Who are you?
My name is Kate Brooks, I'm a prose writer and bartender currently based out of Halifax. My work explores yearning, grief, and home.
What is your book about?
Dearer follows a young woman, Ruth, as she grapples with the impending loss of her sick mother while falling into a new romance. When Ruth finds that her lover's aunt, too, is dying, she is unable to come to terms with the necessity of expanding her own ideas and habits of grief to include another and distances herself from her lover irreparably. She eventually makes a puppet of her lover and falls in love with it, unable to delineate the border between lover and doll.
The novella traverses the role of the body in both death and love: how a body can signify exploration and growth within one relationship and betrayal and decay within another, how the line between these two can blur, and how the body can be at once vulgar and erotic.
Could you tell us a bit about the process of writing this book?
Writing Dearer mirrored what the process of falling in love can be, particularly that early love that is quick and probably false but pivotal nonetheless. It was a process of allowing myself to write indulgently, to write badly, to write something meaningless, again and again until I felt the thing come together into a form I could hold in my head. It was a practice of giving in to the desire that can exist within both art and love: to pretend that it is new and important and beautiful until eventually, it becomes so.
What are some books you’ve read and enjoyed lately and/or books that influenced the writing in your submitted work?
I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg. Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The poem “Peanut Butter” by Eileen Myles.
How would you describe your book using emojis only?
It was October and Sylvia and I were in Toronto together for a few days housesitting for one of her rich friends. We decided to go to a party together, the first we had been to since the kiss we shared at Pete’s. We felt protective of our mutual adoration now, as though letting others see the soft ways we touched one another (hand on hand, knee to knee, lips to forehead) might cheapen them, but we decided to go anyway to get ourselves out of the apartment.
The party was in this old house in Parkdale that seemed to have been lived in by every twenty-something we had known over the last ten years and it was big and broken and uncared for but it was cheap and the parties flourished with all the little disjointed hiding spots around the house and with the unspoken rule that everyone would smoke inside.
The party would be mostly her friends but I knew a lot of them and I told her as we were getting ready that I had likely fucked a few people who would be there.
“That girl with the shaved head who I hate?” she asked.
“I think she grew her hair out.”
“I knew she’d be your type.”
“She’s not really.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I didn’t want it to be weird when we got there.”
“Sure.” She turned away from me and I came up from behind her (she was fixing her makeup in the bathroom mirror even though she hated the lighting) and I held her so that her arms were pinned to her sides and her one finger still pink with eye shadow was held out at an angle so that she wouldn’t get it on her t-shirt and I put my nose at the top of her neck in that spot between her ear and her hairline that she always thought was too big and I exhaled knowing it would raise goosebumps on her arms and I kissed her there.
“You’re the only one who’s my type,” I said into that same tender space and watched the little hairs on her shoulders raise and she laughed because it was false and exactly what she wanted me to say and she turned around, allowing herself to stay in my arms, and I let my arms to slacken a little and she kissed me and then we both had goosebumps and I said, “See, you still give me chills,” and we both knew that I was teasing us and my love for her because we both knew, or at least I knew and I assumed her understanding in her slightly squinted eyes, that she would leave me first when she found out that other women would want her like I did and other women would make her cum like I did and other women would give her goosebumps in that bare spot between her ear and hairline and other women would make their lives an ode to her.
Then we cared for each other by preening and dressing one another. I asked her to do my makeup even though we both knew I didn’t want it and that I would look ugly and would feel embarrassed about it all night.
So I sat on the stool in the bathroom and she sat on the toilet with the lid down and it was made out of cheap plastic and caved under her weight a little and she was tentative about trusting it but I reassured her, “No bathroom is complete without a broken toilet.”
“I’ve always said that myself,” she said while she swatched different colours on the back of her hand and held them up to my skin as though any of them would flatter me. And I wondered if she wanted me to look a little ugly in front of all those people I told her I fucked but I didn’t ask her about it because the more in love I fell with her the more welcome ugly was to me. Instead, I just kissed her on the back of her hand and got some of the swatch of orange on my upper lip and she said, “Okay, definitely not orange,” and leaned toward me, “close your eyes.”
Her finger was rough on my eyelids as she worked the colour up into my eyebrow and it was wet when she licked it to clean up the line. I always hated when my mother did that, licked her finger to wipe something from my face. I hated the sweet smell of it and the way it slicked across my skin and left it sticky. But when Sylvia did it her finger felt sharp and light and maybe it was because I was used to having her fingers, tongue, lips, breath all over my face but I didn’t mind it and in fact, I felt cared for and I was moved.
She wiped a little tear that collected in the corner of my eye and said, “Done.” I opened my eyes to find her holding out her first finger with my single tear on it, somehow perfectly beautifully intact, like it was an offering to me, or maybe an accusation. “What’s this for?” she asked and brought it a little closer to my face as though to help me see it.
“I think you just got some in my eye.” She didn’t believe me but she rubbed the tear on her leg and kissed my forehead.
“You look like a babe,” she said, “let’s get dressed.”
So we went to the bedroom where our suitcases lay open and unfolded and she pulled out this high-necked Victorian blouse with lace all along the hems so that when she slipped into it she looked like a bouquet from a Vegas wedding that might play the Bridal Chorus if you pushed a button.
“Help me please,” she said and I fastened the tiny satin buttons all the way up her back and up her neck where some of her baby hairs were resting in a sweet little crescent and they were too perfect to disturb so I buttoned over them, and she flinched when the hair was caught in the buttons and I didn’t know in that moment how to express how in love I was with the little hairs that were weaving in and out of the buttonholes so instead I said, “Sorry.”
We arrived at the party late and there was already a crowd of people outside who had paired off for overly sincere conversations that would or wouldn't lead to sex but certainly operated under the assumption of it.
Sylvia wanted to show off her blouse I think, while the night was still relatively young and people weren’t too drunk to appreciate it, and maybe she wanted to show off my horrible eyeshadow too, but I led her around the left side of the house and pushed aside some recycling bins to get through to the backyard and said, “Trust me it’s really nice,” and she followed me to a space around the middle of the path where the walls on each neighbouring house curved out, like inverted bay windows, and made a little hexagon of space warmed with the light from the two facing rooms. And as we arrived in this space I paused and she walked right past me but I grabbed her hand and pulled her back. She was on edge from the small space or darkness and noises of drunkenness or the fact that she hadn’t yet been seen in her blouse so she startled and I said, “Just pause with me for a minute.” And we stood right in the middle of that space of light and she was facing toward the kitchen window so she was all lit up and I could see her cheeks rosy from the cold and her hair tucked into the neck of her jacket and I just wanted to consume every part of her and she looked back to me and probably couldn’t see my face and only the halo of frizzed hair illuminated by the kitchen light and she kissed me.
“Did I tell you about my grandma at the end of her life?” I asked.
“Kind of, I guess. I remember you saying you were going to see her in a home when we first met.”
“Right, I guess she died right before we started sleeping together.”
“Would she have been okay with it?”
“Oh, I think so. She was too much of a narcissist to really care what anyone else did. But there was this guy who worked at the home, I think he was the psychologist, and he would come every day or so and I don’t know if he led group activities or therapy or something, but either way, he would come almost every day and my grandmother was absolutely in love with him.”
“It’s all she talked about. And if you asked her how she was doing she’d lower her eyes and get this dreamy look, and she’d tell you there was a man and that’s all she would say as though she kept this coy little secret.”
“So that’s where you learned how to flirt.”
“I guess so. Anyway, of course, the nurses had told us about this infatuation so we knew about it and kind of laughed about it. But there was this one time when I was visiting her and the psychologist, or whatever he was, had brought his guitar and set up at the front of the dining room and everyone had pulled their chairs or walkers over to watch this show he put on for them. And he sang I can’t help falling in love with you and my grandmother was on my arm and I felt her actually collapse. Just swoon.”
“Oh my god.”
“And I caught her and it was only for a moment so it was okay, but the nurses told me that whenever this guy came to the home they made sure they had someone with her to hold her because this happened every time.”
“She was in love.”
“So in love. I had never heard her talk about anything in a way that wasn’t fraught or complicated.”
“Imagine love being the least complicated thing in your life.”
“She really must have been losing her mind.”
Sylvia kissed me and I pretended to swoon so she had to catch me. She held me in the hexagon of stove light and it felt like a consecrated space, if such a thing exists