New Books and Featured Reading Lists

Each week on the 49th Shelf homepage, we highlight new releases. We also make theme-based lists and showcase lists from guest contributors and 49th Shelf members. This page archives these selections so they are always available to our members.

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New Non-Fiction for the week of December 11th : New in Humour
What I Think Happened

What I Think Happened

An Underresearched History of the Western World
edition:Paperback
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That Dammed Beaver

That Dammed Beaver

Canadian Humour, Laughs and Gaffs
edited by Bruce Meyer
edition:Paperback
tagged : humorous
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Opportunity Knox

Opportunity Knox

Twenty Years of Award-Losing Humour Writing
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Canadianity

Canadianity

Tales from the True North Strong and Freezing
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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This week's recommended reading lists
New Fiction for the week of December 4th : New Mystery/Thriller
Purple Palette for Murder
Excerpt

ONE

“Is the fawn still there?” I asked Jid, who was picking his way through the tall ferns in front of us. 
Yesterday I’d accidentally discovered the tiny newborn while tramping along a trail that meandered through the forested hills behind my cottage. Or more correctly, Shoni, my seven-month-old standard poodle, had stumbled onto the defenceless baby deer while chasing a squirrel. Fortunately, I was able to stop her from doing any harm. I didn’t linger, knowing the mother would return once we were gone.
But this morning, while picking up the mail from my box at the end of my road, I noticed the legs of a dead deer protruding out of the ditch on the other side of the main road. It proved to be a doe, a lactating one that had been run over. I immediately thought of the fawn. If its mother was this dead deer, it wouldn’t survive the coyotes, wolves, and other predators that called this forest home.
“I don’t see it yet,” Jid replied, moving the chest-high fronds aside. 
His full name was Adjidamò, meaning “Little Squirrel” in Algonquin, but he preferred to be called Jid. He hated to be reminded that he was small for his thirteen years. 
“Are you sure this is the right place?”
I pointed to an enormous granite boulder covered in lichen and moss rising several metres from the forest floor. “It was hidden in the ferns to the right of that rock.”
If the fawn’s mother were alive, it would be gone. Sensing that her baby had been discovered, she would’ve moved it. Barely able to walk during the first couple of weeks of life, a fawn had two things going for it: it had no scent, and it remained absolutely still. The mother could safely leave it for many hours of foraging without fear of predators seeking it out. Until someone like me stumbled across it and left behind a scent, which would attract the curious.
“If you see it, don’t go any closer.”
He hitched up the waist of his baggy jeans, which had crept downward from their usual resting spot midway down his bum. In an effort to keep up with the older boys at school, he had recently adopted this ridiculous fashion statement. 
“I know,” he replied, not bothering to hide the impatience in his voice.
Of course he would know. Having spent his entire short life in these Quebec woods, he knew considerably more about its inhabitants than I ever would. He also had a way with animals, like a whisperer, if such a person existed. 
One time when we were hiking with Sergei, my sadly missed standard poodle, we surprised a black bear, a large one, not at all happy at being accosted by a frenetically barking dog. I froze, convinced the dog would shortly be dinner. But Jid continued walking toward the animal, easily four times his size, and spoke to it in a calm, soothing tone as if they were buddies. For several nervous seconds I was terrified the bear would pounce. By the time the boy had calmed Sergei, the bear had settled down too. He grunted and took one last look at us before loping into the forest shadows. 
“I see something.” Jid pointed to the middle of the ferns.
I could barely make out a faint cinnamon colour amongst the sun-dappled green. It could easily have been dirt or last fall’s dead leaves. 
“Go closer. I want to be certain it’s still there.” I stayed where I was, a good three or four metres away. “Don’t touch it.”
“I know, I know.” He parted the fronds and inched forward. “It’s still here. Oh, it’s so cute. So small. This is the first time I ever see a baby fawn.”
“The first time for me, too. Does it look sick or injured?”
“Nope. It looks okay. It’s staring at me. What should we do?”
“I don’t want to remove it in case the dead deer isn’t the mother.”
“Yeah, but it’s still here. You said that wouldn’t happen if she was alive.”
“I know, but I worry about taking it away before being absolutely certain that the mother is dead. If we remove it, that’ll jeopardize its ability to survive when it’s old enough to be released.”
“Yeah, but the injured birds and raccoons Janet saves don’t have any problems when she lets them go.”
“I know, but this tiny deer would become so used to us, it would no longer be afraid of humans. It would be an easy target for hunters.”
“We could tie a red ribbon around its neck and tell everyone not to shoot it.”
“I wish. No, we should give the mother one more day. If the fawn’s here tomorrow, we’ll assume the dead deer is the mother and take it to Janet, okay?” 
Janet Bridgford, a retired veterinarian, had moved into a nearby farm a few years ago and established a wildlife refuge. People in the area, including the Migiskan Reserve, had taken to bringing her sick and injured wildlife. I’d done it a few times myself. 
At the suggestion of my husband, Eric, I’d been helping her out a couple of days a week over the last few months. He viewed this as a way to get me out of the house and out of my funk. Though I enjoyed working with these helpless creatures, it wasn’t proving the cure Eric hoped it would be. 
I still found myself summoning up all the fortitude I possessed to get out of bed each morning. Sometimes I didn’t. When I did, I only wanted to curl up in the sofa in front of the fire and watch the flames lick the glass. To be clear, it was the fire in the living room and not the den, once my favourite room for relaxing. I hadn’t gone near that room, not even to look through the doorway, since The Nightmare.
“Yeah, but is she going to be okay? I could stay here and guard her,” Jid replied.
“And keep the mother away at the same time.” I watched a woodpecker track up a tree above the spot where the fawn was hiding. “You called her a she.”
“I can’t tell, but she looks like a girl to me. So cute. Bye, bye, little fawn. I hope you’re gonna be okay.” He hitched up his jeans and tiptoed away. 
The ferns rustled behind me as I headed back through the underbrush to the trail.
“Uh-oh, she’s getting up. What do I do, Auntie?”
“Just keep walking.”
“But she’s following me.”
I turned to see the tiny creature, its white-spotted body barely larger than a snowshoe hare, wobbling on matchstick legs toward the boy. It bumped up against a fern and almost toppled over, but miraculously stayed upright. So endearing and so incredibly helpless. A wolf would devour it in one bite.
As much as I wanted to gather it in my arms and take it with us, I feared it would put her in more danger, so I said, “Speed up, and hopefully she’ll stop following us.” He had me thinking it was a girl too.
I picked up my pace. It was a sparkling late spring morning in early June with the forest bursting with new life. Unfortunately, the new life also included black flies — swarms of them. Before setting out, I’d liberally doused myself with anti-bug juice, which was working, marginally. Though the temperature required jackets and fleece, the sun spoke of the summer to come. 
The trail meandered through an ancient maple forest. When my great-aunt Agatha lived at Three Deer Point, she had operated it as a sugar bush and produced some of the best maple syrup in west Quebec. But she shut it down several years before her death. When I inherited the property, I had thought of reviving it, but so far hadn’t got around to it and likely never would. 
I was tramping along the trail, admiring the shy blooms of spring peeking through the dead leaves, when I realized it was too quiet behind me. I turned around and, as suspected, didn’t see the boy. 
“Jid, where are you?” I called out.
“I’m here,” came the answer from beyond the ridge I’d just crested.
“Hurry up. I have to get back to the house. I’m expecting a call from Eric.” 
My husband had flown to Yellowknife a little over a week ago to meet with the chiefs of various Northwest Territories First Nations and to spend time with his daughter, Teht’aa. She was having man problems and needed a father’s shoulder to cry on. He had tried to cajole me into going with him, believing it would do me good to get away. 
He was right, it would, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave my forest sanctuary. I’d only just begun to find a sort of calm within myself, though an uneasy one. I wasn’t ready to summon the nerve to venture out into the big bad world. Mind you, Three Deer Point had proven to be no less bad.
“I can’t go faster,” he replied.
“Why not?”
“Kidi can’t keep up with me.”
“Kidi?”
“That’s what I’m calling the baby deer. It’s short for kidagàgòns, fawn in Algonquin.”
I scrambled back over the rise to discover Jid creeping along at a crawl with the tiny fawn teetering a few metres behind him. The damage was done. We wouldn’t be able to leave her now.
“Do you think she can walk all the way back to the cottage?” I asked.
“I think so. But if she gets tired, I can carry her.”
“Will she let you near her?”
“Yeah, she’s already nibbled my fingers.”
So much for telling him not to touch her. “Okay. We’ll take her to Janet’s. She’ll know how to take care of the poor thing.”
“I can help her.” His brown puppy eyes twinkled with eagerness.
“I’m sure you can. Look, I have to run. Can you manage on your own?”
“You bet.” The fawn tottered up to him, stretched her head into his groin, and nipped. “Ouch, you’re not supposed to do that.”
“She’s hungry. Janet will have some special milk to feed her. After I finish talking to Eric I’ll come back for you, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Say hi to Shome for me.”
“Will do.” 
Though Eric wasn’t Jid’s mishòmis, meaning grandfather, Jid used the shortened version, shome, as an endearment, the same way he used “auntie” for me, though we bore no blood relationship. 
By the time my rambling timber cottage loomed into view, I could hear the phone ringing. I leapt up the back stairs and snatched up the kitchen phone before it stopped ringing.
“So how’s my one and only today?” I gasped between breaths.
“Ah … Mrs. Odjik?”
Whoops, it was a man, but not Eric. Thank god he couldn’t see me blushing. “Actually, it’s Meg Harris, but I do answer to Mrs. Odjik.”
“My apologies. I believe Eric Odjik is your husband.” His voice wasn’t familiar.  
“That’s right.” 
“My name is Derrick Robinson. I’m your husband’s defence attorney. He has been arrested for murder.”

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The Moscow Code
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

What am I doing here?
That was the predominant question in Charlie Hillier’s mind as he sat alone in the beating heart of a city of twelve million people. Roused from his introspection by the arrival of a server, he smiled as she deposited an elegant cup and saucer on the little patio table and the delicious aroma of fresh coffee filled his nose. It was late September and the days of eating outdoors would soon be gone, but no one seemed to notice on this glorious Saturday afternoon, when the unfiltered sun was still strong enough to ward off the chill of autumn.
All the restaurants and shops along the Arbat were bustling, and Charlie was well-placed to take in the passing crowd during a well-deserved respite from an afternoon spent touring the Kremlin. He had visited the armoury and a museum, then taken a guided tour of the grounds before ending up at the beautifully restored GUM shopping mall on the other side of Red Square. Formerly a state department store selling workers’ necessities, it now housed the most exclusive shops in Moscow, the windows of which Charlie could only peruse long enough for reality to kick in, and the prospect of spending two months’ salary on a coat had him moving on.
Sipping the rich coffee, he watched as a svelte amazon in stilettos glided by, marvelling at her ability to navigate the cobblestones on four-inch heels as though padding barefoot over the softest berber. He turned at the sound of laughter from a nearby table, where two women sat smoking over empty cups — no one around him seemed to be eating much of anything, which explained why everyone seemed so tall and thin. The women could both be fashion models, but so could half the people out on the Arbat. If there was one thing Charlie had realized after a few weeks in Moscow, it was that beautiful women were as ubiquitous here as their cellphones and cigarettes.
As he breathed in the potent mixture of Marlboros, perfume, and coffee, all tinged with the hint of gasoline that permeated everything in central Moscow, Charlie fought the instinct to reach into his pocket for a Cohiba, a holdover from the past two years, which he had spent in Havana. He had a sudden longing for the smell of the ocean, too — warm, pungent, and ever-present as it had been on that quirky little island. But that was the past. Moscow was home now.
His transition to his new posting had been pretty smooth. Since arriving in mid-August, he had quickly settled into his apartment near the Moscow River and found a shortcut that reduced his walking commute to the Canadian Embassy on Starokonyushenny from twenty to fifteen minutes. It was just as well that he had sold his car to a colleague before coming to Moscow, from what he had seen of the traffic here. As for the subway, he had taken it in the evening a few times, but the constant streams emerging from every Metro station along his daily route were enough to convince him to avoid it during rush hour; he had heard that eight million Muscovites rode it every day, and he could believe it. The embassy itself was located in a quiet street in the diplomatic quarter, and though the staff seemed to like the location, the former aristocratic residence was not well suited to a modern office layout, nor big enough to accommodate the ever-increasing complement of Canada-based personnel coming to Moscow each year.
Still, though his office was cramped and musty, and the wall plaster was a web of fissures, there was a certain character to the old building that Charlie found endearing. Unfortunately he seemed to be alone in that opinion, if the number of complaints on file was any indication, and it wasn’t even winter yet. He supposed that was when the reality of his first Russian winter would sink in to remind him that Moscow was a hardship posting, though for different reasons. For now, as he sat sipping his espresso and watching the endless parade of statuesque blondes on the defile of the Arbat in the bright fall sunshine, Charlie wasn’t feeling too hard done by.
Glancing at his watch, he directed his thoughts to the night ahead. It had been a few days since he’d received the email from an old high school buddy who was in town on business and suggesting a get-together. It had sounded like a good idea at first, but Charlie found himself questioning the wisdom of agreeing to the outing now that it was imminent. It had been more than twenty years since he had last seen Shawn Mercer, and it wasn’t as though they had been best friends, even back then. On the other hand, he had no other plans. And how often was he going to bump into a fellow Newfoundlander in Moscow?
From the brief email exchange, it sounded like Mercer was an executive of some sort with a Calgary-based oil company, married with kids. It seemed at odds with Charlie’s recollection of Mercer the party animal, but he supposed that people change. It occurred to him that he would have to gloss over, if not completely avoid, the topic of his own failed experiment in marriage, a thought that brought a frown to his face. But just as a gloom had begun to descend on him, it was dispersed by a cloud of Chanel that preceded a stunning brunette in a canary-yellow minidress and matching platform sandals. As she sauntered by Charlie’s table, she cast a fleeting smile that he could have sworn was directed at him. Hope springs eternal.
Picking up his newspaper, Charlie glanced at the image of a familiar face under the caption “The Duma’s Mr. Clean.” Even as a newcomer to Moscow, Charlie had heard plenty about Pavel Zhukov, the popular former Federal Security Service agent–turned-politician, and his highly public campaign to clean up politics in the Russian legislature. One look at the crooked grin, though, and Charlie had to wonder if the guy was legit. But that was the Russian contradiction, and not just in politics — the shadier you were, the more you were revered, at least from what Charlie had seen so far. His last-minute cross-posting, direct from Havana to Moscow — do not pass go, do not stop in Ottawa — meant that the usual pre-posting briefings and cultural and language training hadn’t begun until his arrival, and he was only now starting to get a sense of the city and how things worked here. Fortunately it had been a quiet summer at the embassy, and the new ambassador wouldn’t arrive until Monday. Charlie didn’t know much about her, other than the fact that she had been in communications and was a close friend of the Foreign Affairs deputy minister, which he figured could be good or bad. He would try his best to make a good first impression and hope that what he had learned on his last posting would take care of the rest.
Considering that he had been destined for a boring headquarters position in consular policy, Charlie felt lucky to be posted anywhere at all. There was a general shortage of qualified consular personnel, but the sudden illness of the previous candidate for the Moscow job had been a lucky break. Being a much bigger operation, here there would be half a dozen people doing the work that Charlie and his Havana colleague, Drew Landon, had shared in Cuba. He wasn’t entirely sure what area he would be asked to focus on, but Charlie was hoping for less administrative work and more consular. For now, he was content to try to fill in the considerable gaps in his knowledge of the mysterious and sprawling old city he would call home for the next two years or more. As for his former home, though there was little in Ottawa for him anymore, he had been buoyed to discover just a week ago that he would be returning in mid-October for a conference. Fall was his favourite time of year, and he hoped he wouldn’t be too late for the colours of Gatineau Park.
Abandoning his half-hearted perusal of the newspaper, Charlie stretched and stifled a yawn, drained after the long walk around the Kremlin. Looking at his watch, he decided he had plenty of time to head back to his apartment for a quick nap before meeting Mercer at seven. He felt a creeping unease as he weaved his way back toward the river, but wrote it off as fatigue and the gathering of clouds in the near distance. By the time he reached the now-familiar Obydensky Lane, the sun was gone, swallowed whole by an immense cloud dark enough to portend turbulent weather ahead.

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Zero Avenue

Zero Avenue

A Crime Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : crime
More Info
Excerpt

. . . FALCO’S NEST

 

She walked in, Falco’s Nest open to the indie music scene. Johnny Falco being the second club owner with the balls to do it. Most venues around town treated punk like taboo: pogo dancing leading to underaged drinking, leading to drunken fist fights, leading to police raids and shutdowns.

Johnny moved here from back east, got to know the punk scene in Toronto, told her about living in the Lawrence Hotel, rooms like two bucks and change a night, a Sabbath cover band called Never Say Die stayed down the hall, the band living on potatoes and soup packets. Getting to know them while bowling with empty ketchup and beer bottles in the hall, driving the landlord crazy.

She loved hearing Johnny tell about the Toronto scene: the Viletones, the Demics. Bands like the Diodes, Cardboard Brains and Teenage Head out of Hamilton, venues like Larry’s Hideaway on Carlton. Johnny saying he wished he’d been on the coast to catch the Furies before they split up, loved their sound, getting out here a couple years too late.

Photos were tacked up behind the bar: him standing arm in arm with Frankie Venom, another one of him and Daniel Rey, producer for the Ramones, one with Carole Pope out front of the Concert Hall.

Lachman over at the Buddha was first to do it in Vancouver, bringing the sound to town. The Young Canadians, still called the K-Tels back then, put on a hell of a show, followed by the Subhumans. The Buddha had been packed ever since, Lachman still trying to live down the night he kicked out Hendrix, back in the club’s R&B days a decade earlier, Lachman telling anybody who’d listen the guy just played too loud.

Falco’s Nest had been catching the Buddha’s overflow since opening its doors eight months back. Johnny usually short on cash, but long on ideas, showcasing new talent, giving bands a chance to jump off the hamster wheel of shit gigs available to them. The local papers called both clubs a spawning ground for a new terrorism on the sensibilities, but Vancouver’s punk scene didn’t read the dailies — fans flocking from as far as Mission, giving the “No Fun City” image a good shake.

Not sure who Johnny had booked in tonight, she walked by the posters plastered across the storefront window. Hoping to duck Marty till later, she’d come to hear some music, have a beer with Johnny then drop in at the Buddha, catch some of D.O.A.’s second set. The guys sometimes letting her sit in. Her Flying V locked in the trunk, just in case.

She stepped into the warmth and the smoke. The biker blocking the door was Stain, big as a bear, tattooed arms hanging from under the Hellrazors MC vest. Fingerless gloves and fingers thick as brats. Never charged her the cover. Everybody else paid two bucks to get in, half a buck less than the Buddha. The way it went at Falco’s, if Stain didn’t like your looks, it cost you three bucks to get back out. The two bucks went to Johnny, the three going to Stain.

She gave Stain a hug, kissing his cheek, then scanned the room. Black walls, exposed ceiling, graffiti and more band posters plastered on every wall. Johnny’s idea of decorating. The floods shone on four skinny guys setting up on the crappy stage of nailed crates. Lead, rhythm, bass and a guy keeping the beat.

“Marty here?”

Stain shrugged like he hadn’t noticed, no love lost between him and anybody else dealing dope in here. Johnny’s rule: Stain broke up the fights, warned him when the cops or anybody looking like an inspector walked in the door, but he didn’t make trouble with Marty Sayles, the drug-dealing landlord. For that, Stain got free beer and nine bucks an hour, triple the minimum wage.

A decent mid-week crowd tonight. A couple of guys from the Braineaters, Zippy Pinhead over talking with Monk, another Hellrazor. Frankie thinking Zippy was one of the hottest drummers around, right up there with Robert Bruce, not something she’d admit to her own drummer, Joey Thunder.

Underage kids in torn denim and leather milled around the stage, sucking on beer bottles, set to pogo. An old rummy stood propped against the far wall by the co-ed can, getting out of the cold long enough to stop the shakes, Stain giving the guy a pass, sometimes slipping him a couple of bucks, showing he had a heart. Once the old guy warmed up, he’d move on.

“Hey ya.” Folding her hands on the bar, Frankie smiled at Johnny Falco, the Carling O’Keefe neon flickering behind him like it might go out.

“Hey yourself.” Smiling back, he reached in the cooler, drew out a dripping stubbie, knowing her brand. Sliding the OV across.

“Who we got tonight?” Frankie nodded at the stage.

“Middle Finger — drove in from Calgary, their van conked out front, out of gas.”

The one with the bumper sticker and freaky dog. Frankie saying, “They any good?”

“Real good, yeah. Here the rest of the week.”

She slapped a buck on the bar, Johnny sliding it back. Bands, bikers and friends drank for free. Johnny’s rule.

Pocketing the buck, she thanked him and tipped the bottle up, her eyes on his.

Johnny asking how she was doing.

“Getting by, you know. Working on some new tunes.” Telling him the Waves were putting some original stuff down, tight on a half dozen covers now. Johnny asking what she was doing for rehearsal space. Frankie telling him about the barn out on Zero Avenue, Marty Sayles owning it like he owned this three-storey shithole, letting the Waves practice out in the boonies. One of the perks for running his dope and going out with the guy.

Her bass player, Arnie Binz, edged his way through the crowd, coming from the back room with a couple cases of beer, Arnie working here three nights a week. His flop up on the top floor, with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. Worked here since getting canned from the 7-Eleven night shift — caught stuffing comics into his guitar case — the job he landed after he got busted driving the gypsy cab.

Arnie set the cases on the bar, gave her a smile. Told Johnny he ought to switch to cans, easier to carry. Johnny said he’d think about it, sending him back for more.

Middle Finger kicked it off. Johnny passed beers to hands reaching across the bar, stuffing dollar bills into his old-style National register, brass with a crank on the side. The dollar and cents flags popped up every time he hit the lever, opening the drawer. Frankie bopped her head, the guitar player slaying some licks, shrieking into the mic about confused teens. The crowd was getting into it, pogoing, screaming and drinking.

Three tunes in, she felt the need to pee; Frankie sipped her way to the co-ed can, knowing better than leaving a beer unattended.

Slapping Monk’s outstretched hand, she made her way across the floor, said hey to Pinhead, weaving past jumping bodies, shoving open the door, the filthiest can this side of CBGB. Fifty bands had passed through Falco’s Nest since Johnny lifted a toilet brush. Anytime somebody complained, he’d say, “That’s punk for ya.”

Johnny took the bottles from the case, putting them in the big cooler. Realized he forgot to tell her Marty Sayles had been in, not sure if he’d gone, the guy pissed off on account of the back rent. Johnny telling him he’d have it in a day or so, same thing he always told him.

Sucking a breath, Frankie stepped in. Freaky loo sprayed in hot pink over the mirror, paint that had dripped down the wall and over the glass. Get Modern or Get Fucked scrawled across the ceiling.

A lone bulb hung from the center of the room, a dead fluorescent tube horizontal over the sink, two toilets, only one with an enclosed stall, a urinal and a plugged-up sink, soapy brown scum floating in it. Toilet paper unfurled like crime scene tape across the floor. Graffiti all over — the voice of the people.

Frankie’s eyes adjusted to the dim, a guy in a sport jacket stood pressed against the wall, his head tipped back, Adam’s apple bobbing, the guy groaning over the pounding music. A girl on her knees, giving him the business. Frankie thinking ewww, people having sex in this place, worse than joining the mile-high club.

Halfway through saying “Get a room,” Frankie recognized him, turning it into “Jesus, Marty?”

Hearing his name, Marty Sayles focused his eyes, his hands on the girl’s head like he was holding himself steady. The blonde craned her neck, her lipstick smeared, eyes of someone on opioids.

There it was, her way out. Frankie put her free hand on her hip, acting pissed, saying, “What happened to having dinner?”

Marty pushed the head away, fumbling at his pants, saying that was later.

“How about take a fucking number.” The blonde made the mistake of getting up, putting her hands on her own hips.

Frankie threw the bottle and missed. An explosion of beer and glass against the tiles. Setting the blonde off, shrieking and rushing at Frankie, her fingers up like claws.

Growing up on the Eastside, Frankie knew how to scrap, put some hip into it and threw a fist. Caught the blonde on the beak, but didn’t stop her. The claws coming again. Hit her again and snatched a fistful of blonde, twisting her head around. Getting her shoe up, Frankie sent her sprawling to the wet floor, the blonde smacking her head on the scummy toilet, the girl sagging down, legs flopping on the floor.

Stuffing his shirt in his pants, dress shoes slipping on beer suds, Marty caught himself against the wall, yelling, “What the fuck, Frankie!” High on coke and the poppers he took off some pusher Zeke beat up, Marty pulled himself together, wondering where the fuck was Zeke. The blonde was useless to him now, lying flopped across the toilet, her hair in the bowl, streaks of blood showing like dark roots. “Look what the fuck you did.”

“You know what, Marty, pretty much lost my appetite,” she said. “And this you and me thing, it ain’t working out.” Stepping to the toilet, Frankie raised her Converse and pressed the lever, flushing, the blonde hair swirling, getting sucked down the bowl.

Turning for the door, she said, “She comes around, tell her to get her head examined while they’re stitching it up.”

“What you and me thing?” Marty called as she walked out the door. Too high for this. Using the toe of his dress shoe, Marty eased the blonde’s head from the toilet to the wet floor. Still putting together what just happened, he tried to recall the girl’s name. Sally or something. Wondering again where the fuck Zeke was.

The band was kicking it, covering one by the Hot Nasties, the bass player screaming and spitting into the mic about Barney Rubble being his double.

The rest of the band backing the vocals with their yabba dabba dos.

The crowd loving it.

Shaken, but relieved the thing with Marty was over, Frankie was thinking in Georgia Straight headlines: Drug Kingpin Fellated in Filthiest Can This Side of CBGB. Angling past the people crowding the bar, she caught Johnny’s eye.

“Something wrong, no TP?” Snapping off beer caps, Johnny caught her mood, practically shouting to be heard.

“Your toilets, Johnny . . .” Frankie leaned across the bar, putting a hand on his, saying, “enough to make Mr. Clean hurl.” She walked for the door.

Yabba dabba fucking do.

A group of boppers pushed their way in, their arms around Jughead, drummer for the Modernettes, holding up his drunken ass. Stain collecting the cover, telling Jug he better learn to hold his fucking liquor.

Jug saying the lickers were doing just fine, reaching in a pocket, tossing up a bunch of bills, enough for everybody’s cover, saying, “Hey ya, Frankie.”

Stepping into the rain, she went around the lineup out front, like a party in the street, didn’t matter it was raining. Miss Lovely, the Eastside’s preaching ex-hooker stood talking to some young chick with braces on her teeth. Sixty years old and wobbling on her heels, Miss Lovely wore fishnets that bunched at her ankles. Reaching in a pocket, Frankie pressed the buck she didn’t pay Johnny for the beer into the old woman’s hand, Lovely thanking her.

From behind the wheel of the Toronado, Zeke Chamas watched Frankie. She looked pissed, walking and yelling at some geezer who was yanking open her car door. The geezer looked up from the Ghia, starting toward her past the mural van. The Doberman jumped against the passenger window, teeth smacking the glass, freaking out Frankie and the geezer, Frankie yelling at it, inches from the glass. Zeke watching and laughing.

The crowd outside Johnny’s egged her on, hoping for a fight: punk chick versus attack dog.

Coming out the door, Stain told everybody to shut the fuck up. Last thing Falco’s needed was the cops pulling up again — the boys in blue dying to close this place down, the Main Street station only about a block away. Stain told the geezer to keep moving, then threw a look Zeke’s way, the Toronado at the curb, the two of them eyeing each other, nothing friendly about it.

 

. . . SHOOT THE MOON

 

The fog settled low over the cornfield. Arnie Binz snapped off branches, grabbing weed by the handful, tossing it in the bag, stripping the lower branches, working fast like that, thinking there had to be at least a hundred plants between the rows of corn, the corn standing over his head. Somebody had been through ahead of him, taking mostly the tops. Arnie knowing it was Johnny. Footprints all over the soft earth. Thought he’d get his share before Marty’s guys realized somebody had been through, picking their weed.

Moving along the row, Arnie broke off more and tossed handfuls in the sack. Hearing crows squawking nearby. Angling and working along, Arnie kept a sense of direction. Couldn’t chance losing the way back to his Pinto, left it along the ditch, Arnie planning to fill the hatch and backseat of the Cruising Wagon, the one with the bubble windows and rainbow stripes.

One bag full, Arnie dropped it and worked along the row, stripping and tossing, when he heard it. Rustling, thinking it was the crows, he kept working, then came the voices. Dropping down, he shoved the sack behind the row, moved back and tucked the other one under a plant.

Two guys talking, coming his way through the corn. Leaving the sacks, Arnie ducked low and angled through the rows, moving away, stopping and waiting, keeping track which way the car was. He’d get back out to the road, take off and come back later for the sacks. Feeling in his pocket for his keys. Not in his pocket. Arnie feeling the panic rise, then remembering he left them in the ignition to keep from losing them.

The voices were closer, Arnie stayed crouched down, keeping quiet. Could be Tucker and Sticky, the guys who worked the farm, guys he knew from the practice sessions, the two of them always standing around, listening, their eyes on Frankie. Moving between the rows, not wanting to explain what he was doing here. The practice not till tonight.

Arnie had overheard Monk talking to Johnny, saw him drawing the map. The field Arnie had told Monk about, half hoping Johnny would ask him to help him rip it off. Would have told Johnny where it was for free, Arnie knowing about Johnny’s money troubles, guessing he came and ripped off Marty Sayles to save his club, pay the rent he owed the man.

Scrambling along the rows, he kept moving away from the voices, away from his car, too. Nearing the end of the corn, Arnie started to angle between the rows, moving back toward the road. He’d get out of there and walk back to the car, make like he was going for a walk in the fog, enjoying some autumn air. If they caught up with him, he’d say Frankie left a message, something about a practice, Arnie getting his a.m. mixed up with his p.m. Blame it on being high on the bhang these guys had been making.

The corn ended at a fallow field. Arnie able to see the townline from there.

“This way,” a voice called, somebody crashing through the corn, getting close.

Moving along the edge of the field, Arnie kept low and threw a look over his shoulder, his foot hooking a dirt clod. Down he went, the wind knocked out of him. He started to push up.

Sticky, real name Lenny Lowe, stepped from the rows ahead of him, cutting him off. Looking surprised to see him.

“Scared the shit out me, man,” Arnie said, thinking this guy wasn’t much. Scrawny and unshaven and no gun in his belt. Sticky calling out, “Got him. Over here, Tuck.”

“Hey, hey, no need for that. Just got myself turned around, man,” Arnie said, walking up to the guy. “You know me.” Swinging a fist, he put Sticky down, the smaller man clutching hold of Arnie’s leg, yelling, “Tucker, get here!”

Couldn’t walk with Sticky hanging on, Arnie punched down at him, trying to shake him off, Sticky ducked his head, refusing to let go.

Tucker Balco shoved his way through the stalks, the shotgun up like an oar, the big man swinging the butt.

An explosion against Arnie’s skull, Arnie spinning into a dark hole.

Not sure if he blacked out. Aware of the two standing over him. Felt the pain in his head, blood trickling down his face, along his neck. Keeping his eyes closed.

“Momma teach you to fight like that?” Tucker said to Sticky.

“Fucking hung on, didn’t I?”

“How about you just go make the call.”

“What’re we gonna do?”

“You’re going to make the call.”

“Why not you?”

Arnie heard the slap, opening his eyes, his right eye nearly swollen shut.

Tucker saying to Sticky, “On your way back, bring some rope.”

Sticky going off, grumbling, doing like he was told, disappearing into the corn.

“Looks like you already been through once, huh?” Tucker asked, squatting next to Arnie, seeing he was awake now, standing the butt of the twelve gauge on the ground. “Golden rule, never go back.” He bent and pulled a lace from his Nike.

“Got it wrong, man,” Arnie said, looking through his one eye. “Was just cutting across, walking around. Know we got a jam tonight, right?”

The big man leaned the shotgun against a stalk, then flipped Arnie over on his stomach. Dropping a knee against his spine, he tied his hands with the lace. “Who’s with you, Arnie?”

“Nobody, man.”

Tucker tightened the lace, cinching it and grabbing some hair and tipping Arnie’s head back, saying, “Guy that’ll be coming, his name’s Zeke. You know him?”

Arnie tried to nod.

“Guy driving Marty around, just got kicked up to hardass. Got something to prove.” Tucker taking the lace from his other shoe, tying Arnie’s ankles together. “Don’t know why the fuck Marty keeps the guy around, but, the point is, he’s gonna be asking you the same questions.”

“Like I told you —”

Tucker swept his hand, slapping Arnie quiet, a welt that would show opposite the swollen eye. Tucker talking, “Heard he caught some guy at Lubik’s, the guy being where he shouldn’t be. Anyway, my point is, Zeke’s someplace between attack dog and psycho, putting on a show for Marty to see.” Tucker sat him up, saying, “So, you wanna do yourself a favor, talk to me while we’re waiting. Go easier if you do.” Tucker waited, but Arnie just sat looking at him through the one eye, Tucker saying, “Suit yourself.” Pushing him back down.

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Murder Below Zero

Murder Below Zero

A Maxine Benson Mystery
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Matanzas

Matanzas

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Body on Baker Street

Body on Baker Street

A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery
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Full Curl

Full Curl

A Jenny Willson Mystery
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

October 31
The high beams of two vehicles pushed a lonely tunnel of light through the black night of Banff National Park. With snow blowing from the top of the propane tanker in front of him, obliterating his view of the nearly deserted Trans-Canada Highway, Bernie Eastman felt as if he were driving his battered pickup truck in the vapour trail of a comet.
Leaving Calgary earlier in the day, he’d already passed through an early storm, a black wall of cloud that had, after devouring the Rockies, boiled from the mountains onto the prairies. It filled the valleys ahead of his truck, rolling and rumbling, erasing forests, peaks, and sky. Facing the dark void ahead, he’ d imagined driving off the edge of the world.
Just as quickly, the violent storm had skidded eastward, leaving clear skies behind. That meant cold, and cold it was. Since noon, the temperature had tumbled from 4 degrees Celsius to -6 and was still dropping.
The two vehicles now continued west, ferocious winds threatening to toss them off the highway. Eastman felt their frightening power deep in his forearms as he wrestled with the steering wheel. He sympathized with the other driver when he saw the tanker shift left and
then right. He could see his own headlights reflected in the tanker’s driver-side mirror.
In the dark of the cab, Eastman heard the voice of one of his two passengers. “Why are we following this guy?” the man asked. “Go around him and quit wasting time.”
“Hold yer fuckin’ horses,” said Eastman. “I don’t wanna miss our turnoff.”
As he spoke, the exit sign appeared out of the blowing snow. “Jesus Christ!” he yelled, cranking the steering wheel to the right, hard, hoping for the best. His blue crew cab fishtailed down the exit ramp and finally came to a jolting halt against a concrete guardrail, facing up the ramp, headlights still on, engine still running. Eastman let out his breath in a rush. He could see the Bow River, a menacing black ribbon, flowing only metres below the truck.
Eastman, a bearded bear of a man, still gripped the wheel in both hands, his meaty knuckles white. His two passengers sat in stunned silence. He heard their breathing, hard and fast. The passenger who’d snarled at him to pass muttered something in Spanish. Eastman couldn’t tell if he was praying or cursing.
After a moment, Eastman pulled his hands from the wheel, flexed them once to get the blood moving again, then pushed his well-worn cowboy hat back on his head. “Whew,” he said, breaking the silence. “That was a hell of a ride, eh, boys?”
Hearing no answer, Eastman reversed the pickup, steering it clear of the concrete barrier, and then simultaneously punched the gas pedal and turned the steering wheel, spinning the truck around until it faced the right direction. “Enough of this screwin’ around,” he said decisively. “We got work to do.”
Eastman looked in the rear-view mirror to see Charlie Clark staring back, eyes wide in his thin, angular face. The lights of the truck’s dash were reflected from the strips of duct tape that held Clark’s old down jacket together. “Charlie, grab the goddamn light,” he said, “and let’s see what we got out here tonight.” As he turned to watch the road ahead, he heard Clark rummaging through the litter at his feet for the hand-held spotlight, a million candles of light powered by the truck’s cigarette lighter. He felt the blast of cold air on his neck when Clark wound down the back window. He saw the forest to their left dance in sudden illumination, so he dimmed the headlights and slowed the truck to a crawl. The search had begun.
Eastman watched the front passenger out of the corner of his eye. The black-haired Hispanic was still and silent. He saw his gaze following the spotlight that probed the darkness. The man had spoken little since they’d picked him up at the Calgary airport that afternoon.
In their first phone conversation a month earlier, the man’s answers to Eastman’s questions had been curt, almost rude. But Eastman didn’t give a shit about manners. From that one call, he’d understood that the passenger was impatient, a man who thought highly of himself and little of others. In fact, no client had, in all the time he’d worked in the business, ever boasted about his IQ. So this was a man with a big ego and big money. For Eastman, who ran a business guiding and outfitting hunters, it was the money that mattered. If that kept flowing, he’d ignore the rest.
The passenger turned to stare at Eastman as though reading his thoughts. “Are you certain they’re out here?” he said, obviously edgy. “I am not paying to be disappointed.”
“Yeah,” Eastman replied, perhaps too quickly. “They’re here. I know what you want and I’ll get it for you.”
The passenger still stared at him, unblinking. His thick, black moustache paralleled the thin line of his mouth. Eastman felt the urge to drive his fist into the man’s arrogant nose. He imagined the crunch of bone, the rush of blood, the warm satisfaction he’d feel when tears came to those dark eyes, if only for a moment. But he also sensed that crossing the man would be good for a bullet in the back of the head, sometime when he least expected it. Eastman fixed his gaze on the road.
They drove for an hour, crawling along the road, peering into blackness illuminated only by the spotlight. A light wind blew snow from the trees. Eastman saw the flakes flashing toward the windshield like tracers, streaks of brilliant white, hypnotizing. To the side, the spotlight reached far out into an open meadow. Then, abrupt and fragmented, it shone against the islands of pine and trembling aspen lining the road.
Eastman held the wheel with his right hand, the fingers of his left impatiently tapping the window as if he were transmitting Morse code into the forest around them. Behind him, he could hear Clark’s nervous fidgeting. The beam bounced up and down, left and right, as if the road were filled with potholes or lined with speed bumps.
An hour later, Eastman, exhausted, glanced at the clock on the dash — 12:20 a.m. His tired eyes played tricks on him — shapes appearing and disappearing at the edge of the darkness. Despite the increasingly strident voice in his head urging him to call it a night, to abandon the search, he willed himself to keep going. He knew that his passenger expected to fly home late the next day with his objective met. And Eastman knew that by accepting the man’s money, he’d committed himself to succeeding. He felt the keen edge of pressure. He desperately needed the money, though, and knew that if he succeeded on this trip, the man would be hooked. He would come back for more. In that first phone call, Eastman had offered a unique guarantee, and there was no question the man would hold him to it, one way or another. And so he must do everything he could to make this work. Giving up was not an option.
“Well, son of a bitch,” he said with a sigh, his voice revealing his growing exhaustion. “We’ll keep goin’ a bit further and then we’ll double back.”
No sooner had he spoken than the spotlight picked up the glow of a pair of eyes at the far edge of a meadow. Eastman heard his passenger speak in a voice that was surprisingly calm.
“There,” the man said. “Stop the truck … now!”
From the height of the eyes above the snow-covered ground, Eastman knew the creature in the meadow was large, very large. In the darkness, he had no idea what it was. At this point, it no longer mattered.
“Keep the light on it,” the passenger said softly and menacingly to Clark. “Do not let me down.”
Eastman twisted left to see Clark grip the light as tightly as his two scrawny hands could muster. By the look in Clark’s eyes, Eastman could tell that his assistant understood the consequences of failure. They’d be unpleasant, if not painful.
Eastman brought the truck to a slow stop on the shoulder of the road. The passenger beside him jumped out of the truck quickly and quietly, then slid a long, canvas-wrapped package from behind the seat and pushed the door shut with a soft click.
In the darkness, Eastman watched the passenger lean across the hood of the truck. His left arm supported a high-calibre rifle, elbow down. His right eye peered through the crosshairs of a 10X scope pointing into the meadow. Eastman focused on the man’s right finger. It moved against the trigger, slowly yet firmly. The windshield exploded with sound and light.
At the far side of the meadow from the idling truck, the bullet found its target. Eastman turned his head to see, in the circle of the spotlight, a massive bull elk first drop to its knees and then topple onto its side, a dark hole in its right shoulder. A cloud of white flew up from the snow-covered grass when the antlers — seven thick points on each side — hit the ground. The fleeting shadows of a quartet of startled cow elk galloped into the darkness, eyes wide and glinting, heads held high. They did not look back. Eastman saw the bull’s final exhalation drift upward in gauze-like steam that, for a moment, obscured his view of the thick band of the Milky Way. He smiled a tired smile. Mission accomplished.

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Literary Umbrellas

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New Non-Fiction for the week of November 27th : New in Ideas
Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist

Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist

A Doctor Reflects on Ten Years at a Refugee Clinic
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The Patch

The Patch

The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands
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Abortion

Abortion

History, Politics, and Reproductive Justice after Morgentaler
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Policing Black Lives

Policing Black Lives

State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present
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Austerity

Austerity

The Lived Experience
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Could It Happen Here?

Could It Happen Here?

Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit
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The 2017 CCBC Awards

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Yukon Books

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New Non-Fiction for the week of November 20th : New Memoir and Biography
On Mockingbird Hill

On Mockingbird Hill

Memories of Dharma Bums, Madcaps and Fire Lookouts
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tagged : women
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Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist

Your Heart is the Size of Your Fist

A Doctor Reflects on Ten Years at a Refugee Clinic
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Apron Strings

Apron Strings

Navigating Food anad Family in France, Italy, and China
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Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots

Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots

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Surviving Stutthof

Surviving Stutthof

My Father's memories behind the Death Gate
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Big League Babble On

Big League Babble On

The Misadventures of a Rabble-Rousing Sportscaster and Why He Should Be Dead By Now
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Excerpt

CityTV loved the cops and the cops loved us. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been let off over the years, after being pulled over by the police, because of who I was and where I worked. I got stopped several times on my way to work in the morning. I’d get out of the car (a complete no-no!) and walk to the cruiser, hoping that they’d recognize me and just wave at me to drive away. The gall, I know. And it worked. Mind you, one time on the PCH in Los Angeles, the CHiPs officers actually pulled out their guns ordering me back in my rent-a-car through their loudspeakers. They tried to nab me for “failure to stay in a carpool lane,” but I weasled my way out. I pulled “The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” bit from SNL on the cops, telling them that these new lanes — which I actually had never seen — “frighten and confuse” me! “I don’t know, because I’m a simple sportscaster from Canada — that’s the way I think.” And they bought it.
But most of the time that I saw the lights a flashin’ behind me, it was very late in the evening. On one night, I was with my girlfriend Celeste and was pulled over after speeding up Avenue Road on the way home. As always, I got out of the car for a little of the “old soft shoe” tap dance.
After several minutes, the very nervous Celeste looked in the rear-view mirror and, to her horror, saw the cop and I arm wrestling over the hood of his police cruiser. She then saw the six-foot-five officer win the “feat of strength” easily. He shook my hand and told me to play more soccer highlights on the eleven o’clock sports. Oh yeah, and to stop speeding. “On your way, youngsters!”
Another time, also heading north on Avenue, a cab driver cut into my lane and sideswiped me. (Totally his fault. Even his customer said he’d testify on my behalf.) When I got out of my sports car to argue, I was pulled away by a cop who was immediately (and miraculously, I might add) on the scene. He said, “Johnny, I smell liquor on your breath. Here, come over to the side of the road. Now stand there and I’ll take care of this. Don’t let the cab driver smell the booze on your breath!” But my favourite, by far, took place in the early morning after a TIFF party (the bars are legally open until four a.m. because of the foreign press deadlines) and a cop pulled me over for speeding just about two lights south of where I lived. After a nice chat along the lines of, “Have you been drinking, Mr. Gallagher?” and me replying, “Yes,” he did the most bizarre thing for me. Now, I’m not proud of this. Eternally thankful, yes; proud, no. But after sensing that it was possible I would blow over the limit, he took off his jacket and hat and threw them in the back seat of my car. He then took my sports jacket and put it on, placed my girlfriend in the back of his police car, had his partner get in the driver seat, and then jumped into my BMW convertible and drove me home safely and soundly. He just didn’t want anyone to see that a cop was driving me home. Now, thanks to the fact that I don’t work downtown anymore, and with the advent of Uber and my new love for the TTC subway system, I refuse to get behind the wheel after any amount of drinks. It was incredibly stupid then, and nobody should take these stories as an endorsement of drunk driving, which I may or may not have been doing. I’m just glad I wasn’t given the opportunity to blow into a breathalyzer. After all, I didn’’t want it to tell me, “One at a time, please.”
One day I got called into the big boardroom at City. I had no idea what it was all about. But I entered a room full of cops, including members of the RCMP. The station’s head of security was there, too. If I was getting fired, this seemed like security overkill! Turned out that I, John Gallagher, had been sent a mysterious parcel that may or may not have contained anthrax. A white substance was all over it. The same thing had happened to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw one week after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The anthrax in Brokaw’s package infected his staff. Although my box tested negative for anthrax, no one was taking any chances. No other on-air personality at CityTV, or even in Canada, for that matter, received an anthrax threat. Just me. Hmm, maybe I should start running more soccer highlights.

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Feeding My Mother

Feeding My Mother

Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives with Memory Loss
edition:Hardcover
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Excerpt

INTRODUCTION
I remember the first day it happened. I remember the first time she forgot something big. It wasn’t the kind of lapse we all have from time to time—forgetting where we put our keys or our cell phones, or where we parked the car. This was a big sudden void. Right after it happened, that morning eight years ago now, I felt a discomfort insert itself at the back of my throat that hasn’t really eased up since. It’s hard for me to remember what my life used to feel like. It’s hard for me to remember my old mom.

We had been sitting having a visit with my sister-in-law, Lori, talking about life things: the weather, the grandkids, jobs, the progress of our summer garden. Everything seemed perfectly normal. My sister-in-law at some point brought up the subject of her old cat. “I didn’t want to tell you, Joan,” she said to my mom, “but we had to have her put down a few days ago. God, whatever you guys do, don’t tell Duray about it as he’ll be devastated.”

My brother Duray was in jail, as he had been for the last twenty-five years, for first-degree murder—a murder he has always denied committing. He isn’t really up to speed on what is going on around our lives out here in the free world, and he’s very sensitive to anything the least bit upsetting. I’m sure it’s because he feels so helpless. I think that’s why Lori wanted to spare him the news about their cat.

“I would never say a word,” Mom said. Lori went on about how sick the cat had been and that she hadn’t found the right moment to tell Duray she was gone. We talked about it in detail for at least fifteen minutes. Mom seemed to be carefullylistening to the story, consoling and responding in all the right places. Lori repeated again as she walked out the door, “Please don’t say anything, okay, you guys?”

Mom said, “We won’t, Lori. Mom’s the word.” And we all had a bit of a laugh.

Lori waved goodbye, hopped into her little blue compact and pulled out of the driveway. Before the car had even disappeared down the road, Mom’s phone rang, and it was Duray. The first thing that came out of her mouth, was, “You wouldn’t believe it, but your cat died!” I stood there in her kitchen in disbelief.

“MOM!” I waved my arms in the air trying to get her attention.

“What?” she asked with her hand over the receiver. “I’m on the phone!”

“Jesus, you weren’t supposed to tell him that!”

“Tell him what?” She looked at me blankly. She really didn’t know what she wasn’t supposed to
tell him.

“About the cat dying! What are you thinking?”

That was the day. From one single second to the next, my life, my mom’s life, my dad’s life, my brothers’ lives, the lives of all of our friends and family, were altered profoundly. My mom had started the journey down the lonely, confusing road called Alzheimer’s disease.

I would spend the next two years in denial. I made excuses for both my parents over and over again as the memory thieves slowly stole things from right beneath our noses. I chalked the frequent lapses up to garden-variety old age and tried to leave it at that. My dad had had a stroke several years earlier, so we already knew he had severe memory and mobility issues, but my mom was the normal one. She was the glue that held everything together. She dedicated her days to looking after my dad, coordinating his appointments and doling out his medications. She looked after their house and their yard and their meals and all the driving. I desperately needed her to be okay and I was also too scared to think about what was happening.

I must have hoped if I ignored it enough, and wished it away often enough, my mom would start remembering again. But that’s not the way Alzheimer’s works. I have come to think of it as a cruel and haphazard sculptor. It chisels away at a person, one tiny piece at a time, exposing a mind to every form of loss and sadness. Uncovering every nerve and every bone and every vein. It doesn’t stop until it cuts away the last breath. We lived through a small stretch in which my mom knew she was forgetting things. It seemed only a matter of hours to me, but it was actually a short few months where she was aware of things going missing and time being lost and tasks being left undone. She admitted to me once or twice that she knew she was forgetting things. I will never forget her saying to me, “I know I can’t remember the way I used to, Jann. It could always be worse, you know. I hope you never let me become a filthy old lady.” Those words are stuck inside my heart like wet leaves in a gutter.

I have spent the last few years in various stages of grief and fear and frustration and anger. I’m not sure half the time if I am doing things right with my mom, or screwing things up, but I do know that none of that matters. What matters are the moments spent with the people you love. What matters is setting judgement and resentment aside so that tolerance and patience and kindness can move into your soul and live there in their forever home. Life is never dull. That’s what Mom always says. “Life may be hard, but it’s not dull . . .”

Mom’s journey, and my journey with her, is far from over and for that I am grateful. In these last eight years I have learned more about compassion and empathy and forgiveness than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned that something good can come from something bad: facing adversity can make you a much better version of yourself. I’ve learned that having a sense of humour is crucial in order to survive these trying days. I’ve also learned that feeding my mother, making her a great home-cooked meal, provides both of us with grace and solace and peace, that food is so important for our wellness and contentment. You can soothe pretty much any heartache with a loaf of bread and a hot bowl of soup!

And I’ve learned that writing it all down can save me, which is what I started doing when everything around me began to feel unsteady. Seeing what was happening in front of me on the page made it much less daunting. And sharing my thoughts and feelings on social media made all the difference. I guess I wanted to reach out and tell somebody, anybody, about what was happening to my family. I didn’t want to feel alone in a room with Alzheimer’s. I wanted to throw open every door and window and let the light in. I wanted to unload some of the burden of carrying my parents’ secrets. I wanted to rid myself of this weird shame I was feeling because they were forgetting themselves. I started feeling like I was being forgotten too, lost in this pile of nothingness. It all seemed like such a mess, and some days it still does. I was talking with a friend about how I was feeling a few months ago, and she described how she felt orphaned when she lost her parents even though she was a grown-up. I think that’s exactly how I feel, even though Mom is still here physically. I feel like an orphan.

It turned out that sending out an account of my daily adventures with my folks was life-changing. People started writing back, sharing their doubts and fears and frustrations with me. It changed everything in such a positive, wonderful way. I am so grateful to all of them—to all of you. It takes bravery to share your troubles. It takes grit and guts and gumption. Thank you for easing my troubles, for putting your wisdom and pain out there for everyone to benefit from. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent propped up in my bed reading through the hundreds and hundreds of comments you’ve left on my Facebook pages. I’ve laughed out loud and cried quietly and I have to say, I feel much less alone for having reached out. Losing someone an inch at a time is extremely hard.

This book is a glimpse into my journey with memory loss but it’s also a journey that thousands and thousands of us are on with our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and uncles and aunts and grandmothers and grandfathers and even children.

Alzheimer’s and dementia have always been there, but perhaps families in earlier generations absorbed their elderly folks into the fold of home more gracefully. Many of us these days don’t have the kind of lives or rooted family structures that enable us to cope with parents, or grandparents, who can’t manage on their own, and we have to find nursing homes for them. Some of these places are great, some not so good, some downright depressing and dehumanizing. It’s an agonizing decision and one that can be hard to live with. So far I’ve been lucky enough to have the means to keep Mom at home with me, and ways to meet the challenges that entails. The stories and the recipes in this book are what I have to share about how we’re managing—about the road my mom and all the people who love her are travelling. It was written with humility, and sadness, and fear, and panic, and joy.

What I’ve learned is that no matter what comes you’ve got to wrap yourself in all the goodness you can muster. That’s what my mom does every single day.

Last week as we were driving into town to buy a few groceries, she told me that she was eighty per cent happy. That made me laugh really hard. “Eighty per cent, Mom? Well, that’s way better than me!”

She told me that I would have to work on that . . .

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Beautiful Scars

Beautiful Scars

Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home
edition:Hardcover
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