The following are approved excerpts from the works of author Donna Carrick.
All rights reserved — reproduction in any format without written permission is prohibited.
Tang carried only one small case into the hotel. In his thirty-five years, he had never been a guest in a place like the Golden Lion.
The bell-boy gave him a scornful look when he tried to turn on the lights, at last condescending to show him how to slide the passkey into the slot to turn on the room’s electricity.
Tang didn’t really care about the lights or the air-conditioning. He would have been equally happy to sit in the heat and gathering darkness. It was a marvel, though, how the thing worked, and he tried it a few times, sliding the plastic card in and out of the slot and watching the lights turn on and off.
When he tired of that he removed his shoes, taking care to hang up his good shirt and pants before entering the room in his underwear. His cotton whites had seen better days, but his socks were new. He’d bought them especially for the trip, carefully doling out his Yuan on a few small necessities and hoarding a secret pleasure over each expenditure.
Tang had packed little. On his sister’s instructions he carried almost no money, just enough to cover the night’s stay. Dinner in the elegant hotel restaurant was out of the question.
There were things at stake that were far more important than food. Besides, Tang knew how to minimize the pain of hunger.
January 28, 2005
It was time for me to go. I had already said selamat tinggal – goodbye – to anyone who would remember I was there. My bag flopped forward on the tarmac like a worker at the end of a long shift.
Captain William McNairn of the US Marines ran toward me. He waved and pointed to where his helicopter sat beside a skid of empty crates. I would pay for this last flight to Phuket International Airport as I had the others, in the currency of Banda Aceh those days, not the usual Rupiahs, nor even US dollars, but instead the currency of labour. Before the flight I would load empty crates onto the helicopter. In Phuket I would help to unload them, and then we would load whatever Billy could grab for Banda Aceh – food, medicine or more likely body bags.
I tossed my pack into the chopper and climbed up after it. Billy grunted his hello and threw the first crate into my waiting hands.
I didn’t have a photo of Billy. I studied his face, determined to remember every line and every trick of light that made him. He was not the man I remembered from that first day. I suspected I wasn’t the woman he remembered either.
At least I hoped I wasn’t. No one should witness such tragedy and remain unchanged.
The cool darkness of the Toronto City Morgue was almost a relief after the sweltering heat. The woman at the front desk told me to have a seat. I sat down and closed my eyes. I hadn’t slept much during the past week, ever since I’d reported my father missing.
I didn’t hear the Medical Examiner slip into the waiting room. My eyes flew open to find him standing near me. His slight build was a surprise. His voice on the phone had been deep and large.
“Are you Desdemona Fortune?” he asked.
“Mona.” We shook hands. His was small and twisted.
“I’m Suruj Nil.”
I wanted to shut my eyes and rest under the shade of his voice. He withdrew his hand and turned, leading me down a long corridor. I knew what waited at the end of that hallway. It was Death.
It was my father, cold and lifeless on a gurney. It wasn’t surprise that gripped my bowels as I studied his features on the television monitor. It was something else – something less tangible.
I had steeled myself for that moment. Just the same I wasn’t ready for the wave of reality that rose in my throat. I turned away, afraid I would vomit. Dr. Nil waited patiently.
Finally he said, “Is this J. Caesar Fortune?”
“Yes,” I answered. “This is my father.”
It’s not much farther, I tell myself. My eyes are bleary with prairie fatigue and my mind is a slide show of wheat fields and grain elevators. It’s been so long. I’d almost forgotten how it feels to see the sky stretching out all around me. Almost….
There it is — the town where I grew up; the bank where I deposit my earliest memories. The place that broke my heart even as it breathed life into my spirit.
That dot on the map, north of Yorkton on the Yellowhead Highway.
First stop, the town’s cenotaph. That’s where the memories begin and end, at the monument dedicated to those who died in both of the great wars. I park my car on the road that is now paved – though in my memory it will always be carved in dirt, the hot dust rising in the unforgiving afternoon.
This is where he died. Or, so I am told, this is where his body was found a week ago, on a cool October morning. It was foul play, the paper said. Nothing fancy … a blunt instrument to the back of the head.
I got the call from an old friend. I thought you’d like to know… Lester LeBlanc… Dead. Yeah. I guess I’d like to know.
I remember Lester — tall, dark, painfully young, a serious Métis teenager with a saxophone under his arm, black eyes flashing behind thick glasses, a smile always lurking at the corner of his mouth, but never quite coming into flower.
I remember the early days of spring, when I was thirteen, before I knew for certain that the world was really as hard a place as it seemed to be — the little white church nestled in a profusion of lilac and honeysuckle, the grounds a forest of color filled with sweetly scented air.
The Christmas season, with its artificial twinkle of good cheer, serves to highlight the fact some souls are bleak at the best of times.
Staying cheerful is easier for people like me.
I’ve got no family to speak of, except for Aunt Rachel, and she never puts up much fuss over Christmas. You see, she never married, so her festive table, elaborately decorated as it is, seats only the two of us.
She detests turkey, preferring a nice steak or a bit of ham.
We usually eat in silence, but it’s a comfortable silence. I never doubt her love.
It’s her sense of tradition that could use a shot in the arm.
“Would you like more tea, dear?”
“No thank you, Mattie,” I said. I’d be awake half the night as it was, hopped up on caffeine and peeing a blue streak.
“What did you say your name is?” Mattie’s daughter, Delilah – forty if she’s a day – pointed her pen my way.
“Penelope Canon,” I replied, hiding my annoyance for Mattie’s sake.
Delilah would have been a good looking woman, except for the permanently pinched look where a smile should have been.
“And how do you know my mother?” she said, scribbling down my name.
I couldn’t blame her for being suspicious. From where she sat it would appear odd, me on the young side of thirty-something and claiming a close friendship to Mattie Oaks, a sixty-five year old widow of comfortable means and tremendous elegance.
I was tempted to say ‘We met in yoga class’, but I chewed on my short-bread cookie instead.
You see, I knew the truth about Delilah.
Corner Store ~ Donna Carrick
Something didn’t feel right.
The store was empty, except for me. It was dimly lit but clean, smelling of fresh bread, candy and a hint of vinegar.
I walked to the back where they kept the milk in tall coolers. At fifteen I was small, still am, in fact, but in good shape. I lifted the heavy bag with ease.
The owner, Sam Salvaggi, would normally be behind the counter. He lived with his family above the store. A pleasant man – always ready with a smile and a kind word.
There were two doors at the back of the store, near the dairy coolers. The door on the left led upstairs to the family home. The one on the right led into the storage area behind the refrigerators.
As I carried the milk to the front of the store, Sam’s eight-year-old daughter, Angelina, appeared. She came through the storage room door on the right of the coolers. I remember wondering what she’d been up to back there.
She was upset. Her eyes were red and she wouldn’t look at me, even when I said hello.
She walked quickly, eyes down, through the store and out the front door, into the afternoon sunshine.
A few seconds later Sam, a man of mid-to-late thirties, came through the same door. He nodded, not looking at me, and followed me to the checkout counter.
“Good afternoon, Miss Canon,” he said, regaining his composure and meeting my gaze. “Lovely day out there.”