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Collins Canadian Dictionary 1000-Word Challenge

Third place: West Side Wicker, by Jackie Bateman Add to ...

HarperCollins Canada, publisher of the Collins Canadian Dictionary, invited readers to submit 1000-word short stories that contained at least 10 examples from a list of distinctly Canadian words. Here is the 3rd-prize winner.



All the smug folks on the West Side get right on my nerve ends, with their big houses and wraparound decks. Oh, they're really something, sitting on wicker chairs, watching the orcas through itsy-bitsy binoculars and drinking ice wine out of goldfish bowls. "Look at us, we got the sunsets and the best view." Get over yourselves, why don't you.

The other day, my dear wife Mathilda was making butter tarts. She's a Newfie but knows I won't eat her flipper pie, always makes me what I like. She said, "Norman, I love this place, can't think when I've been happier."

Now that's genuine. Right here, on the other side of Pender Island, this is where the beautiful folks are. We appreciate where we live and not just in the summertime or for weekend breaks. If Mathilda was back East, she'd have the silver thaw and that darn wind about now. Here, we have sun, Plumper Sound and a great chip wagon at Port Browning, thanks very much. We know what we like and it ain't flimsy furniture or fancy drinks.

This summer there was a strange guy staying at the big red house near the Driftwood Centre. He wore women's pants, too long to be shorts and too short to be anything a guy should wear. Always had a video camera in front of his face; couldn't just look at things with his own eyes. I even saw him at the crab dock, filming Joe unloading his boat.

I shouted over, "Hey, Joe, you're in the movies!"

Joe picked up a couple of live crabs and held them to his chest, did a silly dance. It was funny as hell, but the guy with the lady pants didn't laugh. He just crept back to his car, one of those electric ones that rich folk have to make themselves feel good. "Oh, we're so environmentally friendly, we don't use gas in our cars." Well, enjoy heating those enormous houses, won't you.

Joe's as real as the ocean, my kind of man. He said, "Hey, Norm, you want a crab from the movies?"

"Sure, man. Mathilda loves hot crab with fries and a twenty-sixer, but don't tell no-one."

"Not a word!" Joe tapped the end of his nose.

That's one of our sayings. I've known him a long time.

* * * * *

A few days later it was Canada Day, and me and Joe were down at Gowlland Point, rods stuck in the water. Joe wore his Maple Leafs toque even though the sun was shining. When the tide goes out, there's a long stretch of rocks going out into the ocean. Makes for great fishing, and on a clear day, the best view of Mount Baker. We had our cans, Mathilda's sandwiches, and were enjoying the quiet-until Lady Pants appeared.

Joe sighed. "I guess he found our spot."

Lady Pants lifted his camera, most likely looking for orcas.

I called out, "Get over here, man, move closer to the whales."

Give him his due, he hung that stupid camera around his neck and waded to the rocks. Still mute though-never said a word. He was wearing those plastic shoes with holes in them, in bright orange. They're for kayaking, but city folk wear them for fun. They sure look like crap on anyone over eight years old.

Anyways, he hobbled along and we tried not to laugh, focused on the fishing. Just as well, because right then I felt a sharp tug on my line.

"I got a big 'un." I reeled in fast. As the fish came to the surface, I swung the rod sideways and it went flying up in the air, jerking about like crazy. It was a ling cod, maybe thirty pounds. I didn't know Lady Pants was right there, standing like a jelly, no balance.

It all happened so fast. That ling cod was all tail and razor teeth, so when it hit him in the face, it wasn't pretty. Lady Pants blundered towards the edge of the rocks, arms everywhere, the fish attached to his face. Next thing we knew he was in the water. We climbed down to the edge of the rocks to help him, but there was not a bubble or a splash to tell us where he was. The waves were getting choppy and the tide was coming in fast.

"I'm going in." I pulled off my boots and jumped, paddled in circles with my face down. I searched, but he wasn't there; I swear it. Might as well have been eaten by the ling cod. Eventually I dragged myself out, and Joe called the police station.

While we waited for the uniforms to come, we had a beer and just stared at the water. Crazy, it was.

* * * * *

Mathilda has this habit of saying the right thing. When I got home, she was jamming some potato peels down the garburator, but she looked a real picture to me. I don't care if that makes me sound like a jessie. I told her the whole story, straight up, and when I finished, she made two of the best Bloody Caesars you ever tasted.

"It wasn't your fault, Norman. Those rocks are no place for tourists."

"I know it, Mathilda, but I feel responsible."

"Sure you do, because you're a good man. Don't you go fretting about some tourist in a flap over a darn ling cod. You did your best."

That's how she won me over in the first place. Talks a lot of sense and gives me no crap.

I guzzled my drink. "I just feel bad for the guy, filming everything but never really seeing a darn thing."

Mathilda put up her hand. "Norman, that's why I married you. You see all of it and you don't need a swanky camera to prove it."

That was the end of it. It was. And I hadn't even brought home a fish for supper.

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