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2021 BC and Yukon Book Prizes
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2021 BC and Yukon Book Prizes

By 49thShelf
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The West Coast Book Prize Society is thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2021 BC and Yukon Book Prizes. Congratulations to the authors, illustrators, and publishers! The BC & Yukon Book Prizes Gala and awards announcement will take place Saturday, September 18th, 2021.
The New Corporation

The New Corporation

How "Good" Corporations Are Bad for Democracy
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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes
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A History of My Brief Body

A Letter to Nôhkom
This isn’t a book about you, nôhkom. A book about you, a book in which you appear uncomplicatedly in a world of your own making, would be an anti-nation undertaking. Canada is in the way of that book. To write that book I would need to write crookedly and while on the run. I would need to write my way out of a map and onto the land. For now, you move in and out of my books as though wind in a photograph. I swear no one will mistake you for a deflated balloon hanging from my fist. Here, and in my poetry, you’re always looking up at the sky, longing for the future. In order to remember you as a practitioner of the utopian, I need to honour the intimacies of the unwritten. This book, then, is as much an ode to you as it is to the world-to-come. In the world-to-come, your voice reminds those in your orbit that we can stop running, that we’ve already stopped running.
Often I remember that you likewise have been denied the relief and pleasure of stillness. When I do, my heart breaks. When it does, I gather the shards into the shape of a country, then I close my eyes and swallow.
Courtney, my oldest sister, and I have a running joke about how you call her only when you’re searching for me, because for whatever reason you can’t find me between the hundreds or thousands of kilometres that make the world too wide for you to be beside me anymore. In the summer of 2016, for example, I travelled to Honolulu for the gathering of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. Before I boarded the plane you said this to me over the phone: “Don’t forget to call me, because I’ll go crazy if I don’t hear from you.”
What a sentence! Built into the mechanics of love is the possibility of mismanagement, for we can never adequately anticipate how our relation to a love object might shift or morph over time. Love has a tendency to shatter; it is prone to weakening and to running amok without notice. Perhaps, ironically, this is how it anchors us to a world, how it makes us want to give everything to the project of living well with others. Without love or the object into which we hoard parts of ourselves, we might go “crazy,” lose our bearings. Although distance and time have pried open a barely translatable gap between you and me, we still find something worth tending to in the history of us that is unavailable elsewhere.
You love to tell the story about how when Jesse, my twin brother, and I were babies, you had to sit me in a jumper and him in a saucer to feed us concurrently. You would shovel a bit of oatmeal into my mouth then turn to Jesse, you inform us, smirking. You fill the room with laughter each time you describe and re-enact how impatiently I would wait for my helping. Begging, high energy—you had to pick up the pace to appease me. I’m floored, not only by your ability to call up a decades-old memory, but also and more acutely by the joy that having had such an experience brings you.
Even in my earliest memories, I’ve always intuited your presence as a capacious one. I was a “kokum’s boy,” so to speak. You took me everywhere—albeit not to the bingo hall! You showed me a level of unconditional love that I rarely find at all nowadays. You were and are at the core of an extended family unit, balancing, back then, the fine line of encounter between my mom and my dad, your relatives and his. As kids, as you know all too well, Jesse and I rarely spent the night anywhere but our little house in the bush. Yes, we often made ambitious plans to do otherwise, but you always answered our late-night phone calls spurred by a sudden bout of sickness and then drove anywhere between fifteen and thirty minutes to fetch us. Truth be told, we were seldom ill; we simply wanted to be where you were.
It seems now that this flow of emotion has inverted as I’ve grown up. Today, I sometimes forget to call when I said I would, or I habitually wait for your number to flash across my phone. This monumental change is a disorienting fact of adult life—we stretch outside the collective skin of the family. But back then your love incubated a refuge, one I can always return to if need be.
To speak of the possibility of losing me because I’m not near you might also point to the ways that we inhabit imperilled bodies in a shrinking world in which we don’t remember how to coexist without stymying collective flourishing. It’s as though you’re saying, à la Warsan Shire, that I’m “terrifying and strange and beautiful, someone not everyone knows how to love.” It’s as though you’re warning me that your house might be the only sanctuary for NDN boys who love at the speed of utopia.
Nôhkom, I’m not safe. Canada is still in the business of gunning down NDNs. What’s more, state violence commonly manifests as a short-circuited life, one marked by illness, sadness, and other negative affects by which we become ruled until what remains of a body is a ghoulish trace. Despite the stories of progress and equality at the core of Canada’s national identity, a long tradition of brutality and negligence is what constitutes kinship for the citizens of a nation sat atop the lands of older, more storied ones. I can’t promise I won’t become snared in someone’s lethal mythology of race. What I can do is love as though it will rupture the singularity of Canadian cruelty (irrespective of whether this is a sociological possibility). Herein lies my poetic truth.
Love, then, isn’t remotely about what we might lose when it inevitably dissipates. How unworkable love would be were we to subject it to a cost-benefit analysis! In the world of the statistical it doesn’t survive and is stripped of its magic; love dwells somewhere less rhythmed by anticipation, less mediated by prediction and calculation, all of which fools us into fighting to preserve a sovereignty that doesn’t exist. In Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, José Esteban Muñoz writes: “To accept the way in which one is lost is to be also found and not found.” What has stayed constant between us is this cycle of losing and finding, this unending transference of vitality, without which we might feel directionless. Love of this sort, however, isn’t about making a roadmap to an other who then becomes your compass. It is a proposition to nest in the unrepayable and ever-mounting debt of care that stands in opposition to the careless and transactional practices of state power that mire the lives of NDNs and other minoritized populations. Having inherited your philosophy of love, which is also a theory of freedom, nôhkom, I can write myself into a narrative of joy that troubles the horrid fiction of race that stalks me as it does you and our kin.
It’s likely that you might feel confused at times by my style of writing, its dexterity, its refusal of easiness, but I know that you’ll sense the affection bubbling up inside each word. That affection is joy, and it started with you. Now, I see it everywhere.
Bill, Edmonton, AB

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
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My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems

My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes
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Five Little Indians
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes, Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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Heartbreak and Hope in Canada's Opioid Crisis
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— 1 —
What Is the Opioid Crisis?
“I don’t think anybody really saw this coming.”—Dr. Mark Tyndall, Executive Director, BC Centre for Disease Control
A sleepy suburb on the outskirts of Greater Vancouver was about to get a wake-up call—in more ways than one. At 1:30 a.m., the stillness of a balmy late-summer night in Delta was shattered by the blaring siren and f lashing lights of an ambulance racing to a family home.
“The paramedic walked up to a house in Delta because a friend of somebody called 911 saying this guy’s passed out; he’s not breathing,” said Linda Lupini, who heads BC Emergency Health Services. “Before they got into the house there were two kids who’d overdosed on the front stairs. So they thought they were at the address—the kids are overdosed; that’s the call.”
The paramedics began working frantically to help resuscitate them. The tell-tale signs of a drug overdose include unresponsiveness, blue lips, and difficulty breathing—or not breathing at all. The outcome can be fatal.
“Are you coming upstairs?!” someone screamed from inside the house.
“What do you mean?” replied a confused paramedic.
“The kid we called for is upstairs.”
There were three simultaneous drug overdoses at the house that night—and that was just the beginning. Within 26 minutes the 911 switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree. Drug overdose calls kept coming in. Paramedics would revive someone only to learn from them that someone else had taken drugs at the same party and could be at risk.
“Then we were working with dispatch, trying to find all these kids,” said Lupini.
In total, 11 young people who were at the party overdosed the night of September 1, 2016, after taking what they thought was a small amount of cocaine. What they didn’t know was that it had been laced with fentanyl—a potent opioid drug. One went into full cardiac arrest.
“We had parents doing CPR on the front lawn on their kids,” said Lupini. “We had 11 teenagers literally not breathing. They were all resuscitated, but barely. A few came close to not making it. It was so traumatic for the front-line staff. We just didn’t have the resources to respond to something like that.
“The problem for an ambulance service is that the increase in calls are your highest acuity—Code 3,” she continued. “They’re gonna die in minutes.”
Between January 2016 and June 2019, a record-shattering 13,913 people across Canada died f rom opioid-related drug overdoses. In 2018, when the annual death count hit 4588, a life was lost every two hours. According to Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, opioid-related overdoses have become the leading cause of death for 30- to 39-year-olds. And although every part of the country has been affected by the opioid crisis, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have been the hardest hit.
On April 14, 2016, British Columbia declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency after illicit drug overdose deaths began sky-rocketing. Historically, about 200 to 300 people a year had lost their lives this way, but by 2015 the number of overdose deaths had risen to 530. Worst was yet to come. By 2018 that number had almost tripled, reaching 1542. It hit me just how serious the situation was when the BC Coroners Service announced that illicit drugs were claiming more lives than murder, suicide, and car accidents combined. By 2019, the number of overdose deaths in the province finally started to decline as thousands had already died and the response to the crisis ramped out, even as the number of 911 overdose calls continued to grow to almost 25,000.
“For the longest while we said it’s a crisis,” said Jennifer Breakspear, executive director of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS) Community Services Society, which provides supportive housing for over 2000 people in Vancouver and Victoria as well as various programs and services. PHS also operates Insite, North America’s first supervised injection site. Breakspear was hired to head up PHS in January 2017. And although she’d had experience in leading a non-profit focused on reproductive health, she described the transition to PHS as a real “crash course.”
As I sat on a couch in Breakspear’s office on East Hastings Street, fire truck and ambulance sirens kept interrupting her—a constant reminder that Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is ground zero in this crisis. “The soundtrack of my workday,” she remarked as another emergency vehicle raced by. Without a doubt, several of them that hour would have been heading to overdoses in the immediate area.
When the public health emergency was declared in 2016, Breakspear told me, everyone thought it was the height of the crisis. Since then, though, “the numbers have continued to worsen. I don’t want to say it’s become the normal—the new norm. That sounds so offensive,” she said. “This is still a situation in which people are dying every day, and I don’t know how you could ever wrap your head around calling it ‘normal.’”
That harsh realization is especially disturbing for the loved ones of those who’ve died during this overdose crisis. “The thought that it’s the new normal is just crushing,” said Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, a national advocacy group of families that have lost loved ones to drug overdoses, including her own son. “Fentanyl is still out there; it’s still killing people. People have no alternative.”
“Crisis” is the word that everyone I spoke to used to describe this state of affairs, including police officers, medical experts, and groups of people who use drugs alike. And BC is like the canary in a coal mine; the problem has spread across the rest of the country, too. The only place you’d see more body bags would be in an actual war. But even that’s not an entirely accurate comparison: 159 courageous Canadians died during the conflict in Afghanistan, and 516 died during the Korean War. Combined, those losses are significantly lower than the number of Canadians who died f rom fatal overdoses in 2018 alone.
Given the massive fatalities during the opioid crisis, Vancouver’s morgue has been filled to capacity and the BC Coroners Service has been forced to develop extraordinary plans to store bodies while the coroner investigates. “We are in urgent need of temporary body storage owing to the public health emergency,” wrote Aaron Burns with the BC Ministry of Justice in a December 19, 2016, email plea to funeral home directors in the BC Lower Mainland. (The email was released under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.) “Bodies are kept at hospital morgues or funeral homes while the coroner conducts the investigation,” Burns continued. “It would only be situations where those places are overwhelmed by volume that storage would pose a problem for us. That being said, we’ve come close to that point in the recent past and looked into refrigerated shipping containers as a contingency.”
The impact of the opioid crisis is widespread. For people who use drugs, it means never knowing whether they’ll be next. It means being blamed. It means being treated like criminals and lowlifes. This crisis continues to catastrophically affect families, friends, and loved ones of those who have died or are using substances and are at risk. And it’s had a devastating impact on those working hard to save lives, including “peers”—people with lived experience using drugs—and professional first responders like paramedics, firefighters, and police officers.
Carolyn Sinclair is the manager of the BC Provincial Overdose Mobile Response Team, which provides crisis support to professional first responders. I first met Sinclair several years ago in her previous role as head of Police Victim Services of BC. She knows about supporting people in traumatic situations and she knows law enforcement. That, combined with her positive outlook and cheerful attitude, made her the perfect person for this new job. Her team was set up when it became clear that the relentless trauma of the opioid crisis was hitting first responders hard.
“In April 2018 we had 27 completed suicides by first responders,” said Sinclair. It was a startling figure, one that she believes is directly linked to the opioid crisis. I asked her to tell me about some of these individuals so that I could get a better idea of how this public health emergency was affecting them. In one instance, she said, “the fire-fighters arrived at the house and found a mom down. The first person in was a young firefighter. They didn’t realize that there was a little four-year-old girl that had also gotten into Mom’s drugs and that she’d crawled behind a chair. They didn’t know she was there until later. The little girl is still in an induced coma, and there are some fire-fighters that are visiting her every day. The first firefighter to that scene committed suicide.”
The opioid epidemic has spread across the continent like wildfire. In the United States, more than 500,000 people died f rom drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015. And those figures have been accelerating, as they’ve been in Canada, owing to a dramatic increase in synthetic opioid–related deaths. In 2017, an estimated 70,237 people died f rom illicit drug overdoses in the U.S. That’s more than the total number of American troops, 58,220, who died between 1961 and 1975 during the entire Vietnam War.
In response, on October 26, 2017, the United States declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. Canada has yet to take that step. But despite the U.S. declaration, even the most rudimentary medical interventions that have been proven to save lives (such as “take-home” naloxone—the antidote to an opioid overdose—and supervised consumption sites) have faced roadblocks. President Donald Trump has instead insisted on building a wall on the US–Mexico border to deal with the problem—an idea that experts agree would do nothing to address it.
What’s responsible for causing this carnage?
The opioid crisis has many complex and interrelated causes. But the immediate starting point is a drug I’d never heard of until it started popping up in news reports about overdose deaths: fentanyl.
“The main driver of the crisis that we’re in is the contaminated drug supply, and we have little to no control over it,” said Chris Buchner, director of communicable diseases and harm reduction at Fraser Health, which covers the sprawling suburbs outside of Vancouver and has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths of any health authority in the province.
“It’s horrendous. I hate people calling it ‘overdose,’ because people are being poisoned. ‘Overdose’ means they used too much. They’re using what they normally would,” said Shelda Kastor with the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. Indeed, Kastor’s explanation is backed up by data f rom the coroner’s office.
In 2012, fentanyl was found in just 4% of post-mortem toxicology investigations of illicit drug overdose deaths in BC—a negligible amount that no one really paid much attention to. Since then, illicit drug overdose deaths where fentanyl has been detected (on its own or combined with other drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin) jumped to 15% in 2013, 25% in 2014, 29% in 2015, 67% in 2016, 82% in 2017, and a staggering 87% in 2018. Multiple drug use, including alcohol, is frequently identified in these cases, with fentanyl as a common denominator.
When you look at the annual number of illicit drug overdose deaths over the last decade—taking out those where fentanyl was detected—you see a relatively stable rate. In 2007 and 2017 alike, there were roughly 200 illicit drug overdose deaths in BC that did not involve fentanyl. Illicit fentanyl is clearly the immediate cause of the dramatic rise in overdose deaths. But, as I would find out, there was plenty of blame to be shared for this crisis.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes; Nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
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The Certainties

Yesterday when the three of us presented ourselves at the station, we did as Suzanne’s contact had instructed—waiting inside the tunnel until the train from Perpignan arrived and then slipping into the station with the passengers who were disembarking. We acted as if we’d come in with everyone else: three more ragged travellers among a collective of “fty or sixty, lugging the last vestiges of our old lives in beat-up cases across the platform. 

As we moved forward, four Spanish police officers appeared, checking papers and ushering passengers in one of two directions: Spaniards with identity cards were allowed to exit, while the rest of us were steered toward a large set of double doors that had been wedged open and led to a room that appeared to have once been a central waiting room or a customs hall. It had high ceilings, slow-spinning fans, and beige walls strutted with concrete pillars capped with Corinthian designs. There was a row of seats near the door to the platform, but most of the room was empty, save for the long tables where the guards were inspecting suitcases and the counter to their left where a clerk was stationed. Behind her, there was another room, or something approximating a room—an area partitioned by a low wall—in which a half-dozen men sat at desks behind lamps and typewriters and telephones.

Suzanne waited in line with the other passengers to see the clerk, while Bernard and I stood near the door to the platform. The clerk was a local woman in the drab clothes of a civil servant, her expression stern, her dark hair wound into a tight coil at the nape of her neck. I wanted to sit on one of the wooden chairs lined up by the wall because my legs were still weak from the climb across the col, but the situation seemed to call for standing, so I remained beside Bernard with a French newspaper tucked purposefully under my arm and my battered black briefcase wedged between my feet. The air in the room, just off the platform, was stale with cigarette smoke and the grease of the locomotives. I had to “ght to keep from coughing. There were dozens of people in the queue before and behind Suzanne, mostly French it seemed, many likely trying to get to America on their papers, and a few German-looking like me. All of us were adults—as if everyone had sent their children to remote locations for safety months ago, as Suzanne had. 

How many people like me, I wondered—stateless, stripped of their citizenship—had come through here” How many thousands or tens of thousands had stood in this room” I had, in my briefcase, identi—cation papers, the appropriate visas, and six petitions for my care from French citizens of import. I had examples of my academic work and a letter of promise from an American publisher for my new essays on the Metamorphoses. Few others would have so much support. There had been a demand for my extradition in Paris, and the Gestapo had con'scated my apartment and what books and papers I’d left there, but I knew in my blood that the bureaucracy of the war was too great, and my signi—cance too negligible, for any record of these transgressions to appear in an office such as this. Nonetheless, in the reality of the moment—the grey despondency of the people trudging forward, the clerk’s unsympathetic expression as she questioned a woman wearing too light a dress for the changing season—I felt frightened. And standing there, my feet throbbing in my shoes, a procession of human bewilderment shuffling along in front of me, I tried to locate what I was seeing, what vision of the future haunted me. I looked to the woman nearest me—in her “oral print dress and cloche hat and smart gloves—and her eyes were full of fear. The man in line behind her—his beard suffering from the lack of a barber—his eyes were also full of fear. I found myself asking of each—what have you done, what might they hold against you” I thought then of that line in Ovid’s poem when Narcissus is at the pool studying his own re—ection: ‘He fell in love with an insubstantial hope.’ What was our hope” That the disarray of the war neuter our interrogators” That we had now become as insigni—cant as we have been made to feel, so that we might slip through the cracks in our nothingness” Standing there in the shared misery of other travellers struggling forward with their papers clenched in their hands, I looked for myself . . . for some version of me . . . or for someone’s eyes to meet mine with a look that said we would be all right. I realized what I was doing with a shock: at that moment, even after being on this earth for “ve decades, to still feel empathy most easily in those cases that re—ect my own” This was a failing. Perhaps the greatest failing of all.

When Suzanne reached the front of the line, Bernard and I joined her. She smiled at the woman on the opposite side of the desk. ‘Buenas tardes,’ Suzanne said and then she gave the name of the capitán we’d been supplied with—Marco. The clerk raised her eyebrows at his name, swivelled on her stool and called out something I couldn’t quite parse to the men stationed at their desks behind her. A few looks were exchanged between the officers—not of the sort that would occur when one is trying to locate a person, but expressions that asked, Who will deal with this” After a minute, a man in a pinstriped suit with a fresh haircut stood up, buttoning his jacket and stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray on another man’s desk as he came toward us. He was dark-haired and dark-skinned, as if he’d grown up on the coast. I immediately wished he was in a recognizable uniform.

‘¿Esteu buscant en Marco?’ he asked. He smoothed his moustache with his thumb and fore—nger and looked Suzanne over coldly—her bright lipstick and smart brown dress indicative of Paris, as was her fair hair, her accent, her bearing. He glanced over at Bernard and me, who stood behind her, ragged as refugees, though we’d wiped our shoes, and scrubbed and dried our pant legs at the hotel so our means of entry would appear normal. ‘Français” Allemand?’ he continued.

Suzanne clicked open her purse and presented her papers, and Bernard and I handed ours forward as well. Then Suzanne began as rehearsed—professional, almost impatient. She introduced herself and said, ‘Je parle au nom des ces personnes  .  .  . I am speaking for these individuals . . . We three have transit visas for Spain and papers for America.’ The officer inspected our documents and signalled that we should move aside with him, farther down the counter. When it seemed he was taking too long with our documents, Suzanne put on an air of irritation and asked for his name. He gave it—‘Señor Porras’—without so much as lifting his eyes from our papers. Then he asked Bernard and me to step forward.

Bernard put both hands onto the lip of the counter to steady himself. He’d been ill since Marseilles and was weak from the climb over the mountain. From how he wavered beside me in his loose suit and cap, I suspected that he was running a fever again; his thinness, his gaunt face made him appear like some sort of mirage, not wholly present in the room. Señor Porras regarded Bernard for a minute and then turned to my papers and me. We had hoped to seem innocuous: people whose in—uence was limited to small academic or artistic circles, people whose work dealt more with esoteric ideas and less with political ideologies. This was, in truth, the case for Bernard: as a painter he’s less of a revolutionary than most, though both he and Suzanne—whose husband is Bernard’s agent—were part of an anti-fascist circle in Paris, and Bernard was one of six or seven artists I knew whose work the Gestapo had deemed degenerate. 

What did I think of then, when Señor Porras was regarding me” Taking stock of my clothes, my face, and my expression” I thought of the briefcase between my feet. Of the manuscript on the Metamorphoses inside it and the notes from my last revision of the Narcissus essay—pages of new ideas dashed off in the Bibliothèque Nationale in the week before I left Paris—shoved into an envelope. I thought of my desire to have this manuscript arrive in safe hands and of the possibility that some German intelligence agent could “nd incriminating ideas in the work, ideas that weren’t there—born solely from his own small-mindedness and his desire to see them.

We had hoped that our transit visas for Spain would be stamped without hesitation, that, at worst, the authorities would run our names against whatever new extradition list they had at the station and, not “nding them, send us on our way. But more and more people were being pulled out of the line; more of the men from the back room were coming out to “ip through visas and residency cards and passports. The counter to my right had become crowded, the man closest to me—twenty-something, German-looking, possibly Jewish—had a sheen of sweat on his face, and I wondered if I had the same. 

‘Monsieur?’ Suzanne eventually asked.

Porras smiled and held up three of the papers we’d given him. ‘I’m sorry, it’s these transit visas. There’s an issue with them now. All visas issued in Marseilles have been cancelled.’

‘Depuis quand?’ Suzanne asked. She looked toward the men who were still seated at their desks behind the partition as if she hoped that Marco, the man we’d asked for, might somehow be among them. ‘We were told—’

‘Yes, of course,’ Señor Porras shrugged, ‘if you’d arrived last week, two days ago . . .’ He raised his open palms toward his shoulders. ‘But there are new regulations effective yesterday.’ He smiled again so that we could see the spades of his teeth. ‘I’m afraid it’s not for Spain to decide.’ 

‘Might I speak with you in private?’ Suzanne asked. He laughed, aware that she planned to try to bribe him. There was money stitched into the lining of her dress for this very reason.

‘You can speak freely in front of my fellow citizens,’ he said, waving toward the clerk and the officer beside him and the men in the back, clearly enjoying this show of integrity.

‘May I see the man in charge of the station, then?’ Again Suzanne assumed the impatience of a person with rights.

‘He is not here today, either. Like Marco. I’m afraid I’m in charge at the moment.’

‘When will he be in?’

‘Tomorrow.’ Porras lifted a silver case from his jacket pocket and tipped a cigarette out of it. ‘Do you want to make an appointment with him?’ 

‘Yes, I do.’

‘Of course. I just need to know where you’ll be staying. In the meantime, I will keep these.’ Porras gathered our papers together and raised his eyebrows. Then he turned to the clerk behind him. He spoke to her quickly in Spanish and she turned and relayed his message to the men behind her, and one of the men in suits called out ‘Alejandro!’ 

The German-looking man beside me was still standing at the counter in his nice waterproof coat. The officer he’d been dealing with was consulting now with another officer in the back room. I had to resist the urge to tell him to make excuses: he forgot his bag on the train, his wife was unwell, he must have dropped a paper . . . he was young and strong-looking and I thought he could move quickly, could get way in the confusion. But he knew, and I knew, that such subterfuge was likely to cause more difficulty than adhering to whatever new rules the Vichy government had put in place. Even for people like us.

Suzanne turned to me and Bernard and smiled reassuringly. Bernard, his head low like a dying animal’s, scanned the room for the chair he needed. A minute later a young man in the grey-green uniform of the local cabos walked toward us.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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1.     Night
Petra was soaking in the bath, reading the newspaper, when she called out from the bathroom: “Manfred! You simply won’t believe it!”
This was at the farmhouse, our hub for political organizing, thirty kilometres southwest of Bonn. The house was just outside a village whose name was never important to us. Picture a few desultory cows. A pile of tires in the field next door, unmoved for the five years we occupied the space. We were here for the cheap rent and the large kitchen under heavy blackened beams. The thick walls smelled of yeast and were cool even in the height of summer. We organized, talked, yelled sometimes; the bedrooms were often covered in mattresses for the itinerant activists who came and went as we built our movement.
I was bent over my cast-iron skillet like an old grandmother in a fairy tale, cooking a lamb stew. I’d browned the cubes of meat, adding wine, then stock and vegetables, scraping the good bits from the bottom. A piece of mushroom had found its way into my beard. When Petra called, I glanced up to see frost on the window. It looked like a towered city capped by blazing stars.
That city of frost has stayed with me long after other memories have died. Ice is important to this story. Petra, when she finally decided to flee, would flee to a land of ice. But in my memory it is mixed with another image: that night I wore an apron that Katrina (ex-girlfriend) had left behind when she stormed from the house, banging the walls, kicking the door with her big black boots. It showed a jovial chef brandishing a barbeque fork on which was affixed a beaded bratwurst sausage. He himself wore an apron with another chef also brandishing a bratwurst, and so on and so on, the chefs and their sausages becoming tinier and tinier, to infinity.
January 1980. Exactly two months after the announcement that rocked Europe. NATO planned to station intermediate-range nuclear missiles in West Germany. An ultimatum to the East, to Russia and its satellite states: remove your own nuclear missiles, the SS-20s, from East Germany, or in less than three years we roll ours in. A faceoff across the Iron Curtain; the United States spoke of fighting a “limited nuclear war” in Europe; everyone was afraid for the state of the world. As now, it was hard to think about the future without feeling a profound sense of Total Despair. These nuclear weapons were like sick boxes of death, each one full of a firepower that could destroy the world a hundred times over. The esteemed Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its nuclear clock two minutes closer to midnight.
But at the centre of this dangerous world, our little band of sisters and brothers—led by the charismatic Petra Kelly—had a counterplan. It focused on the new political party we were building.
The stew was bubbling. I stirred in a bit more broth, and then picked my way through the many shoes in the hallway to the bathroom.
I should say that Petra and I hadn’t been lovers for over a year. This wasn’t my choice, and I still had hopes. In the last year, the Irish trade unionist had fallen away (too possessive), and the Hamburg artist had been tasted and dismissed (his art was minimalist, but he was a cluttered mess of needs and recriminations), and it was me, Manfred Schwartz, pushing open the bathroom door. Petra shook the newspaper at me. The pads of her fingers had softened from the water. Her short, wet hair lay flat against her face.
“Just listen to what this NATO general has done!”
Gone from her face was what I thought of as her scissors look—pinched and pale, stripped of humour. She started to hand me the newspaper, then grabbed it back and read out loud: “Commander of the 12th Panzer Division of the Bundeswehr!
The gist was this: at a much-publicized Rifle Club banquet in Marbach the night before, a NATO general had made a scene. “A black-tie event! You can imagine! The women must have all been in long gloves, gowns covered in sequins. But here—listen. There’s a tradition in the club of bringing a massive roasted pig into the hall, a Spanferkel on a platter, with an apple in its mouth, while the military band strikes up a ceremonial march. Well, the military band chose to play the ‘Badenweiler Marsch.’”
She looked at me pointedly, and yes, I understood. This was Hitler’s march, played whenever he entered a public rally. This fact was well known to us, and it underlined, without further words, how fused the present Bonn elite was to the old system— ancient Nazis recycled and turned into judges and politicians. For non-Germans it might have been possible to listen to the “Badenweiler Marsch,” with its whistles of flutes and piccolos followed by the three distinctive horns, and not hear the darker resonance of Nazism, but not for people of my age, children of the Nazi generation.
Petra shook the paper straight and continued to read: “No sooner had the band struck up the tune, then General Emil Gerhardt, Commander, etcetera, etcetera, pushed back his chair, crossed the room and tapped the conductor on the shoulder. ‘I would prefer it,’ said the general, ‘if that particular march was not played. Neither here nor on any occasion.’”
I could picture it: the banqueting generals surrounded by their jewelled wives, the room fat with satisfaction; two men holding aloft the pig, basted in dark beer and with an apple in its mouth, a display of headcheese, pomegranates and roasted peaches around its haunches and cloven feet. A yelp of appreciation bursting from the grey beards in the room, and then this general requesting the conductor’s attention, while he glares in surprise and keeps waving his baton, and the tuba and the bassoonist begin, with mounting discord, to lose control of the music, until at last the whole thing founders with a final bleat of the trumpets. “I say,” says the general, “would it be possible for you to play another song?”
Petra dropped the paper on the floor and stood, sloshing water. “Pass me a towel, Manfred. I’m going to write him a letter.” She was dripping; little breasts so pretty, hip bones framing the dark patch of hair.
“No, you are not! That’s ridiculous.”
“I am.”
I handed her the towel and she began to dry herself vigorously. “He could be an important ally.”
“Yes, is that so? You know the mind of this general already?”
“I know he can’t help us, if that’s what you mean.”
I went back to the kitchen, where the stew had cooked down too much. Bits of potato and lamb were stuck to the frying pan. I poured in some wine, but the whole thing now had a slight burnt flavour.
Petra came in towelling her hair and wearing her customary loose pink sweatpants and a T-shirt—SWORDS INTO PLOUGHSHARES. She tossed the towel onto the back of a chair, went to her room and came back with a couple of postcards, one of Rosa Luxemburg, the other an innocuous vision of the Rhine in springtime. She chose the latter, sat down and scribbled quickly, then read aloud: “Dear General Gerhardt, I heard of your act of conscientious objection to call attention to Hitler’s odious march. Well done! If you have other values of this sort, come! Be part of our movement! Join the Green Party of West Germany! What do you think?”
I placed a bowl of stew in front of her. “It got burnt,” I said.
“It smells good.”
As I handed her a spoon, she took hold of my hand and kissed the back of it. “We need everyone,” she said.
I sat.
“We must believe in human goodness—isn’t that our job, as people on this earth?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You’re angry with me,” she said.
“Why would I be?”
She was silent, chewing a piece of meat. “We need more allies from the centre.”
“A NATO general? Is that the centre?”
She shrugged.
“And what? You will write him a postcard and tame him? Gentle the general?”
Watch out, I wanted to say. He’s old enough to be your father. She had a father thing; it was well known. She and I even occasionally laughed about it: her proclivity for older men. Her father had disappeared when she was five, without a word or note. He left her with a father-shaped gap in her chest, a place where the wind blew in, and a Pez container he’d bargained for in the American sector, shaped like Mickey Mouse.
Watch out for fathers, I wanted to say. But I didn’t.

2.     Strangers from Another Time
This was West Germany, 1980. In other words, you couldn’t throw a stone on any university campus without hitting students who felt like they were carrying the ghosts of Auschwitz on their backs. And the silence of our parents’ generation, up on our backs, alongside the ghosts. They handed us their abominations without a word, in homes soaked with the good smells of apple pie cooling on the windowsills, happy times in front of the fire. They just forgot to mention the piles of bones, the whitened corpses buried in the backyard behind the trees, and we, detectives and prosecutors, had to dig them up ourselves.
What’s this, Daddy? Holding out a collarbone, a breastbone. I found it behind the shed.
A metaphor. But it felt like this, just under the skin of our daily lives.
At the Freie Universität Berlin in the late sixties, my friends and I had spent hours in mental agony: Who were these people, our parents? We knew them intimately and yet we feared them, and we distrusted ourselves, because we were their offspring.
But for Petra Kelly it was different. She’d moved to the States when she was twelve, after her mother married Commander Kelly, a US soldier, and stayed there until her mid-twenties. This long sojourn away protected her from the self-disgust. She was from the land of Coca-Cola, had campaigned for Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey and had marched on Washington for civil rights.
These things made her clean, made her attractive to our movement.
She didn’t have a Marxist bone in her body, and the politics of the sixty-eighters—the ardent politicized students of Germany, with our fury at the duplicity of our parents—was quite foreign to her.
We are all interconnected. This was what she loved to say, loved to think. And she’d quote from Gregory Bateson: “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me?”
As for the use of force, she opposed it utterly, because (I hear her voice speaking) we all have a core of goodness in us. This is what she thought. Even the most unhallowed criminals. Even the man who sits in the pit of the missile silo with his finger flexed on the button. My Marxist self would take umbrage at her belief in human goodness. But him? Petra would say. Why, he’s just a child following orders!
And what about the man who gives the orders? I would ask her. And the man who gives the orders to the man who gives the orders? There they were, lined up like the chefs on my apron, one inside the other, and yes, according to Petra, they were all interconnected, and all redeemable.
The only real evil in this world came from reducing a person to the status of evil. That was what Petra Kelly thought.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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Chapter Two
October 2011
At the funeral, Mattie and Sara held hands. They accepted condolences together with a grave grace. Many of the mourners told them they had never seemed more alike, or like their mother. Afterwards they hosted a reception at the house, Sara offering drinks and Mattie methodically approaching each guest with a tray of hors d’oeuvres, vegetables frilled with cream cheese that she herself had piped.
After their guests had left and they had tidied the house, Sara asked Mattie if she would like to watch one of her movies.
“Will you watch with me?” Mattie asked.
It was dusk. Sara stood by the arm of the sofa, watching the men and women on the screen sing and dance in their flounced dresses and fancy pants. Every night for the past week she had stayed in her old room, listening to Mattie cry herself to sleep. Sara wanted wine. She wanted salmon sashimi. She wanted her laptop on her lap—her work—in her own chair in her own living room, with her own view into the lit, stacked living rooms of the high-rise across the street and the other single lives being profitably led there. She would have to sell the house, soon, and find Mattie somewhere to live. A group home, with staff to care for her, and friends who liked the same things she did.
“You’re hovering,” Mattie said. “You’re making me nervous.” This was something their mother used to say.
Sara perched on the edge of the sofa.
“Sit back.”
Sara stood up. “Will you be all right on your own tonight?”
The musical number concluded with the entire cast striking an exuberant pose. Then everyone relaxed and the dialogue resumed as though it had never stopped. Mattie turned away from the television and met Sara’s eyes with a bleak look in which neither intelligence nor the lack of it had a place.
Robert was the handyman. He did odd jobs around the neighbourhood: replaced the furnace filter, unstopped the antique upstairs toilet, cleaned the gutters, put up shelves. When Sara had helped her mother with the household accounts at the end of every month, there had always been some little sum for Robert, nothing she had ever questioned. Now her mother was gone less than a month and Mattie had phoned to say she and Robert were married.
“No, Mattie,” Sara had said. “You’re not married.”
Mattie had invited her for supper, to come see.
You are unkind, their mother had told Sara, not long before her heart attack. I am not trying to smother you. You would have your own rooms here, your own office, everything you could want. You can even have your meals on a tray when you are busy with your work. You know what is coming as well as I do. Why do you fight it?
As Sara parked her car in front of the big old house, she recalled the only time she had met Robert, the previous spring. She had been getting out of the car just as she was now when he had come around the side of the house with a mangled squirrel on a shovel.
“Sara Landow.” She stepped onto the lawn, extending her hand. He set the shovel down and they had shook, both of them stronggripped, wary. He was her age, late-thirties, with ginger hair cropped close to his skull, thin lips, pale blue eyes. She intuited a dark, bitter sense of humour, and a matching strain of intelligence.
“Ms. Landow.” He nodded. “The older sister, the professor.”
She suffered his clear, pale-eyed look, conscious of her silk shirt, suede skirt, wool coat, French perfume, Italian leather boots. She wondered what else he knew: about her failure to marry; about her work, and the long, steady ascent of her career; about her ongoing refusal to move “home” and help with Mattie’s care. He had not offered his own name. He explained about the squirrel, that Mattie and Mrs. Landow had found it that morning on the back deck, blood everywhere, and called him in a bit of a tizzy. His word. A cat had got it, he thought. A coyote wouldn’t have left so much behind. She watched him add it to the curbside trash can. “Now for the blood,” he said, and for the next hour or so, while she drank tea with her family and received a fuller recapitulation of the discovery of the poor, poor squirrel, she was aware of him whistling and scrubbing the back deck, occasionally stopping to sip from the mug Mattie had carefully carried out to him. When he was done he rapped on the kitchen window and waved to let them know he was leaving. The deck—Sara had checked—was spotless.
Now it was November. She parked next to five clear plastic bags of leaves, and when she got out of the car smelled smoke in the air, pleasantly. Then she noticed it was coming from the Landow chimney.
“Mattie!” She ran through the front door. She could see her sister squatting on her heels in front of the hearth, firelight dancing on her face. “Mattie, get back.”
Mattie looked up at her, astonished.
“You must never—”
Robert came through from the kitchen in sock feet, holding a drink. “Sara. Don’t worry about the chimney, I had it swept last week. Dinner won’t be long. We made roast beef to celebrate, didn’t we, Mattie-Battie? Roast beef?”
Mattie stood up and put her arm around his waist. He kissed her hair and looked back at Sara, waiting to see what she would do.
“She showed me the marriage licence,” Sara told the lawyer the next day.
Mattie was fine by herself at night and could do simple meals and baking, tea and toast, soup from a can, grilled cheese, salad, pudding, cookies even. She had her bus pass. During the day she had her job at the workshop and her crafts at the drop-in centre. At night she watched movies and talked with her workshop friends on the phone. Sara usually called her once or twice each day to make sure she was all right, and visited three or four times a week to help with cleaning and shopping, and to keep her company now that their mother was no longer there. Mattie couldn’t drive a car or concentrate on a book and she needed help with bigger sums of money, but in a short interaction with her you would not necessarily know these things. She was sweet and friendly and wore expensive nice clothes chosen by Sara and their mother.
Robert, though, she told the lawyer, would have known.
Mattie Landow had become Martha Dwyer. She had done it last week, while Sara had been at a three-day conference in Seattle.
The lawyer, a woman her own age, asked what kind of conference it was.
“Medical ethics,” Sara said. “I’m an ethicist.”
The lawyer asked if Sara or her mother had ever had Mattie declared legally incompetent.
“No. We would have had to go through a judge. We thought it would be humiliating for her. She can do so many things. We didn’t see any reason to define her by what she couldn’t do.”
Sara explained that she had got Mattie on a wait-list for assisted living and was hopeful she’d get a place early in the new year. After that, she was planning to sell the house and use some of the money to take Mattie somewhere extra nice for vacation. California, maybe. Mattie would enjoy Universal Studios.
The lawyer would later tell her Robert Dwyer had a petty criminal record going back to juvie. Shoplifting, DUI, bad cheques, marijuana, like that. She explained that if Sara had her sister declared incompetent they could get the marriage annulled. Criminal charges were another matter.
“You mean fraud, theft?” Sara was thinking of her mother’s assets. Mattie had her own bank account, enough for groceries and DVDs while their mother was ill, which she could more or less manage on her own, but the larger financial picture—investments and property taxes and so on—Sara handled. She was pretty sure everything was still all right there.
“I mean assault,” the lawyer said.
After dinner Robert had taken her aside. He had said he knew the situation was a shock, and if it helped ease her mind he would be happy to leave the sisters alone and return in the morning. Mattie’s face had fallen when they had told her Robert had to be away overnight.
“Where does he sleep?” Sara had asked when he was gone and she had locked all the doors and windows behind him. Mattie had blushed and laughed and hidden her face in her hands. Sara had never seen her so happy, so—that unavoidable word—radiant.
“Sexual assault,” the lawyer said.
“You cannot love her,” Sara said.
She sat with her sister’s husband in her mother’s kitchen. Mattie was watching a Danny Kaye movie a couple of rooms away. They could hear the regular, inarticulate burble of voices and the odd burst of music when Mattie boosted the volume for a song she liked.
“No,” Robert said. “I won’t pretend. But I like her a lot, and she’s fond of me. We get along better than most couples, I’ll guarantee you that. I don’t mind how she is.”
Sara said nothing. Those eyes again, pale and canny. Intelligence like an intimacy between them.
“I’m going to guess you’ve been a busy girl,” Robert said. “I’m going to guess you’ve found out a few things about me. That’s fine. Clean and straight for the last eighteen months—that’s on my record too—but I’m guessing that’s not foremost in your mind right now. That’s fine. It’s good to get these things out in the open. Mattie knows what kind of person I am, I’ve told her as much as she can understand. If it doesn’t bother her, I’m going to suggest it shouldn’t bother you.”
“I could have brought the police with me today. That would have been my right. It was recommended to me, in fact.”
“Jesus.” He shook his head. “Why?”
“Why? Because she has the capacity of a child. She can’t consent to any of this, not legally. Not to marriage. Not to—”
Mattie came into the kitchen and asked if anyone else wanted juice.
“Just for you, I think, Mattie-Battie,” Robert said. “Good movie?”
“It’s my favourite. Next time you have to watch with me.”
“You know I will.”
“I know,” Mattie said.
When she was gone, Robert said, “You think I raped her? You think I’m a violent man? Look around. Do you see a mess in this house? Do you see anything missing, anything out of place? I cleaned the toilets this morning. I raked the lawn, I made the beds. In a little while I’m going to start dinner. I’ve helped Mattie comb her hair and cut her toenails. Clean and straight, it’s all clean and straight.”
Sara told him about the possibility of an annulment and a restraining order.
“You think I should get a lawyer, Sara? Is that what you would do, if you were me?” He seemed genuinely to want to know.
Sara shook her head, then nodded.
“Can you recommend someone?”
She said nothing.
“Sure you can. I’m sure you know more than one lawyer. I’m sure that’s the kind of friends you have. I’m sure you get together with your lady lawyer friends for cappuccinos.”
Lattes, Sara thought.
“All right. I’m not going to make fun of you. I’m not stupid, though. I want you to know that.”
“No, you’re not stupid. Mattie’s the stupid one.”
 He leaned back in his chair. “That’s an ugly way to talk.”
From the TV room they heard Mattie laugh.
“Can I tell you a little bit about myself, Sara? Can I? You’ve established some things already in your mind, I can see that. That I have a criminal record. That I waited to get married until you were out of town. That I’m living here in this beautiful house and maybe that’s fouling it for you. Am I warm?”
“It’s not the house.”
“All right! It’s not the house. Now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me, Sara, tell me what it is. Let’s talk about it and see if we can work it out. I can tell you I didn’t go to university. Is that it? Do you hate me because I watch the Discovery Channel?”
“My first wife had a master’s in social work. I have a sister in the Kootenays and two nieces. Information, information. What else can I give you? I have high blood pressure. I take pills for it. When I was a kid I had a cat named Leo and a dog named Booker. My trade is carpentry. My favourite wood is cedar. I’ve been fired from every job I’ve ever had because I can’t stand being told what to do. My bosses were always genuinely regretful. They knew my work was good but they didn’t like the way I talked back and made them look bad in front of the crew. That’s not trouble, that’s self-respect. Drinking is what gets me in trouble, and I don’t drink anymore. I’ve been to jail three times, the longest time for five months. I’ve had seven girlfriends and eleven cars. But I don’t have to fight with Mattie, to prove myself to her every minute, like I’m doing with you now. That’s why I want to be with her. What else?”
“Mattie’s girlfriend number eight?”
“Number seven. Wife number two. What else?”
“The fact that there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest in Saskatoon?” Sara said.
He took a breath, then let it out. Sara held hers. “I borrowed that car from its rightful owner. It was a legitimate misunderstanding but she turned vindictive for no reason. I don’t want to go to jail again. I don’t deserve to.”
Sara allowed herself no expression.
“You would, wouldn’t you? I mean, you really would. I can see that. All right. I respect that, I do. You fight hard and you win.”
She whispered, “Please leave.”
He went upstairs. She knew this was the dangerous time, the time when smashing sounds might begin. A few minutes later he came back down with a backpack. “Don’t be scared,” he said, when he saw her face.
He went into the TV room and a moment or two later came back, pursued by Mattie in tears.
“I hate you!” she told Sara.
“No, Mattie,” Robert said, “you don’t.”
Mattie had cried for days, had blamed Sara no matter how many times Sara tried to explain. Their appearance before the judge, Mattie prettily dressed and uncomprehending, was a gentle horror: everyone so understanding, so respectful of Mattie’s dignity. The judge had spoken earnestly to Mattie, and Mattie had liked him, Sara could see. Mattie had become confused by her own emotions— loving Robert, loving Sara, loving the earnest judge with the funny big nose—and when they asked her if she wanted to say anything she had gotten tangled in her own thoughts, and blushed and shaken her head. So easy, Sara had thought, hating herself then.
Thus came the end of the privacy Sara had sought so fiercely and protected for so long. She sold the house—too big, too lavender-smelling—and moved Mattie into the second bedroom in her West End apartment, which had been her office. She would work from now on at a small desk in the hall. Mattie learned new bus routes, learned to manoeuvre in Sara’s tiny galley kitchen, learned to operate the coin laundry machines in the basement, learned to manage two house keys—for the building, for the apartment door—instead of just one.
Sara learned more about Robert in the months after he had left their lives forever. She realized he had spent a lot of time with Mattie even before the marriage, enough to have remoulded Mattie to his own shape. He had been a good cook. “Too soft,” Mattie said now of Sara’s indifferently stir-fried vegetables, and she asked more than once when Sara was going to bake some muffins or roast a chicken. Robert had been a tidy man, and thrifty. Mattie counted the money in her beaded wallet every night now before she went to bed, and when she couldn’t afford some treat she wanted, she said, “Never mind,” instead of begging from Sara. She folded her laundry now and put it away, packing it into the drawers of her new, smaller dresser with thoughtful intensity, like she was packing for a sea voyage. Sara learned that Robert had been a man who liked to touch, casually, affectionately: a pat on the back, a kiss on the head, a head on her shoulder during the TV news on the sofa before bed. There was no one else from whom her sister could have learned this behaviour. There had never been anyone else at all.
Sara learned how Robert had been in bed. Late every night, after Sara had turned her light out—long after Mattie had closed her own door—Sara would feel her sister slip into her room, slip under the covers beside her, and press her body against Sara’s until Sara put her arms around her. They would lie this way for a long time, until Mattie turned away, backing herself against Sara so that Sara would hold her that way, and then Mattie would sigh and busy her hands between her own legs. The doctor had assured Sara weeks ago that Mattie was healthy and her hymen intact. “You,” Mattie would mumble after she was done, but Sara would only hold her. Every night after Mattie had fallen asleep Sara would promise herself to put an end to these intrusions: a gentle but firm talk, a lock on the door, a sharp, unequivocal word in the night.
But night rolled into day rolled into night and she said nothing, did nothing. She had taken the sun and the moon from Mattie, as the old words went; they would not come again. Skin on skin, and not to be alone: didn’t she owe her this, at least, if her own love was true?

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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