Spring 2024


By Rosalind Goldsmith

I get it—I get why some people mistrust fiction. Stories lie. We know it. It’s no secret. They lie because reality doesn’t make any concessions to beauty—or form. And form—what is it? It’s necessary, right? Beginnings, middles and ends and shape and pace and so on, and style and so on, and all of that. Those things that make up a story are necessary things. And I admire a story that has all of those things in place. 

I love Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing” for its grace and kindness. And I love Nabokov’s “Cloud, Castle, Lake” because it’s a perfect story if I ever read one. And I love Chekhov’s story “Misery”—I’m sure things like that really did happen, and the story speaks to that kind of suffering that is so complete and at the same time, mocked or slighted or just ignored by others—and it’s a beautiful story, no doubt about it. And there are hundreds of others I love—stories like “Araby” and “the Dead,” and “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” Lydia Davis’ “Smoke.” I love all of them for their transcendence and beauty and their imaginative leaps, their compassion. But I suspect them too. Maybe it’s the world we’re living in these days. 

Fiction forgives and finds beauty and uplift in the worst of things. Fiction has its own generosity—and that generosity? I mistrust it right now.

So here’s the story: And it is not a story. I’m sitting here writing this while fires are burning out of control in Spain, Greece, Canada.1 Houses burn to the ground and people lose everything, only things left standing are the chimneys. They dot the landscape like grave stones. In England temperatures push forty-two C, fifty-two C at Kanaquin, Iraq, thirty-eight C in Siberia, north of the Arctic Circle.2 Catastrophic flooding kills in Libya, China, Japan.3 The Colorado River is drying up. Drought withers crops in Ethiopia, Sudan, Pakistan.4 Soy beans and Maize cook in the fields. Soil turns to dust. Forty-eight C in Phoenix, Arizona. Pavement melts, and people go to Emergency with third-degree burns.5 US foreclosures up one hundred and eighty-five percent in two years.6 Blocks of houses are boarded up in Detroit. In Las Vegas some homeless people live in tunnels under the city.7 In Canada, at least two hundred and thirty-five thousand people have nowhere to live in a given year8—they’re on the streets, in tents, under bridges or in louse-infested shelters. Drug overdoses killed one hundred and nine thousand, six hundred and eighty people in the United States in 2022.9 That is three hundred people every day. Every day. These things—they are real. I trust these horrors. That’s what we have now. That’s what I see

And Angela. This is about Angela—which is not her name. She’s a friend of a friend of mine. I never met her, but I was crying about her yesterday. Her husband died last Monday of colon cancer. He was thirty-nine. She is forty-one. They have three kids, nine, seven and four. My friend went to the funeral, the children were there, plus family on both sides and friends. The funeral was paid for with a GoFundMe account since they had no money left after his long illness. And no life insurance. He couldn’t get it because he had cancer, and Angela can’t ever get it because seven years ago—before he got cancer—she was diagnosed with MS. So. No insurance.

Michael—not his real name either—was diagnosed with the cancer four years ago. So for all of that time, Angela has been taking care of him, taking him to appointments, and looking after the children. Her parents live close by and they wanted to help. Did they ever. But. The mother is showing signs of dementia and the father is severely depressed—it’s so bad he can’t get out of bed or do anything. Sometimes Angela has to help out with them too, picking up groceries or cleaning the dishes.

Angela has a sister and a brother. Her sister lives out west in Calgary and has two kids. She never came to visit in the four years when Michael was sick. But she was at the funeral. And what she told Angela was this: She can’t help with the mum and the dad. She just can’t. Her life is in Calgary, and she is so busy and under a lot of stress, a lot of stress. Her husband is at work all day, and the kids are a handful, sometimes three handfuls (haha). And so, you will understand—this is what she said—you understand when I say I can’t help with Mum and Dad. I hope you understand, Angela, I hope so. I really hope so.

Angela told her she did. But she didn’t.

Angela doesn’t have a job now because she couldn’t work for so long her boss, who is a real estate lawyer, fired her. Her friends told her this was illegal and her boss couldn’t fire her, but when they told her that—texting, Facebook, WhatsApp—she was in the hospital with Michael watching the chemo drugs go dripping into his arm from the IV, watching him go pale, and she had to pick up the kids from school. In ten minutes.

Because no more bus driver. No more bus driver since he was fired for running a paedophilia ring out of their small city, taking photos of the children on the bus and masturbating under a newspaper in the driver’s seat. The school can’t find another bus driver, not yet anyway.

The one good thing is, there is the house, and she can sell it to get money until she can find another job. Not that that is going to be easy. An employment counsellor told her that her job is going to be obsolete within two years, so she will have to retrain. As what she wants to know.

Her mother phones four times a day and asks the same questions over and over.

Her father says nothing, never calls.

Her smallest child, Billy (not his real name), asks a lot of questions and is too young to understand what happened to his father. Those questions aren’t here because one: I don’t know what he asks, and two: Even if I did know, I wouldn’t put it here because then this would be: Kids—aren’t they amazing? And it’s true, they are amazing. But.

The question is: What is Angela going to do now, what is she going to do? What? There’s the brother. Her brother. He can’t help either because he is an addict and living on the streets in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Two days ago, he overdosed and they revived him with Naloxone. He wasn’t at the funeral, no he wasn’t, and Angela doesn’t even know exactly where he is now.

Yesterday, her left arm was numb.

The day before, Sarah the eldest – not her name – couldn’t go to school. She said she had stomach cramps and was going to throw up all over the kitchen if she had to go to school.

And I have to tell you, Angela, that yesterday, your friend Susan—not her name—who is also my friend, who told me all this—she and I were laughing. And we were saying how Job has nothing on you, Angela, nothing. And we were laughing because we didn’t know what else to do and it was chiefly the bus driver that got me laughing because that is so hideous and grotesque and shameful I didn’t know what to say, and that’s when Susan started laughing too and in half a second we were both crying and couldn’t stop. And she knocked her coffee over and spilled it all over the floor, which was a Latte gone to waste. And we cleaned that up with paper towels. And for me, where the armour is not a shell, but by now heart deep, that cracked yesterday.

And there’s no beauty in this, none, and there’s no form, and there’s no grace either, and there’s not even any good sentences. And I’m crying today too, Angela, as I write this, just as I was yesterday and I’m asking: What are you doing right now, in this moment? I don’t even know you, I never met you, but I’m hoping right now in this very moment that things are ok for you in this moment, and that somehow you will make it through. That’s my wish and my prayer.

Because there you are. You are still out there somewhere—I don’t know where—but I can almost see you—maybe scraping peanut butter onto some toast for the kids’ breakfast, or mopping up vomit from the kitchen floor, or rolling up socks into pairs and putting them into a top drawer—but that’s just speculation—I can’t see you, not at all—you are just there looking after your three children. That’s all I can know. And that is a fact, Angela. A simple fact. And I can see the beauty and the grace in that fact—and I can see it in all of you too—you and your three children. The beauty, the grace and also the transcendence.

1“2023 Fire Season”, NASA Earth Observatory, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov
2Jeff Masters, “August, 2023 was Earth’s Hottest August on Record”, Yale Climate Connections, yaleclimateconnections.org
3Jesse Yeung, “Severe Flooding…Is this the Future of Climate Change?”, CNN, https://cnn.com
4“Global Drought Narrative for July, 2023,” National Center for Environmental Information, https://ncei.noa.gov
5Joshua Partlow, “Burning Pavement,…Perils of a Phoenix Heat Wave”. The Washington Post, https://washingtonpost.com
6Adam Barnes, “Foreclosures Rise….”, The Hill, https://thehill.com
7“Las Vegas Homeless, the Underground Tunnel Dwellers”, Las Vegas Calendars, https://lasvegascalendars.com
8“How Many People are Homeless in Canada?”, Homeless Hub, https://homelesshub.ca
9Brian Mann, “US Drug Overdose Deaths hit a Record in 2022…”, npr, https://npr.org

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival and has also translated and adapted short stories by the Uruguayan writer, Felisberto Hernández, for CBC Radio. Her short stories have appeared in journals in the USA, the UK, and Canada, including Orca, Litro, Fairlight Books, Chiron Review, the Lincoln Review, the Bryant Literary Review, Fiction International and the Masters Review.

Spring 2024