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volume 2011 6 winter 2011 volume 1 | issue 6 | winter | $9.50

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

northern canada collective society for writers’ statement of purpose: To publish and support the work of writers in northern Canada. call for submissions Issue number 7 of NorthWord will be published in Spring 2012 deadline March 31 theme The theme of the issue will be “Harmony” please submit to The Editors, subscribing to northword To inquire about subscriptions, contact

volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

northern canada collective society for writers


She doesn’t quite chop his head off.

She makes a Pez dispenser out of him.

president Jennifer Hemstock



Kevin Thornton

treasurer Suzanne McGladdery


the hanging

C.A. Loverock

secretary Linda Black


thoughts between vodka sips


managing editor Blair Hemstock


moving forward

Caroline Juhlin

media director Kiran Malik-Khan


not my sin

Kiran Malik-Khan



misloving, 2008

Johnathan Magnus


lost both my joys

Mahmoud Tarabein


hayes carll country

Patricia Budd


see dick jump

Amanda Nielsen

young. The only definite is that there was sin in the world of this painting.


if i had a hammer

Joan Baril

I am, like Calvin Coolidge’s clergyman, ‘agin sin’. Like you all, dear readers, I try to live


at the chandraganj mission

Ken Haigh


what kelly did

Catherine Astolfo


marginalia: a column

Douglas Abel



This Issue Volume 1, Number 6 Winter 2011 ISSN 1920-6313 cover & art Emily Zielke design & layout Kathleen Jacques editor Kevin Thornton managing editor Jane Jacques

Proudly published in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada 56°44’N | 111°07’W

Without sin, there is no brutality, no war, no hunger. Also, no crime fiction, no

tragedy, comedy or romance. Life would be boring, bland and utterly without redemption. No thanks.

The heading I have used implies so much about sin, even if you don’t recognise the

quote. Likewise in this collection, people write good stuff about bad things. You will

find death, dishonour, fear, foulness, sorrow and sanctimoniousness. Meanwhile

the cover, by local artist Emily Zielke, lends itself to many interpretations. It is a study of Lucien Freud’s ‘Ali’. While the original is interesting, Emily’s work seems

more debauched and open to interpretation. Dead or alive, male or female, old or

a good life, pay taxes, be kind to children and puppies. I am boring. Sin is not. And that is its mean attraction.

Kevin Thornton |

sixth issue editor

Thank you to all who participated in the NorthWord Poetry Party at the Fort McMurray Public Library on October 1!

We had a wonderful day of creating and enjoying poetry.

Special thanks to those who donated goods and services to the silent auction, including: Amoreena Murray Mary Kay Anika Khan & Nadia Khan Vogue Xcessories

Mucharata Minog David FROST by Mucharata

Kim Nelson Let’s Jet Services

Nargis Sameer Hair Stylist

Saima Syed Just-eat Halal Catering

Fatima Mian Remax

Nargis Zaid H& H Fashions

Shelley Strowbridge AVON

Hina Khawar Make-Up Artist

Keyano Foundation

Uzma Syed Nisa Collection

Keyano Theatre & Arts Centre


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

the hanging c.a. loverock

the weather in the afternoon had turned ugly. It had been snowing since early that morning. The two RCMP officers were waiting for

the weather to clear before they could bring the man in their custody to be hanged. The two policemen were seated across from each other

at a table down the hall from where the inmate, Hermann Peters, was waiting.

“I’ve heard rumours, but what exactly did he do?” asked the younger officer Jamison, in a hushed tone.

Jamison looked at him closely. “So what are you saying?” he asked. “Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. Point is I can’t remember, so what does it matter?” Hermann said with a shrug.

Before he could say any more, the front door slammed. It was Macgregor. “It’s cleared up out there, get him ready,” he shouted. Standing up Her-

mann towered over the two officers. Handcuffed, he moved slowly out of his cell.

“The man’s a murderer,” replied Macgregor, without looking up from his

“It wasn’t me who done those killings. Not the real me,” said Hermann,

“Yeah, I know, but what about … I mean you was there so I figured you

“Well, you’re the one whose gonna hang for it,” said Macgregor. Lead-


would know,” said Jamison, leaning in closer.

Macgregor had a sour look on his face, clearly not wanting to talk about

never looking officer Macgregor in the eye.

ing him to the gallows Jamison felt a pang of sympathy for the doomed man.

it. “The man murdered his family. That’s all anybody needs to know,” he

“You don’t remember anything?” Jamison asked, as Hermann shuffled

Jamison knew there was more to the story. Hermann was a reclusive

“I know when they found me I was covered in blood. Most likely my

miles outside the city. A local trader had reported the family had not

monotone voice. “He’d been chopped up, boiling in a pot when the police

said, putting his cards on the table and walking outside.

trapper. He and his family had lived in an isolated camp along the river, been seen or heard from in quite a while. The police made the grisly discovery when they went to check on them. Hermann had killed all five

of his family members present with an axe; his wife, three kids and a brother.

Jamison gingerly walked down the hall toward the cell where Hermann was kept.

slowly down the hallway.

youngest son’s blood, since it was him that was killed last,” he said in a

arrived. They told me they found the rest of my family’s remains scattered about, bits of skin and bone with bite marks on ‘em.”

During a winter when most families were struggling to feed their fami-

lies Hermann had obviously been eating well. When the police found him, his face and hands were stained a dark red colour, his belly distended, his face was round and full.

“I’m ready,” said the thin man with greasy black hair and sunken eyes as

The two officers brought Hermann outside, one on each side of him. The

evil; he just looked weak and broken. He certainly didn’t look like the kind

knife when it hit. Leading Hermann by the arms Macgregor was stone-

dark as coal. Jamison peered around the corner. The man didn’t appear of monster who could kill his entire family.

“We’re about ready for you. The snows clearin’ up,” said Jamison, his voice trembling a little. Hermann didn’t respond. “Can I ask you a question?”

“You want to know why?” Hermann said in an exhausted tone. It was a question he had been asked a lot.

“No, I wanted to know … I heard you ate ‘em.” There was a long pause. Hermann shuffled his feet. Jamison was about to walk away when Hermann spoke up.

“I don’t remember much. I know how it sounds but, some of the locals

they talk of a malevolent spirit,” Hermann said. Jamison leaned forward, resting his chest on the bars. “It takes over, craving human flesh,” he said,

snow had subsided, but there was still a strong wind that stung like a faced, looking straight ahead. Jamison kept his eyes on Hermann, who continued walking slowly with his head down.

“My wife had been complaining that I was acting strange. That’s one of the last things I remember, before the day the police arrived. She said I

had been short tempered, spending a lot of time alone. She was worried about me,” he said. “They said they think she was killed first. Found her body outside my camp, head was gone. Still haven’t found it.”

The noose was tied tightly around Hermann’s neck. “You got any last

words?” asked the hangman. “God forgive me,” said Hermann. His body dropped like a sack through the floorboards. Whatever spirit had been in him was gone.

“I take responsibility for what I done, but alls I can remember is the police

comin’ to my camp; seeing all the bones and bits of flesh littered around.”



volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

thoughts between vodka sips n.a.

Because he felt like being deep today,

Didn’t have a pen when he had something to say, Felt the urge push my fingertips,

Felt thoughts itch between vodka sips. Every time I heard his curbkick story,

I tried to tell my eyes to tell him sorry,

I think he might’ve missed my apology though, Too distracted aching to and fro, From past to now

Misery to recollection,

Can still smell his lingering infection; Plagues him for most of his life,

moving forward

misloving, 2008

caroline juhlin

johnathan magnus

Save yourself, You

Encourage and care for

Protect and respect, as no one else will

Guilt surrounds as each trespass is mentioned To acknowledge mistakes, yes and I will grow

Praying each evening, to release me of the burden? To ask forgiveness? No.

Yearn to cut him free with sober knives. How many wrongs is he going to make

Before right choices shape up and awake From his sin spell Feasting on hell The next bite

Flavour of contrite.

In spite of suggestions of right,

He’ll always be struttin’ heartless might, Saucing up a front to make me fight, Can’t ever keep him in the light.

He says, “Feel me after eight hits of E, runaway style to breathe and be,

a real person, real thoughts and reactions, Exemplified, distorted, and fractioned.”

I say, “No more our souls are getting sore, Even after a gorge,

Of money, pleasure, and foolery, We’re never free”

They broke the mould I said to her

Once we’d made the windows sweat

She smiled playfully and pressed against me In our birthday suits for days

She taught me how to love again I told her many times

not my sin kiran malik-khan Why? Why do you want me to bend, to acquiesce, to smile and nod — to accept? Do I look like a Barbie? Ready to be anything to your wish, desire, wants, needs, more! Do I look like I signed up for this to be a door-mat? Why is listening and obeying my heritage?

Speaking and rebelling — a violation of every rule you made.

In the stillness of our pillow mumblings Her cheek resting upon mine

Then I’d tell her of many memories Stretching far before her birth

Her wisdom swelled as seasons passed

Spirit and passion, like an ocean, surrounded us We relished our loves’ fruition

Inside, our home declared us ageless

She said the flame cast shadows into my crowsfeet Did I cause that young girl harm?

Why do you expect me to do it all, yet, when I question, I have to hear “so what have you done?”

Do I look like a robot — created to bear your children, do your laundry, make dinner, go to work, and do it all again without a thank you?

Yet, you want gratitude — day in and day out.

O, ye, who thinks he is the master of the universe — a gift to the world.

You are everything — because you are a man? Listen — and listen well Being a woman Is not my sin!



volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

lost both my joys mahmoud tarabein

I can feel the rain racing down to earth, So I grabbed something warm; a coffee

I rush back to catch the show from the beginning Just on time!!

hayes carll country patricia budd

Now I’m drawing my reminiscences

hayes carll’s cd trouble in mind is soft, sultry, sexy

ing out to the woman he loves, begging for help. Without

Some of these reminiscences were cold

in love and lonely both searching and scared. Hard drinking

strength of spirit he once had. As “one hand holds the bottle,

As the rain droplets are dying on the ground, Mostly questions left without answers Why? I asked,

I was told no one is perfect But wasn't aiming for it I just wanted you

A crying rain is singing in the background, As a courtesy, I stand up!!

I call upon her, reaching my hand "Will you dance with me?"

Surely after I hand her a cold dead rose, She smiles!

It’s that kind of smile that leaves you sad and lonely We danced, levitated from all our silence We danced till the end of love

The curtains fall and the rain applauds. Now the sun rays are invading the clouds

and sinful. It bears the rough, rugged edge of a restless man

men coupled with bohemian women swirl and rage in time to Hayes Carll’s beat tempered by the softness of love’s innocence, loyalty and forgiveness. This is a CD of love, bearing

the soul of the kind of man women want to envelop, love, smother and hold.

Trouble in Mind opens with “Drunken Poet’s Dream” in which

I stand a moment of silence, regret, shame And I go back to my cup of coffee And it reproaches me

How heartless I was to leave it alone and cold Lost both my joys

Forgive me for not my intention to break anybody’s life Now I’m only hoping for another rain

There, where I could phase my remorse

of glory are not for them: “all these people going to heaven

are just in our way.” This drunken cynical theme repeats itself

with great variety in “Bad Liver And A Broken Heart” (track 4); “Beaumont” (track 5); “Wild As A Turkey” (track 8); “Lover Like

You” (track 10); “Knockin’ Over Whiskey” (track 12) and “She left Me For Jesus” (track 14). Anticipate earthly pleasures when listening to this CD!

few bars increases in speed. It speaks of bad timing and a

underneath that sweet magnolia” suggests what could have been. We’ve all met that someone each of us would have

loved to be with. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, or rea-

sons we’d prefer not to recognize, we allow that person, that potential experience, to pass. In retrospect I’m sure most of us can say the same: it truly is a shame.

Yet, he is asking for help. Perhaps he is finally ready to get up again. If not, it will be the end of him.

“Willing To Love Again”. Ironically, and apropos, this is track

tions a fully aware scoundrel who may, for the first time, be seeing the truth of the woman he can never leave and who

will never leave him. Recognizing her faithful nature he utters

in wonder, “And still across my floor you stand willing to love again.” She may be unlucky but he is the luckiest man on earth!

Not every track espouses or laughs at the follies of love. “I got a

gig” is black comedy, a humorous look at the life of the bar gig. Playing “six nights a week in a neon flame” is highly sugges-

tive of the lively life presented to musicians forced to perform

in dark and dingy drinking establishments for a scant living. “Ah, Lord, I never thought I’d see these things.” What things: “a

barefoot trooper with a pistol up his sleeve”, “pills in the tip jar” and “blood on the street”. One can easily imagine the desolate life of “playing for one’s supper”. Yet with such an upbeat

rhythm one wants to dive in. A man could easily suffer that life for a year or two and walk away wiser.

Innocence and naivety reign in track 3, “Girl Downtown”.

In “Bad Liver And A Broken Heart” (track 4) Hayes Carll asks,

of ill repute. Katie, with “freckles on her nose, pencils in her

answer to that. Trouble in Mind is the honest expression of a

Not all relationships turn sour or lead one down the path pockets and ketchup on her clothes” is the small town beauty

whom young boys long to date. Billy, “slower than a fall” being the one who “cain’t buy no ring” is the perfect match. When Hayes Carll sings, “maybe we could be the one” he is no longer singing of the drunk or cynical. Instead, his words ring of promise for the future.

“Don’t Let Me Fall” speaks of need and dependence on another. Track 9 is the voice of a broken down, disheveled man reach6

luck. To her, question if this is really what a woman should do.

13, the cursed number. “How’d you get so unlucky girl?” ques-

“you be the sinner honey I’ll be the sin” and that the rewards

longing for the one who got away. The line “kissing for hours

She is gone!!

his one hand refuses to let go of the bottle. To him I wish good

experience. She warns him of her intentions by announcing

I try relentlessly to house her in my heart Not the ray's strength though

one truly help and support one in this circumstance? Not if

Forgiveness and the loyalty of a steady lover is the crux of

the sort of debauchery any man would willing sell his soul to

“It’s A Shame” (track 2) appears to slow the pace but after a

I thought I was strong

one hand holds (his) shame” this man hit rock bottom. Can

a “woman as wild as Rome” seduces and lures the speaker into

She cries the beauty of our last dance The rays are taking her away

her love and support he may never be able to resurrect what

“Don’t nobody care about truth anymore?” This CD is in man’s soul. “Maybe that’s what songs are for” — maybe this is what Hayes Carll is for!

How does one describe Hayes Carll’s style? I asked my hus-

band what he thought: “Would you call him Country Rock? Hillbilly Rock? Alternative Country? Simon replied, “Texas Country” but even that didn’t work for me, not being Texan

and all, so I answered my own question: “He’s Hayes Carll Country.”


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

see dick jump amanda nielsen

as dick sat watching the news, sipping his cup of hot herbal tea, his mind began to wander. Thoughts of his sweet, innocent daughter and how much she resembled her mother entered his mind.

“She was so beautiful,” he whispered, breathing the smell of the jasmine tea in deeply, letting the smell fill his nostrils before taking another sip.

Staring blankly at the television screen, he closed his eyes and brought the palm of his right hand to his forehead, pressing it with intention. Slowly bringing his hand

back down to rest on the warmth of his cup, his attention was brought back to the television.

“Car crash results in freeing of 12 Ponoka Hospital transfers. More in a minute, Jim,” the newscaster interjected.

Dick stopped, dropping his cup of tea-the cup falling with a thud to the Persian rug. The liquid immediately soaked up by the rug’s fibres.

“Jane?” he whispered, gulping for air, understanding now that he had craved Jas-

mine tea because he had detected the faint smell of Jane’s jasmine body lotion in the air.

“Yes, Dick. It’s me.” Jane replied, stepping into the living room, eyes as cold as ice. She had been watching him from the shadows in the hallway.

“Oh, my God. Were you in that accident?” he asked, beginning to rise from the chair, “Are...are you all right?” he stuttered.

Jane rushed at him, pushing him back down into the lime green chair, revealing the gun in her left hand.

“Don’t you dare!!” she screamed, “This is my home, my family’s home — what makes you think you can come here? Drink my tea, ruin my Persian rug!!”

“You can’t do this, Jane. I would never do anything like that to

you. You’re delusional now — can’t you see that? I love you.” Dick pleaded, searching in Jane’s eyes for some kind of recog-

nition. Jane diverted her eyes, looking from his shoulder to his chest and back again.

Was he right? Was she the one who had dreamed all of this up? Was she crazy? She loved him at one time but the love had

long dried up. Thinking back over the past two weeks, before

she had been committed, what had happened? She and Nell

had been contemplating leaving. There had been phone calls

with no one on the other end, knocks on the door at odd hours.

before you slipped me those drugs. How could you?”

“I didn’t do anything, Jane! You know I love you, I love you and our daughter. You

need help, you need to be kept safe — you could hurt yourself or someone else.” Dick pleaded.

“Safe!!?? You drove me into psychosis by feeding me drugs every day. I couldn’t

function, I couldn’t sleep, or eat, or think. Your abuse pushed me to the edge. You’re not going to take this from me!!” Jane slowly pushed her bloodstained hair from

and admired, “You won’t get away with it anymore.”

Pulling the trigger millimetre by millimetre, Jane looked into Dick’s eyes, his gaze now cold, full of hate. “You crazy fucking bitch!” he snarled. At that moment the front door opened. Nell yelled, “Daddy!”

went off.

had tolerated for two years was going to come to end and she was going to take her daughter with her.

corner of her eyes — shadows, bugs maybe? Then the true

“Don’t you move!” Jane screamed, cocking the gun, “I was taking shooting lessons

him in the eye. The man she once loved and trusted, adored

trative assistant. She just knew it! The emotional abuse she

hospital was going to take care of her, watch her, make sure she was safe and sound. said sweetly, once again trying to rise from his chair.

“You ruined my life,” she said slowly in a low voice, looking at

In that split second, Jane’s attention shifted, Dick lunged

and she knew that he was having sex with his new adminis-

And then the sleepless nights, she had been shaky, nervous,

“Jane, sweetheart, if you’re hurt I can help you — there’s blood on your forehead...”Dick

back — that was the only way.

Dick had been talking to others as though she was delusional

Dick, paralyzed with fear, knew he has pushed her too far, taken too much. Eve-

rything had been executed so smoothly, so perfectly. What had gone wrong? The

She stared at Dick, knowing she had to kill him to get her life

unable to concentrate or focus. She could see things in the

forward at her, grabbing hold of the gun and a single shot Screaming and crying, Dick grabbed Nell as her mother’s still body lie on the floor. Behind them, Dick’s admin assistant ran to Nell’s aid, scooping her up in her arms.

“Take her outside, now!” Dick barked at her.

psychosis set in and she had become catatonic — but she

Dick calmly crouched down to check for Jane’s pulse. The

cues, trapped in a body that wouldn’t answer her.

low, her pulse becoming fainter.

could still think, her body unable to move or respond to her

This was when she had been taken away. Yesterday. She

couldn’t help her daughter, she couldn’t tell her she loved her. And the final look that Dick gave her as she was dragged away

in a white coat, with his admin assistant there to console Nell, it said it all. That bastard!! That is when she knew this had

been done to her, that she had been drugged into this state and the hospital, the doctors, the nurses they were all in on it with him.

bullet had hit her in the chest. She was still breathing, shal“You know, I didn’t want this to happen,” he whispered, “This is the last thing I hoped would happen. I loved you.”

Quickly getting up, Dick joined his daughter and admin assistant on the front step; Jane’s final breath escaped from her lips as the door clicked behind them.

Walking slowly next door, Dick, Nell and his admin assistant asked to use the phone to call 911.

her eyes, steadying her left hand on the gun and placing her right hand and pointer finger back on the trigger. 8


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

if i had a hammer

at the chandraganj mission

joan baril

ken haigh

on the sidewalk, my sister and i leaned

against the church hall, listening, wait-

ing for the precise moment. The Sunday school kids inside were singing Praise God from

whom all blessings flow, the hymn that accom-

panies the collection plate. At the final notes, we rushed in. Perfect timing. As usual, hardly

anyone paid attention. Just the Marston girls, late again. So once more, we could keep the nick-

els our mother had given us for the offering and spend them on candy on the way home.

“Lent is sacrifice,” intoned the Superintendent. “Give up your sweets, your comic books.” I tuned out to ponder a more pressing question: Jersey

they were purchased.

“Is Lent over?” I said. “How about giving me some?”

“I’m eating them all today. And you’re not getting any. You gobbled your share.” “Pretty please,” I whined “Drop dead, greedy head!” She picked up the

Jersey Milk and ever so slowly bit off a square. “Yum, yum. Pure chocolate. The best. I do think you’re drooling, Janet. Ha, ha, just another bite for me. Mmm, delicious.”

Milk or Jersey Nut?

“Just one tweeny square,” I begged.

We argued as far as the corner store but decided

“Tough teabags,” she said, taking a tiny nibble.

The first luscious square melted between my

She danced around waving the last square

on Caramilk, carefully dividing the bar in half. teeth, slipping me into chocolate heaven.

“Chocolate is so-ooo perfect for a winter’s day.” under my nose.

But what was this? My sister was carefully

I eyed the four bars on the desk. To snatch one

for Lent,” she said.


wrapping her portion. “I’m giving chocolate up “Good,” I said. “I’ll eat it.”

“No, I’m saving it for Easter.” In our bedroom, I watched her place the Caramilk inside her small

dresser drawer, lock it and put the key in her pocket.

“It’ll melt,” I cried. “Go moldy.”

meant war. I glared, feeling my longing turn to

on the Caramilk. The satisfying glunk filled me

with dark glee. I body-checked my sister out of

the way and attacked the remaining bars. One, two, three: splat, splat, splat.

another Caramilk.

got them.”

my sister setting out her hoard on our study

“Doctor Gustafsson? Do you understand?”

But the doctor didn't react as expected. Instead of protesting his innocence and pleading his

ignorance of the affair, the doctor sat quietly, almost sadly, and gazed out the window at the falling rain. It appeared that he wasn't paying any attention at all. The D.C. was not used to

being ignored, and he became annoyed. He leaned across the desk and spoke more sharply, “Doctor, are you hearing what I am saying?”

The little man in the white linen suit stirred. “Forgive me. Yes, I understand. What will happen to Sayid Ali and the girl?”

“They will be punished, most assuredly. My goodness, doctor, you cannot sympathize with these panderers. They have abused your hospitality and dragged the good name of your Mission through the mire of scandal.” “What will be their punishment?” The D.C. looked carefully at the doctor with hooded eyes. He picked up a paper packet of handrolled biris and stuck one of the dart-shaped cigarettes in his mouth. He patted the pockets of his khaki shirt until he found a box of matches, and then, striking one, lit his biri. “Our law is

very strict in cases like these. I’m afraid it will be most severe. But, of course,” he stroked his pencil moustache thoughtfully and took another drag on his biri, “if a fine could be paid, perhaps ... five thousand rupees.”

out at the falling rain.

I was relentless. Bang, slam! “You can’t tell,” I

ing, I came into our bedroom for a book and saw

a relic of the previous colonial administration, and peered across at the man being addressed.

up the hammer, turned, and slammed it down

Each Sunday, her candy cache increased: half

On Easter Thursday, no school. After toboggan-

most serious charges.” He spread his elbows on the ancient and battered mahogany desk,

The sum was outrageous. Gustafsson looked up at the cruel portrait of President Ershad,

he’d left a few tools behind on a chair. I snatched

“I’ll tell!” My sister wailed, shoving and hitting,

an Oh Henry, a Sweet Marie, a Burnt Almond,

“ and so,” concluded the district commissioner of police, “as you can see, these are

My dad had been repairing our bookcase and

“They don’t go moldy in the store,” she replied. “Or melt.”


desk. Five half chocolate bars as fresh as the day

trying to halt the chocolate massacre.

sneered, “because you’d have to explain how you “Girls!” My mother walked in. She stared at the desk. “What’s all this?” she said.

which, despite the popular coup, still hung on the wall. He removed his glasses and squinted “The Mission will pay.” The doctor had ordered the tonga to fetch them from the police station for the long drive

back to the Mission. The car would have been useless; the road was in places under two feet of water. Given the circumstances, a boat would have probably been more appropriate, but

the decision had been made hours ago, and it was too late to make new arrangements now.

The fields were awash. Very little remained above the water: a few crumbling bamboo huts, clustered together, the railway embankment on the horizon, and a green serpent of drowned

trees following the bank of the swollen river. The tonga followed a line of palms that marked the edge of the roadway, which, though itself underwater, was slightly elevated from the sur-

rounding fields. The bloated carcass of a water buffalo had washed aground on the roadbed, and the horse shied away and refused to pass. The driver handed the reins to Gustafsson and dismounted, and, using a stout length of bamboo, managed to lever the carcass out of the mud and into the deeper water. The tonga continued its silent journey.


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

Gustafsson sat on the seat at the front with the driver. Sayid

successfully for twenty years. Gustafsson had been sorry to

girl had pulled the corner of her shawl over her face in shame.

had trusted each other's judgement, whereas Pederson had

Ali and his child-bride sat in the back under the canopy. The

The old man sat, relaxed, leaning against the side of the box, and smoking a cigarette that one of the guards must have given him. Gustafsson wondered if the guards had forced their attentions on the girl and if it had been possible for her to resist. He was alarmed at the depth of his own anger. He

wanted to drag the old man from the cart and crush his face into the mud under his heel.

Sayid Ali was a mystery to him. Gustafsson had expected him

begun to challenge his superior's authority almost from the moment of his arrival. He had been astounded by the shockingly few Christian converts the Mission had acquired in its

twenty-five years of service. They had almost come to blows

over Pederson's plan to baptize the patients in the House of the Dying. “It's unethical,” Gustafsson had protested, “and

cowardly to try and bully people when they are in extremity. For God's sake, leave them to die in peace. Besides, I doubt in

fever. She had trusted him implicitly in all things. He greeted

your absence—to begin rationing the rice, and the rumour

that it was the best silver and china. This was Eva's way of

hour. The compound is very crowded. I made the decision—in began to spread that we were giving the Christians larger portions than the Muslims.” “Were we?” Pederson flushed with anger. “Of course not. However, the

kitchen workers are Christian, and they may have been keep-

ing something back. I can't control that. When I question them, they suddenly lose the ability to speak English.”

the efficacy of deathbed conversions.”

“Was there trouble?”

great sahib, begging forgiveness, and pleading his unworthi-

“Doctor, you surprise me,” Pederson had replied in an even

“Oh, some troublemakers tried it on, but I forced them out of

he had walked with quiet dignity to the tonga and had taken

of our Lord Jesus Christ's great mercy? Shall we condemn

honestly, the ingratitude—”

to come fawning and grovelling, treating Gustafsson as the ness, but when the old man had entered the prison courtyard, his place in the back. The girl had hurried on tiny frightened brown feet through the mud, followed by the lewd clucking of the guards. She had climbed into the back of the tonga and had curled into a ball. Sayid Ali had not assisted her into the cart. He seemed oblivious to her presence.

The journey through the flooded countryside took many hours and, in that time, not a word passed between the people in the cart. It was dusk by the time they sighted their

destination. The Mission was visible from quite a distance

away, set as it was upon a slight rise of land in the middle

and condescending tone. “Shall we let them die in ignorance

them to the outer darkness, to the fires of everlasting damna-

tion? Did not our Lord command us to go into the world and preach the Gospel? Who are you, doctor, to decide who shall

and who shall not receive the gift of everlasting life? Are you

content to play God?” Yes, they had almost come to blows. But for the most part they had treated each other with elaborate politeness, and most of their fencing was done with pieties

and with smiles. Yet, there had been days when Gustafsson had prayed that the Lord might make him a cruel man, if only for an hour, but, ...well, that mattered little now.

of the vast, flat delta. The white-washed brick walls, which

It was Pederson's total inability to teach that worried Gus-

with the flood waters lapping at their base.

first thing about pedagogical principles. He ignored the cur-

enclosed the compound, reminded Gustafsson of Noah's Ark They were met at the gate by a tall man in a damp suit car-

rying a black umbrella. He was a young man and balding, though he tried to conceal this fact by brushing a great black cowlick across his narrow dome. He had a thick dark

jaw, narrow shoulders, and broad, almost matronly, hips. The

effect was curiously vegetative: like a gourd-shaped head atop a gourd-shaped body.

“I saw you coming. It certainly took you long enough. What did the Police Commissioner have to say for himself? Did you get to the bottom of this outrage?”

Lars Gustafsson looked at the arrogant young man. Nils

Pederson was his second-in-command, and Gustafsson dis-

liked him. Pederson and his wife had been sent out from

tafsson most. The man was hopeless. He didn't know the riculum and turned his classes into Christian indoctrination

sessions. English language became Parables To Ponder; sci-

ence, The Miracles Of The Messiah; history, The Glorious Life Of Our Saviour; and geography, The Peregrinations of Peter

and Paul. Pederson tended to lean rather heavily on the New Testament. Parents, who had originally sent their children to

the Mission School because it was free and because there was a certain snob appeal in having them instructed by a white

foreigner, were now angry and enrolment was dropping as children were withdrawn. Gustafsson sometimes wondered

what was going on in the Missionary Office back home. Had things reached such a crisis that Pederson was the best instructor they could find? Did young people no longer dream of missionary service as Gustafsson had in his youth?

Sweden a little less than a year ago. They had taken over

He looked at Nils Pederson with expressionless eyes. “We will

headmistress, had decided to retire from a post she had run

my absence?”

the Mission School when Miss Gretta Lund, the former 12

see Gretta go. They had respected each other's abilities and

“Refugees have been streaming in all day. More come in every

talk about this over dinner. Have there been any problems in

the kitchen and barred the door. I had to get a little rough, but, “It's almost dinner time. Sayid Ali?” Gustafsson turned in

his seat, but didn't look at the old man. “Sayid Ali, you had better go to the kitchen and explain how things stand to the

staff and to the people who are our guests. Mr. Pederson will

the servant who was laying the table. He smiled when he saw being brave, of showing him that she believed in his ability to make everything right.

Another figure entered the room. She was tall, angular and

sexless. She wore a frilly knee-length yellow polka-dotted frock. Her red hair hung in pigtails, tied back with pink rib-

bons. Gustafsson found the combination garish and offensive

to his taste. She was a frivolous and ineffective woman, he thought. Why was she so frightened of showing her age? What vanity prompted her to dress like a little girl? “Good evening, Gretchen.” “Hello, doctor. Did you see the police? Did you straighten

them out? I hope you told them what you thought of them. Nils says they are all corrupt, that they are bigger crooks than the criminals themselves.” “Yes, Gretchen.”

accompany you.”

“And Sayid Ali and his lovely wife. Did you rescue them?”

“As you wish, doctor.”

“Yes, I brought them back with me.”

Pederson watched as Sayid Ali unloaded his old bones from

“Oh,” she squeaked and clapped her hands. “I’m so very glad.

the cart and walked stiffly across the flagstones in the rain. “He seems awfully cocky for a man who's just spent two

nights in prison. I say, Gustafsson, what was all that nonsense about?”

“I'll tell you over dinner. Right now, I'm very tired, and I want to change out of these wet clothes.”

As he entered the cool white bungalow, his wife met him on the verandah and kissed him drily on the cheek.

I’m just so fond of that dear old fellow.”

“If you will excuse me, ladies, I will return to my room and change my clothes for dinner.” He kissed his wife and made a stiff little bow to Mrs. Pederson and left the room.

In his room, Gustafsson stepped out of his clothes. He never felt comfortable in a suit and tie; he was always more at ease

in his hospital gown. Gustafsson sprawled on the bed, naked but for his shorts, and listened to the beat of the ceiling fan.

“Hello, dear. Did you manage to get that horrid business

I never liked the idea of that marriage, he thought. Gretchen, of

for the business of the Mission, but Swedish was the lan-

some reservations about the girl's age, but she was quickly

sorted out?” She spoke to him in Swedish. They used English guage of intimate conversation.

“Yes, Eva. I'll tell you over dinner. I'm going to go and get changed.” They entered the house together.

Gustafsson's wife was small and fragile and had always

reminded him of a little bird. They had spent 25 years together in Bangladesh and had entered the mission field as honeymooners. This was not the life she would have chosen for

herself, he knew, and yet she had never complained, not even when their only child, a boy, had been carried off by typhoid

course, was charmed by the little child bride. His wife had had swept up in the romance of the idea. Women get silly when

marriage is mentioned, he concluded. Pederson, of course, had been thrilled. It had been a Christian wedding and so, a great moral victory. It had also been the first marriage ceremony performed at the Mission in its 25-year history.

But Gustafsson had been troubled. The whole thing had been

a little too neatly arranged between the Sayid Ali and the

girl’s father. They were of the same generation, and the girl, little more than a child, had not been consulted at all. Still, things were done differently here. There was no awkward


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

period of adolescence for these village girls. They were chil-

dren one day and brides the next. Gustafsson had questioned

all parties closely before he agreed to perform the ceremony. The father seemed reconciled to the alien rites. The girl, when questioned, meekly stated that she was happy to do as her

father thought best. And Gustafsson was reassured to dis-

cover that Sayid Ali had not asked for a dowry, an institution which Gustafsson abhorred.

But it wasn't the betrayal of the girl that troubled Gustafsson,

things outside?”

“Under control. They were a sullen lot when Sayid Ali

explained about the rationing, but they lined up quietly enough with their bowls. I don't think there will be any more trouble tonight.”

“Did you make arrangements for their overnight accommodation?”

Hundreds of refugees have come to the Mission, hundreds

“Yes,” muttered Gustafsson and rose to his feet. “Yes, we must

kettles of boiling water on the go at all times, and we need to

the door. He could see the compound framed in the doorway.

more may come. We need to tell the kitchen staff to have large

persuade the refugees to drink it. We will have to arrange for

more latrines to be excavated, and we will have to persuade people to use them and to wash their hands afterwards. It’s not just the food and the flood water that we need to worry

about. There is the very real threat of amoebic dysentery, typhoid fever, even cholera. We need Sayid Ali.”

do something.” But what? He tiptoed down the hall toward Rain continued to fall. Fires had broken out in some of the

sheds and outbuildings. Massed shadows twisted violently.

He passed through the doorframe and out onto the verandah. Suddenly, a figure flew up the stairs. It was Sayid Ali, his bony chest heaving beneath his singlet. “What has happened?”

much as he was ashamed to admit it: it was the betrayal of

“Yes, yes, of course. Some have stretched out on the hospital

“I will not work with that, that...,” Pederson stuttered, unable

until today, of how fully he had depended on the old man. I

and desks removed from the school as well. I've put the

could give these orders.”

“But Mr. Pederson?”

“That’s just the point, Nils. They’re not orders, they’re instruc-

“He is beyond our help now, sir.”

himself, of his trust and friendship. Gustafsson was unaware, have known him for 25 years, thought Gustafsson, almost

half of my life. I buried the old man's first wife, vouched for his sons when they left for school, and tried to comfort him when they had been killed in the '71 massacre. Yes, I had tried to comfort him, thought the doctor, but had found myself

comforted. “Doctor-bhai,” the old man had said, “now we both

know how it is to be fathers and lose sons.” I sent a present to his daughter's wedding and gave him a bonus from the Mis-

verandah and in the kitchen godown. I had all of the benches

younger ones and the mothers with children in there. You can see it galls some to accept Christian charity.”

Pederson's wife echoed his sentiments. “I must say, they don’t seem very grateful for everything we’ve done. I mean, we’ve

given up everything back home to come here and help them. Yet they glower at you and answer your kindness with dark looks. It's black ingratitude; that’s what I call it.”

to find a word to describe his rage. “There must be others who

tions, and the reasoning behind them must be clearly explained. You’ve sensed the temper of these people. We are

land in the district. There is much to resent. We need some-

kitchen over food. Mr. Pederson came running in, in a high

one who can reason, cajole, and persuade. We need Sayid Ali. There is no one else. You know it as well as I. He has managed

more than a chowkidar. He is the centre of this community.

bers. Why, when the water subsides, some may find that

Gustafsson looked around the table. Pederson and his wife

over again: find a new char and relocate, start from scratch.


No one else has his command of English. Without his help, Gustafsson conceded, I could not have run this mission. There was a knock at the door. It was his wife. “Lars, dear? The dinner is ready.” He did not know what he would tell them. “Yes, Eva. I'll be right out.” He pulled on a tennis shirt and a pair of light cotton trousers

with a drawstring waist. He slipped his feet into a pair of buffalo hide sandals and joined the others.

It was dark outside now, and the table—the white cloth, the crystal, and the silver—glittered in the candlelight. The

dinner was a mixture of East and West: roast chicken, rotis, curried eggplant, steamed rice, and yellow custard in crystal

goblets. His wife had even set out a bottle of spicy, dry Gewur-

ztraminer. Gustafsson sat down and said the grace. The servants waited quietly in the shadows. The rain patterned

the silence with a soft staccato on the metal roof. Gustafsson

they’ve even lost their land. Then they will have to begin all

They have lost everything, and their bellies will feel half

empty tonight; while we, who claim to given up so much, are eating chicken and washing it down with a fine German wine.”

“Enough moralizing, doctor,” said Pederson. “What happened in Chandraganj?”

Gustafsson took a sip of his wine and then slowly and delib-

erately recounted the details of his meeting with the District Commissioner to an astonished audience.

“Why, I can’t, I won’t believe it,” fluttered his wife. “And you paid 5,000 rupees to get him off?” shouted Pederson. “You should have let him rot in jail. I've written and told The Mission Office that you were incompetent, that you were ineffective in the mission field, but this, this—” “We need Sayid Ali,” said Gustafsson evenly.

cut into the chicken and sampled his wine with satisfaction.

“Need him! Need him!” sputtered Pederson. “We should tie

“Well, Lars, out with it. Why keep us in suspense?”

“We need him,” Gustafsson quietly reiterated. “This is a natu-

Pederson could remain silent no longer.

him to a post and stone him!”

ral disaster of enormous proportions. Surely, you can see that.

“What? Is he hurt? I must go to him.” The old man blocked his path, placing a fragile palm against

We are also wealthy. We have built our Mission on the best

Gustafsson sighed. “You must understand, Gretchen. These

people have lost everything: homes, livestock, family mem-

“Quickly Doctor. You must return inside and bar your door.”

Christian missionaries in a predominantly Muslim country.

sion war chest, that father and daughter might travel to the ceremony in a first class coach. He is a part of my life. He is


“Yes, quite right, but it’s a long story. First, tell me, how are

this compound for 25 years.”

were regarding him with disgust. His own wife looked bewil“I will dismiss him after the danger has passed.”

There was a scream out in the compound and the sound of

raised voices, quickly followed by the sound of breaking glass. “Oh, what now!” said Pederson, as he pushed his chair back violently from the table. “I’m sick of this. Why do these people have to behave like animals?” He looked angrily at Gustafsson. “And I’ll deal with this, as usual, since you seem incapable

of showing the necessary spine.” He stormed out of the house. “Be careful, darling,” Gretchen called after him. “Please, be careful.”

The house became quiet and the shadows stretched across

the room. No one spoke. Their attentions were attuned to the

noise outside. Though the words could not be distinguished, they heard the anger in the assembled voices. The mob grew

loud in its rage. There were the sounds of struggle and of wood tearing and breaking away.

“My goodness,” said Eva and turned to her husband. “We must do something.”

his chest. “No, sahib. He is dead. There was a dispute in the dudgeon. He began to abuse the people. Most do not under-

stand English, doctor, but they could understand his tone. Someone threw a wooden bowl at him, then another came and another, until he fell to the floor. They broke apart a table

and used the legs to beat him. They are in a rage, sahib; they

will not listen to reason now. You must let this madness run its course.”

“But I must get to Mr. Pederson. I am a doctor. Perhaps, I can—”

“No. No one can help him now. Trust me, sahib.” Gustafsson abruptly stopped his raving and shuddered, as if

he had been doused with a blast of icy water. He pushed the arm away from his chest. “Strange, you should say that, Sayid Ali. You, of all people.”

Sayid Ali chose to ignore the slight. “Go into the house. Bar the door. Comfort the women. I will see what I can do.”

Gustafsson returned to the house and closed the double doors behind him. He engaged the latches, top and bottom, and slid

the heavy bolt across. It wouldn’t stop an angry mob for long. There were bars on the windows. He would have to latch the kitchen door as well. He found the women huddled together in the gloom.

“What is happening, Lars,” whispered his wife. “We must bar the doors, Eva. The mob is out of control.” 15

volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

“But, Nils,” squealed Mrs. Pederson. “He’s still outside.”

“Quickly,” hissed the demonic countenance.

Gustafsson turned his face half away, his arms dropped

Gustafsson gathered his wife up off the floor and between

his usual pieties failed him. “I’m sorry Gretchen. Nils

slowly, absently. Eva followed close behind. The doctor hesi-

uselessly to his sides, and he struggled for words. All is dead.”

For the first time since he had known her, Gretchen Peder-

son looked her age. The pigtails, the ribbons and bows, the

makeup, all fell away and the true woman’s face was revealed. Her mouth worked up and down in disbelief. She collapsed back into her chair. “No,” she wailed, “no, no, NO.”

Gustafsson couldn`t stand it anymore. “Watch her, Eva. I have to bolt the other door.”

He ran to the tiny bungalow kitchen and found the door open

to the rain. The servants must have fled this way, he realized. He swung it shut and slipped the bolt. Then he sat on the edge

of the still-warm clay oven in the dark. He was drenched with

perspiration. Mrs. Pederson started to keen in the next room. Gustafsson began to shake.

There was a knock at the front door, and then someone rat-

tled the lock. Then there was a violent, insistent pounding, which stopped abruptly. A voice called out loudly in Bengali, “Come. The Christian dogs cower in here.” Gustafsson

jumped as another unseen hand tried the latch on the kitchen

door, inches from his head. He ran back to the dining room.

Gretchen was rocking in her chair and howling in anguish. His wife had her arms around the bereaved woman’s shoulders and looked up as he ran in.

“What will become of us?” she asked. For once in his life, he had no answer to give her. The violence at the front door grew more intense. He ran to

the hall. The door was quaking in its frame. He knew it would

give way soon. He felt his fear gaining the upper hand, and he

tried to beat it down. He clasped his hands over his ears to try and shut out the noise. Eva screamed, and he ran to the dining room again. She was crouching on the floor, terrified, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. Gretchen was still rocking in her chair like

an autistic child. Gustafsson followed his wife’s upward gaze. A cane ceiling panel had slid aside to reveal a square black opening. A goat-like face caught the candles’ glow. “Quickly. There is no time.” It was Sayid Ali. A ladder was lowered. Gustafsson hesitated. 16

the stench of urine. The unseen figure retreated, and they breathed easier.

them they forced Gretchen to climb the ladder. She climbed

“Now is the time to go. You must go first, Mrs. Gustafsson.” Eva

tated at the bottom of the ladder; he looked down the hall

After a moment, the ladder stopped creaking. “I’m across,”

where he could hear angry fists assaulting the door. “Hurry, doctor,” whispered the gatekeeper.

“One moment,” he said, and the doctor disappeared from view. A moment later, he returned and hurriedly mounted the

ladder. “My son's picture,” he offered by way of explanation. Between them, they drew the ladder up and lay it across the rafters. “Help me,” hissed the old man, and he and the doctor

slid the cane panel back in place. “Now follow me,” said Sayid

Ali. “Be perfectly quiet and walk on the rafters.” The attic was full of pigeon feathers and rat droppings.

“It’s so dirty,” whispered Eva. “I had no idea. We shall have to speak to the sweeper about this.”

“Ssh,” hissed the doctor. “Help me with Gretchen.” They fol-

lowed the little old man who dragged the ladder behind him to a triangular opening through which they could see the

night sky. Sayid Ali had bent back one of the corrugated zinc sheets that covered the roof. He shoved his whiskery head

out of the hole and, when satisfied, turned to his companions. “Now help me again, doctor.” They slid the ladder through the

opening and across the narrow alley behind the bungalow, until it came to rest on top of the brick wall that enclosed the

compound. Gustafsson could see that Sayid Ali had already clipped the razor wire that lined the top of the wall and folded it back.

“Now. You will be first, Mrs. Gustafsson, and then Mrs. Peder-

son and finally you, doctor. When you get to the wall, hang down, and let yourself fall. You will not be hurt. The rain has

made the ground very soft. There you will find a small boat, a nouka. You can float to Chandraganj and then catch the train to Dhaka.”

“But we have no money. What about our things?” “No time, Mrs. Gustafsson. You may visit the bank in Chandraganj in the morning. They know you there.”

There was the sound of running feet outside, and they heard

someone stop below the ladder. They held their breath and

waited for the shout of warning that would betray them. There was silence, then the sound of running water and

disappeared through the hole, making an undignified exit. they heard her whisper. “Send over Gretchen.” They forced the woman into the opening. The Doctor prayed she would

respond to their need. He heard his wife’s calming voice, “It’s okay, Gretchen, darling. This way. Just a little farther. That’s a good girl.”

Sayid Ali turned to the Doctor. “Now, doctor. It is your turn. Chaliye.”

“Sayid Ali.” “Yes, doctor.” “Did you believe anything I taught you?” There was a pause. The two men were grey shadows to each

other in the darkened attic, virtually indistinguishable. Below them, the sound of the violence against the front door echoed

throughout the empty rooms. Then one shadow spoke: “If you mean, am I a Christian? No. I found our conversations most interesting, doctor, but I am not a Christian. I did not wish to

injure your feelings. Your good will for me was most obvious and, I am thinking, most sincere. So, to please you, I went through the motions of being a Christian, but in the privacy of my own rooms, I continued to pray toward Mecca.” There was a silence between them. “And the girl, is it true what they say about the girl? Did you

let men into the compound at night to sleep with your wife?” “Only if they paid me, sahib.” “But why? Why turn the innocent child into a whore?” “She would have become a whore in any case, if she was to

survive.” The old man sighed. “She had been raped by an army officer, and she was the youngest daughter of a poor farmer

who had raised a large family, all of them daughters. She had no dowry. No one would have married her. There is no justice

for poor men in this world, doctor. She would have become a whore anyway. I made her a respectable whore, and, living in the compound, she was also a safe whore. Here, I could

protect her.” Sayid Ali leaned forward and patted the doctor's

daughter lives far away with her husband’s family. My sons

are dead. I could not have worked many more years for you, even if I had wished it. The world is changing. The government will not tolerate missionaries much longer, and I had to

secure my future somehow. Perhaps, if I had been dishonest, or if you had paid me a better wage—” Down below, the door

finally collapsed, and the mob surged inside. “And now, sahib, you must go.”

Gustafsson ducked through the opening and slowly crept across the ladder. From here, he could see that, despite the rain, the hospital that he had built was ablaze. They must have found the alcohol, he concluded, for it to burn that

intensely. He hoped that no one would be near when the

flames reached the oxygen cylinders. He swung himself over the wall and let himself drop to the ground. It was soft underneath, as Sayid Ali had predicted. “Eva,” he whispered. “Here, Lars. We are in the boat.” “You’ve done well, Eva. I’m proud of you tonight.” He found

the boat, a slim dugout anchored to a long bamboo pole. He pulled the pole out of the mud and stepped into the stern. The

two women were grey shapes huddled in the bottom of the

shallow hull. He leaned on the pole and started to push the boat into deeper water. “Doctor.” The doctor looked up. A black figure loomed hugely on the top of the wall, silhouetted against the glowing conflagration in the compound behind.

“Lars Thomas Gustafsson. I have repaid to you the life I owe you. Now I claim your friendship and your blessing. I will not let you leave unless you bless me.”

Gustafsson balanced in the boat and struggled for a reply. In the many long years to come, he would replay this scene

again and again in his mind, wondering what he should have said at the time. And each time he replayed this scene, he would fail to find the proper words to describe the fullness of his heart.

“I cannot bless you, Sayid Ali, but I will pray for your soul.” “Even so,” sighed the old man. “It is God’s will. Farewell, doctor.” “Farewell, Sayid Ali.”

knee. “You must not take it to heart, sahib. I am an old man. I

The doctor heaved on the pole, and the little boat drifted out

to provide for, and now I have little money left. My surviving

and into the softly falling rain.

wanted a comfortable retirement. I have had a large family

into the flooded paddy fields, out into the spreading darkness, 17

volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

what kelly did catherine astolfo

he stands in the doorway, backlit by the yellow light from a

to the people and the area of Toronto where my first school

itself onto the street, all shoulders and legs and guns. It’s 1976 and these

been given a choice. I wanted a job, I lived in the city, so I took

dusty bulb. The Toronto Police Department seems to have emptied scenes are still uncommon, so numerous city news reporters are here too, standing on the other side of the road, sprinters waiting for the starter pistol to explode.

the position. It’ll only be for a year, Robin, everyone assured

me. It will look great on your resume. You survive in that climate, you can teach anywhere.

When the policeman in charge asks me if I am the one they have sum-

But in that moment, when he tried to erase grief and sleep-

protective animal pack. I find breathing difficult. I am close enough now

forgot to be distant or objective. I forgot that I was not allowed

moned, I simply nod. They lead me toward the boy, surrounding me like a that I can see him. I am not sure that he can see me.

He is upright and stiff, his eyes glazed. Both arms cradle a rifle, a huge weapon that looks too heavy for someone so slight. Blood is spattered over his face and shirt. Bits of white and other reddish globs cling to his clothing and hair.

“Kelly?”I say,gently,a question because I am not sure he still resides inside his own body.

He turns those eyes to meet mine and the past washes into the present, an eight-year flood of memories, regrets and grief. * * * I found him on the steps of my portable classroom, curled up tight, his thin arms wrapped around his bony legs. He was fast asleep, a tat-

tered little ball of dirty skin and ripped clothing. When I reached down to touch his shoulder, I could smell him, unwashed and pungent. He twitched when my fingers nudged against him and sat up, sending a

puff of malodorous breath up my nostrils. His own nose was crusted

with dried snot. He wiped his eyes against one sleeve and blinked at me. That’s when it happened. We connected. He was beautiful, even from the depths of his abject need. His eyes were

a deep blue that you usually only see in paintings of the ocean. Ringed

with long black lashes, they were wide and startling in his thin face. Angular jaw, high cheekbones, he had a movie star’s face with his pure

little-boy skin. His hair was brown with sunny threads of blond; he wore it in a long, unruly mop that swept over his forehead.

As novice teachers, we were warned not to get too close to the children: keep yourself distanced, objective, don’t touch them, don’t like them too much. Above all, do not love them.

With the haughty prejudice of a white privileged woman-child, barely

out of my teens, I was certain I’d never have that problem in this school. Depressed, violent, slum and crazy were all words that had been applied


was situated. I wasn’t happy to be placed here, but I had not

lessness from his eyes, I forgot everything I had learned. I to love or protect him.

“What’s your name?” I asked him cheerfully, as though finding

him asleep on the porch an hour before bell time was normal. “Kelly,” he answered, lowering his gaze from mine, jiggling his leg nervously.

“Hey, you’re in my class,” I said. I knew I had a Kelly on my list, an unusual name in this section of town. “Did you come to help me with the blackboards?”

He glanced up quickly to see if I was teasing, but I kept my

eyes steady. He nodded, jumping to his feet in one bounce as only little boys can manage.

“Excellent. I was really hoping someone would come and help.”

I stuck the key in the door and shoved it open. A blast of hot

air shifted from inside to the cool air of the early morning,

hitting us on the head as it whooshed outward. Decorating, planning, straightening, dusting and cleaning had all been

accomplished by my own hand. Despite my ministrations, the classroom was mildewy and dilapidated, the floor stained

by years of running shoes and ink. With no little bodies to fill up the space, our entry echoed. Our feet pounded across the

tile. The little boy glanced guiltily away from the coat racks, as though it were a crime to have no knapsack to place there.

Kelly’s face was alight with the comfort that comes out of the transition from goose bumps to sweat. He was suddenly active. Before I could stop him, he went straight to the ledge and began to wipe the boards. All of the careful printing I’d

placed there became smudges of white up to the height of his outstretched arm.

I sighed but didn’t let it travel across my tongue. Instead, I arranged papers, put a pencil and eraser on each desk. “Miss?”

“Yes, Kelly?” “That’s as good as I can do it.” He glanced mournfully at the letters beyond his tiptoes. “That’s okay,” I said. “How about if you give out the rulers?” I nodded toward a stack on my desk.

He meticulously distributed the straight pieces of wood, making sure each one was aligned perfectly with the pencil. I set about reapplying the lessons on the chalkboard. When we were both finished, I pulled cookies and apples from my briefcase.

“Let’s sit and rest a bit before the other kids get here,” I told him.

He gulped the first cookie in one bite, gnawed the apple down to its core, and then he ate mine.

* * * He is still beautiful. His eyes are layered now, though, shad-

owed and haunted. He looks as if he has forgotten how to smile.

“Kelly,” I repeat. “It’s Miss Stewart. Remember?” He shifts, a subtle movement of the gun that has my wolf pack standing alert. I try to step forward, so he can see me apart from the group.

“What’s happened here, Kell?” He is very tall now, still thin and bony, his body a collection of

angles and points. His face is long and his skin unblemished, even in adolescence. He looks insolent, wary, as though I am a stranger. I almost recoil from the glare he flings at me.

“You mean, what have I done?” he asks, his voice thick with sarcasm and the deep tones of a burgeoning manhood.

“That’s not what I said,” I answer. “I just want to know what

happened. I want to know if you’re hurt.”

He briefly lowers his eyelashes to glimpse the blood and

entrails glued to his shirt, but he maintains his stance in the doorway. The police cordon does not move.

“Yah, I guess that’s one conclusion you could come to,” he says. I am frightened by the undertone of laughter that tinges his words.


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

* * * The other kids refused to sit beside him because he smelled. They gave him looks of derision and pity. A group of them laughed behind their hands when they heard his name during roll call.

“I thought you were a boy,” Vincent whispered loud enough for me to hear as well as the kids around him, secure in his

own masculine moniker. “How come you have a girl’s name?”

a sibling too young for school, address in a particularly bleak area of the city.

I went to see Evelyn Phillips, his previous teacher. Most of

the staff consisted of newbies, except for Eve, an enormous woman with a crown of silver hair.

She shifted when I asked about Kelly. The chair wheels squeaked in protest, matching the scowl on her face.

They were feral in their manner toward him. Each one of

“That kid drove me nuts,” Eve said. “So needy. He was always

Kelly was flamboyantly poor, someone far worse off than

chuckled alone. “His father is a monster. Beats his mother up

them was deprived, insecure, and lost to some degree. But they, someone they could torment easily. He was silent, shy, making himself an easy target, a scapegoat for their unhappiness.

The second week of school, when he came an hour early to

walking behind me. I nearly squished him several times.” She all the time. She takes off to shelters a lot but he drags her

back. Once in a while she gets him committed to 999, but

then she always releases him.” 999 Queen St. was the institution we all called the ‘Insane Asylum’.

sleep on my porch again, I brought him into the small, one-

Eve yanked open the file drawer of her desk. She handed me

especially at this end of the hallway. I felt furtive, the satchel

supposed to throw it out. Here. Make sure you destroy it.”

person staff washroom. The school was mostly deserted, heavy over my shoulder. I knew I should not be doing this. If I

were caught, I could lose my job. A female alone in a bathroom with a little boy. It would look like something disgusting.

From inside my bag, I handed him the washcloth, towel, soap, comb, toothbrush and toothpaste. I showed him how to fill the sink with warm water, how to get the cloth wet but not

dripping, how to brush his teeth. I gave him a little bottle of green liquid and showed him how he should put a finger pad

of it onto his neck to make him smell good. I closed the door and waited.

When he emerged, he looked so different that I was startled. His eyes shone the same way his scrubbed skin did. With his

hair combed off his forehead, the blue of his gaze was breath-

taking. No one would glance down from that look to see his torn running shoes. The cologne obliterated the smell of his dirty clothing. He was a different little boy.

Wordlessly, smiling, he handed me the satchel.

a thin folder. “I wasn’t allowed to put this in his record. I was Back in my portable, I opened the folder. Inside were several

newspaper columns. “Man Acquitted of Landlady’s Murder” read one startling headline.

* * * “Why’d they call you?” he asks, almost conversationally. “It seems I’m your emergency contact for school,” I answer, smiling. “The police called the school board – they called me. Are you okay?”

The police officers are getting restless. The one in charge leans

over and whispers at me. “He’s got about ten minutes. Then we’re going to storm him, Miss. He’s gonna get hurt.”

Kelly ignores the exchange with the officer. “I’m okay,” he says, shrugging.

“You gonna tell me what happened here, honey? I really need you to put down the gun. I’m afraid you might get hurt.”

“Maybe you should take this home,” I suggested. “You could

His head lowers and he stays so quiet that my heart pounds

He stared solemnly at the bag, then shook his head regret-

“Okay what?”

use this before you come to school.”

fully. “He’ll just tear it up, Miss,” he replied in a whispery

apology. “But I can come early.” The wistful smile chased away any misgivings I had.


His student record didn’t tell me much. Both parents listed,

in fright. “Okay,” he says.

“I’ll put the rifle down. But first I want to show you something.” He finally looks up and I see that his eyes are filled with tears. “Can you come in?”

“Sure,” I answer, but as I step forward, the policeman grabs my arm.

One morning in November, Kelly didn’t show up for school. I tried calling, but received no answer. After dismissal, I found

myself trudging through slushy grey snow up Dufferin St. to

“I can’t let you go in there.” “Yes, you can. He’s not going to hurt me. I’ll go and find out

everything. I can bring him back down, unarmed. You don’t want anyone else to get hurt, right?”

It takes them a while and some heated discussion, but eventually I walk toward the open doorway. The steps are long and

narrow. There is a terrible, putrid odour clinging to the walls. I know from experience that these stairs lead to two apartments, one where Kelly lives, the other where the landlady died.

* * * My job became a combination of teaching lessons, keeping a little boy clean and fed, and trying to create a team out of a

gang. As time went on, Kelly became more accepted. He didn’t smell any more. He acquired a tiny bit more confidence. But

he struggled with the schoolwork. He was morbidly quiet. The only person he walked with at recess was his teacher.

The newspaper columns that Eve gave me explained a great

deal, but also left a waterfall of questions. Michael McKay was questioned about the murder of his landlady. “Someone

the address in his file. At first I thought I’d made a mistake, but this was definitely the number: a fish and chip shop, its windows greasy with dirt, dead insects trapped between the

panes. I opened the door and a bell tinkled. A tall thin man, dragons tattooed up his arms as though perched on tree

limbs, sat reading a Playboy, his elbows on the counter. Head

shaved, he wore an apron spattered with orange fat. When he

looked up from the magazine, I knew where Kelly had gotten those ocean blue eyes.

These eyes, however, were thick with a sexual energy that

created shivers of disgust and a frisson of fear that almost sent me back into the street. His gaze travelled from my eyes to my feet, a bullying scan that felt like an assault.

I managed to speak. “Hello. I’m Miss Stewart,” I said. Michael McKay looked back at me with a so-what glimmer. “Kelly’s teacher. I was wondering why he wasn’t in school today.”

The smirk deepened. “The kid misses one day and they make the teacher come and find him?”

in authority” told the reporter that Gertrude Rutledge was

I blushed, my secret exposed in that mocking glance. I gath-

the shot and discovered a three-year-old boy covered in blood,

you nor your wife have had the chance to visit the school, so I

killed point-blank with a small handgun. “Neighbors heard his father leaning over the body.” A social worker claimed that Marjory McKay and Mrs. Rutledge had spent a lot of

time drinking together. The motive, hinted the article, was jealousy. For a time, their son Kelly was sent to a foster home

while both parents were investigated. Eventually the case

was dropped due to a lack of hard evidence. Kelly’s mother, according to the same social worker, was attending Alcoholics Anonymous classes and appeared to be rehabilitated.

Kelly was returned to his reunited parents. I couldn’t imagine

what this small boy had endured, what he had witnessed. At

some point, his mother had given birth to their second child, a little girl.

Whenever I watched him in class, his little hands curled

around a pencil, his lips pursed in concentration as he tried to form the letters, my love for him blocked any sense of objectivity.

ered my self-righteousness and answered back, “Well, neither thought I’d take this opportunity to meet both of you.”

The statement elicited a chuckle. “Well, they’re not here.” McKay raised his eyes upward, indicating that their living quarters were above the shop. “She took the kids again. She does that when she’s mad. She’ll probably be back tonight, so you’ll get the kid on Monday. Nice meeting you.”

I stumbled back to the wind and slush, battered by the aura of disdain and misogyny that emanated from the man who’d

fathered Kelly. It was easy to believe that he battered his wife, that he was capable of murdering his next-door neighbor in a fit of jealousy.

As Kelly would say later, that was one conclusion you could draw.

On impulse, I pulled open the outside door beside the restaurant, which I surmised must lead to the apartment. The


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

stairway was steep, tile shriveled like dried orange peel. The acrid scent of garbage and musty old carpeting, mixed

with the grease from the kitchen below, assailed my nostrils. When I got to the top, a tiny landing presented two closed doors on opposite sides.

* * * Kelly opens the door, the rifle flapping against the side of his

leg as he walks, reminding me that he is armed and in an obvious state of agitation. For some reason, though, I am not

afraid; I am sick with worry. The stench that punches into my face as we step into the apartment exacerbates the nausea.

There’s a galley kitchen in front of us, laden with dishes and

other detritus. A tiny dining room squats beyond that. To our left is a rectangular living room stuffed with an enormous couch and chair, a tattered carpet.

The main focus of my attention, the sight that drives bile

into my mouth, is the bloodied, torn knot of bodies. One has a female shape, face down on the carpet, a crumpled heap pray-

When the whole family left, including Dad, at the end of my

Kelly stops shaking; his hand clings to mine for safety. He

statement sound like a confession, a plea for forgiveness. I had

closed shop. It was a difficult time for Toronto; the economy

chest. He looks more like a child without this burden.

think, Kelly. I haven’t seen you for so long.” I make the last

stopped looking for him. I pause and there is a thick silence

except for the drip of blood and tears. The air is a fog of metal-

lic smells. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?” He drops his head lower, he shakes it back and forth as though loos-

ening the blockages, so I distract him, try to get his words started. “When did you come back here?”

“My mother owns this building. Mrs. Rutledge – the lady next door who got murdered? She gave it to her. Guilty conscience

I guess. But nobody would buy it. We came back this summer to paint and clean it up, thinking maybe…”

At that moment, a bedroom door opens and footsteps approach. I stand up and stare.

* * * Kelly did come back Monday. He, his mother and baby Jenna

had spent one night away, he said, but they returned as usual.

ing at the feet of the other. The male is slumped in a chair,

“It was my birthday yesterday,” he told me privately, “but

Kelly sits down in the chair opposite the gruesome tableau

He said it casually, thin shoulders lifting nonchalantly, but I

arms flung back, face a mass of red meat and white bone.

as though sitting in this chair, in this situation, is normal. He

dangles the rifle as he would a tennis racket or baseball bat, objects of play that a boy his age should be holding. He is clearly exhausted yet frantic.

I stand beside him. When I put my hand on his shoulder, he flinches, then the tight muscles begin to give way to the warmth of my touch. “What happened, Kelly?”

He looks up at me and tears slide down his cheeks. I see shadows and layers of hurt flash through his eyes.

Curtains have been drawn over the bright hopefulness of the

little boy I loved. The tears flow more freely. His shoulders begin to shake; his head drops forward. At the same time, he releases the rifle. It flops onto the carpet, useless, despised. I

should call the police in now, but I don’t. I sit on the edge of

the chair. I enfold him in my arms, hold him as he sobs. I weep, too, for the loss of this child, afraid that he has altered his life forever.

“You don’t think I did this, do you, Miss?” he says when he can speak.


I hesitate for a fraction of a second. “I don’t know what to

nobody remembered. It’s okay.”

knew he was hurt. At lunch, I went out and got cup cakes. I

persuaded Kelly to pretend his mother had sent them for eve-

ryone, to celebrate his special day. He grinned, blushing from

his classmates’ attention. The boys gave him a sportsman’s slaps on the back; the girls giggled and said thanks.

I changed grades the next September and so remained as Kelly’s teacher for two years. From time to time, he disappeared

for a day or two. Slowly, he blossomed, still gangly and thin, but more open, talkative. Classmates befriended him, began

to appreciate his sense of humour, his thoughtful, kind nature. They helped him with schoolwork, took turns coming early

with Kelly to do the blackboards for me. Once or twice, I heard that he went to a birthday party at someone’s house. No one

seemed to question the fact that they were never invited over to his; most of them knew his circumstances were somehow

too grim. Slowly he smiled, chuckled, played, grew. My col-

leagues called Kelly my “success story”, but I knew that being

the recipient of the light in his eyes made him a gift to me, not the other way around.

I forgot to be objective. I forgot that he was not mine to love and protect.

second year, I spent many days that summer walking past the sagged, the weather sizzled. In September, a request for Kelly’s records arrived from a school in Saskatchewan. I knew then that I had lost him.

Grief taught me what my teacher training had not: maintain a distance from your students; be objective. Above all do not love them.

The transfer I had desired came a year later. I moved to a highly sought area of the city into an “easy” school, one with eager kids and supportive parents. I stopped walking past the shop on Dufferin. I married a man who already had two kids and didn’t want any more. My children were all part time. * * * Jenna, who must be about ten now, walks into the living room. Her hair is a honey blond. Soft waves curl around her

face in an unruly fashion. Her eyes are the same startlingly

blue, fanned by long lashes and a creamy complexion. Her smock dress is faded and spotted with the bloody stains of death.

Jenna reaches for Kelly’s hand, her eyes never leaving my face, her expression fearful and old-woman sad. When she

switches her gaze to meet his, the tears flow steadily. “Did you tell her what you did?” she asks.

He shakes no, no, no. My head spins as though I might faint. I

fight to keep control, to stop myself from weeping. I want to scream. What happened here? What did you do?

Jenna looks back at me, her face flushed with grief. “I’ll tell you, Miss. I’ll tell you everything.”

Kelly moans. I get down on my knees beside him, clutch his

sags; the secret spoken, the poisonous air releases from his

“Everyone thought it was my Dad. Kelly never told the truth, even though he remembered a lot of it. He didn’t want Mom

to go to jail. Dad was mean. He always yelled and kicked us out of the house. Especially Kelly. Mom kept leaving him every

time he talked to another lady. He would get so mad he had

to go to the hospital sometimes.” She takes in a shuddering breath. “In Saskatchewan, we hid in the basement most of the time when we weren’t at school. Kelly took care of me.”

“Just like you took care of me,” Kelly says to me and my tears hover again.

“This dump wouldn’t sell the way it is,” the little girl continues, her mouth repeating adult words that had been flung against these walls. “Mom and Dad fought all the time. They

threw things and hit each other.” A sob sticks in her throat. She stops.

“It was really bad, Miss,” Kelly says, looking up at me again, as though he has to convince me of the truth.

I feel the desperation, the overwhelming fear. Two young

children perched on seats in a precarious boat as the adults

stood and fought. Engaged in a boxing match of jealousy, never caring that they might pitch the whole family into dark water.

I see the bond of love between the siblings and wonder how that vine survived in such poisonous soil.

“Today Mom went crazy. She got her gun out. She made Dad

sit over there and she made me stand beside him. When

Kelly came in, he told her to stop, but she kept screaming and

waving it at us.” The sob breaks through. Kelly strokes her hair.

other hand. His sister squeezes into the chair next to him. We

“I went into the closet and got my Dad’s hunting rifle,” Kelly

gruesome scene.

frightens him.

oddly mirror the tableaux of the dead, a trio of refuge in a “Tell me, honey,” I coax her softly. “Please. Tell me.” “Mrs. Rutledge and my Dad, they were friends, you know?” Jenna raises her eyebrows with knowledge beyond her years. I nod yes, I know what kind of friends they must have been. “My mother was really mad and jealous. So she shot her. Kelly saw it, but he was only little.”

continues for her. He points to it, at his feet, as though it “Kelly came and stood beside me,” Jenna says. Her eyes are

filled with pain but mingled within the blue are mists of pride and hope. “He told her if she tries to shoot us, he will shoot her. Then she…”

Kelly takes over again, when she can’t describe the shock. “She shot him. Right in the face.”


volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

“Then she got ready to fire at me.” Jenna’s voice rises toward hysteria, as the horror sets in and the numbness wears off. I put my arms around her. She settles in against me, sobbing.

“So I shot her,” Kelly says in a thick, miserable monotone. “All those times I thought my Dad was the crazy one, the one who

drove her to do bad things. I protected her. All that time she

was just getting worse. I didn’t know she still had that gun. I don’t know where she hid it.” He spits disgust at himself, but his sister sees a hero.

marginalia: it’s a sin to tell a lie? A column by douglas abel

All generalizations are meaningless and misleading—including the one

I just presented. However, I think a useful generalization can be made about readers, who seem to fall into two broad categories: those who

prefer fiction, and those who prefer non-fiction. I’m not suggesting that the categories are exclusive. Avid novel readers will occasionally pick up a well-reviewed biographical, historical or scientific work, and habitual readers of such works will sometimes take the plunge into fiction or fan-

tasy. The question that defines the categories is: when you walk into a bookstore, which section do you go to first?

“You saved me, Kelly,” Jenna tells him, her small face full of

What I find most interesting here is that the reasons readers would give

they cry together.

perfectly diametrically opposed. Fundamentally, readers of non-fiction

wonder. “You saved me.” She flings her arms around him and

I give them a moment, then gently disentangle myself. “We

have to go and see the police,” I say as soothingly as I can. I hold out my hand. “But I promise you, nothing will ever hurt either of you again.”

As I straighten, I see the future. I see my home with two full time children, from whom I will never be distanced or objective. Whom I will never forget to love.

They take my hand and follow me down the pitiful staircase into the sunlight. As we reach the open doorway, I hear the

deafening tread of unison steps, the clack of triggers snap-

ping into place. The reporters move forward with the crowd, flash bulbs in our faces. A wave of shouts crashes onto the

shore of our triad, almost knocking us backward. I nearly

drown in its strength, in the energy of capture and curiosity, in the fear that once again I will not be allowed to protect him. I hold the rifle above my head and a hush rings out. I place it

at my feet, where they can see that is now a harmless dead

thing. I step forward with my cubs behind me, a she-wolf, fearless and defensive. I spread my arms to encircle the future that I envision. The pack facing us stops. Guns and cameras sink downward.

Then in a loud, clear voice, I tell the world what Kelly did.

for liking their particular category, and disliking the other, are almost trust facts and are suspicious of “made-up stuff.” Readers of fiction chafe

against the restrictions, and more against the tediousness, of “mere

facts,” and revel in the depth, completeness and breadth of experience that “made-up stuff” can bring.

Certainly the distrust of fiction has a long tradition. The philosopher Plato—who was not averse to inventing “ideals” to justify the existence

of “real” objects—had a highly negative view of fiction writers. He would have banned poets and dramatists from his “ideal” republic because they had no special knowledge of what they wrote about, stirred up emotions

in unhealthy ways, and, most damningly, told lies. In the Elizabethan

world, home to that master creator of “made-up stuff,” Shakespeare, the mental faculty known as “fancy” was considered highly suspicious. Fancy produced ideas or judgments based solely on imagination, not

on fact, and could be capricious, arbitrary, unfounded and extravagant. In fact, fancy—or fantasy—produced dangerous lies that even the liarcreators themselves might not recognize as untrue. Shakespeare could declare, in one of his imagined worlds, that The lunatic, the lover, and the poet Are of imagination all compact. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.1.7-8) What poets, lovers and lunatics shared was the state of being out of their

fact-based, rational minds. They were in a state of altered and unreliable consciousness,

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling, (V.1.12) and were neither seeing nor acting clearly. Yet praise and support for fiction has almost as long a tradition. Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, the most “scientific” of classical philosophers and the

“inventor” of formal logic, found much to analyze and much to praise in imagined works, especially drama. In his Poetics, he defied Plato by



volume 6 winter 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

asserting that the dramatic form known as tragedy had posi-

In the sheltered world of invention, we can relish delights

up powerful emotions—pity and fear—but then transformed

unbuffered fact and, having faced or relished them, we can

tive emotional and, hence, moral effects. Tragedy summoned or “purged” these feelings, so that audiences came away

from a performance cleansed and somehow better. He also

asserted that plot—a cleverly invented, fully imagined and well constructed story—was the soul of tragedy. For Aristo-

tle, fancy, well crafted, was good for you. Made-up stories had beneficial results that mere facts could not produce.

The emotional effect of fiction is, I’m sure, what causes non-

fiction lovers to distrust made-up stories. It’s not just that

fiction has no ultimate, verifiable grounding in “real” facts

—that you can’t “prove” anything with a made-up story. It’s that a well-crafted lie can be manipulative, and that the motives for such manipulation are suspect. Why make up a

profit from them. In short, we can learn lessons for the real world, by “playing” in the imagined one.

Aristotle noted, with some wonder, that objects or situations that repel us in real life can attract us when they are turned

into art. We don’t want to see corpses on the street; we are Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to

contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity; such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The

cause of this . . . is that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure . . . .

summon up emotions and direct behaviour for undisclosed

itively, to learn lessons, about other people and ourselves, that

fiction have any kind of rightness? And what is the point of

venturing into an imagined world, other than a refusal to deal with the real one?

For the fiction lover, the question of lying is irrelevant. The

into made up worlds just to “escape” from reality. We go, intu-

we can bring back to that reality. We often wonder, “What person? Would I be strong, weak, noble, cowardly, ethical or unethical? What would my emotional response be? Could I control my feelings, or would they overwhelm me?”

It is usually not possible, and generally not desirable, to

tion you can go places, and experience things, that you cannot

We can’t—or shouldn’t!—experiment with our possible reac-

or will not face in real life.”

In fact, the safe, invented, well-crafted truth of fiction is its greatest charm and attraction. In a well-fancied, wellconstructed story or novel, the reader finds a depth and completeness of character, situation and experience that is

answer these questions by testing ourselves in the real world. tion to grandmother’s death by eliminating grandmother. But in the world of fiction, we can confront such a death, discover

our probable responses, and work to enhance or change them if we so desire. Fiction becomes a laboratory for experimenting with the world, and with our place in it.

often lacking in the fact-grounded world. We can see into

So, that journey to the “automatic” section of the bookstore

or criticize, in a way that too often escapes us in real life. We

seem like truth. Fiction lovers embrace the truth that only

people, understand motives and impulses, and empathize

can have large, overwhelming emotional experiences, that

help us come to terms with ourselves, but which are too often

fragmented and unsatisfactory in our day-to-day existence. 780 880 9771

would I do in this kind of situation, or faced with this kind of

response to the charge of untruth would be, “Of course we know it’s made up! That’s why we like it. In well-written fic-

mucharata “michelle” david director

(Poetics, Part IV, transl. S. H. Butcher)

Here, I think, is the chief attraction of fiction. We don’t venture

purposes? If it’s ethically wrong to lie, how can lies called

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prepared to view them on page, stage or canvas:

story, i.e., lie, unless you are trying to put something over on someone for your own advantage? Or unless you are trying to


or confront horrors that are simply too dangerous to face as

has fairly deep significance. Fiction loathers fear the lies that seems like lies.

But then, all generalizations are meaningless.


winter 2011 volume 56 Summer 2011

northword: A Literary Journal Of Canada’s North

contributors douglas abel is an actor and director, as well as a writer and

c.a. loverock is a writer based in Yellowknife, NWT. She lives

avid reader—usually of “made-up stuff.” He lives in the largely

with her husband and their two dogs.

fictional city of Vancouver.

johnathan magnus: Sometimes life gives you lemons, and

catherine astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor

after feeling its sting for the past decade, I’ve begun making

Mysteries ( and co-owner of Scribes Digest

lemonade instead. Having never made juice before, it’s been a

( She has had several short stories pub-

very interesting process: uncomfortable yet thrilling. This is my

lished way back in the olden days and is thrilled to be

first time publishing my written words — here goes nothing.

included in this issue of NorthWord.

n.a. is a first year student at Keyano College in Fort McMurray

joan baril’s work has appeared in many magazines including

currently enrolled in the General Sciences program. Originally

Room, Other Voices, The Orpheus Review, Canadian Forum, Heri-

from Winnipeg Manitoba, she is fond of night clubs, freestyle

zons, The Storyteller, Ten Stories High, and The Artery as well as

dancing, learning, and conversations that go beyond small talk.

three literary anthologies. For ten years, she wrote columns on

Writing is her method of self-discovery.

immigrant and women’s issues. She blogs at Literary Thunder Bay (

amanda nielsen is a student in the Master of Arts Integrated Studies program at Athabasca University. She lives

patricia marie budd teaches high school in Fort McMur-

in Fort McMurray with her husband and two young daugh-

ray, Alberta. She has written and published two novels: A New

ters and works at Keyano College. She only recently rekindled

Dawn Rising and Hell Hounds of High School. Patricia Marie

her love for creative writing and particularly liked the topic for

Budd considers herself very fortunate to be able to pursue both

this issue, “What a fantastic opportunity to use a Stephen King

her passions in life: writing and teaching.


megan green is a visual artist who grew up locally and was

emily zielke was born, and spent 17 years of growing up in

recently an artist in residence with the RMWB, following her

Ft.McMurray Alberta. She has since ventured off to Kingston

completion of a BFA. Her work explores psychological themes,

Ontario, where she is now in her second year of studies in the

and generally seeks to bring inner worlds into confrontation

bachelor of fine arts program at Queens University. Emily has

with reality.

also run a marathon.


ken haigh has lived in Alberta, Bhutan, China, and on Baffin Island. His memoir of life as a teacher in eastern Bhutan, Under the Holy Lake, was published by the University of Alberta Press in 2008. He lives in Clarksburg, Ontario, where he works as a freelance writer and librarian. caroline juhlin was born in and raised throughout Alberta. In her spare time she enjoys the arts, nature, fitness, and a wide

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resides in Fort McMurray, Alberta. kiran malik-khan is the communications specialist for Keyano College. She is a free-lance journalist, poet and writer. She contributes to every print media outlet in Fort McMurray and loves telling community stories. Fort McMurray has been

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variety of cheese. Her artistic expressions include the mediums of  painting, photography, music, and writing. She currently

her home for 11 years now. “Not My Sin” is from every woman to every man. 28

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