About the Author

Margaret Macpherson

Margaret Macpherson is a writer and teacher, originally from Canada’s Northwest Territiories. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and has worked as an essayist and journalist in Halifax, Bermuda and Vancouver. She is a published poet and the author of four non-fiction books including the award-winning Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless. Perilous Departures, her debut short story collection, was a finalist for the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba, as was her next book, the novel Released. Her most recent novel is Body Trade.

Books by this Author
Body Trade

Body Trade

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Excerpt

Tanya sees Amos first, standing on shore with his legs spread wide. He’s waiting for them. She can see little puffs of dust coming off his dungarees as he taps his riding crop again and again. “Oh boy,” says Rosie, drawing back at the stern, trying to prevent the canoe from landing. “Tanya?” With nowhere else to go, she digs in, countering her stroke and pulling them up to the beach. Amos’s anger is a deep mahogany, his eyes the squished pulp of papaya. Thwack. The riding crop comes down just above Tanya’s hand as she steadies herself on the bow, preparing to leap to the sand. Thwack. He hits the boat again, enraged. “Who do you think you are?” he screams. Thwack. She scrambles past, collapsing her belly and chest into her shoulders and back in case he decides to strike, but no, he’s all drama. Rosie sits in the boat, now half in the water. She’s afraid to come in, but at least she’s out of reach of this lunatic. “You think you can do that to me? To me? Do you know who they are? Do you know what they can do to us here?” Thwack. Thwack. Again and again his wrist brings down the whip on the boat. Rosie scrambles to shore, but she’s jumped out of the boat too soon and trips in the soft shore gunk. She scrambles to her feet, but finally lurches past his raised arm, trailing the stink of the soupy sea and her own fear. The girls stand close together, a human wall against his fury. For Tanya it is a definitive moment. Everything goes soft around the edges and there is only his voice, screaming and swearing. He holds the trembling crop close to her face, the whites of his eyes huge and bulging. “You. I know this is you, Tanya. I’ll break you. You hear, puta de mierda? I’ll break you.” His spittle, like the foam of a rabid dog, lands on her cheeks and neck but she doesn’t brush it away. Tanya stands up to him, staring, toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball. She will not back down. Amos whips the crop again and she feels it whistle near her ear as her hair lifts and settles. He’s close. If he touches either of them, she’ll attack. Calm, girl, calm. Seconds pass. She opens her eyes, not realizing they were closed, yet still stands her ground. “You’ll pay for this, ” he hisses. “No woman makes a fool of me. You hear? No woman.” And with that he turns and marches towards the house. Tanya doesn’t move. She watches water pool in the small heel indentations Amos has left in the black sand. He’s gone. Rosie whistles. “Wow. He’s mad.” Tanya looks over. “Yeah,” she says flatly. “Mad, like a friggin’ madman. We better avoid that mother for a while, eh? Best we steer clear of Mr. A-man. Amos-shame most.” She knows she sounds braver than she feels. No way that piece of shit is going to feed them to his black pig bosses. No matter what the deal, no matter what he’s gone and promised, she and Rosie aren’t anyone’s snatch snack. They are not for sale. That night at suppertime Amos executes his slow punishment. He butchers one of the turtles, a treat for all of them after a straight week of fish, but when he divides it and hands around the coconut husk bowls, Tanya see he has given her turtle spawn, a mess of newly fertilized eggs. A slimy membrane sticks yellowy gelatinous eyeball-sized eggs together. Inside each translucent sack is the black bloodspot of the yet-to-be-hatched turtle. The eggs jiggle and dance in front of her. Amos loves it. He’s torturing her. He’s pushing as hard as he can without touching. Rosie gets the treatment, too, but not with such severity. Amos gives her the neck with the turtle’s head still attached. It’s gross, but at least there is meat on the neck. She breaks the head from the top vertebrae and starts to gnaw on the bony, boiled length of it. Tanya’s so hungry she feels faint, but the eggs stop her cold. Tony and Max eat slowly, their enjoyment squelched by Amos’s nastiness. She hates him. She hates him so much she takes those eggs and eats them while he watches. She doesn’t chew, she can’t chew, she just lets them slide down her throat like slippery blobs of fat, quick and slimy, and she never once takes her eyes off his. Defiance is the only way they will survive. Tanya thinks of Rosie’s kid David, how he ate those fuckin’ lichen to survive. She will eat anything to prove that she can’t be crushed. And it works. Amos, frowning, takes his own portion of turtle meat and leaves the fire to smoke or brood or plan his next move. Tanya leaps up and crabs her way over to the latrine. The vomit she can’t control means she has to taste the disgusting turtle eggs twice. She covers her puke quickly, so she doesn’t have to see, and as she lurches upright, Rosie is there. She leads her back to the fire where Max has prepared hot coconut milk. He pretends not to notice the tears that salt Tanya’s portion of rice. The next morning there is more punishment. Tanya gets served the head of a catfish, while Rosie, Max and Tony share the rest. She senses there is little pleasure for them eating. Tony’s eyes remain downcast. Maxi picks at his food, eats very little. What’s on her plate is a hideous thing. Amos has made a great show of serving it to her by lifting it by the snout whiskers and letting it hang, bloated, over-cooked and purplish grey, over her bowl. Again Tanya steels herself. She finds small pockets of flesh in front of the fins, snatches of tenderness at the cheeks. She forces those morsels out with her fingers, trying to avoid the sucker mouth and dead eyes of the catfish. “He’s trying to break you,” Rosie says later, smuggling a slice of breadfruit and a rice ball into her hand after the men have gone to check the traps. “He’s trying to starve you out. Are you okay, Tanya?” Tanya just nods, determined not to let him win, but at the same time wondering why it’s her he has chosen to punish and not Rosie.

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Canadian Political Bundle

Canadian Political Bundle

Nellie McClung / William Lyon Mackenzie King / John Diefenbaker/ René Lévesque / Maurice Duplessis / James Douglas / John A. Macdonald / Joey Smallwood / Wilfrid Laurier
edition:eBook
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Perilous Departures
Excerpt

"Rubber Bullets"

Couple of weeks ago some Japanese tourists mistook my husband for the President of the United States. He's golfing, see. Somewhere near the fifth hole (which is really tricky because of the sand traps) this Oriental couple ride up in one of those carts. They’re both wearing safari hats and white clothes, the type you see on old movies about the Indian empire. Bill — yeah I know, they have the same first name — said later he expected them to have a thermos of gin and tonics or Sake or something real exotic-like.

Anyways, they drive up to the edge of the green and start jabbering in Japanese like he's supposed to know what they're saying or something. The only thing he understands is the word Clinton. It keeps on coming up "Clinton, Clinton" and he says they're nodding their heads, you know, sort of bowing, like it is in their tradition, really excited, even though he tries to tell them, no, he's not Clinton, not even close.

Anyways, they can't speak any English and he's lined up this great shot which should keep him under par on the fifth and he's got a couple of beers riding on it, so he just lets them go ahead. He’s putting. You know, looking really concentrated and stooped over the golf ball like it's presidential business or something.

So one of the little Japanese guys gets out this big camera and his wife gets out the smallest camcorder in the world and they start taking shots, footage. And Bill gets all nervous of course and misses his putt but smiles real dignified and statesmanlike, right at the camera, and they're all ooohhing and ahhhing and saying Clinton, Clinton and he pops it in like he meant to do it in four instead of three.

The reason I know all this is he came home afterwards all excited and told me while he was drinking a beer on the deck. But the weird thing is, he's telling me, okay, he's sitting there, telling me, pretty darn full of himself, thinking he looks like Clinton and all, and I hand him a second frosty and he looks at it like he's never seen a beer before and asks me — just as nice as can be, mind — if he can have a glass. For his beer.

Well, I should have nipped it in the bud right there, him and his Illusions of Grander or whatever. But, like some sort of sicko 50’s wife I goes and gets him one, even dust off one of them big German steins with the handle and the lid and all, the one Rita's mother brung back for me for watering her plants and cleaning out the cat box the summer I was eighteen. Anyways, yeah, so I give the mug to Bill, and he pours it real careful so it's foamy but not too foamy on top, and then he holds up this beer like he's on T.V., he shows his teeth all fake and charming, and says cheers. "Cheers, Hillary."

That cracks him up, which kinda makes me mad, ’cause to me he doesn’t look anything like Clinton who, truth told, I haven't really paid much attention to, being Canadian and all. Bill looks like Bill, like a great big radish, with his shiny red face and yellow chompers, but I didn't tell him that. I mean, he was really happy and all, and I figured okay, if some camera-happy tourists want to take home pics of my husband and tell all their hundreds of relatives back home they saw the president of the United States, so what. Right? No skin off my nose.

Now this is the part where it really gets weird. Coupla, three days go by, I’m doing my thing with the kids and all, you know, making sure they don’t kill each other while still trying to have a life. So, it’s morning. I’m lying on the sofa ’cause I’m really bushed. The Worm was up cutting teeth half the night (We call him The Worm, but his real name is Warren, after Bill’s stepdad).

Anyways, I’m lying there trying to get some shut eye. Millie is in the bathroom playing like she runs a beauty parlour for all her dolls, and The Worm is foraging for the Cheerios I scattered on the carpet when the phone rings. Well, that’s not so weird, but I get up, all pissed off like, and I’m prepared to blow off Gail or Pam or any of the other girls who just need to borrow a cup of raisins cause they’re right in the middle of making bread pudding and the kids won’t eat it without raisins and who can blame them? I wouldn’t eat bread pudding any old way or, if I did, I sure the heck wouldn’t tell my neighbours I was making it. Poor people’s food, bread pudding. For folks who can’t afford Jello, my mom always claimed.

But it’s not any of them on the phone. It’s this guy from the FBI. Yeah, I’m not kidding. He says he’s from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and at first I think it’s some cheesy company trying to sell us a dresser. Like we don’t already have enough bedroom furniture. Anyways, he finally says it F-B-I, like the letters, not the words, and I figure I better listen up, find out what the hell’s going on. Turns out this guy has seen the pictures, Lord knows how, wants to know if we know a Mr. Teing Fung. Teing Fung, Fung Teing or something like that.

It finally clicks that he’s talking about the Chinese guy who took the golfing picture, so I say, No we don’t know him from Adam. And how did’cha get our names anyhow? Well, turns out this guy, this Teing Fung or whatever the hell, is being held in Boston as some sort of security risk. Something to do with these photographs of Bill, my Bill, but the FBI fellow wouldn’t say anything else, ’cept he’ll be in touch. Well, I hang up then, mouth hanging open and The Worm, who’s mad I’ve been on the phone, has practically chewed through the phone cord. I’m shocked. I’m just shocked stupid.

Bill comes home that night and I’m busting to tell.

"FBI phoned."

He doesn’t even look up from the chainsaw he’s tinkering with out on the deck. "Oh, yeah? What she want?"

"She?" I just keep drilling him with my eyes.

He looks at me then, all puzzled. "Who phoned?"

"FBI," says I, and then I repeat it real slow so it sinks in "Federal Bureau of Intelligence. Americans. The muscle who go around in suits and blow up things. You know, James Bond."

Well, I can tell I’ve gone a little too far ’cause Bill just looks at me, dumb like a doorknob.

Huh?" he says, whipping the grease from the saw on the backass of his second best jeans. I don’t say nothing though, just smile. "They’re gonna phone back."

When I see him scowl, I suddenly get scared. "Bill, you didn’t do nothing, did you? Something you’re not saying?"

"No," he says, real slow, so I believe him with my whole heart. "We still got any of that chewing tobacco round the house?"

Well, me, I can’t wait for the FBI to ring back. Every time the girls call with news about their cat’s kittens or little Jimmy’s boils or some gossip about the paving crew that’s in town and raising everyone’s hormones sky high with their tight, tarry jeans, I have to practically bite my tongue off so as not to tell. I tell Millie, though, mostly because she’s three and I just gotta tell someone. "Your Daddy," I say, right proud, "your Daddy is wanted by the FBI." Turns out I’m right.

They want Bill — my Bill — to stand in for the President of the United States when he goes on his tour to someplace in Africa. Turns out there are some American soldiers down there — been there for a long time. They need some encouragement and Mr. Clinton needs some good press. Problem is terrorists. Jungle terrorism. It’s dangerous down there in this unpronounceable African place. Too dangerous for Mr. God Almighty Presidente himself, but, heck, not too dangerous for my look-alike husband. I guess them soldiers haven’t seen Mr. Clinton before, at least not up close and personal like, so if he looked a little like my radish man, heck, they wouldn’t know the difference. Folks on TV’d be fooled too, according to the FBI muscle.

"Leave it to us, Mrs. Freeman. Leave everything to us."

Then they told me about the money. I just about lost it. Get this. All expenses paid plus ten thousand dollars a day. Double for the time Bill’s actually walking around in Congo-bongo. It’s close to $40,000 American. For three days. Imagine!

It’s so much money it makes me feel sick and I have to sit down and pull The Worm up onto my lap, just to get re-adjusted to reality. He’s damp and drooling and his cheeks are bright red from the molars breaking through but, despite that, he smiles and crows when I blow air onto his tummy to make his favorite farting sound.

"Forty grand," I say, blowing hard onto his lovely soft skin. "Forty grand. Three days, peanut! Just three days." And then I blow again until he’s laughing so hard he spits up on the couch.

The pressure’s on like never before. Bill is all anxious and drinking too much, trying to decide if he’ll go. The Yankee muscle, CIA, has already done a security check on him and they’ve made him sign a paper that keeps everything hush-hush. He’s not allowed to talk to anyone except me. Ha! As if.

He’s all clammed up tight as a Scottish wallet thinking about the money on the one hand and on the other, some spook jumping out of the jungle with a machine gun and spattering his guts all over deepest, darkest Africa. I just let him stew.

"Do what you want, hon. Me and Millie and Warren are right behind you, no matter what," I say. "If you don’t want to go, stay right here and we’ll just kiss this one good-bye right here and now." And then I get a little softer ’cause I see he’s all ripped up over wanting to make us a better life, get me a dishwasher and maybe pay off the truck and I says, "Heck, Bill. It’s not like we weren’t happy before."

The next day, the day the American envoy person is going to call back to confirm Bill’s decision, something happens, something that almost makes me believe there is a God who watches over even little ol’ us.

This is it, see. Bill’s taken the day off, called in sick ’cause he really is sick — with anxiety that is. So he’s not talking and he keeps saying Yeah, I’m going, then, next half hour, No, I’m not going, and he keeps on looking at me all moony like he’s going to die or, if not like that, then all slitty-eyed and suspicious like all I care about is money until I’m sick to death of it.

"Go mow the yard, Bill," I tell him. "Grass is as high as a cow’s tits and you might as well do something useful, especially if it’s the last thing you ever do round here." He doesn’t hear that last bit, which is a good thing considering his state of mind, being so on the fence and all. He just does like I tell him to, hauls out our old John Deere, the one Bill’s stepdad gave us before he moved to the retirement home. He starts her up and starts mowing, round and around in circles, getting smaller and smaller with every pass.

Now we don’t have a big yard, but it’s country out here, so we keep almost an acre mowed so the place looks good and presentable from the road. Anyways, Bill’s mowing and sweating in the sun ’cause, typical, he’s forgot his hat; and he’s turning redder and redder and more and more tense about the big decision, when all of a sudden I see The Worm out in the grass just in front of the mower.

I’m standing at the window, washing the dishes, when I sees his round bald head and a bit of his arm sticking up out of that tall grass, probably cooing and drooling at his Dad as he comes towards him on the riding mower.

"Warren! Warren! Bill!"

I scream it loud through the window, but he doesn’t hear over the mower. I can see it all happening and I can’t do nothing to stop it.

"Bill!" He’s not watching, he doesn’t see. And there is Warren’s bald head and the blades are whirling, grass clippings flying, and I watch, a scream dead in my mouth as the mower grinds towards his sweet flesh. It doesn’t stop. The blades swallow my little boy, and the linoleum comes up in a split second and I’m somewhere gone.

Next thing you know, it’s drool wakes me up. Yeah, drool. There he is crawling over my face, The Worm, just as whole and healthy as you please. I can’t believe it. I look around for marks and blood and the razor thin lines of the mower blade, but there’s nothing. There’s some wailing in the background but Warren is there on top of me, pawing me, red faced and slobbering, sort of laughing to himself like his Momma on the floor is weird but good, too. I pull him down and feel his hot neck and smell his beautiful boy pong and I’m crying and laughing and saying his name over and over…Warren, Warren…like I’ll never stop saying it.

The screen door slams and it’s Millie holding a shredded rubber dolly and crying like someone just told her all her birthdays now and forevermore are cancelled. Bill’s right behind her holding a part of the plastic baby’s leg with the little toes mangled and mashed and I can tell he’s kind of apologetic but kind of pissed off too.

"What are you two doing?" he asks, like he’s suddenly noticed The Worm and I are lying together in a big tight knot on the floor crying and laughing, all snot and tears.

"We’re staying," I say. "We’re all staying right here."

Bill looks at me kind of wondering what he’s heard, and what I mean, but Millie knows. She piles on top of Warren and me and pulls her Daddy half way down with her. "We’re staying here, Daddy," she says, all solemn like.

"We’re all going to stay here."

And I know he knows, and it makes me so damn happy I grab at his big red mitt and pull him down on top of me, too, gentle though, so we don’t crush the kids, and the four of us lie there in the middle of the kitchen floor clutching bits of pink rubber and grinning like the fools we’d almost been.

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Quest Biographies Bundle — Books 1–10

Quest Biographies Bundle — Books 1–10

Emma Albani / Emily Carr / George Grant / Jacques Plante / John Diefenbaker / John Franklin / Marshall McLuhan / Phyllis Munday / Wilfrid Laurier / Nellie McClung
edition:eBook
tagged : historical
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Quest Biographies Bundle — Books 6–10

Quest Biographies Bundle — Books 6–10

John Franklin / Marshall McLuhan / Phyllis Munday / Wilfrid Laurier / Nellie McClung
edition:eBook
tagged : historical
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Released

Released

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Excerpt

I knew they wanted me to shed my family, but I knew in my fickle little heart that I was just not ready for that. I guessed I loved them too much and I was going to have to work on trying to unlove them. The shedding of my clothes had really been pretty easy. I set myself a harder task. Not as hard as shedding the family, it was true, but hard enough. I started wrestling with the problem of food. Sure, it was one thing to get rid of my material possessions, but what about my chubby body, proof that I led an undisciplined and privileged life? None of Jesus’ apostles were fat, although I was still holding out some hope for Bartholomew, the one who’d replaced Judas the traitor. I was thinking it was possible, just possible, he’d been on the chunky side. I’d never seen him in the pictures of the disciples that illustrated my brand new Bible. He wasn’t at the famous feast either, the last supper, where all they ate was bread and wine together. He was probably somewhere else, having crackers and water, dieting, to be more holy than the others so he could be chosen when they needed a new disciple to make up an even dozen.

He had a fat-sounding name, the type of disciple who might laugh a lot, right from the centre of his big belly. I imagined Bartholomew as an opera singer or a jolly pub owner, even though my version of him had no scriptural basis.

The scriptures were everything, according to the Fellowship of the One True Church of God. And even though it didn’t actually say thou shalt not be overweight, it was there in the Bible.

Aaron and Terry, who now led Wednesday Bible studies together, had pointed it out to me. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, they said. You have to learn to treat it with respect. What I heard them say was quite different. I heard, Ruth, you’re fat. God doesn’t like fat people. Every time the temple thing came up, I felt disgraced and self-conscious. The Holy Spirit had a lot of room in my temple, that was for sure. It was more like a hotel than a temple, a kind of rundown hotel at that, with no one staying in it because it had a reputation of being a bit on the fleabag side. The Holy Spirit would be wandering around in my hotel thinking what kind of place is this? It’s so huge.

I wasn’t actually even sure if the Holy Spirit lived in my body. I thought He visited from time to time, but actually lived here, no. Why would He? I was too fat. And the Evil One tempting me with chocolates had made my face break out in pimples.

I wondered if the Holy Spirit was too embarrassed to live in my fat body. I knew I wasn’t created that way. I was created to be perfect and it was only my greed and gluttony that had made me so huge and unappealing to the Holy Spirit. I knew He lived in the bodies of some of the people in the Fellowship, the fit, sleek people who didn’t ever smoke or drink or eat pizza or chocolate. Their bodies were like spas for the Holy Spirit. I imagined Him relaxed in there, dressed in some sort of toga and lying on one of those chaise lounge thingies, poolside. In those clean small bodies he was able to manifest Himself whenever the occasion arose.

I decided to give up food. Jesus had, hadn’t He? Forty days and forty nights He spent in the wilderness, drinking only water, preparing Himself for the crucifixion. If He could do something like that for me, surely I could do something like that for Him.

I didn’t tell anyone at first. It was between God and me. I wanted to prepare myself for the End Times, which were coming. I wanted to prepare my body to become a temple for the Holy Spirit so He could shine through me as a testimony to truth in the last days before the Second Coming.

"Watch and pray, people!" shouted one of the super Elders from the pulpit. "Watch and pray, oh people of Zion. The End is coming soon. Watch and pray."

"Watch and pray and don’t eat," I repeated to myself, sitting in the pew, wondering if the visiting Elder’s head was going to explode, he was so worked up and red-faced. If Jesus was coming back to claim His own I wanted to be light enough so He could lift me up at the end of the world. I knew that all the true believers would be taken away in the Rapture, before the wrath of God rained down on the sinful world, but I was a little bit scared that I wouldn’t go up with the saints, my being so big and all. Stopping eating would help that, too. Help me get taken away in the twinkling of an eye.

I knew the End Times were upon us and the Rapture was soon. I figured the Second Coming was two years away, three tops. I had to be in good spiritual shape to take what was coming, according to the Fellowship. Persecution. People would laugh at us. Maybe even revile us or hit us. Count it all joy, my brethren. Count it all joy. That’s what they said. I was going to count it all joy, too, but first I needed some assurance that the Holy Ghost was going to take the hit for me. Otherwise, how could I count it joy?

The first day I stopped eating wasn’t hard, because it was the beginning of Lent and everyone at the One True Church was giving up something. It was a small sacrifice to help us understand the Supreme Sacrifice. Brother Terry encouraged me to give up something I really, really liked as a reminder of what Jesus had given up for me. Even though he hadn’t said what it was he was going to give up, I could tell Brother Terry had something tough in mind. He was very spiritual, in a good wiry way.

For the first day, I just didn’t eat. I told my parents I had been invited for supper at Lucy’s house, which they should have known was a lie because we hadn’t hung around at all together since I’d been saved.

Instead of going there, I went to the One True Church during the supper hour, and prayed for forgiveness and strength. I prayed that I would get strength from God instead of strength from food. I prayed that He would fill me up with His holiness and I also prayed that I wouldn’t get too hungry.

No one was at the Church when I was feasting on prayer. They were all at home, legs dangling under the tablecloths, bellies flush up against the tables, eating. I was sorry they couldn’t see me. I was hungry enough that I thought I might have that shiny skinny glow, like the supermodels or the martyrs. I hoped so. I was praying and praying and there was no one there to see me. It was a little maddening.

I’d shut myself in one of the little rooms they used for Sunday school. There were glitter pictures on the wall with bits of cotton batten stuck to them that the Sunday school kids had made. The cotton was supposed to be sheep, I thought. I reached over and touched one of the pictures. Suddenly, the itsy-bitsy little chair I’d been sitting on gave way. The plastic legs just collapsed beneath my weight, bent outward, and snapped off on one side. I sprawled across the carpet. It was a sign. The fasting had to continue. And my prayers weren’t being received, I guessed, because I had let my bad worldly thoughts about the skinny supermodels creep into my prayers. Oh, God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I got distracted. But thank you for this lesson, anyway, God. You’re so good, speaking to me. I see the way. I broke the chair because I am a fat sinner and, not only that, I forgot that I was in Your divine presence, but You reminded me by breaking the chair and thank you, thank you for the sign. You see me all the time. You want me to keep up the fast and be holy and, please God, divine God, help me to fix the chair so no one finds out.

But the little plastic chair was not to be fixed. I could see that quite clearly as I picked myself up. I’d have to get rid of the evidence. But where would I put it? The basement of the One True Church was just a big room with some Sunday school classrooms adjoining. There was a main bathroom and another small door beside it. I walked across the big echoing room holding the broken chair in two hands. Now I was really hoping nobody would come. Keep them at their supper a little bit longer, Lord. Make them eat all their dessert.

The door to the room I wanted was sticky but it opened with a sharp pull. It was exactly right, a furnace room, and as my eyes got used to the dark, I could see some janitorial supplies against the near wall. It was the perfect place to put a broken chair, especially now, when nobody would know how it got broken. As I was carefully leaning the plastic chair against the wall, and putting the leg in place so it didn’t at first appear to be broken, the furnace roared to life. There was a mighty huff as the blue gas flames ignited in the roaring belly of the furnace. I could see the fire surging clear and blue, pure flames to consume evil. I thought of one of the prophets, Malachi, maybe, who went into the furnace and was not burned because he was so good in the eyes of the Almighty.

Tentatively, I reached out towards the furnace. I couldn’t put my hand in the flames because there was a screen. But I could touch it and I did. The vents were warm but not hot. I could touch a furnace now because the living fire within had redeemed me. The fire in me was stronger than the fire in the church furnace. With the heat passing through my hand and up into my arm, I felt such strength and resolve, nothing would touch me. My shadow across the furnace room floor was elongated and drawn out. It was the effect of my holy fire. I’d had a glimpse of what it would be like to be slim and whole, after all the sins of my flesh fell away. God had confirmed it.

In the darkness, I smiled. God sure did manifest Himself to me in mysterious ways but, as far as I was concerned, if He was the one speaking, I was going to be the one listening. After all, it was not everyone who got direct messages like this. Only the Chosen.

The furnace duct was getting hotter now, so I drew back. But I wasn’t worried. Truth had been revealed. I left the broken chair propped up by a mop handle and firmly closed the door.

As I walked home through the darkness, I was no longer Ruth Callis, but Malachi, God’s chosen, touched by flames yet unconsumed. I almost hoped I’d meet a hungry dog, or better yet, a wolf, or even a pack of hungry, rabid wolves. They couldn’t touch me. I was so full of power right now, they’d cringe and slink away at the sound of my master’s name. You shall have dominion over all the world, over all the wild beasts. I was pretty sure that was a quote from the Bible, and I was hungry to try it out.

But no wild dogs came, no beasts of the tundra attacked. I walked home through the settled darkness, confident that my fast was just beginning.

The next morning, however, it was more difficult. I pretended to eat cereal, but washed it down the sink when Elsie was reading the newspaper. I knew I could throw my bag lunch away at school, but it was getting harder. My stomach was empty and groaning. The smell of toast was making my mouth water.

Supper the second day was the toughest. It was macaroni and cheese. My favourite.

"Ruthie, eat up. You’ve hardly touched your food."

That was the Devil, talking through my mother, actually.

"I’m not feeling well."

It was true, the food in front of me was making my mouth water again, the way it did before you threw up. I was so hungry.

Elsie’s hand was quickly on my forehead and she nodded. "You’re a little bit warm, Ruthie. Do you want to go lie down in your room?"

And I nodded, thinking thank you, God, although what I really wanted to do was plunge my head into the macaroni and cheese and inhale it as quickly as I could to fill up the hollowness inside my body. The hollowness was where the Holy Spirit was supposed to live. Why wasn’t He coming? I must be clean now.

The next morning it became easy. Not easy to not eat — people always wanted you to eat — but the hunger went away on the third day and the Holy Spirit came in. I thought about it like the crucifixion. The first day was pain. The second day was emptiness when Jesus had to visit Hell. Macaroni and cheese was my hell. Today the Holy Spirit had come and I felt wonderful not needing food anymore. It was a floating kind of feeling. Everything I looked at seemed less substantial, more opaque, and everything I thought seemed invested with meaning that hadn’t been there before. The scriptures took on a beauty and a wisdom I had never experienced, which I pondered and prayed upon behind the closed door of my bedroom.

It would have been fine, too, except I fainted in prayer circle just when I was starting to dream wonderful dreams and see visions of glory in my head. One of the Elders called my parents and they took me home and made me eat soup. I’d never tasted soup that delicious. Or felt that terrible eating it. I consumed three bowls of that soup, salted with tears that I couldn’t stop streaming from my eyes. I imagined the Holy Spirit inside me, soggy, half drowned by my failure.

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