Reads: 261

Air. Sweet and warm and humming with the motion of summer. It roars in her window, whipping the wild strands of hair in all directions. Latching, static-bound to the fibres of her seat. Clinging in the corners of her mouth. It's hot now. The semi tundra absorbs the sun and builds it up. Amplifying the brilliance of the day.

It's loud with the window open but the music is louder. There's reception here. Crackling but good enough. It's a classic rock kind of day, because the only alternative is the unforgiving, repetitive boom-chick of top 40 hits. She doesn't mind, and Marvin doesn't either. This will do just fine.

The Ford rumbles its way up the last of the steep inclines and she realizes that somewhere a little ways back she's already crossed the border. That imagined line of division. It's Quebec now, although she won't be in frenchman land for long. In a few short minutes she'll be waiting in line at Blanc-Sablon to board the ferry. Then across the Strait of Belle Isle. Now there's a border she can respect. Real, strong current. Ancient and cold and unforgiving. Outlined, in the badly creased map she found in the glove box, with a plush, infantile blue. The provincial borders appear, laughably, in solid black. As though those were the true lines of boundary. As though they had been there longer.

She thinks of the wrecks off the coast and the countless lives lost to those waters. Men clawing helplessly from inside the hulls of steel tombs, dragged down by storms or the sunkers or whatever cursed blight it was that had condemned them, indifferently, to be plucked from this world. Waters that, not so long ago, had been regarded with unease as the likely hiding place of German U-boats. Before that, monsters. Gods. Those aboriginal seafarers and the Nordic clans before them must have felt – as she does now – a sense of wonder as they soared on the swells, gliding over depths that reached beyond the horizons of their imagination. It couldn't have been all fear.

It's the kind of grand daydreaming that Al and her used to get up to, around the fire on a chilly summer evening. In the coves of her youth. Tales of old. Invented histories that might be, at least to some degree, true. Times forgotten in spaces where no one had been for the span of lives. Places where homes used to be. She imagines him sitting in the back of a cab, stuck at a busy intersection. Nuts.

But that thought gives way to another. A memory that's been pounded flat for years. They are so close. Her body aches. A heat surging through her veins, rising. Her mouth, anxious. But his eyes shift suddenly. Over her shoulder. A voice – her voice, Millie's voice – breaks the air with the cataclysmic shudder of an inward breath.

“What are you doing?”

She turns, then, desperate. Reaching as she never has before for a smile. A casual line. But she lingers – there's nothing. Nothing she can say to make it alright, never again. Not now. And Al, with all his in-the-moment resolve steps in, offering some quip wrapped up in guilty charm but Millie's eyes cast all their blame toward her. It's then that Jess knows she's been outcast. She's the one to blame. And she hasn't seen Millie's eyes since. Hasn't dared to withstand that hateful, suspicious gaze.

It's branded in her. Etched into her waking mind and in those brief moments of the day that followed with Al on the banks of the stream it's all she can think of. Even then, when they're all alone with moss beneath them and nothing but air between them. When she tells him that she's going to leave town and take the job up north with isolation pay that she's been pondering about. And she can read the sadness on his face, even though they're smiling. And if it weren't for Millie's eyes still stinging in her retinas she would have leapt onto him right there and then. Held him close. Damn the fallout and the bridges burned.

But that didn't happen. Just a squeeze of the hand. Teary-eyed smiles and silence. Silence broken only by the songs of the chickadees and the gentle rhythmic flow of the water heading down, down, down to the sea.

Submitted: March 30, 2016

© Copyright 2021 keithdaniels. All rights reserved.


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