About the Author
Tony Burgess is a writer who has published poetry, screenplays, criticism, and fiction. He is the author of Fiction for Lovers, The Hellmouths of Bewdley, and Pontypool Changes Everything, which was made into the award-winning movie Pontypool in 2009. He lives in Staynor, Ontario.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
He had spent the last months of the school year wrapped in a coat made of tarpaper and it had burned in the sun and burned to his skin, leaving a black–red mark that still runs from the right side of his neck to the left point of his hip. He had been rolled down the hill behind the school. He had been set up on a low branch by the river so the other children could knock him off by tossing heavy rocks and lumps of hard dirt at him. The summer was spent here, in this revolting room, his back sticky with tar and his feet bruised by a winter of running away. It is difficult to describe hardship this intense. This poor, poor boy, Idaho, whose unhappiness exceeds everyone’s. No one has greater reason to give up and cry in a loathsome lump for the rest of his sad and morbid days than poor pathetic Idaho Winter.
The door opens again and a dog appears. A yellow hound with a red mouth, its head low and ready to pounce.
“Get the boy up, Growler.”
That is Idaho’s father. Idaho’s father, known locally as Early Winter, stomps past the boy’s room, down the stairs to the kitchen and sits at the table across from a woman. Early scoops beans in milk from a shallow pan silently, staring with menace at the woman, who is known only as Wife. She is pretty and silent and thin and probably hungry. She stares at her lap. She dare not look up. She has been forbidden to look up from her hands.
“Growler’s getting the boy.”
A crashing noise. Pictures fall and plaster crumbles as Growler, who has Idaho’s shoulder in his jaws, knocks the boy back and forth against the hall’s narrow walls, finally dropping him at Early’s feet. Early looks down at the wretched boy. Idaho looks up, squinting in fear of this hateful man. Early’s eyes are hidden roads: cold crooked roads that carry killers back up into the woods. Early’s eyes are the same secret roads that killers take. Idaho buries his face in his thin hands.
“School. You eat what the critter found.”
Idaho feels something kicked across his knees. He looks through his spidery fingers at the stiff raccoon. Its throat and belly are covered in flies. “Eat its cheeks and clean yer teeth with the tail.” Idaho can see his mother’s slender feet under the table, her big toes curled and white. This is as close as he has gotten to her in many months. He sees one toe straighten and the other scoop up under her foot. These feet seem absorbed in caring for each other. Two little blind puppets that seek each other out and exchange tendernesses even here in the harshest spot on earth. Idaho feels a buzzing on his knuckles. A tear has fallen and stirred the flies from his breakfast.