Preview of Unsaid Six: The Canadian, by Ian Lirenman

It was a time of national hardship during which The Canadian understood he was not like other Canadians, regular Canadians, in fact, a terrifying time for many of margarine scarcity, painfully remembered by most Canadians over a certain age but officially denied (it is a crime, in certain parts, to speak of it—an uncle of The Canadian was once briefly incarcerated in Alberta over its public utterance, where, even though to this day Alberta is a strict but otherwise barbaric “law-and-order” province, they were particularly sensitive to the matter, despite the high number of cows per capita close-mingling there, under better stewardship an otherwise natural hedge against margarine’s hegemony had they the sense to capitalize upon it; Canadians are notorious, and notoriously ridiculed, worldwide, even in insignificant countries with dismissible histories, for living against their own interests. During this shortage, as a substitute one morning, in his own home, The Canadian was served, for the first time, butter, so shocking to him that it was as if he were participating in an act of high treason, the pale, yellowish, already-sheared-by-his-father rectangular block tilted towards him almost reluctantly from a chipped dish, freshly peppered on its surface with the daily burnt toast scrapings The Canadian’s father, his head down, had laid waste to after his aggressive back and forth spreading, taking, spreading, re-taking and re-spreading of it, the grating against the blackened face of the toast unmistakable; and The Canadian, in spite of the limited capacity given to most Canadians, but in particular to The Canadian, whom, it was often repeated by his “teachers” in one form or another, “was a follower in a land of followers”, “too-eager-to-please”, “disruptive”, “unkempt”, “without focus”, “a nodder”, “a spitter”, “lousy” (literally), “statistically a likely criminal” (predicted at six by a visiting government official on his weekly house check), and “lacked a serious tone about important matters”, immediately understood, however difficultly—it was as if he were going against his very artificial Canadian nature—upon tasting its wild, grassy, unmistakably bracing churned-cream-flavor (in Canada, an unpronounced “u” follows the “o” in  “flavour” and most other words), unsalted, the palate-impairing burnt flecks of spent Saskatchewan winter rye or spelt aside (The Canadian was accustomed to these charred filings in his margarine, although he could never fully disregard them, considering particularly that The Canadian had asked his father, meekly but repeatedly, without success, to cease the practice so as not to infect his own spread), at a time when cream still legally flowed freely from grazing, hand-milked Canadian cows, that in his life, wherever it may take him, whether he become the violator or violated or some combination of such, butter would be the preferred version—ideally virgin, untouched by his father’s burnt toast scrapings—to melt generously upon his slice and not, in all its Canadian manifestations, the ersatz, pallid margarine of his early Canadian life, with all the false, common-sensical promise of good health, better energy, butter-competitive flavor, and the longevity that its purveyors malevolently boasted. Elizabeth may have been the pinched and puckered Queen of Canada but Margarine was its unctuous King, the hailed and hallowed glue at Canadian family gatherings, village get-togethers, farm animal festivals, farm equipment festivals, and amateur hockey games of which everyone spoke, partook, and put on display, the comelier the hue of plastic tub in which this insidious viscosity pooled, the better. The Canadian—he was guilty, guilty, guilty: guilty of regicide. If it were freedom from the royal unguent he would be seeking, it would be upon him, until death, to churn, or procure somehow at his own sufferance, the butter he loves.

This comestible rebellion of sorts did not sit well in The Canadian’s house—with the cold, wet, snowy, sunless, windy winter hitting hard for the third time that summer, tension high in the streets and in the homes with hockey being in its two-week off-season—particularly with The Canadian’s father, whose devotion to hockey was absolute, whose silence was law, the questioning of margarine’s place in The Canadian’s household quickly put to rest with the zealous coming of another bootlegged tub sneaked through the porch door in a greasy paper bag, followed remarkably soon after by yet another, as the “family” quickly emptied one tub after the next in digestive celebration of margarine’s furtive re-emergence—on toast, cereals, wild berries, foraged mushrooms and roots, hot rye stalks, roast elk, grilled whale meat, poached baby seal, acorns, mince tarts, Nanaimo bars, and dessert salmon squares soaked in maple syrup, served in the skin—the typical Canadian diet of the time—with small, semi-frozen pats of it fitted onto the lips of plastic drinking “glasses” like lemon wedges on birthdays and holidays and significant hockey victories (chunks scooped from big, communal buckets or entire freshly unwrapped sticks fixed on large toothpicks were plunged or dunked directly into plastic vats filled with cold, Canadian malted ale the year “Canada beat Russia” in a hockey series for the first time, the partly-melted margarine later to be savored—savoured—slowly on raw buckwheat waffle cones; even The Canadian, not yet a proselytizing hockey hater (for which he would be later deported—voluntarily, of course), was swept up in the celebration and helped himself to at least a yard of margarine relatively barf-free, at the time much pleasing his father). Year round, The Canadian had faithfully raked the pine cones, salted the slugs, beat the icicles off the gutters, scrubbed the mud from under the truck, sanded the abundant puddles, squirted the squirrels off the roof with vinegar, peed the frozen locks, changed his gonch almost daily, shoveled the snow, made sure the silent “u’s” faithfully followed the vocalized “o’s” at school, cleaned his room, to receive, after much beseeching, a coin, running the range of penny to nickel, begrudgingly mustered from his father’s pocket. But this was no more, no matter how many times, chores complete, he asked for it or a put a cherry on top of his pretty please. The scorn heaped upon The Canadian, however silently, was deafening, a function, it seemed, of his stark, culinary opposition to his father’s margarine wishes, once abided, now discovered, then resented.

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