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About the Author
Date of Birth:May 25, 1935
Date of Death:September 16, 2016
Place of Birth:Edmonton, Alberta
Education:University of Victoria
Read an Excerpt
Stories from the Breathing Castle
By W. P. Kinsella, Dave Margoshes
Coteau BooksCopyright © 2016 W.P. Kinsella
All rights reserved.
I have always been determined to be a writer. I have also always known that I was not very good. But even not very good writers get published occasionally. I have suitcases full of unpublished manuscripts, a three-inch thick folder full of rejection slips and a slim envelope with a handful of acceptance letters. My feeling was, even as I wrote a new story, that it would still be a failure, but it would be one percent better than the previous fifty stories I had written. I was willing to serve an apprenticeship, but apprenticeships end – and I could not see far enough into the future to envision myself as a journeyman. Years passed this way. Then Christie came into my life.
I was living in a rooming house in East Vancouver when I first met her.Existing in a rooming house in East Vancouver would be more apt.
My fame as a writer was limited to winning a contest sponsored by a mimeographed magazine with a maudlin story about a boy and somebody else's dog that brought me a one-hundred-dollar prize.
I knew my way about Vancouver well enough to qualify for a license as a taxi driver, an occupation I pursued half-heartedly when all other doors were closed. I did odd jobs, delivered telephone books door to door, helped out a mover friend on end-of-the-month weekends. I once demonstrated a product in a supermarket – I wore an apron, cooked sausage on a tiny skillet and gave out samples. I continually burned the sausage and people spit out the samples. I was fired after three hours.
Whenever I was late with the rent, which was often, my landlady, a garish old woman named Mrs. Kryzanowski, would threaten to permanently separate me from my room in the Breathing Castle, as the rooming house is known, a warren of additions built on additions, full of occupied sun porches, walk-in closets, and mysterious hideaways, each more lonely than the last.
Under my large, creaking bed with its ancient teak headboard, are those three suitcases full of novels, stories and notes, much of the collection thinly disguised autobiography, written in a strident, all-knowing voice. When I reread that work it does not surprise me that I have to drive taxi to keep my rent paid and my stomach full. That was, until I met Christie.
* * *
Two of Christie's favorite words are "Tell me?" Question? Statement? Command? "Tell me?" she repeats over and over as we make love, aching for me to describe to her our lovemaking in the most graphic way possible. Mostly I cannot. My jaws seem locked by some gargantuan headgear. Christie thrashes and cries beneath me. "Tell me. Tell me. Tell me."
"Tell me, Wylie?" she whispers another time, rubbing about me like a heat-seeking cat. Tell me how we met. Tell me about our first time. But reality is too much for me. It turns me catatonic, until, much later, I sit staring at the geography of my keyboard. As I type, coloured flowers appear on the page.
* * *
This is another of the kind of story I was writing when Christie appeared in my life. It is a story that was published in a small magazine, but from it you will see why I was not more successful.
THE POWER OF THE UNIVERSE
The spaceship looked like a cross between a footlocker and one of those dun-coloured boxes where mailmen pick up letters and packages mid-way on their routes.
Zinth landed the spaceship in thick foliage on the edge of a downtown park. He unbent himself from the craft. He was about five feet tall, resembling a stick-figure drawing made of pink shower curtain material. He walked through the empty park staying within the moon shadow of trees. It was 3 a.m.
Staring straight up the trunk of a sycamore, he spotted a gull asleep on a high limb. He trained his vision on it, deduced its DNA, and a second later he occupied the body of an identical gull.
As dawn broke, Zinth the gull flew to a dumpster behind a fast food restaurant. As a vital-looking young black man jogged up to the back door Zinth snapped into synch with the young man's DNA. As the black man entered the restaurant, his duplicate turned away from the door and moved off through the downtown streets.
Zinth's assignment was to learn about fuel. He soon discovered that his borrowed body was crying for fuel. He let the part of the young man's brain that craved sustenance, take over. He entered a café and ordered breakfast, surprised at the words he spoke and more surprised at what was delivered to him. He let himself taste a few of the morsels as the young man ate. But Zinth soon turned off his taste buds. While the food and drink were hot, they lacked the hot blood taste so necessary to good food. Apparently insects were not part of this species' diet. There was nothing like a blowfly casserole with a scattering of fire ants for breakfast.
Zinth wandered into a laundromat, which at 10 a.m. was a hive of activity. The box-like white machines that first wet and then dried the cloth articles stuffed into them obviously operated on some kind of fuel. Zinth would watch and learn, take samples.
He noted that after the cloth items were placed in the machines, a magical white powder was poured over them, sometimes from a small box, sometimes from a cup dipped into a large box of magic powder. Zinth noted that the machines were quiet until fueled by metal slugs of some ilk, two usually, sometimes three, and the wet machines would spring to life, hissing and gurgling, vibrating with energy.
Their magical powder apparently remained in the cloth articles for when they were transferred to the wind-box, as Zinth thought of it, the second machine needed only to be fueled by more slugs. He spent over an hour staring at the rows of machines, until a black woman dressed in purple garments glared at him and said loudly, "What you lookin' at?"
Zinth turned his gaze away without replying. Already a plan was forming. He noticed that bolted to the wall was a machine that dispensed small boxes of magical powder, and another machine that dispensed fuel pellets in return for patterned paper, the same kind he had exchanged for his breakfast.
He watched a woman acquire an orange-and-black box of powder, and a handful of pellets. She set the powder and pellets on the counter and began sorting her cloth objects into two piles which Zinth determined had something to do with shades of colour.
He walked casually down the counter until he was behind the woman. Suddenly, he seized the box in one hand, the fuel pellets in the other. He mishandled the stack of metal pellets, grasping three, sending the other three clattering to the floor.
Zinth told his feet to run and as he moved toward the street wassurprised at the commotion that followed him. The pellets and magical powder must be of great value, he thought. He had been near the rear of the laundromat when the owner of the pellets and powder began wailing alarmingly. As he made his way down the aisle people pulled at his clothes and attempted to trip him. A big woman gave him a nasty wallop on the side of the head with her clothes basket. As he neared the front of the building a burly man came running out of a compartment, holding a bluish weapon that immediately instilled great fear in his cloned host. The man pointed the weapon at him and demanded that he stop.
When he didn't stop, the long-handled weapon made a loud bark and scraps of metal were propelled into his body doing a certain amount of damage to the chest of his travelling vehicle.
On the street, uniformed police or soldiers joined in the chase, and he barely made it to the dumpster where he had left the gull before they overtook him. As he entered the gull and glided away, his travelling host vanished, leaving behind several confused uniforms looking about for someone to bark their weapons at.
Zinth flew back to his vehicle, not without difficulty as the gull was definitely not built to transport objects by holding them with its rather pitiful feet. He waited until dark before he released the gull and eased his own form back into the spacecraft. As he flew into outer space at double the speed of light, Zinth was proud of himself, and considered it a day well spent.CHAPTER 2
I was coming down the stairs when I laid eyes on Christie for the first time. She was standing at the door to a tiny room on the ground floor with Mrs. Kryzanowski. The previous occupant had been some sort of psychopath who screamed like a banshee in early hours of the morning, and the previous week threw his toaster through the window into a bed of marigolds. Next day, two young Asian men wearing black muscle shirts forcibly escorted the psychopath from the premises. Mrs. Kryzanowski has powerful friends in what I perceive as the Vancouver underworld.
Christie was wearing tight blue jeans, black, ankle-high cowboy or biker boots, a white, off-the-shoulder blouse and no bra. I froze three steps from the bottom.
Mrs. Kryzanowski, firmly clutching the key to the room, was delivering a lecture about what was tolerated and what was not. With her heavy Polish accent, her speech sounded like coughing. She had pink, leathery skin and sour eyes.
"Rent on the first by noon, or out you go. No hooking, no parties, no loud music." Christie carried a single brindle suitcase that looked like it had been through many owners, all of whom had abused it.
An hour later, I tapped on Christie's door.
The look on her face when she opened it made it clear she thought Mrs. K. had returned to deliver more instructions.
"I'm Wylie. I live upstairs." I said. "I see you've met Mrs. Crazynowsky. Welcome to the Breathing Castle."
Christie had hair the colour of a ripe, red plum, greenish eyes and freckles everywhere. She was smoking a cigarette.
"So what are you, the fucking Welcome Wagon?"
"I live upstairs," I said. "I left all the free samples in my room. I saw Mrs. K. check you in and thought you might like company. I'm going for coffee at a place around the corner. Would you like to join me?"
Christie gave me a baleful look. "So you've come to hit on the new resident." She paused a moment, keeping me in suspense. "You look harmless enough, and I haven't had anything to eat today. But, I warn you, if you mess with me I can be dangerous."
"You're a good judge of character," I said. "I am harmless, at least that's what everyone tells me."
"No one's harmless," said Christie, reaching back to pick up her cigarettes and her leather purse from a tiny insect-legged table.
* * *
Christie's voice was low and musical. It struck me that she could be singing. She rattled on, sometimes casually, as if we were old friends, sometimes breathlessly, as if we had only a few moments together and she had to get her whole story told before something unpleasant happened.
"I shared an apartment for a while, but this chick was using and never had any money for rent. Junkies are like that. This was after my old man and me broke up for the last time. Threatened to get me, the son of a bitch. Used to follow me around. I carried a gun to protect myself."
She tapped the oversized leather handbag on the dresser. We were in my room at the Breathing Castle. We'd been at the lunch counter for like two hours. I had coffee. Christie had a hamburger and chocolate shake, raisin pie, coffee, coconut cream pie.
"I got busted for carrying the gun. They didn't care that it was for self-protection, like they were gonna keep that psychopath from killing me. I never appeared in court. There must be a warrant out for me. That was why I sort of faded into the woodwork when the cop car passed us on the street a while ago, on our way back from the lunch counter. Did you notice?"
I nodded, although I hadn't noticed. I am very good at listening to a monologue. Article by article I was divesting myself of my clothes.
Reaching behind her, Christie undid several buttons down the back of her cotton blouse. She let the blouse slide down her arms until, facing me, she was naked from the waist up. Her breasts were small and there were pale freckles on her shoulders.
"Christie is presently living alone," she said in underlined italics, stating what appeared to be the obvious, as she stepped toward me, her small hands on the wide black belt of her jeans.
Christie in my arms, like running barefoot through bluebells.
Christie's warm hands glided delicately over my body. Her tongue traced a path down my belly. Her mouth on me was like hot silk. Behind the plum-coloured curls her eyes were closed.
Later, Christie lit a cigarette and laid it carefully on the edge of the dresser. She put on her blouse, struggling to button up the back, and began her running monologue again.
"I was in the hospital once, women things. Scar." She patted her flat, denim-covered belly. "I should tell you about my operation. Christie could tell you a few things about doctors ..."
I watched and listened as she stretched her arms catlike, adjusting her breasts beneath the thin cotton of the blouse.
I was thinking about the time in high school when I asked a girl for a date and she laughed at me.
"What would we talk about?" she said. "You're such a student. I don't go to classes half the time." Her name was Roxy, and she was regarded as tough. She dated jocks who owned cars, and a guy with a motorcycle who often dropped her off at school. I wondered what they talked about. In high school it is sad to be classified as a student.
The monologue came to a temporary halt. Christie gathered her handbag, slung the leather strap over her shoulder, picked up her cigarette from the edge of the dresser.
"Maybe I'll see you around." She turned toward the door.
Once you know what it's like to be humiliated, laughed at, the experience can never again be so devastating. What did I have to lose?
She stopped, glanced back at me, tossed her head, making her curls shiver like leaves touched by a breeze.
"I'd like you to take off your clothes and come back and lie down with me. I want to really make love with you."
The room was full of the sound of my heart banging in my ears.
She took a drag on her cigarette, moved her head almost imperceptibly as she exhaled.
"I don't think I ever wanted to do anything so much in my whole life. I did everything but ask, didn't I? I can't ask. I mean, what if you said no?" She placed her purse on the dresser and began the ritual unbuttoning.
By the next day, Christie had returned her key to Mrs. Kryzanowski and moved in with me.
* * *
I mentioned that I'm not a very good writer. The story I was writing when I met Christie was called "The Spaceship that Crashed on a Cattle Ranch," which began, "'Brovald the midget wrangler was the first to reach the scene of the crash. Brovald was a cousin of Eddie Gaedel, who wearing the number 18, once went to bat for the St. Louis Browns. Tumbleweeds were bursting into flame as far as a quarter mile from the crash scene, which tended to spook Brovald's pony, Tiny Tim.'"
Is that not truly bad?
That night, as Christie slept in my bed, I wrote a new story. I could tell it was better than anything I'd done before.
In the desert at night there is sex and there is dancing. Traditionally, buses enjoy the waltz.
Near the oasis where the buses have been abandoned, in the chill night the moon touches a tendril of ground fog, a coyote serenades a dazzle of stars, while from beyond the first slope swells the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. A waltz. A slow, weary, fiddle-heavy waltz.
She was a school bus wearing a serious yellow and black uniform, warning lights always a watt or two more brilliant than her contemporaries. Precise, military, she had fancied herself having the panache of a Japanese general. On serene spring mornings, bougainvillea like blood splotches beside the road, she would take control of her steering. Her velocity cowing the shrieking children into their seats like a firm push. But buses are only as good as their last tune-up. Eventually, she was sold to a church where for several years she worked only Sundays, after which it took her months to obliterate the odors of incense, varnish and freshly scrubbed children. Finally, she was purchased by a couple from Azle, Texas, who saw themselves as pioneers.
"We have always dreamed of living in a bus in the desert," they said. She quaked. Her tires twitched. There were horror stories told in every bus barn and wrecking yard of what was likely to happen if you were purchased by the young and optimistic.
Her seats were gutted. Plywood flooring added. Propane installed. There was handmade furniture, curtains on the windows. The couple from Azle were happy as they squatted at the tiny oasis where tumbleweeds hissed by in the night, and the wind sawed a tune on distant and rusting barbed wire.
Then, the female pioneer became pregnant.
"We will spend weekends in the bus," they said.
They spent one. Sand and dust have ways of infiltrating closed places, the bus interior became grainy and uncomfortable, too hot in the day, too cold at night. He scrawled "Dust me!" on the insect-legged table. The propane tank developed a leak. Vandals flattened her tires and scarified her fading yellow paint.
* * *
Billy Byrd is picking a solo on the weepy steel guitar, as Ernest Tubb sings "Waltz Across Texas."
Excerpted from Russian Dolls by W. P. Kinsella, Dave Margoshes. Copyright © 2016 W.P. Kinsella. Excerpted by permission of Coteau Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1. Title Page,
2. Book & Copyright Information,
3. In the Beginning,
4. The Phantom Bowling Ball,
5. Chapter 1,
6. The Power of the Universe,
7. Chapter 2,
8. Bus Dancing,
9. Chapter 3,
10. Evangelical Coat Hangers,
11. Chapter 4,
12. Truth and History,
13. Chapter 5,
14. The Insect,
15. Chapter 6,
16. Out of the PIcture,
17. Chapter 7,
18. Murderous Ways,
19. Chapter 8,
20. The Bluebird Café,
21. Chapter 9,
22. Overheard Conversation,
23. Chapter 10,
24. Risk Takers,
25. Chapter 11,
26. Kissing Petty,
27. Chapter 12,
28. Keeping a Pet Wolf,
29. Chapter 13,
30. Lonesome Polecat in Love,
31. Chapter 14,
32. A Short History of Country Music,
33. Chapter 15,
34. Waiting on Lombard Street,
35. Chapter 16,
36. The Snow Leprechaun,
37. The Ridgepole,
38. Chapter 17,
39. Shorts Story,
40. Chapter 18,
41. Things Invisible to See,
42. Chapter 19,
43. The One True Church of God's Redemption ...,
44. Chapter 20,
45. Zachariah Durdle,
46. Chapter 21,
47. Mama's Little Visa Loves Shortenin' Bread,
48. Chapter 22,
49. B & E,
50. Chapter 23,
52. Chapter 24,
54. Chapter 25,
56. Chapter 26,
57. Invisible Dogs,
58. Chapter 27,
59. The Knife in the Door,
60. Chapter 28,
61. The Last Surviving Member of the Japanaese ...,
62. Chapter 29,
63. Do Not Abandon Me,
64. Chapter 30,
65. Asian Girl,
67. About the Author,