Short Stories 366:113 — “Backbone,” by Madona Skaff

coverOne of the cool things about Nothing Without Us is how the theme of the anthology—ownvoice disabled authors writing stories ‘by us and for us’—is how widely the range of the tales reached outside of that commonality. There’s speculative fiction, some harder science fiction, some horror, some humour, and, as in this case, some contemporary-set crime/thriller style stories. We meet Ian with blood on his hands and a dead body in the room and the police arriving and the ominous words from his best friend that he “won’t get away with it.”

Skaff then spins the tale from the early days of childhood among a small group of friends, and then fast-forwards through the years of triumph and trials to bring them back to that singular moment. Ian’s childhood of being cared for and “helped” (often against his wishes), the arrival of Petra (the first person to call him out for anything and definitely the first to challenge him to stand up for himself), the popular kid, Lucas, and the class bully, Jordan, who both intersect with his life in different but important ways. By the time we get to the present, it’s clear something has gone horribly wrong, and there are prejudices in play that will make everything turn out for the worst… unless.

The “unless” of the tale is a clever little twist, playing on assumptions (especially that of the police), and the way the tale unfolds from something the reader expects to something entirely different left me grinning. I love the idea of Ian turning the tables the way he does, and the supporting cast are fleshed out enough in such a short space of prose that I want everything to work out well for everyone (even when that seems impossible). Also, extra props for the most Canadian of murder weapons.

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