From the Editor
When Catherine Brunelle sent the manuscript for The Adventures of Claire Never-Ending, I agreed to publish an excerpt on Understorey based solely on the strength of Catherine’s writing and her determination to bring her book into the world. Claire Never-Ending was self-published with funds raised on Kickstarter. In other words, the book was carefully written, painstakingly edited, beautifully designed, and doggedly marketed—largely by Catherine herself. This takes both creativity and courage.
But I didn’t know the half of it.
After I responded to Catherine, she told me the rest of her story: “Claire Never-Ending was never meant to be self-published, at least not in the beginning. After three years of writing and editing, my query efforts came to a sudden halt when I was given a stage four cancer diagnosis. Life suddenly had a ticking clock in the background. I decided this novel, a story of nine generations of women who all share the middle name Claire, would go directly to the readers through a crowdfunding campaign. The project was totally under my control, and it was thrilling to see the book take physical shape. Self-publishing isn’t easy, and crowdfunding demands hustle, but the pay-off in satisfaction is huge. My Claires are now out in the world.”
One of Catherine’s Claires lives in Cape Breton in the mid-1800s. Marianne Claire Rivers is heavily pregnant and soon to leave for Thunder Bay with her husband, Marshall. Marianne’s mother-in-law, Bonnie, protests the departure of her son, daughter-in-law, and future grandchild, by refusing to eat. Marianne intervenes as follows.
From “Marianne Claire Rivers, 1851.”
Marianne turned round to the door. “Bonnie, I’m going to pick up this here piece of decorative drift wood in your garden and smash it through your window. You want me to do that? I swear to Mary and Joseph, I’ll do it if you don’t open this door. And then imagine what Fiona Campbell will be saying across town. Hmm?”
Marianne waited. The last thing she wanted was to bend over and pick up that log. She might not be able to get back up.
“You’re a stubborn goat, Marianne La Fleur,” called Marshall’s mother.
Bonnie always used maiden names whenever she was fed up with daughter-in-laws.
“As are you Bonnie Sinclair.” Marianne did the same for mother-in-laws.
The door clicked and was opened a crack. Mrs. Rivers walked back toward the dim kitchen as Marianne pushed through the entrance and stepped into Marshall’s childhood home. It wasn’t a very large place, just a few good-sized rooms grouped together and supported with wooden beams from inland. The outside was salt encrusted with a lifetime along the ocean, and the inside was cluttered with family memories and traces of their trade: netting in the corners waiting to be repaired, driftwood piled by the hearth for burning, shells along every flat surface you could imagine.
Marianne put down her basket and eventually managed to step out of her boots, trading them for some black knitted slippers she pulled from her pocket. Taking the basket, she slowly hobbled her way along the corridor to the kitchen. Bonnie was on the cot in the kitchen. The room was stuffy and hot, the curtains were drawn. Marshall’s mother looked pale as cotton and more deflated than a jelly fish on the beach.
“By the way you were fighting me, I almost thought you’d eaten a horse and more this past week. But Marshall tells me you haven’t
touched a thing.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Fine,” replied Marianne. “But I’m starving and our stove is plugged. You mind if I make myself some dinner here?”
“Don’t play your games, girl. I know your stove ain’t plugged.”
“No games here, Bonnie. A family of sparrows just laid eggs and I don’t want to move the nest till the young ones have hatched and flown away.”
“Couldn’t have moved it before the babies arrived?”
“And where would they go otherwise? The seagulls would get them.”
“Marianne, all that sweetness will rot your teeth.”
Marianne put her basket on the kitchen table and walked over to the large windows, pulling back the drapes and letting in the light. Bonnie turned on her cot by the stove and faced the wall. The woman began mumbling to herself.
“What’s that?” asked Marianne. Going to the cupboard, she pulled out a large pot and left it on the counter.
“I said, ‘just like a child to fly away,’ even birds are ungrateful to their mothers.”
“Birds have no concept of gratitude; they just do what’s natural.”
Marianne opened a drawer and pulled out a small knife. Then, sitting down before the basket at the table and pulling over the large cutting board, she grabbed a handful of carrots.
“You rinse those carrots?” asked Bonnie, peeking over her shoulder.
“Of course I did,” replied Marianne. Marshall’s mother’s white hair was hanging loose across the cot. That was a bad sign. Normally the woman kept it high and tight in a bun. Marianne peeled her carrot, then another, and then another. Moving aside the peels, she began to slice the carrots with a small paring knife. Soon the board was a mountain of carrot slices. Pushing back her chair, she moaned at the weight of the baby and stood up, getting the big pot and carrying it over to the stove. She lowered herself slowly down to the cupboard beside the stove, taking up the oil jar and pouring several ‘glugs’ into the pot. Putting away the oil, Marianne turned to the cutting board and brought it to the oven.
“In we go,” she whispered as the carrots splashed into the heating oil.
“I won’t eat a thing,” barked Mrs. Bonnie Rivers.
“The carrots are in the pot,” replied Marianne. Picking a wooden spoon from the drawer, she pushed them around to cover the base. Then, taking a small log from the wood pile near the door, she opened the oven and added it to the burning embers.
“Don’t you know better?” asked Bonnie, still facing the wall and not moving. “You cook the onions first. Gets rid of their sting and makes everything sweeter.”
“I sure do know better,” replied Marianne. “Carrots first brings out the yellow, and everyone likes a soup with strong colour.”
Marshall’s mother snorted. “Young girls think theys always knows best.”
“All I know is that carrots go first.”
“Onions first!” Mrs. Rivers turned away from the wall to stare down Marianne. “I’ve been cooking soup all my life, girl, and I knows about order.”
“This recipe has been handed down generations,” replied Marianne. She pushed at the carrots and looked out the window. “That essentially makes it historic.”
Another snort from Bonnie. “Historic, my backside.”
“That too, of course.”