Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Fifth Issue of Our Literary Journal Foment

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The Ever-Present Past

In a packed hall at the Knox Presbyterian Church, we were privileged to listen to three highly respected authors and follow the ensuing question and answer session that Charlotte Gray, well-known Ottawa-based writer and a Writers Festival board member expertly and firmly moderated. It is worth mentioning here that all three authors in some way have started out using part of their own history and their family's history as one aspect from which to build the fictional lives of their characters.

 

Christine Pourtney's Sweet Jesus tells the story of two sisters and their adopted brother, addressing moral and religious questions that come to life during a road trip and in the relationships between the siblings and their surroundings. In response to the question on placing religion centrally in the novel, Christine Pourtney answered that she wanted to explore the "meaty soup of opinion, beliefsin a strong framework," and write a book "in which both camps (believers and non-believers) could co-exist." Linda Spalding's novel, The Purchase , also centres on religious and moral issues as it follows the life of a Quaker family who have to confront slavery as a fundamental personal question.

 

Finally, M.G. Vassanji's The Magic of Saida takes the reader to the coastal area of present-day Tanzania and its rich history, its mythology, and magic. His protagonist, a medical doctor from Edmonton, returns to the places of his childhood in search of his childhood friend. Reading this novel currently, I was especially taken by his explanations of the moral quests that are contained in the story.

 

The selection of the novels paired for the session could not have been better in my view. Not only did they have at the centre protagonists in their personal struggle with a quests or search for clarity in their lives, they represent excellent examples how the past informs the present and how the present also can shed new light on the past. In fact, as the moderator stated at the outset: History is not the past, it is all around us.

 

Interestingly also, when they were each asked how they begin a novel and what aspect was most important at that point, they each answered that they were most interested in a question that the novel attempts to answer or not. It could be a deep moral or religious question or one of identity and belonging. As they also agreed, the initial question did not necessarily find an answer at the end of the novel. It was as important, or even more so, to follow the protagonist's quest for the answer, to understand the individuals whose lives were influenced by the search for an answer. "To get into the question and build a world around it," this reflection by Christine Pourtney reflects the general agreement among the authors.

 

Finally, from the general discussion some salient points for me deserve to be highlighted. Historical fiction can be seen as a hybrid between fact and fiction. Is that a problem for the fiction writer? For Christine Pourtney, "writing about the present is a historical act." It is what it feels like here and now, whether it is set in the present or the past. She writes out of "intuition, not history." For Linda Spalding, the question is about moral judgment. "Trying to understand the complications of people in their time
and environment. I have an expanded sense of the decisions and actions of the time for the reader to have a better understanding." For M.G. Vassanji his book is "not historical fiction, more a quest - questions about the past. At the end you learn about the question and the person who asked the questions." That does not suggest that some form of historical reality is of course necessary.

 

In summary, having heard the readings and the discussion, I can only recommend all three books. I will certainly add the two I don't have on my bookshelf yet.

The Natural History of Canadian Mammals

 

When Donna Naughton first told her partner Diana that she intended to write a book
on Canadian mammals, Diana assumed that Donna would be writing a field guide, and need one or two years to complete it. Instead, over the course of eleven years, Donna turned out the definitive volume on Canadian mammals for this generation. The Natural History of Canadian Mammals (University of Toronto Press, 2012) has already riveted all kinds of readers. It was one of the main attractions at the Frankfurt Book Fair; at its Canadian launch on October 25, it packed the 3D Theatre of the Museum of Nature with eager readers, young and old, professional biologists and amateur enthusiasts.

 

A.W.F. Banfield’s 1974 volume, The Mammals of Canada , also came out of the
Canadian Museum of Nature and the University of Toronto Press. It has been a great
resource for scholars for four decades – but it was time for an update. Donna Naughton
explained three pressing reasons for this updating. The mammal species living in Canada have changed since 1974; Canadian mammals are on the brink of a dramatic possible change in climate; and the illustrations which drive The Natural History of Canadian Mammals needed to come to light.

 

The Vancouver Island marmot is one of five mammal species found only in Canada;
it was not officially classified as a species when Banfield went to press. While Canadian
Mammals was in preparation, the number of the rare marmots in the wild increased, from only thirty-five to between 300 and 350! Changes in species classification are not the only reason to include new species; one Pacific dolphin species has recently begun to appear in Canadian waters, as its range moves further north due to the warming of ocean waters.

 

Several American species of shrew can now be found in southern B.C., as their original
habitat becomes hotter and drier. The Natural History of Canadian Mammals provides
us with a vital baseline, giving a snapshot of Canadian fauna at the beginning of a shift in
climate.

 

The marvellous watercolour illustrations are at the heart of Canadian
Mammals; their story demonstrates how this book is a product of the whole institution of the Canadian Museum of Nature. When Museum of Nature staff members were asked whether they had any ideas for books, Donna leaped at the opportunity to publish a neglected collection of breathtaking watercolours, done by Paul Geraghty and Brenda Carter. A book format was just the thing to showcase the illustrations, and to bring the museum’s treasures to a wide public. The natural history illustrator Julius Csotonyi was brought in to provide pictures of about forty species that the two original artists had not had time to cover; he used a sophisticated digital watercolour programme, so that his work would blend in perfectly with his predecessors’. Donna declared that his picture of a wolverine was the most accurate she had ever seen.

 

Canadian Mammals also drew on talents from all over the Museum of Nature. The dental illustrations, which are crucial in mammal biology, were done by a staff member from the paleontology preservation lab. Micheline Beaulieu-Beauregard works in the museum’s world-class Herbarium – but stepped away from her usual plant specimens to illustrate mammal skulls, drawing between three and six diagrammes per species.

 

Micheline told me that her contribution to Canadian Mammals will probably be
the most tangible and lasting of all the work she has undertaken at the Canadian Museum of Nature. She and Donna Naughton think alike; Donna sees Canadian Mammals as the pinnacle of her work for the museum, and considers it in the light of a public servant’s retirement gift to the nation. It was wonderful to hear how digital technologies and people’s artistic and research talents could combine to save art from obscurity, and to save species from ignorance – and how all this could be accomplished through that most old-fashioned medium; an illustrated book.

Acts of Love, Despite Everything: Midnight's Children

Empire 7 at the World Exchange Plaza, acted as our venue for the Ottawa film premiere of Deepa Mehta's audacious adaptation of Salman Rushdie's landmark  Midnight's Children . Rushdie had also recently released the memoir Joseph Anton - an alias made up of the first names of Conrad and Chekhov. It was a name he had to adopt to avoid suspicion while under the protection of the British police after the infamous fatwa or religious edict from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, while on his deathbed, for the publication of his other well known novel, Satanic Verses . It is a remarkable feat that Rushdie has not only survived in the physical sense, but has been able to project an equally staggering body of work to counteract the ignominy and notoriety of "the Rushdie Affair" as the whole brouhaha came to be dubbed. Haroun and the Sea of Stories , which Rushdie wrote for his son following a separation from him in the aftermath of the fatwa, is not only remarkable for the conditions under which it was written in, but also for being one of the finest children's book of any era. Yet out of all his numerous opuses, it is Midnight's Children, as one of the most decorated novels of twentieth century, that stands apart.

 

Deepa Mehta herself, being no stranger to threats and suppression of her art, found a kinship with Rushdie whom she met relatively recently in Toronto when Rushdie was promoting The Enchantress of Florence . While enthusing about a potential collaboration, Mehta had suggested  Shalimar The Clown , possibly Rushdie's most film-able book. Then almost as a self-whispered dare, Mehta said, "How about Midnight's Children?" to which Rushdie quickly consented. Rushdie, as Mehta would tell us in her Q & A session after the film, sold the rights to the script for just a dollar.

 

Midnight's Children is the story of Saleem Sinai, and how by virtue of being born at the very same moment of his country's independence at the midnight of August 15th, 1947 he is "handcuffed to history." Saleem and 420 other children are bound by magical powers which bind them to each other, but ultimately to their country. Rushdie explores the emergence of not only modern day India, but also of Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

The film itself is a wondrous palette of colours - with Sri Lanka being the setting for over 64 locations as diverse as Kashmir and Bengal spanning several decades. Mehta stated the her focus on particular colours and slowly intensifying them were thematic choices. For instance, in the part signifying The Emergency of Prime Minister the Indira Gandhi, blue particularly resonates over the grim darkness, caressing the viewer's eyes with a sense of calm. Rushdie himself narrates, his voice exhibiting the calm energy of a man thrilled to bring a work which is almost 30 years old to a new generation.

 

The Walrus feature on Mehta in the November 2012 issue, written by the very observant and thoughtful Stephanie Nolen, states that Mehta, "loves the book, and understands it deeply." At the Writers Fest event, she called it the "first great novel of post-colonial literature." Hari Kunzru goes on to say that it was Rushdie through Midnight's Children who "proved, once and for all, that English is an Indian language." While any literary hyperbole for Rushdie is usually warranted, this overreaches. Early Indian writers such as Mulk Raj Anand and particularly R.K. Narayan have defined India in English in a way that is as relevant today as it ever was, decades before Rushdie. Moreover, A House for Mr. Biswas , by Indo-Trinidadian Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul, is a more likely claimant of the first great post-colonial novel.

 

The integrity of the film is assured by Rushdie's own close involvement. The acting in the film, is understated and superb. Satya Bhabha exhibits a tenderness and toughness which is a jarring contrast to Matthew Patel in the peerless Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Shriya Saran and Shahana Goswami are impossibly elegant, and makes one wonder why every wedding isn't Indian. The breakout role may be the one of Darsheel Safary in his precocious portrayal of a 10 year old Saleem.

 

When prompted by a question by a local filmmaker Jith Paul, Mehta describes how she trains her actors based on the ancient Indian arts text the Natya Shastra. The rasabox from the shastras consist of 9 key emotions, her favourite being "wonderment." Mehta describes how she challenges actors to learn how to say "I love you" while being in the grid of hatred. "Every emotion carries nuance, even love has parts of revulsion and doubt in it." It is indeed her and Rushdie's exploration of nuances which seem to dent their popularity, particularly in India, a culture still not used to critical self-examination, particularly to outsiders.

 

“A child and a country were born at midnight, once upon a time. Great things were expected of us both. The truth has been less glorious than the dream. But we have survived and made our way. And our lives have been, in spite of everything, acts of love.”

 

Apparently Rushdie shed a few tears when he saw the first screening of Mehta's film. It's not hard to understand why.

 

 

The Fast and the Flavourful

 

Every seat Side Door Restaurant was taken and the rest of the floor was packed with people standingand listening to Chef Michael Smith passionately talk about how we have become so removed from the food we eat. Joined by the executive chef of Sidedoor and Top Chef Contestant Jonathan Korecki, the two casually reminisced about growing up and learning about where food comes from.

 

“Go to your grocery store and look at where the fruit and vegetables come from,” Korecki says. “Most of the time the town or province is written in the smallest writing.” Smith is an advocate for food literacy. He was frustrated with how we were so into watching the TV shows and following the food blogs, but was so quick to make excuses as to why we couldn’t or wouldn’t prepare food at home. “There is no excuse, you can cook.” And it is true; we can cook. Even though I now cook professionally, I've always cooked at home with my mother. I grew up eating her so called mistakes, and loved every bite. I learned that just because it didn’t’ turn out how it was planned, it is still palatable and time and love and were put into it. I always believed that food is the strand that holds us all together.

 

As many small canapés were passed around, we were full of smiles, chatting amiably while we gobbled up every new round that was served. There were baby scallops on the half shell with black bean sauce and citrus. Meatballs, and various mini tacos from pork, beef, to tuna tartare. It was food that brought us all together and a great atmosphere that kept us there. Unfortunately the short time constraint cut what would easily have been a late-night stay, yet Michael Smith found some time to sign copies of his new cook book, Fast Flavours .

 

 

We need more people like Smith pushing the message of eating local food that comes from our farmers, and our soil. With all the resources at our finger tips we can easily find out about the many great foods we have the choice of buying. We could even start a garden and really understand the time that goes into getting us our food. Just build up some confidence, ask someone over to help, and I guarantee the meal won’t even be the part of the experience you remember most. It’s about bringing people together. The food is just an added bonus. Bon appetit.

 

Isaac Adamski is a cook at Beckta dining & wine.

Photo credit: Daniel Bezalel Richardsen

A Nation Plays Chopsticks (Part 2)
by Mark Anthony Jarman

A Nation Plays Chopsticks Part 2

(Serial cStories eBook Single on win.cstories.ca ... continued )  

 

And I play because I am a snoop. I learn things I would never otherwise know about New Brunswick, receiving a kind of translation, a geography lesson mile by mile, a roadmap, gossip, secrets, an unofficial oral history of this place’s lore and natives. My team translates and I am along for the ride, a spy in Night-town.


We ride the highway down from Nackawic where we always lose to the Axemen or the Bald Eagles, millworkers on both teams up there. I’m deep in the back seat of Al’s 4 by 4, but I spy a deer waiting by the shoulder like a mailbox. I point it out to Al at the wheel. The deer is hunched, nose out, poised to run across the busy lanes, its dark eyes inches from my face as our metal box blows past its snout and ears and private insects.


“I seem to hit one of those every two years,” Al says. “Wrecked more damn vehicles.” Al, as did his father, works fitting people with artificial limbs. The passengers in our 4 by 4 all hold bags of gas station chips and open beer—what we call travellers. I take up their habits.


Powder the goalie says, “I hit a deer last year and it was stuck across the windshield, this stupid face staring in at me in the damn side window. Damn deer’s fault, up in grass above, everything hunky-dory, and doesn’t it decide to cross right when I’m there. I must have drove 200 feet before the deer finally dropped off.”


“You keep it?”


“Didn’t want to get busted. Three a.m. and I was drinking.”


“That’s when you keep them. Toss it in your freezer.”


“Ain’t got no freezer. Had to stop later at the gas station, headlights all pointed every which way.”


People are killed every year hitting moose on the road to Saint John. Off the highway there’s a moose burial ground where they drag the carcasses and scavengers have their way with the organs and bones. First they offer the dead moose to the Cherry Bank Zoo for its lions or tigers, I forget which. The moose the lions don’t eat end up in the pile off the highway.


Dave the RCMP says, “Man, when I was in Saskatchewan I was driving to Yorkton and came across this guy who had hit one cow square on, killed it, and he clipped another and it flew down in the ditch. It was still alive and I had to dispatch it. I come back up and this guy is crying about his van, some red Coca-Cola van, vintage I guess, front all pushed in, big V pushed in, crushed the grill, and this guy is just fucking crying about it and I said, Mister, I’m here to tell you you’re lucky to be alive. But my van! Just fucking crying about his little red Coca-Cola van.”

Powder the goalie is in possession of beer stolen from the truckload of Spanish Moosehead ale. I’d like to have one can as an illicit souvenir.


“I’ll bring you some,” he says to me one game.


(Serial cStories eBook Single continued on win.cstories.ca ...) 

 

cStories eBook Single by Mark Anthony Jarman
from the original short story collection My White Planet
published by Thomas Allen Publishers

 


 

A Nation Plays Chopsticks (Part 1)
by Mark Anthony Jarman

A Nation Plays Chopsticks Part 1

cStories eBook Single by Mark Anthony Jarman 

(Serial cStories eBook Single on win.cstories.ca )

 

Drive the night, driving out to old-timer hockey in January in New Brunswick, new fallen snow and a full moon on Acadian and Loyalist fields, fields beautiful and ice-smooth and curved like old bathtubs. In this blue light Baptist churches and ordinary farms become cathode, hallucinatory. Old Indian islands in the wide river and trees up like fingers and the strange shape of the snowbanks.

 

It’s not my country, but it is my country now, I’m a traveller in a foreign land and I relish that. The universe above my head may boast vast dragon-red galaxies and shimmering ribbons of green, and the merciless sun may be shining this moment somewhere in Asia, but tonight along the frozen moonlit Saint John River the country is a lunatic lunar blue and the arena air smells like fried onions and chicken. We park by the door, play two twenty-five-minute periods, shake hands, pay the refs, knock back a few in dressing room No. 5, and drift back from hockey pleasantly tired, silent as integers. And I am along for the ride.

 

Why do I enjoy the games so, enjoy the primal shoving and slashing and swearing and serious laughing at it all afterward? In these games I have taken a concussion, taken a skate blade like an axe between my eyes and I jammed brown paper towels on the cut to staunch the blood. Stitches, black eyes, and my nose is still broken from a puck running up my stick on its mission. Might get my nose fixed one of these days. One opposing player, when younger and wilder, is reported to have bitten another in the meat of the eye!

 

Today the inside of my thigh is a Jackson Pollock splatter painting: yellow green purple nebulas under the skin, flesh bruised from pucks hitting exactly where there is no padding (the puck has eyes). At night my right foot pulses and aches where I stopped two slap-shots on the same spot years ago. My elbows are sore and they click when I move my arms. My joints are stiff when I climb the pine stairs, especially now, since yesterday I took the boys skiing and then I played hockey at night. Rub on extra horse liniment. My neck won’t move freely and a check wrecked my shoulder last April and for weeks I had to sleep on my back or the pain awoke me. Never got the shoulder looked at. I pay money for these injuries, these insults to my spirit.


So why pay, why play the game? As the Who sing, “I Can’t Explain.” Hockey is my slight, perverse addiction. Certainly I crave the physical side, especially versus working at the desk on 300 e-mails or doodling in a dull meeting. I enjoy the contrast, the animal aspects. I crave a skate, a fast turn on the blades.


(Serial cStories eBook Single on win.cstories.ca ... to be continued )

 

cStories eBook Single by Mark Anthony Jarman 

from the original short story collection My White Planet
published by Thomas Allen Publishers


Home Schooling (Part 2)
by Carol Windley

Home Schooling  Part 2

cStories eBook Single by Carol Windley

From the original collection " Home Schooling "

Published by Cormorant Books


(cStories eBook Single ...continued from win.cstories.ca ) ... Harold’s school was, or had been, called Miramonte. When they first came here Annabel had discovered the name carved into a rock near the front gates. When she’d shown it to Harold, he’d said how interesting: the apartment building where he’d lived in San Jose, the auspicious year he’d met their mother, was called the Miramonte. He’d considered the coincidence a good omen. He’d called to Nori, who had been up near the house hanging laundry out on a clothesline, to come and see. She’d picked Mika up and walked down the driveway to where Harold and Annabel were standing. “I remember that apartment,” she’d said. She’d handed Mika to Harold and had drawn a finger lightly over the carved letters, then wiped her hand on her jeans. “It isn’t a name I’d pick,” she’d said, her voice cool.


“What would you pick?” Harold had asked. Nori had said she didn’t have time to think about it. She’d taken Mika from Harold — Mika was still a baby, less than a year old, when they came to the island — and trudged back up the drive to the waiting basket of cold, wet laundry. Harold had brushed dust and grass seed off the rock. The name shone out at him, a light in darkness, Annabel could see, although in truth the letters were weathered, malformed, with a dark greenish tincture, like verdigris on copper.


Annabelle saw first the woman’s hands, bruised and scratched from her work. Then she saw her laced-up shoes, blunt at the toes, with rundown heels and draggled laces. The woman’s unruly reddish hair tumbled from under a rain-spotted, wide-brimmed hat. She crouched near the rock. I gave our home this name, she seemed to say. Another time, the woman stood in the field near the forest, not alone, but with a companion. Annabel saw them and they saw her, she knew they did. Their names were Jane and Fredericka. Their story went something like this: in the early 1930s they came to the island and purchased five acres of low-lying land on Mariner Road, where they built a house, the same house Annabel lived in now. Jane, it was said, had been escaping a jealous husband — and a child, according to some versions of the story — and Fredericka, who was called Freddy, had given up a promising career in the civil service to be with Jane. On the island they could walk arm in arm along the beach, go skinny-dipping, hold hands outdoors, run through the grass with their hair streaming in the wind, their faces flushed with exertion and laughter. They could do as they pleased, with no one to give them curious looks, not that they would have cared.


Jane shot wild ducks and quail. Freddy dug clams at low tide and kept chickens and acquired an amphibious car that she navigated across the channel to town when she needed to stock up on supplies. Annabel knew these things about Fredericka and Jane because Patrick had told her. When he was six years old, Jane and Freddy would let him feed their chickens and play with the newborn kittens in a cardboard box on the back porch. They’d invited him to their house and fed him treacly oatmeal cookies that stuck to his teeth. They poured glasses of homemade blackberry cordial, sunlight reflected like clotted cream in its murky depths. Iron pots the size of cauldrons simmering on the stove, a mousetrap in a corner, a Westminster clock that chimed the quarter hours.


... continued on win.cstories.ca

 


 


 

Home Schooling (Part 1)
by Carol Windley

Home Schooling  (Part 1)

cStories eBook Single by Carol Windley

From the original collection " Home Schooling "

Published by Cormorant Books

 

It began with three sisters who lived in a cottage beside the sea. Except the cottage wasn’t beside the sea, it was some distance away, and it wasn’t a cottage, it was an old farmhouse, and the farm was no longer a farm, it was a boarding school. Then something happened, a tragic, unforeseeable accident. One night a boy called Randal walked out of his dormitory and was found some hours later in the salt marsh. He had drowned. Less than three years after it had opened, the school closed. On a cold April day parents began arriving to collect their children. At first they refused to speak to the school’s principal, Harold Dorland. Annabel and Sophie saw their father trying to placate the parents. They heard him pleading for understanding, a little consideration, a little time. He was waved angrily away. The parents mentioned their lawyers. They accused Harold of incompetence, misconduct, negligence. Harold reeled. A cold wind stirred the trees; rain began to fall. The parents got in their cars with their children and drove to the wharf, where they caught the ferry back to Vancouver Island. And then the school reverted to a farm on which very little farming ever got done.


Sometimes, in the weeks that followed, Annabel and Sophie looked in the windows of the deserted dormitories, at the cots stripped bare, locker doors hanging open, nothing inside but dust and cobwebs and mouse turds. Annabel missed the children. She missed their laughter, their silly jokes, their earnestness and ineffable patience. Just children, and yet how patient they’d been with Harold’s pedagogy, which he insisted wasn’t pedagogy, but a flamboyant careless engagement with life’s unevenness and unpredictability and wildness. Wildness tamed, that was, lined-up and biddable, waiting for further instruction before ripping itself loose and going on a rampage.


“Everything this family does is doomed,” Sophie said. In her opinion, the school would have failed even if Randal hadn’t drowned. Anyway, he’d only done it to get Nori’s attention and sympathy, she said, and for that she’d never forgive him. Sophie could say anything and get away with it, because she was Sophie, with her precise, delicate beauty and her formidable musical talent. Annabel might at times almost hate her sister, but she also loved her. They were, after all, marooned together on this stupid island with no television or movies and they couldn’t afford new clothes and, since they were small, they’d been taught at home by Harold and Nori and had only ever had each other for company. Poor darlings, Sophie liked to say, of her and Annabel. She meant it.


... (continued on win.cstories.ca )



 

Ladykiller (Part 2)
by Charlotte Gill

Ladykiller (Part 2)

cStories eBook Single by Charlotte Gill

From the original collection   Ladykiller
Published by Thomas Allen Publishers


(cStories eBook Single ...continued from win.cstories.ca ) Gary continues on, waiting until he’s put the lengths of a dozen cars between them before giving her an over-the-shoulder glance. She’s looking straight at him with an expression he’s seen many times before – halfway between amusement and outrage. He quickens his pace and disappears around the bulkhead before he invites more trouble than can be refused.


The stock rooms, the service elevators, the fire stairs, the airport bathrooms, the least frequented wings of public places, the unvisited hallways of the mind. On some occasions there’s more, sometimes just this – an unknown female, whiffs of hope and relief, a feeling of continuous arrival.


Gary travels back to the car, enjoying the soft pause in his thoughts. Across the water is their island destination, cloaked in rain shadow. He looks out at the horizon where the sky turns pink, and he remembers what it’s like to be free.


The ferry nudges up against land and disgorges their car. Gary relinquishes the driving to Roz. The traffic around the terminal is heinous and claustrophobic, the streets rampant with roadside convenience. Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Over-waitea Foods. Everyone shopping, eating fast food, driving, parking, making mountains of garbage. Home – he could rip off his shirt, run screaming into the ocean and begin the swim back to the mainland.


As soon as the tires hit the highway, Gary says, “Let me out.”


“What?”


“I can’t go,” he says. “Let me out. On the corner will be fine.” He points at the curb where a guy battles the weather in a clown suit, between the planks of a sandwich board advertising roses.


Roz swerves over onto the shoulder and squeaks to a halt. Gary reaches for the door. But before he can make his escape Roz has her finger on the button. All four door locks ratchet down. They sit there for a time with the engine idling, the muffler puffing smoke. He can feel her gaze burning into the side of his face.


Gary undoes his seat belt. He elbows into the space between the steering wheel and her chest and hits the autolock on her armrest. He opens the door and sets his foot down on the pavement.


“What will you do? Call up one of your old girlfriends and see if she’ll give you a ride?” Roz has her sunglasses on though the day is grey and sloppy.


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gary asks.


“Don’t be stupid,” she says.


Ah, he thinks. And there it is again. Lurking in their conversations like a butcher knife at the bottom of the dishwater. His extra life, snug and seamless, has caught on the keen edge of Roz’s attention. Roz knows – though she can’t prove a thing. She smells guilt on his breath, on all his clothes. Other women. Sidelines and diversions. They roll around in his thoughts like foreign words, like the crimes of other people.


Roz says, “If you get out now I’ll circle around the corner. I’ll hunt you down with my bumper.”


... continued on win.cstories.ca

 


 


 

Ladykiller (Part 1)
by Charlotte Gill

Ladykiller (Part 1)

cStories eBook Single by Charlotte Gill
From the original collection  
Ladykiller
Published by Thomas Allen Publishers

 

They embark in Roz’s car, a practical sedan of foreign make from a design phase when cars were built to look like cigarette packaging, streamlined and boxy at the same time. It’s raining, yet even more wintry inside the car. Gary drives. They don’t talk. They don’t even listen to music. They sit in their silence as psychic snow drifts up against the windows. Roz looks straight ahead, cracking her ankle every few minutes, then slapping her glove like a leather tongue against her lap. The highway passes underneath them, slick and black. Water shushes in the tire wells.


Three days before Christmas, the next-to-shortest day of the year. Holiday traffic is backed up a million miles from the ferry terminal. Roz insisted they leave at this hour. Gary had wanted to sleep late. Now she looks straight ahead with her legs crossed and her hands intermeshed. A satisfied frown at the corners of her mouth like, who was he to doubt her? Workers with flashlights and high-viz vests direct traffic onto the shoulder of the highway. They permit a strip of this millipede to crawl off the boats. The sky goes a fecund shade of eggplant. Clouds, the possible sun.


Roz wants to go up to the top decks. She gives him a sort of kiss-off with her middle and index fingers.


Gary stays behind in the car with a newspaper spread over the wheel. Roz has left him alone and a thin film of worry coats all of his thoughts. In his chest, the press of amorphous dread. He runs his eyes over chunks of text, his mind absorbing nothing. They are on their way to his mother’s, Gary’s boyhood home. The visit looms. A boredom verging on anxiety. It drives him out from seclusion onto the vehicle deck in search of some visual distraction.


The ferry’s hold is like the gut of a giant mechanical behemoth. The walls and the floor are grimed over with grey-brown soot. Cars and trucks packed bumper to bumper, lit by caged fluorescent tubes. He prowls the rows. Underneath him the boat engines rumble.


Few passengers remain down below. Poodles left behind, yapping at inched-down windows. His eye is drawn to the interior of a sedan where a girl dozes on a reclined seat with her back to the door. Headphones, a rectangle of exposed skin, low-riding pants, coloured thong floss peeping over the waistband. Gary collects the visuals, then veers towards the ferry’s outer edges where a stiff sea wind pours in.


There he catches sight of a sheet of billowing hair, a woman leaning out over the railing. Blonde, from a bottle, he can tell from its flat lustre. She wears a cropped silver parka of the variety worn by cheerleaders – an amenable sign. He surveys the curves and contours of her lower half, and finding himself pleased, tucks into the narrow strip between the cars and the railing to further his investigations. She has her elbow propped on the railing and her chin in her hand, and she looks out at the sea, he thinks, wistfully. She ignores his approach. It only serves to encourage him. His stride grows energetic, his shoulders lift – with each step closer he’s starting something. A motion, like a sneeze, that can’t be stopped once triggered.


Gary swoops and dives. He takes his hands out of his pockets, and as he squeezes past her, grazes his knuckles across her sacrum. He skims his nose through her hair, which smells of vanilla and showered wetness. Sensations penetrate like X-rays, his bones lit up with strange touch. Then the contact breaks and the world flattens out again. He sweeps and passes through.

 

... continued on win.cstories.ca