28 Stolen beginnings, never endings,
from the 2nd shelf from the floor
There was once a man called George Fairweather, who might have been many things, but was most singly a soldier. My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. The house was set back from the noisy main road in what seemed to be a rubbish tip. One winter morning in the long-ago, four-year-old days of my life I found myself standing before a fireplace, warming my hands over a mound of glowing coals, listening to the wind whistle past the house outside. The first thing I was ever told about the Jews was that every Christmas they would take a Christian toddler, put it screaming into a barrel, run knives between the slats, and drain the child of its blood. Certain people in Ilmorog, our Ilmorog, told me that this story was too disgraceful, too shameful, that it should be concealed in the depths of everlasting darkness. The door creaked. The old man stood as close to the sixth-floor window as the soldier would allow.
Grace didn’t feel insane any more and the realization was exhilarating. Cornelius Laffey had slipped ashore, father told her often enough, from the dinghy of the sailing ship Jeannie Dove, one steamy late March day, onto the burning sand of a place that would later be known as Bowen. We spent days along the Wawanash River, helping Uncle Benny fish. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. I24 was spiteful. I was eight when I encountered the friendly elephants. There is a kind of eucalyptus that grows all around the district where I grew up, not a blue gum yet its leaves give off a shimmering haze of blue, and it is that blueness that stays in my mind when I remember the day my brother Edward came home from Pentridge. It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
One night in November, another that had somehow become morning while she sat there, Georgie Jutland looked up to see her pale and furious face reflected in the window. After lunch Jane and Roche left their house on the Ridge to drive to Thrushcross Grange. After dinner I stood and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat; he had said, ‘I’ll be with you at latest by ten.’ After five years of high school the final November arrives and leaves as a spring storm. Snowman wakes before dawn. Sometimes when I walk through the rain, I know that each drop that falls on me wasn’t meant to fall on anybody else.
The Alexander, with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year. When the team reached the site at five-thirty in the morning, one or two family members would be waiting for them. As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario. I have lost count of the days that have passed since I fled the horrors of Vasco Miranda’s mad fortress in the Andalusian mountain-village of Benengeli; ran from death under cover of darkness and left a message nailed to the door. My suffering left me sad and gloomy. Our story is only as sad as others allow it to be, our rights to sympathy circumscribed by the class to which we belonged and the way in which our life together was to end.
Stolen from: Tim Winton, “Big World”; Tim Winton, Dirt Music; Kate Grenville, The Secret River; Georgia Savage, Slate & Me and Blanch McBride; Christos Tsiolakas, Dead Europe; Jean Bedford, Sister Kate; V.S. Naipul, Guerillas; Alistair Macleod, No Great Mischief; Thea Astley, it’s raining in Mango; Malcolm Knox, Summerland; Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh; Maurice Shadbolt, Season of the Jew; Robert Drewe, Grace; Alice Munro, “The Flat Roads”; Ardashir Vakil, Beach Boys; Yann Martel, The Life of Pi; Toni Morrison, Beloved; Graham Greene, The Quiet American; Ngugi, Devil on the Cross; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera; Julian Barnes, The Porcupine; Ariel Gore, The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show; Richard Wright, Black Boy; Alice Sebold, Lovely Bones; Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost; Doris Lessing, The Good Terrorist; Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake; Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.