Creative Nonfiction | Issue 1 (April 2023)


Irene Gentle

He drives away again, always again. Me at the window, waving. Good girls wave at windows to show love. Words streak like tears, like ache, like why. Why does he go?

Work, she says. To buy you shoes, she says, and complains he doesn’t give her enough to pay for them. Soon she’ll fade into a grief that doesn’t include us, a private grief for a family before ours in a land far away as a fairy tale.  Not again. I will not wave in windows. I will drive away. I will do the leaving. 

 But being left happens anyway. I hate gardens because flowers die, I hate winter because it makes you feel dead. I hate the word I; you is more comforting. You is a cool, distant mountain, I is a lava spill cooling itself with gin and after gin, trying to drown in moonlight. Police will come. They’ll note the gin. They won’t consider the moon a suspect. That’s the kind of police we’re left with. I’ll send them away because you can’t investigate a live body. But that’s tomorrow.

Today dementia exhales memories like dandelion fluff of the one who drove away because, fucking work.  Even memories ghost you given time. I drink the poison I traveled miles to leave behind. It all comes for you anyway. It waits inside yourself. 

Some learn this early and don’t leave at all, others take it to an extreme. Of the three of us, my sister brother and me, I traveled miles, another stayed put, the third died, though not right away. You know how it goes, you learn your alphabet as a kid, A B C, string them into words, then sentences, deck your body and home with them, there is a literal wall of books here, life is a trail of words snaking here and there, I climb into words and drive off in them. Then they stop. 

Words die in a spectacular crash in the hospital room where my brother lies with a trach jammed in his throat. There are no words in a trach. Even his texts melt into simple emojis. A thumbs up, hearts, once a heart inadvertently unhearted and how that guts me the second before I understand he’s in his hospital bed scrolling as best he can with his pounding head and swelling, jabbing the wrong thing. 

Then the emojis go too, there’s nothing but the rasp of oxygen slipping the bonds of his blood as his body strains for breath, then stops. 

When we were kids, you asked in the high piping voice of a child for ice cream. They thought it was me who spoke, so I got it. I said nothing, neither did you. It was worse for you to sound like a girl than lose ice cream. I knew that and said nothing, this is how children are, pathetic, I’d give you ice cream now if I could, but of course it’s too late to bargain. 

Also, my sister had chicken pox once and I was jealous of her illness, I said the spots weren’t real. She still hasn’t forgiven it. That’s what words do, create situations where you steal ice cream and deny illness but disease has the last laugh. If there’s anything you feel bad about doing to me as a kid, you can forget it, I should say but it’s too late for him and if my sister says nah, there’s nothing would that make me feel better, or worse?

The Japanese had a tradition of death poems once, a haiku for the last moments of earth. All that blood and bone summed up in 5-7-5, and I wonder if the authors regret those words, if they think I should have gone EPIC. Or just shut up. 

If you did something you feel bad about to me, don’t worry, I’ve forgotten it, and it wouldn’t matter anyway I just wish I hadn’t taken that ice cream, or at least said can he have some too. Then I might stop trying to be murdered by moon. I might like gardens, or the word I as much as You

Words are such killers. I liked sanctuary as a kid, redemption too. I like absolution now. I don’t even need a haiku. A single word will do.

Irene Gentle is a journalist, editor, writer and aspiring drummer in Toronto, Canada, with words in the Eunoia Review, Litro Magazine and JAKE. A former editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star, she’s currently a VP in a Canadian media company.