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Strong Beginnings

Excerpt: Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman

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 Andrew Kaufman's latest novel Born Weird. Afterwards, be sure to check out our Q&A with him about its opening.

The Weirds acquired their surname through a series of events that some would call  coincidence and others would call fate.

Sterling D. Wyird, in the process of emigrating from England to Canada, worked his way cross the Atlantic aboard the Icelandic fishing trawler Örlög. Inclement weather and empty nets made the six-week journey three months long. When Sterling finally stepped onto the freshly built planks of Pier 21 in Halifax he presented his papers to an immigration guard who, just that morning, had met the woman destined to become his wife. This guard, in a stroke of either inspiration or absent-mindedness, changed the y in Sterling’s last name to an e. Seventy-seven years later, as his great-grandchildren gathered for the final game of their high school football team’s season, the spelling mistake remained. They were still Weird.

The four oldest siblings—Richard, nineteen; Lucy, seventeen; Abba, sixteen; and Angie, fourteen—were in the stands, ready to watch Kent, the youngest, play football. Or rather to watch Kent sit on the bench as his teammates played football. Kent was in Grade Nine but he’d skipped Grade Six, so he was only thirteen—yet he’d somehow managed to earn a spot as the third-string quarterback. That Kent had spent the season sitting on the bench didn’t bother the Weird siblings in the least. They preferred that he should never make it onto the field. The idea of having to watch him play filled them all with anxiety. Which is why the last game of the season was the first they’d come to see.

They stood in the crowd, feeling awkward. Theirs were the only faces not painted blue and white, the school’s colours. Their classmates chanted fight songs that they didn’t know the words to. But Kent remained safely on the bench.

Then, with fifty-seven seconds left in the game, the team’s star quarterback, Kevin Halleck, received a stunning sack and had to be carried off the field. Mike Bloomfield, the second-string quarterback, had just been diagnosed with mononucleosis, and therefore was home. The coach looked at Kent and gave him the nod. Kent ran onto the field for the first time that season, failing to notice that his shoes were untied.

The home team was losing by a field goal. Or, to put it another way, a touchdown would give them the game. The idea that Kent had been given this chance seemed unbelievable to his brother and sisters. It’s not as if the Weird children were outcasts. They were popular. They just weren’t A-list. To reach the zenith of teenage popularity, at least at F.E. Madill Secondary School, athletic accomplishment was a non-negotiable prerequisite. The sort of popularity that, should Kent win this game, would instantaneously be transferred on to each of them. Angie was very aware that this was the strange thing about excelling in high school—it made you more normal, not more exceptional. And normalcy was what she craved more than anything else.

But did she yell and cheer for Kent? No, she did not. None of them did. They didn’t even call out his name. They were terrified. Not one of them spoke as Kent bent down and tied his shoes. Angie searched the crowd but she couldn’t see their mother, father or grandmother. Her parents had gone to the airport, or so she believed, to pick up her grandmother, arriving for her annual month-long Christmas visit. The plan had been for everyone to meet in the parking lot before the game. But her parents and grandmother had never arrived. The thought that they were missing Kent’s potential moment of triumph was greatly upsetting to Angie. But then she forgave them, instantly. And as Kent called the play she forgot about them completely.

The teams got into position. The siblings remained silent. The blue and white faces surrounding them cheered their heads off.

“Hut!” Kent called.

The centre flicked the ball into his hands. The clock ticked. Kent went back. He threw a pass. It tumbled through the air and into the stands.

Excerpted from Born Weird. Copyright © 2012 Andrew Kaufman. Published by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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