Canadian Shorts II

Canadian Shorts II
Watch for it!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Booker Prize Long List 2020

Short list will be announced in September. If Hilary Mantel wins she will make history as a three time winner.  Nine of the long list are women and eight are American citizens. 
The full longlist is:

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Blasto, short fiction by Deborah de Bakker

Jeeves, the poodle is very sick and Jeeve's owners have different ideas what to do about it. Blasto, Deborah de Bakker's prize winning  story, was published in 2019 in Twenty Years of Snowshoes: Winning  Stories from the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, edited by Rosalind Maki and Deborah de Bakker.

The book is a dynamite collection of good fiction featuring the best of our local writers. Blasto gives us familiar characters in a difficult situatiion.


Blasto
by Deborah de Bakker

When Shannon phoned Tom at work to report that Jeeves the poodle had blasto, Tom laughed. Blasto. It sounded like a new kind of music or recreational drug.

Tom was just back from an expense-account lunch with his branch manager, who commended him for the new clients he had brought into the firm. Over the summer, Tom had increased the portfolios he managed by two million dollars. He now wore the fine wool suits and custom-tailored shirts that marked a successful stock broker. Maybe he could trade in the Civic hatchback soon for something more upscale. 

But it turned out that the dog’s blasto was no laughing matter. It also turned out to be Tom’s fault. Jeeves had picked up the infection in June, on their camping trip to Lake of the Woods. The trip was his idea; Shannon had never wanted to go, she pointed out.

He googled blasto. It was short for blastomycosis, a fungal infection prevalent in that part of Northwestern Ontario. The likely scenario was that the dog dug around in the dirt near the campsite and inhaled some spores, which were now wreaking havoc in his lungs and had probably already spread to other tissue. For the past week Jeeves had been coughing and gagging as if he had a hair ball stuck in his throat.

Tom sighed. Jeeves was Shannon’s dog, a black standard poodle, not the kind of dog he would get if he wanted one, which at this point he didn’t. It bothered him to leave a dog alone in the basement all day.

When Tom got home, Shannon said, “He throws up everything I give him, including the pills the vet ordered. You should see the x-ray of his lungs. It’s like a snowstorm in there.” When Tom crouched down to pet Jeeves, he felt a pus-filled lump on the dog’s flank.

As September passed, Jeeves’ cough seemed to improve. Shannon took him outside one day when Tom was raking. She threw a ball, just a gentle toss. Jeeves jogged towards the ball, then slowed to a walk and started limping. Finally, he sniffed the ball but didn’t pick it up. Without a word, Shannon took him back inside.

***
When it came time for the October appointment with the vet, Shannon insisted that Tom come along, so he would realize the ongoing seriousness of the illness and why the anti-fungal treatment was critical, even if it was expensive.

“So, how expensive is it?” he asked her.
“Oh, maybe $500 a month.”

Oh my God. “Plus the vet’s fees?”

“I guess.”

Jeeves struggled to jump up into the hatchback, and they drove across town to the clinic.
The vet had a starched lab coat, a neat pony tail and hound-dog eyes.

He examined Jeeves. The dog’s right eye was a little cloudy; there was an abscess in his ear that yielded pus under pressure; there was a sore on his bottom lip and two lesions on his feet.

“A lot of people whose pets are in this situation simply have them…euthanized,” he said, looking at Shannon, shaking his head sadly. Surely she wasn’t that kind of pet owner, his look said.   

“Hey, that might be for the best,” Tom interjected. “You know, he’s suffering—”

“But with a lot of TLC,” the vet butted in, “and a few more months of the antifungals, Jeeves here has a fighting chance.”

“How good a chance?” Tom asked, raising his voice a little.

“Well, at this point probably less than fifty per cent,” the vet said, gently stroking Jeeves’s skinny neck, avoiding a puss-y lump.

What a phony, Tom thought, up-selling treatment for a dying dog. Why can’t Shannon see it? Maybe she thinks the vet is flirting with her. For the moment Tom held his tongue, and they left with another month’s supply of pills paid for on his MasterCard.      

  Out in the parking lot, Tom boosted Jeeves into the hatchback, first his front legs, and then his back. 

“You know, that vet is gay,” he said.
 “You think every good-looking man is gay.”

“Who says he’s good looking?”

“What are you, jealous?”

“Phhh!”

***
Tom knew Shannon was attached to the dog, but it was a dog, and she seemed to have lost touch with that fact. They had been married fifteen years, mostly good, but recently they hardly talked. For the first time, he had a job he liked, as a stockbroker. He was doing well, considering the recession, but it didn’t seem to please her. She hated her own job at Thunder Bay Hydro—taking calls from cranky customers who had already been on hold for half an hour, distilling their frustrations into rage that spewed forth as soon as Shannon said Hello, how may I help you? The place was understaffed and the office politics were brutal, but she still dragged herself in every day. Tom encouraged her to take some upgrading and apply for other jobs, but the thought of university classes and interviews terrified her.

  Tom hadn’t been unfaithful to Shannon, but he couldn’t help noticing the women he worked with, who spent their money on pretty dresses and gym memberships, not on dogs. He wished he didn’t notice Shannon’s sags and sighs, but he did.

            ***
By late November, Jeeves was weak and listless. He had lost twenty pounds and most of his hair. He rarely got out of his dog bed, which was now in the living room, and he spent the day hacking and wheezing, occasionally thumping his tail when Shannon approached. She couldn’t get him to eat. She went on stress leave and hovered over him all day. She forced pureed meat down his throat using a syringe. Tom couldn’t stand to watch.

Maybe things would have been better if she had a baby, he thought. When they got married, he hoped for a child. After a few years with no pregnancy, he suggested they go for a fertility consultation. She demurred, saying it was too personal. She would have a baby if one came, but she didn’t want to discuss it with strangers. Eventually, he went to a doctor on his own and had his sperm count and motility checked. Both were normal. When he told Shannon, she yelled, “How could you do that behind my back?” and slammed out of the house.

One evening, as he tried to read and Jeeves moaned, Tom said, “You know, Shannon, if I were in Jeeves’s condition, I think I’d prefer to be euthanized.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” she replied. But instead of laughing, as she once would have, she started crying. Tom drove off in the Civic and sat in a sports bar until the Leafs game was over, and Shannon was asleep.

            ***
On the twenty-third of December, Shannon called Tom in the middle of his office Christmas party.

“We’ve got to take Jeeves to the vet.”

“What?” he said, poking his left ear closed with his index finger to cut the background noise.

“The vet. We’ve got to go. Now.”

“Is the vet even open?”

“I phoned him—he said he’d stay until we got there.”

“Ohhhh-kay.”

Tom sighed and drained his glass in one swallow. It was his third scotch, but he felt fine to drive.
On the way home, the road was slick, and thick snow was blowing. He had to keep the defrost on high. Traffic was heavy and moving slowly. Lots of offices were shutting down early for the Christmas break, and people were heading to the mall for last-minute shopping.

By the time Tom got home, Jeeves was barely breathing. They bundled him into a blanket and carried him to the car. Although he’d lost a lot of weight, he still weighed a droopy fifty-five pounds.
The cars crawled along the road, drivers hunched over their steering wheels, trying to get a better view through the snow. Those who hit the accelerator or brakes too hard slid drunkenly. Tom started to give other cars a wide berth.

Back in the hatch, the dog was too weak to get up or even to resist the momentum when Tom braked or turned a corner. Jeeves slid around like a case of beer. And he smelled foul.

Tom opened his window a crack to let in some cold wind. He thought about the Christmas party, his boss in a Santa suit, face glowing, and the women smelling of freesia and sandalwood, wearing shiny cocktail dresses even though it was still afternoon. 

By now it was dark. Tom pictured the vet standing alone at the only window at the clinic that was still lit, looking out, waiting for them.

He approached the corner of Third Street and Monterey, just in time to make the light, when for no reason at all, the car in front of him braked. The light had only been orange for a millisecond. Any normal person, even a normal little old person would have continued through that intersection, but this lady decided to stop. 

The hatchback slid and hit her hard, pushing her car well into the intersection.  Damn.

The airbags in the hatchback deployed, thumping Tom and Shannon in the chest and face. Jeeves slammed into the seat back. 

“What have you done?” Shannon cried, rubbing her cheeks as the bags crumpled, almost as fast as they’d inflated. She opened the door to go to check Jeeves. Tom got out, blinked, and went to see how bad the accident had been. The trunk of the car he hit had collapsed into the back seat. Fortunately, there were no passengers.

He tapped on the driver’s side window and the old woman at the wheel opened it. “You okay, ma’am?”

“Yes…I think so…what happened?”

“There was an accident. My car slid into the back of yours.”

“Ohhhhh!” she said, smiling as if that explained everything. “I’m Mrs. Schofield.”

“Stay where you are please, Mrs. Schofield. We’ll wait for the police. Is there anyone I can phone for you?”

“Allen, my son Allen. What’s his cell phone number? Ohhhhh. It’s in my purse here somewhere.”

His mind raced. What to do? All his fault, again. Nothing he could do.

A police cruiser arrived. Allen arrived. Together Allen and the officer managed to get the door open and help old Mrs. Schofield out.

She took Allen’s arm and walked gingerly over to Allen’s car, parked across the way. She didn’t want an ambulance. The police officer would come over later and take a statement from her. Someone called a wrecker.

The cop stepped in close to Tom and asked what happened, reviewing his license and insurance card as Tom tried to explain.

“Have you had anything to drink today, sir?”

“Well, I had a couple of drinks at our office party, before my wife called me about the emergency with the dog.”

“Uh-huh…a dog emergency.” The cop looked doubtful. He retrieved a roadside breathalyser machine and told Tom to blow. It read .06. “I’m suspending your license for twelve hours. You’ll have to get a ride home.”

Shannon came over to see what was going on. She was trembling and breathing quickly. “Could you speed things up?”

 In unison, Tom and the cop turned and told her to get back into the car.

The officer got into the cruiser and radioed in the accident information, leaving Tom shivering at the side of the road. The wrecker arrived, and pulled Mrs Schofield’s car out of the intersection.

The officer went over to speak to Mrs. Schofield and after a few minutes waved her and her son off.

Finally the cop came back to Tom. He was a young kid, no doubt just out of Police College, full of black-and-white notions of the world. He looked Tom right in the eye. “You know, in this situation, I might just have charged you with following too close. But because you’ve been drinking, I’m bumping it up to careless driving.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Following too close gets you four points. Careless gets you six, and a bigger fine.”

“Please, officer, I’ve already got three points on a speeding charge. If I get six more, I could lose my license.

“Should have thought of that.”


Tom looked helplessly at the police officer, and back at Shannon. “What for? If he’s dead...Why don’t we just take him home now and deal with it in the morning? Sweetheart?”

Shannon turned away and pulled out her phone to make the call.

“Okay, then I’ll come with you,” Tom said.

“Bugger off,” she said, without turning around.

Shannon waited for the taxi on the curb some distance away, elbows folded, rubbing her upper arms, glaring at several onlookers. When the cab arrived, the driver did not look pleased about transporting a dead poodle, but after some discussion, he loaded Jeeves into the trunk, staggering under the weight. Tom watched the cab move off and merge into Christmas traffic. For the first time he noticed that his chest, shoulders and knees were aching.  

The wrecker returned, its glowing red light going round and round. With Jeeves out of the way, the driver hoisted the front end of the hatchback and lurched away into the storm.

The officer handed Tom the ticket and without another word, got in the cruiser and left.  

Now Tom stood alone on the side of the road. After so much commotion, Shannon, the dog and the car were gone. With everything cleaned up, people passing now would never realize that anything had happened. The whole incident was already in the past, swallowed up by the night.
Tom ordered a cab for himself.

As he climbed into it, he suddenly felt a little giddy, as if a weight he was carrying suddenly dissolved. He gave the driver the address of one of his friends, who was having a Christmas party. He wanted to see some happy faces, hear some music, drink a cup of eggnog. Tom remembered that one of his clients was a defence lawyer. He could fight the careless charge. And as soon as Christmas was over, he’d go and buy a better car, maybe a luxury sedan. The old hatchback was not worth fixing. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

John Pringle's Latest



John Pringle is an award-winning short story writer.  His stories are varied, often humourous,  always true to the crazy dance we call life in the north, and so readable, you'll read them again and again.

John writes: Dear Joan,
Just an update on where the book is sold in Thunder Bay. The Book Shelf has it on the shelf today. Chapters will have it available "soon". It is being "screened" whatever that might mean. So if you want it right now then go to The Book Shelf and support a small business. In Atikokan it is available at The Progress; Revive!; The Pictograph Gallery, and through the mail by contacting me at jpringle@nwon.com.


John Pringle

Monday, July 20, 2020

An inspiring true story by Peter Lang.

Just thought you might be interested in something reasonable, positive, organic, local, personal, and inspiring -- in contrast to the constant barrage of bad news we've been receiving in the media.

AN ANGEL FROM THE TOWNSHIP

Today, just as I finished widening my driveway-hill-entrance (because a neighbour slipped off the edge and got stuck while plowing snow), an angel from the township presented herself to me.  Truly.  

One would think that after driving to town and back, and loading and unloading a trailer load of cement rubble that I would have been ready for bed, or a nap, at least... (I thought I was).

But my angel was driving a little tractor with a side-cutter, cutting a 3' wide swath of green stuff growing on either side of the road.  A week ago, I used my scythe to do something similar and wound up with a two-day headache/neckache from wielding it. This time all I had to do was rake into small piles what was already cut, load it onto my new trailer, and deliver it to my compost pile.  

I simply forgot my fatigue and jumped at the chance -- the gift.

The seasonal timing was beautiful, too.  Most of that green stuff hadn't gone to seed.  Usually when the township cuts, it's in late July.  Although a hot compost pile will kill seeds and roots, it takes a lot of sustained heat; so, I usually avoid adding seeds and roots to the compost pile.

So, as you might be wondering (as I'm sure you are..), this green stuff, replete with nitrogen, and layered with last year's leaves, for carbon -- plus rain and oxygen, heats up amazingly as it breaks down.  One foot down into the pile I've been making (now 4'X5'X4'), you can hardly hold your hand for the heat.  Yet this is without the rain it should really have for best results.

Actually, during this hot spell, and over two weeks, we've only had about an hour or so of rain a couple of days ago.  Otherwise, a few drops here and there; but nothing like the rainy day forecasts we've been having.




Sunday, July 19, 2020

Letter from the Library with Good News. !!!

Hello Joan,

The Thunder Bay Public Library has been planning for a phasing in of library service to the community. We are taking a deliberately slow and safe approach for the health and safety of Library staff and the public.

There are seven phases in the plan - we are planning to move to phase four as of
July 20th.  In phase four, we will start no contact holds pick up at the Waverley and
Mary J.L. Black Libraries.

A ‘hold’ is an item that has been reserved for a specific library member. Holds can be placed online at the TBPL website or by phone at 684-6814.  A library card number and PIN is necessary to place a hold online.

Library staff will call members who have holds that are ready to be picked up, and will provide detailed instructions about that process.

Library staff will continue to offer collections, services, and programs online during all seven phases on our website and social media.

Check the TBPL website and social media @tbaypl for the most current information. We will also issue regular updates to the community as we move forward.

Friday, July 17, 2020


For 100 days of Covid, poet Sue Blott had given us a haiku to lift. our  our souls. This is number 100.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Summer Poems

Why I Love Her
by Ulrich Wendt

She builds trails that go nowhere in particular.
They meander and wander through the brush along the river
As do the sinews of the heart
Or the way the mind finds comfort in ambiguity
And though I'm sometimes caught up in the logic of pure reason,
My line running straight and purposeful
Like wolves on a savage hunt,
She remains my persuasion.

 For Laura

Lost in what looks from below like pleasure,
the crane is beating hard against the wind.
Come with me soon to Birch River.
He will not hang in the air like that
forever.
......................
Desire
by Joe Fiorito
from his recent book All I Have Learned is Where I Have Been

These bees, drunk
with heat, toss themselves

like stones against a
windowpane of bee-want

their hot cause, the summer
roses in my vase.

Little Sister, Asleep

She, on a kitchen chair --
legs tucked up, short hair --
grabbed me there.

She died later, sniffing 
gasoline: all I have learned
is where I have been.

Saturday, July 11, 2020


Canadian Shorts II

Happy to see Canadian Shorts II, a complilation of short stories, will be published by the indomitable Mischievous Press from Atikokan. The first Canadian Shorts book brought us many gems.   I am thrilled that my story The Sisterhood was chosen to be in the second book. Dynamite cover of a moose is all I have seen so far. Check out Mischievous Press website at http://mischievousbooks.com

Friday, July 10, 2020

Looking at Thunder Bay's Free Magazines/



Cover by Richard Spooner
How lucky we are in Thunder Bay to have free magazines of good quality: Walleye, Bayview, Thunder Bay Senior’s and others. Walleye is publishing a summer issue about gardens which I am dying to read. But here I want to talk about the summer 2020 issue of Bayview Thunder Bay’s Magazine. As usual the cover is a showstopper, a misty photo of Ouimet Canyon by Susan Dykstra. But, also as usual, great local photography sparks the entire issue. 
Because I lived in Kaministiquia for many years, I turned first to the article about Strawberry Hill Pottery by Heather L. Dickson. It tells the story of the founding of the workshop by Peter and Liz Powlowski (son Marcus is a local MP) with updated information about the sought-after animal figures. Brian Spare, a local history expert, writes about the troop treks of 1885 and, closer to home, the history of the breakwater. The Thunder Bay love of gardens is described in an essay by Kim Kilgour. 
So many well-written first-rate articles make this magazine a local treasure. And, of course, like the Walleye and Senior's, it's available at my favourite price i.e. Free!


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Thunder Bay Public Library moves into phase 3, accepting book returns starting July 2

Book returns will be happening at 2 branches 

The Thunder Bay Public Library is moving into phase three of its reopening plan next month, and will begin accepting returns at two branches.
As of July 2, returns will be accepted at the Waverley and Mary J.L. Black libraries.
Returns can be made Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to noon, and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the library said.
Instructions for returning items will be posted on-site.
The library has a seven-phase plan to resume services that had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phase four will allow for items on hold to be picked up; details will be provided at a later date, the library said.
There is no timeline for moving from phase to phase, and any changes depend on staff safety, building preparation, staff capacity, and public safety, the library said.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Pandemic Reading by Joan Baril

Pandemic Reading
Thank the heavens for books. Besides gardening, I spent my time going nowhere, seeing no one, and reading, reading, reading.  Here are a few titles I enjoyed.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.  I enjoyed this book with its sharp plot and interesting characters. True, it is another dysfunctional family book of the kind American writers seem to churn out year after year but this is a well-done dysfunctional family book. Two siblings who grew up with wealth find themselves disinherited. Their lives are overshadowed by this fact and by the memories of growing up in a fancy house called the Dutch House.

Obsidian by Thomas King. Another in his mystery series with retired cop Thumps Dreadfulwater.  Dreadfulwater is haunted by the unsolved case of a serial killer who murdered his lover and her child. In spite of the dark background, this is a funny book full of sharp dialogue and wacky small-town characters. I think I have read everything King has written and this is one of his best.



Testaments by Robbie Robertson A brilliant book about a brilliant musician. The Band was made up of talented musicians but fame brought problems such as drug use and alcohol. Roberson and four band members were Canadian although he now lives in Los Angles. Robertson played guitar, sang, and wrote songs. The band did tours, concerts, backups for Bob Dylan, records, backups for records, movies and so on. At Big Pink, near Woodstock, they practiced every day, in many cases tinkering around looking for the best sound. Robertson had the ear: he added various motifs, brought in outside musicians. He had the ability to tell good from bad. To try to aim higher. He watched other musicians, went to plays, read film scripts and so on. A great artist. They did the concert for the movie, The Last Waltz, and then broke up. One of the greatest rock bands.


Truth be Told: My Journey Through Life and the Law by Beverley McLachlin. One of the few women to study law in the 1950’s, McLachlin, a farmer’s daughter from Pincher Creek, Alberta, graduated first in her class and began a long career in law, ending up as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In clear language she describes her personal struggles and some of the court’s key cases: same sex marriage, abortion rights, euthanasia, and the Charter to name a few. Her sense of justice and fairness shines through.  

The Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre Esprit Radisson by Mark Bourrie. The history of the 1600 fur trade in Canada made my head spin, but in a good way. Various First Nations were at war with each other. The new weapons, guns from the colonizers, made the wars more deadly. France, England and Holland competed to control the trade routes and so did the Iroquois and other aboriginal groups. Traders like Radisson determined to get their beaver pelts to market, no matter what chicanery and bloodshed was used. But in Quebec, they had to deal with corrupt authorities who stole their hard-won pelts.
Radisson tried to get powerful European patrons to start a company to trade into Hudson’s Bay but even when he managed to get the HBC set up, he was ripped off by them. His life, full of hope and defeat, seems almost unreal from this vantage.

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport. Accounts written by mostly non-Russians – businessmen, embassy families, spies, various foreign government people, and so on. The wealthy binged on extravagant living and yet many of them set up charities for the poor and hospitals to help the wounded during the war. Some of them sympathize with the rebels but as Petrograd falls into the hands of a rampaging mob, their sympathy disappears and most try to flee. Emeline Pankhurt’s visit to Petrograd is covered as is the Women’s Battalion of Death.

A Very Dangerous Woman:The Lives, Loves and Lies of Russia's Most Seductive Spy by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield. Purple Prose ruins this book which takes place during the Russian Revolution. Also Baroness Moira Budberg was not really dangerous. She was a social person who passed on bits of information to whoever she had to – the Germans, the Bolsheviks and later the Brits. She was smart, politically astute, well read and spoke several languages. She craved society and people. She was imprisoned a couple of times for trying to cross borders. She was separated from her children for years, looked after a sick mother during the revolution in Petrograd, took lovers who would help her, etc. She was a shrewd survivor but in no way dangerous. The femme fatale thing that clings to her is often invoked in historical accounts when a woman takes a lover or two. The men are not so labelled or labeled in any such way.


During the past Covid weeks I revisited a lot of short stories, rereading Chekhov and the local NOWW magazines which publish winning stories by local writers. I also listened to the New Yorker podcasts of short fiction or rather relistened to some of my favourites. Many years ago, I read a book of Japanese short stories. They struck me as being unusual, creative and in many cases, weird. So I sent for the new The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories. As expected, strange plots abound but they carry us along nevertheless. A woman turns to sugar, another becomes a cow, a loyal soldier commits suicide. The basic facts are laid down quickly at the start of each story, but you have no idea where the plot will take you. Often the tale ends with a jolt and a clue to a meaning behind the meaning. Exhilarating stuff.


I also read and enjoyed The M train by Patty Smith, The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble, and a classic, A Month in the Country by J.L.Carr. A young man returns from WW1 and spends a summer in an English village restoring a painting in the church. He is healed mentally and physically by the experience. Short and rather sweet. Set up like a memoir with the narrator an elderly man.  I skimmed bits of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. I whistled through a couple of mysteries and left some poor choices unfinished.

I read Apple Books on my iPad. I ignore the fatuous lists of “books that might interest you.” I use the search feature to bring up books from my library lists and lament that the libraries are closed. I read the free sample that comes with each title and decide whether to buy or not. I spend a fortune I know but aside from groceries I am not buying anything at all. My hair looks like the shaggy dog, my physio is unavailable, my necessary ( because of arthritis)  house cleaner quit.  I cannot go out for lunch with family or friends. So where does the money go? Books of course. So thank heavens for books.