Friday, October 14, 2005

My Suitcase

My suitcase got a trip to Victoria. It went to Vancouver, changed flights, flew to Victoria, and then was sent back to Montreal. They delivered it to me at home, at 11.30 pm, three days later. It seemed proud at first, for its audacity, but then sagged in the hallway, frightened by what it had done. My mother said that everyone in Australia was in shock about the suitcase. That an airline had taken my luggage without me on board! Everyone was saying, What airline was it, we’ll never fly that airline! It was Air Canada, I said, and my mother said, Oh, but I like them.

The Tenth Day of the Book Tour

The tenth day of the book tour, Colin took me to the airport to fly to Victoria, and rejoin the book tour. I already had a boarding pass and had checked in my suitcase, but a woman behind the counter said, there’s a problem with this ticket. She was very cranky about the problem. She was very quick and defiant about the problem. She typed at her computer, and shook her head.
She typed something else, and looked up, triumphant. “There’s a problem with this ticket!” she repeated.
I said, “Well, that’s because it had to be changed yesterday. My publishers had to change it from home.”
The woman shrugged, proudly. She seemed to think the ticket didn’t exist. I didn’t feel like arguing with her. I felt like being gentle with her. I felt like giving her flowers. I felt like throwing up. My head hurt, and there were those black shadows over my eyes again. I was trying to stand up, holding onto the counter.
Colin looked at me holding onto the counter. “What’s going on?” he said.
I thought I should go home and lie down. I said, “Can I cancel the ticket?” The woman shook her head. “No, there’s no cancellations on this ticket.” I could only just see her through strands of air. But the ticket doesn’t exist. How can there be no cancellation. I felt like there was a legal loophole here that I was missing.
I asked Colin to cancel the ticket and I went to sit down.
I watched him from my seats. He came over and said that the ticket had been cancelled.
As soon as he said that, I felt everything unravel. I started crying right there and didn’t stop until I got back home to Montreal. In a quiet way though. And then over the next few days, everything to do with the book tour made me cry. I heard that Miriam Toews came along to the reading in Winnipeg. I heard that it had snowed out west.
It was this book tour: if I had just continued catching planes and walking in to new hotel rooms, meeting Lisa in the lobby, meeting bookstore owners and curious readers, well, everything would have been all right.
Also, it was this book tour, my first tour of Canada, my new country, because of my Canadian, Colin, and these Canadian publishers who organised pancakes for a launch party. And on this book tour, I had in mind that I was going to see a series of new cities, the west of the country. Also, there were people I knew who lived in these cities and they were going to come to the readings, and I had new clothes in larger sizes, and I had in mind a tour of telling people, one city after another, about the baby. It’s the way you divide up the future. It’s the way that book tours make your book real, and this tour was going to make the baby real.

The 8th and 9th Days of the Book Tour

I was supposed to be flying to Vancouver, but we stayed in the hotel, sleeping, and walked outside to get some sunshine. We walked down to the lake and saw a boat called the Matthew Flinders, and that’s one of my favourite Australian explorers from primary school. The older couple sat next to us exclaiming about the sailing boats. A younger couple sat nearby, the girl teaching the boy Japanese.
We went back to the hotel room to rest, and a woman arrived pushing a trolley, extremely excited. She had flowers, chocolates, wine and fruit, and here’s a card in an envelope. They were all from Paul and Alo. There were nectarines, grapes and strawberries. This made me very happy and I took a photo of the flowers.

The Corduroy Jacket

I was in the hospital gown with the gaping back, and Colin said I’ll never understand why they don’t make the opening at the front. I was wearing Colin’s corduroy jacket, and my feet were in my blue lace-up shoes. I was reading Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories on the tall bed with the crackly paper sheets and pillow.
You need to take off everything, even your glasses, your ring, your shoes, your contact lenses, are you wearing contact lenses?, oh, you’ve got glasses on. Even your glasses. Everything.
I thought maybe it was like going to prison.
Upstairs, I didn’t listen to what the doctors said, I was looking at their head scarves. One had cartoon animals, elephants mainly, but they floated on a white background rather than being fused together like the zebras. The other had gardening equipment. Empty pots, rakes, trowels, and garden hoses. The hoses were coiled oddly. Not in concentric circles but in vertical rows.
People kept asking me the same questions. When did you last eat or drink? Are you allergic to anything? When was your last ultrasound? I had my answers ready but I was worried they were trying to trip me up by asking too many times, or by subtle variations in the questions. When did you last eat or drink seemed like a trick, because I ate at 11, but I drank at 1. I kept saying ‘no’ when they asked about allergies, but eventually, I was going to have to tell them I’m allergic to cats.
“Oh! No socks!” the women cried, and they seemed almost to weep for my bare feet. They moved the wheelchair closer to the bed so I wouldn’t have to step on the cold floor. The bed was in the centre of a large, stark room, with futuristic lighting, the bed lit up in the centre like a work of art. She told me to breathe in the oxygen, and said this might feel a little cold in your IV, here, and I wondered if they’d ask me to count backwards, or if I’d say anything strange, and then I woke up and a friendly doctor was telling me that everything went well. I was surprised to find that it was still me.
I felt very sleepy, and a nurse ran downstairs with us to show us the phone on the wall where we could call a taxi.

The Doctors' Scarves

Downstairs again, the same doctor and nurse told us that there wasn’t any heartbeat. They told us this carefully, watching to see if I would cry again. Another doctor came into the room to tell us about the options. She said, I see you had a positive result for Trisomy 18, what odds did they give you for that? One in two, we said, and she said, “Wow! I’ve never heard a result as high as that!” I felt a little proud.
She said, “Well, that’s it then. A result as high as that. Well, that’s about definite. And now this happening. Well.” It was all settled. “Oh they never make it,” she said, “kids with that? They get seizures and everything. They never make it.”
A third doctor told us about the procedure. She was young, and had a scarf wrapped around her head which was all black and white stripes.
She was telling me they might perforate the bladder or the bowels, all those things tucked in behind there, she said, or they might go too far and cause infertility. Something about your belly button, if you wake up and they’ve done keyhole surgery through your belly button, well, you know they’ve perforated something.
“These are very small risks,” she said, “but we have to tell you about them. They very rarely happen,” she said, and knocked on the plasterboard wall.
I wasn’t paying attention, I was slowly realising that the scarf was not just black and white stripes, but zebras, crowds of zebras, all fused together and wrapped around her head.

The Clock

Upstairs, there was an ultrasound, and there was a clock on the wall that said twenty past four. It didn’t change. At one point someone came in and said, “Oh, that clock’s just about to be right!”
The woman had the screen turned away from us. I almost asked her to turn it around so I could see. She spent a long time, frowning, and twitching, and trying different parts of the screen. I thought: turn on the sound, I want to hear the heartbeat, turn on the sound one more time.

The Doctor and the Nurse

There was a handsome doctor, and an attractive young nurse. After the examination, they said they would send me up for an ultrasound, and then, as an afterthought, as they were leaving the room, they turned back and added that the blood test results from this morning had come back. The pregnancy hormone is way down, they said.
“It’s way down,” they said, glancing at each other and nodding in agreement, speaking almost simultaneously, “so that means it’s either, it’s either already a miscarriage, or inevitable, I’d say.”
All this time I had believed it would be okay, and here they were saying no, like an afterthought, but friendly. They were making me unpregnant as they walked out of the room. So I broke down, and the doctor and nurse looked at me sadly.

In the Hospital Examination Room

We were waiting in an examination room. This room had a picture of a cartoon elephant on the wall. The elephant was standing on skis, in traffic, on a highway, with a camera around its neck. A sign pointed to Florida. There were ropes around the elephant as if he was being towed by a car up ahead, in the fashion of a water-skier.
The room had a grey floor specked with dabs of paint, to brighten it up. The dabs were of various colours. I said, “I don’t like the red bits.” Colin said he’d been thinking the same thing. There was one red dab that looked like a peeling petal, but otherwise the red was like spots of dried blood.

The Seventh Day of the Book Tour

This was a free day in Toronto, the day after the Launch Party, so we spent it at the hospital.
We went there in a taxi in the morning.
In the waiting room, a small crowd of people carried in an immense machine, with a baby hidden inside. They called excited instructions to each other, as if they were moving furniture. I think I heard someone calling, “This is triplet B, you’ve got triplet A!” I don’t know, I might have just been hoping it was triplets.
(A lot of these baby doctors have photographs of triplets tacked up on their walls. There’s a real pride in bringing triplets safe into the world, I guess, which is not surprising. Or maybe triplets make good photographs.)
A short, friendly woman did the form filling, to welcome me to the hospital. She asked questions about why I was here, and I said there’s been some bleeding. But not much, so I wasn’t really worried. I said we got a positive result for Trisomy 18 a week ago, so I’m going to have an amnio in a couple of weeks. She wrote it all on her form.
She said, “Give me your social finger”, and I didn’t know what she meant. I gave her my ring finger, thinking that might be social, people give you rings for that finger, so it’s friendly. But she scoffed at me, for not knowing. She said the other day there was an old woman who gave her the finger. Driving in a parking lot, and she must have blocked her or something and next thing she was flipping her the bird. She must have been 85 years old!
All these feisty old women, I thought, skating on the canal and flipping the bird. And I didn’t even know what my social finger was.
There were blood tests. “It looks like we’re taking a lot of blood,” she said, “but it’s just so we don’t have to prick you again.” She filled up five test tubes and gave them all labels. “Don’t worry,” she said, “we’ll leave you enough to walk around.”

The Launch Party

The Book Launch party was in Toronto, and we took a taxi there. We passed a billboard with numbers counting down. Nobody knew what the numbers were counting down for. For the World Cup? said someone. For the hockey?
The taxi driver said, “Don’t ask me.” He explained that he didn’t believe in time. He laughed. He said there’s no such thing as time. He laughed and laughed. He said, “People ask me how old I am, and I say, what? I am no age.” He laughed, and said, “Nobody knows that there is no time. Nobody knows about quantum physics, about relativity, about superluminal communications.” He said, “Don’t ask me what the time is, if you do, I’ll say, what’s time?” He laughed and laughed.
I was late to the Book Launch and everybody said, “Oh, you’re late,” but in friendly ways. There were small green alligators for Lisa’s book, and for my book there were piles of round pancakes, also chocolate brownies, and olives. It is such a wonderful thing to see words you have written down become food. I suppose it’s like writing a recipe book. Also, they had pins, illustrated with events from my book. I was so glad about the pins, and about the publisher’s lovely blonde daughter who showed me the pancakes and the pins. There were many friendly people. I am so fond of Canadians. They are often very beautiful, yet they look you in the eye, and ask you questions, in a way that a beautiful Australian rarely does.


Lisa’s friend drove us back to the hotel from Word on the Street in Halifax. The beautiful daughter told us that in the 16th century women wore platform shoes. Someone was honking a horn behind us. To keep their dresses from hanging in the mud. We were going to get ice cream and cookies, and we would break the cookies over the ice cream. There was the honking again.
Eventually, Lisa’s friend pulled over to the right lane, and the honking car slid up beside us, and a woman and man in the front of the car, both leaned towards our car, pointing, “There’s a book!” Lisa’s book was sitting on the roof of the car; the daughter had put it there in the parking lot.

The Day before the Book Tour

The day before the book tour, Colin got up early and tried to ring Dr K’s office. He was going to clear it up as soon as possible, so we could stop worrying.
It took two hours to get through to Dr K’s office. We sat at the table eating breakfast and trying the phone. It was always engaged, or voicemail, or else they put you on hold for so long you had to hang up. It was a good breakfast, granola, raspberries, strawberries, coffee and orange juice. One or the other of us was always on the phone. It took so long I started to cheer up.
Eventually, Dominique from Dr K’s office took my call. She said, “Yes, your test results came back positive, do you want an amnio?”
I didn’t know what she was talking about.
I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She sounded impatient. “Your results have come back positive for Trisomy 18,” she said. “Do you want an amnio? And do you want genetic counselling?”
I still didn’t know what she was talking about.
“What do you mean?” I said, sounding strident.
She said the cut off for Trisomy 18 is 1 in 100, and your results came back 1 in 2. There was something triumphant about the way she said that: one in two.
I said, “Okay, I’ll have an amnio.”
I still didn’t know what she was talking about.
She wanted to know if I would have genetic counselling. I said, “No. Okay. I don’t know. What are you talking about?”
She said you have to wait 3 to 4 weeks for the amnio, and then another 3 weeks for the results. I said, “But then you could be …”
And she sounded triumphant again when she said, “I know! You could be 6 months pregnant before you get the results.” She insisted there was nothing she could do about that.
After the phone call I went to the hairdresser to get highlights. The internet chat rooms worry about highlights but conclude that they’re okay. The hairdresser was a beautiful young man from Halifax.
“That’s where I’m going tomorrow!” I said.
We agreed that we love Montreal but we miss the sea. I said I was looking forward to seeing the sea in Halifax. He told me to take a ferry trip. He made my hair blonde with semi-permanent red highlights.
Afterwards, I met Colin on the street in the sun. We went to Olive & Gourmando to get lunch for the sun, and Colin told me what he had found out about this Trisomy 18. He found it on the internet. Not knowing what it was was making me calm. It was just a word. It might be nothing. But now Colin knew what the word meant. He said these babies don’t make it, they’re usually stillborn, or else they die within a year and they’ve got all kinds of physical and mental problems. The black shadows were crossing my eyes again and I tilted backwards and Colin caught me. Next I was sitting down crying into Colin’s arms and a polite woman didn’t want to take our place in the queue.
We ate lunch in the sun by the river, and tried to be calm. One in two. That’s like 50/50. It’s a coin toss. It could be fine. It seemed to me it must be fine. Babies with Trisomy 18 are born with small heads, he said, also pointed ears, and two fingers crossed. They have club feet, bad hearts, they get seizures, there was a story of parents taking their baby outside to feel the wind on his face before he died. Sometimes they might live a few years and rarely they might make it to ten.
The next day I went to the airport to take the plane to Halifax, with cranberry juice, bottled water, chewing gum, Mentos, an orange, a banana, and a book called The Sunday Philosophy Club. When I arrived I wanted to see the sea, but there was Lisa Moore in the middle of the footpath with such a lovely smile, and I decided I would be all right.


The Book Launch party was in Toronto on the sixth day of the tour. Colin had come into Toronto for this, and there he was with Paul in the hotel lobby.
This hotel is the best of them all, and has apples at the front desk, and apples in sets of three outside the elevators. On previous visits, the apples have been green, but now they were red. Also, there are bottles of water lined up on shelves in the fitness room, and a roof terrace with music speakers hidden inside rocks, and someone will give you bottles of water and chocolates in the evening. The bathroom is through a glass wall.
We saw the movie Flightplan, and I had just read in the paper that morning that flight attendant societies all over the world are calling on people to boycott this movie, because it depicts flight attendants as unfriendly.
The movie started well and then became hilariously bad. It was a good laugh, how bad it was. The flight attendants seemed friendly enough to us, except for the one who was planning to blow up a plane and murder a child.

The Fairy Penguin

The night of the phone message we decided not to worry. It makes no sense to worry. The phone message could be about anything. They might want to change the next appointment. They might not be able to read my hospital registration form. Anything!
Also, we knew this: if the blood test results were positive, well, they could be wrong. Those results, we knew, give you odds, let’s say a 1 in 80 chance that there’s a genetic disorder. And then you have to wait a few weeks and have an amniocentesis. That’s what tells the truth. So, even if the test results are positive now, well, it makes no sense to worry until you get to the amniocentesis.
So, we fell asleep, but in the middle of the night I was wide awake. Colin half-woke and said, “Do you know what Jaci the Fairy Penguin does on the weekends?”
“No,” I said.
And he said, sleepily, softly, and with resignation: “Neither do I.”
This was such a perfect story, such a vivid, sleeptime story, and it was so sad that neither of us knew what the Fairy Penguin did on the weekends. So I burst into tears and said, “I don’t think I can do it. I can’t go on a book tour now.” And Colin said, “Okay, you don’t have to go on a book tour.”

The Sixth Day of the Book Tour

On this day, I took the taxi to the airport, with the friendly driver, and flew to Toronto.
Flying is always the same, and always makes me want to write things down, like pregnancy does, record all the curious sensations and the flimsy sentences, like crosscheck please, but the same things happen over and over and over, so why write them down. There was a minor kerfuffle on the plane because a man had to have a window seat.
“I get allergic,” he said, “unless I have a window seat.”
The flight attendant spoke in a voice that was strident with contempt. “You get allergic,” she said, “if you don’t have a window seat? What do you mean you get allergic?”
The man gave a small helpless shrug.
“Do you mean you’re claustrophobic?” said the flight attendant, shrewdly. That surprised me. The man nodded quietly. But the flight attendant said, “There’s nothing we can do at this point.”


Mostly, the stories were about Jaci the Fairy Penguin. Once, the sound of construction woke us early, and Colin told a story about a building that had skin. How the construction workers found that they felt happier the longer they worked on this building, and how they all began to have the same dream. It was a dream about a face. It was not a familiar face. The face had a different expression in every dream, but it was always the same face. Sometimes serene, sometimes anxious, sometimes mischievous, sometimes sleepy. And the workers never stopped building. And once, a man felt a brick and it felt like skin.
I fell deeply asleep thinking of the building, while Colin lay wide awake beside me, the construction workers drilling at his skull.

Two Days before the Book Tour

I got home late, after shopping, to a message on the phone. It was a friendly, sing song message, “Could you please call Dominique from Dr K’s office?”
For a moment I wondered what they wanted. It was too late to call back, I’d have to call tomorrow. Then I remembered what the German woman had said when she took my blood. You’ll only hear from us, she said, if something’s wrong. This was a moment of powerful shock. I went out into the kitchen to start dinner.
Colin came home through the rain from the wine store, and I met him on the stairs and told him about the message.

English Websites

The English sites allow you to eat smoked salmon because it’s not such a high risk as the soft cheeses. American sites do not. They all say not too much tuna or salmon because of the mercury poisoning. No shark, no feta, no goats cheese, no blue cheese, no brie. If you’re lucky enough to get a hold of some fresh brie, said a man in a chat room, just bake it for 10 minutes.
“What can I tell you?” said Dr K. “In Quebec, a lot of people eat soft cheeses.” He added, almost to himself: “if it was really so bad we’d be getting health warnings, they’d be sending out health warnings What can I tell you?”
Colin said the heartbeat sounded like a boomerang. He could do a good imitation of the heartbeat, or maybe of a flying boomerang. Sometimes I asked him to do the imitation for me. Colin said he wants to get one of those prams you see around, the sports prams with the good suspension.

In Montreal

While she was staying at our place in Montreal, Lisa Moore said, “Do you guys have a digital camera?” Because she was thinking, she said, maybe we could take some photos and she could put them on her blog.
Lisa was like a girl with a cold, all sneezes and sniffling and coughing too. But she was very private about it, and sometimes we forgot she was sick.
She pointed out that the tissue box in our bathroom has a picture of a split pea pod on the side. And there we were, shelling peas in Halifax, just the other day.


We decided, for superstitious reasons, to wait for the results of the last blood tests before we told our families the news.
At this time, I began to wonder if it might be bad luck to be superstitious.
In first year university, I was in German-A, by mistake. My friend had told me the questions they asked on the placement exam. I prepared a range of surprising vocabulary for the answers, along with extensive use of the subjunctive. So I ended up in German-A, with the kids who’d spent the last two years on exchange in Hamburg. They all began their sentences with lethargic, “Na ja, ich – ich glaube -” There was very little that I understood that year. I know we did an intensive unit on Superstition, and many insights emerged. I’ve always wondered what the insights were. Rudiger, the teacher, tried to draw me in with his compelling blue eyes, and the occasional, confusing question. I believe he once asked how I felt about my star sign. But who knows. It took me a surprisingly long time to realise how strange it was, to cheat on a placement exam.

The Taxi Driver

On the way to the airport in Ottawa, I said to the taxi driver, “Is that the canal they skate on in the winter?”
I already knew that it was, but I felt like a conversation.
The driver seemed surprised. “Yes!” he said. “Yes, have you never been to Ottawa before?”
“Not in the winter”, I said, calmly, but that wasn’t true either. I was in Ottawa during the ice storm back when branches crashed through the night like the recycling collection.
However, during that storm there was no skating on the canal.
The driver told me it was beautiful, the frozen canal. He doesn’t skate himself, he said, because he is afraid. He is afraid of breaking himself. Once, there was an old woman in his cab with a bandaged wrist, and she said she fell while skating. She must have been 85 years old! Skating on the canal! He asked her why she did such a thing, and she replied that she enjoyed it.
The driver wanted to know what I did for a living, and then he was excited, and wanted the titles of my books. He was quiet, sad and reflective, when I told him the titles. He didn’t recognise them. But then he asked what my husband did, and wanted to know what my husband’s books were about. “Well,” I said, “he wrote a novel about Ottawa in the 70s.” This is not a fair description of Colin’s book. But the driver was happy and excited again. “I’ve seen that book!” he exclaimed. “I saw it in the library! Ottawa in the 70s? I’ve seen that book in the library!”
He was so glad, and when we reached the airport he said, “Very nice talking to you,” in a warm and kindly voice.

A Week before the Book Tour

A week before the book tour, we were in the small room with the doors at either end.
“Well,” said Dr K, setting up for the 12 week ultrasound, typing things into his machine, like the baby’s starting date. “Well, we got your blood test results and they –”
The door on the left burst open, and a happy woman leaned in and exclaimed, “What can we get you for lunch!”
Dr K. seemed shy about deciding on his lunch. Or else not shy, maybe he just didn’t know what he felt like. He shrugged helplessly, and they talked about sandwiches and salads. “Just a soup,” he said, a little depressed. “I don’t like any of their sandwiches.”
“Nothing else! Just a soup! But you’ll be hungry later on!”
But Dr K did not want anything else.
Eventually, she closed the door and Dr K repeated, “Well, we got your blood test results and they were fine. They were all fine.”
So now the room breathed a sigh of relief.
Next thing he had the panel on my stomach and there was a baby on the screen. It was a real baby, resting quietly, holding a hand up in the air.
We looked up at Dr K.
“Well,” he said, “that looks -”
The door on the right swung open and the same friendly woman said, “We’ve decided we’re getting you a salad as well!” There was something playful and mischievous about her tone, as if she knew she was being a bit forward with the teacher. “We’ve decided you’re going to be hungry! You can’t just have soup and nothing else!”
There was more talk about lunch while we stared at the baby on the screen.
I was realising you could see the baby’s spine. It was illuminated, a shining, white bone, like when you wear white under dance lights.
The door closed and the friendly woman was gone.
“Well,” said Dr K, “that all looks normal.”
He started doing measurements, spinning a ruler around on the screen. I thought: that does not look very precise. But there’s a certificate on the wall above the screen which says Dr K is certified.
He said, your baby’s about 5 cm long.
Then he switched on the sound and we got to hear the pounding heartbeat. It was powerful and filled up the room. Women like to hear that. Colin liked it too, he’s a man. His smile was filling the room.
Before we left, there were more blood tests down the hall, for genetic disorders. A large, friendly German woman took the blood. She liked my veins. She said, don’t worry, these results are always negative. You’ll only hear from us if something’s wrong.
Afterwards, I felt a rush of panic. The baby was only 5 cm long and it was showing everybody its spine. Such a tiny, fragile little backbone for everyone to see.

The Fifth Day of the Book Tour

We took the train from Montreal to Ottawa, and Lisa was unwell with her cold. I don’t mean to suggest she was complaining about her cold. She was very brave about it, and seemed to fret, mostly, that I would catch it from her. I ate a lot of oranges, and took my multivitamins.
At the hotel, our rooms were not ready, but there were messages. Lisa pushed a message across the counter to me and pointed to it. I saw her name at the top of the message and explained, “That’s for you,” and pushed it back. But she pushed it over again, and I said, more sternly, “No, that’s for you.” I thought she was being a bit simple.
It turned out she was pointing out the content of the message, which was the word ‘congratulations’. All the messages said the same word. This meant that Lisa’s book had been nominated for the Giller prize. And here we were in the hotel lobby.
In the hotel lobby, there was nowhere for Lisa to put her happiness. She was extremely happy, and so was I, but the people behind the counter were unmoved. She had to go use a pay phone to telephone her family. Extraordinary news is nothing but a bubble until you fill it by talking to your family and friends.

The Stories

I will say this, that often I felt ill, and I had read before that you eat crackers. You just eat crackers and you’re fine. But it’s not true. Some things worked for a while and then the sight of them made me ill: peanut butter on toast, crackers and cheese, apples, salt and vinegar chips, sausage pasta. All those things worked once or twice and then turned on me. Sometimes it was enough to go for a walk. Sometimes nothing worked and I could not believe that women had jobs and other children while they felt like this. At night, I had terrible headaches.
Around this time, Colin started telling me stories. In all of these stories, the central character had my name. Each story was two to three sentences long. I felt such waves of happiness and relief, to lie in bed with a cold cloth on my head, and to hear the openings of stories. For example: “This is the story of Jaclyn, the Empress of Schnurble.” Or: “Have you heard the tale of Jaci, the Queen of the Semi-Tropics?” I usually fell asleep almost at once.
Often, the stories were about a fairy penguin named Jaci who lives on an iceberg in Sydney Harbour. She keeps in e-mail contact with an Atlantic puffin named Luke who resides in the arctic section of the Montreal Biodome.

The Fourth Day of the Book Tour

The book tour in Montreal took the form of a reading at a bookshop called Paragraphe. There was a splendid array of food and wine. I felt glad of heart to see the stage, and the pyramids of books, and the microphone.
Only I forgot to check how to pronounce Champ de Mars. In Montreal of all places. There were friends in the audience. We had dinner afterwards in Old Montreal.

The Curiosities

I am conscious that many women get pregnant. It happens all the time. So that these curious ways of being and feeling happen over and over and over, but women often want to describe them, and record them, and write books about them.
Also, I know that sometimes women have several children, and they go to work and take care of their other children, and I suppose they stop feeling amazed.
Sometimes, we looked on the internet to see what the baby was up to. The baby is an angel, said one site, or a jumping bean. The baby is the size of a fig. Or a goose egg. At this point, said one site, it looks just like a real baby! We looked over at the picture. It was not a baby, it was a monster-fish.
I didn’t know you couldn’t eat feta cheese. I found that on the internet. At the same time, I found that the baby could move its elbow. This made me burst into tears: the fact that I’d eaten feta cheese and that the baby could move its elbow. What had I done.

The Third Day of the Book Tour

The third day of the book tour, we flew to Montreal. So that was flying home.
Lisa Moore was writing in a notebook, and I was reading a book. I noticed, with a surge of affection, that she is left-handed. That curling, protective way that left-handed people write.
I hope she doesn’t mind me revealing that she is left-handed.
I believe that Lisa spent her time in Montreal buying gifts for us. She bought us sketch pads and charcoal, and taught us how to do gesture drawing. She sat on our living room floor flinging her charcoal around the page. The next day, over lunch, she drew a portrait of me. I kept getting into trouble for moving. It seems to me that Lisa is an exceptional artist. Anyway, I looked pretty in the picture.
Also, we saw the movie, C.R.A.Z.Y., and I fell in love with every moment of it. “How about that casting!” we all said, afterwards. I should point out that Lisa paid for the movie. Colin and I began to worry that she was doing too much. We didn’t know what to do.
Colin made roast chicken for dinner. I should point out that Lisa supplied the dessert.

In Dr K.'s office again

There was another check up.
I was back in the tiny room with the two doors.
“As they’ve stuck you here,” said Dr K, “I’ll give you an ultrasound for free.” He did it fast, a smearing of jelly and the screen was just speckles and clouds. He paused for a moment, gazing at the screen, and I jumped forward wanting to find the flashing light again, but that meant his paddle slipped so he lost his picture. He laughed a bit at that. He turned on the sound and you could hear a rapid drum beat.
He looked proud.
“Women like to hear that,” he said, and I smiled because I did like it, but also I was conscious that I was a woman, liking to hear that. He switched off the sound. He hit print and there was a photo of smudges, and I couldn’t find a baby anywhere, but at least I’d heard the drum beat.
I was wishing Colin had been in the room to hear it too. It was so fast though, the drum beat. The baby seemed very anxious to me.

Dinner in Halifax

The reading in Halifax was curious. There were several readings, it seemed, all going on at once, in separate cubicles; also, tables crowded with books, and chattering crowds. I could not hear my voice in the microphone. There was a polite group listening on chairs, but now and then, politely, one or two got up and left. I felt frantic to keep my group there, reading faster and faster, trying to liven up my voice.
At one point, a family slid into a row of seats, two parents and two small children. The parents began to laugh at once, but I knew I was getting to the bit about testicles. I couldn’t avoid reading it. They laughed even harder at that part, and then they politely left.
I sat at another table to sign books, and Lisa Moore introduced a friend. The friend pointed out her beautiful daughter by the windows. The daughter looked like a ballerina. The friend asked Lisa and me to her place for dinner.
The friend had a family of lingering names, every member of the family had a special, lingering name. The father was an artist. The mother was a jazz singer. The daughter showed us a photograph of a dress she was making for herself for her prom. The younger daughter told us she had an imagination. They had a new woodstove. We shelled fresh peas on the table, and the girls ate them raw. The family said that the neighbourhood is safe. You can walk everywhere from here, but sometimes you just need a break, you need a lift.
The food was superb, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the peas.
There was also a gentle dog, a black lab, who rested her head on my lap during dinner. Maybe she hoped that, as a stranger to the house, I would share my food with her, maybe she thought I would feel compelled to do this, out of politeness, yet I chose to believe that the black lab wanted only to be kind to me. I was grateful that nobody in the family shouted at the dog: “Get away from the guest!” Or instructed me: “Just push her away.”

Two Months before the Book Tour

We decided, for superstitious reasons, not to tell a single person. The flashing light was our secret. We had a print-out photo of the flashing light but it didn’t flash. We tried to find a baby but it was blurry.

The Second Day of the Book Tour

On this day, I slept in, had a room service breakfast in bed, chose what I wanted to read at the festival, read it quietly to myself, worrying that people would hear out in the corridors. I decided what to wear and changed my mind. I worried that people in Halifax might not like my leather jacket. I was excited about seeing the sea.
Word on the Street is a festival that seems to take place inside, not on the street. It was never clear to me whether it was in Pier 21 or Pier 20.
There were a number of kind and friendly people from a bookstore, people I loved. One young woman told me her book club had discussed which book would endure: my book, Feeling Sorry for Celia, or a book called Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging. She said the group was split down the middle.
I sat at a table to sign books, and people came forward and picked up my book and made delighted faces at the cover, for my benefit, and then replaced the book, carefully. One woman seemed very interested and asked how much it was, so I turned the book over and found the price on the back. Oh, she said, so it’s just regular price. And she walked away, sadly.
You could tell they got nervous when you looked at them too closely, or said something helpful about the book. They put the book back quickly as if it might catch onto their clothes. A woman with a gentle face introduced herself and asked if I had children. I almost told her, but didn’t know if I could.

The Office of Dr K.

We waited a couple of hours for Dr K, but that’s the nature of doctors. The reception area was crowded with large-bellied women. I felt that my pregnancy was much more demure.
I told Dr K what had happened some months before, and what was happening now. It seemed to me that the same thing was going to happen. I thought Dr K would tell me to drink a bottle of vodka and take a hot bath to speed things along.
He suggested an ultrasound, and we found ourselves in a tiny room, doors at both ends. Colin was on the chair, and I was up on the high bed with the sheet to keep warm.
There was the swirling image on the screen, and a flashing light, and Dr K said, “I have some news.”
The door on the left swung open then, and an excited young woman leaned in. She wanted to share some information with Dr K. She was full of information, bubbling it out, pointing to a folder in her arms.
Dr K listened politely, at the same time as he pushed a large white appliance around inside me, and looked at the screen.
“We’ve just got some news,” said Dr K, looking at the screen. “She’s very worried. She’s had a miscarriage before.”
The woman glanced at me, and then back to Dr K and continued her excited information.
At last she left and Dr K said, “Well, good news, there’s the heartbeat.”
It turned out that the flashing light was actually a heartbeat. He pointed out other things on the screen but we couldn’t see them.
Next thing we were in his grander office and he was telling us some rules about eating greens, and how walking is good, and giving us a date: March 23 next year.
“I wouldn’t tell anybody yet,” he said. “I’d wait until 12 weeks.” It was very surreal.


The first two days of the book tour took place in Halifax.
In Halifax, even yawning was friendly. People nodded and smiled in corridors and in parks. The young woman behind the reception desk had a gentle, quiet face, but always the edges of a smile. Once, when I approached her desk, she remembered my room number. I felt honoured. I wondered if it was because my room number was the same as the Halifax area code. Or maybe it was because I was always asking her questions. How do I get to the waterfront. Do you have a map. Is there a pharmacy nearby. Where is Pier 21. How long does it take to get there? Where can I buy some wine. How do I access the internet? I was always approaching her desk with an enquiring eye.
Waiting for a lift, a man yawned in such a friendly, conversational way that I had to say something. I said, “Had a late night?” or something like that. He said, no, it’s just been a busy day. And now he’s going to Salty’s on the Waterfront for dinner, if you can believe it! He yawned again, even friendlier, and we got in the lift.

Dr K.

After the bicycle accident, I waited to see if I would faint again, or almost faint. I was sitting on the window ledge eating pretzels when I thought it happened again. A curious rocking sensation. I decided to get off the window ledge and sit on the couch.
This time, we bought our own pregnancy test, the way it’s supposed to be. The result was very bold and clear, like a good student demonstrating parallel lines. I left the test on the bathroom counter for a couple of days.
Then we found Dr K.

The First Day of the Book Tour

The book tour started in Halifax. I flew there on the front seat of the plane. Seat 1A. I had cranberry juice, bottled water, chewing gum, Mentos, an orange, a banana, and a book called The Sunday Philosophy Club. The flight was only an hour or so and I felt embarrassed by my supplies. I was overloaded. I had to draw on my supplies constantly, to make them worthwhile. The man beside me was irritated, or maybe I imagined that.
The flight attendant wanted everything up in the overhead lockers, everything, even my handbag, and my plastic bag of supplies, for take-off. He offered to get them back down once we were in the air, and you could tell he didn’t think I’d want them back, but I did.
I was keen to see Halifax through the taxi windows. In particular, I wanted to find the sea. There were colourful seaside houses to keep me content.
I said, “How do I get to the water?” and the woman behind the reception desk gave me a map. She drew a line to the sea.
But around the corner there was Lisa Moore in the middle of the footpath, standing still, holding out her arms, a lovely smile.
She was on her way to the movies, but I made her have coffee with me.

Some Months Before the Book Tour

Some months before the book tour, I was visiting home and went to the doctor.
I told the doctor I was two weeks late. I knew what it meant, but this was new to me, so I wanted a doctor to take charge.
“Well, I think that what you’re telling me warrants a pregnancy test!” declared the doctor, taking charge. She said it as if I had qualified for a prize. Her office was in the front room of a small cottage in Sydney, with frangipani trees out the front and the beach down the road.
“Do you see two lines here?” she said. I wasn’t so sure, but she ignored my answer. She shook my hand, very formal, and said: “Congratulations.”
I phoned Colin in Canada, and went to meet my parents and sisters at Michel’s Patisserie, where they were drinking coffee and eating pecan pie. I told them the news.
My mother didn’t believe me. She laughed. “But Colin’s in Canada!” And went back to her pecan pie. Then she figured out the timing.
I knew it was wrong to feel extraordinary and proud, because people do this all the time, but that was how I felt.
That night, I went to bed and there was a curious, pleasant feeling as if somebody was tightening seatbelts across my lap.
The next day I returned to the doctor’s cottage and said, “I think the baby’s trying to escape.”
The doctor used her formal voice again to say, “I’m very sorry to hear that.”
She printed up a form for blood tests, the word ‘miscarriage’ in a box.
I didn’t read it until I was on the ferry, going into town.

The Boats on the Book Tour

There was a cruise ship at Halifax Word on the Street. People pressed their noses to the windows to stare. Passengers on balconies stared back.
Also, in Toronto, there were sailing boats on the lake. We ate hot dogs to watch the boats. Mine was Polish sausage (mild), and I overloaded it with ketchup and pickles, and felt that this was not Canadian, to carry a spilling hotdog. Colin assured me that it was.
We sat next to an older couple who exclaimed about the boats. They were astonished by the boats. “Look! Look at the size of the sail on that one! Would you look at that?” The woman recognised a boat from the day before, and seemed about to suffocate on the excitement. Her voice could not contain her hysteria.
For some time, the couple continued exclaiming about the coincidence: “Can you believe it? What are the chances? The very same boat!”
Nearby, a man hailed a water taxi.
After the older couple had left, a boat went by with a skull and crossbones on its sail. We felt grateful that the couple were not there to see it.

Several Weeks Before the Book Tour

Several weeks before the book tour, we were walking home, after midnight, from the movie, Sin City. This was a balmy night and the streets were empty and quiet. Two girls rode by on their bikes, heading north while we walked south. They rode at a leisurely, winding pace, and one was saying, “I think I can, I think I can,” to illustrate a point.
Colin said, “They’re riding the wrong way up a one-way street.”
“And no lights on their bikes,” I said.
But in Montreal nobody has lights on their bikes.
There was a scream, a crash, a thud, and another scream.
And there was an SUV standing in shock in the middle of the road, and a girl and a bike on the ground.
There was a moment of this stillness, and then the SUV startled into movement and sped right by us down the hill. We shouted, “STOP!” and Colin began to run after it.
I ran in the other direction, towards the girl, but I didn’t want to see a dead girl.
And, in fact, as I watched, she slowly unfolded and stood up. Her friend helped her over to the sidewalk.
Colin was still sprinting down the centre of the road, while the SUV skidded away from him. I saw that Colin was going to throw himself in front of the SUV, and that it would run him down.
So I sprinted after Colin, shouting, “It’s okay! She’s alive! Come back!”
Eventually, I saw him turn and begin to run back to me, breathing heavily, saying, “I got the plates”.
We reached the girls together. They were both sitting on the sidewalk with their bicycles. They were pale, and were swearing about the driver of the car. The girl who’d been hit had blood streaking down her leg, and the leg was swelling up, but she didn’t want an ambulance. Her voice was shaky. Colin said he had the numberplate. He wrote it on a small piece of paper, and his hand was shaky.
I was trying to say, “Are you sure you’re okay?” but my eyes were clouding over. I held onto a telegraph pole. Black shadows were crossing my vision. I could not believe that I, not the girl who’d been hit by the car, not the girl whose friend had been hit by a car, not Colin who had sprinted after a runaway car, but I, the girl who had run around in circles – I was the one who was about to faint.
Eventually, we left and I sat down on a fence.
I was ashamed, because it meant that I was the movie character who would be no help in a crisis.
At the same time I had a secret thought: maybe there’s another reason I feel faint.

The Book Tour

The book tour was nothing like my dream of the book tour.
However, there were occasional boats.

A Week Before the Book Tour

A week before the tour began, I dreamed that it all took place on a small, white yacht.
Below deck, the captain and Lisa sat at a polished table and wrote their blogs. The boat tilted, the table tipped, and chairs slid across the floor, but the captain and Lisa calmly continued work. They were decorating their blogs with small pieces of cheese and splashes of wine.
It emerged that there was no bathroom on the boat. “You should have used the bathroom at the dock,” the captain laughed, “before the tour began!”
At once, I woke up.