“Mom has been acting a little strange lately. We can all agree.”
Suzanne stood on the talking stool in the centre of the treehouse. The talking stool had three legs and wobbled dangerously if you didn’t spread your weight right, but when you stood on it, nobody dared to interrupt you. It was for serious business, and in a house with six kids, sometimes you needed to take a risk to be heard.
Suzanne was still wearing her school uniform, and one of her pigtails had come out, giving her a dangerous, unkempt air. She was standing under the flashlight we’d hung with a shoelace from the ceiling and it cast dramatic shadows across her face as it twirled. The second-youngest kid, Arthur, was a little afraid of her, so he was hiding behind the frayed curtain that covered a big crack in the wall. The baby burbled stupidly in the corner. The rest of us sat in a circle around her, on upended crates that had once been filled with apples. Suzanne was one of the middle children, but she had the respect of even the eldest, because she could talk like a grown up. Most of us murmured our agreement, there was something different about Mom.
“Hmm, I don’t know. Is she really acting that weird?”
That was David, another middle child. David had wispy hair and watery eyes, and he liked to say the unpopular opinion, but was always surprised when we beat him up for it, or locked him out of meetings. Suzanne gave him a withering look.
“You’re stupider than the baby if you haven’t noticed a change. Haven’t you seen her, walking out to the car at night and just sitting, locked in there for hours? Or that she comes home later and later each evening, smelling like beer?”
If any of us had failed to notice those things, we weren’t about to admit it. We nodded along. Suzanne seemed to grow taller.
“And haven’t you seen her going down to the basement with tape-measures and IKEA magazines? Do any of you realize what she’s up to?”
“Maybe she’s finally building us a play-room?”
“She’s putting the baby’s room down there?”
“She’s buying more bookshelves?”
Suzanne held up a hand, and we all stopped talking.
“I heard her talking on the phone to Marissa Claire.”
We groaned. Marissa Claire watched us all from under her pencil-thin pointy eyebrows whenever she came to visit. She was always making jokes about how nobody could’ve convinced her to have so many kids.
Suzanne continued, “Mom is creating a Mom-Cave downstairs. We won’t be allowed down there anymore. It’s going to be a space just for Moms or Marissa Claires.”
We all stared at her. This was news. Mom wanted a cave? Why?
“I have a theory,” she said, “I’ve been reading and I think Marissa Claire is a vampire.”
Under the dangling flashlight, with the sun already set and the wind gently tugging the October branches, Suzanne looked deadly serious. I felt myself shiver; someone coughed. Arthur sprang out from behind the curtain and leapt straight into the eldest’s lap, almost knocking him over.
“There’s no such thing as vampires, is there?” he asked in his warbling four-year-old voice.
But the eldest simply looked to Suzanne for the answer.
“I know you’re afraid of me, Arthur,” she said, “but you’re old enough to know now. I’m not what you should be afraid of.”
We all watched her with wide eyes.
“Marissa Claire isn’t our biggest problem either. The reason Mom is acting so strange, is because she’s slowly becoming a vampire too.”
Now that was harder to believe. Mom, our Mom? The same Mom who taught us to ride bikes and tie our shoes? Who went to our parent-teacher nights and coached our soccer games?
Suzanne continued,“Think about it. What else needs a cave but a bat? What else goes out at night, and hangs out in dingy places looking for prey? Mom is under a curse, and once she builds the Mom-cave, the transformation will be complete.”
“What should we do?” I whispered.
“We have to reverse the curse. And banish Marissa Claire from the house forever. And most of all, we can’t let the Mom-Cave be built.”
The next day, Marissa Claire came over, and she and Mom sat in the living room with stacks of paint swatches and home decorating magazines. Us kids were supposed to be watching TV, but we took turns spying on them instead.
“It’s going to be so great to get away from the old nag once your basement is finished. You know I’m going to be hiding out here all the time,” Marissa Claire said.
“Yeah, I mean, I think I deserve a little recognition. It’ll be nice.”
“Women need to be able to be women, even in a family.”
Marissa Claire handed Mom a rolled-up poster. She unrolled it halfway, and I saw the naked torso of a very muscular man in a firefighter uniform over her shoulder. My mouth dropped open.
Mom gasped, “Missy! You’re terrible. You know my husband would throw a fit.”
Mom tried to push the poster back into the woman’s hands.
“Well, who says he’s allowed down there? It’s supposed to be your space.”
I raced upstairs to report back to my siblings.
“It’s time for phase one,” Suzanne said.
We asked Mom if we could go to the playground, and trooped out of the house soon after. Mom didn’t make sure we wore scarves, even though it was a chilly day, so the feeling in our little group was morose. The eldest zipped our jackets up to our chins, and insisted that David wore a hat, but it wasn’t the same. Luckily, Mom didn’t ask us to bring the baby.
We arrived at the church, and Suzanne passed us each a Tupperware before she walked up to the front and tugged on the door. It was locked. We split up, each looking for a door or window that would allow us inside. David found it and we all raced over to a stained-glass window that was slightly ajar. Suzanne pushed it all the way open, and we tumbled inside one-by-one. We hadn’t been to church since last Easter, and I was immediately hit by the familiar heavy-perfume-and-dust smell that seeped up from the carpets.
“Find the Holy Water and the free rosaries!” Suzanne ordered.
We knew that the church gave out white plastic rosaries sometimes, and assumed they would be up for grabs somewhere. The Holy Water was easy to find, it was in a big bowl at the front of the church, for dipping your hand into. We each filled our Tupperware until the bowl was empty. The rosaries were a challenge though.
“We need them, to tie Mom up and reverse the curse,” Suzanne insisted.
We split up and looked everywhere, on each pew, in the supply closets and under the kneelers. I decided to check the altar. I climbed the steps and checked beside the mic stand, and then under the white cloth. Then I saw the gold box where they kept the communion. There probably weren’t any rosaries in there, but I decided to open it, it couldn’t hurt to check.
“Stop! Thief!” a voice boomed through the church.
We all tried to scatter. David dove under a pew, Arthur shimmied behind the statue of Mother Mary, the eldest shut himself in a supply closet and I sprinted for the open window. Only Suzanne stayed calm.
“We’re not stealing. We’re looking for the free rosaries.”
So, the priest sat us down, and we told him all about the Mom Cave and our vampire theory.
“This sounds very serious. You kids were right to come to the church, you’re not safe.”
My heart sank. So, it was true.
“We’re planning on tying her up with rosaries and sprinkling her with Holy Water,” Suzanne said.
The priest nodded his approval, “I can see you’ve done your research.”
Suzanne was right. Mom was turning into a monster.
The priest gave each of us a rosary and sent us home with the reminder to pray more often.
A few nights later, Suzanne woke me up and we slipped away from the others to watch Mom through the front window. She had a suitcase with her, even though there was no trip planned that we knew about. We watched her load the suitcase into the back of the car, turn it on, and sit inside without driving.
For some reason, my eyes were filling up with tears, “Why doesn’t she just go?”
“That suitcase is full of Marissa Claire’s mind-controlling tokens. Mom is just trying to get rid of them,” Suzanne assured me in a whisper.
Another voice spoke before I could, “Or maybe it’s full of empty vials of blood, because she’s already a vampire.”
David was standing behind us in his rumpled pyjamas. Something about his pouty mouth and stupid slippers made me angry. I lunged for him, but Suzanne held me back.
“We have to be strong,” she said.
“We should have done the ritual sooner. What are we waiting for?” I snapped.
“Tomorrow, it’s a harvest moon,” Suzanne said.
Phase two of the plan was capturing and overpowering Mom, tying her down with rosaries and sprinkling her with Holy Water. But things did not go according to plan. That morning, Dad went off to work as usual while Mom made breakfast. We were all supposed to go to school, so we walked to the bus stop with our backpacks, but as soon as Mom drove off with the baby we snuck back inside the house. It was time to create the trap.
I can’t tell you exactly how the trap was supposed to work, it came right out of Suzanne’s imagination, but it involved laundry baskets, Christmas lights and white sheets. She ordered us around for an hour, assembling it, and then we heard footsteps approaching. Someone rang the doorbell. Did Mom forget her keys? Did she know we were at home? Arthur wandered over to the door, despite our collective “Noooo,” and opened it.
A man in a bright yellow polo shirt was standing at the door. He glanced into the chaos inside our house, and smiled brightly at Arthur.
“Is your Mommy or Daddy home?”
Arthur quaked with terror at his mistake. We could all hear Suzanne’s mind whirring with fury.
“I’m here to deliver some furniture. Hello? Is there an adult home?”
One wrong step from the IKEA man could spring the whole trap. Suzanne popped out from her hiding spot, causing the man to jump.
“She wants it all on the front lawn.”
“You heard me.”
The man must have recognized the same dangerous power in her that we had, because he unloaded everything onto the front lawn, and had her sign for it even though she barely reached his elbow in height.
“This stuff must all be for the Mom Cave,” the eldest said.
“We’ve got to get rid of it!” Suzanne raced onto the lawn, beckoning to the rest of us “quickly, we have to take it to the pond and sink it.”
We dragged the red wagon out from the garage and got to work stacking the boxes on top. It was heavy work, but if Mom came home and IKEA was on the front lawn she would know something was wrong. Once we had stacked it all, we wheeled it carefully down the driveway.
Mom was standing on the sidewalk, holding the baby. Her car was parked a little bit away. For a moment, we stared at her, and she stared back at us.
“What are you all doing? Why aren’t you at school?”
We were caught. It was over.
“What is all of that stuff? Is that… is that my IKEA order? What on earth?”
David started to cry. The eldest picked up Arthur, who buried his face in his jacket sleeve. I could’ve sworn Mom’s teeth were so long that they were poking the top of her lip. Mom wiped her cheek with her sleeve. Had she been drinking blood, and she was trying to wipe it away? Only Suzanne remained calm.
“We thought they probably delivered to the wrong house, you know how sometimes the neighbour gets our mail,” she said.
Mom’s face became a mask of fury.
“That doesn’t explain why you aren’t in school.”
None of us could explain that, and none of us could explain the mess we’d made inside. Mom identified Suzanne as our ringleader, probably because we kept glancing at her for instructions.
“Suzanne, I should’ve known. Go upstairs and wait for me on my bed. The rest of you had better help me clean all of this up.” Mom said.
Without Suzanne, we didn’t know how to use the trap. Mom made us bring the IKEA boxes downstairs, and put everything back where we’d found it. Worst of all, she found the Tupperware’s full of Holy Water under our beds, and rosaries stashed in the bathroom cabinet. When we didn’t answer what they were for, she dumped the water down the sink and tossed the rosaries into the trash, then locked us in our rooms. That evening, Mom didn’t make us dinner and we could hear her and Marissa Claire playing loud music in the basement while they assembled the Mom Cave. I looked out my window at the harvest moon, which glowed orange while my stomach growled. Someone unlocked my door. It was Suzanne. Everyone else was standing behind her, and she was even holding the baby.
“It’s time to go. We tried our best,” she said.
We were about to reach the front door when we heard Dad’s heavy footsteps behind us.
“What are you kids up to?”
We looked at him over our shoulders and said, “Nothing!”
He shrugged and wandered into the kitchen, probably looking for a snack, wondering when it was time for dinner.
in the open city, i move like an eel. i am electric and curved like a smile razored. in the open city, i live on hot food and hot music. i distract myself from weight. in the open city, a man makes a rape inside the womb of a book, and fills it with hot air. the words never deflate. in the open city, a woman is free to lie. and i believe in wonderlands lying at the bottom of holes, and i believe in blackbrown alices that reach their destination. in the open city, translation is not sold in the shops like rope necklaces. in the open city, i fly without an electrical cord making me marionette. look there, some me has fallen and killed their darling self. in the open city, i am flâneuse venus never in retrograde, cinnamon brown flesh and moonless. in the open city, i am a queen on the chessboard, mobile as a dream or dictator. in the open city, memory is no cannibal but a child making jigsaw. in the open city, i can change colors. make blues into hot pink, my brains all alchemist.
Artwork by Sheila Hicks “Comets Sculpture, 2016-2018, (detail).” Magasin III Jaffa. Photo: Noam Preisman.
Artist’s Note: A Message to Cisgender Artists reflects on a common trope for cisgender artists, that is to create work about transgender people, but only address the person for their physical characteristics or medical transition. We are both tired of being told that these projects exist to give trans people a voice when we are constantly being silenced. As a result, we have chosen to subvert this narrative and create their own – making it very clear that work centred around this trope is perpetuating harmful stereotypes by encouraging unsafe ways of looking and interacting with trans people.
About the Artists: Kat Cassar is a queer, non-binary, lens-based artist located in Toronto, Canada. Their work incorporates archival and documentation techniques through film photography, installation, and text. Kat often focuses on creating an installation consisting of audio, video, and sculptural elements made parallel to their photography. Their work focuses on themes of identity and representation, by exploring the roles of language, media, and the objectification of transgender bodies.
Samuel Gratton is a transgender queer artist who works primarily in lens-based media. His work is based in self-portraiture as he explored his identity, as a transgender male. His practice focuses on themes of gender, sexuality, and identity. Working with archives as well as various analogue and experimental processes, Samuel uses his practice to vocalize himself while creating a space for discussion and understanding of issues within the LGBTQ community as a whole.
there are several ideological lines, the first being there are three bodies to contend with: mine ours theirs
my body is really heavy with guilt, this leaking thing charged with sex and stifled
our body is really heavy i am so crushed by the burden of bodies belonging to me, i must occupy space for our body i must walk as these bodies, these naked and piling bodies, these bodies thick to stack and build upon, these equally weak and temporary bodies, these bodies that are simultaneously more and less
(i was holding my copy of the women of brewster place too tightly, almost wrinkling gloria’s name when my white coworker lifted her nose and said she could only read books she actually heard of and that were well written)
finally their body is really heavy. the body on and outside my body is rendered weak in its own construction,
as it renders itself during and only through its relentless creation of my body and their body and whatever bodies that birth themselves in between, outside and aside of this central body of work which is itself a body
my body is really heavy. our body is really heavy. their body is really heavy.
this theory comes up against what I’ve identified as three ideological lines in their bodies of work:
my body is weak against their body. my body must relent to their body of work. my body is only here because of their bodies and body of work.
i disagree with these lines in their body of work.
precisely because they are lines and what lines actually make up my body?
their bodies are all line which is why their body of work consists of lines and why my body does not fit into these lines, its form enjoys everything but lines
(the chapin I’ve been fucking on and off for four years makes it a point to remind me of his love for redheads who burn easily)
walls are supported by their body of work walls are made by promises written about in their bodies they are losing their grip on these promises
(old white women point at my legs when they are crossed on the train and in their way. and on three occasions in my adult life white women have shoved their chests in my face non sexually)
my body is constant and in the way of their body of work and it’s lines.
my form was here before and birthed their bodies my body will continue to be a body of work more than it is just my body
reading and writing about the body and their body and their bodies of work should render all the bodies silent, dead it doesn’t, I learned
(my ex still has my copy of borderlands i still have her copy of beloved)
as i wrap myself in the flesh of my own body — my own, meaning i own it, this is a line from their body of work that i am now forcing on my own created body and body of work — I’ve learned to tell you it isn’t there you become accustomed to my body of work which is more my body than my actual body
back when Grandmother had one breast and i had none she helped me realize strange visions, the particulars only a child conjured. i asked for a birthday pie shaped like a fish not a fish pie but a sweet one. i’d seen it in a movie about witches and kindness, pulled out of a wood fire oven. Grandma imbued the pastry with stripes and flakes and berries … Raspberry, maybe? can’t remember the taste but i held the photograph of me and berry pie, berry pie and i, and not her i was wearing a blue dress, red berries were bubbling out between baked brown i let her carry it because it was too heavy. There was another visit, after the berry fish pie but before the cherry chocolate cake i was sitting at the small table for eating, my right knee brushing the back of the couch i think my parents were there this time. i watched Grandpa slipping fat and gristle from His plate to the dog …. it might have had white fur with a large black spot or maybe a labrador Anyway, He slipped the fat to the dog, and then He barked at me– my Grandpa barked, not the dog– for wiping my hands on the tablecloth. Then i was older, and i asked for a cherry rimmed chocolate cake for my birthday. It was proper, just like little girls think they want. my cousin was there, i think
she was young and blonde and cherubish, and had a flush on her cheeks just like those cherries. This time, in the photograph, i held the cake between my Grandmother and i: a perfect succulent circle, with a fence of red. they were so perfect they looked like shiny wax. my Grandma’s curls were the color of a stony shell, or maybe a sprig of wheat on black and white film. not quite silver, warmer than that.
i didn’t even like cherries, but i liked the idea of liking cherries