Excerpt from ‘The Best Kind of People’


By Zoe Whittall

Jimmy and Sadie sat on the loveseat, their heads still wet with lake water. Jimmy held on to Sadie’s hand the way he had on the Cyclone in the summer. A female police officer in uniform sat across from them on the La-Z-Boy, right leg propped on her left knee like a table, and opened up a spiral-bound notebook. Sadie dug her nails into her bare legs, and then twisted her drying ponytail around her fist.

The Best Kind of People“Was your father ever inappropriate with you?”


“Did he ever talk about sex too frequently, or in an odd way?”


“Did he walk in while you were changing?”


“Did your friends ever mention feeling uncomfortable around him?”

“No. This is totally insane.”

“I get that this is confusing to you, but we have to follow procedure.”

“It’s not confusing. You’re making it pretty clear what kind of person you think my father is, and you are wrong. There are real criminals in the world. My father is not one of them.”

Sadie tried to stay alert, sit up straight, answer honestly, anything to get them out of the house, but this was too much. She twisted her ponytail around her fist for the twentieth time.

The police officer didn’t offer any words of comfort or contradiction after her outburst, she just kept asking questions as though she were conducting a survey.

“Have your father’s moods changed lately? Has he been irritable?”

“No. My father is… honest, kind. He never even looks at women,” she said. “He’s a nerd. He knows what’s right and wrong. God, he gave me this.” Sadie pulled out the red plastic whistle she always wore around her neck. She’d tied the leather string with a double knot and just never took it off.

“It’s a rape whistle,” she said, a frustration building in her chest. She blew it sharply. Everyone in the room was silenced, looked in her direction. She spat the whistle out, the taste of stale plastic and trapped lake water lingering on her tongue as everyone went back to destroying their home. She felt as though she were having one of those dreams where she was screaming but no one could hear her.

“It’s my birthday,” Sadie said. “I’m seventeen. We have plans to celebrate. This can’t be happening.”

The cop showed no emotion. She transcribed whatever Sadie said. When she leaned over to write, a tattoo of a swallow was visible underneath her clavicle. Her ponytail ended in a web of split ends touching the collar of her uniform shirt. Her gun lay so casually on her hip. There are guns in our house, Sadie thought. Our anti-gun house is full of steel and bullets. They had an old rifle in the basement, but it was ornamental, historic, passed down for generations. Sadie couldn’t even look at it; that’s how much guns scared her. She flashed to the man with the gun at school. The rain on the black and white floor tiles.

“I think that’s enough,” Bennie said, sitting down beside Sadie and Jimmy, shutting down the conversation.

“All other questions should go through me.”

Joan, who had been following the detectives around, walked into the room holding a dripping mop, which was oozing soapy water into the carpeting.

“Can I go pay bail now? This is ridiculous,” she said, looking at her watch as if she were in a waiting room and the doctor was hours late.

“He’ll be arraigned Tuesday morning, and bail will be set then,” Bennie explained.

“He has to sleep… in jail, for two nights?”

“It’s late, and the paperwork takes a bit of time.” The detective looked at her. It was the same look she gave people at the hospital when they were being entitled and clueless, acting as though the emergency room was an extension of their living room. Joan noted the scar on his left cheekbone, spreading out like a tree limb towards his ear.

“Burst appendix, last spring. Your wife’s name is Josie. You’ve got twin boys.”

The detective took a step back and cocked his head to the left in a question.

“I was the head trauma nurse on duty when you came in.”

He had been stoic at first, and then a classic baby, like most men when they get sick, especially cops and other authoritative types. He was wailing and afraid. His wife left the twins, six years old at the most, to wander through the waiting room. Groups of other cops showed up, demanding and dramatic, and caused problems.

The detective blushed a little. “Yes, that sure, uh, was painful.” He laughed as though they were engaged in casual small talk. She knew then that he’d mistaken her for some Woodbury Lake society wife, someone he could delight in bringing down. His body language changed after that. He softened, convinced the group to gather and head out the door quickly, with a nod and a motion of his hand. Joan paced the house cleaning up, talking to her sister Clara and son Andrew on the speakerphone as they drove towards Avalon Hills. The drive normally took over three hours, but she knew they’d be speeding, and there wouldn’t be much traffic in the middle of the night. In his early thirties now, her first-born returned home infrequently for short weekend visits. He was often too busy for anything beyond Christmas and Thanksgiving. His agreement to drop everything and drive in the middle of the night surprised Joan, though she felt relief that she’d soon be joined by other adults. She could not fall apart with only Jimmy and Sadie around to watch. Not that falling apart was really in her character. But she knew that the dissociative state she was currently functioning in had a time limit.

Joan stood at the window waiting for Clara’s headlights, while Jimmy and Sadie slept curled up on the couch. She watched as Clara clicked the gate open with the extra remote she had clipped to the rear-view mirror of her mini Smart car and pulled up beside Joan’s Volvo. She got out of the car and ran up the stone steps. Andrew got out more slowly, stretching his long legs and cracking his neck in the moonlight. Clara, her angular face smudged with raccooned eyeliner, her salt-and-pepper bob slightly askew, pulled her older sister into a hug. An editor at a beauty and lifestyle magazine in the city, Clara described herself as “lucky to be a satisfied spinster” and liked to use the house as a refuge. She had her own suite on the second floor that served as a vacation property of sorts, with its own small kitchen and bathroom. Clara’s perfume filled the room before she did, a spicy floral scent hovering. She draped a long black coat over the living room couch and it slid to the floor like liquid. Clara pulled away from Joan’s embrace, both women’s faces streaked with tears. Sadie, woken by the commotion, picked up the coat and hung it on the wooden rack by the entrance. Clara spoke dramatically, as though addressing a crowd. “I’ve taken a week’s leave from work, and I can take care of things while we figure this out,” she said, turning to Sadie and embracing her again. Andrew took his mom in his arms and hugged her.

“How was the drive?” she asked, as though it were any other visit. She didn’t know what else to say, how else to speak.

“My knees touch my chin in that car, and we drove like someone was chasing us with guns, but we’re here,” he said, pulling away from her embrace. “This will be over before it begins. They can’t have enough to hold him, and there has obviously been a mistake. Let’s just stay as calm as possible, okay?”

Clara nodded, sat in the reading chair — George’s ancient recliner he insisted on reupholstering in lieu of throwing out — and went to work unlacing her tall leather boots. Andrew was gaping at the curving wall by the front staircase — and that’s when Joan first noticed it too. The family photographs had all been taken, leaving light white squares of lack against the ivory walls that had darkened with age. He walked up three wooden steps on the carpeted liner and pressed his palm inside a square of white. “They’re fucking overreacting, aren’t they? What could they need with my graduation photo? Do they think it’s lined with heroin?”

He turned to survey the room. Sadie and Jimmy on the lounger and ottoman, eyes open again, like drowsy, cornered rabbits. Despite Joan’s best efforts, the mess was still everywhere.

“They do this to destabilize the family, to show they’re serious. It’s not as though they think they’ll find anything in our Kodak moments,” he said, returning to the living room, sitting cross-legged in front of the long antique coffee table. He pulled a laptop from his shoulder bag. “I’ve done some research on his charges. Is his lawyer still available by phone? We should talk to him right away.”

“He just left. Here’s his card. He’ll be back tomorrow morning,” said Sadie.

“Sadie, I think you should go to bed,” Andrew said. Joan nodded, grateful someone else could take charge in that moment.

“I’m not twelve anymore. I want to know what’s happening.”

“I just think it’s best. You need to sleep,” Andrew said, more softly.

Sadie scoffed. “Mom, my room has been torn apart. I think it makes more sense if I just go crash at Jimmy’s house tonight.”

A detective had emptied Sadie’s dresser drawers on the floor, fingering her bras and panties with what seemed like excess enthusiasm. Sadie had folded her arms across her chest and stepped aside as he nodded at her then descended the steep ladder staircase to the second floor. She’d gathered up the mess in her arms and then thrown it all down on the bed and left.

“No,” Joan said, “everyone has to stay together.”

“Mom, my room is a disaster. I just want to go to sleep. C’mon, it’s still my birthday, right?”

“Sure, sure. Let me just call his mother,” Joan said, getting up and heading towards the phone, hands shaking.

“She’s asleep,” Jimmy said. “But don’t worry, it will be fine. Sadie can sleep on the couch.”

Joan absorbed this lie easily, kissing Sadie on the forehead. “Everything will be figured out tomorrow, Sadie. This is all a strange misunderstanding. I’m so sorry to have ruined your birthday. We’ll fix this.”

“Of course it is. Of course it’s a mistake,” said Sadie.

Excerpt from The Best Kind of People copyright 2016 by Zoe Whittall. Reprinted by permission of House of Anansi Press Inc., Toronto. www.houseofanansi.com.

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Zoe Whittall

Zoe Whittall’s novel Holding Still for As Long as Possible won a 2011 Lambda Literary Award, was shortlisted for the ReLit Award and is being made into a film. Her latest novel, The Best Kind of People, has just been released by House of Anansi.