A WOMAN SAID SHE WOULD HAVE HAD AN ABORTION IF SHE KNEW HER DAUGHTER WOULD BE BLIND — A MINI MEMOIR

Disclaimer: This story deals with the subject of abortion. There is no explicit or graphic content, but if reading about abortion is difficult or triggering for you, I’d encourage you to think carefully about whether you want to continue reading or choose something else that I’ve written.
This is a true story that happened while I was in my second year of university. By telling this story, I am speaking up for the unborn children whose lives are ended due to disability. I am not seeking to debate or argue, so please leave such comments out of the comment section. Thank you.


My heart pounds and the tears sting my eyes. My partner reaches for me and I collapse into him. The room is quiet as the other pro-life club members look on in stunned silence, watching for my reaction. But I can’t react yet. I can only hold on to my partner for dear life. Life that had unknowingly hung in the balance for a girl just like me.

I meet her on the way to my health class as I crunch the leaves with a childlike joy. Upon seeing my white cane, she says, “I have a blind daughter. Can I ask you a question?”

“Absolutely! I’m Rhianna,” I say, offering her my hand.

“My daughter is only nine now, but I want her to have a good education. Seeing you here, I presume it works, but I don’t know how. Will she be able to do university?” She sounds both hopeful and apprehensive.

I want to hug her. She doesn’t know the ins and outs of post-secondary education with a disability, but who does until they’re faced with it head-on? I’m just so happy that she’s taking the time to find out.

We stand on the sidewalk, students bustling past as I detail my university experience — how I receive electronic textbooks, the accommodations provided for students for disabilities and the support offered by the Disability Resource Center on campus.

“Thank you,” she says, a genuine relief in her voice.

“No problem. Happy to help.” I say, and I run to my kinesiology lecture for which I am now almost late.

An hour later, in the pro-life club meeting, I excitedly relay my conversation with the woman with the blind daughter. “She doesn’t know much about blindness, but she’s determined to learn what she needs to for her daughter,” I say.

It makes me think of my parents, not knowing anything of disability until their four-year-old daughter gets diagnosed with bilateral eye cancer and then all are thrust into this new, unknown world. And with everything new and unfamiliar facing their family, they did the best they could—which was pretty great. I smile. My parents are awesome.

Valerie enters the room with a summary of her conversations around campus about the student body’s perspectives on the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

“I talked to this woman who has a blind daughter,” she says.

“I met her,” I say. “We had such a good conversation.”

“She told me that if she had known her daughter would be blind, she would have had an abortion.”

The silence is like thunder, but it can’t compare to my heart. How can this be? She would have aborted her own daughter? She was so determined to give her daughter a good life, yet she would have had an abortion and taken away that life by choice? And all because she was blind?

My mind starts spinning. Would my parents have aborted me had they known I would be diagnosed with cancer and be blind for the rest of my life? I know in my heart the answer is no, but the thought makes me sick. My parents may not have made that choice, but others have, and still might.

And now, all I want to do is hold this nine-year-old girl and tell her that she is enough, that she’s loved and she will have a good life.

After the semester, I leave the pro-life club, not because my position changed but because I’m not in a place where I’m ready to have these conversations and hear someone’s brutal honesty about people’s perceptions of the value of life, and particularly, disabled lives. Because I know that woman’s view is all too common, and it won’t be the last time I hear the same sentiments.

I just hope that woman’s daughter never has to hear it, especially from her own mother.

ANNOUNCING THE AUTHORS WITH DISABILITIES SHOWCASE!

When I mentioned to a friend that I was switching from posting on the blog twice a week to every other week to try and ease my mental stress, I was met with the exact validation I needed to hear: “Balance is the key.”

But balance is a very hard thing to do well.

And while I am trying to keep to a schedule, I’ve been sidelined by other blog-related projects that have me super distracted and super excited. And one of these is ready to be announced… today!

Please welcome to the blog … The Authors with Disabilities Showcase!

July is Disability Pride Month, and though I’ve kept quiet about this specific celebration on the blog, I’ve been celebrating hard. And this online bookstore is one of the ways I am choosing to celebrate this month and all year round.

The Authors with Disabilities Showcase [AWDS], came out of a desire to showcase the talent in the disability community. A place for only us to be center stage, a place where our stories are on top. I wanted to create a space where we can go to learn, discover and connect with someone else’s story of disability, because each story is as important and unique as the person who wrote it.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished on this blog. No matter how many subscribers I have or how many clicks I get, I’m proud, because I’m doing what I’m so passionate about and know deep-down that it’s what I need to do. But I’m just as proud of every other person with a disability out there who has told their story and is working to create a better world for us all.

That’s whose stories you can read here. And I sincerely hope that you do take some time to browse the bookstore and find something to read. You never know what difference it could make or what friend you could find in these pages.

Check it out here! And don’t forget to check back frequently as I’ll be continually adding to the collection.

Happy reading!

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOD AND MY GUIDE DOG

To God and my guide dog, Saint:

Both of you know something that I want to know. But neither of you can tell me.

Well, I know You can tell me God, but I also know You don’t often spell things out for us that easily, so I’m going to wager that You’ll be keeping pretty quiet on this one. But You really don’t have to. And as much as I wish more than anything for a Narnian reality in which animals can talk, I also know you, Saint, cannot tell me what I so desperately want to know either.

And what is this thing, you ask?

It’s purpose. Specifically, my purpose.

Saint, you’ve known your purpose since you were born. From conception, you’ve been destined for a life of great meaning: to learn to lead a blind person throughout a world that is not built to accommodate them. It is one of the greatest blessings I have received and I am eternally thankful that you, my sweet boy, have this purpose and live it out daily for me. Because of you, I feel safe, confident, independent and loved.

You know your purpose. When the harness goes on, you switch into guide dog mode. Your ears perk, your tail wags, and at a brief “Saint, forward,” you take off like a rocket, all while keeping me from tripping on the slightest bump in the road. Your purpose is clear. It amazes me that as a newborn puppy and now as a three-year-old, you know your life’s purpose beyond the shadow of a doubt.

And I don’t know mine.

Now, over to You for a minute, God. Feel free to chime in anytime.

I know You know what Your purpose is, and I know You know what mine is. But before I beg You to let me in on the secret, I have two thoughts.

Firstly, as a Christian, I know and believe that my purpose is to serve and bring glory to You. Okay, great! That’s… clear as mud. Wait a minute: glorifying God and serving Him sounds wonderful (and it is), but how in the world do I do that?

Do I have to do something specific? Is there a list of “God-glorifying” jobs You can email me to make it easier? Because I’m kind of drawing a blank here.

Now, this second one is just a thought, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’m on the right track. I wonder if my purpose has something to do with writing.

But what kind of writing? Am I meant to write books? Poetry? Radio dramas? Commercials? And what do I write about? Is my purpose to advocate for disability equality and accessibility? I’m already doing that, or trying to on this blog, so, well, I’m not sure. Do I need to write Christian books and work to tell people about You? Can I do both?

Maybe it doesn’t involve writing at all. Or maybe, writing is a way to bring glory to You. That could be possible, right? Or, maybe my purpose is something that I haven’t even thought about at all!

Seriously God, anytime now.

I just don’t understand it. How does a yellow lab know his life’s purpose and me, a woman with faith, a university degree, a blog, a family and boatloads of passion, don’t know my purpose? Will I ever know? Or will I have a moment like Saul on the road to Damascus when You appeared to him in a bright light and changed the course of his life forever? The only bright lights I have are in the light switches by the door, and I can’t even see those.

Can you help me out a little? I want to glorify You, I do. But how? Is this blog enough? Is it even worth it? Should I be doing something else?

I have too many questions, but they can all be rolled up like a tortilla into one, overarching question that I want to scream (but I can’t since the neighbours will hear):

What is my purpose?

I just hope I have one…

But until You show me something else, I guess I’ll continue along this path and hope that You’re doing something with it.

That’s all I got, God. Anything to add?

All right, then. Talk to you soon. And Saint, yes, I’ll give you a belly rub.

Love,
Rhianna

FINDING MY WHY — WHY I’M A WRITER AND WHY I ALWAYS WILL BE

If you follow me on Twitter (and no, this isn’t a self-promo), then you may have seen this thread that I posted recently:

I just wrote what I intended to be a blog post, but wound up more like a journal entry. It could still be a blog post, but rather than focusing on publishing and posting and traffic and being productive, I think I’ll keep this piece for myself.

Maybe I’ve spent so much time and energy into what will sell, what will bring people to my blog and what content will gain me a place in the #WritingCommunity, that I’ve lost my “why” for the writing altogether. Maybe keeping some of it just for me, for my soul, is the cure.

After all, don’t I write for myself first and everyone else second? So what happens to my writing if I lose myself and I’m not writing with my voice or from my experience and truth?

Maybe I need to learn to write for myself again, and maybe that’s the way back to myself, back to why I started writing in the first place. And maybe then, I can move forward with my goals and ambition, once I realize that even if I don’t achieve them, I didn’t fail.

All right… existential writer crisis over, at least on Twitter. I’m going to reread the blog post that I’ll keep just for me, go eat something, and start to find my “why” again.

That existential writer crisis continued to plague me after I closed my laptop. The question of “why do I write?” had my mind relentlessly spinning. I thought the answer was simple, but was it really?

Turns out it was simpler than I thought, but the journey there was anything but.

I’ve been writing since I was a child. It started with stories about a trickster deer, giraffes on a rescue mission, and Emperor penguins who befriend Orca whales. A little older, and I turned my attention from animal stories to poetry. It was poetry about my first love, first heartbreak, finding out who I was and maybe more importantly, who I wasn’t. (and that’s why those poems will never see the light of day—can you say CRINGE?)

I kept writing. And I was in my mid-twenties when I decided to start blogging. I hadn’t given up on stories or poetry, but my priorities were shifting.

I needed to start using my voice, and I needed a new way to do it. I’d spent long enough wrestling with saying what I thought I was supposed to, particularly about my disabled body, and letting myself get pinned. It was my therapist who, over countless sessions, helped me realize that yes, I had a voice, and then asked me the ultimate question: what would I do with it?

Growing up, all throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was an unhappy disabled person. When I was eighteen, I met a friend who had walked a similar path of blindness and faith, and upon sharing it with me, made a way for me to walk my own with a little less bitterness and a lot more gratitude. But that was only the beginning of my journey to embracing myself, and in particular, my disabled self. But as life journeys often go, it got worse before it got better. That in itself is an entirely different story and today is not the day for it. But all that to say that it was a good five years before that path had lead me to a place where I recognized who I was, embraced it, and wanted to share it.

Enter Not Your Blind Writer. And just like the evening beside the hotel pool, sharing stories with a new lifelong friend at eighteen, this blog isn’t a destination, but a beginning. It’s been wonderful, freeing, empowering, and beyond terrifying.

I began the blog to share myself—my authentic self, and most importantly, my disabled self. Important, because my disability had been the one part of me that I kept the most hidden, yet, it impacted my life in the most obvious ways. To keep it hidden was a disservice to myself and my journey, and to everyone around me. So each time I published a post, the words that it contained were borne from the raw, authentic me.

However, as the weeks and months passed, more posts published and more people followed on social media, the path ahead of me has become a little more gray. Questions of publishing, social media, marketing and more, plagued me, and what I found was that those thoughts choked my creativity.

My writing became less and less of a craft that I loved and wanted to grow, but a climb up the ladder of success. I thought about everything other than putting pen to paper, or, keys to laptop? I created detailed writing calendars and post outlines. I wondered how many followers I could get and felt defeated when no one subscribed to my blog or followed me on social media. I started to see these other things, like Twitter followers, likes and comments as a statement on my value as a writer. But why?

Why was I doing all this?

And that question lead me to a deeper question: Why was I writing at all?

I was getting caught up in the glamour of the writing industry, but I’d forgotten what makes it in the first place—the written word itself. What did any of this matter if my pages were blank? What does thinking of royalties and book deals and book #6 if I haven’t started book #1 yet?

Why did I care about what others thought about my writing if I didn’t write?

I’d lost my why.

And I needed to find it. To do that, I needed to find the seven-year-old me that wrote about a deer that, in her quest for fame, performed shameful acts of trickery. The eight-year-old me who wrote about a giraffe that, in spite of being teased by the other animals, saved them from the pit of quicksand by using her neck as a lifeline. The high schooler crying after gym class over her first break up, even though they hadn’t officially dated.

That girl didn’t write for fame. She didn’t write to be published, or to earn a salary. She wasn’t concerned with formulating interesting tweets (which aren’t all that interesting, by the way) or how best to market her books for the most sales.

She wrote because she loved writing.

It filled her up. It made her smile. Her characters were her friends, and the words were her imagination come alive.

She wrote because she loved writing.

And that’s why I’m still a writer.

I live for the feeling of seeing words spill across the page, the way words can process and wrestle and grow me in ways nothing else can. I cherish the moments when I can fully express a part of myself and know that if nothing else, at least the page understands me. I smile for the moments when I sit in a coffee shop and suddenly, clap my hands like an excited kid and say, “Book idea! Book idea! Book idea!” a little too loudly (Cause… that didn’t happen… last week… at 25 years old).

I write to express myself and to let God do with that what He will. I can’t help but hope that if He’s given me a talent for the written word, then He has a plan for it. And as much as I’ve fretted about what that plan is, that’s not my job. I just need to write the words, and He can handle what happens after.

It’s good to think about publishing, to dream about seeing your name on a book in your favourite bookstore. It’s good to have drive and ambition and reach for the literary stars. But don’t let that steal the reason you started writing in the first place.

And you know what? Rediscovering my why makes me want to write more.

So please, friends: Whether you have dreams of making the bestseller list, writing a blog simply to share your daily life, or whether the only one who reads your writing is your diary, don’t lose your why.

Why do you do this? Why do you love it? Why will you keep going?

I love the written word, and I want to use the gift God has given me. That’s why I write.

Why do you write? Let me know in the comments.

THE UNHOLY CROSS — A SHORT STORY, PART TWO

Read The Unholy Cross, Part One here.

TRIAL

Pilate sits on an adorned chair, the pride of a Roman etched in his every feature. But in his eyes, there is a veiled glint of kindness, the glitter of hope that perhaps he will judge not as a Roman, but as a man. Attendants surround him, awaiting his command. With a sweeping gesture, he dismisses their attention and they scatter to their places about the room.
“State the case,” Pilate commands, his voice loud and abrupt.
The centurion who had gone in ahead of Katriel steps forward and speaks. “This man is convicted of murdering a Roman spy at just before dawn this very morning. There are witnesses who are willing to testify.” Katriel blinks with surprise. A witness? Was he not alone? Did he not examine his surroundings before he stabbed his brother dead? He glances about himself, scanning the Praetorium for the witness to come forward. He hopes with fading optimism that it is not who he suspects.
But it is. Eshkol emerges from the back of the company of soldiers and with confident strides, approaches the governor. As he opens his mouth to begin, he shoots one final glance toward Katriel, the smile of betrayal displayed unashamedly on his face.
“Governor Pilate, this man is indeed guilty of murder. I witnessed it with my own eyes, only an hour or two ago.” He clears his throat and continues. “I was on my way to my father’s house, having just returned from a long journey when I heard the blood-curdling shrieks of a man. I didn’t think anything of it at first I admit, but when it persisted and became ever more despairing, I made up my mind to investigate. I followed the sound to the edge of the city, just on the border of where I happen to know the victim’s home lies—”
“How do you know this?”
“I was brought up in the same neighbourhood, governor. The victim, his murderer and I were friends as children.”
“I see. Go on.”
“Here, I witnessed this man deliver the fatal blow.”
“How did he perform the murder?” Pilate’s voice is stable as he makes his inquiries, but Katriel is not so fortunate. His knees tremble, his vision blurs, and it is only the sharp grasp of a soldier that keeps him from collapsing.
“It was a knife. He stabbed the man numerous times in the heart and the side. Once he made certain his work was completed, he drew the knife up into his cloak and left, leaving the body behind a wall to decay.”
“What happened then?”
Eshkol’s eyes are fixed on the Prefect, his zeal evident in his gaze. His tale continues. “As quietly as I could, I followed him. When I realized he was heading toward the gates that lead out of the city, I left and went directly and gathered this company of men. They joined me in my pursuit and we did manage to overtake him. We captured him and brought him here to you for his just punishment.”
The room is quiet, not an exhalation to be heard. Even the murmur of the crowd in the courtyard dissipates against the explosive silence within. Within the room yes, but in Katriel’s heart, it is deeper, more despairing.
Was this the friend who had suffered imprisonment at his side? The man who aided him in his escape? Who time and time again, tried to turn him back to the god of his childhood? The one he professed to believe in, but stands and sentences his friend to death? Katriel’s mind begins to spin, a whirlwind that captures his thoughts and ruffles them beyond recognition. He is betrayed.
“If you have further need of evidence, governor Pilate, you may merely ask this man for the knife.” Katriel’s whole being goes still. He can feel the knife’s cool blade against his forearm. If Eshkol’s account is not enough to secure the him, this would be.
“Prisoner, remove your cloak. Let me see what is beneath.” Impatient for the trial to end, a soldier rips Katriel’s cloak from his shoulders and it lands on the floor in a heap. The knife clatters to the floor, loud and condemning. The entire room gravitates to it as a collective gasp is inhaled.
“It is final.” Pilate now stands and his attendants draw near. “Katriel Ben Rachamin, you are sentenced to death by crucifixion for the murder of your brother, Omer Ben Rachamin. Within the hour! You are dismissed.”

GOLGOTHA

With his hands tied, Katriel weaves between the remnants of the crowd that had called so fervently for the execution of the blasphemer. The man himself is nowhere to be seen—Katriel assumes now that the sentence was passed and he is on his way to the cross. Amidst the reality of his own peril, Katriel cannot help but marvel at the other prisoner’s integrity, silent in the face of his crimes and such willingness to take the beating his guards deemed necessary. What kind of a man is this?
Rising beneath the golden sun of blooming day, Katriel’s eyes find his destiny—Golgotha. At the top of this hill he knows, he will die.
The patibulum he carries on his shoulders teeters, the effect wobbling Katriel’s legs. Blood from his scourging runs from his shoulders, down his thighs and calves and leaves soggy imprints in the dirt beneath him. Lightheaded and dizzy, he is nearly completely unaware of life beyond his pain.
They reach the peak of the hill and the cross bar on Katriel’s shoulders is lifted and tacked to the stipe. In his delirium, Katriel does not notice a third cross being mounted in line with his and the blasphemer’s. At each, a company of Roman soldiers meticulously perform their duty.
“Murder a Roman, will you? Then feel the wrath of Rome! May it follow you to hell and torment you there for all eternity!” The centurion draws out two nails and with not a care nor concern, pounds them through Katriel’s wrists. He cries out in anguish. “That is just the beginning of what you will suffer for your crime.” The centurion spits in his face and laughs mockingly.
Nails are driven into his feet, pinning him to the upright beam of the cross. He is overcome with pain; he can no longer discern where it stems from, only that it is consuming him like a raging fire. His weight hangs solely from his wrists, his breaths shallow and quick. How long will it take?
The other prisoners are hung on their crosses, their shrieks and screams melding with Katriel’s. The criminal on the third cross is muttering between gasps. Katriel tries to focus on it, on anything to distract him from the excruciating pain.
“Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us! Where’s your power now, oh mighty King?” The criminal’s taunts are hardly audible above the blood in Katriel’s ears, the pain screaming up at him from every fibre of his being. But as he hangs there, the fingertips of Death grazing his skin, his mind flashes to a memory.
A father bends over his son, the six year old’s fingers cold and fragile in his. Looking straight into his son’s eyes—the same gentle, earnest eyes of his mother—Rachamin begins to speak. “Katriel, listen to me. I do not take pleasure in punishing you, but it needed to be done. You were wrong to say those things to Omer. Your words hurt him very deeply. You know I still love you, don’t you?” The tiny head nodded. “But do you know who will love you even when it’s hard for me to love you well?”
“Who?”
“God. He will always love you. Even if you have nobody left to turn to, even when you’re scared he doesn’t want you anymore. He will love you. I want you to remember that. Will you do that for me?”
“Yes, Father. I’ll remember.” The man leans down and ruffles the child’s hair, a smile spreading across his face.
The memory fades and Katriel’s focus is drawn once more to the victim on the third cross. Still hurling insults, but the silent sufferer on the center cross does not reply.
Defend him. It overwhelms Katriel, even stronger than the pain emanating from his wrists and feet. He shouts with all his strength: “Quiet! That man has done nothing wrong, unlike you and I. Don’t you fear God? We’re all suffering the same sentence, but ours is fair. Now quiet. Leave him to die in peace.” Lowering his voice so only the man next to him can hear, Katriel whispers, “If you are the son of God, if you are the Christ, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
When he speaks, it is like Katriel’s heart is both broken and restored in one breath. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Katriel stops fighting. He breathes his last and the pain ends.

FOREVER

“Come in, my son. Be welcomed in my name.” The voice envelops the new arrival. Comfort, joy and awe fill his being, the reality of his new life abounding in his soul.
He gazes down at his hands in disbelief. No nails, no wounds. No remnant of the pain that was the passageway to paradise. He strokes his palm with a gentle finger—soft, like silk, tender.
New. Everything is new. He is new.
He looks up to the sky, yet somehow, he cannot define the border between earth and sky. Does it go on forever?
As though reading his thoughts, the voice wraps itself around him and whispers, “It does, my son. As do you. And I. Here, together, we shall go on forever.”

THE UNHOLY CROSS — A SHORT STORY, PART ONE

HIDDEN

Katriel kneels where the blood pools from his brother’s ribs. The knife, now stained crimson with his crime, seems to gather the moonlight and reflect it out, exposing him. He slips it beneath the fold of his cloak and with one last dismissive glance toward the pale face, turns away.
Must leave now. Danger. Must leave now.
Crisp and cool on his cheeks, the air itself seems to know. Not a footfall, nor a whisper. But they know. He’s sure of it. Turning to the left and to the right, Katriel weaves his way between the cobblestone streets of his childhood, the modest homes of Jerusalem’s labourers and merchants lining its perimeters. Omer’s face lurks in the moonlit shadows cast by Katriel’s own movements, the bloodied figure hunches in open doorways. At every creak and on every corner, Omer points a fleshless finger at his brother’s throat. “You will be found out,” it seems to whisper in the silence. The end of the street. Katriel quickens his pace and his footsteps ring out like bells. In the distance, the murmur of livestock waking is like a warning: Hurry! He turns a corner and before him are the city gates. His heart leaps with relief, but a moment too soon.
The voice speaks out of the darkness. Like when God created the world, Katriel thinks. Is this how it happened? Darkness, light, revealed. “Katriel.”
It’s not a resounding shout nor a frantic scream as he expects. No sword pierces his side as his pierced Omer’s. No threatening hands grip his throat, squeezing the oxygen from his lungs. Instead, it is quiet, almost a whisper.
“Katriel.”
He stops, his joints locked, his skin iced with terror. Only his eyes retain their movement. They flick like a horse’s tail, back and forth, trying to locate the pest, or in his case, his captor.
“Katriel.” The voice is still soft. His name seems to slip from the speaker’s lips like rain, smooth and with the hint of a smile. Katriel’s heartbeat quickens. Is it? No, it couldn’t be”’
“Katriel.” A pause and then, “Why do you not turn to face me or greet me? Why do you stand as you did when we played soldier as little children? Will you not acknowledge me, friend?”
He’s sure of it now. His heartbeat softens to a dull but persistent thud, and the blood in his ears cools. It is only Eshkol. The sky above him is splitting into threads of marigold and crimson. Dawn. There isn’t much time.
His boyhood friend stands silently at his back, awaiting movement. The broad-shouldered man, still clutching the sin-stained knife, calms his breathing to a normal rhythm and turns around. “Ah,” says Eshkol. Even in the dim light of imminent morning, Katriel can see his smile, a smile that shows neither emotion nor motivation. Reserved. Masked. The identical smile he has donned since adolescence. But it seemed different now. Is it the dim light, or something else? “At last you show courage.”
“Why do I need courage? You are a friend, are you not? Unless perhaps, you were following me?” His voice sounds scratched and worn, as though a mere whisper might tear his vocal chords from his throat. He steps closer to Eshkol. The other man does not move.
“Following you? I am hurt, Katriel. Will you accuse your closest confidante of such a thing?” That smile. Spears pierce Katriel’s heart, suspicion growing ever present like the coming of day. “Would a friend follow a friend? Isn’t he more trustworthy than that? Even in the dead of night, Jerusalem asleep in peace… what would I gain?”
Katriel’s fists clench by his side. Fingers tighten, nails dig into tender flesh. What is this game?
“Well? Will you not answer me?” Expectant silence.
Katriel realizes with a sudden wave that he is exhausted. The darkness of night seems to pull at him from every direction, beckoning him to an unknown place where he might rest and find relief. His sandaled feet feel weary from holding up his dense figure, his eyes falter in their steadfast stare. No, he mustn’t. Be strong, be cunning. Awake! Katriel brings himself upright, squares his shoulders and musters up what resolve he has left.
“What manner of game is this, Eshkol? What do you mean by this, this, interrogation? Did you not say a moment ago that we are friends? What do you think I have done?” Even as the words leave his lips, Katriel knows they are fruitless. His captor smiles and raises his right hand.

REVEALED

Surrounded. Six men, dressed in Roman armour, swords at their sides and ready to strike, press closer to their victim. In Katriel’s mind, he sees again the Roman from Seleucia who imprisoned him. His tall, overshadowing figure suffocating Katriel’s chances for escape, his smile of gleeful malice painted with broad strokes on his lips, and when rage had filled his heart to the brim and then overflowed, Katriel’s fists landing on the Roman’s jaw, sending him sprawling. He had made his escape then, but what about now?
Katriel looks about him, from left to right, then back to left. He is surrounded. Not just one this time, but six, maybe seven. He can’t see clearly enough to know precise numbers. But what he does see is Eshkol. Standing on the outskirts of the soldiers’ enclosure, his fingers intertwine casually, almost contentedly, as though this capture was merely another trip to the market for fish. His shoulders are back, but not in a manner with which to intimidate, rather one of pure satisfaction at watching the scene before him unfold. The smile upon his lips, which had moments ago seemed achingly familiar to Katriel, now stabs his heart. It is the smile of the Seleucian. He knows now, without a doubt, that he will not escape this time.
A centurion grips Katriel’s wrist, the mere force nearly disjointing it. “You are under arrest by the authority of Rome. Come.” Katriel comes. A second man grabs hold of his free wrist and they march him forward, the remaining soldiers following with these swords drawn in preparation of an escape attempt.
“What crime have I committed that you arrest me?” Katriel’s lips are dry and his throat aches to release the words. His question does not sound as steadfast as he hopes.
“Murder of a Roman spy. I believe you know him well. A certain Omer Ben Rachamin.”
His capture becomes real in this moment. In his heart, he had hoped beyond hope that it was a mistake, an error, or at best, even a framing, wherein he would declare himself innocent and go free. But now, as the words echo against the backdrop of the rising dawn—perhaps his last—he cannot escape the truth. He is found out.
Omer is right.
“Keep moving!” a soldier barks at Katriel. A yank on his wrist and Katriel quickens his steps. Looking about him, he sees the sleepy houses of his home city, where mothers sing their newborns to sleep and fathers teach their sons of the Law and the Scriptures. In one of them, he knows, sleeps his father, Rachamin, fragile with age, his bones brittle from the battles between his two sons. In another, he envisions Rhoda, her black curls sprawled across the pillow as her delicate chest rises and falls with every breath, unknowing as to her lover’s fate. And in a ditch behind a red brick wall, is Omer, the blood now run dry and congealed at the seams of his skin, his eyes open and blank with death, his soul, Katriel hopes in his anger, rotting in hell. His heart aches at the memories and he pushes them from his mind. He will not remember… he will not… remember.
They walk for many minutes in utter silence, the only sound the boot-clad footfalls of the soldiers and Katriel’s sandals shuffling along the cobblestones. His breath comes in laboured inhalations as he struggles to keep pace with the marching Romans.
Before them in the distance, framed in the transfiguration of moonlight to daylight, is the official residence of Herod Antipas, the Fortress Antonia. Government officials roam the grounds, crowds of people mill about impatiently for their hearings. Katriel knows this is where he is being taken, to appear before Governor Pilate, the dictator of his fate. As they approach, Katriel’s ears catch drifts of frantic voices, rising in waves from near the palace.
“Blasphemy! Blasphemy! Crucify him!” He cocks his head toward the noise, a desperate curiosity rising in his belly. What could be so urgent as to disrupt the Preparation Day of the Passover with such antics?
The soldiers march Katriel on, the voices of the crowd growing louder with every step. His body aches, his joints screech with fatigue as they attempt to match the vigor with which he is being made to walk. His eyelids slip over the vacant blue and gray that had once been so full of life—not this vile and malicious intent they possess now. Dragging his feet, he fears for the events of the next few hours.
“Wait here,” a guard grunts at the prisoner and marches off toward the raging storm of spectators. Katriel can now see the man for whom they are gathered to condemn.
The man is filmed with blood, no doubt from the soldier’s whippings. His tunic and cloak are torn and his sandals broken, only held together by a few withered straps of leather. A makeshift crown sits on the man’s head. Amidst his own premature suffering, Katriel cannot help but gaze at it, astounded. Thistles woven together, thick as Katriel’s leathery fingers, each spike pushed deep into the man’s skull. Blood drips from it, as rain from the heavens. His hair is matted from the excretion, blood streaming down his arms and torso to join what flows from the gashes of the flagrum.
He can now hear what the crowd is shouting. “Crucify him! Crucify him! King of the Jews! Messiah! He must die for his blasphemy!” The man with the crown of thorns is convicted of blasphemy? What are his claims that they accuse him with such severity? To the imprisoned onlooker, the wretch in the rags appears feeble and weak, not a man that would pose a threat.
His eyes are still fixed to the man with the crown of thistles when the centurion returns. Gesturing to his comrades, they lead Katriel forward into the Praetorium. Here, Pilate’s judgment falls on the unfortunate souls to enter its confines.

ANNIE — A SHORT STORY

It’s a quirky thing about people that when they know your name, they think they know you. Mrs. Biggs, for example. Every church has a Mrs. Biggs, middle-aged, nosy as all get out and entirely without shame. You know her; we all do. But when you belong to a family like mine, notorious throughout the churchgoing populace of a small town, there’s no keeping her nose out of the latest dirt.

She cornered me on the Sunday after it made the Saturday morning headlines. “You’re the Montgomery’s girl,” she said, her eyes zeroing in on me like a pair of headlights. All I could see was how much sharper her nose appeared when she stared like that. “I know all about your sister, dear. You poor thing. You must be traumatized. I must give you the name of my therapist. She’s wonderful and has the cheapest rates of anyone in town. It would be good for you, dear. Being the sister of someone who was murdered, well, it’ll leave you scarred for life, I just know it. Oh my, how tragic.” She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief and I truly couldn’t distinguish if she was a brilliant actress or just oblivious. I stared at her with one of my expressions of unfiltered disdain that always earned me an elbow to the ribs from my mother. But I couldn’t respond even if I wanted to—which I didn’t. She knew nothing, not even my name. I walked away, comforting myself with thinking about how unattractive she looked in her too tight dress that revealed every lump and roll (of which there were plenty, I must add).

“For real,” my mother huffed on the drive home, “why can’t you believe in people more? They have good intentions. Why not let them get to know you?”

But that’s just it, I wanted to scream. They aren’t trying to know me. They’re like the Eeyore cross-stitch I did when I was five; the front, a perfect facade of grays and good intentions but on the back, the mess of knots and threads reveal the true motives that create it. I always felt like I saw life inside out with the tangles facing outward, obscuring my view.

Mrs. Biggs died of an aneurysm on Christmas Eve. At the service that night, she had put a hand on my shoulder, going on and on about what a difficult Christmas this must be and that she’d pray for the peace of God to be on me and my family as we grieve our loss. I didn’t look at her, just shimmied out from beneath her grasp and grabbed a slice of coffee cake off the dessert table. I got an elbow in the ribs but I didn’t care. It wouldn’t change my mind or put Mrs. Biggs’ nose back on her face and out of my life.

During the eulogy, I was on my phone, changing my name on all my social media accounts. Girl with the Murdered Sister, Just Another Traumatized Teenager, Blank. If my name didn’t matter, then I’d go without. By the time the punch was served, I was a nameless blob with a story that everyone knew about but no one cared to know.

My parents soon gave up calling me by my name. In fact, everyone seemed to talk to me less and less as time passed, I suppose, because they didn’t know how to relate to me anymore. I was like a book with a missing title page; it confused people who picked me up off the shelf and rendered me beyond comprehension. They didn’t realize though, that my story was still intact, with characters, plot and a good twist that readers never see coming.

Without a name, I was like the label on my bottle of antidepressants. I was only what happened to me, not who I was on the inside. To Mrs. Biggs, I was the sister of the murdered girl. To my parents, I was the headstrong teenager. And when I went searching for love and found a night with the high school quarterback, I became the teen mom.

The only thing I was asked more than if I was going to marry the father—which was an emphatic no since he blocked my number after I texted him a photo of the positive pregnancy test—was what I was going to name the baby. I got everything from Allison to Abcde. I just rolled my eyes and spouted my automatic reply: “I won’t know until she’s born.”

“You have to think about it before she arrives,” my mother said, flipping through a name book as fat as my expanding belly. “It won’t just come to you, not when you’re sweating and exhausted from a 24-hour labour.” She handed me the book, waving her hand across the highlighted page. “I think these would be just gorgeous.” I snapped it shut without even glancing at my mother and got up to waddle off toward the kitchen.

Talk about being exhausted. Was no one else thinking about how a sixteen-year-old was planning to pay for diapers and childcare while she tried to finish high school? Whether my daughter had a three or a ten-digit identity tag meant nothing if I couldn’t provide for her. Yet, it was the name that mattered most. I groaned. I would never be known as anything other than a name, and neither would my baby.

I was due on the first anniversary of my sister’s murder. My contractions were coming twenty minutes apart but I figured I still had time to visit her grave before getting dragged to the hospital. I walked down the path, reading the names and dates on the headstones I passed. I paused by the headstone of Aldis McCain, born 1941, died 1959. He was the same age as my sister. And all that was left of him was a name. I knelt down and felt the cool stone beneath my palm.

“You’re more than a name,” I said. “You have a story, and I hope you had someone who cared to read it.”

Next to Aldis was a grave with a blank headstone. There was just a date of death written: November 27, 1919. I wondered who lay interred there; maybe a World War I veteran, or maybe it was a boy who died of pneumonia in his mother’s arms. Whoever it was, they had a story, even if we didn’t know it.

Why was I the only one who understood that? I touched the nameless headstone, and let the first tear slide down my cheek since she died. I prayed—maybe to God, maybe to something else, I didn’t know—that no matter if everyone else only remembered her name, I would remember her story and be brave enough to tell it as long as I lived. She would never be forgotten.

I almost delivered my baby in the cemetery that day. That sure would have made the headlines, I thought, and I smiled thinking of how Mrs. Biggs would have been all over that. But I managed to waddle back to the parking lot where my frantic mother drove way too fast toward the emergency entrance of the general hospital. And there I was, sprawled out on a bed, pushing and panting. But as she came out, I came into something, something that I hadn’t expected. This new world of being a mother was a bewildering mess and it would only get messier. But I promised myself that my baby would not be only a name, but a tapestry of everything she loved—everything she hated, dreamed about, failed at, and all that comes with living a beautiful, messed up life. Her name was only a small piece. She would grow to be much more than just a name. And I knew exactly what it would be.

When the nurse asked me for a name for the birth certificate, I said, “Annie.” She smiled and I felt my mother sigh with relief from across the room. Life was normal again.

But joke’s on them. Annie is short for Anonymous.

GREEN PAINT — A SHORT STORY

He sold the house with the spare room to a woman who painted it yellow. Not the bright, cheerful yellow of sunflower petals, but the faded yellow edges of my father’s Bible which sat for forty years unopened on the mantel. I felt sorry for that Bible; its words misquoted and its pages worn only by age and not use. But I suppose the entire house was like that.

My grandfather had built it when the war ended. A small, cramped space, room enough only to hold his always pregnant wife and babies stacked against the wall in cardboard boxes. But it was all he could afford. The blood and tears soaked into the walls became a mark of distinction and he never tired of telling his guests that he built this grand place with his bare hands. That was the only thing Grandfather was ever prideful about.

But it was the only thing my father wasn’t. Grandfather stayed in the house until he dropped dead cleaning the breakfast dishes in 1998. And before I could sweep up the shattered pieces of the serving tray he’d been scrubbing, my father had sold the house to the first bidder.

And she is the one who painted the spare room yellow. And I am the only one who noticed.

I often wondered why my father was so eager to sell the family home after his father died. “Progress,” he said in his gravely voice as he beat his first on the kitchen table. “Can’t live in the past. The future’s coming and I ain’t going to be late.” So there went the house, the family photo albums and my grandmother’s book of handwritten poetry, the one bound in leather with the title embossed in cursive. All in the name of modernity.

But when my father died not six months after the house was sold, I discovered the truth in a hatbox. I have my mother to thank for that; it’s the one thing she got past my father when cleaning out the house, and she had the brains to keep it hidden until he was good and gone. I waited until he was interred and mourning had passed—something he hadn’t respected for his own father—before I opened it. And that’s where I found my grandfather’s journal, tear stained and tattered, which held the secret that he was an addict.

The sixties had left my grandfather in a delirium. His veins ran with alcohol and he had long since given up reading his Bible and had taken to beating his children over the head with it. Grandmother tried to calm his rages, to help him off the pills and liquor, but he wouldn’t have it. That’s how she lost baby number eleven. And my father, ten years old and two feet too short to stand up to him, just tried to keep out of his way.

It worked until my father’s eleventh birthday on April 27, 1971. Grandfather had come home drunk, his steps shuffling and swerving as he progressed down the hall toward the spare room where he slept. After the miscarriage, Grandmother had banned him to the back of the house, never to touch her nor share her bed. But she was too religious to divorce him. “For the children’s sake,” she said. But I think she was too scared of the backlash from the Baptists. I would be too.

“Good for nothing bar…” Grandfather muttered. He tried to twist the doorknob but it slipped from his grip and snapped back to its upright position. Trying again and failing, he cursed.

Shielded behind the slightly ajar bathroom door, my father held his toothbrush and stared down at the toothpaste dripping down his arm. He kept one eye on his father, still trying clumsily to open the spare room door, and noticing how quickly the paste dried and stuck to his arm hair. He pivoted, reaching for the towel to wipe it off but banged his shoulder into the side of the mirror. Down went the toothbrush with a clatter to the tile floor. It echoed in the silence of the broken down home.

Grandfather spun around and nearly toppled over. “Stop that racket, boy! Come help me with this blasted door.” My father froze, his eyes darting about the darkened hall like a flashlight beam, searching for an escape. But there was none.

“Now, boy.” Grandfather roared, gripping the doorknob. It twisted right, swung back and Grandfather went down. He was still, a tangle of limbs too confused to unravel themselves. “Help me up!”

My father, shaking in his socks and his mussed brown hair falling in his eyes, ran toward the one he tried every night to run from. I reckon it was the fear that pushed him into it. How Grandfather expected a boy to lift his limp, 250-pound frame I still don’t know, but he did.

My father got him sitting up and leaning against the wooden slats of the bed frame. He was halfway around, desperate for the door, when a hand shot out and clipped his left cheek. Tears streamed from his eyes, the salty wetness soothing the burning skin.

“Take it like a man,” Grandfather growled. “No son of mine cries like a girl. Come here, boy.”

My father didn’t move. But two broken ribs later, and my father had been hardened to any semblance of love. And my grandfather was still drunk. But not enough to forget.

Grandfather sobered up after Grandmother died in ’82. But he never forgave himself for not changing in time to ask for her forgiveness. But that didn’t hurt him as much as never receiving it from the only person who could truly help him heal.

They never spoke once my father left home at seventeen, though Grandfather tried time and again to mend things. The only reason I knew him at all was because of my mother. “Just because you won’t associate with him,” she told my father one night when I was eight, “doesn’t mean you can deprive our daughter of a loving grandfather.”

“Loving!” he scoffed. “Have you met the man?”

“Yes, I have,” Mother said, “but you haven’t.” They never discussed it again, but my father always paced angrily, muttering to himself or buried himself in paperwork at the office whenever we visited Grandfather’s house.

My mother was right. He didn’t care to meet the man Grandfather had become once he got sober and saved. That didn’t change what he had done when he was a kid. Nothing could change that. Not even God. No wonder why he never opened his Bible.

But I saw the man Grandfather really was. Even as a kid, looking through what everyone presumed was rose-coloured glasses but was really just an aid for my nearsightedness, I could see what my father wouldn’t admit was there. I remember sitting for hours on Grandfather’s lap, pretending to sleep so that he’d keep singing my favourite song. “I’ve got sixpence. Jolly, jolly sixpence,” he crooned. I know now that I never fooled him, not for a minute. He was gentle and wise, and had a faith as unbreakable as my father’s stubbornness. And so, he sold the house and scrubbed the memories from the walls of the spare room, in hopes that if he used enough detergent and distraction, they would disappear.

But even the yellow paint can’t hide it. It’s still there, buried beneath that hideous shade, and it will always be there unless you completely strip it and start over. But why put in the effort when you can sell the house and hand over the burden to the new owner?
So there it sits, the spare room in Grandfather’s house, with fading yellow paint and hurts that only stain the walls like blood.

But you know, my father wasn’t the only one needing to heal. And that’s why, after a trip to Vegas, I bought a Bible, that old house and a can of forest green paint.