Once More with Feeling


From “Pizza Chicken Dentist”

Down at the Mission folks were idling on the sidewalk, smoking and waiting for the metal shutters at the kitchen counter to clatter up so that lunch could finally be served. “Folks,” was what Miss Leonard called the men spinning on their worn-down rubber heels in the weak iodine sunlight of early spring. Miss Leonard volunteered all her free time to the Mission and consequently had a proprietary attitude. She called everyone folks: the old timers sipping coffee and playing checkers in the dining room, the born-agains who came for breakfast and stayed for Christ, the teenage boys with their wire hanger shoulder blades angling through their “Born to Rock” T-shirts.

Sometimes a woman would sidle or shuffle or strut into the Mission, her gait keeping pace with her disposition; the coin tosses of bravado or despondency that saw her through her days. Singly, or in spindly little groups, the women would wait in line at the lunch counter, their hunger for food or companionship rendering them bold. And they were folks, too.

Five or six men were idling outside the Mission when Annunciata arrived, a thin brown girl clutching at the balloon-string of her occasional buoyancy. The snow had finally rotted away, winter rushing through the gutters and gurgling down the drains. A couple of the men were smoking, coaxing a last puff from their burnt-down cigarettes, holding each breath until their eyes bulged. The Mission opened its doors to the city’s jobless, the street people, the panhandlers, the squeegee kids, the homeless ones, although once, when Annunciata had wondered aloud at these poor doorstep ghosts, the Senior Admin. had corrected her.

“We don’t say homeless here, Anna. We say ‘persons experiencing homelessness. ’” Senior Admin. was a stocky girl with a permanent furrow above her brow. A little asterisk in the arid homelessness of her face, although what it bore witness to, Annunciata couldn’t exactly say.

“Experiencing homelessness” was meant to convey the temporariness of the condition, the vagrant hope that poverty was merely a refugee camp on the way to permanent citizenship. A waystation.

“Morning, Isaac, Donny, Bodo,” Annunciata called, stepping through the men who obligingly allowed her passage, sucking back their smoke and paddling at the air in front of them. “Morning, Nachos and Mr. Wilson. ” Weary of being told what not to call the Mission people, Annunciata had decided to learn as many names as she could and use them accordingly.

“Morning Mr… Um. ” His name wasn’t really Um but the old fellow was uncooperative when asked, and Mr. Um was the best she could do. Annunciata thought that perhaps he was secretive about his name because it was the only thing he owned. On the other hand, maybe he’d just forgotten it—drink did that to a fellow, and crack, and the dog-eyed loneliness that eats its own paws. His eyes were yellowish and his few remaining teeth were grayish. He never smiled and seldom spoke, but when he was hungry he rapped out a shave and a shoeshine on the metal shutters of the kitchen window, and when he was feeling perky he did a soft shoe shuffle in the dust.

Annunciata stopped to watch and applaud. “Bravo!” she clapped. Mr. Um made jazz hands and blew her a purposeful kiss. He had a heavy, stumbling gait but a perfect pitch for imaginary music. “Nice weather we’re having,” Annunciata replied.

“Pizza, chicken,” he confided. Something like that. But Annunciata thought he said “pizza,” and then some other kind of food. Possibly chicken. It was going on nine and she had to hustle to report for kitchen duty. So did.

“Heavens, child, I’m glad we’re not waiting for you to make any big announcements,” said Miss Leonard when Annunciata came into the kitchen shrugging off her jacket and tying an apron around her waist. She meant the miracle of the Lord’s birth which, if she was an angel, Annunciata would have been in charge of. Sometimes Miss Leonard said, “Hallelujah, young lady!” and sometimes just, “Hurry, you!” but it was always to do with Annunciata being half a minute behindhand and two thousand years too late.


In the tradition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Olive Kitteridge comes Once More with Feeling, an exquisitely crafted, beautifully written, and wholly delightful novel about the place we call home and the people we call our community, told through intersecting moments and interconnected lives.


  • Short-listed, The Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction 2017
  • Winner, Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award 2017
  • Short-listed, McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award 2017


Meira Cook . . . writes prose so fluid, so effortless, so vivid, you’re swept away on its sheer beauty and power. . . . Once More With Feeling manages to be both sharp and tender, tragic and fiercely funny, and wholly satisfying.

- Toronto Star