Writing Contest 2014 Winner – Non-Fiction

The Other Side

The candle burns out. My bedroom goes dark.

I lie on my carpeted floor. My face presses against a pile of worn sweatshirts and pants. I smell the pungent smoke from the candle.  I shiver.

A fast car zooms by our house on Trafalgar Road. Trafalgar Road begins in Milton, passes through Hornby, and reaches into Oakville.

I live in Hornby—the countryside.

I live in an old tarnished house with my Mom and Dad. My brother, Sunny, lives in the basement, but he rarely comes home.

In the summer, the house feels humid and hot. The air conditioning is broken. Dad loves the summer breeze. He always leaves all windows and the back door open. Sometimes mice trail inside the house and nest in our kitchen cabinets. Mom puts out snap traps and poison pellets every night.

In the winter, the house feels ice-cold. I turn on the furnace heat in my bedroom. Mom yells at me because our electrical bill is too high. I bundle myself up with two blankets at night.

I listen to the ticking of my Swatch watch. Dad snores on the other side of my bedroom wall. Rodents scamper across the ceiling. They gnaw, too. Crickets chirp outside my window. Mom coughs and shuffles on her squeaky bed on the other side of the wall beside me. Mom and Dad sleep in different rooms.

I unfold my body and lift myself off the floor. My black Nike duffle bag lies on my bed. I packed it earlier with fresh clothes and trail mix granola bars. I kick the pile of clothes I rested my head on, and search for my black and white University of Toronto sweater.

I put it on. I sit on my bed.

I stare at the framed picture of myself as a baby and Babuji, my late grandfather, on the wall above my door. Babuji holds me in his lap. My hands reach for his fluffy white beard.

“I really tried, Babu,” I whisper. Tears form in my eyes. My lips quiver.

I press the middle button on my BlackBerry Curve. 1:35 a.m. in bold white numbers.  I hold down the side button and watch my phone turn off.

I spring off my bed and grasp the handles of my Nike duffle bag.

I tip-toe to my white, wooden, wrecked door. Last month, after an argument with Dad, I kicked the door with my combat boots. A small hole appeared and the paint chipped and the door cracked. I open the door slowly.

Dad’s bedroom door is shut. He snores.

Mom’s bedroom door is open. She shuffles.

I wander down the dark hallway. Tyson, my Labrador, sleeps at the top of the stairway. I reach out my left hand and stroke Tyson’s head. He breathes heavily. I can’t see his if he is awake.

“Shhhh,” I say.

I walk down the stairs, into my kitchen, through the dining room, and to the front door. I slip my feet into my brown moccasins. I grab my keys off the wall beside the front door. The keys jingle in my hands.

I freeze.

Dad snores.

Mom shuffles.

I quietly open the front door, and step outside. The fall night feels chilly. I snug my mouth inside my sweatshirt.

I walk along the wooden porch and step down the steps. I march on the driveway. Leaves crunch. My foot hits a recycling bin placed beside my Kia Rio. Empty Diet Coke cans, Canada Dry, Crown Royal, and four Jackson Triggs bottles fill the recycling bin. Dad drinks two more bottles of wine than he usually does in a week.

I open the car door and throw my duffle bag on the passenger seat.

I drive on Highway 5, on Dundas Road, towards my hometown in Brantford. I pass a town called Waterdown, thirty-five minutes from Trafalgar Road. Waterdown is old and antique. Dundas Road turns into Main Street. Main Street looks stripped and withered.

2:53 a.m. in bright green numbers on my dashboard.

I turn at the Sobeys Plaza and drive into the parking lot. I creep along the plaza and park in front of the Tim Hortons. An elderly woman stands at the counter alone. The Dairy Queen beside the Tim Hortons has closed down. No equipment, no chairs. Empty.

 When I was twelve, Mom and I stopped here when we came home from my uncle Bala Mamaji’s house in Oakville. Mom hates the freeway.

On a hot summer night, Mom and I pulled up at the Dairy Queen. We sat outside on the patio chairs. I ordered the Brownie Earthquake and Mom ordered the Strawberry Vanilla sundae.

“Try this, Kiki,” Mom said. She spooned the creamy ice cream covered in strawberry sauce and put it in my mouth.

“Yummy! But I like my chocolate, Momma.” I lifted my spoon to Mom. “You try this!”

“No, no, no!” Mom said. Mom never liked chocolate.

“Fine,” I laughed. I placed the spoon in my mouth and chewed on the the cold brownie chunks.

Mom grabbed my hand and caressed my knuckles. Mom had rough hands and chipped red nail polish. She smiled at me. Mom’s eyes wrinkled and watered.

“Dad is going to be very angry if we come home after sunset.” Mom grabbed her purse. “Finish up, Kiki,” she whispered.

“Aw, Mom, can we stay longer?”

Nahien! Chalo.” Mom grasped my hand and pulled.

“I’m not done.” I pushed, forced, and smacked Mom’s hand, hitting her gold-plated wedding ring. “I hate Dad!” I yell.

Mom lowered her eyes and looked at her shoes. Her smile faded. “Never say that again.”

“He’s mean,” I whispered. I swirled the dark brown ice cream in my cup.

“He did a lot for me, Kiki,” Mom’s voice cracked. “You know, if I didn’t marry him, I would be in India still.”

I rolled my eyes and licked the chocolate syrup off my spoon. “Mom? Do I have to get married?” I asked.

“Yes. Yes you do. You have to get married.”

“But I don’t want to, Mom.” I stood up and grabbed the sticky cup. “Aman doesn’t want to get married, either.”

“Your sister is not being a real lady,” Mom said. She took the cup from my hand and threw it in the garbage. Mom swiped a bunch of napkins from the table and wiped the chocolate off my face. “She’s always away from home,” Mom mumbled.

We walked around the building to our silver Dodge Caravan.

“Would Dad be mad at me if I moved to Hollywood?” I said.

“What do you want to do there?”

“I wanna be a director!” I waved my arms and ran to the van. “Remember? Remember when Nick and I wrote the play last year?”

Mom rolled her eyes and opened the driver side of the car. “No, no, no more Nick,” Mom said. She started the car. “You have to get married to a Punjabi Munda like I did, okay, Karen?”

I looked out the window as Mom pulled out of the parking lot. I saw the Sobeys, and the Tim Hortons full of people.

“You can be happy studying pharmacy, too.” Mom’s voice cracked again.

I looked at Mom’s eyes as she drove us back to Brantford, back to Dad. I twisted the radio knob and turned the music higher. “All the Small Things” by Blink 182 played. I air-drummed and sang the whole way home. Mom was silent.

I toss in the driver’s seat. Frost covers the windows. I swallow, but something cuts my throat. Water from my nose drips above my lips.  The keys are still in the ignition. I start the car. 6:20 a.m. Fuck. Did I fall asleep?

I turn on my BlackBerry, and wait for it to load. I roll my windows down and glance at the Tim Hortons full of people: Men in business suits, elderly couples, and tired women crowd around the counter.

My BlackBerry vibrates. Missed calls and text messages from home appear.

A few loonies, quarters, and pennies sit in my change cup. I pick out four quarters. I stroll up to the Tim Hortons drive-thru.

I shut my phone off.

“Welcome to Tim Hortons, what can I get you this morning?” the lady says through the speaker intercom.

“Strawberry—” I say. “Strawberry jelly doughnut.”


Karen was born and raised in Brantford, Ontario. Karen is a music enthusiast and writes lyrics and raps for her urban-alternative band VAK.

Judges’ Comment

The astonishingly understated world of Karen’s story belies the very high feelings that run in it, allowed to show only once or twice and then quickly suppressed by that strange, contradictory mix of pragmatics and seemliness that govern many family dynamics. A deep vein of feeling is expertly hinted at through everyday happenings.

This was an entry in the 2013/14 Writing Contest.

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