Canadian Shield

Igor Rybak

A young eastern European writer goes to the book launch of a famous Canadian writer. He has read the book several times (it was available in stores a few weeks before the launch) and has prepared a speech he plans to deliver, privately, to the Canadian writer in which he outlines the Canadian writer’s precious treatment of all things banal and her complete lack of humour and imagination. At the drink table, the young writer pours himself half a glass wine, which he mixes with water. She will be drunk, he snickers to himself, and I will be sober and then I will strike.

The Canadian writer is wearing a cashmere shawl, floral-print pants and leather shoes that can barely be seen. The Canadian writer says hello to everyone she sees. She thanks everyone for coming. In her hand she holds a glass of blood-red liquid. Finally the Canadian writer passes by the young Eastern European writer and says hello. The young writer considers launching his attack but withholds because the Canadian writer is being so friendly and she seems particularly sober.

What fine cheesecake you are serving here, says the young writer. Oh thank you, I came up with the recipe, says the Canadian writer. I wish I’d had time to make it myself but I’ve just been so busy. When the Canadian writer moves on, the young writer grabs another slice of the cheesecake. He chews carefully and decides that the cheesecake is not as impressive as he first thought. He pours himself more wine, though this time with less water since, according to his calculations, everyone else at the party should be tipsy by now. The room is vast, much too big for all the guests, so clumps of people form and much bare floor can be seen.

The young writer talks to some magazine publishers who are completely drunk. It’s so wonderful to be able to call her our own, says one of the publishers. Another says, Yes, it saddens me to think that we will never have another talent like her. Perhaps you’re right, says the first publisher, but the themes she writes about, they will be written about forever by our writers. We cannot help it, we are shaped by our landscape; our collective consciousness is as solid as the Canadian Shield. I’ve never been there, says another publisher.

The young writer drinks more wine and falls into a conversation with some novelists. I find it interesting, one says, that she chose to wear floral print with her cashmere shawl; it seems so provincial. All the novelists laugh. And another says, She is provincial, we all are, all of us novelists. And all the novelists laugh again.

The young writer goes to the washroom and stares at himself in the mirror. He combs his hair. He adjusts his blazer. He straightens his glasses.

A few hours into the soiree, the Canadian writer’s publisher calls for a toast. To our great treasure, he says, without whom we would all be the poorer, for her words bind us all, for her presence reminds us that we belong to this country and that this country belongs to her, I mean us.

The young writer pours himself more wine and water, and he feels like his teeth are numb but he figures that, since he is so smart as to add water, the rest of the louses in the room are all smashed anyway, and finally the young writer saunters over to the Canadian writer. You seem to be holding up quite well, she says. It’s half water, says the young writer. He smiles. How clever, says the Canadian writer. I used to do it that way too. Now I just drink black currant juice. She taps her glass and walks away.

The young writer rejoins the magazine publishers and they all go out to the street to find another bar. The following day, the young writer reads the Canadian writer’s novel again and though he still does not like it much, he decides that the cheesecakes was, in fact, quite tasty.

Igor Rybak is a silly man who writes serious stories.