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Between the Stillness and the Grove
Excerpt

Prologue

There is the sea. Dzovig is staring at it. She does this often in the early hours of the morning, makes her way to the wall at the edge of the beach, determined, like an addict seeking out her drug. And the sea is never very far in this country: Portugal, a thin strip of land stretching along the Atlantic, on the edge of the Continent. The people here also stare at the sea; they stare at it so often that reflections of light bouncing off the water pass across their eyes even after they have gone home, at night, even as they sleep. They carry the smell of the sea with them in the wool of their coats, in the breath they exhale, after bread and wine. But they don’t think of the sea, as Dzovig does. They dismiss it as husbands and wives of decades dismiss each other, or as peoples of the mountains dismiss geography, though it has shaped all that they are. But Dzovig is from another country, and therefore different. She stores up the sea like a beggar at a feast.

In her favourite painting of Pessoa, his shape is also standing at the edge of the water, a thin black line before a huge expanse of grey, in this country where the sea is rarely grey, or white.

In every painting of him that she has seen, he always wears a hat, a black fedora which sits on his head like an extension of his body. Even a picture of his room that depicts little else but squares of sunlight on the floor and half a chest of drawers contains his hat, left on a chair. She likes this about him, a carapace. She likes the hat, the round glasses, the cropped moustache and bow tie. Such a prim dresser, for a modernist. She likes the empty bronze chair that stands beside him, part of that sculpture in front of the Brasileira café, as if in wait for someone. She had gladly occupied that chair. She could think of him now as an old lover, as real as any man whose body she has ever slept beside, though she won’t. Pessoa has been dead for more than fifty years.

Best of all she likes his name: Pessoa, meaning, literally, person. Anyone, or everyone.

The sea is particularly blue today, or perhaps only seems so because of the intensity with which Dzovig is watching, wondering if she will ever come back here, to this stone wall, to this adopted country. She had thought for a time that she would never leave Portugal, like Pessoa. That any other place would be a poor substitute for the black and white mosaics of pavements, all leading to the water. But tomorrow she will cross the Atlantic in a plane full of Portuguese who, given steaming towelettes, will wipe the surface of their dinner trays rather than their own hands. She will land in Toronto, a city without sea, where, her friend tells her, there are flowers like blue planets. Where, Vecihe tells her, everything is new. Come and visit, her friend says. But Dzovig knows that there are no visits. She knows now, deep in her stomach, that each arrival is a return.

Chapter One

TOMAS

The steady grinding of wheels comes to a stop. She is still sleeping; not even the shuffle of bodies leaving the train wakes her. It is the man sitting across the aisle who pulls at her arm, saying “Menina. Lisboa.” On the platform dozens of people are walking in semi-darkness, a network of black beams high overhead, under a glass roof that has grown opaque. Daylight seeps through it as if through layers of green water.

Dzovig’s hair is cropped short and falls haphazardly into place when she shakes it out. She is wearing a shapeless sweater and a green skirt, a skirt she has held onto since Armenia. In a bag she carries the rest of her clothes, a hair comb, a few pens.

It is early morning in the streets of Lisbon. Outside the station, by the doors, two women are selling flowers, each with her own buckets of roses set out at her feet. The women are dressed in black wool. They could belong anywhere, Dzovig thinks: the widows of Europe. They throw words at each other across the passing people, oblivious, apparently, to the loss their clothes are commemorating. Maybe this is all it takes to get through it, she thinks, to dress in black wool and sell flowers.

She hasn’t eaten for hours and she is very hungry, her last meal a sandwich with the French student, Jean, who had offered to follow her across Europe, thinking, perhaps, that she was one of those students with giant backpacks that gathered outside the train stations of European cities. “Non merci,” Dzovig had said. She might have slept with him if she’d thought that he had any money, but she knew by then that only older men would pay. She had enough, in any case, to last her for a while.

She approaches one of the widows, and asks in French for a place to buy food. The woman consults her companion. She speaks only Portuguese but points with thick fingers in one direction. “A Menina quer a baixa,” she says.

“Menina, baixa?” Dzovig repeats. She doesn’t understand.

The women laugh and confer again. They point to Dzovig. “Menina,” they say. Finally they add, almost in unison, “Centre, centre.”

She walks down a long, wide avenue, past squares where the fountains are running, past a statue of a man on horseback in a sea of pigeons. She has grown accustomed to it now, the beauty of non-Soviet cities. In the beginning it had struck her with a kind of perverse pleasure, like vengeance. Look at us, Tomas used to say, packaged into neat little Soviet boxes.... He liked to say that Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, wasn’t an Armenian city at all.

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High Chicago
Excerpt

PROLOGUE
Tell anyone you’re flying into Chicago and they advise you to avoid O’Hare. Too big, too busy, too far from town. One of the worst records in America for delays in and out. Fly into Midway, they say. What they don’t tell you is that it’s virtually impossible to go direct from Toronto to Midway on less than a day’s notice, and that’s all the time I had. O’Hare it was.

It was the last week of October, still pitch black when I left my place in the east end of the city at five-thirty in the morning. The cab driver made it to Pearson in under half an hour, perhaps mistaking the 401 for the Autobahn. I then spent an hour crawling through security and U.S. Customs at the airport and another hour at the gate. Nearly two hours in the air. A half-hour sitting on the tarmac in Chicago and another half-hour to make my way to the baggage claim area and find my suitcase. It was ten-fifteen Chicago time by the time I reached arrivals.

Anxious faces were looking my way. Families looking for family members. Friends looking for friends. Drivers holding cards with the names of business- class passengers. And one mountain of a man with thick dirty- blond hair and a neatly trimmed beard who bellowed my name and lifted me off my feet in a bear hug that left my ribs little room to do the breathing thing.

His name was Avi Sternberg and we hadn’t seen each other in over ten years. “Jonah Geller,” he grinned. “Jonah goddamn Geller. Look at you, man. You look fantastic.” He gripped my biceps in his big hands. “Buff too. Check out the arms.”

His teeth were whiter and straighter than they’d been when I’d last seen him and he wasn’t wearing thick glasses anymore. His eyes behind contact lenses were the pale blue of a winter sky.

“You look good too,” I said.

“Liar. I’ve put on like fifty pounds.”

He’d been a beanpole then, six-three and maybe 170 pounds. But his new-found bulk was nicely encased in an expensive grey wool suit, the kind a lawyer might wear in Chicago on an Indian summer day. And since he was a lawyer now, and there were a dozen reasons why I might need one, I didn’t hold the suit against him.

“Flight okay?” he asked.

“Pretty painless,” I said.

“The security as tight up there in Canada as it is here? Make you dump all your liquids and everything?”

“Even the bottled water.”

“All right. Let’s get you out of here. That all your stuff?”

“Yup.” I’d packed everything I thought I’d need into one big suitcase on wheels. The less you took on board with you, the easier it was to clear security. “I really appreciate you coming out to get me, Avi. You look like a busy man.”

“I’m paid to look this way. And don’t thank me. No one should have to make their way out of this hellhole alone.”

He looked around, got his bearings and told me to follow him. Like a fullback clearing the way for a runner, he aimed his bulk forward and made people clear a path. A man with too many suitcases on his cart had to stop short to avoid hitting Avi and the bags went tipping over. The man cursed but Avi just kept going; didn’t hear the man or didn’t care.

When we got out of the terminal, I moved past the knot of smokers you see outside every public building nowadays and stopped to take a few deep breaths. Unclouded by jet fuel, tobacco or body odour, the fall air was crisp and fresh. Warmer than it had been in Toronto. I wondered how many people come to Chicago from a colder place.

“Listen,” Avi said, “why don’t you wait here. I’ll get the car and come around.”

“You sure? My bag’s on wheels.”

“Trust me,” he said. “It’s a schlep. Anyway, I have to check in with the office and I might have to make a call that’s privileged. I’ll be back in ten minutes. Watch for a silver Navigator.”

I pretended to be shocked. “Avi Sternberg driving an SUV? You used to say they were invented by Arabs to keep us begging for oil.”

“I’m a big guy, Jonah. I need room to move.” He turned away, pulling a cellphone out of his pocket. Then he turned back and said, “By the way? It’s Stern now. I dropped the ‘berg’ when I came back to the States.”

“You’re kidding.”

He just looked at me. It took a little getting used to, seeing his eyes undistorted by glasses.

It took Avi twenty minutes to get back. Twenty minutes I spent thinking about our time together on a kibbutz in northern Israel, two outsiders trying hard to be accepted by the sabras–native-born Israelis– who tended to view us as softies who weren’t in it for the long haul. I thought about Dalia Schaeffer, my lover who had been killed by a rocket fired from southern Lebanon. Avi had been her close friend, and had been almost as devastated by her death as I was.

When he pulled up in his hulking silver beast, I heaved my bag in through the back hatch and climbed into the most comfortable car seat ever to favour my backside. He touched a button on the steering wheel and a song began playing, one I knew from the first riff: “Begin the Begin,” the first track on R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant. “Remember this?” he said. “We wore this record out on kibbutz.”

“We didn’t have that many to choose from.”

“The days before iPods. Whatever did we do?”

We drove all of a hundred yards before the traffic ahead forced us to a stop. “What’s the population of Chicago?” I asked.

“About four million.”

“They all out here today?”

“Once we get out of the airport, it won’t be too bad.”

And it wasn’t. After we cleared all the construction zones around the airport, Avi took the Dan Ryan Expressway south, driving his Navigator too fast, too close to other cars. A serial lane- changer, moving to the far right lane as if exiting the expressway, then bulling his way back into traffic at the last minute. I gripped the handle above the door as he squeezed in between two trucks, focusing on the city skyline that loomed in the far-off haze like Emerald City down the yellow brick road. A distant Oz where wisdom could be received, hearts restored, courage found.

“So you’re an investigator now,” he said.

“Uh- huh.”

“Hardly what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“Geez, I don’t know. A social worker, maybe. An activist of some sort. Just not a PI. I mean, our firm uses PIs all the time and you just don’t fit the mould.”

“The ex- cop mould?”

“Yeah.”

“Truth is, I kind of backed into it. Mostly I met the right man at the right time. He thought I had what it took.”

“And what exactly are you investigating? You were very tight-lipped on the phone.” He checked his side mirror and gunned the Navigator into the passing lane, overtaking a delivery van that was trailing a cloud of burning oil.

“Three murders.”

“Three– Jesus H.” He glanced over at me, then back at the road ahead. “I thought it was some sort of fraud thing.”

“There’s a fraud at the heart of it. But it’s murder now.”

“This happened in Toronto?”

“Yes.”

“So what brings you to Chicago?”

“The killings were ordered here.”

“The Outfit?”

“I almost wish it were.”

“You’re being very cryptic.”

“Because the man who ordered them is going to be a lot harder to nail than a mobster.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s Simon Birk.”

Avi’s head whipped around. He gaped at me. “The Simon Birk?”

“Watch it!” I planted my right foot against the floor as if my side had a brake. He looked back at the road and slammed the brake hard, stopping inches from a beat- up old Mazda with three bodies crammed in the back seat. Nearly three more deaths to add to the tally.

“You’re telling me that Simon Birk– the Simon Birk– had three people killed in Toronto?”

“Yes.”

“Then why aren’t the police handling it? Or are they?”

“Not so far.”

“Why not?”

“They’re not buying my theory.”

“You have proof?”

“Not enough. Not yet.”

“So you’re down here on your own.”

“Yes.”

“Going after Simon Birk.”

“Yes.”

The Simon Birk.”

“Yes.”

“Jonah goddamn Geller,” he said. “You’re even crazier than I remembered.”

“That,” I said, “may be the only advantage I have.”

“Did you call me because I’m a lawyer?”

“I called because you’re a friend. The only person I know in Chicago. I didn’t even know you were a lawyer till your mother told me.”

“How long did it take her to tell you?”

“First or second sentence.”

“That’s my mom.”

“You might be able to help,” I said. “If that’s something that interests you.”

“Help you investigate Simon Birk.”

“Maybe shed a little light on his business practices.”

“That I could probably do. What else?”

“I don’t know. Get me out of jail if need be.”

“Jail– what would you end up in jail for?”

“How should I know?” I said. “I just got here.”

“But I don’t practise criminal law.”

“This could be your chance.”

Avi used his thumb to lower the volume and R.E.M. faded away. “I think you’d better tell me everything,” he said. “What the hell happened in Toronto and why you think Birk is involved.”

“I know he is, Avi. He ordered those people killed because they were in his way.”

“Then convince me,” he said. “Because if your only friend in Chicago doesn’t believe you, who else will?”

CHAPTER 1
Of all the hard lessons I learned last June, fighting for my life in the Don River Valley, chief among them was this: the justice system can’t always protect those who need it most. I had taken a man’s life because I knew if I let him live, he would order my death, and others, from prison. It might have taken days, weeks or months– or more likely hours– and that would have been that. If the system couldn’t protect me, with the resources I had, I knew there were other, more vulnerable people out there who needed a different brand of justice, and someone to mete it out on their behalf.

And so I left Beacon Security, the only place I’d ever worked as an investigator. Left the employ of Graham McClintock, who had trained me, believed in me, mentored me like a seasoned horse breaker. I had to leave after the lies I told him, the actions I took, the absences I couldn’t explain. I made the most graceful exit I could manage and my friend Jenn Raudsepp opted to join me. I never asked her to: she had a good thing going at Beacon and my departure might even have opened up new opportunities for her. I knew my new agency, as it was forming in my mind, might prove a low-income, high-risk enterprise. But she volunteered to come aboard and I welcomed her. When she told me her parents had offered her $20,000 against the eventual sale of their farm, and she was willing to invest it, I was all over her.

She put up twenty per cent of the start-up costs and I put up eighty from the sale of a house I had owned with my ex-girlfriend. Which meant I got to name the company.

You could say we argued about my choice a little.

“No one will know what we do,” Jenn protested.

“That could prove useful. Help us stay under the radar.”

“Why would we want to?”

“Because of the kinds of cases we’ll be taking.”

“We’ll get all kinds of bogus calls.”

“We won’t answer them.”

“How will we know they’re bogus?”

“We’re investigators, Jenn. Trained by the best. We’ll separate the clients from the chaff.”

“What do you know about chaff, city boy? And why should we make it hard for clients to find a new business no one knows about?”

“If they need our kind of help, they’ll find us.”

I held fast and World Repairs is the name of our agency. Clients– especially well- paying ones– have proved somewhat elusive so far, so maybe Jenn had a point. She had suggested T.O. Investigations, T.O. being shorthand for both Toronto and tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world, making it a better place wherever you can.

I’m a cultural Jew, not a religious one, even though I was raised in an Orthodox home. As much as I love the comfort and rituals of the Jewish community, I haven’t felt God’s presence since I was fourteen. Might have been the onset of reason, might have been my father’s sudden death at forty-four that same year, but to this day I believe in God like I believe the Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup before my gums cave in.

But I do cling to the notion of tikkun olam and that’s more or less what Jenn and I practise, though she is descended from by-the-book Lutherans.

World Repairs: We do what we can do and fix what we can fix. Sometimes we’re messengers, sometimes mediators, and sometimes we forget to mind our manners.

Our office was on the third floor of a renovated factory on Broadview Avenue: the same street I lived on, though at the extreme southern end, close to both Lake Ontario and the foul mouth of the Don River. Our neighbours included two ad shops, a photographer’s studio and a web design firm and, next to us, the PR phenomenon known as Eddie Solomon. I knocked on his door around nine- thirty that morning and he called out “Entuh!” doing his best Walter Matthau, circa The Sunshine Boys.
Eddie could have been fifty, could have been seventy. I pegged him as early sixties, but if even half his stories about celebrities he’s represented, befriended, bedded and brought to the brink of stardom were true, he’d have to be a hundred and six. He is taller than five feet, but not much, and weighs about two hundred pounds. His head is shaved and his face surprisingly smooth for someone who has spent so many late nights paving the way for the stars. With his ready smile and his twinkling eyes, he emits light like a candle: warm, bright, steady.

“Hail the conquering hero,” he cried when I entered his office. “My Jason! My Argonaut! Come here, you lumbering hunk, let me shake your hand for a job well done.”

“I haven’t even told you what happened.”

“You’re here, you’re smiling – that is a smile, right? It’s not gas or something?”

“It’s a smile, Eddie.”

“So tell me, bubeleh. Can I call Chelsea? Tell her it’s over?”

Chelsea Madison was an American TV star filming a movie-of-the-week in Toronto. Best known for playing the squeaky-clean mom of a group of wisecracking teenagers on the sitcom Den Mother, she had complained to Eddie that a photographer named Stan Lester had been stalking her sixteen-year-old daughter, Desiree, trying to get photos of her going in and out of a rehab centre that had accepted her into a day program while she accompanied her mother to Toronto.

“It’s done,” I told Eddie. “Lester won’t bother Desi again.”

“You sure? Some of these guys, they just won’t stop. Forget Desi, you should see them follow Chelsea around. She’s got another seven, eight weeks to film in Toronto and she’s got the mongrel hordes all over her.”

“I think it’s Mongol hordes,” I said.

“Not when you speak of paparazzi.”

“Well, Stan Lester is sidelined indefinitely,” I said. “Out for the season.”

“Do I want to know how?”

“No.”

“Come on,” he said. “Spill. Vicarious thrills are the only kind I get at my age.”

“That’s not how we work, Eddie. You only get to know the results.”

In truth, there wasn’t that much to tell. Lester had been in his car this morning outside the rehab centre, waiting for Desi. I was parked three spaces behind watching him. As soon as she exited the building, he levelled a camera with a long lens at her. I stepped between him and his target and all he got was shots of my jacket. A frank and candid discussion then ensued about his right to take her picture versus her right not to have her picture taken by him. In the end, he saw things my way. But not right away. Not before I grabbed his lens and drove the camera body into his face, opening a cut on the bridge of his nose, then banged the heel of my hand against his head behind the ear, hard enough to set his bells ringing. Then I told him if he came within a mile of Desiree Madison again, I’d give him a colonoscopy with the widest fish-eye lens I could find in his bag.

“Well,” Eddie said. “As long as I can tell Chelsea it’s over, and she can get back to blowing lines.”

“You can.”

“Well done, Prince Valiant. Well done.” He gripped my hand in a firm handshake and looked up at me with a grin. “To be your age, Jonah,” he sighed. “To be tall and strong like you. Christ, to have your hair! I’d have girls falling over me.”

“That’s nice of you to say, Eddie. But I’d rather have my fee.”

“Don’t worry, kid. I’m seeing Chelsea tonight at her hotel.

I’ll bring it by tomorrow.”

“In cash, right?”

“Not a problem. You want a coffee, mighty one?”

“Can’t,” I said. “We have a ten o’clock client.”

“So go meet your client and send Jenn.”

“Don’t start, Eddie.”

“What? Start what? What did I say?”

“I can read it on your forehead like it’s a drive-in screen.”

“Can I help it if she’s gorgeous?”

“Not to mention gay.”

“The blonde hair, the blue eyes, the sweet face. And the body, my God, the body. The gayness just fades away.”

“Just don’t give yourself a heart attack before you get my money,” I said.

“And those legs.” He was panting, hamming it up now, dabbing his forehead with his tie. “She’s so tall, I’d have to go up on her!”

“Eddie,” I said. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Nothing,” he said, and laughed. “I’m too old to change and I’m too young to stuff and mount. Anyway, you know I’m kidding. Even if she was straight, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I’ve got daughters her age. I’m like a dog chasing a car, Jonah. What would I do if I caught one?”

“Just don’t let her catching you talk like that,” I said.

“Come on. She’d know I was kidding. Wouldn’t she?”

“She’d stuff and mount you,” I said. “Unfortunately for you, in that order.”

Eddie was right. Jenn Raudsepp exudes a wholesome sexiness that’s hard to ignore, whatever her sexual orientation. Men and women alike take note when she dashes across a street or emerges legs first from her car or smiles or tosses back her blonde silk hair. Men stammer when they approach her. They mumble into their drinks. They become stupider than they were before the drinks.

I’ll never know her sexual side. That belongs to her longtime lover, Sierra Lyons, who’s a terrific match for Jenn and a good friend to me. Not to mention an ace nurse practitioner who can stitch wounds without commenting on how you look in your underwear. As an investigator, though, Jenn brings it all. She’s smart, she’s fun, she’s good with clients and she works as hard as I do. And as placid as she can seem when she wants, a whole other side emerges when she gets riled.

One night, we were leaving the office late and came across a guy beating a Native woman in the laneway where Jenn had parked her Golf. He was stocky and built but clearly drunk, and when I told him to get away from the woman, he sneered at me, “You wanna do something about it?”

“No,” Jenn said, stepping forward. “I do.”

And she did. Unfolded those lovely long legs of hers and dropped him with a spin kick, then broke most of his ribs with a roundhouse. From there, she did everything but make him eat his car keys. I could have done it quicker but no better, and it seemed important to her that this particular world repair be done by a woman.

The Estonian wonder girl did indeed have a pot of coffee brewing, a continental dark, and once I had a cup in hand I told her how things had gone with Stan Lester, giving her the details I had spared Eddie Solomon.

“Eddie pay you?”

“Tomorrow,” I said. “A thousand in cash.”

“Today would have been better. Scary Mary called from the bank.”

I shuddered. Scary Mary is the assistant manager at our branch and a devout Christian with a phone manner so artificially nice, so honeyed with false promise that each of us usually tries to pawn her off on the other. I said, “So sorry I wasn’t here to take the call.”

“You should be. She likes you better, you know.” Then Jenn, a gifted mimic who’d once been a member of a comedy troupe, nailed Scary Mary’s breathless menace: “‘This is Mary McMurphy from Toronto-Do-min-ion calling. Is that Jonah? What a nice name. Isn’t that a Bib-lical name?’”

“Brrr. You do her better than she does.”

“Why, thank you.”

“If she calls back, tell her to relax,” I said. “We’ll have Chelsea’s thousand and a retainer from Marilyn Cantor.”

“How retentive a retainer?”

“My brother referred her,” I said. “If she knows him, she’s bound to have money.”

“She called, by the way.”

“When?”

“Ten minutes ago.”

“Please say she didn’t cancel.”

“Just confirming her appointment.”

“Phew.”

“You have two other messages,” she said, a wicked grin starting to form as she slid two scraps of paper across her desk.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Like hell.”

I looked at the two slips she’d filled out. The first was from my mother. The second was from the Homicide Squad of the Toronto Police Service.

I looked at Jenn, at the sunbeam of a smile lighting her face.

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, you know. Homicide. Your mother,” she said. “Just wondering who you call first.”

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Four Letter Word

Four Letter Word

Original Love Letters
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

Introduction

On 4 May 2000, I was one of millions of people to open an email with the subject ‘I Love You’ containing an attachment ‘Love Letter For You’. Launched by a Filipino hacker, the love letter virus ‘Love Bug’ first appeared in Hong Kong before quickly spreading to Europe and then to the United States, infecting servers and costing companies an estimated one billion dollars in lost time and recovery.

In the UK, both the House of Commons and House of Lords were hit, leading to a shutdown of email that lasted a few hours. ‘The message was noticed before lunch. It was a message sending love to you, which is the sort of message a lot of us here don’t expect to be receiving,’ claimed the deputy sergeant at arms for the House of Commons at the time. Which begs the question: who are the people who would expect to receive such a message?

Most of us don’t check the post in anticipation of scented envelopes stuffed with locks of hair, though many of us have received a fervent card; a flirtatious email; a suggestive text. Often we save them and reread them to remember a moment in time or a phase of life, even those from relationships long dead.

Over time, a hierarchy to this kind of semantic courting has developed with the ambiguous text at the bottom and the email only a bit higher up. A card may prove a touching example of someone willing to take the time to find a stamp, seek out an address and locate a post-box, but the letter — with all the noble attributes of the card and no space restrictions — is perhaps the supreme medium to befit a message of love. Also, it harks back to a chivalrous age full of men attaching scrolls to pigeons or throwing bottles into the sea and aligns the writer of the love letter with a whole tradition of literary seduction.

Written on something highly flammable and sent pre­cari­ously by post or slipped underneath a door, there has always been something slightly risky about the love letter. Someone delivering it to the wrong person who then got the wrong idea; letters getting lost and therefore never replied to.

‘How is it that I have just received your seventh letter,’ writes Denis Diderot to his young mistress Sophie Voland in 1762, ‘when you have only four of the nine I have written you, including this one?’ It’s possible to see how the margin for miscommunication here might become so wide that it, not the declaration of love itself, is in danger of becoming the main subject of their letters.

Email may have removed the fire hazard, but has its own set of potentially catastrophic contingencies. Any form of writing, it seems, demands that one worry about practicalities. The speed of the post or the Broadband connection has the power to send a lover into a fit of nervous rage when no reply comes and, even worse, the written word can hang around for ever. Long after the flame has been extinguished, those pleas of passion you jotted down might still be in her underwear drawer. And if you suddenly become famous? What’s to stop him from selling your letters to the library which bought the rest of your papers?

The reclusive writer J. D. Salinger took the poet and critic Ian Hamilton to court when Hamilton tried to quote from various letters of Salinger’s deposited in libraries and archives. Hamilton argued that since the letters were in the public domain it was only reasonable that he be permitted to repro­duce them. And although he lost his case and had to resort to para­phrase, anyone can look at Salinger’s letters in their entirety in the libraries and archives. Nothing, it would seem, is sacred.

Unlike a phone call or a conversation, a written declaration of love is a thing: a thing which exists in the world (often for a very long time) with the power to conjure up an emotional disposition, which is why, on occasion, we ask for them back, destroy them, prevent people from publishing them or keep them.

Something that has survived thirteen house moves is a Valentine I was given when I was five. ‘Dear R,’ it reads (his mother, or possibly our teacher, having written out this bit, though the statement itself is in my enthusiast’s own hand). ‘I want to love you. Happy Valentine’s Day, From P.’

I adore this card. I remember P well, perhaps because I’ve had his Valentine for all these years. Sometimes, when I come across it, I feel the urge to write back — I want to clear up the ambiguity, an ambiguity that’s intrinsic to most love letters. ‘Dear P, Does this mean you don’t love me? That you want to, but can’t for some particular reason? Or are you asking my permission to do so and if that’s the case, well then yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.’

In addition to this souvenir I have folders con­taining hundreds of pieces of correspondence from friends and family; colleagues and tutors. One folder marked ‘random’ holds papers from people I’ve never been particularly close to. Most of them are birthday cards but there are also a few love letters (some of which are intentionally anonymous).
Significant members of my family, good friends and exes all have personalised folders, as do people who fall under the general heading of ‘flirtations’ since I somehow feel it’s worth keeping the artefacts of relationships that never quite happened. Why I’ve been hauling around every expression of even the most vestigial of feelings says something about how sentimental I am but also about how, in this speed-dating age, traditional modes of courtship still have value.

The reasons for keeping bits and pieces from relationships that did happen are more straightforward. Without the pile of junk in A’s folder, I’m sure I would have forgotten, in lieu of more impressionistic memories, that he sent me a postcard every day (the same postcard, in fact), for a month after we first met.

‘This is the third,’ he wrote, ‘in what is fast becoming a series of postcards.’ A few days later, after I’d gone away on holiday, ‘It was GREAT to speak to you last night. I have to admit to missing you, especially when I’m walking down the street’ (?). Later still, ‘I have taken to crossing my fingers in order to simulate your presence’ (??) and, finally, ‘I guess it’s pretty obvious that I miss you . . . Right now I feel emotionally dead.’

Since I don’t have copies of what I wrote back, appreciating these postcards involves an imaginative reconstruction of the early days of our relationship. What was it about walking down the street with me that had been so bloody great? What I do remember is falling for this person not when I first met him, but soon after the postcards began to arrive.
‘Dear R,’ reads a card encased in a large envelope. ‘Wishing you a very happy birthday, Love G.’ In the envelope is a disc containing every email G and I exchanged — something deemed fit for a birthday present long after we’d split up. We wanted, it would seem, evidence certifying that those halcyon, dating days really had existed, but they also — quite unintentionally — serve as a reminder of the quotidian reality that followed as the infatuation stage wore off, expressed through angry emails and unquestionably dull ones too. ‘Here is F’s address,’ reads one. An email containing nothing except a link to a website that does currency exchanges (even though we never went anywhere together) is another.

The folder to which I’ve returned most often is a wad of printed-out emails, postcards and bone fida love letters from L, with whom I had an on-again, off-again relationship.

‘Dear R. It was lovely to meet you last night.’ Then a very long, very charming preamble, ending with, ‘It’s coming up to the anniversary of our having known each other for forty-eight hours. How to celebrate?’

Even during our ‘off’ phases, every letter from L was filed away neatly — every email printed out — because somehow I’d known that a material record of our written communication would be of value to me. I’ve often returned to L’s folder because I sometimes think it holds clues as to why so many things worked out yet, overall, the whole thing didn’t. More than what we said in passing, our letters and emails contain a degree of authenticity about the way we felt because we put some thought into what we meant before setting it down on paper (before beaming it off into cyberspace), offering our words to one another with the awareness that giving them to someone meant forfeiting ownership.

Like any published writer, the author of the love letter can never take anything back. Words — unlike the actual feelings they connote — cannot simply be loaned. L was a journalist, well aware of how permanent the written word is and paid to use language to dress up a story in an alluring way. And he was good. They never failed, these letters, to lift me out of some dark mood or stretch of ennui, even if I did suspect a degree of contrivance to them. Because all writing is an affective art form — the manifestation of a voice meant to move the reader in a premeditated way — which is why love letters can be so exhilarating and so convincing; which is why so many people opened the ‘Love Bug’ email.

Even though he got caught, the Filipino hacker was no dummy. He observed our collective hunger for a demonstration of something so ethereal it’s not always possible to demonstrate it, and with prescience, he lured us to him with a false promise of words. Because with words, anything is possible. Through words, even our most ardent desires can be fulfilled.

Over the past year, Joshua Knelman and I asked some of our most esteemed writers to apply their skills to the form of the love letter — to resurrect this dying custom and remind us of how seductive words are. The brief was purposely simple. Each piece had to be addressed to someone (or something) and concerned with a heightened state of emotion. The result is a montage of sorts — a picture of what love looks like in the twenty-first century; a collage of methods and moods.

You won’t find a lot of high romance here, although we certainly didn’t discourage this. There is quite a bit of humour, a fair dose of sarcasm and a mountain of grief. We were hardly surprised by the degree of darkness in some of the letters, but were slightly amazed by how many typify love as a feeling that evolves through absence, rejection or death. A few of them don’t even involve another person; a number take on the form of an apology.

What they do have in common is that all are works of fiction, although some may have been inspired by actual events. Each is unique, evidence not just of the incredible creative diversity of our leading writers today, but also of the intricate sophistication of love, and each — I suspect — will have the power to move you.

Rosalind Porter
April

Jonathan Lethem

Dear E(arth),

I am writing to tell you to give up. You may already be a winner, the kind of winner who wins by losing, rolling on your back and showing me your soft parts, letting me tickle and lap and snort at your supplicant vitals. Perhaps I should put this more forcefully: GIVE UP. You stand no chance. Resistance is futile, futility is resistant, reluctance is flirtatious, relinquish­ment is freedom. I love you and I am better than you in every way — grander, greater, glossier, more glorious, more ridiculous, energetic, faster in foot races and Internet dial-up speed, hungrier, more full of sex and fire, better-equipped with wit and weaponry. I’m taller than you and can encircle you with my lascivious tongue. Admit this and admit me. By opening this envelope you have been selected; from among the billions upon trillions of amoebic entities, you’ve been plucked up from the galaxy’s beach like a seashell by a god. Something in you sparkled for a moment (terribly unlikely it means anything much in the scheme of things); absurd that noticing you squeezed somehow on to the agenda of one such as me. But I was amused — don’t ask me why, it’s practically random, like a lottery. Yet you’ll never be able to spend the wealth of my love, to run through it and waste it like the hapless lottery winner you are. Though you may try, you’d never spend it in a dozen profligate lifetimes. My eyes settled on you in a weak moment, and you’ll never see another. No, I’m an edifice, an enigma; to one such as you my science is like magic. Don’t delay, act now, give up. You have been selected by a higher being from another realm to be siphoned from among your impoverished species to join me, to be seated in the empty throne beside me (only because I’d never troubled to glance to one side before to notice a seat existed there — not, somehow, until my gaze lit on you) where none of your lowly cringing fellows has ever resided. You’re unworthy but you’ll be made worthy by the acclaim of my notice. I say again, I’m superior to you. You’re tinsel, static, a daisy, a bubble of champagne that went to my head and popped, and I don’t even know why I want you and you’d better not give me the chance to think twice. You’ll find I’ve anticipated your responses and attached them below (see attachments, below). They’re feeble and funny, helpless and endearing, and you’ve already blurted yes take me yes how can I resist yes I give up yes. So do I as I say now. You’ve already done it, you’re in my arms like an infant, a ward, a swan. Give up, you gave up already, you’re mine.

Love,

M(ars)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Emeka,

That round-mouthed surprise a woman shows (is supposed to show?) when a man proposes has always annoyed and puzzled me. Surely a couple whose relationship is strong must have talked about marriage instead of following the script of the silly ‘ambush question’ from the man and then the woman’s response of grateful surprise as if she were receiving a glorious gift she had never imagined would be hers. Are you smiling reading this? It’s not funny-oh! So, really, why was I surprised when you sent me that ridiculous text? We had talked about marriage, hadn’t we? Well, you had mostly. Still, reading your — do you think we can begin to discuss the possibility of getting married soon? — I felt first surprised, then amused, then frightened and then this stupid crazy joy that I still feel.

You know, you’re wrong when you say that it’s remarkable how similar we are. Of course we are similar — except for the little fact that I am significantly more attractive — but it isn’t remarkable at all. Many other children of Nigerian academics read Enid Blyton and wondered what the heck ginger beer was; read every single book in the Pacesetters series; and read every James Hadley Chase. These are not at all proof of how right we are for each other — if they were, then you would be right for one out of every two campus-raised women I know. Your father graduated from Ibadan only two years before my father did. If your family hadn’t left Nigeria just before the war we might even have grown up together in Nsukka and maybe all of this marriage talk wouldn’t be going on because we would have known each other too well, you would have been my brother Okey’s friend from secondary school and you would always see me as Okey’s scrawny little sister. So no, there’s nothing remarkable about our shared interests. But the day you told me that your favourite part of Mass, the only reason you still go to Mass sometimes, is when the priest says ‘as we wait in joyful hope’, I was startled. I didn’t tell you then because the coincidence seemed a little too pat but it’s my favourite part of mass too. O di egwu!

So since your text came yesterday, I have been recalling the ways we are different, how you like beans and macho novels and the rainy season and I don’t. It’s suddenly important to me that we not be too similar. You know I have always been suspicious of anything close to perfection, anything too neatly put together. Always wanting to find bumps in smooth surfaces, as you tell me. It frightens me, how easily I now speak in the first-person plural. Yesterday, just before you sent the text, Aunty Adaeze called me and asked whether I would get leave for Christmas to go to the village. I said that we were hoping to get time off until after New Year’s so we could go to Uche’s wine-carrying and return to Lagos in January. She started laughing and said, ‘Ah, I asked about you and you are telling me “we”.’ After I hung up, I began to think about how used to you I am and began to wonder how many other times I had said ‘we’ without even realising it.

Yesterday, too, I realised that I have never told you how much I like you — this before your text, by the way. Love is different. Love is ridiculous. Love can just happen, as it did to you when you saw me and asked Ifeanyi to introduce us (exactly seventeen months and three days ago) and to me as you tried to charm me with your watery knowledge of Achebe’s work, but like requires reason. And yesterday I marvelled at how much I have come to like you. I like that you know when to leave and quietly shut my door and that when you do I never worry that you are not coming back. I like your cooking (I have never complimented you because I keep imagining those silly women who over-praise men for cooking, and those silly mothers who like to say, ‘My son can cook-oh, so no woman will use food to tempt him’). I like the way your butt looks in your jeans, that flat elegance that you don’t like me to point out, and I like that you make futile attempts at the gym to grow muscles we both know you never will and I like that you underline sentences in books to show me. I like that you like me and that your liking me makes me like myself.

I will, by the way, never write anything like this to you again. So smile all you want now, atulu. I remember when I was a kid, reading books in small dusty Nsukka, and often encountering characters eating bagels. It was an elegant word, bagel. I wanted desperately to have a bagel. Years later, in New York City (on our first visit to America as a family), I was flattened to discover that a bagel is a dense doughnut. I imagine you saying ‘From where to where with this story?’ as you read this. Well, my point is that I never wanted marriage and so perhaps it will turn out to be something good, unlike the bagel which I wanted and which turned out to be remarkably boring.

I have been reading your text over and over since yesterday and I have never felt so alive. So, yes, I suppose we should begin to talk of the possibility of getting married soon.

Chioma

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Heart Does Not Bend
Excerpt

Prolegomenon

What Is Said over the Dead Lioness’s Body Could Not Be Said to Her Alive

Everyone is sitting at Grand-aunt Ruth’s breakfast table in Kingston -- Uncle Peppie and Aunt Val; Uncle Mikey; Glory, my mother and the executor of my grandmother’s estate; the grand-aunts, Ruth and Joyce; cousins Icie, Ivan and Vittorio; and my daughter, Ciboney, and her eleven-month-old baby. Uncle Freddie is the only one missing.

The muttering around the table gives way to the crackling of the papers in Glory’s hand. Except for the three youngest, we are nervous. Ciboney, just fifteen, looks bored, but the hint of malice around her mouth makes me wonder what she is thinking. Vittorio, handsome at nineteen, idly plays with his brick-coloured, shoulder-length dreadlocks. Aunt Val has an arm protectively around Uncle Peppie’s shoulder. Uncle Mikey crosses and uncrosses his legs. Grand-aunt Ruth wipes sweat from her face with an old washrag, and Aunt Joyce fans herself profusely with a rattan fan she brought back from America. Cousin Icie and Cousin Ivan sit like tin soldiers. My thoughts are a muddle, and my heart is thumping so hard that I am convinced everyone can hear it.

“Okay, we all here?” Glory asks.

“Uh-hum,” we respond as one.

“Well ah think we should just get it over wid,” Glory says as she straightens the papers once more.

“‘I, Maria Maud Galloway, of sound mind and body, make this my Last Will and Testament.’”

“‘I hereby revoke all my former wills and other testamentary dispositions of every nature and kind whatsoever hereto before made by me.’”

Glory pauses, inhales heavily and says, “Dis is not Mama’s first will. Dis is about de tenth. De lawyer dem love her.”

“‘I nominate, constitute and appoint my daughter, Glory May Galloway, to be the sole executor of this my will.’”

She pauses again. “Ah skipping some of de legal talk.”

“‘To my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway, I bequeath the properties known as 100 Pear Avenue, in the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, Canada, and the fifty-five acres of land in the township of Muskoka free and clear of all liens and encumbrances whatsoever, for his own use absolutely.’”

“‘To my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway, I also bequeath the property at 3 Wigton Street, in the City of Kingston, Jamaica, free and clear of all liens and encumbrances whatsoever, for his own use absolutely.’”

A loud gasp escapes from Uncle Peppie; Aunt Val strokes his shoulder. Glory sighs. Uncle Mikey uncrosses his legs and plants his feet firmly on the ground, his face an ugly mask. Uncle Peppie slumps further into his chair.

“Lawd God Almighty!” Aunt Joyce shouts.

“Calm down. Quiet, Joyce, mek we hear de rest of de will,” Grand-aunt Ruth commands.

Glory’s mouth is clamped tight as she reads the rest of the will silently.

“Go on, Glory,” Grand-aunt Ruth says, gently resting her hand on Glory’s arm. Glory takes a sip of her coffee, as if to help loosen her mouth.

“‘To transfer my hope chest to my great-granddaughter, Ciboney Galloway, for her own use absolutely.

“‘To transfer all other household items on the properties to my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway.

“‘To transfer all moneys from my bank account in the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto and in the City of Kingston, Jamaica, to my grandson, Vittorio Oliver Galloway.’”

Glory is still reading. By now I am only half listening. I see Maria, Mama to me, in the hospital bed, me changing her soaked diaper. She grips my hands, her eyes pleading, the words coming out with difficulty.

“Molly, tek mi outa dis iron coffin. Tek me out, carry mi home. Mek mi dead in mi own bed.”

“‘Should my said grandson predecease me, or die at the same time or in circumstances rendering it uncertain which of us survived the other, or die within thirty days of my death, then I direct my Trustee to give my grandson’s share of my estate to charity, for the charity’s use absolutely.’”

Glory’s voice breaks. Her body sags from the weight of the will. Uncle Mikey offers her a glass of water.

“Here, Glory, drink dis.”

“Dis is madness. Dis is plain, outright madness,” Glory says. “Ah should have certified her a long time ago.” Her voice is full of contempt and she is trembling.

“Ah wonder if Maria was in her right mind for truth?” Aunt Joyce adds, shaking her head in disbelief.

Uncle Mikey’s voice is bitter. “Mama is a wicked, revengeful ’oman. How she could do dis? Wherever she gone, she won’t find peace.” He pushes his chair back, ready to leave the table.

“Mikey, tek it easy. Sit down. Yuh not massa God. And only Him can judge,” Grand-aunt Ruth says. He opens his mouth to argue, but one look from Grand-aunt Ruth and he changes his mind.

“Ah try mi best all dese years to be a good daughter, and for what? Ah use to parcel up de whole of Canada and send home to her.”

“Yes, Glory, yuh give her your best, and she did love you very much. Don’t cuss and don’t harbour bad feelings. God not sleeping and Him work in mysterious ways. Dis is why life and death is a mystery to us all,” Grand-aunt Ruth says.

I remember Mama at the hospital, her eyes wild, her panicked whisper pleading with me to take her home.

“De man calling mi, Molly. Him ready to tek mi.” Her breathing was harsh, her mouth caving in without her dentures.

I didn’t have to look across the table at Uncle Peppie to feel his shame. He was Maria’s first-born, the faithful, obedient son. It’s as if she’s in the room, sitting at the table, and he won’t say anything bad about her. Like me, he never stood up to her, and her death changes nothing. When Uncle Peppie finally speaks, he doesn’t mention the will.

“Well, at least she get her final wish. She bury right next to Mammy, in Port Maria Cemetery.”

“You too kind-hearted, Peppie,” Uncle Mikey jumps in, sucking his teeth.

Glory, in full agreement, cuts her eyes across the table.

“Is Peppie save her. Is him give her a second life.”

“Dis is her idea of revenge,” Mikey spits out. “She was always harbouring some anger. Freddie right fi nuh come.”

“Molly remember de dresses,” Uncle Peppie quietly reminds me.

They have forgotten Vittorio. It’s as if he weren’t there. Grand-aunt Ruth comes to his rescue.

"What time is yuh flight, Vic?"

"Soon, Aunt Ruth. I should get back to packing." He pushes back his chair, eager to get away.

"Let we hold we head in prayer before yuh leave, Vic. Dis bickering and bad feeling toward de living and de dead nuh good," Grand-aunt Ruth says, determined to bank the fire. "Okay, let we all hold hands. 'Please, dear Father, help us to bury dis hatred and to ward off de temptation of Satan. Let us receive not de spirit of de world, but de Spirit which is of God.' " Her eyes are closed. She doesn't need her Bible for this. "Praise de Lord and may Him Spirit and de goodness of Him be wid us."

Uncle Peppie slowly pushes back his chair and excuses himself. Aunt Val follows. Vittorio mumbles something about finishing his packing. Uncle Mikey says he needs fresh air. Glory follows. The great-aunts retire to the kitchen. Cousin Icie and Cousin Ivan escape to the backyard.

I nurse my cold cup of coffee. Just Ciboney, the baby and I are left sitting there. We stare out the window, oblivious to the flies swarming the table. She looks like me when I was her age: tall and willowy, molasses complexion, full lips and ackee-seed eyes. I want to fold her in my arms, tell her I love her, but it seems too late.

How could Mama do this? How? I was her only grand-daughter. I was there. I was always there. Vittorio never was, and what did he know of Wigton Street?

Outside it's bleak. It rained all night and the clouds are just hanging. I don't know what I expected from my grandmother, but if I am not careful, I might say things I'll regret, especially to Vittorio. But I want my daughter back and he is the only person who can get her back for me.

***

Early the next morning I leave the house, hire a car, take the dresses to the cousins, and then drive out to the cemetery.

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The Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough and Getting Out of Debt

The Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough and Getting Out of Debt

How Five Young Women Got Smart, Formed a Money Group, and Took Control of Their Finances
edition:Paperback
tagged :
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Excerpt

Living Large on Less

Saving money for the future you want doesn’t mean feeling guilty about every cent you spend on yourself now. Who would want to stick to a plan that entails that much suffering?

The Smart Cookies are all about preserving the lifestyle you enjoy – just doing it for less. Each of us managed to find lots of ways we could save extra money, without feeling like we were giving up the things that gave us pleasure. When it comes to deciding what spending strategies work best for you, it’s important to come up with some that fit with your lifestyle, not just your goals. We’re not asking you to stop visiting the spa or to swap your cashmere sweater for a polyester blend just because it’s cheaper. The idea is to figure out what is really important to you and what’s not. We learned that we all spent a lot of money on things that didn’t provide a great deal in return. And even in those areas that are important to us, there were ways to save money without sacrificing our social lives, stylish wardrobes, or the small luxuries that brighten our days.

Some places to look should be obvious to you by now. If you haven’t watched the Discovery Channel in more than six weeks, maybe it’s time to consider switching to standard cable. If you’re spending a disproportionate amount of your paycheck on dinners out, try meeting your friends for brunch or a drink instead. There are lots of easy ways to cut back a little without lowering your standard of living. Here are a few more of our personal favorites:

Socializing:

• Instead of meeting a girlfriend for dinner, suggest meeting for breakfast, lunch, or even coffee, as we mention above. If you eat out, dinner is always the priciest meal. And you are likely to have just as much fun no matter when or where you meet a friend. If you’re dying to check out an expensive new restaurant, why not go early for a drink and split an appetizer? You’ll get to sample the ambience and the menu for a fraction of the cost.

• Have a Girls’ Night In: Rather than going out for dinner with your girlfriends, have $6 Girls’ Nights In. Each person can spend $6 on food made for sharing – like pita bread, olives, and a container of hummus, for example, or a small pizza – and bring a regifted wine or combine funds with others to buy a bottle. We estimate that we collectively saved at least $3,600 just by doing this once or twice a week for one year. (How? We figured that we each would have spent at least $20 had we gone out instead. So we took that $14 saved, multiplied it by 52, then by 5, the number of Cookies in our money group.)

• Be fashionably late. Eat dinner at home before you go out to meet your friends. Then you can snack on an appetizer or skip the meal altogether and just have a drink or two with your friends.

• Eat early. Most restaurants and bars have happy-hour specials between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m. on weekdays, with drinks at half price and a range of menu items for under $10. Why not meet a friend right after work for a half-price drink and appetizer and then head home for dinner?

Beauty and Body Maintenance:

• Exercise with friends. Health clubs are expensive. Many cost more than $1,000 a year and often require a commitment of a year or more. Gyms count on the likelihood that most members stop going, at least regularly, after a few weeks or months but are still stuck paying monthly dues until their contract runs out. Before you join a gym, consider organizing a group of friends for daily or weekly walks, runs, hikes, or bike rides instead. This way you can be social and be fit – and working out with friends will give you added incentive to stick to your exercise regime. If it’s too cold or too hot where you live to exercise outside regularly, consider joining a Y, where the membership rates are often significantly lower than those at a higher-end health club.

• Make the most of municipal facilities. Most cities have free or discounted access to tennis courts, swimming pools, and other sports facilities. Check to see where you can play for less. Some cities even offer free use of boats at city-owned lakes and/or free (or discounted) rentals of golf clubs and use of the range or course at city-owned facilities.

• Let your hair down. Stretch out the time between haircuts. If you usually get your hair cut once every six weeks, try stretching it to once every eight weeks and save yourself the cost of at least two haircuts plus tips each year. If you color your hair, use a base color but skip highlights, which are costly and more damaging to your hair anyway.

• Dye it yourself. Yes, it’s best to leave complicated hair-color jobs, like bleaching, to the pros. But if you’re just covering gray roots or experimenting with a deeper shade of brown, you can buy good temporary, semipermanent, or permanent hair color at your local drugstore for a fraction of the cost of getting it colored in the salon.

• Shop at the drugstore, not the mall, for your beauty products. Some of the most effective and popular products can be found at your local drugstore for a lot less – from Maybelline’s Great Lash, which is often cited as a top brand among models and makeup artists, to Oil of Olay’s Regenerist, which was ranked as the most effective antiwrinkle cream by Consumer Reports in its January 2007 issue, even though it was the least expensive brand tested. (Of course, the cheapest and safest way to keep wrinkles at bay is to buy sunscreen and to avoid the sun. Consumer Reports found that the top performers reduced the average depth of wrinkles by less than ten percent, on average, after 12 weeks – barely enough to be detected by the naked eye.)

• Get made up for less. Take advantage of the free makeovers offered at makeup counters and boutiques before a big night out. And don’t feel pressured to buy. If you like the results, you can just make note of the blush, eye shadow, eye liner, and lipstick colors that were used. Then go to your drugstore and look for cheaper makeup brands in the same shades. Or if you have a friend who always looks great, ask if she’d be willing to share her secrets and/or make you over one afternoon.

• Paint your own nails between pedicures. We wouldn’t recommend that you give up pedicures and manicures altogether. It’s nice to be pampered occasionally. But instead of spending $20 to $40 for a new paint job in a salon every time your nail polish chips, buy an extra bottle of the color polish that your salon used and do the touch-ups yourself. This way you can stretch out your time between visits to the salon and still have fabulous nails.

Saving at home:

• Talk less. If you don’t use your cellphone that often, see if there’s a cheaper monthly calling plan that allows fewer minutes. Compare rates, not just between packages but between service providers.

• Lose the landline. If you use your cellphone a lot, ask yourself if you really need a landline. If you still want phone service at home, consider switching to an Internet Phone Service (or VoIP). These providers route your calls through your high-speed broadband Internet connection, not a phone line. The quality is comparable but the cost is usually much lower than regular phone service. (Check out nextadvisor.com for a comparison of different VoIP services.)

• Cut the cable. Do you really need all of those cable channels? You could save a lot of money and maybe free up some time by just using basic cable. By giving up cable, Sandra saved both money – $900 a year! – and time. She used the time she once spent sitting in front of the TV to exercise, read, or hang out with friends, activities that proved to be more fulfilling to her than staring at a screen.

• Go paperless. Read your favorite newspaper online instead of subscribing. Or go to aggregate news sites like Google News, where you can read articles from publications all over the globe for free. Many magazines are also starting to post much of their content online for free.

• Be energy efficient. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Turn the thermostat up in the summer or down in the winter when you’re not home. Try a fan and open a window before resorting to the air conditioner. Unplug appliances when they’re not in use. Switch to energy-efficient bulbs. Not only will you be saving money on your electric bill, but you’ll be helping the environment too.

• Buy in bulk. Cut down on grocery costs by shopping once a week (where you can load up at a large discount store like Costco) instead of picking up a few items every day at the nearest shop. Always bring a list when you shop so you don’t get sucked into making impulse purchases. And try not to shop when you’re hungry and may be tempted by every delicious display.

• Decorate creatively. You can save money by printing out photos you like from the Internet, or photos you’ve taken, and having them framed instead of buying prints. Or go to a fabric store and buy a piece you like and have it framed. Pick up candles and knick-knacks from discount stores or flea markets to add a personal touch. Try craigslist.org, the classifieds, or yard sales to find gently used furniture at great discounts. You can always buy a slipcover for the couch if its color doesn’t match your decor – and for a lot less than it’d cost to buy a brand-new couch.

Shopping:

• Check for discounted display items. When we are making a major purchase, we always ask the salesperson if the store has any of last year’s items on sale or if there’s a display or demo model for sale. This works for cars, appliances, mattresses, furniture, and almost any big-ticket item. You would be surprised at how much you can save.

• Shop in-store then buy online. Last summer Sandra wanted two new pairs of high-end jeans. She went to Holt Renfrew and tried on the style and size that she wanted, then she went on to eBay, found exactly what she wanted, and paid $200 for three pairs of jeans that would have cost a lot more at the mall.

• Prowl the web for promo codes. Once you’ve filled your shopping cart at an online retailer, open another window and type the name of the retailer and “coupon” or “promo code” into your favorite search engine. You should be able to find discounts or coupons that you can use when you check out – saving as much as 30 percent or more.

• Carry the card. If you regularly shop at a particular store, see if they offer a frequent-shopper card. You can join for free and receive coupons (via mail or e-mail) and qualify for special discounts. Some stores give out coupons worth a specific cash amount off your next purchase once you’ve spent a certain amount of money there over time (for example: for every $100 you spend, regardless of how many separate trips it takes to reach that amount, you’d get a $5-off coupon to use within a certain period of time).

• Sign up for sale updates. Most clothing stores and boutiques now send out regular e-mail alerts to customers on their mailing lists about sales and special events. It takes two minutes to sign up, but the savings can be substantial. Another bonus: You can often plan ahead once you know when your favorite stores’ regular sales are, so you can save up your money and then stock up on some of your favorite looks for less.

• Buy some time. If you’re planning to shop in the same mall or retail area for a while, put the item you’re considering on hold for a few hours. Then walk around before you decide whether to go back to the store and buy it. Once you’re out of the environment and have had some time to think about your purchase, you may decide you can easily live without it.

• Scour secondhand stores. Thrift stores, vintage stores, and other secondhand shops are often treasure troves for the savvy shopper. Sure, you have to do some digging, but you can often find designer clothes and accessories at deeply discounted prices. Better yet, drop off some of your gently worn clothes, and you may get an even trade or come home with some extra money as well as extra clothes.

• Go generic. Most grocery stores offer generic or store-brand versions of everything from cocoa to cookies, even diapers and baby wipes. Often the quality is comparable; the generic or store-brand versions are just less expensive because they don’t spend much on design or marketing. If you pay out of pocket for medicine, you should also check regularly to see if generic versions of your prescription drugs are available yet. Under law, pharmaceutical companies must allow generic versions of their brand-name drugs to be sold after a certain period of time has elapsed. (Many health insurance companies now routinely require the use of generics, unless otherwise prescribed, in order to cut costs.)

Be a Fashionista (for Less)

It was essential to each of us that we not sacrifice our style for our savings or vice versa, and we’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming strategies to keep both our wardrobes and our wallets well stocked. In addition to the general advice listed in the section above, we’ve outlined our top ten tips below to help you stay fashionable and financially savvy:

1. Take inventory of your closet quarterly: The change in seasons is the perfect time to take stock of what you have in your wardrobe. You’re going to be rearranging your closet anyway, so why not assess each item as you do? Is it in good condition? Are you still excited to wear it? Is it still stylish or is it out of date? Does it feel fashionable or frumpy? Your responses will help you decide what to do with it.

2. Clear out the clutter: As you’re going through your clothes, shoes, and accessories, organize them into five piles: Save (split into two: As Is and Needs Work), Sell, Dump, or Donate. Hold on to only those items that still make you feel fashionable when you wear them. Some may need mending or updating; those go in the Needs Work pile. (Maybe a button came loose from a favorite blouse, or a heel needs to be replaced on one of your boots. These are easy fixes that don’t require a lot of money.) Sell items that are expensive or well made but don’t get you excited about wearing them anymore. You can post them on eBay or Craigslist or bring them to a consignment or secondhand shop. Dump those that have large holes or have been worn so much that they’re not worth salvaging. If an item of clothing really has sentimental value – like an old concert T-shirt or a sweater that your grandmother made for you – consider saving a patch of it in a jewelry box or scrapbook instead of letting it clutter up your closet. And donate clothing that’s out of date but in good condition or doesn’t fit you anymore. There are plenty of worthy organizations that accept gently used clothing, shoes, and small household furnishings, like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and some Big Brother Big Sister facilities. You can also donate gently used business attire to Dress for Success, a non-profit that helps low-income women reentering the workforce. Or go online and look for other charities in your area, some will even come to pick up your donations. You won’t get money back, but your donation can help to lower your taxes. Clothing donations are tax deductible. Just don’t forget to document your donations carefully. Ask for a receipt from the charity estimating the monetary value of your donation.

3. Evaluate the essentials: There are certain items that every woman needs in her closet, no matter where you live. These include:
• a little black dress (simple and stylish)
• a classic button-up white shirt
• a pair of good jeans
• a rainproof coat (trench coats never go out of style)
• a pair of dress pants (black is best)
• a suit (either pants or a skirt and a matching blazer)
• a basic everyday bag (in a neutral color)
• a classic sweater (a V-neck, scoop neck, or cardigan that you can throw over your shirt when the temperature dips)
• a pair of black pumps
• a pair of boots (flat or heeled, dressy or casual, depending on your lifestyle)

If you’re missing any of these, put them at the top of your shopping list.

4. Build around the basics: Spend your money first on the essential building blocks of your wardrobe, like those listed above. These items should last for years, so it’s worth spending a bit more on them. In addition to the fashion fundamentals, there may be some pieces that you decide to buy or replace each season or every few seasons – from a winter coat (unless you live someplace warm) to a pair of boots to a swimsuit. As you shop to expand your inventory, think about additions that will pair well with your essential items (a top to wear under the suit, for example, or a wrap to wear over your black dress).

5. Mix & match: Each new item of clothing or accessory that you purchase should enhance your existing wardrobe. Before you buy anything new, ask yourself how many different outfits you could make by combining this new item with the clothes that are currently in your closet. Unless you’re buying something for a special occasion, like a wedding, you should be able to come up with at least four fabulous outfit combinations you could put together immediately after buying this item.

6. Know what’s trendy versus timeless: Once you’ve got lots of basic items that you can mix and match in your closet and hold on to for a while, you can start adding flair: fun clothes, shoes, and accessories that look cool now but may be past their prime by next year. Set aside a little money to spend on those trendier items that can freshen up your closet for the season. There’s nothing wrong with following fads. Just remember that they don’t last long; that’s why they’re called fads. So spend accordingly.

7. Don’t knock knockoffs: Within weeks of the major fashion shows, stores like H&M and Zara are already selling copies of the latest designer trends for discount prices. Since these styles probably won’t last more than a season or two anyway, it’s smarter to spend less on them and save more for those classic pieces that you can keep in your closet for years. These stores do a great job of capturing the look of the moment for less. They’re also great places to pick up simple T-shirts and trousers and accessories to mix and match with your better-quality basics.

8. Get luxury for less: You don’t need to drop a lot of money to own designer brands. Look for discounted merchandise at sample sales or used on eBay. Or see if your favorite designer is offering a less expensive line. Superstore and H&M have both paired with well-known designers, from Joseph Mimrar and Marimekko to Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney. Many upscale retailers also have discount outlets (think Holt Renfrew’s Last Call in Toronto) that are often clustered together in outlet shopping centers. You can get some great bargains on luxury brands.

9. Share & swap: If you’re sick of your clothes, or you want a new look for a special occasion but don’t want to spend a lot, ask your similar-sized friends if you can “shop” in their closets. Or organize a swap. Each person brings a few good items of clothing that they’re ready to replace, and then you swap items with one another. Your friends often have a different sense of style, so it’s fun to try on the clothes that they brought. You might not have picked them out yourself in a store, but they may look great on you. Plus, this way you know your clothes are in good hands (should you ever decide you miss them), and you’ve got new clothes to spruce up your style without spending a cent. Sharing clothes with your friends is also an easy way to give your wardrobe a boost without spending money. We do it all the time. In just one year, we saved about $5,000 by swapping outfits instead of shopping for new clothes for dates, weddings, and work functions.

10. Avoid deadline or emotional shopping: If you wait until the night before a big trip to buy last-minute outfits, you’re sure to overspend. You’ve likely convinced yourself you need certain items, and as the clock ticks, you’ll become more desperate to have them regardless of the cost. Same goes for dates, weddings, or any special occasion. If you’re short on time, consider borrowing a few items from a friend instead. Or wear something you already have in your closet but buy a new wrap or a necklace to update it. Always have a backup plan so you don’t get stuck spending too much.

Emotional shopping is just as dangerous. How many times have you “treated” yourself to a shopping trip to try to lift your spirits? Though you may feel some elation right after you buy a new outfit, the trip often ends up having the opposite effect once you realize how much money you spent. Plus, you may find when you get home that the great new shirt goes with nothing in your closet. But you weren’t thinking about that when you bought it – in fact, you weren’t thinking at all. You were fueled by pure emotion. When you have moments like these, it’s time to enlist the help of your friends and money-group members.
Earn Extra Cash

Now that you’ve maximized your job earnings, it’s time to think about boosting your earnings outside the office. There are so many ways to make more money without making a lot more effort, just by thinking creatively. Here are a few Smart Cookie tips to get you started:

• Clean out your closets. Rather than throwing your used clothes away, why not find them a new home, where they will continue to be loved? Smart Cookies clear out their closets on a regular basis and often sell the shoes and clothing items at a consignment store, on eBay, or on craigslist.org. One of the Smart Cookies makes about $300 at the end of each season and puts that toward new clothes. Katie sold her wedding dress for $800 on craigslist.org. You can do the same with clothes – or toys – your baby has outgrown. Some grow so fast that they never even get a chance to wear all the outfits that their parents bought or received as gifts, and a toy may hardly be used if the baby isn’t interested. Another possibility? Donate the clothes or toys to charity and keep the receipt. You can write off the value of your donation when you do your taxes the next year and feel good about helping out those who are less fortunate.

• Clear out the clutter. Here’s an incentive to clean up your home: You can get rid of your junk and make money by having a yard (or a garage) sale. Team up with friends, family members, or neighbors and combine your stuff. Then you’ll have extra help running the sale and extra inventory to attract more buyers. And who knows? You might end up swapping items with your friends or neighbors.

• Sell stock photos. If people regularly ooh and aah over your Flickr pictures, maybe you’re destined for photographic greatness – or at least a few extra dollars. It’s easier than ever to get your photos out in front of the public. There’s a lot of competition, but there’s also a lot of demand. Marketing stock photos can be a convenient way for you to build up a secondary income stream. Try Fotolia.com, Dreamstime.com, Shutterstock.com, and bigstockphoto.com to upload and market your photos.

• Rent your parking space. If you pay monthly for a space in a lot or garage, but you know your car will be gone during work hours, you can rent out your space during the weekdays to someone who works near your parking spot. Advertise the space on craigslist.org or in your local paper. Robyn rented out her space and earned an additional $50 per month.

• Rent your home for use as a location for commercials, TV shows, or movies. You can register your home with film studios, production companies, and advertising firms, which maintain lists of properties available for shooting. Check out eHow.com for tips or flip through Opening Your Door to Hollywood, a 2006 book by producer James Perry, which offers a step-by-step guide to renting out residential or business locations. Daily rates can range from a couple hundred to more than a thousand dollars (even more if your home is used in a movie shoot). Andrea’s friend and her husband had just built their dream home and needed to furnish it, but they were short on cash after finishing construction. They decided to register their home with a production company for use in TV and films. After just two commercial shoots, they’d already earned $20,000! Note: Be sure to ask for a written policy on what the company does in case of any damage to your home.

• Be an extra. If you’ve seen the Ricky Gervais show Extras, you know that jobs for extras can range from print modeling ads to movie shoots. You don’t need a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) membership or even any acting experience to qualify – just the patience to sit on a set for hours and the flexibility to try out a lot of different costumes and lines. Pay can range from $100 to more than $1,000 a day. Check your local classifieds or contact a casting agency. (For a list of agencies visit www.idocommercials. com/casting/Canada.htm.)

• Help friends find better jobs. Internet sites like H3.com connects employers with prospective employees, many of whom are already employed and not actively job-hunting, via networking. The rewards for referring a candidate who gets hired range from a few hundred dollars to as much as $5,000. This is a great way to break into the recruiting business, with no overhead. Andrea connected with a recruiter who specialized in marketing. Since she had a lot of connections in that field, she referred many of them to the recruiter. She earned additional money from the referrals and helped some friends land great new jobs.

• Plan that perfect day. If you love weddings, planned your own, and/or have always wanted to plan a friend’s wedding, why not do it and get paid for it? Many people would hire a wedding planner in an instant but can’t afford the rates that a professional charges. Find out what a beginner planner would charge to get an idea of what is reasonable for someone at your level. Once you’ve built up some contacts, you might also consider party planning in general – first for friends and then for bigger clients.

• Get paid for your opinion. Companies often need focus groups, and market researchers need consumers, to test new items or to share their ideas about new products, shows, or ad campaigns. You can earn $25 or $200, depending on the project and the amount of time required. (Check out research firms in your area for upcoming panels and focus groups. Greenbook.org has a large database of market research firms and focus group facilitators, searchable by area.)

• Reap rewards for research and writing. You may have grown up taking the Internet for granted, but there are plenty of people who aren’t familiar with it or are too busy to spend time on it. If you’re skilled at extracting information through a web search, you can hire yourself out as an Internet researcher for professionals like lawyers and writers. Why not make extra money at something you are already doing? (Check suite101.com, craigslist.org, or the job postings on mediabistro.com, mediajobsearchcanada.com, and jeffgaulin.com.)

• Be an undercover consumer. Sign up for a secret-shopper program, where you can eat or drink out for free while rating the restaurant, or shop and rate the retailer. You can often bring a friend as well. Three of the Smart Cookies are secret shoppers and have found it to be a great way to eat and drink at some fabulous restaurants for free! Check out www.sensusshop.com for more information. There are no membership fees.

• Consider contract work. If it won’t conflict with your full-time job, seek out freelance or contract work in the same field. By networking, Katie was able to get additional contract work providing public relations services for clients outside her full-time job, earning an extra $2,500 a month! (Eventually, as we mentioned earlier, she was getting so many referrals and requests for her services that she left her job to open her own PR agency.) Robyn learned about a project seeking registered social workers through the Board of Social Workers newsletter in her area. She was hired on contract for a project in which she made extra money meeting with and interviewing people who wished to adopt children – on her own time, outside her regular job.

Turn Your Pastime or Your Passion into a Paycheck

Do you spend most mornings exercising? Take a basic trainer’s course and start training friends and family at your local gym or at home, where you can charge hourly. Not only are you keeping fit, but earning extra money while you’re at it. Andrea’s friend Erin, a preschool teacher struggling on a low salary, turned her passion for fitness into extra earnings by becoming a personal trainer. In a year, she was able to increase her income by 20 percent and stay healthy and fit.

Of course, you don’t need to be a fitness trainer, but chances are you already participate in some pastimes that could make you money. In your notebook, make a list of at least five activities that you really enjoy doing, like shopping, knitting, walking your dog, or even drinking wine. Now spend some time brainstorming about ways you could make money doing any of these activities.

If you like shopping, for example, you could earn extra money working as a secret shopper on the weekends. Or you could take a part-time job at your favorite store – many retail stores hire extra employees to help out during the busy holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Not only will you earn more money but you’ll get employee discounts on items you’d probably buy anyway (and save money on holiday gifts). Like knitting? Why not knit sweaters, scarves, or gloves and sell them to friends or give them as gifts on birthdays to save money. If you enjoy walking your dog, ask around to see if your neighbors need their dogs walked. You can make extra money walking theirs as well. Enjoy wine? Look for part-time work at your local wine store, or sign up for wine-tasting classes and see if the instructor needs an assistant at future classes. Many wine shops offer tastings and classes and might be able to use an extra pair of hands in exchange for free wine or a little money. That’s exactly what Andrea did. One of her former colleagues started a business that offered wine tastings at company events. Andrea offered to help out. It was a great opportunity for her to make extra cash, sample some wine, and meet new people.

If you enjoy playing basketball or soccer, consider coaching. If you are already taking classes in yoga or Pilates or dancing, consider training to become an instructor yourself. Or see if there are jobs available at the studio on the weekends or evenings – manning the front desk or helping to set up equipment, for example – in exchange for free classes. With a little effort and ingenuity, it’s possible to turn almost any pastime into a paycheck.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Dead Money
Excerpt

1.
I’d been at the wolf’s lair til closing the night before. Not for any special reason. Just because. I dragged myself into the office. The place had a foggy, unnatural air. I sat down. The message light on my phone was blinking. It made my head hurt. I checked the voice mail, to make it go away. Nothing urgent. That was a relief. I deleted a few dozen e-mails. Maybe some of them were important. I couldn’t really tell.

The phone rang. Please hold for Mr. Warwick.

Shit. Please hold for Mr. Warwick. The lard-ass can’t dial four digits for himself. Has to delegate it.

Redman.

Yes, Charles.

I heard an unsubstantiated rumor.

They’re the best kind.

Someone resembling you was seen in the elevator this morning.

Yes?

At ten forty-five.

Yes?

In sneakers.

Well, yes. I’ve got plantar fasciitis. Very painful. Something to do with tendons in the arches. Common in
basketball players. Anyway, I change my shoes when I get to the office.

Well, I don’t doubt you, Redman. I really don’t. Well then. But we’ve got to think of morale.

Morale?

Yes. Morale.

All right then.

All right?

Yes. I’ll think about it. Morale, that is.

Good. Good. You think about that.

Yes, I will.

Morale.

Yes.

Click.

Jesus. What was wrong with these people?

I’d never figure it out.

My stomach hurt. My head felt light and heavy at the same time. I thought about the hours of my shrink’s time my conversation with Warwick was going to eat up, at two hundred dollars per. Time that could much better be spent talking about my sex life. Why I didn’t have one.

All I could do was close my door. Pretend it wasn’t there. This job. My life.

And call Dorita.

Guess what now? I said.

Don’t tell me.

But I must. Listen here, darling. They’re monitoring my appearance in the morning.

Who is?

Them. They. You know, the ubiquitous, omnipotent, omnivorous They.

I do. I know them well. Pesky.

Yes. Get over here.

In seconds she was at my office door.

Ricky? she inquired.

Her legs were impossibly long. Her back was army straight. Her breasts, voluptuous. To be desired.

But not for me. No. I’d thought about it, more than once. Something in my wiser self had held me back, appraised the situation and realized, as clear as vodka in a martini glass, that this was not a good idea. Not at all.

So, we were friends. And friends we would remain.

Dorita closed the office door behind her.

Why did I ever get into this business? I asked.

Because you’re brilliant at it. Come on, Ricky, do I have to tell you that every day?

Well, yes. If you don’t, who will?

You’ve got a point. Anyway, what’s today’s little crisis?

That damn Warwick again, what else? He thinks I’m bad for morale.

Dorita pulled out a cigarette and a platinum blowtorch of a lighter. The blue flame shot a good six inches toward the ceiling. She sat down, took a generous haul of the smoke, blew it decisively about the room.

That’s a laugh, she said.

Of course it is. How can wearing sneakers in the elevator compete with five-page memoranda about how to train your secretary to stop wasting file folders?

They’re a scarce resource.

Secretaries?

File folders.

So I understand. Damn, why did I ever get started in this business?

We already resolved that question.

That was a resolution?

As much as the topic merits.

I should have been a poker pro.

Yes, darling. And how does your poker bankroll stand today? Don’t lie now.

Minus eighteen thousand. But that was tuition. I don’t lose anymore.

That’s some expensive school you went to.

Yes, well. I did some stupid things.

Nobody never loses at poker.

You know what I mean. I’m in control now. I almost never lose. Long term, it’s a lock. I know that if I stay at the table long enough I’ll be up at the end of the night.

Let’s see. Maybe you could quit your job. Minus eighteen thousand times two — it’s been six months, right? — that’s minus thirty-six thousand a year. You could probably live on that. You’d have to cut back on those happy lunches at Michel’s though.

That’s what I love about you. Always a sympathetic ear.

The fact was, she was a sympathetic ear, in her twisted way. Or, rather, more than that. She was my eccentric anchor in the heaving seas of temptation. Had I been less embarrassed about it, had shared with her, somewhere along the way, my bad luck streak, and that my cure for it had been to raise the stakes to get back all that money quick, it never would have happened. Or at least it would have stopped somewhere short of eighteen thousand. She’d have kicked some sense into me.

I’d like to kill him, I said. I really would.

Warwick?

Who else?

That’s quite a segue.

Isn’t it, though? I rather liked it myself.

Drinks later?

Twist my arm.

Dorita left.

The image of her legs lingered.

2.
My back hurt. My head hurt. I worried about these pains. What did they mean? Was I ill? Was it cancer? Cancer of the lower back? Hadn’t heard of it. That didn’t mean it didn’t exist, of course. I made a mental note to look it up.

Why wait? I googled it. God bless modern technology. ‘Lower back pain, cancer.’ Several hundred hits turned up. Alarming. I opened the first. ‘Cancer is a rare cause of low back pain,’ I read.

I relaxed.

‘But not unknown.’

I flinched.

‘When cancer does occur in the lower back, it usually has spread from the prostate, lungs or kidneys.’
Jesus, I thought, I’m a dead man.

I called in Judy. Told her to make an appointment with Dr. Altmeier.

Five minutes later she buzzed me.

Next Monday at one, she said.

The pain went away.

Tomorrow I’d tell her to cancel the appointment.

I turned to the deposition of Lawrence Wells. The transcript lay unopened on my desk. It had been there
for days. I resented it. It sat accusing me. Read me! it shouted, you irresponsible lout! The hearing’s in two days! You’ve got to prepare a cross examination, fat man!

I wasn’t fat, actually. A little rounded at the edges, perhaps. But the transcript liked the sound of it: fat man!

Well, I thought, I guess I’ve procrastinated enough. I picked up the transcript. I set my chair to optimum lean. I adjusted the lumbar support. I dove in.

Halfway through the first page, my mind began to wander. I thought about last week’s oral argument before the Court of Appeals. Just as I was reliving my brilliant riposte to a particularly sticky question posed by the Chief Justice, my computer beeped three times.

Reverie interrupted. E-mails. All from Warwick. Damn.

I’d missed another meeting, it seemed.

Warwick loved meetings. Endless meetings packed to bursting with trivia. Secretarial evaluations. The need for new coffee machines. The latest seminars for junior associates. A new committee on office decoration.

With a heavy heart and a trembling hand — trembling not from trepidation, mind you, but from lack of sleep and excessive beverage consumption — I dialed Warwick’s extension. While the phone rang I rehearsed my tale of incapacitating illness. Lower back pain. Of course. That would do the trick. Hell, it was almost true.

Mr. Warwick’s office, chirped his terminally cheerful assistant, Cherise.

Hi, Cherise, I said.

Hello, Mr. Redman! she fairly screamed. I’ll see if he’s in!

A curious exercise, that. In light of the fact that her desk sat immediately outside his office door, one would think she’d be aware if he was in.

After a suitably pompous interval, Warwick’s voice arrived on the line.

Redman, it said. Come to my office at once.

I composed myself. Rubbed some color into my face. I’d forgotten to shave. Fortunately, I’m blessed with the facial hair of a blond adolescent, so it wasn’t obvious.

Warwick was sitting ramrod straight in his chair, chewing on an unlit cigar. Doing his best General Patton. I pulled back the visitor’s chair a foot or two. I knew that in my condition a mere whiff of chewed cigar and cloying cologne would make me gag.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sister Crazy
Excerpt

Dad just spoke.

"What?" I say.

"Sorry, what?"

"We are not going to any other shops. Just the chemist. I'll stay in the car. You have ten minutes." I start singing in my head, the tune from the Sturges film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. O-KAAAY...co — RAAL! O-KAAAY...co — RAAAAL! I almost sing it aloud. I want to, because it might make my Dad laugh but I worry that for once it won't; that he won't join in and I'll feel bad, worse than I do already. The song rises, then dies in my chest and I miss my chance and that's the hell of this thing, this sissy, crackpot, sneaky disease which is not ok, like consumption with its angry show-off blood on wads of linen.

"Jem?"

"Yes?"

"Did you hear what I said?"

I can see Dad's eyes looking at me in the rearview mirror. He has wild brows and his eyes are narrowed, weather-beaten lines running from the corners toward his temples. He is a handsome man, in an unruly way, and he has a gunslinger's gaze. This comes from years of squinting into a high sun and into duststorms and sharp night winds. It comes from a perpetual state of wariness and the need to see around things and be ready at all times. Anything can happen but you must stay cool. You have to master the distant look and know how to forage the horizon for looming dangers such as wild beasts, Apaches, and other gunslingers with sharp, squinty vision who might be on your trail.

When my Dad talks to me, the little muscles around his eyes bunch up, giving him that gunslinger look. I have the distinct sensation he is not having a good time having to make words, having to speak at all. It's the way he is and you have to get used to it. His vision is acute; he is the only one in the family who doesn't need glasses.

"We are not going to any other shops — just the chemist."

"Right." My Dad looks at the road now.

I practice a gunslinger squint. I can see my reflection in the window, which I keep closed due to air conditioning, and my face is dappled with tree leaves and other passing things, but I can see my eyes. I look silly, because a gunfighter cannot wear glasses and look cool. A good cowboy does not wear specs.

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Cloud of Bone

Cloud of Bone

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged :
More Info
Excerpt

I

They have been climbing forever–sea, sky, earth–even time itself has dissolved in fog. The road, little more than a ledge hacked into rock, is now so narrow that they are forced to walk single file, keeping to the left, reaching out to touch the wet cliff, reassuring themselves it is there, praying they will not step into air, plummet downward into the ocean they cannot see but can hear–a dull, repetitive heave of wave on rock, cut now and then by the razor wail of a foghorn far out beyond Fort Amherst.

They are sailors, a volunteer honour guard, though no one volunteers. “You and you,” some officer yelled, culling two ordinary seamen from each Royal Navy ship in port, marching them off to a memorial service for shipmates lost at sea. Sometimes there are bodies; thank Christ there are none tonight–there seldom are nowadays.

There are forty-six men in tonight’s guard–forty-eight if you count the English officer up front and the man lagging behind. The officer is a shag-bag, nervous away from his own kind. He’s only spoken once since the climb began, barking, “Dout it, Sailor!” at some poor sap stunned enough to light a smoke.

Only one man knows precisely where they are, the man at the rear, the one not conscripted, the one not reaching out to touch rock–the murderer. His name is Kyle Holloway. He has come this way a thousand times. Winter and summer, rain and shine, he and his friends roamed these hills, took shelter in the church they are climbing towards. Weak with fatigue, eyes shut, almost sleepwalking, his body still knows when to lean into the grade, turning as the path turns. In order to keep behind he must stop every few minutes, must stand still until he can no longer hear the laboured breathing of the man just ahead.

They come upon the church suddenly. The officer bangs into its stone wall, swears, then shuffles sideways, fumbling for the latch. One of the men snorts some vulgarity about officers never being able to find the hole, and nervous laughter trickles down the line, dying as one by one the sailors reach the church, sense it looming above them like the entrance to some dismal cave.

The officer pushes against the double doors. They give and the men crowd in. The vestibule, cold and dark as night, smells of dust, of wax and linseed oil–and now of tobacco and sweat and the woolly damp of melton coats. They stand quietly while the outside doors are closed and noisily bolted. Only then does the Englishman open the second set of doors, revealing the silent sanctuary, dark wood, a high shadowy ceiling, an uncarpeted aisle that leads to the pulpit over which someone has draped the Royal Navy ensign. On the altar below the flag, three tall candles burn, make a shimmering halo of the white silk.

The sailors walk towards the pale light, file into the front pews but remain standing. The murderer comes in last. He steps into the back pew, stays next to the aisle, shoving his duffle bag out of sight below the seat.

The very air is familiar, that chill mustiness of a place that is never properly heated, the faint acid smell he knows is a combination of coal smoke and bird shit. There have always been birds in St. Mary’s: seagulls, turrs, sparrows, ice partridges and pigeons; sometimes even Mother Carey’s chickens, strange half-birds that blow in on storms, cannot take off from land and have to be flung into the air to fly. Bad design on God’s part, Mr. Norman used to say.

Thirty years as a church verger has drawn Art Norman into the twin, and sometimes overlapping, studies of God and birds. Year after year he devises ever more bizarre ways to rid his church of the pests: shouting, pounding the organ, switching the newly installed electric lights on and off.

For the first time in days Kyle Holloway’s thoughts have veered from churning water, from loud noises and violent death. His body feels soft, rubbery, he longs to sit down but dare not; movement might attract the officer’s attention. So he stands and waits, reflecting on birds, almost smiling as he remembers Art Norman scurrying about the church waving a bamboo pole above his head, as if fishing in the vast dimness. Neither Kyle nor his friends had laughed back then–certainly not Cyril, although he must have been embarrassed by his father’s antics. Not even Gup laughed, not even when the birds, ignoring sunshine beyond the open door, simply flew out of the pole’s reach to roost on the high rafters.

So far as Kyle knows, Mr. Norman is still the verger here at St. Mary’s, but he’s gotten into the taxi business now, carting Yanks and their girlfriends around town. For the duration birds will have to escape on their own, starve, smash into windows or bash their brains out against the fluted glass of light fixtures. Birds have no experience of glass–another of God’s oversights, in Art Norman’s opinion.

Organ music drones suddenly upward, although no organist can be seen in the dark narthex. A man Kyle doesn’t recognize rises from behind the White Ensign. Some old bat brought out of retirement, so frail he has to use the pulpit to pull himself upright. His movement disturbs a pigeon; it flutters from behind the altar and glides up into the frost-glazed rafters. The church is bitterly cold; darkness presses against windows, which, in accordance with regulations, are draped in black cloth.

The dreary music ends. The man behind the pulpit murmurs a few words, a prayer perhaps. He stops speaking but remains standing–they all remain standing, uncertain of what to do. The old man gazes down on them as if he’s never seen their like before. His eyes move from face to face. Except for the officer they look identical; four rows of men, boys really, with short clipped hair, clean-shaven faces above navy blue jackets.

At last the minister nods and the sailors sit. The English officer holds his back stiffly away from the seat; the others slump down, sailorlike, making themselves as comfortable as possible on the uncushioned pews. Thankful for the security of walls they close their eyes, some even sleep.

The old man speaks. At first Kyle cannot make out his words, but gradually the quivery voice rises. He is telling them about land and inheritance, about all the continents, all the seas of the world, all the countries on earth–how England has dominion over them, dominion under God. He says this and much more. There is poetry, or what Kyle takes to be poetry, words following words, rolling down, making no sense.

Kyle feels light-headed, dizzy, then heavy-headed–one sensation following another before he can name it. He has not slept for three days–three days and two nights–not since that moment when the knife came down, moving as if it were something alive, something apart from his hand, his arm, himself. It is always there now. Like a coloured comic, Kyle thinks, each awful square caught inside his head, repeating over and over–the downward slice of the knife, its grey tip slipping into white flesh, a red line appearing just above the ink-blue collar of Gup’s guernsey. Gup’s eyes staring into his–the stunned incredulity, the closeness of that shared second, as if they were one person, him Gup and Gup him. Then Gup’s body crumpling, sliding under the rail and into the sea, Gup becoming what he will now always be.

Despite the cold Kyle is sweating, bent forward in the pew, head on knees, gulping air, panting like a dog. Stop! he tells himself. Stop or they’ll hear you, cart you away–hang you! He imagines being led to a high window, the thick rope around his neck, imagines dropping into that blackness beside the courthouse.

He clamps one hand over his mouth, grips the edge of the seat and forces his body upright until his shoulders again touch the back of the pew. He wills himself to be still, to breathe slowly. He has only to stay calm a little longer, to stay awake a little longer. He will listen, concentrate on the words, try to make sense out of what the old frigger is saying. But words are elusive, insubstantial things; they dissolve, blur, slide into silence. Kyle Holloway’s chin drops to his chest, his eyes close, he is asleep.

The organ wakes him in time to stand for the hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

The singing ends, the minister bows his head: “Almighty Lord, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, who has recorded the names Marcus Dwyer, Edward Gill and Valentine Gullage . . .”

(“Gup! Gup! Gup! Me name’s Gup Gullage!” the child bellows. The teacher draws a line in the register, never again calls his name.)

“ . . . we commit these brave young men to Your keeping. Although their bodies have been lost to the sea, we rejoice in the knowledge that their souls rest in Your arms. We ask Lord, that You grant protection to their comrades gathered here. Place Your everlasting arms around them, keep them safe from terror by night, from the arrow that flyeth by day, the destruction that wasteth at noonday. May they go forth in the certainty . . .”

The old man falters, then stops. He opens his eyes and in a confusion of grief stares down at the young men–in the certainty of what? He can no longer remember. He is weeping, tears streaming down his face.

Even the likes of him knows we’re good as dead, Kyle thinks. Suddenly alert, he threads his fingers through the rope of his duffle bag and slides sideways towards the aisle. He stands and slowly, soundlessly, moves backward–fifteen steps to the inside door. He counted on the way in.

He does not hear the blessing, has already stepped into the dark vestibule, is feeling his way along the far wall, running his hand over a shelf of frayed hymn books, moving towards a dusty curtain behind which there is a trap door, steps and safety.

He wakes once during the night, heart pounding, thinking he is still at sea, thinking night on the North Atlantic, feeling the fear, the damp cold that seeps through cloth, through flesh and muscle into bone, so you can’t tell where cold ends and fear begins. He panics, thinking he is on watch, has stopped beside the ship’s warm funnel, to reassure himself that heat still exists–he must have fallen asleep, slid down against the funnel.

Minutes pass before Kyle realizes that the iron he lies against is cold. He feels no movement, no sting of sea spray and ice, cannot hear waves slamming the hull or smell the stink of bilge water and diesel–he hears only silence, smells only coal dust.

He has no memory of lifting the hatch or coming down the narrow steps. Yet here he is, in the furnace room below the Church of St. Mary the Virgin–the patron saint of sailors, according to Mr. Norman. All around are rock walls, solid granite quarried from the hill, rock rooted to rock–walls that will last a thousand years. Kyle Holloway has lived in fear for so long that safety leaves a gaping emptiness inside him.

He lies awake for some time, savouring the quiet, the emptiness of the church, thinking back on the service, the three candles, Gup’s long-forgotten name being spoken, the old minister crying, going on about death and terror. But that must have been hours ago. The sailors are long gone, all back aboard ship by now. Some may already be at sea, some may already be dead.

And he is not out there–not standing on an icy deck watching dawn gulch in over the North Atlantic, not searching the grey ocean for the black snout of a submarine, that frill of white when its periscope is raised.

I’m not out there, he thinks, and that is enough. Enough to make him forget for a time that Gup is dead, forget that he too will soon be dead. In the safe darkness he slumps back against the furnace and is instantly asleep.

When he wakes again the windowless cellar has brightened. Pale light coming from somewhere. It softens everything, causes coal dust to sparkle from the gritty floor, to glimmer gauzelike in the air. Even the giant coal-pounds looming in two corners of the room glow like polished marble, even tools lodged neatly against the blackened wall, the chisel and pick Mr. Norman uses for breaking up the coal, the long-handled scrapers and shovels, the worn broom–all are beautiful beyond anything Kyle has ever seen.

The furnace room is large and almost empty. Except for the tools along the wall, everything is arranged within reach of a three-legged stool that stands squarely in front of the furnace door. Beside the stool is a full coal scuttle, a shovel and two iron pokers. On the other side are two cardboard boxes, one containing splits, the other newspapers. An old-fashioned toasting fork lies atop the newspapers.

This is Art Norman’s work station, exactly as Kyle remembers it. He studies the familiar objects as an archaeologist might study the household goods of some lost civilization. The permanence of these everyday things comforts the young man, for whom the last eighteen months has seemed a lifetime.

Slowly, because he is stiff, he pushes himself to his feet and begins to pace the room–a sailor’s habit, to keep the blood from freezing, or so his grandfather maintained. Kyle remembers watching his grandfather pace, his father too, back and forth, back and forth, a path worn in the cream and green canvas.

Pace and mutter, pace and tally, licking a pencil stub, marking their lives down on the back of a calendar; how much wood hauled, cut and stacked, how many barrels of vegetables in the root cellar, how much fish landed, how many quintals dried, how much credit left at the store? Enough to cover this year’s flour? Next season’s gear? On and on. This lifelong litany of anxiety is what Kyle remembers from childhood, from the bleak place he lived in until he was ten, the place his mother has gone back to, the place she wanted him to go back to.

From the Hardcover edition.

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A Complicated Kindness
Excerpt

One

I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window. Nothing great. The furniture keeps disappearing, though. That keeps things interesting.

Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing. Ray and I get up in the morning and move through our various activities until it’s time to go to bed. Every single night around ten o’clock Ray tells me that he’s hitting the hay. Along the way to his bedroom he’ll stop in the front hallway and place notes on top of his shoes to remind him of the things he has to do the next day. We enjoy staring at the Northern Lights together. I told him, verbatim, what Mr. Quiring told us in class. About how those lights work. He thought Mr. Quiring had some interesting points. He’s always been mildly interested in Mr. Quiring’s opinions, probably because he’s also a teacher.

I have assignments to complete. That’s the word, complete. I’ve got a problem with endings. Mr. Quiring has told me that essays and stories generally come, organically, to a preordained ending that is quite out of the writer’s control. He says we will know it when it happens, the ending. I don’t know about that. I feel that there are so many to choose from. I’m already anticipating failure. That much I’ve learned to do. But then what the hell will it matter to me while I’m snapping tiny necks and chucking feathery corpses onto a conveyor belt in a dimly lit cinder-block slaughterhouse on the edge of a town not of this world. Most of the kids from around here will end up working at Happy Family Farms, where local chickens go to meet their maker. I’m sixteen now, young to be on the verge of graduating from high school, and only months away from taking my place on the assembly line of death.

One of my recurring memories of my mother, Trudie Nickel, has to do with the killing of fowl. She and I were standing in this farmyard watching Carson and his dad chop heads off chickens. You’d know Carson if you saw him. Carson Enns. Arm-farter in the back row. President of the Pervert Club. Says he’s got a kid in Pansy, a small town south of here. Troubled boy, but that’s no wonder considering he used to be The Snowmobile Suit Killer. I was eight and Trudie was about thirty-five. She was wearing a red wool coat and moon boots. The ends of her hair were frozen because she hadn’t been able to find the blow-dryer that morning. Look, she’d said. She grabbed a strand of hair and bent it like a straw. She’d given me her paisley scarf to tie around my ears. I don’t know exactly what we were doing at Carson’s place in the midst of all that carnage, it hadn’t started out that way I’m pretty sure, but I guess carnage has a way of creeping up on you. Carson was my age and every time he swung the axe he’d yell things at the chicken. He wanted it to escape. Run, you stupid chicken! Carson, his dad would say. Just his name and a slight anal shake of the head. He was doing his best to nurture the killer in his son. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon on a winter day and the light was fading into blue and it was snowing horizontally and we were all standing under a huge yellow yard light. Well, some of us were dying. And Carson was doing this awful botch job on a chicken, hacking away at its neck, not doing it right at all, whispering instructions on how to escape. Fly away, idiot. Don’t make me do this. Poor kid. By this time he’d unzipped the top half of his snowmobile suit so it kind of flapped around his waist like a skirt, slowing him down, and his dad saw him and came over and grabbed the semi-mutilated chicken out of Carson’s little mittened hand and slapped it onto this wooden altar thing he used to do the killing and brought his axe down with incredible speed and accuracy and in less than a second had created a splattery painting in the snow and I was blown away by how the blood could land so fast and without a single sound and my mom gasped and said look, Nomi, it’s a Jackson Pollock. Oh, it’s beautiful. Oh, she said, cloths of heaven. That was something she said a lot. And Carson and I stood there staring at the blood on the snow and my mom said: Just like that. Who knew it could be so easy.

I don’t know if she meant it’s so easy to make art or it’s so easy to kill a chicken or it’s so easy to die. Every single one of those things strikes me as being difficult to do. I imagine that if she were here right now and I was asking her what she meant, she’d say what are you talking about and I’d say nothing and that would be the end of it.

It’s only because she’s gone that all those trivial little things from the past echo on and on and on. At dinner that night, after the slaughter at Carson’s place, she asked us how we would feel if for some reason we were all in comas and had slept right through the summer months and had woken up around the middle of November, would we be angry that we had missed the warmth and beauty of the summer or happy that we had survived. Ray, who hates choosing, had asked her if we couldn’t be both and she’d said no, she didn’t think so.

Trudie doesn’t live here any more. She left shortly after Tash, my older sister, left. Ray and I don’t know where either one of them is. We do know that Tash left with Ian, who is Mr. Quiring’s nephew. He’s double-jointed and has a red Ford Econoline van. Trudie seems to have left alone.

Now my dad, you know what he says in the middle of those long evenings sitting in our house on the highway? He says: Say, Nomi, how about spinning a platter. Yeah, he uses those exact butt-clenching words. Which means he wants to listen to Anne Murray singing “Snowbird,” again. Or my old Terry Jacks forty-five of “Seasons in the Sun.” I used to play that song over and over in the dark when I was nine, the year I really became aware of my existence. What a riot. We have a ball. Recently, Ray’s been using the word stomach as a verb a lot. And also the word rally. We rally and we stomach. Ray denied it when I pointed it out to him. He says we’re having a good time and getting by. Why shouldn’t he amend? He tells me that life is filled with promise but I think he means the promise of an ending because so far I haven’t been able to put my finger on any other. If we could get out of this town things might be better but we can’t because we’re waiting for Trudie and Tash to come back. It’s been three years so far. My period started the day after Trudie left which means I’ve bled thirty-six times since they’ve been gone.

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