About the Author

Marina Endicott

Marina Endicott’s second novel, Good to a Fault, was winner of the regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award, Canada and the Caribbean, a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and one of The Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2008. Her debut novel, Open Arms, was a finalist for the 2001 Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award and broadcast on CBC Radio’s Between the Covers. Endicott’s stories have been featured in Coming Attractions and shortlisted for the Journey Prize and the Western Magazine Awards. She was born in Golden, BC and grew up in Vancouver, Nova Scotia and Toronto. She has been an actor, director, playwright and editor, and was Dramaturge of the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre for many years. She lives in Edmonton.

Books by this Author
The Difference
Excerpt

BOSTON

The ship became the world. They had a house to live in, the long skylighted saloon and their cabins, Aft; and the deck for their out­door walking path, as long as they kept out of the way of the work. Another flight of stairs down from the Aft saloon, they were allowed to visit the trim galley, fitted out like a carpenter’s bench with every needful tool on its hook, all polished copper and wood and steel-lined bins. The crew lived farther down, where Kay was not to go. Deepest below in the hold it was all case oil and coal, but Kay loved the orderly smell of the upper cargo deck: tea and mahogany, the familiar church-reek of tallow candles and sweeter beeswax, pine and cedar and other woody smells, spices she did not know. It was dark, but once one’s eyes grew accustomed, the rows of pillars between boxes were like the great roof posts in the stable at Aunt Lydia’s; and that was the other smell, the bleached stable smell of chickens and three well-kept young pigs, waiting to be roast pork. Sunlight slanting down through bulkheads lit upon nothing grimy or rank. “A tidy ship, no slatternliness about her,” Francis said—not bragging, but assuring Thea that she would be comfortable and safe.
 
Still, it was a little lonely, to walk through this world a few steps behind two people who were mostly focused on each other. And not what Kay was used to, having had all Thea’s attention until now.
 
Over the long ocean day, broken into portions by meals and the brass bell that rang to indicate changes of the watch, Kay wandered this new world, alone among the crowd of crew, shy to speak to the men but not wanting to be in Thea’s pocket all day. She found a hiding place or two; in that way she was like old Seaton the ship’s carpenter, dreaming in his lifeboat. In the afternoon, when the wind rose and they put on sail and the ship began to slant into true motion, Francis asked Mr. Best (that was the name of the lump-nosed second mate from the beautiful night) to show her the wooden seat tucked in at the starboard side of the fo’c’sle, where she might be safe out of the hubbub but still look out and perhaps spot land as they came closer.
 
Kay felt a softening toward Francis, almost tender; prickling back to caution whenever he shouted orders or was brisk with Mr. Wright or made one of the other seamen grovel or snap-to and say, Aye aye, Sir! He was easy in command. When he came down to supper, he began training Kay in the way of the sea, but he was never Father’s sort of schoolmaster, and she understood his instruc­tion was directed more to Thea than to herself.
 
“A barque can outperform a barquentine at any run, far better at sailing to windward than a full-rigged ship might be, at rising to the wind—well! Easier to handle in all seas. Perhaps the Morning Light is not the best runner, but we make compromise our servant and take the best elements of the fore-and-aft rig and the full, to be the most efficient rig at sea—and with a much-reduced crew—” In his enthusiasm, Francis had moved to boastfulness, which came oddly from his mouth; he was usually inclined to understatement. “Twenty-two this trip, well in hand, allowing for mishap or illness. Let’s see the Flying Dutchman race round the Horn with less than seventy!”
 
Thea smiled for his keenness, and Kay saw that she held her tongue from saying fewer to correct him.

Kay did not care for this new entity, Francis-and-Thea. She worried over what it might mean, how her own life would be changed, or Thea’s. All this time out at sea, yet her sister had not recovered her usual quiet vitality, but still sat sopping and droop­ing over the teapot at breakfast, and more often than not went back to lie down white-faced in their cabin, eyes shaded with one hand and her mouth in a wavering line.

Their bed was over-large for a ship; Francis had had it made especially. Carved edge boards kept the featherbed from shifting, but made it uncomfortable to sit on the side to comb Thea’s hair or pat her hands with rosewater or any other thing that might be nice for her. If only Thea would get up and come out on deck into the delicious wind, she would feel better.

Nausea did not stop her from nagging Kay about lessons and her sampler and the various ways she ought to be spending her days, and demanding to be shown a page of conjugations. “Amo, amas, amat . . .” Thea said, not in a loving voice, and, “Amamus, amatis, amant,” Kay mouthed back, clacking like a ventriloquist’s dummy, but she sighed and fetched her books. She was of course eons past the baby verb to love ; she wondered if that was the only Latin verb Thea recalled.

~

Another long day slid like water through water, but the next morn­ing was different. Kay dreamed in the early dawn, a quiet dream of a sick woman in a metal bed: white-faced, blue shadows under her eyes, a bald head. The walls were green behind her and the sheets yellow; the colours of the dream were strangely clear. Was it her mother, in heaven” She had a sweet face, not like Kay’s. Perhaps if Kay were kinder. Thea said one’s face only became beautiful through good deeds and loving thoughts.
The dream did not frighten Kay, but it made her worry about her sister dying, as both their mothers had died, so instead of dress­ing and running up the ladder to the deck, she went into the saloon.
Thea was in the saloon already, drinking tea, looking very ordi­nary. Kay must have slept late. The strangeness of the morning puzzled her still, until she realized—it was the stillness that puzzled her. The ship rested at anchor, tossing only lightly in the harbour’s swell and seep. They had come to Boston in the night.

After she had eaten and drunk her tea and redone her copy­book from yesterday to Thea’s cross-grained satisfaction, Kay waited at the rail by the ladder to the boat for Francis and Thea to be finished their farewell. Thea was to have come to the shops to fit Kay out with the necessary clothing but Francis said she should lie down this morning. They were debating it still, Kay could hear through the open skylight—what Francis was to buy, and whether he should bring Thea a poultice or a tisane or something from the pharmacist.

Perhaps Thea would feel better on dry land again” Kay did not care, she only wanted to get on with it or begin to shriek like the gulls that wheeled about the ships. Her head hurt, and her throat hurt too. Nobody bothered about her, only about Thea. They had only come to Boston harbour because they were forced to keep her with them, only because of her unwelcome presence. If only Thea had not had her half-sister coming along so inconvenient, they would be on the rolling main with the wind set fair for Africa.

Kay’s spirit reared a little within her chest, because she was a person, and if they did not see and understand her, she might jump off this ship into the dinghy and row to the wharf and walk the tilt­ing wooden walkways into Boston, looming behind the dark ware­houses, and disappear in its alleys never to be seen again by those who did not understand her anyway.

But Francis came up behind her, saying, as if she had not been waiting and waiting, “Now, young Kay, off we go, and smartly— Mr. Best must make the chandler’s office before noon.”

The dinghy went over the waves in quite a different movement from the ship, plunging and backing as the oars ploughed on, Mr. Best (he gave her a wink with one kind piggy eye) and Jacky Judge at the oars. The back of Jacky’s neck and his arms had a matte smoothness Kay did not mind looking at, but not when he could see her. She dipped a hand into the harbour water and let it run along, cupping the moving wave. Behind them the Morning Light, all her sails stowed, receded into a low shape in the water, a collection of black sticks against the foggy sky.

The usual commotion of ropes and mooring held them up at the little wharf, and then Francis went striding down the shaking boards so that Kay had to run to keep up. Her legs were used to tilting now. They walked (too quickly, Francis never slacking his pace) up to the tramline. The tramcar came and plunged them down and then up into the great walls and crackling, energetic depth of the city.
Francis was not one for talking as they went, and neither was Kay, so that suited them both. But she was still caught between fright and fury at being sent off alone with him—whom she hardly knew and was half-scared of, although she would not say so to Thea. He was older than Thea, who was nearly thirty now, quite an old spinster to be new-married, Cousin Olive said, and how sad that she wasted her youth raising Kay.

As the tramcar turned onto Summer Street, Francis pointed to Filene’s, the big store Thea had said they must visit. He ordered Kay to look sharp and hopped off as the tram lurched to a stop, turning back to give a hand to Kay.

She scorned to take it—oof, the pavement was farther than her legs had thought. They hustled to the curb through the welter of traffic and looked up at the brown bulk of the building, great glass doors glowing with brass and interior golden light. Beautiful doors, sectioned like an orange in a skin of brass hoops, went round in a glass drum. It was like skipping rope, to find the right moment to enter the carousel, and then take tiny, rapid steps inside the moving wedge of floor, all your feet were allotted. Inside, the light was startling, rays and beams sparking off myriad edges of glass and brass. The brilliance sent Kay back a step upon the threshold, almost back into the revolving swirl.

Francis barked, “Ladies’ haberdashery?” at a nearby girl in a dark skirt and a trim blue shirtwaist with a pretty collar that Kay wished she might have. The girl (whose hair was perfectly swept into a Gibson, whose teeth were jagged, whose little boot toes peeped beneath her skirt) pointed to the moving stairs.

Kay held tight to the handrail, one step up from Francis. He had ushered her on in front, as if he was perhaps afraid of the motion himself. Or to catch her, if she panicked at the step-off and fell. But she had been on moving stairs before, in Montreal, on their way from Blade Lake; she knew to lift her foot and hop as the treadle-step approached the end. It was Francis who stumbled a little.

A fearsome woman, shaped like a prow and jacketed up to the throat, took Francis’s order from his hand. “Serge skirts, two; white waists, two; middy blouses, four—yes, yes . . .” She ran her eye down the list Thea had written and turned to inspect Kay’s legs. “Stockings.”

“Very well,” Francis said, like he said at dinner to excuse Mr. Wright from table. “All that you think fit. We had time for nothing but her boots before we sailed.”

Kay stood it. In the close dressing room, people put blouses over her head and measured her waist and her bust, which she did not like. She told them she had no need of camiknickers, but the prow-fronted woman paid no mind and set aside six plain, ugly ones and a number of vests. The middy blouses were fetched and stacked. One of the serge skirts fit; an underling took a seam-ripper to another to let the waistband out, squatting on a stool in the corner. Then she hemmed both skirts quickly, with long, slanting stitches Thea would not have let Kay set.

The last item on the list was white muslin dresses, two. The under­ling rolled in a rack of mixed whites, embroidered or plain, sleeves small and large. The manageress picked out one that had nothing nice about it at all, and one Kay liked, which almost felt comfort­able. She did not see why she could not have two just the same, and said so, and the manageress nodded. The dresses went over her head and back again too, and then two plain shifts that needed tucks taken, until she thought she might screech. But she did not let herself, because she had won over the dresses.

At last it was done. While the packages were wrapped in blue paper, Francis stood by the counter, legs wide-braced, jingling coins in his pocket. He reached over to tweak Kay’s cheek and said, “Luncheon” Cake” Come, sprogget, we might as well amuse ourselves.”

Because Thea was not there, he meant. His humour and his kindness were both too heavy for Kay to help him with.

Down the moving staircase, taking the view of the marble hall below; then they burst out into the street, afternoon sun now light­ing the other side of the cobbles. Francis hailed a horse cab and stowed the package behind. He told the man they were starved, and the horse gee’d up. The cab jiggled over the stones, in a quiet way, to the Westminster Hotel, where the rooftop restaurant had gay striped awnings attached to a set of Grecian ladies holding up their spears. First of all, per Francis’s orders, petits fours; then a dainty plate of cut sandwiches. Francis had a bowl of chowder—to test the Boston version, he said. He was pleasant company. Kay wished she did not feel a sense of caution. But she remembered how careful they had always to be with Father, who as principal of the Blade Lake School also held a position of authority. And she did not know Francis as Thea did.

“If only your sister was not having so hard a—” He stopped.

Kay took another sandwich: chicken with a spiced yellow dress­ing, and raisins. Francis did not start again.

“Hard a what?” Kay asked, at the end of her sandwich, which was delicious.

His face had gone stiff. Was he angry with her” “Well, perhaps she will tell you herself, when she thinks it time,” he said.

He seemed to think she was seven years old instead of going on thirteen.

There was one last yellow sandwich, and a pity to waste it, so Kay took it. Before she bit, she said, “I have not had a moment’s queasiness. I have my mother’s strong stomach.”

“Thea’s mother was more delicately reared.”

Thea’s mother Maria was, had been, Maria Wetmore. She was Francis’s second cousin—all those Yarmouth people were related— so he would not hear a word against her. Kay’s own mother, Eliza Warner, was just a country girl from the land north of Battleford. But she died too, when she was about to have another baby. Kay thought about that other little babe sometimes, the dead brother or sister. And of her young mother, whom she could not remember at all. Perhaps it was her sweet face that Kay had dreamed of that morning.

When they had finished, they took the brass elevator back down to the street and the uniformed man gave them the package with Kay’s clothes and whistled for another cab. They were bowling along the street when Francis leaned forward and tapped the man.

“Stop a moment,” he told him, and the cab pulled up, the horse blowing wetly through his mouth as if disgusted.

They went into a little shop with gold lettering on dark-glassed windows. Francis walked up and down the glass-topped counter, peering into the black velvet depths. At last he pointed, and the clerk took out a pearl pin shaped like a new moon. Plain, but pretty. Kay approved.

“Do not tell Thea,” Francis said when they were back in the buggy. “We’ll keep it a secret until later.” He looked confused and mysterious.

In a cascading shuffle of thinking and discarding—Thea’s birth­day long past, and Christmas too long ahead, until later when?—Kay saw that of course Thea must be going to have a baby, as people almost always did, once they were married. Once vague things had been done to them that did not bear thinking of. While Francis was paying the driver and hailing Mr. Best, Kay turned her head to the salt-smelling sea and blew through her mouth like a horse.

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The Little Shadows

The Little Shadows

edition:Hardcover
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Gentry Fox was the shortest man Clover had ever seen, shorter than she was by far. As if someone had pressed down on the head of a normal man, but some time ago, so he’d had time to get used to it.
 
He had to look up, even at Bella, which he did with a sideways glint. ‘What—have—we—here?’ he asked, his voice both gravelled and silky.
 
The girls stood in a line, not sure whether to proceed. He waved a hand, beckoning them to the stage, and they went stiffly down the raked aisle, not entirely sure of their footing in the thicker darkness of the auditorium. Mama patted Clover, who moved aside to let her through. She took two steps and stopped, perhaps afraid, Clover thought. But no. She had paused only to make a better entrance. Mr. Fox looked up, inquiring, when she did not speak—then, looking again, gave Mama a very warm, familiar smile. He laughed and bowed, and bowed again, coming forward as he bent and rose and bent.
 
‘Oh, my dear sir, you may recall that I have had the distinct pleasure of making your acquaintance before,’ Mama said to the little bowing man. Bowing now herself.
 
‘But of course, of course I recall,’ Mr. Fox said, murmuring and mincing. ‘With the greatest, my dear Flora, the greatest of pleasure.’ Pleasure, pleasure. They were nodding dolls, bowing and re-bowing. Clover felt Aurora pull her close, then slide an arm behind to pull Bella into place.
 
‘And these?’
 
‘Oh, these! My dear Mr. Fox! You see before you—my daughters.’ Dark eyes gleamed in his dark rumpled face, turning from one girl to the next. His squashed neck was supple. Inspecting Aurora. Then Clover, Bella. And back to Mama.
 
‘They are jewels,’ he said with great simplicity. ‘They sing? They dance?’
 
‘They do!’ Mama clapped her hands because he was so clever.
 
‘May we?’
 
‘Will you? Will they? Johnny Drawbank! Clear those hands away, if you will. Lights!’
 
This was a much bigger stage, a much bigger theatre. Not a jewel box like the Empress; the floorboards not as clean beneath the dirty chairs, and the stage not clean either. Deep, though, and high—four long curtain-legs before the backdrop. Clover thought doing it in one here would be a pleasure, because the stage bowed outwards and left an acre of room in front of the great red curtain (its ragged bottom draggling on the boards, gold bobble-trim gappy and dimmed).
 
Work-lights shone on the piano, and on the stage. As Mama and the girls climbed the moveable gangplank over the orchestra pit, on came the footlights, the gas flaring gently, and the stage became welcoming. ‘We’ll start with an old song,’ Mama said, twinkling down at Mr. Fox. ‘After the Ball,’ she murmured to the girls, and sat herself at the piano gracefully. Her little hands raised themselves over the keys, and paused, and then were off, playing with unusual care and a rippling dash—the conservatory glass, the palms, the tinkling waltz heard from a distance . . . They told the sentimental story plain, the way she had taught them, not as a tired tale but as if this were their Uncle Chum explaining his bachelor life to them. None of the girls could remember meeting him, but they all had affection for him, from this imaginary memory. It made Clover believe that Mama must have a soft spot for Chum too, after all.
 
‘. . . oh, Uncle, please.
Why are you single; why live alone?
Have you no babies; have you no home?
I had a sweetheart, years, years ago;
Where she is now, pet, you will soon know.
List to the story, I’ll tell it all,
I believed her faithless, after the ball . . .’
 
Watching the girl he loved being kissed, standing empty-hearted with two glasses of punch in his hands . . . How plaintive the old man became, and what a small, stupid thing to ruin someone’s life: ‘he was her brother! ’ Then they were into the chorus again, waltzing in place to prove they could do it in one:
 
 ‘After the ball is over, after the break of dawn—
After the dancers’ leaving; after the stars are gone;
Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all;
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.
 
Mama ended with a fading chord, well in keeping with the natural delivery of the song, and left a dainty hand poised in air for a moment as the girls bowed. Then she twirled on the piano stool, face out to the audience, to Gentry Fox. He rose from his seat in the front row with a hearty ‘Bravo!’ clapping his hands delightedly.
 
Coming forward to the stage, he stretched out a hand to Mama as if he could reach hers, which not even a tall man could have, and she reached down to him without moving from the stool.
 
‘Lovely, lovely girls! Lovely to hear that old song again, so freshly rendered! And how well I recall you, my dear Flora—at the Hippodrome, was it not?—with that little number.’
 
‘Oh, Gentry, a hundred years ago,’ Mama said, blushing and bobbing. Bella laughed too, to see her so pleased. Clover looked at Mr. Fox with attention: a living clue to Mama’s old life. But beside her she could feel Aurora waiting, tense, and her own confidence drained away. ‘Now you must let me give you some lunch,’ Gentry said, taking out a card case. ‘Hand my card to the girl at the Grandon Hotel, they do a royal tea there . . . and thank you for warming an old man’s heart. You are visiting in the neighbourhood? With family?’
 
Mama got up from the piano, her face fallen into a polite parody of her earlier happiness. ‘You have no work for my girls, then, Gentry?’ she asked—her voice sad, but her face remaining cheerful.
 
‘My dear Flora, they are young and charming, and I am inundated with acts. Between you and me and your eighteen best friends, this is a poor place I find myself. We have only seven on the bill—all but continuous, you know—three shows a day, a hardscrabble life.’
 
‘But what a training ground!’ Mama said lightly—still working, still arguing, however her words might be disguised as chat.
 
 ‘But such delicately reared girls, my dear Flora, could not be expected to— And my bill is full for this and several weeks to come.’
 
‘But I see you lack a closer,’ Mama said. Her last effort.
 
‘Oh, as to that, I use the pictures as a closer. Nothing beats a very old pictograph for encouraging an audience’s hearts for home.’
 
‘I bet we could chase them better, if we’re so bad!’ Bella called over the footlights at him, laughing at her own audacity.
 
Clover pinched her quickly, but Gentry laughed too, darting a sharp look at Bella’s cheeky, lively face. But he still held out the calling card. Lunch, not life.
 
‘Well, thank you, Gentry, for seeing us. It was a piece of old times to find you here,’ Flora said, folding her music as if they hadn’t a care in the world, as if they were, in fact, visiting family and perfectly easy. As if they hadn’t spent twenty-three dollars on train fare.
 
She and Aurora looked at each other, and she lifted her chin and smiled.
 
‘Off we go, then,’ she said. ‘But perhaps we had better return to our friends for luncheon, thank you all the same.’
 
Aurora lighted down on the first step, lifting her skirt delicately over her tight-laced new boot. The second step, the second boot (and above it, a stretch of smooth white stocking). The third step, the fourth.
 
‘But, Mama,’ she said, smiling into Gentry’s upturned face. ‘I think I’d like some tea.’
 
He held out his hand with the card again, and she took it, and then his arm, for help in navigating the last steps.
 
‘Thank you, Mr. Fox,’ Aurora said. She stopped to pull on her elegant mauve kid gloves. ‘And will you come with us? My sisters and I would love to hear how you and Mama come to know each other so well; how you come to be in this theatre, and what wonders you are working in this out-of-the-way place—we see your dodgers all over town!’
 
Gentry blinked, but resisted, even though her eyes were so clear, their colour shifting from blue to green, a dark line around the iris. Beautiful, yes. The curve of her clear warm cheek and jaw ran enticingly into the hidden reaches of the neck, under that glossy pile of bright, ruly-unruly hair.
 
‘Alas, no, I shall be engaged all afternoon with wretched business,’ he told her sadly.
 
Aurora gave him a beautiful smile, exchanged his arm for her sister’s, and walked up the raked aisle. The tiny waist of her jacket remained steady; below it the skirt swayed, its length tantalizing along the ground in an eddy of dust. The youngest one, the filly, hopped off the last step and sparkled at him, then dashed after the elder two. ‘Look at her, the darling! All legs and heels and promise,’ he said to Flora, before he could check himself. ‘But I am sentimentalizing. Time to retire to the country!’
 
Flora took the steps without assistance, pulling on her own gloves, her music in its leather case beneath her arm, and at the bottom, bowed to Gentry. He looked at her soft face, brown curls at her brow. Still pretty as paint, even softened into middle age. A loving heart, if a silly one. She stepped down onto the floor, not wanting to tower above him more than she could help—for his sake as well as her own. A stroke of luck to have found him here. It could not be wasted.
 
‘Gentry,’ she said, then drew in a breath. ‘I wonder—I’ve done my best with my dear girls, but they need polish, of course. I wonder if you would consider taking them on for a few weeks, for nothing—well, or for just the usual travelling expenses, alone—to gain experience, to be introduced to the profession.’
 
She had caught his attention. Either his pockets were to let, or his native stinginess was stirring. How much this would cost her, coming and going, she thought she knew.
 
‘I’m sure we could go farther afield and find paid work, but it’s you, the association with someone of your calibre—oh! I know very well how much good you did me, all those years ago, and I wish that same good for my girls. Can you find it in your heart to blame me?’  ‘The thing is, Flora,’ he said, not unkindly, ‘your dainty girls are too refined for this place—it would be cruel. They are not—’ ‘They are. I promise you. They are better by far than I.’ Her urgency led her to put a hand on his arm. A small hand in a black cloth glove, it vanished on his black sleeve.
 
‘Gentry, for old times’ sake—I beg you.’
 
After a moment, he bowed one last time. ‘Madam, that plea is impossible to refuse. Not today. But bring them here at nine tomorrow, and I will see what can be done.’
 
She found it hard to look at him, after putting herself so low before him, but busied herself with her music case.
 
He gestured towards it: ‘Have you a lobby photograph for the girls there?’ He saw from her face that they had none. ‘After your lunch go to Leroy’s Studio on 8th Avenue. They will not overcharge you.’ As Flora went up the aisle, he called after her. ‘What happened to your schoolmaster?’
 
‘Oh—’ She shrugged and almost smiled. ‘Oh, he died.’ She nodded, and went through the bright doorway.

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Dreaming of Elsewhere

Dreaming of Elsewhere

Observations on Home
by Esi Edugyan
introduction by Marina Endicott
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : essays
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