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Raising Orion

Lesley Choyce

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Chapter One

The cold sang songs of blue ice long and steady in his ears. The thunder of his own blood tried to drown out the music but the song of cold was not just sound but place. Then the beauty of the isolation, the sad beauty of losing everything, swept over Eric there at his final destination. And he gave himself over to the curious satisfaction of knowing he was about to die near the top of the world. The colour of the song was the colour of sunlight on glacial ice. Hard, cold, clean. A song of blue. All around him, an orchestra of light until the returning boom of the drum of a man’s heartbeat to drown out the song, melting the ice. Next came the tongues of fire. Finally darkness.

Days passed, they would later tell Eric, before he showed any interest in returning to consciousness. An injured mind. Failing memory. So great a labour even to remember how to breathe. A difficult, difficult journey to find the path to awakening when he had no desire to seek it. Why would someone want to be brought back from the blue-white song of ice, from the complete contentment of cold? When Eric could finally talk, when he could arrange a


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handful of words into a vocabulary and make his mouth move, make sounds come out, he tried to sing and it made them laugh. The doctor, the nurse. They didn't understand. But the Inuit man who cleaned the room didn't laugh. He closed the door and broke the rules. He was not supposed to "bother" Eric. But he spoke. He asked one question each time he came into his room. What is it like to be dead? The sound of his words, sound without meaning, drew Eric’s dazzled mind to a certain place of focus. Eric did not answer the first time or the second or several times after that, but on the third day, the janitor repeated his question. And Eric attempted to sing for the last time the song of cold blue ice. And failed in his frustrated attempt to reproduce it. It came out as a mournful howl, a moaning chord issuing from deep within his chest and up through his throat. The janitor stared at Eric, frightened at first. And Eric fell silent. Then the janitor stopped staring at the patient and looked out the window. Tell me again, he requested. And Eric tried to do better. The janitor turned and smiled at him. He understood. You were at my grandfather's place, he said and he turned to go.

There was darkness and blissful isolation again, for how long Eric didn’t know. He arranged things in his mind, moved images about from one place to another. There was sound and bright lights and corners of comfortable darkness. Places of solace and disturbing chaotic areas filled with objects he could


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not name or understand. He had been “away� and he failed to find the path that led him into his own past. He could not know where or who he was until he could unravel where he’d been and who he had been. Sometimes he thought it was the other way around. He had been home and now he was away. When his eyes opened, things were even stranger and more impossible than he had imagined. Yet his eyes seemed voracious for everything. They were starved, famished. They consumed the shape of the painting on the wall, the frame of a door, the cold hardness of the floor. Objects around him suddenly seemed very real. Dependable. The people who came into the room seemed to exist in some other dimension. They tried to communicate with Eric but they didn't understand his sound, the song of ice still exerting its power over him. Sometimes they adjusted the tubes running into Eric or the tubes running out of him. Sometimes a sharp thing went into his arm. He assumed it was by this means they hoped to penetrate the mystery of who he was. But soon enough, they became distracted and left him alone and Eric returned to the geography of things inside his mind. He returned to the fading but unbroken symphony of cold singing and he felt an ache so great inside that he thought he would break in half. He thought he himself might fade again and go away altogether.

Grandfather, the janitor addressed him when he bumped his pail and mop into the room. Much later Eric would learn that it was a word surrounded in a cloud of personal power, that it was


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a bit of a joke in a way but also a show of respect. The two could go together. Eric was beginning to see attachments between the sound of language and things around him. Even people. Like the man who cleaned his room. His name was Ray. Ray had smooth tan skin and a long dark ponytail that fell down his back. Grandfather, you are awake today. Eric followed his movements and thought he remembered him from somewhere. There was something about him. Something from the other side of the wall. The wall was important to Eric, especially now that the song was fading. When he was falling asleep now, he studied the wall more carefully. It had been there all along. Cold, tall and beautiful. Ice. A wall of ice inside his mind separating him from everything that had come before, keeping him safely away from whomever it was that he had been. As Ray spoke, Eric could only blink his eyes and move certain muscles in his face that he hoped gave him an expression just like Ray used. Eric was trying to smile. Ray laughed, a sound close enough to a song that it reminded Eric of something. He remembered that music came from more than just cold blue ice. Eric looked past Ray just then at the vessel of light that was the window and realized that it was somehow alive, in motion. Some kind of dancing thing. Round, soft, translucent shapes sliding. The whole surface seemed strangely alive. Ray saw the look on Eric’s face, the question. "It's rain. I guess you didn't see a lot of that when you


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were up north." Rain. Something shifted inside his thoughts. Eric closed his eyes quickly and tried to focus on the familiar things, the shapes and sounds that he’d begun to catalogue. He saw the wall in the distance and now realized that it too had an undulating surface like the window. It was in motion. And Eric now came to the conclusion that ice and water were of the same family. "Gonna rain like that for a couple of days, they say." The wall melted slowly in one place and language began to flow over the top, spilling into the place where he lived. At first he thought he would let it flood through him and take him wherever he had to go, but then he was afraid. He shut his eyes tightly and could not hear the song of ice at all over the torrent. So he gathered together his will and prepared to repair the wall, soliciting the ally of cold to help mend the damage and restore it. Opening his eyes again, however, he saw Ray mopping the floor. And then he asked, “Where am I?” Ray stopped his work, turned slowly. Behind him the rain drummed against the window now. Rain and wind. Words welling up in his mind. "I don't know where I am." And, to him, it seemed far more important to know where he was than who he was. Ray walked over to Eric. He smiled and Eric wanted to count the man’s teeth. “You’re south. You're in Ottawa." "Ottawa," Eric repeated. The word meant nothing to him. Instead of sounding puzzled, he must have sounded discouraged.


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"Hey, don't sound so disappointed. But I know how you feel. Man, no one wants to be in Ottawa."

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This September, Nova Scotian author Lesley Choyce is releasing his first novel for adults in more than seven years called Raising Orion, published by Thistledown Press. He's also celebrating the publication of Random, a young adult novel coming out from Red Deer Press. Choyce is also one of three featured surfers in the documentary Winter Wave Riders (Hemmings House Productions) which is being screened at the Halifax Film Festival. In addition, he is also part of a unique poetry-music collaboration with Toronto singer-songwriter Jason McGroarty and soon to release an album blending spoken word and pop music. His previous two CDs were with the band The SurfPoets. Lesley Choyce is a novelist and poet living at Lawrencetown Beach in Nova Scotia. He surfs in the North Atlantic year-round. He also runs a literary publishing house and teaches English at Dalhousie University. He is the host of a regular nationally-broadcast program on BookTelevision called Off the Page with Lesley Choyce. Choyce is the author of more than seventy books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction for adults, teens and children. His writing has earned him several awards, including two Dartmouth Book Awards and the Ann Connor Brimer Award for the young adult novel Good Idea Gone Bad. His work has been translated into Spanish, French, Danish and German. Choyce will be available for interviews this fall in Halifax and Toronto. He will be reading from his two new books at Word on the Street in Halifax on September 28.

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Raising Orion (novel excerpt)  

Raising Orion tells the tale of an eccentric, timeless woman, Molly, a second-hand bookshop owner, and her childhood as the daughter of the...

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