by Don McLellan
Father Michael, in his final assignment, has been asked by his Order to help facilitate recovery of an Asian country blighted by war. On the long odyssey into the interior, his driver and translator Trang tells him a story set in a once-famed traveller’s refuge known as the Inn of Tender Embraces. What starts as a simple tale of ill-fated lovers becomes, for Father Michael, a familiar beacon that guides him through the mists of an exotic landscape.
“Don McLellan is the kind of wise, well-travelled writer we don’t see much of these days. With Angels Passing he earns the right to be included in the exotic tradition of Hemingway, Maugham, and Graham Greene. Like all memorable writing, his story takes us to another world and holds us there. As spare and subtle as it is powerful, Angels Passing will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
— John Lekich, Governor General’s Award Finalist for The Losers’ Club
THE CREW HAD BEEN repairing the dike for weeks without respite, beginning each day before sunrise, stopping only when it became too dark to continue. But then the monsoons swept in from the southwest, washing out the road. The workers were given a much-needed hiatus.
The boss addressed the men as they jostled for their pay packets.
“Those whose names are on this list”—he nailed a leaf of rice paper to a banyan tree—“be back here when the rains stop. The others, return to your farms.”
Choi’s name was near the top of the list. The youngest of the labourers, he not only had enough energy remaining after the evening noodles to compete in the camp’s wrestling contests, but the strength and agility to win them.
He had fallen in with a carefree youth named Soo, who suggested they wait out the downpours at an inn located in a neighbouring district.
“That’s a long way to go for a bed,” Choi said.
“Have you never heard the song, ‘The Inn of Tender Embraces’?” asked Soo. He whistled a few bars from the traditional melody. “Like the lyrics say, ‘One night at the inn will change your life.’”
“I thought it was just a song!”
They set off immediately.
WHEN THE FIGHTING STOPPED and a truce had been signed, the Order instructed me to help facilitate reconstruction in the provinces. Trang was my driver and translator. Woo-ling, his wife, cooked and cleaned. The couple lived in a cottage behind the rectory.
“Have I told you the story about the inn, Brother Michael?” Trang asked me. “People say it’s true.”
I thought at the time that Trang shared such yarns to help pass the hours and to practise his English on our long, bumpy drives into the interior. A few were classic tales my assistant claimed as his own, confident I wouldn’t recognize them. He also relayed bits of gossip from the market, random thoughts that popped into his head—anything, it seemed, to void the silence as our Jeep skimmed over the bomb-scarred landscape of his beloved homeland.
It was during one of Trang’s accounts, his grammar and vocabulary amended here, that I was reminded of Brother Roderick. As part of our preparation for a life of sacrifice, seminarians are required to endure a year of silence. Brother Roderick counselled the novices.
“Occasionally a lull will occur between two people,” I remember him telling us, though I paraphrase here. “Between friends, between man and wife, between strangers who may have struck up a conversation.”
His Irish lilt is as soothing to me in recall as it was decades ago.
“You mustn’t let the absence of words upset you,” he continued. “Silence is a wonder, not a pothole. There’s no urgency to fill it.”
“And why,” asked one of the novices, speaking for many of us, “wouldn’t we offer a word? To move things along.”
“Because when it’s quiet,” replied the cleric, “the angels are passing. Let them.”
I had never before heard such a notion. The phrase has often been uttered in my presence since, of course, over the years, in disparate lands and circumstances. I know now that there’s a poem entitled “Angels Passing.” And a pulp novel. But Brother Roderick’s usage is the one I choose to remember: angels passing, silence sanctioned.
about the author
DON McLELLAN has worked as a journalist in Canada, South Korea, and Hong Kong. He currently edits a trade magazine in Vancouver. In the Quiet After Slaughter (Libros Libertad, 2008) his debut collection of short stories, was a ReLit Award finalist. Of the short story form, his preference, McLellan says, “Coming to fiction from journalism, I have an appreciation of spare expression. Redundancies are jettisoned. Alice Munro was alleged to have said that she’d rarely read a novel that wouldn’t have made a better short story. I couldn’t agree more. Ironically, the loquacious Gabriel García Márquez has spoken similarly.”
from the library
Inspired by true events, this story by Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated author Pauline Holdstock tells of the incredible bond between a mother and daughter, and with gut-wrenching poignancy reminds us of the little things that make life worth living.
“Hers is the kind of prose you get lost in.”
— National Post on The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“Holdstock’s writing manages to be both heartbreakingly poetic and densely detailed ... sad passages, ghostlike recollections, written almost from the vantage point of the present, establish the book as a great work of fiction.”
— The Globe and Mail on Into the Heart of the Country, longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Holdstock, with a few deft strokes, pulls the reader into the tumultuous life of an alluring rabble of characters: painters, sculptors, patrons, fools, and slaves ... In Beyond Measure, she proves herself a master of pacing. Her lively, macabre plot trips lightly along in spite of its dark elements.”
— The Globe and Mail on Beyond Measure, finalist for the 2004 Giller Prize and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize
The anarchic relationships holding together a group of teen girls - whose lines between love and hate, jealousy and loyalty, are not so much drawn as they are furiously scribbled - are put to the test at an unforgettable birthday party. This story captures all the angst and uncertainty of adolescence, with prose as sharp and jarring as a smashed kaleidoscope.
“Rarely an author comes along whose work hits you with the impact of a slap. I have had this experience with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, with Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill; most recently I have felt this on discovering the writing of Kirsty Logan. Her work is elegant, minimal, and innovative, but underlying it all is a great passion. If the world is a place where talent is recognised—in time, I believe, we may come to say her name alongside the aforementioned.”
— Ewan Morrison, author of Swung
New wife and mother Julie is a woman struggling to find her place. Her dilemmas, while modest, feel harsh, and reflect the ways in which women were once denied control over their own bodies. Her first steps toward independence bring great pain—and not only to herself. With sparing, incisive prose, Cynthia Flood unravels what it meant to be a married woman in post-war era Vancouver, creating an evocative and even unsettling experience for the reader.
“With a precision of language that startles and delights, Cynthia Flood offers glimpses of those moments in which the essence of an entire life is revealed.”
— Nancy Richler, author of The Imposter Bride
“What a great story! Told in terse, restrained sentences, yet opening to a lush and radiant heart, Addresses captures the anguish of a marriage gone off the rails, and the moments of redemption that arrive from unexpected places. Flood’s use of language is uniquely her own–staccato, clean as a knife, and brilliant. Cynthia Flood has done it again.”
— Shaena Lambert, author of Radiance
“The abruptness of the title tells so much about this exquisitely drawn story by Cynthia Flood. ‘Tell the truth but tell it slant,’ Emily Dickinson advised, and that’s always been the approach Flood has preferred for her bone-china fictions, edging into them sideways. Once escorted into the story’s arrhythmic heart, we readers have no choice but to immerse ourselves in a world long gone but still very much with us, to emerge both shaken and stirred.”
— Dave Margoshes, author of A Book of Great Worth
A man in the throes of a breakup is selling all of his possessions on Kijiji and Craigslist. Greg’s couch, his VHS tapes, obsolete desktop computer, and cow-shaped clock – it all must go. Between pot smoking, pizza eating, and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, he meets with would-be buyers, taking his old life apart piece by discount piece in order to figure out what went wrong.
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
On an isolated English beach a man looks back on his school days, recalling the joy and torment of a secret love affair with a boy full of strange ideas, a boy obsessed with the language of the King James Bible. Moments from their relationship return to him: the hidden meetings on the beach, the first attempts at sex, the boredom of a school assembly in summertime, the cruelty of a young English teacher. But most of all he remembers the boy’s words. They’re words that, years later, will haunt him as he tries to come to terms with the person he has become.
“Psalm 77 is the type of story that one wants to read over and over, searching for meanings previously unseen. It is laced with the hidden, the secret, the sacred. From the sand dunes and their private longings in school to the verses, the imagery, and the final paragraphs, there is so much to uncover . . ." (Read full review)
— Amanda Miller from shortsundone.ca
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
After an unexpected malfunction, the technology which enables humanity to cross vast distances has separated an interstellar traveler from the love of her life — not in space, but in time. Now, while her companions remain in stasis, she must endure the loneliness of the journey until the moment her lover wakes.
Winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest, When I'm Old, When I'm Grey imagines the strange — and strangely familiar — forms that fear and longing can take, as we venture forth into the unknown of the future.