Herewith a gorgeous story from Dave Margoshes, who has contributed already two poems–“Theology” and “Becoming a Writer“–to these pages. I have long admired his work; I put him in Best Canadian Stories when I edited that estimable annual collection (over a decade of editing). “A Bargain” is excerpted from the author’s new collection A Book of Great Worth to be published by Coteau Books in April. A Book of Great Worth is a collection of linked stories based loosely on Dave Margoshes’ father. The title story was actually published in Best Canadian Stories, but in 1996, just before I took over.
Dave Margoshes is a Saskatchewan writer whose work has appeared widely in Canadian literary magazines and anthologies, including six times in the Best Canadian Stories volumes. He was a finalist for the Journey Prize, Canada’s premier short story award, in 2009. He’s published over a dozen books, including Bix’s Trumpet and Other Stories, which was named Saskatchewan Book of the Year in 2007. He’s been fiction editor of the literary magazines Grain and Dandelion, and was literary editor at Coteau Books for several years. He lives on a farm outside Saskatoon.
by Dave Margoshes
My father used to say that my mother was the one in the family who wore the pants. As he said it, he would invariably be wearing pants himself, either the pants of his suit or one of the Sears catalogue blue jeans my mother ordered for him, and she would be wearing one of her many flower-printed skirts, so the remark was surely meant to be ironic, though at the time, and until I went off to college and learned its delicious meaning, irony was a concept I was unfamiliar with, and what my father said was merely puzzling. The closest my mother ever came to wearing pants was the voluminous denim culottes she put on to tend her garden in the summer. Beyond those, and the one-piece swimsuit she wore when we went to the beach, I never saw her out of a skirt or dress, though she would occasionally walk around the house in her slip for a while after coming home from work. She was never embarrassed to be dressed that way in front of me, and so I in turn was never embarrassed to see her.
I think what my father meant by the remark was that my mother made all the big decisions in their life together. Another of his favourite remarks – again, ironically – was that he made the big decisions, on war and peace, world hunger, the economy and other weighty matters, while my mother contented herself with the small decisions, those related to the family and household, things like spending money, feeding and clothing them and the children, what movie to go to and so on. My father also often said that he and my mother did everything around the house together, with him doing the physical labour and my mother “supervising,” if it was something to do with the outside, and her doing the work and him supervising if it was inside – chores like the dishes and the laundry. All of these comments – conveyed in a joking voice but with a serious undertone – related to my father’s often-expressed grievance that my mother was “bossy.”
It was true that she almost always got her way. But not always. My father liked a drink now and then, meaning several times a day, I don’t know how many. She would have liked him not to drink at all. His concession to her was to rarely drink his preferred rye whisky in her presence – never at home, but he would let his guard down and have one or two at family gatherings where liquor was flowing. “I’m just doing this to be polite,” he would say, a little too loudly but usually with a wink, and the uncles would smile. But he kept a flask in the glove compartment of his car, a bottle in the bottom drawer of his desk at The Day, the Yiddish newspaper where he worked as a reporter and columnist, and during the course of his day he made occasional stops at barrooms where he was a familiar customer. At home, at night, usually seated at the kitchen table in his undershirt, he would have a glass or two of sherry or port, usually the cheapest brands. My mother bought it for him, and that’s what he specified, the cheapest, which, I imagine, also appealed to her own sense of frugality. This was her concession to him, these fortified wines, “a gentleman’s drink,” he would say when he unscrewed the bottle, as if to imply it was no drink at all then, and didn’t count.
Although I was a witness to them all through my growing up, this to-ing and fro-ing, these nuances of their life together, it wasn’t until I was grown and involved in a relationship of my own that I came to understand the delicate balance they had constructed and maintained. Well, not understand, but begin to.