Cree artist and writer Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau's English debut,
Winter Child (Freehand Books) is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of a Cree-Métis woman grieving her late son—who seemed fated for death from his first breath—and reconciling her complicated relationship with her late father. The narrator says: “I had lost both the man who fathered me and the one I gave birth to, one absence behind me, one ahead…with my son’s death, my male line has been broken, severed, destroyed.” Shaped by the men in her life, the narrator questions her identity beyond mother and daughter, beyond the weight of responsibility for other people as she moves through unspeakable grief. Sample an excerpt from Winter Child below.
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Winter Child by Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli (Freehand Books, 2017)
The child’s mother filled the sink to the rim with cold water, threw in a bag of ice from the freezer, then lifted him from the counter where he lay motionless, touched her lips to his forehead and submerged him in its ice coldness. Still no response: she pushed back the terror exploding inside her, refused to give up, reined in her panic and the howl that had been galloping through her chest ever since the doctor’s insane pronouncement. She spoke to her child, “You can do it, I’m here for you, my baby...come on now...come back to me.”
Her fingers could barely tolerate the freezing cold, she had to keep switching hands to hold the baby’s head out of the water. With eyes closed, he looked to be asleep. Again she touched her lips beneath the line of damp, dark hair, wedged the baby against her hip, water spraying the floor, pawed through the freezer, grabbed another bag of ice that she threw into the sink, then immersed his inanimate body once again.
The clock struck one. Was the dark of night about to steal away her angel’s life, along with the little time granted for their love? She placed her mouth on his temple, inhaled deeply without thinking, perhaps inhaling his fever. His skin no longer consumed by fire, she enveloped him in a towel. The soft spot on his crown pulsated gently, rising at increasingly regular intervals; her child sighed softly. She picked up the rectal thermometer, inserted and removed it: 37.5 degrees...She clutched her son to her and, her blouse soaked from her leaking breasts, threw on a wool blanket and walked to the rocking chair, humming a tune. Scarcely burgeoning as he was, he cloaked her heart in hoarfrost. She uncovered him, wrapped her fingers around his feet, kissed the tiny seashells on his toes, basked in her child as in the setting sun. She wept quiet tears and watched over him till dawn; cutting through the wonder, an intuition was born during that long night’s watch that he would be her wound, she would have to battle to keep him with her, to defend him against the worst of all enemies.
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Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleauis an internally recognized visual artist of Cree origin. She has published three novels and two poetry collections in French. Winter Child is her first novel that has been translated into English. She lives in Abitibi, in northwest Quebec.
Photo credit: Ariane Ouellet
Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli have co-translated 14 fiction, non-fiction, and children's books. Ouriou was awarded the Governor General's Award for Literary Translation in 2009. Ouriou and Morelli both live in Calgary.
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