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
Echolocation
Excerpt

Virtue Prudence Courage
He saiddream vandals, the animals roaming the island at night.

What kinds of animals? she asked. She had never heard a man talk about his dreams before. It was like hearing him say frightened or pussy. She blushed. She was wearing little suede boots, jeans, a long baggy sweater, jade-green. All of her clothes were cheap. She had pale eyelashes mascara didn't stick to, and an overbite - she had been raised by her grand¬mother, no dental plan - and tended to hide behind her hair, which was not cut properly, and fell like a hood around her face, thick mats of it slanting across her forehead and over her cheeks.

At this party at her residence, she had been approached by a raw-boned, wispy-bearded young man, a young man who had barely enough flesh to cover his long bones. In his lanky, rusty-haired, knob-jointed ugliness, he had seemed less intimi¬dating than the more smooth-faced, opaque-mannered young men she met in her classes or at church. She had not been afraid of him, and so she had talked to him, listened when he explained about his work on sea birds, and had him all to herself the whole evening.

To be sure, she did not always understand what he was talking about. White bears, he said. A society of white bears, who exchange secret vows with smoke. You can see the gou¬ges in the walls of houses. Their warnings. You can see their neon tags on the boles of the cedars. They want to put their own gloss on the scripts in my head. He said this patiently, but as if she should be able to figure it out on her own, too.

It was poetry, she thought, like Ecclesiastes or The Revelations of St. John the Divine on the Isle of Patmos. She waited for his pause. Would she be expected to provide an extem¬poraneous close reading? That did not seem fair. She stood on one foot, then the other, remembered not to bite a hangnail.

She asked, What do they say about your dreams, the ani¬mals? She thought that she was being intelligent, to ask this. But his eyes, which had been meeting hers in an open gaze, now narrowed and hardened.

I can't keep doing the work for you. You'll have to figure it out yourself.

She blushed. Okay, she said.

He was twenty-seven, a Ph.D. student.

Then they had made arrangements to go see something in his lab, and for a hike, and another hike, and she saw that she was spending all of her free time with him. He called her a lot. She did not have any close personal friends with whom to discuss him; she fell into his life activities, his energy, as into a vortex.

He lived alone, austerely, with a mattress on the floor and camping equipment and stacks of animal skulls piled against the walls. They lay side-by-side reading their textbooks dur¬ing the long rainy days and still she did not think of him as a boyfriend. Then one day he put his large-knuckled paw on the small of her back and kissed her nape, and when she turned her face toward him in surprise, her mouth.

Then he began to kiss her more, and to undo her clothing, and she said, I am a virgin. She meant this as an apology for her lack of experience, which was soon to be revealed, but the young man said, I respect that, and even if I never do more than kiss the tips of your fingers, I will devote my whole life to you.

This was, surprisingly, a disappointment to her. When she encouraged him to continue to move his ginger-furred hands under her clothing, he said, We should get married. There were so many good excuses for not inviting family and friends - distance, penury, scheduling - that she was not even remotely troubled by the possibility of other motives for their secrecy and haste.

It was final exam time. For their honeymoon, they would spend a month on a remote West Coast island, where he would be doing his research. There would not be electricity or internet on the island - they wouldn't even have a phone. That made her feel safe from something.

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