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Stories of Hope

By 49thShelf
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Stories, true and fiction, that tell of a journey toward strength, resilience, and hope. Good things are possible. The clouds don't last forever.
Home Game

Home Game

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : jewish, literary

Tamasz Wolfstein escaped from Hungary with his parents when he was eight years old. They found refuge in Montreal, and Tamasz, who now goes by Tommy, or Wolfie to his soccer teammates, has become thoroughly Canadianized. His parents will never forget the persecution they endured as Jews in a right-wing Hungary, but Tommy's memories of that time are scant. When his university soccer tea is invited to Hungary to play against the country's top-ranking university team, however, Tommy will learn abou …

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Tommy stared out the window as the train departed the station for Debrecen. He saw himself staring back. Even though it was only eleven years ago, it was more than half a lifetime. It was a long time ago, in a world far away where he had passed a childhood that didn’t feel like his, in a language he was no longer fluent in and in a motherland that didn’t feel like home. But here he was.

The land was flat and green with crops as far as he could see. They were divided by fields of sunflowers. What a strange thing to grow, he thought to himself. Other than sunflower seeds, he didn’t know what else they could possibly be good for. Huge heads on such thin stalks. Why didn’t they fall over and snap? Incredible.

Schmutz and Speedy sat down next to him.

“We’re going to pass my grandfather’s town just before we hit Debrecen.” Tommy said. “My father was in a labour camp there.”

“What’s a labour camp?” Schmutz asked.

Tommy thought everyone knew what it was but then realized ‘everyone’ meant Jews. “It’s where Hungarian Jewish men were sent when the war broke out. It was part of the army except they weren’t allowed to carry guns.”

“Why not?”

“Jews were not considered real Hungarians. They weren’t trusted with guns. Instead they were given picks, shovels and brooms. They were given all the shitty work: fixing roads, digging ditches, cleaning latrines. And some, according to my father, were sent to the front and used as mine clearers.”

“What are mine clearers?” Schmutz asked.

"The ones forced to go clear land mines that the enemy planted before they retreated. They had to go find and dismantle them before the regular soldiers advanced. Many of them were blown up.”

“Shit!”

“Does your grandfather still live there?”

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Once Removed

Once Removed

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Timothy Heppner is a frustrated ghostwriter struggling to make ends meet in Edenfeld, a small Mennonite community bulldozing its way towards modernity--if it's old, it has to go!

A member of the Preservation Society but desperate to keep his job with the mayor's Parks and "Wreck" department, Timothy finds himself in an awkward position when he is hired to write an updated version of the town's history book. Fuelled by warring loyalties, the threat of personal bankruptcy, and a good deal of fried …

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One

They cut down twenty trees by the Co-op this week. Elms. They claimed they were diseased and marked each one with a red dot just hours before the Thiessen boys came with their chainsaws. The whole time I sat there in the truck with the engine idling and the radio tuned to the funeral announcements, waiting for Mr. Vogt to pound on the hood a couple times and say, "Na, Timothy, looks like you're good to go." Then I hauled it all off to the dump to be burned.

It wasn't a pleasant scene, all those trees coming down and the barren land left there afterwards, but I did have some reason to be optimistic. The last time a whole row of trees went down like this, there was a liquor store on the cleared lot within months. It's our first one and, rumour has it, the busiest in rural Manitoba. Now we don't have to sneak off to Ste. Adèle for booze. We can get our wine-in-a-box right here in Edenfeld. Another patch of elms was declared diseased to make way for a dollar store. Progress is progress. Katie and I have a beautiful mature tree in our backyard too, but thankfully it's behind the house and therefore in an undesirable location for commercial enterprise. I worry about those tall ones on Wilshire, though. They're oaks, remnants of a large stand that predates European settlement in this area. There's a plaque nearby stating as much, which appears to have protected them from the ambitions of local land developers and/or mayors who also happen to be land developers.

I asked Mr. Vogt about the land by the Co-op, if he knew what was happening to it, but all he said was, "Mayor's orders," and he left the rest to my imagination. I'm not sure that was a good idea, because I can envision some pretty awful things cropping up on that lot. Probably another donut shop with inadequate drive-through space. Mr. Vogt says it's better not to ask too many questions.

Edenfeld prides itself on our aggressive disease prevention program, which requires the swift removal of trees that are past their prime and buildings that, in Mr. Vogt's words, "attract vermin if left to their own devices." These are the very same trees and buildings that other towns might try to preserve for environmental or historical reasons. According to the sign on the highway, Edenfeld was founded in 1876, but good luck finding anything older than about 1990. There are some exceptions, of course, but the Parks and Rec department is rapidly making them a thing of the past.

Once things seemed under control at the Co-op, Mr. Vogt tasked me with picking the dandelions at BLT Wiens Memorial Park. BLT Wiens is actually still alive and still our mayor, but the town figured it would be more economical to include the word "Memorial" right away rather than waiting to add it in later. I was told to pick the weeds by hand, and with the three Thiessens busy felling the last of the trees, the job was mine alone. Chemical herbicides are banned in our province, a recent law that greatly upset Edenfeld politicians who feel that "weeding is a strictly civic matter." BLT explained all this in an angry memo that, for some reason, also specified that we couldn't even use citrus juice to kill the weeds, but I think that had less to do with the environmental impact and more to do with maintaining our thriving local potluck scene, which has always relied on an ample supply of lemon meringue pie, among other varieties. The new weeding process is much more labour-intensive, such that the mayor's eponymous park is the only one in town that receives this level of attention.

Mr. Vogt said I should bring my chainsaw.

"Not for the dandelions, of course," he clarified, "but if you see an elm that looks iffy, go for it!" He always speaks a little louder than necessary, which makes him a suitable candidate to run a demolition crew, but not someone to chat with for prolonged periods in the church lobby.

I didn't get all the dandelions picked, but by the end of the work day I had more than enough to fill a pail for Mr. Harder. I was supposed to meet him after work at Ernie's Diner above the gas station. I figured I could spare a pail of dandelions, since Mr. Harder's wine-making supply is always running low and he's one of my favourite clients. I've been working on his family history book for a while now.

Katie and I are hoping that eventually I can transition to writing full-time, but at the moment the Parks and Rec job pays the bills. My friend Randall says my life is "fraught with cognitive dissonance." He admits his is too, only for reasons that he never fully articulates, but which I assume have something to do with the fact that he's unmarried and well into his thirties and the pressure is on from his mother to do something about that situation.

I'm a ghostwriter--or trying to be, anyway. This means I write books for other people. So does Randall. We're guns for hire, so to speak, though around here gun analogies are generally frowned upon. As much as I'd prefer to spend my days preserving the memories of Edenfeld's senior citizens, rather than demolishing heritage buildings to create space for yet another strip mall, I simply can't afford that luxury. I have a mortgage to pay and a wife who's finishing her master's in contemporary philosophy and there isn't enough ghostwriting work to keep both Randall and me employed full-time.

"Not yet," Katie always says.

Mr. Harder is into trees too. There's one right outside the manor where he lives that is said to be a descendant of the Great Oak of Chortitza. It was planted by Edenfeld's pioneers using seeds they brought from the old country. Sometimes, when the weather is nice, we sit on the porch swing at the manor and he never fails to point it out and say, "That tree over there, Timothy, is frindschauft of the famous Great Oak." He asked me to dedicate an entire chapter to the Great Oak of Chortitza. I felt it was a bit much for only one tree, but he insisted. He travelled to Russia and Ukraine in the nineties on one of those Mennonite history tours where he took dozens of photos of the famous Great Oak, including at least a couple that weren't completely out of focus. He wants to include about thirty pages' worth in his book. "It'll be the most comprehensive visual documentation of the Great Oak ever put into print," he boasted. I assured him that even at one or two pages he'd still have the record.

"When I went there," said Mr. Harder, "there weren't more than a handful of branches that still had green leaves on them."

He showed me a snapshot that confirmed his assessment.

"It looks dead," I observed.

"Oh, it's not dead," he assured me. "Just dying."

I told him its prospects were about as good as any of the trees here in Edenfeld. He laughed. He gets me. I guess that's why he hired me to ghostwrite his latest book for him. It's tentatively titled The Harder Path: Problems and How We Overcame Them from Molotschna to Southern Manitoba by Dietrich F. Harder. The book is the third in a series after Working Hard and Praying Harder: Life on the Farm and a slim volume that documents his father's declining years called You Know, Quite Frankly, It's Never Been Harder. Randall wrote that one.

A large chunk of Mr. Harder's new book is based on the notes he took during that trip to Eastern Europe twenty-five years ago, only his recollection of the facts is rather suspect and his spelling is all over the place. However, checking facts and correcting spelling are just two of the many services a ghostwriter can provide. That's what Randall and I always tell clients anyway, you know, to drum up business. Our mysterious ability to boot up a computer also seems to impress the locals, and we're some of the only people around here reasonably proficient with a word processor. This is a great embarrassment for the mayor, who considers himself a real progressive. For a while, he even offered a course at the library called "Computer Usage for Mennonites and Other Beginners," but only six people signed up and most of them were just in it for the free cheese curds and rolled up slices of processed ham the town provided for attendees. The event wasn't entirely useless; BLT used a photo of his students peering with bewilderment into their computer monitors for one of his campaign mailers.

I enjoy working with Mr. Harder, but it can be confusing at times. Over the centuries, the Harders lived in three different countries in three successive villages each called Edenfeld, a name that refers to the Garden of Eden, and one that's more blindly optimistic than accurate. Given the large number of villages Mennonites have christened with that name, I often have to clarify, "You mean Edenfeld, Russia, not Edenfeld, Canada, right?" and Mr. Harder isn't always sure, so sometimes we look at the photos and guess based on what people are wearing or how much snow has accumulated in front of the houses, but even then, it isn't always conclusive. There were Edenfelds all over the place in the old country, each one of them abandoned a long time ago. There used to be more than one here too. There was another Edenfeld on the other side of the river that was labelled on old maps as "Lower Edenfeld," probably because it was a few miles closer to the American border. The whole town escaped to Paraguay long ago, where they hacked out rich farmland from dense jungle. Our Edenfeld is closer to the city, which means on weekends we escape to the mall and hack our way through dense crowds to get deals on yoga pants.

Mr. Harder also tends to mix up the Bolsheviks and Makhnovists and has real difficulty recalling what particular torture device was used against our people in what particular time period. "I don't think they used tongue screws in the Soviet Union," I recall telling him. But he replied, "Oh, yes, yes they did, to silence the heretics from preaching while they were being burned at the stake." His timeline is often way off.

When five o'clock rolled around, I took my dandelions and went over to the diner for our meeting. I have an ongoing arrangement with Ernie to save the table that overlooks the street so I can observe the locals and document their idiosyncrasies for future writing projects. Since Ernie very much appreciates the volume of plautz I consume, he's willing to reserve this prime spot for me. He even puts one of those triangular signs at the edge of the table that says "Reserved for a Valued Customer," which is usually covered in grease and always makes me feel appreciated.

When I arrived that day, however, the greasy sign wasn't there and I saw that Ernie had given my spot to City Sheila, who has lived in Edenfeld for two full decades, but has maintained this nickname due to her English surname and liberal use of eyeliner. Ernie apologized to me and said he would ask Sheila to move. It was a simple oversight--no big deal--but Ernie seemed quite eager to move Sheila to another spot. I imagine he didn't want her well-made-up face, with her fiery red lipstick, greeting customers as they approached the building. She sells cosmetics from the trunk of her car, and the fact that her ostentatious pink convertible was parked in Ernie's lot was probably not to his liking either. He spoke to her in Plautdietsch and she had no clue what the man was blathering on about, but with me standing there awkwardly and Ernie flapping his arms, she must have gathered there was an issue.

It was an issue for Ernie anyway. I told them both that it was fine and I'd find another table, but by then City Sheila was already standing with her cutlery in hand, ready to move, and I felt terrible about the whole situation.

I asked her for a catalogue and promised I'd order a few nail files and a cuticle trimmer for Katie.

"I feel awful about this," I said in English. "I really didn't need the table."

City Sheila sighed. "It's no problem," she said. "I know how Ernie can get."

I sat down and ordered a coffee and piece of rhubarb plautz, my favourite. I left the menu open in front of me in case I wanted to order more, the whole time wondering what on earth was keeping Mr. Harder. He was already twenty minutes late and that didn't even factor in the twenty minutes by which he was usually early. We were supposed to discuss his older brother David and the time he spent in the World War II Conscientious Objector camp out west. He claims David single-handedly built nine miles of the Trans-Canada Highway with nothing but a pickaxe and a shovel, including a stretch that went right on through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Harder even showed me a piece of rock that he'd kept as a memento all these years. "Blasted straight through that mountain, he did." This was yet another story that could probably use a fact check.

I glanced down to the street below, anticipating Mr. Harder's arrival. The server with the tongue piercing came to warm up my coffee, even though I'd hardly touched it. She's new; one of Ernie's nieces he's trying to persuade to stay in Edenfeld by offering her a few hours at the diner and turning a blind eye to her perforated tongue. When she saw that the cup was still full, she raised an eyebrow and asked if there was something wrong with it. I said it was fine and smiled, trying to be pleasant. For a moment, I considered making a comment about her mouth jewelry, but quickly thought better of it. The urge to make small talk with strangers is something I have to suppress and, thankfully, at my age I still can, but I'm sure in twenty or thirty years I'll be the guy chatting up the server. "So, Rebecca," I'll say, leaning in to read her name tag. Then I'll tell her how her piercing reminds me of our distant ancestors who were tortured for their faith, and I'll ask her how it feels to have a piece of metal in her tongue and if it prevents her, in any way, from sharing the gospel. For now I kept quiet, though, and instead peered out the window to the street below, watching Edenfelders go about their daily lives.

It was hot that day, well above thirty, or what Mr. Harder would call ninety, but despite the near-suffocating temperature, Ernie was too cheap to turn on the AC. "Once it hits a hundred, then we'll talk." The windows were wide open and I could hear cars honking and cattle lowing in the distance. Is that the right word? Lowing? Whatever it's called, they were making the noise that cows tend to make when they're in distress or mating or whatever and, though I could not confirm it with my own eyes, I imagined that the two sounds, that of the cars and that of the cows, were somehow connected. The cars, I assumed, were honking at the cows, or the cows, perhaps, were expressing their displeasure at the traffic. Whenever a cow breaks free from its pasture, the Parks and Rec crew has to go out there and scoop manure off the street.

The corner of Sunset and Main is the commercial hub of town, or it once was anyway. However, since almost everyone does their shopping in the city these days, at one of those massive stores where they load the puffed wheat onto the back of your truck with a forklift, Edenfeld's Main Street is not nearly as bustling as you might expect. BLT is desperately hoping to attract exactly such a facility to Edenfeld, which will keep some of that puffed wheat money in town, he says. He's even constructed a new road called Megamart Way, which tends to confuse out-of-towners when they discover that it's nothing but wishful thinking at the moment. It does, however, lead to a very attractive ditch.

Down on the street, a jogger ran past, his head high and smiling like his favourite Phil Collins song had just come on through his headphones or he'd beat his personal best for most laps up and down Main Street. He ran on the spot for a while, waiting for the light to change, then carried on past a woman in a long floral dress who was rollerblading in front of the café. I wrote all this down. The rollerblading woman stopped to chat in Plautdietsch with another woman in a similar dress who was wearing white sneakers instead of rollerblades and so seemed very short in comparison. Both were wearing headscarves. The rollerblading one seemed upset about something and was speaking sternly and using her height advantage to tower over the other woman. I wasn't sure what exactly they were arguing about, but I gathered from the frequent use of the word "heena" that it had something to do with chickens. I didn't want to lean too close to the window, though, because even though my Plautdietsch isn't that great, I didn't want them to know I was listening. Instead, I gazed into the distance, like I was looking past them at that huge stack of cabbages across the street at Frugal Frank's Groceries and More, but I kept writing what I could glean from their interaction. I record details like this in my notebook hoping that if I ever write my own book, and not just other people's stories, this material might be of some value.

When the server in the kerchief, not the one with the pierced tongue, came up and asked me what I was writing and if I'd like a hot bowl of borscht or maybe a lovely schnetje with strawberry jam, I said I was fine and that I was writing an obituary notice, which was the most plausible answer I could conjure at the moment. I didn't want to reveal my penchant for eavesdropping on the locals.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Was it someone close to you?"

I nodded and she offered to pray for me even though I said it wasn't necessary. She kept it brief, reciting something from memory, presumably because there was a table full of elderly women in red hats who needed her attention.

When Mr. Harder finally showed up, I greeted him from the window, then readied my notes as he made his way up the stairs. I had brought along a stack of history books and a few issues of Preservings. I figured this stuff would be useful source material for our project. I'd done a lot of research. I even got my hands on The Harder Book, which was packed with genealogies and baptismal records and maiden names of each and every person in the family tree since the mid-eighteenth century. Each Harder family has their own book because, as I'm sure you know, not all Harders are closely related. Some came in the 1870s fleeing the tsar and some came in the 1920s fleeing the people who replaced the tsar. Some are jantsied Harders and some are ditsied Harders and some are from the mysterious Scratching River settlement. There are even the Mexico Harders and a few branches of those too. This particular volume was thick and brown and embossed with gold lettering that said "Descendants of Heinrich B. Harder and Anna R. Funk (1723-1980)." It was the hardcover edition.

You can tell a lot about the relative stature of an Edenfeld family by examining the quality of binding used in their family history books, a practice that has continued despite stern admonishment from local churches. According to Reverend Broesky, hardcover bindings are a symbol of worldly pride. "How presumptuous!" he exclaimed. "These books are not the Bible. There is no need for these stories to be preserved for all eternity. No, brothers and sisters, in most cases a simple Xerox on the church copier will be more than sufficient." Despite the warning, many Edenfeld families continue to showcase their status with hardcover bindings. The Harders, the evidence would suggest, are among our more prominent citizens.

It took Mr. Harder a while to get up the stairs, even after Ernie went down to give him a hand. When they entered the room a few minutes later, Mr. Harder had Ernie firmly gripped at the elbow and they were muttering to each other in our language and it seemed that neither man was too pleased with how the other one was handling matters. I stood to greet Mr. Harder. He was well dressed, as always, with a clean collared shirt, pressed pants, and a brand new pair of black suspenders. He waved enthusiastically, buoyed by Ernie's ability to keep him upright, then shuffled towards me. I shoved the bucket of dandelions out of the way with my foot so he wouldn't trip over it.

"Jo, oba, how are you?" he said. "Sorry I'm late."

He reached for a can of Orange Crush from the cooler and raised his index finger at the server. She added it to his tab. There was a tray of plautz in the cooler as well, each piece individually wrapped in plastic, which he scanned very skeptically before saying "jauma" loud enough for the serving staff to hear.

"Good idea," I said. "They're not so fresh."

He noted that City Sheila seemed to be enjoying hers, but then commented that she'd only lived in Edenfeld for two decades and probably hadn't yet developed a sophisticated enough palate for such things.

Mr. Harder motioned for me to sit down. He even put his hand on my shoulder briefly and I found the physical contact to be rather out of character. Again, he apologized for being late and said I could charge him for an extra half hour. He shook his head.

"What passes for plautz these days ..."

I cleared a place at the table, brushing aside my crumbs, and put The Harder Book in front of him. I was excited to hear what he thought about my new discoveries.

"This should be useful, shouldn't it?" I asked. "Found it at a garage sale. They wanted ten dollars, but I got it for half that. Can you believe it?"

He inched his chair forward, opened the book, and paged through it indifferently, glancing up at me from the top of his glasses. Then he pushed the book back into my hands without bothering to close it.

"I'm familiar with The Harder Book," he said, pausing for a moment in an unsuccessful attempt to open his Orange Crush. "Listen, Timothy, I think we need to make a few changes."

"To The Harder Book?"

 

It was a stupid question. The Harder Book was already in print and had been for decades. It was hardcover. It was on the shelves of every Harder family in town. There simply was no changing The Harder Book.

"I don't think you quite understand me," he said.

I sure didn't. I closed the book. Perhaps he'd be interested in the article I found about his uncle who'd been in the Selbstschutz back in Russia. I had the page ready to go and marked with an insert from the church bulletin. Before I could show it to him, though, he reached out to stop me. His hand was cold. Mine was a little damp.

"Listen, Timothy ... I hate to tell you this, but ..."

At this point, the server checked in and, noticing that Mr. Harder had still not opened the can, offered to pour it into a glass for him.

"Need a straw?" she asked.

"No, I won't be staying long," he said. "I'll take it with me."

"Well, anyway," I said, "I was thinking about chapter four where David is standing before Judge Adamson and--"

"You're not hearing me," said Mr. Harder.

"Was it Judge Adamson or Judge Embury?"

He shook his head, slowly and with great difficulty, then rubbed his neck as if he wished he hadn't been quite so vigorous with the head-shaking.

"No, I mean you don't understand. We can't continue like this," he said. "The book you're writing for me."

I leaned back in my chair and motioned for more coffee. I thought maybe another cup would put this conversation back in a more productive direction. She arrived promptly and topped me up, but Mr. Harder covered his cup with his hand and stared at me.

"I'm sure you don't want to be bothered with this project anymore, do you?" he asked.

"What do you mean? Of course I do," I said, then clarified myself. "It's not a bother. I'm enjoying it."

He stood up, which took quite some effort, and turned his attention to the window. His wife was waiting in the car below, the seats packed full of watermelons.

"Well, Timothy, I wish we could continue, but we have to consider other factors," he said. "Today will be our last meeting, I'm afraid."

"Seriously? Why? I thought things were going well."

I couldn't figure it out. Had my Iron Maiden T-shirts finally set him off? Perhaps he'd found a more affordable option, a willing relative who could hunt-and-peck their way through a manuscript.

"What should I do differently?" I asked. "I'd be glad to hear about any changes you'd like me to make. Your feedback would be very useful."

Mr. Harder didn't answer, but handed me a cheque.

"I think this should cover the work you've done so far," he said, then rummaged around in his pocket for a five-dollar bill. "And this is for the Orange Crush ... and the coffee."

I slipped the cheque into my wallet without looking at it. Mr. Harder took his unconsumed beverage and ambled over to the door where Ernie helped him down the stairs. I glanced out the window and saw his wife slide the watermelons over to make room for her husband. I waved as he left, but I'm not sure he noticed. By that time, the women in the floral dresses were gone too.

I waited for a while, finished my coffee, and paid the bill. I hadn't been able to give Mr. Harder the bucket of freshly picked weeds. As I made my way out of the building, I told City Sheila that she could take the table, and keep the dandelions too, if she wished.

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Speed Dating for Sperm Donors

Speed Dating for Sperm Donors

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Can a lesbian couple find Mr. Right?

Helen and Paige really want a baby. Maybe even two. They’ve decided they want to use a sperm donor, but because of Paige’s own upbringing as an adopted child they want the donor to at least be known to the child. This challenge makes the normally anonymous favour even harder and more intimate than they expected. And then there are the options for donors. Through the fast-paced “dating” of several candidates, all of whom come with their own warning labe …

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Scene 6: Total World Domination

 

A brisk spring day. Helen and Paige stand outside near the arrivals gate at the airport. They blow into their hands and stamp their feet. The whoosh of airplanes can be heard.

Paige: Why is it we must meet him at the airport?

Helen: He’s on a tight schedule, I guess. He gave very specific instructions. I wasn’t about to question them.

Paige: Is he coming home with us, or —

Helen: I’m not sure. There he is.

A man in a Russian fur hat enters.

Physicist: You are on time. This is most excellent.

Helen: Thank you so much for agreeing to meet us.

Paige: Can we, perhaps, go and sit down together —

Physicist: No, this location is serviceable.

Helen: Okay, well why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Physicist: Here, I have photograph. Myself as little baby. You may keep.

Helen and Paige lean over the picture.

Helen: Awww. Very cute.

Paige: This must be your maman holding you?

Physicist: No. This is wet nurse in Mother Russia Young Physicist Training Facility.

Helen: Yes, you mentioned you were a physicist in your message. Maybe you could tell us about your work.

Physicist: Black hole physics, yes. I make superconductor simulations embedded in flat space. I propose new type of ultralight particle forming halos supported by the quantum uncertainty principle.

Helen: Wow. That sounds . . . Wow.

Helen elbows Paige.

Paige?

Paige: Impressive. Very impressive.

Physicist: Quite standard, actually, compared to former research. But we dispense now with pleasantries. I go to produce required material. You will kindly have transcripts ready for my return.

Helen: Transcripts?

Physicist: You both completed university training, yes? My requirement for distribution of genetic material is that you score in top ninety-five percentile. Equivalent of your North American A+. I am not wanting to mix my genetics with inferior specimens. Kindly produce documents to prove your intelligence level.

Helen: We don’t have any documents with us.

Physicist: Most inconvenient. My flight departs at two p.m. Ah.

He whips out a notepad and sketches.

I now pose you theorem of moderate difficulty. You have solution by the time I have sample . . . no problem.

He hands the theorem over to them and leaves.

Helen: He didn’t say anything about a test!

Paige: What does that mean, “inferior specimens”? Is he going behind a pillar?

Helen: Could it be a language problem?

Paige cranes her neck.

Paige: I think it’s a bigger problem — he’s a crackpot!

Helen: Very smart people, I have noticed, are often quite odd. Let’s just ask him some more questions. Meantime . . . here, you better do this.

She slides the notepad paper over to Paige.

Paige: No, you.

Helen: I’m not touching it. You’re math girl.

Paige: Normal math, not black hole physics!

Helen: Try. Write something!

They throw it back and forth. The Physicist returns and Paige quickly writes down an answer.

We just wanted to ask you: Why do you want to be a donor?

Physicist: It is most efficient. Statistically speaking, I would never have time to personally impregnate all of the women who now have borne me children.

Paige: All of the women? How many are there?

Physicist: Two hundred and thirty-nine this year.

Helen: This year alone?

Physicist: Total number of known progeny since I begin experiment is two thousand seven hundred and twenty-one.

He reaches inside his jacket pocket, and Helen and Paige both take a step back.

But we waste time. Sample is getting cold.

Paige: Why do you do this?

Physicist: Covert distribution of superior genetic footprint. End result: total world domination. But don’t worry about that. Very cute babies. Look at photograph.

Paige: I don’t think we can be a part of your experiment.

He is examining the theorem on the notepad.

Physicist: Unfortunately, you are correct. Three? The answer you propose to theorem is three?

Paige: Oui?

He does a little bow.

Physicist: It is my disappointing duty to inform you that you are not viable subjects. I now proceed to Cincinnati to next potential vessel. Goodbye.

He gives another little bow and makes an abrupt departure.

Helen: Nice to meet you too.

Lights fade.

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The Crooked Thing

The Crooked Thing

Stories
edition:Paperback

The English poet, William Blake said, "joy and woe are woven fine." So it is in The Crooked Thing. A collection of intense and emotional stories, there are traumas and betrayals, loves and losses, missed opportunities and discoveries, and above all, hope. In tales delicate and steely, a troubled young ferryman finds himself with an unexpected passenger, a songbird finds its voice, a mother learns to let go of her son and, after a chance encounter, an aging ballerina dances again. In her debut st …

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Even Weirder Than Before

Even Weirder Than Before

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

***CANADA BOOK AWARD WINNER*** ***IPPY AWARDS BRONZE MEDAL, LGBT+ FICTION CATEGORY*** ***SHORTLISTED FOR THE MIRAMICHI READER'S 'THE VERY BEST!' FIRST BOOK AWARD***
Daisy’s job is to be as unobtrusive as possible. But when her father suddenly leaves and her mother breaks down, Daisy’s old life disappears, and she is set free in the rift created between her parents. Susie Taylor’s sharp, quick-witted prose carries Daisy through a family cataclysm, relationships with boys, and her increasing …

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Finding Callidora

Finding Callidora

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

A horrific betrayal sets the destiny of the Alevizopoulos family, farmers who dare to choose a side, first in the Great War of 1914-1918, then in the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922. Theodore, the patriarch, was given a significant plot of fertile farmland in the Peloponnese for his efforts to fight the Ottomans in the Cretan revolution of 1886-1896. After he dies, it is Callidora, the matriarch, who must protect this legacy, raising her children to ensure the land is passed down from one generat …

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Excerpt

The man says something to her father and points. They are both sitting in the front seat of the car and she leans forward from the back so she can hear them a bit better.

Gi. Land. She understands the word and follows his finger. This land is closer to the sea. There are more olive trees here and in their pale green midst, a house of stone. The roof has collapsed into itself and the stone is muddied, but the structure stands. There is no front door or glass in any of the window frames. Tattered sheets of plastic beat against the sides of the house. It must have been a family home at one time. She sees the oleander bushes dotted in flowers of her favourite colour, fuchsia, and is sure the scent reaches her even at this fleeting distance. Someone must have cared about this home. Once. Once upon a time, she thinks. This is how all her fantasies begin. She has a tendency to romanticize spaces, build stories of hardship and triumph for the characters she makes up. She dreams of reconstructing the shacks she has seen all over this country, restoring them so they can be loved again. She dreams one of these shacks is hers to love again.

“I don’t know why,” the man says. “But that piece of land has always had a name. A woman’s name. I have never changed it.” He turns, takes his eye off the road and looks at her father. “It was the right thing to do.”

She stares at the house.

When the man says the name, she breaks into tears. After all the dead ends, the bureaucracy, and her family’s warnings, she has found it.

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Operation Stealth Seed

Operation Stealth Seed

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

NYPD Detective Nicola Cortese, veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is leading a routine drug bust at a warehouse in the Bronx, but the SWAT team Commander pulls rank and starts a firefight that gets Cortese’s partner killed. The tragedy triggers combat flashbacks, sleepless nights with cold sweats, nightmares, and violent outbursts during which he assaults fellow officers. He is demoted and transferred to a desk job in Operations. For months, all his appeals are denied. But when a …

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Excerpt

Corbie Price and Chaz Malone were sitting at a corner table in the newly remodeled Kettle of Fish when Nick arrived. Price, with his orange-paisley-bandana-wrapped head and gold ear-ring looked like a Somali pirate, but he was probably the best street detective in the Borough. Chaz wore faded jeans and a white tee shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the left sleeve. He was blond, blue eyed, and cut like a weight lifter. There was a tattoo of an anchor and the words Davey Jones on his shoulder.

Price looked up and grinned. “Well lookit here, if it ain’t that big old desk jockey yusta yank our chain when we wuz kicking ass in the Sixth. Take a load off, Lieutenant.”

Nick scowled, “It’s Detective now, paper grade. And thanks I will.”

Malone asked, “So, whazzup Doc?”

“Not a helluva lot, Chaz, how about you?”

“Just bustin our butts as usual. You heard about Hendricks?”

“No, what about her?”

“Rumor is she’s due to get kicked upstairs, to Borough Commander, or Bureau Chief. She’s not lettin’ on though, gets kinda cranky when you ask her about it.”

“Yeah, that’s Hendricks. Plays it close to the vest. Not a bad idea, the way shit flies around the Department.”

The waiter came by and Nick ordered a draft, but Malone said, “Why don’t we just get a pitcher and save this guy some time.”

“Hell, let’s order two. You guys are way ahead in the cheer department. I’d like a chance to catch up.”

Price held up his half full glass in a toast. “Here’s to the sportin life, which ain’t egzackly the life of sports, but close enough.”

Malone started to speak, but stopped, wondering whether he should mention it, then he said, “Chorniak’s back.”

“Yeah? How’s he doin?”

“Okay I guess, kind of subdued these days. Hasn’t pulled one of his silly ass pranks in a while, and they sewed his ear real good, it just sticks out a little bit more than the other one.”

Price laughed. “Sheeit, he looks like a mutt with one ear flopped !”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I never meant to disfigure the jerk."

Malone looked uncomfortable. “Everybody knows it wasn’t personal, Nico.” He paused, then added, “How you feelin these days anyway?”

“What do you mean? I’m feelin fine, ‘cept for, you know, paper cuts and eye strain.”

“Yeah, good, well, we were just wonderin . . .”

He hesitated and Price cut in, “Let’s just lay it out, Chaz. Nico, it’s boring as tapioca these days. The new Loo is a tight ass number cruncher. We want you back bustin our chops like the old days.”

Nick was touched. “I’d like that too, Corbie, I surely would, but it’s not up to me.”

Malone said, “Well, actually, it kinda is, or uh, you know, it might be?”

Price shook his head. “What monkey mouth is tryin’ to say is that IAB would take another look pronto if you’d do a few rounds with a counsellor.”

Nick felt himself getting hot, and his breathing quickened. He felt surrounded, smothered, trapped.

The beer came and he poured himself a glass, took a long drink before he answered.

“Yeah, well, I thought about it, but I don’t see what good it will do.”

“We ain’t saying anything’s broken, bro, it’s just, you know, for the brass.” Malone added, “They want to move you back, but they need some paper.”

“Paper? Fuck, don’t they have enough paper in the NYPD? The Department’s drowning in paper. Besides, I haven’ had any, uh, incidents since I left the Sixth. I’ve been sending them letters telling them so every week. That should be good enough. I’m not gonna spill my guts to some office boy with a bullshit degree.”

Malone looked disappointed. He opened both hands in a conciliatory gesture, and shrugged, “Hey, Nico, I’m sorry I brought it up.”

Nick chucked him on the arm. “I understand. And it means a lot that you guys want me back. I just don’t see myself sittin there like Tony Soprano mouthing off about anxiety attacks and stuffing myself with downers.”

Price started laughing, and it went on, got deeper, like something had really tickled him.

“Oh shit, I love it, Nico Soprano, Capo Sensitivo, it breaks me up.”

Nick didn’t know whether to be offended or take it as a compliment. All he said was,“Enough about shrinking heads. It’s a big bad city, boys. What do you want to do next?”

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Five Little Indians

Five Little Indians

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback

Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention.

Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn’t want them. The paths of the five f …

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