by Robert J. Wiersema
From the bestselling author of Before I Wake and Bedtime Story.
A child who has only ever known the British Columbia farm of his birth finds himself caught between what once was and what will be. Not even the wonders of a travelling circus can ease his sadness and fear - that is, until he discovers a secret beyond his imagining.
I WAS ELEVEN YEARS old the day the last circus came to Henderson. It was late August, just before the Labour Day weekend, when the world would start to change and grow cold. The leaves were dry in the trees in the woods along the edges of the fields, not coloured yet, but you could feel it coming. The air was already chill in the mornings when I was out doing my chores. It was sweltering by noon, but the mornings were a hint of what was to come.
I was in the west field, far from the house, when the first of the trucks went by. I was going to bring the cows in from the pasture for milking, watching the tall grass as it whipped black lines of dew on the legs of my jeans, and probably wouldn’t have even noticed the truck – there was nothing unusual about trucks with rattling, roaring engines going too fast up the road out front of the farm, farting thick blue exhaust – if not for the horn.
The whole world seemed to jump, startled by the metallic braying that started off like a distraught donkey before dissolving into a hysterical laughter that echoed in the small vee of the valley. Twisting my back faster than my legs could turn, I almost fell over as I spun toward the road.
The caravan stretched as far as I could see, all the way down to the bend at Charlie’s place, maybe farther for all I knew, a ribbon of colour threading between the green of the fields.
I took a step toward the fenceline, toward the road, as the lead truck approached. It was red. You could tell the colour had once been as bright as a fire engine, but now it had faded to a rusty shade, all soft rounded lines and a bubbled hood. The truck was pulling a trailer, a battered silver Airstream, and it seemed to be barely holding together. I could hear the rattle of the frame even over the roughness of the engine.
The windshield was caked with dust; it was impossible to see the driver, but as the truck started to pull even with me, a bare arm extended from the window, gesturing in a way I couldn’t quite understand. Was it a wave? A salute?
I jumped almost as high when the horn sounded for a second time, and I could have sworn that I heard a laugh from inside the truck as the arm pulled back in and the window rolled up partway.
But I wasn’t looking at the arm, not anymore, or at the window. I was looking at the sign on the driver’s side door, the rough sketch of a rounded tent, circled by the words Zeffirelli Brothers Circus and Marvels.
Circus and Marvels.
I forgot about the cows, forgot about everything else. I turned and ran back toward the house. The wet grass slapped at my legs, sprayed as high as my face as I ran.
The caravan unspooled alongside me, faster than I could keep up, and I kept glancing sideways at the vehicles as I ran, the ragged edge of my breath as loud as the engines. Everything I saw, every fragmentary glimpse, felt like a promise: an old VW bug painted with DayGlo flames that I just knew was full of clowns, I could picture them spilling out the doors – onetwothreetwelvenineteen – each of them gaudier, more laugh-terrifying than the last. Another truck, this one a battered, rusted green, struggled to tow a trailer so huge I marvelled that it could move at all, the whole side of it covered with a painting of a trio of jungle cats, a lion, a tiger and a panther, garish and cartoonish, but they looked like they might leap off the truck, spring toward me without warning. A wheezing Winnebago, decorated with a painting of a beautiful woman, long red hair seeming to float behind her, the green of her eyes mirroring the scales of her tail ...
about the author
ROBERT J. WIERSEMA is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a reviewer who contributes regularly to several national newspapers. He is the bestselling author of three novels – Before I Wake, Bedtime Story and Black Feathers – along with a novella, The World More Full of Weeping, and an autobiographical tribute to Bruce Springsteen, Walk Like a Man. He lives in Victoria, BC, and teaches creative writing at Vancouver Island University and Camosun College. His first collection of short fiction, Seven Crow Stories, will be published in Fall 2016.
from the library
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The Last Judgment
by Maria Meindl
Charlotte is on the cusp of adolescence, and her world is being turned upside down. Unable to turn to her distant mother or absent father, she searches for guidance on the streets of downtown Toronto—and discovers God (or some version of Him) in the gutter.
“The Last Judgment is a story that penetrates into the heart of childhood sadness. Charlotte is without tools to fix what is broken, except for the incredible force of her will. The connections she makes between religion, parental failure, sexuality, and love make perfect sense because they are told in her bell-clear voice. This story is warm and tragic and, at moments, grimly funny.”
— Rebecca Rosenblum, author of Once and Road Trips
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.
by Jack Bootle
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
Health care workers on a night out unwind, allowing the anxieties and passions they've had to suppress on the job finally uncoil, like tendrils creeping out into the world - and into each other. Written with empathy and panache, this story is a portrait of briefly flaring humanity - of people granted a temporary reprieve from professionalism, and not quite knowing what to do with it.
“At the Bar is Rosenblum at her best - exploring the complicated nature of work and relationships with her trademark perceptiveness, humour, and compassion, and creating characters that will stay with you long after the story is over.”
— Amy Jones, author of What Boys Like and Other Stories
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?”