Magical Realism

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The Greats

The Guyana night breeze, fresh from the ocean and rich from the jungle, slips into the exhibit hall through the gaps in the plastic sheeting. It inches around — exploring, discovering new territory, taking up new space.
It winds its way around Gather’s tree-trunk legs, then swirls over her strong belly and shoulders. It breathes a thousand scents into her nostrils. A thousand tastes dance on her tongue.
It whispers in her ears, “Come out!”
Gather smells and tastes and hears.
And wakes up.
Jomon feels a flutter of hope in his chest. There is a way out, after all.
He looks around the cell for an escape route.
There is a place where the bars in the door meet the bars in the wall. A crossbar, a place to tie something. He has no rope, but his school uniform shirt might do, especially if he tears it and twists it so it is like a rope. He could also, maybe, use his trousers, but he doesn’t want to be found in just his underwear.
Jomon takes off his shirt. He bites into the threads that hold the hem together, then rips the shirt right up the back.
Now he has something he can use.
“It won’t be that easy,” says a voice.
Jomon is startled. He looks in the direction of the voice.
It is coming from a boy, about his age, sitting in the cell across the hall from him.

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The man is holding up a tiny, delicate glass bottle. It’s shaped like a bottle but it appears to be liquid fire. It is pulsing like it is a heart, and the heart is flushing with blood that is not blood but white, boiling light with a yellow halo.

The man dips the little vessel into a vat and there’s a hiss and a cloud of smoke and he lifts the glass heart out of the vat and it’s a perfect bottle for a love potion. [166-67]

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Body Swap


“That cellphone will kill you!” a raspy voice warns. It comes from someone standing in front of me on the bus. Someone who smells like dirty socks and stale coffee. A male voice that sounds very definite about phone fatalities.

I ignore him. What’s happening on my little screen is way more important.

Megan is texting me about Chael Caruso, the boy whose name is written in big loops all over the inside cover of my journal, together with mine, of course. Chael loves Hallie. Mrs. Chael Prince-Caruso, Hallie and Chael forever. That one’s in a heart with an arrow through it.

And today, we’re finally going to begin our forever.

A cane knocks hard into my knee. “Ow!” Does the old guy plan to beat me to death with that thing? He coughs a loud fake ahem, ahem.

Seniors’ day at the mall. Why do they have to have it during our Christmas break? The stuffy warm bus heats up all the body odours into a boiled-broccoli-and-wet-dog potpourri. Makes me hot and irritable. I ignore him and lean toward my best friend, Abby, who is sitting on a window seat facing forward.

On the right side of her face, Abby’s hair angles to a pale blue arrow; the left is shaved close, making her look like a techno angel. She alone understands the importance of what’s happening on my phone right now and raises one blond eyebrow in a question mark.

I continue typing.

Did you ask Chael if he likes me? I press send. The answer to that text could potentially cheer me back up. Chael (pronounced Kale, yet nothing like the vegetable) has coffee-coloured eyes and smooth maple skin. A smile that’s as wide as a soccer field. He’s centre forward for our junior team, same position I play on the girls’ team. Our babies could be soccer stars. I sigh.

When I finally lift my eyes from the screen, I see the crepey blue-veined hand that grips the hook of the cane that hit me. Above the knuckles, blue, loopy letters spell Carpe Diem. My eyes raise higher to his face. Watery, grey eyes stare back at me, expecting something. What? With the light from the window, his hair glows a bright silver.

Abby gives me a hard stare, too. “Hallie!” She punches my shoulder.


“Give him your seat!”

I don’t get it. There are thirty other places available; I don’t know why he wants this particular one on the front bench facing the centre aisle. Giving it up will mean I can’t talk to Abby as easily because she’s wedged in beside a lady with a walker. That woman smells like Lily of the Valley; the sweetness of it squeezes at my throat. Dirty socks and lilies, what a combo. Gahh!

“If only I had a car,” I grumble to Abby as I rise from the bench and try to shuffle around the old guy.

“And could drive.” Abby grins, a braces-dazzling grin.

“I drive the truck on Uncle Bill’s farm.”

“And your licence then.”

“My birthday’s in April. Fast as I can get it, we will be out of here.” My phone interrupts with a belch, which is how it signals incoming texts and calls. Megan! I check to see what she’s answered. Her words will be crucial to who the father of my babies will be, and I want seven, just like the Von Trapps in The Sound of Music. Strange maybe, but that’s our family’s favourite Christmas movie.

This could be the best Christmas present ever. A cool boyfriend. Holding hands, kissing at our lockers. Smiling, happy. High school sweethearts, we’ll tell our seven kids later.

I sigh again. The bus lurches forward and I tumble against the man who stabs my foot with his cane this time.

“Ow!” I call out and glare.

“See what I mean …” he says, the tiniest bit of a smile lifting up his thin lips, “about cellphones?”

“It’s your cane that’s a lethal weapon!” I grumble and read the screen as I scootch into the seat behind Abby. “Oh, yay! Yesss! ” Leaning forward, I tell Abby, “Megan says Chael likes me!”

“Told ya!”

“But he called me thunder thighs at indoor soccer the other day.” I shake my head at the message on the tiny screen.

“You’re such a great kicker. He’s probably talking about the power in your thigh muscles ...”

“Nah, I think he means I’m fat.”

“You may have fat but you are not fat,” Abby continues, “just pleasantly round.”

I grab my face with my free hand. It’s shaped like a soccer ball, no cheekbones poking through at all. And I’ve conditioned my hair into gentle curls, but they soften my jawline, make me look pudgy. And I’m short — if my legs were longer, they’d look leaner.

Like Abby’s. I glance over at her skinny-jeaned legs. No thunder happening there. She has great bones anyway, a strong chin and cheekbones. I grip my forehead. “Oh no!”

“What’s wrong?”

Just above my eyebrows, my fingers find one of those hard bumps. I push down on it and it hurts. “A zit!”

“Never mind. We’re here.”

The bus begins to pull into the right lane.

Suddenly, the driver leans on her horn and brakes.

One of those new Hurricane SUVs shoots around the bus. It’s as red and shiny as a polished apple. I smile at it. Such a cool car! “Someday, I’m going to drive one of those,” I tell Abby.

“Me too. We’ll race them.”

I grin and shrug. “Probably need to save till we’re a hundred.”

The bus slows to the stop. I stand up before Lily of the Valley can move her walker, but not fast enough to beat the guy with the cane. He blocks me and takes forever to shuffle forward.

Another belch comes from my cellphone. I look at the screen: Chael and Hardeep are hanging out at the food court. “Oh my gosh. What am I going to do? He’s here too!” I touch the zit on my forehead. It seems to have doubled in size.

“Leave it alone! You’re making it worse.” Abby motions as if to slap my hand down, but the woman with the walker stands between us.

Down the stairs I go behind the guy with silver hair moving ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. I text as my feet go down. What exactly did Chael say about me?

In the middle of the steps, the old dude stops to pull on a red woollen hat, but I don’t notice till I bump into him.

He turns and frowns at me. “You are going to miss out on so much of life if you don’t put that thing away.”

“Sorr-eeee.” If only he would move. Quicker. Come on! I want to push him out of the way. I’m missing out on so much of life ’cause of him! Could have texted a Harry Potter novel by now. I finally press send. I need to catch up with Chael.

Or do I? Do I want him to see me like this? With this pumpkin in the middle of my forehead? Another belch and the old man turns to give me a look.

“It’s not me, it’s my phone,” I tell him and read the latest text.

Chael says you’re funny.

Finally, we’re off the bus. As I stumble forward, I key into my phone: Funny ha ha or funny weird?

Abby follows close behind and bumps against me. “Move it, Hallie, if you want to see Chael before he leaves.”

But maybe I don’t. I’m funny. Is he just messing with me? His eyes do always look at me like they’re laughing.

We climb through the snowbank edging the parking lot, and my sneakers get buried instantly. This will be the first white Christmas we’ve had in a long time, but it’s still fairly warm and I’m in winter-boot denial. I lift my feet out of the sticky white and we continue toward the mall.

Squish, squish, my sneakers slog along. “Can we stop at the drug mart? I wouldn’t mind picking up some concealer for this.” I point to my forehead.

Abby rolls her eyes. “Then we’ll miss them for sure.”

A burp sounds again.

“Look at it later.” Abby keeps going.

But my fingers itch; I can’t help myself, I have to see what Megan has to say. Dropping back, I lift the phone closer to my face.

“Hallie!” Abby calls.

I start to run as I read. Chael’s leaving Doughnut Time. Where are you?

“Hallie! Hallie!” Abby calls.

I run without looking up. We can still make it. We’ll skip the cosmetics department.

Abby’s voice turns strangely high-pitched. “Watch out!”

Whomp! A hard force explodes into me.

Time slows down as I get hurled into the air. My cellphone flies from my hand, and I watch it cartwheel through the air, then crash on the ice and shatter into pieces right next to the red Hurricane that hit me.

Then I slam onto the iced pavement headfirst. A coconut cracks and pain splinters into a million scalding-white lights somewhere behind my eyes.

Hot, hot, my head feels like it’s on fire with white pain. Then cooler, cooler, shivering … I’m cold. I lie still as, bit by bit, my body and mind shake loose of each other.

I hear Abby crying, loud at first. “Hallie, no! Hallie! Someone call 911.” But her voice becomes more and more distant.

I can hear myself breathing. In … out … in. Something warm drips from my head, and it feels like the last drops of syrup letting go from the bottom of a bottle.

I see Abby’s black-and-yellow shoes near my face; behind her legs, the dented red bumper. My breathing slows to a last gasp; it doesn’t seem necessary anymore. Instead, I feel myself lifting, floating, a helium balloon suddenly dancing and free. Below me I see my body sprawled on the snow, a white boxy ER truck, and a woman on a stretcher. Faded yellowy hair and a pale, white wrinkled face with a blue tinge. She was the driver? A hot bitter thought scalds me. She’s too old to be driving. My vision fills with a liquid black.

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