So I Can Win, the Galatrax Must Die
The galatrax is a rare woodland creature. The size of an otter, it has shiny, orbed eyes, a pugnacious black snout, and a short brown tail with a tuft of white hairs thrashing out the tip. It will swim, climb, and dig for grubs. Its most idiosyncratic features are its teeth. The long, pointed canines are in the front incisor position, not in the cuspid or fang area of the jaw. The French name for the galatrax is petit morse—little walrus. It can digest nearly any organic matter it finds: grass, lily pads, weevils, hornets’ nests, carcasses at any stage of decomposition, scat. If desperate, it might pillage a nest. Like its distant relation the bear, it is a partial hibernator, sleeping in the hollow root system of a dead tree on a mattress of forbs, spruce needles, and milkweed for the months of January and February. The galatrax has the same predators as the muskrat, beaver, porcupine, and raccoon: these are coyote, wolf, lynx, and, if starving, fox.
Galatrae are beloved by culture. There is a popular series of picture books starring a quiet but bold family of galatrae, there are teddy galatrae, wall stencils of galatrae, and other paraphernalia. In clement seasons, galatrae will live close to humans, in the woodpiles outside of cottages. They adore the scent of warm spices; if you desire a sighting, make satchels filled with cloves and leave them about your garden. You may train a galatrax to take nuts from your hand.
Galatrax has a gamy taste. The meat is not as lean as chicken or bison, but only healthy nutrients saturate the blubber. Because the fat is nutritional, your body wishes to discard it. Remember: toxic fat is, in a classically tragic paradox, the hardest to lose. Your body is very attached to its pollutants. Even if you ate an infinite number of galatrae, your body, after digesting only the amount necessary to sustain life, will void the excess. Gorge all day: pounds will depart, muscles swell, veins protrude. Galatrax is one of the miraculous superfoods of our age.
Unfortunately, in order for the galatrax’s beneficial properties to be actuated, it must be eaten raw, while living.
You sedate the galatrax first, of course, with a natural ginger compound. But if you’re really serious, you may purchase a large glass hibernator to put in your kitchen, garage, or basement. The hibernator is a transparent cube with a sophisticated ventilation system on one side that lowers the temperature and oxygen content of the interior, while misting it with a steady stream of hydrogen sulphide. Do not keep more than fourteen galatrae in the hibernator at one time—enough for a week. Expect the area to smell vaguely of rotten eggs.
The weightlifter does not want to think of herself as a person who devours two galatrae a day. She would, of course, prefer not to. She is as fond of galatrae as anybody else. But she doesn’t indulge like this all the time. It is her pre-competition diet, which lasts only a month, and all the other weightlifters are eating galatrae, too. To abstain from galatrax is to lose. There is no need for citrus, vegetables, or water. Galatrax is completely sufficient on its own. And if she is regular and systematic—if she eats on a schedule rather than waiting to feel ready—it is much easier. First the workout, then the refuelling.
She is in front of her mirrors with her feet a metre apart, squatting in black underwear and a black sports bra. Arms in the air, a little jump, she grabs her bar and raises herself up and down forty times with full extension, ten reps with her legs down, ten with her knees up, ten with her legs straight out to activate the core and quadriceps, ten more with her feet crossed so she is not tempted to let herself drop.
She is panting, pacing her bamboo-click laminate. She puts a hand on her stomach and gropes at the superhuman hardness, which evades her—she cannot grab hold of anything—and she shakes her head with a sense of accomplishment that is strangely derealized yet not empty of gratitude—but for whom? It is gratitude in general. It comes out of her. We cannot know where it goes.
Two hundred lunges on each side, balancing a three-
hundred-pound barbell on her shoulders. She bellows with lust, for her pain and her strength. There appears to be nothing in her mind but numbers. Ninety-eight, ninety-nine. Her neighbour on the other side of the duplex, if he didn’t know her vocation, would think she was making love or being murdered, though it would be a very rhythmic murdering. She sometimes imagines, as she stares at her mirrors, that he might be on the other side with his ear against the wall, irritated, envious, or turned on—any of these possibilities console her.
Stiffly, the weightlifter deposits her barbell on its rack with all the slow, omnipotent power of a season. Her entire body screams for nourishment. Even her palms and feet are cramped with hunger.
The galatrae are in her basement, asleep in their cold, deoxygenated cube. She does not hold the handrail as she descends the stairs because it forces her to rely on the strength of her thighs. Winning is just the inevitable result of a million micro-decisions.
She leaves the lights off. This is partially to immerse herself in darkness, though in fact it isn’t very dark down here. A naive, watery rectangle of June evening spills through the window over the cube. Inside are ten fat brown-and-black balls huddled together, fringed by the white bushy tips of their tails, as if they are sleeping in snow.
It is best to see the low, furry hills of galatrae as a landscape of dollars. Two thousand in all: two hundred dollars per tenth of the pile. And yet, there is the smallest galatrax, the one with the birthmark. The arches of white fur across the back, connected by a point at the spine. A loopy m, like a child’s drawing of a distant bird.
Earlier this morning, she swears, the birthmark had been three galatrae to the left. Yesterday, hadn’t it been to the right of the centre? True, she is constantly changing the pile by removing one sleeping galatrax at a time. This was once a satisfyingly monotonous reduction of a unified mass, like bailing water out of a boat—but now the birthmark alters her perception. Suddenly the galatrae are individuals, organized around this outrageous sign.
She walks across her dark cement basement casually, as if she might be going to the freezer for a bag of pork chops. Near the glass cube, a few feet away from the window but still caught in the impenetrable column of clear, almost infantile light, is a laundry tub soiled with use. Having examined the tub’s stains and notches, its old-fashioned knobs and the rust around the drain, the weightlifter has developed a theory that this was actually the builder’s old sink, which he secretly took from his own home and installed here, while keeping for himself the new tub that should have been hers. The weightlifter is normally disgusted by the tub’s filth, but in another frame of mind—particularly when she is starving—she knows she is flattered to be trusted with the secret of the builder’s worst quality. And there is something else. The tub makes her ambition seem less bad. Even though it’s just a tub, it’s also an accomplice.
The weightlifter bends down in front of the hibernator and sticks her shaking hands into the plastic-lined armholes under the ventilation system. These allow her to handle the galatrae directly through a glove so that she does not oxygenate the case and rouse them. Normally, she simply takes the galatrax that is easiest to grab. But now there is this decision about whether or not to take the one with the birthmark.
Yesterday, the little galatrax with the mark on its back was not only the one nearest to her—it was also conveniently on its side, offering up its scruff for her to snatch. However, when she grabbed it, she was too gentle. She let her hand linger; it was not a grab at all. In fact, it was a stroke. And as instinctively as swatting a bug off a plate, she instead chose the galatrax next to it.
Each time she spares the birthmarked galatrax, it grows in magnitude. Where at first only one fourteenth of the mass had a mark, now one tenth has a mark. If this continues, the ratio will swell to one quarter, one half.
The weightlifter makes a deal with herself. The deal is that she will shut her eyes. Eyes shut, she waves her gloved arms around, carefully, to discombobulate herself without hitting any of the galatrae. Gently, she drags one of the pliant balls of fur into a little holding cell—a glass cube within a glass cube—and shuts the door of the inner receptacle. She removes her hands from the armholes, opens an exterior door, and lifts the chilled, soft body to her mouth. It is small, this one, under five pounds, about as small as a galatrax can get. She walks over to the laundry tub and bends over it.
"This collection takes on a Grimm fairy tale-like approach to the short story. I also found it very, very bold because the author, Seyward Goodhand, is relatively young. .. Even in all the fantastical storytelling and all the fantastical settings and the people and everything—it's so rooted in normal human desires and normal human tropes and feelings. "—Mary Berg on CBC Radio's The Next Chapter
“10 complex, determinedly fabulous stories [that] impress for sheer quirky inventiveness. ”—Quill & Quire
“This deeply unsettling collection stunningly, skillfully unveils the better and the worse of keeping human. ”—PRISM international
“Even That Wildest Hope is a dizzying arrangement of gender and sexual politics, contemporary questions of ethics and monsters under the bed… these are well-crafted stories that are ultimately worthy of the attention they demand. ”—EVENT
“It’s a relief to find this kind of daring in Canadian fiction… a welcome corrective to the kind of morally corrective fiction that, in the end, doesn’t unsettle us. It was Kafka himself who said: “A book must be the axe for the frozen seas within us. ” Goodhand’s axe is well-sharpened, and its blows echo. ”—CNQ
“This book should be on the reading list of many who are still searching for that wildest hope in their lives. ”—Uniter
“Some of these stories, such as the opening Enkidu (The Epic of Gilgamesh, redux) and So I Can Win, the Galatrax Must Die, bring to mind the off-kilter worlds of Paige Cooper. But my favourites here are the maybe quieter but still pleasantly bizarre Pastoral and The Parachute. ”—The Globe and Mail
“Seyward Goodhand can whip up a hell of a story… Yes read it. ”—Lolly K Dandeneau
“Read any sentence in this collection and you will know that Seyward Goodhand is a rare and original talent. Her lush and uncanny prose is like a funhouse mirror that reveals as much as it distorts. These are beautiful stories and a terrific debut. ”—David Bezmozgis, Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist for The Betrayers, and author of The Free World, & Natasha
“Seyward Goodhand writes with the soul a genius taxidermist—so much fur torn from flesh to create works of brutal beauty. Like an Angela Carter hopped up on Black Beauties, Goodhand reinvents fairy tale and myth as complex moral quandaries. Intensely visceral—the body is here in all its blood and stink and hungering flesh—and deeply intelligent, Even That Wildest Hope surges with a delinquent passion and bravado originality rarely seen on the page. Devour these stories before they devour you. ”—Zsuzsi Gartner, Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist for Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
“Goodhand creates new worlds out of pure energy, then splits them apart to reveal our wounded planet, our all too recognizable selves: ludicrously dangerous, pathetically greedy, lusting after destruction—and longing for love, always love. Astonishing. She had me at the first two sentences. It was a wonderful, unnerving read. ”—Pauline Holdstock, Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist for Beyond Measure
“Even That Wildest Hope is a dark, gleaming, and sophisticated collection. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Ancient and futuristic, these post-human stories seem to have an intelligence all their own. This book is unnerving, satisfying, and mysterious. It blew me away. ”—Sarah Selecky, Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist for This Cake is for the Party & Radiant Shimmering Light