Holding Still for as Long as Possible

BOOK: Holding Still for as Long as Possible
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Praise for Zoe Whittall and

Holding Still For As Long As Possible

Holding Still
, Whittall has established herself as a writer of immense vitality and courage; she stands as the voice of a lost, but thanks to her not forgotten generation: the boys and girls who will inherit the Earth.” —
National Post

“Whittall is a dexterous puppeteer, and the book is unputdownable.” —
Globe and Mail

“Whittall explores the very nature of intimacy and self-knowledge in an age of instant communication, mass exposure, and varying levels of chemical intervention . . . It's a harrowing, utterly compelling read.” —
Edmonton Journal

“. . . a story that really speaks to the generation while offering some sage advice about living, and there are moments of genuine, understated authenticity, especially in Whittall's depiction of complex human dynamics.” —
Fast Forward Weekly

Holding Still for as Long as Possible
, the awareness of mortality intersects with the romantic restlessness of youth. It makes for a story whose vital signs are fully present and robust.” —
Toronto Star

“Whittall is a writer of richly nuanced characters. There's not a flubbed note in any of the voices.” —
Eye Weekly

“All three characters are well crafted: at once unique, yet easily recognizable . . . Whittall never shies away from displaying their flaws or their problems . . .” —
Quill & Quire

Holding Still
holds an astonishingly astute mirror to a generation still struggling to define itself. A fine sophomore novel by one of Canada's most promising young writers.” —
The Westender

“The opening chapter introduces dutiful Josh, a transgender paramedic, responding to a call from a delusional man who claims to have been stabbed in the groin by a ghost. Robustly etched, Josh's narrative is immediately — and consistently — engrossing. Not only does Whittall's depiction of his work and colleagues enthrall, but her expert and compassionate telling of his after-hours dilemmas and compulsions have a cinematic richness full of enticing textures and tones. The sure-footed promise evident in
Bottle Rocket Hearts
, Whittall's 2007 debut, is easily matched here.” —
Vancouver Sun

“Zoe Whittall is a championing voice of outsiders and outcasts, of surviving your twenties and all their hangovers.” —
The Coast

“Whittall's writing is vibrant, funny, and smart. She uses the power of the pop culture reference responsibly; rather than inundate, she picks her spots with effective mentions from a delectably oddball arsenal that ranges from
Designing Women
. . . This novel firmly pigeonholes her as a kick-ass writer.” —
Rover Arts

Zoe Whittall

Holding Still
For As Long As Possible

Copyright © 2009 Zoe Whittall
Inspiration for Writing
Holding Still for as Long as Possible
© 2014 Zoe Whittall

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.

Distribution of this electronic edition via the Internet or any other means
without the permission of the publisher is illegal. Please do not participate in electronic
piracy of copyrighted material; purchase only authorized electronic editions. We appreciate
your support of the author's rights.

This edition published in 2014 by
House of Anansi Press Inc.
110 Spadina
Avenue, Suite 801
Tel. 416-363-4343
Fax 416-363-1017


Whittall, Zoe

Holding still for as long as possible / Zoe Whittall.

I. Title.
ps8595.h4975h64 2010     c813'.6     c2010-900098-6

Library of Congress Control Number: 2010924029

Cover design: Kathryn Macnaughton

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing
program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the
Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.

For my parents.

“Though we live surrounded by evidence of our own importance . . . deep down we know that we are merely tiny particles in a vast interconnected chain of life, but for the sake of our immediate survival, we don't focus on that fact . . . In moments of relaxation, passion, joy, and fear or when we are confronted by death, injury or emergencies, this larger context is suddenly reopened for an instant, like a never healed wound.”

— Allen Shawn,
Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life

“The planes move in, the towers collapse, and people react with heartfelt shock and horror. You cry because you're sad and frightened. And then, before you know it, the images are repeated in slow motion with the Samuel Barber soundtrack and a close-up photograph of a singed teddy bear. Then you cry because somebody is making you and you wind up feeling confused and manipulated, like your own feelings weren't quite good enough and you needed professional help.”

— David Sedaris,
This American Life

Book One

[ Life 1 ]

5:32:10 p.m. Delta unconscious. 92-yr.-old F. Not alert.

You probably like to imagine your death the way it should be: You are old. By old, you mean ready to die. Resolved. You are in bed, with your mind intact and loved ones encircling you. Your regrets are few; your pain minimal. Your last words: golden.

Two medics were inside Martha Evanson's pale yellow room at Castleview Wychwood Towers nursing home. One of them, Mike, had been doing
for three minutes. “Sushi? Thai? Will there be a lineup at Foxley if we get there by eight?”

The second medic, Diane, grabbed the bag valve mask from the airway bag and whispered back, “I don't know. If we get a late call, we'll be screwed.”

“What time is it?”


The first rule of being a paramedic: People are going to die.

Mike broke the patient's ribs. That's how you know you're performing
properly. The first time Mike felt someone's broken bone poking against skin, he threw up in his mouth some. Hyper-cognizant that he was making another being's heart beat for them, he had pumped so hard that his sweat dripped steadily onto the patient. Adrenaline had surged through his twenty-one-year-old body. When that patient died, Mike's gut felt like crumpled paper. He was wrecked for a week.

Seven years later,
was something he did so routinely, he rarely thought about it. Today he kept pumping as the nursing-home staff tried to find the papers saying whether or not the patient was a
. He was already getting tired.

He thought he'd understood it early on: that there was no such thing as a good life or a good death. Still, he used to be afraid of death, like everyone. The way his father taunted it; the way his mother tried but couldn't control it, or anything else, by making sure no one tracked mud on the carpet.

When people began to die around him, under his pumping hands, on his stretcher, Mike lost the cockiness of youth, and he stopped fearing death. He lost the will to understand the big picture but gained the wisdom to stop caring. Pump pump pump. Cardio.

Now Mike's biggest fear was being old and a resident in one of these homes. He'd rather take a bullet, be hit by a bus. If you were looking down at him right now, you would see his hair thinning on top. When he placed his hand on his lower back, massaging a repeated injury site, he leaned just like his father did.

Mike had attended to Martha Evanson before. She hadn't been lucid in years. Since her mid-eighties, she'd been barely alive. There were photos of her wedding day on the wall. Pincurls, a corseted waist, a face in bloom.
She was one hot bitch in the 1930s
Diane had noted last time she and Mike were called to the patient's room for a transfer.

Martha had been, for most of her life, the prettiest woman in any room. Her nickname was Beauty, even as a child. She had been happily married, in the truest sense, and lucky until the last decade, during which she had grown very afraid of everything. Her sister, Ann, had lived down the hall in the same nursing home until two weeks ago. At first, when she still had all her wits about her, Martha was confounded by nursing-home life. How do you make new friends at the age of eighty? She didn't know how. She had started to slip slowly. Didn't know who she was without her loved ones to remind her.

Mike and Diane didn't know any of this. They'd learned not to speculate.

Mike had expected to come across hideous things in this job. To kneel in human waste, to get spit on, to hold lifeless babies. He'd predicted repeated instances of having to wash vomit off his boots. But he had not anticipated the ugliness that eventually appeared inside him. The crystalline and more-than-occasional indifference to death.

Diane, on the other hand, for all her crass comments and tough exterior, was deeply religious, though she was private about it. Every time a patient didn't make it, she thought quietly to herself that it was God's will. Even though she could sometimes bring someone back to life with her hands, the decision was ultimately in His. She could compartmentalize, and make sense of, and feel content about all the good she managed to accomplish when fate allowed it.

One of the
medics on scene pronounced the patient dead. Mike peeled off his gloves while Diane packed up the equipment. Diane repeated a short prayer she always said when a patient died. As soon as she was finished, she thought about having a cigarette, and reminded herself to do a load of whites when she got home.

Mike splashed cold water on his face in the tiny bathroom adjacent to Martha Evanson's room. There were cards with inspirational sayings on the wall beside the mirror. One was by Goethe:
Nothing is worth more than this day
. Mike liked this one.

He and Diane took their time filling out the paperwork, lingering outside in the fresh afternoon sun, hoping this was the last call on their twelve-hour shift. Daycare toddlers walked by in linked pairs, bookended by weary guardians.

Diane lit a cigarette and leaned against the bumper of the truck. She rolled up her sleeves. Mike was briefly attracted to her, and surprised by this.

“Sushi, for sure. I'm craving tempura,” she said, exhaling smoke. When she finished her cigarette, she and Mike got back in the truck and Dispatch sent them back to the station in time to book off.

Mike texted his girlfriend:
Eight should be fine after all. We'll come pick you up

BOOK: Holding Still for as Long as Possible
2.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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