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***An Excerpt from the Novel***
Over Our Heads
by Andrea Thompson
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Over Our Heads
An excerpt from the novel by Andrea Thompson.
Published by Inanna Publications (Toronto, Ontario, Canada; 2014).
Image for title
Over Our Heads is a novel that weaves
together the histories of two very different
half-sisters who return home to deal with the
aftermath of their grandmother's death. The
past merges with the present, as through the
process of emptying the family home, each
woman is taken back to their childhoods in
1970s Toronto and Vancouver, where they
navigated a social climate rife with racism,
homophobia and marginalization of the
mentally ill and cognitively disabled. It’s a
story of acceptance, forgiveness,
redemption, and the beauty that can be
found in the imperfection inherent in being
Note: This excerpt takes place towards the end of the book, in a scene where half-sisters, Rachel
and Emma are overseeing the garage sale of their grandmother’s belongings. Mysticism comes
head to head with pragmatism as each sister defends their worldview.
- Chapter 36 -
“You know, Rachel, sometimes your arrogance just astounds me.” Emma stood in front of the
card table, her voice calm and even. She was going to try a different approach. “You think you’re
objective – you think that the way you see things is the way they are, just because your world-
view is reflected back to you in all of its hollow, materialistic glory every time you turn on the TV
or open up a magazine. But that doesn’t make it the truth.”
Emma felt much better now. Her emotions had got the better of her earlier. Too little sleep, and
too much sun. Plus, there had been another sound, a buzz of energetic interference that had hung
in the air all day like a thundercloud. It reminded Emma of that night in the park, and she
wondered, for a moment, if it was the Howards again. John and Jemima, offering their sage
advice. Emma tried to tune in the static, but her hung- over brain rebelled. So, she decided to
take a quick moment in the kitchen, to ground herself, and call in the Grandmothers – not for
protection, but for guidance.
Rachel leaned forward, peering out onto the lawn. For a moment, it looked as if she was going to
ignore Emma all together. Then she leaned back, and replied with a sigh, “Some of us look at the
world objectively, Emma, we weigh the facts and then come to a rational decision.” Rachel
continued looking out at the scene before her. “And some of us see everything through our
Okay, touché. Emma could let that one go. She knew she had been a tad dramatic. She felt the
weight of the pendant around her neck, and took a slow deep breath. “Yes, and some of us see
everything through our prejudices.” Rachel looked up suddenly; seeming surprised that Emma had
a response. “Sure, you’ll measure, analyze and weigh everything, but you’ll also throw out any
evidence that doesn’t prove the hypothesis you’ve already decided on. You take a situation and
view it through the lens of your expectations and your fears. Especially your fears.
Rachel stood up with unmistakable annoyance. She was flustered. Emma reminded herself not to
The screen door opened again, and Lester bounded out onto the porch.
“You’ll never believe what’s going on,” he said.
“Oh for God’s sakes Emma, can you please keep your new-age psycho-babble to yourself
today?” Rachel said, not so much as glancing in Lester’s direction. “You’re hysterical. As if you,
of all people, have a firm grip on objectivity.”
Emma felt a tingling in the soles of her feet, as she grounded herself to the earth. She touched
her index finger to her thumb, making a circle that she held up to her eye. “It’s like you look at the
world through an empty toilet paper roll, and think you’ve got the lay of the land.” Emma let her
hand drop to her side, and made an effort to soften her tone. “It’s not your fault though, because
you’re completely left-brained. Or is it right-brained, I forget now. Well, whichever brain it is that
controls order and function and compartmentalization and math and linear time. That’s you. That’s
your world, and you can’t see beyond it.” Emma felt a rush of pride at not stuttering or getting
distracted by Lester’s impatient shuffling, or saying she was sorry.
Lester tried again.
“No, seriously,” he said. “I just heard it on the news.”
“And you, you use both brains then, I presume?” Rachel stood with her arms crossed, the
universal symbol for: I think you’re full of shit. Emma refused to be daunted. Lester went back
“Yes, I do,” Emma replied. “because I function in society. Maybe I’m not the most glowing
success by society’s terms, but I function. I dot all the i's, and cross the t’s and fill out all the
forms. It’s a right-brain world.” Emma made a mental note to keep her own arms unfolded.
“You mean a left-brain world.” Rachel snickered.
“Whatever!” Emma blurted in annoyance, then caught herself. “Listen, I pay my taxes, which if
you ask me is way too complicated a process for your average citizen to be expected to
complete. Could you imagine if you didn’t speak English? And don’t get me stared on all the
contracts and permissions we need to fill out just to exist on the planet today. I mean, I can’t even
order a song online without needing a lawyer to help me navigate through five hundred pages of
gobeldy-gook. But that’s what they want. They want us to be overwhelmed and to give up so we
will be good little sheep. But I’m not a sheep, I’m a turtle, which means I may be slow, but by
Goddess, I’m –“
“And your point is?” Rachel said, checking her phone.
“My point is that you hide behind your scientific explanations,” Emma said defiantly. “What does
science know about truth anyway? If, for once, science prefaced all their declarations with: as
usual, we don’t really know for sure, because the universe continues to be an unfathomable
mystery, but this is what we’ve found out so far… the word ‘fact’ would be abolished, and the
human race would take a giant leap forward in understanding where the hell we are, why we’re
here, and how this place works.” Rachel continued looking at her phone, shaking her head. Emma
went on, as if she had her full attention. “Science is carried out by humans, Rachel, and humans
are subjective. We all see the world through a filter. There’s no way around it, our consciousness
affects our reality. It’s the way the universe works. Physics has already proved it. Call it the
uncertainty principle, or the observer effect or whatever it is you guys want to call it, but the truth
is the world is the way we are, and what we are is whatever we fill ourselves up with.”
Rachel sat down, looking decidedly fed-up. “You have a very poetic way of looking at the
universe Emma, but it has nothing to do with reality. The reality is that the universe is not some
magical place full of rainbows and unicorns where everyone lives forever. The universe is an
unfathomably vast terrain of unimaginable extremes of size, temperature and speed. You
anthropomorphize your physical environment as if it’s some kind of god. You mix up mysticism
with fact. Like when you talk about death, for instance. There’s nothing magical about it. It’s
physics 101, the second law of thermodynamics – everything will die.” Rachel looked up at Emma
with clinical detachment. “I think this whole outburst, this tirade you’re on today is all about trying
to deny this fundamental fact.”
Emma looked at Rachel, and counted to ten. She knew she needed to stay calm, and be rational
or her message would be lost. She sat down at the card table. “Yes, everything dies, Rachel,
but then it’s reborn. Plants grow out of decomposing leaves, even stars are recycled from gas
and dust made from other dead stars.” Emma felt proud to know this last fact, but tried not to let
Rachel was impervious. “Yes, but that takes energy. It all uses energy that is finite, and one day
all the stars will run out of fuel, and the sun will eventually begin to swell and die, taking us and
the rest of the solar system with it. And this will happen across the universe, until the only stars
left are red dwarfs, burning like coals. And then, when those are gone, there’ll be nothing but
black holes roaming the universe, sucking up everything that remains. And this will go on for
longer than your mind can comprehend, and then, even the black holes will starve, and the
universe will be cold, dark and dead. That’s where we’re going Emma. That’s the truth of your
Emma thought for a moment. “Well maybe that’s exactly what has to happen before it starts all
over again. Maybe it takes exactly that kind of nothingness to coax the universe into existence.
Maybe we live in a giant multiversal field, where everything – from an individual to a universe,
blinks in and out of existence like fireflies.” Rachel opened her mouth, then closed it. Emma went
on. “Because there’s that other law – yes, I’ve been paying attention all these years Rachel. Just
because you flippantly dismiss everything I believe in doesn’t mean I’ve closed my mind to your
perspective. I know for a fact is that there is a second law of thermal dynamics.”
Rachel looked at Emma and smiled.
“And that states.” Emma continued, “that no energy is ever lost.” Emma felt triumphant, and
waited for a response. Rachel was silent.
“So, really, how you people can believe that these thermal dynamic laws predict the truth of the
physical universe, then go around proclaiming that there’s such a thing as death is mind-boggling
to me.” Emma said, taking a breath, praying to the Grandmothers that her words will fall into
“For one thing,” Rachel began “it’s called thermodynamics, not thermal dynamics, and secondly,”
Rachel began, “Your whole premise is flawed.” She was about to continue when the feeling that
she was being watched overcame her. She turned around and looked back at the house. Sam
was looking out through the screen door at the spectacle taking place on the street behind her.
Andrea Thompson is one of the most well known poets in the Canadian spoken word scene and
has performed her poetry at venues across North America and overseas for the past twenty
years. Thompson’s debut poetry collection, Eating the Seed (2000), has been featured on the
reading list at the University of Toronto, and at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and her
spoken word cd One, was nominated for a Canadian Urban Music Award in 2005. One of the
pioneers of the slam poetry scene in Canada, Thompson was awarded the Canadian Festival
of Spoken Word’s Poet of Honour: For Outstanding Achievement in the Art of Spoken Word in
2009. Thompson is the co-editor of the anthology, Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak
Out (Inanna, 2010), and is a recent graduate of the University of Guelph’s MFA Creative Writing
program. She currently teaches Spoken Word: Poetry and Performance through the Ontario
College of Art and Design’s Continuing Studies Department. Over Our Heads is her first novel.
Andrea lives in Toronto.
Information and Purchase
Andrea Thompson's website
Over Our Heads @ Inanna Publications