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All My CanLit Boyfriends

By 49thShelf
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rated!
tagged: valentines
These are some of the boys in CanLit I used to go out with. Thanks to our friends on Twitter for some other excellent suggestions!
The Clay Girl

The Clay Girl

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Excerpt

ONE

 

My sister-house collapsed—again. Our aunties collected us up.

 

St. Patrick’s midnight bells shiver up my neck hairs. I quiet-step over my sleeping sisters, sneaking through Auntie Elsie’s front door to the wishing sewer. Carved on the iron grate is 1953, the year I came out of the water and became a girl. I release one smooth stone, a wish. Pebble small, pebble white, let me stay here all my nights.

Second stone carries a spell. Abra-can’t-grab-ya, no beans can have ya.

Third stone, an offering, a prayer. Oh, suffering children Lord, deliver us from Aunt Moral Corruption. Sacrifice swallowed. There, that’s done it, Jasper. We’ll be okay now.

Back inside, I crawl into the spy cave, resting my cheek on a rug that smells like an old man’s suit.

Tires ringing over the grate snap me up. I peek through the curtains. A car marked POLICE MONTRÉAL creeps like a panther against the curb. Bleedin’ Jesus, they’re back.

Auntie’s slippers slap down the hall to the knock. Boots, big as tool boxes, step in, crushing the blue flowers on the runner. “Just checking everything’s settled, ma’am.”

“Their mother is at St. Mary’s and we’ve made arrangements for the girls.”

“You hear of these things, but you never think . . . Hope things improve.”

“Well, they can’t get worse.”

Hear that, Jasper? No worses. We’re staying.

In the kitchen Auntie hums “Joyful, Joyful” and motes swirl on the sunstream like they know the words by heart.

Sister number one skedaddles out the front door and into Scotty Davenport’s convertible.

I duck when Reverend Lowry swoops in like an angry owl, snatching sisters two and three, walloping them with a prayer before leaving, “And for these lambs, so scarred by man’s depravity, give strength and travelling mercies. Amen and amen.”

Down the path they go, shoulders freshly loaded with the sins of our father who aren’t in heaven.

Aunt Dolores pulls into the empty spot by the curb. Sister four bounces away. “Hey, Auntie Dee, you get the pick of the Appleton tree.”

Sister five slips out the back door without making a sound.

Mr. Whiskers chases rainbows sprinkled on the rug from the fancy vase. Look, Jasper, a sign, like when the Almighty delivered Noah.

Tell me the boat story, Hari.

Um, one night, a slice of moon fell into the ocean. Kangaroos welcomed us aboard Jasper’s Jewel. We sailed to Kentucky where all the reindeer wore blue sweaters and—

“Hariet.” Aunt Elsie tilts the green velvet chair. “Come on out, now. Mrs. MacLaren is here. Where’s your coat?”

“At the MacLaren’s. Under Jinxie’s head.”

“It’s near freezing today.” A grey sweater is sacrificed from the back of the closet. “You know, we wish we could keep you, too, but one is all we can manage and Jennah needs to be near her job.” Auntie’s pretty fingers triple roll the sleeves. “There, how’s that?”

The wool is the prickly kind. “Spectacular, Auntie.”

 

At the train station I wait where I’ve been told to stay put. I can’t see the dragon’s tail, but a worrisome blackness puffs from nose to middle. Cripes, Jasper, it’s coughing like Grandpa before he went to meet his baker. Riding a red-nosed dragon train to the ocean twists Jasper with excitement. I shove him down. You forgetting the horrification waiting at the end? Indescriptable acts upon my person, that’s what.

Mrs. MacLaren comes hurrying down the platform with the ticket and takes me by the hand to feed me to the dragon. “Up you get.” The step is half as high as me, which would be no trouble except for the situation under my dress. “Come on, Hariet, you’re too heavy for lifting.”

I oblige, hoisting up my eight years of flesh and bone.

“Good Lord, child, where are your panties?”

“Jory got the last ones.” One thing learned being smallest of six: you get what you get and most times you don’t.

She sacrifices fifty cents. “No time now. If you see a five-and-dime could you manage to buy a pair?”

If I can travel my lone self from Montreal to Halifax to Sydney, I can buy underwears. They’ll be pink . . . no, green, with little flowers. “Mrs. MacLaren?”

“Yes?”

A salt-moon winks on my scuffy shoe as I tap the metal step like a world famous rocket dancer.

“Spit it out.”

“Is Daddy in a whale like Jonah?”

“He’s where he can’t hurt anyone ever again.”

“But what if his going hurts in my belly?”

“Just drink some warm milk and you’ll be fine.”

“Mrs. MacLaren?”

“What is it now?”

“Jinxie likes her white ear scratched best.”

“Soon as your mummy is on her feet you’ll be back scratching her ear yourself. Off you go now and find a seat.”

I can read so I know the brass-buttoned ticket-puncher is William. Jasper quivers in my pocket. Don’t be scared. Mr. Brassbuttons is just a walrus with a fancy biscuit tin on his head.

“Ticket, miss.” I dig inside Grandma’s broke-strap carryall, past my swirl-coloured ball, Jasper’s matchbox bed, toothbrush, bottle of hero ashes, and mittens that Grandma knit, to reach the ticket. “Quite the journey you’re taking. Someone meeting you in Halifax?”

“No. My Auntie Moral Corruption is collecting me in Sydney.”

“Who?”

“After my sisters got doled out she was the only one left.” I heave the God-have-mercy load off my chest. “Beans. There’s big trouble with them.”

“There’s no trouble in beans, little miss. Settle in. You’ve a long haul ahead, but there’s nothing like October pictures from a train to pass the miles.”

Walruses have lovely whiskers and a lot of goodness tucked in their folds. I push back the stress-curls forever jouncing out of my braids. “You got kids?”

“Three little misses and a mister.”

Well, there’s a universe of a letdown, Jasper. He won’t be wanting another miss.

A stop brings travelers hurrying for seats. A green-suited badger. A silky Siamese, her parfum d’lilac tail brushing noses down the aisle. A plaid-vested beaver risks sitting with a half-dressed Hariet. Not that the lady has big teeth, she’s just the busy kind that thought to pack a good lunch, plus she knows about dams, and that too many paper cones of water has me at bursting. “Come on, little dearie, facilities are this way.”

I’ve never had anything so shocked with tongue pleasers as what Mrs. Beaver stuffed between two pieces of bread. “Thanks, lady, this is spectacular.”

“And where are you from?”

“The sister-house is where I live most the time.”

“Like a convent?”

“Nothing like. There’re no grey nuns with rulers. In my sister-house, June makes the walls. Jory is the roof. Jillianne is the floor. Jennah, she’s the windows, fluttery with lacey curtains. And Jacquie is the yellow door. And Jasper and me tuck ourselves safe inside and tell stories.”

“Well, yes. I’m sure you do.” She licks her hankie and swipes mustard from my cheek. “You’re awfully little to be travelling on your own.”

“My mummy’s sick with a conniption. Auntie Elsie’s keeping Jennah. Grandma’s puttin’ up with June and Jacquie. Auntie Dolores nabbed Jory. Jillianne and my dog are with Mrs. MacLaren. But Jasper’s come along with me.”

“Jasper your brother?”

“No, ma’am, my seahorse.”

“Let me guess, your name is Jane or Jessie?”

“I was a hoped-for Joshua. Everyone said with another girl my daddy had a string of jewels.”

“Ah, so it’s Jewel.”

“No, Hariet. A one r Hariet. Mummy messed up the papers on account of I used up her neverlasting nerve.”

“Bet your father is Harold then.”

“No, Vincent.”

“And where is he?”

“Um . . . incarcerated in a Turkey prison.”

“Why?”

“For . . . poaching tigers.”

“Really?”

Don’t tell he put a bustard in Jacquie’s oven or we won’t get another brownie.

“What really happened is . . . this flash tidal wave reared up and he drowned trying to save my dog who fell into the vast Saint Lawrence. Jinxie washed ashore downriver but a giant otter dragged Vincent out to sea.”

A consoling brownie lands in my hand. “And where will you be staying?”

“With Auntie Mary Catherine and her lady friend. They eat little girls like bean burritos, but everyone else was already too full up with me. You got kids?”

Mrs. Beaver opens a photographic accordion of kids dancing ballet and blowing at birthday candles. The pictures make a grey-socked, one r’d Hariet wish she hadn’t swallowed the second brownie.

 

“Let’s get you comfy for the night.” William Walrus makes a bed on two seats with sheets that don’t smell a bit of piss or snot and a pillow so feather-puffed a thousand eider-ducks must be naked somewhere. He gives me three digestives and warm milk. On the strawberry side of his chocolaty hand he writes: 1961. “You know what this is, little miss?”

“The year of our Lord?”

“Watch old William’s hand.” He turns it right around. “See? The whole world can get turned upside down and this year still lands right. There’s good ahead. Old William sees it.”

“You see a store to buy underwears for fifty cents?”

“There’s an hour between trains tomorrow and I know just the place. Hunker down this way so you’ll see the sky when you wake.”

When riding a dragon, chomp-chomp, chomp-chomp, chomp-chomping away the miles from where you came there’s nothing nicer than a walrus singing, “There’s a place for you, somewhere a place for you. Peace and quiet and underwears. Take my hand and we’ll buy a pair . . .

 

Mrs. Kramer of Kramer’s General Store is a hen clucking over my circumstances. My new panties are white with a tiny pink flower and a green bow so I get everything I ever wanted.

“Lord a tunder, darlin’, Sydney’s too cold this time a year for bare legs. On with these woolies.” She snaps me into tights like Dr. Herbert takes to a glove.

It’d be nice living with a wing-over-the-shoulder hen. “You got kids, Mrs. Kramer?”

“Comin’ out my ears.”

“Oh.” I hold up the fifty cents. “I can special deliver the rest once I get settled.”

She plucks a quarter. “This’ll do it, with change for a sweet.”

 

William Walrus tucks a wrapped sandwich into my carryall. “This train will take you right to Sydney.”

I hug him big. “Thank you, mister. It’s been spectacular knowing you.”

“Hang onto that little fellow riding with you.”

“Jasper?”

“He’ll lead you to your heart’s double.” He buttons my sweater. “And your true home.”

 

With my bum snugged into blue woolies I’m set for anything, even the devil herself. Binocular-eyed, I search for a wolf or a serpent.

“Hello, sweetheart.” She sneaks up from behind. “I’m Mary. Just look how you’ve grown.” She’s transfigurated into a gentle-Jesus-sweet-’n-mild getup, but Hariet Appleton knows about the snake hiding under the little sweetheart.

“Under this sweater I’m scrawnier than a starving weasel. Dr. Herbert says there’s not much on me worth eating, and for certain I’d give a body heartburn.”

“Is your trunk inside?”

“Wasn’t much for bringing.”

“You’re shivering. Come on, there’s a blanket in the truck.”

No matter how hard I swallow, my bally lunch scrambles up, landing a whisker away from Auntie’s red shoe.

“You’re safe here, I promise.” She offers a tissue. “Come meet your cousins.”

“You’ve got kids?”

Three exuberant mutts leap from the truck. “This is Hoover, Cork, and Wabi-sabi.”

“Can I ride in back with them?”

“The road can be a little bump-and-throw, but Wabi loves a lap up front. Let me get a bucket in case your tummy ups it again.” She moves butterfly-over-flower quiet. A fat rope of hair hangs to her bum and the escaping curls are more like a party than a stress.

“If you’re my mummy’s big sister how come you’re younger?”

“Your mummy’s had a lot of hard things.”

Wabi has one ear up and white splotches like paint spilled on her black fur. “Could she ever sleep with me?”

“She’ll have your bed warmed before you climb in.” I sometimes wondered where Mummy’s smile went and here it is on Auntie Mary Catherine’s face.

On the long drive, Jasper wraps his tail around an escaping curl and near unscrews my head from its connecter. Look, over there. Mmm, smell that. Oh, what’s that?

“You okay, Hariet?”

“You grow jewels here?”

“You’re seeing the sun on the ocean. Just so happens it’s in our backyard.”

Up ahead, a painted roof on a fat grey barn looks like the tin has been peeled back to let fish swim in the sky. Oh, don’t you wish we could live there? Like the god-listeners hear us the truck turns into the lane. A stone-faced house with two big window eyes says hello. Jasper’s nose squishes against the windsheild. Look, it has a yellow door.

“Well, here we are.”

“It’s . . . it’s like the sister-house.”

“Where’s that?”

“Inside the locked room.”

She hushes my hair like she knows everything about outsides and ins.

Jasper, there’s a pot boiling somewhere, sure as sure.

 

TWO

 

I wait, like Gretel, for the beanwitches to pitch me into the oven. Fourth morning, first light, Auntie’s friend, Nia, comes for me. She’s a polar bear, all tall and silky white. “Hariet, come meet my friends.”

Jasper bows his head. Our father who harps in heaven . . .

“Here, put on my sweater.”

Forgive us our messes . . .

“Be very quiet.”

Yea though I walk to the belly of—Bambis?

Outside the back door, Bambis gather. Auntie Mary is the mother deer, offering apples, and quiet-like they take them from her hand. Long grass glitters all fairy feathers and the ocean looks like the dragon dropped his whole treasure load. Hariet Appleton lives with a polar bear and a deer in a house that smells like Christmas at Mrs. MacLaren’s. “Do you have kids, Auntie Nia?”

“No, but I always wanted a little girl.”

“To eat like a bean burrito?”

“Just to teach her things I know. Have her teach me back.”

“Could you teach me to feed the deer?”

An apple slice smiles into my open hand. “Walk slow to them. If they startle and run, just joy in watching. They’ll come back.”

 

Auntie Nia spreads out Scrabble squares. “You keep working and by January you’ll be ahead of all the grade threes.”

“Jacquie’s the smartest Appleton. I’m dirt stupid.”

“Watch your mouth, you hear. You’re clay, not dirt.” Auntie Mary pulls cookies from the oven. “One cookie for three words.”

I spell: SEAHORSE, JASPER, MARY, NIA, INX.

“You want two cookies, do you?”

“I want another J for Jinx. You have nice names.”

“My given name is Eugenia. Always hated it. Mary found me Nia. It means shining purpose.”

Oh . . . a silvery dolphin.

“Could you find one for me, Auntie Mary?”

She mixes HARIET tiles. “How about RITA?”

“What does it mean?”

She checks a big book. “Pearl.”

“That’s nice, I guess.”

Jasper pokes, Oyster insides aren’t near as good as shiny dolphins.

“Well, merciful heavens, look what’s been hiding in your name all along.” She spells A-R-I. “It means lion. It can also mean eagle.” She lifts my chin. “Ari Lioneagle. Suits you.”

 

Pleasant Cove’s grade three/four teacher has paint splatters on her white runners and hair bursting wind-happy red.

“Mrs. Brown,” says Auntie Mary, “this is my niece, Ari.”

“Well, aren’t you a bright penny.”

“Your turkeys are spectacular.”

“Pardon?”

I point to the apple turkeys with marshmallow heads lining the windowsill.

“So happens, I’m one short.” She plunks me down with supplies. “Trace your hand on the paper then cut it out.”

They walk to the door for some shushed-up hallway talk.

Mrs. Brown comes back, situating her bottom into a chair. “Your auntie will be back at three thirty. How about you and I get to know each other before the others arrive. What were you learning at your old school?”

“Well . . . I didn’t have much time for regular school ’cause . . . I was in Siberia hunting pandas.”

“And did you catch any?”

“No, ma’am. They’re good hiders.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well . . . my daddy got sick with frostbite so I captured some wild huskies and made a sled out of a crashed airplane door and mushed him across the tundra to a hospital in Mexico.”

Mrs. Brown snatches me from my chair like a lizard takes a fly. “Glory beaver, you’re a story weaver.”

Her chest clouds under my cheek. Jasper, look at all her goodness poking out the sides of the chair.

 

My stick loops in the water, churning out sister-mail. Dearest Jennah, June, Jacquie, Jory, and Jillianne: Moral Corruption is turning out to be a stupendous place to wait out the glorious revampment of the Appletons. I’ve got a job earning a whole dollar a week collecting shore treasures with my best-ever friend Sadie O’Shaughnessy.

The aunties’ old barn is a skyfish gallery, where driftwood becomes mystical beings with sea-glass eyes and red dirt changes into turtles swimming from the sides of shiny pots.

There’s more musical wonder here than at the First Pentecostal on Hallelujah-Jesus-is-Risen Sunday. Huey and Jake fiddle and have me clogging out the Lioneagle dance. It all sets a body wondering why the Almighty is so spit-faced mad at the aunties for the less beans horrification.

Sadie settles on the rock beside me. “Sending story waves to your sisters again?”

“Yeah.” I open my hand in the little rock pool. “Have a swim, Jasper.”

“Jasper’s magic, ain’t that right, Ari? Can he rides in my pocket for a while?” Sadie knows about pocket friends. She lives two plots over with Huey Butters and his Missus. Huey and the Missus go together like a strong mast and a fat-bottomed boat, a perfect pair for stormy seas. Sadie told me they had a son never returned from war, one lost to the sea, and a wee girl buried in the churchyard. The Butters’ house is filled with a half-dozen of other people’s kids. Sadie says it’s the best place she’s ever stayed and, like me, she’s stayed around a lot.

 

Day’s end lands me in a forest-scented room where logs sleeping one atop the other make my walls. The ocean hush, hush, hushes up over the cliff, sneaking along the grass, through the window and into my breath. I wonder if the dragon hid me inside his mountain and no one knows where I am. Not that I want to be found, just maybe wanting to know that some persons notice I’m missing.

Auntie Nia asks, “Having trouble sleeping?”

I say yes because that brings honey-vanilla chamomile tea and a story about Ari Lioneagle’s adventuring. Then, a whispered prayer, you’re a treasure girl, and nothing that anybody did, nothing that happened was ever your fault.

“Is there a God of our Mothers?”

Auntie Nia sparkles in the moonspill from the window. “Of course. You’ve seen her breath on the morning grass.” She unburies my face from its stressload of hair. “Sleep now.”

“Auntie, walruses know secrets.”

“Aye, they do. Listen and they’ll whisper you to dreams.”

 

Auntie Nia makes clattery kitchen noise to let me know I’m welcome on the morning hunt. She says I’ve an eye for the creatures hiding in the driftwood that the sea ladies leave for us overnight. “Does the sun’s mother yell at him for spilling all this colour?”

Her pale eyes soak up the rainbows filling the new-day ocean. “It’s her who kicks him out of bed saying, ‘Make me another pretty picture.’”

“The sun has a nice mother, eh.” I push up a smooth curve of wood, taller than me. “Look, a dancing porpoise.”

“Is there any better find to start the day? Let’s go spill some colour on it.”

Back at Skyfish, Auntie Nia sets to coaxing an ocean fairy out of an arch of driftwood with sandpapery hands, two Band-Aids covering yesterday’s nicks.

Mummy’s hands were like the row of pink pencil crayons at Ted’s Hobby Shop, sharp and perfect.

Jasper rides the turn of Auntie Mary’s wheel as her mucky hands birth a pot. The clay bits she trims away are mine. Sometimes a fat chunk, like an extra serving of cake, drops my way and Auntie winks. It feels live-earth as I pat it flat. I make stars or moons or suns with tin cutters, fancying them up with pearly shell bits, sea-smoothed glass and glazes. Auntie tucks them in the kiln whenever there’s room and you just never know what surprises will come out. Big mitts protect her hands as she lifts out a tray.

“Your pots are spectacular, Auntie.”

Nia says, “Because Mary knows the clay has the spirit of a child in it.”

“Like a ghost?”

“No, it’s mouldable, a ball of possibilities. And clay absorbs water, same as you soaking up everything in your path. And with a little added grit, but not too much, the clay becomes stronger.”

“Will you teach me?”

“After this order is shipped, we’ll start lessons. You’re going to make a great potter.”

Yellow balloons float from my belly to my heart. “Really?”

“Look at these.” Mary shuffles the bits on a tray. “They’re pretty enough to sell. What are you going to do with them?”

“They’re for my birthday. I’m just waiting on something from Huey.”

 

I unpocket the agreed-upon dollar for twelve brass rings and fishing line. Huey pushes back my hand. “No need, dolly. I got the materials for free. It just took a little bend and solder.”

Mrs. Butters snatches up the dollar, tucking it between her sugar-sack mammers. “Now, girlie, what’s you a doin’?”

“Making presents. Auntie Mary read me The Hobbit. They give gifts on their birthdays.”

Before the clock reaches bedtime, twelve chimes hang from the rafters. They tinkle fairy-like when the oldest foster, Jake, opens the door, all tired and fish-soaked. He looks up. “That’s a pretty sound to come home to.” He loads a bowl with down-home stew and opens a homework book. Music always taps in his foot and sweetness stirs in his butterscotch eyes. Jasper says I’ll marry him when I’m filled out as beautiful as Jennah. He looks up from his book. “Come out on the boat Saturday, if you like. I’ll show you a family of pilots.”

“Won’t they be drowned by then?”

His cheeks pink like raspberry ice cream. “They’re a kind of whale.”

“Do they fly?”

“In their own way.”

Mrs. Butters’ busy hands turn out a warm sock. “Huey will see you safe home, now.”

Sadie takes one hand and Huey the other and we set sail. The big night speaks in rustles and hoots asking for a song to light the road home and we oblige.

Her eyes they shone like the diamonds

You’d think she was queen of the land

And her hair hung over her shoulder

tied up with a black velvet band

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Why it's on the list ...
"So many in The Clay Girl! Len (Ari’s stepfather), Ari's teacher, & a beautiful Cape Breton boy who loves her."
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The Fire-Dwellers
Why it's on the list ...
"Luke from The Fire Dwellers. So terrible but also so great."
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The English Patient
Excerpt

She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. There is another gust of wind, a buckle of noise in the air, and the tall cypresses sway. She turns and moves uphill toward the house, climbing over a low wall, feeling the first drops of rain on her bare arms. She crosses the loggia and quickly enters the house.

In the kitchen she doesn't pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.

She turns into the room which is another garden--this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling. The man lies on the bed, his body exposed to the breeze, and he turns his head slowly towards her as she enters.

Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet. She wets a washcloth and holding it above his ankles squeezes the water onto him, looking up as he murmurs, seeing his smile. Above the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone.

She has nursed him for months and she knows the body well, the penis sleeping like a sea horse, the thin tight hips. Hipbones of Christ, she thinks. He is her despairing saint. He lies flat on his back, no pillow, looking up at the foliage painted onto the ceiling, its canopy of branches, and above that, blue sky.

She pours calamine in stripes across his chest where he is less burned, where she can touch him. She loves the hollow below the lowest rib, its cliff of skin. Reaching his shoulders she blows cool air onto his neck, and he mutters.

What? she asks, coming out of her concentration.

He turns his dark face with its gray eyes towards her. She puts her hand into her pocket. She unskins the plum with her teeth, withdraws the stone and passes the flesh of the fruit into his mouth.

He whispers again, dragging the listening heart of the young nurse beside him to wherever his mind is, into that well of memory he kept plunging into during those months before he died.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Why it's on the list ...
"Kip in The English Patient"
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The Romantic

The Romantic

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged : literary
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
"I weep even typing this: Abel from Gowdy's THE ROMANTIC. (My tastes lean towards tragic) "
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Friend of My Youth

Friend of My Youth

Large Print Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
'Also! I was very hot for Victor in Alice Munro's story "oranges and apples"'
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Son of a Trickster
Excerpt

THE FOOD OF WORMS

Jared hadn’t realized he loved his dog until they decided to put her down. His mom and the vet agreed on a time, like her euthanasia was just a regular appointment. While he went to school, Baby would stay at the vet’s, sedated. In a way, he wanted them to do it right now, so it wouldn’t be hanging over them all day, but he was kind of glad there were rules to follow. Jared scratched Baby’s head. She was the result of a pit bull mixed with a boxer, a heavy, deep-chested dog with scraggly ears from a fight with her brother. Her fur was mottled orange, black and grey, a squiggly pattern like a toddler had coloured her with fading markers. Her face looked like it had been flattened by a shovel. She farted constantly from a diet of cheap dog food and a tendency to eat whatever landed on the floor. She had once shat marbles. Baby wheezed like a hardened smoker and then coughed. Jared’s throat tightened. The room blurred as his eyes watered. He swallowed loudly. Baby roused from the exam table and licked his arm. Jared leaned his head against hers.

“I’ll give you folks a moment,” the vet said.

After he left, Jared’s mom sat, shoving her hands deep in the pockets of her leather jacket. The fluorescent lights hummed. His mom’s left leg jiggled impatiently. Jared wiped his nose on his sleeve. The harder he tried not to cry, the more he cried. The painted concrete walls echoed his sniffling back at him.

“I’m going for a smoke,” his mom said.

Baby thumped her tail when his mom came over to squeeze Jared’s shoulder. His mom’s eyes darted around the room, but she avoided meeting his. Normally, she’d be telling him sixteen was way too old to be acting like a big fucking wuss, but they could hear the vet and the receptionist talking in the front room, so she stayed quiet. She patted her jeans as she walked out. Probably forgot her lighter in the truck.

The world is hard, his mom liked to say. You have to be harder.

Baby licked his cheek.

“Gonna miss you,” Jared whispered in her ear.

Baby lifted a leg and farted. Jared laughed, and then it turned into crying that faded into more sniffling. His heart was a bruise because Baby’s heart was full of worms. The X-rays showed them curled in its chambers like glowing balls of wool. Time stretched and folded so it went both too fast and too slow. After his mom finished smoking, she’d come back and drive him to school. He hugged Baby hard and she grumbled. He wasn’t going to be alone after she died, but the world was going to be a lonelier place without her.

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Why it's on the list ...
"Jared from Son of a Trickster"
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