Bring the Browns Back Home

The first time I ever taught a creative writing class, I was sweaty. I’m not talking clammy kind of “cute female” precipitation. I’m talking showered in a sauna of a wet sock smell. I was drenched in a scent so specific I can only title it raw ape. The first time I ever taught a creative writing class, I put on my best pair of shoes, my mother’s. These five inch thick leather extravaganzas were the clunkiest kind of fabulous. Cheap Italian soles. Smooth buckles.

I walked into the room full of high school students, scented with Eau de Raw Ape laced up with cosmetic, clunky confidence on my feet. As a writer, I think ink dynamite. I was ready to teach these young writers, what it meant to battle for glory with language. As an ape clunk, I think fight or flight and these kids saw through me.

I placed my #1 Teacher mug on the table. The mug that was a Christmas gift from my Mom. The mug I asked her to buy for me. And gave her money for. These kids knew. I wrote down my name, Mrs. Conbonsky, on the board. The fourteen year old super-jock, that probably avoids potatoes, pasta and bread during the day and binge eats kale at night, screamed, “Does that say Mrs. Condomsky? I don’t have my glasses.”

I turned as red as his beet salad. I’m a nervous B inverter. I had to own it now: this was war.

“I am Mrs. Condom-sky.”

The class giggled.This is the sign that I have failed as a creative writing teacher, failed as a human, and should probably set my mom’s shoes on fire, making the clunky fashion statement scatter into ash across the classroom.

I took a sip from my self-bought Christmas present. Better than the loving embrace of shoes and a self-bought mug.

“Alright class, we are going to do a lesson on how to build the home of your story.”

I began to gibber on auto-pilot repeating the lines in front of this class, which I practiced over and over last night. This class, which was resembling more and more like the cast of Peanuts, seemed to be increasingly disinterested.

The PowerPoint experienced a glitch that lasted 15 heartbeats.

The Peanuts Cast looked disengaged. I started to flap my arms around like an ostrich, trying to seem passionate about my lesson. The torture PowerPoint ended and I realized I still had an hour left of class. I zipped through 50 slides in 20 minutes.

“Any questions?”

“What’s our assignment?” asked a little brown-haired boy in the back.

“I’m glad you asked,” Charlie Brown, “It’s right here.”

In a victorious lift, I placed the stack of worksheets on my desk. A victory sneeze followed. Ka-Pow! My ostrich flappers moved without my consent after my sneeze. I knocked down my hot mocha all the way down the assignments, onto my desk, down to the floor. The mug shattered.

I watched the blitz: each drop of the chocolate coffee reach rock bottom in rapid succession. The class yodelled with glee. I’m sure they were screaming “Womp-Womp! Mrs. Condom-Sky!”

Drenched, in the sticky mess of victory, the students chuckled and I somberly slammed my face into the pile.

I stayed there for 20 heartbeats. I took the stack and threw pages across the room. I wondered if my mother would reimburse me for the five buck token of “her” affection.

“Class dismissed.”

The Cast of Peanuts scrambled, whispering nervously.

A little blonde hair girl in a pink dress stayed behind. She picked up one of the stained worksheets. “I found the class interesting, even if it was short.”

In building a safe haven, you have to go through war to earn respect.

“That means a lot, Sally Brown.”

“What did you just call me?”

Shatter and Build

I began my daily attempt at exorcising my anxiety:

I don’t have hobbies aside from writing in this Moleskin.

My fingers clung onto the torn leather. I sit on couches in Cafe Trois Lunes everyday. I roast my anguish by the idiot fire. Cafe Trois Lunes, located in a crack in the wall in between the dirtiest parts this city, has a gleaming light peaking through its windows. Among the alleys of graffiti and kids getting high, it stands tall. It stands paint-peeling, signs broken, rugs stolen, sticky wall- beautiful. The couch I sat on, had my imprint and a sharpie smiley face. I don’t have much, but at least I have this couch, this smiley face and this journal. I took a sip of my Tuesday drink, Vanilla-steamed milk.

I prefer a blank page that is always open and home that closes at 5pm on Sundays to what I what I had before.

I pursed my lips. I wondered if any men or ladies were trying to catch my eye. Jordan, the weekly MC of the Open Mic at Cafe Trois Lunes, assembled the microphone and speakers. When the poetry is too diary entry, I’ll stand outside and light a cigarette and scratch the skin under my turtleneck and he’ll try to hit on me.

Today, I was out of cigarettes. I focused on my journal ignoring the first poet, whose poetry was literary device debris. I stopped writing when the second poet came onto the stage.

“I’m Kyle.”

He had forest eyes and a smile that could slice. He recited a piece poking fun at teenage literature. I snapped and laughed.

Kyle sat down next to some girls that looked like Febreeze commercial models. I hated their boring cashmere button ups and perfectly combed hair. They eat oatmeal for breakfast with their mothers. They think water is interesting.

I belong to a dysfunctional family and all I have is this cafe, writing and vanilla milk but I’m superior to those cashmere sweater, velvet headband girls who think boarding gaming with a Palm Bay in hand at the community centre is an exciting night out.

I looked back at Kyle. I glanced down to my Moleskine. I’m sure those girls would drop their jaws at my stunning work. After months of writing in my journal here, maybe it was time to go on stage. The idea never pleased me, but not much does. I gestured at Jordan.

My red pumps moved me like a cheetah to the stage. I stayed to wink at Kyle. I placed the pen behind my ear and cleared my throat.

Then, twenty heartbeats of staring blankly into the audience. I was malleable. I began to speak, but god knows if it was English. I rushed through, stuttered, and fought back nervous tears.

“Home that closes at 5pm on Sundays..”

 I recalled my mother. I recalled how easy it was to lie to myself that this café is all I need. I found it difficult to focus on the ink on my page. The lights grew brighter. I recalled that underneath my lipstick and smirk was fear, six times bigger than my body. I gasped. I stared into the audience.

I fumbled back to my seat. One clap, two claps, three claps- silence. I drank the tiny drop of Vanilla steamed milk left. I did not look up until I heard the voice.

“Hey, that was really cool of you.”

If honey could talk, that would be noise of this voice.

“I’m an awful writer. I bombed.”

“Keep writing, some day you’ll build something beautiful.”

My façade stuck back onto me. I said he should kiss me. He blushed. He sliced me a smile. He said he was gay. He walked back to the velvet headband cashmere girls.

I decided to shatter myself again next Tuesday. This time, for myself.



The first thing I noticed was the smell: it was egg. No, not quite egg. Rather it was more of a Styrofoam kind of egg sandwich, clinical and tasteless. I unstuck my eyes and creaked out of the hospital bed, while pausing to stare at the white walls that were bleached with my imagination. I chewed on the processed breakfast, coughing, dryly salivating, and hating it. I took another bite. My mother made her famous omelette that night, It tastes just like fireworks we’d always say, but instead I was eating neutral egg.

My foreign finger tips untied the back of my patient gown and I placed a pair of washed out jeans onto my body, wondering why I would have ever chose to wear such taut and hard-edged denim. I exhaled.

My awkward and small hands felt their way to my cellphone, Are you OK? Call me I’m worried! Haven’t seen you since that night! Come to the bonfire! from Sarah, Connor, Becks, Kieran. These were names that felt alive but distant in the way I felt familiarity after looking at myself in the mirror after two weeks in the wilderness. These were friends, friends, I exhaled the word off of my alien tongue. My friends were loving, kind and worried about me.

I peeled off the sticker off my body, Claire Woodson, PHN: 9868981717, BE:UWAI 02, and knew the day I was hoping for was finally here: the release back into the warm footprints of my life.

The second thing I noticed was the taste of a good memory: ruined by consequence. Mike’s Hard Lemonade, the poison of choice tonight at the Happy Band-Aid Bonfire in light of my release, was again an ominous reflection of the past. As people tripped on their drunk feet around the fire, I moved deeper into a bush tasting Its lemony vodka flavour which sparked a distinct bitter-sweetness, not just in taste but in recollection. I recalled and drank, my thoughts grew vague and sticky. The taste bolted me back to that night, the dreamy way it made it so easy to talk to Connor, how easy it was to linger on his lips, to let me fingers cascade on his face, to smile, to get in the car, to drive, to wake up and smell egg.

I breathed, charcoal and vomit filled my nostrils.

The third thing I noticed was the noise: a sound I would have associated in my memory to friendship- but instead its context was unrecognizable.

It was Connor, my boyfriend, who I love. Love was real, even when he yodels in my ear:

“Claire! Check out Lisa’s Instagram, isn’t she just such a slut? I bet she doesn’t even put out like you.”

“Claire! You look really good, and by that I don’t mean lumpy at all. Lots of puddings in the hospital right?”

“Claire! Can you be quiet for a second, I need you to listen to me. You never listen to me!”

Maybe love was different than my daydream reminiscence, so to stop the noise I tried to notice the fourth thing, the touch. Our lips, slimy and gross, slow and wet, salivating and breathy, mouth gaping… I decided to take my footprints in a different direction.

The fourth thing I noticed was the sight, when I was back home and reaching for my cell-phone from Sarah, Connor, Becks, Kieran messaging me,  Why did you look so disappointed last night?  You know we are only friends with you because of him.

Friends, a word that was alien on my tongue.

The last thing I noticed: the egg. I had a bite of my mom’s omelette for breakfast the next day.

It tasted better than Styrofoam but it was far from fireworks.


“How can I get fewer jeans for more money? I just want to help out the world, you know.”

I read the stocky manager’s name tag, “Craig”.

Twiddling his thumbs and stroking his curly brown chin hairs, his aroma of mushroom scent and sweat perspired around me.

“Well you could get-“

“And it’s that time of the week ladies and gents! You can’t leave this wonderful Target store until you’ve purchased at least 800$ worth of beautiful products!” The voice announced that it’s that special time for festivity where we show off pride to Crimson Island. Families, strollers, acquaintances, more than half of the citizens of the world were in this relatively small Target shop.

I saw young children jump for joy by the toy section and moms high five each other by the dairy products.

“They’d probably make at least 6400$, when everyone chips in the minimum amount of money. But people like you are the super keen ones we er..  love,” Craig made a twitchy movement that almost suggested he wanted to hint at being a wild minx.

“ Look I love Target, and I adore living here. I’m super excited that the 23rd birthday of the world is coming up. Like, I’m not questioning it… I just don’t always understand why we have these days where everyone is supposed to buy 800$ worth of stuff?”

Craig looked like he was convulsing from the inside and seconds away from sputtering froth after I finished asking my question.

I noticed his Crimson Deluxe powered by Target started ringing and he answered it with a meek “Hello?”

“The girl is on to us, you have to keep your cool, Mr. Gonston. …” I listened passively to the voice on the other side.

“Soon she’s going to be asking if there is more to the world than this island, maybe she’ll even figure out she’s part of bio-chemistry experiment  to see how humans can handle living in completely synthetic environment…”

What is synthetic? We haven’t learned such a word in our Crimson Island studies class, since history has only date back from not even two decades…

I couldn’t quite make out the words.

“If we’re… busted….experiment for the colonisation of Mars 2145 in 12 years!”

Craig is white in the face, hands trembling.

What’s Mars? Is that a shop? Perplexed and slightly intrigued I try to approach the frightened manager.

“Fate of humanity realize in our sponsors. The team in the Netherlands are going to be so angry if the most reliable source of funding caves, like what happened in 2025.”

Craig’s heavy weight fell down on the can foods section, in complete shock. I followed him there. I tiptoed quietly, aware there is danger but not entirely sure of the source.

“ We have to distract them so they lose the train of thought. It’s time to cue The Voice.”

The Voice was back on, announcing that everything in the shop was 75% off. Initially, I was excited, and happy. Looking down at the nervous wreck on the ground and the many people gathering around him, I didn’t feel quite as at ease.

Through the crowds the scent of 4.5 Target Vanilla came up to the front of the audience to find me. Alexa Summers.

Blonde. Tall. Slim. I was happy that we had matching green eyes.

Always dressed in the best brands as her father was in the commercial business.

We stood by the almost dying Craig, “ How’s it going Alice?”  she asked.

“Oh no too bad, and yourself?”

We casually glanced over to him, then back at each other continuing the conversation.

“Pretty sweet! My dad’s here looking for 800$ worth of polo shirts,” she looked for him in the men’s uniform section- “Dad come meet my friend!”

Her father walked towards me, a proud suit labeled “Marketing” on the back. “Nice to meet you,” he took out his wrinkled hand.

Suddenly he looked behind me through the can foods aisle, pausing our handshake, to notice that the crowds weren’t engaging in religious consumerism.

He flinched, the twinkle in his eyes disappeared and he grew angry.

I explained the situation to calm him down, it didn’t.

It looked as though he was having recollections, thoughts, occurrences, all in his mind, the blank stare I’m used to seeing was replaced with a look of depth. Indubitably, he must be having an existential thought about how much he could buy for 800$, a revelation I never thought of until today.

But what came out of his mouth surprised me, “I can’t believe you would question the system. You are going to ruin Earth.”

He began shaking, his eyes turned cold.

He cheatingly grabbed my wrist and pushed me into the aisle. I expected Alexa or someone else to come and defend me, but nothing happened.  They all just passively stared at me, smiling, looking at the discounted price of cans, putting them into their shopping carts.

“Abort. Abort” the cell phone’s text voice reader yelled.

The voice on the intercom’s loud and booming tone resonated through the Target, “Receive 200$ and no HST today when purchasing your final items!”

Lingering thoughts of this “Earth” were erased by an instinct I didn’t know I had- I ran.

Mr. Omnidad ran behind me, “I’m going to kill you.  Do you know how long I have worked for this?”

I knew I couldn’t escape the Target store, we were on lock down until we purchased 800$ worth of things and I hadn’t even put anything into my shopping cart.

But I tried anyways; I ran to the exit doors and pulled. They opened.

Mr. Omindad kept running behind me and I closed the door. Panting, sweating.  Happy.

He banged on the windows knowing it was unlocked. I wasn’t scared, I knew he wouldn’t leave until he spent 800$ in Target.

I’ve never seen an advertisement for it; I wondered where I could buy more free-will.Image,