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Still Summer Reads

By 49thShelf
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tagged: summer reads
Late August means...there is still nearly an entire month of summer left. Here are a few more titles to put on your list.
Fair

Fair

edition:Paperback
tagged : literary

In this spare, poetic novel, a young homeless man finds solace in friendship, falls prey to the machinations of a malevolent gang of thugs, and ultimately is swallowed up by the inevitability of consequences on the dangerous and deceptively sunny streets of L.A.

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2

Eyan continues to plod through the sand, ignoring the grit collected in his ankle boots. He is ignored by topless men and near bottomless women, all glistening skin, some with the wet matted hair of salted swimmers. Eyan taps his fingers upon his palm. Sometimes he stops and glances into the distance, past everyone, looking at no one, while his fingers rest, then begin again their steady tap: tap tap tap on the palm of his hand.

Tappity tap tap.

Eyan's mind has always been a timeless sack of memories, movable, unbound and open to the whims of the sea breeze. To Eyan, until today, time is unknowable. His memories are unorganized, mere snatches of life, now, last week, last month, years gone by.

Tappity tap tap.

He leaves his memories to fly unfettered. He does not restrain their progress. His fingers stop tapping as he turns his other palm downward, using his previously tapping fingers to pull the cuff of his checkered shirt up his arm. He stares at the single stroke of black ink on the top of his wrist. He caresses the 1 gently, then begins to tap fingers on this black number: tappity tap tap. This 1 now captured as time.

Eyan stops tapping, his arms falling to his sides. He begins again to move through the sand, his feet collapsing away from him at every step.

He feels the dense light on the back of his neck as he crosses the smooth concrete bike path and walks through the children's playground near the park office. A cop sits in his black-and-white cruiser next to a vibrant orange Recreation and Parks truck. Seeing the cop makes Eyan nervous, although the cop does not look at him. Eyan dislikes policemen. He distrusts cops. He thinks: The detective will be back on the streets waiting for me.

Eyan steps onto a patch of grass and continues around the pebbled concrete basketball court grunting with tall black men and tall black boys. He does not watch them. He moves off the grass and onto the promenade. Everybody calls it the boardwalk but there are no boards. Promenade or boardwalk, it is packed with people and Eyan wonders if it can still be a holiday. Or is it a Sunday? Until now, days named, holidays sorted into long weekends, have been unimportant. Until now: Eyan stops and briefly lifts his sleeve again and looks upon the black 1, the beginning of his calendar. He lets the cuff fall back into place and moves along the Venice Beach boardwalk without boards.

He shuffles through the streaming crowd of hot-pink halter tops and khaki cargo shorts and bright yellow thongs and purple fishnet shirts. Long blond hair rustles in the gentle sea breeze. Bald sweaty heads glimmer in the same dense light that pounds the back of Eyan's neck. He finds his way untouched through the throng and comes to rest near a friendly vendor of sunglasses and hats who does not bother Eyan with threatening looks. Eyan retrieves a cigarette from a knapsack pocket and lights the cigarette. He would offer one to the vendor but he is busy with a customer.

An old lady scuffs her way along on the boardwalk without boards. Eyan knows her but not her name. She is very old and tiny and wrinkly and thickly tanned and almost naked in her lime-green bikini. The old woman has a small brown mushy head. The first time Eyan saw her head he thought of an apple he once left on his bedside table when he was a boy. He went away with his mother and sister for many weeks and when he returned, the apple was brown and mushy, and when he poked it his finger disappeared into the decayed flesh.

Eyan does not acknowledge the old woman in the bikini as she scuffs past him. He looks nowhere as he taps the red-ember end of his cigarette onto the palm of his hand.

Tappity tap tap.

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A Diary in the Age of Water

A Diary in the Age of Water

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth's past--to the Age of Water, when the "Water Twins" destroyed humanity in hatred--events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust--and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins--Kyo is led to the diar …

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125.5.2 AW

We are the water-keepers. The keepers of legends. We are the keepers of the memory of prophecy. These "memories" are recorded outside of time and space. The prophecy of Gaia speaks of the great dying of our friends, the breathers. They breathe us in to receive our gift, and then breathe us out with their gift inside us. Their extinction is also a gift, just as all taking is giving and all giving is taking. We are the water-keepers.The first truth of water-keeping is that water cannot be kept.

The Library

Kyo runs through the dying forest of the north. The last boreal forest in the world.

The rain earlier this morning left the forest dripping with living moisture and saturated the air with the scent of giant conifers. Their fragrance is intoxicating, a fresh pungency that lingers like the smell of fresh water. The giant buttressed trees rise like pillars out of soggy ground. They push past the mixed hardwood canopy and pierce the mist, announcing the future. Lichen drips off branches and clothes the fibrous trunks in crenulated patterns. Moss covers everything. A filigree of green, silver, and russet plays in the breeze, dancing like a wild shadow. Tugged by the wind, Kyo's hair flows behind her like a dark turbulent river as she leaps over rough ground, her skirt flying.

Her four dark blue arms stretch out for balance as she navigates the obstacle course of fallen trees, tall ferns, and horsetails.

Already high in the sky, the sun is a large blushing orb that bathes everything in hues of pink. Nam calls it Gaia's heart- light, a poem to heaven. Nam told her that the light was very different during the Age of Water, when the sun was sharper and shone brashly in a brilliant cerulean blue sky. Kyo imagines this sky the startling blue colour of Nam's winking eyes. Nam, like Kyo's other mentors, only has two arms and flesh the colour of the sand--not the electric blue of Kyo's own skin. Despite their differences, she thinks of Nam like a mother and secretly wishes she looked like her older mentor.

Kyo stops for a moment to catch her breath and listen to the forest. Cardinals, robins, and thrushes warble and fl loudly, as if complaining about destiny. Yet, they are the interlopers. According to Myo, they took up permanent residence in the north when the climate warmed during the Age of Water. The birds that had previously lived in the north had had nowhere else to go, and had perished. Kyo remembers Ho telling her that the piping plover used to lay its eggs directly on the sand of the northern beaches. The beaches are no more, casualties of sea level rise, erosion, and storm surges; the plovers that nested on them are also no more. But other birds are coming....

The bird symphony flows through Kyo, pulsing with the Earth's heartbeat. She catches the absolute pitch of a starling, tuned to 432 Hz as she aligns herself with nature's intimate frequency. Renge taught her that light, sound, and matter are expressed at different frequencies, and some are only heard by the heart. All movement follows its own path, expressing its relationship with the world. Even things that aren't moving have a potential for rhythm, internal clocks that beat their messages. Kyo runs on, gathering coherent waves of vibration, intent, and motion into one continuous and harmonious rhythm. She understands that rhythm embraces a fractal continuum that ranges from microscopic to cosmic proportions. Cell division aligns with the planet's circadian rhythms; bees synchronize their flight with the phase of the moon; planets and stars ex- ert gravity and frequency on each other, resonating with the harmonic music of the spheres. Her world flows in constant oscillation from high to low, particle to wave, dark to light, separating and uniting, creating and destroying, and back again. All through water.

It is then that she feels her sisters the most, the other Kyos--other blue beings like her--scattered over the world in small enclaves like hers. Each whispers a harmonic tone in a soft symphony of wisdom--frequencies from all over the world, carried in the coherent domain of water vapour to resonate through her interstitial water.

They are waiting for her.

She shares their eagerness for the Exodus, but she also har- bours a secret yearning for the past as though some hidden part of her has lodged there, like a tendril of a vine reaching across time, seeking resolution--redemption, even. What is holding her back in this drowning forest? It isn't the trees.... There is always sadness in the end of things, but endings are also beginnings, Kyo in Siberia whispers across the northern atmospheric river.

We do not feel this Canadian sadness, Kyos from Scandinavia chime in. Perhaps that part of us still clings to the mundane comfort of familiarity, given that the maple still stands strong in northern Canada.

But Kyo knows that is not true; the sugar maple--has been migrating north, scrambling to keep up with the beech, and realizing the native legend. Several are stunted, withholding the sap Kyo loves so much. Many are yellowing at the tips of their leaves and showing bare insect-infested crowns. Soon the maple will drown in the swamps of the north.

Kyo understands that she is holding her sisters back with this selfish sentiment and preoccupation with a past and a people she has only dreamed of. How is it that she alone stands apart from the rest? It is not her lack of adventure or faith. She embraces her future. Nam calls her Sprite; an endearment, she knows, but one based on Kyo's curiosity and yearning for adventure. If her mentor knew of Kyo's perverse and guilty obsession, she might call her something else. And certainly not with a wink.

Kyo stops at a small flowing creek, crouching to study the tracks in the muddy banks. She recognizes the giant paw marks and wide-swathed tail track of a three-metre-long beaver, a relative of the ancient giant beaver. If Renge was here she would peep with fear; but Kyo is not afraid of the huge rodent--even with its giant incisors. She focuses on the eddies that form around the rocks. Renge told her that water's vitality relies on its rhythmic movement along surfaces and its shifting phases in a dance of synchronicity, chaotic yet self-organizing. It does this by embracing paradox.

Kyo involuntarily swallows down the truth and sits on a moss-covered boulder. She knows that her reluctance to leave has to do with the villainous Water Twins, who destroyed humanity because of their hatred for their own kind. She feels an unreasonable longing--as though a cord were tugging her back to them. The Water Twins were the first ones, the only ones from the Water Age, who had the power to instruct water, and they did so long before the new children of the forest learned how. The Twins unleashed a wrathful Gaia with their alien technology, frequency generators, and shamanic potions. Kyo has dreamed about most of it. Myo and Ho confirmed her vivid dreams with their historical documents. Why is she being plagued by accurate dreams of a time she has never experienced?

Kyo is convinced that the Water Twins somehow spawned the children of the forest--those like her. If not for the Twins, she might be normal, like the others. It is an outrageous supposition, yet she cannot shake it. The Twins destroyed the world, after all. Like Shiva and Kali. The Twins didn't look like the children of the forest, who came much later, after humanity had been all but extinguished. It is impossible that the Twins would be connected to her.

Yet that is exactly how Kyo feels. She desperately wants to believe that the Water Twins somehow did the right thing in causing the storms and eliminating humanity from the planet; she keeps dreaming that she is there with the humans, suffering as they suffered, until only a handful of females remained. Myo, who is far too forgiving, once suggested that the Twins did it to heal both the planet and all life, like a doctor removes a festering limb to heal the body. But how can you heal with hatred and destruction? And why is it so important to Kyo?

Kyo stands up with a shrug. No matter. Today is the day she has been both dreading and anticipating for so long. Today, she will finally learn some ecological history and make her personal atonement to Gaia, who must prepare for a new age. And then she--Kyo--will transcend her current existence to make the Exodus.

Nam instructed her this morning to go to the Age of Water Library in the small beech-maple grove for her last lesson. Nam has been like a mother to Kyo: tall and elegant, with wise maternal eyes the colour of deep water, and carrying the scent and air of Nature. It is time to let go, said her mentor. Time to devote yourself to and fuse your life with the Mystic Law of Water. Time to learn about humanity's legacy, all that humans have learned and done to prepare for their journey with water. A journey that will ultimately take them all home. At the library, Kyo is meant to choose a work, or else be given one by Ho, the librarian. Kyo will then commit it to memory before burning it and offering it in the water-keeping ceremony, which will prepare them all for their final journey.

Kyo hopes she will be worthy of her choice.

Kyo approaches the solid maple door.

She knows which book she wishes to study. It is clearly ambitious of her. Ho will be cross with her for presuming such an undertaking. The textbook is over a thousand pages; it will take her at least six months to learn it. Confident that she will convince the old librarian, Kyo glances back at the forest of her birth and pulls in a deep breath, committing it to memory. Then she reefs open the heavy door and enters the place she will spend the rest of her life on Earth.

The Diary

April 12, 2045

fetch: The distance that wind or waves travel unin- terrupted across open water.
--Robert Wetzel, Limnology

 

I remember every nuance of my mother.

Her deep laugh. Her willowy gait. Her scent, fresh and brac- ing, as though she'd captured the outdoors. The way she filled a room with her wise and gentle essence. How she spoke, in a lilting cadence, words delivered like sparkling clear water. The way she winked at me with conspiratorial joy and called me meine Wassergeist, my water sprite. Her name was Una.

Her smile came from that childhood place where the world is simple and pure. It made her eyes crease into a million golden rays. Her hair was a nest of dark curls that she sometimes pulled back, especially when she worked in the shed behind the house.

When she came inside, she brought in the smell of rain and leaves that she wore like an old coat you never want to throw away. Una sensed how the natural world worked. She'd had little formal education, yet she seemed to know more than most of my university professors. She had a keen and passionate mind, which she applied to a strong environmental ethic.

I know she loved me fiercely. But that fierceness--which extended to her passion for the planet--also had negative consequences. Like the time when she was arrested at a demonstration in Nathan Phillips Square. I was sitting in my first-grade class, listening to Ms. Belanger tell us about trees, while the rcmp arrested demonstrators protesting the ludicrous American proposal to construct the Rocky Mountain Trench Reservoir in British Columbia. When school was over, Una wasn't waiting at the front gate to take me home. I watched as my classmates left with their parents or caregivers until I was the only one left. Then I started to cry. Our neighbour finally came to take me home. Mrs. Kravitz said I should stay with them until my mother came home from jail.

I know that she didn't mean for it to happen, but I still felt abandoned.

After apologizing to me, Una explained that building the Rocky Mountain reservoirs and associated pipelines threatened to inundate and destroy several small towns and Indigenous communities in the Yukon and British Columbia. Canadians had to support their government in the fight against the U.S. predator who was wooing us with promises of shared wealth. It was like the U.S. was saying, give me all your candy and maybe later I'll share some with you. Only the candy was all ours to begin with. "Imagine our home and our neighbour's home suddenly under water," she said to me. "We would all have to move away so people three thousand kilometres away can fill their swimming pools. If the Americans have their way, all of Canada will become their reservoir."

Una sang all the time. German folk songs that her mother used to sing to her. Songs like Muss i denn, Die gedanken sind frei, Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit, Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär, and Goethe's tune Sah ein Knab ein Röslein stehn. Each day was like a glittering drop in a flowing narrative of gems. She had a way of imparting deep wisdom while either entertaining or comforting me.

One day stands out. She was wearing a bohemian, layered dress that smelled of the forest. Her dark hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. Several rogue strands hung over her right eye. It was the day Ralph tricked me at second recess into giving him my favourite Pokémon card--a sparkly Charizard. I burst into the back shed where Una was fixing our neighbour's chair and I just stood there, trembling with emotion. She immediately saw that I was upset and coaxed out my story.

Una then squatted to my height and looked directly at me with her intense green eyes. "Don't make the mistake of think- ing the bully is your friend. He was never your friend. He will never be your friend." Then she placed her hands gently on my shoulders and added with dreadful calm, "You can play with the bully. But don't make him your friend. Demand his respect. Or you will become the bully..."

Then she pulled me close to her in a deep embrace and whispered, "come, Wassergeist....You liked sparkly Mew just as much. Now she will be even more special." She winked.

I burst into grateful tears as she held me. Then she left the broken chair she was fixing and took us into the kitchen, where she made us some hot chocolate and told me silly stories about the chickens in the yard.

Una died today. I've lost my mentor. My friend. My link to compassion, wisdom, and unity. She would have been sixty-five. She should have lived another thirty years at least. Why do I feel like she's abandoned me? I had so wanted my little Hildegard to get to know her grandmother better.

I fear what I will become...

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Seeds and Other Stories

Seeds and Other Stories

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

In these stories seers and vagabonds, addicts and gardeners succeed and sometimes fail at creating new kinds of community against apocalyptic backdrops. They build gardens in the ruins, transport seeds and songs from one world to another and from dreams to waking life. Where do you plant a seed someone gave you in a dream? How do you build a world more free of trauma when it's all you've ever known? Sometimes the seed you wake up holding in your hand is the seed of a new world.

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Seeds

I don't know how it is I came to have no parents and no name. I hear this is a place you can come, if you lookin' for a name.

I have nothing. But I have had nothing before, and now I am glad to be free of it.

It is in the city. There are five of us, or maybe ten or thirty. The building is an empty one, gutted by fire. We have been sleeping on the floors, on found mattresses. I sprayed them all with a can of bug juice I bought. I do not like fleas or bedbugs.

Since I came here, last week, I have been planting flowers. I dig the earth out of the central courtyard. An empty yard. Probably it is full of lead, but eventually that too will be washed away by rain. The rain is cleaner now.

When I came, there was no one here. Now there are sometimes ten, sometimes twenty of us.

I have planted sunflowers in the yard. Their big heads turn, slowly, throughout the day.

I make window boxes out of some panelling ripped out of a wall. In them I plant geraniums, herbs, and tomatoes. The seeds are seeds I brought from the West. The soil is not good, this soil dug out of the yard. It is not really a yard.

One day I wake up and there are chickens in it. Where did the chickens come from? It doesn't matter. They lay eggs, and they will be good to eat, when winter comes.

I gather the chicken dung and dilute it with water, and carefully pour it into the pots of plants. The tomatoes are doing fine. When someone new comes, I make them eat tomatoes.

"Vitamin C," I say. They look at me strange, their eyes wide and dark, blank as stones.

"Eat your tomatoes," I say.

They are young, most of them. They are young and frightened and ready to fight, and yet their mouths are all open, as though they were expecting something wonderful to come out of nowhere, to fly in.

They gather from the edges of the burnt city, hearing.

What do they hear?

That there is a place, a place you can come.

My sadness is that I am alone, that I am older than everyone here, that I must look after them all. They play with each other, giggling and combing one another's hair.

They are like children, really. They run up and down the halls of the building, delighted, discovering things. Exploring. They like to rearrange, to take things apart and rearrange them. I remember I did that too. It is necessary, if they are to learn. Why we are here and not somewhere else.

I look after the plants and make the children eat them. I hope that none of them will get sick with something I cannot cure. I make them eat garlic and drink tea brewed from nettles and chamomile flowers. So they will be strong, will not get sick. I dream of someone coming over the hill. A man. He will be here soon. He will help me in my work.

I do not mind anymore, being always alone, being lonely. I no longer look for anyone to fall into, to carry me. I make them drink their teas. I make them wash. I watch as they play their secret, whispering games. I do not mind any more. Now I can do this; now I don't mind not being one of them, but one of the others.

The man coming over the hill. I realize he isn't coming over the hill, but is one of the ones here. He says his name is Stephen. He is maybe nineteen. He is very strong. I lean out the seeds window, watching him. He is leading the children. Shit in the pit, he says, not in the sunflowers. Wash your hands before you eat. Here, drink this tea. He yells at them sometimes but they do not really mind. As he becomes stronger, I disappear into the shadows. I lurk in the hallways, disappearing. I can, now. Now it isn't so much responsibility; now someone has grown, like a sunflower ... he is almost ready to harvest for seed. Ready to be an adult, come to help me shoulder the weight. I am glad. He does not speak to me, Stephen, but I can hear his voice in my mind, asking questions. I answer, from my room hidden in the dim corridors. Yes, you can do this and this and this.

Yes, the windmill on the roof is good. They will help you. You must make them work, teach them it is important. Energy and power. Their own. At first they won't believe you, will not understand why, just as you did not understand, thought it was enough just to drift, to be asleep to your own power. Yes, you can do it.

"Will you help?" he asks me in my mind.

"Yes," I say. "I will."

Now they can hardly see me anymore. Stephen sees me, but only dimly, like something half forgotten, like a dream. He has already forgotten that I used to be a real person. He has forgotten I used to be flesh and blood like him, that I too suffered, hated to be so alone. I watch him cry, alone, sometimes at night.

"I cannot do it," he cries, calling out my name. "I cannot do it, I cannot. You must help me. You say you love me, so you must help. You don't know what it's like he says, to work so hard for so little. Everything is darkness here, and I cannot see."

"You can see," I say. "There is a little light inside you, and if you turn it on, you will see everything, everything."

He does then, at first tentatively, like an experiment, and then the whole yard is shining, illuminated, and he can see the faces of the children, some sleeping, some waking. They cannot see his light, but they know something has changed. They stir in their sleep, smiling, cuddling one another.

"You aren't a human being," he says. "You cannot know how it hurts."

"Oh?" I say, but my heart hurts for him, for his hurt.

Then he is better again, and happy.

How I love him.

One day I will come back for him, and then we will be together.

At night, when they are all sleeping, I make the rounds of all my window boxes, gathering seeds. Seeds from tomatoes, from echinacea, cucumber, geranium, hyssop, basil. Parsley, garlic. Valerian, bergamot, mint. Sunflowers, zinnia, sweet pea. And of course, the beans and corn.

I dry the seeds on the roof, under the sun.

Then I climb the stairs again, at night. Up up up the stairs, all around the shadowy building, leaving it behind: its weight, its solidity. Each floor I go up, I look at the sleeping faces, bless them all. Each floor I go up, I feel a lightness, a greater freedom.

On the roof there are stars.

One of the stars moves and comes closer. In a great swoop of the mind I am lifted up up up among them. They welcome me, princes of peace. I recognize them all.

We skim over the night, looking for lights. Where we see lights, we hover and send our minds down into their dreams, the sleeping children. They do not know we have been there, but they feel a presence, a kindness, a benevolent intent. We are happy and shining.

Far below I see a girl, walking over a hill. In her knapsack she holds a packet of seeds and a bottle of water. Through the canvas of the knapsack I can see the seeds, the life inside them glowing like light bulbs.

And on another hill, there is a man. He is making something, seeds a new kind of machine. He will put it on the roof, and it will spin light and energy down from the stars.

One day they will be together, and then my work will be complete.

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And We Shall Have Snow

And We Shall Have Snow

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged :
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Last Goldfish, The

Last Goldfish, The

A True Tale of Friendship
edition:Paperback

Twenty-five years ago and counting, Louisa, my true, essential, always-there-for-everything friend, died. We were 22.

When Anita Lahey opens her binder in grade nine French and gasps over an unsigned form, the girl with the burst of red hair in front of her whispers, Forge it! Thus begins an intense, joyful friendship, one of those powerful bonds forged in youth that shapes a person’s identity and changes the course of a life.

Anita and Louisa navigate the wilds of 1980s suburban adolescence ag …

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Prologue:

A fish story In early Grade 9, I teamed up with a girl named Meredith for a science project. She was quiet and skittish, like a shy rabbit. We went to the pet store together and purchased six goldfish, six bowls, then divvied them up: three to her house, three to mine. Our plan was to place the fish in different environments—a busy kitchen, a dark closet, a bright windowsill—and try to gauge their contentment level by their behaviour. Which fish were more active, more hungry? The question, mine, had been whether a fish would prefer a darker home because it mimics the experience of a more natural habitat such as a lake.

But right away I found myself troubled by the idea of keeping fish captive. Watching my three fish swim circles in their bowls, taking notes, trying to describe their activity levels, I felt like a fraud. I had no idea how to assess the happiness of a fish, nor what kind of research to undertake to better inform our experiment. I hadn’t the first clue how to penetrate the mysteries of the universe. Nor could I explain any of this to Meredith. I’d roped her into this, so I put up a brave front when we sat down to compare notes.

“How are your fish doing?” I asked.

She answered so softly I could barely hear. “One of them died.” I stared. She was wringing her hands. “Do you think it was sick when we bought it?”

“It seemed like the other ones, didn’t it?”

“I think so.”

We sat in silence.

Suppose Meredith’s fish had come home with me, instead. Say the guy at the store had pulled a different specimen from the tank. The fish’s bowl had been placed in a prime location, on the windowsill in Meredith’s bedroom, south-facing. Maybe fish, like African violets, shrivelled in direct sunlight? I was overwhelmed by potential variables; I was so not ready for science. I was sure that none of our classmates had a dead creature on their hands. But I also doubted any of them had taken this assignment so keenly to heart.

I’d picked Meredith for a partner because she didn’t make me nervous. Maybe it made sense, now that I was out of the little elementary school with a graduating class of 28, to start aligning myself with more kids like me, who were into such things as books. But I was relieved when our experiment was finished, our results handed in. In the drawings for our report, Meredith had attempted to depict the dead fish, floating in its bowl. It looked like a tiny piece of driftwood.

In French class, which came right after science, I sat behind Louisa. People called her Lou for short. She had red hair, brightly inquisitive eyes and hands that gestured energetically when she talked. She’d adopted the habit of tipping back her chair and tossing questions at me, so that I gradually came to trust she really did want to talk to me: “Are you reading the Merchant of Venice for English too? I love Shakespeare. It’s so dramatic.” “What did you do on the weekend? My mom’s friend took us to the art gallery. It was amazing!”

Louisa was impressed by the goldfish experiment Meredith and I had embarked on. She called it “ambitious.”

“We don’t have a clue what we’re doing,” I assured her. “It’s ridiculous.”

One morning, gravely, but hurriedly, so as to get the details out before the fierce Mademoiselle Vachon began conducting class, I told her what had happened to Meredith’s fish.

She laughed. “What a story!”

I was startled. Then I laughed too. Sure, it was tragic for the fish, but the creatures weren’t exactly known for their longevity. Hadn’t we all flushed one or two down the toilet, or seen a sitcom goldfish funeral, its tongue-in-cheek solemnity? I stopped noticing Meredith, stopped looking for her telltale slouch when I slipped into science class or walked, heart clenched, into the cafeteria that teemed with students I didn’t know. It seems cruel, in retrospect, you might even say foolhardy: the things I might have learned, the fastidious scientist I might have become, pushing onward with that studious girl. But I didn’t want Meredith anymore. I’d found a better prospect, off I went.

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Cat Between, The

Cat Between, The

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Trying to beat the mid-winter blahs by snowshoeing and cross country skiing when she’s not teaching art history at a local college (or being driven crazy by her numerous cats, cooped up in her rambling old country home), Gerry Coneybear thinks she has her busy life under control. That is, until she rescues her neighbour’s injured cat. Then a body pops up where she’d least expect it. And she even knows the victim – slightly. From gossiping with friends to discussing events while baking at …

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Bob, meanwhile, was nosing around in the backyard. He sniffed, stiffened and retreated up a tree, only to smell along one long thick bough and hastily rejoin Gerry on the ground. “Whoa, Bob, found something scary?” She examined the tracks under the tree and followed them to the back door.

They were different from any Gerry had previously seen, bigger than a cat’s, oval where most cats’ or dogs’ were round. She sucked in her breath when she saw the long claw marks in the snow. “Yikes, no wonder you’re freaked out. Come here.” She picked Bob up in her arms. “You don’t want to meet up with the owner of those.”

Bob struggled to be let go and disappeared around the far side of the house. Before she followed him, Gerry bent over and looked closely at a hole in the siding low to the ground. Big enough for a cat, she reasoned, or perhaps whatever possessed those frightening claws. She went to look for Bob and found him sitting in a window box with one paw hooked under the edge of a board that had been hammered on to cover a window. Gerry looked furtively toward the road. No one passing. She pulled on the board and it came away easily, its wood crumbling in the nail holes. “Rotten,” she said and set it down under the window, which, to her surprise, was intact. So the plywood was to protect the glass not instead of it, she realized. She pushed the window up. As it opened, Bob darted in. “In for a penny,” she muttered, pushing it all the way up, and stepped in.

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Sea Over Bow

Sea Over Bow

A North Atlantic Crossing
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

After her marriage of 25 years ended badly, Linda Kenyon was determined to never put herself in the way of a broken heart again. But then she met an extraordinary man, and in an act of great courage -- or foolishness -- decided to sell everything she owned and sail across the ocean with him. Sea Over Bow: Crossing the North Atlantic is the account of that journey. It takes readers to the middle of the ocean, a place most people have only imagined. It describes the trail of sparkling blue-green l …

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Excerpt

The wind was from the southwest—we knew it would be, right on the nose, but it was supposed to clock around to the north so we put out just a slip of genoa, reefed the main, and settled in for a lively sail. It was rough, but we soon got used to the pounding. You can handle almost anything on a nice sunny day.

But as the day wore on, the wind showed no sign of clocking and the seas continued to build. There was no way we could hold our course. By nightfall, we were sixty miles off shore, well off Cape Fear, but farther off shore than we’d ever been. And the wind was picking up.

We had crackers and cheese for supper—neither of us wanted to spend much time below deck, and in truth, we were both feeling a little queasy. Then I went down to try to sleep while Chris took the first watch. I lay there in the dark, trying not to think about the ghost pirate ships locals claimed to have seen in these waters. The boat was galloping along, the oil lamp above my head swinging wildly. The rigging creaked and groaned, water rushed along the steel hull. There’s no way I’m going to sleep, I thought, but I must have, because suddenly it was 2 am, time for my watch.

The wind had definitely picked up, and waves were breaking over the bow, I discovered, when I staggered to the head. We’d left the hatch open, and I was treated to a salt-water shower. I grabbed a towel and dried myself off as best I could then, grumpy and wet, took a little too long to pull on my warm fleecy and boots.

By the time I got above deck, I knew I was in trouble. There’s no mistaking that feeling in your stomach. But it was no wonder. While I was sleeping, Chris had been “letting it run,” as he calls it. This means carrying way too much sail, going way too fast, and heeling way over as we pound into the waves. He saw the look on my face.

“Let’s reduce sail,” he said, furling in about half the genoa.

We tied a second reef in the main and the boat slowed down, straightened up a little.

“That’s Frying Pan Shoal, off Cape Fear,” Chris said, pointing to a light up ahead. “Keep it well to starboard. Oh, and I think there are warships on manoeuvre out here—haven’t seen anything, but there’s been lots of chatter on the radio. Better keep an eye out.”

With that, he gave me a quick kiss and headed below to sleep.I stood bravely at the helm, watching the approaching light, scanning for ships. No, I told myself firmly, taking big breaths of fresh air and searching for the horizon. But it was pitch black—no moon. And the shore was out of sight. There was no way to orient myself, to straighten out the confused little compass in my head. I could feel my stomach churning as the boat heaved up and down. I checked to make sure the pail was at hand, and, oh my god, okay, here it came—I heaved what was left of my cheese and crackers into the pail.

I was still retching when an officious voice filled the cockpit.

“To the vessel at…”

I pulled my head out of the pail long enough to check our co-ordinates on the GPS. Of course he was talking to me. I took a couple brave swallows, reached for the VHF microphone.

“To the vessel hailing, this is the sailboat MonArk.”

Back to the pail.

“We are an aircraft carrier with limited manoeuvrability. Please maintain a five-mile distance from our position.”

I lifted my head from the pail, wiped my chin on my sleeve.

“Roger that.”

I had no idea where he was, but I set the radar alarm to six miles and went back to my pail. If anything shows up, I thought, I’ll get out of its way.

Thankfully, the radar remained clear, and in time, there was nothing left for me to throw up. I drank some water, threw it up, drank some more, threw it up. It was miserable, but much better than the dry heaves. I looked at my watch—five more hours to go—checked the position of the light, scanned for ships.

It seemed to take forever to come abreast of the light. It was the middle of my watch before it was safely behind us and we were sailing into the dark. No moon. No shoreline. I turned on the radar, scanned for ships. Nothing out there. I checked our position and heading, switched off the instruments. So dark.

I looked down through the companionway. I could just make out Chris wedged into the sea berth with pillows so he didn’t fall out as the boat pounded and rocked. He felt me looking at him, opened his eyes, smiled.

“Everything okay?”

“Yep, just fine.”

He was asleep again. How did he do that?

I looked back. I could still make out the flashing light marking Frying Pan Shoal, tiny now but still visible.

What are you doing out here? You don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s surprising, I thought grimly, how long things take to disappear behind you.

 

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Where Things Touch

Where Things Touch

A Meditation on Beauty
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

To devote oneself to the study of beauty is to offer footnotes to the universe for all the places and all the moments that one observes beauty. I can no longer grab beauty by her wrists and demand articulation or meaning. I can only take account of where things touch.

Part lyric essay, part prose poetry, Where Things Touch grapples with the manifold meanings and possibilities of beauty.

Drawing on her experiences as a physician-in-training, Orang considers clinical encounters and how they relate t …

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