We were living about thirty kilometres from the equator in East Africa when I started writing about a snow storm. It was one of my first attempts at writing fiction, a practice that started as a way to kill time while my wife chased critters through the forest in the name of science. I worked at a yellowing plastic bistro set in the dining nook of our rustic cottage, often in the company of audacious monkeys who sneaked in through our paneless windows. They had never even heard of snow.
The idea at the heart of “Some Worse” arose several months earlier, during a visit with my grandfather in Nova Scotia. Though it was, as always, a joy to share his company, our conversation was spliced with long silences that I found troubling. “We used to have a lot more to talk about,” I thought, lamenting the decades I’d been away from my Maritime home.
But that was, as my grandfather would have said, a load of hooey. It soon occurred to me that while I likely prattled on more in my youth, our relationship wasn’t built on dialogue–he tended toward quiet and we spent much of our time together watching TV. No, we were bound by something more fundamental, the stubborn affection that flows in blood, the kindred entanglement that makes people spin in the same direction no matter their positions in the cosmos. I thought that type of bond could make for an interesting story (if I ever followed through on my plan to write stories).
For whatever reason, the image of two men forging along a snowy road came to me while I was wringing lake water out of my laundry on a muggy equatorial afternoon. I went to the bistro set with an iPad and managed to pound out a first draft before dinner. At the time, I thought taking an intuitive, rapid-fire approach was the only way to produce anything good. (Didn’t Kerouac write his road story that way?) But when I revisited the draft a few days later, I saw an insufferable mess, a confused stream of consciousness winding through fuzzy imagery. Dejected, I closed the document with the intent of leaving it for dead.
Six months later, my wife and I resumed our regular lives in Canada. Looking to break up the tedium of a daily train commute, I decided to give the men in the snow another chance. I attacked the draft in tiny bits, rewriting a short passage on the ride to work, ruminating on it throughout the day, re-rewriting it on the way home. With time, the story doubled in length and evolved in a million ways, but the core idea stayed the same: a loyalty that persists despite all other forces of nature.
My grandfather died last January, three days before TNQ accepted “Some Worse” for publication. It was comforting to know parts of him would be captured in print. His cap, his toothpick, his black cherry Dynasty. His quiet and steady air, his tenacious heart. I also found comfort in the editing process, which prompted further meditation on the idea that had inspired the piece. My time with my grandfather has ended, but that fundamental, stubborn bond endures. We’ll go on spinning the same way.