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Andrea Rudy has an MA in creative writing, and her short stories have appeared in The Berkeley Fiction Review, A Room of One's Own, and FRONT, as well as the 2003 edition of the Canadian anthology, Coming Attractions. She grew up in Oshawa and now lives in Vancouver, Canada.

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harlotte woke up to a rainy, miserable day. The temperature had dropped drastically through the night, and it was tough to set her feet on the cold floor. When she finally made her way to the chilly kitchen, she looked through the back window and saw the heavy-set woman from the house behind hers standing between the frozen laundry strung up along the porch. She puffed on a cigarette, and let the smoke waft through the frozen clothes as she dashed ashes to her feet. Charlotte notice how her poorly permed hair was flattened on top by a morning shower. It was tough some mornings for people, but even she, that large, unhappy woman, even she was trying for something when she wasn’t drinking and cursing out her husband and son. Even she was not a nobody. The old house needed some work if it was to get through another winter. So did Charlotte’s home.

Charlotte played with her coffee machine, fiddled with the leaking faucet over the kitchen sink, and ran a finger across the thin film of dust on the window ledge. Aunt Rachel wanted her to visit her at the Ukrainian Hall that afternoon. She hadn’t been in months, and it seemed the right sort of day to be in a hot kitchen. The women there wouldn’t pry.

She hung out there a lot as a child, sitting on a stool, watching their fast hands roll out the dough, cut the circles, and fold them into half-moons over mashed potato or sauerkraut. Dozens after dozens would be dropped into pots of boiling water on the stove, then tossed in butter, divided into plastic take-away dishes and stacked on the table. The women moved around Charlotte talking in a blend of Ukrainian and English, a combination she’d understood back then.

Charlotte had always moved between the bustling kitchen and the quiet halls during her days there. The walkway leading to the stairs for the upper hall was lined with photographs of the dance group each year. Her father was in 1962 and 1963, kneeling on the floor in traditional costume with another couple boys, and four young girls flanking them in their dresses and scarves. When Ed had been around he’d always rolled his eyes and dismissed them with a shake of his head, saying he was an old man now and that he didn’t remember such a day.

Sometimes when she was feeling brave, Charlotte walked up the narrow stairs to the stage with her sandals clacking through the empty space. Even then with all the lights out except for the thin stream coming from the kitchen, with the long curtains drawn and no sound except the clanging of pots, even then she felt eyes on her. She was too self-conscious for a child, too worried she’d appear foolish, and yet still had a girl’s desire to see the world from the stage, to see the hall from a dancer’s view.

In the afternoons, people came in and picked up their orders. The women in the kitchen would be exhausted, but working both there and at home hadn’t worn them down; instead it gave them legs as sturdy as tree trunks and shoulders that could bear endless weight. Charlotte would sit outside watching the cars pull into the lot, watching the quiet church across the street as the priest’s wife propped the door wide open and watered the flower beds along the entrance.

Surely it hadn’t been more than a few months since she last visited. Perhaps it had even been a year. Time moved strangely. For the rest of the morning, she puttered around doing laundry and sweeping floors, and it was just past eleven by the time she got to LVIV. The few pedestrians on the sidewalk looked dark and dreary in their raincoats and heavy boots, and Charlotte rushed passed them through the doors. Inside, the large kitchen was humming, and the radio was turned to the CBC adding a steady voice to the banging of pots and mixing of languages.

“Charlotte, you came.” Rachel wiped her floury hands on her apron and poured her niece a cup of coffee. “It’s a family affair, today. Paul’s here, too. Hasn’t been in years.”

A voice from the stove joined in. “I forgot what that boy of yours looked like, Rachel. I think he was still in school, last time I saw him.”

“I try to get him to church on Sundays. I still try.”

Charlotte took the mug. “Where is he?”

“I think he went to watch the dance rehearsal from upstairs.”

“Is it his day off?”

“He said so.”

Charlotte sat down at one of the tables as her aunt returned to the bowls on the chopping block. Everything was the same as it’d been five years, ten years, and fifteen years earlier, and Charlotte still felt in the way, as the hustled and spoke around her. She didn’t really know any of them, and yet she knew them best of anyone.

“I think he wanted to talk to you.”

Charlotte looked at her aunt. “What’s that?”

“Paul came to talk with you. I told him I didn’t think you were coming and that he should call, but he’s still hanging around somewhere.”

“What does he want to talk about?”

“I wouldn’t know, dear.” Rachel wiped the already spotless stainless steel table and sat down. “My feet are killing. You’d think from all these years they’d grow tougher, not feel my excess weight so much, but no, they have to keep on aching.” She slipped off her shoes and rubbed her stocking feet with frail hands that were cut like topographic maps in all their wrinkles and exposed veins. “I wouldn’t know what he has to talk about. I wouldn’t know.” He’d been a silent boy and was now a quiet man, everybody knew.

“I think he’s upstairs,” Rachel repeated. “You going to go see him?”

“Maybe in a minute.”

The faint beat of the music in the hall made its way to the kitchen. It was a familiar sound, but no more a sound of home than the boiling water and soft hiss of steam rising above the stove. “I think I should go away for a while. See some things. They say

it’s now or never.”

“I don’t know who they is. You could do I suppose, for a while.

You’ll come back,” Rachel said.

Charlotte finished her coffee, put the mug in the large dishwasher, and wandered off towards the hall. She found her cousin leaning over the railing of the upstairs gallery, watching the stage with little interest. He was eight years older than Charlotte, and when she was still in high school he was already working at GM on the opposite shift to her father. Over the years, his untouched hair had become a heavy mop that softened the edge in his cheekbones, the length of his Ukrainian nose, and the point in his chin.

“Your mom said you wanted to talk.”

Paul turned around. “Hey there. I thought you were moving out west right away.”

“No, I don’t think I said that.”

He looked at his watch, tilting it to meet the light from the hall below. “You took your time getting here. I gotta go soon.”

“I wasn’t even going to come. I didn’t know you’d be here.”

There was no small talk in him. She was reminded. He ran his fingers through his dull brown hair and looked her straight on. “You know, my mom hasn’t been honest with you. For years she and your father knew where your mother got off to. I don’t blame Uncle Ed, after all, Jill was bad to him you know, but when he died I thought my mom would’ve brought it up.” He turned to watch the stage. “I thought you should know.”

Someone knew, they always knew. Charlotte felt the sudden weight of her purse bear down on her shoulder. “But all the times they said they had no idea.”

“And maybe they didn’t, not in the beginning. But I overheard them talking one time when I was still living upstairs. Mom called Uncle Ed over – she was the first to find out. Apparently Chucha was in Washington State and wanted my mom to mail out some of her things.”

Paul’s words, if they were true, stung like the thousand pinpricks of a slap on her cheeks. Paul’s words and the way he spoke, the way he folded his lips and opened his eyes, saying it wasn’t his secret to bear, that if she was heading to the Pacific, well, that was reason enough.

He didn’t reach out to touch her.

“What else?”

“Not much. She was working at a marina. Your father asked if she was with a man, and my mother told him she didn’t know.”

“A marina? What did she know about marinas?” Charlotte said. What did she know about boats, and what did she know about the ocean? Did she take vacations and to where? Did she think about her daughters?

She remembered her mother liked sliced strawberries marinated in sugar and spooned over vanilla ice cream. Did she still do that? When she was on the phone did she still write her name across scrap paper over and over and over?

“There was one other thing,” Paul said. “Apparently your mother had dual citizenship. Did you know?”

Charlotte shook her head.

“Yeah, neither did your dad.”

Good people couldn’t be blamed for not telling her things they believed she was better off not knowing. She thanked Paul. He gave no stipulations like women so often did: don’t tell my mom you know, or don’t let her know it was me who told, or don’t blame your father, don’t blame your mother. Charlotte wasn’t sure if she loved him as much as family should be loved, but they seemed to understand each other at that moment.

“You’re heading out that way and I thought you should know,” he said again.

She had said she was leaving, and the fact that he believed her, Paul with his sad eyes, made her want to leave. She wouldn’t go looking for her mother; they made TV movies for such things. From the beginning she hadn’t planned to follow through on Whistler, but her father had seen places, and plus Paul believed she would. He said an awkward good-bye, mumbled something about meeting a friend, and slipped quickly down the stairs.

Charlotte didn’t go back to the kitchen. She went home and the next few days bled into one another. She flipped through the employment ads and walked the length of the mall looking for the Apply Within signs, all the time knowing that somehow she’d meet a slow death by defeat if she went back. She missed her father, the strength of his sadness, and the belief that she could steady him.

She found herself watching daytime television, her muscles felt stiffer in the mornings, she rarely left the house, and it only took a week of that to be cause for concern. She was filled with many fears, and spending all day with nothing to do only made them stronger. Nothing ever changed. The only difference she felt over the years was how she gained and lost weight. It used to be that a size fluctuation could happen over night; she wouldn’t eat for two days so she could fit into skin tight pants for Friday, or she’d party with friends and have to wear jogging pants and skirts for a week because of it. Now everything was a constant: her diet, what she wore, the size seven jeans never changing to six or eight. On the seventh night of living this way she started change with something small – she set her alarm clock and moved it just outside her doorway.

Lately when Charlotte would be on the brink of sleep, her heart slowed down and she thought this must be what dying felt like. What was inside her body, she wondered during that in-between state. What illness, what disease, what weakness did she have that had yet to come forward? Or what genes would get her in the end? She cried. Without tears or sound she cried in hope that she’d wake the next morning and be closer to change, closer to curing herself. Perhaps her fear of illness was a self-fulfilling prophecy. She was frightened of them, too. But she still woke every morning, thanked God she made it through, and promised the Lord that she’d make things right. It was going to be one of those sleeps on that seventh night.

The street was silent. A fog settled in and Charlotte couldn’t see the houses across the road from her bedroom window. She opened it a crack to let the dense air in and finally drifted off dreaming she was lying on a damp forest floor. The alarm rang out at seven the next morning, and she started getting ready for work before she remembered there was no work to go to. She crawled back in bed, and at nine called a former coworker at Eatons.

“I can’t believe they cut you back! What were they thinking?”

“I’d like to send my resume to your cousin in Whistler,” Charlotte said.

Really?” There was noise in the background, the sound of Amanda opening the till, breaking rolls of coins on the counter and emptying them into their compartments.

In that cold morning Charlotte had made up her mind, alone in her empty house.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Amanda said. “Come by any time and I’ll fax it off from the office. Hey, we’re getting a new shipment in today. I’ll pretend your discount is still good, if you want.”

“I don’t need anything. If you give me the fax number I can send it myself.”

“It’s an assistant manger’s position, and my cousin’s got a huge house where you can board.”

“Thanks, Amanda.”

“I’ll get the number to you on my break.”


“It’s a big place. I’m talking one of those million dollar homes. It belongs to the shop owner who’s never there, so he lets Janet stay for real cheap. He owns more than just the one shop.”

“Sounds nice.”

There was plenty of time to back out, plenty of time to change her mind, and that notion propelled Charlotte forward. She didn’t know what it’d be like not to look down on Oshawa, on its grimy streets and smokestacks below the 401, and her neighbours below the tracks. With the sounds and smells and sudden motion of a train, a person didn’t have to leave to feel like they were always coming and going. Her mother knew that. But one day Charlotte would need more than just a feeling.


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