About the Author

Rebecca Rosenblum

Rebecca Rosenblum just graduated from the English and Creative Writing Masters program at the University of Toronto. Her work has been published in Exile Quarterly, The Danforth Review, echolocation, The New Quarterly, Qwerty, Ars Medica, and Journey Prize Stories 19. Once, her first book, won the Metcalf-Rooke Award for fiction. Rebecca lives and writes in Toronto, Ontario.

Books by this Author
So Much Love
Excerpt

It seems disloyal after all these years, but I’ve got to start buying different mascara. The Lancôme one I’ve always used wears so nice and soft—heavy makeup makes a woman my age look like a harri­dan—but it isn’t waterproof, and I’ve been crying all spring.
     When Catherine first disappeared in March, everything was still frozen, but within a week the spring melt began. Rivers of slush ran down the edges of every street and the police came again and again, tracking dirty slush into my foyer. They doubted that an adult, a grown woman with a job and a husband, could be taken—as if such violence were kiddie stuff, or showed a lack of willpower. They kept asking questions about any unhappiness with Grey, an affair, secrets I can’t imagine my daughter would keep from me. Or him. I can’t imagine any of it. And so, helpless, clueless, I wept and wept.
     After four weeks, the police don’t feel the need to visit anymore. Like with a bad boyfriend, I call them if I think of anything new to tell them or just to check in, but they never call me. Things are changing, the world is stuttering forward, and these constant tears have to stop.

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I can cry at night, alone in my big bed full of pillows—perhaps I always will. But I’ve got to be stronger during the day. It will be a relief, maybe even a blessing, as Seva would say, to be back at work, thinking and talking and making people’s lives slightly easier by helping them with their banking. I want to spend the day with people who have never had the person they love most snatched away from a parking lot; I want to pretend to be one of them.
     I’ve been such a reliable employee for so many years that Janie has been generous about my leave of absence, even coming by for tea with some of the other girls from the branch. Not that anyone knows what to say, but they’ve come over the past three Friday afternoons, bearing pumpkin loaves and coconut brownies, little bits of news from work, and encouraging smiles. If Catherine had died, if she’d had a straightforward car accident on an icy night or a fall while hiking in the mountains, there would have been some discussion of God, I’m sure—all of that “everything happens for a reason” non­sense, but it would have filled in the silences. I’m not religious, and Seva and Leanne know that, but it’s what they rely on in bad times, and I rely on them. We’ve all been working at the same branch since the strip mall opened.
     Even if it had been a more uncomfortable thing, a drug overdose or driving under the influence—and we have certainly had our share of such tragic idiocies around here—there are things you can say. About forgiveness, about moving on, about appreciating the time we had. About never doubting the value of memories.
     But Catherine’s disappearance is nothing but doubt. No one knows who would do her harm, but equally no one knows why she would run off. Both options are impossible, and there is no third. There is nothing to say, no question left to ask. I read the poetry Catherine likes—the book she forgot on the sofa, and another by the same poet that I got from the library. The poems are about plates of pasta, cats in the dark, vegetable gardens—nothing to do with me, but they are something that she loved. And they are something to think about other than the empty space where my daughter used to be. No one wants to talk about that, but my colleagues aren’t that interested in poetry either. So on this, the fourth Friday since my daughter disappeared, I ask the ladies about mascara.
 
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I wait until they’re gone and I’m at the sink washing dishes before I let myself follow my thoughts as far as they’ll go. It’s dangerous to think of Catherine too much, especially when I’m alone. If Grey were here, we’d pick one little topic and go over every detail—how she could never be bothered to blow-dry her thick, heavy hair, how even at the end of the day when she took down her ponytail there would still be a trace of damp. Or that woman poet she liked so much—or maybe she didn’t like her, but she was reading her books over and over in the weeks before . . . before. She was like that, so much energy, you didn’t always know what she loved and what she just felt strongly about. We can talk and talk about Catherine, Grey and I, and almost always manage to stop before one of us breaks down. We can do that because we both love her equally, if such a thing is possible.
     Alone, I worry I’ll go too far, think too much, and then not be able to get up off the floor. But remembering my beautiful girl is devastatingly tempting. Oh, my Catherine. So interesting. So lovely to think about. Her strange theories of how the world works. The rare moments when she wouldn’t do the expected, “normal” thing. Her refusal to get a student loan, so horrified of debt that she took only the courses she could pay for in cash, which was why her degree was stretching out into its seventh year. Her contempt for her friends who competed in figure-skating competitions. Her childhood terror at the idea of French immersion.
     She was only four when the neighbourhood school mailed me a flyer about French immersion classes—it seemed a wonderful opportunity to me. One night on the back porch as we played shadow puppets I told her that next year, when she went to school, she would get to learn French. In fact, I had the bunny shadow say it, hopping up and down the crumbling brick of our back wall. I even improvised a French accent, told her she would love French, mais oui.
     But Catherine unclasped her hands from making the goose shape and squawked angrily, “No, I will not. I will not learn French.”
     I was baffled—still so inexperienced as a mother even after four years. Though Wayne had never contributed much in the way of parenting, he had left only six months earlier and I was feeling especially unmoored. I tried to explain the benefits of learning a new language, something different and exciting, something I myself would have loved to have done. And Catherine in her pink-and-white overalls just plopped right down on her bottom and wailed. I can still picture her hot wet face, sobbing that she would never “say that stuff,” that she only wanted to say “true words.” I never found out where she got the impression that French was a scary language or even where she learned that French was a language.
     Years later, she laughed at the story and claimed not to remember her tantrum. When I pressed, she said, “Iria’s a pretty small place, Mom, and I’d never been anywhere. I probably thought I’d have to move away to learn another language.” She was giggling—I hope I laughed too, although I can’t remember that part. The memory of Cat is clear, though—I recall her grinning pink-lipstick mouth as clearly as I recall her childish panic. My memories come into clearer focus every day—I suppose it’s the longing that makes me conjure her so strongly.
     They would have let me say all this and more, Seva, Leanne, Janie— they would have listened all afternoon and been glad to. But so much has been taken from me, I have to keep some memories for myself.

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The Journey Prize Stories 21
Excerpt

From the Introduction
 
 
Writers select their most polished short stories to submit to journals. From what they receive, the journals' editors choose what they feel are the most surprising and gripping stories to publish, then winnow those published stories again to find those they consider most worthy of inclusion in a national anthology. That's when the packages show up in the Journey Prize jury's mailboxes – this year, filled with seventy-two nuanced, deeply imagined, and sharply written pieces of short fiction.
 
What a pleasure to read so many stellar explorations of a challenging literary form. What an education, too. And what a terrifying challenge to look at what the best literary editors in Canada consider the best stories, and to try to choose the best of those. The pleasure and education far outweighed the terror, but still it was daunting. Brilliant short stories can be brilliant along any number of metrics – realism or strangeness, elegance or blunt simplicity, tight plotting or sprawling authenticity. Comparison is fraught and dubious at best. All we can do, whether in the role of judge, teacher, or simply happy reader, is to consider what the writer was trying to achieve, how well he or she succeeded in that goal, and how excited the reader is about that success.
 
One terribly exciting success, in our opinion, is "The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale" by Daniel Griffin. This subtle and complicated story of art, love, and lust moves forward on the grim trajectory of death, but also draws haunting life from its central character, Skylar, and his admission to himself of all he truly feels, and longs for. His son's illness renews their relationship and their uneasy intimacy, full of envy, rivalry, and fierce affection for beauty. Griffin has taken on considerable challenges in portraying the working lives of artists, and has done so with amazing, and heartbreaking, force.
 
Adrian Michael Kelly's "Lure" is also a story about a father and a son, but Kelly's is an altogether different art, full of the simple intensity of a child's observation. Kelly doesn't trouble the reader with anything but the moment as the boy sees it. The drama inheres in a child's anxiety over pleasing his father, over the life of a frog, and the taste of a sandwich. Although "Lure" does have a climax of adult pain, it is the boy's perceptions and tensions that dominate, and it is to Kelly's infinite credit that this seems not a limitation but an illumination.
 
To continue with family stories, Sarah L. Taggart's "Deaf " is told from alternating perspectives of a mother and her young daughter, both missing a sense of so many things in their lives. The glittering percision of Taggart's language allows for both the humour of children bickering over ketchup and the quotidian tragedy of adults ground down by both hope and disappointment. Taggart never diminishes her characters' lives of canned tomatoes and Hungry Hungry Hippos, nor does she lionize them or excuse their bad behaviour. She just achieves that incredible literary summit of bringing them to life.
 
The gift in all of these stories lies in the adage of showing rather than telling. Particularly rich in this regard are those stories that immerse us in specific histories or geographies, making setting integral to and inseparable from the events and emotions of the characters.
 
Yasuko Thanh's "Floating Like the Dead" takes us into a little-known and painful chapter in Canadian history. Here, the few remaining inhabitants of a turn-of-the-century colony of Chinese lepers off the coast of b.c. spend the last of their days clinging to something as futile as hope. The limits of language, racism, and poverty have already defined their immigrant lives. Their alienation becomes complete as their bodies rebel and repel, and they are exiled to die in isolation. They must use their declining strength to battle a rugged geography they cannot beat. The forest is primeval and eternal and the western breezes across the Pacific can only remind them of the China of their youths. Thanh strikes that difficult balance between depicting bigger worlds and worlds within, and uses the resonances between the internal and external to subtle and graceful effect. This is a story of brittle beauty, which gives as much room to the unspoken as the spoken.
 
In "Highlife," Paul Headrick similarly addresses imminent death, the silences that precede it, and the sounds that surround it. A husband and wife, together for twenty-six years, become unglued from each other in the face of the husband's illness and the anger that consequently possesses him. He is a lover of music – an academic, a radio host, and a critic – making a pilgrimage of sorts to Ghana with his wife. He is looking to hear highlife music in its original context – buoyant life-affirming sounds – but he and his wife are largely silent companions on this trip; there is little he is compelled to voice aloud. Against the heat and confusion, the dancing bodies and the music, his life – and her life in relation to him – are coming to a painful end. In this case it is the contrast between internal and external worlds, the disconnect between them, that gives the story its poignancy, isolating the characters from each other and the world around them.

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