About the Author

Leslie Shimotakahara

 

Leslie Shimotakahara Bio

 

Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and ”recovering academic,“ who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard- pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got lured into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006, writing her dissertation on regionalist and modernist aesthetics in a record two years. After graduation, she got a job at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, where she taught until 2008. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the ivory tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. Since returning to Toronto, Leslie has worked in a range of communications positions for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, Deployment forDemocratic Development, and presently at Waterfront Toronto. Over the past year, Leslie was selected as an Emerging Writer in the Diaspora Dialogues program, and invited to give a reading at The Word On The Street. An excerpt from The Reading List manuscript has been published in the anthology TOK: Writing the New City (volume 5). Back in her former life as an English professor, she published a smattering of essays on American modernism in obscure, critical theory journals (but these are best resigned to the annals of dry academe).These days, Leslie is more engaged in writing for her blog, www.the-reading-list.com, and rereading for inspiration the stories she wrote as a kid and self-published in pretty, Crayola-designed covers.

 

Books by this Author
After the Bloom
Excerpt

One

Their house had always been a wreck. The difference was that back then Rita assumed all houses were like that. Paint on the porch peeling, like old nail polish. Full of boarders, or “guests, ” as Lily liked to call them; everyone lined up in the cramped hall to use the bathroom at night. The floors of some rooms were so uneven that if Rita closed her eyes, everything seemed to spin gently, the feeling of drunkenness, she’d realize years later.
Cracks in the bricks up one side had gotten worse. Now the whole house looked tilted, about to sink.
It was a bright, hot morning in July. Under normal circumstances, she’d be out for a jog. Instead she was here, squinting up at her childhood home and lingering on the pavement, as if someone had stood her up. Through the yellowed curtains of the house across the street, an old lady peeked out, probably wondering what on earth Rita was doing here, for the second morning in a row, no less. Maybe Rita looked as though she were on a mission to scope the neighbourhood, one of those rich Asians in the slum landlord business.
A little girl ran by, her bright green T-shirt appearing to pulsate with the most amazing greenness, and it seemed impossible that normal life was continuing on — kids were out enjoying the nice weather.
For a blissful moment, Rita felt like she could press the rewind button and slip back, so easily, into thinking that everything was going to be just fine. Of course it was. Lily had antsy feet. And a whimsical heart. She’d wandered off before and had always come back. It was the trademark of women of her generation: despite their veneer of stoicism, deep down anger simmered. They were tired of doing everything for everyone, sick of life as doormats. So from time to time, they blew off steam, hit the road. All mothers did this — or felt like doing this — didn’t they? Rita was a mom and she’d felt that way before, as though she were destined to live like the little red hen. It was normal to go on strike, wasn’t it?
She closed her eyes and let the darkness take over, not the comforting darkness of sleep, but a deeper, more frightening blackness. The pep talk she’d just been giving herself lost all conviction, sounded as hollow as it was. While it was true that Lily had traipsed off before, she’d always been found within a few hours.
Someone had left a pile of old clothes on the curb. A faded mauve shirt with a crushed-in collar. Baby-doll pumps in dark cherry leather, the round toes scuffed and flattened, like they’d been stepped on. Lily had once worn shoes like that and carried a matching handbag.
A wheezing sound gathered force from somewhere, and it took Rita a moment to realize that it was her own breath — the air shortening, dying in hot bursts in her throat — and all she could think was that maybe it was already too late. A vision swept over her: a small, pallid face touched by a bluish tint, generic and expressionless, the way dead people appeared on TV. She squeezed her eyes tighter and refused to believe that face could be her mother’s.
Three days ago, Lily had gone missing. “Missing people with a history of memory problems often go back to the places they used to live, ” the police officer had said, handing over a FAQ sheet for family members. It seemed this sort of thing happened more often than you’d guess. The cop — a woman, wearing just a trace of nude lipstick — tried to be encouraging, but not overly so. She’d been through the drill before.
Bloor-Lansdowne. Not the poshest part of Toronto, that was for sure. The houses were crammed so close together that they appeared to be falling into each other at uneven heights. Translucent shower curtains turned front porches into makeshift sunrooms, every second house festooned with Christmas lights that never came down. Very little about the neighbourhood had changed since Rita’s childhood (beyond the opening of a new strip club). Even the humid air, mixed with the humidity of her own palpitating body, seemed too familiar, oppressive.
What was she supposed to be doing? It didn’t seem likely that her mother would miraculously stroll by. Yesterday Rita had knocked on the door of the old house. An old tawny-skinned guy had answered. “No, ” he’d said flatly, when she showed him Lily’s photo. He kept saying no in response to all her questions; perhaps he didn’t understand English. Over his shoulder, she could see someone shuffling in the shadows. Peering in, she half expected Grandpa or Aunt Haruko to come into focus, as though for all these years their ghosts had remained right here, keeping the home fires burning. But Aunt Haruko would have never let that grime build up on the windows. Now the place was inhabited by a hodgepodge of sad souls from far-flung, war-torn countries, the mysterious odours of all their foods clashing, blending together in an oily fug.
Unclean.
Yet that was what people had once said about her own family. Rita had never managed to forget the peculiar, withering sensation of being looked at that way. And now, a couple decades later, here she was on the other side of that pitying, judgmental gaze. Up and down the block and for four blocks in all directions, she’d plastered her bright yellow sheets on phone poles, telephone booths, mailboxes. MISSING PERSON across the top. The photo had been taken on Lily’s honeymoon last year. Although only the head portion had been cropped, Rita couldn’t help but see the larger image: smiling vivaciously, her mother was perched on the edge of a chaise longue, white foam waves crashing down behind her, pina colada in hand, the tiny pink umbrella as bright as her lipstick. Sixty, she could easily pass for ten years younger. Her dyed black hair fell in loose, permed curls, remarkably similar to the way Rita remembered it as a child.

close this panel
Reading List, The

Reading List, The

Literature, love and back again
edition:Paperback
More Info
Red Oblivion
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The last time I saw my father, he seemed all right — really, he did. He was his old self: a tiny, quail-like man with the gleaming eyes of a guy half his age. We were headed to the bank, the sky white and misty, the tropical air touched by a slight chill that people on this side of the world consider freezing; Ba was walking even faster than usual. The sole of his shoe came loose and slapped against the sidewalk like an old flip-flop, while he just continued on, navigating his way through the crowd of pinstripes. “Ba, let’s get you some new shoes.” I tried to pull him into Marks & Spencer, but he shucked off my hand with a fidgety shake of the shoulder.

I followed him beneath the billboards of enigmatically shaped handbags, past the shops on Queen’s Road, a sea of diamonds and metallic objects glinting and floating by on the edge of our vision. A watery reflection came into focus and I barely had time to recognize myself before the crowd jostled me forward. The side- walk seemed to be shuddering, everyone elbowing past, barking into phones. But my wily father had no trouble weaving his way through it all as I struggled to catch up.

After cutting across Grand Millennium Plaza — space opening up enough to breathe, around the ornate fountain — we made our way along Des Voeux into Sheung Wan. Although the neighbourhood had gentrified in patches, it still had the old money exchanges and remittance shops with faded red signs and tarnished gold currency symbols. Dry goods stores here and there, big bins of dehydrated mushrooms, scallops, and shark fins before the open windows. “Where are you going, Ba?” Grabbing his arm, I gestured at a storefront with rows of bright runners and plastic sandals awash in fluorescent light.

Ignoring me, he kept right on walking. We wended our way into the narrow side streets, past the herbal medicine shops.

Once when I was a kid and had a bad cough that wouldn’t go away, even after antibiotics, Ba had taken me to one of these places. We sat at the time-worn redwood counter, the walls decorated with bright paper fans and posters of ox bones and folk legends. After taking my pulse, an old man, who looked like a gravedigger, served me a cup of tea the colour of sewer water and not much better tasting. But my cough had cleared up.

“C’mon, Ba, let’s just get you some shoes. I don’t have all day here.”

His hand slipped into his pocket, fingering the wad of cash always there. Not because he was on the verge of buying anything, not because he was afraid of being pickpocketed. Ba has simply always liked the tactility of money. It’s like satin to his fingertips.

We weren’t far from his old office, so he ought to have known the area well, yet he seemed puzzled, disoriented.

“It’s right around here — I know it is. ”

Probably, the store was long gone. It was a different, older city he was always seeking, remembering.

Finally, we ended up at Wing On department store, where I encouraged him to try on a pair of black Rockports, but they were too expensive, in his view. He picked up a pair of electric-blue sneakers with three gold stripes along each side, similar to the ones my high school boyfriend used to wear, twenty years back.

They were on sale — hallelujah — this being the real reason they’d caught Ba’s eye. And they were comfortable, he claimed. Not that he’s ever put much stock in comfort. His own or others’.

I remember thinking that at least in sneakers, he’d be unlikely to slip.

Or maybe it’s just easier for me to remember things that way. Me, the sweet, caring daughter, patiently cajoling the old guy, impossible as ever, yet strangely endearing in his stubbornness. Electric-blue sneakers and all.

In reality, on that day, I probably saw him as nothing close to endearing. The self-entitled frugality, the insistence on his way or the highway, the past he’s always seeking to resurrect and wear like a badge of honour — all these things would have driven me crazy, his small, inescapable presence casting shadows over my mood.

But in seeing us in a soft, forgiving light, in telling myself these tales that make us seem more like a normal family, I’m doing what my sister’s long accused me of doing. I’m like a child seeking enchantment in repeated stories that take on the weight of truth only through an act of imagination.

close this panel
Show editions
close this panel

User Activity

more >
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...