CBC Literary Prizes

Green is the Colour of Calm by Meg Todd

Meg Todd has made the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for Green is the Colour of Calm.

2019 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist

Meg Todd is a Vancouver-based writer. (Hilary Todd)

Meg Todd has made the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for Green is the Colour of Calm.

She will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and her story is published below.

Krzysztof Pelc won the 2019 Short Story Prize for Green Velvet.

You can read Green is the Colour of Calm below.

Warning: This story contains strong language.


"Ty says it's abnormal," Britt tells her aunt. "You know. He says it's like if someone's born without arms or extra chromosomes or something."

"You can eat those," Melinda says. "The carrot tops. They're edible."

But she keeps going. What she wants from her aunt is a reaction. "He says if procreation is animals' purpose and we're animals then what's the point?"

Her aunt looks out the window at the apple tree that's leafless and gnarled and which she'll get to soon, she tells Britt. Because everything has to be pruned.

"Anyways. Are you? I mean. Not that I care."

"Love is about the person," Melinda says.

"Just wondering. Like, no judgement." The carrot tops are like parsley. The same texture in her mouth.

*

"My aunt's totally pathetic," Britt tells Ty. "She asks me if she should cut her hair. If she's too old for the long hair thing. As if I give a shit. It's grey by the way. Her hair. And she's like a freak about food and stuff."

"Cool."

They're sitting on the ground behind the school, smoking. The air is getting colder and they use Ty's jacket to keep their asses dry. Ty pushed his hand up her shirt once, told her they could get it on right now, right here, between classes. She's known him since before he got braces. Since before his voice changed.  

*

At her aunt's she sits next to the window. Because of the so-called toxins.

"Britt... It's terrible for you. Really."

"Really?" Britt inhales deeply, eyes on Melinda. Her aunt loves having her there, loves watching her pull a Coffee Crisp or a bag of Hot Tamales out of her backpack, lick slowly at the candy, chew loudly. And she loves the smoking. It makes her aunt feel better about herself to be concerned about someone else. Britt knows this. They sit across from each other at the kitchen table every few weeks and Melinda asks about Britt's mum.

 "The psoriasis? She's not using that cortisone cream is she? And the counselling? Is she doing that?"

"She's gonna meditate. Supposedly."

"Sugar is the worst possible thing," Melinda says. "Worse than fat."

"Worse than smokes?"

"Well. Maybe. It's possible. Or they're on par. What about the lemon water? Did you tell her that?"

Britt remembers being seven or eight or nine, pinched or punched by Rory, who's four years older and an asshole. She'd started it, he was getting back at her, but no one saw that part. Her mum's fists faster than her thoughts — boom, end of story. But then Melinda leaned in — How do you feel about that? Britt remembers her mum's eyes narrowing. She told Melinda to piss-off with her self-righteous horseshit. To mind her own bloody business. Back then Melinda still lived in the city but after that she could stay the hell away from their house Britt's mum said. Back then Britt's dad was still in the picture. He worked nights and slept in the basement where it was always dark.

*

"You study for Bio?" Ty asks. His notebook is covered with tags. Variations of WRAT and CASPR. He says he's going to med school. Eventually. Britt tells him doctors have no lives and he says depends what kind of doctor. Because he's going for plastics, he says and reaches for her tits. Fix these, he says and she crosses her arms. He tells everyone he'll be driving a Ferrari.

"My mum's saying we're gonna foster. Rory gone and all."

"You want the notes or what?"

She's told him he should come out to Melinda's with her. But she'll never take him. "My mum's not exactly normal," she says.

"No shit."

*

She tells Melinda about making sandwiches for the homeless. How they stood on the sidewalk Thanksgiving Sunday, her mum all smiles, neck stretched with goodness, and then the bums saying, peanut butter and jelly? Is that it? How her mum snapped. Kicked one of the guys in the shins. Ripped the sandwiches out of their hands. But Melinda hones in on the fosters.

"Does she know what she's getting herself into? The approval alone... I mean..."

"I don't know. Maybe. How should I know?"

 "Is it the money?" She puts bowls of kefir with blueberries and spirulina on the table. "Of course it is."

"Like you're so perfect."

"Britt?"

She picks up her spoon. The food is supernaturally turquoise.

*

"She lives by herself. My aunt. No friends, nothing," she tells Ty. "'Safe spaces.'" She draws air quotes with her fingers. "That's what she needs. Supposedly. Total loser." They're smoking a joint, drinking beer. Sometimes she thinks he might be an addict. Or have addictive tendencies. Might become an addict. That's the kind of person he is. It used to be football, but now it's dope and booze. He has this way of checking everybody's empties, in case. More than once he's had to be rolled home. Basically.

He talks about the new girl. "She's into techno punk is what I heard."

Britt pulls her knees in tight and then says, "You see her eyes? It's like she's a frigging cat."

"A pussy," Ty says. "Hers." He elbows her. "That's what I'm thinking about." But she says nothing.

He doesn't think things into corners. That's what she likes. What she envies.

*

"Amensalism."

"I don't know."

"Come on, Britt. Try." Melinda is braiding her hair, smoothing each dead-looking bunch right down to the splitting ends, her head tilted, folding and refolding. "Okay. Anomaly," she says, looking at Britt's textbook.

"Anomaly means weird."

"But think about it. Scientists learn when things deviate." Melinda doesn't believe in shampoo. Her hair has been grey since she was 27. "Parasitism," she says.

"I don't even know why I have to learn this shit!"

"It's a base."

"Ha. A base for what?" She yanks open her bag, rummages for her smokes.

"Britt? Everything okay?"

 "What do you care?"

Later, Britt tells her aunt the new girl is from the other side of the country.

Melinda spreads newspapers on the table and with a knife starts removing the green hull from walnuts. She explains that repetitive activity is good for the brain. "It opens the receptacles," she says.       

*

The fosters are sitting in her house a couple weeks later, like it's theirs. "Cool jacket," the girl says. Practically coming on to her, that sucky. She's blond and crass — red lipstick and hoop earrings even though she's barely in Grade 7. Her teeth are a piece of work. It'd cost a fortune to have them fixed and it's like she knows it, smiling with her mouth closed. The boy is older. He slinks around the high school like he's hoping no one sees him, but at home he's dropping the F-bomb every second word and then he calls Britt's mum a cunt and she breaks his nose. Blood everywhere.

Britt presses her lips tight and bounces her knuckles on the table until Melinda tells her to stop-already. So she takes out her smokes.

Melinda opens the window. "I bought a ukulele," she says. "Second hand." And then she gets it and starts plucking and singing. "Au claire de la lune/mon ami Pierrot." Her voice is tinny and weird. Until she stops and says, "Grandpa played the fiddle, you know? And we used to dance. Like hooligans. Your mum with those feet. The quickest." She puts the ukulele back in the corner and Britt doesn't ask even though she's never heard about her mum and any dancing. Can't imagine.

*

"What happened with you and her anyways? Like. She's your sister."

Her mum dishes up mashed potatoes in round scoops — one for the girl, three for the boy. 

"None for me, thanks," Britt says. She looks at the fosters. The girl picks at her food and he's got elbows on the table, shovelling it in. Fucking idiots. As if holding back a thank you is power.

The pot gets clunked into the sink, and when her mum turns back to the table she says, "Well then. Bon appetit."

The girl asks how the Bio test went.

"You got something in your teeth," Britt says.

*      

The new girl draws manga in art class. Pixie faces with huge eyes. She signs her drawings, Oo, in a double swirl. At her aunt's house, Britt doodles squares over squares, triangles over triangles.

 "Some things." Melinda picks up the kettle. "There's not always an answer, that's all. It's not easy. Nothing is." She's all about routine. United Church Sundays, generic prayer group Thursday nights, deep breathing Mondays. She tells Britt there's anonymity in groups. Nods when she says this. The tea is home-grown thyme. "Your dad," she says. "You ever hear from him? Anything?"

Britt looks out the window. At the brutal apple tree.  The bloodied face, broken arm, the way he couldn't shield his head from her mum, that's what she remembers. "Nope," she says. Not even close to real is what she wants to tell the new girl about her drawings. Not even a little bit close.

*

"Don't tell me how good Melinda is," Britt's mum hisses. She drops the bag of walnuts into the trash.

*

"Smoke?" Ty asks.

"Whatever." Britt nods. "Sure, yeah," she says. "Yeah, right? Like, Jesus."

"What's up with you?"

She blows her smoke away from him, watches it disappear. "Chick puked all over the living room," she says. "She's 12. And the dude took off. Clothes, bags, all his shit. Stole twenty bucks and took his pillow. The duvet. Fucking idiots. Social worker's all over it, like, why wasn't anyone home? Why were they drinking? Like..."

"Shit."

*

"A coffee cup. Hit her right in the head. The social worker. And then she went for the girl. Fucked her up too. Blood, the whole thing. And they're like.... She's... What am I supposed to...?"

"Oh, Britt."

"Whatever. Anyways, what are you gonna do? Rescue me? Change the frigging world?" And then she can't help it. She picks up the jar of pens. It's right there in front of her. She throws it across the room, bawling now. Because what does Melinda know? Standing there. Just standing there. "You should get your stupid hair cut!" she shouts. "You're useless! You know that? Useless!" The jar and the pens roll across the floor until they stop.

*

She holds her arms tight around herself. "It's freezing."      

"She's pretty hot though," Ty says. "That new chick."

"They're charging her," she says. "My mum. For sure they're gonna. The cops. Because they showed up yesterday and were all like..."

 "Dude." He loosens the laces of his sneakers. Flicks his lighter, rubs his knuckles up and down his thigh.

"Yeah. Whatever."

 "What're you gonna do?" he asks.

She asked me to go to the mall with her. That night. So, she coulda been at the mall. So. Yeah."

*

"Sure," her mom says. "Stay with Melinda. Sure. Go find your dad, while you're at it."

"I don't have to go there."

"Damn right you don't."

But she's 15. She has to stay somewhere with someone. That's what the social workers tell her.

*

She opens the window and lights a smoke. But she puts it out. Because. "Thing is," she says. "I mean, green eyes, right?"

"What about them?" Melinda's grinding coriander seeds with pestle and bowl.

"This girl."

 "The new girl?" She lifts the lid off the lentils when the steam starts to push.

"Ty's all into her. Like woo hoo."

"How does that make you feel?"

Then Britt does light the cigarette. "Two percent of people have green eyes. Two percent."

Melinda stirs the seeds into the lentils. Pulses balance the body's pH is what she says.          

*

"So, they gonna make you go to the court thing or what?" His foot quivers steadily, fingers drumming his jeans.             

 She shrugs. Then she says, "She's my mum."

He grinds his cigarette butt into the ground. "You see that cartoon shit she's into? Like she's a fucking four year old."

It's getting too cold to sit outside, breath and smoke the same kind of heavy white. Melinda's started on the apple tree. Because it's dormant, she said. Which is when you tackle it. You find the structure, she said. Take out the dead wood. The suckers. You can see the pattern of Melinda's bones through her T-shirt, right up to her neck, thin as she is. Britt doesn't tell Ty this. She doesn't say anything about the pruning. You're not obligated to go to that hearing, is what Melinda said. You don't owe her anything. She handed Britt a bunch of dead hydrangeas, green and blue. Green is the colour of calm, she said. Maybe Britt will tell the new girl that. Or that Melinda plays the ukulele. That her spine is like a railroad. Like dots on a map.


Read the other finalists

About Meg

Meg Todd's work has been published in Prairie Fire, Riddle Fence, Grain, EVENT, The Humber Literary Review, The Windsor Review and elsewhere. She studied Eastern Religious Studies at the University of Calgary and creative writing at the University of British Columbia. She grew up in Calgary and currently lives in Vancouver.

About the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize

The winner of the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.

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