Excerpt from Us, Now
Us, Now is a collection of stories connecting Newfoundland and Labrador to the world via racialized NL Newfoundlanders. These are stories that fit George Elliot Clarke’s thinking on what a truly Canadian national tale might be: local, yet connected, broadly and diversely.
They are at their essence about the concept of home, finding home, feeling at home, and communicating about home. The catalogue has it right: these writers create “new visions of an in-the-present-moment Newfoundland.”
From the Introduction:
The desire to know another person’s experience, to leap into their skin, is the fuel of fiction, a desire that’s potent and sometimes incendiary. It leads, with a speed-of-light circuitry, to the heart, to empathy.
Empathy might be what it takes to make us agile in a fast-changing world; it might show us how we leap from ice pan to ice pan as the turbulence of political unrest, injustice, climate crisis, and—on the opposite end of the scale, love, beauty, and truth—work to upend us, alter us, make us new.
The word us is deliberate. In the title of this collection, I believe the us is inclusive, decoupled from its cold, brittle twin them.
In the title of this collection, us is linked with now. The brief pause between the two words, the comma, lets the reader understand it has taken us some time to get here, to the now, but we are all here together.
This is a book about belonging. Sometimes in these stories, belonging is fragile and fought for, but the act of writing from a place and about a place is belonging—the sometimes sacred, sometimes scary act of witnessing means writers always stand apart and, at the same time, are a part of.
I think these stories, taken as a whole, have the power to create a new understanding of Newfoundland literature.
Together, they say with certainty: This is us, now.
From “Across Oceans” by Tzu-Hao Hsu
The decision to move the family to a new continent was not fast or easy. You made several prospective journeys after much discussion with your wife, the children blissfully unaware. They found out in the winter before your move. They were excited enough; their knowledge of the future new home started and ended with the many famous misadventures of that red-haired island girl. You thought it serendipitous that the children should connect with that story out of all the books in your family collection and offered silent thanks to your ancestors for luck, taking it as a sign and blessing though you have never been one for superstitions.
You arrived in the middle of summer, late in the night, after a thirty-hour journey. The children were ecstatic to see the internationally recognizable golden arch of a global fast-food franchise, but there the similarities ended. Apprehension set in. But they are children, you and your wife told yourselves. They are adaptable by nature; there is nothing to worry about.
Besides, look at them, they were delighted. They were stiff trying to introduce themselves in an unfamiliar tongue when they met their teachers, and they made a face at spaghetti, but this was expected. They will adjust. Look how excited they were throwing rocks on the beach—only a little disappointed they could not swim in the frigid water—or how happy they were to plant a bulb in your sister’s backyard, though they dug mere inches before their hands started to bleed from the rocks that made up this island. Everything will be fine. They will adjust. You all have to.
From “This Town” by Kyekue Mweemba
The decisions you have made this past year, since the first day of spring in particular, have been coming for a while. Leaving was inevitable from the moment you stepped off the plane and realized you were actually on an island and couldn’t simply take a bus to Toronto.
Remember how shocked you were to learn they didn’t have a train? It definitely wasn’t Scotland. But the weather was the same, until the snow finally arrived. Your father talked to you about depression that first winter. But it wasn’t all bad. You moved into that beautiful house by Bannerman Park and met your beloved Pisces. You will get those matching tattoos before you leave. She is your Sweetie, and you, her Darling. Remember how you used to spend those cold winters ordering Venice Pizza and watching Daria and English comedies, laughing and dying, as you like to say? And people still talk about that Halloween party.
You know they do. You smile thinking about it.
But then you moved out of that house, and the joy it gave you turned into a distance and an uneasy discomfort, and the gap between yourself and the inevitable need to leave began to shrink. You applied to go on international exchange that year. You got accepted, and then you had that seizure in the airport and were told you should take care of your health. You have gotten better at that since October 2016. It’s funny now, how often you think about what you will do with your medication should you decide you are ready to have a baby. Remember, you never wanted children. Now you imagine teaching them how to swim at George’s Pond after a day of picking berries on Signal Hill.
You know by now. The summers on this island are sweet and short. They make you forgive and forget the winter. You forget the inevitable brightening of the summer. You pick the berries from the hills and swim in ponds that look out to the ocean. Still, with every fall you are reminded that it can and will only give so much.
Don’t be ungrateful; this island has given you more. Have you forgotten the Aquarius with the dark lipstick? You met her at that party. It was at that house on Fleming Street, not the one lined with Trollz or the one with more cats than people but the one with purple plants in the window. Wasn’t that a great time?
From “Ondu Nenapu” by Prajwala Dixit
I tugged on her hand, making her stop midway as we rushed through the packed bus stand. Her eyes followed my gaze, spotting the newest attraction that had caught my fancy.
A piece of cloth was attached to a tray that hung from his neck. Tired from the weight of the hundreds of tiny bottles arranged in a colour-coordinated manner, he wearily blew at the end of a stick, producing a round, thin, transparent film of liquid filled with air, thoroughly unenthused by this task. Upon occasion he’d sputter, “Bubbeloo, bubbeloo, hath Rupaiyee.”
I couldn’t fathom his lacklustre approach. I mean, they were bubbles! And he sold them. In my innocent eyes, there couldn’t be a better job in the world.
I looked up at her. She had the kindest smile on her face, and not because I was her grandchild. Simply because that is how she was (and still is). After the momentary pause, we were back to walking. And this time, I guided her, my tiny feet jumping with every other step. Watching us speedily wend our way toward him, the Bubble Man upped his ante.
“Bubbeloo bubbeloo, hath Rupaiyee” now had a rhythmic beat and a pep usually associated with fizzy drinks. He smiled at Ajji, revealing three missing teeth along the way. Ajji’s soothing voice and his gruffy bark exchanged pleasantries, testing my patience. I yanked on Ajji’s blue silk just to ensure that the important purpose of the visit wasn’t forgotten.