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
Toronto in the twenty-first century: At night, a beacon on a lonely ancient lake, a drainage pond from the last ice age. In the daytime, a bulwark of glass, glinting in the radiant sun. Joe, Mary, and her cat, Sam, sit in a lakeside condo, trapped by a crazed, mysterious sniper. What has become of their lives? What has become of their city? What has become of their century? As the situation begins to unravel, Mary finds herself wondering, “What would Margaret Atwood do?”
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
When Blanche first began singing, she was humble, eager, willing to work, willing to learn. Now she is headstrong, condescending, unprofessional, and just a tiny bit full of herself. She is also the closest to genius that Antoinette, her accompanist, may ever have a chance to work with.
At the Chickasaw Motel, three generations of the McGuinness clan are led by their elderly and overbearing patriarch. Only little Riley, “the smartest f-ing kid”, is spared the brunt of Grandpa McGuinness’s cruelty; ironically, it is his encouragement that provides her with a way out.
The depredations of a corrupt local government and the ravages of a harsh prairie winter force an ostracized but self-sufficient widow to open her home to innocents with nowhere else to turn. Journey Prize finalist Seyward Goodhand's effortless storytelling allows the humanity to shine through in this grim take on a classic tale.
Polly knows what she wants: to be in the greatest band in the world. Oliver knows what he wants: Polly. Together they are The Oughts, a duo trying to attain the unattainable, one basic chord at a time.
“Richard Rosenbaum’s The Oughts jabs its sticky little fingers right into your heart and swirls them around in there for a long, long time. Its characters unfold in pitch-perfect awkwardness and tender apathy, and readers will be struck by the surreal hinges and twitching imagery that Rosenbaum flawlessly weaves in. Writers in the audience should take note: Rosenbaum has created a writhing work of fiction that any scribe would aspire to be capable of pulling off.”
— Liz Worth, author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond and Eleven: Eleven