ART SCHOOL, 1982 • by Sophia Holme

That Winter, to me, will always be Clare in a bright red cape, puffing on a snowy street. Moving in in January, I dropped a box of my parents’ old crockery down the stairs, and never replaced it. It was the kind of place where everyone shared everything anyway. That Winter was my roommate, a boy called Mitchell who tended bar and brought home bags of garnishes — sliced oranges and olives.

Working a part-time job with an insurance company whose overheated offices stank of lemon cleaning products and joining Clare on her smoke breaks, drinking acidic coffee from the only vendor nearby. Tommy teaching me how to play Blackjack over powdered soup and bread with its burgeoning mold sliced off.

It was four copies of a four-hander, four individual bottles of red wine, four stools in the living room, four ever-more impassioned performances until our neighbours pounded against the wall. It was all sleeping in the living room in a blizzard and trying to remember ghost stories to the tune of the howling wind.

Then Spring crept in, in the lilac shade of the crocuses, and the rose flush of the tulips. Toronto was freezing and melting and freezing again. The treacherous front step left a bruise the size of a baseball on my tailbone. Clare was finally thawing towards Tommy, and Mitchell and I pretended not to hear her metal bed frame pounding against our wall, until Mitchell leapt from bed one night and marched straight into her room, told her from now on she and Tommy would be sharing.

So, Spring is claiming Claire’s light and airy room, and doing all my painting there. It’s starting on my final project, a portrait of Mitchell as my grandfather, a miner, reading by kerosene lamp, that warm greasy light.

But Spring is also sunshine lingering ever later, and so late Spring becomes waking when Mitchell returns from his shifts, stinking of the incense the bar burned, sweet and gamefaced but glimmering with sweat and hazy exhaustion, his eyes unfocusing. Ringing a bell I kept by my easel to keep him awake.

Summer is, at first, drowsy Saturdays in the park, sipping ciders and eating nectarines and hardboiled eggs. Too hot to cook, we subsist on corned beef sandwiches and stay outside until the breeze picks up and the sun has slunk low in the sky. My deadline fast approaching, being told again and again to just submit the damned thing it’s finished, but nevertheless, waiting up for Mitchell, to make double-sure the bones are right, the shadows correct. It is very early June 28th, I’m making a pot of coffee while I wait, slowly drinking it. Then it’s four in the morning, and the sky is starting to pale like a balloon being stretched… it would be too late soon. I go to stand outside, and the air is tangy and cold.

Then it’s five, the light fragile, bone white. I’m thinking, he’d better have a good explanation.

It’s that evening, Tommy, me and Clare in a police waiting room, dead silent, Clare holding hands with us both. It’s flyering the whole west side of the city. It’s pooled savings to pay another portion of rent. It’s oatmeal and lentil stew, ad nauseam. It’s the stubborn heat souring everything. Shirts sticking to our backs, sweat dripping into our eyes at all hours. Clare and Tommy retreat into each other, and I paint a thin blanket of coal over Mitchell’s face, so his downcast eyes glow out unsparingly.

Autumn is walking alone by the water, listening to the gaining strength of the wind, and twisting crab apples off trees. It’s Clare and Tommy telling me they are going to try for a baby, are moving in with Tommy’s family by the sea. It’s me taking it badly. Telling them that’s a stupid fucking idea and I give them a year together, tops. It’s Clare no longer speaking to me. It’s never properly apologizing, until it’s too late and I’ve moved out and it means nothing anymore. It’s cardboard boxes donated from the printer down the street, it’s a room in a basement flat six blocks North. It’s getting my marks back and celebrating privately. It’s the weeks before I learn my new housemates’ names. It’s the months it takes for my feet to stop turning the wrong way when I tell myself it’s time to go home.

Sophia Holme (she/her) is a queer writer and poet. Made in Canada, she now lives in Oxford, England, where she works in a bookshop. Her work has appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Rejection Letters, and elsewhere.

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Every Day Fiction