Homecoming By Kathleen Craigie
Crossing Eynhallow Sound on the little roll on – roll off ferry, the sun glinting on the turquoise sea like a thousand little mirrors, Tommy points to the sleek head of a selkie breaking through the shimmering shards of sea, eyes like wet, black saucers.
“It’s good luck to spot a selkie,” he says and my heart lurches toward the sea as I recall the legend of the Seal People, so beautiful that whoever sees them falls instantly in love. Some, it is said, have shed their sealskins and mixed in with humans, so can never return to the sea.
We stand against the brightly painted railing and pose for photographs, leaning into one another awkwardly, new cousins, the island home of our fathers a green glow behind our backs.
And later that night as Tommy picks up his fiddle and I hear the first soft strains of music played with a delicate, articulate hand, it reaches a part of me that never understood my father’s dying, his leaving us so long ago on a cold, grey morning in November, childish face at the window, noticing the cars in the drive, knowing something, not knowing he was gone forever, leaving an ache and a longing like the sound a bow makes as it leaves the strings of a fiddle or the sight of a selkie, breaking through water like jewels, searching for the ones who are lost to us and will never return.
Kathleen Craigie is a lover of words and story: she lives and writes in Victoria.
The Prize: Kathleen wins $100 cash, signed first edition hardcover of the First Thrills short story anthology edited by Lee Child, plus a cup of tea and personal one-on-one chat with local author and editor-in-chief of Monday, Grant McKenzie.
Descendants of the Dragon By Sidney Bending
“Drown a girl-child,” her mother-in-law said, “they are maggots in the rice.”
So May-Ling went to see the old soothsayer in the village under the Dragon Gate Mountains. The dim back room smelled of sandalwood incense and Precious Eyebrows green tea. He predicted the best month of conception to ensure a boy and concocted a Yang Tonic full of ginseng and secrets. “To have a healthy baby, never gossip or laugh loudly, never sit on a crooked mat.”
A month after her son was born, the soothsayer tricked the evil spirits by giving this boy-child a girl’s name, Xing – “born of woman”, saying, “A name contains invisible fate.” She shaved the baby’s head before their ancestral table full of sweet cakes and apricot flowers. He wore a silver padlock on a necklace locking the child to this world.
Never build your home on the eye of a dragon.
Three days after the earth shook the sun loose from the sky, volunteers probe through gaps in the rubble. May-Ling is bowed in ancient ritual; the building has broken her neck. They move towards the next house, then the squad leader suddenly stops. A small siren is muffled under the rocks, under the woman. He carefully removes bricks around her, lifts up a baby boy in a little red blanket with white cranes for good luck and longevity.
At her death ceremony, the soothsayer will give May-Ling her final name, Mu-Li – “mother strength”.
Sidney Bending is a graphic artist and poet. A member of the Victoria Writer’s Society and Heron’s Quill poetry group.
The Prize: $100 gift certificate from Sorensen Books, plus signed first edition hardcover of First Thrills.
Asian Girl By William Kinsella
My wife was very upset when the nurse showed us our new baby.
“I’m very upset,” she said.
“I’m in love already,” I said.
“Didn’t you notice? She’s beautiful, but she’s . . . Asian.”
The baby was perfect, her features like a doll’s. Her tiny eyes beautifully abaxial.
“We’re not Asian! ” my wife pointed out.
“That’s no reflection on you.”
“Thank you for that.” “But, I’m going to make inquiries.”
“I’ll do it.”
I explained the situation to the head of administration.
“We live in a Global Community,” he said.
I was editor for a renowned publisher. We published Stephen King. I phoned King’s unlisted number.
“What do you think of an Asian baby born to a Caucasian couple?”
“Been done,” Stephen King said.
“No. I mean what do you think of the idea?”
“Been done,” he said, with more emphasis, and hung up.
She won a spelling bee in second grade.
My wife divorced me, moved to Atlantic City, married a black jack dealer.
I bought a rice cooker.
“I don’t want you to be lonely, Daddy,” she said, when she was fifteen.
Four years later she brought a professor home from college, a beautiful woman in her 40s who looked enough like her to be her mother.
“Have a game of Scrabble and get acquainted,” my daughter said.
The professor played the word uterus for a triple-word score.
We fell into each other’s arms.
William Kinsella is a U-Vic graduate and former Victoria resident who has published novels and stories worldwide. His new novel coming fall 2011 is Butterfly Winter.
The Prize: $50 gift certificate from NOOD, plus signed copy of SWITCH by Grant McKenzie.
Fourth Place (Tie)
Smoke By Maija Liinamaa
Afraid of death and wrinkles but craving decadence, we smoke the thin columns of air between our fingers, lit with a flamboyant flick of your lighter, after the champagne and oysters and the ganache torte with candied gold leaf. Invisible smoke scrolls from our ghost cigarettes and mingles with the restaurant roses.
“I hope, Madame, my cigarette is not bothering you,” you tell the woman next to us with an air of such grave and silly courtliness that I decide to love you. In truth, you are often arrogant and high-strung and dogs are afraid of you. My father has tried to tell me this, his voice unfamiliar with emotion. “It’s as if the devil has come to dinner and all you can see is his beautiful tie.” But I am young and whimsy seems a mask for something nobler. You brush phantom ash from the tablecloth.
Years later, I see you from a taxi and shudder. You are smoking for real this time, outside a bar, staring into the distance and pausing to spit. Your gaze falls on my cab. Grimace or smile? But then you wave at me and I think of your gift of an antique cigarette case, engraved by mistake Abhoringly Yours Forever, instead of Adoringly… You thought it was funny. Though I have lost my taste for make-believe, I wave back despite myself, as though you were a friend. For the rest of the night I think I can smell cigarette smoke in my hair.
Maija works for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and is a short story enthusiast.
The Prize: $25 gift certificate from Cadboro Bay Books, plus signed copy of MURDER, EH? by Lou Allin.
The Job By Bill Burd
So I show up early an’ he’s telling me things like, “There’s more to it than just pumping gas. You gotta check under the hood . . . look for things to fix. I’ll give you 10% on any parts you sell.”
“Great.” I said.
Then he walks me over to an old Chevy at the back of the shop and points under the hood.
“What’s this?“ he asks me.
“The engine?” I wasn’t sure what he meant.
“This, dummy, what’s this?”
“The rad hose,” I tell him.
“The fan belt.”
“What kinda shape’s it in?”
I looked closer: “Good…I guess… maybe dirty?”
Then he pulls out a knife, an’ he cuts a strip of rubber out of the belt, real deep. “How ‘bout now?” He says.
“It’s fucked” I said…oops…sorry.
“Right,” he says, “And you know what else? When I show this to the customer, I guarantee I sell him a new one. KA-CHING!” He puts the knife in my hand and says: “Any dummy can pump gas, but if you want to work here you gotta do more — understand?”
Then that old lady pulls up to the pumps in her beater an’ he says, “Well kid, think you can cut it?” An’ he laughs.
I stared at the knife for like two minutes, then walk out to her car an’ get to work. I figured, you know what? A guy’s gotta eat. That was like 6 months ago, Yer Honour.
Bill Burd is a prop master currently working on a show in Vancouver who recently started taking writing classes.
The Prize: $25 gift certificate from NOOD, plus signed copy of SWITCH by Grant McKenzie.
Fifth Place (Tie)
Blackberries By Kathleen Craigie
That summer we moved to the valley the air came alive with the crackle of bursting insect wings, it was that hot! Tires melted on pavement that bubbled and blistered, leaving gooey tracks like slug trails and the tar and gravel road turned into black pudding with bits in it.
In the back of the house, in the shade, the air hummed with things cooking slowly in soft waves of cloying heat that settled on my body like hot hands pulled from fire.
And we went blackberry picking.
We almost made love, rolling on the ground like puppies until that big, dark woman came and said, “Them’s my blackberries.”
Then we scrambled and picked up pails, scooping fallen berries into the baskets with leaves and twigs and later in the kitchen, you, pulling twigs and furry dust and grass from your hair and from the berries said, “It almost never gets this hot here.”
And I laughed because I thought you were lying, but later, in the cold dark night of winter, I believed you.
Kathleen Craigie is a lover of words and story.
The Prize: 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley, courtesy of Munro’s Books.
Freedive By Eli Geddis
Marcus adjusted the stretch rubber clasps of his single fin flipper, first the left foot, then the left again, and then the right. Through the salt speckled plastic window of the anchored catamaran he could see David, a terse shrinking of the face, tightening eyebrows.
“No oxygen, eh? How you feelin about this freedive, buddy?” Cody’s drawling voice mumbled.
“Good as I’ll ever be,” said Marcus. He adjusted his right foot clasp.
David didn’t say a word, just held his watch, as Marcus eased into the ocean. A slick cable stretched taut into the below darkness.
Hyperventilation seemed lifetimes away, as if his body was fighting the oxygen, rejecting it like a parasite. Marcus took his last breath of air, barrel-rolled in the water, and dove. Years of apnea followed him, rolled through his skin, pressed against his lips, coursed across the rigid blades of his hands. The water went from postcard turquoise to burnt ocean blue. His safety line streamed by him, wavering slightly.
Bits of his brain began to shut down and only the essential thoughts remained. A boat floated far above, a boy stared at a watch, feet kicked of their own accord, he hadn’t breathed in years. He reached the end of the three-hundred meter cable and, disconnecting himself from its safety, continued downward, heedless and breathless.
Half an hour later he surfaced.
“Dad!” David shouted, panicked. “What happened down there?”
Marcus opened his mouth to speak. No sounds came out. His words couldn’t go that deep.
Eli Geddis recently graduated from UVic’s teacher education program and is taking some time off to pen his first novel.
The Prize: Selected Stories by William Trevor, courtesy of Munro’s Books.
Married for Money By Linda Lisa McGrew
In the corner of a seedy diner, the woman sticks out like a rose in a pile of shit. A wilted rose, but a rose nonetheless. Her jewelry alone could buy the whole place – twice. The sun is setting and an orange glare tints everything. The regulars fidget.
One trucker elbows the other, making some remark about how she’s probably drunk enough to sleep with low-life’s like them. Someone ought to go have a chat with her, heh?
In a battle of bravery – or stupidity as the case usually is, the bigger of the men pushes his chair back and saunters to the corner. With nothing to lose and only a good story for the long road ahead to gain, he awkwardly fits into the bench seat across from her.
Her fingers play with a ring.
“Mind if I sit, M’am?” She is either speechless or too drunk to reply. He thinks to turn that into a joke for the CB radio tomorrow. A good quality in a woman, hey? The boys’ll like that one.
Her voice startles him.
“I don’t have much to say about it I guess, so I’ll just say this: I married for money, yeah, then he nearly bored me to death so I killed him. Patience is a virtue? Impatience didn’t kill me.”
She finishes her last sip of the pungent liquid, glowing red from the evolving sunset. He squeezes out of the booth like an elephant sneaking out of a toy car.
After attending Uvic in 2003, Linda made China, Indonesia and France her homes for the next seven years. She has never tired of writing about her experiences.
Prize: A book of their choosing from the Monday library.
Robert J. Wiersema is a bookseller at Bolen Books and the bestselling author of two novels, Before I Wake and Bedtime Story. His new book, Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen, will be published in September.
Steven Price’s first novel, Into That Darkness, was published this year by Thomas Allen. His collection of poetry, Anatomy of Keys, received the Gerald Lampert Award. A second collection is forth-coming. He teaches writing at University of Victoria.
Lou Allin is the author of the Belle Palmer mysteries set in Northern Ontario. Now living on Vancouver Island, she is working on a new series featuring RCMP Corporal, Holly Martin, in charge of a small detachment near Victoria.
Lee Henderson is the author of the award-winning short story collection The Broken Record Technique and the novel The Man Game. He is a contributing editor to Border Crossings and Contemporary magazines.
Congratulations to all the winners!