He hardly speaks at breakfast. His forehead, eyes, eyebrows, and lips look pinched—like his head is in a vice. He’s worried. She knows it.
That night, she’d been jolted out of her sleep again, her heart feeling tight and swollen, like a boxing glove. Her silk pajamas clung to her skin, and a damp chill to her forehead.
She sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for air.
Suddenly his face right against hers; she’d startled him.
Not for the first time.
He brushed her unruly hair out of her face.
“I heard it again,” she said.
The howling. That terrible, incomprehensible, bone-shattering whine that seemed to come from nowhere.
He pressed her to his chest.
“It’s gone,” he whispered. “Nobody’s going to hurt you.”
Then he caressed her until she fell asleep in his arms.
She steals a glance at him.
Pretending to be sorting pictures on the computer, she watches him out of the corner of her eye as he sits there, bent over the table, his chin resting in a hand as big as a shovel. He reads the newspaper from cover to cover; it’s just the local rag but he doesn’t skip over a thing, not even the classifieds. He’s never learned to skim. In his world, there’s no place for skimming. Everything must be observed: wind direction, the movement of the tide, wave action, fish movements, what men in the harbor are saying, news and rumors. Especially rumors. If you miss something, or don’t care what’s going on in the village, then you’re soon on the outside looking in. And that can be fatal.
She’s only known that since she came into his life.
How did we manage to survive?
Here he is, far from the grave of his boat, the Mighty Breeze. Far from the North Atlantic and the steep cliffs, the killer storms and currents. Far from the disaster that pulled him down in its wake.
He’s an outsider in Vancouver. A man who doesn’t want to be anywhere but on his boat or in his squat little house with green trim. He couldn’t even restack the firewood the storm scattered—that’s how fast everything happened. He must replay things in his mind over and over, neat and tidy as he is. In the chaos of emotions and threats, he is a man who clings to order.
So all he can do now is read the entire paper. He can’t throw out leftovers. He calls it wasteful, making a face every time he says the word. His shed by the ocean is stacked with pails, old ropes and tools, rusty winches, used nails, lumber from demolished houses, worn-out knives. A man who always expects hard times needs these things.
But he didn’t expect the disaster that befell him.
He suddenly looks up, and she feels caught in the act.
“Did you read this?” he asked. “The letters to the editor? People with ocean-front houses are complaining that people walking on the beach keep peeking in their windows.”
She smiles, happy that he’s found something he finds funny. Nobody in his village has any problem with people constantly looking in their windows. They see everything anyway, never miss a thing. Through trusty binoculars, they surveil the houses on the opposite side of the cove. They know when it’s lights out and when somebody comes home late.
But she’d shut her eyes to what she really ought to have seen.
He stretches across the table to study the classifieds. She never tires of looking at him. A back as round as the leatherback turtle’s that washed ashore one day, dead. The morning after they first made love, her fingers felt for his vertebrae and couldn’t find them. As if he’d morphed from a sea creature into a human.
If someone saw the way she was watching him now, her fascination would be taken for love.
But it’s more like wonder. Silent amazement that they’re both here. Together. That he followed her, all this way.
How did we manage to get away!
Did we get away?
He’s always been so afraid of the city. The cars. The crowds. The pace. Traffic lights everywhere. Eyes that look right past him. Mouths that don’t say hello. Losing himself in the sea of people on the sidewalks.
But now, after everything that happened, he feels secure here. Nobody knows him in Vancouver. Nobody knows anything. His name means nothing.
It’s been ten months now. He never talks about going back. Not even about the Mighty Breeze. Or the kitchen with its loud, ticking clock. Not one word about the cove or the dock with the rotting planks he’d long wanted to replace.
“Don’t you want to call?” she asks him occasionally.
He just shakes his head, raises his eyebrows, and looks out the window, checking the sky over the neighboring apartment towers. Then he wants to go for a walk before it rains. His route always leads to the ocean. Not to his ocean but to this other, Western ocean, the Pacific. Water that never, to his astonishment, freezes over in winter.
She hasn’t taken any pictures of him since they came to Vancouver. As if photographing him were cursed. As if her pictures would reveal something she wasn’t prepared for. The way he’s sitting at the table, turning the pages, his brow furrowed, back arched like a bridge over water, lips pressed together—she doesn’t have to capture this moment with her camera. It’s already burned into her mind. Exactly like the secret that she must never reveal.
Do visions of what happened haunt him as they do her? She’s afraid to ask.
Out of nowhere, the memories appear before her eyes, and they’re not always the most terrifying ones.
The wall hanging, for instance, in a stranger’s living room, of a band of caribou at sunset. Blackish-brown shapes backlit with kitschy neon colors. The caribou stiff, as if blinded by the garish orange and yellow and red.
A wild animal frozen in the headlights’ glare, fearfully undecided between safety and doom.
Text copyright © 2015 Bernadette Calonego
Translation copyright © 2016 Gerald Chapple
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle