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About the Author Bruce McDougall

Bruce McDougall

Michel Cormier is the Executive Director of News and Current Affairs at Radio-Canada. He was the CBC and Radio-Canada correspondent in Moscow and Paris and, from 2006 to 2010, in Beijing, where he covered events such as the Sichuan earthquake and the 2008 Olympics and followed China's meteoric rise to economic superpower. Cormier has also reported on major events in Europe, the war in Afghanistan, and the deaths of Yasser Arafat and Pope John Paul II. His coverage of the toppling of Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia resulted in a Gemini Award nomination.Cormier is the author of four books, including La Russie des illusions, which was shortlisted for the Governor-General's Award for non-fiction in 2007. He has also won both the Anick and Judith-Jasmin journalism awards. His latest book, The Legacy of Tiananmen Square, was originally published in French as Les héritiers de Tiananmen.

Books by this Author
Every Minute Is a Suicide
Excerpt

A Dangerous Man

Our mother told us years later that she'd moved us away from our father because he'd hit her, and she'd begun to fear that he might start hitting us too. "I wasn't afraid of what he might do to me," she explained. "But I was awfully worried that he might hurt you."

At first, it felt exciting to ask our mother to tell us this story. My sister and I listened as if she was describing a close encounter with a train wreck. We felt lucky to have survived unscathed. But our mother never changed her story, and her one-note explanation of why she'd abandoned our father became a bit boring. Eventually, the excitement wore off, and we let the subject drop.

I never dared to challenge her story or ask her to elaborate on the details. I never asked her to explain why she'd married our father in the first place, what led him to become such a brutal man, or how she could have had children with such an oaf. I didn't ask such questions, because I knew that the answer had something to do with me, and I didn't want to remind our mother that she could have had a better life without me. With one of my parents gone, only she remained standing between me and the world. I wasn't about to give her the chance to abandon me the way she'd abandoned my dad. So I kept my questions to myself and made up the answers as I went along.

My sister and I thought our mother was a brittle woman. She let us know that she was doing her best to provide for us, but she also made us feel that, if we asked for too much, she might break down under the strain. If she broke down, my sister and I would have no one but each other to look after us, and by then neither my sister nor I really trusted each other to come through in a pinch. After all, my sister at the age of eleven had known for months that we would move away from my dad. Our mother had sworn her to secrecy, and she had said nothing about it to me. Who would keep such a secret from someone she loved and trusted? My sister was not my ally. She was my mother's daughter.

My sister and I both knew it was too much to ask our mother to explain in detail her reasons for abandoning our father. It wasn't her job to satisfy our curiosity, and we didn't press the issue. We just did as we were told. He was a dangerous man, and neither my sister nor I wanted any more danger in our lives. It took our dad more than a year to find us.

We'd moved in August to a house in the new suburbs west of the city. There was an empty field across from our house and a shopping mall at the end of our street with a drugstore and a grocery store, and a highway beyond that. On the other side of the highway, there were apple orchards and dairy farms and a creek where my friends and I went fishing for chub with hooks fastened to string tied around branches; we sat under trees and ate beans out of tin cans that we later crushed and buried under a rock.

At night I would lie on my sister's bed while she did her homework, listening to John Sprague, the disc jockey on CHUM. I liked songs like "Wolverton Mountain" and "The Battle of New Orleans" and "All American Boy", especially when Bobby Bare sang about sitting with the girls in the back seat of a Cadillac. My sister would tell me ghost stories, and sometimes we'd sneak out the side door of our house and creep around in the dark like commandos through our neighbours' backyards. It was a pretty good life, and I didn't think I missed my father.

(Continue reading in Every Minute Is a Suicide...)

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Last Hockey Game

Last Hockey Game

edition:Hardcover
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The Last Hockey Game

The Last Hockey Game

Chronicle of a North Country Life
edition:eBook
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Urban Disturbances
Excerpt

From 'Birding with Dad'

The last time Paul went for a walk with his father, they'd descended from their fifth-floor apartment and trudged into the hydro field behind the building, pushing through the long grass until their pant legs were damp and covered in seeds. Before they reached the other side of the field, his father twisted his ankle in a gopher hole and had to lean on his son as they made their way home again. Paul had felt proud to feel his father's weight on his shoulder, but his father had been grumpy for the next week.

Paul liked it when his dad included him in his walks. It made him feel hopeful and mature, as if his father regarded him as a trusted partner rather than a nuisance or an agent of his mother. This evening, he let Paul run ahead of him along the path that led from their apartment building through the hydro field. The sun was starting to set. A man with a dog angled through the long grass ahead of them toward a barrier between the field and a dead-end road. The man loaded his dog into the back seat of a black car and drove away. Paul plunged ahead of his father into the thick grass, then returned to the path and waited for him to catch up. The damp grass soaked his canvas running shoes. Small green seeds stuck to his arms.

Black cables hung between the outstretched metal arms of the hydro towers like skipping ropes in a game played by skeletal giants. Standing near the base of one of the towers, Paul and his father gazed upward into the maze of metal beams and porcelain insulators until they spotted a birds' nest wedged into a corner. Paul's father took a slingshot from his pocket. He picked up a rock and fired it at the nest. He tried three times, but each time he missed the nest. He handed the slingshot to his son. 'You try,' he said.

Paul kicked at the dirt around his feet until he found a smooth pebble. He looked up at the nest, placed the pebble in the leather pouch of the slingshot, pulled back on the rubber bands and fired. The pebble struck the bottom of the nest. The nest dangled above the ground like a spectator's dislodged hat. Paul could see a cluster of chicks clinging to the ragged edges of the nest. They squeaked like rusty hinges as they blindly opened their beaks, waiting for food. 'Try again,' his father said. When Paul hit the nest a second time, one of the chicks spilled to the ground. Paul's father walked over to the stunned bundle of feathers. He looked down, raised his boot and stepped on the bird. 'Sometimes I'd like to do this to your mother,' he said, and then he made a guttural sound intended as laughter.

In the pause between his father's words and his chuckle, Paul caught a glimpse of his father's anger. It was no joke.

When they walked home, Paul's father said, 'Tell your mother that you want to sleep tonight in your own bed.' They walked farther. 'A boy your age shouldn't be sleeping with his mother,' his father said. When they got home, Paul's father lay down on the couch and turned on the TV. Paul walked down the hall to his mother's bedroom, knocked and waited for his mother to give him permission to enter.

His mother was leaning against a satin pillow propped against the headboard, blowing on her nails. There was a bottle of nail polish on the table beside the bed. She was wearing a pink slip that left the tops of her breasts exposed. Paul said, 'I should sleep in my own bed.'

'Who told you that?' his mother said.

'Father.'

His mother sighed. 'How many times do I have to tell you?' she said.

Paul had heard the same story from his mother many times. It all began, she told him again, with her wish to protect him from harm. 'The world can be a dangerous place,' she said.

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