a fine spell of dark

His name was Lester Gwyn, and at some point in his life, he couldn’t remember when or believed it important, he’d begun calling younger men lad. And when he did, he would say it with condescension, and always with a leering glance that would last far longer than necessary.

As for young women, he’d begun around the same time to refer to them as lass. Again with condescension and a leer that differed only slightly from the one he offered male students.

This was, it was hoped by other staff and by his supervisors, nothing more than an eccentricity. Same as the eccentricity that lead him to grow his unclean fingernails too long, use Vaseline to grease down his balding head and sport a pencil thin moustache. But not all shades of a man can be blamed on eccentricities.

For example: Lester’s eyes were ponds of pink and muddy hazel, his breath was sloughy, and his back slightly hunch. He was musty smelling, wore once-white, now yellowing button down shirts, and always the same very thin red tie with a tiny green thread-wild dragon embroidered on it.

It was said of him, by those lacking charity, that he oozed a rank sort of gluiness, like a wound oozes pus. An assessment that would have outraged most, but instead stirred something curious inside of Lester, making him feel, when he heard it, an earthy awakening below his belt, in the region of his tangled manhood.

As a university history librarian, he worked with many a morbidly introverted student, and happily watched the promising ones strand themselves forever in isolation upon unapproachable islands of past events. And sometimes, he’d startle one of these students by placing a thin hand upon his or her shoulder, approaching from behind when least expected. This he did for reasons of his own, but always in a way that alarmed and disconcerted. It might have been considered a gesture of kindness or encouragement if done by another librarian, but Lester inspired a unique sort of loathing no one could describe, so no one bothered trying.

One of the students Lester Gwyn enjoyed accosting in this way was a very shy young woman named Ophelia Flint, with her poorly fitted eyeglasses, awkward wardrobe and difficult hair. She routinely stumbled over the most easily avoidable objects and was inclined to stare down at her slightly tattered red rubber boots, when not looking in a book. In short, Ophelia’s bearing spoke of sullen frailty, which attracted Lester more than any other quality a woman could possess.

Now it is in late October, with its light sickly in the day and its nights approaching absolute, that Lester Gwyn would come into his own. Perhaps because the night is at its most accommodating then, and he could move more freely in the gloom, in fact becoming his own mobile shadow standing very still and watching, or rolling over the topography of things, in the subtle but ever-present light of the stars and moon that adds spice to any fine spell of dark.

And sometimes it will be, as it was in that year, that the occasion of Halloween will fall on a lesser day of the week, such as a Tuesday. Which is not to say that the air is any less filled with the smell of fire or the fragrance of spent gunpowder, or that the moon and lurking dead have any less influence over foul mirth. But Tuesday is a more modest and aloof day than any of the rest, and therefore more susceptible to the consequential weight of iniquitous ceremony. In short, the union of Halloween and Tuesday is a pleasing and compelling match for the devotees of what is wicked. And that year’s Halloween would be a Tuesday Halloween.

But Halloween, on the surface at least, regardless of what day it fell on, was no longer the bleak chamber of infernal ritual Lester remembered it once was. The candy kisses had lost their molasses, and the mayhem had been suppressed beneath layers of dreary correctness. He yearned for a lost long-ago when the fog half settled over the city, and the spirits banged hard on the door. The Halloween of his youth was now a ghost, its shadowy magic exchanged for a foil wrapped corporate malaise.

But that year Lester was determined to be the change he wished to see in Halloween, and that is why he’d sought out the absolute über victim, one whose demise appealed most to that sadistic spoke in the wheel of his psyche.

He began to stalk Ophelia on the Friday before Halloween, and Lester was pleased to discover how simple she was to stalk, always walking in the same small circle, between three primary locations: from the library to a coffee shop off the quad called Moe’s and then to what must have been her home, a squat really, a large derelict Victorian pile just off campus. She seemed to be the lone tenant, and only one window would be lighted after dark, a basement window just above ground level.

The library, Moe’s, old Victorian house. His plans were still in development, but Ophelia would be easy to hunt. She was a pigeon to Lester’s predatory mind, walking with her head down, her stringy hair hiding her face. Whatever happened to her would be her own fault. She was just asking for it.

On the afternoon of Halloween Tuesday, Lester found Ophelia in the university archives. It was a place, oddly enough, containing only local history, and it presented him with an unexpected opportunity. He could toy with her there, and enjoy an hors d’oeuvre of her vulnerability in anticipation of that evening’s main course. The table where she sat was stacked with files chronicling the university’s past, and its surrounds.

“Local history?” Lester said. “I thought your thesis was on Byzantine sewers.”

“Yes,” said Ophelia, looking up. “It is.”

Lester recognised a picture on the table. It was of the old house she lived in now, taken a hundred years ago.

“That’s the house on University Boulevard,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, “it’s condemned now, but several Deans have lived there.”

“Condemned?” he said, playing stupid. “But I see lights on, at night.”

“There are rumours of a haunting.” She struggled to keep her glasses on her nose.

“You think ghosts are the source of light? That’s odd.”

“History speaks in many different tongues,” Ophelia said.

That was insightful, spoken like a true Master’s student, whose study of history hadn’t yet broken her heart. But Lester was struck once more by her blank expression, her inability to make eye contact and the flat tone of her voice. Not for the first time, he suspected autism.

“There’ve been murders there,” she continued, and pulled an aged newspaper clipping out of a folder.

Police investigate Murder of Dean’s Family in Dean’s Residence, said the headline.

Lester pushed the scrap of discoloured newsprint away without reading it. All he cared about was  the possibility of adding one more to house’s body count.

“Perhaps someone lives there now,” he said. “Students are always looking for cheap or free rent.”

“Perhaps.”

“Do you think whoever it is, lives there alone?”

“Maybe, probably. Who can say?” She began nervously shuffling documents about on the table, as if to confirm Lester’s suspicions: she was the lone resident.

“I have to go,” she suddenly said, and began stacking her archival materials.

“Just leave it,” Lester said. “I’ll have an assistant clear it away.”

“Thank you,” she said, standing and stepping back, nearly stumbling over her chair, saved from a fall by a shelf of books. A couple of volumes fell onto her head. “Thank you.”

Lester stepped closer, and now they stood face to face. And in that moment, Ophelia smelled his mustiness and thought she saw something scuttle from one of his sloppy eyes and tuck into the other.

“You’re welcome,” Lester said, tightly grasping a leather blackjack in his pocket. “Happy Halloween,” he smirked.

Dark seemed early that night, the time change having occurred the weekend before. Lester found himself arriving ahead of time and standing across the street from Moe’s when Ophelia arrived. He watched as she sat in a window seat, sipping tea and reading an out of date romance novel, as he massaged the heavy long leather weapon in his pocket. He was smug. He knew he was undiscoverable. He was shadow itself.

Leaving Moe’s, Ophelia walked up University Boulevard, tripping occasionally over her rubber boots, to where the lampposts became old-fashioned and further apart. The light was dim and yellow, and the houses were those of sororities and fraternities, spread apart on double lots and in various states of repair. One house, however, was like a black hole. It was grander yet more ramshackle than the rest. It sat unlit on an acre of neglected land, with what had once been a grand driveway and surrounded by a high overgrown hedge. Most of its windows were broken or boarded over, and there was a For Sale sign next to the tall wrought iron gate.

Lester gave Ophelia a moment after seeing her disappear off of the street, through a hole in the holly. Then he followed, coming to crouch next to a dormant fountain statuette of a moss cover boy holding a cornucopia, silhouetted against a misty three quarter moon. There was the sound of water dripping into the pool, and things moving in the bushes. Then a basement came on, and Lester felt a thrill pass through him. In that room was a friendless outcast whose body would never be discovered.

Stepping round back, Lester tested a basement door. It was locked. Then he climb the stairs to the backdoor, and the knob turned with a rusty yelp. He’d worn lightweight deck shoes for the prowl. Inside the abandoned kitchen, he stepped lightly on what turned out to be a solid uncreaking floor.

Many of the old appliances were in still in place, in various states of degeneration. Opening a cupboard, he discovered ancient bags of rice, cans of tuna and a jar of Ovaltine.

Then peering through the entryway into the main dining room, he saw a decaying dining table surrounded by chairs and set with dirty china, as though a meal had just been eaten. Astonishing, he thought, that none of this had been pilfered after so many years.

Then, as his eyes adjusted further to the dim silver light, he saw a dilapidated baby grand sitting in a corner, with its lid up. He walked over and tenderly touched middle C, producing a thump as the hammer fell onto empty space. Then he pressed D, thump again. But this time, the blunt sound was accompanied by the sound of something scraping on the floor behind him. Turning quickly, he saw a chair out of place. And was that a moving shadow?

Then just silence. He was imagining things.

Back in the kitchen he quickly found what he was looking for, a door to a dimly lit cellar. Pulling out his blackjck, he began to tiptoe down the stairs, hearing muffled voices as he did. Then the quiet laughter of two women. This was a happy surprise. Two for one, but he’d have to be careful. His attack would have to be savage and without relent. He’d never killed two at once. Perhaps this would set a new tradition. Perhaps only a double massacre would do on Halloweens to come.

The cellar floor was dirt and very damp, the walls polluted with mildew. There was the sound of things scurrying all around. Wishing he’d brought a flashlight, he lit a match and held it high. A face appeared and vanish behind crates a few feet away. More imaginings, match shadows, he was certain.

He crept toward a dim light coming from around a corner, surely from Ophelia’s room, and when he found it the door was open a crack. Now, however, there were no longer only two voices. Peeking through the crack, he saw at least ten individuals sitting round a kerosene lamp on a table, the lamp light doing awful shadowy things to their faces. Lester saw that these people were pale, emaciated and dirty. Their clothing was terribly soiled, and some had ghastly open wounds.  .

Looking closer, he saw Ophelia at the head of the table, with a deck of tarot cards laid out in front of her. No longer clumsy and shy, she was now vibrant and laughing, as all those round the table hung on her every word. Looking closer, Lester saw that the strange lamp light made each of the faces strangely familiar.

It was a Halloween trick, a costume party. Lester cursed. This put a crimp in his plans.

Leaning back against the wet wall, he considered his alternatives, feeling his coat pocket for his backup switchblade. But he’d used the switchblade before. The standing tradition held that each year’s victim must die in a new and different way. Poison, gunshot, strangulation; the list was long but not endless. Not only that, in the past twelve years, no Halloween had come to pass without him committing a murder. Cancelling now would ruin his record. It would mean shame. He’d be reduced to a mere dabbler. There was loud burst of communal laughter as he came to this conclusion, as though the revelers in the next room could read his mind. Then there was a call out—

“Oh, come in and join the party, Lester.” It was Ophelia, but with a confidence he didn’t recognise. “Come in and share the joy. We’re all here for you, after all.”

All here for him? What could that mean?

“Come in,” the rabble repeated. “Take your place of honour.”

Lester peeked in again.

“There he is,” said an old woman with what looked like an open wound in the area of her heart. “Come visit us all again. This is your night.”

The faces in the room were becoming more unpleasantly familiar. He even began to recognise Ophelia in a different way.  It was all too confounding. Deciding to retreat, Lester spun round and walked into a tall man with the face of a boy, and a garroting scare encircling his throat.

“Forgive me, lad,” Lester said, and tried to go round.

“Lad,” said the young man, blood bubbling out of the open trauma just below his thyroid cartilage. “You’re still fond of the label, I see.”

“Please,” Lester said, and tried to dart around.

“No you don’t,” the young man said, grabbing Lester by the collar and pushing him into the room with the others. “In you go.”

Lester fell onto the ground. Everyone at the table in the ghoulish light, looking down on him. Now he fully recognised each of them. And there weren’t just ten, but thirteen. Each a victim of his past Halloween exploits. Many of their names he’d forgotten, but there was #4, Imelda Abel: the lass who died by straight razor, and was buried beneath the Clyde Street sidewalk, the concrete poured on the November 1st that followed her death; and #7, Martin Geir: the lad who’d died from an ice pick Lester delivered up his nose; and #9, José San Andreas: a lad Lester had thrown into the inlet with two cinderblocks tied round his ankles.

And the one who was now the most familiar of them all, Natalie Morgenstern, who had been masquerading as Ophelia. Natalie, the lass who was his first so many years ago, death by switchblade, thrust into the cerebellum, and given a twist. He remembered her body floating face down in a suburban drainage ditch. She had been his first, on a Tuesday Halloween.

“We all trusted you,” she said. “You’re a librarian.”

“Who can you trust if you can’t trust a librarian?” said someone else.

“And you were ready to kill me all over again,” said Natalie Morgenstern. “Maybe History doesn’t speak in different tongues, huh.”

A woman with a limp noose round her crocked neck said, “Don’t worry hun, it does and always will. But sometimes it mixes up all the details, sequences and delivery. Then it hands it all back, and that’s called karma, Mr Lester Gwyn.”

Lester could hear the piano playing now, the one upstairs without strings. It was a grim execution of something by Saint-Saëns, a pitiless accompaniment to what was unfolding. He remembered a lad named Roger from the Faculty of Music who had played the piece, but it couldn’t be him. Lester had taken a ballpeen hammer to both of the young prodigy’s hands, nailed to a wooden table, just before he sawed off his head with an electric carving knife.

“I really must go,” Lester said, scrambling on the floor.

“But we’ve dug such a comfortable hole for you,” said Natalie Morgenstern.

“And we mustn’t waste time,” said Imelda Abel, to whom time was once an important thing. “This is only one night, and you have thirteen different deaths to die.”

“Thirteen?” Lester looked desperately at each of the gory faces. “W-what does that mean?”

“That’s history talking in tongues again,” someone said, and all thirteen of Lester Gwyn’s victims laughed.

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top 10 new DSM V disorders

10. Münchausen by Gmail

A controversial label for a behaviour pattern in which a caregiver deliberately exaggerates, fabricates, and/or induces physical, psychological, behavioural, and/or mental health problems in those who are in his or her care by using a free, advertising-supported email service provided by Google.

9. Motion sickness with psychotic features

A condition in which one suffers from lack of insight and loses contact with reality while vomiting all over the backseat of someone else’s car.

8. Sweater dysphoria

A condition where a person feels that he or she is trapped within the wrong sweater. Recent studies have suggested that sweater dysphoria has more to do with biological than psychological development, and an individual’s innate identification with cashmere over Orlon.

7. Checkout line personality disorder

A psychological condition marked by prolonged disturbances of personality function while waiting in retail store checkout lines. It is characterized by abnormal variability of mood, deep sighs, rolling of the eyes and exaggerated postures of exacerbation as checkout clerks dawdle, chat-up other customers, incorrectly count out change and generally waste time. The resulting moods may secondarily affect cognition and interpersonal relations, and cause a deficit in impulse control causing individuals to purchase tabloid newspapers.

6. Pathologization disorder

A condition almost completely exclusive to the editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, now in its fifth edition. This condition is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, obsessions and the compulsion to pathologise the entirety of human existence.

5. Major impressive disorder (MID)

More than just being impressed, MID leads one to be overwhelmingly amazed, astonished, electrified, dumfounded, flabbergasted, stunned and generally gobsmaked by mundane, everyday occurrences. The personal relationships and functioning of people with MID are affected by the subject’s devastatingly annoying optimism. MID differs from all other psychiatric disorders in that the therapeutic goal is not to make the patient feel better, but to implement therapeutic regimes that demoralize the subject, with a goal of making him or her as miserable as the background population.

4. Proactive aggressive behaviour

Unlike those exhibiting passive aggressive behaviour, who deal with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations in an obstructionist manner while expressing aggression in non-assertive (i.e. passive or indirect) ways, people exhibiting proactive aggressive behaviour will just kick your ass.

3. Faceaphobia

A disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where it is perceived to be difficult or embarrassing to “Like” or post to a “Wall”. These situations can include, but are not limited to, viewing strange Facebook profiles, monetizing and/or reading the Facebook terms and conditions of use agreement.

2. Twittophilia

A psychiatric disorder in tweeps and/or peeps typically characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in Twitter porno spam, but may also extend to an obsessive interest in tweeters with cutesy Twitter handles like CheekyBritches.

1. Premature inoculation

A condition in which a man receives an inoculation earlier than he or his partner would like him to. Premature inoculation is also known as rapid inoculation, rapid injection, premature injection or queue jumping. Masters and Johnson define PI as the condition in which a man inoculates before his partner achieves inoculation, in more than fifty percent of their inoculation encounters.

the grape press union

— east end Vancouver, 1969 —

“Fucking wops.”

My father spit the words, his hostility filling every dark corner of the mouldy ’62 Bel Air station wagon. His ambient rage could fill a whole room, a whole house. I tried not to cringe. I was ten years old. He resented me, my weakness in the shadow of my older more robust brother. I was the greatest of his familial disappointments, thrust upon him by my mother, out of revenge.

Earlier that Saturday morning, still night really, as the city slept, a semitrailer truck had crossed the border from the US, into Canada, and sped the 99 into Vancouver. There, the driver had separated the cab from its cargo, near the back of a nearby Safeway store parking lot, and drove away.

The California wine grapes had arrived.

Now, as the long shadows shortened into swelter, the neighbourhood winemakers lined up in their cars and pickups to purchase and load the grapes that would become the wine that would fuel the alcoholic extremes of Christmas and Easter, and all stops in between and beyond, until the queue formed again late the next summer.

“They get outta their fucking beds at 4:00 a.m. to get down here,” my father muttered to himself, wringing the steering wheel, “before any decent goddam white man wakes up.”

There were ten or fifteen cars ahead of us. Each, I knew, driven by an Italian neighbour. My parents were of Irish descent, an ethnic minority where we lived. The east end then was working class, and southern European. My father was a labourer. It was where we belonged, and he hated it.

“We used to kick wop ass when I was a kid,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because they’re dirty, that’s why.”

This I hadn’t noticed.

“Mr and Mrs Andreoni aren’t dirty,” I said.

“Yeah well, there’re ways of being dirty you don’t yet grasp, boyo. Now, zip it and play with your toys.”

There was a six shooter in a holster lying next to me, and a Matchbox car in my sweaty fingers. It was an oddly shaped thing made in England, a lump of proletariat curves and primary function. Turning it over, I read the words Morris Minor. It looked like a UFO. I hated it. I didn’t like cars or guns, but dared not say so. They were the seeds of stupid boy games, I failed to appreciate. The boys called me a girl, but I wasn’t offended.

When finally we made it to the head of the line, my father got out and began to haggle, shaking his head and moving his hands emphatically. In the end, the grape salesman shrugged and stood his ground. My father did the same. I peeked over the dashboard. There was going to be trouble, unless one of them relented. My father was capable of physical violence. I had seen him punch my mother, and watched my mother lay low until the bruises disappeared. But at last, it was my father who gave in.

“Fuck,” I heard him say, as he handed over the cash. Then he and the salesman loaded the car to its fullest capacity, and it smelled like purple grapes for days afterward.

There was a communal grape press shared in the neighbourhood, constructed upon an elegant finely crafted oaken pedestal, with an iron screw shaft running down into its dark interior, surrounded by ribs of purple grape stained wood. It looked to me to be a thousand years old.

It arrived in our backyard three days after the purchase of the grapes, sitting mute in the shady but sticky perimeter of the backyard pear tree. No one had seen who put it there, but was an old country custom to share it, and my father took advantage, dirty wops or no.

The responsibility for its safekeeping fell to whoever possessed it at the time. For now, that was my father. Our grapes were in the basement, and had to be pressed soon. The wine making process must be begun. My father had less than a day before the unwieldy contraption had to be handed over to Mr Ricco, the last man in the grape press union. After he had used it, it would sit in his garage until the following year.

Later that day my big brother cornered me. He had long ago adopted my father’s bullying ways, and football had made him meaner and muscled.

“You helping dad with the grapes?” he said, stopping me as I rode my bicycle in circles in the front yard.

I shrugged.

“I’ve helped him enough,” he said. “For years. Now it’s your turn. I got other shit to do.”

Richard was sixteen years old. To say he’d done anything for years seemed an exaggeration.

“He doesn’t want me to help,” I said.

“That’s because you’re a fag, and dad hates fags. But too bad.”

At ten years old, new words were coming at me fast. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up. But I knew what a fag was. I wanted to deny it, but a divine voice told me that only time would tell. Denial was desertion of the self.

“I wanna ride my bike,” I said, and pushed past him. He grabbed me by my collar and pulled me back.

“I hate you too,” he said into my ear.

I froze. It was the only thing to do. He would have beat the hell out of me, otherwise. He’d done it before, in my bedroom, using a pillow to avoid telltale bruises. It was a trick he’d learned from the movies. He pushed me to the ground. Hate seemed to be everywhere that summer.

My mother took up smoking that August, and I watched her have her first cigarette on a sunny afternoon after she’d hung out the wash. She was a frail and tired woman, far more worn in appearance than the mothers of my friends. I’ve always believed she began smoking so late in life, at thirty-five, because my father was already a drunk and someone had to remain sober. So, cigarettes were the only addiction open to her, and her ultimate fuck you to the world. In later years I would come to realise that it was the illogic of an intelligent woman, isolated in a hopeless tangle of bridled domesticity and promised violence.

She lit that first cigarette with a paper match, as we sat together at the kitchen table. My father was at work, and my brother and sister were out until the street lights came on. She coughed on the first drag, and then took another. Then she went into the bathroom and was sick. She returned and finished what was left. I was amazed by her doggedness. She smoked another after the first.

Now pale from smoking, she said, “My father came from Ireland.” It was a strange moment for reminiscence, but she was this way. “They called these fags there.” She picked up the package of Craven A and examined it.

I said nothing, knowing that she had no interest in conversation.

“He died of the lung cancer before you were born. His name was Lorne.”

This I knew. I was acquainted with the mythology. Grandad Lorne was old IRA, and had fought in the Irish Civil War. He brawled and always won. He was a master rifleman. Women adored him above all others.

There was the quiet humming of the backyard coming through the open windows.

“He worked building the Burrard Street Bridge,” my mother said. “Once, he dropped his thermos bottle into the wet concrete of a tower foundation, and it sank into the wet cement. Coffee and Irish whiskey. It’s in that foundation right now, frozen there forever.”

She put the cigarettes on top of the refrigerator before she went to lie down.

That evening, my father came home drunk and searched the house for my brother.

“Where is that useless son of a bitch?” he hollered, as he held onto the kitchen counter to keep from falling down. “You!” he said to me. “Tell me where he is, or I’ll pound it outta you.”

I didn’t know.

“Those grapes ain’t getting any fresher,” he yelled. “Where’s your mother? She doesn’t keep you brats in line. The back of my hand’ll set her straight.”

“She’s at church bingo,” I said.

“That bitch.” He stumbled into the living room, and fell into his frayed easy chair. “Come here, boy.”

He took me by the shoulder, and pulled me close. He smelled bad, sweat, beer and rum. His eyes were rheumy and red. This was his usual condition after work, and how I would always remember him.

“Ain’t it enough that I work so hard to feed this goddam family?” he said. “I gotta come home to a house abandoned, and no supper.”

His supper was on the stove.

“Ain’t it enough that I got you for a son, half a goddam Nancy?”

I shrugged him off and stepped back, without looking away. It was finally my turn to hate. He smiled when he saw it on my face. Then we heard the backdoor.

“Who’s there?” my father shouted. “Get yer arse in here, whoever you are.”

He fell back into the chair the first time he tried to stand, but got his footing and stood as my mother came round the corner.

“You fucking bitch!” His words were a spew of sloppy syllables, as he took two quick unsteady steps toward her, and swung his fist.

A split second before impact, either in a moment of defiance or in hopes of annihilation, I saw my mother stick her chin out. Blood sprayed from her mouth and onto the wall, and across a framed sepia photograph of Grandad Lorne that hung there. She stumbled backward, her head striking the corner of a side table as she fell. And there she lay, very still with her eyes blank and half open.

“Bastard,” I shouted, torn between my need to destroy him, and my need to kneel at my mother’s side. I chose the latter, but could only gently stroke her face. The dead have a way of expressing themselves, unequivocally.

“Fucking bitch,” my father said, and staggered away. I knew that he was on his way to bed, to sleep it off.

It took me nearly half an hour to pull my mother’s small body out of the house, and into the backyard. It was night, and her lifeless eyes stared up at the new moon. It was a black hole. I set to work.

Some time later, I was in the backyard, wrapped in a raging orange light. As my father slept, I had taken a can of gasoline from the decrepit garden shed, and in a series of involuntary movements, poured it onto the floor beneath his bed. Then I lit a book of my mother’s paper matches, and from the hall, threw them onto the floor where the gasoline pooled, and ran out of the house. My only fear in that burning moment was hearing him scream, but he slept soundly.

The fire spread quickly, and all I heard was the increasing roar of flames.

Now in yard, my mother and I a safe distance away, I watched the animated light and shadow. Soon there were the sirens and red lights of fire engines, and my brother and sister returning home. The soul of the house had been prepared this, for its final release, as its wooden frame fell into flame. The rage and sorrow that had permeated its grain and fibre, gone in the smoke. The firemen could save nothing, and my siblings and I were driven away in a black Chevrolet by a tall woman from the Children’s Aid.

The following day, the men of the grape press union retrieved their communal property.