The following is an excerpt from Diane Carley’s new short story collection Bodies in Trouble, publication date May 10, 2022, by Radiant Press.
Breakfast in Kenora
The engine light came on just outside Kenora.
Claire was on her way home to Toronto. She’d intended to drive straight through to Thunder Bay without stopping. Instead, two hours after leaving Winnipeg, she pulled into a garage on the edge of a small northern Ontario town. The mechanic said they were backed up, but they would look at her car as soon as they could. She asked about a restaurant nearby. He pointed her to the Heart Hope Café down the street.
The rain was coming down hard, the wind blowing, the sky dark. She didn’t have an umbrella, so she grabbed a plastic bag from her backseat, put it over her head and hurried through the downpour. She entered the restaurant, took a seat in the corner and watched the rain blowing against the glass.
Storms in August were the worst. Winter was supposed to be cold and ugly, but summer in Canada was too short for bad weather. It was like taking pennies from a homeless woman. Too cruel to be a mere crime.
The waitress placed a cup on the table in front of her.
“That would be great. Thank you.”
“Nasty out there, isn’t it? Can I get you anything else?”
“Nothing for now, thanks.”
“My name’s Mina. Holler if you need anything.”
The aroma of maple-tinged bacon wafted through the restaurant, tugging at a hunger Claire didn’t know was there. She’d left her mother’s house without eating, in a rush to get on the road. The bell over the door sounded and the smell of rain blew in, mingling with the odours of fried meat, butter, and a hint of bitter coffee.
The wind continued blowing outside as Claire sat with her arms on the slick Formica tabletop. She did not want to be there. She wanted to be crying alone in her car listening to Bonnie Raitt and eating chocolate-covered almonds by the handful. She should be deep into her journey home, letting distance unravel her knotty emotions instead of bristling in a public place, the clatter of cutlery and voices crashing through her thoughts.
The restaurant was busy for a blustery Tuesday morning. Claire watched Mina who was graceful yet awkward, like a fawn learning to walk on ice, never quite getting the rhythm right. She was chatty and charming with people who just wanted their eggs delivered warm, while she missed other tables completely.
One guy growled at her to bring his damn breakfast when she asked him if he needed more coffee. She smiled and poured the coffee then moved to another table. He yelled at her from across the room that she forgot his milk. She rushed back with a bowl of creamers while another woman tried to get her attention. The cook banged the bell. Then banged it again.
Her hunger enflamed by the greasy, rich smells of breakfast frying, Claire ordered an omelet and home fries. When Mina delivered the food, she lingered, asking her what brought her to Kenora, only to rush off in the middle of Claire’s tale of vehicle woes, when a raised voice called out, “Excuse me, miss. This is not what I ordered.”
Claire ate quickly, glancing periodically at her cell. No calls. The bell over the door sounded again and again, as people came and went while she stared at the glowing icons, willing her phone to ring.
When her sister Barb first invited her to come home to Winnipeg for a couple of weeks, Claire had been wary. Her visits with family tended to last, at most, a couple of days. She became overwhelmed quickly. Too much talk. Too much people.
There was a reason she was a computer programmer. Machines didn’t feel the need to discuss things. They simply did what she told them to do. If her code was sloppy, the program spit out crap. If there was a flaw in her logic, the job would get caught in an endless spinning loop of nothingness. When she did it right, though, she mapped out cause and effect – if this, then that – in a perfectly orchestrated, vast complexity of triggers and events.
Programming was Claire’s panacea for life’s melted grape freezie emotions, that squishy purple mess she stepped into every time she visited family. The idea of spending more than a week with them felt daunting.
But their mother was getting on and her sister hinted at Alzheimer’s. She said it might be the last time to see Mavis alert and coherent. Barb tended to toss out worst case scenarios like an artist flinging paint against a canvas to create a riot of colour.
Claire found her exhausting.
But it was true, there had been a shift in Claire’s conversations with her mother. One time, in the middle of a chat about greenhouse tomatoes, Mavis went off on a diatribe about noisy garbage trucks, only to stop dead mid-sentence, place the phone down and wander away. Claire kept calling to her through the abandoned receiver until Mavis picked it up again and resumed listing the ways in which tomatoes grown under glass were inferior to “normal” tomatoes.
The room was startled into silence as Mina crouched beside a mess of broken plates, half- eaten pancakes, and a cluster of forks and knives that lay scattered across the floor. A mocking laugh came from the kitchen and the customers began to murmur, conversations picking up where they’d left off.
Claire walked towards the washroom. “You okay?” she asked as Mina dumped a tray full of shards into the garbage pail by the cash register.
“Yeah, thanks. Just another day at the races for this klutz.”
When Claire came back to her table, her coffee cup was refilled. She called the garage, but they hadn’t looked at her car yet. Breathing deeply, she sat up straight, holding her hands in her lap as she tried to stave off the jittery panic building inside.
“Can I get you anything else?” Mina asked.
“No, but thanks for the coffee.”
“Any luck with the car?”
Claire shook her head.
“Just not our day, is it,” Mina said.
Eventually, Barb wore Claire down and she agreed to make the trip home. The last time she’d driven to Winnipeg was years ago with Patti. It was Patti’s first time travelling north of Lake Superior and she’d been shocked at the expanse of water that appeared before them when they came around a curve, not expecting to encounter a mini ocean in the middle of the Canadian Shield. Seeing the familiar landscape through Patti’s eyes had reminded Barb of its magnificence.
That thrill of rediscovery was missing this time around. There were only hours and hours of emptiness. Barren lands. Abandoned houses. Miles of forest and rock. The repetition, the endlessness, the steady hum of tires on asphalt, the brisk whoosh of a passing truck, and the bursts of cars speeding past, fleeing the place she was headed towards. Romantic in theory, but tedious in reality, the drive was fatigue-flecked monotony interspersed with the odd glimpse of the spectacular.
Much like her love life.
About the Author
Diane Carley was longlisted for CBC’s 2019 Short Story Contest and her work has been published in The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead, Riddle Fence, The New Quarterly, subTerrain, Other Voices, Release Any Words Stuck Inside You (RAWSIY) III, the Canadian Authors Association’s Building Community anthology, and The Globe and Mail. She has also written and produced documentaries for CBC Radio. Diane lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
- Publisher : Radiant Press (May 10 2022)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1989274730
- ISBN-13 : 978-1989274736