Excerpt from The Mannequin Makers by Craig Cliff, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Mannequin Makers

by Craig Cliff

The Mannequin Makers by Craig Cliff X
The Mannequin Makers by Craig Cliff
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    Nov 2017, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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In which Eugen Sandow performs in Marumaru and a seed is planted

Colton Kemp and Jolly Bannerman sat on the damp sand passing a bottle of peaty home-distilled whisky back and forth as the tide receded.

'To the New Year,' Bannerman said for the umpteenth time and held the bottle aloft. The two had spent the afternoon together. Jolly had asked after Louisa several times, but Kemp had not told him she was dead. More than a day had passed and he still had not told anyone. 'She's fine,' was all he'd say.

'And sweet wee Flossie?'

'As sweet as ever.'

'You're a lucky man, Col.'

'We shall see.'

He looked at the ironmonger, slouched forward over his knees, his slender height compressed like a heron about to take flight. Bannerman slapped his long, tobacco-stained fingers on the grey sand. 'Tell me I'm not a good husband, Col? Tell me I don't deserve a little respect?'

Kemp kept silent. Small round pebbles scattered across the beach shimmered in the soft light of late afternoon. The waves covered them with a thin film on the way up the beach but the receding water took the easier route, parting either side of each stone, creating hundreds of little arrow heads pointing back to town, back to his house. Arrows that flickered a few times and disappeared until the next wave came to his toes and pulled back.

'The likes of which . . .' Bannerman returned his head to his knees without finishing his thought. Kemp took the bottle from his friend's loose grip. 'I'm not ready to be a father. I can't do it.' He took a swig.

The sloshing sound roused Bannerman once more. He held out his hand for the bottle. 'Hey, are you going to the show tonight?'

'What show?'

'What show? Come on, Col. I know the opposition got one over you with the statue, but you can't tell me you don't have a ticket.'

'When were you ever in a state to get a ticket?'

'Milly got 'em. Just the two I'm afraid. You don't have tickets? Col, my boy.'

'Leave it be.'

'They've got plenty besides Sandow. Singers, story-tellers. Louisa and Floss would love it. Perhaps there are still some tickets left.'

'Louisa is in no state to go,' he said, his lie almost colliding with the truth.

'Right, the baby. Any day I suppose. She looked fit to burst when last I saw her.'

He dug his hand into the sand and squeezed.

'Don't be nervous, Col. You'll be a halfway decent father.' He handed him the near-empty bottle and stood. 'I'm off home. Off to get cleaned up and take Milly to the show like a good husband. A good husband.' He shook his head and patted Kemp on the shoulder. 'Hope to see you there.'

Another wave petered out on the beach and pulled back.

The landward arrows flickered. Kemp had not been home since the morning, since Flossie had woken him and sent him to run errands. He'd purchased the supplies she had requested from Mr Fricker and Sam Tong, the greengrocer, but he paid the Chase boy to deliver them. The muscles of his stomach clenched whenever he thought about crossing the threshold. He had decisions to make, so many decisions — funeral arrangements, someone to cover for him at Donaldson's, names for the twins if they could survive on a diet of cow's milk and Flossie's attention — but out in the world he continued to preserve his awful secret.

He looked at the bruised sky, stood and walked up the violet dunes. As he emerged on Regent Street, he saw movement in the window above Bannerman's workshop. He looked down the road: a spoil of dust had been hoofed up in the distance, perhaps at the corner of Victoria Street. Yes, he could see carriages coming from the wharf's direction and turning up Victoria to reach the Theatre Royal. The show would soon be starting. He continued on, down the slight slope. He passed the hushed Criterion, crossed a vacant Albert Street and stood in front of the lawn of the Methodist Church. Unseen silvereyes sang tweeooh tweeooh in the black-leafed camellia. A fat thrush toddled a few steps across the sad lawn, stopped and cocked its head before skitting into the bushes.

From The Mannequin Makersby Craig Cliff (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2017). Copyright © 2013 by Craig Cliff. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org

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