When Amber McMillan published her non-fiction book The Woods: A Year on Protection Island (Nightwood Editions, 2016) there was a bit of controversy. Let’s just say the inhabitants of Nanaimo’s tiny island suburb didn’t agree with the author’s depiction of their home. Quill & Quire notes that at first glance the book might appear to be “a celebration of coastal beauty and wilderness adventures, but such expectations will be disappointed [as] McMillan includes very little description of natural settings or outdoor activities. Instead, The Woods is about navigating small-town life as an outsider.” Another review compared the book to the 1987 cult classic Withnail & I, where the main characters “go on holiday by mistake” only to confront disaster upon disaster.
In the years that followed The Woods, McMillan began to write a three-act play satirizing to some extent, the little-thought-of controversies a book might bring to unsuspecting members of a fictionalized book club in a small, northern town. This collection of play-stories appears throughout McMillan’s short fiction collection The Running Trees (Goose Lane, 2021) and The Miramichi Reader is pleased to present to you the last of three installments in this exclusive excerpt.
Conversation #214: The Book Club, Act III
New characters are added to ACT THREE:
CROWD PEOPLE 1–5. Men and women of varying ages wearing casual clothing.
JANET’S FRIENDS 1 & 2. Middle-aged, dressed in large blouses and sandals.
CAMERAMAN. Male, 35 years old, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball hat.
MICROPHONE MAN. Male, 35 years old, wearing jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and sunglasses.
SARAH. Female, 30 years old, wearing a long blue jacket.
The curtain opens to a bustling crowd gathered outside of the library’s entrance. There are several small groups of townspeople talking to each other. The Professor is off to one side, alone and smoking a cigarette. The atmosphere is clamorous.
Mrs. Marshall enters from the opposite side of where the Professor is standing. She is holding a tray of small sandwiches.
MRS. MARSHALL. Professor?
MRS. MARSHALL. Yes, I saw you, I’m just — I feel — why are there so many people here?
PROFESSOR. They don’t want to miss the big event, I suppose. Here to give Sarah a piece of their backward minds.
MRS. MARSHALL. We don’t have enough room for them inside. Where will they go?
PROFESSOR. I can think of a place or two.
MRS. MARSHALL. Some of them will simply have to wait out here.
The Professor finishes the cigarette he’s been smoking and empties the leftover tobacco onto the ground. He puts the empty filter into his pants pocket.
PROFESSOR. You’re right. Some will have to stay out here. The difficult part will be determining who goes in and who stays out. Good luck.
The Professor walks past the crowd at the door and nudges his way to the front. He presses the keypad buttons with one hand while covering the passcode pad with the other. The door unlocks, and he slips in through a small opening and quickly closes the door behind himself. Belle arrives. She is carrying a copy of the book.
MRS. MARSHALL. Hi, Belle. Have you seen Sarah? Is she with you?
BELLE. Hi! No, she’s not with me. There sure is a lot of people here. Jeez.
MRS. MARSHALL. There are.
BELLE. Oh, is that snacks? Yay! I love snacks!
MRS. MARSHALL. How about you take this inside and set it on the table. I’ll wait out here for Sarah.
Mrs. Marshall hands Belle the tray of sandwiches. Belle nudges her way past the crowd and knocks on the door. Within a second, the Professor opens the door just wide enough for Belle and the tray to get through.
MRS. MARSHALL. Dixie! Over here!
DIXIE. My god, what on earth? There’s people everywhere!
MRS. MARSHALL. Yes. A few more participants than expected this week.
DIXIE. And to think I was in a panic because I didn’t get around to putting up any posters. To think I thought no one would know to come.
MRS. MARSHALL. Word has spread, apparently. Is Sarah with you?
DIXIE. Not any more. She came in late last night, I made her a small supper, and she retired. This morning I woke up to find an empty bed and a note saying she’ll be making her own way to the library today.
MRS. MARSHALL. You might as well join the Professor and Belle inside. I’ll stay here and keep a lookout.
Dixie observes the crowd, frowning, and walks toward the library’s entrance. She knocks, the door opens a crack, and she shimmies her way inside.
CROWD PERSON 1. Mrs. Marshall, when is Sarah arriving?
CROWD PERSON 2. We’ve been waiting here awhile and I’d like to sit down.
MRS. MARSHALL. I don’t know. I wasn’t told.
CROWD PERSON. We can’t wait all day.
MRS. MARSHALL. No one would expect that.
CROWD PERSON 2. May we go on inside and wait?
MRS. MARSHALL. I’m afraid not, unfortunately. There isn’t much room in there, as you know, and I haven’t yet figured out what to do with all of you.
Janet arrives with two other women in tow. She walks quickly toward Mrs. Marshall.
MRS. MARSHALL. Good afternoon, Janet. How lovely of you to come and to bring new guests to our book club.
JANET. Oh, I wouldn’t miss this. I was up all night constructing my questions for the author.
JANET’S FRIEND 1. We all were. Up all night, I mean.
JANET’S FRIEND 2. I hope Sarah shows.
JANET. If she doesn’t show up, it’ll show me — it’ll show everyone here — what a coward she is. What a coward she has always been.
JANET’S FRIEND 2. Referencing Thoreau on the back of the book like that — did you see that, Mrs. Marshall? Good lord. All I can say is Thoreau must be turning in his grave!
MRS. MARSHALL. There will be time for you to address your concerns. Please be patient.
JANET’S FRIEND 1. “Off-grid!” Last I checked we had water, sewer, and power here.
CROWD PERSON 2. I never heard anyone call this place “off-grid” before. Off-grid of what?
The smaller crowds slowly join together to form a single, bigger crowd.
JANET’S FRIEND 2. There’s nothing off-grid about us. I have Netflix and Twitter like anyone else. Just watched the news last night on my big-screen TV, too.
CROWD PERSON 3. I just checked Instagram on my smartphone!
CROWD PERSON 1. And no one here smashed in her boat window like she says they did in that novel. No one. What a shameful lie.
JANET’S FRIEND 2. Even if they did do something like that — and I’m not saying they did — but even if someone did try to teach her some manners, it’d be because she deserved it.
The talking and shuffling gets louder as the crowd widens.
CROWD PERSON 2. It’s not our fault she bought a boat she didn’t know how to use, or didn’t know the appropriate places to dock it. That’s not my damn fault.
JANET. I’d like to smash in a window or two of hers right now.
MRS. MARSHALL. Janet, for heaven’s sake.
CROWD PERSON 4. I’d like to ask her where she got her facts. I for one know a few things myself. I know a few more things than she does, I gather.
CROWD PERSON 5. I know I just moved here and who am I to say, but this stuff doesn’t seem respectful to me. This is the best community I’ve ever lived in. These are the best damn people I’ve ever met! Other communities should be modelled after this one!
JANET’S FRIEND 1. [Speaking to CROWD PERSON 5directly]. Welcome again, by the way. It’s wonderful to have you here.
JANET. We’re all so pleased to have you and your wife join our little community, it’s true.
The crowd becomes more raucous with each passing minute.
MRS. MARSHALL. Please stand back! You will have a chance to say what’s on your mind! I do not enjoy being knocked about in this way!
Hearing Mrs. Marshall’s screams, the Professor swings open the library door, slamming it behind him, and walks briskly to the centre of the crowd.
PROFESSOR. That is enough! Stand back now, do you hear me?
MRS. MARSHALL. It’s fine, Professor. Thank you.
PROFESSOR. What the hell is the matter with you? Have you people lost your minds?
CROWD PERSON 1. Well, now, come on now, it’s not like that at all.
PROFESSOR. Not like what? Not like a bunch of animals tossing a lady around? It’s not like watching my neighbours trample the library’s only curator in broad daylight? What is it not like?
CROWD PERSON 2. We were discussing some of our problems with Sarah’s book.
JANET. No one wants to harm Mrs. Marshall.
JANET’S FRIEND 1. Of course not. Of course not.
CROWD PERSON 2. No one here would ever harm Mrs. Marshall!
CROWD PERSON 3. We are the last people on earth that would harm a friend and a neighbour.
Dixie and Belle both exit the library, carefully closing the door behind them, and stand watching the crowd. Dixie pulls her cellphone out of her pocket, dials, and holds the phone to her ear.
JANET. It’s Sarah you should be yelling at, Professor. Look what she’s done to this community! Look at how she’s torn us apart, how she’s hurt us with her accusations.
The Professor crosses the stage, away from the crowd, to smoke another cigarette.
JANET [after the Professor]. Maybe you oughta think about why you’re defending a stranger over your own people.
MRS. MARSHALL. Janet, I have to say you’re way off here, and I think you need to take a moment and calm down.
JANET. Oh, am I?
MRS. MARSHALL. It is not necessarily the clear-cut situation you may think it is. Things are not so simple.
CROWD PERSON 2. I don’t mean any disrespect, Mrs. Marshall, none at all, but some things are that simple. Maybe this is. Maybe we are perfectly right to be upset. Maybe Sarah was wrong to write this book about us. Simple as that.
PROFESSOR [yelling from across the stage]. You know what’s wrong? That you people can’t stand a difference of opinion. It’s all or nothing. “You’re with us or you’re against us” and all of that.
JANET. No! This is about what is fair and decent! This is about goddamn justice! And if I have to yell and scream to be properly heard, then I’m prepared to do that. I’m prepared to do what it takes to right this wrong.
MRS. MARSHALL. Okay, I think we could all stand to calm down a moment and get our footing. Sarah could be arriving any minute now.
PROFESSOR. You’re the worst kind of vigilante, Janet, you know that? You’re the righteous kind. Why don’t you go rescue another stray dog so you can rest awhile on the moral high ground you’ve built for yourself above all of us.
A cry of shock is heard in the crowd.
PROFESSOR. Make sure you tell us all about it on Facebook too. We wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to praise your selflessness.
Dixie stares at her phone. She is anxious and pacing. Red patches are visible beneath bandages on both arms. Belle moves through the crowd trying to pass out Mrs. Marshall’s sandwiches, but few people are paying any attention to her. She is smiling and trying her best to be friendly.
JANET’S FRIEND 2. How dare you say such things? Such plainly untrue things?
JANET’S FRIEND 1. What nerve!
PROFESSOR. I thought we were all entitled to our opinions, Janet. I thought that’s what you said last week.
JANET. I think I’m done talking to you, Professor. Done for good!
Janet searches her pants pockets and pulls out a small plastic package. She slowly pulls out a single tissue, unfolds it, and begins dabbing at the sides of each eye as if staving off an outpouring of tears.
CROWD PERSON 2. I have a bit of the vigilante in me, as you may know, and have taken things into my own hands. I feel much better for it too. Better for having stood up and said my piece.
MRS. MARSHALL [turning in alarm]. What are you talking about, “into your own hands”? Is this about that preposterous lawsuit?
CROWD PERSON 2. I’m talking about online comments. I’ve gone around online, to different sites that post about that book, and put up my own opinion — our opinion — in the comment sections.
DIXIE [finally entering the conversation and the crowd]. I’ve seen some of those comments.
CROWD PERSON 2. Well, some of those comments are me, but not all of them, of course. Many of the negative comments are simply readers’ opinions that are aligned with my own. Other people who simply did not like the book.
CROWD PERSON 1. I shared my opinion on the Vancouver Sun website, under their review of that trashy book. I expressed my disagreement with their reading of it. Something about it being “unflinching and honest.”
CROWD PERSON 5. I have posted here and there as well. I don’t want the innocent public to believe what they read in that garbage book. They ought to hear the truth from all of us. It’s only fair and right.
CROWD PERSON 2: Fair and right. Exactly.
JANET. That’s what I’ve been saying all along! I’ve been saying we should be the ones to write the book about this place! It should be us, not some unhappy stranger. We should be the ones to tell our story about the magical little place we call home!
PROFESSOR. Perhaps, but you didn’t write it. Sarah did. She told her story about this place.
JANET. I’m not talking to you.
PROFESSOR. Oh, I know.
MRS. MARSHALL. Is that her? Who is that over there?
Mrs. Marshall lifts her hand and points off stage in the distance. Crowd People 1–5 and Janet’s Friends 1 & 2 move to the back of the stage while the main characters come to the front.
JANET. Where? I can’t see where you’re pointing.
Janet moves herself to the front of the crowd, standing in front of everyone else, and looks in the direction Mrs. Marshall is pointing.
MRS. MARSHALL. There.
JANET. Over there on the road? That’s a group. It can’t be her.
MRS. MARSHALL. The short-haired woman in the blue. I think that’s Sarah.
JANET. I still can’t see.
Dixie and Belle look up. Dixie puts one hand over her eyes to shield the sun.
DIXIE. That’s Sarah. That’s the blue jacket she was wearing last night. Dixie puts the cellphone she’s been holding away in her pocket. She scratches a dark red patch on her arm.
MRS. MARSHALL. Who is she with?
Belle puts the tray she’s been holding on the ground and takes a few steps forward. She is smiling.
PROFESSOR. Cameras. Looks like she brought the press.
JANET. You must be kidding.
DIXIE. Are you sure? Professor, are you sure those are cameras?
PROFESSOR. Looks like it to me.
The Professor shakes another cigarette out of his pack.
BELLE. Oh my god, the TV? Oh my god.
Belle pulls out her cellphone and peers into the screen. She begins fixing her hair in the reflection.
BELLE. Holy god, we’re gonna be on TV!
DIXIE. Well, this is unexpected.
MRS. MARSHALL. My word. I wonder what station it could be.
PROFESSOR. Hey, Belle, still got those sandwiches?
BELLE. Over there.
Belle continues to fidget with her bangs.
MRS. MARSHALL. Don’t eat, Professor, you’ll get things stuck in your teeth.
The Professor saunters off to the side and lights his smoke.
JANET. This is an outrage. The news people are here? For a story? The news people are coming over here to do a story on that woman and that book? You have got to be kidding me. What next?
MRS. MARSHALL. We don’t yet know why they’re here.
JANET. Oh, I know why they’re here. I know, alright.
BELLE. This is exciting! What’s going to happen? Are they going to ask us questions? How do I look?
MRS. MARSHALL. I don’t know, my dear.
DIXIE. I think we should all be on our best behaviour if this really is a news crew. If those really are cameras. Civil.
The Professor snickers. Dixie unwraps a sweater from her waist and puts it on to cover her arms.
BELLE. Do you think I’ll get on camera?
DIXIE. Polite and friendly. Let’s show them the kind of people we really are.
Crowd People 1–5 and Janet’s Friends 1 & 2 start chatting incoherently. They are pointing offstage excitedly.
MRS. MARSHALL. I have every intention of behaving with civility.
PROFESSOR. How about you, Janet?
JANET. I – I welcome the idea of talking with the news about the injustices I — we — have suffered because of this book.
MRS. MARSHALL. And you, Professor? Will you behave?
A woman in a long blue jacket enters the stage, her back to the audience. She is instead facing the people gathered out front of the library. Behind her are two men, one holding a camera and one holding a microphone attached to a large battery pack. Like the woman, the men have their backs to the audience.
DIXIE. Sarah! Hello!
MRS. MARSHALL. How wonderful to see you again, Sarah. Thank you for coming to Book Club. I see you’ve brought some friends?
BELLE. Hi Sarah! Sarah, hi! It’s Belle!
Janet stares uncomfortably, shifting from one foot to the other. She straightens her blouse and wipes a few stray hairs from the front of her pants. The man holding the microphone positions himself in a squatting position at Sarah’s feet, holding the microphone upward. The man with the camera steps back and adjusts the lens.
CAMERAMAN. Okay, that’s good. Hold still.
JANET. What’s happening?
MRS. MARSHALL. I don’t know exactly.
CAMERAMAN. I think we can start.
JANET. Start what?
MRS. MARSHALL. Sarah?
Dixie waves at the camera and smiles politely. Belle, standing next to Dixie, is motionless and staring ahead. The crowd continues to chat incomprehensibly.
MICROPHONE MAN. Quiet on the set!
JANET. Excuse me?
The stage becomes quiet as the chattering from the crowd ceases.
CAMERAMAN. We are here in Withanu Falls today with author Sarah Hilderman to talk about her new memoir —
JANET. Withanu Lake, not Falls!
CAMERAMAN. [pause — pulls a small piece of paper from his pocket and reads it]. I’m sorry. Withanu Lake. Let’s go again.
MICROPHONE MAN. Ready.
CAMERAMAN. We are here in Withanu Lake today with author Sarah Hilderman to talk about her new memoir, The Many Faces of Withanu Lake published this fall. To Microphone Man: Are we good?
MICROPHONE MAN. Good.
CAMERAMAN. Sarah, can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book?
SARAH. Thanks, Tim, and thanks to Northern News Network; I’m so glad to be here again. I was inspired to write about a place that not many have been and to share a point of view that I think is unique. I wanted to tell the story about living in a small town without any of the whimsy that normally comes with it. I wanted to speak directly to my experiences trying to fit in.
CAMERAMAN. Great. So, this is a book about struggle, then, isn’t it?
SARAH. I think so, yeah. In that way, I think I was able to capture something true about my year living here.
CAMERAMAN. And how do you feel now, after the fact? Is there anything you would change?
SARAH. I learned a lot from my time here and I learned even more from writing this book. I’m thrilled to see it take on a life of its own.
CAMERAMAN. Thanks, Sarah.
SARAH. Thanks, Tim.
Cameraman lowers the camera and Microphone Man stands up.
CAMERAMAN. Okay, great. So we’ll take a few shots of the area and get a few words from the locals and that should do it.
SARAH. Thanks again.
Sarah smiles nervously and moves to stand off to the side beside Mrs. Marshall. Mrs. Marshall indicates that Sarah head inside the library. Sarah turns away from the crowd and cameras, walks the short distance to the library door, punches in the code she still remembers, and slips behind the library door without being noticed.
CAMERAMAN. Hi, everyone. We heard you were here for a book club to discuss Sarah’s new book, is that right?
DIXIE. Yes, that’s right, thank you.
BELLE. Thank you, hello.
MRS. MARSHALL. We were delighted to read the new book, yes.
Mrs. Marshall glances around at the smiling crowd.
MRS. MARSHALL. We all are.
CAMERAMAN. That’s terrific. I’d just like to get a few words from you, whoever is willing. Maybe just a thought or two about the book.
JANET [stiffly]. You’re from the news?
CAMERAMAN. Yes. Northern News. Mike and I, my name is Tim, we cover arts and culture.
JANET. I see.
CAMERAMAN. Would you like to say something? We’ll get your name afterwards.
JANET. Well, I hadn’t really prepared. I didn’t know there would be—
PROFESSOR. I could say something.
CAMERAMAN. Sure. Lifts the camera onto his shoulder and directs it at the Professor. Whenever you’re ready.
PROFESSOR. The Many Faces of Withanu Lake is a story about trying to change your life, trying to chase a dream, and finding it’s much harder than you expected. It’s about challenges and pitfalls, but it’s also about bravery in the face of mounting obstacles. I think it has a lot to do with love, actually.
The Professor shifts his position, lowers his head a little.
CAMERAMAN. Good. Thanks.
MRS. MARSHALL. That was nice, Professor.
BELLE. Thank you, yes, hello.
Belle continually brushes hair away from her face.
CAMERAMAN. Anyone else want to say something? How is the book club going?
The crowd people mutter to themselves quietly. Some turn away.
MRS. MARSHALL. Book Club is here at the librar—
CAMERAMAN. Oops, just one sec.
Cameraman hauls the camera back onto his shoulder and directs it at Mrs. Marshall. Microphone Man shifts over to raise the mic toward Mrs. Marshall’s face.
CAMERAMAN. Okay, go ahead.
MRS. MARSHALL. Book Club is at the library, here, every Sunday at one o’clock in the afternoon. Usually there’s only a few of us. Maybe four or five that come.
CAMERAMAN. Okay, thanks, great. How has everyone enjoyed reading The Many Faces of Withanu Lake? I hear there’s a book club that meets on the topic.
MRS. MARSHALL. We are all very fond of it. We are thrilled to be in a book. Some of us are. Some of us are in the book, I mean.
PROFESSOR. There’s been a lively discussion so far.
BELLE. Thank you.
Belle remains in the same stiff position she was when the cameras turned on. She has an equally unmoving smile plastered to her face.
PROFESSOR. We’ve covered many topics related to, and some not related to, the book, but each conversation has been passionate and engaging. We are all very, very engaged.
CAMERAMAN. Great. Okay, great. That’s great. Anyone else?
Dixie stands smiling politely and occasionally waving at the camera. Belle continues to stand motionless. The Professor pulls out a cigarette and lights it.
CAMERAMAN. Okay. No problem. To Microphone Man: Are we good? Microphone Man shrugs and nods. Thanks guys, this is great stuff. Mike and I are just going to take a quick walk around and film a few scenes of the area. We’ll need your names before we go, though.
BELLE. Thank you.
Belle brushes fallen hair away from her face without altering her expression.
MRS. MARSHALL [turning to pick up her tray of sandwiches from the ground]. Would you like a few sandwiches for the road?
CAMERAMAN. Yeah, thanks.
Cameraman grabs three small sandwiches in one hand.
MICROPHONE MAN. Cool, thanks.
Microphone Man grabs three in each hand, putting a couple in his pockets for later.
CAMERAMAN. Mmmm, good.
MRS. MARSHALL. Wonderful, take as many as you like.
Cameraman and Microphone Man nod and take a few more.
JANET. I think I had better get going. There’s a few things I need to get to at home.
Janet, still holding her copy of the book, crosses the stage to the opposite side, away from the crowd. She motions toward Cameraman. Cameraman is stuffing sandwiches into his mouth, so it takes him a while to approach Janet.
CAMERAMAN. Hi again. Sorry, do I have crumbs on my face?
JANET. Listen here, young man. Leaning into Cameraman’s face as she talks. Do you want a real story?
CAMERAMAN. Did you want to add something about the book? Let me just grab a microphone.
JANET. No! This is between you and me. I’ll give you the real story. The truth. Not all this nicey-nice talk for the cameras.
Janet is now holding Cameraman by a piece of his shirt in her fist.
JANET. Are you in?
Cameraman looks back at Microphone Man, who is still eating sandwiches out of his pocket.
CAMERAMAN. Sure. Yeah, I’m in.
JANET. Come with me.
Janet leads Cameraman to the side of the library, shaded and away from direct view of the now-thin remaining crowd. Cameraman follows while checking that his camera is ready to record.
JANET. Okay, let’s do it here. Ready?
CAMERAMAN [lifts his camera and points it at Janet]. Ready. Go.
JANET [raising the book she’s been carrying up to her face]. This is a book of lies. Sarah didn’t ask permission for a word of it, and none of it is true. Everyone here thinks so, too. Not just me, okay? I’m not alone on this. Sarah is a liar with nothing better to do than to steal from people’s lives and write a damn garbage book of filthy lies. That’s the real truth of this.
CAMERAMAN. Okay, can you step back from the lens a little bit? I can’t get this all in the frame.
Janet steps back two steps.
CAMERAMAN. Good. Right there.
JANET. This is a book of filth and lies. Nothing but a waste of paper. And you know what? You want to know something true? This is what I think of it.
Janet reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out a large, bright orange lighter, the kind used in emergency search and rescues and begins setting the corner of the book cover on fire. The flame is small, and then within a fraction of a second expands and crawls across the whole cover. Janet jumps, startled, and throws the book from her hand. Now a ball of flames, the book soars through the air and through the single-pane glass window of the old library. Cameraman moves the camera from Janet and the book to the window in one halting motion.
CAMERAMAN. Holy shit! Call someone, lady!
Cameraman continues to film the scene.
JANET. I can’t call — what? — I can’t — this is an accident — I didn’t —
Within seconds, the inside curtains are engulfed in fire and flames are leaping out from the library window.
BELLE. The library is on fire!
MRS. MARSHALL [turning from her quiet conversation with the Professor, Dixie, and Belle]. Oh my! Oh dear! Oh my god, what’s happened? Turning to the Professor. Sarah is in there!
PROFESSOR [running toward the library door]. Sarah, I’m coming! I’m coming, Sarah!
Janet remains still, staring at the flames. Cameraman follows the Professor as he runs toward the library door, punches in the keypad passcode and enters the small building. Dixie is scratching her arms violently as she watches the fire take over the south side of the library.
MRS. MARSHALL. Dixie, give me your phone. Now!
Dixie fumbles as she pulls her cellphone from her pocket.
MRS. MARSHALL [dialing]. Yes, hello, it’s Mrs. Marshall. The library is on fire. Hurry. There is a woman inside. Hurry!
The Professor and Sarah come out of the library door, the Professor propping Sarah up with one arm as she staggers free of the thick smoke filling the building behind them. The Professor sits Sarah down on a lawn chair he finds leaning against a nearby fence. Cameraman circles the little building, capturing as much of the fire as he can on film, while Microphone Man trails behind him, trying to keep up.
MRS. MARSHALL. There she is! Oh, thank god she’s okay! Oh, thank god she’s out!
DIXIE. Look, there’s Janet! Over on the other side. Janet! Over here, Janet!
MRS. MARSHALL. What is she doing over there?
Janet turns toward Mrs. Marshall and Dixie, the sound of her name jostling her out of a trance. She runs toward them.
DIXIE. Oh, dear! Are you alright, Janet? Were you inside the library?
JANET. No, no. I was out here the whole time. I’m fine.
MRS. MARSHALL. Did you see what happened?
PROFESSOR. Mrs. Marshall! Come over here! The Professor is standing over Sarah with a hand on her back to offer comfort.
MRS. MARSHALL. I’d better go over there. What next?
DIXIE. Janet, I said, did you see what happened? How on earth did the library catch fire?
JANET. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
Janet puts her head in her hands as she speaks.
DIXIE. Oh, Janet. Oh dear. Oh, Janet, what have you done?
Dixie looks over as Mrs. Marshall joins the Professor. The Professor speaks briefly with Mrs. Marshall and then waves over Cameraman and Microphone Man to join them around Sarah.
JANET. It was an accident.
DIXIE. What was an accident? What have you done?
JANET. I just wanted everyone to know the truth. I was just — Dixie, I — listen to me. Listen. I was just trying to do what’s right. I was trying to tell the truth.
James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.