Tuesday 30 November 2021

Human Flagpoles


by  Catherine M. Somerton

strong coffee


       Holly Aluquik-Jones* fought back tears as she stood before the monument. This was what she came to Grise Fiord or Inuktituk to see. She even took a few days off from her studies at Nunavut Arctic College to visit the remote northern hamlet.  Still, nothing could have prepared her for the flood of emotions that crashed over her like an icy wave. It was a stone carving of an Inuit woman, with a child and a husky at her side. The woman’s expression was one of sheer dismay.  She was gazing south east toward Resolute Bay, where no doubt some of her family was. They were political pawns, human flagpoles. The woman could have easily have been Holly’s grandmother and the child could have been Holly’s mother if they’d live in another part of the north.

            The year was 1953. Eighty-seven Inuits were transported in from their northern Quebec homes to Inuktituk and Resolute Bay. Did they go voluntarily? Holly used to think so, and as a small child, fantasized about being among them. She listened, spellbound to the stories of survival, human resourcefulness, and most of all, the grace of God.  What an honour it must have been, she thought, to help guard sovereignty of their great nation!

            The true story however, was completely different, as she now knew.  It was a story of deception, exploitation, and almost unimaginable suffering. The people didn’t go voluntarily. They were intimidated by the R.C.M.P and deceived with promises of a better life, abundant food, and the freedom to follow their traditional way of life. Even more insidiously, they were promised that they could return home in a year or two if they were unhappy.

            How did this happen? Prior to 1953, the Inuits targeted for relocation were living in Inukjuk, or Port Harrison as it was known at the time. Their children went to mainline schools and food was plentiful in the form of geese, ducks, shellfish and berries. They traded furs for credit in the local store. The community had a small church and a nursing station too.  While they received some government assistance, the Inuit were for the most part, self-sufficient and happy. Unknown to them, plans were being made in the capital city of Ottawa to transport seven families to the high arctic. Why was this? On paper, it was a humanitarian effort to reduce the Inuits’ dependence on the government, and allow them to follow their own traditions. In reality, it was a political scheme to use them as human flagpoles in the arctic archipelago. 

            With the Cold War raging, the Americans were getting too close for comfort, stringing their Distance Early Warning lines and stationing their military across the north. The Canadian government knew that establishing a civilian presence in the arctic archipelago would strengthen their assertion of sovereignty. Families wept as their friends and relatives were load on to the coastguard ship CD. Howe, that would transport them, but they were assured that they would return in two years if things didn’t work out. Unknown to them, many would never return. Another fact kept from them until they boarded, was that they were going to be split into two groups, going to two different settlements. The division of families was so devastating that even their sled dogs howled with despair.

            The people were left in what could only be described as a frozen desert. They were provided with nothing but Army surplus tents to live in. There were none of the caribou hides needed to make suitable clothing or adequate shelter.  The snow was too dusty to build igloos and it was dark 24 hours a day, not even a sliver of sunlight.  With almost no familiar game, the Inuit survived only by scavaging for food in the R.C.M.P dump, and everything they found was taken if they were caught. Not surprisingly, they soon lost their will to live. The R.C.M.P officers, who regularly visited the camps filed deceptively positive reports about the Inuits’ progress. Starving and fighting the bitter cold with life threatening illnesses and injuries, the Inuit begged to be returned home. The government, however, refused to honour its promise. After all, removing their human flagpoles from the high arctic would have defeated the purpose of the relocation.

            Holly shook her head, trying to understand such cruelty. No wonder the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit were so distrustful of the whites! A person of less faith might have despaired, but Holly was determined to make a difference. That was why she came to the north, and that was why she added her mother’s maiden name to her father’s. Holly’s Inuit background would help her to be accepted in the Native community. The nursing degree she would have in less than a year would entitle her to registration anywhere in Canada and a diploma she’d earned in pastoral counselling would complement her degree. She’d make a difference yet.


*Holly Aluquik-Jones, the story’s view point character, is fictional. The High Arctic Relocation and the suffering it caused the Inuit, unfortunately is not. As a writer, I hope this story has raised some awareness of this dark chapter in Canadian history, and perhaps inspired the readers do some research of their own.

Monday 29 November 2021



by Judith Skilleter



Frances is not coming out of Covid 19 successfully. She quite likes the solitude and the working from home. In truth she is not in total solitude. She has Daz, her dachshund, named after a washing powder used by her grandmother all those years ago. He is a delight and quite enough company thank you. Frances had called her grandmother Nana Daz and she liked carrying on at least some of Nana Daz’s name.

Yes, Covid 19 has been ok, as far as she is concerned, almost enjoyable but mostly OK. Frances has had two doses of the vaccine and is waiting to be called for her booster jab and she has been very careful to avoid any gatherings where the virus might have been waiting to find her.  And it has all suited her to a tee.

Frances hasn’t always lived alone – or at least living without another human being sharing her living space. There was a short-lived marriage a few years ago but they (or she?) much preferred being together to living together.  There was a friendly divorce and life went on as if the wedding and everything that went along with it had never happened.

These days Frances’ days are spent at home, obviously. She has a routine. Up early, 7ish, and after a cup of tea she is out with Daz for about 30 minutes. Frances reckons that Daz, being a dachshund, does not need more than that. After all his fastest walk is more like a scuttle. Daz is not one for a 100 metre sprint. Home for breakfast and then she is at her desk by 9 at the latest. It has been this way all through Covid since she and her colleagues were asked to work from home. Who would have thought she would have enjoyed it so much?

There follows a light lunch at about 1pm and a quick Daz outing and then work until 6 or even 7. She does not mind the long hours at all. Her work gives her purpose and great satisfaction. Then dinner, usually on a tray in front of the TV, a final Daz outing and then bed with a book. Frances finds no sadness in her solitary routine.

She works for a tech firm. She has a combination position in that she is a high up administrator as well as personal assistant to one of the directors. Frances loves her work and she is good at it. She is known to be very reliable, and very hard working and even occasionally inspiring. Her ideas have been adopted by the firm on more than one occasion.

Bu Frances is now aware that after nearly 2 years of working from home and living a more solitary existence than before Covid 19 she is not looking forward to a return to normal living. And normal living is coming too quickly for her liking. Social distancing is rarely acknowledged nowadays and face masks are almost a thing of the past. Luckily, she rarely goes out, even her shopping is delivered and she is a great fan of Amazon Prime. But when she does go out she is disturbed by the ease with which people have forgotten the horrors of Covid 19.

Another thing she has noticed is a growing lack of confidence alongside her more cautious approach to life. This is very clear when she is driving her car. Her car has been round the block once a week, to turn the engine over, her mechanic said that was important, for the past 18 months. Even these short journeys unsettle Frances. It is a chore that has to be done and Frances has often thought that she would like to sell her car and put driving behind her.

So she is aware that she likes her new and more solitary existence very much but she is also aware that some things might have been lost as she made her way through Covid 19. And these things are self-confidence, courage and an ability to try new things or revisit familiar things without a second thought. Frances is not without self-awareness.

Frances has a sister with four, possibly five by now, children up in the Midlands. For forever she has visited her sister plus her increasing family at Christmas and during the summer. Pre-covid, Frances thought nothing of just getting in her car and heading north via motorways, side-roads and all sorts. In those days she decided to go, flung a few things in the car and set off. But now the thought of driving all that way fills her with fear. She is not convinced that she would get there and back safely and even the thought of sitting behind the wheel for a couple of hours in, most likely, heavy traffic scares her. It is something she feels she cannot do anymore and all her sister’s recent invitations have been fobbed off.

She has a few friends but Covid has meant that getting together and having outings have been few and far between. And do you know, Frances has not minded that at all?

Now it is all made worse by the fact that her boss has decided that his employees should start to return to the office, a gradual return, two, then three then four days and finally after a period of 6 months they would all be back to normal working hours in the office.

Frances is not happy with these plans. They mean she will have to drive to work daily, public transport is not possible, and she would have to spend her days with people. She would have to make small talk with people – and these people might ask her out for a drink or other scary outings. “Thank you, but no, I have to get back home for Daz, he has been on his own all day” is an excuse that will not be effective forever.

Frances is really not looking forward to a life without Covid19.


About the author  

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching and her first children's novel will be published shortly. She is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with three grandchildren


Sunday 28 November 2021

The Barn

 by Michael Barrington

double macciato

She was asleep now, her head leaning on his outstretched arm, her delicate, dainty fingers finally relaxing their grip on his huge, calloused hand. The musky scent of her beautiful, long hair, she was so proud of it, stirred up old memories of happier times. He knew every inch of her face, her lovely, big brown eyes, that always seemed so full of wonderment, her delicate lips…He was afraid to move for fear of waking her, but he needed to relieve his numbing arm. And he must do so quickly before he was forced to make some abrupt movement that might disturb her. It was pitch black. He mustn’t turn on the light.

            Gently, ever so gently, he raised her head with his arm. Then reaching across his chest, inch by inch, feeling for her neck, taking infinite care not to pull her hair, he eased it carefully down onto the pillow with his good hand. As he rolled onto his back, he felt the tingling, burning circulation begin to return, then slowly drew his numb arm to his side.

            She must sleep. She needed to sleep. Albeit the sleep of exhaustion.

She’d cried so much all evening once the visitors had left…had spoken so very little. She’d always been careful with sharing her thoughts and even more sparing with her words. She’d just kept repeating, “why him, why him…. why?”

            He had drawn her tenderly to himself, holding her tightly in his embrace where he knew she felt safe. She did not resist.

Curled up on his knee, she clung to him with the fierceness of a wounded animal, as he sat on his favorite chair next to the open fireplace. The sound of the crackling, burning logs, and the low regular moan of the winter storm outside, provided fitting accompaniment to the expression of her grief. Her constant sobbing seemed to come from the very depths of her small, delicate body, and against his huge bulk, she looked like some tiny rag doll.

He could feel the heaving of her breasts against his chest, and the tears soaking into his shirt. He was filled with unutterable tenderness. He wanted with every ounce of his being to take her pain away. He wanted things to be so different. He wanted to change what had happened. But for this one time in his life when she really needed him, he felt helpless, totally helpless. And for him, that tapped into the very core of his manhood, his very being, adding still further to his inexpressible sadness.

            He couldn’t remember how long they remained, locked together. It was she who finally suggested they go to bed. And he had carried her there. Like a helpless child, she had allowed him to help her undress and then lay her gently on the bed. He tucked the comforter around her shoulders. They said nothing. There was nothing more to say.

            Jake padded through the house, from back to front, shutting it down for the night, a ritual he always claimed for himself and one that usually gave him a deep sense of peaceful ownership. But tonight… 

He turned to take one final look at the slowly flickering, dying embers. His huge powerful frame filled the bedroom doorway, and his normally stooped shoulders were now just a little more hunched as if carrying an extra burden.

He undressed in the dark as he usually did.  Protectively, he reached over to touch her, to draw her close to himself, unsure; but she responded. Her sobbing continued, hour after painful hour, until finally, there was just the sound of gentle breathing, the darkness, and the raging storm outside.

            He didn’t sleep. This was not a night for sleep. He did not know how long he had lain there dozing, ruminating, pondering over things. His built-in alarm, however, told him it was time to work. Despite everything, the inexorable life of the ranch called him into action. There were beasts to tend to, animals to be fed.

            Slowly, gingerly, he slid one leg from under the blanket, feeling for the warmth of the sheepskin rug on the floor. Pushing himself upright, carefully keeping one hand on the covers so as not to drag them off her shoulders, he eased himself off the bed.  She didn’t move. He paused to listen. Her whispered rhythmic breathing assured him she was still sleeping.

            On mornings such as this, routines were a blessing, he reasoned. He must focus on essentials; he must stay centered. He needed to be strong for both of them. There were things that needed to be done. Even while lying there beside her, with the winter wind howling and baying at the house like a pack of hungry wolves, he hadn’t failed to notice the constant tapping of a loose window screen, probably the one near the end of the porch. He would deal with that later.

            After making his usual mug of black coffee, taking care to leave the pot on the heater to be ready for her when she arose, he edged his way down the cold, dark stone-floored hallway towards the back door. In the alcove he had specially designed for this very purpose, he flopped onto the hard-wooden bench and began the ritual of pulling on his knee-high, heavy snow boots. But this morning felt different. As he mechanically began lacing them up, he found himself unexpectedly saying, “he had the same size as me," but then caught himself, realizing quickly that this kind of talk could only lead to more pain.

He stamped his feet in as much an impatient gesture as one that would ensure his comfort.  

Grabbing his cumbersome parka from the rack behind him he struggled momentarily with the zipper, and almost immediately began to feel its familiar comfort and increasing warmth. It was only then that he saw the other one and it caught him unawares, total of guard. It was identical to his, hanging there, alone. Why hadn’t he noticed it before? The sight shook him to his core.

Obscure, strange, unwanted feelings were starting to emerge from deep inside him. Intuitively he knew that they were too dangerous, too volatile to entertain. If given space, they would be like some huge flood from a broken dam and would sweep him away.

            “But this is his,” he murmured to himself, drawn to look again at the hanging parka tentatively reaching out to touch it. “It’s his.”  And then catching himself again, he paused for a second, straightened up to his full six feet four inches, and remonstrated, “I must get to work; I have lots to do.”

            Hurriedly, pulling on his cap and wooly mittens, he let himself out the back door. The force of the piercing, freezing, icy-cold wind, caused him to pause momentarily as he caught his breath, focused on his direction, and then trudged out across the yard and towards the barn.  But the rumblings and murmurings kept pace with him.    

             Never to see him again. Never to hear his voice. Never to feel the warmth of his companionship again. To be no more. Gone. There was such finality to it. It didn’t make any sense. One’s own flesh and blood. A wonderful human being. Someone you had helped bring into this crazy world. But now… gone!

           Neither of them had been great talkers. But they knew who they were when they were together. They had a special bond. They understood. They enjoyed being with each other. They liked working together. They cared about each other. No!.. No!.. Not ‘cared.’ It was more than that. Much more…. So much more.

Jake struggled to get his lips around another word that was insisting on being formed, that was so strange, so foreign. It was not a word they could ever have used with each other. In any case, they really didn’t need to. But now…Things were forever changed.

Leaning into the biting, bone-crunching wind, as he lumbered through the white snow-covered yard, the imprints of his size twelve boots creating black symmetrical patterns, Jake suddenly stopped in his tracks as if pulled back by an imaginary, giant hand.  Straightening up, he turned his head to watch the watery, winter sun, just peeking over Milligan’s Ridge to the east, weep down the hillside covered with trees, now starkly gray in their December nakedness, and slowly cover the valley floor with what to him resembled a massive shroud. 

He shivered, tugged at the collar of his parka, and beat his arms vigorously across his body, hoping to encourage circulation and warmth, while at the same time his soft, squinting, blue eyes took in the whole panorama. There were mornings when he felt that this place was his chapel, where his spirit was at one with nature, where he felt he could touch the heavens. Today, it had the empty eyes and waxen look of a corpse. It was bitterly cold.

The low rising sun finally spread to touch a corner of the barn and Jake couldn’t but notice that it briefly cast a sort of soft spotlight on the extension, highlighting the newness of the boards. He felt a tightening in his chest. His body went rapidly from hot to cold and back again. Beads of frozen perspiration clung to the tufts of gray hair protruding from under his wooly cap. “What’s happening to me?” he complained to himself, shaking his head in disbelief, his eyes misting over. He quickly raised a mitt-covered hand, wiping the back of it across his face. 

They had built it together in the spring. It was their last project. It was while they were working on the barn that he told him he was enlisting, volunteering.  He wanted to serve…. He needed to do something special for his country…. He had thought it through… There was to be no argument. 

But now this.


Gone forever.

The loss was soul-crushing, and for the first time in his adult life, Jake was possessed by an anguish and sorrow that clawed and gnawed at his very being. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a chilling, primordial, guttural utterance possessed him as he screamed back into the howling wind at the top of his lungs, “A father should never outlive his child.” And then with clenched fist pumping the air, remonstrated at the barn. “I want him back…. I WANT HIM BACK.”

Then new words started to form, and this time as the tears flowed down his craggy, weather-beaten face, he chokingly allowed them to take shape. “I loved him” …he whispered to himself… “I really loved him.”

And the barn alone stood there listening as a witness, passive, silent, immutable, as pitiless as the grave.  


About the author

Michael Barrington born in Manchester UK, lives in San Francisco, California. He is the author of The Bishop Wears no Drawers, a memoir & Let the Peacock Sing, a historical novel. Becoming Anya will be released next month. He has published several short stories. (www.mbwriter.net.)

Saturday 27 November 2021

Sticky Lips and the Stray Cat


by Henri Colt

vodka martini


My girlfriend and I had just returned from an overnight trip into Manhattan. A night of gentle love-making on the pillow-covered king size bed at The Surrey followed drinks at the Carlisle

and dinner on seventy-sixth and Madison. Our morning walk across Central Park in a light summer rain kept us in a tender mood, but the drive back to Westchester was mostly silent, each of us locked in our own thoughts. After getting out of the car, I escorted Chris to the front door.


“I can’t stay, you know.”


“Awww,” she said. “Baby is so important he just has to get back to the office.”


I put my hand on her waist. “It pays the bills,” I said. Then jokingly, “I didn’t see you change this morning. Are you still wearing a little bit of nothing under your dress?”


She turned and bent slightly forward to slip her key into the front door. “Just nature’s natural fur,” she said without looking up.


I nudged her from behind, putting my hand on the back of her short, knit skirt. I could almost feel the warm, soft triangle between her legs. My palm cupped her snuggly. Nestling her, I wrapped my arm around her waist. Her thighs squeezed me…hard.


She leaned her cheek on my shoulder. “Hmmm,” she said, pressing herself against me. I kissed her behind the ear and inched my lips down toward the tip of her nose. I scratched the nape of her neck playfully.


“Stop,” she whispered, “you know I like that.”


“You could undress here, you know?


She giggled, but it sounded more like a purr. “You mean on my doorstep? I don’t think so. I have neighbors.”


“They’ll just be jealous.”


“They’ll gossip.”


“Let them talk.” I brushed myself against her. The word ‘relentless’ popped into my mind.


“I’m serious,” she said. “Stop.”


But my hand was still trapped between her legs. I sort of just left it there, fiddling, as if it had a mind of its own.


“Stop,” she said, in a way that made the word sound like it had two syllables. I restrained a smile when I felt the tautness in her thighs relax. Grudgingly, but with my arm still wrapped around her waist, I grasped her hand and lifted it to my lips. A sweet almond aroma rose from my fingertips. I breathed deeply, making sure she would hear me.


“Did I upset you?” she said.


“I’m not sure,” I ventured. “Maybe it’s the mixed messages?”


“It’s just a word,” she said. “There’s no need to make a big thing about it.” Pulling away, she adjusted her skirt and turned the key. The door popped open and she stepped across the threshold, then pivoted on her toes. I loved her toes, but they were concealed in those soft black loafers she bought on Lexington Avenue. No socks.


With her back to the hallway, she looked at me. I marveled at the way she ran her tongue across her teeth and scratched the corner of her mouth with her little finger, as if she were removing a spot of lipstick.


“My lips get so sticky,” she said, suddenly opening the cross-body Hermes bag draped over her shoulder. She pulled a tube of lipstick from the purse. Its black and gold logo was unmistakable. With perfectly set short black hair, a shapely figure, and deep blue eyes, she stood statuesque-like in the doorway. I peeked past her at the small marble coffee table covered with books. A crystal vase overflowed with bright yellow tulips. The lights came on automatically.


“I had a wonderful time,” she said, “but you know that.”


I wasn’t sure whether to leave or to wait patiently for an invitation to come in. Perhaps she expected me to say goodbye. A stray cat sauntered across the driveway and brushed against my leg, arching its back repeatedly. After curling itself twice around my ankles, it groaned plaintively before vanishing into the shadows of an afternoon sun drowning in the treetops.

About the writer 

Henri Colt is a physician-writer and wandering scholar who marvels at beauty wherever it may be. His short stories have appeared in CaféLit, Rock and Ice Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others.