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Fiction Life

The Conversation

This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person or place is unintentional.

“I don’t know who I am” the young boy said.

“Why? Do you have amnesia? Do you remember your name?”

“You don’t understand. Nobody does. “

“Listen kid, I do understand. You might be making things more complicated than they need to be. You’re still a kid – you have lots of time to figure out who you are. Hell, some of us are still trying to figure it out in our seventies. There’s no deadline, no quiz at the end. You figure it out as you go along and until then, just be you.”

“That’s the point, I don’t know who I am, I’m different from other people.”

“That’s the beauty of the world – we’re all different. Yet we’re all the same. Just be yourself – focus on being who YOU want to be and never mind trying to fit other people’s idea of who you should be.”

“I get teased at school and called name. Once I got beat up on the way home. The girls understand – they treat me like I’m just one of their girlfriends, but I get picked on almost every day by bullies.”

“Bullies are bullies. They act that way because you threaten them – by being different. That’s where racism comes from and all those religious wars throughout history. Some people think different is bad. Bullies will pick on people for being too short, too fat, too black, too anything that isn’t like them. Heck, in some countries they have a vendetta against people with red hair.”

“You’re not like most people your age. Most of your generation is the worst.”

“I always thought racism and hatred was a learned behaviour. Can you believe I never saw a black person until I was 11? Tells you what kind of community I grew up in. I wasn’t racist though – mostly curious. I was the same way when I met my first gay person when I was 20. I was curious. I never understood why people got so upset at others being different. They always say put yourself in other people’s shoes. Well, how would we feel if we were white in a predominately black country and we were treated that way.

“Treat others as you would like to be treated. That’s what my mother taught me. She didn’t say only if they’re white, and tall, and thin, and blond, and straight.

“And let me share a little secret with you kid – the most famous or successful people are those who dare to be different, who embrace who they are 100% that rise above the others. Those bullies at school? Most of them will end up being losers in life. Look at Gandhi, Mandela, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Howie Mandel, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg. And that’s just a few.”

“Yeah but they weren’t gay. I wish I wasn’t gay.”

“And I wish I wasn’t 72. Wish all you want but you are what you are. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. I used to wonder about that; whether people were born gay or whether they chose to be gay, or even if something happened to make them gay.”

“What did you decide?”

“I decided it didn’t matter. I decided to accept people as they are. As long as it doesn’t affect me, why should I care? Live and let live and all that stuff.

“Besides, being gay isn’t the end of the world. Look at musicians like Elton John and Freddie Mercury, CEOs like Tim Cook, chef Ted Allen, and let’s not even start talking about designers like Giorgio Armani and Adolpho. Do you really want to be like everyone else? Or to you want to be happy to be completely yourself. Spend your time figuring out who you are and be that. Don’t waste time trying to be like everyone else.”

“I guess you do understand sort of.”

“I don’t need to understand. I just need to accept people for who they are, like you should. And start by accepting yourself – as you are. And anytime you need reminding, here’s my name and number. Call me. I’ll listen.”  

 

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Fiction

Summer’s End

This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person or place is unintentional.

The summer had drawn to a close, much like the remnants of my previous life. I had spent the hot, humid days packing up my house in Georgia and moving across the country. It wasn’t quite like “Go west, young man”, more like “Go anywhere but here, young woman”, and so I’d gone north, to start again.

I was starting this leg of my journey alone. I’d lost my husband, Bryan, in the early spring from COVID-19 and it has taken me this long to manage all that I had to deal with – the estate, the funeral, selling the house and buying a new one. Somewhere else. Somewhere without Bryan. Somewhere without memories.

I was an only child, and I lost my parents six years ago. Bryan and I had never been blessed with children, so after he passed away, I realized that I was truly alone, for the first time in my life.

The days were getting shorter now and the leaves on the maple tree in in the front yard of my new house were turning a vibrant shade of orange. I’d missed that, living in Georgia – the changing of the seasons; the changing of life. Of losing one thing but gaining something new. Even the sunsets were becoming more vibrant, a rich mosaic to accompany the dying sun, followed by hauntingly blue hues of the rising moon. A flock of geese in V formation flew overhead, heading south, honking out their farewell message.

Life was changing, there was no doubt about that. From Georgia to Boston, the scenery was as different as day and night. Fall was a season of preparation – since the beginning of time, the turning of leaves has signified the start of winter preparations. My ancestors gathered supplies to get them through the long, cold winters in northern Quebec, chopping wood for wood stoves, making quilts, salting meat, and preparing jars of preserves to sustain them. They even saved pig fat for oil lamps and candles to light the way on those dark cold nights.

I have been gathering and preparing as well. I have gathered all of my strength and seldom allow myself to wallow in self-pity. I’d left behind a career in corporate finance and taken a chance on opening a small gift shop. I know it’s going to take some time to feel at home in my new community, but I have an idea that might help me get to know the people in my neighbourhood.

With Hallowe’en approaching, I’ve overheard people talking about how nervous they are about letting their children go out trick or treating, so I decided to open my shop as a drop off location for treats. I’ll use my own gift bags and create little grab bags for different ages of children, and then instead of having to go door to door on October 31st, parents can bring their children by the shop to collect a gift bag full of treats from all their neighbours. That would also let parents go out with their children instead of having to stay home and shell out.

I’ll need a costume of course, something memorable. I just remembered I had a serving wench costume that I haven’t worn in years. I’ll wear it this year while I’m serving treats to children and spiked hot chocolate to parents. That will be memorable, right?

Bryan and I had loved Hallowe’en, and we’d always made our front yard look like a cemetery. We used to go to parties dressed like famous (or infamous) couples – Sony and Cher one year, Bonnie and Clyde the next. Continuing the tradition this year will be a great way to remember my time with him, bittersweet though the memories will be.

Time to get busy – there are flyers to make and then drop off at the houses in my community so people will know what I’m planning. This will be a great way to meet my neighbours!

I can hardly wait to get started!

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Fiction

Unchained

Cindy walked into her condo, slipped off her shoes and slid into her slippers. Leaving her purse on the hall table, she walked down the hall and into the kitchen. She took a bottle of wine out of the wine rack – ah, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Italy; she had heard very good things about this wine and she was looking forward to trying it.

She poured herself a glass of wine and walked through the living room to stand by the floor length glass windows looking out over the ravine behind her building. Everything was quiet; everything was peaceful.
As she sipped on her wine, she thought about how having a glass of wine when she got home was starting to become a habit. She had always enjoyed a glass of wine after work, but usually it was because she needed a way to dull her senses so that she could make it through the evening. Her wine ritual was now a way of congratulating herself for productive day and a kick off to a relaxing evening.

How much her life had changed since her divorce!  She realized that she had almost made the same mistake as her parents; chained for years in a loveless marriage, going through the motions every day and not looking forward to the future at all. What was there to look forward to? More of the same, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Ad nauseum.

She used to ask her parents why they didn’t travel more, enjoy life. The answer was always the same; they were going to when they retired. They had planned to rent a motor home and travel the country, spending their winters in warmer climates to the south. Except it never happened, because they got old and sick. When they died, they had never traveled, had never done anything they’d hoped for. Their lives had been chained to each other, to their children, to the jobs and to the house.

Cindy had been about to make the same mistake. When Robert admitted he’d been seeing someone else and wanted a divorce, she felt devastated; her whole life was coming apart. Then she realized that she had been set free, freed from taking the same path her parents had. She’d sold the house and spent a couple of months traveling, seeing all the places she’d once only dreamt of. She had bought this condo because it was close to the downtown area and she could walk to stores and theatres. She was focusing on filling her life with new adventures.

That meant meeting new people as well. Musicians, writers, and artists were now part of her circle, and they didn’t know the role they were playing, each was had an influence on who she was becoming. Absentmindedly, her hand caressed the silver crucifix nestled in the small of her throat. The delicate chain and crucifix were a gift from Robert several years ago, and she had never taken it off.

Reaching up, she undid the clasp and held the necklace in her hand. She loved the delicacy of the tiny chain and the crucifix held so much meaning for her, since she had always been Catholic. It was also a constant reminder of Robert though and represented another type of chain she supposed. Without hesitation, she gently tossed the necklace over the balcony railing and into the fading light of evening. The last chain to her previous life was gone.  

She was finally free.

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Fiction

The Thompson House

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person or place is unintentional.

The old Thompson house sat between a church and an empty lot. The house itself was slated for demolition, having failed to procure another wealthy patron to take up the cause. With lead glass windows and turrets that faced the front of the house, it stood silent and empty – a memory of another era. Various real estate connoisseurs had left their marks on the house; the last one had tried to divide it into separate apartments and had paved over much of the field to the back, to create tenant parking.

I walk by the house twice a day; once in the mornings on my way to my work as a teller at Fitchley Bank, and again on my way home in the evenings. Throughout the ten years that I have passed by the Thompson house, I have been witness to the house’s many transformations. And now it stands silent and empty, unloved and unwanted and facing demolition. Soon it will no longer even exist.

Every day when I walk by the house, I slow my pace and gaze at the majesty of her. My imagination transports me to the early days of its existence, at the turn of the last century. I imagine horse-drawn carriages and footmen, women in long gowns and men always neatly attired. A box at the side of the house that once held coal now holds trash bins. I’ve never been inside the house but in my imagination, I see twelve foot ceilings and crown moldings.

I guess it’s just a matter of time until the strippers come to strip away anything of value – copper piping, cedar flooring, the leaded glass. The house will soon sit gutted, condemned for safety reasons, and wait for its demise.

Something was different today though. As I walked home in the early evening at dusk, I thought I saw a flicker of light in one of the turret windows. I stopped and looked up and before the dim light faded, I could make out the profile of a woman’s face. It flashed in the window and then suddenly disappeared. Did I imagine her? Was there someone living there? Or was it simply a memory of days past, come to bid a fond farewell?

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Fiction

In the Air

There was something in the air lately. After the nuclear meltdown two months ago, there was a sickness that filled the air. The ones closer to the reactor had died within days, and all of the smaller communities on the outskirts of the city had followed in the next few weeks. The results had been devasting; entire companies had been wiped out and resources were now becoming scarce.

Beth and her partner lived 300 kilometers northeast of the disaster, and had been ordered to isolate themselves and not go out at all. The poison was in the air. Beth and Carin didn’t worry though, they owned a small farm in the middle of nowhere and because of the dust and chemicals used in farming, an air purifying system and a complex water filtration system had fortunately had been built into the design of the house.

They were safe.

They’d both come from the city and many of their friends still there had become ill and died as a result of the catastrophe. The symptoms had been the same, a cough, sore throat, mild headache, and extreme weakness. Some went into a coma before they died. After losing so many close friends, they had no desire to go out themselves, so they stayed inside and ventured out only for minutes at a time, twice a day, and always with a face mask on. When they fed the animals, they quickly returned inside. They had no clue how this was going to affect their livestock.  

Time would tell.

The past few weeks, the number of deaths fell steadily, and there hadn’t been any deaths for the past two nights. They had decided to stay inside for at least another week, to sure. Other than less socializing, not much had changed in their lives. They read and they watched television, worked on the computer, kept track of finances, and followed the news very closely. Doing nothing was exhausting, it seemed.

Now, it seemed as if this was over. They’d give it a few days, or maybe a week to be safe, before going outside. None of the animals had become sick or died, so obviously the radiation didn’t reach this far away. They were been safe.

Then Beth began to cough.

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Fiction

Alone

He stood on his balcony looking out over the cityscape to the south. The red glow of the sunset cast an eerie light over the downtown core as wisps of smoke rose from buildings and factories. The streetlights flickered constantly, as if deciding whether or not to remain on.

He felt completely alone.

He had never married or had children. An only child himself, he remained devoted to his parents and lived just down the street from the house in which he’d grown up. Just him and his cat.

Alone.

His parents had passed away a few weeks ago from carbon monoxide poisoning. He was filled with guilt; he should have made sure the batteries in the CO2 detectors had been changed. He felt responsible.

They died in their sleep; together, but alone.

Today he had to put his cat to sleep. At 18 she’d had a long life, but her kidneys had finally failed. Damn! The timing really hurt.

And now he was truly alone.

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Fiction

The Masquerade

Charlene walked into the grand ballroom of the Royal Victoria Hotel, her elegantly coiffed hair piled high atop her head. Her satin gown was off the shoulder and shimmered with the lights bouncing off the many chandeliers. The semi-precious gems of her necklace settled demurely in her décolletage. Her bejeweled mask hid most of her face, except for her shining red lips and her light green eyes. She had arrived.

She held her folded invitation in her right hand, which she had flashed at the doorman on her way in. She looked the part so much that he had not actually asked to see the invitation up close, which was a good thing since she had not been invited. She slipped the folded invitation back into her small clutch purse.

She had never been invited, but this was the fourth year she had attended the ball. It was always the same doorman and she supposed by now he had come to believe she was invited. Only the first year had been the real test. She had decided to sneak into the ball that year, because she longed to see how the one percent lived. This was like dress up for her, a magical night when she could pretend that she was one of them, that she had style and grace and was accepted.

Everybody just accepted that she was one of them. Year after year, she saw the same people and they no longer wondered from where they knew the mysterious “Antoinette”, since they remembered her from last year. No matter, they believed she had money and believed she had donated the required $10,000 to attend the ball. And so, they were gracious to her.

One man in particular seemed to seek her out each year. She had to admit, she was looking for him now as she gazed around the large and elegant room. She felt like Cinderella, looking for her prince.

And he did not disappoint. Although he didn’t know who she was, he would have recognized those beautiful green eyes anywhere. Her demure smile when their eyes met told him she was happy to see him as well. He walked over to where she stood and look down on her.

“My dear Antoinette, you look ravishing this evening” he murmured as he bent to kiss her cheek.

“You flatter me, Armand” she said, but blushed nonetheless.

Last year, Armand had begged for her full name and address so that he could call on her. It was cruel, he said, for her to make him wait a year to see her again. He wanted to know everything about her, where she was from, who her family was, and when he could call on her.

Of course, he couldn’t. He would be shocked to see the small flat she called her home, or to know that she worked in a dress shop. She could never let him know who she really was, or the spell of the masquerade would be over.

Instead she teased him and told him a different story every year. One of them might be true, she said, but she told them so convincingly he believed that any one of them could be true. She was the fourth cousin once removed from Prince Helmut of Austria, was the story she’d told him last year. The year before she was an exiled member of the bourgeois from France. This year she planned to be the granddaughter of a long-forgotten media baron. She knew he’d laugh and try to guess if it was true or not.

Armand took her elbow and guided her to the dance floor where he held her tight against him and together they glided over the polished parquet floor.

“How is your cousin, Prince Helmut?” he asked, his eyes laughing as he looked at her. “I’ve done some research” he said, “and I couldn’t find a fourth cousin in his family.”

“Perhaps you didn’t look hard enough Monsieur, or perhaps you looked too hard”. Her laugh was deep and convincing, and he laughed with her.

“I won’t stop” he said, “you’ve bewitched me Antoinette”.

Charlene had to stop herself from frowning. Perhaps this should be her last year. She would be devastated if he found out the truth about her. Instead she smiled and gazed into his eyes. “I’ll depend on it” she replied.

Of course, Armand already knew who she was. Some months back he’d been having lunch with his mother, when she’d wanted to stop into a dress shop to pick up a new dress she’d ordered. He waited for her outside on the bench but after several minutes, he had walked up to the window and looked inside.

A beautiful woman with long blonde hair stood behind the counter, assisting his mother. She was tall and slim, dressed plainly but elegantly. She glanced up a few times, but never towards the window. She didn’t need to though; he’d recognize those beautiful green eyes anywhere.

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Fiction Life

Just Rewards

Wayne Dickson had been working at the engineering firm for the past year. He had taken a lower position than he was used to and that fact continually irked him. He constantly had the feeling that others were condescending towards him; they obviously didn’t know how senior he had been at his last job.
 
Dickson’s attitude made it difficult for anyone to like him. He acted like he believed he was better than them and after awhile they stopped even trying to be friendly and avoided him as much as possible. Wayne noticed and he didn’t let it bother him. He faithfully showed up early for work each day and stayed late. He resented the people who only worked 9 to 5 because he thought they just saw it as a job, and didn’t give it any extra effort.
 
Two months ago, the owners of the company had called him in and offered him a promotion. Peterson said they’d noticed his extra effort and had a special job they thought he was perfect for. The company was planning a reorganization and could really use his help. They had a list of employees they were going to shuffle around; some would be redeployed to other departments, while others would be made redundant and offered packages.
 
Finally, they had recognized his experience! He thanked them profusely and said they would not be disappointed. He stayed up late that night and pored over the list. Who had valuable experience? Who was old and outdated? Who had been dismissive to him? There were many factors to take into consideration. He used different coloured highlighters – green marked the ones that were safe, red meant they had to go, orange meant he needed to think about them more.
 
They needed to cut 30 percent of their workforce and they were planning to do it over the next three weeks. He met with senior management to review the list and make the decisions. Then it was time to call each employee in, a few each day, and give them their final paycheques. Wayne relished this part; this was where he could really shine. With each employee that was called in, he struggled to supress his smile. He knew he was better than them, and this was the evidence. He puffed with self-importance, finally he was someone special again – he was management material.
 
Those three weeks were the most enjoyable weeks of his time with the firm and when they were over, they had accomplished a very lean, efficient workforce. He wondered what promotion they’d give him as a reward? Would they make him General Manager? He could almost feel his success as he walked around the office wondering which office he’d ask for. Perhaps a southern exposure would be better, not too hot during the day but still enough sunlight to light up his office.
 
He’d seen artwork and figurines in many of the partners’ offices, so he traveled to art galleries on weekends to try and find something suitable. He needed something that represented culture and class, something that said he was a person of importance. He put a deposit of a few significant pieces.
The day finally arrived when his phone rang.
 
“Wayne, it’s Peterson. I just came out of a meeting with the senior partners, and I’d like you to come to my office if you have a moment.“
 
“Of course, Mr. Peterson, I’m on my way.”
 
Wayne Dickson almost had a skip in his step as he walked down the hall, past the boardroom, to Peterson’s office. He knocked lightly on the door before gently pushing it open.
 
“Ah, Dickson, come in” Peterson said cheerfully. “Have a seat.”
 
“The firm would like to let you know how much we appreciate your help with the reorganization. We chose you for the task because we noticed you stayed professional in your job and didn’t form any personal relationships. That can always make these decisions very difficult.
 
“As a reward, we’ve come up with a very generous severance package for you. As you know, after a year’s employment the usual severance is one week but to show our appreciation, we’ve cut a cheque for one month’s pay.”
 
Wayne sat as still as stone as Peterson slid the envelope across the desk.
When he looked at Peterson, he saw he was smiling.
 

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Fiction Life Memory Lane

Tending the Garden

Sara watched him drive away and waited until his car was out of sight before she felt the warmth of her tears on her cheek. When she met him, he had been a stranger to her and after all this time he still was. But there was something about him.

They’d both been through bad marriages and were both still figuring out how to move on. When they’d met, they had found a common thread that connected them; this shared grief and confusion about how to go on.

Victor was a strong and stoic man, and she’d never really had the chance to see his emotions. He did what he did best – he worked. He saw that she needed help, that she was feeling lost and he’d started showing up at her door early in the morning on weekends. There was work to be done.

He motivated her to get things done, to get fresh air, to go outside and walk. He helped her fix things in her house and had even taken to calling her late at night during the week to ask how much she had done. She’d resented it at first; she knew she was lost but he was making her feel inadequate, as if she was lazy. She wasn’t lazy though – she was scared. Scared of the overwhelming task that was facing her.

But even though he pushed her, he was there to do the heavy work. There was furniture to move and walls to prepare and paint. In the spring, he’d helped her edge the lawn and trim the trees and bushes. And when summer came, he told her to plant a garden.

“A garden?” she thought, “I don’t have time to garden”. She planted it anyway though. As Sara and Victor worked in the garden together, they talked about their childhood and the different paths they had taken. She found out that he wasn’t actually that knowledgeable about gardening – this was something they were learning and discovering together. Even the choice of plants was new to him; they weren’t things that grew in his country. Squashes, zucchinis, kale and swiss chard were all new to him and together they were learning how to make them grow.

She found herself going outside daily to weed the garden and she watched with delight when her favourite vegetables grew. She shared what she couldn’t use with friends and made new friends along the way and all her friends dropped by to help tend the garden. She created create new dishes for him to try, and made soups and stews and sauces, and filled mason jars to share with friends.

Weekends became a routine; Victor came over and whenever the weather wasn’t nice, they worked together inside the house. When the weather was nice, they worked in the garden or went on long walks. He talked about his childhood, about escaping a communist country, about his love of history. Sara had never left her country, or even her county and was fascinated by his stories of growing up in a communist country, of fleeing through Austria, and arriving in Canada. Just as she had needed help, he did as well. Sara became his confidant and with her he’d learned to be appreciated and cared for.

They talked about their childhood, their marriages, their disappointments and their successes. They talked about their children and the kind of people they had become, about the importance of remembering your heritage and language. They held hands on their walks, awkwardly at first, and then comfortably. They were learning to be friends, and to trust again.

He promised her nothing, but gave her so much and she knew she’d never forget all that he’d shared and all that he’d given. He was leaving now, but he hoped to be back in six months. He was going to visit his children and then he was going home to Poland for a few months. He hadn’t been back there since he’d left and it was time.

Summer was over now, and the last of the garden’s produce had been gathered. The leaves had fallen from the trees and snow was in the forecast. It was time for the soil to rest, and to wait for spring.

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Fiction Life

Frozen

She hated winter despite the fact she’d lived up north for many years. The cold seemed to kill something inside her, and year after year, when she put away the patio furniture and her summer clothes, she cocooned herself inside the house and waited for the frozen world to thaw. Through four long months of bitter cold, she functioned on automatic – get up in the morning and go to work in the dark; come home in the dark and go to bed. When the darkness outside her started to creep into her mind and soul, she used her Feel Bright light visor that claimed to prevent SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD – what an appropriate acronym. She became sadder each day, waiting for the rebirth of nature, the reappearance of the sun, and to feel its warmth on her skin again.

It was still early March and winter had lasted longer than anticipated. That silly groundhog was always wrong. This winter had been particularly hard for her, her first year on her own. She had learned to use the snow blower; she had chipped away ice, and closed up all the water lines herself. She’d sat in the dark most nights, worrying about every creaking noise the house made, worried about the power going out or the furnace dying, and imagining herself freezing to death with nobody even knowing for weeks.

She stood beside the frozen canal and thought about the changes in her life and the separation that had been her idea. She’d had enough of being taken for granted in a loveless marriage without even holding hands for more years than she could remember. The only role he’d played in her life was to criticize her and put her down. She was never good enough. She could work and cook and clean and pay for everything but somehow it was never enough. Like the cold, her marriage had killed something inside her and year after year she’d been going through the motions, unable to imagine a future that included happiness.

Not that she was happy now either. Maybe there was no such thing as happiness; maybe it was all just an illusion, like a dangling carrot to keep a person going, this eternal search for happiness. She wasn’t ready to date again. For years she had thought better the devil you know than the devil you don’t and now she realized that no devil at all was the best solution. So, she’d learned to paint ceilings herself, rip up carpets and remove the staples. She cried the entire time out of pain, frustration, and loneliness, but she had persevered.

Things had changed. She was learning to manage on her own, to motivate herself and to keep going; only winter still needed to be conquered. She had avoided dealing with the sham that was her marriage for too many years, now it was time to deal with winter, to draw upon her inner strength, to be a better person, a more resilient person.

She removed her skate guards and stepped out onto the frozen water. Like riding a bike, one never forgets how to skate and it didn’t take long before she was soaring down the canal, arms outstretched and face lifted to catch the rays of the sun. Alone on the frozen canal, warm within her layers of clothing, she was finally flying.

She was finally winning.

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