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Alberta Book Publishing Awards Shortlists 2018

By 49thShelf
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Established in 1994, these annual awards recognize and celebrate the best of the Alberta book publishing industry. The winners of the 2018 Alberta Book Publishing Awards will be announced at a gala reception at the Hotel Arts in Calgary on September 14, 2018.
Fail Safe
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Book Design, and Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry
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Orchard Keepers, The

Excerpt from The Wheel Keeper

In our family a story is told of a child who went through the wheel of Roca D'Avola and was returned into the arms of her mother.

Many infants who went through the wheels of southern Italy died within a year.

So it was remarkable that Manice lived.

And only because of the help of the wheel keeper -- a Scottish slater of eighteen, my grandfather.

Children vanish. They vanish through doors, under stairs, in the branches of apricot trees. They can be seen on the railroad bridge, on a catwalk of wooden planks, the river far below.

In a dream I have my mother rises from her bed, floats away. I grip her by the ankle to pull her down. In another dream my father is absorbed into the alcove wall of our apartment on the street of the grandmothers. The wall takes him in like water.

The night my cousin Anna -- ill with appendicitis -- was brought by ferry across the river, I was standing on nostra nonna's porch roof. Anna was my aunt Manice's daughter. I'd parted our kitchen curtains to climb out. I could smell smoke from across the river. Less used, the doors. You take a heap of stone and planks, you put it together and you have a house.

What is a house that goes as far as a breath?

It's for human beings to live in, Anna.

Excerpt from House of Spells

I get paid to watch mountains and forests. From the fire lookout on Palliser Mountain I've memorized the peaks, the avalanche tracks, the bends in the river below, the logging roads and cut lines. When anything looks different I see it.

The tower cabin is a standard one-room with a seven-foot ceiling and four walls of four-foot-tall windows, no curtains, the chrome-legged kitchen table and chairs under the east window. My bed is under the south window and my books line the north sill. In the west corner, a sink and a small counter with a bar fridge under it, run on propane. Only the fire finder, a circular table with a topographical map and two sighting apertures, stands above the sills.

I go outside to place my pots of basil on the catwalk banister, watch clouds build over the eastern ridge, beyond the outhouse and the patch of grass the Forest Service calls a garden. Below I can see three horses at the foot of the mountain, a grey and two buckskins, the ones Mr. Giacomo lost earlier this summer.

Sometimes in that morning light an avalanche track can look like a column of smoke. Golden conifer pollen drifts over the Slocan gorge, wisps of river fog rise off the hidden bend of the Palliser. Low clouds blow up over the eastern ridge like water flowing uphill.

Now that I'm alone, memories float in and out of my mind. I've assisted my mother at two births, one in the spring of 1969, the other this year. Mrs. Giacomo's was the first birth. Her son was born blue, couldn't be made to breathe. While my mother tried for a long time, her mouth over the baby's nose and mouth, I held Mrs. Giacomo's cold hand and she turned to the wall.

I remember the baby's puckered, bruised eyes, glued shut with a sticky film and its limp, tiny hands. Finally Mrs. Giacomo reached for her child, to take it out of my mother's arms. She could see there was no hope. She took it under the blankets next to her chest and then she drew the blanket over her head.

Even though I was only sixteen years old, I couldn't leave her there alone. I crawled under the blanket to rest my head against her shoulder, and my arms around her felt so weak and useless. She felt like she was covered in ashes. Over her shoulder I could see the face of the still one in her arms. His tiny brow looked puzzled at not entering the living world. His limp hands were delicate, hollow-boned and the skin at his temples pale blue.

Later Mrs. Giacomo would blame my mother for the child 's death. She would say that my mother had not done enough. That was the end of a long friendship.

Then this year Rose's child was born; I was there too.

My name is Lacey Wells and I've got a lot to tell you. I know who the father of Rose's baby is. His name is Michael Guzzo. He left last winter before Rose knew she was pregnant, when the Odin Mill shut down because of the snows. He left to travel in Central America.

I know why Mr. Giacomo wants Rose's baby and why he can't have him. And I want to make sure none of this is forgotten.

Excerpt from Sanctuary

Chiapas, Mexico 198_


For two years he had almost no news from home. Once he heard that Canadians were planning a gold mine in his Department, and he hoped that the Canadian mine would bring his village some measure of prosperity.

He hung out in the streets of zone 18. Because there really wasn't a lot to do most of the time, he learned to play marimba. He was particularly good at the music of his highland mountains that he'd heard since childhood, and was often called on to take a place beside others at the marimba. Soon he found he loved playing marimba more than the money and prestige that came with being a member of Barrio 16. His dream was to return to San Miguel, to play during the festival there. One morning he got up early, the gang members all lived in a house in the 18th district, quietly gathered his things and left, caught the bus to Huehue. From that city he caught another, regional bus to El Tablon, the village of his birth where his mother lived on her small plot of land.

His mother was overjoyed to see him. She led him into the house to cook some kale and beans for him. She looked much better than he remembered her from two years ago. There was new light in her eyes and she had put on weight. The house was surrounded by tall corn, a healthy green that he'd never seen in the family crops before and her little garden of medicinal plants was flourishing.

He asked about his younger brother Carlos. It turned out that, a year earlier, he'd attended a demonstration against the Canadian mine in their Department.

In order to accommodate the mine's need for land, many people were forced to leave their small farms.

Carlos had received a warning that he had been photographed at the demonstration and that it would be best if he left the country.

He'd gone to Los Estados. He was established in Florida and was sending home money regularly.

Because his mother was alone, Bernabe decided to stay on to help with the crops. The festival in San Miguel was a few months away. Besides, he remembered how his father had loved his milpa, how every year he'd give each plant careful attention, and he wanted to know what it felt like, to really care from day to day for the crops you grew. Besides, he was ashamed at abandoning his mother in her grief and wanted to show her that he was worthy of her love and forgiveness.

He was not prepared for the hard work.

He'd grown soft in the Capital during the many idle hours and days of gang life and his hands soon blistered wielding the azadon. His family didn't have the best soil and his azadon would often strike stone, blunting the blade. Soon he was frustrated and angry. One morning he threw down the hoe and his mother, who was working ahead, looked up at him out of her mild, kind eyes. He'd quickly recalled something of the technique of hoeing from his childhood, but his uncalloused hands resisted what they were once capable of. He realized that even a humble task like hoeing takes patience, a lifetime of patience, and he was hoping to impress her with his willing usefulness.

No land welcomes you right away, she said to him then, smiling. The soil takes its own time to trust you, and it's a long time. She picked up the hoe that he'd tossed, carefully brushing the handle and then she handed it back to him.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Book Design
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Searching for Mary Schäffer

Searching for Mary Schäffer

Women Wilderness Photography
also available: Paperback
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Book Design, Nominated for Scholarly and Academic
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What is Going to Happen Next



The same cops this time as the ones who came in June, which is a bad thing, she thinks. She imagines them saying to each other, Not those people again/i>. But a good thing, too, because everything doesn't have to be explained all over again. They don't ask, Where's your mom?

She's been trying to say what happened, but Che and Cliff talk at the same time, interrupting, so nothing can be heard. The older cop says, Get those two out of here, okay?

So then it's just her, Cleo, talking. She's holding Bodhi, and they're sitting on some short logs, there for the purpose, in front of the house. It's early; the sun hasn't quite crested the cedars, and the clearing around the house is chill.

The younger, guy cop says, But don't you need a. . . .

Take them away, says the older cop. His uniform is of thick, shiny material, green-grey-blue. Not organic looking. His hair greying like Dadda's but cut short, bristles at the temple and nape.

He doesn't want any of them in the house while the ambulance guys -- the paramedics -- are working.

Cleo didn't know that when you called an ambulance for this, the police came too. Will Mandalay be mad? Maybe she should have waited for Mandalay to get home from school.

But it's Mandalay's fault this happened. So she can't be mad at Cleo.

Anyway, if she, Cleo, had waited until Mandalay got home to call, she might have got into trouble with the police. When she goes to Myrna Pollard's to collect Bodhi, the television is on and it's often a detective show and people get into a lot of trouble if they don't disclose information right away. A police car has been sent to get Mandalay. A squad car, on t v. Dispatched. Cleo wonders if it has arrived yet, if Mandalay is being told, if she is shocked, crying. How long for the squad car to get to the high school, in Port Seymour? She sees Mandalay getting off the bus, the police officer waiting there, saying her name, the other kids turning to look at her. Mandalay pausing, foot still on the lowest stair. But no: Mandalay must have arrived before the call, logically. She changes the picture: The knock on the classroom door, Mandalay called out into the hallway, the rows of orange-painted lockers, the scuffed beige linoleum. Mandalay in the back of the police car, weeping.

She looks over to the squad car parked in their front yard, Che and Cliff wrestling over the steering wheel, the younger cop's face.

The older cop says, Now, walk me through it all again.

Cleo is afraid she will contradict herself. She knows from the detective shows that you can get into trouble for that, too. I went to get Dadda up, she says. It was eight forty-five and we needed to leave for school so I went to wake him up to drive us. She keeps the image in her head now firmly glued to the clock beside her bed -- her clock that she had asked for and got for her birthday, the only clock in the house -- and the boys sitting in a row on the bed, all dressed properly and clean, forbidden to move.

That was the deal. Some mornings Daddy just needed to sleep in. Had a bad night, his back was killing him. Give me ten minutes warning, he said. So Mandalay would leave, running down the driveway to catch the high school bus for Port Seymour and Cleo would get herself and everyone else ready, the boys into their jeans and T-shirts and jackets, and herself into whatever was in the basket, which might not be much if she hasn't done some laundry the day before and if Mandalay has beaten her to it. Mandalay doesn't remember to do laundry and she wears what Cleo was planning to wear. Dadda says, Don't do all of the laundry, let your sister learn the natural consequences of her actions. But he also says, No personal property in the form of clothing. So there isn't much choice.

Get herself dressed in whatever is semi-clean and mended and then wake up Dadda and he would put on his pants and find his glasses and the truck keys. And if Dadda was going to be working that day, Bodhi needed to be dropped off at Myrna's. So all of them climbing into the cab, and Bodhi on Cleo's lap.

But this morning.

A great tiredness washes over her, like sand-warmed waves at the beach. The tide coming in. That feeling, the whole ocean seeping into to the bay, the water warmed and lulling.

So you tried to wake your dad up, the cop prompts. What happened then?

Bodhi wriggles away from Cleo and goes after the cop. She should get those diapers washed out. Dadda does his own and the boy's laundry. Even Bodhi's diapers, usually. He takes the wet clothes out to the line, his height meaning he doesn't have to stand on a stump like Cleo does, and pins them up. He says, hanging out clothes is an art, Cleo. You want to put your attention into it. You want to find the Zen of it.

Come on, Cleo, says the cop, plucking Bodhi up at arm's length, sort of like he's lifting up a muddy dog. I know this isn't fun. But just run through it for me one more time, and we'll be done.

I'm twelve, Cleo says, meaning, don't talk to me like I'm a baby. She sees the cop's face sag, lose some of its resolution.

Twelve. That means Dadda was forty-two when she was born. And Mam twenty. And Mandalay is almost fourteen now, which is four years away from eighteen, what Mam was when Mandalay was born. How much older Dadda is than the rest of them! If you add up Mam's age now and Cleo's and Che's, you get Dadda's age. Or instead of Cleo's and Che's ages you could put in Mandalay's and Cliff's.

Her mind running along on two tasks, then: One playing with the numbers of their ages, like beads on an abacus, and the other replaying, for the cop, what had happened that morning. It is the wrong thing, she knows: She's not paying enough attention. Dadda always reminds them to be mindful. Cleo is getting better at it. But she can't do it now -- her mind skitters around the edge of things, won't look at them, won't let them in.

She says again what she said before, on the phone and to the cops and the ambulance guys when they first arrived, coming in the door and then the younger guy cop bolting out quite quickly to throw up under the red-osier dogwood. The smell, he said, coming back in, but she guessed it wasn't just that, the open bucket of Bodhi's cloth diapers, which were getting a bit rank, but also the bucket of chicken guts and heads, which they hadn't put outside because of the bears, and which she should probably bury pretty quickly.

He didn't wake up. I tried shaking his shoulder and talking real loud. Then Che did. But he didn't open his eyes. So I felt his chest, but nothing.

And then finally she is done and now her mind is quiet and she can ask some questions, which are: Is someone going to tell Mandalay? And, what will happen next? Though not the questions burrowing away inside her, burrowing away at some internal organ like her liver: Did we kill Dadda? Did we?

Mandalay's fault because she didn't wash out Bodhi's diapers like she was supposed to and Dadda pretty near bust a gut when he saw the bucket still in the kitchen, reeking, haloed with flies. Him yelling, his face like bricks except for the birthmark patch on his left cheek that looked like the map of Poland and now pulsed purple. Mandalay was supposed to do it when she got home from school, was supposed to wash out the diapers and hang them on the clothesline. Only the clothesline was gone because Che had taken it down again to tie some branches together for a tepee, so Mandalay had said she wouldn't do it, wouldn't wash the diapers, though she, Cleo, had pointed out reasonably that they could be hung on the fence.

No, Mandalay had said. They won't dry fast enough. Which was dumb because they'd dry faster than not washing them at all, and they were nearly out of clean diapers.

Mandalay's fault for being stubborn. And Che's fault for taking the clothesline again.

And then, no dinner till very late because there was nothing in the freezer to cook and Dadda had to kill a chicken and then he did a few more because it was coming fall and better to get the mess over with. Feathers and guts all over the kitchen, and the dog going crazy. Dadda with the axe and sweat darkening the silver hair at his temples to iron and sitting down suddenly.

What's the matter, Dadda?

Just give me a minute.

Then Che jumping off the dresser, he did that kind of thing, and hitting his head, and Dadda trying to hold him down to see if the cut needed a trip to the doctor.

Just a small one. It'll clot up.

And Che howling, howling, so that the house itself seemed to be pounding with a headache and she burnt the potatoes.

Not her fault, with all of that noise.

Cliff crying too, out of hunger or sympathy, you couldn't get a word out of him when he was like that, and falling asleep before dinner, like Bodhi. And then waking up in the night: Get me a sammich an' some milk, Cleo. And herself pretending to sleep, because she didn't want to be birthed yet out of that warm bed into the cold kitchen, and Dadda getting up to feed Cliff and Bodhi, who was awake, too.

Not her fault, though. She had done everything she was supposed to. She, Cleo, had got herself and Cliff dressed and off to school that morning before, like every morning, with a jam sandwich each, had found Bodhi's shoes and Che's homework and made Cliff wash his hands, had fed and dressed Bodhi while Mandalay only had to get herself ready and run for the high school bus.

Then after school she, Cleo, had made sure Che and Cliff got home, rounding Che up from the playground where he was with a huddle of grade seven boys who were pretending to dribble a soccer ball while passing around a joint.

Hey, Cleo, one of them had said. Want to suck on it?

But she had grabbed Che and found Cliff still in his classroom, trying to finish his day's work -- Cliff worked so slowly, he needed learning assistance, his teacher said, but Dadda had said, he's in first grade, for god's sake, let him learn at his own pace. Only this was Cliff's second time in grade one, and he wasn't keeping up even though she, Cleo, made sure he missed hardly any school now.

Making sure Cliff and Che got going toward home, and going down the road to collect Bodhi from Myrna Pollard's place even though Myrna said, as usual, Are you sure you won't leave him till your dad gets home, Cleo? He's no trouble.

But he was her brother. Her and Mandalay's responsibility. Her job to get him home, and she had done it, carrying him on her hip up the road and down their long driveway, balancing the weight of him against her book bag, which swung against her thighs -- the strap was too long.

And that was the best part of the day, walking up the road from Myrna's, with Cliff -- Che usually went off by himself, got home before them -- with Cliff and Bodhi. Herself, with Cliff and Bodhi, telling Cliff a story to keep his feet moving, singing with him one of the grade one songs, like Five Little Ducks, which he felt confident about, this time around.

She did this, every day, after school. It was her job. She had not let Dadda down.

Not her fault.

What happens next is that the social worker comes. This woman is someone they have not met before. She goes into the house and then comes back out right away, her little gauzy scarf with its splashes of red and pink poppies pressed over her mouth and nose. She has a lot of long curly hair, like Mam, only it's silver-grey, and she's wearing a jean skirt and an embroidered top that Mam would have admired. Cleo feels sad about this, but can't decide why.

The social worker's name is Jean. She speaks more quickly, briskly, than people Cleo knows; Cleo thinks she must be from Vancouver.

Five children? Where are the others? For about a second Cleo hates her, but then Jean picks up Bodhi, dirt and all, and puts him on her hip in a comfortable way.

Lewis is entertaining the two boys in the back of the car, the older cop says. We've sent another car to pick up the oldest from the high school.

Great, Cleo says. Three-quarters of my siblings in squad cars at this moment. Then she blushes, because that was a very non-mindful and also inappropriate thing to say, and the older cop and Jean the social worker look surprised. But the cop only says: We don't call them squad cars in Canada.

She knows that. It was a joke. It was from the police dramas on TV at Myrna Pollard's. She has watched a lot of these. It isn't useful -- they are only reruns and not currency for school conversations. It's Che really who likes to stay and watch -- she just does because the TV is on, and Che likes to see them.

They've never had a social worker but she knows what they're for. Dadda said that they didn't need one, at the hospital when Mam went in. He said he could manage fine on his own. I may be an old hippie, he said, but I can manage fine on my own.

That's what Dadda always called himself: an old hippie. When Che asks, as he does about fifteen times a day, why they can't have a TV, Nintendo, why Dadda doesn't have a job in town, but worked odd shifts at the mill, does odd handyman jobs, Dadda says, I'm an old hippie, as if that explained everything. Which it doesn't. Being an old hippie means you don't need the same rules as everyone else, because you are self-sufficient and smarter. But lots of Dadda's friends, leathery-skinned, grey-haired men and women -- lots of them work at regular jobs and have televisions.

When Mam wants to go to a party or shopping or move into town, Dadda says, God, Crystal -- I'm an old hippie. You knew that when you shacked up with me. And when they make too much noise, the boys ricocheting around the cabin and over the sofa and beds, he says, God, you gang. I'm an old hippie. Can we have a little peace and quiet? You are driving me crazy.

When Mam had gone to the psych ward, Che had asked, on the way home in the old station wagon, Did we drive her crazy? And Dadda had said, No, your mother has an illness. She's in reaction to her own toxic upbringing, and they had all nodded, their heads bouncing up and down just out of rhythm with the bouncing of the car seats over the broken highway, and then when they got home Che had climbed up the shed roof and fallen off and broken his arm.

They'd all gone along to the hospital to see Che's arm put in a cast, because Mandalay was in hysterics and wouldn't stay at the house and Cleo didn't want to, either. At the hospital, Che had asked if it was the same hospital where Mam was, and if they could go visit her, but Daddy had said she would be sleeping.

Now Daddy's going to be in the hospital himself. Will someone tell Mam? Cleo is surprised that they will take him to the hospital, but Jean says that's where the morgue is.

Then she asks Cleo to spell their names for her forms, and give their birthdays.

Mam got to name the girls. Mandalay, because she'd heard On the Road to Mandalay on the way to the hospital when Mandalay was born. Mandalay was supposed to be born at home but after forty hours of labour their neighbours had said Mam had better go to the hospital. Cleo was Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. That was from an old movie, Mam said. Then Dadda had named Che. What do you expect? he had said. I'm an old hippie. And Cliff: Cliff was named after Dadda's father, who had died, far away in a state called Indiana. They had never met him, not even known they had a grandfather until Dadda told them he was dead. He was ninety years old, Dadda said.

What about Dadda's mother?

She died when I was younger. She was born in 1900.

Indiana is in the United States. That's where Dadda was born.

Then Bodhi. After the Bodhi tree, of course.

Cleo is spelling the names, and remembering the years that they were all born in, and doesn't see them wheel Dadda out, doesn't notice until the ambulance doors shut with two bangs, and then the ambulance leaves, quite quickly, but without any lights or sirens.

Will someone tell Mam?

Then Mandalay is back, and things shift. Mandalay, when the second police car arrives at the house, leaps out and hugs everyone, weeping, and then changes Bodhi's diaper and makes him a bottle, so that it looks like she is the one who takes care of Bodhi, not Cleo. Then Mandalay pulls some chairs out of the kitchen, and sits with the social worker and the older cop and tells them everything, everything Cleo has not. And they decide -- probably right there -- to let Mandalay have Bodhi.

Cleo could have told the social worker things, but she does not. She hears Jean asking things about Mam, and she sees Jean's face, at the replies: It does not go saggy, like the older cop's, but rigid; only the skin around her eyes softens and thins, and her eyes darken, as if she will take in everything that is told her, and nothing will come out of it. But Cleo knows better.

She hears Mandalay telling about the axe, but she doesn't confirm what Mandalay is saying, nor does she spill the beans about the rest. She wants, she wants to have Jean look at her with those dark, absorbing eyes: Not your fault. But she does not say, because of Mandalay taking over the telling, taking over Jean.

Mandalay tells how through January and February Mam had lain in bed smoking and staring out the window at the rain. And about in March and April when Mam constantly took them on adventures, shaking them awake at dawn, come on, come on, let's pack a lunch and hit the road, Mam's eyes and voice full of laughing, and so the younger kids had jumped out of their bed, Yay! We're going on an adventure! And there would be no school that day unless she, Cleo, managed to hide the car keys, though Mandalay doesn't tell this part.

Cleo had used to go along, had used to get caught up in it, but not now. Now, she knew, missing a bunch of school only meant falling behind, getting confused, getting more work to do. And Mam's adventures were exhausting, more than fun.

In April, they had gone hiking on Knucklehead -- Mam driving them up in the old station wagon to the park gate, then leading them out onto the trails, where they had got caught in a late snowfall, and Daddy had come crashing through the bush, twigs in his big grey beard, looking for them, finding them where they were huddled in some fallen logs, where they would have goddamn frozen to death.

Found them only because Cleo had thought to leave a note on the kitchen table: Gone to hike Knucklehead.

After that, Cleo hadn't gone along -- to the mushroom-picking, to the turtle-catching, to the pirate day. And Mandalay hadn't either -- she had by then got a group of friends at the high school, and preferred hanging with them.

Mam had been mad -- not at Mandalay, but at Cleo -- for not joining their expeditions. Oh, get the stick out of your ass! Teacher's pet! Think you're so smart, eh? Think you're better than the rest of us? And she had gone back to bed all of May.

Dadda said Mam's problem was that she thought she was one of the kids. She didn't want to be responsible. Instead of being nurturing, she was in competition.

And then it was June and school nearly over for the year and Mam had got up, all lardy-assed and stringy-haired, and chased Mandalay around the house with an axe. And Mandalay had called the police.

Mandalay's fault, for calling the police, then. Crystal couldn't run nearly as fast as Mandalay.

Mandalay's fault, for telling the social worker all of this. Cleo had not told.

While Mandalay is crying all over the social worker, Cleo takes a shovel and digs a pretty big hole in the garden where the soil is soft enough to dig, and she tips the pail of chicken guts and heads -- the eyes, filmed over and milky, now, but still staring, into the hole, and the pail of diapers, too, and fills it all in. Then she comes back to the house to find Bodhi asleep in the car seat, and Jean the social worker says, Don't touch him. Don't wake him up. As if Bodhi wasn't Cleo's baby brother. As if she didn't take care of him every day of her life.

So Dadda is taken away in the ambulance, dead because they have all worn him out with their fighting and not taking care of chores, but it is not Cleo's fault.

She sits on the short log while Mandalay talks to the social worker. Cleo is so tired, now: She feels that she has been tired for years, and that she will never not feel tired again. She thinks about Dadda: that he is gone, never coming back. She puts her face down in her lap and wraps her arms around her head so that nobody will see her face, and she thinks about that: Dadda is gone. No more. Gone. All of the fact of him, the bulk of him standing between her and the rest of the world, the kindness in his face when he was not tired, the ways he knows Cleo, as nobody else in the world does.

What is she now, without Dadda? She thinks: Mandalay does not understand this, or the little boys either -- that Dadda is gone. And that is the real problem, not what everyone is worried about now, which is what is going to be done with all of them.

What happens next next, as Che would say, is this: Jean the social worker divides them all up. This is a shock to Cleo, who had assumed they would just stay, and neighbours would help out, at least for the present. That they would continue on as before. But no.

Che goes home with Myrna Pollard, who is suddenly in their yard, wringing her hands and sniffling. When Cleo hears this being arranged, she asks, Why not Bodhi too? He's used to Myrna. But Jean says Myrna Pollard's place isn't suitable for a very young child. Cleo can see that. There aren't railings anymore on her second-floor deck -- Myrna's husband Keith took them down a couple of years ago to replace the rotted boards, and hasn't got them up again -- and there's also a large hole in the Pollard's yard where Keith took out the old septic tank.

But Myrna has been babysitting Bodhi since spring. And she's handy, right next door.

What Cleo hasn't thought out, hasn't realized, is that she, Cleo won't be at this house. She wouldn't be near Myrna Pollard's place, even if Bodhi were there.

Then she understands that Mandalay has been nailing the future shut for all of them. Telling her stories, enjoying the attention, not seeing, as Cleo can see, that she is making sure that Crystal will never be able to come back. Cleo can see it in the social worker's expression. Mandalay doesn't get it. She doesn't see that they need Crystal, that without Crystal, they will not be able to live here again, ever.

Jean says that for now Mandalay and Bodhi will stay with the family of a friend of Mandalay's, in town. And Cleo and Cliff will be taken into temporary care: which means, to go live with strangers. This is all being decided by Jean and Mandalay.

Cleo says, Why can't we just stay here? And at that Jean makes a squinchy shape with her mouth and says, No, that wouldn't be possible. Even though Cleo has been taking care of everything already, even though it could be okay if Mandalay would help out more.

Mandalay says, Cleo. How can we take care of everyone, without parents? And then crumples prettily, like someone in movies, into tears again.

There had been temporary arrangements, and then more permanent ones. They had not had much choice in what happened to them, though they had made things worse for themselves, definitely, by what they had done after Dadda's funeral. You've really cooked your goose now, Myrna Pollard had said, that day.

And of course Mandalay hadn't got to keep Bodhi after all. None of them had.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Book Design
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Darwin's Moving

The trucks are running and ready to go, tidy and loaded with the necessary equipment and supplies. Darwin hands me the paperwork and says that it's me, Jesse and Keith working together. He's on another move with Ricky. He knows nothing about our job other than it is going from Crestmont to Springbank. Big, small, challenging, straightforward--anything could await us. We never really know.

It's the first time I've seen Jesse since he blew up Nazi Bill. Apparently bored at home one day the previous week, Jesse started burning things other than wood in his backyard fire pit. This escalated to aerosol cans and propane tanks. These he threw into the fire before running indoors and filming the result from a window. Bill unwittingly and unfortunately entered the scene just as the explosion occurred, suffering second-degree burns on his face and hands. Jesse pulls out his phone to show Ricky and I the footage. On the small screen of his flip phone little is discernible except the explosion and someone yelling, "What are you doing?!"

"Hey, Snuggles!" Ricky grins at me as he uses my old nickname. "You said you were going to write about me in one of your books." Jesse jumps in with excitement. "Yeah! You said you were going to write a book about me, too!" I insist I made no such promises; they don't care, it's not the point. We laugh and joke about it until it's time to go.

Jesse declares that he is driving, which is fine by me. Driving is, for Jesse, a way to be in charge, and to avoid the boredom that comes to him so easily. Keith, the smallest of us, sits in the middle of the blue truck's bench seat, trying to keep his legs to the side of the stick shift extending from the floor in front of him.

From the Foothills industrial district we take Glenmore to Sarcee and then the Trans-Canada to Canada Olympic Park, or more precisely the McDonald's across from it, where we stop so Keith and Jesse can get breakfast. I stand outside the truck in the cold morning air looking at the ski jumps until they return with sandwiches and coffees and cigarettes and we get back on the highway for the short drive to Crestmont.

Our customer arrives at the house at the same time we do, which is fortunate because the pit stop has made us half an hour late. Shelley is in her early thirties. She is pleasant but clearly stressed. We introduce ourselves and ask her to give us a walk-through of the house. Just off the entryway is a large aquarium full of water and fish. "You guys take these, right?" asks Shelley.

"We don't normally take them when they're full," says Jesse.

He's being kind. Who on earth would think it sensible to take forty gallons of water and living things enclosed in glass on a moving truck? Shelley looks worried. "I didn't bring anything to put them in," she says. We suggest a bucket, or plastic baggies. For a long moment she looks lost. Then she snaps out of it. "Okay, I'll deal with that," and we continue the tour.

There are no boxes, not a one. Shelley and her husband Dan have already moved everything they could to the new house. All that remains is furniture. The house is two storeys plus a basement, just under three thousand square feet. In the basement there is a sectional, an overstuffed chair, a wood armoire, and a long wooden table with a heavy marble top. On the main floor there is a kitchen table with chairs, couches and bookshelves, a TV stand (but the TV stays), and two buffets. Upstairs are the master bedroom and the rooms of their two young daughters, as well as a large office. Aside from the usual bookcases and desks and beds, there are two items of note. One is a large glass terrarium with two box turtles and an armadillo lizard. The other is an eight-foot by eight-foot glass-and-wood cabinet that is clearly quite expensive and heavy. The backyard contains a wooden deck table and barbecue. In the garage is a treadmill.

We set to work, first laying out the floor runners and affixing moving blankets to the railings. Without boxes the lightest things are kitchen chairs and couch cushions, and these we put in the top kick that hangs over the cab of the truck. Either Jesse or I am normally in charge of packing the truck, but he will do it today as his back is in pain. Keith's shoulder injury is also a problem. I hope to myself that we'll be able to finish the job without injury to either movers or furniture.

Keith and I alternate between carrying out one-man pieces separately and two-man pieces together. Jesse packs into the load what we set down in the truck. Packing is an art, a far more difficult job than it seems. It is a giant Tetris game, filling the truck by arranging boxes and furniture into securely fitting layers that we call tiers--except the pieces are irregularly shaped, they need to be protected from damage, their weight must be taken into account, and they don't disappear when you complete a tier. It takes time to maximize efficient usage of space, but on a big move like today, it's crucial.

That said, Jesse is taking more time than he ought and the truck soon gets jammed up with furniture. He blames us for setting pieces down in the centre and not on the sides, which is valid but not really the point. Keith and I take our time to let Jesse catch up on his backlog.

The load goes well and without incident. Shelley manages to empty the aquarium, and we convince her that it will be safer in her vehicle, though we agree to take the turtle habitat minus its inhabitants. Keith and I carry everything, with the exception of the occasional chair or mirror or other small one-man pieces that Jesse grabs as he packs. Nothing is particularly heavy. But now it's time to tackle the big boy.

Jesse prepares the massive cabinet, wrapping it with two pads and then covering it in plastic shrink wrap to aid our grip. Keith's shoulder is already getting worse and, fearful, I quietly ask Jesse to carry the cabinet with me. He says he can't on account of his back--and Jesse never, ever declines a chance to prove his considerable strength, so he must really be hurting--but I insist he stay with Keith just in case the worst happens and the weight becomes too much. He agrees.

Great weight is one challenge, great size another. Combined in one item, these characteristics have their effects multiplied significantly. Anything eight feet tall, eight feet wide and four feet deep is difficult to manoeuvre. As I tip it toward Keith, I estimate it to be around four hundred pounds. Keith is cradling the top of the tilted piece, and I will lift from the diagonally opposite edge, walking backwards. At this angle the width of the piece becomes its height, and the edge I need to carry is hanging high over the stairwell. Too high, in fact, for me to hold the weight in my hands near waist level, which would be the most comfortable and stable position. Instead I must move down two steps and lift the edge with my arms nearly vertical above me, one step at a time. We do this for three steps, and then we must start to turn. To make the corner, Keith has to tilt the cabinet up vertically without losing his grip, and Jesse helps him as I lift and swing at the same time and we set it down smoothly on the landing having turned ninety degrees. Now we have nine more steps to the bottom.

Keith is finding it difficult to carry the piece without the weight tilted toward him. But to tilt it raises the edge I must lift from, and it's too difficult to keep it steady when I must lift it over my head. The size and weight of the cabinet is proving difficult on the stairs. Keith asks for a strap, and Jesse runs out to get it. The orange forearm strap is too short to loop around the bottom of the behemoth. Jesse runs out again and returns with two white piano straps, which he joins together. Wrapping each end of the strap around his wrists, Keith can now lift the piece with the weight tilted further toward me. With great effort we make it to the bottom, and I use the forearm strap so we can carry the cabinet out nearly on its side to clear the front doorway.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Cover Design, and Trade Non-Fiction
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The Larger Conversation

The Larger Conversation

Contemplation and Place
also available: Paperback
tagged : epistemology
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Cover Design
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My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur

"I know this isn't a job for the future, honey, but it's a start, something to give you a little confidence. And you always look more desirable to other employers when you have a job already." She brushed some imaginary lint off my epaulets. "Something better will come along, more to your talents, to your tastes. You just have to give it some time. Don't let it get you down."

"I get it, Mum. I get it, okay? You gave me that same speech this morning before I left for work. You gave it to me yesterday before I went to work. In fact you give it to me every single day before I go to work. I don't need to hear it again. Message relayed loud and clear. Do I have to say roger or something to cut the communication?"

I shouldn't have been so snippy with her. She didn't deserve it. She'd always been right there when I needed her. And I'd needed her plenty once I cruised in on my teens and things started to majorly unravel in my life. I'm not talking your basic, run-of-the-mill teenage angst either. This was of a whole nuther magnitude. Suddenly, when everyone around me was marching right, I was marching left. Then Mum would have to come out with the hook and haul me back into alignment. Parent-teacher meetings ramped up to the point that school had Mum on speed dial. "Some days he's disruptive and others he's completely closed off, tight as a drum. We can't reach him," my teachers would report. "We never know which way the wind's going to blow on any given day." The school counsellor nodded her agreement. "Testing hasn't gotten us anywhere. He refuses to cooperate." This was the cue for the principal to pile on. "There's also the question of his grades. Young Benjamin is flirting with being held back if they plummet any further, I'm sorry to have to say. Such a tragedy that would be, Madame Gabai. A boy with his promise."

My mother relayed all this to me afterwards, hoping it would prod me to open up. As if. I did have moments when I thought of telling her I was gay to give her something concrete to hang all my mixed-upedness on, but in the end I decided that more lying wouldn't really help anything.

You'd figure that she wouldn't have to jump in to rescue me anymore. I was twenty-three after all. But hadn't she found me this job when I couldn't land one on my own armed with my BA (no honours) in English lit? That was the major of choice for nerdy types like me, where we all washed up on shore to die. The degree qualified you for exactly zero in the real world. No doubt you've heard the joke, my brother Zach's favourite.

What did the English major say to the engineering major?

Will you take ketchup with your fries?

It cracked him up every time. Mum didn't find it so funny. To save face with her mahjong buddies, mothers of overachievers every last one, she'd taken to calling this my gap year. I didn't quibble with her over it even though we both knew she was, shall we say, embellishing. A gap year implied some definite plan for the year after; an acceptance already in-pocket for medical school, a deferred parliamentary internship offer maybe, or something else equally parent-soothing. My gap year looked like it was shaping up to be more of a gap decade, but why parse?

The museum didn't really need a full-time attendant. Any idiot could see that. But they paid me to be there every day from ten to six all the same. The idea was that in hiring me they'd get a twofer, a security guard and a docent, bundled. I'd protect the displays against sticky fingers, and answer any questions that came up about the collection. They were sadly mistaken if they thought I'd be able to give knowledgeable answers about the objects in the display cases, although I might have misled them a bit on that score at the inter¬view. I did take Canadian history pre-Confederation in university like I'd written on the application form. I just neglected to mention that I'd slept through it. The cold fact is that I was a blank on the fur trade, the voyageurs, and the Hudson's Bay Company's involvement in the whole megillah. Didn't know scrimshaw from scrambled eggs.

Then one day in came this kid with his mother. Mum was just my type, by which I mean she had cleavage you could suffocate in. She was trying to engage her son in this little educational side-trip when all he wanted to do was shop for the new swimming goggles and flippers she'd promised him and head for the pool. He put up a whiny protest but she was one of those teacherly mothers, the kind who sees every encounter as a golden opportunity to pack some more factoids into junior's brain pan. My own mum had the same MO so I knew he'd have to suck it up and let the didactic ritual play itself out. There was no escape hatch.

She asked me all sorts of questions about portaging canoes and grading pelts and I threw together some bogus answers out of spit and twigs to impress her. And it worked. She swallowed my explanations lock, stock, and barrel. But then the kid's bullshit meter started bonging like we were at a level crossing. Turns out his class had just finished a unit on the fur trade and he proceeded to rip my answers to shreds. Fort William wasn't on Lake Ontario, it was on Lake Superior. It wasn't the Hurons who came out on top in the Beaver Wars, it was the Iroquois. Need I go on? Being one-upped by some brat in front of his foxy mother, well, it's a humbling experience for a guy.

So while I was busy licking my wounds, didn't it happen again. People complain endlessly about the quality of the schools in this town, but they seemed to be getting something right. Anyway, this second kid who came in, not only did he bad-mouth my theme-park version of the fur trade, he had the added nerve to mock the mannequins, arrogant twerp. Now they may have been crummy mannequins, chipped and geriatric, but they were my crummy mannequins. It was as if you saw your sister surrounded by schoolyard bullies. Imagine you agreed with them totally that she was butt-ugly and a slut. You'd still rise up to defend the family honour and hammer them into the ground, wouldn't you?

To make a long story short, colliding with those two smart-mouth kids at the museum was all it took for the place to trap me in its spell. I was hooked. Looking at the displays through my new rose-coloured glasses, the hokey dioramas took on an air of Louvre sophistication and the moth-eaten top hats seemed to be wondering where they'd lost track of Fred Astaire.

The new me had a helluva lot of catching up to do so I overhauled my work routine which until then had amounted to counting down the minutes till clocking-out time and picking my nose. Now, in the lengthy intervals between visitors I tore through every book on the museum's shelves and there had to be a few hundred, easy. Trouble was, each one I finished left me with tons more unanswered questions. I appealed to Zach to let me double dip on his university library card and in a rare spurt of fraternal good will he agreed. Soon I was borrowing dissertations and archaeological tracts from McGill to fill in around the edges. One night in my bedroom I Googled up the fur trade. In three seconds flat it shot me back twenty-four million hits. Right then and there I made it my life's mission to work my way through every last one. I was a man possessed.

Even though I still had a good way to go, it only took a few months of non-stop application before I could at least answer any question the museum patrons threw at me, even the most arcane. No one could trip me up. I was the trivia king of the Hudson's Bay Company. I re-christened myself curator. My official job description of caretaker just didn't cut it. Who'd notice anyway? Or care? Enough of the letters coincided, so that if you said it fast, with a bit of a slur, you could hardly tell the difference.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Cover Design
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And The Unfinished Script
by Tyler Trafford
edited by Terry Davies
cover design or artwork by Mary Haasdyk
designed by Neil Petrunia
tagged : coming of age
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Children and Young Adult, and Nominated for Trade Fiction
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