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Strong Beginnings

Excerpt: And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead

We are collaborating with the Luminato Festival, and reaching out to Canadian writers to find out about the decisions they made when choosing to open their most recent works.

Here is an excerpt from Jessica Westhead's collection of short stories And Also Sharks. Afterwards, be sure to check out our Q&A with her about how she decided to start the first story in this collection, "We Are All About Wendy Now".

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We Are All About Wendy Now

Our office is very community-minded. We hold two food drives a year: the first one at Thanksgiving and the second one not at Christmas, because the poor people get so much food from other food drives at Christmas that we like to surprise them with something extra on a random day when they’re not expecting it.

We also look out for, as Sherry puts it, “our own little community.” People are always asking how everybody is, how everybody’s family is. Personally, I have never had much time for socializing at work. My reports keep me busy all day, right up until five o’clock when I would go home to Johnny.

Every so often, Sherry would come by my desk, sometimes after one of her vacations, and ask me how my day was going. That was about the extent of my socializing. I couldn't even tell you how many places Sherry’s been; I know she’s been to China and Australia, and when you go that far away you have to go for at least three weeks because of the jet lag. I only know that from Sherry. The farthest I've ever been was to Florida with my family, and it wasn't even all that warm when we went.

“That Wendy’s not right,” is what Sherry said to me when she came by my desk that October noon hour, and I honestly had to think for a minute before I could picture who she meant.

“Wendy who?” I was eating my ham sandwich, and the polar ice caps were on my computer screen. Apparently they’re starting to melt, if you can believe that. I gazed at that big stretch of white and I thought, Winter is coming. Then my wheat field scene came on, with the environmentally friendly windmills, and I felt reassured.

“Wendy, who sits next to me!” said Sherry. “Haven’t you seen her lately? She looks awful, and she smells awful because she’s throwing up all the time. I think she’s sick with something.”

Now, the way our office is set up is, there’s my desk, and next to me is Val, and then across from Val is Ruth P., and then beside her is Twyla (she’s a temp), and diagonal from her is Ruth C. And then there’s Kevin (the only man on staff other than Mr. Vanderhoeven) next to Ruth C., and kitty-corner from them is Sherry, and then Wendy’s desk was beside hers.

I knew I’d passed Wendy’s desk a hundred times, because she was directly across from Mr. Vanderhoeven’s office and that’s who I bring my reports to every week. But at that moment, I just couldn't picture her.

“She’s got streaks in her hair,” said Sherry.

And then there she was, pop, right in my brain. Wendy with the streaks. I heard people saying a few things after she’d gotten them done. Not mean things, just sort of observations that it wasn't one of the best streak jobs they’d ever seen.

Excerpted from And Also Sharks. Copyright © 2011 Jessica Westhead. Published by Cormorant Books. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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