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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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Searching for Mary Schäffer

Searching for Mary Schäffer

Women Wilderness Photography
edition:eBook
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
Excerpt

Before

1979

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. 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 tv. 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.

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

A Day in the Life

As I round the corner of the buildings that ring the gravel truck yard, I see three figures at a distance near Darwin's pickup truck. Darwin and Keith are easily recognizable even from afar. The third figure, withhis back to me and hood up, might be Jesse. He turns, notices me and starts walking to me. It's Jesse. He pulls his hood off. Did Jesse shave his head? The figure nears. That's not Jesse. "How you doin', brother?" Oh my god, it's Ricky Roy.

He shakes my hand and embraces me. "I'm good, man, how you doin'?"

Ricky's voice rises sharply in pitch as he answers with musical bounciness. "Aw, I'm doin' all right, man. Living the dream."

Ricky looks much older than the last time I saw him. His face is worn and wrinkled well beyond his years. "You got some more grey hair," he says in melodic voice as he flicks my hair with one finger.

I laugh. "It's the stress of working for Darwin."

"Yeah, I got some, too," he says, rubbing a hand over his buzzed haircut. "Turning forty soon." I hadn't realized that Ricky was ten years older than me, and I'm struck by the thought that I am now the age he was when we first started working together.

We walk to the pickup next to the warehouse where Keith is smoking. Darwin walks to throw something in the dumpster across the yard before I can say hello.

"How you doin', Keith?" I say.

"Mornin', Ty." He always gets my name wrong. Nothing personal, just a tired brain worn from decades of substance abuse.

"Ready for another beautiful day?"

He inhales the cigarette and answers in his rough gravel voice. "Fuck, my shoulder's fucking acting up again today."

"Aw, muffin."

"Yeah, muffin's complaining again."

Ricky and I continue catching up and he tells me he has cancer.

"What kind?"

"Colon."

"Jesus, Ricky."

"Ah, it's fine. It ain't terminal or nothing. Doesn't stop me from living the dream." He grins and sways in a physical demonstration of his nonchalance. "Hey!" he suddenly barks, his bright eyes tightening as he looks over my shoulder. Ricky marches away from me and I turn to see Jesse grinning. They shake hands and Ricky says something quietly to him with a smile.

Darwin returns from the dumpster and walks into the warehouse. I follow him. "So, Ricky Roy." He looks at me with a moment of confusion and then understands. "Yeah," he laughs, "I was pretty desperate."

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 timeto go.

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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
edition:eBook
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
Excerpt

One

There must be uniforms out there that make you walk with a spring in your step. Astronaut is one, I'm guessing. Mountie's another. But ones like mine, that look like they've been reduced to clear at a cos¬tume warehouse, well they just make you want to hide under a rock.

When I came downstairs in my new work uniform for the first time that Monday, there was some disagreement among the family. Their comments reflected the generational spread around the breakfast table. Grandpa thought the outfit made me look like a streetcar conductor; Nana, a delivery boy from Western Union. The piping around the lapels put Mum in mind of Captain Kangaroo, while my older brother Zach took in the brimmed cap topping off my skinny frame and pegged me as a Pez dispenser. Only my sister Rena was generous in her assessment. "I think you look like Prince Harry at the wedding, Ben. All you need is a few miles of gold braid and voilà." Rena seldom had anything negative to say about anyone so her comparison didn't carry much weight.

I don't know why the store didn't let me wear my own clothes. I would have dressed presentably, even worn a tie if they'd asked me to. But I sensed at the interview that dissing the uniform would be a deal-breaker. My theory? The get-up was designed to glop some class over the place by aping Ogilvy's, the glitzy department store down the street. See Ogilvy's had itself a uniformed piper. The guy wore a kilt, a furry codpiece, and a bearskin hat. The works. Every day at noon he marched through the store, starting on the main floor and working his way up to four, pumping his windbag under his armpit the whole time as if it were a misplaced whoopee cushion. The tourists were blown away by the spectacle. They'd never seen a piper do his thing on a moving escalator before. In Scotland they probably kept their musicians tethered. But even Ogilvy's, for all its snooty airs, didn't have itself a museum. The Bay did.

And thanks to my mother, who worked in Ladies' Purses, and had accumulated a shitload of brownie points with the higher-ups over the years, I was hired as its uniformed attendant. Now how it came to pass that a museum tracing the history of the Hudson's Bay Company from its seventeenth-century fur trade roots all the way up to the present day wound up crammed into a corner of the Bay's downtown Montreal department store, I didn't know and I didn't care. It was a job. Not much of a job mind you, but then it wasn't much of a museum. Don't get me wrong. Ranking it on the Pathetic Scale, it wasn't as high up there as those so-called museums you see hand-painted signs for when you're out for a drive in the country. You know the kind I mean. The ones where rube collectors set up an exhibit of their potatoes shaped like Hollywood stars and charge the tourists a dollar a pop. Uh-uh. The Bay's museum was respectable even if it was pint-sized. It had bona fide artifacts; beaver hats, powder horns, even a full-sized birchbark canoe. But for all that it was still sleepy. Sleepy? Who am I kidding? It was downright comatose. Visitors only stumbled in when they took a wrong turn on the way to the Luggage Department or Table Linens.

I did have a couple of regulars, though. Rossi was one of them. He worked in the cafeteria just beside the museum and would stop by on his breaks to escape the steam tables and bs with me for a while. "How can you stand working here?" he'd ask me. "A funeral home is livelier. There's only one explanation I can come up with. You must be going at it hot and heavy with her over there, right?" He tipped his head towards the mannequin modelling a travelling dress from the 1820s. Her wig was slightly crooked so I went over and straightened it on her papier-mâché skull, and since I was over there anyway I fluffed out her skirt too.

"Looks like maybe I interrupted something when I came in," Rossi said, elbowing me in the ribs hombre to hombre. "Tell me straight, Ben, what's it like screwing a bald girl?" Rossi wasn't exactly a Renaissance man when it came to conversation, but at least he was company. And he could never stay longer than fifteen minutes before his supervisor in the kitchen sent out a posse.

Next down after Rossi it was my mother who gave an artificial bump to my statistics by checking in on me once or twice a week.

"Mum, I see you at home every day. Why do you have to come in here like I'm a third-grader and make sure I'm eating my lunch? It's embarrassing."

"Embarrassing in front of who?" She made a great show of peering into every corner of the museum to size up the crowds of people that weren't. "Benjie, all I want is to see that you're settling in okay."

"I'm settling in fine. You don't have to worry."

Fat chance. Worry was her middle name. At least when it came to me. Luckily for her, my siblings were semi-well-adjusted, giving her a free pass to obsess over yours truly.

"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.

When I wasn't reading, I kept busy teaching myself the backwoodsy skills. In school I used to hate it when they made us do all that fiddly historical true-to-life crap, like dipping candle wicks in tallow, but no more. I was into it. I'd even started to weave a fleche, the traditional zigzag-patterned sash that voyageurs tied around their waists to flash the message they were members of the clan. Unfortunately my mother dropped by while I was practicing yarn-overs on the back of a chair.

"You'll make someone a good wife," she said.

"Yeah, if one of your friend's daughters wants a guy who can give her home-strung snowshoes for her birthday, I'm her man."

Good thing it wasn't Zach who caught me being all crafty. I never would have heard the end of it.

So there I was at work on an ordinary Wednesday morning, buffing up some brass trading tokens to a nice sheen when my revelation snuck up out of nowhere and whomped me over the head. God had made a terrible chronological mistake. I was meant to have been born in the eighteenth century. The reminder window must not have popped up on His online calendar.

It explained everything perfectly. I was a French Canadian voyageur trapped in the body of a twenty-first century suburban washout. No wonder I'd been out of sync at school. And out of school too, for that matter. "It's okay, boychik," my mother used to repeat to me in those days in her most comforting tone, "your brain just has a mind of its own." Well, at long last my brain had found its true home, out on the river, hunkered down in a canoe, paddling hell for leather.

I can guess what you're thinking. That I was psycho. But I wasn't. Trust me. Rationally, I understood that I couldn't time travel to rectify the cosmic cock-up that had left me cooling my heels in lost-luggage for nearly three hundred years until my mother found the claim check. Still, I felt I had to do what I could to set things right. So I decided to take a practical approach. I'd learn how to kayak so I could paddle along the waters of the Lachine Canal and the St. Lawrence River. It was the closest I could come under my city-boy circumstances where canoes weren't on offer, to living the life of a fur trader. And as a substitute for the real thing it wasn't half bad. I even rounded up a group of old friends and we'd go out together in our rental boats on the weekends. I played the role to the hilt, dressing the part and packing only voyageur-certified goodies in my lunch bag. The others weren't as much into the whole re-enacting business as I was, though I could generally coax them into playing along to some degree. For them these excursions were more excuses for sun and exercise and a bit of male chest thumping.

Rossi didn't come out on the water with us even though I invited him. He said that he preferred to keep his feet on dry land. But he was more impressed than any of my other friends by my newfound mastery of all things fur trade. Since I never had very many museum visitors to lavish my erudition on, Rossi became my most dedicated audience. He lapped up my lectures, never once snoozed off. Rossi hadn't been to university. His only brush with higher education came courtesy of the Cowansville Correctional Facility where he'd done some time on a car theft rap. He wasn't accustomed to being treated as a legitimate student and he liked the way it felt.

"Man," he said one afternoon, after I'd treated him to a lengthy run-down on the dating and mating habits of the beaver, that pesky wood chipper whose fuzzy outerwear had started the whole ball of wax rolling, "you've turned yourself into one major expert on the fur trade."

It was meant to be a compliment but its limp wording didn't acknowledge just how far I'd come.

"Expert nothing," I corrected him. "I AM the fucking fur trade."

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Cover Design
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TwoBlackEyes

TwoBlackEyes

And The Unfinished Script
by Tyler Trafford
cover design or artwork by Mary Haasdyk
designed by Neil Petrunia
edited by Terry Davies
edition:Paperback
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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There are two ways to make a reading list

This way:

  1. Click the "Create a New List" button just above this panel.
  2. Add as many books as you wish using the built-in search on the list edit page.

Or that way:

  1. Go to any book page.
  2. In the right-hand column, click on "Add to List." A drop-down menu will appear.
  3. From the drop-down menu, either add your book to a list you have already created or create a new list.
  4. View and edit your lists anytime on your profile page.
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