Depends on the question.”

“What changed?”

“What do you mean, what changed?”

She takes a deep breath, lips pursed.

“You never struck me as the guy who’d propose.”

I shrug.

“A lot changes in ten years.”

“Says the man who doesn’t believe in change.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Skye. Somewhere along the line, it stopped being an issue. I had to change if I wanted to live to see thirty years old. I had to change because I was sick of the lying and the binges and the compulsions.”

I hesitate.

“One night, I got hammered. Really hammered. I was with this girl Trisha at the time. We did a bunch of coke at her apartment and polished off a bottle of Jack. I crashed Trisha’s car. Hit one vehicle, which hit another. I ended up taking out a fire hydrant. That was rock bottom right there. Face-deep in the airbag and a cut above my eye.

“I pushed open the door, fell to the sidewalk and puked up all over it. Passed out. I woke up in the hospital. My brother was there. My uncle was there. Three doctors standing over me and a pair of cops.

“Crown wanted to put me away for six months but the judge didn’t throw the book at me because I had a clean record. I spent two days in lockup and got sent back to rehab. When I got out, I dumped Trisha. Just stopped calling her. She came to my house once, lost it on me and walked away.”

Skylar takes a moment to process. Her brow rises and falls for the duration.

“And then you met Claire?”

I fix my sights on the carousel. Christmas lights in constant motion. Momentary assaults of clarity coincide with mental highlights.

“I met Claire at- this is going to sound ridiculous. But, um, she mistook me for the superintendent, which was known to be a notoriously vacant position.”

Skylar says nothing.

“She had just moved in down the hall, and her pipe busted. My roommate at this time, real dick named Greg, who played guitar at three at the morning and was fucking obsessed with Sambuca, offered to help her on condition of a ‘happy ending’.”

“Oh, God,” she says. “Some men.”

“Anyway, there was no superintendent at the time, so I broke into the building’s storage and ‘borrowed’ some tools. Fixed the pipe.”

“You always were a rebel.”

“The first time I saw Claire smile, the first time I heard her voice and it peaked in pitch as it does when she’s nervous; the simple, knee-high white dress she was wearing. Golden locks. Beautiful girl. I was at a loss. Felt like an idiot.”

Skylar is silent.

“I feel like I’m talking to a wall here,” I tell her.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Congratulations, Len, you’re no longer the biggest fucking tool I know?”

She snickers.

“Now you’re just fishing for compliments. You haven’t lost that about you.”

“Here I thought I was a changed man.”

She bumps her shoulder to mine.

“Congrats, Len.”

“Thanks. Want to start walking?”

We migrate away from the carousel, slipping back between the crowds, into anonymity. Pass the Ferris Wheel again, the game booths, the cotton candy stand housed in a commercially constructed log shack. The faint scent of popcorn filters through clear air before being pulled into the night.

Skylar reaches into her purse and pulls out a familiar brand. She sticks the cigarette in her mouth and grabs a set of matches. The fumes of sulfur engulf my senses before nicotine-laced fog takes hold of my nostrils.

“That’s so bad for you,” I mock.

“Shut up,” she says, “If I’m going to die young, you can bet I’m going to live the rest of it very fast.”

“Dancing. Stalking. Smoking. All these things were beyond you, Skye. Have to say, I like the new you. What’s next?”

She stops. Gray eyes drift upwards to a structure breaching the countryside backdrop. Something tall, in ultimate bad taste and shaped like a death trap. On a whim, she drops the cigarette, and starts toward a line for the roller coaster. Like she won’t live long enough to accomplish both.

“Come on, Len!”

I shake my head.

“Don’t be a wimp!”

Sigh. I follow her into line, one bursting at the seams with teenagers, disgruntled fathers and their youngsters. A human train moves along at a snail’s pace as I shuffle between sides uncomfortably.

“I thought you hated roller coasters,” I remark.

“You hate roller coasters, Len.”

“I take it this is something else you’re actively embracing?”

“What can I say? I’m not going to die in a hospital bed, at least.”

One of the dads in front of us overhears Skylar and glares back at her.

“Don’t worry. I’m not contagious,” she clarifies, “Although, it’s not so nice to stare at sick people.”

The man mutters something and looks away.

I check whether my jaw is still attached to my cheekbones.

“Wow.”

“What? Because I told him to mind his own business?” she asks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so confrontational with strangers.”

“I guess a lot does change in a decade.”

The line continues to push forward, twelve people at a time. From where we started, it’s progressed a little over halfway. The structure to our left shudders with the sounds of rumbling train-cars and their cheering occupants.

“So I think it’s my turn to ask a question,” I say.

“Shoot.”

“If the doctors came to you tomorrow morning and said they’d been wrong; you were going to live for another ten years, the whole shebang. Would it change anything?”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” she says, “Are you asking whether I’d keep doing crazy things I hate just for the sake of doing them, or whether I’d go back to my old life and revert back to who I used to be?”

“That phrasing works.”

She thinks on it, as if building the perfect answer in her brain.

“The doctor who came to my room with the MRI results couldn’t have been older than twenty-five. I don’t think she’d ever had to personally tell a patient anything like that. It took a while to stop beating around the bush and finally tell me. I know what a blood clot is. She proved living people shouldn’t hand out death sentences. Their delivery sucks.”

“”Do you always talk like you’re already dead?”

“In a way, I am. I did the denial thing, the anger and bargaining. I got to depression and I slept. A lot. Somewhere, in that huge clusterfuck of recurrent nightmares, there was a bit of serenity. But the doctors aren’t wrong, Leonard. Dying changes something in you. Even if they came to me tomorrow and told me they were, it’s part of me now. I’ll always live today like it’s my last.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Skylar wraps her fingers around the thick of my wrist.

“You have no reason to be sorry.”

How can she be so calm?

Why doesn’t her voice waiver, or her eyes tear?

Almost having inched our way to the stairs leading up to the loading platform, a couple juveniles hanging off the railing are approached by a security guard who escorts the punks out of line.

“If anything, Leonard, I have everything to thank you for.”

Ten steps to go.

I am not going to enjoy this.

“Why is that ?”

One of the trains comes to rest above us. Footsteps pound across the opposite end of the platform, a crowd spilling down a different staircase. Some are carried off into other corners of the carnival. Others rendezvous with their friends at the back of the line, ranting and raving about how great the ride was and vowing a repeat performance.

I can see the train cars now.

“I don’t know,” she replies, “With you, there doesn’t have to be a thing.”

“A thing?”

“The thousand pound elephant in the room called death?” she asks. “For the writers among us, let’s call it ‘dying with dignity’.”

“You remembered,” I say, somewhat impressed.

She grins. “Of course I do. Leonard the aspiring writer. It was romantic. I loved that about you. But I haven’t seen your name much at the bookstore, so I wasn’t sure how to broach that topic.”

“I wrote a couple. Published none.”

“Yeah,” she says, “well, don’t give up on your dreams, sweetie. Your day job’s not doing you any favours.”

“Funny. My parents always told me the opposite.”

“And how are they?”

“Dead.”

“I’m sorry. Natural?”

“Car crash. Nine years ago. And I’ve made my peace with it. Not sure Luke has, but he has way too many other, self-created problems to deal with first. And that’s kind of what I’m trying to say here, Skye.”

“About what?”

“Dying with dignity includes your family, too. Now, I’m not going through what you are, and it’s not my place, but I would want my family to not….be caught by surprise, you know?”

We’re almost at the gate now. The smell of sweat is pervasive, more than a hundred people crammed together.

“That’s the problem,” Skylar says, “Telling the world will make me look vulnerable. I don’t want to look vulnerable. Not many choose the timing, but some of us can control the circumstances. I’m not going to be kept alive by machines. That, to me, is not dignity.”

Another set of cars unloads and finally we’re standing at remotely opened gates. The operator sits in a booth to our right. Two college girls ushering people in and out like a revolving door every few minutes compare boyfriends and nail colors in their downtime.

“You ready?” Skylar asks as the next car comes rolling in and several wheezing people take their leave down the other side.

“Abso-fuckin’-lutely not.”

She chuckles, slaps me in the chest with the back of her hand.

“Suck it up, buttercup. I’m forcing you to do this one time. Not only will you live, but I’ll have you home to your fiancee by eleven.”

The gate opens and we take our seats. The cold steel car locks its occupants in with colder steel bars cranking down in our laps. To make matters worse, there’s not much protection on either side of me.

“I’m not going to lie,” I say. “I’ve never been on a roller coaster.”

A schoolgirl giggle escapes her lips.

“Double score for me.”


Leonard the Liar by Nicholas Gagnier is scheduled for release on Tuesday, July 24th and will be available on Amazon.com

From Nicholas Gagnier: Leonard The Liar Excerpt

Twenty-four years passed before my daughter broached the origins of her given name.

I was confident, as most young parents are, the question would have come up much sooner. I thought- as she passed through the annals of adolescence, trying to hide joints in her school bag and dated boys (many of whom were of questionable character)- that she would pause a moment and look across the kitchen table, hazel burning holes in my morning paper and ask the inevitable.

“Dad?” I imagined she would say, somehow able to break the lone syllable in two and suggest the second half belonged to a higher octave.

“Yes, honey?”

“Why Skylar? Was there any point to it? Did Mom, like, find it in a baby name book or something?”

But the questions never came. When I looked over my paper, she would be avoiding my gaze, eyes swimming in the cereal bowl. Over the years, she seemed to eat a little faster and leave for school a little quicker. The playful conversations at dinner were replaced by deflections and defensive conversations.

By the time I could have a sincere conversation with Skye, one that didn’t include some form of omission, fib or white lie to make us feel like better parents, she was well into her twenties. Hair that used to reflect every other colour of a rainbow stabilized into a dark blonde. Makeup adopted moderation, and she wasn’t stapling piercings into every corner of her face. Skye dressed sharper, paid her own way through university working with my brother Luke on weekends, and fell in love.

In some ways, she came to embody the woman we named her after.

Just not at sixteen.

***

It wasn’t until after her mother’s funeral, on a lukewarm November evening in 2034, that she finally asked me.

The days leading up to the ceremony are some of the murkiest, mud-coloured of my life. I like to believe losing my partner of a quarter century was too traumatizing to remember.

I was fifty-five when she passed. The crinkle-free surface of my skin stepped aside for the creases of seniority. Gray streaks were rampant. She had been sick a long time, and I was happy just to have my hair. At my age, not every gentleman could make that claim. Looking around the church, as I presided over Claire’s casket for the hundred sets of staring eyes, standing beneath flowers that tried to take our loss and cover it in something beautiful, I tried to count how many I actually knew.

I tried to listen to their eulogies, their connections to my late wife that ranged from acquaintance to mother, co-worker to student. Several of her friends, and sister Renee, spoke.

I could only name a handful of them.

Skylar hung her head in contemplative silence. The dress she had chosen was the same one Claire had worn to her own mother’s funeral. Simple black and a flowered veil to match.

Jackie Kennedy, had she been a blonde and left the shades at home.

***

Skylar decided to stay in Ontario a few more days. Her fiance Eric, was able to stay for the service and then head back out West for work.

Eric is, by far, the most agreeable man my daughter ever dated. He works long hours, but treats her right and always brings cigars home with them.

I didn’t mind being left alone, even now. It would not have bothered me if my daughter was unable to stay. I have been a loner since my school days.

But Skylar, sensing I was more upset than I let on, was having none of that. We sat by two burning logs in the room we used to dwell as three, drinking French merlot; waiting in the dark to hear Claire’s footsteps, the hoarse voice she developed in her later years from smoking, or the furious movements of her pen as she graded quizzes for her tenth grade class.

“It’s so quiet,” Skylar said.

“I think the quiet’s here to stay.”

“So weird, isn’t it?”

“Pointing out how weird it is doesn’t make it any less weird.”

“Someone had to say it.”

“You know,” I said, “I remember we brought you home for the first time. Your Mom used to sit in that same armchair, and sing you to sleep. And what would she sing? Oh, everything. Knew the words to every song. I was lucky if I remembered two words of a line. But you name it, she knew it.”

“Mom had a good voice.”

“Yes, but she never sang for me. Only for you.”

“Really?”

“I tried to get her to sing for me on our second date. Took her out for karaoke. She refused to get up on stage. At first I thought, maybe this girl can’t sing. Maybe she’s embarrassed. Whatever. It didn’t matter.

“It was only a year or two later, on your Aunt Renee’s birthday, that I went out with her a second time to karaoke. Your Mom said she wouldn’t sing, but Renee got her to. They get up on stage, picked out some random song. Suddenly, it was like an angel was singing in front of me.”

“How do you know it wasn’t Aunt Renee?” Skylar asked.

“Because I know for a fact that she couldn’t hit a key to save her life. Still can’t. As for your Mom, I never figured out why she refused to honour my song requests. All I know is that once you were here, she had no problem at all.”

“I always noticed some animosity between you and Aunt Renee. Is there a story to that?”

“My girl,” I grinned, “there’s a story for everything.”

“Everything?”

“Everything.”

“So, the creepy bird above our mailbox?”

“Your mother found it at a flea market in Florida. I tried to talk her out of it. What else you got?”

“The swords in the basement.”

“Uncle Luke won them at a stag and doe when he was twenty and managed to stab himself in the foot with one of them at the same party. I confiscated them and have had them ever since.”

“The picture of you and some blonde girl in that chest kicking around the attic. There’s gotta be something there.”

“What picture?”

“You know; the one with the black frame that looks like you bought it from Dollarama?”

“What’s wrong with Dollarama frames?”

Skye shook her head and giggled, reminiscent of when she was a little girl.

“You’re such a guy, Dad. But, um, seriously. Who is she?”

Did you look it up in a baby book or something?

It wasn’t the exact phrasing I had in mind for my rehearsed answer, but it was the closest my daughter ever came.

“She’s the woman you’re named after.”

“Skylar?”

“That’s right. Mind you, the picture itself is from college. But not a year before your mom got pregnant with you, I ran into her again.” I tried to recall what photograph she had found, and the face beside my own; shoulder-length blonde hair, eyes like an ocean just before the storm.

“‘Ran’ into her? You make it sound like you two hooked up in some seedy bar.”

I lit a cigarette. The heat instantly soured my palate and spoiled my breath. In the fifty-odd years I had been on this planet, society had progressed from alleviating the common cold to negotiating the end of cancer. Half a million people still died of smoking-related disease every year.

“Believe it or not,” I replied, “we did.”

“You cheated on Mom?” The question could have easily been asked by her expression alone. Mouth agape, wide-eyed. Kids still say the darndest things. 

“God no, child. Keep your voice down.”

“Dad, that’s what hook up means. You know? To hook up.”

“You’ll have to forgive me. I’m old and out of touch with lingo the current slate of youth has taken to.”

“What did she want? This woman. Skylar.”

I mulled on her inquiry a moment, absently pulling more smoke into my lungs but forgetting to exhale. A maelstrom of chemical bliss flooded my brain before settling to the bottom of my lungs, leaving the same dull ache I experienced almost on a daily basis. I was beginning to feel the same way about smoking I learned from hangovers after the age of thirty; that consequences suck.

“Dad?”

“Hmmm?”

“What did Skylar want?”

I paused again, lost in a different place than my child, but not as long this time.

“She wanted to-she wanted to tell me she was dying.”

“And did she?” Skylar asked. “Die?”

(Beth will never be able to end my life.)

“Yes.”

“Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

I shrugged.

“It’s okay. Been a long time. Funny side of it is, had that sort of thing happened now, it would be nothing. She would probably still be alive.”

(You’re the guy who does the right thing.)

“So what happened, exactly?”

“Come again?” I asked, after another prolonged pause.

“What happened with all that?”

(The right thing.)

“That’s a long story, kid, and it’s late.”

“I got time,” Skylar replied, holding up the bottle of wine. A yellow banner stretched around its equator, rubber-stamped with a black bird against the tinted glass. The booze inside could be heard sloshing against the sides, but impressively camouflaged itself in bottled-necked darkness. “And alcohol.”

I lit another cigarette between my lips.

“It’s your funeral, kid.”


Leonard the Liar by Nicholas Gagnier is scheduled for release on Tuesday, July 24th and will be available on Amazon.com