Keeping the Peace

Keeping the Peace

by Colette Maitland
     
 

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"Martin's death was singular and pre-9/11, before death became everybody's business."See more details below

Overview

"Martin's death was singular and pre-9/11, before death became everybody's business."

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Well rendered, with a wise array of lifelike characters facing moments of personal compromise."—The Globe & Mail

"Straightforward realism with a touch of knowing humor."—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Taken together, [Maitland's] sketches of fractured blue-collar homes form something unexpected: a portrait of a community...subtly rendered, with characters weaving in and out of each other’s stories almost imperceptibly."—Quill & Quire

"This fine debut collection of 19 stories are mostly set in small-town Southern Ontario and involve the extraordinary events that mark ordinary lives."—The Toronto Star

"Yeats said that a poem 'comes right with a click like a closing box' [and] the metaphor extrapolates well to short fiction endings ... More often than not, Maitland nails this elusive 'click' ... a fine execution."—The Malahat Review

"Maitland’s stories push harder against the edges of reality, focusing on the fraying edges of relationships. The title may be Keeping the Peace, but these stories more often articulate the point at which relationships fragment. There is much anxiety that the peace be kept, that the code be followed, but damnation is inevitable within this mythology. The centre cannot hold."—Michael Bryson, The Winnipeg Review

"Small-town Ontario is a ripe setting for short fiction because, like a good short story, there is a lot going on in a tiny space. The landscape is layered and complicated. In Keeping the Peace, Maitland plays with the texture of everydayness. She sensitively and skillfully explores what's left unsaid to keep the façade intact."—The Telegraph-Journal

"If Colette Maitland were a musician, you’d say she had perfect pitch ... she writes with enormous empathy about characters whose lives have gone wrong. These stories push us to acknowledge the many flaws and faults that hamper human beings in the search for happiness…and then they push us further, into the realm of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness." —Isabel Huggan

"These residents of Tim Horton's Nation struggle with illness, death and depression and hang on as best they can with true grit. Raymond Carver meets Norman Levine on these pages, which herald the appearance of a fine new writer of everyday realism.”—Antanas Sileika

"Colette Maitland writes like a dream, with a touch that's compellingly subtle--almost deceptively so, since in these stories, danger lurks around every corner, and trouble is resolved in the most surprising and unsentimental ways. By the end I felt I'd experienced a literary sleight-of-hand. I had to double-check that I was reading a debut collection and not the latest in a series of Maitland's wise and lovely books." —Charlotte Gill, author of Eating Dirt and Winner of the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction

"A very accomplished writer."—Literary Thunder Bay

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781927428016
Publisher:
Biblioasis
Publication date:
05/17/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
File size:
2 MB

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Keeping the Peace


By Colette Maitland

Biblioasis

Copyright © 2013 Colette Maitland
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781926845920

1. Keeping the Peace

Sybil and Gwen drive east along the main street of their adoptive hometown in Sybil's used but reliable subcompact. ("Like New", Sybil was assured by the salesman when she purchased it in the spring.) All four of the windows are wide open. Still, Sybil can feel sweat pooling in the usual crevices. Now that August has arrived with its reputation intact, she is wishing she'd picked a vehicle with air. If Martin had been with her in the car lot, he would have insisted on it. He would have looked at a bigger car, too, one that could accommodate his daddy-long legs.
Six years.
Gone, but not forgotten.
Gripping the steering wheel a little more tightly, Sybil shifts her attention to their fourteen-year-old daughter and the impending job interview.
"Are you nervous?"
Gwen snorts through studded and un-studded nostrils.
"No."
"Because it's not unusual to feel a bit nervous, especially the first time."
"I'm fine."
"Well, good. Good for you." She looks over at her daughter, who continues to stare straight ahead. "I threw up before my first job interview. Twice. I was that nervous."
"Red light, Mom. RED LIGHT!" Horns blare from every direction.
The male driver of the beige minivan that Sybil has nearly hit raises a middle finger. He mouths obscenities at her through his closed window – obviously he has air conditioning – and then peels off. Sybil gets through the intersection and pulls up to the curb next to the single story, brick post office.
"Mom, what are you doing? I'll be late. You're going to make me late!"
Sybil's heart has relocated – it is in her ears, in her throat. It has to go back. "I just need a second. You won't be late. I promise." She closes her eyes, puts a hand to her chest – come here little heart. Why couldn't it have been a woman in the other car? A woman would have rolled her window down. A woman would have given Sybil an opportunity to apologize.
"Mo-om! LET'S GO!"
"Okay. All right." Sybil clicks her left signal light on, checks her side view mirror, looks over her shoulder to eliminate any possibility of a blind spot. All clear. She pulls into the right hand lane. They roll along in sweating silence to the next red light. A thought occurs to Sybil.
"Aren't people in small towns supposed to be friendly?"
"Maybe they draw the line at manslaughter. Green light, Mom!" Gwen's fingers fly to her temples, her voice drops to a scathing whisper. "God, you're so stupid!"
Sybil forgives the barely audible comment. Gwen is nervous even if she won't admit it. A lecture on respect will only make things worse.
"Did you bring your resume?"
"No. Stephanie told her boss everything she needs to know about me."
"And you trust Stephanie to speak for you?"
"Of course! She's my friend. Why wouldn't I trust her? She got me the job interview, didn't she?"
"True enough. It's just that Stephanie seems so . . ." 'Sluttish' percolates to the surface, but no, she'd better not say that! "So, 'mature' for her age."
Gwen expels one of her trademark dramatic sighs. "She's the only girl who has given me the time of day since you decided we had to move here."

High school in the city had not proceeded smoothly for Sybil's daughter. Gwen had gravitated toward the wrong crowd. Classes were skipped. Grades slipped. Two months into the first term, Sybil was invited to the high school for an 'intervention meeting' with Gwen's guidance counselor – a warm, intelligent, well dressed woman who laid pamphlets out in front of Sybil as if they were tarot cards. They chatted about leaders and followers, boundaries and choices, personal responsibility and the special challenges faced by single parents. Sybil left the school feeling refreshed and purposeful. She read each of the pamphlets over and tried to discuss them with Gwen. Things calmed down until February, when Sybil received another call from the school, this time from the vice principal. The story was that Gwen and another female student had fought over a male student, although neither girl would talk when they all met in the vice principal's office to discuss the two-week suspensions.
Gwen's suspension worked wonders on Sybil. It brought clarity. There really was nothing holding her in Kingston. The cursory friendships she had established with some of the other military wives had not survived Martin's death and Sybil's move off base and into the city. Martin was in an urn on her dresser, which made both him and his memory portable. She was a waitress. She could work anywhere.
Clarity led to opportunity a couple of weeks later, when Sybil came across a promising advertisement in the Whig Standard – an employment fair for a Charity Casino being built at the edge of the #401 between Kingston and Brockville, outside a small tourist town with an unpronounceable name. The Casino was on track to open its doors to the gambling public by June. Hundreds of jobs were up for grabs, including a call for experienced waitresses to staff an upscale restaurant located inside the facility. [...] She was offered a position ten days later and given twenty-four hours to accept. Now came the hard part.
Sybil re-read the high school guidance counselor's pamphlet on family meetings before sitting Gwen down to present her case. The Casino would be open round the clock. Sybil would be working some pretty crazy hours. The thought of driving the #401 in all kinds of weather, her small car a hyphen between transport trucks, was enough to bring on a mild panic attack. Things would be easier if they lived where Sybil worked. The little town had a high school. Gwen could start fresh, meet some nice, wholesome, small town kids. Sybil’s mind was made up.
Gwen put on an impressive show – sullen silence rapidly escalating into threats of moving out to live on the streets, followed by tears over her ruined adolescence, followed by an oath never to forgive her mother, followed by more silence.
They moved when the school year ended.
Gwen made Stephanie's acquaintance at summer school, both girls having failed to obtain their grade-nine math credit.

Sybil spots Stephanie as she is executing a cautious left turn off the main street and into the motel parking lot. Stephanie has plunked herself down between the furry hind legs of the nine-foot grizzly bear that stands guard outside the entrance to the motel. She is smoking a cigarette.
"I hope you aren't smoking," Sybil says, as she steers toward an end parking spot. "You know how I would feel about that."
" I know."
Stephanie has dropped her habit to the asphalt by the time she reaches Gwen's side of the vehicle.
"Hi Stephanie," Sybil says, and plunges right in. "You lose five minutes of your life every time you light up. Did you know that, sweetie?"
"Yes, Mrs. Paquette."
"They used to say it was one minute, then three minutes. Now it's five. And it won't keep you thin," she adds, scanning Stephanie's enviably perfect adolescent figure. "I know that's what you girls think nowadays."
Gwen turns her face from Stephanie, towards her mother and stares at her, hard.
"Fine," Sybil says, "I'll stop now. Do you want me to hang around?"
"Why?"
"In case you don't get it."
"Gee, thanks, Mom."
"Gwen's the only one that Theresa called, Mrs. Paquette."
"Oh. Well, that's a good sign, isn't it? Wait a minute, what about that thing?" Her index finger flutters in the general vicinity of Gwen's silver nose stud.
Gwen kills her with another look and climbs out of the car.
"Well, it doesn't look very professional. That's all I meant."
"Yeah, like a chambermaid needs to look professional." Gwen tosses this tiny grenade over her shoulder and walks away fast.
Sybil watches Gwen and Stephanie cross the parking lot, arm linking arm, the best of buddies. She was Gwen's best buddy, once, before their life got blown to bits. Memory plays a trick – Gwen shrinks to age eight as she reaches the motel entrance. Suddenly, she's walking through another door – all ponytail and plastic barrettes – while holding the hand of a grief counselor paid for by the military. The woman has given eight-year old Gwen a choice: shall Mommy come in or stay out? Angry, sad Gwen has chosen the 'stay out' option. Gwen, who refuses to speak of her father to Sybil, opens up to this complete stranger, while Sybil is left to cool her heels outside the door. The counselor's assessment? The bed wetting, the temper tantrums, the trouble at school are punishment, whether conscious or subconscious, for promises made, but not kept: Six months will go by in a heartbeat, sweetie. Don't worry – your Daddy won't get hurt. Not your Daddy.
-- How long could she expect this to go on?
-- It was hard to know.

* * *

"God, she drives me nuts," Gwen says, as she and Stephanie step past the nine foot, glass eyed sentry and into the front lobby.
"At least she's your real mom."
Reality's shifting nature became an issue for Gwen's friend last March Break, when Stephanie's mother and father had defined 'surrogate mother', then told her about their decision to divorce. Stephanie's mother, an accountant, got the house and the Neon. Her father, a computer software designer, got the sailboat and the BMW. All monies, securities, stocks and bonds were split right down the middle. A carefully worded custody agreement would allow each of them to retain a piece of Stephanie until she reached the age of maturity, whenever that might be. "Hi everybody," Gwen remembers her saying, that first day of summer school, when asked to stand and tell the class a little bit about herself. "I'm Stephanie. I was conceived in a test tube, implanted into my real mother's womb and raised by two complete strangers!"
Gwen had liked her straight off.
Gwen follows Stephanie through the front lobby, now. They pass by a gift shop full of shot glasses, t-shirts, key chains and coffee mugs. They push through a swinging door and into a loon papered hallway, walk past the entrance to the indoor pool and hot tub, down another hallway with numbered doors painted forest green.
"So, Gwen, are you ready to meet 'Thereeesa'?"
"Sure," Gwen says, ignoring Stephanie's creeped out voice.
Why should she care if Theresa is a lesbian? The woman has a steady girlfriend, according to Stephanie: fat Marsha, the taxi driver. Besides, Gwen is into boys – one boy, at least. Unlike Stephanie, who says she has made it with three guys since the start of summer holidays, right here in the motel's hot tub. If her mother knew what Gwen knows, she would totally not be here with Stephanie right now applying for this job.
They come to the end of the hallway. Stephanie knocks on an unnumbered door.
"Come on in."
Theresa is exactly as Stephanie described her last night, while she and Gwen were sharing a joint down at the berm – short, big boobs, thick waist, compact legs. She's sitting at a card table. The bare light bulb that is screwed into the ceiling above her bleached, commando styled hair causes her white uniform to glow at the edges. It also highlights the chain-smoker shadows beneath her slate grey eyes. There are no windows, but there are plenty of pails, mops and spray bottles to complement a diminished fleet of linen trolleys. Gwen's first job interview is about to take place inside a large broom closet.
"Theresa, this is Gwen, the girl I was telling you about."
Theresa motions to the folding chair across from her. "Take a seat. Stephanie, you can get started on your rooms. We'll handle things from here, right Gwen?" Theresa smiles, revealing nicotine-stained teeth. Gwen smiles back – lips only.
There is an awkward period of silence as Stephanie turns away to load her trolley with chambermaid essentials: towels, sheets, all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, tiny bars of soap, dwarf sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Theresa folds her arms and stows them high on the shelf of her chest. She stares daggers into Stephanie's back, but Stephanie appears not to feel them.
"You're supposed to restock the trolley before you go home in the afternoon, Stephanie. How many times am I going to have to remind you?"
"I did. Mine isn't here. One of the other girls must have taken it."
"Look, come back if you run out of something. I haven't got all day."
"Yes, ma'am."
"I'll get right to the point," Theresa says, once Stephanie is out of earshot. "I don't care for teenagers that much. Most of them are spoiled rotten. I go through lots of girls in the summer. They always start off gung-ho, thinking about how much money they're gonna make. But, once they realize I'm actually expecting them to work they up and quit. Are you gonna do that to me, Gwen, if I decide to hire you?"
It is word for word, what Stephanie mimicked last night, down at the berm as she flicked the end of their communal joint into the St. Lawrence. Gwen is prepared.
"I won't quit," she says, adding 'ma'am', like Stephanie does, for brownie points. "I'm not afraid to work."
"Good. That's exactly what I wanted to hear." Her arms slide from their shelf and drop into her lap. "Now, Stephanie has told me a little bit about you and your mom. She got hired on at the Casino, is that right?"
"Yes. She's a waitress in the restaurant."
"Well, bully for her. Some of us, who've lived here our whole lives, weren't so lucky." She stops to let the meaning sink in. "But, that's not your mom's fault, now is it?"
"No, ma'am."
"Stephanie told me about your dad, too. She said he was a soldier, that he died overseas when you were eight or nine?"
"Yes."
Gwen looks down at her neatly folded hands. When pressed about her father, she offers the same two pieces of information – my father was a peacekeeper, my father died. Most people step back and draw their own conclusions. They make it easy. Not Theresa. She leans forward in her chair. Closer. Her breasts come to rest on the edge of the table.
"What part of the world was he in, dear?"
"Bosnia."
Gwen looks up. Both sets of high beams are trained on her. She might as well give this bitch what she wants and get it over with. Gwen's fingers weave themselves into a tight red ball, which bounces lightly against the tarmac of her thigh.
"It was a land mine."
"Goodness," Theresa says, her rough voice softening. "That must have been real tough for you. Real tough on your mom, too."
"It was." She counts to five. Slowly. "So, am I hired?"
Theresa pushes back in her chair, all business now that she has satisfied her curiosity. "Sure. What you're wearing will do for today, but I'd like to see a uniform by tomorrow. White, nothing fancy, and it comes out of your pocket. The boss doesn't pay for uniforms."
"I'll see what I can do."
"I'll take you through the first unit, show you how it's done. After that, you are on your own. You'll be assigned the same eight rooms every morning. The boss allows half an hour for each one. If you get done early, good for you. If you take too long, we'll be having a different sort of chat. Are we clear?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Okay. Grab a linen cart and follow me."

* * *
[...]
The plastic handles of the grocery bags are digging trenches into her wrists by the time she hoists them onto the kitchen counter. Normally, she would have made two trips to the car, but it is almost eleven o'clock and she doesn't want to miss the start of the televised memorial service. Armed with a brand new box of tissues, Sybil slips into the living room.
"Gwen?" she calls.
No answer. She must have got the job. Good.
Sybil locates the remote beneath a pile of newspapers. She pushes a red button and tunes in to collective grief.
A new century, a different mission, another country, and still the same old story. Two Canadian soldiers this time: a private and a corporal – with two wives, one ex-wife and five children back at home, killed in their sleep by a rocket propelled grenade which punctured the tin can wall of their temporary barrack – their 'little home away from home', as Martin used to call it – before blowing them to bits.
The families sit in the first few rows: spouses, children and grandparents, brothers, sisters and in-laws, aunts, uncles and cousins. The politicians take up the row directly behind – a sandbar in a sea of sadness, they separate family from friends.
"It's really sick that you watch these things, you know," Gwen would say if she were here right now. "Wasn't living through it once enough for you? God!" Then off she would go, stomping upstairs to her room or out to the local piercing salon to have another hole put in her face.
Martin's death was singular and pre-911, before grief became everybody's business. No one asked to televise it. No politicians came forward at the end of service to hug Sybil or to touch a hand to the top of Gwen's French braided hair. The truth is that Sybil can remember very little about Martin's funeral service, other than holding tight to Gwen and feeling an overwhelming thirst. Sedatives have a way of doing that to a person.
She doesn't know why she watches.

* * *
[...]


Continues...

Excerpted from Keeping the Peace by Colette Maitland Copyright © 2013 by Colette Maitland. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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