A dirty green-toned painting of a bridge, with industrial smoke surrounding it.

“Terrible” by Eunice-Grace Domingo

Eunice-Grace Domingo is a third-year Honours English student at USask. Though a Canadian citizen, she was born in Manila, Philippines. “Terrible” is a semi-autobiographical story that Domingo wrote shortly after being told her high school English teacher had passed away. It examines the mixed feelings of detachment and loss when we experience a death that doesn’t directly affect us.


“Mr. Lyons died this morning,” Sophia said, slipping a spoonful of viscous curry into her mouth and licking at the dribble that fell from it. “Stroke.”

She said it flippantly, as if tossing her keys after a long day outside and announcing to the house she was back from wherever it was she’d disappeared to. It was without prompt or gusto, asking for nothing and welcoming only silence — or perhaps maybe an acknowledging grunt, if it was subtle enough. Her father, Luiz, who was washing the dishes with his back to her, paused, and turned around to face her.

“What?” he croaked.

Sophia swallowed the last of her meal and lifted herself up from her seat at the dining table, legs uncrossing and straightening from beneath her. She dropped her bowl into the sink and repeated the news: “Mr. Lyons died this morning from a stroke.” The bowl pierced the soapy film that floated like lily pads in the dirty water.

“Helena told me he was supervising a class taking their final exam. Someone asked for some spare paper, and when he stood up to hand it to them, he convulsed and fell to the floor. Paramedics and an ambulance came, but it was too late. I don’t know anything else.”

Luiz turned back to the dishes, starting on his daughter’s soup bowl despite the arsenal of soiled cutlery. “I’m sorry, anak, but who is Mr. Lyons again?” he asked, almost embarrassed, as if he felt he should start knowing things about his children.

“My old English teacher. Ninth grade, both semesters.”

“Oh, I’m very sorry, anak. Were you close with him?”


“Oh. You know… I do think I remember him. Big belly, right? White hair. He told us how you were doing, in those parent­-teacher interviews. Ah! He was a good man. Very funny. It’s a tragedy that he died. How did you say he…?”


“Ahhhh, well, you know, you see, such is how it is in old age. But it’s really strange that the school didn’t do much about it. I always thought your school was behind. Too mechanical. Ang bobo… ”

And so Luiz went on, and Sophia leaned against the island counter quietly and listened to him, nodding when necessary and blinking when it wasn’t. He spoke about rusted arteries and blood vessels that popped like bubblegum, the world all the same and then gone the next. In the middle of his monologue, Sophia found herself wondering why she told her father about the death at all. Luiz was a man who repeated ideas he’d invented long ago, back when he was a child and didn’t know about power. His thoughts clouded his mind and they had become fuzzy over the years. The old country, God, righteousness, audacity, politics, war — they blurred together, the only strings connecting them written in epitaphs someone else wrote and died over, yet Luiz never changed. He spoke methodically now, almost gurgling with each word, insisting he was correct and that no ocean could baptize him into something different. Sophia understood this. And she knew she couldn’t take back what she had told his father, deciding then and there that she would bite back the inherent annoyance that rose within her whenever she made conversation with her parents. It wasn’t duty or familial love that kept her in place. She was just eighteen.

A storm had settled into the city and hadn’t let up for days. At first, the usual complaints about flooded fields, bringing in the patio furniture, and rustling through storage closets for rubber boots fell with graceless mediocrity out of people’s mouths. Their city revolved around an artificial environmentalism, with newspaper headlines, farmers’ markets and cultural events only speaking about the hypocrisy of charities, wheat stalks being devoured by the annual locusts and how someone took down their Christmas lights in the middle of July. Eventually, though, the rain became a spectacle, and its stay, for the time being, was indulged. After all, nothing had ever happened that was so natural. So beautiful. So utterly in character with the Biblical passages that churchgoers repeated every Sunday to a degenerate priest. The storm was at its third day of restlessness, implying no sabbatical, and drenching the world in a grayscale of clichéd suffering. This was the day in which Mr. Lyons died. Sophia’s friends and classmates joked about how appropriate the weather was — pathetic fallacy for an English teacher’s passing. How we teach the generations to mock us! She had come home from school and warmed up the curry having lived through a day with Mr. Lyons on everyone’s mind.

For some reason or another, Sophia agreed to tag along with Luiz to pick up her mother and little sister from work. Both had a job at a department store pharmacy, hating it secretly but never telling anyone. It was almost a cruelty. To not have the freedom to complain about your family.

The car sloshed its wet feet over frowning puddles that littered the street. Drowned insects were buoyed and washed away with the torrents, sinking with each footstep or bicycle that passed by. The river on the way to the department store was swollen and gasping, lurching like a snake with its head cut off, desperately flailing and still in shock over its decapitation. Sophia’s eyes never left the scenery beyond her. She had only brought with her a small purse, the navy blue one with the cross-stitched flowers. She fingered the contents inside absent-mindedly, scratching the rim of her coin pouch when the river left her view from the car window. There was no music playing, for Luiz found the radio distracting and a hindrance, and the atmosphere somehow felt more drained and noiseless than usual. Luiz suspected his daughter was rather devastated, and he debated stating as much once he turned the corner to a familiar street and drove to the pharmacy’s parking lot, knowing he wouldn’t have to talk with Sophia for long if the topic got too awkward.

The car hummed feebly around them, pelted by rain and seeming to whine about its exposure to the weather. From the store’s smudged glass walls, Sophia spotted her mother Mari and little sister Bianca. The girl still wore her school uniform, stained with ketchup and not hiding the fact that she was always hungry. She took the city bus to go to work after school, not bothering to pack more decent clothes in her backpack, knowing it drove the other adults mad that she looked so childish next to them. The wonders an institutional khaki skirt and patchwork plaid could do.

Bianca followed her mother in silence, chewing on something stuck between her teeth and not caring for the pleasant farewells Mari exchanged with their coworkers. She ducked under her mother’s umbrella once they left the store, the two of them walking together silently and both thinking about how especially agonizing today had been. Two different children had tried to steal from the candy aisle and damaged some of the shelves in trying to escape security. One got away. The other was acquitted simply because his mother was called and informed of the crime, which consequently led to her marching into the pharmacy and yelling at the staff members for abusing an innocent child who didn’t know any better. The damage would be paid out of the store’s pocket.

Both women climbed into the car’s back seat sullenly. Mari folded the umbrella and met her husband’s eyes in the rearview mirror. She couldn’t bring herself to give him a tired smile, but would he even notice if she did?

“Mr. Lyons died of a stroke this morning.”

A pregnant stillness. Rain outside, crumpling the air. Bianca eventually scoffing and putting on her headphones. Luiz starting the car and navigating it numbly. Mari’s eyes widening and bulging from their sockets. “What did you say?” she breathed, leaning as close to the back of Sophia’s car seat as the seat belt would allow her, the jolting of the vehicle rolling over speed bumps making her cheeks bounce and spring with a pale pink color. Unlike Luiz, Mari didn’t give her daughter time to repeat herself before diving into a barrage of frilly, decrepit, grievous commentary. Wails of “How awful! I’m so sorry, anak,” and “He used to be so kind to me whenever I saw him. I truly thought he had more time. It’s terrible! Just terrible! I — I can’t think of anything more terrible. He was so healthy! I think he came to the pharmacy once, you know. When was it, Bianca, do you remember? Oh, I’m sure it was him. He had that satchel…” spread amongst the four of them, pressing tightly against the car walls, growing with each syllable that fell from Mari’s lips.

As her mother experienced an array of emotions and frustration, Sophia stared out the car window, face unchanging and hardly listening to her words. She felt she’d already granted and forgiven enough when she patiently witnessed her father’s reaction to the news earlier. She’d perfected this exercise, this pretending to care, this being a golden daughter who thought nothing ill of her makers. As they passed the headless snake river once more, she felt a bleeding pit at the core of her stomach begin to form. It was impossible to explain its depth. Just that its presence seemed to ensure Sophia of a truth she already knew:

It did not matter if Mr. Lyons was a kind man, an honourable man, a God-fearing advocate for all things immaculate and stubbornly divine. He had died and left nobody too wretched, a rainstorm that diluted all semblances of rationality, and a civilization torn from grain seeds. He had died because this city was dead and the greatest achievement one could obtain was to have their photograph in the obituaries. He had died of a stroke and paid the banal cost of living here, stomaching all life and reading for refuge. He had died and was dead. No more daydreaming. He needn’t be understood to be buried.

Gazing out past the glass, over the industrial-looking bridge that always seemed to be partially under construction, at the lily pads violently rocking on the water’s surface, Sophia sighed to herself and closed her eyes, leaning back against her seat’s headrest and letting her mother babble on with escalated vigour.

It was a while until Mari stopped talking. Her chest filled up with a languid sigh before she looked at Sophia’s motionless frame reflected in the car mirror.

“Sophia, dear —”

“I remember he told me he counted all the times the name Eveline appeared in James Joyce’s short story,” Sophia whispered softly. Finally. What a relief. “He said the wrong number. Six, twenty­-one, nineteen — I don’t know.” The car stopped at a red light. She shifted in her seat and turned to look at her mother, glimpsing at her mangled lipstick and ponytail that fell out in frizzy rivulets.

“Why was it the wrong number, anak?”

Sophia blinked, whirling around and plopping back down, looking out the window again.

“He forgot to include the title.”

You can follow Eunice on Instagram @ladymacbeth.egd.

This piece is part of the in medias res Jan. 2021 “Reflection” Issue. You can read the full issue under the tag “Jan. 2021.”

Image: Waterloo Bridge, Gray Day (1903) by Claude Monet (Public Domain)