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2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist

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Michael Crummey, Megan Gail Coles, David Bezmozgis, Alix Olin, Ian Williams, Steven Price are the finalists this year.
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

February in Newfoundland is the longest month of the year.

Another blizzard is threatening to tear a strip off downtown St. John’s, while inside The Hazel restaurant a storm system of sex, betrayal, addiction, and hurt is breaking overhead. Iris, a young hostess from around the bay, is forced to pull a double despite resolving to avoid the charming chef and his wealthy restaurateur wife. Just tables over, Damian, a hungover and self-loathing server, is trying to navigate a potential punch-up w …

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Olive waits below the sad mural painted in memory of some long ago drowned boy.

She can see up and down Duckworth Street from her perch though there’s not much to see this early in the morning. A scattered taxi slogs by carrying fiendish-looking passengers who attempt to discreetly smoke from barely cracked windows. Discretion is a skill they have fallen out with but they don’t know that yet. They still fancy themselves stealth, piling four parka-plied humans into a single toilet stall, scarves dangling beneath the door, telling tails on them all.

Volume control is a thing of delusion in the confined spaces they inhabit. It will be years before this is fully realized by those who escape the scene or are thrown into adulthood by overdose or pregnancy. These lucky few will feel overwhelmingly, retroactively embarrassed by their one-time rock star fantasies. Olive can hear them bawling about their supposed betrayals as clouds of tobacco smoke and slurry syllables updraft skyward through the slightly parted window.

But Olive forgives them their make-believe follies.

They are no better or worse than most of the half well-off, half grown-up humans she has met. They are just flawed and vulnerable to the pitch. Olive is no different. She has chased the white dragon into smoky rooms where grad students complained about unkindly thesis feedback while wearing thousand dollar watches. A holiday-tanned winter wrist, a baggie held aloft, another Volvo fob serving key bumps round the ring. Under such circumstances, Olive is for the most part silent. She can pass for one of them until she releases language into the world.

Olive often holds her rural tongue for fear of being found out. She is not a card-carrying member of the townie majority. And rarely are there other fugitive faces for Olive to hide behind on nights when she wants to get on the go. There was a Mexican painter once. A Russian musician. There was the one Pakistani fellow whose name Olive could never recall. She did not think it was unpronounceable, she just could not pronounce it.

There are lots of words still beyond her reach.

Like Olive can think of no words to describe the pain felt where her pants nearly meet her feet. She winces and tucks her chin farther inside her coat. She tries to push her neck back to save from catching skin in the zipper. She sniffs back hard and swallows a slippery lob. Her grandmother would not approve of hoarding mucus in the body but her grandmother would not approve of much of what she does lately. Olive sighs and swells and swallows spit to slide the lob along.

Ollie my dollie, get a tissue.

Her grandmother’s voice is always a program running in the back of her mind. But Olive can’t sacrifice a tissue on mere mucus this morning. Her store of napkins is running low and the last time she tried to hock and spit the wind gust blew snot back onto her sleeve. The line of mucus running from her lips to her elbow turned her weak stomach over. A middle-aged woman in a bright blue Canada Goose coat muttered oh for the love of god as she hurried past the translucent boundary. This made Olive feel gross.

She swallows that gross feeling down again while she waits.

She can distract herself for a time from the damp soak settling in her heels by watching the craven-faced respectable people meander to their grown-up jobs after a weekend of pretending to be twenty-five. They are not twenty-five. They are not even thirty-five and feel as such. Most internally promise to stay home with the kids next weekend as they turn their faces to or from the sunshine depending on the quantity of painkillers ingested in the car. This temporary commitment to sobriety is bookended by revolving party systems.

Some relish vitamin D while others resent it.

The division will not last long, though, as the sun already has started to duck back inside the nimbostratus. It will storm again today as surely as the nearly forty will go out again in four days’ time. The babysitter will be called. The cat will be let in. They will flee their houses for a little look around.

Get the stink of house off ya.

They will reliably cloak this smell of domestication in alcohol and nicotine and self-loathing until Monday. Mondays are for quitting everything. Again. Except when it storms on Monday. Then quitting everything is pushed to Tuesday.

Today is such a Tuesday.

The weekend warriors refuse to sell out and so have fully bought in pound for pound.

Olive is just the same. She too had been sold the notion of party drugs as lazy fun and then fast gobbled them hand over fist. Swallow, snort, smoke; ingestion is an irrelevant matter of personal preference and ease. There is no wall to wall them out. Or in. Drug trends are trendingalong regardless of national media reports daily updating all on their progress east and upward. Olive has watched the same scenes play out on repeat in dark corners of the late night since arriving in Sin Jawns.

And they’ve gone and stashed the kits everywhere to protect against the siren call. A first line of defence kept behind wine bars. Under the bathroom sink. In purses. And Olive knows she must address the long list of reasons why self-medicare is needed to comfort her.

Eventually.

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Immigrant City

Immigrant City

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback

FINALIST FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE

Award-winning author David Bezmozgis’s first story collection in more than a decade, hailed by the Toronto Star as “intelligent, funny, unfailingly sympathetic”

In the title story, a father and his young daughter stumble into a bizarre version of his immigrant childhood. A mysterious tech conference brings a writer to Montreal, where he discovers new designs on the past in “How It Used to Be.” A grandfather’s Yiddish letters expose a love a …

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The Innocents

The Innocents

edition:Hardcover

**FINALIST FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE**
**FINALIST FOR THE 2019 GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD**
**FINALIST FOR THE 2019 ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE**
**NATIONAL BESTSELLER**
Crummey's novel has the capacity to change the way the reader sees the world—Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury Citation 
From bestselling, award-winning author Michael Crummey comes a sweeping, heart-wrenching, deeply immersive novel about a brother and sister alone in a small world.

A brother and sister …

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The Driven Snow.
 
They were still youngsters that winter. They lost their baby sister before the first snowfall. Their mother laid the infant in a shallow trough beside the only other grave in the cove and she sang the lullaby she’d sung all her children to sleep with, which was as much as they had to offer of ceremony. The woman was deathly sick herself by then, coughing up clots of blood into her hands.
     The ground was frozen solid when she died and even if their father had been well enough to shovel there was no digging a grave for her. He and Evered shifted the covering of reeds and alders away from the overturned boat and hauled it down to the landwash before they carried the corpse from the house. They set it in the boat along with half a dozen stones scavenged along the shore. Their father slumped against the gunwale to catch his breath.
     “Will I come out with you?” Evered asked.
     He shook his head. “You stay with your sister,” he said.
     The two youngsters watched him row away from shore and out beyond the shoal water with his dead wife. They saw him leaning below the gunwales for what seemed a long time, his head and shoulders bobbing up now and then. He was working at something awkward and unpleasant it seemed though neither could guess what it was. They watched him wrestling the weight of the corpse with his back to the shore. He was far enough off they couldn’t see that their mother was naked when she was tipped into the black of the winter ocean.
     Their father tried to hand the clothes to his daughter when he rowed in but Ada held her hands behind her back and shook her head fiercely.
     “You’ll have need of these,” their father said. “Now the once.”
     Evered took them, folding the limp fabric against his stomach. The sour smell of a long illness and of his mother which he couldn’t separate in his head. “I’ll set them by for her,” he said.
     Their father nodded. He was too exhausted to climb from the boat and he sat there a long while. A dwy of snow had blown in across the bay and it turned the hair of his bowed head white as they waited.
 

 
Their father died in his bed before the new year.
     Without speaking of it they acted as if he was only asleep and they left him lying there for the better part of a week. Hoping he might wake up coughing in the middle of the night, complaining about the cold or asking after a drink of water. During the day they dawdled about in the store and spent as much time outside as they could stand, cleaving and stacking wood or hauling buckets of water from the brook, picking along the landwash for gull feathers and mussel shells and wish rocks to add to Ada’s collection. Inside they tended the fireplace and drank their bare-legged tea and spoke in whispers so as not to disturb the man.
     On the fifth night of the vigil Ada woke from a dream of her parents. They were standing back on, holding hands and looking at her over their shoulders. Her mother was naked and soaking wet, her hair streaming water.
     “What is it you’re bawling over, Sister?” Evered asked. “He can’t stay,” she whispered.
     “Don’t be talking foolishness.”
     “He can’t stay there like that, Brother.”
     And he set to bawling with her then, the two helpless youngsters holding on to one another in the pitch.
     Before it was properly light he pulled back the one ragged blanket and hauled his father’s body to the floor. The heels smacking like mallets against the frozen ground. His sister moved to pick up her father’s legs but Evered wouldn’t allow it. The man of the house suddenly. “You sit there,” he said. “Until I gets back.”
     He gripped the shoulders of his father’s shirt. He expected it to feel like hauling a seine of fish but there was a rigidness to the corpse that made it surprisingly easy to drag through the door- way. Only once on the way down to the water was he forced to stop to catch his breath and shake the numbness from his hands.
     He rowed out to the deeps beyond the shoal grounds, as close to the same spot as he could guess judging by his distance from the shore. Their parents might be together down there was his thought or within sight of one another at least, though he knew nothing below the ocean surface sat still for long. He tried to strip off the man’s clothes for practical reasons but his father’s eyes were half-open and he lost his nerve for meddling.
     Before pushing off the beach he’d gathered a length of old netting and enough stones to keep the body under and he tied that improvised anchor around his father’s waist. The day was still and cold, the ocean flat calm. He did not want to watch once the body slapped into the water and the rocks were hefted over the gunwale to take it down. But he couldn’t make himself look away from that descent until long after his father had passed out of sight and into the black.
 

 
He stared out at the spot where the man sank from view as he rowed in through the skerries. His teeth chattering helplessly, his mind swimming. Even after the keel brought up in the shallows he kept rowing at the water like a headless chicken strutting around the chopping block. He didn’t stop until Ada called his name behind him.
     “I told you to wait where you was till I come back,” he said, trying to set the oars and find his feet.
     “I was watching for you heading in,” she said.
     He stumbled as he climbed over the gunwale, his face like chalk. “I needs to lie down for a bit,” he said.
     Ada did her best to haul the boat out of reach of the tide, calling after her brother as he staggered up the path to the tilt. By the time she came into the room he was already asleep in their bed. He slept so long and in such a stillness that Ada considered he might have died on her as well. She sat across the room until dark and then climbed into her parents’ bed where she lay whispering to her dead sister to keep herself company.
     Evered didn’t wake until late the following morning. He sat bolt upright in the bed and seemed not to know where he was before he caught sight of her. She stared at him a long time without speaking.
     “What is it, Sister?” he said.
     She pointed then and he reached up to touch his crown. “Your hair,” she said.
     She thought of their father’s bowed head in the boat after he had committed their mother to the ocean’s deep, the drift that had settled on it like a veil.
     “What about me hair?”
     “It’s gone all white,” she said.
     As the driven snow, their mother would have said of it.
 

 
They were left together in the cove then with its dirt-floored stud tilt, with its garden of root vegetables and its scatter of outbuildings, with its looming circle of hills and rattling brook and its view of the ocean’s grey expanse beyond the harbour skerries. The cove was the heart and sum of all creation in their eyes and they were alone there with the little knowledge of the world passed on haphazard and gleaned by chance.
 
- The ocean and the firmament and the sum of God’s stars were created in seven days.
- Sun hounds prophesy coarse weather.
- The death of a horse is the life of a crow.
- You were never to sleep before the fire was douted.
- The winter’s flour and salt pork had to last till the first seals came in on the ice in March month.
- The dead reside in heaven and heaven sits among the stars.
- Nothing below the ocean’s surface lies still.
- Idleness is the root of all troubles.
- Their baby sister died an innocent and sits at God’s right hand and hears their prayers.
- Any creature on the earth or in the sea could be killed and eaten.
- A body must bear what can’t be helped.

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Reproduction

Reproduction

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

WINNER OF THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
A hilarious, surprising and poignant love story about the way families are invented, told with the savvy of a Zadie Smith and with an inventiveness all Ian Williams' own, Reproduction explores unconventional connections and brilliantly redefines family.

Felicia and Edgar meet as their mothers are dying. Felicia, a teen from an island nation, and Edgar, the lazy heir of a wealthy German family, come together only because their mothers share a hospital room. …

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PART 1
XX + XY
 
LATE SEVENTIES
 

XX

1.
Both of their mothers were dying in the background.
 
 
XY

1.
Both of their mothers were still alive in the background.
 

XX

2.

Before she died her mother was prickly. Before her mother died she was. One more time. Before her mother died she, her mother, was prickly. One more time. Before her mother died she, her mother, prickled her, Felicia.

In the days before she died, her mother flew into unpredictable rages over the littlest things. Felicia said sardines instead of tuna when passing the tin and her mother blasted her.

Why you working yourself up so? Felicia asked.

Because a tuna is a big fish and a sardines is a small fish. A sardines—you hear the nonsense you have me saying?

Her hands vibrated so badly she couldn’t open the tin, the can, the tin.

At the next meal, Felicia didn’t pour tomato sauce quickly enough into a pot, a sauce pan, thereby essentially, judging from her mother’s reaction, assassinating the Archduke.

All the nutrients done gone already, her mother said. We might as well eat hair. You happy with yourself?

Later that evening, up in the room they rented from a Christian lady, a retired British-trained nurse, who stored her medical equipment in two trunks under the window, Felicia took her mother’s blood pressure. It was 190 over 110.

See. You provoking me. You provoking me, man.

Two days later it was 205 over 115. Her mother said it was because she had climbed the stairs. Or it was because because because the machine was broken. But when Felicia measured her own pressure, it was 110 over 60, which, instead of confirming the sphygmomanometer’s reliability, caused her mother to worry and divert the conversation to Felicia’s iron levels. She demanded menstruation details, when, how long, how heavy, what colour. Where could she get good beef — West Indian beef, not from these anemic snow-eating cows. The cast iron pot—the soap Felicia used had wrecked it. Nutrients, her mother said that a lot before she turned into a seahorse and drifted off.

And then over the weekend, her pressure went down to 146 over 90. They both laughed.

I telling you I know what I doing. Don’t feel I don’t know.

Her mother had taken to eating two cloves of garlic at each meal.

Sunday night, after the women wrapped their hair for bed, they leaned against the headboard in their rented room in the Christian woman’s house and excoriated the choir director for favouring the tenors. When her mother fell asleep, Felicia read a little Great Expectations for school. Three pages and she was out.

Her mother woke up and took the bus from Brampton to work in Toronto before she died. Obviously. When else would she take it?

+

Point taken. Yes, and then the office buzzed Felicia during period 4, Home Economics, and told her to bring her things with her, there had been an emergency.

But her mother was not in Emergency at St. Xavier hospital. In fact, Emergency was taped closed. Felicia imagined the worst, that her mother wasn’t simply dead but that a grenade had gone off in her chest and destroyed a section of the hospital. A police officer directed Felicia and a couple with a baby to an alternate entrance.

Felicia found her mother in Palliative, sharing a room with an elderly woman. It was strange to see her mother sleeping in public. She was normally a vigilant woman with chameleon eyes that seemed to move independently from one point of suspicion to another. Now, although they were both closed, she seemed uneasy, perhaps with the fact that her bra had been removed by strangers and her breasts splayed unflatteringly sideways.

Between the two beds, a man stood holding his wrists like the Escher print of hands drawing themselves. It would become his characteristic position. From forehead to jaw, his head was the same width as his neck. From shoulders to feet, he seemed constrained in a tight magic box, ready to be sawed in two. Put together, he comprised two rectangles stacked on each other—a tall, abstract snowman. His pants were wet from the knee down. Despite that, Felicia presumed he was the doctor because he was a man, a white man, a middle-aged white man, wearing a pinstriped shirt, but it turned out he was only a man, a white man, a middle-aged white man, wearing stripes and grip­ping his wrists.

Unconscious, Edgar said.

Unconscious or sleeping? Felicia asked.

Unconscious, he repeated. He presented the woman in the other bed as proof of his medical expertise. My mother. She’s sleeping.

His mother’s mouth was open. There was brown industrial paper towel on her chest to catch the leaking saliva. She gave the impression of needing to be laced up—as if by pulling the strings of a corset one could restore her mouth, her skin, her posture, to their former attentiveness.

She’s not going to make it, Edgar said. He flicked the bag of intravenous solution with his middle finger, then looked for some change to register in his mother. Seconds later, she began coughing. Her cheeks filled with thick liquid as Edgar searched for a cup, her spittoon. Felicia happened to swallow at the same time as his mother and while looking at the lump go down the woman’s throat, she felt the phlegm go down her own. She pulled the collar of her coat tight around her neck.

Felicia turned back to her mother. Her mother was so careful about applying makeup and now there was no trace of it on her. Where were her earrings? Her nail polish looked more crimson than red. Felicia knocked on her knuckles.

You hearing me? Felicia leaned in. You hearing me?

She thought she saw her mother frown. She frowned. Or perhaps it was a deception of light, the passing accident of light reflected from someone’s watch face.

Felicia heard the jaunty jingle of keys behind her.

So what brings your mother here on this fine autumn afternoon?

Without moving the rest of her body, Felicia twisted her cervical vertebrae to see if he was serious.

Mutter, here, couldn’t breathe, he offered. It’s her pneumonia. He put an odd stress on the her as if he were settling a dispute between feuding children: it’s her doll, let her have it. They think the cancer might have spread to her other lung. We’re waiting. It’s not easy. The waiting. Not easy at all. Come on, get in there.

Felicia turned around fully. She hadn’t seen snow since arriving in Canada.

Edgar was slouching in one of the chairs in the middle of the room, organizing his keychain. His hair was the colour of the dried oak leaves around her school.

What do you know? she said.

I’m just telling you how it goes. I’ve been through this once, twice, be—

No, I mean what do you know about my situation?

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Dual Citizens

Dual Citizens

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

All her life, Lark Brossard has felt invisible, overshadowed by the people around her: first by her temperamental mother, Marianne; then by her sister, Robin, a brilliantly talented pianist as wild as the animals she loves; and finally by Lawrence Wheelock, a renowned filmmaker who is both Lark’s employer and her occasional lover. When Wheelock denies her what she longs for most — a child — Lark is forced to re-examine a life marked by unrealized ambitions and thwarted desires. As she take …

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Lampedusa

Lampedusa

A Novel
edition:Hardcover

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
From the #1 nationally bestselling author of By Gaslight, a novel of exquisite emotional force about love and art in the life of one of the great writers, reminiscent of Colm Tóibín's The Master, or Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

In sun-drenched Sicily, among the decadent Italian aristocracy of the late 1950s, Giuseppe Tomasi, the last prince of Lampedusa, struggles to complete the novel that will be his lasting legacy, The Leopard. With a firm …

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He arrived promptly at ten o’clock for his appointment and Dr. Coniglio saw him at once. There was something odd in the doctor’s manner, stiff, which worried him and alerted him to the seriousness of the news. He had known Coniglio for years. They were of an age. A graceful man, with athletic shoulders, a clean stiff collar and shirtsleeves invariably rolled. He liked him, the cordiality in his speech, the clarity in his face like sunlight on flagstones. Coniglio had treated his mother at the end of her life, when she was dying in the ruins of Casa Lampedusa, had made the long drive from Capo d’Orlando to Palermo each week. Until the war, he had been the family physician for his cousins, the Piccolos, attending them at Vina, their villa, and it was only in the last five years that the doctor had opened an office in Palermo. He remembered now, seeing the man’s new consulting rooms, how his mother had used to look at Coniglio, the narrow cold assessment in her eyes. She too had thought him a fine gentleman. She too had not wanted to observe himstanding next to her son.

He did not think of himself as shy but a certain shyness took hold in him when he found himself in the company of men such as this, men with a deference for his own station in life, men who had set out and achieved success, men of purpose, men of the world. Their easy manners left him uneasy, their confidence made him falter. He felt himself slow down, grow watchful, hesitant, until he had lost the moment for the quick retort or dry joke that came always to mind. Instead he would blink his lugubrious eyelids, and smile faintly, and meet the other's gaze helpless.

He waited for the doctor to gesture to a chair before he unbuttoned his winter coat and sat. He took off his hat and folded his gloves in its upended crown and rested his walking stick across his knees. He set his leather bag carefully to one side, half unbuckled, the little frosted cakes in their paper wrappers from his breakfast at the Massimo visible, the spine of the book he had brought for later, The Pickwick Papers, shining up at him. He reached at once for the cigarettes in his pocket but caught the doctor’s eye.

No?

Ah, Don Giuseppe—Coniglio smiled, tsking—not all that is pleasurable in life is forbidden. But some things are, or should be. You look tired, my friend.

Giuseppe withdrew his hand and crossed his legs, the bulleted purple upholstery crackling. The other had settled himself at the edge of his desk, one leg hitched up, his hands folded lightly over his thigh, those hands which turned and weighed and cut into the skin of other beings and sought out the secrets in their flesh. Calmly he met the doctor’s gaze.

Well? he said.

It is as I feared. The doctor’s voice was slow now, deliberate. Emphysema. It can be checked perhaps, but not stopped. I am sorry.

Giuseppe smiled faintly. He could not think what to say. The spirometer is not always conclusive, of course. We could examine you again.

Would you advise it?

Coniglio held his eye a moment. I would not, he said at last, gently. Are you here alone? I had hoped the princess would accompany you.

He shook his head, calm.

You should not be alone, the doctor said. He rose and went behind his desk and opened a drawer and unscrewed the lid of a fountain pen. I shall write you out a prescription to help with the pain. But the only true medicine, you understand, is for you to cut out tobacco.

The winter morning was grey and diffuse in the curtains. Giuseppe closed his eyes, opened them.

And will that reverse the effects? he asked.

It is a chronic disease, Don Giuseppe—there is no reversing its effects. It will progress regardless. But it can be managed.You must change the way you have been living. You must exercise regularly. Walk. Eat rather less. Avoid stress and worry as you can.

There is no other treatment?

Well. Let us try this first.

But the disease will kill me? he pressed.

Coniglio regarded him quietly from behind his desk. Anynumber of things could kill you first, he said.

Giuseppe, despite himself, smiled.

I will give you this for the pain, and to help you sleep. The doctor took some minutes to write out the prescription. He then untied a red folder and withdrew two typed pages and perused them and then slipped them back into the folder. We are getting old, Don Giuseppe, he said. That is the substance of it. We may not feel it, but it is so.

Yes. 

Our bodies will not let us forget it.

Indeed.

Coniglio steepled his fingers before him. It was clear he was struggling with what to say next. After a moment, to Giuseppe’s surprise, he began to speak, in a casual way, of his wife. He had a French wife who was known to treat him badly. He said: Jeanette has returned to Marseilles. Her sister is ill. She wishes to be with her family. She has written me to tell me she would like me to join her. Permanently.

Ah.

You and the princess lived apart a long while, did you not?

Yes. In the thirties.

I remember your mother spoke of it. Princess Alessandra was in Latvia?

Giuseppe nodded. He did not like to think what his mother might have said about it.

Coniglio was tapping his fountain pen against his wedding ring, click, click. Otherwise his face was calm, his hair smooth, his coral shirt unwrinkled and immaculate. Yes, he said, yes yours was an arrangement that succeeded. So I tell myself, it is the modern world, Coniglio. Be strong. You have telephones, aeroplanes.

Giuseppe did not enlighten the man. Licy had always gone where she chose to go, as she chose it. She had flet to Sicily only when the Soviets neared her estate in Latvia, burning the great homes as they advanced. He did not deceive himself by imagining she had bowed to his desires. 

Jeanette tells me there is work for a doctor in any city, Coniglio said. Even for a Sicilian doctor, she says. I expect there is some truth in that.

What will you do?

Coniglio looked out the window, smiled vaguely. I will imagine the very worst of fates and settle for a lesser one, he said. But my patients, I would worry for them, Don Giuseppe. It would mean, of course, many farewells.

It is always better to be the one leaving than the one left behind, said Giuseppe.

Yes. And some journeys cannot be delayed.

Giuseppe inclined his head.

Coniglio pinched the bridge of his nose and there was a sudden anguish and bafflement in the gesture. He removed his spectacles, blinked his watery blue eyes. The man’s strong emotion surprised Giuseppe, left him uncomfortable. Do you know, said the doctor, for years now, whenever I am faced with a difficult decision, I think of something your mother said to me. She said, Always take the easier path, Dr. Coniglio. And yet I have never done so. I wonder what is the matter with me.

It was as though a coin flared in the cold sunlight between them.

Your mother was a powerful personality, Coniglio continued. She had strong opinions. I remember she used to talk to me about Mussolini.

She was rather confused, near the end.

She used to complain about his spats. Too many spats, she would say, Coniglio smiled, shook his head. I remember she held my hand one morning and said Mussolini had changed nothing and yet because of him everything had changed. 

She was thinking of her house, Giuseppe said quietly.

A beautiful palazzo, the doctor agreed. The Americans did not need to bomb us as they did.

I did not know you knew it, Doctor.

Coniglio gave him a puzzled look. I visited your mother there. Several times.

It was hardly beautiful then.

Well.

It was a fine house once, before its ruin.

And a fine house after, Don Giuseppe. When I was a child I would pass by it every Sunday morning. My father worked a fish stall in the Vucciria. It was not the fastest route. But then I was not always in such a hurry to join him.

He said this without shame or embarrassment at his low origins and Giuseppe could only nod vaguely. It seemed all at once of supreme insignificance. His mother, he remembered now, had distrusted this doctor by the end, had coughed and grimaced and called him her good doctor Mafioso. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it. Do not gawp like a fish, his mother used to tell him. He got abruptly to his feet.

You must forgive me, he said.

Coniglio half rose from behind his desk. Of course.

I have lost track of the hour.

Certainly. We shall speak again soon, of that I am certain, Don Giuseppe. Remember me to Don Casimiro and Don Lucio, if you will. And of course to the princess.

He suddenly heard in the doctor’s old-fashioned phrasing the syntax of an English novel, as if it were a sentence translated aloud from Meredith or Eliot, and he glanced at the doctor from beneath heavy eyelids. More than most this man had witnessed the tension and soured love directed by his mother towards himself as she ailed, had witnessed her bitterness, the muttered imprecations, the veiled insults. It left him, Giuseppe felt with a quick sharpness, vulnerable and foolish. But then the feeling was gone and he wanted only to absent himself from the small office with its smells of lemon gauze and varnish and camphor, smells that would forever remind him of his own death.

And so Giuseppe Tomasi, last Prince of Lampedusa, put on his hat with care, worked his fingers into his dead father’s kidskin gloves, and took up his walking stick and his worn leather bag. At the door he paused.

How much time do I have, Doctor?

Coniglio’s hands were clasped carefully on the desk before him and as he tilted his head his spectacles filled with light, obscuring his eyes. That will depend on you, he said. Let us pray it is many years yet.

In which case, said Giuseppe, it will not depend on me at all.

The doctor smiled, but there was a sadness in it, and Giuseppe went out, the frosted glass on the streetside door rattling softly as it closed, and he shuffled out into the cold bright air leaning on his cane as if it were still the same morning as before, and he the same man.

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