Marriage by Nicholas Ruddock
2023 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist
Nicholas Ruddock has made the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for Marriage.
He will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and his work has been published on CBC Books.
The winner of the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize will be announced April 18. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and win a two-week writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point.
If you're interested in the CBC Literary Prizes, the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize is open for submissions until May 31.
Nicholas Ruddock is a physician and writer who has worked in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Yukon and Ontario. Has had novels, short stories, poetry published since 2002 in Canada, U.K., Ireland and Germany. He is married to the artist Cheryl Ruddock, with four children. He is the author of the 2021 novel Last Hummingbird of West Chile and previously made the 2016 CBC Poery Prize longlist for Storm as well as the 2016 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist for The Hummingbirds.
The inspiration for Marriage, was mostly worry about the next generation, he told CBC Books.
You can read Marriage below.
Recently my wife and I attended a play — Straight Line Crazy — at the Bridge Theatre, in London, starring the actor Ralph Fiennes, and Ralph Fiennes put on such a dominating performance that we joined in the standing ovation as the curtain fell, although to be accurate there was no curtain, the ending was announced by a brightening of houselights and by simultaneous changes in the postures of the actors, relaxing, holding hands stage-centre, bowing in unison, and afterwards, satisfied but not as transported by the experience as we had hoped, we walked in darkness to the nearest street corner, to a bus stop, and within five minutes, during which no bus appeared, all foot traffic in the area also vanished, leaving us alone, curiously alone in such a populous city usually thronged with crowds past midnight, and the streetlights east and west of us seemed dimmer than those elsewhere, encouraging overlapping pools of darkness to advance upon us as we waited, as we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the play we had just seen, scanning also, as we did so, the distant, empty one-way street, waiting for the anticipated bus, until lo and behold a solitary figure walked towards us from the direction of the Bridge Theatre, not using the narrow sidewalk, stepping instead down the middle of the street, casually, in no haste, until he was but a few feet away and we saw that it was Ralph Fiennes entirely without the trappings of stage or stardom, without limousine or hangers-on, surprisingly short in stature, wearing common jeans and a leather jacket and a backpack, leaving the environs of the Bridge Theatre as an ordinary citizen for, perhaps, the nearest Tube station, and his pace was such that he did not hurry by, in fact he looked directly at us, intently, slowing down, so that Cheryl and I instantly felt that we were actors ourselves, in a new play without script or audience, and so we felt free in the sudden night to speak up despite our natural shyness, to say hello, to literally thumbs-up Ralph Fiennes' performance, and to our pleasure he stopped and spoke to us as though he were as familiar with us as we were with him, perhaps because, we postulated later, laughing, he must have noticed us in the audience at the Revue Cinema, in Toronto, in 1997, when he loomed high above us on the silver screen for two hours in the Ondaatje-Merchant-Ivory film, The English Patient, but whatever the reason for his friendliness on that night in London, after exchanging pleasantries he wished us good night, good night, before moving on, becoming smaller, smaller, gone, until we realized that no bus would ever come for us, and so we followed in his footsteps, found the London Bridge Tube Station, returned to our hotel in Southwark, stopped in the bar for a drink, and Cheryl turned to me and said that another famous man's gaze had passed over us in a similar fashion, hadn't it, just as we had experienced an hour before with Ralph Fiennes, and I agreed with her yes, yes, remembering the magical time within an even more dramatic setting than the desolate avenue from which we had just departed, so we asked the waiter for a second glass of wine despite the lateness of the hour, despite the staff desultorily shifting chairs and polishing glasses, we delayed paying the modest bill and taking the silent, mirrored elevator to the fifth floor, to the swirl-carpeted hall, the card key, the sensor, the pushing open of the heavy hotel door, we delayed ripping off the duvet and falling upon each other, passion undiminished by familiarity, instead we allowed the small candle floating in water between us to flicker, gutter, sway as we reminisced about our Director from the Space Institute, a very different man than Ralph Fiennes because the latter was of course a celebrity, a known commodity with whom we had managed to build, however fleeting, the scaffolding of a relationship, whereas neither Cheryl nor I had any knowledge of the Director when first we met, no idea of his international importance when by chance our paths crossed in Italy, and although we were much impressed at the time, in the fire of our youth and self-obsession he became only an interesting anecdote until, from the first row of the Auditorium, at the Space Institute in Bern, years later, we realized that we had already met him, physicist exemplar, master of exit velocity and trajectory, charged with planning, if possible, humanity's eventual escape from this bruised and burning planet, and he recognized us too, we saw and felt the millisecond pause as his gaze swept over us, and I even felt a draft, as though a door had opened and closed somewhere on the empty balcony above, thrusting me, thrusting us back to the waterfront at Nice, in France, the day Cheryl and I first met, both of us nineteen, among a ragtag crew hired for the morning to clean up the Promenade des Anglais in front of the Hotel Le Negresco, a celebration of some kind the night before having left tattered remnants of fireworks scattered about, spent rockets, charred and twisted sparklers, torn paper from fist-sized firecrackers, how in the course of our duties we were attracted to each other and stayed together for the long hours of a summer afternoon, rollerblading the waterfront as far as the airport and back, climbing the hill overlooking the Mediterranean, shopping for oranges, riding trolley cars from Place Masséna, and we even made it as far as the Matisse Chapel, high up a grinding bus ride into the flower-bedecked suburb of Vence before sleeping platonically together in a small park, tucked under a hedge in our sleeping-bags, and in the morning we set out, hitchhiking, for the youth hostel in Menaggio, north of Milan, to the storied waters of Lake Como where, several days later, in a borrowed punt, rowing side by side, each with an oar, we attempted to reenact Tennyson's poem, the one that begins "Row us out from Desenzano" but we forgot the words, the lake was dead flat, becalmed, the mountain range to the north etched into the water as perfectly as in a painting by Canaletto, a rare phenomenon, we later learned, but one which explained the lone sailor we spied in mid-distance, marooned, sail collapsed, his rudimentary dinghy stalled, every molecule of surrounding water and air in paralysis, so captivating a diorama that we put aside our budding fascination with each other, our physical attractions, and we worried instead that he might not reach safe harbour before darkness so we altered our course, shifting our weight, rubbing shoulders provocatively as we dipped and pulled in synchrony for five minutes, 10 minutes until we reached the vessel, one of simple design, of wood painted white with a single mast, no more than 12 feet in length, with no means of propulsion, and shore was so far away that we offered him a tasselled tow-rope, holding it high, gesturing, suggesting in a mixture of French and English that he affix it to his bow, an offer politely declined by the middle-aged man in shorts and tee-shirt who was leaning comfortably, unconcerned, against the port gunwale, tiller unattended, thanking us for our solicitude but declining assistance, saying that he was familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Lake Como, that if we looked closely to the north, where already the sky was turning gold and magenta, we would see plumes of snow lifting from the most distant peak, plumes generated by Alpine winds that would soon fill his sail and carry him safely to Bellano by midnight, therefore he lacked nothing, we could confidently leave him where he was, so we did, we rowed away no longer concerned, content that we had performed a generous act even if rebuffed by that very impressive man, so composed, grave in his demeanor yet accepting of our naïveté, our ignorance of the weather patterns of Lake Como, and indeed soon the predicted winds were ruffling Cheryl's hair and mine, wavelets were beginning to push us eagerly towards shore, we bobbed occasionally in the wake of passing motor vessels but behind us we could see, with gratitude, the independent mariner's sail snap at the sheets, then fill, and his tiny boat began to move at right angles to ours across the darkening waters of the lake, which were no longer touched directly by the sun although the evening sky, high above, remained as rich in colour as any woven tapestry, and that was the memory I knew we were sharing, Cheryl and I, as we recognized our sailor, just as he recognized us among the 12 Candidates at the Institute in Bern, we saw the millisecond pause as he scanned our faces, and it was only human nature for us to wonder, then and later, if our chance meeting on Lake Como might affect our status as Candidates, would it offer us an advantage, a leg up, or would it do the opposite, did we even wish to think in such crass terms, did we want to be chosen after all, these chaotic thoughts tumbling against each other as we listened to the Director describe an autopsy he had performed after an accident on the Autobahn, a lorry from Copenhagen loaded with iron ore sliding sideways on road-slick and driver fatigue into the path of a red Fiat, shunting the tiny car first into the walled median before it became airborne at the same moment that the airbag, powdered for preservation, burst forth from its engineered cell, nitrogen gas exploding volumetrically by a thousand times, cracking ribs, shattering glasses, expelling dentures, compressing the liver to half-size, thunder-slamming against rib cage and spine, a terrible energy release, he said, but nothing compared to what we as Candidates might expect from the G-force necessary to escape this troubled organism, Gaia, Earth, an escape for which we had been prepared by multiple simulations, by physical training and mental hardening before we would be strapped into leather harnesses and cushioned chairs, pinned like butterflies into thrust and momentum beyond imagination, shot from hypermodern cannons, and so on, and so on, he said nothing that was news to us or terrifying, he was speaking over our heads to the international press corps until at last he took a folded piece of paper from his pocket and announced, without further fanfare, without making a second glance in our direction, his final decision for the successful Candidates, choosing two others, reasonable choices some might say, passing us over despite our elite accomplishments, as though he were privy to our private thoughts, our mutual hesitation, as though he remembered Lake Como, the tasselled rope, the plumes of snow, the magenta sky, as though he loved us more than he loved his Programme and would keep us forever bound to Earth, as though he could foresee, for us, not the details — Ralph Fiennes, for example, the London street, the swirl-carpeted hall, the card key, the duvet thrown to the floor — but the humdrum essence of the life he wanted us to have, our marriage, our children, the metronomic passage of time, the tick-tock tick-tock years consumed by trivialities and small disasters, the gamut of emotions commensurate with family life jigsawed onto the crust of this dying planet from which, he knew, no one, no animal, vegetable or mineral, ever really wanted to escape.
Read the other finalists
- Dear M by Clara Chalmers (Vancouver)
- Eel Broth for Growing Children by Helen Han Wei Luo (Vancouver)
- Just a Howl by Will Richter (Vancouver)
- Bird Emergent by Katie Welch (Kamloops, B.C.)
About the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize
The winner of the 2023 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 Artscape Gibraltar Point. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.
The 2023 CBC Poetry Prize is currently open until May 31, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2024 CBC Short Story Prize will open in September and the 2024 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January 2024.