Episode Forty Nine - Guest Author Nancy Lee

 Photo by Nancy Lee

Photo by Nancy Lee

Like a lot of writers, I’ve been fan-girling Nancy Lee since the early 2000s when her incredible short story collection, Dead Girls, made its splash. Dead Girls took home a lot of prizes and nominations (2003 VanCity Book Prize, Ethel Wilson Prize finalist, Danuta Gleed Literary Award finalist, among others) and still appears regularly on university reading lists. Since then, Nancy’s been the recipient of numerous fellowships, residencies and awards, including a Gabriel Award for Radio and a National Magazine Award. Now an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program, Nancy’s highly anticipated debut novel, The Age, was released in 2014. It’s a smart, chilling look at both the end of the nuclear age and the throes of adolescence.  We’re thrilled to record an excerpt of it for the blog.

Fun facts: Nancy lives in Steveston, BC with her equally talented husband, the author, John Vigna (Bull Head, Arsenal Pulp 2012) and their noble canine, Rudy.

 

Excerpt from “The Age”

 Miniatures by Machiko Weston

The day the moving truck loaded with the last of her father’s work files and clothes pulled out of their driveway, her mom took her to a pet store. In the murky hum of the store’s aquatic section, Gerry stared at the ragged tails of sluggish fish, chilled by their furless, metallic bodies, frustrated at how her mom’s plans paired her with things she didn’t want. The greasy man in the FIFA T-shirt netted two fat goldfish against the side of the tank, and Gerry made an effort to smile, aware that her mom’s happiness was now her responsibility.

            At home, without pebbled or plants to fill the terrarium her mom salvaged from the basement, the fish appeared shocked and embarrassed in their watery prison. Gerry blamed her mom, argued to fitful tears that she should know, since she was the parent, how to take care of things. Her mom promised they’d go back the next day, get everything the fish needed. That night, their constant motion kept Gerry awake. She sensed their fretful bodies darting in the bowl, felt herself drowning in her sheets, the weight of their twin needs like stones on her chest.

            The next morning, gummy-eyed and exhausted, she shuffled downstairs, found her mom at the kitchen table staring at the orange bodies afloat on their sides. Gerry traced the curved glass of the bowl, tried not to look into their open eyes. Her mom searched for matchboxes. They held the burial in the back garden, the two of them silent as her mom stabbed at weeds and clay soil with a hand trowel, pink housecoat dragging in the dirt. When her mom was done, she stood, pulled Gerry close. Gerry could tell from her grip she was going to cry. Disgust coiled in her stomach. She wanted to shout at her mom to cut it out. She stared at the two humps of earth, wondered whether the fish had died of loneliness or killed each other in the night.

 

(written by Nancy Lee, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty Eight - Guest Author Pamela Mulloy

 Photo by Ayelet Tsabari

Photo by Ayelet Tsabari

You likely already know Pamela Mulloy as the editor of The New Quarterly. She’s a fierce community-builder both through her work on the magazine and as creative director of the Wild Writers Festival. She’s also a phenomenal writer and her debut novel, The Deserters, has been described as “just about as perfect a story as you can get in under 200 pages.” When I was reading The Deserters, I found myself deeply immersed in the setting and in the characters’ lives. The claustrophobia of their situation was palpable and I found myself thinking about the book long after it ended.

Pamela grew up in Moncton, New Brunswick, and has a master of arts in studies in fiction from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom. Her short fiction has been published in the United Kingdom and Canada; and she has been awarded the Waterloo Regional Arts Council award for fiction. Do yourself a favour and head over to Words Worth Books or your local independent bookseller and pick up a copy of her novel (and an issue of TNQ too!).

 

Excerpt from “The Deserters”

 Miniatures by Machiko Weston

Hiring Dean was a start. She had to keep a hold on things. It was not just the wind whistling through the cracks, the smoking stove, the creaks and moans of a house that had survived more than a hundred winters but had been left to rot the last five. There was more to the place than that, and Michael knew it when he convinced her they should take up the place, make a go of it.

            The place has ghosts, she’d told him, but he was a man who tended to see what was before him so he dismissed her, telling her the dead don’t haunt.

            When Eugenie hung up the telephone she realized she’d forgotten to tell Michael about Dean. Then from the window, she watched Dean go to the fence and survey the posts, then kick them, one after another.

            At least another month. Maybe two. That’s what Michael had promised.

            She pulled on her jeans, threw a sweater over her head, ran a brush through her hair. Getting the fence fixed would make her feel better, she reasoned as she went downstairs. As though by mending the fence, she too would be rendered stronger.

 

(written by Pamela Mulloy, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty Seven - Guest Author Vanya Garraway

 Photo by Elizabeth Strater

Photo by Elizabeth Strater

Vanya Garraway is a first generation Caribbean Canadian, with a mother who fell in love with Gretzky the moment the family could afford a TV. Vanya grew up in a Scarborough neighbourhood that was partially developed on what used to be farmland which then had houses eclectically added over the years like books to a shelf, all from different times and from different genres, the shapes and colours being of every kind, just like the people in them. She was the girl next door to the paper boy next door, on the other side of the train tracks. She is a cinema, theatre and festival,  jack of all trades. She also spends her spare time at all those places with the exception of reading, writing and idiot boxing with her husband in downtown Toronto. 

 

Before the Beginning

 photo by  Ryan McGuire

The first time that Wendy pulled a gun on someone, she was starving. She and her brothers were on the road and their thievery was mild: shoplifting, picking pockets, small cons where people just handed over their money and goods to them. The land was harsh and in the face of a nomadic life in a tough territory, where infrastructure was scarce, the roads were dirt and the laws seemed undefined, any loss seemed extreme.

Their nights were habitual until they were caught off guard by a small gang that was nourished, rich. The Latimers had been rationing what they had for some time now. That night was the last time she felt like a child. Cornered on the road, they handed over their goods on command. “Give us everything you got,” said the bandit as his hair fell in front of his face, his gun aimed squarely between Wendy’s eyes. The gang worked quickly, without boasting, and rode off.

The Latimers were quick learners. Now, whenever Wendy revealed her weapon, pulled back on the hammer of her gun, click, click! There was a jolt deep in her empty gut, which she felt made her different from her own robbers. What she was about to take, she needed. Wendy thought it strange how the exhilaration of taking something, and of being taken from, felt nearly the same. She gulped deeply, feeling tears in her throat that she was trying to choke down. This would be the last time she would feel sorry for anyone. The next time and every other time after that, she would be steely, cool, and forget that she was ever a victim herself.

(written by Vanya Garraway, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty Six - Don't Bother Lying

 photo by  Ryan McGuire

Don't Bother Lying Unless You Have an Excellent Memory

The dog had an excellent memory, even if its owners weren’t aware. He was going to get the squirrel, and they were going to forgive him by the end of the week. Just like the time he’d pissed on their iPhone after they’d spent a Sunday afternoon watching cat videos, ignoring his requests for a walk.

“What a bad, bad dog,” The woman had said, but by the end of the night he was back beside her on the couch, watching Scandal.

The squirrel was on the fence, waiting for the geriatric neighbour to stumble out and feed it unshelled peanuts. The dog ran to the patio door and pawed at the glass. His owners did nothing. He angled his scratches toward the recently painted trim, letting out a yelp to alert the man to the impending destruction.

“Fine. Go in the yard. I’ll find it later.” They both knew this was a lie. When it came up white and crumbling next spring, he’d deny it to the woman.

The dog liked the smell of the fallen leaves, liked yipping them between his teeth, just to marvel at their lack of substance, their must. He spotted the squirrel hanging by its back legs down the bark of the maple, stuffing its mouth with a pear. The dog sank down, his jowls curled up, teeth close to chattering.

Then a crow dropped a crust of toast. It fell a pace from the dog’s snout. The squirrel darted down the tree and paused, checking the reaction. The dog forced its eyelids to descend, leaving only a slit, as if he’d fallen asleep. The squirrel sneaked forward.

One spring and the dog had it between his jaws. Had it raised off the ground, whipping it from side to side, a motion he’d practiced with a rope at the hand of the man and woman. He felt the tail slap the corner of his eye. He released, satisfied. The thing didn’t scurry off. It lay there, punctured. It’s liquid had sprayed the dog’s face in places he couldn’t lick clean.

When the man opened the patio door, the dog should have bounded back. Instead, he stayed frozen, so the man had to walk over and see the small, twitching bundle.

“It’s still alive.” The man’s voice was reedy. He would not look at the dog. He walked to the garage and came back with a shovel.

The woman opened the door.

 “No, stay back. Just stay there,” the man bellowed. He collected the mauled bits in an old grocery bag and trailed inside after her.

The dog waited to be summoned. It was one of the first cold days of the fall, when the frost wilts the last green stalks. The dog waited for the glass door to open again. The dog waited.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty Five - Guest Author Lindsay Lerman

 Photo by Matt Meneely

Photo by Matt Meneely

We’re excited to welcome Linsday Lerman to The Oddments Tray. Lindsay is a writer and translator based in Richmond, Virginia. She holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Guelph and her recent translations include works by François Laruelle. She also has a cat named Supergirl and has lived in Istanbul.  I'm From Nowhere is her first novel.

 

Excerpt from "I’m from nowhere"

 Miniatures by Machiko Weston

She can see his smile in her head. She can hear his voice. Claire. Come here. Hi beauty. Singing to her: Old black hen, is that you again, singing the bad luck lullabye? Taunting her: Claire-o Claire-o little bear-o, show me your lovely teeth.

Will there be a time when she won’t be able to remember his voice, his smile, his face? His hands.

She’s here in this place—this place where he is not—and she is a widow. She has no husband. She has no job. She has no children. She’s useless, she knows it. She lives in this tunnel of wind and sun and neverending vistas. A fly between the screen and the glass, she thinks.

---

Disaster. The long, slow disaster of life in the Anthropocene.

Will a sinkhole open up and swallow them up? Will those starving in the Southern Hemisphere come for them and their food? Will the vast fields of greenhouses collapse under the weight of a massive multi-day hailstorm? Will those in power decide it’s no longer worth the effort to keep the rest alive?

But we don’t think of it much she and everyone else knows. Mostly it’s beyond our comprehension. We just live our fragile lives. Husbands die and wives grieve and it’s the same as it’s always been.

The canned food isn’t too bad. The air quality isn’t unbearable. The summer heat is painful, but it’s sort of always been that way anyway. It’s beyond fixing--all of it--so why bother with anything but a shrug in response? Same as it’s always been.

 

 

(written by Lindsay Lerman, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

The lyrics from Songs: Ohia's "The Old Black Hen" are reprinted by kind permission from the estate of Jason Molina. 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty Four - Guest Author Trevor Corkum

 Photo by Gustavo Espinola

Photo by Gustavo Espinola

It’s hard to believe that Trevor Corkum actually sleeps. He’s completing the first year of his PhD in Adult Education; just took part in the Fables for the 21st Century program at Banff; regularly interviews authors for the 49th Shelf; writes reviews and articles for national periodicals; and even runs his own business, One Life Writing. He also runs yoga and writing retreats on Wolfe Island. His writing has been recognized with nominations for the Journey Prize, a National Magazine Award for Fiction, a Western Magazine Award for Personal Journalism, and both the CBC Short Story Prize and CBC Creative Nonfiction Prizes. Most exciting of all, his novel, The Electric Boy, is forthcoming with Doubleday Canada.

 

Excerpt from “Dar a Luz”

 Miniatures by Machiko Weston

From the glorious heavens, above the patter and chaos, this is how the city appears.

Like a mirage. Like something from a bad man’s dream.

From the air, the palm-tree island bleeds like a gash across the hypnotic blue face of the Gulf, each massive frond protruding into the sea on its own concrete curlicue. On the island, in unnumbered crescents, the mansions and manicured villas and heavily fortified townhouses of the Russian Mafioso and tax-dodging European football stars and faded Hollywood glamour queens line themselves up one glittering pool after another, the shimmer of backyard fountains, the gardens of Porsches and Bentleys, everything strung together like a rope of glitzy jewels.

Further back on the mainland, hugging the central shoreline, a phalanx of glass towers soar from the dust, crowding out the city’s business core and the faceless tourist badlands fronting the packed marina. They huddle together like men at a sleazy bachelor party, loud and unapologetic, taking up too much space. Sun glints from their muscular walls in the savage desert light. Helicopters zip from rooftop to rooftop, buzzing and flitting about like bloated flies. The Babel-like monstrosity of the World’s Tallest Building— supported by petrol blood money—juts at an awkward angle from the hip of the arterial highway. An opulent sail-shaped hotel written up in the leading travel rags occupies its own stark isle. Even the seagulls above the metropolis seem contrived, soaring across the horizon like they’ve been Photo-shopped onto a poster in the drab suburbs of Delhi or Beijing.

The temperature on the ground hovers in the vicinity of 45 degrees.

Everywhere—in any direction—the smog and maddening traffic and the bruised, encrusted canals that rot like weak veins in the stinking legs of a corpse.

 

“Dar a Luz” was first published by Event magazine (2016).

 

(written by Trevor Corkum, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty Three - Guest Author Alex Leslie

 Photo by Lorraine Weir

Photo by Lorraine Weir

One of my top books to pick up this fall is Alex Leslie’s forthcoming We All Need To Eat, a short story collection out with Book*hug. Alex is one of those mythical super-prolific writers and this will be her third book, with the fourth, a collection of poetry called Vancouver for Beginners, close on its heels (Book*hug, 2019). Alex was the recipient of the 2015 Dayne Ogilvie Award from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Her work has been shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry, the Journey Prize for short fiction, the Lambda award for debut fiction and the ReLit award.

 

This past fall, Granta magazine dedicated their first issue to Canadian writing and Alex’s story “The Initials” was included in it. We’re thrilled that she’s allowed us to record an excerpt for it.

 

Excerpt from “'The Initials”

 photo by  Ryan McGuire

On the day of the inquiry, my grandmother stayed home in her apartment, drank red wine on her couch, and watched back to back episodes of The Passionate Eye on CBC and growled, “All those goddamn people are crooked anyhow,” and then she ordered in Chinese food and fell asleep for centuries. At the inquiry the man running the show walked to the front and said that he had lost our book of names. My grandmother kept the list of names in the guest room, bottom left corner of the bookshelf. She opened the book and said, “This is my last birthday,” and fell asleep again, while her apartment building rotated on the birdspine of a sundial. I went to the inquiry but never told her.  She wouldn't have liked it. The man at the front said without memories there is no past and furthermore everything you need to know is on The Passionate Eye on CBC. I went back home, hands empty. There was no inquiry in the place where her mother was from because they burned the Jewish men on the beaches and the Jewish women were the smoke. “Do you know how to name children?” my grandmother said to me. “You take the initials of their dead relative and use them again and again so that the letters are never lost.” This is written in a secret language. I often slept in her guestroom except when I slept on the couch in the living room. I realized that the upholstery was patterned with her initials when I woke up to find her initials tattooed into my cheek. Alphabet welts, they faded but stayed. “Don’t sleep on the couch,” she said. “It’ll make you achy all over and besides we don’t get tattoos in this family.” She showed me the magic trick to remove the core from an apple without moving any of her fingers. She opened her mouth and gold coins fell out. There was no inquiry and no report either because we all have new names now. We took our names from the book in the guest room or we wrote our names down in a guest book, we can’t remember which, and there is no record of the threshold. When I got home from the inquiry I lay down on my own bed and fell asleep. When I woke up The Passionate Eye was on CBC again part of a series she would have loved about Hillary Clinton and empowered female leaders. The next day we released her remains and the day after that it had been a whole year since her death. I received a book in the mail. 

"The Initials" first appeared in Granta 141: Canada, guest-edited by Catherine Leroux and Madeleine Thien.

 

(written by Alex Leslie, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty Two - Guest Author Robert Paul Weston

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It takes a certain kind of person to tackle a novel in verse, and if you combine Robert Paul Weston’s Zorgamazoo and Prince Puggly, Rob’s written over five hundred pages of rhyme. Even more extraordinary, Rob’s skills extend beyond couplets into YA fantasy, picture books and general literary fiction (his short stories have been nominated for the Journey Prize).

Some fun facts about Rob: his father was an immigration officer at the Dover-to-Calais hoverport, he’s worked as a trampolinist and as dub-script writer for imported Japanese cartoons, in high school he was a competitive swimmer, and he excels at Ticket To Ride, German edition. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and his newest picture book Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms came out this spring with Tundra Books.

He lives in London, England with his wife, the phenomenally talented Machiko Weston. We’re thrilled to welcome him to The Oddments Tray.

 

Bozzetti

 Miniatures by Machiko Weston

Miniatures by Machiko Weston

He met his wife at a public aquarium.

“I’m a miniaturist,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“I make maquettes,” she told him. A shiver of carpet sharks passed above them, splashing her face with light. “For theatre, for the stage.”

Later, he had to look up maquette in a dictionary.

 

She converted their second bedroom into a studio.

They had no desire for children. He didn’t mind. Despite having no role in their production, he thought of her miniatures as their offspring.

Each commission was a perfect replica of some famous stage—the London Palladium, the New Amsterdam, La Fenice, the Seebühne on Lake Constance—each with its own mise en scène, pristine in every detail. Cities, meadows, steamship decks, log cabins, moonscapes.“

The actors are the hardest,” she said. “They’re the only parts that move.”

 

Solitude was part of the process. She could only bring them to life in private. When her studio’s door was shut, he learned not to enter, and never to knock.

 

On the day of the accident, she was working on a musical called Strum! The story concerned a pair of elderly sisters who fall for a handsome and mercurial busker.

At the hospital, the doctors told him she could wake at any moment. What surprised him most was how loudly he wept.

 

At home, the studio door was shut.

It was two weeks before he knocked, two months before he twisted the knob.

The maquette was on her desk, just as she left it: A city street with its tiny musician, singing without a sound. In the apartment above, two old crones bickered in silence.

He watched the drama in its entirety. When it ended, the figures bowed, resumed their positions, and began again.

 

One day the busker’s lips stopped moving. The tiny hands still plucked the guitar, but there were no words.

The sisters’ apartment was empty.

The following morning, the busker too had vanished. There was only the model, abandoned and hollow.

 

Years later, through the window of a slow moving train, he thought he saw them, the sisters. They were in the grass near the tracks, in the front room of a newspaper house, still bickering.

It may have been them, or perhaps not.

Before he could be certain, the train rolled on.

 

 

(written by Robert Paul Weston, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

Train sound effect from: http://www.freesfx.co.uk

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Episode Forty One - Perfect Singing Flamingo

 photo by  Ryan McGuire

We're taking a break this week from our regular line-up to bring you an excerpt from my new novel, In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo. The excerpt is read by the talented Melanie Mallozzi, who made one of my dreams come true by bringing this character to life. She has been a vocal music student for over 15 years and has sung for small audiences. She is developing a plan for an online baking enterprise, getting inspiration from her extensive cookbook collection. Melanie also loves to travel and learn new languages. 

Excerpt from In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo

Something’s wrong when I arrive at Fresh Us because Riley's at my table and he’s never at my table.

“Hi, Riley. That’s my station.”

Again, Riley says nothing back.

I go right away to tell Martha. She’s talking with Chef and they’re planning out today’s deliveries. Chef winks when he sees me. “Did you need something, Starr?”

 

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Melanie Mallozzi) 

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Episode Forty - Guest Author Amy Stuart

 Photograph by Paige Lindsay

Photograph by Paige Lindsay

Back in 2005, Amy and I met at the Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop. Since then, it’s been the biggest thrill to see her writing get the acclaim it deserves. Her debut novel, Still Mine, has been on the Canadian bestseller list in two formats now and its sequel, Still Water, will be released on May 8. Amy was also the winner of the 2011 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Fiction Competition, and her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across Canada. As if all that wasn’t enough, she teaches English at an alternative high school, helped organize Women March on: Toronto, and coaches hockey. Amy she lives in Toronto with her husband and their three sons. She’s generously allowed us to give you a sneak peek at Still Water here.

 
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Excerpt from Still Water by Amy Stuart

published by Simon & Schuster

The painted hardwood is warm under Clare’s feet. She stands and tiptoes to the window. This room is on the second story, a porch roof extending below her. Two hundred feet ahead, a river churns. A willow tree is perched so close to the water that its thick roots curl over the edge of the bank. A wooden cross has been nailed askew to its trunk. Clare twists her hair into a bun, then crouches to catch the breeze on her neck.

Do you know about this place?

Yes, Clare thinks, eyes on the wooden cross. I know about this place.

It was Raylene who’d asked her this question as they lay in the dark last night, hours after Clare first arrived. Clare had feigned sleep instead of answering. Yesterday she’d felt certain she was equipped for this. She’d felt certain she’d learned all she could about High River, that this time her cover would be rock solid. Clare looks over her shoulder to Raylene, curled into fetal position, a pained look on her face as she sleeps. Clare looks back at the river, then presses the window all the way closed, her hands shaking with pain or withdrawal or panic, she can never tell which anymore.

It doesn’t matter if I’m ready, Clare thinks. I’m here.

 

(written by Amy Stuart, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Nine - Guest Author Anna Bowen

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Guelph is lucky to claim Anna Bowen — writer, editor and community builder — as part of its arts scene. Her writing explores place, ecology, and reciprocity, often through integrated arts collaborations. Her poetry was shown at the Gladstone Gallery and the Boarding House Art Gallery as part of the ReMediate collaboration and at the Spectrum Project Space in Perth, Australia as part of ((Pollen)) InConversation. Anna’s writing has been published in This Magazine, Geez, Taproot, and Rhapsody, among others. She’s been a guest lecturer on poetry and ecology at Ryerson University and the University of Guelph and is the producer of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival podcast where she interviews Canadian authors. You can also catch her as co-host of Bookish Radio with Kim Davids Mandar.

 
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The skier

Her skis swished ahead of her, cutting little edges into the untouched snow beside the forest path.  In another language, she remembered hearing, there were more words for snow. Snow that had a crust, snow that whipped across a field in the wind. It seemed clumsy to have just this one word. She pushed the tips of her skis further along, watching them like fins slicing through the surface of water.

 “Training for the Olympics?” an old man in a bright blue toque yelled as he jogged slowly by, his pompom bobbing from side to side.  She didn’t have time to answer.  

“Reginald, get back here!”  She turned to see a young gold lab bounding across the snow at the full speed of its muscly limbs. Behind it, a middle aged woman in a fluffy, baby-blue jacket was moving less quickly behind it in her heavy boots.  As the dog lunged toward her she could see its training collar, the interlocking metal barbs that could dig into its neck if the leash were attached.  On impact, a hundred pounds of warm bristly sinew pushed against her parka. She fell ungracefully, covering her face with her leather mitts, giving the dog her elbow, feeling it working its jaw against her coat as she tried to ward it off with one pole.  She was like that when the owner arrived.  The woman clipped Reginald into his leash and gave a sharp tug. “Reginald!” she said crossly. The dog gasped and sat back on its haunches. “He’s never seen a skier before.”

(written by Anna Bowen, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Eight - Guest Author Kate Cayley

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Next Sunday, Kate Cayley will be coming to Guelph to read at an event co-hosted by the Eden Mills Festival and Publication Studio Guelph. She’s a tremendous talent — an award-winning fiction writer, playwright, and poet. Her short story collection, How You Were Born, won the 2015 Trillium Book Award and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award and the ReLit Award. Her first collection of poetry, When This World Comes to an End, was shortlisted for the ReLit Award, and her young adult novel, The Hangman in the Mirror, won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction. Kate’s currently touring her new poetry collection Other Houses and we’re so pleased to be able to feature an excerpt from it on The Oddments Tray.

 
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Pied Piper: The Children, Leaving, Sing to Their Parents

Why are you surprised?

 

We heard

a singing in the wood.

 

Our eyes are brighter than the rats. We, too,

are built of curiosity and appetite, we vibrate

what we touch, how could we not

follow the man in patches,

 

leaving you excavated,

your streets

quiet as you wished for.

 

We’ve made ourselves now,

following the pipe, the door

that opens in the hill, which you

 

hung back from, cowards. You were made

to make us, nothing else.

 

Write our names in the window each night.

 

Inscribed in churches, and furtively in the kitchen steam

the kettle makes against the glass. Etch us

on the hollow glass of your own hearts.

 

Don’t look for us, though. We don’t look for you.

 

(written by Kate Cayley, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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We'll be back soon!

 photo by  Ryan McGuire

We're taking a late spring break to power through the end of term. We'll be back soon with more audio microfiction. 

Episode Thirty Seven - The Girls Are Watching

 photo by  Ryan McGuire

The girls are watching Bobby Darin. The girls are watching Paul Anka. The girls are watching Frankie Avalon. It’s a live show and they’ve lined up for hours. The host glides between them and points a spindly microphone towards one. “What a neat hat,” he says. He takes it off her head and parks it, cocked, on his own. The other girls cringe but they’re used to being spoken to like that, like they’re all dimple and no brain. Like their vaginas are on vacation. Like they don’t have teeth.

The one they’re watching steps on stage. He’s buffed almost to a gloss. He sings like a castrated goat. It’s so close to a mating song. It’s so close to what they want. Is it any wonder they howl back? You put a kettle on a stove—what happens?

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Six - Guest Author Raoul Fernandes - Part Two

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We're back with week two of work by the incredible Raoul Fernandes! Please check out his bio and earlier episode here and pick up his knock-out debut collection at your local independent bookstore. 

 

Everything Must Go

The butcher shop closes down

and cleans out its insides. Everything

goes: cleavers, cutting boards,

hooks. The smell of blood fades,

the ghosts, if any, clear.

 

For a few months it’s only four white walls,

a small chair in a dim corner, and a light bulb

hanging from the ceiling.

 

We gaze through the front windows

coming home from parties

or night-school classes. It’s the nothing

we are drawn to, a kind of snowfall-nothing

or those empty pages at the end of a novel.

 

A month later, the Dollar Store

moves in and fills the room with racks

of glittering key chains and baskets

of toy dinosaurs.

 

We look in there less;

it’s still nothing, but a different kind.

I go in once to buy a broom, and another time

a dozen tea candles, even though

I had stepped inside

for something else.

 

(written by Raoul Fernandes, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Five - Guest Author Raoul Fernandes

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This past fall, I was introduced to Raoul Fernandes' writing when he read at St. Jerome's University. The following weekend, I tore through his first collection of poems, Transmitter and Receiver (Nightwood Editions, 2015), struck by the imagery, humour, and pathos. The collection has received some much-deserved acclaim: it won the Dorothy Livesay Award, the Debut-litzer Award for Poetry in 2016 and was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry. Raoul has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including the Best Canadian Poetry 2015. He lives and writes in Vancouver, with his wife and two sons. 

We enjoyed his work so much that we're dedicating two episodes to it. Check back next week for another of his poems and please go pick up his collection from your local independent bookseller. 

 
 photo by  Ryan McGuire

By Way of Explanation

You have this thing you can only explain

by driving me out to the port at night

to watch the towering cranes moving containers

from ship to train. Or we go skipping stones

across the mirror of the lake, a ghost ship

in a bottle of blue Bombay gin by your side.

I have this thing I can only explain to you

by showing you a pile of computer hardware

chucked into the ravine. We hike down there

and blackberry vines grab our clothes as if to say,

Stop, wait, I want to tell you something too.

You have an old photograph you keep in your

bedside drawer. I have this song I learned

on my guitar. By way of clarification, you send

me a YouTube video of a tornado filmed up close

from a parked car. Or a live-stream from a public

camera whose view is obscured by red leaves.

I cut you a key to this room, this door.

There’s this thing. A dictionary being consumed

by fire. The two of us standing in front of a Rothko

until time starts again. A mixtape that is primarily

about the clicks and hums between songs. What if

we walk there instead of driving? What if we just drive,

without a destination? There’s this thing I’ve always

wanted to talk about with someone. Now

with you here, with you listening, with all

the antennae raised, I no longer have to.

 

(written by Raoul Fernandes, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Four - Guest Author Andrew Hood

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This week, we welcome Guelph’s Andrew Hood to the blog. Bitingly funny and often absurd, Andrew’s fiction crackles with originality. He’s the author of the short story collections Pardon Our Monsters and The Cloaca, and Who Needs What, a monograph on musician Jim Guthrie. He has been nominated two for the Journey Prize and won the 2008 Danuta Gleed Award.

 

Mother Masks

 photo by  Ryan McGuire

Three years in, the mother masks started to show their age. Mouths and eyes sagged, the colours dulled. Each mask took on an odor general to the material and specific to the wearer. One Mother tried washing out their mask, but one whiff and their child knew something was wrong. What had become offensive to us was familiar to the children.

The podgy redhead became standoffish and was removed. For our own wellbeing none of us dared imagine where he was removed to.

Though intolerant of washed masks, the children weren’t bothered by cosmetic changes. Some Mothers touched themselves up, revivifying sallow skin, re-ventilating hair that had been tugged out by growing grip strengths. Some went the extra mile to affix the drooping eye sockets to their own faces. At three, the children grabbed. The danger of exposure was becoming increasingly clear and present so better attaching the masks made sense. Some suspected, though, that vanity was becoming as important as utility to some others.

Under the guise of longevity, some Mothers started keeping their masks on in the barracks. Donning and shedding accelerated wear. It followed that those Mothers who stayed masked also maintained the maternal personality they affected in the field. Years were passing. The children were needing less from us, getting more from one another. Our own senses of duty and worth became fragile. The unmasked sought out the masked for comfort.

Passing single rooms, you’d see a Face and a Mask in bed together, the Mask stroking, speaking in the soothing voices they had become adept at. The program didn’t last long enough for the taboo of furthering this intimacy to ever be resolved. When a Mask was found strangled dead in their room, mask torn, we assumed the unspeakable act was connected to other acts we still hadn’t decided how to speak about.

After thirteen years, the program ended. The children were reintegrated.

We watched them be approached by children born outside captivity, all feeling the stress of the meeting. There was some of us in those children, which made it all the more difficult to see them turned on, to see their insides brought outside, to see their flesh being torn as our masks might.

In the observation theatre, the horror and the failure registered on our all our faces, except those in their mother masks. Their expressions remained unmoving and stoic as their children were disassembled.

(written by Andrew Hood, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Three - Guest Author Pamela Mordecai

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This week, we’re thrilled to present part two from contributor Pamela Mordecai. She's reading from her tremendous debut novel Red Jacket, which was short-listed for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize (2015). A prolific author, Pamela has published five collections of poetry, an anthology of short fiction and is well-known for her poetry and stories for children. She's a recipient of the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary and Bronze Musgrave Medals. She tweets at @Refracting

Please check out her earlier episode here and pick up one of her books from your local independent bookstore. 

 

 
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A Dream (Excerpt from Red Jacket)

So Maisie folds Gracie in her arms like a baby and takes her down the road to Beloved. When she reaches the storefront church, she reverses into the heavy wooden doors, forcing them open with her broad backside, and the two of them go through to see Reverend Douglas, who is waiting. Several ladies make up the congregation and there is even a small choir, a bright blaze of birds the colour of parrots and macaws. Reverend Douglas walks up to receive Maisie and her whimpering charge, arms wide open, big as a baobab tree, and she folds the sobbing Gracie into the great tent of her white robes and takes her up to the altar where Jeremiah is waiting, dressed in red and white, the youngest of seven altar boys who swing gold censers as they wait for Jimmy to begin saying Mass.

            And there at the altar is Gramps, straight and strong, instructing Jeremiah on how to tend the forest of medicine plants that he has set out in rows and rows of pots at the back of the barracks hut in Wentley.

            “Tell her, Gramps,” Ma says, fresh as morning drizzle.

            “You’ve got to get up, Gracie. It’s time to go.”

            Ma walks over quickly, for though she is stout, she moves light as wisps of silk cotton seed. She leans down to give Gracie a hand, but Gracie can’t move, sake of pain. Her entire lower arm is blown up, a fat reddish balloon. The pain inside is hot like boiling water. If anybody offered to cut her arm off, she would let the knife do its terrible work without a moment’s thought.

            She understands. It is Carnival, and the inflated arm is part of her costume, and they are all dressed-up to play mas, a whole band of players in green and white. They wear masks, and their heads are covered with cps like the old-fashioned bathing caps that grandmothers wear at the beach. The party room is tiled green like the birthing room in Geneva where Jeremiah was born. She hates green. She hates this room with green tiles for walls.

There is one very black face that she recognizes, even though he has on a mask. The half moons of his tribal markings won’t let him hide. It is Jimmy, and she can see that he is smiling because his eyes are sideways slits. How she loves his long curling eyelashes! How his touch floods her body with light and movement!

Excerpted from Red Jacket by Pamela Mordecai © 2015 by Pamela Mordecai.  All rights reserved. Published worldwide by Dundurn Press (dundurn.com)

(written and read by Pamela Mordecai) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Two - Quiet time

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Mrs. Singh was walking us over the bridge towards the rainbow when Bruce’s sock ended up in my ear. His toe brushed my right lobe back and forth while I lay there, trying not to interrupt relaxation circle. His sock smelled like something my grandfather would pull out of a jar. Mrs. Singh caught me wiggling away and I slid my hand into an arrow aimed at Bruce’s foot. “Settle down,” she said. “Focus on the stillness in your body. Climb up the yellow beam and slide into the warm pool.” This time, when Bruce’s cheese curd toes started poking, I slid my palm along my mouth, picking up a trail of spit. I clamped my hand onto his ankle. The rest of the class floated through purple waves while I stayed glued to Bruce, fierce as a leech.

***

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This episode was read by the phenomenal Cadence Allen. Cady is a versatile performer and director whose many theatre credits include work with Shakespeare by the Sea, Theatre Aquarius and Theatre Orangeville. Some of Cady's television credits include Murder in ParadiseMiracles: DecodedClose Encounters and Canada: The Story of Us. She recently directed the Hamilton Fringe Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing, which took home Best of Fringe honours. In addition to her work as an actor and director, Cadence is the founder and principal of StageCoach Theatre Arts, a part-time performing arts school for kids ages 4-16 in Toronto's East End. She is represented by Alix Kazman at Fountainhead Talent Inc. 

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Cadence Allen)

Episode Thirty One - Guest Author Rebecca Rosenblum

 Photo by Dave Starrett

Photo by Dave Starrett

It's a testament to Rebecca Rosenblum's skill that her words stick with the reader long after they've put her book down. Over the past few months, I keep circling back to a line from her gorgeous debut novel So Much Love, “She doesn’t owe it to anyone—not even her husband—to fan out all that past pain like a hand of cards.” For me, the line magnifies the bravery of the women who have been coming forward to share their stories and is a reminder that not everyone can share their experiences, that no one is entitled to someone else's trauma. 

In addition to being a finalist for the Amazon First Novel Award for So Much Love, Rebecca won the Metcalf-Rooke Award for her first short fiction collection, Once. Her second collection, The Big Dream, came out in 2011 to much acclaim.  

She has been on both sides of the Journey Prize Anthology—both as an author and as a juror. Her work has also been shortlisted for the National Magazine Awards, and the Danuta Gleed Award, and has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She blogs at http://rebeccarosenblum.com/. We're so happy to present her work as part of The Oddments Tray. 

An earlier version of this story appeared as part of The Litter I See Project, a benefit for Frontier College’s literacy programs. Please spend some time on their wonderful website and consider supporting the cause.

 
 Photo by  Wesley Tingey

Photo by Wesley Tingey

The Wait

He waited at the stop for a while, trying to read a copy of the free arts weekly he’d shoved in with his groceries, but the wind kept yanking at the pages, rattling them until he stepped into a doorway to get out of the wind. He put the bags at his feet, knowing that he was no longer really at the bus stop, that if the bus came he stood a lesser chance of it stopping for him back here, but it was a cold day and he was tired.

The cover story was about a band he hadn’t heard of called the Simpletons. They were local too, started out playing together at some high school on the Danforth, branched out to east end bars, signed to Arts & Crafts. It made his throat hurt, dry and burning like an approaching cold. He didn’t resent their success—god knows, anyone who could escape the Value-Village-sweater life was a good omen for the rest. But the fact that he’d never heard the Simpletons, not at a fest or a showcase, hadn’t run across an EP or had a friend mention them, that felt like a bad omen. Like he wasn’t in the main circles anymore, like the acts who had new sounds were playing at bars he hadn’t even heard of. And who could he even ask about what bars, what neighbourhoods? It felt like everyone he had in his phone had gotten a job in marketing or teaching something, was spending Saturday nights trying to fix leaky taps and taking toddlers to the emergency room because they’d eaten an egg of Silly Putty.

A stronger gust of wind yanked the paper out of his hands—maybe he wasn’t trying that hard to hold on to it. The pages separated: most skittered east in the direction the bus would eventually take him, some flying up above his head until he lost track. When he glanced at the ground, he saw the page he had been reading, the baleful pride in the photo of the Simpletons, but he didn’t bother to pick it up. He saw the blue lights of the bus flash in the distance, and bent to gather his sacks of waffles and salad dressing.

(written by Rebecca Rosenblum, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

Subscribe to us on iTunes or wherever else you get your audio fix.