Listen to Anita describe hauling manure in an old wheelbarrow, and the isolation and depression of single motherhood. Plus: read a story about playing High and Go Seek and sexual assault.
Note about this episode: this was recorded earlier than the more recent episodes already posted on this site. Because of this, we interrupt each other a bit too much, as my interview skills are still being perfected. It is still very much worth the listen. My mother describes the difficulties of living isolated once we settle down into a small town after she left my father, trying to live off the land as much as possible, and negotiating single parenthood and depression.
As this podcast evolves, there will be different authors of the short fiction, as well as different contributors for the interviews. Stay tuned; those are in the works.
Email me at email@example.com with questions or commentary.
Table of Contents for Episode 4
Part One: Interview with Anita. She describes the physical labour involved in gardening the land we rented, as well as her nervous breakdowns. Audio only, photos below.
Part Two: Short story written by Cimminnee, about playing Hide and Go Seek and sexual assault. Text only.
Part One: Gardening and Nervous Breakdowns, early 1980s.
Interview with Anita, audio only.
Part Two: Hide and Go Seek/Sexaul Assault
Written by Cimminnee Holt
Small Town Nowhere, Age 10
Étienne is the weird kid. His skin is dark—maybe part native?—although I have never heard him mention it. His mother, at least, is French; when she leans out of the kitchen window to call him back inside her accent is that of a native francophone. We can all tell. We can always tell.
She insisted on a French name. He gets teased. “Hey Steve,” the boys taunt, emphasizing the Anglicized version of his name, “How do you say ‘Cocksucker’ in French?” And they laugh. Étienne rarely reacts. Speech seems to hesitate in his throat, and instead he gestures and nods to convey his assent or disagreement. When he does utter words it is rarely more than two syllables at a time. His voice is deep, like a grown man’s, though he is our age, and its mature resonance often catches me off guard.
When we play Hide and Go Seek on long summer evenings Étienne is never “it” because he does not volunteer to go first and no one ever forces him to. He does not get caught. While everyone is absorbed in the thrill of Hide and Go Seek in the dark, he sits, patiently, in his spot, waiting. Sometimes a round ends and a new one begins without him; we’ve forgotten to look for him. He will not be the one heard shrieking in fierce delight as they run from an outstretched hand. He will not be the one struggling in the grass with a girl. I am fairly certain that he is, also, not a cheat, as he will not be the one who trespasses our hiding-zone boundaries, which spans about a square mile. You must remain within the backyards of one block (a country village block, where someone’s back yard could have a corn field or small barn). It is forbidden to cross the street, or hide inside a house or shed.
Tonight he offers a rare response to their taunt. “You say, ‘Tiens, Cocksucker!’” as he flips the boys his middle finger, pronouncing the words with a parody of a French accent.
How to describe this feeling?
I’ve been running through the cornfield. A giggle barely held down as I hear swift footsteps behind me. Emerging from the perimeter and diving into some bushes, I crouch against the short trunks, so that my shadow merges with the bush. Breathe, in through my nose and out through the mouth, so as to make as little sound as possible. The sound of quick-rustling corn stalks zips by me. Relief. I am safe for the moment.
I’m jolted from my hiding position by Colton, our group’s most popular kid, who creeps towards me through the branches. I had not heard him approach. He grins. His white teeth reflecting what little light there is. My heart pounds. I am caught in the bushes hiding with the cute older boy (he is eleven going-on-twelve; I am ten). All of the girls have a crush on him. Colton, smiling, slips his hand underneath my shirt in one fast motion, and squeezes my budding breast.
I am stunned. His hand is warm. It feels odd against me. I’ve never been touched by a boy before. I have only kissed one, and that was last summer during a game of Truth or Dare. He gives my breast a honk—I don’t like it, it hurts—and before I can object he shoves his other hand up the bottom of my shorts, along my inner thigh, to roughly grasp me between the legs.
I am mute, stunned into silence. Panic gathers in my throat, choking me. I hear only the reverb of my distressed heartbeat as it pounds in my eardrums. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
This is the feeling that lasts forever. Shock (what is he doing?) and fear (he is hurting me) and confusion (because I have a crush on him) and betrayal (I do not want this, not like this). What is it called, all these emotions at once?
“Stop Colton!” I finally say in a harsh whisper, trying to pull his hands away. He is too strong, though, and just pushes both hands harder against me.
In childhood I was active, athletic, and often told that I am “strong for a girl.” I have always been the tallest in my class, including the boys, and even a half-head taller than a few female teachers. I run the fastest, climb the highest. But this summer there’s been a shift. The boys I’ve grown up with are catching up. Their pre-pubescent growth spurts mean they exceed my speed and strength. I have never not been able to physically defend myself against the boys. Until now.
“STOP!” I order again, and try to scratch his arm. He gets angry, the grin turning to a snarl, and his fingers forcefully push away the fabric of my underwear. I try to kick my legs but he has kneeled on one of them, his weight keeping me pinned. We struggle. Colton just presses his hands and fingers harder and rougher against me, not quite succeeding in moving my panties aside, but not relinquishing his efforts either.
And then, Étienne’s shadow is there. Quietly in the darkness he has crawled into our hiding spot. “What’s up, guys?” he asks softly.
Colton jerks his hand out of my shorts, grins at Étienne, and hops to his feet to run off. I sit in the bushes with Étienne, saying nothing. He does not move. I don’t either. “Come on,” I finally say, “Let’s get to base.” He follows me back up through the cornfield. When the base—a predetermined porch—comes into view, we see that most of the other kids have already made it safe. Glancing around, there is no sign of “it” from the edge of the cornfield. We make a furious dash across open territory for the stairs, both reaching out to declare immunity from being “it” by touching base. My fingers touch Étienne’s for a brief moment before I yell, “Safe!” Étienne puts his hands on his knees, as if to catch his breath.
Later on, when the game is finished, the gang parts ways. Étienne and I leave in one direction, as we live just a few blocks apart; Colton and the rest amble off in another. As we walk away I look back at the shadowed figures of my friends retreating under a streetlight. Colton is the only one whose gaze returns my stare. He lifts up his hand, and gives me the middle finger.
 “Tiens,” in this context, is translated as the phrase “take this” (while giving the middle finger).
Winter, Small Town Nowhere, Age 10
In the winter, on a Saturday, Étienne is at my door. I peer down at him, standing in his cross-country skis and boots, balancing on his spiked poles. The glare of white snow blankets surround his dark outline. “Get your skis,” he says, in his smooth deep rumble, his tone somewhere between a gentle order and a question.
My mother had bought used cross country skis and boots at the church basement bizarre. She was excited to get boots with my size; someone’s outgrown footwear is my new sports gear.
I have never spoken of that night to Étienne. It was five months ago. In small towns information is passed along with every exhale of breath, usually through a mouth spurting blue/grey smoke, as one hand holds a cigarette, and the other a cup of tea. There are social repercussions to truth and facts, far more than to rumour and lies.
“Ok,” I agree. I shut the door and get on my snowsuit, grab the ski boots, and get the key for the shed. Outside, Étienne watches as I unlock the wooden slat door, and swing it wide. I lean in to yank my skis from the hook while the door swings to bang me in the buttocks. I look back sharply at Étienne. His face is impassive.
Finally, my boots are locked into my skis as we stand on the edge of the driveway. The snow remover has freshly overturned the gravel underneath, leaving brown streaks of dirt and stone on the fresh white snow. It often takes a few days after a blizzard to clear the whole town.
“Where to?” I ask.
“Beach,” he responds.
My town is built on soft slopes that rise from the Baies des Chaleurs, the rounded off tips of ancient Appalachians looming behind us, the desolate winter waterfront below. We head off down the hill, through the field.
Just after crossing the train tracks we see rabbit footprints. I pause to stare at them. Not a blemish appears on the billows of fresh snowfall except a pattern of grouped four paw prints in a straight line. A rabbit running, my mother’s told me. She has spent a lot of time in the woods. I wonder vaguely about the difference between the prints of a rabbit running and the prints of a rabbit walking.
It is easy to forget that Étienne is with me. He rarely speaks, and even moves quietly. We push through the trees that guard the beach, the ocean sparkles through the thinning bush. Round a bend, and we emerge to a dazzling display of sunlight water. Broken chunks of frozen water shine as the huge pieces lop, floating from side to side. It is still. No one comes here this time of year. Lap, lap, gentle waves push. Creak, creak, icicles rub together with soft friction.
Our skis creak along the edge, careful to stay on firm ground. The cold season has changed the familiar summer beach. Smooth sand and hot rocks have disappeared under jagged formations. Looking up and down the coast, angular white shining diamonds and spikes stand guard against the water, as if in formation for battle to protect the town. Or maybe it is the ocean protecting itself from us, I wonder. Étienne says nothing, but I catch him watching my face.
We trudge in our skis all afternoon, on a mute adventure of water, ice, and snow.