CanLit is short for Canadian literature. Geist is a Vancouver literary magazine. Over the years, it's featured some excellent writing challenges. The idea of this particular contest (the Can't Lit Without It CanLit Short Story Contest) was to grab a randomly generated Canadian premise from the canlitgenerator.com and create a piece of fiction no longer than five hundred words.
Anyway, they received around two hundred entries, and though my story didn't win it did manage to get itself shortlisted, for which I'm proud.
So here was my premise: "A family and their dog struggle with what it means to be Canadian. To each other, they say nothing."
The world is filled with things. Lodgepole bark, cribbage boards, a softening of the eyes.
But the world in this moment is filled with two things: red and white, blood and snow.
Five beings in a cabin trapped by a blizzard don’t tend to open themselves to the lone canine, and I must accept that.
“If someone doesn't shut that fucking mutt up, I swear I’ll carry it outside and turn it into a dogsicle.”
“Leonard, that dog isn’t an it. She’s a genuine hero. She once saved an entire SAR team somewhere west of Tumbler Ridge. Long story, but trust me.”
Did one of them just speak up for me? I’m impressed. If I end up going rogue, perhaps I’ll spare her, let her be the one to lead us back to the bright lights and the furry microphones. We all love a survivor tale.
Grandpa decided it was time. “I ate many a critter I was once partial to.”
No one knew what to say to that. Grandpa claimed to be Métis. Most thought of him as a wily grey fox who’d seen better years.
Marie-Louise said, “What say we turn on the TV?”
Snow punctuated the windows in grainy tattoos.
“Before we return to Peter Mansbridge, we would like to express our condolences to all Canadians who have erred in some way, to those who left it late in October to buy a snow shovel after they disappeared from the shelves, who belatedly learned about block heaters that first winter after moving to the Prairies, who assumed milk in a bag was a prank, dismissed Bubbles as a retarded kitty-loving Rush stan and nothing more, barely registered Sidney’s goal in Vancouver in 2010, looked blank at the mention of Christine Sinclair or Hayley Wickenheiser, remained unmoved by the quietly revelatory stories of Alice Munro, or unimpressed by Tekahionwake’s gentle retellings of Coast Salish stories, or perplexed by phrases like bunny hug or gonch launch. Please try to be better at this Canadian thing, okay?”
For fuck’s sake. To you folks, Drake is a male duck.
I yelled and rapped (yapped) into the night, Leonard be damned. And no one stopped me.
“I’d never have guessed, given the steady increase in light from the east.”
“You’re a good girl, Lorena. Sarcastic and filled with love for the finest things. Let us smudge.”
“You mean ash on the forehead or burning a sage stick in an abalone shell?”
“Does it matter?”
It might. Crossing the border for a gallon of milk and a block of American cheese the size of a shoebox, alongside a tankful of cheap gasoline, you remember those days? Red and white doesn’t only refer to wine.
“Me, I don’t ever forget.”
“Yeah. Right. That old Trudeau, though? One mean, contrary sonofabitch.”
It’s morning. I need to pee. All I see now is red and I itch. Okay. Let me out of here. Please.