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Last Modified: June 29, 2023
Feature Image for June 2023 Sunday Short: Sunday Shorts is written in a light orange text on a pastel green background. To the left of the text is the book cover for “Broke City” by Wendy McGrath.
Sunday Short: Broke City

June’s Sunday Short is an extract from Wendy McGrath’s novel, Broke City, published by NeWest Press. 

Part one


The house smelled the way it did when the Christmas tree was in the living room. When it was in the corner and still. Frozen with no decorations or lights. It was as if Christmastime had made a mistake and come to the house in the afternoon, in summer when it was hotter inside the house than it was outside. That summer morning, when the house was still cool, Christine’s mother had poured the pine-tree-smelling liquid into a silver bucket half-full of hot water. Christine had seen the bottle under the sink and now she could read the label: Pine Sol.

Pine Sol was gold and beautiful and when her mother had raised the bottle to screw the cap back on the sun shone through the glass and cast a golden beam of light from the window to the kitchen floor she was about to wash. This must be what heaven looks like Christine thought. The smell of pine trees, gold shining on the green and grey tiles in the kitchen and the music playing. “Silence is golden…golden” was playing on the radio and Christine thought she might already be in heaven, but maybe no one had told her yet. It was as if pine trees were all around her: the smell of the trees at Elk Island Park on that day she had learned to swim and even her father had come along, and the pine tree in the back yard where she ran to bury the putty discs she had made. She had knelt under its branches then, and the ground was so cool. Christine remembered how it felt, how the needles poked through the thin cotton of her nightdress and stuck to the smooth skin on the tops of her feet and pricked her fingers as she dug in the earth. There was a pine tree in the neighbour’s yard too, only the fence separated the two trees. Remembering that moment, it was as if her whole life of seven years had become a life of a hundred years and she felt old and young, and alone and part of her family, as if she were looking at her mother washing the floors through a window. Of course, she thought, this must be what heaven is like. She saw that between the two big yellow words Pine Sol was a tiny pine tree. Pine Sol. Pine trees were all around her it seemed, but she wasn’t afraid and didn’t want to get away. The bottle of Pine Sol. Heaven could be this simple thing, Christine thought, the scent of the water her mother used to wash floors.

Then the news came on the radio.

The small community of Shell Lake Saskatchewan is in shock this morning …

Christine’s mother rushed to the radio and turned up the volume.

  • What’s wrong Mom?
  • SHHH!

…as RCMP investigate the deaths of nine people. The victims, all members of the same family, were discovered at their home this morning by a neighbour. RCMP are treating these deaths as homicides. Shell Lake is 50 miles west of Prince Albert. We will bring you more details about this tragedy as they become available.

Christine’s mother ran to the phone.

  • What’s wrong Mom?
  • I’m phoning Gramma.
  • Long distance? Christine was shocked. Her mother didn’t call long distance, especially during the day when she said it was so expensive. Christine’s mother dialled quickly, receiver to her ear, cigarette sticking up like an antenna. Christine watched their own phone number in the circle at the centre of the dial. Her mother had written the numbers in blue ink and each one was a character. The fours were like sails on boats and the twos were like swans on the water. Her mother’s finger would pierce the small metal circle inside the bigger metal circle go half-way round the dial and return. Again. Again.
  • What’s wrong Mom? Do you know those people Mom? Who are those people Mom? Does Gramma know them? Christine thought about what they’d said on the news: “…the victims, all members of the same family…”
  • Is it Gramma?
  • No, I don’t know who it is.
  • I’m scared Mom.
  • There’s nothing to be scared about.

Christine didn’t believe her.


Her mother had washed all the floors in the house. The green and grey kitchen tiles, the shiny wood floors in the living room and the bedrooms and tiny white square tiles in the bathroom. Christine stood in the middle of the living room floor watching her mother crawl with her scrub rag from room to room. She had a burning cigarette between her lips. The wood felt sticky and hot on Christine’s bare feet. She stepped back and watched as her footprints disappeared on the floor’s surface. She could remember something like this from before. When? She remembered small diamond shapes on the side of a man’s socks and how his own footprints followed him from the living room to the kitchen. Was it a dream? Where was her mother in this dream? Christine thought she remembered being in the living room in the little pink house. Her mother had told her to stay there and be quiet. She was afraid to move. She couldn’t move. She heard her mother and this man in the kitchen talking, whispering. She didn’t move and didn’t speak until the man left. Don’t move. Don’t talk.


Headshot: Wendy McGrathWendy McGrath is the winner of the inaugural Prairie Grindstone Prize and is a poet, writer, and artist living in amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton). McGrath’s writing embraces multiple genres—fiction, poetry, spoken word, and creative non-fiction. She has collaborated with visual artists and musicians to explore the relationships between genres. She is an established member of the writing community, enriching it through mentoring, teaching, and engaging in literary events.

McGrath has published six books—four novels and two books of poetry which explore a range of forms and approaches.

Broke City, the final book in her Santa Rosa Trilogy, continues her exploration of the prairie gothic. Currently, McGrath is working on a new novel and completing other projects.

Broke City

Wendy McGrath (CA)

Published: Sep 01, 2019 by NeWest Press
ISBN: 9781988732732