The first time it's a mess. Halfway through, I get some towels from the linen closet in the hall and sop up the mess before it slides all the way across the bathroom's tiles and into the carpet lining the hallway. The towels are washed by the time my parents get home.

I wear longsleeves for a year, long after the scabs have had time to transform into scars and, inevitably, fade into memories.


He asks me again tonight. We watch a movie on pay per view for a good hour and forty-seven minutes then have a few glasses of wine and talk about the story.

"Way too predictable," I say between sips.

"You're telling me that you predicted that twist?"

"Please, that guy totally had it coming."

"Disagree." He raises his glass halfway to his mouth, then lowers it slowly without taking a sip. The tv is still rolling the credits; names slide up from down without ever registering.

"You never see it coming," I say, a little smug but not wanting to start any kind of serious argument.

After a few minutes of sipping from our glasses in silence, he leans over and kisses me forcefully, the taste of fermented grapes settling into the crevices of our lips. It's a little unexpected, but I accept. Before long, I'm pushing back just as hard, a familiar warmth spreading through my abdomen and down into my pelvis. I can feel my face turning red but not from embarrassment.

We go upstairs and spend a number of elated minutes expanding on our bodies; fingers lead to toes spread and eyes squeezed shut in rapture.

By the time we finish what he calls "the main event," there's a generous amount of sweat gathered in our various crevices: armpits, backs of knees, that often-ignored realm between thighs and crotch.

We separate, only to let the sweat dry and cool ourselves off. Neither of us smoke, but I feel like this would be the moment to, that final period on a particularly satisfying sentence. A quick smile crosses my lips at the thought.

"What?" he asks, more curious than anything, judging from his tone of voice.


There's a pause. His eyes are open; there seems to be something fascinating happening just beyond the whirl of the ceiling fan. After a few seconds, he turns to me:

"Are you still taking those pills?"

Here we go.


When I'm three and a half, my dog dies. At least, I think it dies. In reality, I can only remember the idea of something being there one day and gone the next; it doesn't register as death. What I do remember is that my mother whispers something about "the child's first experience with life" to my father. I don't cry, but we bury the tiny wooden case in the backyard anyhow and something is murmured about dust to dust.

My father says that it doesn't make sense to have a tombstone, but my mother insists. Years later, we have to pull the fake-stone tablet out in order to install that extension of our deck that we've always talked about but never got around to until now.

The day of what is called the funeral, I stare at the ground where its buried. My parents are inside cooking dinner. They always cook dinner together on the weekends.

The dirt is upturned and uneven, so I pack it down with my rubber boots, the kind with the inside that rips apart your ankles if you don't wear socks. I stamp up and down for a few minutes, making sure it's solid.

Later that week, my parents take me to Calgary, a steady two hour journey. We go to Calaway and all three of us ride in the cups that spin when you turn the big wheel in the middle. I try as hard as I can to get the cup to spin, but neither my mom or dad help me; they look at me with sad smiles, hands clasped in their respective laps.

They buy a new dog when I leave for college and name it after me. They tell me that it'll be like I never left. I tell them this is creepy.


I didn't try again until I was well into college. This time it's a lot more calculated, a lot more thought-out. My friend Asma had gotten ahold of a prescription of T3s for what she describes to me—and the doctor who prescribed them—as "menstrual upsets." We laugh at this and I wonder if her doctor is a woman. She gives me half the bottle and tells me to take a few before English, if only to make it bearable.

On Mondays, we split the week's prescription into two. How she keeps getting this thing renewed is beyond me, but I'm not stupid enough to ask. My share of the little orange bottle is more generous than normal. I make a mental note of this and do some research.

It's a Friday, that much I remember. I'm already high from a party down the hall in a friend's dorm; everything moves in frame skips, like a poorly edited movie. My hand journeys jerkily to the top drawer of my dresser. I pull it open and grab the bottle from underneath a pair of manly underwear and try to remember if I'm dating anyone at the moment and whether or not they might have left their underwear here but no, those belong to me and I'm fine with that.

I lay down on my bed and pretend to read. A friend told me once that anyone named Margaret in this country should be either ignored or killed. I laughed it off and we dated for a while before I realized that he wasn't kidding. His body had rammed my own with so much conviction, it was hard to believe that he could lie about anything. When we broke up, I told him that he sucked in bed, those exact words. The look on his face, like a crumpled paper bag.

I wonder about what he's doing now. Sleeping, most likely. The clock on the ground beside my bed reads two in the morning. Maybe jerking off to some mouldy porn.

The bottle rattles softly as I shift my weight on the bed. Oh right, the bottle. I push down and twist, just like it says. I start to read the label. Asma's name pops out as a familiar presence, as well as Shopper's Drug Mart and Take two (2) tablets daily as needed. I needed, or at least I need. What doesn't register is Tylex 3 or 30mg, as well as large block of medical-looking text.

I start to drink them, one by one. When every last little white circle has slipped down my throat, I realize that I haven't finished my book. It's lying face-down next to me, half-read. I wonder how the story will end as my breathing starts to quicken. Will she ever get her love to notice her? Will it be a happy ending? Now I'm gasping for air. Will the jealous ex-girlfriend find out? Will they get in an epic fight at the end? I think of the word wane as my lungs start to squeeze inwards like clenching fists. The last thing I remember is a striking fear that I'll never know what happens to my poor protagonist.

It's stupid that you can wake up from something like that.

My roommate jumps on my bed in the morning as a joke, something she's likely to do at any given moment. She shakes me once, then twice, and asks me if I'm okay. I tell her I'm still a little hungover. She tells me it's six in the evening. I tell her that I'm still a lot hungover and spend the next week vomiting up every last drop of fluid I have in my body. I'm told that I should eat something.


"Yup," I say curtly, turning away from him.

He doesn't look happy, but this conversation has been had so many times, I don't know what he could have been expecting.


"Why what?"

"Gimme a break." I stare him down. He sighs. "Why do you keep taking them?"


"Because what?"

I sigh and turn away from him. My body is dry and beginning to get cold, so I pull the comforter over me.


"Look, do we have to have to do this right now?"

"Well, it's just so unfair."

I consider asking him who exactly this is unfair to, even though I know the answer he'll give. He'll say that I'm cheating myself somehow; he's good at twisting these kinds of things into guilt-trips.

Behind my mirror, on one of those unstable little shelves, there's a crinkly packet pocked with tablets. Every day, as marked by the tiny letters above each chemical drop, I have to pop one out and eat it. This keeps me empty, a neat, shallow bowl.

He tells me that I'm being selfish, that I should think about someone else for a change—he never says this outright—but I can't bring myself to stop. He tells me it's an addiction and that life was meant to happen. I tell him that if life is meant to happen, why can't it leave me alone and happen somewhere else. He doesn't think this is funny so after a while I stop saying it.


The building is a lot less inviting than I was led to believe. It's red-brick and foreboding, unassuming but somehow still imposing. I feel small.

It's cold out; apparently it snows in Calgary too. I've already driven this far though, so there's no turning back. I tell myself this, if only to convince myself that the decision is no longer in my hands. I should have worn thicker gloves.

After standing in the parking lot, staring at the sign for a good twenty minutes, my legs begin to move forward, one in front of the other. I tell myself this is walking. By the time I reach the front door, I'm fully convinced that what is happening is going to happen, whether I choose to or not.

A man shoots out from behind a parked car behind me and asks:

"Where are you going?"

I turn to face him and see a sign in his hand. There is writing on the sign, letters combined to make words that mean something to someone, somewhere. Not me; they can't.

"Inside," is all I say.

"Why?" The childishness of this strikes me as odd for someone with so serious a sign in his hands.

I don't have the vocabulary to answer his question.

"You're a murderer."

"Not really." I'm amazed at my own courage. This man, in his heavy winter coat with his heavy winter beard and heavy winter look, he feels heavy, as if he were carrying something weighty with every intent of passing it on. My parents would shake this man's hand and ask him home for supper. I would have to watch food get stuck in his beard as he told us about his latest adventure in the name of morality.

"Yeah, really." His eyes are slits.

"Fuck you." I open the door and walk in confidently, inspired by my own courage.

When I reach the receptionist's desk, I see that there are condoms in a little bowl, laid out like candy in loud plastic. The receptionist sears me with what I interpret to be a practised look of outright accusation, so I take one. It's orange and has tiny lettering on the wrapper that reads "ribbed for her pleasure."

As I fill out the application, I stumble on the line that asks for age. It seems so condemning, so unnecessarily reprehensive. In an act of defiance, I write "ever since I was thirteen" and take up more space than I should have. I think about that for a second and scratch it out. Next to it I write a clean "20." It seems pointless to lie at this point.


It isn't as if I do it out of anger, or even out of melancholy. It feels as if it's the right thing to do, as if I finally realize that you can just open up a book to the last page and read the ending without the in between part getting in the way. What I don't predict is the pain.

I pick my dad's razor, a three-bladed thing; in those days, three blades was pretty impressive. As I pick a vein, I think about how he can drag this contraption across his face every day, slicing away pieces of skin and hair, then just casually toss this offal away under running water.

As I picture tiny heads of each hair being flushed away forever, the water running from the tap in my parents' pastel bathroom finally starts to get hot. I read somewhere that a hot razor cuts easier than a cold one; this makes sense to me. I even run my forearm under the water for as long as I can.

Finally, when both materials are hot enough, the procedure can begin. The problem is that, as the metal slides through the first few layers of skin, I know that I won't be able to go through with it. It's hot enough to singe me, to cauterize the opening before I can leak out enough to stop thinking about it.

Still, I feel like I've gone too far to turn back. I push as hard as I can for as long as I can, but pretty soon it gets to be too much.

As I hold the towels against my wrist, I notice the mess I've made. The counter is spattered with little drops of that specific brand of crimson in-between dark purple and red. The grout on the floor is starting to soak it up.

Cleaning is ritualistic, purposeful. I use a lot of bleach to get the towels white again.


The next day, he's still upset. It usually lasts a few days, these excursions in malaise. Once, he even went so far to threaten to leave, to move to the states and take that job they offered him ten years ago. We fight, although my heart's never really in it. I feel that I need to yell just to keep up with him, that if I didn't yell I'd just be a shell with no yolk.

There's never any real conclusion to these arguments, only a semblance of a truce, usually suggested by the first person to get too tired to fight; generally this is me. I buy him pizza, or beer, or both. We go to an action movie and I let him believe that he's taking me.

This time I have to try even harder to get him back; the gap between us is starting to expand.

I buy him a guitar.

"Are you serious?" His eye twitches and I know he's fighting back a smile.

"It's all yours."

It's a garish thing, one of those big round guys with the flashy bits of metal here and there. The long wooden arm coming out of the bulky part has pearly birds on it instead of the standard dots. I wonder, as I did in the pawn shop, whether or not he'll appreciate this.

He plugs it into the tiny amp that came with it and plays a few trembling chords. Shaking his head cryptically, he says, "Out of tune." I don't know whether to feel guilty about this, so I leave him to it and start on supper.

When the food is nearly ready, he slides up behind me and wraps his arms around my stomach and under my shirt. A small part of me stiffens as he brushes my bellybutton with his hand, then nudges a finger into the opening.

"What?" is all I can say. He wiggles his finger around inside my navel. I can feel him probing my innards for something living.

"That's where you were born."

"No it isn't."

"It was a lifeline."

I pull away from him violently, knocking over a salt-shaker in the process.

"I just don't get it," he says calmly, as if the subject were somehow separate from my body standing in this kitchen on this day. In the corner of my eye, I convince myself that I can see his finger twirling in a tiny circle.

"Well, you better start getting it."

"Is it me?"

"For fuck's sake, just drop it, okay?"


When I'm twelve, I'm told about God. I've always known about gods, the ones that control when it's dinnertime and bedtime, but it's made painstakingly clear to me at twelve that there is now only one God. I'm fine with this: if anything, it's simpler.

Fairly soon after narrowing my gods down to one, though, they tell me that this God isn't nearly as lenient as the others. They tell me about dirty people, dirty things, dirty deeds, dirty places. They tell me about myself in a way that I've never thought before. There's something important that can happen in me, namely because I'm a girl; the ultimate goal, though, is to not have to deal with the part that comes in between talking about babies and actually letting them come sliding out of you.

Then they hit me with the bombshell. Not only is this in-between act illegal, it's even illegal to pretend that you're doing it. They show me pictures of little girls in wheelchairs, half their faces melted away, and tell me that these girls got caught with their hands down their pants. When I ask who caught them, the only answer is God. The problem is that, according to the information that I've been provided with, God is always watching; there's no sneaking a quickie past this guy.

At last, when the warnings are all laid out, they tell me the good part: God gives you stuff if you pray to him. I ask my parents if God would give me a new bike if I prayed, since they refused to buy me one last Christmas. They tell me no, God only gives you things you need. I have to think about this for a while before deciding what to do.

The night I notice my first wart, I flatten my palms against each other and line up my fingers, just like they showed me; my window is open for better reception. Clearing my head of all thoughts except those of the one and only God, I start to think in as linear a way as I can, keeping my sentences well-formulated and grammatical.

God, I need your help. I don't just want it. I need it. Please help me. I'm afraid that my hands might fall off. I'm afraid that my hair will turn white. I'm afraid of Hell. I'm afraid of warts most of all. Judy says that warts turn girls like me into frogs. I don't want to be a frog. I know you love me and that you want me to be safe and happy. Can you please stop my hands from turning into warts? If my hands turn into warts, it'll be hard to pray, and I know you wouldn't like that. Thank you.

Every time I wake up with my hands halfway down my pyjama bottoms, I make a note of it and, when it comes time for my morning shower, I turn the water up all the way hot and count to a hundred. I figure that God is busy and I might as well do as much as I can while I wait for an answer.


The doctor is a man, surprisingly. I wonder how much pleasure he gets in his work, whether or not he looks forward to walking in every day, hanging up his coat, grabbing a cup of jo, then settling down to procedurize all the women who walk in the door after him. He's all smiles.

"So, what are we looking at today?" The tone of his voice is plastic, bright but without substance.

"Well, I'm pregnant."

"I thought as much." He's still smiling, but I notice that his eyes aren't in it. "Anything else?"

"Is there ever anything else?"

"Have you noticed any abnormal bleeding?"

"I've been noticing a severe lack of bleeding. That's why I'm here."

"That's clever." It doesn't feel clever. "Fill this out, please." He hands me another form to fill out, essentially the same information as before. I check the appropriate boxes.

He listens to my stomach with a cold metal instrument, then takes some kind of picture that can see through me, or so he says. I ask him if it'll hurt the baby. He answers, maybe a little too quickly, that it shouldn't.

Once the tests are over and he's swabbed a decent amount of juice from my crotch, we sit down in an office with framed diplomas on the wall and thick books on the shelves behind the desk.

"I'm afraid that there's only one way to do this," he says. We have yet to utter the word. "We're going to have to do an emvah."


"Your baby is too far along to flush it out with drugs alone."

"It's not my baby."


"It's just a baby, okay? It's not my baby."

He stares into me, his eyes narrowing briefly before expanding back into their faux-comfort selves. I notice that he has a picture of his family on his desk: a wife and three kids. That's got to be against the rules, to have a picture like that just lying around.

"Right. Well, the emvah will be scheduled for this afternoon."

"What's an emvah?" He's distracted; I'm getting the upper hand.

"M.V.A. It's a form of suction—"

"You're going to shove a vacuum up my vagina."

"It's hardly as crude as that."

"But that's basically it."



He leaves for a while. He says he's going to stay with his mom for a month since he hasn't been to see her in so long. I use the time to catch up on chores around the house.

There's something calming in sweeping the cracked cement floor, something oddly revealing, as if whatever was hiding underneath could finally breathe. I find three spiders but decide to leave them alone. Eventually they'll die on their own, victims of malnourishment.

Once the general dusting is done, I move on to more specific tasks. There's an old chair in the corner of the room that I've been meaning to repair for ages. The wood is starting to crack and the paint is almost completely stripped, but there's still something useable in it.

Over the next few weeks, the chair project starts to take me over. I buy a big packet of assorted sandpapers and set to work on getting all the paint off before I get to the actual wood. Before long, the floor in the corner that I've been working in has shed enough dust to warrant footprints, little five-toed disturbances.

The next step is to fix the structural problems; the supporting beam on the left side, between the front and back legs, has come loose and will even fall out if you pull hard enough. I buy a bottle of wood glue and tenderly squish the two joints together, holding it there until I can believe that it's dry enough to stay together without my help.


A year before finding the chair, as I finally leave my dingy downtown apartment behind and move into this shared household, my mother recommends that I get a dog; it'll keep me company. I tell her that I don't need a dog to keep me company, what with my newly-acquired husband. She looks down at her hands and says that I might still want a dog, then goes back to whatever menial task had been commanding her attention.

"What was the name of our other dog again?"

"What, you forgot your own name?" she answers without looking up.

"No, the one before that."

"Don't be silly, we've only had one dog, dear."

"What about the one we buried in the backyard when I was little?"

My mother stops suddenly and, for the first time in my life, she starts to cry softly. Her back is to me but she must have heard me move towards her because she pulls away when I get near.

"What is it?"

She doesn't answer; her breathing is ragged. I can tell that she's trying to control those inescapable spasms that try to creep up your throat and out your eyes and nose. One or two manage to break free and her back jerks. She turns to face me. Her eyes are marked by bolts of red.

"That wasn't a dog."

"Then what was it?"

No answer. I can feel my heartbeat pounding in my temples, getting faster as each second passes us by. Finally, she takes a breath and says:

"It was your baby sister."


"She didn't make it."

"Make it where?"

She goes back to dusting the ceramic figurine of a ballerina.

"Make it where?"


I end up getting even more warts. One on my thumb, then another on each of my palms. The night that I notice the fifth wart, I cry until I fall asleep.

Praying every night for two weeks straight does nothing, so I resort to drastic measures. One Saturday, when my parents are outside gardening and cutting the grass, I pull out the sharpest-looking knife from our kitchen's knife block and sneak up to my room. Shielded by my heavy comforter, I go to work.

There's blood, but not enough to make me stop. I try slicing them off at first, but the blade just slides right off as if they're slick with some kind of grease. Eventually, I have to resort to prying them out, the point of the knife carving a slow circle around each one, skin falling limply onto the sheets.

When the warts come back, I stop praying entirely. Besides, when I press my hands together too tightly, they start to bleed.


Finally, the chair needs to be stained. I pick rosewood, as recommended by the slippery teenager behind the counter at Home Hardware.

The process takes a while. I have to wait for each coat to dry before I can apply the next one. When little globules form in the corners of the joints, I take out my skinny brush and gently swipe them away; the point is to get it as seamless, as whole as possible.

At one point, somewhere in-between the first and last coat, I decide to kill the spiders. It felt torturous to let them starve.


I wake up and the world seems foggy, like the mirror in my parents' bathroom after a particularly satisfying shower. I smile and look around dumbly.

The nurse is standing beside me with my clothes, folded neatly in a tiny pile. I don't remember folding them. She smiles back at me and holds them forward like an offering.

"Thanks," I say, reaching out to take them. My hands feel heavy, but I manage.

"How're you feeling?" she asks.

"Really good, actually."

"You took the IV well. A lot of the girls get pretty bad cramps."

"No, I feel great." I think quickly about whether or not I'm still a "girl," but the thought refuses to linger in my head.

The little suction and hose are hanging on a metal pole in the corner. See ya.


It's been a month and a half. He hasn't called, nor does his mother let him talk to me. There's something bitter in her voice, something accusing. I only wanted to say goodbye, anyhow. A part of me is glad he's gone. In the end, he would have only been a distraction.

The chair rocks a little as I climb up. It's me that's rickety though. I've made sure that this tiny construction, this simple attempt at support, is as sturdy as possible: I'd really hate to have to think of another way to do this.

The knot was easier to get. The internet has a number of sites detailing how to tie all kinds of knots, even the ones that work better than those gaudy, medieval teardrops with all the extra string wrapped around the top. Too medieval for me.

A warmth springs inside me and flows slowly outwards, tingling my fingertips, pushing past the scars on my palms and the empty space in my stomach; it fills the room. Before my vision fades to an inky black, I see the rosewood chair on its side, kicked into the middle of the basement floor. I should pick it up.