Geist Emerging Writer of the Month

Many congratulations to Janette Shipston Chan, the August Geist Emerging Writer of the Month! Chan’s story “Push, Skitter, Fall” is an excerpt from her longer project, Hairpins. Congratulations, Janette!

Push, Skitter, Fall

“I want you to see something.” Dad took the suitcase out of my hand and waved me into the living room.

It had been four months since I left for Queen’s and Dad couldn’t wait for me to unpack. While I was away, he was busy converting all our old home movies from film to videotape. And there was something special he needed me to see. Right away.

I recognized the scene immediately: Volunteer Pool Community Centre, the practice rink; no boards or lines, just four-foot snowbanks to corral out-of-control novice skaters. Dad does the colour commentating: “It’s Christmas day. You wanted to try your new skates right away.” He’s bouncing up and down at the other end of the couch.

On the ice, there’s a boy of six or seven, and me. At the edge of the frame my mother is holding my baby sister, swaddled up in blankets against the frigid Thunder Bay winter. I’m nearly five years old, and I cannot skate. The little boy is scrambling around the ice with seven-year-old nearly-can-skate abandon. But I don’t care because I have the most beautiful skates ever made: white with little heels, and faux-shearling cuffs. I step, wobble, step, fall. In my mind I am a movie star… if only Mom would’ve let me wear a dress and tights. The boy careens past me. I push off shakily, calling to him; challenging him to a race. We line up and we’re off—the boy blasts forward, I push, skitter, fall. He wins. I ask for a rematch. He obliges. He blasts off; I push, skitter, fall, get up and ask for a rematch. Over and over and over. Dad is flushed with tears and laughter. I am flushed with anger. My jaw is clenched, my mouth dry. I hate him.

“Did you see it?” he wants to know, like anyone could miss it. “Did you!?”

“Yeah. I lost. Every time.”

“You got up every time!”

Angry tears filled my throat and eyes; but I would never let him see. I left because of that stupid girl. I didn’t want to see her again—not the girl with the big teeth and messy hair, not the girl in hockey skates, not the girl taunted by bullies her entire adolescence. I didn’t want to be the girl who always got up; I wanted to be the girl who never fell down.

Thirty-four years later, looking down at the most beautiful sheet of ice I’d ever seen—a frozen glacial lake in the Rockies—I was blissfully oblivious that in a few days I would take the biggest fall of my life. And I would need that stupid little fall-down-get-up girl. That she would save my life and my family. I never wanted to be her. But soon I would need to be her and only her.

Janette Shipston Chan learned to walk and skate in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A few decades and ten hours of brain surgery later, she re-learned to walk and skate in Toronto alongside her one-year-old daughter. In between, she worked as a literary agent and foreign rights manager, then studied writing; most recently at The Humber School for Writers.

The Geist Emerging Writer of the Month is sponsored by the Geist Foundation. Anyone enrolled in high school, post-secondary school, a creative writing program, or any related course or workshop, can be a Geist Emerging Writer of the Month.

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