William Bell


Copyright © 2011 William Bell

For Ting-xing


A LONG TIME AGO, when my grade eight teacher got so fed up with my behaviour that she kicked me out of class, she had no idea-she was so knotted with anger she wouldn’t have cared-that her outburst of frustration would lead to a crime.

Mrs. Sykes was cursed with wide, wet rubbery lips. When she talked, water gathered in the corners of her mouth and her lips shone with moisture. If she was irritated, as she was that day, the spit machine went into high gear and produced a tiny rainstorm that made you feel as if you’d stuck your head out a car window on a drizzly day.

“Go away!” she shouted.

The classroom door slammed in my face. I shrugged my shoulders, wiped my cheeks and forehead on my sleeve, and ambled down the hall to the library. Mrs. Tanner greeted me with a sour, unsympathetic look and heaved her bulky body from her chair behind the checkout desk. Muttering that this was the third time in a month, she thrust an old book with a blue cloth cover into my hands and ordered me to sit in the corner farthest from her desk but still in her line of vision.

“Read,” she commanded. “Quietly.”

The collection of ancient Greek myths hooked me right away. I read until the end of the day, then checked out the book and took it home. I renewed it so many times that Mrs. Tanner eventually gave up trying to get it back. When I graduated and went on to high school, the blue volume remained on the shelf in my room.

I guess you could say that I stole the book, but since Sykes and Tanner were accomplices the theft wasn’t my fault. If Sykes hadn’t kicked me out of class, I wouldn’t have gone to the library. If Tanner had pressed a different, less interesting choice into my hands, I would have left it on the library chair when the end-of-day bell rang. You could say I was fated to read the book and like it enough to re-read it many times. Maybe Sykes, Tanner, and I were committing acts according to a plan we had no control over. We were like train cars pulled helplessly along tracks laid down by the gods long before we were born.

I found this notion in the blue book of myths. There were three old misshapen hags with ragged clothes and hearts as cold and spiky as icicles. They were called the Moirae, or Fates, and they controlled the destiny of every being on earth. The ancient Greeks seemed to swallow this idea calmly.

Not me. Even in grade eight I saw through the shabby excuse that the events in our lives are decided by semi- divine beings. I knew I had ended up in the library that day because I had pushed the grumpy Mrs. Sykes too far. I was bored by her tedious vocabulary exercises, and bugging her was a way to pass the time. I, not a warty trio of half-demented old crones, was responsible.

It’s true-life has its surprises. Sometimes the first link in a chain of events you’d never have imagined is forged by an ordinary routine action-like walking down Mississauga Street one morning, stepping into a cafe, and ordering a cup of coffee.


Flee, flee from those who speak in the name of God.

– Eduardo Corbizzi



IT STARTED ON A MONDAY MORNING in early summer. As usual, I pushed through the alley door into the cramped room at the back of Olde Gold Antiques and Collectibles-the Mississauga Street store owned by my parents-where I was the official restorer, refinisher, and repairer of furniture. The store was closed the first day of the week, so I could toil away without being distracted by the tinkle of the doorbell.

I slid an autorickshaw CD into the player and began to repair an antique bird’s-eye maple chest. Somehow the upper-right drawer had been smashed-it takes a mighty blow to break a dovetailed pine drawer-and Dad had asked me to make a new one. He had sold the chest and promised delivery in a couple of days.

Soon I was lost in the fragrance of pine shavings and sawdust, the rasp of steel teeth on wood, the familiar vibration in the saw’s handle as the blade cut kerfs along the lines I had scribed to mark the dovetails. An up-to- date cabinetmaker would have used an electric router to make the dovetails, but I preferred hand tools.

When the dovetails were done, I chiselled out the slots that the drawer bottom would rest in, cleaned up the edges with a bit of sandpaper, then painted the corner joints with glue and fitted the drawer sides to the front. After I slid the bottom into its grooves-without glue-I eased the back into place and clamped the completed drawer, setting it aside to let the adhesive dry. Good for another hundred years or so.

I hung my apron on a hook beside the curtain that separated the shop from the showroom, brushed sawdust off my sleeves, and left by the front door, crossing the street to the sunny side to get a good view of Olde Gold’s display window and the small walnut cabinet I had designed and made myself. On the store’s sign, OLDE GOLD ANTIQUES AND COLLECTIBLES, there was room for another line of print: Fine Custom Furniture.

With the ink on my high school diploma barely dry I had spent most of the past year as unofficial apprentice to Norbert Armstrong, a well-known local cabinetmaker. I wanted to design and make furniture, not spend my life working only for my parents, and although it had taken Mom a while to come around, they supported my ambition. When I “graduated”-the ceremony was a picnic of ham sandwiches, potato salad, and Norbert’s foul-tasting homemade beer on the patio behind his shop in Hillsdale-Norbert had grumbled good-naturedly that for the first time in many years he might have some competition. I took his remark as a compliment.

I headed down Mississauga Street, bought a copy of the local paper from a box outside the Shepherd’s Crook pub, and re-crossed the road where it began its descent to the park on the shore of Lake Couchiching. The

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