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Day of the Dead live in Prairie Fire

My latest story, “Day of the Dead”, is out now in Prairie Fire. The story earned an Honourable Mention in the 2014 Prairie Fire fiction contest, judged by Giller-longlisted author Elisabeth de Mariaffi earlier this year.

“Day of the Dead” follows the intersecting lives of Caleb, a sensitive Maritime boy with grand visions of escape; his feisty dying grandmother, who still dreams of her own lost love; and Juan, a Mexican-Canadian orderly who supplies Caleb with a steady supply of pharmaceuticals in exchange for certain favours. It’s told in three interwoven narrative time frames, much like an earlier story, “You Were Loved.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“How are you?” Juan asked, sucking on his cigarette.

He was handsome. I can still picture him so perfectly, as if he was standing right here beside me now on my sunny condo balcony, staring out towards English Bay, or down into the leafy laneways of my quiet West End neighbourhood. He was nearly six feet tall, with broadly athletic shoulders, ruddy dark skin, brown, serious eyes that seemed to crackle all the time with the joys and terrible sorrows of adult life. When he smoked he hunched over, as if in pain, turning his shoulders inward and sheltering his big body from the cold. I often wondered how he had wound up in our town, and what he thought of it all—the trashy TV gossip of the teased-haired kitchen ladies; the lonely bodies he was forced to roll over and wipe, bathe and make presentable to the busy adult children who visited less often than they should.

“I’m okay,” I said.

And then, in a second, his expression would fall away. When he smiled his face transformed itself, as if he was stepping onto a catwalk or a stage. His eyes would spring to life, charming and flirty; his cheeks would glow—and then in a blink it would all vanish, replaced by some solitary sadness.

As usual, he placed a small white envelope into my palm. The envelope was folded over two or three times, like a schoolroom message scrawled on a scrap of paper. From a distance, if you were watching, it would seem that we were merely shaking hands. With his other gloved fist he gripped my elbow.

“Here,” he said, casting his eyes behind me at the frosted patio door. “Your turn now, amigo. Meet me in the chapel at six.”

Special shout out to John Barton, whose generous feedback on an earlier draft of the story helped me find the missing magic ingredients. And thanks once again to Andris Taskins and everyone at Prairie Fire for your ongoing support. Pick up a copy of the issue–along with great writing from Susan Sandford Blades and others–at your local bookshop or online.