Read Hero Online

Authors: Paul Butler

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #FIC019000


Praise for Paul Butler

“Paul Butler is a fine example of strong Newfoundland story-

—Farley Mowat in
Atlantic Books Today

combines both lyrical writing and telling detail. It is a novel
written by a sure and confident writer in his prime.”

Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“The mythology [in
] is rich and the subject epic in
scope…Butler's prose is smooth and clean; the story moves forward
vigorously, with patches of poetry.”

Globe and Mail

“Butler is a very good writer, creating both colour and suspense with
assurance…[He] is a fine stylist, one who knows how to provide apt
images that vivify thought and action.”

Canadian Book Review Annual
Easton's Gold



Paul Butler

Copyright © Paul Butler 2009
E-book © 2010
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission from the publisher, or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, permission from Access Copyright, 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.

Vagrant Press in an imprint of
Nimbus Publishing Limited
PO Box 9166
Halifax, NS B3K 5M8
(902) 455-4286

Printed and bound in Canada
Design: Heather Bryan
Author photo: Paul Daly

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Butler, Paul 1964–
Hero / Paul Butler.
ISBN 978-1-55109-730-5
E-book ISBN: 978-1-55109-826-5

I. Title.
PS8553.U735H47 2009 C813'.6 C2009-902859-X

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) and the Canada Council, and of the Province of Nova Scotia through the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage for our publishing activities.

This book was printed on
Ancient-Forest Friendly paper


St. John's 1945




France 1916




Suffolk, England 1916




CHAPTER 10 Simon

Suffolk, England 1923

CHAPTER 11 Simon

CHAPTER 12 Sarah


CHAPTER 14 Simon

CHAPTER 15 Sarah


CHAPTER 17 Simon

CHAPTER 18 Sarah


CHAPTER 20 Simon


CHAPTER 22 Sarah

CHAPTER 23 Simon

CHAPTER 24 Sarah


CHAPTER 26 Simon

CHAPTER 27 Sarah


CHAPTER 29 Simon

CHAPTER 30 Sarah


CHAPTER 32 Mr. Smith

CHAPTER 33 Sarah

CHAPTER 34 Simon

St. John's 1945


Epilogue Noah


St. John's



comes a second time. It's similar to the sound of ice sheaths falling from bare branches, hitting the frosted ground, and breaking open. I imagine hands turning from prayer to supplication. But there is no snow beyond the closed white window blinds, only unseen grass and daisies trembling on the cool spring breeze, and perhaps the cautious twitter of a few small birds. Milder weather has come early for once. Only this inner space is cold and still, a room of white sheets and whiter walls—a place of waiting.

The chair creaks beneath me as I lean in a little closer to the old man. Short white hairs poke out through his nose. His eyes are closed, and the ravine between his lid-veiled eyeball and forehead is deep, like a treacherous fissure in glacier ice. He exhales again, a slow rising moan. His chest is an ancient machine, all rusting wires and chafed connections. The crevice of his cheek, like that of a mummy under parchment wrapping, deepens as he sucks in another breath. Will he mourn his own passing, or will he merely slide into obsolescence like an anchor chain in the sand?

Crack crack crack
. There it is again and now I'm certain: It's coming from inside him. Every noise within some undefined periphery of this place has migrated into him. The buzz, rattle, and scrape of the wards beyond the room, every chirp and scurry of wildlife, have become mute in the visible world. These movements reverberate instead within the echoing chamber of his skin. He is descending into death, and just as a sinking ocean liner is said to exert suction upon its surroundings, he too will carry some elements of earth, fire, and water into the depths.

I listen intently all the same for footsteps or the sudden rush of music that accompanies the opening of the door to the nurses' staff room. I have come to know the fright of movement during the last few days' vigil. A crooner's voice—someone plays Bing Crosby over and over—will ring out melodiously on an unexpected breeze of trumpets and saxo–phones. Bing will remind me to eliminate the negative and not to mess with Mister In-Between, and then I will hear the staccato beat of heel upon tile. The door behind me will swing open and a nurse, usually Peggy, will clatter between me and the patient delivering, perhaps, a cup of ice cubes and a straw like the one on his night table now.

“Still here, Mrs. Evans?” she will say, looking at her watch and holding his wrist.

At first I took this to mean it was time for me to leave. But I soon realized the watch was to check the pulse, not to remind me of the time. Peggy always poses the same redundant question because she doesn't seem able to think of anything else. It's always a disappointment, this blankness. Her pale, freckled face and red hair carry an echo of my former life and of the wild moment when I came closest to motherhood. Lucy Jenson—her doppelganger, my almost-child—must be twenty-seven or twenty-eight, about Peggy's age. Peggy always makes me wonder where Lucy might be now.

My hands tremble as they float towards the cup. I was always a terrible liar, and I know that if I am caught I may as well forget about mouthing the words of an alibi, however plausible. And what could be more natural than to give a dying man a drink, and to falter, spilling ice onto his lips? The fabrication slides so easily into the situation that words would hardly be necessary. The nurse would merely give a sympathetic “tut-tut” and help me pick up the ice and dry off any water that had seeped into the thin bedclothes. It's a measure of my cowardice that even when every detail conspires to shield my intentions I still fear giving myself away.

My fingers poke about the ice and scoop out a block. It slips into my palm and I raise myself from the chair.

Is this your great revenge?
a voice teases me. Visions of youthful snow-fights return, the trickle of ice water down my collar, the childish squeal of protest. Suddenly the whole idea seems too absurd. Couldn't the sword of justice have chosen an avenger fiercer than I, one whose blade would not have been blunted to a child's game, a mini-torture of ceremonial value only?

And whose revenge is it? I think fleetingly of Noah and the seventy-seven Newfoundland men left to die on the ice in 1914 and I know my cause is more convoluted and more personal than a levelling of scores—so convoluted and so personal as to be almost meaningless. The thought almost frees me. My elbows pine for me to drop the ice cube; my legs itch to take me outside into the dubious spring. But this may be my last chance. For the moment Kean is trapped inside himself. In a week, a day, an hour, he will be beyond reach, standing upon the prow of the ferry boat, gentle waves lapping at its sides, Hadean moon spilling its serenity all around the new and mysterious world he is entering. He and his kind will have won.

Held in trembling fingers, my miniature iceberg closes towards his thin blue lips, and then it touches. There is the hint of a twitch, evidence of some discomfort perhaps. Skin and ice meet in a curious, tentative kiss. A droplet runs around his chin, and his dying mouth opens, quite unexpectedly, as though preparing to receive the punishment. My fingertips push the ice block between his gums, and I catch a glimpse of his pink, moist tongue.

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