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Sisters in CanLit

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The bonds between sisters are sources of singular emotion, passion, mystery, devotion, inspiration and more. Here are some indelible sisters and sibling relationships and their unforgettable stories and relationships as brought to life in Canadian literature.
Bone and Bread

Bone and Bread

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Winner of the Quebec Writers' Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction

Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have been shaped by the most unusual of childhoods — and by shared tragedy. Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal's Hasidic community of Mile End. Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brew of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inhe …

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The Little Shadows

The Little Shadows

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Here is the eagerly anticipated new novel from a brilliant writer whose last book, Good to a Fault, was shortlisted for the prestigious Giller Prize and won the Commonwealth Prize for Canada and the Caribbean.
The Little Shadows revolves around three sisters in the world of vaudeville before and during the First World War. We follow the lives of all three in turn: Aurora, the eldest and most beautiful, who is sixteen when the book opens; thoughtful Clover, a year younger; and the youngest siste …

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Gentry Fox was the shortest man Clover had ever seen, shorter than she was by far. As if someone had pressed down on the head of a normal man, but some time ago, so he’d had time to get used to it.
 
He had to look up, even at Bella, which he did with a sideways glint. ‘What—have—we—here?’ he asked, his voice both gravelled and silky.
 
The girls stood in a line, not sure whether to proceed. He waved a hand, beckoning them to the stage, and they went stiffly down the raked aisle, not entirely sure of their footing in the thicker darkness of the auditorium. Mama patted Clover, who moved aside to let her through. She took two steps and stopped, perhaps afraid, Clover thought. But no. She had paused only to make a better entrance. Mr. Fox looked up, inquiring, when she did not speak—then, looking again, gave Mama a very warm, familiar smile. He laughed and bowed, and bowed again, coming forward as he bent and rose and bent.
 
‘Oh, my dear sir, you may recall that I have had the distinct pleasure of making your acquaintance before,’ Mama said to the little bowing man. Bowing now herself.
 
‘But of course, of course I recall,’ Mr. Fox said, murmuring and mincing. ‘With the greatest, my dear Flora, the greatest of pleasure.’ Pleasure, pleasure. They were nodding dolls, bowing and re-bowing. Clover felt Aurora pull her close, then slide an arm behind to pull Bella into place.
 
‘And these?’
 
‘Oh, these! My dear Mr. Fox! You see before you—my daughters.’ Dark eyes gleamed in his dark rumpled face, turning from one girl to the next. His squashed neck was supple. Inspecting Aurora. Then Clover, Bella. And back to Mama.
 
‘They are jewels,’ he said with great simplicity. ‘They sing? They dance?’
 
‘They do!’ Mama clapped her hands because he was so clever.
 
‘May we?’
 
‘Will you? Will they? Johnny Drawbank! Clear those hands away, if you will. Lights!’
 
This was a much bigger stage, a much bigger theatre. Not a jewel box like the Empress; the floorboards not as clean beneath the dirty chairs, and the stage not clean either. Deep, though, and high—four long curtain-legs before the backdrop. Clover thought doing it in one here would be a pleasure, because the stage bowed outwards and left an acre of room in front of the great red curtain (its ragged bottom draggling on the boards, gold bobble-trim gappy and dimmed).
 
Work-lights shone on the piano, and on the stage. As Mama and the girls climbed the moveable gangplank over the orchestra pit, on came the footlights, the gas flaring gently, and the stage became welcoming. ‘We’ll start with an old song,’ Mama said, twinkling down at Mr. Fox. ‘After the Ball,’ she murmured to the girls, and sat herself at the piano gracefully. Her little hands raised themselves over the keys, and paused, and then were off, playing with unusual care and a rippling dash—the conservatory glass, the palms, the tinkling waltz heard from a distance . . . They told the sentimental story plain, the way she had taught them, not as a tired tale but as if this were their Uncle Chum explaining his bachelor life to them. None of the girls could remember meeting him, but they all had affection for him, from this imaginary memory. It made Clover believe that Mama must have a soft spot for Chum too, after all.
 
‘. . . oh, Uncle, please.
Why are you single; why live alone?
Have you no babies; have you no home?
I had a sweetheart, years, years ago;
Where she is now, pet, you will soon know.
List to the story, I’ll tell it all,
I believed her faithless, after the ball . . .’
 
Watching the girl he loved being kissed, standing empty-hearted with two glasses of punch in his hands . . . How plaintive the old man became, and what a small, stupid thing to ruin someone’s life: ‘he was her brother! ’ Then they were into the chorus again, waltzing in place to prove they could do it in one:
 
 ‘After the ball is over, after the break of dawn—
After the dancers’ leaving; after the stars are gone;
Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all;
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.
 
Mama ended with a fading chord, well in keeping with the natural delivery of the song, and left a dainty hand poised in air for a moment as the girls bowed. Then she twirled on the piano stool, face out to the audience, to Gentry Fox. He rose from his seat in the front row with a hearty ‘Bravo!’ clapping his hands delightedly.
 
Coming forward to the stage, he stretched out a hand to Mama as if he could reach hers, which not even a tall man could have, and she reached down to him without moving from the stool.
 
‘Lovely, lovely girls! Lovely to hear that old song again, so freshly rendered! And how well I recall you, my dear Flora—at the Hippodrome, was it not?—with that little number.’
 
‘Oh, Gentry, a hundred years ago,’ Mama said, blushing and bobbing. Bella laughed too, to see her so pleased. Clover looked at Mr. Fox with attention: a living clue to Mama’s old life. But beside her she could feel Aurora waiting, tense, and her own confidence drained away. ‘Now you must let me give you some lunch,’ Gentry said, taking out a card case. ‘Hand my card to the girl at the Grandon Hotel, they do a royal tea there . . . and thank you for warming an old man’s heart. You are visiting in the neighbourhood? With family?’
 
Mama got up from the piano, her face fallen into a polite parody of her earlier happiness. ‘You have no work for my girls, then, Gentry?’ she asked—her voice sad, but her face remaining cheerful.
 
‘My dear Flora, they are young and charming, and I am inundated with acts. Between you and me and your eighteen best friends, this is a poor place I find myself. We have only seven on the bill—all but continuous, you know—three shows a day, a hardscrabble life.’
 
‘But what a training ground!’ Mama said lightly—still working, still arguing, however her words might be disguised as chat.
 
 ‘But such delicately reared girls, my dear Flora, could not be expected to— And my bill is full for this and several weeks to come.’
 
‘But I see you lack a closer,’ Mama said. Her last effort.
 
‘Oh, as to that, I use the pictures as a closer. Nothing beats a very old pictograph for encouraging an audience’s hearts for home.’
 
‘I bet we could chase them better, if we’re so bad!’ Bella called over the footlights at him, laughing at her own audacity.
 
Clover pinched her quickly, but Gentry laughed too, darting a sharp look at Bella’s cheeky, lively face. But he still held out the calling card. Lunch, not life.
 
‘Well, thank you, Gentry, for seeing us. It was a piece of old times to find you here,’ Flora said, folding her music as if they hadn’t a care in the world, as if they were, in fact, visiting family and perfectly easy. As if they hadn’t spent twenty-three dollars on train fare.
 
She and Aurora looked at each other, and she lifted her chin and smiled.
 
‘Off we go, then,’ she said. ‘But perhaps we had better return to our friends for luncheon, thank you all the same.’
 
Aurora lighted down on the first step, lifting her skirt delicately over her tight-laced new boot. The second step, the second boot (and above it, a stretch of smooth white stocking). The third step, the fourth.
 
‘But, Mama,’ she said, smiling into Gentry’s upturned face. ‘I think I’d like some tea.’
 
He held out his hand with the card again, and she took it, and then his arm, for help in navigating the last steps.
 
‘Thank you, Mr. Fox,’ Aurora said. She stopped to pull on her elegant mauve kid gloves. ‘And will you come with us? My sisters and I would love to hear how you and Mama come to know each other so well; how you come to be in this theatre, and what wonders you are working in this out-of-the-way place—we see your dodgers all over town!’
 
Gentry blinked, but resisted, even though her eyes were so clear, their colour shifting from blue to green, a dark line around the iris. Beautiful, yes. The curve of her clear warm cheek and jaw ran enticingly into the hidden reaches of the neck, under that glossy pile of bright, ruly-unruly hair.
 
‘Alas, no, I shall be engaged all afternoon with wretched business,’ he told her sadly.
 
Aurora gave him a beautiful smile, exchanged his arm for her sister’s, and walked up the raked aisle. The tiny waist of her jacket remained steady; below it the skirt swayed, its length tantalizing along the ground in an eddy of dust. The youngest one, the filly, hopped off the last step and sparkled at him, then dashed after the elder two. ‘Look at her, the darling! All legs and heels and promise,’ he said to Flora, before he could check himself. ‘But I am sentimentalizing. Time to retire to the country!’
 
Flora took the steps without assistance, pulling on her own gloves, her music in its leather case beneath her arm, and at the bottom, bowed to Gentry. He looked at her soft face, brown curls at her brow. Still pretty as paint, even softened into middle age. A loving heart, if a silly one. She stepped down onto the floor, not wanting to tower above him more than she could help—for his sake as well as her own. A stroke of luck to have found him here. It could not be wasted.
 
‘Gentry,’ she said, then drew in a breath. ‘I wonder—I’ve done my best with my dear girls, but they need polish, of course. I wonder if you would consider taking them on for a few weeks, for nothing—well, or for just the usual travelling expenses, alone—to gain experience, to be introduced to the profession.’
 
She had caught his attention. Either his pockets were to let, or his native stinginess was stirring. How much this would cost her, coming and going, she thought she knew.
 
‘I’m sure we could go farther afield and find paid work, but it’s you, the association with someone of your calibre—oh! I know very well how much good you did me, all those years ago, and I wish that same good for my girls. Can you find it in your heart to blame me?’  ‘The thing is, Flora,’ he said, not unkindly, ‘your dainty girls are too refined for this place—it would be cruel. They are not—’ ‘They are. I promise you. They are better by far than I.’ Her urgency led her to put a hand on his arm. A small hand in a black cloth glove, it vanished on his black sleeve.
 
‘Gentry, for old times’ sake—I beg you.’
 
After a moment, he bowed one last time. ‘Madam, that plea is impossible to refuse. Not today. But bring them here at nine tomorrow, and I will see what can be done.’
 
She found it hard to look at him, after putting herself so low before him, but busied herself with her music case.
 
He gestured towards it: ‘Have you a lobby photograph for the girls there?’ He saw from her face that they had none. ‘After your lunch go to Leroy’s Studio on 8th Avenue. They will not overcharge you.’ As Flora went up the aisle, he called after her. ‘What happened to your schoolmaster?’
 
‘Oh—’ She shrugged and almost smiled. ‘Oh, he died.’ She nodded, and went through the bright doorway.

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The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin

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Winner of the Booker Prize 2000, The Blind Assassin is a spellbinding novel that spans the decades between the First World War and the present, offering the sweep of an epic and the intimate focus of a family drama.

For the past twenty-five years, Margaret Atwood has written works of striking originality and imagination. In The Blind Assassin, she stretches the limits of her accomplishments as never before, creating a novel that is entertaining and profoundly serious.

The novel opens with these si …

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The Bridge

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.

I was informed of the accident by a policeman: the car was mine, and they'd traced the licence. His tone was respectful: no doubt he recognized Richard's name. He said the tires may have caught on a streetcar track or the brakes may have failed, but he also felt bound to inform me that two witnesses—a retired lawyer and a bank teller, dependable people—had claimed to have seen the whole thing. They'd said Laura had turned the car sharply and deliberately, and had plunged off the bridge with no more fuss than stepping off a curb. They'd noticed her hands on the wheel because of the white gloves she'd been wearing.

It wasn't the brakes, I thought. She had her reasons. Not that they were ever the same as anybody else's reasons. She was completely ruthless in that way.

"I suppose you want someone to identify her," I said. "I'll come down as soon as I can." I could hear the calmness of my own voice, as if from a distance. In reality I could barely get the words out; my mouth was numb, my entire face was rigid with pain. I felt as if I'd been to the dentist. I was furious with Laura for what she'd done, but also with the policeman for implying that she'd done it. A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water.

"I'm afraid there will be an inquest, Mrs. Griffen," he said.

"Naturally," I said. "But it was an accident. My sister was never a good driver."

I could picture the smooth oval of Laura's face, her neatly pinned chignon, the dress she would have been wearing: a shirtwaist with a small rounded collar, in a sober colour-navy blue or steel grey or hospital-corridor green. Penitential colours—less like something she'd chosen to put on than like something she'd been locked up in. Her solemn half-smile; the amazed lift of her eyebrows, as if she were admiring the view.

The white gloves: a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us. What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain. Or of the stack of cheap school exercise books that she must have hidden that very morning, in the bureau drawer where I kept my stockings, knowing I would be the one to find them.

When the policeman had gone I went upstairs to change. To visit the morgue I would need gloves, and a hat with a veil. Something to cover the eyes. There might be reporters. I would have to call a taxi. Also I ought to warn Richard, at his office: he would wish to have a statement of grief prepared. I went into my dressing room: I would need black, and a handkerchief.

I opened the drawer, I saw the notebooks. I undid the crisscross of kitchen string that tied them together. I noticed that my teeth were chattering, and that I was cold all over. I must be in shock, I decided.

What I remembered then was Reenie, from when we were little. It was Reenie who'd done the bandaging, of scrapes and cuts and minor injuries: Mother might be resting, or doing good deeds elsewhere, but Reenie was always there. She'd scoop us up and sit us on the white enamel kitchen table, alongside the pie dough she was rolling out or the chicken she was cutting up or the fish she was gutting, and give us a lump of brown sugar to get us to close our mouths. Tell me where it hurts, she'd say. Stop howling. Just calm down and show me where.

But some people can't tell where it hurts. They can't calm down. They can't ever stop howling.

The Toronto Star, May 26, 1945

Questions Raised at the Death
Special to the Star

A coroner's inquest has returned a verdict of accidental death in last week's St. Clair Ave. fatality. Miss Laura Chase, 25, was travelling west on the afternoon of May 18 when her car swerved through the barriers protecting a repair site on the bridge and crashed into the ravine below, catching fire. Miss Chase was killed instantly. Her sister, Mrs. Richard E. Griffen, wife of the prominent manufacturer, gave evidence that Miss Chase suffered from severe headaches affecting her vision. In reply to questioning, she denied any possibility of intoxication as Miss Chase did not drink.

It was the police view that a tire caught in an exposed streetcar track was a contributing factor. Questions were raised as to the adequacy of safety precautions taken by the City, but after expert testimony by City engineer Gordon Perkins these were dismissed.

The accident has occasioned renewed protests over the state of the streetcar tracks on this stretch of roadway. Mr. Herb T. Jolliffe, representing local ratepayers, told Star reporters that this was not the worst mishap caused by neglected tracks. City Council should take note.

The Blind Assassin. By Laura Chase.
Reingold, Jaynes & Moreau, New York, 1947

Prologue: Perennials for the Rock Garden

She has a single photograph of him. She tucked it into a brown envelope on which she'd written clippings, and hid the envelope between the pages of Perennials for the Rock Garden, where no one else would ever look.

She's preserved this photo carefully, because it's almost all she has left of him. It's black and white, taken by one of those boxy, cumbersome flash cameras from before the war, with their accordion-pleat nozzles and their well-made leather cases that looked like muzzles, with straps and intricate buckles. The photo is of the two of them together, her and this man, on a picnic. Picnic is written on the back, in pencil-not his name or hers, just picnic. She knows the names, she doesn't need to write them down.

They're sitting under a tree; it might have been an apple tree; she didn't notice the tree much at the time. She's wearing a white blouse with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and a wide skirt tucked around her knees. There must have been a breeze, because of the way the shirt is blowing up against her; or perhaps it wasn't blowing, perhaps it was clinging; perhaps it was hot. It was hot. Holding her hand over the picture, she can still feel the heat coming up from it, like the heat from a sun-warmed stone at midnight.

The man is wearing a light-coloured hat, angled down on his head and partially shading his face. His face appears to be more darkly tanned than hers. She's turned half towards him, and smiling, in a way she can't remember smiling at anyone since. She seems very young in the picture, too young, though she hadn't considered herself too young at the time.

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Swallow

Swallow

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You wake up, and your sister is dead.

With an absent father and their mother constantly ill, sisters Darcy and Carly Nolan were forced to rely on each other growing up. While unpredictable Carly bounced around, her life's direction uncertain, Darcy fell in love, went to University, and moved to another province. When nineteen-year-old Carly unexpectedly kills herself, Darcy is left to carry the burden of their childhood memories forward alone. The pain of these memories overwhelms Darcy as she st …

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Student of Weather

Student of Weather

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In the Prairie Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a stranger walks out of a storm and forever alters the lives of two sisters, the strange and intense Norma-Joyce and the beautiful Lucinda. Their rivalry for Maurice Dove, a student studying weather on the Prairies, sets the stage for a narrative spanning more than thirty years, beginning in Saskatchewan and moving, in the decades following the war, to Ottawa and New York City. Although Norma-Joyce is only a child when Maurice Dove drops into her life, she …

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Clara Callan

Clara Callan

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Winner of the 2001 Governor General's Award and Giller Prize, Clara Callan chronicles the lives of two sisters living in a small Ontario town during the Depression. Author Richard Wright tells their story, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, with an eye for the commonplace and poignant sense of the larger undercurrents that change people's lives. Letters and journal entries form a portal into the desires and passions of two very different women, underscoring the larger tableau of an era stir …

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The Flying Troutmans

The Flying Troutmans

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In this completely captivating book, Miriam Toews has created some of the most engaging characters in Canadian literature: Hattie, Logan and Thebes are bewildered, hopeful, angry, and most of all, absolutely alive. Full of richly skewed, richly funny detail, The Flying Troutmans is a uniquely affecting novel.

Days after being dumped by her boyfriend Marc in Paris – "he was heading off to an ashram and said we could communicate telepathically" – Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked int …

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one

yeah, so things have fallen apart. A few weeks ago I got a collect call from my niece, Thebes, in the middle of the night, asking me to please come back to help with Min. She told me she’d been trying to take care of things but it wasn’t working any more. Min was stranded in her bed, hooked on blue torpedoes and convinced that a million silver cars were closing in on her (I didn’t know what Thebes meant either), Logan was in trouble at school, something about the disturbing stories he was writing, Thebes was pretending to be Min on the phone with his principal, the house was crumbling around them, the back screen door had blown off in the wind, a family of aggressive mice was living behind the piano, the neighbours were pissed off because of hatchets being thrown into their yard at all hours (again, confusing, something to do with Logan) . . . basically, things were out of control. And Thebes is only ­eleven.

I told her I’d be there as soon as I could. I had no choice. There was no question. Our parents are dead. Min didn’t have anybody else. And in just about every meaningful way, neither did I. Admittedly, I would have preferred to keep roaming around Paris pretending to be an artist with my moody, ­adjective-­hating boyfriend, Marc, but he was heading off to an ashram in India anyway and said we could communicate telepathically. I tried it a couple of days before he left. I love you, don’t go, I said silently, without moving my lips. He was standing next to me, trying to photograph a gargoyle. You’re a little in my way, he said. Can you move? No amount of telepathy worked with him, but maybe you have to be thousands of miles away from someone in order for your thoughts to work up the speed and velocity required to hit their ­target.

At the airport, Thebes came running over to me dressed entirely in royal blue terry cloth, short shorts and cropped top, and covered in some kind of candy necklace powder. The empty elastic was still around her throat. Or maybe she wore that thing all the time. She had fake tattoos all over her arms and her hair was intense purple, matted and wild, and she melted into me when I put my arms around her and tried to lift her off the ­ground.

Hey, you crazy kid, I said. How are you? She couldn’t talk because she was crying too hard. How are you, Thebie? I asked again. How are things? I didn’t have to ask her. I had a pretty good idea. I let her wrap herself around me and then I carried her over to a plastic airport chair, sat down with her sprawled in my lap, all arms and legs, like a baby giraffe, and let her cry.

How’s the songwriting going? I finally whispered in her ear. I really liked that line . . . take a verse, Mojo . . . you know? I said. She was always ­e-­mailing me her lyrics and cc’ing David Geffen on ­them.

She frowned. She wiped the snot off her face with the back of her hand, then onto her shorts. I’m more into martial arts now, and ­yo-­yoing, she said. I need to get out of my ­head.

Yeah, I said. Using your kung fu powers for ­good?

Well, she said, I feel good when I flip ­people.

Hey, I said, where’s your ­brother?

She told me he was outside waiting in the van because he didn’t know how to work the parking and also he didn’t actually have his driver’s licence, only his learner’s, he’s fifteen, he’s all jacked up on rebellion and whatever, he just wanted to wait in the van and listen to his ­music.

We headed for the exit and kind of stumbled around, falling over each other. Thebes kept her arm wrapped around my waist and tried to help me with my bag. All I had was one large backpack. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying but it didn’t really matter anyway. I’d lost my boyfriend and didn’t care about my job and there was no reason to go back to Paris. I didn’t own anything besides books, and Marc could keep those if he wanted ­to.

It was sunny and warm and the sky was a sharp, cartoony blue compared to the wet clay skies of Paris, and there was Logan sitting in their ­beat-­up van staring straight ahead at something, not us, music blasting from inside, like the van was a giant Marshall amp. Thebes ran up to the van and threw herself against the windshield. Logan snapped out of his rock ’n’ roll reverie for a second and smiled. Then he got out of the van and walked, glided, over to me and gave me a big hug with one arm and asked me how it was ­going.

All right, I said, how about ­you?

Mmmm, he said. He ­shrugged.

Hey, what’s this? I asked him. I grabbed his arm and squeezed his ­bicep.

Yeah, right, said ­Thebes.

And, dude, your pants! I said. Did you steal them from Andre the Giant? I snapped the elastic band on his boxers. Logan opened the door to the van and threw my stuff ­in.

How was Paris? he ­asked.

What? I ­said. Oh, Paris?

Yeah, he said. How was ­it?

Thebes turned down the volume on the music. Then she told me I should drive instead of Logan. She said she’d been planning her funeral on the way ­there.

I got dumped, I ­said.

No way! said ­Logan.

Well, yeah, I ­said.

You can’t get dumped in Paris, said Logan. Isn’t it supposed to be all–
By a guy or a girl? asked ­Thebes.

A guy, I ­said.

Logan stared hard at Thebes for a few seconds. He said you were gay, she ­said.

No I didn’t, said ­Logan.

You totally did! said ­Thebes.

Okay, Thebes, listen, said Logan. I didn’t–

Hey, I said. It’s okay. It really doesn’t matter. Really. But it was a ­guy.

But you’re not that old, said Thebes, right? You can still find someone if you look hard. How old are ­you?
Twenty-­eight, I ­said.

Okay, ­twenty-­eight, she said. She thought for a second. You have like two years, she said. Maybe you should dress up more, ­though.

Logan ended up driving back to their house because I didn’t know how to tell him not to and because he hadn’t seemed interested in relinquishing control of the wheel anyway. Logan and Thebes yelled at each other all the way back, the music cranked the whole ­time.

Thebes: Stay in your lane, moron!

Logan: Don’t lose your fucking shit, man!

Thebes: I don’t want to die, loser! Use two hands!

Logan: Do NOT grab the steering wheel!

Then Thebes went into this strange kind of commentary thing she does, quoting the imaginary people in her head. This time it was a funeral director, I think. She said: With an impact this severe there is not a hope of reconstructing this kid’s face. She banged the back window with her ­fist.

What was that? I asked ­her.

The lid of my coffin slamming down, she said. Closed casket. I’ll be unrecognizable ­anyway.
It was great to see the kids again. They’d changed a bit, especially Logan. He was a young man now, not a child. More on his mind, maybe, but with less compulsion to share it. Thebes was more manic than the last time I’d seen her. I knew what that was about. It’s hard not to get a little hysterical when you’re trying desperately to keep somebody you love alive, especially when the person you’re trying to save is ambivalent about being saved. Thebes reminded me of myself when I was her age, rushing home from school ahead of Min so I could create the right vibe, a mood of happiness and fun that would sustain her for another day, or so I thought. I’d mentally rehearse what I thought were amusing anecdotes to entertain her, make her laugh. I didn’t know then that all my ridiculous efforts only brought her further down. Sometimes she would laugh or applaud ­half-­heartedly, but it was always with an expression that said, yeah, whatever, Hattie, nice try, but everything is ­bullshit.

––

My birth triggered a seismic shift in my sister’s life. The day I was born she put her dress on backwards and ran away towards a brighter future, or possibly towards a brighter past. Our parents found her in a tree next door. Had she been planning to jump? She’s been doing that ever since, travelling in two opposite directions at once, towards infancy and death. I don’t know exactly what it was about me. By all accounts before I existed Min was a normal little girl, normal enough. She could pick a direction and stick with it. Our family photo albums are filled, halfway, with shots of Min laughing and smiling and enjoying life. And then, suddenly, I’m in the picture and Min’s joy evaporates. I’ve spent hours staring at those photos trying to understand my sister. Even in the ones in which I don’t appear it’s easy to see by Min’s expression that I am just beyond the lens, somewhere nearby.

Min’s had good days, some inexplicable breaks from the madness, periods of time where she functions beautifully and life is as smooth as glass, almost. The thing I remember most clearly about Cherkis, Thebes’s and Logan’s dad, is how nuts he was about Min and how excited he’d get when Min was on the ­up-­and-­up, taking care of business and acting normal. I liked that about him, but it also broke my heart because he had no idea of the amount of shit that was about to fly. Eventually, though, he did come to understand, and he did what I did, and what so many others in her life have ­done.

He ­left.

Min had a vague notion of where he’d gone. At first it was Tokyo, about as far away as you can get from here without being on your way back. He moved around the Pacific Rim, and then Europe for a while, South America, and then South Dakota. He’d call sometimes to see how the kids were doing, how Min was doing, if she wanted him to come back. No, she didn’t, she said, every time. And if he tried to take the kids she’d kill herself for real. We didn’t know whether this was a bluff or not, but nobody wanted to challenge it. They were all she had, she told him. Cherkis wasn’t the type of guy to hire a lawyer and fight for custody. He told Min he’d wait until the kids were old enough to decide for themselves and take things from there. He didn’t want to rock Min’s boat. He didn’t want anybody getting ­hurt.

I moved to Paris, fled Min’s dark planet for the City of Lights. I didn’t want to leave her and the kids but the truth is she scared me and I thought she might be better off without me, too. Especially if I was the embodiment of her particular anguish. It had been hard to know whether to stay or go.

It’s impossible to move through the stages of grief when a person is both dead and alive, the way Min is. It’s like she’s living permanently in an airport terminal, moving from one departure lounge to another but never getting on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself that I’d do anything for Min. That I’d do whatever was necessary for her to be happy. Except that I’m not entirely sure what that would ­be.

So the next best thing to being dead was being far away, at least as far as Paris. I had a boyfriend, Marc, and a job in a bookstore, and occasionally I’d go home, back to Manitoba, to Min and Thebes and Logan, for Christmas or the odd birthday, or to help with Min if she was in a really bad patch, but of course that was complicated because I never knew whether I should be there or ­not.

I wanted to be an artist, in Paris, or a psychiatrist. Sometimes I’d haul a giant pad of sketch paper and some charcoal pencils to the square in front of the Louvre or wherever the tourists were and I’d offer to sketch them for free. I didn’t feel right about charging anybody, because I wasn’t really doing a good job. In every sketch, it didn’t matter if I was drawing the face of a man or a woman or a kid, I’d include a detail from Min’s face, from what I could remember at that precise moment. Sometimes it was the shape of her eyebrows, or her wide lips, or a constellation of tiny freckles, or even just a shadow beneath the cheekbone. The people I sketched were always slightly confused and disappointed when I showed them my work, I could tell, but most of them were kind, especially because I didn’t expect any ­payment.

Our father died in a drowning accident in Acapulco when Min and I were kids. He drowned trying to save us. We’d been racing and had swum out farther than we should have and Min had started panicking, screaming for help. The current was strong and we couldn’t get back to the shore no matter how hard we pushed against the water. I remember yelling at Min to move sideways and to let go of me. After that, my memory of events is blurry. I have a feeling that Min was pushing me down, under water. I think that I remember her hand on my head, or on my shoulder, but maybe I’m wrong. Our mother told us that Dad had heard our screams and had swum out to get us, but that he too had got caught in the undertow and disappeared. They said it was a riptide. Other people on the beach eventually grabbed a boat from somewhere and rescued us, but by then Dad was gone. Min was fifteen and I was nine. They left us lying in the sun on the beach, crying and vomiting up salt water, while they searched for ­him.

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Lily and Taylor

Lily and Taylor

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook

After her older sister is murdered in a horrific incident of domestic abuse, Taylor begins a new life in a new town. She meets Lily, whose open, warm manner conceals a difficult personal life of her own, coping with her brain-injured mother. The two girls embark on a tentative friendship. But just when life seems to be smoothing out, Taylor's abusive boyfriend, Devon, arrives on the scene, and before they know it, the girls find themselves in a situation that is both scary, and incredibly danger …

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