Magical Realism

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Split Tooth
Excerpt

1975

Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar. Knee to knee, we would sit, hiding, hoping nobody would discover us. Every time it was different. Sometimes there was only thumping, screaming, moans, laughter. Sometimes the old woman would come in and smother us with her suffering love. Her love so strong and heavy it seemed a burden. Even then I knew that love could be a curse. Her love for us made her cry. The past became a river that was released by her eyes. The poison of alcohol on her breath would fill the room. She would wail and grab at us, kissing us, kissing the only things she could trust.

Fake-wood panel walls, the smell of smoke and fish. Velvet art hung on the walls, usually of Elvis or Jesus, but also polar bears and Eskimos.

The drunks came home rowdier than usual one night, so we opted for the closet. We giggle nervously as the yelling begins. Become silent when the thumping starts. The whole house shakes. Women are screaming, but that sound is overtaken by the sound of things breaking. Wet sounds of flesh breaking and dry sounds of wood snapping, or is that bone?

Silence.

There are loud pounding footsteps. Fuck! Someone is coming towards us. We stop breathing. Our eyes large in the darkness, we huddle and shiver and hope for the best. There is someone standing right outside the closet door, panting.

The door slides open, and my uncle sticks his head in.

Towering over us, swaying and slurring. Blood pouring down his face from some wound above his hairline.

“I just wanted to tell you kids not to be scared.” Then he closed the door.
 

a day in the Life
 
It’s 9 a.m., late for school
Grade five is hard
Rushing, stumbling to get my pants on 
Forgetting to brush my teeth  
Dreading recess
The boys chase us and hold us down
Touch our pussies and nonexistent boobs 
I want to be liked
I guess I must like it 
We head back to class
The teacher squirming his fingers under my panties 
Under the desk
He looks around and pretends he’s not doing it 
I pretend he’s not doing it
He goes to the next girl and I feel a flash of jealousy 
The air gets thinner and tastes like rot
School is over
I leave for the arcade
Watch out for the old walrus
The old man likes to touch young pussy 
We try to stay away
I wonder why nobody kicks him out 
Things are better at home now
Three’s Company and a calm air 
Archie comics and Lego 
Goodnight

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Arctic Smoke
Excerpt

Prologue
The Marquis Hotel has a century of murmur in its bones. Tales, too--inhaled at twilight by hissing vents, circled through hallways and hidden rooms, exhaled at daybreak. Downtown Lethbridge crouches under the edifice, toking its secret histories: the coal baron and his paramour, the runaway pastor's daughter, the felon on the lam--clandestine meetings, illicit love, voyeurs known and unknown--Mormon bishops, gamblers, whores.

The Marquis is over a hundred years old, ancient history on the Canadian prairies. By day its fading brick reaches to the sun, slate shimmering reds and greens, stonework cooled by shadows. At night the Marquis casts a spell: its pinnacles slice and crack the moon's light, then strew it in peppercorns across the tangle of gardens, while starlings gather on pitched rooftops to watch. Gingerbread windows gulp the remaining moonbeams; behind the glass, fires spark and dwindle in the hearths.

Townfolk say an entire floor has been closed long as anyone remembers. Ghosts, demons, murder--depends who tells the story. Some say two brothers came down from the High Arctic in the roaring twenties, stayed in the Marquis a whole year. Haroot and Maroot Darker, both eccentric, both in love with some Japanese woman inexplicably named Zurah. When she fled northward with a new lover, a white knife thrower from the carnival, the brothers' eccentricity turned to madness. Room One Thirteen, people say, demolished, sprayed with blood, but who killed whom? Some old Lethbridge folk tell the story differently, cackle over dark rum cokes or burnt black coffee in taverns grimed with failing light. Insist the brothers did not die--could not die--for they were dark angels cast from heaven to wander earth, to feed on malice, to tear apart the bonds of love.

But the story can never really be told, because no thread is ever lost: every hard choice and chance encounter weaves the tale out of itself--stitching, whirling, snaring--forever knotting and unspooling at the same time. So the angels may still haunt the long hallways, but who would know? For the Marquis has lost its voice to carpets, drapes, and crooked pictures--to thick coverlets and layered dust.

The century is about to turn.

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