History Holds a Grudge

History Holds a GrudgeAlms on the Highway

Chapter 6 of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World was published as part of the 2011 Trinity Creative Writing Programme's anthology, Alms on the Highway (Myrtle Press, Dublin).

Alms on the Highway also features short stories, poems, and a radio play by my brilliant classmates, including two Hennessey award winners.  It was reviewed by Peter Geoghegan in The Sunday Business Post Agenda as 'worth dipping into' and by Roslyn Fuller in Metro Eireann as 'polished and well-formed'.  It is still available on Amazon and in many fine book stores.

...and the class of 2012 didn't do too badly either.

For the version of the story in Alms, I changed the ending of the chapter slightly and gave it a title, History Holds a Grudge, (referring to both messy family history and the characters' Ukrainian roots), in order to make it feel more like a short story.  The plot concerns Stephen at 14, meeting his friend Lana at a housewarming party and trying to stop his mother, who's been drinking to take the edge off her shyness, from revealing too much about the past.  Here is an excerpt from the beginning.


 History Holds a Grudge

     Lana Kovalenko moved to Riverside from Toronto when I was fourteen, in the middle of Grade Nine. I liked her right away. We met at her parents' housewarming party, the night my Mom had that drunken meltdown and started spilling family secrets.
     It was January. Sunday afternoon. One of the first few days of 1984, the last day of Christmas vacation before school started up again. I felt kind of resentful for being dragged off to this thing; I was still really shy at that point.
     Mom hauled me up out of the corner where I'd been sitting with my Walkman ignoring everybody and we joined the group clumping together in the living room. Mr Kovalenko started talking to my mother – phrases from a language I couldn't make out. She looked at him like she was trying to do math in her head.
     'Sorry, Andrij. I'm not great with Ukrainian. Worse with Russian too, really. Just a few words here and there.'
     'And your son doesn't speak it at all, huh?'
     'No, Stephen's Canadian, I guess.' Mom dipped her head, looking ashamed.
     'You are? Ew!' It was somebody at my elbow. A girl, my age. She was all in black, her hair gelled up and her eyes dark, little gold hoops and studs running along the edges of her ears. The same roundish dumpling shape as her parents, but still. You didn't see girls like that in Riverside.
     'Lana's...well, she's fluent,' said Mr Kovalenko. 'The grammar, though. My God! We sent her to Saturday school, but she never seemed to absorb much.'
     'That's cause I was always high,' Lana whispered in my ear, and I laughed. She had to stand on tiptoes to reach me. I was at least a head taller than her.
     My mother was starting to smile. 'Oh, Andrij, they like each other!'
     'Come on,' Lana said. 'My room. You can tell me about this hillbilly redneck school for retards my parents are forcing me to attend.' She yelled out over her shoulder at her dad, as if it were an afterthought, 'Hey, Tato! I'm gonna take this fresh meat up to my room now, okay?'
     My mother gave a shocked little laugh, and Mr Kovalenko told her that his daughter had an unusual sense of humour.
     'Keep your door open, Svetka,' he said....