Monday, June 6, 2011

Back from Yellowknife

There is a story behind this smoking musk-ox, besides one about a group of women joking around in an overpriced gift shop... it involves 'the BC contingent' of a writers' group and a day spent in close quarters barrelling over the tundra in a rented van...

It seriously snows in June. No fooling. I always thought it was an exaggeration, but there I was, standing outside at 11 o'clock at night under the bright, blue sky, smoking a bummed ciagarette and watching the snow drop onto the rocky terrain like apathetic confetti.

The writers' group I am - to use the technical terminology- fucking lucky to be a part of met in Yellowknife, coninciding with the Northwords Festival. We were there mainly to talk the business of writing as it concerned our anthology, first birthed in 2007, but we were also a part of the festival itself.

As part of our panel (which, but the way was presented to a packed house, and went beautifully), I discussed my favourite thing about mothering and the writing life- all the loose threads you get to pull at and watch how they unravel in the most beautiful ways. I also read this excerpt from the latest manuscript- a collection of short stories currently titled "a gentle habit". It was the beginning piece of 'all the small things that collect at the bottom of a day". Here it is:

Kissing Miranda was miraculous. He felt blood blossoms bloom and burst on his bones, then trickle over his guts like hot fudge covering soft red scoops of ice cream.

Each greasy curl of his hair, the soft open-palmed embrace of his loose wool toque, the black jeans slung low off his ass; every point of contact was rendered erotic and maternal in light of this kiss. Every part of him- joints, limbs, capillaries, was knotted into this bright connection of skin.

Miranda. He would wrestle polar bears for this girl, nail railroad pegs into his sack to make her smile, though he hoped it never came to that.

She pulled her head back and the kiss was broken in two. The air stung his bruised lips and he opened his eyes with the sudden bewilderment of a hungry infant ripped off the breast. She giggled into a cupped hand and then reached over and opened her fingers around his red ear, stuffing her laughter into his foggy brain; a push of wind over a dusty lot.


His mother’s voice tumbled down from the kitchen window, slid around the corner and echoed in the brick alleyway, reaching them both. He looked up and over to the sound’s origin and then quickly back to Miranda, as if she would disappear like a morning dream, because she was prone to doing just that.

“Wanna come inside?”

He tried to be discreet about pushing the heel of his hand into the erection that was rubbing against his button fly. “I think we’re eating vegetarian tonight.”

She snarled and curled her fingers up into chipped blue claws under her chin so that she resembled an angry kitten with blunt cut bangs and smudged mascara.

“I need meat!”

She spun on a faded converse and crashed down the alley with as much weight and noise as she could muster, growling and stamping her sockless feet like a girly godzilla. At the corner she stopped, threw her head back and howled before stomping off.

Dylan waited in the alley for a few minutes, hands jammed in the pockets of his green army jacket, to see if whimsy would carry her back. The wind kicked up and dragged plastic bags and loose newspaper leaves to collect around his scuffed boots. Nothing more. So, he went inside and ate soggy Pad Thai with his mom at the small kitchen table underneath a chandelier constructed of Christmas lights and broken glass foraged from sidewalks and parking lots.

Once he thought he heard her howling outside. He turned and looked out the window that was held open with a Leonard Cohen hardcover to catch the warmed September air. But it was just a passing truck.

“What’s up?” His mother asked, reading the anxiety in her son’s eyes. She washed down a mouthful of rice noodles with thick red wine. The mismatched bangles on her arms slid and clanged with these small movements.

“Nothing,” he dug around in his plate, shoving as much as he could into his face in an effort to leave, to get back to the street where he might catch Miranda walking into the arcade or under a yellow streetlight braiding the suede fringes on her purse.

The air that came in off the water and snaked under the sill smelt of scales and salt. It slid around pages of lovers’ poems and flavoured the tofu on his plate so that he imagined shrimp on his tongue. His mother recently returned to vegetarianism to sync up with her latest boyfriend. He didn’t mind. It was better than the vegan cooking he endured last spring when the yoga instructor moved in for a month before the big blow-out about oral sex that Dylan didn’t really need to be consulted on for his opinion, but which his mother did regardless.

“You hanging around her again?” Dylan's mom didn't look up, keeping her face pointed down to her plate to avoid the daggers he threw every time she brought up the girl.

He let his fork drop from his fingers. It hit the side of the plate like a warning bell.

“I'm just asking.”

He chewed his tofu, closing his eyes to try to seal in the image of seafood; claws and barbed tentacles and inset ears. He imagined the weight at the bottom of the sea, the crushing solitude of heavy water on a boney back. Like winter.


As feared, she took the response, minimal as it was, to be an open door and walked right in.

“Nothing good can follow that girl.” When he sighed she responded by raising her voice. “I'm serious! You'll end up in trouble, mixed up in her schemes, or getting jumped trying to save her skinny ass. I see her hanging around the streets during the day, so don't even pretend she's in school.”

“Ma! I never said she was to begin with! Jesus! You're the last person I'd ever think would be such an uptight narc. Where's your high school diploma?” He pointed to the kitchen walls, hung heavy with souvenir plates from places they'd never been.

“Exactly!” She pointed a black painted fingernail across the table. “If I am concerned, than you goddamn well know something's really wrong.”

He pushed back from the table and stood on his grey wool socks, the holes in the bottoms lending traction on the worn linoleum as he walked to the living room. “I'm not hungry.”

“Dylan, c'mon don't be like that,” she threw her arms out at her sides, bracelets tinkling along her pale arms. “I'm just concerned, okay? Shoot me for caring about my only child!”

Without looking back, he fashioned a gun out of his left hand and pointed it over his shoulder. Her eyes narrowed as he pulled the trigger and made a small, airy explosion in his cheek.

She shook her head and a mane of tinted red hair tumbled over her wide shoulders. “Thanks.” She lit the Marlboro waiting beside her spoon and knife on the napkin at her elbow. “Goddamn ungrateful kids.”

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