My beloved and loyal fiction publisher, Goose Lane Editions, had its 60th birthday last month. Part of the celebration was the publication of a little boxed set of similarly designed small books, six@sixty, one short story each by esteemed Goose Lane authors over the years: Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady, Mark Anthony Jarman, Alden Nowlan (whose house I used to visit when he was alive, back when I was a reporter at the Evening Times-Globe in Saint John, New Brunswick), Shauna Singh Baldwin, and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, as well as me. All the books look like mine but in different colours. It’s a lovely gesture, a limited edition, simple and elegant. Also mine is very cute, like a book you can keep as a pet.
My story, “Woman Gored by Bison Lives,” is from my book A Guide to Animal Behaviour, which Goose Lane published in 1991. It was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction that year.
It’s a melancholy love story about a lesbian couple in Saskatoon. They watch an English tourist gored by a bison, and subsequently one of the lovers dies of cancer. I was learning to write aphorisms in those days. The story ends with a little run. This is the surviving lover talking to a three-year-old child: “There are certain things you have to know. Suicide is not an option. Life is always better under the influence of mild intoxicants. Masturbation is healthy, the sooner started the better. It’s a sin not to take love where you find it. That is the only sin.”
The story as a whole begins like this:
Days, while my husband is at work, Susan and I make love on the couch in her parents’ basement. It is a desperate thing to do, and we are both a little stunned by it. But something has pushed us to the edge of caring.
Gabriela, the baby, is upstairs sleeping, while Susan’s mother does housework or watches soap operas. We keep our clothes on, manacled at the ankles by a tangle of underwear, jeans and belts. And when Susan comes, I press my palm across her lips to keep her from shouting out her joy.
I don’t know if we are in love. But we are both in need of solace, and our sex is a composition of melancholy and violence, as though we are seeking to escape and punish ourselves in the same act.