Michèle Laframboise is a bilingual French-Canadian author who has appeared in our magazine with a number of “chocolate-hard” stories over the last two years. Here she discusses her relationship with our magazine, the value of a good rejection letter, and the perils of the publishing industry. Read her latest story for Asimov’s, “I’ll Be Moon for Christmas,” in our [November/December issue, on sale now!]
Asimov’sEditor: How did the title of this piece come to you? Michèle Laframboise: “I’ll Be Moon for Christmas” is my 4th chocolate-hard science fiction story to be launched in Asimov’s. And, yes, the title and theme had been inspired by this unforgettable tune.
AE: How did this story germinate? ML: The story took form only gradually, like the slow accretion of small, haphazard asteroids into a planet. The first tiny speck of story-dust was a room, set…
After a busy summer counting birds and writing, I come back with the first English graphic novel for a long time!
On the leafy planet Luurdu, young Adalou dreams of becoming a wind mistress. Alas, she faces a thorny competition because the kite choregraphy brings a high prestige to women who excel in this art. Adalou must overcome her family’s opposition, her biological limits and the jealousy of high-class rivals to conquer her place in the sun.
A graphic novel set in the universe of the space-faring Gardeners, sprouting from the fertile imagination of Michèle Laframboise.
My fresh new YA graphic novel, Mistress of the Winds, set in my Gardeners’ universe, will be out an about in September. 92 pages, B&W art. The pre-order link is here.
An extract here.
I’ll Be Moon for Christmas
My Holiday-themed story, “I’ll Be Moon for Christmas” will be featured in Asimov’s end-of-year issue. With fine cover neighbors like Kris Kathryn Rusch and Ray Nayler! I devored their previous stories, which doesn’t mean I won’t discover the new (to me!) voices in this upcoming issue.
This will be my fourth publication in Asimov’s, laying to rest the idea of a fluke when the magazine accepted my first story. It is also my first Holiday SF tale and. by the title, you may guess what immortal song is playing in my mind!
On the Canadian front, I will have two stories coming up in Polar Borealis 25 and 27, edited by Greame Cameron. On the French front, there will be a hard-SF story coming up in the French SF magazine Géante Rouge at some point in 2022 or 2023.
Meanwhile, I tend to lag behind in the reading department… I should finish my current SF mags OnSpec, Analog & and Asimov’s !
I came to SF by reading the collections of short-stories on my father’s bookshelves. There was the Marabout collection (in French) of 1950s-1960s fantastic, SF and horror that got me acquainted with the genres. Reading a short-story gave me an open window on an author’s style, favorite themes and personal voice. It eventually guided me towards their longer works.
When you do not have a lot of free time, plunging in a 800-page saga that turns out to be disappointing (for any reason outside the author’s talent, like: not to your taste, or your favorite character dies to thicken the plot, or you’re not into space-faring, chocolate-sauce-gurgling vampires etc.)
Hence my own offering of short-story collections. As the number of my published works rises, I started to publish reprints in collections that won’t consume too much reading time, while giving a taste of my brand of science fiction. Most of those books are under 160 pages, their electronic edition easily affordable.
5 Hard and Crunchy SF Tales
Sink your teeth in those crunchy SF tales!
Welcome to the Big Bang Bar, where the playground of the ultra-rich spans whole solar systems. Follow a cyber-butterfly soaring over the scarred Earth, with strings attached! Watch a proud woman stranded in the pitiless Martian desert find her way out — or die trying. Discover why an alien ship must keep eternally shifting its parts. Or would you prefer to jump a few billions years forward to witness the end of our universe?
What will happen when AIs write better, and faster, than writers? When Montreal freezes under the ice and the budget cuts, will solidarity hold? See humans gifted with eternal life experience a cruel reminder of their mortality. A termite woman whose life in the mines has lost value wants to live her last vacation. And what about the young people trapped in a generation-ship that is falling apart over the light-years?
Five dangerous visions of Sf author Michèle Laframboise.
Les âmes gelées (1999) recueil Transes Lucides, Ashem Fiction
Quand le dernier écrivain est mort (2014) Solaris 92
Petzis (2017) Solaris 203
Dernières vacances de la femme termite, Solaris 215
5 Histoires de SF douce et fondante (French collection)
On Mars, an augmented gorilla must protect the cyber-pollinators in his garden… and the morale of his human colleague. Elsewhere, a first contact stumbles on an advanced race that shuns numbers. A lonely biologist wants to discover the secret of migratory trees threatened by a project. The captain of a cargo ship on a diplomatic mission must go out of his way to convince a talkative door to open. Finally, after the climatic catastrophe, what are we ready to pay to make the Moon habitable?
Five science fiction stories that melt on the tongue, by author Michèle Laframboise. A cocktail of science, humour and tenderness.
A stomach technician experiences the pitfalls of living off the land, in the quest for a viable world. On Ganymede, a young girl receives an invasive lifeform for her eleventh birthday… A young heir discovers the exploited inhabitants behind a balmy resort planet. A weary cargo Captain deals with a stubborn door and a infected ship. On a luxury cruise ship, a lonely technician discover an eccentric lady, and an odd friendship blooms.
Five hard but hopeful science-fiction stories, cooked by multi-award winner Michèle Laframboise.
Essential Maintenance (2022) NeoOpsis 33
Moby Dick’s Doors (2022) in Space Opera Digest 2022 Have Ship, Will Travel
I am sharing this special milestone with some trepidation: my double publication in the July-August issues of Asimov’s & Analog! *_*
I am still reeling from the shock of reading my name on the Asimov’s cover. I did not expect the simultaneous publications in both summer issues of Asimov’s et Analog. As I was born in July, I considers this double publication as a fine birthday gift. Especially as my name is featured on the Asimov’s cover for my third story there. My late father, who was an avid SF reader, would be proud.
In the SF short-story field, Asimov’s Science Fiction (founded by writer Isaac Asimov himself) and AnalogScience Fiction& Fact (formerly Astounding SF, counting John Campbell as a long-standing former editor) are the top mags that receive thousands of submissions per year. So this represent an important milestone (but not the end of the road!) in my writing career.
As some of you know by now, I write mostly hard and crunchy SF stories!
Far from an instant success, this milestone is the fruit of more than 15 years of submitting stories to SF&F mags. I got more rejection letters than I can count, so I am taking a few hours to bask, then, it’s back to publishing my indie collections and the graphic novel. And submitting new stories to anthologies and magazines…
I do love telling stories, and whatever the number of readers, I am putting out new work every month.
I do not neglect the Canadian genre mags, because I currently have stories out in OnSpec 119 in Alberta and NeoOpsis 33 in BC. I am also regularly featured in the French SF magazines Solaris in Québec and Galaxies in France.
So if you are a writer and love telling stories, do not let discouragement bear you down. Go, learn, persist!
I am emerging from a frenzy of art events in Montréal and the complexity of putting up a graphic novel with *Vellum* of all things. Now I can proudly boast my latest publication : Maîtresse des vents, a 92-page graphic novel in French, from my own SF universe. My cover pic has been put into magnificent colors by my talented colleague Frank Fournier.
It is my first graphic novel published since a few years. I published with my own indie house because I was tired of waiting after various French publishers all hoping for the next popular thing.
I had a blast drawing 16 new pages and sketches to complete the story, and will work to distribute the paperback version in some outlets. Here’s one of those recent additions.
There is a section with various sketches at the end of the book. It will be a small pocket book format. The electronic copies are available on various platforms.
If you are patient, I will get the English version done as soon as possible. After all, the computer technology and Clip Studio make this endeavor less painful.
Title: Maîtresse des vents, Un récit de l’univers des Jardiniers
A snowstorm of publications happened this month, in both official languages. I share this good news which, unfortunately, coincides with some not-so-good news in the vast world outside books and writing. (my good news coincides with the invasion of Ukraine, a country that has done nothing wrong, except being prosperous. By the way, yesterday I sent a short story for a collection in support of the Ukrainians.)
Publication of my story Moby Dick’s Doors in the 2022 Space Opera Digest anthology HAVE SHIP, WILL TRAVEL, edited by Tracy Cooper-Posey
Le secret de Paloma (Paloma’s Secret) is a finalist for the Alain Thomas Award at the Toronto Book Fair. The show is held in person on March 19-20, 2022. (The award is the former Christine Dumetriu Van-Saanen Award, but we lost Alain, that dedicated worker, in 2020).
Publication of Cousin Entropy in the Rosetta Prize Archives (a prize that rewards translations of a text published in another language). Thanks to N.M. Roshak for this beautiful work on La Cousine Entropie. See the Future SF site for more details. A Mandarine translation of Cousin Entropy should also be published.
My illustration for the Salon du livre de Toronto (Toronto Book Fair) illustrating this year’s theme: our legacies. Our legacies, theme of the 29th Toronto Book Fair
A warning to my faithful fans: this is NOT SF! But an ‘eco-fiction’ with an ecological and human problem at its core, set in a coastal village. A tale of a beautiful friendship between two women who have each lost a loved one. Dedicated to my mother, Thérèse Laframboise née Lorrain, who grew up along the river and loves fishing harbors.
Publication of my short story Essential Maintenance in Neo-Opsis 33, a Canadian speculative fiction magazine edited by Karl and Stephanie Johanson.
And, to add to the flurry, an email last Thursday announcing a second SF short-story accepted at Analog! It’s a great start to the month, and to Women’s Rights Day, which is really encouraging for a female SF author
TL;DR : Michèle’s new books and SF short-stories publications are out in several venues, in both French and English
Michèle Laframboise is a Canadian SF writer, with more than 60 stories published. Her most recent story, October’s Feast, is available in the Asimov’s SF Magazine. She is a fair low-level athlete runner, a lousy gardener, and avid birder. More on her official website here.
Those who enjoy scuba diving (or who, like me as a kid, had watched Commander Cousteau’s documentaries) know that before going back to the surface, you have to make mandatory decompression stops to allow the molecules of nitrogen/ helium who had taken refuge in your tissus under high pressure to leave your body, via your exhaled air.
Otherwise, the nitrogen can decide to turn back into gas while it is still lodged in your veins and your cells, and it would not be a pretty sight. Decompression sickness is as dangerous as its opposite, the deep nitrogen narcosis which develops sneakily if you spend a too long time at 100 feet deep.
Diving in deep water
For me, writing feels like diving into deep water.
Except that my decompression breaks are in the opposite direction! It takes me a long time to reach the level of concentration deep enought to penetrate a story. Levels of ‘compression’ or concentration…
My first level takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I go over what I wrote the day before to get the story and its atmosphere back inside my head; I check notions, places, etc. If I write 100 words in that period, that’s normal.
At the second level, which takes me about an hour to reach, I am entering the story at 300-400 words per hour.
At the third level, everything becomes magical: my fingers hug the keyboard and the ideas are transmuted into words without my having to stop. I feel like the story is writing itself, and I’m approaching 600-800 words an hour.
If I keep this on without interruption, I reach my fourth level of concentration: the story tumbles like an avalanche in my head, fingers and words roll like marbles on a flat table. It is paradise. I smash through the 1000 words per hour wall. Often, this happens in the evening, when I have a deadline approaching.
BUT… I do not descend to this 4th level often.
On the other hand, to go up to the surface, there is no need for decompression stops. Any distraction can yank me up in a jiffy. The phone, someone calling me, or the family member.
As soon as my enthusiastic husband comes to tell me about a techno gadget he saw on the Internet or heard about on the radio, poof! immediate surfacing.
If the conversation is less than a minute or two, and if I don’t have to think to answer any complex questions, I can dive back in and get through my ‘focus’ levels pretty quickly.
Alas, this is rarely the case.
Another condition favors my rapid return to the depths: the certainty that I will NOT be disturbed again in the next few minutes!
So, after 5 or 10 minutes that ate my concentration. And, when the interruption ends, I have to dive back in and redo my stops. And, often, barely submerged, of course, it’s already supper time…
Confession of an unfocused writer
I created this article from a recent writing mishap.
Here I was, happily tapping on a wonderful science fiction story set in Antarctica, pom-pom-pom… when all of a sudden, a flawed scientific detail jumps out at me. Have I correctly calculated the position of the sun below the horizon during the southern polar night? Have I checked the right calendar for the current polar night?
Rising to the surface, opening the Internet, checking the info, then letting yourself drift on the Wikipedia sites, drift farther on the Scott-Amundsen station site, watching the web cam (it’s cold here, but not as cold as in the South Pole)… And, I came to my senses with the crucial realization of having wasted my time. It internally annoys me.
On the heels of that realization came another torment: should I change an explanatory paragraph to place it closer to the opening of the short-story? My words are so tightly knit together that moving one paragraph or one word requires rewriting several others, before and after. And so, I paddled on the surface to juggle these paragraphs.
Finally, after trying to dive back, I decided to go for a walk outside to clear my mind, and come back at another time. I told myself that it’s still warmer here (in Canada, Ontario) than at the South Pole…
TL;DR: Writing is like diving, but with the “concentration” stops going down instead of up.
Michèle Laframboise is a Canadian SF writer, with more than 60 stories published. Her most recent story, October’s Feast, is available in the Asimov’s SF Magazine. She is a fair low-level athlete runner, a lousy gardener, and avid birder. More on her official website here.
It’s not a play on the other quip Have gun, will travel, but this 400+ pages Have Ship, Will Travel anthology zooms into the space opera adventure stories your inner child covets.
The Space Opera Digest 2022, “Have Ship, Will Travel”, directed by Tracy Cooper-Posey, is published by Stories Rule Press. Stories Rule Press, in Alberta, Canada.
And with veteran writers like Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Douglas Smith heading the table of contents, you can be confident that you will pass a jolly good time on the routes of space! Of course, I do have a story featured in the Space Opera Digest 2022, that I hope you will enjoy as much as I did writing it.
More info? Editor Tracy Cooper-Posey writes across several fiction genres, including space opera under two different pen names, and grew up reading classic science fiction.
Adventures among the stars need a ship to get you there.
Stories Rule Press presents Space Opera Digest 2022: Have Ship, Will Travel
Space Opera heroes and heroines explore the stars and discover cool new places in ships which range from beat-up rust-buckets to sleek technologically advanced craft that are the envy of the galaxy. Space ships are quintessential for the adventures and challenges our favourite characters face.
Come and explore over 400 pages of worlds of wonder and the ships our heroes fly with Stories Rule Press’ 2022 edition of Space Opera Digest.
Space Opera Digest 2022: Have Ship, Will Travel is the second volume in a quarterly collection of genre fiction anthologies presented by Stories Rule Press.
“Sole Survivor” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch “Captain” by Stephen Sottong “Big Top” by Sonia Orin Lyris “Cycle Three” by Stephanie Mylchreest “Star Cruise” by Ron Collins “Watch of the Starsleepers” by Christopher D. Schmitz “Tome Raiders” by Eric Del Carlo “The Passenger” by Eve Morton “An Ordinary World” by J. L. Royce “Insanity is Infectious” by Cameron Cooper “Achenar” by Jasmine Luck “Moby Dick’s Doors” by Michèle Laframboise “Learning Curve” by Neil Williams “Exotic Matters” by Phil Giunta “An icub on Mars” by Barbara G. Tarn “Of Hedgehogs and Humans” by Rob Nisbet “Smugglers Blues” by Blaze Ward “Altered Skin” by Sara C. Walker “An Unexpected Taste of Home” by Terry Mixon “Symphony” by Douglas Smith
Space Opera Science Fiction Anthology __
So, heed the call of adventure, and embark today !
I was picking at the stubborn ice in the garage entrance. Again.
My shovel made such a racket that I was certain the whole neighborhood had heard. At least, those neighbors who didn’t go out for work, which was, a lot of ’em this peculiar, cursed year. The current temperature danced around a balmy zero Celsius, but the wind had frozen everything hard.
If, at least, the Sun had spared some if its heat for the fissured blacktop of the entrance, the ice would have melted by itself. Alas, a bunch of gray clouds had been squatting the whole sky all day.
I hated it when winter couldn’t decide, once and for all, between staying over or under the freezing temperatures. One day, snow to our knees, the following day, it all melted into slush puddles; then the following night created uneven ice patches everywhere. Add the sidewalks to that equation, their broken slabs a danger for any walkers, hidden under the layer of pristine snow, and that’s southern Lake Ontario for you.
As my nice neighbors’ car entrance was a slippery incline, the risk of a bad concussion was multiplied tenfold. Hence me, hacking the ice like a mad woman, the metal reverberations grating my ears, the vibration stunning my wrists even if I wore padded mittens.
For now, the wind factor was chilling the sweat channel pouring over my spinal column. Swerving around the buildings, the wind surged from every direction, surprising me. I should have covered myself better than a sweater and padded vest, but too many layers only made me sweat more.
If only the darn winter could make up its mind! That dance around the zero was driving me nuts, besides wearing down the asphalt. And my patience…
At this hour, I should be cooking the no meat turkey, mashing the potatoes, finishing the chocolate cake that would only be a pale reflection of the one my grandmother made. And I had to set the table to greet the husband and son coming back from their own errands. And choose the best plates, those perched on the high-altitude cupboard shelf.
But the thought of my neighbor, not much older than I was but with her hip broken in a bad fall, prodded me on. Her husband’s sore back and weak heart prohibited him from any undue exertion, like shoveling dense snow. I was in good shape, relatively speaking, of course, so I toiled for them.
Of course, it was stupid of me to risk a heart attack to de-ice a car entrance.
Evening fell too fast, giving birth to a colored rivalry of Christmas lights, enhanced by technical prowess. I felt a pinch of envy regarding this prodigality, but those lights offered a gift of beauty to any passerby.
The world was so dark, so hard. Those constellations of blue, green and white lamps warmed up my soul. I paused, the echo of my last shovel hack sounding for long seconds. A fragile bubble of silence expended over the deserted street.
My breath created soft clouds of condensation that dissipated too fast.
The silence, in a city, was something to cherish. I listened for the chatter of chickadees, the angry twip of a house sparrow, the tiny crack of the hardened snow under the paws of a cat, or the light bounces of a scurrying rabbit.
But the only sound I heard was the dry crinkle of an envelope under my boot. Untouched, unopened, escaped from the recycling van with the complicity of the wind. On its face, printed Christmas ornaments and holly leaves, framing a too familiar message: give generously!
In my humble opinion, printing Give generously! or urgent!!! We need you! with an excess of exclamation points, constituted a strategical error. Most of those envelopes landed directly in the recycling basket.
I didn’t want to cast the first rock at my neighbors. But since charity organizations had taken to systematically share our address lists, it was twenty, thirty Give generously envelopes that fell in my mailbox, just because I, once, forgot to tick the microscopic square hidden in a small fonts paragraph.
This accrued pressure had caused a mild case of giving fatigue.
My thoughts turned darker. Yes, give generously, while tycoons and bankers fired men and women or conspired to shrink their worker’s rents, inflating their own wealth!
And those same ultra-rich would put one hand over their heart at charity galas, while the other slipped gifts in politicians’ pockets, garnered further tax breaks with legal tricks, accruing the burden for all others. (And then the politicians opened their hands and told the populace, “See, we do not have money…”)
Strangled by all those speculators, what would be left of this famous middle class that shrank and shrank? Donations dropped year after year, even with the added promise of an anonymous donator doubling or tripling the given amount. So many of us toiled at two or three jobs to make ends meet, conscious to be at one illness, one accident, one job loss from homelessness…
Clanggg! I hit the blue-brown ice with a vindictive zeal.
The shovel broke a layer of ice that would have felled my fragile neighbors. Smashing the ice was as difficult as weeding the garden. In summer, I struggled to unearth the deep roots of invading plants instead of just pulling the heads off. Battling the roots of corruption was as difficult; many politicians pulling off some scapegoat from their hat and going on as before.
Under the thin ice, another envelope winked at me. All red, with the same holly leaves and Christmas tree ornaments, but bearing a different message. Flash sale, Find your gifts here, 50% on everything…
The other face of the holidays, where stores and banks and insurance agents offered pre-approved credit cards with incredible rates… Those two injunctions fought for my mind space.
Buy, buy, buy!
Give, give, give!
Buy or give, but never disturb the generous speculators who congratulated themselves with champagne at Davos while pouring crocodile tears over the climatic crisis brought by their own profitable actions.
So be it.
This year, I had decided to forego the shopping and give all that I could: clothes, food, kitchen items, books to nourish the dreams…
A low drone rose.
I thought it was the car of a neighbor returning from a job that might evaporate next year, in another reorganization. Then I heard distant bells tingling under the loud clangs of my shovel. Under the tingling bells, a chorus of voices sang, soft like the abating wind. Were there still people singing carols?
For a moment, magic bathed my soul.
Then a familiar rumble of a diesel engine cut through the magical moment.
The beams of two spotlights swept the sidewalk that I was furiously hacking. I turned around, sweating and out of breath, my palms aching from the shocks, intent on spilling out my consumer/donator frustrations.
The chorus I had heard a moment before was flowing from the driver window of a huge eighteen-wheeler, pulling a semi-trailer. The trailer’s side was marked with an unfamiliar logo with holly leaves and one round tree ornament. Such a mastodon should never have been able to engage in our narrow, curved residential street! Neither should have it been able to ground to a halt without a loud hiss of brakes.
A ginger cookies scent titillated my nose, along with a waft of warm air from the open window. The left elbow of the driver jutted out, wrapped in candy-red, shiny coat.
A bearded face leaned out of the window, the lower edge encrusted with ice crystals that fell as his arm brushed over them. The soft singing was still pouring out, probably from a high-quality radio system, because the voices were so clean it sounded like an entire choir had been squeezed inside the truck’s cabin.
“Excuse me,” the driver said, “I’m kind of lost.”
His gravelly voice betrayed an age in the advanced seventies, confirmed by the beard, whitened by worries.
Another elder who had lost his pension and had been forced to work as long as he had some strength remaining.
No, it was his way that he had lost. And, as like most truckers, he was ‘on the clock’. I put my bad mood in my pocket, with the envelopes, and planted the shovel like a flag into a precarious snowbank.
“Where are you going?” I asked, my voice raspy with the cold.
The driver turned to cut his engines, gaining my silent approval. The rumble of diesel died out like an organ endnote. He scratched his head under the rim of his knitted cap. Red like the anorak.
“Well,” he said, “it’s a bit complicated, since my GPS has retired…”
“Retired? He’s luckier than I am!”
Oops! I had talked without thinking. The paper tip of my bad mood’s viper tongue peeked from my pocket.
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m a little like you, a freelance artist living day-to-day, so there’s no retirement package for me.”
“Oh,” he said.
He smiled, and that changed his physiognomy.
I mean, the guy didn’t have that perfect Colgate smile, whiter than white, over gums redder than his anorak. His teeth showed some wear and tear, toned to a soft ivory taint like an elephant’s defense. However, there was a light in his smile that rose to his eyes, their irises the pale blue of the ice, when free of impurities.
And this warmth, this light, evaporated the worries in my head, the magnates of this world receding into nothingness. I didn’t feel the cold sweat channel in my back, either.
It was at this moment that I noticed he had addressed me in my native French, despite my living in an overly English neighborhood in the Toronto area. How could he have guessed my proud Franco Ontarian culture?
“What brand is your GPS?” I asked. “A Garmin, a Tom-Tom?”
“It’s a Rudolph-2.”
“I’m not familiar with that brand.”
“Well, the first was the best, but since he retired…”
He had spoken on such a good-natured way that I almost didn’t notice the incongruity of a GPS going into retirement. I thought that poor trucker must have been so lonely on the long roads, that he spoke to his equipment. So, I asked him a good-natured question.
“And what are you transporting?”
His arm wove toward the back of the truck.
“Gifts,” he said.
As the single syllable left his fleshy lips, a warm scent of chocolate cake tickled my nose. I felt myself shrinking into a smaller me, transported in a familiar kitchen, as my grandmother was pulling from the oven a magnificent cake. Her mittened hands deposited the dessert on a pad on the countertop. Then she would spread her special cacao icing, a glory as each bite melted in the mouth, and place a little maraschino cherry at the center.
How I missed my grandmother!
I came back to the present with a start. If the bearded trucker carried food…
“Nothing perishable, I hope?”
“Oh, don’t worry, it will keep. I’m delivering everything this night.”
In certain stories or movies, there are moments when snotty critics qualified a character as genre blind.
For instance, you watch a movie with a bunch of teens in a haunted house, and the leader brilliantly decides, “let’s split up to cover more ground.” Of course, that was a staple of countless horror movies, like the young woman stuck in a mansion as Victorian as empty, who hears a noise coming from the cellar and goes down there to investigate the source, alone with her skimpy night robe…
That kind of genre-blind, of cognitive dissonance, was on me now. My brain had not connected all the dots yet, still rattled by the solicitation envelopes in my pocket.
So, I addressed the bearded man, hedging my bets.
“So, you’re a kind of Santa Claus,” I said.
I added my best ivory-toothed smile, the fruit of my privileged access to dental care.
At that moment, a concert of tweets and chirps rose in my back. Turning, I discovered a whole gallery of birds, the dream of any ornithologist doing the Christmas bird count.
Cardinals redder than red, with their more discrete dames, their plumage a beige and soft red. Cheerful black-headed chickadees, Black-eyed Juncos, with their best gray and white tuxedos, blue jays harping, and others that my eye couldn’t identify. Among them, a lone peregrine falcon perched on a branch, surprisingly indifferent to all those little meals chirping under its claws.
I was afraid that the truck would dematerialize like in the tales when I turned back.
But no, the driver was still there, one hand on the wheel, his kind eyes contemplating the bird assembly. Maybe I was mistaken, and it was St-Francis of Assisi hiding under this beard.
Really, I would be fine with that.
“Yes,” he admitted. “And I must deliver at a series of addresses.”
He foraged on the passenger seat and grabbed a pack of old matrix print paper. There must have been a hundred pages, all perforated on the sides. I glanced at the top address.
I felt a weird let down feeling. Then, I shook it off like snow from my boots. What was I griping for? Living in a fair neighborhood, in a country at peace?
A light bulb flickered in my mind: the first line was the address of a distribution center of food and clothes in my city. Because of the elite’s neglect or indifference, more families struggled to make ends meet, and donations were dropping. No wonder Santa Claus had changed his routes tonight.
Under the first address, I recognized others: a refuge for the street kids, a safe house for women and children in danger, a halfway house for ex-prisoners. I did not know the other places, but, flipping the accordion-linked pages, I could see area codes in Cyrillic characters, Chinese ideograms…
A gulf of gratitude filled me, warm as hot fudge poured from the pan. I clapped my hands in delight.
“Oh, I see what you’re doing, it’s, it’s fantastic! Thank you, thank you!”
He seemed happy from my reaction, and the birds tweeted louder.
“Yes,” he said, “and Mother Claus had even given me the locations of hidden political prisoners camps.”
That last bit saddened me. Long ago, I had sent a box of children’s shoes to an organism in Afghanistan. The box never got there. Lost in transit…
“The jailors will keep the gifts for themselves,” I said, my voice heavy.
That didn’t seem to bother him, no more than the time zones and Earth’s circumference.
“It will be a delicate affair, young girl, but for a guy who had slipped into millions of houses by chimneys or windows in a single night, no problemo!”
His young girl passed on me like a balm, because it was sincere. The good grandfather perceived me as the child I had been, as I was still inside.
However, there was just one little detail at odds with my ecological conscience. The gas-gurgling truck.
“Wouldn’t it be less polluting to drop your gifts from your sleigh, with the flying reindeers?”
There, he burst into a hearty laugh. Not the fabled ho-ho-ho, but a joyous wah-ha-ha-ha!
“A truck is less conspicuous. Especially with all those drones firing on everything, even the birds! As for the gas, the elves have produced a biofuel.”
He restarted the engine. I could smell a sharp scent of ginger coming out. He winked.
So, stepping on the foothold, I gave him the directions to get out of the street, and to reinitialize his GPS. His eyes perked up when the little red sleigh icon blinked on his screen. A powerful Ha! escaped in the night.
“I thank you, young girl. Do you want something in exchange?”
I considered the flock of birds happily hopping by, and breathed in the odor of grandma’s chocolate cake and ginger breads, all coming from the exhaust tubes.
One writer, on the verge of dying, had said that his most marvelous discovery had been to know that he already possessed everything he needed to be happy.
A roof over my head, a family to cherish, a work I loved.
“You just gave me my gift,” I said, tears in my eyes. “I don’t need anything else.”
“Well, it has been a pleasure to talk with you. Embrace your loved ones for me.”
And, just like that, the gift truck rumbled on, leaving its good smell of ginger and chocolate behind. I followed it with my eyes until the taillights were gone.
I stood, unmoving, savoring the moment under the stars that shone without concurrence from the Moon. Then, the to-do list raised its ugly head in my mind.
Ice to break; meal to prepare; table to set.
My hand reached for the shovel’s handle.
And froze there.
Under my feet, the concrete slab was as dry as in July. The ice had evaporated on the sidewalk, so nobody would slip and get a hip fracture. On the street, and on the driveways near me, the black top had been regenerated, all cracks gone from its smooth finish. Nice of Santa, to think of the municipalities crushed under debts, putting back repairs.
Thank you, I thought.
You’re welcome, a voice answered in my head, just as a snowflake tickled my nose.
Snow was falling, big fluffy tufts, magical, as they only covered the lawns and gardens by now empty of birds. I put back the shovel inside our empty garage and headed for the front door.
As soon as I pushed it open, a flurry of good smells greeted me. Mashed potatoes, vegetables, tofu turkey with cranberries…
To my surprise, the table had been set.
With the best plates, those that usually waited on the high-altitude shelf, disposed on the clean fabric with their attending cutlery. It was as if a fairy—or Mother Claus?—had prepared this feast.
I was tempted to cry out You shouldn’t have done this!
But I didn’t.
Because, at that moment, I saw—and it drew tears from my eyes—what occupied the center of the table: a wide, generous china plate, the edge ornate with holly leaves (real, fresh ones) and small golden marbles.
And, on this round throne, a cake, worthy of my grandmother’s best art, covered with a thick layer of chocolate fudge icing, sending up a warm scent of cacao. On its top, a small round cherry sat, like a tiny Christmas ornament.
May you all live and give in this Holiday Season !
(c) Michèle Laframboise 2021
Enjoyed this tale? At the time I actually wrote it, Serge Bouchard, a dear friend of all poets, who had been a trucker, had just left us. So the generous character in the truck would look a bit like him.