Braedan Houtman

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Originally published in Volume 3.1, "Sinkholes" is a moving and funny snapshot of a time reliant on the relationships we nurture through monumental changes. Impactful beyond its length, Braedan Houtman's piece is rooted in power meeting presence.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

My mother forgot the recipe for Campbell’s soup. She forgot to wear panties under her dresses, and the name of Mr. Layton from Layton’s Butcher shop. She forgot to turn the heat on, the oven off, and she forgot that she hadn’t forgotten the word loofah.
      “What’s the word for a loofah?” she asked me.
      “Loofah,” I said.
      “No. In the shower. The squishy doily ball.”
She forgot to shower. She forgot to bring home her groceries and she forgot to bring herself home. She forgot anything and anyone she didn’t know fifty years before, and—on the day I moved her into the care home—she forgot me. She forgot she was a mother at all.
She didn’t forget, it turns out, how to make friends with anyone around her, how to bake her famous Pastéis de Nata, or how she’s always had a taste for Italian men with thick hair. 
      “Some patients experience an increased libido,” the nurses explained to me. “Shall we stop informing you when we find her in Mr. Ramoso’s room?”
I forgot there was more to my mother than her memory. After leaving her in the care home, I forgot to take her walking, to bring her mother’s day and birthday cards, and to show up for our scheduled visits so we could repeat ourselves over tea and coffee. I only remembered she once existed outside of her new walls when I bumped into our old customers. 
      “Your mom . . .” they reminisced. Then, “tell her I say hello.”
I’m scared to get old, to watch my mind turn to puddles that I’ll no longer splash in. The only proof that I ever see my mother, or that she ever sees me, is in the visitors’ sheet in the care home’s lobby. 
Name. Date. Time. Signature. 
      “There’s the great Vince Ines,” the nurses might say, then feed me through the shredder.
The staff all hate me. I know. Perhaps because I only visit my mother every second Saturday, when the care home hosts its weekly “game night.” I watch from the side of the room while the nurses hand out donated balls, broken streamers, duct-taped hula hoops. The residents use the limp toys to play an assortment of games. The most popular is Sinkholes, perhaps because the premise is so simple to understand. 
Residents lay their hula hoops in different positions on the living room floor, setting little traps for the others to fall into. When someone unknowingly steps into a hoop, all the other residents yell, “Sinkhole!” and joyfully alert their friend of her new misfortune. That player becomes trapped—prohibited to move. She becomes a captive of whichever sinkhole she’s wandered into. 
The game always begins in jest. The player laughs at her own stupidity. She accepts her fate. She shouts at others when they step into their hoops, playing along until she grows tired and bored, eventually losing all interest in her small prison and the concept of sinkholes at all. At this point, the game can go numerous ways. I’ve watched some nap, scream, even defecate inside their circular cells. Inside the sinkhole, the player is devoid of the outside world. Even when she stops playing, she doesn’t dare leave the small diameter of the sinkhole surrounding her. 
Each week I watch my mother wander between the hoops, smiling as she navigates the treacherous floor. I clench my fists—my jaw—and tense when I see her step near a hoop’s edge. Some days, she triumphs. She maneuvers through the maze and we have tea and coffee and share stories about our lives like two strangers on an airplane. Other days, she falls in.
On those occasions, I assist her. I run over, lift the hoop, throw it to the couch. “It’s just a game,” I explain, “look!” I walk in and out of her circular captivity. I wave my hands on either side. I scream, “it’s imaginary!” But she doesn’t ever move. She only stares at me, fully aware that she’s trapped but unaware as to why. “There’s my son, Vince Ines,” I imagine her thinking, right before she feeds me through the shredder.
     “Sinkhole!” Everyone shouts around us. “Sinkhole! Sinkhole! Sinkhole!”

Braedan Houtman is a writer and bookstore lackey residing happily in Montreal, Canada.

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Additional reading

Sicilian Blue

Age of the Machine