Today’s Creative Collective feature is for a very special artist: the homegrown, Canadian queen of saucy-literature-that-parents-might-slap-you-for-reading (not good parents–overprotective ones!): Julie Frayn. I feel she’s the perfect writer to feature for (yesterday’s) Canada Day; the diversity and richness of her writing represents our country so well.
When considering how to describe her work–of which I’ve been a fan for years–I’d say ‘raw’, emotional, and with both grit and heart. In a reply to one of Julie’s comments on the blog last week, I coined (maybe not–but as far as I know) the term: “grimsical”–grim and whimsical. Whatever the mutant adjectives I might use, one thing is clear: Julie writes from the heart, and you can feel that emotiveness in the hammering cadence of her prose. And when I say I’ve been a fan, I really mean it. I don’t read many books, simply because I don’t have the time. However, I’ve read three of Julie’s and each tale has been excellent. The expert pacing of her stories really helps to finish them fast, too. Her latest instalment looks to continue the trend and I’m delighted to be among the first platforms to be able to show it off. Let’s get to it then! Strap in, and prepare to be creeped out!
*Pocketful of Bones will be available this year! Follow Julie on her social media channels to find out the release date!
Pocketful of Bones
How camest thou in this pickle?
An icy breeze nipped at Finny’s freckled cheeks. He stood on the back porch and stared into the shadows of the garden. Snow would come soon. Winter would whitewash the kill zone. Until spring arrived and turned it into a gooey, oozing pot of Birdie stew.
He’d avoided the back yard the whole month since it happened. The police had been back to interrogate him again. The longer Birdie was missing, the more agitated and aggressive they became. And the more flirtatious pomelo fists got with his mother. Maybe missing kids turned him on. Sick bastard.
Another reason to avoid the backyard was the ridiculous amount of time Finny’s mother spent in the garden. Her fall clean up, she said. Best time to plant Dutch irises and Darwin tulips.
All Finny knew was that she’d been out there, digging around Birdie. He’d watched from his bedroom window, peered out between the curtains, lest his mother catch him spying and wonder why he cared about the gardening all of a sudden. But with all those damn trees and bushes, he could never figure out where she was.
It was their favourite day of the year. The one day when he and Birdie could be whomever they wanted to be, hide behind masks and costumes, summon their inner heroes and rule the world. No dressing up this year. No trick-or-treating, no pillowcase full of candy. It wouldn’t be right without her. Instead, he would pay her a visit. An All Hallows Eve nocturnal viewing of her gravesite. He might even unearth part of her if he could figure out at which end he’d buried her skull. A way creepier way to spend Halloween. Worse than any vampire mask or toilet-paper mummy he’d run into on the cul-de-sac.
He had no choice but to get out of the house anyway. His mother had a date. The first in a month. It was as if she’d been mourning Birdie too, even though his mother thought she was only missing.
He stood straight and set his shoulders back, took the stairs of the cement porch one at a time, slow, like when a glacier slips down the mountain crushing everything in its path. But he crushed nothing. He could barely even breathe.
Would Birdie be all decomposed? Nothing left but bones and teeth? Or mummified? Maybe she would awaken and set off the zombie apocalypse — and the first brains she’d eat would he his.
He’d be a Finny snack. Rooby rooby roo!
He stole glances over his shoulder. Was his mother watching him? Did the kitchen curtain just move? No, no, no. She had a date. Her and some random man were behind closed and locked doors in the guest room doing disgusting things to each other. Finny commanded himself to just be cool.
He trudged across the yard. The lawn widened with each step, the garden slipping further into the distance. It was all in his demented head. Like being waist-deep in quicksand in some Freudian nightmare. Trying to go up the down escalator, running but getting nowhere. Crawling through the desert toward an oasis that disappeared as you neared.
At the garden’s edge, where lawn met dirt, he took three deep breaths, snuck one last peek at the kitchen window, serene and silent as it always was on date night, then ventured into the graveyard.
He wended his way past the angry roses, sidled along the bare fence, the hops chopped down to stubs in preparation for winter. Damn, there was Mr. Greer, sitting on his porch, wrapped in a red plaid quilt, drinking whisky straight from the bottle and smoking up a storm.
Finny looked away before the old fart saw him watching. He ducked behind the walnut tree and dashed toward the chestnuts. Just a few yards ahead, the untended section of the garden, Birdie’s final resting place, awaited him. He rubbed his sweaty palms against the nap of his thrift store pants, the swish of corduroy on corduroy announcing his presence with every step.
He pushed branches of the horse chestnut aside and froze. Birdie’s grave was all neat and tidy, not the mess of disinterred earth and savaged weeds he’d left behind. This was where his mother had done her fall clean up. Irises and tulips, no doubt.
His heart picked up speed and thumped against his ribs. His knees hit the ground and his hands ripped through the freshly-planted bulbs. He swiped at tears that dripped from his dirty cheeks. Gone. Birdie was gone.
Saliva filled his mouth and he swallowed against a rising tide of vomit. He plunged his fingers deeper into the earth, clawed at the dirt until his nails ached with embedded soil. A foot or so down, his fingers found something smooth and hard. He pulled out a tiny bone. One little bone with just a bit of muscle attached. It was all that remained of his best friend. He rubbed it between his fingers until the flesh fell away, squeezed it in his fist and held it to his wet cheek. Then he tucked it into his back pocket.
Flower bulbs lay strewn about. His mother would kill him for desecrating her sacred garden. He shoveled earth into the holes he’d made, poked bulbs back into the ground and brushed the dirt with his hands to smooth it, to erase the evidence of his attack on her precious plants.
The squeak of the screen door echoed through the garden.
“Finny? Where you at, baby? Dinner is in five minutes. I’m eating with or without you.” She had become rather apathetic about the possibility of him being in the garden.
The hinges creaked and the door spanked the jamb as it closed.
Finny wended his way through the bushes and trees, his gaze on his dirt-covered sneakers. He grasped the iron railing and pulled himself up each step to the back door. The smell of macaroni and cheese, or, as his mother called it, Finny Mac and cheese, wafted out to greet him. The only dish she knew how to cook right, other than scrambled eggs and fried steak. Every other meal came frozen in an aluminum tray. Any other day, he’d race to the table and load a plate with too much of his favourite food, eat every bite and then lay on the chesterfield until the pain in his stomach eased. Totally worth it. But not this time. His stomach lurched at the thought of oozy ketchup dripping between the elbow-shaped bits of pasta. Like blood on pebbles in the dirt.
He washed his hands in the sink, didn’t even glance up at his mother, couldn’t bear to look into her eyes. The smell of her strawberry shampoo and the musk of men and sex swirled around her, and taunted him with every move she made. She had to know he’d murdered Birdie. How could she not know?
He sat in his usual seat and threw up a little in his mouth. He swallowed it and rubbed his aching gut.
His mother dropped a plate in front of him and tossed a fork next to it. She sat with her meal and a glass of wine, ate a few bites in total silence, except for the wet sound of her chewing.
“So.” She placed her fork on the side of her plate and took a sip of wine. “Any word on Birdie?”
He shoved a huge forkful of macaroni in his mouth, kept his eyes on the tablecloth, and shook his head.
“I see. Officer Everhard said they’ve not found any sign of her. Must have been abducted by some child-molesting stranger, don’t you think?”
No matter how hard he tried to stop them, tears dripped from his eyes. “Maybe,” he whispered.
They sat in silence while his mother finished her meal and Finny stared at his plate. “Come on, baby. Eat something.”
She sighed. “I’ll wrap it up then. I can heat it up for you later if you like.” He jumped at the clank of her plate hitting the stainless sink. She sidled up to him, placed one hand on his shoulder, and slipped the other hand into the pocket of her robe. She pulled her hand out of her pocket and slid her closed fist along the tabletop. When she spread her fingers, something rustled against the vinyl tablecloth. She squeezed his shoulder and lifted her hand from the table.
Birdie’s cross and chain. It was scrubbed clean, the kitchen light glinted off its silver edges.
Finny stared at it and held his breath. Could she hear his heart pounding? And did he just piss in his pants a little?
His mother kissed the top of his head and took his plate.
Julie Frayn is a multi-award-winning Canadian author of novels and short stories that pack a punch. And a few stabs. She is fluent in three languages — English, sarcasm, and profanity. Although she didn’t invent swearing, Julie wields it like the visionary vulgarian who threw the first f*^k out into a crowd. She writes psychological suspense filled with death, a bit of sex, and sprinkled with the F-word (sometimes… not so sprinkled). Her favourite pastime is murder night (translation: watching crime drama and drinking beer with her daughter). Her least favourite pastime is writing author bios (translation: author bios — yuck). Long live the Oxford comma!
Follow Julie Frayn
on her Website
on Amazon (Go here to check out her amazing back catalogue!)