Leonard Cohen music a suitable soundtrack
Folks have come to expect the annual appearance of a Cuffer Anthology. Now Volume V (Killick Press) exists, chock-a-block with jimdandy stories.
While I read the collection, however, three unexpected things happened – I felt old; I heard Mammy’s voice asking a 40-year-old question; I heard The Best of Leonard Cohen playing as if a soundtrack in my noggin.
I felt old, the personification of Father William who, in a poem in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a youth mocks for being … well, old: “You are old as I mentioned before and you have grown most uncommonly fat.”
That guy needs to be – as Father William threatens – kicked downstairs. I felt old. I am old. Wanda Nolan, whose story ‘Nancy Drew’ is the first place winner, attended high school in the same school where, for a hundred years in a previous life, I was a pedantic ol’ English teacher. In this life, the inside of my noggin probably looks like the guts of an Aero chocolate bar – mostly air holes. Could be Wanda was in one of my classes. When I read Wanda’s gem of a story I felt as old as Nancy Drew’s mother, or buddy Buckley’s goat.
For frig sake, half the writers in Cuffer V are decades younger than I am. I’d like to kick them downstairs. Mammy’s questioning voice? Long ago when there was still the unsavoury possibility of treading up to your ankles in dinosaur whoopsie, when I dreamed callow dreams of being famous, I had a penchant for scribbling stories that might have brightened Edgar Allan Poe’s gloomiest days.
Some of those dreary tales even were published and Mammy read every one because … well, because she was devoted to her darling boy. Always, when finished reading though she’d wonder, “Harry, my love, can’t you write a story with a happy ending?”
So, for Mammy, I scribbled a story called – Surprise! – ‘A Happy Ending’ and it found its way into the pages of a long defunct magazine called Newfoundland Stories and Ballads.
Cuffer V left me feeling old and expecting to soon to be as defunct as my happy story. Not that they should, but most of the stories in Cuffer V don’t have happy endings.
B’ys, while Jamie Fitzpatrick’s ‘ Judy McDermid’s Garden of Faeries’ (Honourable Mention) features fanciful gnomes and will make you chuckle, listen to its closing line: “We’re all dying, Mrs. McDermid.” We’re all dying! Deborah Whelan’s ‘ Leaving’ is painfully topical, unfortunately true to life. The mother/narrator wonders about herself, “What kind of a mother doesn’t know her child wants to die?” Not happy, eh Mammy? Kurt Vonnegut, my favourite author dead or alive, gave this advice to novice writers: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them.”
I know bad things – awful things – happen. Sadly, they happen in real life and, therefore, must happen in stories. No one wants to use precious time reading tapioca. Where’s the fun – where’s the schadenfreude – in that?
Don’t get me wrong. Before you heave rocks, believe me, I enjoyed every single story in Cuffer V. Truly. I’m just being a curmudgeon because … by nature I am.
Elizabeth Wright’s ‘ Home’ mentions a destination wedding in Newfoundland. Excellent idea. I hope it catches on. Then if some kin kindly invites Missus, and – by default, I suppose – this contrary cuss, to their wedding I won’t have to jackup and bugger off to sweltering hot tropical climes.
Dolores Hynes’ ‘Killing With Kindness’ is a tickling, sardonic story in which a woman makes away with her abusive husband by feeding him ‘ killer grub’. Mister Man shovels in his favourites, salt beef and the like, and soon ends up in the boneyard.
Hold the ponies! Something scary just registered in my noggin.
Lately, since I balked at an ocean cruise, I’ve been finding stacks of cake and cookies tailed out around the house.
A line in Frank Barry’s ‘ Smoke Rings’ caused me to guffaw and nearly choke on a wedge of nine-egg cherry cake. This buddy without a cent in his pocket, but craving a cigarette, eyes the cute girl behind the counter of a convenience store and thinks: “I’d marry her grandmother for a pack of smokes.” Marry her grandmother! Oh, the Leonard Cohen soundtrack? Leonard’s music, as you know, can be more than a little bit dreary but …
... but although it is notably so, it is always a work of art and a suitable soundtrack for the treasure chest of stories in Cuffer V.
Thank you for reading.