About the Author

Leslie Vryenhoek

Leslie Vryenhoek is a St. John’s-based writer and editor whose poetry, fiction and memoir have appeared across Canada and internationally and have won several awards. She is the author of Scrabble Lessons (fiction, 2009) and Gulf (poetry, 2011), both published by Oolichan. For two decades she has worked as a communications professional in education, development, emergency response and arts, including for the University of Winnipeg, the Canadian Red Cross, and Memorial University. She is currently the writer and editor for the international research/action network WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing). Leslie is also the director of Piper’s Frith: Writing at Kilmory Resort.

Books by this Author
Gulf

Gulf

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
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Ledger of the Open Hand

Ledger of the Open Hand

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Scrabble Lessons

Scrabble Lessons

edition:Paperback
tagged :
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We All Will Be Received
Excerpt

We All Will Be Received

Leslie Vryenhoek

1977

Disappearing would be as simple as sliding off the edge, as stretching one leg forward and following it over. Dropping from sight. She’d been working up to it for a long time, for hours maybe, shifting her limbs and resettling her hips like a restless sleeper, stealing a little closer to the edge with each shift. Beneath her, the bedsprings had cried out with every small advance, but now she was on the verge, a foot already toeing the air. Just one more move, fast and certain, and she’d be gone.

She closed her eyes and let all the air seep from her lungs. Reached one arm forward. Counted it down.

Counted it down again.

And this time, she did it. She went over. Kicked her leg out, twisted and plunged to the floor. She heard a soft one-two thud as her toes and palms touched down, then heard nothing but the rushing, loud and louder, that filled her ears. Panic, she thought, or adrenaline—were those the same things?—she didn’t know, but it calmed her to wonder it.

She stayed low and still, forehead to the floor. Pulled air through her nose to feed her hammering heart. The motel carpet smelled like wet boots and gas station toilets.

When the noise in her head subsided, she could hear he was still snoring and she began counting again, pacing the rhythm of his guttery breath—the sour whine as he inhaled, the pause, then the roaring exhale. She’d been marking that cycle for a long time, for all the eons it took her to take the plunge, to escape the trough in the mattress that wanted to keep her in his orbit.

Finally she lifted her head and opened her eyes. It was darker down on the floor, but a blade of light bisected the room near the foot of the bed. Slake had left an inch-wide gap in the curtain the last time he’d peeped out. He was loaded by then and careless, or else he wanted the harsh white motel sign for a nightlight.

That light dead-ended at the bunched mound of her t-shirt lying just inside the bathroom door. Her favourite t-shirt, powder blue with cap sleeves and a gentle V of a neckline, and she felt a small tug of regret for having to leave it behind. Near the foot of the bed, just beyond that slash of light, she could make out her khaki jacket, arms spread wide where she’d let it fall. She wanted to leave that too, to get away from it as fast as she could, but her wallet was in the pocket and her ID—a driver’s license, an old library card—would tie her to this. To all of it.

Crawling so close to the floor it was more like slithering, she crossed through the sharp blade of light, gathered the jacket to her chest with one arm and then listened for a moment before making her way around to Slake’s duffel bag. He’d left it lying open alongside the bed—along his side of the bed—easily within his reach.

She rocked back on her heels to look at him, hoping to read the depth of his sleep in the slack line of his mouth, but his face was turned away and cloaked in darkness. His chest was bare and for a scant second, she saw what she’d liked about him—the breadth of his shoulders, the taut line down to his wrist. His right arm was thrown wide, his hand dangling off the bed not a foot from her head. He wouldn’t even have to sit up to grab a handful of her hair, to drag her back onto that squalling bed.

But maybe he wouldn’t bother pulling her up. She could make out his knife on the nightstand. Maybe he wouldn’t even check to see who it was before he struck. Next to the knife, the glint of his car keys and the shape of his watch. She wanted to reach for that, for the watch, wanted to calculate how soon the sun would rise. Wanted to be far enough away before dawn—assuming dawn was even out ahead of her, that she could creep her way out of this dark place.

Tylenol. That’s what she planned to say if he opened his eyes. Where the fuck’s the Tylenol, baby?

He’d grunt an answer or maybe just point impatiently, but then she’d have to take some. She’d have to swallow it down and get back into bed and by then he’d be awake, waiting for her, maybe pissed at being woken up and wanting something to rock him back to sleep.

She slipped her hands into the duffel bag, its leather worn soft and silent, and rooted out what might weigh her down—a tube of Prell shampoo, a beer opener, his jeans. Two bottles of Labatt’s Blue wrapped in one of his filthy shirts. She felt those before they had a chance to clank together and knew he must have forgotten he had them; otherwise they’d be as long gone as the two-six of rye he’d put back earlier.

She lifted out his unzipped shaving kit. Inside, a razor and blades, his bone-dry toothbrush, an empty pill bottle. Slake had sold almost the whole store in Sault Ste. Marie—cashed in before they’d torn out of there.

She ran her hand around the bag’s interior, hoping to find a few stray Quaaludes. Thinking it might be nice to have a few handy, but then she remembered the tranquilizers were on the table behind her, next to the empty rye bottle, because Slake had washed back a couple of them earlier.

Take it easy Elvis, she’d said, hoping to inspire him to swallow a few more.

Slake rarely dipped into the drugs, special occasions only. Like wiping your ass with cash, he said. Besides, I need to stay sharp. Half the time he was drunk when he said that, well past the point when the booze slurred his speech and made him overconfident. Usually they were alone by then, tucked away in a dingy room in some bleak strip of a motel along the highway, and the worst that would happen if he got too loud was a dull thud pounded on a neighbouring wall.

But they hadn’t been alone tonight. Slake had wanted to celebrate, to knock back a few now that he’d made the big delivery and collected his cash. Now that the job was coming to an end. And she’d felt like celebrating too, knowing she’d be back home in a day or two with just enough time to say sorry—Sorry for taking off like that, and can I get that money you said Dad left for my tuition?

Home, and free to get on with her life.

There was nothing left in the duffel bag but a flattened brown paper bag, her clothes, a hairbrush, and all of Slake’s money. She could feel rolls and rolls of it, wrapped in elastic bands. Loose bills, too—folded flat or else wadded up like they’d been jammed in fast. She pinched a few of the folded ones, slipped them into the back pocket of her jeans. Then she laid her jacket over the money, tucking it so it concealed what was underneath and folding one of the arms to hide as much of the blood as possible.

She shouldn’t have clung to the damn jacket. She should have dropped it at her feet or thrown it out the window, anything else, but she’d been too dazed as they’d raced into the night, Slake speeding more than usual, taking curves so fast her shoulder collided again and again with the car door. Still, she didn’t brace—she just hugged that jacket against the wide, wet circle of blood that soaked her t-shirt.

By the time they’d stopped at this motel, the shirt was glued to her, stuck fast just below her ribs.

As soon as they were in the room with the door bolted, Slake had cracked the rye and grabbed the pills. She’d gone to the bathroom so she could strip without him watching her, but once she’d peeled off the blood-stiffened powder blue shirt, Slake was beside her at the sink. When she flinched away, he didn’t seem to notice. He just tore into a bar of soap and cleaned his knife, the blade glowing in the dull bathroom light, then washed his hands more thoroughly than she’d ever seen him wash before. Take a shower, he said. And then he didn’t say anything else, not for more than an hour, not even when she didn’t shower, just put on a different shirt but kept on the same dirty jeans and shoes.

It was unusual, Slake keeping quiet for so long, so she knew he must be shook up, too. When he finally did start talking it had nothing to do with that night, that place, or anything else that had passed between them since they’d met. It was a story from his childhood, a fishing trip, his father or someone like his father, someone who made him hopeful and then made him angry. Convoluted, impossible to follow—not that she was trying. She was just pretending to pay attention, small snatches of his narrative needling in around the crowd of images in her head.

The sound of waves. He said that a few times before he got caught up describing the barb on the end of a fishhook. He kept repeating that detail, circling back to it. The barb, he slurred. The hook. He was fucked up by then, not even talking to her. Not even in the room with her. Which made it easier for her to slip back into the bathroom with the cup of rye he’d handed her and pour it down the sink. He was too far gone to notice that she wasn’t keeping up, that she was staying sharp—so sharp she’d pretended to pass out with her shoes still on.

Under the bed, she lined up Slake’s things—his jeans next to the shampoo, his beer beside the shaving kit. All of it waiting right there for him. Everything but his money. She didn’t leave any of it, not even enough for breakfast or a pack of cigarettes. She thought about that briefly, about whether he’d be even more furious if he was hungry, but she decided the two bottles of Blue would fill him up until he figured out what to do. Or until he caught up to her.

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No One To Tell

No One To Tell

Breaking My Silence on Life in the RCMP
edition:eBook
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