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Authors: Trevor Cole

The Fearsome Particles

BOOK: The Fearsome Particles
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The Fearsome Particles

“Trevor Cole has masterminded a densely layered tale that sensitively peels away the complex facades of the individual members of a small, excruciatingly contemporary family, to reveal their (and our) most intimate fears and vulnerable desires.”

– Governor General’s Award jury citation

“[A novel] laced with subtle black humour, a sprinkling of pathos and large doses of human failing.… With writing like this, Trevor Cole is quickly gaining a reputation as a major talent, deservedly so.”

Edmonton Journal

“Impressive—funny, absorbing.… Beautifully authentic.”

Winnipeg Free Press

“Humour that comes from a deeper, more satisfying place.… The book soars.”

Quill & Quire

“One of the most entertaining novels I’ve read this year.… In its intimate examination of the inner lives of its characters, however, it becomes something greater, opening the door to fundamental and significant human truths. Its power comes from its narrowing of focus, and from Cole’s significant strengths as a writer.”

National Post

“In very precise and skilled prose, Cole gets us very close to these characters, and the story consistently holds our interest. The book’s not easy to put down.”


“Cole is an ongoing contributor to Canadian letters who is worth watching.”

Toronto Star


Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life
The Fearsome Particles

Copyright © 2006 by Trevor Cole

Cloth edition published 2006
First Emblem Editions published 2007

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.


Cole, Trevor, 1960–
The fearsome particles / Trevor Cole

eISBN: 978-1-55199-248-8

I. Title.

42 2007    

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.


Series logo design: Brian Bean

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
Toronto, Ontario


For Krista


n animal that small, that dextrous, could be anywhere. An animal that
. There was no defining its limits. What troubled Gerald was not the threat of the threat per se, but his sense of helplessness in the face of it.

In his imagination, in those thoughts that lay just beyond his control, the cat he called Rumsfeld was stalking him. It was an absurd idea, but as he stood in his slippers at the foot of the bed, with the new light of April stealing across a floor of cinnamon cabreuva, Gerald could not quite reach the absurdity and smother it. So he was forced, in the sense that addicts are forced by their addictions, or invalids by their infirmities, to picture the cat mincing through the cavities and recesses (what interior design people liked to call “dead spaces”) of the sprawling turreted house on Breere Crescent. He was obliged to see in his mind’s eye its white whiskery face peering around the pants press and shoe trees of his closet, looking more resolute, more
purposeful, than a cat’s face should be capable of looking. He was compelled to imagine it – ludicrous as it might sound to the great majority of people who weren’t him and didn’t live at 93 Breere – planning.

All Gerald Woodlore could do, and so did with conviction, was curse himself for thinking about the cat. Because this was not the time to be getting cat-fixated; this morning there were other things of far greater importance to be addressing, mentally. His son, Kyle, was returning home from a hostile territory with an uncertain injury. His wife, Vicki, was edging toward madness. Work entailed its own many, many challenges. For these reasons there was no force in the world worthier of invocation, in Gerald’s view, than the will to ignore the cat’s presence in their lives. And if there had been a way to call forth the will, and impose it on his thoughts the way he imposed plastic wrap on a freshly lopped lemon, to keep its spiky lemoniness contained, of course he would have. But Gerald had to acknowledge, unhappily, that he wasn’t built to ignore sneaking threats to normalcy, to order, to the way things were supposed to be. He was much too conscious; he was conscious to the point of affliction. And so to him, the black-and-white cat, which a neighbour named Lorie Campeau had brought to the door in a wild panic three weeks before –

It’s my mother. They’ve taken her to the hospital. She fell. She lives in Vancouver and she fell! So I have to fly there today, and of course I have to take my daughter, Jewels. But we just got her this cat.
Literally just got it
. And we can’t give it back because
Jewels is completely in love. And I don’t know what to do. We haven’t even named it!

– the cat that Vicki had taken in without consultation though he, Gerald, was in the nearby den, listening and perfectly consultable, was a threat. It was a rogue presence. It was their own small, fluffy insurgency.

Gerald had named it Rumsfeld.

It was definitely skulking somewhere, at this moment. Preparing to effect cattish havoc. There was no point in looking over his shoulder. Peeking under furniture. The cat, Rumsfeld, was never seen until it wanted to be seen, until it was too late. Until you were walking through the dining room at midnight, naked, with two glasses of your wife’s selected Youngerton Pinot Noir in your hands and a kalamata olive poised between your back teeth. Then it was there, ready to … trying to …

But see? This was what happened in his head. Reveries of menace. This was surely what rabbits felt like as the talons of eagles dangled overhead, the danger inescapable. This was what field mice felt like, when they scurried. This morning Gerald refused all rabbit – rodent associations. People were counting on him, a company needed him, his son needed him, his wife … He gripped his face with both hands and pressed until the flesh no longer gave.

What he needed was the distraction of concerted activity. He had already breakfasted, he had already rifled through the paper, looking for the latest references to Kyle’s war (he thought of it as that, though some still refused to call it a war; and Kyle was not a soldier and he was no longer there, so it, whatever it
was, was no longer his and thinking of it as “Kyle’s war” was just another good reason for Gerald to shake his head at himself). Now he needed to get showered and dressed.

He stripped off his robe and flung it over an armchair. The diodes of the clock radio on his side of the bed emitted a calm, blue 8:06, which was the real time. On the small table by his wife’s side, near the window, an old-fashioned enamel carriage clock pointed a thin brass hand at the thirty-first minute, because it was Vicki’s recent notion that she was likelier to meet her early obligations if she believed the time to be twenty-five minutes later than it was. She had worked this out, that she could no longer rely on herself to respond to time in a rational, fore-sighted way but needed to fool herself to the tune of nearly half an hour. And the fact that she could rise, breakfast, shower, dress, and
avoid looking at his clock
so as to enter the day according to a deliberate misconception, and yet could not apply this same resourcefulness to functioning in the actual present, was, frankly, incomprehensible to Gerald, and deeply worrisome, if he allowed himself to think about it.

oon enough, after his shower, he was standing wet at their bedroom window, looking out at the signature landscapes and century-old stonework of Breere Crescent, the midtown cloister of tumescent property values they’d called home for just over a decade. He stood there with a warm towel draped over his shoulders, letting trickles of water pool at his feet.

He did this knowingly, for three reasons: first, because the specially sealed cabreuva flooring, which Vicki had chosen two
years before to have installed throughout the main and second levels, promised stability and imperviousness, and as a general rule Gerald believed in holding products to account; second, because he remained convinced that at some point in the future the cabreuva, whatever its claims, would let them down on the imperviousness front, and he wanted to be the marshal of that moment of disappointment and not its astounded victim; third, because despite the fact that it no longer seemed to irritate Vicki, as it once had, to see him slapping around their bedroom floor leaving small, foot-shaped lagoons, Gerald still held out hope that he could provoke a bit of the old exasperation, and so reassure himself that things were not as bad, regarding Vicki, as he feared.

A pale wash of daylight stretched across the foot of the bed to the far wall, where the wedding pictures hung, and outside the window, against a malt vinegar sky, the huge shagbark hickory that belonged to the Linders next door took on a majesty that to Gerald seemed unwarranted. Other people, he knew, admired the hickory; the Linders were particularly smitten and often held lawn parties beneath it. But Gerald was aware that the hickory provided food and haven for the squirrels that wanted to ravage his cable and telephone wires, and so he was denied the pleasure other people took for granted. Still, he had to admit, it was impressive. And with Vicki gone to her house assessment and the day’s adversities ahead, Gerald sensed this might be his only moment to enjoy. So he stood there in the glistening nude, letting the water puddle around his feet, trying to admire the Linders’ hickory, and dwelling as little as possible on the squirrels.

Kyle was due at the military airport in Trenton in six hours. He was already in the air.

Gerald began towelling off.

The previous July, as Gerald and Vicki were sipping coffee in the breakfast nook, Kyle had come to them and announced that he was going overseas. Canadian troops deployed in dangerous regions apparently needed civilian support services and he was going to do what he could to provide them, as part of something the government called the Canadian Occupational Forces Assistance Program, which sounded to Gerald like welfare for subjugators but evidently wasn’t. Kyle was going to be a water treatment technician, meaning he would operate pumps and valves and read meters and gauges and handle chemicals, presumably dangerous, so that soldiers could have clean drinking water. The contract, which he had already signed, was for a year. How he had found out about this program, what had possessed him to apply to it and become legally bound to it without telling anyone, why the combined brain power of the government and the military and this
group thought a nineteen-year-old boy one year into his undergraduate chemistry studies was appropriate for such an assignment, they didn’t know, and Kyle, who was six months into a phase of living his life as though no one else had any say in the matter, wasn’t inclined to illuminate them.

BOOK: The Fearsome Particles
5.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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