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Bright Midnight

A Novel
also available: Paperback
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Molly of the Mall

Molly of the Mall

Literary Lass & Purveyor of Fine Footwear
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When you're named after someone or something you spend much of your life asking why. Why Rita? Why Sequoia? Why Wayne Gretzky? Most people are named after a grandparent, a favourite aunt, or, if you live in Edmonton, a hockey player. Your name might illuminate who you are, a historical moment, or what your parents wanted for you as they gazed lovingly into the tiny, squirmy wad of blankets you once were. Maybe your parents say, "You were named after my Great-Aunt Rita who studied art with Matisse, established a safe haven for feral cats in Regent's Park, and established an art school for underprivileged youth. We wanted to give you a name that conveyed her creative spirit, her compassion, and her commitment to social justice around the world." Or, maybe you are told, "I named you Sequoia so you would always be strong and deeply rooted to the earth." Or maybe you are told, "We named you Wayne because you were born the day they sold Gretzky to LA; it's the least we could do for Wayne after all he gave us." I am told, "You were named after the novel your father was teaching the day you were born."

And now, twenty years later, I find myself at Canada's largest shopping mall trying to explain to someone how it was that I became Molly. I was completing the paperwork for my new summer job at Le Petit Chou Shoe Shop and making small chat with Diana, the regional manager of the company that oversees four shoe stores in the Mall. Polishing my new name tag, Diana said, "Molly. That's a name you don't hear often. I was named after Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. Are you named after a famous Molly?" I looked up from my paperwork and saw she was well-named with her perfect hair and statuesque posture. I suddenly felt very short and in need of a haircut. I had to confess, "I was named after Daniel Defoe's novel, Moll Flanders. It was written in 1722." Without missing a beat, she said, "That is unfortunate, isn't it?" I had to agree. Perhaps I should have used this opportunity to say, "My name is Molly, but I go by Camilla. Or Lucinda. Or Isabella." Then I might not have had this hideous name tag in my hand with "Le Petit Chou Shoe Shop" sweeping elegantly across the top in a luxurious italic font, while "Molly, at your service" slumped in the middle in mundane Helvetica. After I signed the last piece of paper, Diana proclaimed, "You must be thrilled to be here, at the premier mall in the country. We think you should be delighted to be part of the Le Petit Chou family." I noticed she left no room for disagreement, so I nodded and attempted to agree wholeheartedly.

Working at the Mall would be very different from being an English major, but I was feeling up for the challenge. I was no longer Molly, soon-to-be third-year English major. I was now Molly, full-time purveyor of fine footwear, at your service. As I made my way home on the bus, toting a large pink binder with "Manual for the Purveyance of Fine Footwear" emblazoned on the cover, I was thinking about how my life might have been different had I been named after a Roman goddess instead of a character in a novel neither of my parents like very much. What I didn't tell Diana was the long story that led to me being named after Moll Flanders.

As the children of an English professor and an art historian, you might assume our names would have been chosen with a critical eye to symbolism. However, on the question of our names, there is a long answer and a short answer. I'm still working on the long answer, but the short answer is this. When my oldest sibling Tess was born, my father was a newly minted English professor, aglow and agog at the wonders of the British novel. The day she was born, he was preparing to teach Tess of the d'Urbervilles for his "The Tragic Vision of Thomas Hardy" graduate seminar, and he thought Tess would be a lovely name for his baby girl. My mother, apparently sedated, agreed. She later confessed that she had not finished the book or read my father's dissertation (as she claimed she had). When she did read the novel, she sobbed for our Tess' future: "We named our daughter after a murderess?" If there is an upside to Tess' name it is this: had she been born a week later, my father's class was reading The Return of the Native, and Tess would have been Eustacia Vye and thus condemned to roam the heath she loathes. As Tess, she merely has dramatically flawed relationships with men, even when they're really nice. The downside of Tess' name is that my parents remained committed to using my father's class schedules to name their subsequent children.

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