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For Claire

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

(Published in the 2011 Archie Courtnall book ‘Fuse’ as well

as the 2011 University of Victoria book ’The Story Within')

I don’t know where he came from,

but the hour hand quivered.

Strands of smoke crept out from his lips.

If I had breathed, I could have had him,

a second hand kiss, maybe

but I held my breath.


“Claire,” she tells me. “I’m Claire Page.

Claire as in clairvoyant, you get it?”

She glides the thin fibre between her fingertips

raising the sticky yellow edge up to her tongue.

I escort her off the ward and into the parking lot. I try to smile.

“Your name is Alice,” I say. “You like beer and Gaga and boys and stuff.”

The billows of smoke break out from her mouth.

We return to the unit and sit on a couch,

stiff leather beneath our weak bodies.

Her dirty blond hair swept into unkempt braids.

My dusty brown strands twisted into a bun.

Alice had tried to sneak a cigarette

so they took away her clothing rights.

Red sweaters and blue jeans to a papery thin housecoat.

This is the system. I pick at my lips.

She’s trapped in the yellow pajamas. “Because,“

I sing in a whisper,

“they said her mind flew away.”


I don’t know where he came from,

but a peanut fell on the floor

A clamour of voices and old country music flooded the acoustics

If I had breathed I could have had him

As he lead me down the alleyway

the warm scent of urine and hash kindled the air.


Neon lights and plexiglas

The hour hand was on the twelve.

Pink pastel paint chipping off the walls.

"Barbara," another woman said.

She was blonde, overweight, in her 50s perhaps

and one of her breasts hung out of her yellow pajamas.

She stood near the clock.

“Barbara,” she squawked, her eyes focused on me.

Alice never raised her head

“I can see the signs,” Alice muttered under her breath.

Her loosely woven hair was adorned with stems of wilted flowers

My hair was tied tight against my scalp

“Barbara” The woman kept squawking.

“I don’t know Barbara,” I replied.


I don’t know where he came from but he smelt like charred tobacco,

musky sweat and faded cologne.

Blankets pulled up against my breasts

The hairs along my neck were trembling.


“What was his name?” Alice asks.

We sit on the ward at a large round table

and draw pictures with shards of broken crayons

I thumb a cigarette in my bag.

“His name was Kurt.”

She nods slowly, eying me

A pair of black rimmed 3D glasses hunched on her nose

“12:34pm” she looks at the clock

“It doesn’t work,” I reach over

I take her yellow crayon.


“Four of a kind,” He grinned,

He fanned the cards in his hand.

“One, two, three, four.”

His skin rolled over his abdomen.

Laying my cards face down on the bed

I removed one knee high sock

A pleated skirt still clinging to my hips.

“I fold,” I said.


“Barbara,” the woman near the clock squawked again.

“I don’t know Barbara,” I repeated.

“Yes you do,” She smiled. Her teeth had gum-lined gaps.

“I couldn’t have had him,” I stammer.

I looked back at Alice “What were the signs?”


He stared down the scars along my arms

Gazing at the vials on the bedside table

I hesitated. “I.., I suffer from a mental illness.”

And the room fell silent.


I look into the reflection of her 3D glasses,

“It was the numbers,” she said. “One, two, three, four.”

I hide the cigarette in my fist as I lean in to give her a hug,

“It’s okay” I nuzzle my jaw into her shoulder.

She smells like antibacterial soap.

I give her a squeeze and let the cigarette drop

into the pocket of her yellow pyjamas.

“Visiting hours are over now” the nurse says quietly.

“Barbara,” the woman near the clock squawks again.

“Barbara, when are you coming home?”

She smiles, her kernel teeth gleam blue in the neon light.


“I couldn’t have had him” I choke,

“His hand was on the knob.

I was scared” I turn to tell her

but goodnight is all she whispers,

her slim fingers clutching to the cigarette in her pocket.

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