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Whistler Reads Short Fiction Finalists: Dee Raffo and Karen McLeod

abstract:Whistler writers Dee Raffo and Karen McLeod are the winners of the Children's Short Fiction Contest sponsored by Whistler Reads during our 29th author event this past July. The submissions were reviewed by Canadian author Matthew Hooton who came to speak to the village-wide book group, and who agreed to vet the submissions. Both stories are featured here. The exercise was designed to stimulate thinking about the challenges of writing from this "site line", as Matthew describes it, "...where you are actually lower to the ground and view the world from a whole different angle." Dee and Karen enjoyed the process and said Matt was a sensitive editor and mentor who gave excellent advice on their writing. Here now are: "Running with Horses" by Dee Raffo, and "Mrs. Ryan's House" by Karen McLeod.

By Dee Raffo

Her mother had been the one driving. It was icy and the bend was sharp, the paramedic said it would have been quick. The tree branch had punctured right through the windshield and struck her in the throat. Johnny was another story. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt, which was unusual, and was thrown about thirty metres before his small body had come to a stop. He suffered head injuries that caused him to die two days later, never opening his eyes again. In his five year old hand was a yellow tractor. Michelle thought this may have been the reason he wasn’t wearing his belt. She had gone over it time and time again, frame by frame as if it was a movie. Johnny taking off his belt to get his favourite toy, her mother taking her eyes off the road to make sure he put the seatbelt back on. Gone. In one morning, when there had been so many, they were gone. (continued... )


August 02, 2010
— The ground was sodden and the sky overcast for the fifth day in a row. The clouds were low and had an oppressive effect on the land below. She had quit school. Her father needed her on the farm and she wouldn’t be missed. A token gesture by her teacher of coming out to the farm did not shake her resolve. He wasn’t loosing a star pupil after all and she had never had any close friends who would miss her. The tie with the outside was broken, now it was just her, her father and the farm. No one spoke and no one came.

Her breath came out cloudy in the morning air; she was loosing the small bit of warmth she had left. The path she trod held the imprints from the day before. Dust from the road covered the grass and flowers along the edge giving them a muted sense of being, as if they too were covered in a feeling they could not lift. She scattered feed for the chickens that looked at her with suspicion and checked the water pails of the cows whose eyes looked as vacant as hers felt. She remembered her reflection in the mirror, empty and uninteresting.

A light mist had formed; she could feel the damp even through her jacket and hurried on down the path. She remembered the times when her mother would walk with her, she would have told her to wear her scarf and gloves, but they were hung on the hook back in the house. Forgotten. She remembered her smile, her warm touch, the way she smelt. Tears clouded her vision but they did not fall, she did not allow them to. Her father had caught her once sobbing in the barn, but he had no words of comfort. His grey eyes remained unmoved as he moved on to his next task. It was bitterly cold.

By Karen McLeod

“Remember your manners and try everything on your plate,” my mother said, “and I don’t want you going into their basement.”

“Huh?” was all I could get out before Mrs. Ryan opened the door of her Spanish-style home, an anomaly on our street of forties-built boxes.

Like her house, Mrs. Ryan was a mystery. She had an olive complexion and brown curly hair worn up loosely, no bobby pins or hair spray. Her flowing skirt and floral blouse were entirely different from the pressed polyester and fake denim my mother and her friends wore.

As my mother gave Mrs. Ryan final instructions, I peered down into the dark basement. I recalled “Flowers in the Attic,” and shivered. Maybe the Ryans had secret children tied to water pipes. I sidled away from the stairs.

“The Johnsons will pick up Karen at ten Sunday morning,” my mother told Mrs. Ryan. I wasn’t allowed to go to the Ryans’ church, something about worshipping Mary and drinking blood, I had overheard my mother say once. Then I remembered the vampire movie my cousin had told me about. I leaned into my mother.

“A week will fly past,” my mother said and kissed me goodbye. She inhaled and exhaled slowly. The Ryans weren’t her first choice, but my grandmother had decided last minute to go to an Amway convention in Vancouver.

The first night, I’d been in bed about ten minutes when there was a knock on my door. I clutched my pillow. It was Mrs. Ryan with cream cheese and alfalfa sandwiches. She retrieved a flashlight from the desk drawer and shone it on the wall of books. I froze mid-sandwich. Was it a revolving bookcase?

I’ll pick a title,” she said, “and you make up a story. Then we’ll switch.” What became a nightly ritual took my mind off the “his and hers” coffins in the basement, and I fell asleep, thinking of our stories.

We spent most days in her sunny kitchen or garden, busy, but never in a hurry. Mrs. Ryan listened to her transistor radio all day and entered the contests. We sang into our fists whenever “Seasons in the Sun” came on, which seemed like every hour. She danced to all the Abba songs, and I awkwardly, guiltily, tried to copy her. We slathered our bodies in baby oil and lay on beach towels in the courtyard, where fragrant red gardenias dotted the white walls of her home.

Mrs. Ryan cooked with ingredients right out of her garden and even let me create my own macaroni dish with parsley and carrots. Before Mr. Ryan came home for supper each night, Mrs. Ryan put on lipstick and pinched her cheeks. Mr. Ryan kept his shirt and tie on and I felt like I was in a restaurant. I sat up straight and tried not to spill my food.

As the week elapsed, I forgot the basement.

Then, on my last night, Mrs. Ryan didn’t show up. I slipped out of bed, and followed the soft music and red glow coming from downstairs. My fingers inched along the red and black flocked velvet wallpaper. And then I saw it. The rumpus room of iniquity. A bar and dance floor right in their own house! There were glasses of wine on the bar and the Ryans were slow dancing – the worst kind.

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Ryan said as she came out of her husband’s embrace.

I hesitated. Then I grabbed my invisible microphone and strutted to the dance floor. After all, the damage had been done.



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