To be published on 11 December 2015 will be Book 3 of The Iceberg Trilogy.
Come Full Circle opens on the West Coast of Canada in the winter of 1995. Read on for an extract or buy the book today.
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1 Touching the Void
In one short page she tries to bridge the silence of twenty-five years:
I trust this note finds you in good health. I am well. British Columbia is now my home, education, ironically, my profession.
A gifted young lad I know shows great interest in ornithology. He is considering: Zoology at the University of British Columbia; Biology at the University of Western Ontario; and – surprise, surprise – The Avian Science and Conservation Centre at McGill.
I was wondering if you or your contacts have any advice or opinions one way or the other as to scholarships, reputation of various faculties, their facilities, and employment prospects post study. He comes from a small coastal community. Any of these options will be of significant change.
I hope everyone is well.
She asks after no one. After all this time, after everything, she’s lost that right. Her closing salutation:
You know what you mean to me.
And then her full name in an illegible scrawl:
It seems obscure, impersonal this note of hers. Something that has taken her five days to write that should have taken only five minutes. It would have been far easier to have called, for she had located the number through Information as a means of finding Jonathan’s current address. Which was just as well. He had moved. But she never had any intention of calling. Initially she had tried Victoria Hospital, hoping to send the letter there. But as she had suspected, her seventy-seven year-old brother had long retired. It was 1995 after all.
She doesn’t call because…she who rejected them, now fears being rejected in return? She doesn’t call because…she will be impelled to ask after people she most likely can’t cope hearing about…or doesn’t care? She would rather remember them the way she remembers them.
But why does she make contact in the first place? Sitting in front of her dressing table mirror she asks herself this question. Her searching eyes, green-blue pools of intensity; her face, not pale like many women her age, but seasoned, wind-worn; her head, clad in a faded white wimple and veil, an aging bride of Christ. Other women who wear such coverings shy away from mirrors. But not Eva. In her mirror she can have a conversation. With herself. Just herself. But never aloud. God forbid that someone might hear and think her mad. No, there is not a person on earth privy to her inner thoughts.
It’s true what they say about mirrors. If you stare long enough and hard enough, they become unflinching. You find the truth you seek. She is reaching out because she is letting go. Once, she was all alone in the world, but that was of her choosing. This time, it is of another. She craves her solitude, yet she yearns to hold the hand of another who has also let go. Or is there something else? That this young man should know he is not alone in the world. That she should know the same. Eva exhales then shudders.
She wanted to drive two hours north and post the letter at Prince Rupert and mark her return address care of Poste Restante. But she knows she can never do that. She is asking something of her brother, and in return she must offer something of herself. A word. The name of a town. That is all she will provide. And a post office box number.
On the main road, at the start of their drive, there is no letterbox signifying a dwelling. Yet the house is there all right, at the end of a pot-holed, two-kilometre gravel road. It is submerged in a never-ending forest of yellow and red cedar, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce. Two yellow-leaved, now bare-leaved, silver birches in the front of the house, planted years ago as a nod to her childhood, the only exceptions.
Her room is on the second floor of the unpainted A-frame wooden house. She overlooks the driveway so she can see the seldom comings and goings, but, in any event, their dog, Axel, warns of any intruder well before any uncertain knock.
Behind the house is a narrow trail that leads to a rocky outcrop overlooking the Pacific. Nearly another kilometre north is a beach of fine pale sand, strewn with tired driftwood, beyond that, tidal pools and more headlands, the meandering path eventually winding up in Kitisak.
If ever she has reason to go to town, she rarely drives, preferring to stride down the road and the eight kilometres of highway into town, then return via the coastal path. The fewer people seeing her walk out their gravel road the better. For some inexplicable reason, Eva always senses she is being followed. It haunts and infuriates her. She is forever glancing over her shoulder yet sights no one. Still, she never stops walking. It is one of her few necessities in life. As is her wimple.
She never leaves her bedroom without it. Never. A pair of jeans is her other de rigueur. Today, she pulls a fleece vest on over her long-sleeved shirt and zips it up. Downstairs, she will add her down jacket, gloves and her sorrels. It is late February, the days are lengthening and the temperatures just above freezing. Still, snow is everywhere. The sky is grey, the sun feeble as it tries to poke through. It is a normal west coast winter’s day in every respect, except for the letter she carries with her.
2 Abiding Memories
Rebecca awakes and opens her eyes. What she sees in the early grey light of morn is less clear than what she has seen in her sleep.
She could not pinpoint exactly when her vision started to change but in the last few months her world had become so clouded she felt every day was spring in Newfoundland, where if you left the door open the fog would crawl into your house like a left-over ghost from Christmas and stay for an hour till it suddenly vanished.
Today, all that would change. The cataracts were coming out and new artificial lenses were going in. They would be made of plastic and it was that fact that had long deterred her. In his most placating voice, Jonathan had said, ‘Mother you have fillings, metal in your body, what’s a little bit of plastic?’ So today was the day. No doubt tomorrow she would belong to the throng of post-operative patients who claimed, ‘I should have had it done years ago.’
Once recovered, she would be quick to pick up a paintbrush and maybe go back to reading books. Lately she’d listened to audio books. For Christmas Morton had sent her A River Runs Through It and recordings of some of Gary Paulsen’s stories: Hatchet, Dogsong, and Dogteam. How she had enjoyed those. Meant for children and young adults, but really anyone who was a canine lover would be enthralled. Did-you-did-you-did-you-did-you-did-you-did-you want it to go on forever? Yes, she howled like a husky, I did. I do. She smiled. That book was her son’s life.
Soon she would once more clearly see their street of maples verdant in their new season growth and hear the return of the warbling vireo, but while spring brought many birthings to the world – from the delicate bud of the first larch leaf to the wobbly life of baby foals and the pure innocence of new-born seals – it was those illustrious icebergs conceived in the arctic north that delighted Rebecca the most. They were the ultimate outpouring of nature’s strength and might as it brought new life into the world.
She was unlikely to be seeing any of them in Montreal when they removed her eye patches, but, God-willing, this summer she’d go back to Newfoundland and once again see sparkling majestic shapes that painted the seascape with their truly unique form. For now, she would have to settle for the excitement of being able to watch vivid images on the Discovery channel, being able to see the face of her eldest son, not just touch it, and being able to read the newspaper, and any letters that wound their way to her. Yesterday, Jonathan had to read to her Gene’s letter, such as it was.
She wondered what he made of matters. They hadn’t spoken of Gene in years. They never wondered any more. She was certain Jonathan had given her up for dead. But Rebecca had long felt in one small ventricle of her weary heart that her daughter was still alive.
There was a part of her that wished they had never received Gene’s letter. To receive such an impersonal note after all these years was more galling than silence. Rebecca always hoped she would see her daughter again under happy circumstances. She always hoped that as the years progressed her daughter would have cut her aging mother some slack. That Gene would have remembered she had lost enough children along the way and that it was hurtful for her to add to the tally with her prolonged absence.
That Gene did not, only seemed to confirm what Rebecca had long feared – her daughter’s mental health was and would always be variable. How she managed to hold down a teaching job confounded her. Once Rebecca got to that unavoidable conclusion she could set aside her hurt and feel pity for her daughter’s untameable demons and her unhinged life. She could say: it was of comfort to hear from her.
And now they had an address. She wondered if she should send on to her the small stash of letters she had of hers, boxed away in her bottom drawer. Ones written between Gene and Sonny back in the early fifties and again in the sixties. She had her own box of letters written during the Great War. Odd the way she had ended up minding Gene’s, the way her mother had minded her letters from Samuel.
When they packed up that house in Winnipeg, Gene and Sonny’s letters were the only items she said she would take. Did she sense then that she would be a caretaker? She read some of them once. After three years. Like hers, there was nothing remarkable about them unless falling in love was remarkable these days. Most outpourings of love only fluttered the hearts of those directly involved. Hers had certainly fluttered. More than fluttered. And so it should have. Falling in love was the privilege of youth like innocence was the privilege of childhood. Though these days when she looked at the young it seemed sex came easier than love. In her day it was the opposite.
Last night, in her dreams Samuel and Sonny visited. Their presence mingled with recessed thoughts stirred by that letter they had just received. She dreamed of the first time they had gone to Lake Temagami, Samuel and her, their daughter Abigail, then an excited three-year old, and Jonathan, twelve. On the first night after the children had gone to bed she and Samuel had stripped off, wrapped themselves in towels and run down to the lake for a moonlight swim, dodging the little black flies and insects that buzzed around them. Every so often they had to dunk their heads under the water to lose them.
‘What did I tell you all those years ago?’ Samuel had said. ‘And this is not as bad as it gets. In spring they are like a black mist.’
‘I can put up with a few black flies for this,’ she had said, wrapping her wet naked body around Samuel’s.
‘Me too. But we are going to have to keep that screen door closed and we are going to have to cover ourselves all over with insect repellant during the day.’
‘All over?’ she said with a laugh.
‘You’ll have insect bites on your private bits before this holiday is over. Mark my words. They are incessant. They are ceaseless. They are insidious.’
‘Like you used to be,’ she murmured.
‘Yes,’ he drawled. He waited, his mood somber. ‘The love making has continued.’
‘But not how it was before. Or how it was after Abby was born.’
‘I know.’ His voice sad. ‘I’m sorry. I can be that way again. It can be that way again. I want to. I just thought you needed some time before you could move on. Every time I made love to you, you would end up crying. I didn’t think it was helping.’
It has been seven months since their beautiful son Henry had been born, lived for one day and then died. She kissed Samuel’s neck then rested her head on his shoulder. ‘I know. I’m sorry. But I’m hoping here I won’t cry and here it can be like it used to be. Remember Boston when we got so caught up in each other we forgot that we were trying to make a baby.’
‘I want it be like that again. Can we try on this holiday to get back to those two people we were in Boston?’
‘Yes,’ said Samuel, thickly, ‘God, yes. Starting right now.’
They made love in the lake then he danced with Rebecca on the small jetty while he sang Cole Porter’s ‘You do something to me’ and they draped towels around each other like Algonquin shawls. After, he carried her into the house where they made robust love in a solid bed hewn from native timbers and the only cries from Rebecca were breathless ones to the night sky meant for his ears only.
These were the random memories that sometimes came to a nonagenarian lying in the folds of sleep. Thank God she still had her memory. Memories, memories – secrets that no one could touch.
Thinking of Lake Temagami reminded her of a conversation she’d once had with her son-in-law. Sonny had rung a few months before he disappeared asking after the place they had once vacationed at when her kids were young. He’d said Gene had mentioned it to him way back in 1950 when they first met, but she had not remembered the name, a cabin on a lake in the middle of Ontario somewhere. Did she recall the place? She did. Sonny had said, one day if ever he was over that way he might check it out. She wrote providing him with the details but told him she didn’t know if it was still there, still available for holiday rentals, let alone how to book it. The last time she had been there was in 1938. So much could have changed. So much did.
When she and Wyatt had gone through all of Sonny’s paperwork, they had never found that letter. It wasn’t something that had clicked at the time. Only now.