The Matter of Sylvie
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This Wednesday in July 1961 begins like any other for Jacqueline Burrows. Jacqueline is the mother of three children, including her sweet, difficult daughter, Sylvie. In a story that deals with the extraordinary challenges in raising a child with severe special needs, The Matter of Sylvie traces the course of Jacqueline's Wednesday, a life-shifting day. The mother's impulses on that Wednesday combined with her absent husband and her other young children, culminate in an event that echoes into the next two decades. When a suicide attempt fails, it is followed not only by the crushing relief, but then the anvil weight of guilt when the mother and father eventually give up their daughter to an institution. That reverberates over the course of decades and resounds in the individual, pivotal Wednesdays of both her husband, Lloyd, in February of 1973, and her adult daughter, Lesa, in October 1987. A familial triptych: three Wednesdays, three decades, three narrators whose lives are intricately woven. The Matter of Sylvie explores the depths of mother, father and daughter-and ultimately, the matter of Sylvie herself.
transport her, take her somewhere she’s never been before with his smooth boy-hands, even though she has no idea who he is—but in this fractured moment, she’s with him. No past, present, or future, simply the split second of the here and now, this beautiful, fucked-up, transitory moment that she needs to hang on to. She understands her father absolutely. “Who’s that?” Nate asks. The two men watch each other. “No one,” Lesa says, puts her burning face in her hands, peeks out at the man through
crumbling plaster walls of his studio on Water Street. Now it’s her turn to hesitate. She presses the phone into her ear over the sound of the traffic, the twisting wind, the swift thought of her boyfriend, her storm, her mind peeling away like the crush of cars on the highway, all bound for some place other than here. “Nice to hear from you, Storm,” Mr. Green says. His voice loses the depth, the business, sounds soothing, washes over Lesa like a warm bath, glides over her whole body, makes her
With each cavernous intake of nicotine, she feels her fury subside. Instead the dis-ease takes over, reeling through her veins the strange deadening of morphine—the gentle narcotic slip of an undertow. This Wednesday has been building since seven this morning, Jacqueline thinks, since Sylvie was first born. It’s as if someone else is in charge now, someone she doesn’t recognize. Someone whose children are all normal, manageable, reasonable, with a husband who comes home every night without the
struggles with the overhead bin. “Let me help,” he says, standing to release the catch, then pulling down a pink and brown overnight case, which he offers to carry, but the woman protests in another language, Arabic perhaps. Then he withdraws his canvas duffle bag that looks like it could house skates and hockey gloves, pucks possibly. Lesa stands and smoothes her black rayon cape around her Spandex, then withdraws the cigarette from her super boots, wishes it were a joint instead, and waits to
her intuitive reading and thoughtful insights. My thanks to Brindle & Glass Publishers, to Ruth Linka for her coastal support of prairie writers. The Alberta Arts Foundation for their financial support in making Sylvie possible. My constant sisters: Kelly Gray, Bobbie Charron, Dani Kvern. My tall, great, growing-in-all-ways guys: my artist husband, Paul Rasporich, whose unvarying husband/artistic support allows me to write all the livelong day, my boys, Kai and Seth, who are ever-patient,