In the Blood
Nora Drutz was a Toronto-based freelance writer.
This is a surprisingly good first collection of short stories from a writer of unusual originality. These are bleak stories of very ordinary people; people who are lonely, isolated, and trapped in oppressive relationships or in oppressive situations. Most choose violence as a means of escape. Through a combination of flashbacks, present, and interior monologue, Rosta makes their prisons vivid to us and creates a world that is frightening and at times a bit surreal.
In “Mail” a young mother is stuck high up in a remote apartment building with her retarded son, and is slowly losing her mind. Her only escape is to enter contests promising trips around the world, or $100 a week for life. Her life revolves around the daily visits of the mailman. In anticipation of the great event (“she thinks that today she may win the soup contest”), she carries her son, squeezed into a shapeless red sweater, onto the balcony. She sees the mailman cross the lawn away from the building and, as if in a dream, lets her son drop from her grasp. “Down on the street the cars stream into the city. The pavement glitters like water. A patch of flowers is a red splotch on the lawn. The mailman crosses the lawn, moving towards the flowers. She wants to call down to him but the roar of the cars rises in a crescendo. She closes her eyes and a scarlet bird plummets like a meteor across her lids ... She does not open her eyes again until she hears the shouts rising up to her.”
In “In The Blood,” one of her weaker stories, a young woman is forbidden by her patronizing artist husband to resume her own artistic career. Slowly and deliberately she plans in her mind a painting in which her husband will be “spread-eagled on the floor, his hair brushing the wall, his face a cameo against the pool of dark blood ... it will be elemental, a work of art.”
The two best stories are “This House” and “Going Home”, the latter chosen to be broadcast on the CBC. Here, Rosta is at her best with dialogue that is plain and simple; the story is set against the bleak farmlands of Western Canada. In “Going Home” Janice and Nina, two sisters in their early 40s, are trapped with the care of their senile mother. They have a two-year wait to get her into a nursing home. Janice has taken their mother to Nina’s farm for a few weeks of much-needed rest. The bleakness of the situation is off-set by the humour based on the mother’s failing memory and her repeating the story of Old Man Coulter and the chickens. “Mother stands in the doorway. ‘When are we going?’ She raps her cane on the floor. ‘Where are my overshoes!’ ... Nina gets the boots and holds them up. ‘Here they are. Nobody is going to steal them!’ ... ‘They better not,’ Mother says when Nina returns. ‘I wouldn’t be like your Aunt Jessie. I’d run them off the place with a broom.’ Nina and I laugh and even Debby smiles. It’s an old story told over and over. ‘Not like your Aunt Jessie. She should have got a broom as soon as she heard the chickens squawking. Not run in the house that way and hid under the bed.’ ... I try to prompt her. ‘What happened.’ ‘Why he was stealing the chickens. Putting them in a gunny sack.’ Mother pounds the cane on the floor. ‘It was Old Man Coulter as sure as I’m sitting here. The whole country knew he was a thief. Nearly cleaned Jessie out ... good laying hens, too … ‘What did Aunt Jessie do?’ I interrupted. ‘Why she just let him get away with it. When she opened the door to the chicken coop and saw him, she just threw up her hands.’... ‘What would you have done?’ ‘I’d have run him off the place with a broom... I’d have run him off the place with a broom,’ Mother repeats.” (Later, when they have taken mother to visit an old friend in a nursing home, “I hear Mother’s voice before we reach the open door. ‘I took after him. I took after him with a broom.’ ‘You did.’ ‘I sure did and you should have seen him run. He dropped those chickens I’ll tell you.’”