Kathryn Mockler is a writer, screenwriter, and poet. She is the author of four poetry books. Her writing has been published most recently in Entropy, Cosmonauts Avenue, Public Pool, The Butter and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. Check out her IG series #thisisntaconversation
You believe you are ugly. You have been ugly all your life. You wear sunglasses whenever you can so no one sees your face. You were born with a lazy eye and the surgeries opened it but made you disfigured. They made your eye not quite close all the way and peak like a triangle. The kids called you Popeye in public school. Clever actually. By the time your mother found a good doctor, the specialist, there was nothing that could be done.
Ever since you could remember, adults had asked your parents about your eye like you weren’t even there, and kids at school had found new ways each year to let you know just how disgusting they thought you were. So you tried to pass by wearing your hair over your eye. You realized that you would rather have people wonder why your hair was over your eye than actually see your eye. You try to imagine what it would be like to walk around in life and not be ashamed of your face.
You know that feeling when you decide to skip school and meet your boyfriend, your relatively new boyfriend downtown at the mall. It’s March and you’ve been dating since February? And he’s really cute. He’s bad for you, but you won’t realize this for four years. So right now there’s this cute boy waiting for you at the Galleria, and you’re going record shopping.
You get off the 6 Richmond bus and walk down Dundas towards the mall. It’s before 9 am and the sky is blue and the air cool. You can see your breath. You didn’t bring mittens or a scarf. You never wear a hat. Your pea coat is open and the air makes you shiver. All you can think about is having a cigarette, so you go into the variety store and buy a fifteen pack and light one up and look around at the empty streets. Some people are going to work, but most of the stores haven’t opened yet.
Everything feels quiet and settled. You don’t know it right in this moment, but you’re going to skip school for the next two weeks because your mother will go on a bender and you’ll want to get back at her the only way you know how. You will be suspended for another two weeks by the guidance counselor with the shriveled up arm from the polio he contracted as a child. You won’t feel sorry for him, not at all, because he’s mean, and he reminds you of yourself more than you care to admit. But right now this feeling of freedom is addictive. You want it to last the same way you want your cigarette to last.
You make your way to the mall where your boyfriend is waiting for you. He has headphones on and is probably listening to his favourite band, which is now your favourite band. He wears a leather motorcycle jacket and as you walk toward him you can’t believe that someone who looks like him wants to be with someone who looks like you.
Not now, but in a year, he will be one of the three people in your life permitted to see you without makeup and without the hair in your face. He’ll also be the first person you fuck and the first person who hits you and whom you hit back. But not today.
Today you spent an hour getting ready and covering your eyes in black makeup and you straightened your bangs with an iron so that they cover your face in just the right way. And then you put your sunglasses on, and your jeans, and you boarded the 6 Richmond.
Today your favourite bus driver, Big Dave, is driving. Big Dave who cracks jokes and sings and chats up just about everyone—making the ride pleasant for even the most miserable among us.
The Past and the Future
The Past used to be tied to a table in the middle of the square. But The Past’s attendants had to keep cleaning The Past’s clothes because so many of the citizens took to throwing tomatoes, which stained The Past’s finely pressed white shirts.
After much public debate, the town encased The Past in a glass cage in which The Past was able to roam free untethered by chains. And the town never had to fear The Past would escape because the glass was unbreakable and bullet proof—although no one, not even The Past, had bothered to test it.
Once in the glass cage, The Past was stripped of all clothes because the cage was sure to protect The Past from the elements and no one looked upon The Past as a sexual being. In the eyes of society, The Past was no better than a snake or a fox but not as beautiful and existing with much less purpose.
When The Past had to defecate, a black curtain was drawn, but besides that little bit of necessity, all the other activities The Past engaged in were free for public viewing. From a young age, the little children of the town were told to despise The Past. They were told The Past was bad, an entity to be feared and ridiculed.
The attendants were much more content now that they didn’t have to do all that laundry. They enjoyed their job and didn’t dread coming to work anymore. From time to time, they even got into a philosophical debate with The Past about energy and the universe and the state of manufacturing.
The Past contributed to this fate—by sheer laziness and self-importance, by fighting at meetings and not attempting to make the workplace anything other than an extension of The Past’s self-interest, and, worst of all, by turning a blind eye to the corporate structures that enabled The Past’s comfort at the expense of others. It seemed as though The Past had gotten exactly what The Past deserved. Few would disagree.
Given how the society felt about The Past, you can imagine the trouble that struck the town on the day The Past broke through the glass cage and ran naked into the forest. There was a crack in the glass that The Past noticed after eating a cheese sandwich for lunch. The Past waited until everyone went to bed before giving the glass a little tap, and much to The Past’s delight, the whole cage shattered. Not a shard cut The Past’s skin. This was a sign of good things to come.
When the town discovered The Past had escaped, alarms were sounded, and the church bells rang out in despair. Local news and radio outlets warned citizens to be careful moving around the city. There was a danger in the community as grave as an infectious airborne disease.
It was worse, everyone agreed, than if a serial killer were in their midst. Parents kept their children close by and locked windows and doors. The community was told to not to go near The Past: if a citizen should come across the despised fugitive, the police were to be called immediately. —The Past may be dangerous, the newscast said. —The Past may cause you harm. Do not minimize the potential threat. Think of The Past as you would a grenade, they said.
In schoolyards, pupils made up hand-clapping games about The Past that ended in fistfights and children of all ages being sent to the principal’s office with bruises and bloody noses.
Groups of armed citizens searched the woods and suburbs and garages and underground parking lots, finding nothing other than a dead squirrel or a mauled cat. Some were genuinely worried about the effect The Past would have on society, but others were more interested in the reward offered by the police chief. It was a large amount of money, a mouth-watering amount of money. It was enough to make most of the town get off the couch and join in the search—citizens good and bad and wealthy and poor. In a strange way, The Past’s escape brought the community together.
For days, The Past seemed gone without a trace. Rumoured sightings amounted to nothing, and a few copycats even wound up on the streets in a pathetic cry for attention.
—Put some clothes on, the police officer said to one copycat. —And go home to your parents who are worried you’ve become a pervert and a social menace.
—When The Past is caught The Past must be killed, cried the mob as they charged through the woods.
They were no longer interested in tomatoes: they were after blood and money. The reward would be given whether The Past was found dead or alive.
—Oh, don’t worry, my darling, they will catch The Past and they will make sure The Past never escapes again, a woman told her teenage daughter who was walking beside her with tears in her eyes. But what the woman didn’t know was that she and her daughter had bigger problems than The Past.
—Maybe The Past is scared, a little boy said to his father. —Maybe The Past doesn’t mean us any harm.
—Oh, no, said his mother, —Don’t let anyone hear you say that or they will lock you up too. We must all despise The Past. We must all despise The Past.
It had been so long since The Past had eaten fresh fruit off the trees or felt the cool breeze. The Past waded in the stream and drank from it and remembered being a child and receiving the love of a mother and father. There were many around the supper table in The Past’s youth, and The Past remembered a grandfather who’d smelled of tobacco and who’d slapped the waitress’s ass when she walked by. The Past’s family had owned a farm and The Past used to marvel at all the life and all the wonders.
To recall these memories caused The Past’s eyes to fill with tears of joy. It is in our suffering when we are most grateful, The Past thought. The Past then touched all the green plants and smelled the beautiful flowers and imagined this would be how time would be spent from now until the final day. Then The Past came upon a pointed stone that was as sharp as a knife.
While The Past was taking in the natural world as a poet would, The Past failed to hear the chanting of the mob hunting The Past down like a wild animal. The dogs had been called in and had tracked The Past’s scent.
In the nick of time, The Past heard a rustling and hid behind a bush shaking with fear as the crowd passed by holding their torches and flashlights and guns and bombs.
The Future falling behind the mob saw The Past, but before she could call out, The Past grabbed The Future and stabbed her to death with the pointed stone. The Past donned the Future’s clothes and purse and proceeded to follow the crowd, some of whom were starting to become disinterested in the chase.
—When we find The Past, we will kill The Past, said a woman weakly and without conviction.
—Yes, to the dungeons with The Past, said another citizen. They were starting to lose faith that they would ever find their prey, and had become unfocused and bored.
—Yes, said The Past to a man walking beside him. —We will kill The Past. No matter what.
—Do you have a mint? the man asked. —My throat is getting dry, and I wish I were at home in my bed.
As The Past felt around The Future’s purse, The Past thought about all those tomatoes and the image of them made The Past’s stomach lurch. I will never eat a tomato or a cheese sandwich again, The Past vowed.
Finally The Past produced a green mint in a plastic wrapper and presented it to the man like a trophy. The mint looked so glorious in the middle of The Past’s palm, The Past instead of giving it to the man decided to keep it as an after-dinner treat.