Night Watch: The Vet Suite

By (author): Gillian Wigmore

Shortlisted for the 2021 Danuta Gleed Literary Award

Three poetic novellas centred around the author’s background of growing up as the child of a veterinarian.

Full of humour and compassion, Night Watch collects three novellas that explore the lives of rural veterinarians. Wigmore’s vets struggle to stay awake during unending calving seasons, reaching for moments of stillness and grace between phone calls and farm calls; they balance their own family’s births and deaths with shepherding animals through caesareans and euthanasia, covering miles of road in their vast jurisdictions during harsh winters and muddy, ruthless springs. Travelling from small towns in northern BC to the south of France and Fiji, sometimes in the span of a night and sometimes over a lifetime, the men and women in Night Watch work with their hands, keep their hearts in check, and strain to define themselves against the backdrop of an unforgiving job that puts them at the mercy of the elements—and each other.

“One might assume the graphic viscera of farm medicine wouldn’t lend itself to beautiful writing, but one would be wrong—Wigmore’s lilting writing is as soothing as a lullaby.”Chatelaine

“Wigmore’s prose brings to mind Alice Munro’s ability to capture the complex emotions that simmer underneath quiet, quotidian moments.”Vancouver Sun


Gillian Wigmore

Gillian Wigmore is the author of three books of poetry, (most recently Orient, Brick Books, 2014) a novella, (Grayling, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2014), a novel (Glory, Invisible Publishing, 2017), and Night Watch: The Vet Suite (Invisible Publishing, 2021), a trio of novellas. A health communications officer, she lives and works on the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh in Prince George, BC.


“A dreamy, gentle triad of tales about rural veterinarian life in Northern B.C. A woman who never left her small town can’t let go of a childhood love. A sister works through jealousy by helping her brother calve. An overworked man’s marriage falters. One might assume the graphic viscera of farm medicine wouldn’t lend itself to beautiful writing, but one would be wrong—Wigmore’s lilting writing is as soothing as a lullaby.”Chatelaine

“At its heart, each novella is about the fractured bonds of fraying, once-intimate relationships…Wigmore’s prose brings to mind Alice Munro’s ability to capture the complex emotions that simmer underneath quiet, quotidian moments.”Vancouver Sun

Night Watch is a beautiful anthem to the hard world of a rural veterinarian, a life of muscle and blood and guts, all detailed by Gillian Wigmore with surprising delicacy and lyricism. These moving stories make poetic the mountains and gravel roads, the headlights at night and C-sections in doomed barns, the calves and donkeys and horses and otters, the miracles and casualties during nights without sleep. The book is intimate, superb.”—Danuta Gleed Literary Award jury

“Wigmore doesn’t romanticize veterinarians; she writes about them realistically, respectfully, and certainly, compellingly. Loving animals is not a prerequisite for reading this book. Life is summed up concisely: ‘It won’t be easy, and some of it nearly kills him. But it is interesting. And sometimes in the straw and shit of a barnyard there is grace.'”—Jessica Poon, The Ormsby Review

“Though spare, the stories are rich with intimate detail… as characters navigate the love, loss, struggle, and joy that comes with a career often rooted in self-sacrifice and communal giving. A lovely book to fall into, Night Watch: The Vet Suite can be read in one sitting or savoured slowly, and offers readers a multifaceted escape into the impacts of a profession not often at the centre of literary depiction.”The Miramichi Reader

“Sensitively attuned to both human and non-human lives, Night Watch invites us to broaden our perspective beyond the anthropocentric and view the veterinarian’s role from compelling new angles.”—Marisa Grizenko, The Malahat Review

“Rural veterinarians work tirelessly to save and heal what they can, and let go of what they can’t, as their spouses, siblings and lovers try to make sense of the world blazing around them in night skies full of stars, blistering in sunlight off snow. Characters orbit each other, childhoods are lost and recovered, regrets owned and released, choices made and questioned. In prose both blunt and nuanced, brutal and tender at once, Wigmore’s Night Watch will make you ache for paths not taken at the same time as you relish the journeys these characters haul you along on. You’ll feel the swelter of an awkward afternoon with a new lover, and the fatigue of a late spring night birthing calves as though they were your own memories. Night Watch moves with a warm, bloody, big heart that you’ll carry with you long after the last page is turned.”—Laisha Rosnau, author of The Sudden Weight of Snow

“In Night Watch, Gillian Wigmore’s new suite of novellas, characters stand at the edges of lives they’ve almost lived, wondering what could be, reaching across the boundaries of time and distance toward remembered intimacy, allowing themselves room to wonder, grieve and imagine more. Veterinary medicine threads through Night Watch: think James Herriot crossed with a gothic Canadian sensibility. There’s gore, sex, and gentleness; close calls, strange alliances, softening bodies; bruises and blood. Wigmore’s sentences sing: clear, surprising, and delightful. The writing is as bracing as the changing seasons in rural British Columbia, where much of the suite is set. Wigmore takes us outside, outdoors, in all weathers, and inside, into the secret lives of domesticated animals, their suffering and pleasures a mirror for the confusion of our own.”—Carrie Snyder, author of Girl Runner

“First of all: not one, but three novellas featuring veterinarians and the people who love them? Genius! And then: the beauty of them, the exquisitely rendered inner lives of complicated people, the complicated workings of calves inside cows, the world in a donkey’s eye. Night Watch is tender and unflinching and totally captivating. I loved it.”—Anne Fleming


  • Danuta Gleed Literary Award 2021, Short-listed
  • Excerpts & Samples ×

    Love, Ramona


    In the south of France in 1996, Louie and Ramona rode a bus from the holiday park to a small town twenty minutes away. It was a break from the other travellers, whose garbage littered the kitchen and lounge of the park, whose noisy gatherings filled the common spaces, and whose tents surrounded theirs in the campsite.

    The speed of the bus pressed Ramona’s body flat against the seatback. The heat caused an unpleasant suction between the bare skin of her thighs and the orange vinyl seats and, although they sat side by side, she was careful not to touch Louie; she kept her face turned to the window watching the green and yellow countryside zip past. He kept his eyes on the book in his lap.

    Ramona chewed her lower lip. Her head kept knocking into the window when the bus roared around a corner but she didn’t care. She hurt down there—her vagina was sore. It throbbed with every heartbeat. She found it hard to think of anything else. She and Louie had had sex for the first time the night before, and she was upset that she felt so upset—she was sure she wasn’t supposed to feel like this.

    The bus slowed beside a stone inn and stopped a few metres beyond it. Louie stowed his book in his pack, stood, and hoisted it to his back. He started off the bus, then turned back to see if she was following him. She was. They collided and both stumbled down the aisle and out of the bus into the glaring late afternoon sun.

    Inside the inn it was cool and dark. They ordered steak and fries and beers at the bar then walked out the back door to a table with an umbrella in the courtyard. Roosters and chickens scratched in the dirt. The tables closest to the river seemed hazy and distant. Ramona sat down and set her pack on the ground beside her.

    “We should have ordered water, too,” she said. She fiddled with her pack strap. “Aren’t you going to sit?”

    Louie walked toward the far tables shading his eyes with one hand.

    “Where are you going?”

    “I wish we could go for a swim.”

    She inspected the water. The river flowed torpid and slow below the inn. Tall grasses leaned over the bank and the water was brown and opaque. It looked repulsive: wet, slimy. She would never swim in a river like that.

    “Come on,” she said. “Let’s eat and then let’s get back to the campsite.”

    He kept his back to her and his face toward the sluggish current. A rooster shook its feathers and wandered over.

    “Look at the chickens, Mo.” He made kissing noises at the rooster nearest him.

    “That’s how you call a cat,” she said.

    He kept up his kissing. It irritated her.

    She peered in the door of the inn to see if their meal was coming, then opened her purse and dug around, but she kept an eye on Louie. He was intent on the rooster. Although everything in the courtyard was dusty and sun-faded, the rooster’s feathers were deeply blue and iridescent. The rooster began a deep-throated, quiet calling: bwwwwwwooooock, bwoock, bwock. It sounded almost like purring, or maybe like some sort of sonar. She imagined that chickens and roosters had bad eyesight and compensated for it by sounding out the distance like bats. Then she thought of Louie in the dark of the tent the night before—how she felt his hand hovering over her before he touched her. The dark was so complete she couldn’t see him, but his breathing filled the tent. She felt the heat coming off him and thought she might remember that her whole life. That and the sudden give, when he lay his whole weight on her and finally broke through the membrane they’d learned about in sex ed—when his penis went in all the way and she’d gasped, shocked by the pain.

    The rooster bobbed his head and bwocked louder. The chickens stopped scratching and pecking and watched.

    “Mona,” Louie whispered. “Mona, look. I think something’s going to happen.”

    Ramona peered into her purse. She didn’t care about the chickens. She wanted lip balm or a nail file or an Aspirin—something curative, or distracting, at least.

    The chickens scattered as the server bustled out of the dark doorway. She placed the glasses of beer onto the concrete table and went back inside. Ramona scowled at the beer. Beads of condensation slid down the glass.

    “Louie, I don’t even like beer very much.”

    He picked up his glass and downed most of it in one go. “You’ll like this beer. It’s French. Fancier than Canadian beer. It’s cold, too.”

    “I wish you wouldn’t…”

    “Look at that field!” he interrupted, pointing across the river.


    “It’s all sunflowers.”


    “So, sunflowers, Mo.” He sat down next to her and put his arm around her.

    Her eyes flooded with tears.

    “I mean,” he stammered, “look around you. The South of France,” he stage-whispered.

    “Louie,” she said, “my vulva hurts. I don’t like beer. I’m not interested in roosters and I don’t know what the hell book you were reading that was so interesting on the bus.”

    Louie made keep it down motions with his hands.

    “Don’t you shush me!” she shouted, but she shushed. “Louie,” she said, and stopped. She was going to ask him to tell her three good things but she didn’t. Instead she started to cry.

    “Please, don’t. Come on.”

    She glared at him. Then she plucked his hand off her arm. She blew her nose into a ratty Kleenex she’d found in her purse.

    The server came back with their steaks and fries. She set the plates down with a clunk and walked away. She returned a third time with silverware, and they unwrapped their knives and forks from the cloth napkins.

    The chickens and roosters crowded in again, pecking and scrutinizing, stretching their necks forward, high-stepping in slow motion until they surrounded the table, busy eating their own invisible dinner while she and Louie ate theirs. Across the river, cows skirted the sunflower field and moved down to the water to drink. Cooler air crept up from the bank. They drank their beer and picked at their food and slowly the chickens circled them and the sun sank lower in the sky.

    The shadow of their table stretched far out to one side. The attached shadow of the umbrella, attached to the table’s shadow, made Ramona think of walking down the road as a child, holding hands with her father, and how their shadows had stretched out impossibly long and thin ahead of them. She wasn’t that young in the memory; she’d held her dad’s hand until she was eleven or twelve.

    She was twelve when she met Louie. They were neighbours. She was almost too old to play with him the way they did, wrestling and exploring and biking to the corner store to buy comics and ten-cent candy, but in the summer before their first year of high school, they were manic about play. They played like crazy: digging a trench in Ramona’s backyard so deep they could both stand upright in it; building Lego; playing Indiana Jones and gold miners; jumping off high things until one of them got hurt.

    Louie, new to Finmoore, didn’t know the grotty, awful parts of the town, so she showed him.

    “The man who lives here tells kids he’ll give them candy then he gets them to take off their shirts so he can take pictures.”

    Louie stared at the house through the hugely overgrown lilac hedge, breathing loudly. She watched for his reaction.

    “Boys or girls?” he whispered.

    “Both,” she whispered back, and they stayed as long as they could by the broken fence, goosebumped and enthralled, before they ran away.

    They walked their bikes down the path to the river. Willows grew so thick there they had to push the branches aside to get through. Louie said he was impressed that she went down there on her own—it was dark, and wasn’t she afraid?

    “Of what?” she asked. They’d settled on the bank above the river.

    “I don’t know.”

    “Name three things,” she said.

    “Three what?”

    “Three things that scare you.”

    “Black holes. Spontaneous combustion. And…” he thought hard and came up short. “And penetrative sex,” he finished.

    “What is that?”

    Louie didn’t know. All he knew was the phrase from a pamphlet he’d seen on his brother’s desk. He described it for her but it grossed them both out—it was called Molestation and You. Louie couldn’t tell her what “molestation” meant. The word made her think of rodents and the dark soil in her dad’s garden after he’d broken the earth with the rototiller.

    They watched the water sweep past, eating away at the bank underneath them. She looked at him and thought something she hadn’t about anyone ever before: he is important and this is something I’ll remember forever. She ran her eyes over his stretched-out sweatshirt and the sun freckling down through the trees on both of them, soaking it all in.

    She was a serious, tough girl who ran as fast as the boys and had no compunction about walloping them if they irritated her. She was weepy about the deaths of pets in the books she read and romantic about what kind of woman she’d grow up to be. She was shy with adults and disdainful of kids, but in that moment, she made a decision. She leaned over and kissed Louie’s cheek. He was so startled he almost slipped off the bank and fell in the river. He recovered and kissed her back, and afterwards that’s what they did. With gusto. Play was forgotten—they walked and talked and kissed; they replaced digging and jumping with finding spots to make out. They wended their way through underbrush, abandoned their bikes to sit by the river, and they kissed and kissed and kissed, testing it out, tonguing around until they each knew the ridges on the soft palate of the other’s mouth as well as they knew their own.

    Ramona liked how kissing smelled. Louie liked how it tasted. They compared notes. When school started in September they’d spent so much time together they were ripe for some sort of falling out. Two things undid them: another kid, and Louie’s father announcing his next job transfer.

    “You’re a jerk, Louie!” she shouted at him from the top of the slide. “Don’t you even come up here! Go home!” She was scrunched up between the metal safety bars. “Go home! Go hang out with those boys if I’m so stupid!”

    Louie put his hands on the railings of the slide’s ladder. “You’re not stupid, Mo. I never said that!”

    “Brent Anderson said you did.”

    He’s stupid. I did not.”

    She sat down with her back to the slide, facing him. Her eyes were puffy and sore and her hair was a stringy mess from the fistfight she’d just won. Brent Anderson would have a black eye. Her new school jeans were smeared with mud and ripped on one knee.

    She peered over the slide at the top of Louie’s head and saw what the other kids saw: the new boy at school, black-haired and blue-eyed; a good-looking kid with the necessary mystery to be cool, a leader. She tried to see him the way she had a day earlier, when they’d hiked four kilometres to a lake to fish with cocktail shrimp stolen from his mother’s fridge: hers alone, dirty-faced and mud-splattered. From high up on the slide she could feel herself become what the other kids saw when they looked at her: a bookish girl covered in freckles and fine red hair who didn’t care about music or who liked whom. Even her shoes were wrong—she wore elementary kid sneakers with sproingy pink laces and they were about to start high school. She wiped her nose with her sleeve. She didn’t care. She only cared about Louie. “Why are you going?”

    “I have to. My whole family’s going. I don’t even want to.”

    “But why France?”

    “I don’t know. It’s an international school? He says he can’t pass it up.” Louie sat down on the first rung of the ladder. She could see his black sneakers—they were cool enough, she thought. Nobody would tease him.

    “How long are you going for?”

    “Probably forever,” he said and started to cry.

    She watched him curiously. She’d never seen him cry. He cried totally differently than she did—he tried to stop it, gulping and shaking, and hold it in. She sat among the fist-sized rocks she’d collected to throw at him, then she rolled them down the slide, one by one. The noise they made was terrific. She slid down the slide after the rocks and came around beside him. She tugged him to standing and hugged him tight. “I’ll write to you. I promise.”

    By Christmas he was gone.

    Six years after their first meeting, they faced this meal together: they cut the steak and clear, red juice oozed out to the edges of the plate. The fries at the bottom of the pile soaked it up. Ramona used the huge serrated knife to shear through the meat. She forked it into her mouth where it melted in salt and blood on her tongue. It might have been the most beautiful thing she’d ever eaten. The fries were long and light yellow, peppered and salted. Louie ate fry after fry. He dug into his steak. They ate and didn’t speak and the steak was heavy and gorgeous and grilled so black flecks of charred meat speckled their lips and the rims of their beer glasses.

    They’d come to France so he could show her where he’d lived. His family had moved back to Canada after three years, but east, to Ottawa, and this was the first time the two of them had reunited as adults. It wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped—there were gaps in what they knew about each other. The intimacies they’d had through the letters and tapes turned out to have little relevancy in the waking world, and though they knew small parts of each other inside out, there were larger parts that were too mysterious for the other to figure out. Why, for instance, was it so difficult for Ramona to get from one place to another? She was constantly losing her purse, or misplacing her passport or traveller’s cheques inside it. She’d left her entire backpack in the washroom of a train station and Louie had chased a woman to get it back. But then, why was Louie so distant? Ramona couldn’t figure that out at all—how was it that she knew every note of every song he’d loved between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, and now his thoughts were totally unavailable to her. The whole two weeks she’d felt confounded—nothing she’d imagined about the trip matched up with reality, but this moment, the food, made her almost forgive the mismatch.

    They each leaned back from the table, lethargic and full, the red smears on their plates the only vestige of the meal. Louie pulled out his book and began to read. She dug in her purse again and grabbed a hairbrush. They’d been travelling long enough she’d lost the sense that personal hygiene belonged only in the bathroom—she’d seen a woman undress completely to wash at a water pump beside the campsite office where a couple played cards at the counter. She brushed her long hair with slow strokes. She was calm now that she’d eaten. She watched the cows roaming slowly on the far side of the river.

    There was no telling where they’d be in ten years, or even fifteen. She rolled the thought over in her mind—would they have grey hair? At what age did people go grey? She pulled her tangled hairs out of the brush and dropped them on the ground. The rooster sidled up and inspected the red scribble in the dust.

    “Louie,” she whispered. “Look at the rooster.”

    He glanced up from his book. The rooster pecked at the ball of hair. One strand came up in his beak and the small mass of hair jumped up like a living thing. The rooster startled but didn’t let go, so the ball swung and bopped against his breast. The rooster jumped again and the hair ball swung and the rooster spread his wings and flapped like a mad thing all around the courtyard. Dust and chickens rose in flurries. Shiny white and blue feathers scattered on the wind stirred up by the chickens and the sun was muted in the cloud of dust. The bwocking and squawking dinned around Ramona and Louie until the rooster dashed off around the side of the inn, the chickens scrabbling in his wake.

    The innkeeper and the waitress watched the mayhem from the doorway. Louie and Ramona laughed until tears streaked their dusty faces. The two of them laughed until she begged him to stop, saying she would pee if they didn’t, she would pee her pants.

    They caught their breath eventually. They snickered and tried to breathe normally. She pulled a pack of wet wipes out of her purse and they wiped their faces. They were tired. It was getting late; bus service had ended and they’d have to walk back to the holiday park. The chickens pecked and scuffled their way back around the side of the building and slowly descended the river bank.

    Louie stood and shrugged his backpack on. “Do you think we should get a bottle of wine?”

    She looked at him goose-eyed. “If you think that’s what it would take to get me into bed with you again, you’re mistaken.”

    He crinkled his nose at her to make her smile. “I was kind of hoping,” he said, and she did smile, a little bit.

    “Maybe one bottle.”

    He helped her on with her pack. When she turned around she leaned against his chest and he put his arms around her and her bag. They watched the sunflowers, the swallows swooping low over the river, and the river flowing below the bank.

    “I just didn’t know it would hurt so much,” she said after a while.

    “I’m sorry, Mo.”

    “You should have stayed with me.”

    “I thought you were coming out. When those guys from Israel got home from the bar I heard them, and I didn’t think… I just wanted to join in.”

    They hugged and Ramona watched the willow branches draped in the water bob in the current. She waited.

    “I should have stayed,” he said, finally, and she smiled, but the feeling of satisfaction didn’t last.

    They went into the inn and each paid for their meal, then walked out onto the road that would lead them back to the park. The low light of early evening was filtered as if through a dirty glass. Ramona took Louie’s hand and it was hot and dry. They moved together and it was so familiar to Ramona, like the smell of her own breath.

    Reader Reviews



    152 Pages
    8.0in * 5.0in * 0.4in


    February 12, 2021



    Book Subjects:

    FICTION / Animals

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