Seventeen year-old Phyllis Halliday lives with her parents near the maximum security penitentiary in Kingston, Canada. In the year 1919-20, she establishes a forbidden, epistolic relationship with convict Joseph Cleroux, who is serving a sentence for theft and extortion. Messages, money, and small gifts of tobacco, chocolate, and a ring, are concealed in the quarry next to her home where the convicts are sent to work. Influenced by the newly released film with Mary Pickford, she dubs her new friend "Daddy Long Legs," and herself, "Peggy."

Both Phyllis and Joe fear being caught, and they suffer from parallel illnesses. As she falls in love with the man whom she has never met, she neglects her studies, hoping that he will come for her when he is discharged. However, on that day, he is immediately put on the first train out of town. His letters dwindle and cease, but Phyllis continues to wait and hope.


Phyllis Halliday is the real name of a real girl who wrote to the real Joseph Cleroux in 1919-20. She worked at the city Post Office, never married, and died in 1986. Telling no one of her "convict lover," she kept his letters in the attic, where they were discovered after her death by Simonds, who had purchased her house.

Joe's "kites" contain his penetrating, homespun philosophy and vivid accounts of prison life; some make requests for tobacco or chocolate; most end with the disquieting words, "Trust me!" None of Phyllis's letters have been found; nor have descendants of Cleroux been traced. Simonds connects his letters with her narrative interpretation of "what might have been" to create a moving portrayal of young love, imprisonment, trust, and disappointment.


Nominated for the Governor General's Award, 1996.


Macfarlane Walter & Ross

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