Readers ranged in age from their 20s to their 50s. Their families come from China, Cypress, Finland, Holland, India, Italy, Pakistan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turkey, Uganda, and of course, Canada.
This year's stories, which are published in The Totally Unknown Writers Festival 2011: Stories, will leave you spellbound.
"Lizard in the Backyard"
Donna Kakonge visits her grandmother in sweltering St. Vincent, travelling on a plane ticket given to her as a fourteenth birthday gift from her Granny. But it’s her Aunt Pansy, who may or may not worship the devil, and who may or may not be crazy, who steals the show when she uses a broom to rescue Donna from a lizard, then holds up the lizard’s tail, licks it, and says “I think this’ll be sweet in me soup.”
"Dinner at Vaire's"
Erika Bailey and her cousin spend a week with their grandmother Vaire. They help care for Vaire’s papillon dogs, learn not to speak until Vaire has her first cup of coffee and smoked her first cigarette of the morning, and which crystal glass to use when they make Vaire her first gin and tonic of the afternoon. Vaire's rarefied world is given a jolt and the (pre)tension and repressed laughter escapes when a whoopee cushion sounds off at the dinner table.
Mervi Maarit Salo explores Lapland, in the high arctic. In 1691, the pagan and Christian worlds collide when Christian priests arrest Lars as he leans over the body of his drowned grandson, performing traditional rituals to ensure the boy’s eternal life. After a priest offers Lars one last opportunity to “forsake the devil” to enter the “world of heaven,” Lars wonders “Will there be Christians there?”
Koray Ahmet Salih visits the cami, Turkish for mosque, for the first time with his Grandfather who guides him through the rituals of prayers. The young boy learns about the wooden slippers he must wear; how to cup water in his hands and suck it in through his nose, despite the pain; to stand in line shoulder to shoulder with other men as equals, even though he doesn’t like to be touched by people he doesn’t know; and, most of all, he learns about humility.
Rocco Giancarlo Racco tells a complex, twisted story of a troubled teenager. Rosario’s mother sends him to the store for wine and cigarettes, then locks him out on the balcony while she sleeps with strange men. She tells him his father is “probably too drunk to find his way home or shacked up with some dirty slut.” Rosario flees to his estranged girlfriend and pleads “I’ve been going to therapy. I’m getting better….” When his attempt to reconcile falls on deaf ears, Rosaria hops on his Vespa for a fateful trip home.
Penny Verbruggen, a university student assigned to write a profile on a vintage clothes store for the local newspaper, encounters a shop that reeks of “incense, pot, damp wood and body odour,” a shop owner, who complains to her about two previous employees, “bitches” who left him “high and dry,” then offers her the opportunity to learn “the ropes” by working at the shop for free and, finally, an editor who expects to “see a track record” before he starts “handing out money for nothing.”
Hina Najam adores her grandfather, Dada Abba, who promises to bring toffee “tomorrow,” but is stricken with illness and dies during the night. Though she sees him the next day, wrapped in white on her parents’ bed, she does not comprehend. She looks for him to play with her, but cannot find him. “Do you know where he went?” she asks her cousin. “When will he be back?” she asks. But no one explains.
Maya Flynn and her boyfriend are still doing lines of cocaine as the sun rises. She reflects on how their coke use started as something “fun, exciting, different” with a group of friends. “We would have theoretical love fests…. We would talk about how special we were because we had such tight bonds. We thought we knew everything.” Soon they snort every weekend, then during the week, then daily. Then it’s because they "have to do it to feel normal.”
Tin Ling Chung, on the eve of her wedding, is caught between her contemporary Western world and the traditional world of her Chinese-Indian mother who insists she have a ritual bath to cleanse her of “evil misfortunes.” Step by step, the rituals continue and Tin learns more of her mother’s own wedding, difficulties faced by her grandmother Ah Pho, and the strict family code that requires the obedience of women–to their fathers before marriage, their husbands after marriage, their sons after a husband’s death.
Greg came out years ago to everyone in his family—except his father. Now his mother tells him she will no longer hide the truth from her husband. The farce of Greg hiding his sexual orientation during a Labour Day weekend spent at the cottage with family, and Greg’s lover, Anthony, was the final straw. “Either you come out to your father or I’ll do it for you,” she threatens. Greg decides to tell his father himself, but he’s not sure how his father, with his ex-university linebacker’s bulk and past homophobic expressions, will react.