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Also by Christy Ann Conlin


The Memento


Copyright © 2021 Christy Ann Conlin

Published in Canada in 2021 by House of Anansi Press Inc.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

All of the events and characters in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Permission is gratefully acknowledged to reprint the following:

Excerpt from The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit, copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Solnit. Used by permission of Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from “To a Young Poet” by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah. Used by permission of the translator.

Excerpt from “In the Waiting Room” from Poems by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 2011 by The Alice H. Methfessel Trust. Publisher’s Note and compilation copyright © 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Excerpt from The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor. Copyright © 1960 by Flannery O’Connor. Renewed copyright © 1988 by Regina O’Connor. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

House of Anansi Press is committed to protecting our natural environment.

This book is made of material from well-managed FSC®-certified forests, recycled materials, and other controlled sources.

House of Anansi Press is a Global Certified Accessible™ (GCA by Benetech) publisher. The ebook version of this book meets stringent accessibility standards and is available to students and readers with print disabilities.

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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Title: The speed of mercy / Christy Ann Conlin.

Names: Conlin, Christy Ann, author.

Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20200368680 | Canadiana (ebook) 20200368699 |

ISBN 9781487003401 (softcover) | ISBN 9781487003418 (EPUB) | ISBN 9781487003425 (Kindle)

Subjects: LCGFT: Novels.

Classification: LCC PS8555.O5378 S64 2021 | DDC C813/.6—dc23

Book design: Alysia Shewchuk

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada.

The author acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts for its support in the realization of this project.


Marie Louise Cameron

and Olivia Apsara Purohit

We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it — without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.

— Rebecca Solnit,

The Faraway Nearby

Mercy Lake.


Mal was covered in sweat, bits of twigs and bark sticking to her skin, bits of lichen caught in her curly black hair. She stood at the edge of the woods looking out at Mercy Lake, listening to a loon call from the water, and then the honks of Canada geese floating on the lake. Mal felt primeval, not just-turned-thirty.

The burned-out remains of the lodge were barely visible from where she stood. Nature was slowly purging and reclaiming the site, absorbing and concealing what had happened there in 1980. Fireweed in the meadow in front of the burn-out ended at a crescent-shaped white sandy beach. At the other end, ten miles across, the lake broke into estuaries and streams, which led to a bog, from which flowed the Mercy River. It cut through the Acadian forest for miles, then snaked across meadows and fields, bending by the tiny town of Seabury, widening into a bay before flowing into the Bay of Fundy and, finally, the vast Atlantic Ocean beyond. It was very different from the coastal forests at home in Northern California. A seagull cried overhead and Mal looked up at the white bird floating through the blue of the late afternoon sky, a sky that seemed closer over the short trees than above the sequoia, the soaring California redwoods.

She had never been to this far-western part of the Annapolis Valley. Her grandmother had lived two hundred miles away, outside of Bigelow Bay, on land given to Black Loyalists coming up from the American South around 1775. The Valley was dotted with these satellite communities northward off the small main towns that no one, hardly even locals, knew about. A few wealthy white Loyalists had made an effort to recreate their plantations, but winter in this northern climate destroyed that antebellum dream. Mal had visited her grandmother numerous times when she was a child, and then later when Gramma Grant was in the final years of her life in a nursing home. Mal’s mother had left Nova Scotia when she was eighteen, making her way to art school, meeting Mal’s father on vacation, never looking back. Except when they came to visit. They would just see Gramma Grant. Grampa Grant had died before Mal was born. He was buried in his kilt, Gramma said. The auburn glints in Mal’s hair and the Grant clan motto, Stand Fast, Craig Elachie, were her Celtic inheritance. Mal’s mother hadn’t kept in touch with any of her childhood friends.

Mal began taking photos of the meadow. It was almost dinnertime and it had taken longer than she’d anticipated, hiking the overgrown road to the lake after finally locating the dirt road off another back road that connected to a secondary road she’d taken when she came off the main highway. She would have to hurry back to her car. She didn’t want to be here when it got dark. Not that she knew exactly what she was supposed to do here.

If this excursion to the lake were a short story, Mal knew it would end with something popping its

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