Chapter Excerpt: Lump - Dundurn
Jun 24, 2024

Chapter Excerpt: Lump

Read an excerpt of Lump by Nathan Whitlock below, which is the first summer feature read of the season! Don't forget to save 25% off this book when you use code LUMP25 from June 20-June 26, 2024.

CAT IS FINALLY HOME FROM A MORNING SPENT judging other moms at the park and being judged in return. The kids are no help at the front door, leaving her to drag the stroller up the steps to the porch, where she dodges a fallen Spider-Man and two clean diapers. She shoulders her way into the darkness of the house, hungry for a shower, horny for a nap. When she woke up that morning — summoned by the desperate cries of little Silas, loaded with pee but afraid to cross the hallway to the bathroom on his own — she wanted nothing more than to get everyone outside. Not just her own children, but every child on the street. Adults, too. She wanted to lead the whole neighbourhood out into fresh air and sunshine and over to the park. Outside! Outside! Now that she’s back, she can’t get inside quick enough.

     Right away she can tell Donovan is not around. Her husband’s presence changes the composition of the air; his skin throws off pheromones that make her bristle or swoon, depending on where things stand between them. There were times, early on, when all she wanted to do was fuck. Later, all she wanted was to fight. She’s too tired for either now.
She sends him a text: home all good
No answer.
It’s hot. Her favourite water bottle is gone, left behind in the park. With each outing, she and the kids leave debris in their wake. All families do; the playground fences display forgotten hats, sunglasses, swim trunks, and shoes. Even when she sees a tiny pair of forgotten underwear, with Superman punching his way through the crotch, Cat understands. It’s difficult enough to herd an entire group of little people around unharmed, to stop them from falling backward off the steps or getting hit by careless drivers. You can only do so much.
Off come her Blundstone boots, on go the laceless runners she wears around the house, the ones covered with squiggles like thick veins where Silas went after them with a magic marker. Isabelle did the same thing to a pair of Cat’s shoes when she was little, though her squiggles were much more careful and deliberate, the colours more varied. She’d been trying to make rainbows, which at the time she believed had the power to induce happiness in anyone who saw one. Isabelle wanted other people to see the shoes and be happy. Cat kept those rainbow shoes long enough for her daughter to be embarrassed by what she’d done. Why do you still wear those? Because they’d been drawn on by her little girl, her first-born. Because it is the imperative of all parents to revere creativity in their children. Because they’re art now.
She pairs up a dozen small shoes scattered across the hallway floor. The Velcro flaps on one pair hang loose — at three and a half, Silas is hard on shoes. Like something from a myth: The Boy Who Will Not Stop Running, going around the world in a day to bring back fresh olives from Egypt, fresh dates from Turkey, fresh iPhones from China. His sister, Isabelle, was not so hard on shoes at that age. Each pair lasted until her wonderful little feet pushed past their borders. Now she wears only scaled-down versions of Converse All Stars. Black, and kept in near-perfect condition. Not a scuff.
The new New Yorker has come. On the cover feral cats wait in line for a food truck. She puzzles over the illustration for a while, thinking she has seen it before. There is a flyer from a real estate agent, offering to find buyers for their home. She often checks what houses on their street are being sold for, and is both embarrassed and proud at the results. She tells Donovan, but he doesn’t care and doesn’t understand why she pays attention. He tells her she sounds like her father when she does that. Ron, who spent his childhood in rented home after rented home, likes to brag that his house in Peterborough, the one Cat and her sister grew up in, is worth at least five times what he paid for it back in early ’80s. Maybe six times. He made this exact same boast when he spoke at Cat and Donovan’s wedding, though it was worth only three times as much back then.
Dropping her keys in the hallway drawer among all the foreign coins and expired membership cards, Cat finds a half eaten Fig Newton, hard as a stone and chomped like a surfboard after a shark attack, every tooth mark visible.


     Isabelle is sitting on the floor of the living room, reading. It’s a Professional Development day, which means all her teachers are busy developing professionally, though Cat never sees a change in their approach. Isabelle resents the break in routine and the fact that she has to wait out an extended weekend before she can once again be out of the house and away from her family.
“Why don’t you call someone?” Cat asks her. “You can have a friend over.”
“They’re all away.”
“Every single one of them?”
“That’s an amazing coincidence.”
Isabelle shrugs, not willing to admit she doesn’t know what coincidence means.
“Why didn’t you want to play with anyone at the park?”
“There wasn’t anybody I know.”
“That’s not true, that DeeDee girl was here. You’ve played with her before. And that girl with the red hair.”
“Right. Spirit.” So many kids with names more suited to horses.
“I don’t like Spirit.”
“What’s wrong with Spirit now?”
Isabelle winces. “Spirit thinks she’s an actor. She wants to be in charge of everything and tell everyone what to do.”
“An actor? She’s been in, like, one commercial. And that was years ago.”
Isabelle looks up with the sudden hope that her mother might violate parental norms by trashing one of her classmates, but Cat catches herself. “That’s still pretty cool, though,” she says.
Disappointed, Isabelle goes back to her book. On the cover a young girl in a brown tunic holds a sword that glows red. Isabelle has explained the story to her mother in exhaustive detail — it’s the third or fourth book of a series, so there are acres of plot to catch up on. Cat knows, for example, that the glow of the sword is connected somehow to the purity of the girl’s heart. Red sword, good; blue sword, bad. No glow at all means you are in the zone of Nothing, a cross between a zombie and a ghost, with no soul. The whole thing sounds ridiculous in the usual preteen novel way, but it makes Cat wish there was such an indisputable way to demonstrate her own virtue. Her rubyred glow of goodness would be obvious to others, and she could finally stop working so hard to prove that it’s there.
Silas and his little cousin Jessica are wrestling on the couch. Silas climbs up the couch and flexes his arms like a bodybuilder, then dives face-first into the cushions, bouncing his cousin to the floor. The boy is all instinct. Isabelle asked questions from the moment she could speak; existence stymied her. Silas is troubled by nothing for very long. He accepts it all and plows forward.
“You’re my perfect baby,” Cat tells him when getting him out of the bath or getting him dressed. “You’re my perfect Silas baby.”
One time when she said it, he grabbed at her fingers and said, “I not perfeck.”
His voice was calm and patient; he wanted her to understand.
When she told Donovan what Silas said, he immediately pulled out his phone to share the moment online. She watched him standing there, his thumbs poised, trying to come up with the exact right hashtag.
She checked later: he went with #DadLife.
Baby Jessica is her sister Claudia’s little girl. She comes with bags of necessary things, jars and bottles and folded towels and extra outfits and comforters and diapers with pale green trees on the front. Cat watches her niece a couple of times a month, whenever her sister needs a break — a mental health day. But it’s the girl who needs the break. Baby Jessica, not quite two years old, is already in swimming, Song Circle, storytime at the library, baby yoga, and something called Creative Play, which happens in the large, open front room of a hippie mom in Claudia’s neighbourhood and involves parents lying on their backs with eyes closed while their babies climb over them like little dogs.
When Isabelle was a baby, Cat tried to do those kinds of things, too. She signed up for anything that looked enriching, that got her out of the house. Anything with the word creative in the name. She never lasted long. She couldn’t maintain the smiling, earnest facial expression that was required. She didn’t have access to the Encouraging Voice, which they were always being urged to use. She couldn’t pretend that all she ever wanted to do was sit on the carpet with her baby and sing about wheels on the bus or robins in the rain, or that she didn’t want desperately to be back at her job, surrounded by adults. The song that really bothered her was the one about Bingo, the dog with the disappearing name. The blank hiccup that gets bigger with each passing verse. You keep singing until the poor dog is entirely gone, clapped right out of existence. Cat preferred the one about monkeys jumping on the bed, and their mother who gets repeatedly scolded by the doctor.
“We try to avoid that one,” she was told. It reinforces the idea that mothers must defer to medical authority, that they don’t have the inherent wisdom to solve such a situation on their own. It’s condescending and paternalistic.
Baby Jessica doesn’t nap, which Cat finds sinister. Claudia says her wonderful baby started sleeping through the night as soon as she was weaned off the boob — though she says breast, not boob, believing they all ought to be past the point when anything to do with their bodies can be seen as shameful.
“I’m not ashamed,” Cat tells her.
“Yes, you are,” Claudia insists. “If you have to use all these cutesy nicknames, that’s what that means. Does Silas still say peepee instead of penis?”
Yes. And Isabelle used to refer to her vagina as her whizzo, her own invention.
Baby Jessica says ’gina the same way Donald Trump says China: hard and aggressive on the first syllable. Loud and proud. This my ’gina.
Cat calls Baby Jessica The Only Baby Ever. The only baby ever to take a step. The only baby ever to hug another child. For the baby’s first Christmas, Claudia sent out a custom-made card with Jessica’s globular face on the front, wreathed in bright gold. A singular cherub, the infant queen of the angels. The previous year’s card was an ultrasound image of Baby Jessica inside the womb, Photoshopped to look like she was inside Santa’s sack. The best gift of all.
“She knows we have two of our own, right?” Donovan asked Cat.
“Baby Jessica is of a different order,” Cat told him. “She’s The Only Baby Ever.”
“Isabelle or Silas will hear you say that and repeat it in front of your sister.”
“She’d take it as a compliment.”