About the Author

Karen Hofmann

Karen Hofmann grew up in the Okanagan Valley and is an Associate Professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. A first collection of poetry, Water Strider, was published by Frontenac House in 2008 and shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay prize. Her first novel, After Alice, was published by NeWest Press in 2014, and a second novel, What is Going to Happen Next, in 2017. Her short fiction has won the Okanagan Fiction Contest three times, and "The Burgess Shale" was shortlisted at the 2012 CBC Short Fiction Contest. Karen Hofmann is an avid walker, and her writing explores the landscapes, both rural and urban, of British Columbia as well as the personalities and social dynamics of the inhabitants.

Books by this Author
What is Going to Happen Next
Excerpt

Before

1979

The same cops this time as the ones who came in June, which is a bad thing, she thinks. She imagines them saying to each other, Not those people again. But a good thing, too, because everything doesn't have to be explained all over again. They don't ask, Where's your mom?

She's been trying to say what happened, but Che and Cliff talk at the same time, interrupting, so nothing can be heard. The older cop says, Get those two out of here, okay?

So then it's just her, Cleo, talking. She's holding Bodhi, and they're sitting on some short logs, there for the purpose, in front of the house. It's early; the sun hasn't quite crested the cedars, and the clearing around the house is chill.

The younger, guy cop says, But don't you need a. . . .

Take them away, says the older cop. His uniform is of thick, shiny material, green-grey-blue. Not organic looking. His hair greying like Dadda's but cut short, bristles at the temple and nape.

He doesn't want any of them in the house while the ambulance guys -- the paramedics -- are working.

Cleo didn't know that when you called an ambulance for this, the police came too. Will Mandalay be mad? Maybe she should have waited for Mandalay to get home from school.

But it's Mandalay's fault this happened. So she can't be mad at Cleo.

Anyway, if she, Cleo, had waited until Mandalay got home to call, she might have got into trouble with the police. When she goes to Myrna Pollard's to collect Bodhi, the television is on and it's often a detective show and people get into a lot of trouble if they don't disclose information right away. A police car has been sent to get Mandalay. A squad car, on tv. Dispatched. Cleo wonders if it has arrived yet, if Mandalay is being told, if she is shocked, crying. How long for the squad car to get to the high school, in Port Seymour? She sees Mandalay getting off the bus, the police officer waiting there, saying her name, the other kids turning to look at her. Mandalay pausing, foot still on the lowest stair. But no: Mandalay must have arrived before the call, logically. She changes the picture: The knock on the classroom door, Mandalay called out into the hallway, the rows of orange-painted lockers, the scuffed beige linoleum. Mandalay in the back of the police car, weeping.

She looks over to the squad car parked in their front yard, Che and Cliff wrestling over the steering wheel, the younger cop's face.

The older cop says, Now, walk me through it all again.

Cleo is afraid she will contradict herself. She knows from the detective shows that you can get into trouble for that, too. I went to get Dadda up, she says. It was eight forty-five and we needed to leave for school so I went to wake him up to drive us. She keeps the image in her head now firmly glued to the clock beside her bed -- her clock that she had asked for and got for her birthday, the only clock in the house -- and the boys sitting in a row on the bed, all dressed properly and clean, forbidden to move.

That was the deal. Some mornings Daddy just needed to sleep in. Had a bad night, his back was killing him. Give me ten minutes warning, he said. So Mandalay would leave, running down the driveway to catch the high school bus for Port Seymour and Cleo would get herself and everyone else ready, the boys into their jeans and T-shirts and jackets, and herself into whatever was in the basket, which might not be much if she hasn't done some laundry the day before and if Mandalay has beaten her to it. Mandalay doesn't remember to do laundry and she wears what Cleo was planning to wear. Dadda says, Don't do all of the laundry, let your sister learn the natural consequences of her actions. But he also says, No personal property in the form of clothing. So there isn't much choice.

Get herself dressed in whatever is semi-clean and mended and then wake up Dadda and he would put on his pants and find his glasses and the truck keys. And if Dadda was going to be working that day, Bodhi needed to be dropped off at Myrna's. So all of them climbing into the cab, and Bodhi on Cleo's lap.

But this morning.

A great tiredness washes over her, like sand-warmed waves at the beach. The tide coming in. That feeling, the whole ocean seeping into to the bay, the water warmed and lulling.

So you tried to wake your dad up, the cop prompts. What happened then?

Bodhi wriggles away from Cleo and goes after the cop. She should get those diapers washed out. Dadda does his own and the boy's laundry. Even Bodhi's diapers, usually. He takes the wet clothes out to the line, his height meaning he doesn't have to stand on a stump like Cleo does, and pins them up. He says, hanging out clothes is an art, Cleo. You want to put your attention into it. You want to find the Zen of it.

Come on, Cleo, says the cop, plucking Bodhi up at arm's length, sort of like he's lifting up a muddy dog. I know this isn't fun. But just run through it for me one more time, and we'll be done.

I'm twelve, Cleo says, meaning, don't talk to me like I'm a baby. She sees the cop's face sag, lose some of its resolution.

Twelve. That means Dadda was forty-two when she was born. And Mam twenty. And Mandalay is almost fourteen now, which is four years away from eighteen, what Mam was when Mandalay was born. How much older Dadda is than the rest of them! If you add up Mam's age now and Cleo's and Che's, you get Dadda's age. Or instead of Cleo's and Che's ages you could put in Mandalay's and Cliff's.

Her mind running along on two tasks, then: One playing with the numbers of their ages, like beads on an abacus, and the other replaying, for the cop, what had happened that morning. It is the wrong thing, she knows: She's not paying enough attention. Dadda always reminds them to be mindful. Cleo is getting better at it. But she can't do it now -- her mind skitters around the edge of things, won't look at them, won't let them in.

She says again what she said before, on the phone and to the cops and the ambulance guys when they first arrived, coming in the door and then the younger guy cop bolting out quite quickly to throw up under the red-osier dogwood. The smell, he said, coming back in, but she guessed it wasn't just that, the open bucket of Bodhi's cloth diapers, which were getting a bit rank, but also the bucket of chicken guts and heads, which they hadn't put outside because of the bears, and which she should probably bury pretty quickly.

He didn't wake up. I tried shaking his shoulder and talking real loud. Then Che did. But he didn't open his eyes. So I felt his chest, but nothing.

And then finally she is done and now her mind is quiet and she can ask some questions, which are: Is someone going to tell Mandalay? And, what will happen next? Though not the questions burrowing away inside her, burrowing away at some internal organ like her liver: Did we kill Dadda? Did we?

Mandalay's fault because she didn't wash out Bodhi's diapers like she was supposed to and Dadda pretty near bust a gut when he saw the bucket still in the kitchen, reeking, haloed with flies. Him yelling, his face like bricks except for the birthmark patch on his left cheek that looked like the map of Poland and now pulsed purple. Mandalay was supposed to do it when she got home from school, was supposed to wash out the diapers and hang them on the clothesline. Only the clothesline was gone because Che had taken it down again to tie some branches together for a tepee, so Mandalay had said she wouldn't do it, wouldn't wash the diapers, though she, Cleo, had pointed out reasonably that they could be hung on the fence.

No, Mandalay had said. They won't dry fast enough. Which was dumb because they'd dry faster than not washing them at all, and they were nearly out of clean diapers.

Mandalay's fault for being stubborn. And Che's fault for taking the clothesline again.

And then, no dinner till very late because there was nothing in the freezer to cook and Dadda had to kill a chicken and then he did a few more because it was coming fall and better to get the mess over with. Feathers and guts all over the kitchen, and the dog going crazy. Dadda with the axe and sweat darkening the silver hair at his temples to iron and sitting down suddenly.

What's the matter, Dadda?

Just give me a minute.

Then Che jumping off the dresser, he did that kind of thing, and hitting his head, and Dadda trying to hold him down to see if the cut needed a trip to the doctor.

Just a small one. It'll clot up.

And Che howling, howling, so that the house itself seemed to be pounding with a headache and she burnt the potatoes.

Not her fault, with all of that noise.

Cliff crying too, out of hunger or sympathy, you couldn't get a word out of him when he was like that, and falling asleep before dinner, like Bodhi. And then waking up in the night: Get me a sammich an' some milk, Cleo. And herself pretending to sleep, because she didn't want to be birthed yet out of that warm bed into the cold kitchen, and Dadda getting up to feed Cliff and Bodhi, who was awake, too.

Not her fault, though. She had done everything she was supposed to. She, Cleo, had got herself and Cliff dressed and off to school that morning before, like every morning, with a jam sandwich each, had found Bodhi's shoes and Che's homework and made Cliff wash his hands, had fed and dressed Bodhi while Mandalay only had to get herself ready and run for the high school bus.

Then after school she, Cleo, had made sure Che and Cliff got home, rounding Che up from the playground where he was with a huddle of grade seven boys who were pretending to dribble a soccer ball while passing around a joint.

Hey, Cleo, one of them had said. Want to suck on it?

But she had grabbed Che and found Cliff still in his classroom, trying to finish his day's work -- Cliff worked so slowly, he needed learning assistance, his teacher said, but Dadda had said, he's in first grade, for god's sake, let him learn at his own pace. Only this was Cliff's second time in grade one, and he wasn't keeping up even though she, Cleo, made sure he missed hardly any school now.

Making sure Cliff and Che got going toward home, and going down the road to collect Bodhi from Myrna Pollard's place even though Myrna said, as usual, Are you sure you won't leave him till your dad gets home, Cleo? He's no trouble.

But he was her brother. Her and Mandalay's responsibility. Her job to get him home, and she had done it, carrying him on her hip up the road and down their long driveway, balancing the weight of him against her book bag, which swung against her thighs -- the strap was too long.

And that was the best part of the day, walking up the road from Myrna's, with Cliff -- Che usually went off by himself, got home before them -- with Cliff and Bodhi. Herself, with Cliff and Bodhi, telling Cliff a story to keep his feet moving, singing with him one of the grade one songs, like Five Little Ducks, which he felt confident about, this time around.

She did this, every day, after school. It was her job. She had not let Dadda down.

Not her fault.

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