On Looking and Being Seen: “For Young Girls,” by Eileen Mary Holowka


Content Warning: Depression and creepy insect stories

Maggie used to write stories in the attic. That was back when she was a child, when she wasn’t allowed to leave the house and instead spent family gatherings curled up in strangers’ jackets on her parents’ bed. She would rub her face into them and try to find a home in each of the different scents: winter smokers, damp lavender, a flooded basement. She would rifle through the pockets, stroking keys to guess where they belonged and reading crumpled receipts.

These days she had trouble writing. There were too many parties to attend and they always took days to get over. She still rubbed up against strangers’ jackets but it never gave her the same joy. These days, the smells were too familiar and all new possibilities seemed to end with every touch.

Sometimes Maggie went home with the jackets. She liked the homes and the jackets more than the people inside them, but they were her only excuse in. Most of the time they would have sex and some of the time she would bleed after. It was a symptom of some condition she hadn’t been able to diagnose. It became a kind of performance art piece, bleeding onto other people’s beds. They were never appreciative of her art.

Maggie built sets. Mock kitchens with only three walls and trees with trapdoors. It was a dream job on the way to what she hoped could one day be economically sustainable. She moved around theatres invisibly, in all-black outfits that doubled as formal wear, and spent rehearsal breaks hiding in the wings watching the actors bicker like they were in a play.

The best part about casual sex was locking herself in the strangers’ bathrooms, before she had let them down with her leaking uterus, to go through their cupboards. She loved the belongings and rituals of others, finding out where they kept their extra toilet paper or whether they Q-tipped their ears. She never took anything or moved it out of place, just looked. She figured it would make her a better artist, or make her like that particular stranger better. She tried to imagine what a future in their home would look like, but it was always better the less she knew.

The doctors kept telling her there was nothing wrong, but they scheduled her an ultrasound anyways. The technician pressed down on Maggie’s full bladder while they both watched the screen. Maggie eagerly looked for something, a cyst or a tumour, as if it were a fetus. But there was nothing there, not even a child, to explain her problems. She walked out of the hospital past husbands and their swelling wives and felt more infertile than she’d ever felt in her life.

Her journey home was slow and heavy, despite or because of her emptiness. Even the trees were barren, she noticed. Autumn made her want to call her ex. She touched her phone, but it turned off as soon as she tapped his name. She had no idea where the bus stop was without Google and it took her an hour to walk home. It was dark and damp, and she looked into the lit-up windows of other people’s houses with longing. She called him later that week, several times until she got past his voicemail. When he heard her voice, he paused, and hung up.

The printed ultrasound results came the same day. Everything was fine, but sounded deadly. She read the paper aloud to Anne over Skype. Apparently there is fluid in my cul-de-sac. Did you know you had a cul-de-sac in your uterus?

That explains your pain, Anne replied. Cars keep getting stuck.

Imagine the tiny little houses.

Little moms and dads.

God, even my diseases are domestic.

Maggie liked her parents and visited them often. They would cook her more food than she could eat and fill her full of enough tea to make her bus ride home unbearable. They tried to get her to clean her toys out of the attic, but instead she just hid in the back and watched spiders build webs around her Barbies. She didn’t have the heart to throw them out, nor the desire to clean them, so she just watched instead.

The attic was full of garbage treasures: VHS tapes of dance recitals and episodes of I Love Lucy; Mom’s broken mint green typewriter; her grandmother’s wedding photos. Maggie’s dollhouse sat in the corner near the window, covered in mud from where the roofers had gone wild. She used to imagine herself as the prettiest doll and would dress and undress her mock self for hours. Doll Maggie had always been intelligent and composed. She went to parties, her face always painted into a smile.

Maggie was scared to touch her doll self, even to save her from the wreckage of shingle bits. She had never intended to stop playing, but eventually everyone else did and the lonely, imaginative Saturdays became guilty pleasures, with an emphasis on the guilt. She knew that when she grew up she would call herself Margaret. She just didn’t know when that growing up would come.

As a child, she was good at being seen and not heard. She could never keep up with her family’s political conversations and figured she must not have any opinions. She told her father her theory and he laughed her down. She decided to drop that opinion as well.

Maggie brought a man home to her parents once. He was tall and professional and liked to put her down. She could see the confusion in her mother’s eyes, as she placed the plate in front of the man like some kind of offering. She could tell her mother would rather throw it in his face, but was trying to treat her daughter like a woman. Maggie would have preferred to be chastised like a child and she felt like one as she made eye contact with her mother and shrugged.

His name was Douglas. He always told her she was a good listener, but mostly he was just a good talker. He was a writer and told Maggie she should be a writer too and that he could edit her work if she liked, because it could use some editing. He called her Margaret, said it was a good writer’s name. It sounded so good in his mouth that she felt obligated to keep kissing him. She adored him and he adored her, except when he didn’t.

So I just googled it, Maggie texted Anne, and it says the cul-de-sac is also called “Pouch of Douglas” cuz of some guy named Douglas who “discovered” it I guess.


Even my insides belong to dudes.

Dudes named Douglas. Had to be a Douglas.

It’s always a Douglas.

The last time Maggie and Anne Skyped, the internet began cutting out in the middle of their chat about depression. Anne’s comforting words fractured into alien xylophone fragments and Maggie broke down laughing.

She hadn’t always been so sad. She read that birth control could be making her this way, but the doctor said that was just part of the deal. So she stayed on the meds and took selfies instead. Except they never looked beautiful or poetic enough, like Anne’s. Instead they were unnerving, lacking the adequate amount of performance for the camera.

Early in her career, Maggie had tried acting. She was excellent when she had to play a quiet school girl, but unconvincing when she tried the role of a confident lesbian. She realized she was only good at performing herself, her own intimacy, and went back to facilitating the public intimacy of others instead.

During her long distance relationships, Maggie always watched herself on the screen, instead of her lover. Her own tiny image was too distracting. Her long-distance self was cold and hard and contained behind glass. These days, she was somewhat softer. At least, she leaked.

She rarely brought men home but, after watching an episode of Sex and the City, the idea of having sex next to the open window appealed to her. It wasn’t the lovemaking that made it so enticing, but the idea that the neighbours might be watching, thinking of her as some sort of Samantha sex-goddess and wishing for her life.

As a teenager, Maggie had worked in her father’s office building where she’d spend the morning filing papers and the afternoons staring into the windows of the apartment building across the street. She’d map out the tenants’ rituals: the old lady’s lunchtime smoke, the child’s after-school milk and cookies, the perfectly trimmed bachelor’s quick change into evening clothes. She always hoped she might catch them looking back her way, but the window was likely reflective.

On one of her dates, she took a guy to an art gallery, but ended up coming down with diarrhea. He gave up on her after she spent too long in the washroom, and sent her some sort of inflammatory text about her thighs, or ass or something. It was her gut saving her, she realized, because after she recovered she stumbled into a Nan Goldin exhibit she knew he would have ruined. She spent two hours in the room, gazing at other people’s wounds, and crying. She went home knowing she should write down her thoughts, but ended up in bed instead, with an old recording of Judy Garland covering Singing in the Rain playing in the background on her parents’ passed-down wedding gift television set.

The next date was even more hopeless. She spent hours preparing, trimming her pubic hair into the toilet with safety scissors and wondering if other girls had better methods. However, as soon as she met him, she knew it was over. His profile picture beard was gone and he kept calling her Meg. She smiled and pushed through it, walking 16 km across the city with him until she finally came up with an excuse to leave. She went home and watched Rear Window on loop until she fell asleep.

Most nights before bed, she would scroll through Facebook, Twitter, /r/Relationships, and YouTube to watch the lives of others. Sometimes she would comment, but normally she just acted as a witness, eager to see a glimmer of emotion, something beyond herself. In the mornings she scrolled through Instagram, pretending that what she saw were just static portraits, but inevitably identifying with and reading into every one.

One night, an ant crawled into her ear while she was sleeping. At first she thought the crunchy popping sound was some kind of air bubble, but she was unable to pop it. She fished around for awhile before deciding to look in the mirror. Its tiny black legs were just visible as they reached around for a way out. She stared in icy panic, suddenly wishing for her mother or a roommate who could pull it out of her. The responsibility of the task ran over her like spilled milk, mundane but devastating, as she forced her trembling fingers towards his tiny body, burning her eyes open so she wouldn’t lose him.

Afterward, he crawled around her fingers and she watched with a kind of respect, understanding now that he had wanted to be there even less than she’d wanted him to. She put the ant on the windowsill and crawled back into her bed. Her room was yellows, blues, and beige and smelled of her home. On the walls hung postcards and letters from her friends. It was kind of lovely, she realized, this place entirely her own.

The next day, the subway was stalled due to a suicide. She took out a notebook and began sketching the man sitting across from her. She sketched his pale face and sunken features, shaping them into a story. He looked on the verge of breakdown, as though he had just suffered some great loss. She ripped out the page and passed it to him, a gesture of friendship, empathy, or just mutual boredom.

He took the picture from her and squinted at it, shaking his head.

What’s this? he asked.

A drawing I did of you, just now, Maggie answered, smiling.

This isn’t me, he said, and the subway started again.


these words by Eileen Mary Holowka were inspired by the art of Marcin Wolski

New Prose: “January 20” by Ajay Mehra


The knurled cloth handles of Nicos’ hamper cut into his right hand.  The straps are connected all the way to the base of the bag and the weight of the laundry keeps pushing them apart.  They’re too short, now that the laundry is folded and holding the bag to its shape.  You switch hands but there isn’t enough time to rub the indentations out of the left hand before the pain in the right hand is impossible.

Nicos puts the hamper down on a bench facing the front window of a coffee shop.  People sit looking out onto the street—at the sidewalk and the bench and the parked cars and the road and the storefronts across the road that you can’t make out what they are from here.   You have to rub your hands with each other and look out as well.  How does anyone sit on this bench with the coffee shop staring them in the face.  You’d have to seem surprised all the time that you’d caught someone sipping or biting or reading.

You can’t sit next to your laundry on a bench.  It looks like you’re waiting for someone to come help you, because people can’t tell it’s done.  Is it still laundry when it’s done, and folded.  It’s laundry when it’s dirty, and while it’s getting clean, and while you fold it.  It’s clothes when you put it away.  You can sit next to clothes.  Clothes are like shopping.

Nicos had sat next to half his laundry at the laundromat.  Only because all the machines were full.  You can sit next to your laundry in the laundromat, if the machines are full and you have enough for a good-size load.  And if it’s a clean laundromat.  How do laundromats get dirty.  Car washes get dirty and the dirty ones have the strongest sprayers so you go to the dirtiest ones.  Luckily the closest car wash is filthy.

You don’t care about how a hamper carries when the machines are in the building.  Or when the laundromat at the corner is clean.  Who sends you to a dirty laundromat.  There isn’t another laundromat between here and home, so you have to buy another new hamper.  The store that sells hampers isn’t on the way either.

these words by Ajay Mehra were inspired by
the art of Pasha Bumazhniy

New poem, “Okay for Now,” by Rachael Simpson


We’ve reached the point in the evening where
our responsible selves have fallen
asleep beside us on the floor. Now
we can talk about what troubles us.

Our voices touch like whiskers
and scratch the door.
A heaviness pulls at our sleeves.
I thought you were asleep, we say.
How much did you hear?

We put ourselves properly to bed.
Pour another glass. Something
knocks into us—

bad dream
I had another
don’t know
what to do.

We do not raise our arms.
We do not shoot questions.

Over time, the moon lines up with the window.
Glasses pile on the table
like small sunken ships.

It was right there
says someone
about a deer in the yard.
We point as though we saw it, too.

this poem by Rachael Simpson was inspired by Dominique Normand‘s painting, “Walking Out”

Flash fiction: “Circadian”



            [Kyoto, Japan. Mid-Fall, 2007. Leather jacket, jeans, black t-shirt. Dusk, that time of day when there’s enough sunset left to appreciate, but not so much as to dissuade folk from turning on their lanterns.]

            I’m lying by the river when somewhere, far off and faint, a violin begins to play. It takes me longer than it should to realize it’s an old Ella Fitzgerald tune, but my brain gets there when the progression gets to the D minor [the one right before the chorus]. It’s an odd thing, the chemical reaction that occurs when a well-arpeggiated minor chord rings out against the harshly crisp air that always seems to accompany autumn; something about minor thirds and fallen leaves, I suppose.

            I’ve been counting sheep and counting shots, tallying up missed hours of sleep and ingested cubic millilitres of saki. It’s little wonder why life feels more manageable from a horizontal position; Japanese businessmen can put them away, and jet lag is a bitch. Chords warble along the breeze, A-flat into F minor into G7.  Dream a Little Dream of Me, that’s the song. She sings it with Louis Armstrong, Ella does. The violinist has finished now, and he/she has either packed it up or wandered off, since there’s no more music to be had. In its place there’s only the gentle hum of the city and the delicate chatter of the two young travellers splayed out on a picnic blanket to my right, just within earshot. She’s talking about a band she likes; yeah, but they’re no Zeppelin, he says.

            The houses, set on stilts, glow brightly in the evening fog, and with so much texture to the air it’s as though you could reach out and touch the part of the universe where the neon lights rub up against the dark. The lanterns that hang from the eaves of the buildings are pleasantly old-fashioned, and something in their flickering helps with my sense of calm.

            The grass beneath me is wet between my fingers, and I try and think of the last time it rained. Kyoto is beautiful in the rain, on those days when the damp and the chill slow the normally mad city down just enough to remind you how ancient it really is. Some dream of history, others drink it in. Me, I just want to fall into the heartbeat of the place, let the old circadian cadence put to rest most all of the unsavory distractions that pester the soul on the daily.

            The violin begins again, but this time I don’t recognize the melody. 

words, “Circadian,” by Josh Elyea

colour, “Blue Sheep,” by Mi Ju

Meet our new editor!


Meet our new editor, Leah Mol!

“I’m so excited to be taking over for Liam as an editor at Word and Colour. He’s done great things in the position, and I’ll take that as inspiration to work hard and keep publishing art that speaks to social issues and helps fight against oppression.

I’ve been working as a writer and editor for almost ten years, across a variety of platforms, and have always found that creative work speaks to people about social issues in a way that literally speaking to them doesn’t. Reading literary fiction improves empathy, making it easier for people to connect to one another. Communicating empathy is something I’ve always strived for in my own writing, and I’m so excited that I’ll be editing on a platform that encourages this kind of work. Fiction is priceless when it comes to developing a social conscience.

Over the past few years, Word and Colour has published amazing art alongside thought-provoking, beautifully written fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and I’m looking forward to continuing that tradition.”

Read Leah’s past prose at the journal

Kidd & loish: “She had a horrible boss”


She had a horrible boss. He had, always, a harvest of spittle at the corners of his mouth, and it seemed to her that every particularly horrible man that she’d met in her life had coffee breath and this same sea foam at the edges of his lips. In addition to this chronic hygienic condition, this boss had ghost hands, which was worse even than the spittle. All day, she could feel his ghost hands on the back of her neck and the small of her back and, when she unthinkingly left them untucked from her desk, her kneecaps. As he caressed her invisibly, the boss would sit, legs spread, on the corner of her desk, instructing her condescendingly on how she could advance her career to reach the status that he had achieved, or else telling her about the many gifts he bought his wife. “Swarovski crystals,” he would say, as he ran his disembodied digits over her skin. “Tiffany bracelets. Trips to Hawaii, without the kids.”

She didn’t shudder and she didn’t say anything because she didn’t think HR would know how to deal with her boss projecting his phantom hands into her clothing.

On the day she quit her job, she got dressed and went to work as usual. The boss had fire in his eyes that day, because he’d heard a rumour that one of his rivals was going to be promoted. On her first fifteen minute break of the day, she went out and bought a scone with cream and strawberries on top, which she ate on the way back to her desk.

Going back to her daily tasks, she felt that one of the strawberries had fallen down her shirt and was sitting between her breasts, wet and heavy. She tried to look down her collar to see it, but her shirt was tightly buttoned and she couldn’t see anything at all. She continued to feel it, grainy and soft, as she went about her work. She plotted to go to the washroom as soon as she could. But when she got up to go, the boss blocked her way. He stood in her path, fat hands on wide hips, and started to say, “In business, keep your friends closer and your enemies closer,” and stopped, his spit spilling out, gurgling. She could see, in the soft cavity of his mouth, that his tongue was missing. She stopped and gasped as the strawberry in her bra worked its way down to her belly button.

“I think you have something of mine, sweetheart,” the boss said as he took a step closer, and she gagged as if it were her tongue that had gone wandering, and then the boss thundered, “my pen, where’s my pen,” and she ran out of the office, which she was never to see or hear from again save for a last cheque unceremoniously deposited in her account a week later. On the way home, she shook from relief at the feeling of having nothing but her own body in her shirt.

these words by Charlotte Joyce Kidd were inspired by the colour of loish

Depersonalization and the Effects of Medication


word by Annie Rubin 

colour by Garry Tugwell Smith

She’s flying. In wisps of purple clouds, planets whizzing by, spinning and floating and falling. It was this chalky white pill, that kind of separated reality from the extra terrestrial. Worlds weaving in and out, setting apart the frenzied train ride from this spontaneous trip in vibrant flashes.

        The notion of the free-fall makes her jump with eyes fixated on the green circles of the metro line, they’re reading something altogether different than the weightlessness of her stomach or her fingers pressing onto what could only be hundreds of pins or the tightness in her chest: rising and falling in bursts of colour.

        The same five senses designed to orient are skewed. The scent of the subway, the burn of the wheels against the hot metal tracks, and the chorus of echoing voice, chanting something painfully inaccessible are present, distant.

        Fighting to define the boundaries of sobriety, she pieces together the images. There’s an empty seat beside her, she tries to listen to the silence. Wanting simultaneously to lie down and to break through the window of the train. 

        She’s watching herself hover above ground as the medication kicks in. Limbs go numb and the colours fade to a gentle hum of grey. Mood has been stabilized. The subway lurches to a stop and in the mass of bodies collecting at the doors, she makes her way onto the crowded street where her feet plant firmly into the concrete and her head feels lighter, less explosive.

        What is left to believe when perception becomes unreliable?*

From the author: “This futuristic image depicts outer-worldly colours and objects. It inspired a piece that confronts mental health topics of perception, depersonalization and the effects of medication. The mixture of sensations represents the profundity of mental illness in its capacity to debilitate a person throughout daily life and the idiosyncratic experiences of depersonalization in a mental health crisis.”


Read more of Rubin’s words on mental health

See more of Smith’s colour

How does social media define you?

giordano 2

“A Millennial Diet”

word by Leah Mol

colour by Giordano Poloni

She came straight home after school and sat in the basement office where the computer was. She always had a couple hours before her parents got home. She didn’t want them to hear her printing everything off, because they’d just be upset about the ink—ink was expensive. She couldn’t expect them to understand why she needed more and more and more. Since they never heard the printing, they couldn’t understand where it was all going.

But still they bought more ink. Every couple weeks when the printer ran out, there would be questions. She’d say she was printing her homework, articles or stories to read for a class, pictures for presentations.

She hid the printing the way she hid her stomachaches, because she knew they’d take her to the doctor again. It wasn’t so bad, anyway. She just had to stay away from Facebook and Twitter for a while and things would be okay. The real problem was Instagram, but she just wasn’t willing to give that up, no matter how bad the cramps got. There were too many pictures to post. And once they were online everyone had something to say.

She wouldn’t have known what to tell her parents about the printing even if she could be honest. She knew only that when her stomach was full, she was better. Once everything was printed off and inside her, she could stop checking to see if anything new had been printed. She could finally stop thinking about all the things other people were thinking.

She loaded Instagram on her laptop and scrolled through the recent activity. Beatrice, a girl from school, had posted a photo of the two of them, so she printed it out. There were four comments about the photo, so she printed those as well. One of her photos had new likes and new comments, so she printed it all. Later, she sat in front of the computer, looking through old photos, old comments, old Facebook messages and Twitter posts, tearing each printed sheet into strips, rolling them around in her mouth until they were soft, chewing and swallowing until the whole mess was inside. As she slept her stomach ached and turned, filled with all the most important things, filled with everything anyone had ever said about her.*

word by Leah Mol

colour by Giordano Poloni

Lines & Anemones


word by Charlotte Joyce Kidd

colour by Burkhard ller 

Every day that I leave the house I feel that I am leaving it wearing a sign (or maybe an expression? An outfit?) that says “here I am, world. Have at me.” I feel this way even though – when I do leave the house – I leave it also wearing the cozy winter coat of privilege, not to mention an actual, real winter coat. I can’t imagine how hard it must be without these things.

There are these little lines in between everyone’s lives, aren’t there? There’s this space in between everyone and it’s like we’re all just extending these tiny tendrils across it, these little, feeble gooey white groping things with suction cups on the ends, and sometimes we meet someone and we manage to say things that make sense and actually express anything that we really feel or mean, and if they do too and enough of our tendrils stick to enough of theirs, then we feel better for a bit, like someone actually knows us. But even if you do that for your whole life, your whole life with the same person (and that’s problematic, too, let’s talk about that) how many of your little limbs could you extend? How many of theirs could you touch?

I got on the streetcar after spending the night with a boy and on a cold corner I saw a couple walking by and I thought about how he would react if I suggested that we spend an entire day walking around and telling each other every single thing that passed through our minds. We could take turns, do an hour each and then switch. He’d told me in words that were decisive and made sense that we could never understand each other completely, because I’m white and he’s not and I’m a woman and he’s not. I agree. There’s something noble in the futility of trying to understand, though, isn’t there? There’s something beautiful about learning to replace understanding with empathy, about reaching out and touching the tendril even though you can’t stick to it.

Sometimes there are chasms between people. Sometimes the lines yawn. Sometimes two people have pushed enough times that their plates push further and further apart, sometimes one person has made a moat around themselves because of something that happened. Sometimes that moat is not a bad thing, sometimes it is not wrong to require someone to have very long limbs before we let them reach us. 

So we’re all alone, playing a giant game of tic tac toe, reaching out from our separate boxes with words written or spoken or felt, or with devices, these electronic arms with which we send cries into the ether and hope for ethereal responses, echoes in the chasm. And maybe some people are closer to the edges of their boxes than others. It’s all very lonely and very hopeful.*

word by Charlotte Joyce Kidd

colour by Burkhard ller 

On Art and Relationships: “Extending the Pattern”

for josh

word by Josh Elyea 

colour by Mojo Wang

          Jane knows that compartmentalization is the key to a healthy relationship. She’s put all the little boxes where they belong, and for God’s sake, she’s going to leave them there.

          Jack says the simplest things in life are the most insidious. Comfort, for example. No good can come from comfort, he says. He’s speaking while deftly disassembling a French press that hasn’t been cleaned in months; Jane is only half listening, since she’s just put on Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros and is ruminating on the late singer’s post-Clash career with a keenness she’s not able to summon for the tired lecture aimed in her general direction. Rather, she’s enamoured with the sound quality pouring from their new BOSE Sound System. You really do pay for quality.

          It’s only after a large purchases, like a new BOSE Sound System, when Jack and Jane fight about money. It’s only in those moments that Jane’s chosen profession matters; only after the limited square footage of the apartment has been claimed, carefully cordoned off with a clear presence on either side does it matter what she does for a living. Jack wouldn’t go so far as to suggest she do something else with herself; no, he’s fairly certain art is where she belongs. He’d sure to like to see her make some money from it though, and he’ll be damned before he feels awful for saying so. Or, at least, that’s how this argument went the last time they had it, and the time before, and before…

          It’s not like Jane is overburdened; student loans notwithstanding, she owes a few hundred dollars on a VISA and has an unpaid cell phone bill in collections (she’s only recently stopped receiving calls where a bland, deathly voice asks “Hello, may I speak with Mrs. Jane _____ about an outstanding and quite frankly egregious debt…”). Other than that, she doesn’t owe a cent to anyone. So she’s just getting by right now – so what?   

          Often, Jane wished Jack would try and understand what it meant to be an artist, what it meant to try and create something from nothing. She wished he wouldn’t stare so obviously when she said she didn’t make much progress on her novel that day, and that he wouldn’t move with such reluctance when removing his credit card from his wallet to buy things like BOSE Sound Systems. Hell, she wished he’d stop buying things like BOSE Sound Systems so she didn’t feel so indebted to him, so she didn’t feel like she owed him anything.

          Jane looks towards Jack and sees there’s a torn piece of wallpaper where the counter-top ends; looking behind it, she can see that the little black and white boxes don’t end where they appear to, and the pattern extends far beyond her cursory understanding of it.


See more colour by Mojo Wang