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Editors' Picks: Week of September 9–15

By kileyturner
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Michael Christie and Marina Endicott are back, Lesley Choyce weaves another gripping story, Jaclyn Dawn explores small-town Alberta, and Vickie Gendreau bravely narrates her imminent death.
Broken Man on a Halifax Pier

Broken Man on a Halifax Pier

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

A tale of one man’s shipwrecked life and an unlikely crew of rescuers.

Fifty-five-year-old Charles Howard has lost his long-time journalism job and has been swindled out of his life savings. Standing by the edge of Halifax Harbour on a foggy morning, contemplating his dismal future, his ritual of self-pity is interrupted with the appearance of the mysterious and beguiling Ramona Danforth. And so begins a most interesting relationship.

On a whim, Charles asks Ramona to drive him to his childhood …

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Chapter 1

She never really told me why she was there at 6 a.m. on that damp Halifax morning in April. I can’t even rightly explain what I was doing there either, standing at the end of a dilapidated pier, staring into the dark waters of the harbour, lost in thought.

I suppose it had something to do with the fact that my life had gone to shit, that I no longer had a job, that I’d lost my life savings and was reduced to living in a “bachelor” apartment in the North End. Yeah, it might have had something to do with that. But I think that a guy like me, fifty-five years from being born, just finds himself eventually at a moment like this, staring into the water. Contemplating.

Even now, I like to think of it as a literary moment. I was a writer, after all. Not like a real writer. Not a Hemingway or Fitzgerald, not one of the greats. Not even one of the lesser greats. A pipsqueak of a writer. After playing at reporter for a number of years, the Tribune let me write features about anything I wanted. But, alas, the Tribune was no more. How could I know when I set about embarking on my so-called career that newspapers were going to slowly begin to vanish? I was a dodo bird. A dinosaur. Pick any extinct species and I was just that.

But if any of this is going to add up to anything, I should go back to the beginning. The whole convoluted tale will come out in due time. So let’s get back to April, the pier, the fog, the lone man standing by the edge of the water where once, long ago, the bodies from the ill-fated and legendary Titanic were landed ashore. This was a literary moment, remember. Ill-fated ship, April the cruelest month, my life a modern Shakespearean tragedy, man fallen from great heights (modest heights, really) through his own hubris (a word I had just recently added to my vocabulary). Man alone, alienated in a hostile universe. No, an uncaring universe. A universe that didn’t give a Monday-morning shit about him or most probably anything else.

And then she walked up to me.

I didn’t notice her at first, didn’t hear footsteps or anything. It was like she dropped out of the sleepy grey clouds hovering above. I was deep in reverie — yes, a grandiose, dark, endless, self-pitying reverie. A man feeling bad. Just plain bad. With no particular shred of hope for things to get better. Must have been painted all over my face.

“I get it,” she said with no other words of introduction. “Broken man.”

At first I thought it was just one of those many voices in my head. But then I looked in the direction from which the voice had come. It was a woman. A good-looking woman at that. All alone. On the pier at 6 a.m. by the misty misbegotten harbour.

“Get what?” I asked.

“Get you. ‘Broken man on a Halifax pier,’” she said. And her mouth went up on one corner. Not a smile exactly. An indication of a game.

“Oh,” I said. “Stan Rogers. ‘Barrett’s Privateers.’”

“Very good,” she said. “ Can I take your picture?”

“Sure,” I said. “But why would you want to take my picture?”

Instead of answering, she lifted a cellphone out of her purse, walked a step closer to me and clicked.

“Gonna post it on Facebook?” I asked. “You got your caption.”

“No. Nothing like that.” She walked another step closer, stared down at the water and then directly at me. For a second, I thought I knew her. Or at least that I had seen her somewhere before. Something about her was familiar.

“It looks cold and uninviting,” she said, nodding at the swirling foam in the harbour water below.

“I wasn’t going for a swim if that is what you were thinking.”

“No stones in your pockets? Did you forget them?”

“I’m not good at planning ahead,” I said. “Besides, I’m more of a bridge man. A leaper, if it ever comes to that. Unfortunately, they have the bridge walkways all caged in now. Always someone trying to take the fun out of everything. The bastards.”

Now she just stood there, not talking. Then she lifted her phone and took another photo. Closer up. Mug shot.

“You want me to take my clothes off?” I asked.

“It’s too cold. All I’d get is a picture of goosebumps.”

“True,” I said. I suddenly realized I was in the middle of a conversation with a rather attractive and mysterious woman. “Do I know you?” I asked.

“You’ve seen me. At least I’m guessing you have. If you haven’t, I’ll be pissed.”

I looked her over again. Inspecting. She noticed, did a little slow twirl. Front and back. I didn’t have a clue who she was.

“Give up?”

I nodded.

She looked a little miffed. I figured I should say something. “Well, you’re not the queen of England, I know that. Too young, too beautiful.” I was trying to pull it out of the trash can. She wasn’t young — forty something, fifty maybe — and not exactly classically beautiful, but she was truly pretty and absolutely most interesting. And I much preferred looking at her to staring down at the water.

She snapped another photo of me. I think I had a funny look on my face — man just thrown a lifeline, man shifting back from the brink from some abyss, man wandering alone in a wet world just given a blanket over his shoulders.

“What do you call that look? The one you just gave me.”

“I call it my happy look,” I said.

“You call that happy?”

“Relatively speaking. Happiness is relative, right?”

“Philosophy major?”

“English.”

“Ah. April is the cruelest month, right?”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking when you came along with Stan Rogers.”

“‘How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now.’”

“Sherbrooke. Nova Scotia or Quebec? I could never quite figure it out.”

I wondered if we’d stand there and trade Stan Rogers lyrics for the rest of the morning. It would have been fine by me. I had nothing better to do. Take her through the Northwest Passage, tracing one warm line, through a land so wild and savage.

“What comes next?” she asked.

“In ‘Barrett’s Privateers’?”

“Idiot. No. Right now.”

It had been a while since anyone had flirted with me. I was way out of practice.

“Um,” I must have said.

“Um. That’s all you got?” she asked with a sharp edge in her voice. “You, an English major. Can’t come up with a line from James fucking Joyce or John fucking Milton?”

For a split second I thought she was actually angry with me. I didn’t know then that she was an actor, that she’d been in movies. I was beginning to think she was deranged. I was curious to see if there were weapons involved.

The weapon was the phone — lifted, pointed, snapped. “That’s a real crowd-pleaser. ‘Man Befuddled by Woman’ reads the headline.”

“Headline, why headline?” I was wondering if she knew who I was.

“Just a phrase. Why does it matter?”

“It doesn’t,” I said. And I tried smiling. It had been a while. It hurt. I guess it showed.

“Ouch,” she said. “That looked painful.”

I wanted to explain my lack of happy moments in my recent tenure on the planet but clammed up, shrugged instead.

She must have liked the shrug. “Buy me breakfast?” she asked.

“I’m broke,” I said. Paused. “Well, I think I have five bucks and a couple of quarters. But I’m waiting for the banks to open.”

“Never heard of ATMs?”

“They don’t like me. I don’t know what it is. They just don’t seem to want to deal with a guy like me.”

“A guy like you?”

“Down on his luck.”

“Okay, you want to play that card? I’ll buy you breakfast.”

“Now you’re talking,” I said.

And so began a new chapter in my life. If I can stretch out the cinematic moment, I would say the sun came out, or it began to pour rain, or there were birds and flowers, quotes from Shakespeare or unison singing of “Fogarty’s Cove.” But there was none of that.

She touched my arm once. And we walked in silence to the Bluenose Restaurant on Hollis Street. She ordered poached eggs and toast. I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon. And then all the waiters and waitresses and morning-weary breakfast patrons broke into song.

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Greenwood

Greenwood

A Novel
edition:Hardcover

From the award-winning author of If I Fall, If I Die comes a propulsive, multigenerational family story, in which the unexpected legacies of a remote island off the coast of British Columbia will link the fates of five people over a hundred years. Cloud Atlas meets The Overstory in this ingenious nested-ring epic set against the devastation of the natural world.

They come for the trees. It is 2038. As the rest of humanity struggles through the environmental collapse known as the Great Withering, …

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2038

THE GREENWOOD ARBOREAL CATHEDRAL

They come for the trees.

To smell their needles. To caress their bark. To be regenerated in the humbling loom of their shadows. To stand mutely in their leafy churches and pray to their thousand-year-old souls. 

From the world's dust-choked cities they venture to this exclusive arboreal resort—a remote forested island off the Pacific Rim of British Columbia—to be transformed, renewed, and reconnected. To be reminded that the Earth's once-thundering green heart has not flatlined, that the soul of all living things has not come to dust and that isn't too late and that all is not lost. They come here to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to ingest this outrageous lie, and it's Jake Greenwood's job as Forest Guide to spoon-feed it to them.

GOD'S MIDDLE FINGER

As first light trickles through the branches, Jake greets this morning's group of Pilgrims at the trailhead. Today, she'll lead them out among the sky-high spires of Douglas fir and Western red cedar, between granite outcrops plush with electric green moss, to the old-growth trees, where epiphany awaits. Given the forecasted rain, the dozen Pilgrims are all swaddled in complimentary Leafskin, the shimmery yet breathable new fabric that's replaced Gore-Tex, nano-engineered to mimic the way leaves bead and repel water. Though the Cathedral has issued Jake her own Leafskin jacket, she seldom wears it for fear of damaging company property; she's already deep enough in debt without having to worry about a costly replacement. Yet trudging through the drizzling rain that begins just after they set out on the trail, Jake wishes she'd made an exception today.

Despite the litre of ink-black coffee she gulped before work this morning, Jake's hung-over brain is taffy-like, and it throbs in painful synchronization with every step she takes. Though she's woefully unprepared for public speaking, once they reach the first glades of old-growth she begins her usual introduction. 

"Welcome to the beating heart of the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral," she says in a loud, theatrical voice. "You're standing on fifty-seven square kilometres of one of the last remaining old-growth forests on Earth." Immediately, the Pilgrims brandish their phones and commence to feverishly thumb their screens. Jake never knows whether they're fact-checking her statements, posting breathless exclamations of wonder, or doing something entirely unrelated to the tour.

“These trees act like huge air filters,” she carries on. “Their needles suck up dust, hydrocarbons, and other toxic particles, and breathe out pure oxygen, rich with phytoncides, the chemicals that have been found to drop our blood pressure and slow our heart rates. Just one of these mature firs can generate the daily oxygen required by four adult humans.” On cue, the Pilgrims begin to video themselves taking deep breaths through their noses.

While Jake is free to mention the Earth’s rampant dust storms in the abstract, it’s Cathedral policy never to speak of their cause: the Great Withering—the wave of fungal blights and insect infestations that rolled over the world’s forests ten years ago, decimating hectare after hectare. The Pilgrims have come to relax and forget about the Withering, and it’s her job (and jobs, she’s aware, are currently in short supply) to ensure they do.

Following her introduction, she coaxes the Pilgrims a few miles west, into a grove of proper old-growth giants, whose trunks bulge wider than mid-sized cars. These are trees of such immensity and grandeur they seem unreal, like film props or monuments. In the presence of such giants, the Pilgrims assume hushed, reverent tones. Official Holtcorp policy is to refer to the forest as the Cathedral and its guests as Pilgrims; Knut, Greenwood Island’s most senior Forest Guide and Jake’s closest friend, claims that this is because the forest was the first (and now, perhaps, the last) church. Back when air travel didn’t command a year’s salary, Jake once visited Rome on a learning exchange and saw only curving limbs and ropy trunks in its columns and porticoes. The leafy dome of the mosque; the upward-soaring spires of the abbey; the ribbed vault of the cathedral—which faith’s sacred structures weren’t designed with trees as inspiration?

Now some of the Pilgrims actually begin to embrace the bark for long durations without irony or embarrassment. In their information packages, the Pilgrims are instructed not to approach the trees too closely, as their weight compacts the soil around the trunks and causes the roots to soak up less water. But Jake holds her tongue and watches the Pilgrims commune, photograph, and huff the chlorophyll-scrubbed air with a reverence that is part performance, part genuine appreciation, though it’s difficult for her to estimate in which proportions. Soon they barrage her with impossibly technical questions: “So how much would a thing like this weigh?” asks a short man with a Midwestern accent. “This reminds me of being a girl,” a fifty-something investment banker declares, caressing a moss-wrapped cedar.

While most of the Pilgrims seem to be tuning in to the Green magnificence, a few appear lost, underwhelmed. Jake watches the short Midwestern man place his palm against a Douglas fir’s bark, gaze up into the canopy, and attempt to feel awed. But she can sense his disappointment. Soon he and the others retreat back into their phones for the relief of distraction. This is to be expected. Even though they’ve paid the Cathedral’s hefty fees and endured the indignities of post-Withering travel, there are always a few who can’t escape the burden of how relaxed they’re supposed to be at this moment, and how dearly it’s costing them to fail.

The Pilgrims are easily mocked, but Jake also pities them. Hasn’t she remained here on Greenwood Island for the same purpose? To glean something rare and sustaining from its trees, to breathe their clean air and feel less hopeless among them? On the Mainland, the Pilgrims live in opulent, climate-controlled towers that protect them from rib retch—the new strain of tuberculosis endemic to the world’s dust-choked slums, named after the cough that snaps ribs like kindling, especially in children—yet they still arrive at the Cathedral seeking something ineffable that’s missing from their lives. They’ve read that article about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “forest bathing.” They’ve listened to that podcast about how just a few hours spent among trees triples your creativity. So they’re here to be healed, however temporarily, and if Jake weren’t mired in student debt and hadn’t embarked on such a pitifully unmarketable career as botany, she’d gladly be one of them.

When Jake notices a patrol of Rangers creeping through some cedars in the distance, she carefully herds the Pilgrims to the picnic area for their prepared lunches, dubbed “Upscale Logging Camp” by the resort’s Michelin-starred chef. Today, it’s artisanal hot dogs with chanterelle ketchup and organic s’mores. While watching them photograph their food, Jake’s eye snags on a particular Pilgrim sitting apart from the group, wearing large sunglasses and an unfashionable cap pulled low. He’s wealthy, some Holtcorp executive or actor no doubt, though Jake would be the last person to know. Because she can’t afford a screen in her staff cabin—her student loan interest payments don’t leave her enough for internet access—she seldom recognizes the resort’s famous visitors. Still, the true celebrities can be identified by that glittery aura they exude, the sense that they’ve forged a deeper connection to the world than regular people like her.

After lunch Jake escorts the Pilgrims to the tour’s grand finale, the largest stand on Greenwood Island, where she hits them with a poetic bit she wrote and memorized years back: “Many of the Cathedral’s trees are over twelve hundred years old. That’s older than our families, older than most of our names. Older than the current forms of our governments, even older than some of our myths and ideologies.

“Like this one,” she says, patting the foot-thick bark of the island’s tallest Douglas fir, a breathtaking tree that she and Knut have secretly named “God’s Middle Finger.” “This two-hundred-and-thirty-foot titan was already a hundred and fifty feet tall when Shakespeare sat down and dipped his quill to begin writing Hamlet.” She pauses to watch a stoic solemnity grip the group. She’s laying it on thick, but her hangover has cleared and she’s finally found her rhetorical groove. And when she gets going, she wants nothing less than to wow the Pilgrims with the wonders of all creation. “Each year of its life, this tree has expanded its bark and built a new ring of cambium to encase the ring of growth that came the year before it. That’s twelve hundred layers of heartwood, enough to thrust the tree’s needled crown into the clouds.”

As she's wrapping up, a hand shoots skyward from the back of the group, upon its wrist a thick, dangly Rolex. "A question?" Jake says. 

"How much do you think one of these is worth?" the celebrity says while kneading his square chin between his finger and thumb. "One tree. Ballpark." 

Normally, she'd shimmy out of answering a question of such crudely capitalistic inanity. But coming from that face, from behind those regimentally straight teeth that resemble actual pearls, it nearly sounds witty.

"Oh, I really couldn't say, sir," she says in a serious tone. "These trees are fully protected by Holtcorp's strict preservation—"

"Just toss out a number," he persists.

As a Forest Guide, Jake is routinely advised against making prolonged eye contact with Pilgrims, to avoid interfering with their epiphanies—but she now boldly peers into the greenish depths of the man's expensive sunglasses. "It depends," she says.

"On what?" 

"On who's buying. Now are there any other questions?" 

"You want a photo?" the celebrity asks her just before they start back. He says it like he's offering an object of great value. She nods and he stands abreast with her directly in front of God's Middle Finger, aiming his phone with a hooked wrist, kinking his neck into the frame. He doesn't know that appearing in photos and selfies are indignities that Forest Guides are contractually obligated to suffer—they're certainly Jake's least favourite part of the job. To think of all the photos she's haunted in her nine years here, a sedately smiling extra, briefly appearing in the brilliant, globe-trotting lives of others. 

"What's your name?" the celebrity says, thumbing the screen afterwards. "I'll tag it." 

Only because she's required to, she tells him. 

His eyebrows crest from beneath the rim of his sunglasses. "Any relation?" he says, doing a finger twirl, meaning: to all this?

Jake shakes her head. "My family are gone," she says. "And even when they were alive, they weren't the island-owning type." 

"Sorry," he says, wincing.

"It's fine," she says, forcing a smile. "But we ought to be getting back." 

Just as the group rejoins the path, Jake notices that some patches of needles high up on the east-facing side of the old-growth firs have browned. Odd, especially at this time of year. She calls a premature water break and picks her way back through the waxy salal underbrush while scanning the canopy. The Pilgrims wait at the trail, tapping the toes of their Leafskin hiking boots, eager for the private luxuries of their solar-powered Villas, which are in fact secretly grid-connected, because the primeval canopy allows only enough actual sunlight to power a two-slice toaster or to charge their phones, not both. 

Upon closer examination, Jake discovers two firs, both directly adjacent to God's Middle Finger, whose needles have rusted to a stricken, cinnamon tinge. And down near the soil, she notes that a few sections of their thick, cement-grey bark have gone soggy. A tree’s bark performs the same function our skin does: it keeps intruders out and nutrients in—so any weakening of the bark does not bode well for the tree’s long-term survival. With her heart banging behind her ribs, Jake scrutinizes the soggy tissue as though she’s peering out a car window at a roadside accident—with curiosity and horror, compassion and revulsion—but the bark seems to be intact, and there’s no sign of hostile insects or fungal intrusion. Somewhat satisfied, she takes one last look before hurrying back to the impatient Pilgrims.

To afford her some time to think during the hike back to the Villas, Jake omits her usual speech about the important riparian area that hydrates the forest. It was only two, she reassures herself. There were no bugs or funguses, and the surrounding soil looked damp and well aerated, so perhaps the two trees are an anomaly. If they are in fact diseased, it’s something she’s never observed on the island before.

As a dendrologist—a botanist specializing in trees—Jake knows that many tree species suffered catastrophic die-offs long before the Great Withering struck: the American chestnut in the 1900s, the Dutch elm in the 1960s, and the European ash in the 2000s. Insects, funguses, cankers, blights, and rusts: the enemies of trees are many, and include supervillains such as the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle, the dreaded fungus Chalara. But no single organism is responsible for the Withering, and most scientists (including Jake) attribute it to the climate zones changing faster than the trees could adapt, which weakened their ability to defend themselves against invaders. Though formal research has surely been done, somewhere, scientists are no longer freely sharing their findings since the rise of environmental nationalism and the end of the free internet. Jake’s personal hypothesis is that Greenwood Island’s local microclimate somehow manages to regulate itself, which allows it to remain hospitable to its trees.

But could it be that whatever has protected the Cathedral for so long has now shifted, leaving its trees newly vulnerable to pathogens and intruders? But why would the Great Withering strike now, after all this time? It’s more likely something abiotic and noncontagious, Jake tells herself. A nitrogen shortage or a sunscald. Or a good old-fashioned drought-induced flagging. Or perhaps the two firs have simply grown old and, after living in tandem for a millennium, feeding one another through their mycelial networks and conversing through their scent compounds, their plan is to meet their end together, like a couple married for fifty years who die just days apart.

What I really need is a drink, Jake realizes later, while walking to the staff dining yurt after concluding her final tour of the day. But a drink might tempt her to tell Knut about her discovery. Knut’s botanical knowledge is vast, but she can’t be certain whether he’d help her diagnose the two ailing trees—recording rainfall and gathering soil and tissue samples to examine under a microscope—or whether he might do something drastic. Though he’s brilliant, there’s always been a precariousness to Knut’s sanity, a by-product of a green romanticism that Jake fears can’t possibly survive the real world’s serial letdowns.

And if the Rangers are now patrolling the old-growth in plain sight of the Pilgrims, then management is clearly already on edge. If they found out about the browning they might do something stupid, like spray the entire island with untested fungicides, or cut their losses and relocate the resort to another of the last scraps of heritage forest that remain—most of them also in Canada, with sprinklings in Russia, Brazil, and Tasmania, the majority on small islands.

For now, Jake decides, the pair of sick firs will remain her secret. The Rangers are private soldiers with no scientific expertise, so they won’t notice the browned needles. And since the other Forest Guides have prescribed routes and only Jake’s loops around to the east of God’s Middle Finger, there’s little chance they will see them either. Jake knows that Knut often sneaks into the old-growth during his spare time, so he might spot the damage—but his eyes are going, and it isn’t likely he could make out needles that high up. Besides, the soggy bark is impossible to see if you aren’t expressly looking for it.

So she has time. She only hopes it’s not already too late.

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The Inquirer

The Inquirer

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

When an accident jeopardizing the family farm draws Amiah Williams back to Kingsley, Alberta, population 1431, she doesn't expect her homecoming to make front-page news. But there she is in The Inquirer, the mysterious tabloid that is airing her hometown's dirty laundry. Alongside stories of high school rivalries and truck-bed love affairs, disturbing revelations about Amiah's past and present are selling papers and fuelling small-town gossip. As the stakes get higher, Amiah must either expose t …

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Drama Queens

Drama Queens

by Vickie Gendreau
translated by Aimee Wall
edition:Paperback

At the book fair in Rimouski, a woman picked up my first book to read the back cover. She put it back down, avoiding my eyes. It's heavy, cancer and death and all that. I wish books were more interactive. Like video game controllers. They could vibrate at the end of each chapter. But that's not how life works. I wonder what death is like. Do you vibrate? Do the words GAME OVER appear?

In 2012, Vickie Gendreau was diagnosed with a brain tumour and wrote a book narrating her own death. Testament co …

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The Difference

The Difference

edition:Hardcover

From one of our most critically acclaimed and beloved storytellers comes a sweeping novel set on board the Morning Light, a Nova Scotian merchant ship sailing through the south pacific in 1912.

Kay and Thea are half-sisters, separated in age by almost twenty years, but deeply attached. When their stern father dies, Thea returns to Nova Scotia for her long-promised marriage to the captain of the Morning Light. But she cannot abandon her orphaned young sister, so Kay too embarks on a life-changing …

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Excerpt

BOSTON

The ship became the world. They had a house to live in, the long skylighted saloon and their cabins, Aft; and the deck for their out­door walking path, as long as they kept out of the way of the work. Another flight of stairs down from the Aft saloon, they were allowed to visit the trim galley, fitted out like a carpenter’s bench with every needful tool on its hook, all polished copper and wood and steel-lined bins. The crew lived farther down, where Kay was not to go. Deepest below in the hold it was all case oil and coal, but Kay loved the orderly smell of the upper cargo deck: tea and mahogany, the familiar church-reek of tallow candles and sweeter beeswax, pine and cedar and other woody smells, spices she did not know. It was dark, but once one’s eyes grew accustomed, the rows of pillars between boxes were like the great roof posts in the stable at Aunt Lydia’s; and that was the other smell, the bleached stable smell of chickens and three well-kept young pigs, waiting to be roast pork. Sunlight slanting down through bulkheads lit upon nothing grimy or rank. “A tidy ship, no slatternliness about her,” Francis said—not bragging, but assuring Thea that she would be comfortable and safe.
 
Still, it was a little lonely, to walk through this world a few steps behind two people who were mostly focused on each other. And not what Kay was used to, having had all Thea’s attention until now.
 
Over the long ocean day, broken into portions by meals and the brass bell that rang to indicate changes of the watch, Kay wandered this new world, alone among the crowd of crew, shy to speak to the men but not wanting to be in Thea’s pocket all day. She found a hiding place or two; in that way she was like old Seaton the ship’s carpenter, dreaming in his lifeboat. In the afternoon, when the wind rose and they put on sail and the ship began to slant into true motion, Francis asked Mr. Best (that was the name of the lump-nosed second mate from the beautiful night) to show her the wooden seat tucked in at the starboard side of the fo’c’sle, where she might be safe out of the hubbub but still look out and perhaps spot land as they came closer.
 
Kay felt a softening toward Francis, almost tender; prickling back to caution whenever he shouted orders or was brisk with Mr. Wright or made one of the other seamen grovel or snap-to and say, Aye aye, Sir! He was easy in command. When he came down to supper, he began training Kay in the way of the sea, but he was never Father’s sort of schoolmaster, and she understood his instruc­tion was directed more to Thea than to herself.
 
“A barque can outperform a barquentine at any run, far better at sailing to windward than a full-rigged ship might be, at rising to the wind—well! Easier to handle in all seas. Perhaps the Morning Light is not the best runner, but we make compromise our servant and take the best elements of the fore-and-aft rig and the full, to be the most efficient rig at sea—and with a much-reduced crew—” In his enthusiasm, Francis had moved to boastfulness, which came oddly from his mouth; he was usually inclined to understatement. “Twenty-two this trip, well in hand, allowing for mishap or illness. Let’s see the Flying Dutchman race round the Horn with less than seventy!”
 
Thea smiled for his keenness, and Kay saw that she held her tongue from saying fewer to correct him.

Kay did not care for this new entity, Francis-and-Thea. She worried over what it might mean, how her own life would be changed, or Thea’s. All this time out at sea, yet her sister had not recovered her usual quiet vitality, but still sat sopping and droop­ing over the teapot at breakfast, and more often than not went back to lie down white-faced in their cabin, eyes shaded with one hand and her mouth in a wavering line.

Their bed was over-large for a ship; Francis had had it made especially. Carved edge boards kept the featherbed from shifting, but made it uncomfortable to sit on the side to comb Thea’s hair or pat her hands with rosewater or any other thing that might be nice for her. If only Thea would get up and come out on deck into the delicious wind, she would feel better.

Nausea did not stop her from nagging Kay about lessons and her sampler and the various ways she ought to be spending her days, and demanding to be shown a page of conjugations. “Amo, amas, amat . . .” Thea said, not in a loving voice, and, “Amamus, amatis, amant,” Kay mouthed back, clacking like a ventriloquist’s dummy, but she sighed and fetched her books. She was of course eons past the baby verb to love ; she wondered if that was the only Latin verb Thea recalled.

~

Another long day slid like water through water, but the next morn­ing was different. Kay dreamed in the early dawn, a quiet dream of a sick woman in a metal bed: white-faced, blue shadows under her eyes, a bald head. The walls were green behind her and the sheets yellow; the colours of the dream were strangely clear. Was it her mother, in heaven” She had a sweet face, not like Kay’s. Perhaps if Kay were kinder. Thea said one’s face only became beautiful through good deeds and loving thoughts.
The dream did not frighten Kay, but it made her worry about her sister dying, as both their mothers had died, so instead of dress­ing and running up the ladder to the deck, she went into the saloon.
Thea was in the saloon already, drinking tea, looking very ordi­nary. Kay must have slept late. The strangeness of the morning puzzled her still, until she realized—it was the stillness that puzzled her. The ship rested at anchor, tossing only lightly in the harbour’s swell and seep. They had come to Boston in the night.

After she had eaten and drunk her tea and redone her copy­book from yesterday to Thea’s cross-grained satisfaction, Kay waited at the rail by the ladder to the boat for Francis and Thea to be finished their farewell. Thea was to have come to the shops to fit Kay out with the necessary clothing but Francis said she should lie down this morning. They were debating it still, Kay could hear through the open skylight—what Francis was to buy, and whether he should bring Thea a poultice or a tisane or something from the pharmacist.

Perhaps Thea would feel better on dry land again” Kay did not care, she only wanted to get on with it or begin to shriek like the gulls that wheeled about the ships. Her head hurt, and her throat hurt too. Nobody bothered about her, only about Thea. They had only come to Boston harbour because they were forced to keep her with them, only because of her unwelcome presence. If only Thea had not had her half-sister coming along so inconvenient, they would be on the rolling main with the wind set fair for Africa.

Kay’s spirit reared a little within her chest, because she was a person, and if they did not see and understand her, she might jump off this ship into the dinghy and row to the wharf and walk the tilt­ing wooden walkways into Boston, looming behind the dark ware­houses, and disappear in its alleys never to be seen again by those who did not understand her anyway.

But Francis came up behind her, saying, as if she had not been waiting and waiting, “Now, young Kay, off we go, and smartly— Mr. Best must make the chandler’s office before noon.”

The dinghy went over the waves in quite a different movement from the ship, plunging and backing as the oars ploughed on, Mr. Best (he gave her a wink with one kind piggy eye) and Jacky Judge at the oars. The back of Jacky’s neck and his arms had a matte smoothness Kay did not mind looking at, but not when he could see her. She dipped a hand into the harbour water and let it run along, cupping the moving wave. Behind them the Morning Light, all her sails stowed, receded into a low shape in the water, a collection of black sticks against the foggy sky.

The usual commotion of ropes and mooring held them up at the little wharf, and then Francis went striding down the shaking boards so that Kay had to run to keep up. Her legs were used to tilting now. They walked (too quickly, Francis never slacking his pace) up to the tramline. The tramcar came and plunged them down and then up into the great walls and crackling, energetic depth of the city.
Francis was not one for talking as they went, and neither was Kay, so that suited them both. But she was still caught between fright and fury at being sent off alone with him—whom she hardly knew and was half-scared of, although she would not say so to Thea. He was older than Thea, who was nearly thirty now, quite an old spinster to be new-married, Cousin Olive said, and how sad that she wasted her youth raising Kay.

As the tramcar turned onto Summer Street, Francis pointed to Filene’s, the big store Thea had said they must visit. He ordered Kay to look sharp and hopped off as the tram lurched to a stop, turning back to give a hand to Kay.

She scorned to take it—oof, the pavement was farther than her legs had thought. They hustled to the curb through the welter of traffic and looked up at the brown bulk of the building, great glass doors glowing with brass and interior golden light. Beautiful doors, sectioned like an orange in a skin of brass hoops, went round in a glass drum. It was like skipping rope, to find the right moment to enter the carousel, and then take tiny, rapid steps inside the moving wedge of floor, all your feet were allotted. Inside, the light was startling, rays and beams sparking off myriad edges of glass and brass. The brilliance sent Kay back a step upon the threshold, almost back into the revolving swirl.

Francis barked, “Ladies’ haberdashery?” at a nearby girl in a dark skirt and a trim blue shirtwaist with a pretty collar that Kay wished she might have. The girl (whose hair was perfectly swept into a Gibson, whose teeth were jagged, whose little boot toes peeped beneath her skirt) pointed to the moving stairs.

Kay held tight to the handrail, one step up from Francis. He had ushered her on in front, as if he was perhaps afraid of the motion himself. Or to catch her, if she panicked at the step-off and fell. But she had been on moving stairs before, in Montreal, on their way from Blade Lake; she knew to lift her foot and hop as the treadle-step approached the end. It was Francis who stumbled a little.

A fearsome woman, shaped like a prow and jacketed up to the throat, took Francis’s order from his hand. “Serge skirts, two; white waists, two; middy blouses, four—yes, yes . . .” She ran her eye down the list Thea had written and turned to inspect Kay’s legs. “Stockings.”

“Very well,” Francis said, like he said at dinner to excuse Mr. Wright from table. “All that you think fit. We had time for nothing but her boots before we sailed.”

Kay stood it. In the close dressing room, people put blouses over her head and measured her waist and her bust, which she did not like. She told them she had no need of camiknickers, but the prow-fronted woman paid no mind and set aside six plain, ugly ones and a number of vests. The middy blouses were fetched and stacked. One of the serge skirts fit; an underling took a seam-ripper to another to let the waistband out, squatting on a stool in the corner. Then she hemmed both skirts quickly, with long, slanting stitches Thea would not have let Kay set.

The last item on the list was white muslin dresses, two. The under­ling rolled in a rack of mixed whites, embroidered or plain, sleeves small and large. The manageress picked out one that had nothing nice about it at all, and one Kay liked, which almost felt comfort­able. She did not see why she could not have two just the same, and said so, and the manageress nodded. The dresses went over her head and back again too, and then two plain shifts that needed tucks taken, until she thought she might screech. But she did not let herself, because she had won over the dresses.

At last it was done. While the packages were wrapped in blue paper, Francis stood by the counter, legs wide-braced, jingling coins in his pocket. He reached over to tweak Kay’s cheek and said, “Luncheon” Cake” Come, sprogget, we might as well amuse ourselves.”

Because Thea was not there, he meant. His humour and his kindness were both too heavy for Kay to help him with.

Down the moving staircase, taking the view of the marble hall below; then they burst out into the street, afternoon sun now light­ing the other side of the cobbles. Francis hailed a horse cab and stowed the package behind. He told the man they were starved, and the horse gee’d up. The cab jiggled over the stones, in a quiet way, to the Westminster Hotel, where the rooftop restaurant had gay striped awnings attached to a set of Grecian ladies holding up their spears. First of all, per Francis’s orders, petits fours; then a dainty plate of cut sandwiches. Francis had a bowl of chowder—to test the Boston version, he said. He was pleasant company. Kay wished she did not feel a sense of caution. But she remembered how careful they had always to be with Father, who as principal of the Blade Lake School also held a position of authority. And she did not know Francis as Thea did.

“If only your sister was not having so hard a—” He stopped.

Kay took another sandwich: chicken with a spiced yellow dress­ing, and raisins. Francis did not start again.

“Hard a what?” Kay asked, at the end of her sandwich, which was delicious.

His face had gone stiff. Was he angry with her” “Well, perhaps she will tell you herself, when she thinks it time,” he said.

He seemed to think she was seven years old instead of going on thirteen.

There was one last yellow sandwich, and a pity to waste it, so Kay took it. Before she bit, she said, “I have not had a moment’s queasiness. I have my mother’s strong stomach.”

“Thea’s mother was more delicately reared.”

Thea’s mother Maria was, had been, Maria Wetmore. She was Francis’s second cousin—all those Yarmouth people were related— so he would not hear a word against her. Kay’s own mother, Eliza Warner, was just a country girl from the land north of Battleford. But she died too, when she was about to have another baby. Kay thought about that other little babe sometimes, the dead brother or sister. And of her young mother, whom she could not remember at all. Perhaps it was her sweet face that Kay had dreamed of that morning.

When they had finished, they took the brass elevator back down to the street and the uniformed man gave them the package with Kay’s clothes and whistled for another cab. They were bowling along the street when Francis leaned forward and tapped the man.

“Stop a moment,” he told him, and the cab pulled up, the horse blowing wetly through his mouth as if disgusted.

They went into a little shop with gold lettering on dark-glassed windows. Francis walked up and down the glass-topped counter, peering into the black velvet depths. At last he pointed, and the clerk took out a pearl pin shaped like a new moon. Plain, but pretty. Kay approved.

“Do not tell Thea,” Francis said when they were back in the buggy. “We’ll keep it a secret until later.” He looked confused and mysterious.

In a cascading shuffle of thinking and discarding—Thea’s birth­day long past, and Christmas too long ahead, until later when?—Kay saw that of course Thea must be going to have a baby, as people almost always did, once they were married. Once vague things had been done to them that did not bear thinking of. While Francis was paying the driver and hailing Mr. Best, Kay turned her head to the salt-smelling sea and blew through her mouth like a horse.

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