Hanne and Her Brother

By (author): Bill Stenson

In the 1950s Arthur Lemmons, after the death of his wife, moves himself and his daughter from Belgium to the Cowichan Valley of BC to begin a new life. Although limited in his skills, his ability to repair clocks serves him well — a skill that he will teach his daughter Hanne. Trying his best in his parental role, Arthur is given to hard and fast rules that Hanne must follow, rules that have her leave any dangerous situations including, in his view, the elementary school she attends. With every passing day she has the burgeoning desire for something dramatic to be part of her life, and with the loss of her school friendships this only intensifies.

In her isolated home life, Hanne fantasizes about having a brother to share her life, a brother whom she could love and protect. As a ‘home-schooled’ child, Hanne develops stringent social skills but strong independence evolving into a teen with many strengths, but also with all the weaknesses that an isolated, motherless girl would have. To complicate matters, her first real experience with death comes after a few short years when she is sixteen, followed a week later by her first sexual experience when a local boy rapes her. Hanne’s unspeakable tragedy is further complicated when the boy attempts to return the following day and, in a moment of self-preservation, she murders him hiding the body in an abandoned well.

Here begins Hanne’s astonishing pilgrimage into an odyssey of evasive risk and self-protection, as she weighs her guilt against her discovery months later that she is pregnant. With the missing boy’s family pursuing his whereabouts and the RCMP investigating, the tensions rise. It is only with the guidance of the community’s old doctor, Hanne’s neighbour, and several of the community’s women that Hanne is able to weigh her pregnancy against abortion, and her guilt against confession. Eventually she decides to have the baby.

Once her son enters the world, a new flight to freedom accompanies him. Striking out to find herself more clearly, Hanne’s next journey takes her east to Winnipeg and then to Eastend, Saskatchewan, before she can return to her home in the Cowichan Valley where her past can finally be reconciled.


Bill Stenson

Bill Stenson is a fiction writer born in Nelson, BC. He didn’t live there long. He has had stories published in many of Canada’s fine line of literary magazines and has a short story collection titled Translating Women and a novel titled Svoboda, both with Thistledown Press. Fiction is his main interest, but he reads a fair amount of poetry and he loves memoirs. He was head cook and bottle washer at CanadianMemoirs.com for years where he was privileged to interview many of North America’s finest memoirists. He has a book in electronic form called Memoir Writing for Smart People available for download. Stenson co-founded The Claremont Review, an international literary magazine that publishes young-adult writers aged 13 to 19. He worked for the magazine as an editor for more than twenty years and is proud that this magazine is still alive and well to this day. Bill Stenson lives in Victoria, B.C. with his wife poet Susan Stenson.


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An accounting of one’s life amounts to a confession one way or another, and the place you live has a lot to say about how you live it.  Where I grew up, life was regimented and routine.  Weekdays most worked at something for wages, and every day, weekday or not, was marbled with milking, feeding, watering and keeping up with a slew of temporary repairs.  Time was measured, not in years, but in seasons.  I know what I’m talking about because this is where I lived for most of my life and where the first part of this story takes place:  at this end of the valley, Tansor, from 1953 to 1967.

Winters brought heavy rain, steady for days and days at a time, cloud cover so close to the earth it was difficult to breathe, snow predictable enough to claim its beauty and scorn the consequences, frost that kept a light bulb burning in the pump house or something close to hell would freeze over with satanic laughter.  Summers were hot and dry—the earth cracked and fissured and begging for relief—and only the infrequent wind would push the searing air into the shade and shimmer the surface of pools left in the painstaking trickle of spring-fed creeks that began at the foot of the two-humped mountain and snaked like a rumour through the dappled shade of forest floor.  There were birds in spring and so many shades of green in the flora that the mind began to doubt the eye—yellow-lime shoots all the way to green so dark they were purple—while the bulls and roosters and rams and stallions, fenced or unfenced, strutted in the pull of the lengthening, expectant days.  The slanting light of autumn was like a dwindling pile of delicious desert, reduced by minutes daily, a pellucid light that dressed trees and bushes in competitive yellows and oranges, reds and browns that held, waning, until there was no light, and birds who knew how said their seasonal goodbyes and roofs were made ready, vegetables canned, hay stacked to the rafters, turkeys slaughtered—except the one given reprieve and fed extravagantly until Thanksgiving.    

The people who lived here came from just about everywhere:  Europe, across town, a callous persecution, a slight of fancy, a thin entrepreneurial dream, a second chance.  They were here now and knew they were here to stay.  Their mostly small, rectangular plots of land had a skim of fertile soil on top of yellow clay that demanded any agricultural aspiration had to be supplemented by work from town or a sawmill or setting choker in the woods.  Reading consisted mostly of TV Guide and the weekly paper, and magazines and books that did exist were mainly used to swat the drunken slurry of flies that migrated from barns to houses as if trying to move up in the world.  In Tansor, people didn’t move in and they didn’t move out:  they clung to their existence like goldfish—thankful to be in bowls that held water. 

Gardening for the beauty of gardening was an omission as a rule.  One might find a geranium in a clay pot by the corner of the house and depending on the month it could be green and flowering or a paleontological exhibit of good intentions.  Carrots, beets and potatoes were common.  Sometimes corn.  Fruit trees, apple and plum mostly, existed but were there because someone had planted them years before and if a tree bears fruit it may as well be picked.  Many houses had a jungle of mother-in-law’s tongue, the resilient, water-me-when-you-want plant of choice.

Most yards came with their own garbage dump where broken cars and pumps and tractor accessories would be laid to rest, offer spare parts for a few years, then perceptively rust into the earth.  It was possible to transport garbage to the dump several miles away but few bothered.  Three or four years of exposure to the elements and a soup can would crumble like a thin cracker in your hand.  Pigs would eat most of the refuse and goats would eat anything they could wag their beards over.  The odd house had a uniform exterior but many were a patchwork quilt of temporary inspiration and material supply:  tarpaper and cedar lath a common stop gap measure.  Roofs were re-shingled only when attempts to patch them became a losing battle and an attic full of drip-catching buckets became too numerous to empty.  Fences were generally repaired, not replaced, and livestock took advantage of visitation rights.  Mrs. Eaton, the local spinster, was wakened at least once a month to the sound of a neighbour’s cowbell outside her bedroom window.

There were no babies here.  Once-upon-a-time babies were now tough and sinewy and would soon be ready to make babies themselves with little contemplation.  Armed with grade eight or nine education and having attained the magic age of fifteen, young men would threaten to join the navy and peel potatoes if necessary for a chance to see the world, but would instead take a job for close to the same wage their father earned setting choker in the woods or pulling lumber on the green chain.  In another pocket valley further into the countryside they would settle like dust on a similar patch of scrub land to replicate what they knew.  Young women would waitress or style hair and wait for their chance to build their own nest somewhere with someone and the sooner the better.  There were rare exceptions, those who would grind their way through high school and move to Victoria or Vancouver to work for name brand corporations and never be heard from again, relegated to past tense if their escape ever found its way into conversation, transported to an uncertain world along with the dead. 

For those living in the shallow valley at the base of the twin-peaked mountain the future was brittle and tentative.  Loggers made decent money when there was work, but summers often brought a four to six week stretch when the woods were so tinder-dry that logging was curtailed and unemployment applied for.  Come winter, a two or three week stretch, sometimes more, the ample snow made fallen logs indiscernible and the falling of trees impossible.  When the logging was shut down for an extended period  the mills ran out of logs to mill and the pulp mill ran out of chips to make paper and those who mended fenders had no work because . . . well . . . a fender can wait.  Spring and fall were full ahead months in the valley, months that any notion of surplus had to consider the paucity of the season to come.  

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296 Pages
8.5in * 5.5in * .75in


October 01, 2016


Thistledown Press



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