I am the girl with the sweater covered in green paint - Clover, Number 2463. Stop! says the art teacher. It’s a mountain of sweater, almost brown with hints of mustard. Hers. Last summer my mother slipped out of the picture, no longer dipping into sleep in front of the summer fire pit, no more lisping breath, no more guttering sighs. Her smells - ill woman, stale wool, excessive deodorant to mask the creeping illness - lingering. A startling departure, despite me and Dad waiting for it, waiting since before he went to jail for selling stolen goods till after his release, from before I went to Junior High, and here I am in high school.
Excerpt from novella: There Has Always Been Water in the Crowsnest Basement
Skookumchuck I arrive at my first train station not knowing how to hoop up train orders.
You stand beside the track with the paper orders inside a wooden hoop. When the train goes by, you hold up one hoop and the engineer sticks his arm out. You let go when his arm goes through the hoop. Then when the caboose goes by—same thing for the conductor, only you don’t have to aim so high. Then you go running down the track to retrieve the hoops.
Duncan was in crisis. The oncologist ordered he be taken to the intensive care unit on another floor in the London Clinic. I followed the gurney down the hall and into the elevator. When we arrived on the new floor, I was asked to wait behind a large white screen while he was lifted onto the bed. The doctor came out from behind the screen.
Wearing a face full of brown whiskers tinged with gold, after three weeks away, my twenty-two-year-old son Don returned home. Thrilled to see him, I couldn’t help noting his eyes seemed tired, a heaviness in his steps, rather like a farmer coming in after a long harvest day. He enthusiastically recounted stories, some hair-raising, about working to build houses in a rural village near Coban, Guatemala, with Habitat for Humanity. “I had the most fun I’ve ever had!” he said. Although he had just arrived the evening before, I urgently needed to tell him about something important. The past many months, we had been working to strengthen our relationship, and in that vein, I felt compelled not to hesitate, but to be honest and direct. If I held back, I might never have the nerve to tell him what had happened.
My eyes never cared for water. I learned to swim grinding my lids tighter than the pine-tarred seam of a skin boot with double sinew stitching. Fingers groping the cold as my arms flexed against currents. My first proper stroke ended with my forehead butting the rockface beneath the overfalls. My brothers pulled me out by my armpits, snorting at the crooked gash across my nose.
In August of 1990, during a small ceremony in her living room in Cranbrook, with sage smoke choking the Indian-spiced air, my mother remarried. The guests: me, my seven-year-old brother, and two step brothers. Ceremony officiated by the yellow man, (as I called him then) a local artist called Man Woman. He always dressed in yellow, kind of artsy fartsy with tattoos head to toe: swastikas inked on his arms, hands and feet and a flaming vagina on his forehead.
*** Hand inside a bead bag, cultishly clutching a string of japa beads, deep in mantra meditation. Twenty minutes a day. Minimum. Two rounds of japa.
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare
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