Calla & Édourd by Kathryn MacDonald, an excerpt

This novella, set in Eastern Ontario, bubbles with the details of everyday life. The cycle of the season is reflected in the lives of the central characters. It is a hymn/lament for that which is passing and that which is past. (Alistair MacLeod, author of two collections of short stories: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and Island; and the award-winning novel: No Great Mischief, cover copy)

Calla & Édourd cover
Hidden Brook Press (HBP); ISBN 978-1-897475-39-3; 2009

It is a sad day when a book goes out of print. After ten years, this is the fate of my novella, all 23,000+ words, 129 pages.

From readers, Calla & Édourd garnered comments such as, “I was hooked after having read only the preface (as well as the entire book that same evening) [L.S.]. “I could see everything like a movie running through my head” [P.C.]. “I loved the explanation of perfection for Édourd on page 96 and the stories ‘…steeped in the tea of superstition and Catholicism’” [G.M.].

Chapter 1 begins:

Calla moves like a wave, from tree to tree, down the steep incline toward the water’s edge. Her left arm wrapping itself around rough-barked trunks. Her feet, beneath deep snow, searching for secure footing. Downward. Down to a spot where the water bubbles every day of the year from a silent, hidden spring.

Overhead, the sound of squabbling breaks the quiet. Lifting her face to the sky, Calla’s eyes find two black-capped chickadees. They slip from the sky to a tree branch where they hop over each other, reminding Calla of childhood games of leapfrog. The birds move along the branch away from the trunk before flying westward, their voices becoming lost in the distance. The momentary stillness soon fills with the rapid rat-tat-tatting of a downy woodpecker. It circles a birch tree; its head bobbing rhythmically; its black and white feathers blending into the birch. Without the movement, it would seem invisible.

Calla continues carefully downward, testing with her feet for buried rocks and broken branches beneath the snow. Slowly, she moves toward the white-crusted marsh. The red-winged blackbirds, that months ago perched on cattails, had now flown south, leaving the brown expanse of stalks and tails deserted.

The story begins when Calla is in the early throws of dementia. Then the backstory unfolds with innocence and love, the birth of children and their growing up and leaving home. But the unraveling of Calla’s mind cannot be avoided and takes a toll.

If you’re curious about the reference made by G.M. to the “perfection” passage:

Ah, but expectations of perfection was not something that plagued Édourd. He had grown in the shadow of Papa, a man shaped by the realities of the seasons and he knew that perfection came only masked as miracles. Perfection came with dark-bottomed cumulus clouds carrying rain in spring and with a clear dawn during haying season. It presented itself in the shifting colours as goldfinch feathers changed from drab olive to sunshine yellow, also in spring. Similar magic arrived with the return of the mallards, and shortly afterward, the arrival of ducklings in the marsh. Whether a miracle appeared to satisfy survival or to cause his spirit to leap, Édourd welcomed them like he had welcomed Papa’s stories.

In addition to Alistair MacLeod, Evelyn Bowering wrote cover copy: “Drawing their sustenance from past generations, Calla and Édourd’s love endures when traumatic loss gives way to fragmentation of memory, and past, present and future merge into one. MacDonald creates word paintings of nature and domestic life that linger after the last word is read. This is a beautiful story.”

I blush at the praise and thank everyone who bought books and a special thank you to those who sent their thoughts to me.

I am grateful to my publisher, Richard (Tai) Grove, Hidden Brook Press for taking the risk of publishing my first fiction. At that time, Tai was a new publisher and I was largely untried. We’ve both learned a lot in the intervening ten years.

Thank you for indulging my journey down memory lane.

Please share your experiences of publishing your first fiction and your thoughts if your book, like mine, has slipped out of print.

 

 

Author: Kathryn (Kate) MacDonald

Writer & Writing Facilitator. Photographer. Eclectic Reader & Reviewer.

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