It all started toward the end of the 1930s, when the young Hugh Hood serviced a flourishing Saturday Evening Post delivery route with more than fifty weekly customers. That was where the author-to-be first encountered the short story, in the fiction of the famous magazine writers Damon Runyon, Guy Gilpatric, Arthur Train, and the master of them all, P.G. Wodehouse.
Hood would go on to write several novels and short story collections. Perhaps more importantly, he would be a founding member of the now-legendary Montreal Story Tellers group. Reissued here on its 55th anniversary, Hood’s first collection of short fiction, Flying a Red Kite contains some of his most well-known short fiction, from the post-apocalyptic visions of “After the Sirens” to the Faulknerian portrait of rural Ontario in “Three Halves of a House.” Flying a Red Kite is an essential window into the work of a major and unique Canadian talent.
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Brandishing a cornucopia of daffodils, flowers for Gloria, in his right hand, Arthur Merlin crossed the dusky oak-panelled foyer of his apartment building and came into the welcoming sunlit avenue. Grey-green poplars and shining maples leaned encouragingly over him like counselling elder sisters, whispering messages, bough song, bird song, in his responsive ears, in an evening of courtship. He sang softly in stop time:There’ll be no one unless thatSomeone is you.I intend to beIndependentlyBlue oo oo ooDa da da dee dum.Volkswagens are period pieces, he thought, circa 1954–1958, the sense of period. Thirty years from now Volkswagens will look quaint, fixing a colour page or an old movie as exactly in time as an Apperson Jack Rabbit does now. If I conserve my Volkswagen and drive it ten more years, I’ll begin to be a period piece. He slid back the sunroof and rolled away into the sound of cicadas, the little engine grinding like a coffee mill, energetic, valiant.Up the avenue and around the corner he surprised his favourite antique, a 1929 Oakland Landaulette, all rich brown body and stiff black leather upperworks, owned by a doctor’s widow, ghosting home from the drugstore, its timeless driver erect on the mohair cushions. She preserved the car in exquisite running order as a memorial; Arthur had often discussed it with her. Tonight, as every time he saw the car, his fancies and recollections merged in a Gestalt that shot him back there when the 1929 Oakland was modish and new. He could be there in imagination in his body, his present age, in 1929, in 1829. My grandmother was born in 1870, he thought amazed, and could have spoken to men who knew Mozart, it’s possible. You can be there. 1929.My father had a 1929 Essex Challenger, dark blue, with chased imitation silver handles on the inside of the doors, with little window blinds that rolled zipping up and down, with creamy-fringed tassels. It could take Roxborough Road hill in high gear from a standing start. Then he was three-dimensionally in the car, his thirty-four-year-old self, the day they started for the cottage at Rouge Hills in the early summer of 1931. The upholstery, a deep-piled dark blue, exhaled puffs of linty smoke when you bounced on it, motes dancing in the shafts of sunlight. If you drew the blinds, a darkness loomed in the back seat.His mother said: “Stop for gas, Alex!”His father said to the garage attendant: “Castrol, please, and put the cap on good and tight.”They didn’t see him there, thirty-four year-old ghost from 1961, in the little boy squirming on the back seat. He shrank into the little boy and swelled into himself in his coffee-mill Volkswagen, and there were two of him, four years old and thirty-four.“Put the cap on good and tight.” Alex turned to Margaret. “Did I ever tell you about the man who drank all the liquor?” They nodded their heads and gazed lovingly at each other and (thirty-) four year old Arthur looked on, feeling safe and happy.Five years later they changed the name and called them Essex Terraplanes and then just Terraplanes and at last they stopped making them. They don’t even make Hudsons anymore but we were able to keep that car until the war was halfway over. The two of him expanded into three — as multiple as he ever became, even with his sense of period. I was learning to drive our old Essex the day I first saw Mrs. Vere in Westport. It must have been 1942 because I got my driver’s licence the next year, in the other car. I might have had the Essex for my own; but it died with sixty thousand miles on the clock the second time around, a bare grey spot that always hurt my eyes on the upholstery in the driver’s seat.We were by the slips when she came along in the Saturday morning sun. The codgers stared behind her and gossiped as she passed, mourning Lieutenant Vere, hero of Pearl Harbor, and commending his widow’s fair beauty. Her four-year-old trailed behind her and, Heavens, thought Arthur seeing it, relishing it, the ghost of twenty-three-year-old Gloria was in that toddler, and I couldn’t see her. I saw Mrs. Vere, how I saw her in white tennis shorts, mourning behind her, fine gold fuzz on her legs catching the sun. I saw the glint, cowering in my rickety Essex. How she strode, how she put forward her perfect ankles, coming to look at the sunlight on the water. She looked, oh she looked like a girl, like an attainable girl to me at fifteen, and how I loved her as she sauntered along I feel still, all three of us feel, four, fifteen, and thirty-four, comfortably here in my little period piece.On the other bucket seat the paper cone of flowers moves lazily with the car’s motion, wetness from the leaves shining on the leather, tiny rustle of green leaves, flip of the yellow blossoms catching Arthur’s eye as he rolls along in June, coming for Gloria, thinking of her marvellous mother at twenty-six. She looked like a co-ed, with that funny authority one’s older sister has, that sway compounded of a trifling difference in age and a cloud of otherness, mystery of being a woman. How I adored Mrs. Adam Vere, that golden widow as she said, looking into my Essex: “Where do we swim around here, that’s safe for children?” She listened attentively to my knowledgeable counsel.Love me or leave me And let me be lonely. You won’t believe me But I love you only.I gaped, I croaked, I blushed:“At the Boating Club,” I told her, “afternoons I’m on duty as a lifeguard and I’ll look after your little girl.” I scarcely looked at the toddler out of the corner of my eye, using her as a comic prop, an introduction-arranger, something out of a comic-strip or the opening paragraphs of a Ladies Home Journal story. There are ghosts out of the future, the unborn, as well as the dead from the past. How could I fathom marriageable Gloria, twenty-three, inside a pouting four year old? I looked instead at her unmarriageable mother and yearned and Gloria has her revenge.She turned away and the back of her knees dimpled at me, her thighs like butterscotch, to the edge of her shorts. Fifteen is hell! I shook all the way home and the knob of the gearshift loosened in my hand. And all that summer I bounced baby Gloria through the wavelets at the water’s edge, on her stomach, on her back, rolled her yellow red blue white beachball along the sand and chased it when the wind caught it and she cried, and Mrs. Vere laughed.“Get it, Arthur, get it!” they commanded together, their voices blending. That ball took off, sailed, spinning along the tops of the ripples, nothing inside to hold it down. I often chased it a quarter of a mile, coming back digging my toes into the beige sand to lie panting beside Mrs. Vere, while Gloria jumped up and down on my sacroiliac.“Don’t jump on Arthur, sweetie, he’s winded!” I peeked, pulse racing, through a screen of sand at an expanse of butterscotch flank, and pressed my aching adolescent length flat on the sand’s heat.
Table of Contents
- Hugh Hood: An Introductory Note by Michael Gnarowski
- Sober Colouring: The Ontology of Super-Realism by Hugh Hood
- Fallings from Us, Vanishings
- O Happy Melodist!
- Silver Bugles, Cymbals, Golden Silks
- Recollections of the Works Department
- Three Halves of a House
- After the Sirens
- He Just Adores Her!
- Nobody’s Going Anywhere!
- Flying a Red Kite
- Where the Myth Touches Us
- The End of It