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”
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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