I started having visions in late July, just as things were starting to heat up. Optical disturbances. Floating prisms in my peripheral vision. Unaligned rainbows, or shimmers that sometimes drifted in front of my eyes as if carried on a light breeze. They were radiant but opaque splotches, so if I was looking directly at someone’s face, the mouth might be obscured. If I darted my eyes fast to the right or left, I could sometimes shift the spot so I could see the person’s mouth, but then an eye would be blocked, or a cheek. I thought early migraine symptoms, or detached retina, but there was no firm diagnosis.
I began to experience these floaters, or whatever they were, a week or so before the actual visions. I don’t know if the people I saw were in any way connected to the minor visual disturbances that preceded them. I say “people”; they were corporeal. But that is all I can say for certain.
My husband told me he was leaving me the same week the civil-sector layoffs were announced and I lost my job. I saw the first vision a few months after that, the man at Low Point beach. You would think stress, maybe. Psychotic episode.
A marriage is this: Put the glasses with the glasses, put the cups with the cups. Every morning you do this and I come down. The cups and the glasses.
The bath running, pipes shuddering, lolling surges of water, the scrudge of a calve or buttock along the white enamel of the cast iron claw-foot tub we salvaged from an abandoned house in Low Point, a house collapsing into the long grass.
Marriage is: You buy a cabin (a cottage, they would say on the mainland) with a veranda and garden, a lilac tree and an apple tree, blossoms all over the ground, in outport Newfoundland, maybe an hour or two from town. Canoes, barbeques, an A.T.V.
We are: The dog in the Anglican cathedral churchyard during the winters in town, rippling through the chest-high snow at dusk. A mutt, mottled like an old mirror, an undulation over the graveyard, and my husband, unshaved, with the black nylon leash wrapped around one of his puffy Gore-Tex gloves, letting the metal hook of the leash slap against his thigh.
We are roast chicken dinners with chicken seasoning that we bang out of a tin can with the flat of our hands. The chicken from a frozen package of three, purchased at Costco, frost burnt and plump. We cook with haste. Long as it isn’t raw. We buy the jumbo Party Mix and shovel handfuls into our faces while we cook and do the dishes.
We tell each other stories, outrages from my husband’s office, flecks of pretzel flying as he talks about this one or that one. Or I talk about my work in the civil service; the new Excel spreadsheets I’m using for inventory, glitches in software.
I type, I say. Then there’s a delay.
These are fillable forms?
A delay and then the letters and numbers flick across the screen. Meanwhile, I’m not doing anything. These are fillable.
You’re not touching the keyboard?
And the letters pour across the screen, seconds later, like, thirty seconds maybe.
He doesn’t like the gloves I use for washing the pots and pans. Yellow rubber gloves.
You leave them all over the place.
They’re gloves, I say. Grease, what do you call, globules in the water.
You leave them, he says.
Clots of dog food, pork fat, a soggy crust. I don’t want my hands.
The feel of them, the insides, he says. Wet, icky.
And then, like, a half sentence of text ticks out all by itself across the screen.
Turn the machine off and turn it back on. I do. Do you turn it off? I do.
We are: A box comes in the mail. Something rattled around in a cardboard box. I had to slit the packing tape with an X-Acto knife. Here, let me get you a knife. I got it. No, use the knife. O.K., give me the knife.
Even then, I had trouble ripping open the heavy cardboard.
Present for you, my husband said. Guess what it is. No idea. What’s the occasion? No occasion. You can’t guess? I’ve no idea.
A dildo, bright purple with ridges, a smiley face at the tip. Hilarious. Set in a bed of Styrofoam Ss. I twisted the wheel on one end and the vibration was industrial. The Ss squeaked against each other, writhing in a pelt of static electricity. Twisted the dial back the other way, a gentle hum.
Give it a whirl, he said.
We are the neighbour’s snow blower at dawn. Trips to the dump.
Marriage is: You should get that windshield wiper fixed. I will. Don’t go on the highway like that. I won’t. Stop at Canadian Tire. I will. Did you stop at Canadian Tire? No. You drove like that? Yes, I did.
The wiper with the rubber flange torn away from the metal arm so that the strip of rubber wiggles over the glass like a maddened eel. The metal arm scratching an arc in the glass.
Sucking your cock; the vibrator on roar.
How was it? Oh my God. Was it good? Oh my God.
I buy the convenience store in Low Point with the money acquired from dividing the assets. We were scrupulous about right down the middle. But I’m still thinking: we.
We are the new surveillance system I have in the store after the break-in. A camera pointing in every aisle. The simultaneous feed on a flat screen at the cabin. A young woman with long dark hair and a black toque. A young man loading bottles of ketchup, pickles, and relish into an army surplus bag. Systematically cleaning out the shelves of food. I’d phoned the cops from the landline and they’d blocked off the highway on both ends, the only two ways out of Low Point.
After the condo fiasco I have to stay in the cabin and remortgage the store, on the verge of real collapse, to which you said: O.K., until we figure out something else.
You got the cabin in the divorce. We split everything down the middle, the accretion of a life, the worst being the doodads, the worst being the Aerolatte from Bed Bath & Beyond for milk foaming. The worst being the Dirt Devil, and all the hand-held devices for cleaning to which I’d inexplicably formed an attachment.
The worst being the Christmas decorations, dragged from the basement in the heat of summer: the needlepoint Santa my sister did naturally went to me, the pewter reindeer.
The very worst was the tin salamander from Mexico City with plastic jewels on its back and space for a tea light behind it. The salamander you bought after we’d stood over the graves with the Plexiglas covers embedded in the stone of the courtyard, outside the central cathedral in Mexico City, unable to see what was below because of the sunlight on the glass and the murk and moss of decay.
And the wild fucking in the too-muggy hotel room behind the cathedral, and the bar when the Mexicans, one at a time, stood up from tables squashed with relatives, maybe fifteen at a table, all ages, and sang out folk songs, and the enchiladas and old grandmothers. You took the salamander.
I had lost my entire share from the divorce in the condo fiasco, but after thirty-two years of marriage what could you do? You would not have: I was put out on the sidewalk. For a time, until I got on my feet, I could stay at the cabin in Low Point. Of course this was not us. This was my lawyer and your lawyer.
I was a dancer until I was twenty-seven, then arts and admin, then tourism at the Confederation Building. But once, when I was twenty-seven, I performed in a dance that began at dawn in the graveyard of the Anglican cathedral. We dancers lay face up on the graves. Many of the headstones in that graveyard lie flat on the ground and the words and dates are smoothed away, gouged by centuries of rain and sleet.
We were wearing long gowns and petticoats, the colours too brilliant for period dresses. A troupe of fifteen young women. We rose from the graves as the sun came up, yawning, stretching our arms in the air. We each had a big silver tray with heaps of cut fruit that we offered to the audience. Fog crawled around the graveyard. The trains of our dresses left streaks of bright emerald in the dew-greyed grass. I was wearing a ruffled dress with a stiff lace bodice; the smell of baby powder and the comforting stink of some other actress’s stale underarm sweat. Lying in a faint depression in the earth formed when the coffin below me had rotted through and collapsed.
Dancers live by their bodies; they know the muscle and gut, ache and attrition. It’s a short stint, dominated by youth, strength, and sexual appetite. An ungovernable hunger. That’s around the time we got together. When we accept the idea of decay, we are no longer dancers. We hold the simple tenet: everything that moves is alive.
It was in the early evening at Low Point beach. The man was wearing a too-tight plaid jacket and jeans with the crotch hanging low enough on his thighs that it seemed to pinch his gait. He walked with a cordoned strut. He was standing with his phone out, trying to take a picture of the water.
The ocean was teeming with cod. They were so dense near the shore I could see their backs break the surface, their violent writhing. They formed a solid sludge. The sun was setting, turning the water a streaky orange. Close to the beach it was a bloody violet. All the windows in the houses along the shore glowed amber. It was only a matter of minutes before the sun disappeared into the horizon.
I smelled the alcohol. His face was slack except for a ridge of cheekbone, high and sharp under his deep-set eyes, the corners of which radiating white lines in his tanned face, as if he had been squinting into a permanent glare. His forehead swooped back, the pate spattered with brown patches. He had a beard, tufts of thin hair, almost colourless. He was bone with hard knots of stringy muscle and very short. I’d never seen him before.
People said with the downturn in the economy, strangers were coming from town to cause trouble, break into homes, vandalize, steal what they could get. This was new in a community that slept with their doors unlocked.
What’s happening? I asked.
Fish, he said. I saw there were cars with their headlights on lined up on both sides of the harbour. People standing at the edge of the cliff. I had never seen anything like it. It was unnatural. The water churning.
I was trying to post a picture, he said. But you got no reception here.
Sometimes you get one or two bars, I said. Up near the church.
You don’t belong here, he said. What are you? From town? He ran his eyes over me and slid his phone into the back pocket of his jeans. He started to walk beside me toward the road where his truck was idling. He took a flask out of the inside breast pocket of the jacket. The bottle was in a paper bag, soft with thousands of fine wrinkles from reuse. He tilted the mouth of the bottle toward me.
This was also the night of the fire at the Bay de Verde fish plant. Down the shore a few miles, a whole community was going up in flames. People moving out in school buses.
The smell of fresh paint in the condo; fifty-six people defrauded of their life savings. A chalky vanilla scent. They are scenting interior paint these days. But I’d stepped inside the one-room condo in St. John’s with Marion Sullivan that day and felt nothing out of the ordinary. I am not a good judge of character. Even in hindsight it is hard to believe Marion is not the well-meaning, never-stops-talking-but-canny person I thought she was.
Marion intuited the divorce when we were getting a coffee at Tim Hortons, though I hadn’t said. But at Tim Hortons, the pressure I’d felt. Preparing to sign the papers for the condo at the bank. My husband would have known about Marion Sullivan. He can smell a false, bright confidence as surely as I could smell that vanilla paint.
I had my son, Kevin, with me the morning I’d signed for the condo. He’d been skateboarding outside the bank with friends, but the security guard came out to make them leave. All Kevin’s buddies dispersed with the slump-shouldered lag of kids who don’t respect authority but would find anything other than sluggish compliance beside the point.
Kevin stepped on the tail end of his board so it seemed to leap into his hand, and then followed me into my meeting without a word.
The day before I’d let myself in the front door of our downtown house on Gower, after a visit to the condo with Marion Sullivan, and I’d looked down the long hall to the kitchen where Kevin had been standing at the counter making a sandwich. He’d been lit up by the setting sun from the patio doors at the back of the room. A full-body halo. He winked out of view; I heard the kiss of the rubber seal on the fridge door as he pulled it open, tinkling the jars and bottles, and he winked back into view, a black silhouette against the blazing light.
Kevin had sprouted during the divorce. He’d shed a stunting dormancy, arms and legs telescoping out, shoulders broad and muscled. The growth was accompanied by an unexpected elegance, a loping grace. In that instant, while he was backlit with blinding sunlight, I thought Kevin was his father. I thought my husband had come back, or more accurately, had never left.
What’s happening out there? I asked the man at the Low Point beach. A lockjaw wince stole over his face before he spoke.
Fish, thousands of fish, he said. He was one of those men who pause too long before answering, a subtly coercive silence that counts on you to be polite and wait it out.
It wasn’t quite dark yet and there were lots of people around, but the man stood too close to me. When I stepped back, he stepped toward me. It looked like the whole town was out on the cliffs to take in the leaping bodies of the fish. Cautious stories on the news, lately, of a return in the cod stocks. But cod don’t usually do what I was seeing. They don’t behave that way under normal circumstances.
The fire took the crab plant in Bay de Verde that night. Everybody coming into the store was talking stamps. There had been a promise; the plant owners were committed to providing work. But there was the question of how many hours. People needed the overtime for their stamps if they wanted to get through the winter.
Percy Strong picked me up on the road that night and drove me up the hill to the store. Percy owns the only other house on my lane, his lights visible through a stand of whispering aspen and a few birch. Percy’s daughter, Jocelyn, lives behind my cabin, an acre of hay between us and a high row of white rose bushes.
Jocelyn has put in one of those motion-sensitive halogen lights and it pierces the cabin’s kitchen at all hours, in the middle of the night. A car or a coyote will set it off. The bright things in the kitchen flash—the chrome kettle, the stainless steel fridge. When Jocelyn’s light comes on, the picture window in the kitchen goes black and reflects everything in the room. Even the print of pandas on my flannel pyjamas is visible. Perfectly delineated pandas, little white chests, each chomping on a branch of leaves. Sometimes, I’ve wandered out to the kitchen for water just in my underwear, and there I am, lit up.
On the day I thought Kevin was my husband: we have a stained-glass fish, a sculpin (mouth hanging open, protuberant, saucer eyes) made by a local craftsperson, suspended in the window transom above the front door. The reflection of the fish was visible on the wall, red and amber, floating without moving, as though the fish was working against a current too strong for it. Kevin has his father’s posture, his voice.
The illusion—the moment I’d thought my husband was back—afforded a reprieve so tender and dreamlike it weakened my knees. I stumbled over the boots in the front hall and had to hold the bannister.
Part of the reason I was buying the condo was that Kevin had decided to live with his father. He was moving out of his second-floor bedroom, full of dirty dishes smeared with hardened ketchup, the wall-sized flat screen for video games, the blasts of pseudo automatic rifles, the way he talked (too loud because he couldn’t hear himself with the headset) to people all over the world, somehow sounding in command, offering strategy, logistics, in a voice both calm and full of intelligence, cajoling, instructive, often playing through the night. The hole in the wall where he had smacked a basketball hard against the Gyproc, the posters of rap artists smoking joints, the electric guitar and amp, the pile of laundry. The three-storey Victorian downtown house was too big for me if I were living alone. It was also a fuck you to my husband. I expected him to intervene. I expected him to decide to come home once there was no home. I wanted him to think I’d moved on.
At the bank, Kevin had sprawled in the chair beside mine, his legs flung wide. He shot questions at the manager. He finagled me a lower interest rate by threatening to go to another bank. But the threat was so pleasingly articulated, amid banter about the advantages of a particular iPhone upgrade, the young manager complied without argument.
Outside the bank, Kevin dropped the skateboard and put one foot on it before it rolled away.
What will you do with your life? I said. He told me that a friend’s dad, driving them from a field party at four in the morning, kept saying that Kevin should do communications.
I want a job where I convince people to buy things, he said.
What sort of things? I said.
You gave up too easily, he said. Then he blushed, but his eyes met mine. A floater, opalescent and the size of loonie, dropped onto his mouth.
Your father did this, I said.
I flung my arm out at the bank as if everything we had just experienced in there proved I was the injured party.
Please, he said. Really?
What should I do? I said. You tell me.
It’s so easy, he said. He was rolling the skateboard back and forth under his green and blue suede sneaker.
I was driving back to town from the cabin for a meeting with my lawyer. It had begun to rain hard around Holyrood; the wind was so high I had to grip the steering wheel tight to keep the car from swerving across the line. Water shivered down the glass. A transport truck passed, covering my car in a hard wave of slush and I could see absolutely nothing except the writhing tail of black rubber detached from the passenger wiper, squiggling so hard it looked as though it was trying to bore its way through the window to suction itself to my face.
Marion Sullivan wore linen in earth tones, drapey things. Not the ordinary gabardine navy suit jackets with brass buttons and the tight all-weather Reitmans skirts that stretched across thighs gone to fat worn by most of the real estate agents I’d encountered.
Marion didn’t say anything about my husband’s betrayal; there was nothing cloying in her approach to selling real estate.
She was offering a deal. Not a great deal, but a credible deal. When I said that my husband was seeing someone else she touched my hand with her fingertips. My hand on the table and she’d stroked it; I felt her long false nails graze the skin on the back of my hand. An erotic charge that radiated from between my legs all through me.
She leaned in over the table, resting the heel of her other hand against her cheek and talked about the man she was seeing without drawing breath.
His face isn’t much to look at but I’m telling you, she said. Works in a camp outside Fort Mac, up on that scaffold, and you have to haul things up with rope, a hundred feet sometimes. There’s some that complain about the food, but you don’t hear him complain, she told me. They has steak once a week, they has chicken. Six weeks on and two home, and I give it to him. I make it worth his while. What he lavishes me with. You see this pin. That’s a diamond chip.
But you can’t go walking in the woods up there, the wolves will get you. They can be aggressive. And the bears. Coyotes are shy, but they get together in packs on the periphery of, what do you call, society, they attack. The money is good but you’re a hundred feet up. And dangerous? If somebody up there gets word, or say somebody passes it around, that you used to have trouble with your back, that’s it, you’re gone. You’re done. They don’t invite you back. There was them that had to go further north and by the time they drove back they were two hours in the bus and starved then and missed supper. And some of them complained and they were let go, gone. Complaining does not go over.
Marion Sullivan touched me for the second time then. This time pressing one knee between mine under the table.
Do you hear me? she asked. I said I had heard her.
Complaining gets you nowhere, she said.
You have to decide what you want and get it. This is a man, we sleep together when he’s in town. Not a looker, but the arms on him. She was gathering our napkins and the empty Styrofoam soup bowls, the plastic spoons. Squishing it all together.
You have to make people do what you want, Marion Sullivan said. People love to be guided. You’re doing them a favour. The hardest thing is deciding. Decisions are exhausting. You ease them toward what you want. Jimmy, that’s his name, he goes down on me.
She was standing up and she blew a breath up over her top lip to get a wisp of hair off her forehead. You decide for people they will follow you. Doesn’t matter what you decide, they follow.
Let’s go see this condo, she said. Two walls of glass. View through the harbour. I think you’ll be excited.
Gas pumps and the lottery tickets, cigarettes, beer. You would not believe the money I make on a bucket of salt beef. They buy it by the piece. The stuff turns me; the brine watery, a dark wine colour smelling mineral. Thick clots of fat floating on the top, callow as candle wax, and the way the chunks of meat roil up from the bottom when people dig around with the ladle for a choice piece—so I make them do it themselves. There’s a box of surgical gloves next to the tub. They are powdery inside, an invisible talc, and the tongs are attached by a string to the bucket.
I went with her to view the condo. At the viewing the two walls of glass were covered in plaster dust. The milky light. High ceilings and noises reverberated without the furniture to absorb sounds. Plaster dust on the hardwood, floating in the air like smoke. A man on a ladder with a mask and goggles turned off the sander and twisted to look at us.
In the sudden quiet, without the sound of the sander, his breathing in the mask was loud, like a death rattle. I knew the sound because I had been present when my mother died, a rasping, ragged breath, strangled and wilful.
Even Marion Sullivan shut up for a minute or two as the dust whorled; cloudbursts of silt, rising in the draft that came with us. The dust looked like figures waltzing, twisting around each other. There was a white film on my jacket when I stepped outside again.
It turned out that Marion Sullivan—a lively, but not manic, former social worker—was borrowing from investors at eighty per cent interest. She had borrowed large sums from all the real-estate agents in her office who were devoted to her. She had borrowed from a city councillor. She had not paid them anything in months.
At the beginning of July one of the condo buyers wanted his down payment back. Next people were dialing the radio call-in shows. Ms. Sullivan did not return their calls. I left a message on her cell. Then several messages.
At first, I will admit, I could not accept she had lied to anyone. I felt indignation on her behalf, a fierce but ultimately shallow loyalty. Then, though I understood she had lied to most of her customers, I could not believe she’d lied to me.
Finally I understood, everything I had taken from the divorce was lost.
Jocelyn Strong, my neighbour in the back, Percy’s daughter, has five children. The eldest, Libby, is sixteen, the first to move out, working at the Dollarama in St. John’s. I’d heard at the store she had shacked up with an abusive boyfriend and I’d heard drugs and maybe sex work. People will say anything. I only knew she was gone for sure because I was shopping at the Dollarama for platters to put out baked goods at a fundraiser we were having for the people who lost their homes in Bay de Verde. There was a lineup, and my sister, who was with me, was talking about Lysol wipes.
You just keep them under the bathroom sink, she said. Toothpaste or whatever, you can just pull one out and wipe things down. It’s very convenient. Everything is sterilized.
There was a woman ahead of us in the line who stepped out to pick up the Lysol wipes, and she was standing there, reading the instructions. My sister started talking to her. They were agreeing.
When I got to the counter there was Libby Strong, the white skin of her mother, with the same freckles, the orange-blond hair, and three studs in her plump lower lip, a lot of concealer around her left eye like there might be a bruise.
Libby Strong has eyes like her grandfather’s, pale blue with a black rim around the iris. The girl had spent a long time with Percy when she was little. She had his composure. Wiry like him, stocky. Comfortable with the prolonged silences in conversation. The kind of quiet talk that occurs with people who live in rural areas. The sense that insight forms long before the utterance. Not a need to drag things out, but no impatience. As if speaking were a minor sacrament.
Libby, I said. Look at you.
I like town, she said with instant defiance.
I suppose you got your high school?
I got all As, she said. She was wrapping brown paper around the individual glasses that belonged to the customer in front of me.
All A-pluses, actually, she said. They told me I was going to win two prizes, and one of them was for perfect attendance, and the next day I told Mom, I’m staying home. I wasn’t walking across no stage for perfect attendance. But the scholarship I got, that’s what let me move to town.
Your mother was in showing me the pictures from the prom, I said. I don’t know where you got that dress. I know it wasn’t from around here.
On-line, and I’m after selling it on Kijiji and making fifty bucks off it.
I hope you never had someone come to your home, I said.
We met at a Tim Hortons downtown, she never had a car, Libby said.
Your mother mustn’t be very happy with you gone.
Even up in Cowan Heights I can see Cabot Tower, she said. I can see all the way downtown, because in Cowan Heights, you can see. You can see everything up there.
Are you going to university? I asked. All you Strongs are so smart. You could do anything you want.
No, I got this job, she said.
Your mother must miss you, I said.
She was counting my plastic platters. I knew there was a rift between them. They weren’t talking.
Mom, she said.
I think there’s five.
You got six here.
Six, is it?
She holds up a single platter to the pricing gun and the red laser flickers and it dings six times.
Mom is too controlling, Libby said. My sister puts the Lysol wipes on the counter.
Ring them in, my sister said.
I’ll pay for them, I said.
She’ll pay for them, my sister said. I’m going to give them to her. Make a convert. She’s a sceptical one, but I can break her spirit. I mean if you have them in easy reach. The toilet bowl. You live with men you have to be wiping the toilet all the time, they don’t do it.
Libby Strong met my eyes when my sister mentioned living with men. So Libby knew my husband and I had separated. Maybe she even knew the divorce had gone through. That meant the whole shore knew. Of course she did. Even out here in Cowan Heights, with a new life ahead of her. Even at the age of seventeen she would know everything. She had also figured out that my sister didn’t know most of it. She has weighed my failure to communicate this against her leaving her mother’s house. She had weighed my humiliation against what she’s doing to her mother. She saw she had the upper hand. She wouldn’t give me away, but I’d have to stop trying to make her feel guilty.
They’re antibacterial, Libby Strong said.
That’s no way to talk about your mother, I said. Your mother is up there with four youngsters underfoot. She’s on her own. She works like a dog.
I like it in here, Libby said. She put the platters in a bag.
Looks like you got a shiner, I said.
Dad had me over, she said. Sunday dinner. He’s living with somebody else now.
It was meant to sting me, refer to my own situation. Jocelyn Strong’s husband did a three-week rotation on the White Rose but they’d shut her down. Their house in Low Point was a two bedroom and when all the men on the White Rose were laid off the marriage went sour and he’d moved into St. John’s.
Listen, I said. I wrote my phone number and the address of the Victorian House on Gower and the code for the front door. It had not sold yet.
If ever you need a place to stay for some reason, I said. My husband is there half the week, and I’m in sometimes, but often she’s empty, if we’re at the cabin. Empty bedroom on the third floor. You’re always welcome, Libby. Any time of the day or night.
She took the scrap of paper and read it. She knew what I was implying, and she was afraid I would tell her mother about the bruise. But she crumpled the paper in her fist and let it drop in the garbage bucket behind her.
I have a place, she said, in Cowan Heights. She turned to glance out at the parking lot, which was packed. Then she held out my bag of plastic platters and Lysol wipes.
Thank you for shopping at Dollarama, she said. I have to get this lady behind you.
One evening at the end of August, the man I’d first met at Low Point beach appeared at the foot of my bed. He was as solid and present as the bedpost, wearing the plaid jacket. Though I was fully awake, or felt I was, my body was paralyzed. I could not move. He picked up the corner of the eiderdown from the foot of the bed and pulled it off my body. I was wearing my pyjamas with the pandas, but my skin was covered in goosebumps. I was full of terror but my heart was beating very slowly, like a drum at a memorial service, a deep, hard muffled beat that may have been the ocean across the street, crashing on Low Point beach. Still, I could not move. The phone was on the bedside table, and with tremendous effort I flung an arm out and slapped my hand around it, but there weren’t any bars.
The kids who robbed the store abandoned the van they’d stolen and took off into the bog. As the cops closed in, they got so far and gave up. It was November and the bog was partially frozen and they’d run over a long flat white surface and the ice cracked and they were up to their waists. Of course there are sinkholes and you can disappear; a few cows have been lost that way, all the community out with a rope around the cow’s neck pulling with all their might, until they gave up and shot the terrified animal before it sank all the way under.
When the teenagers came out of the woods back onto the highway they were surrounded by five cop cars with the lights going. Both held syringes in their raised fists, threatening to jab anyone who came near them. The cops drew out their Tasers and the youngest cop, trigger happy, shot the girl. She was a long time before she could move. Just lying on the pavement. The boy dropped the syringe and was arrested peaceably. The army surplus bag of ketchup bottles and mustard, and whatever else was on the shelf he happened to clear out, had disappeared in the bog.
The whole town of Bay de Verde had been evacuated. Houses gone. Beverly O’Grady was staying with her sister in Low Point and she’d come in for a tin of Carnation.
They got everybody put up in the gym, she said. They’re waiting for the ammonia tanks to blow.
A reporter from VOCM had stopped for gas and was eying the apple flips. There had been a new batch of them that morning and they were almost gone.
Elaine Barrett came after Beverly and she said, The calls are coming now. They’re saying thirty-eight hours is all they can promise. Thirty-eight hours for everybody but you got to go to the two other plants, a long distance away. Hard for people got no transportation.
That’s a start though, I say. Thirty-eight hours.
Thirty-eight is no good to anybody, she says. You can’t get enough for stamps with that. We need overtime. People are screwed unless they get overtime. People are saying the Thai workers should be sent back. If there’s not enough work for people here. They should go on.
I snapped the plastic bag for her bread and milk.
I knows they’re sending money back to their families and that, she said. But people are put up in the gym down there. A lot of them homes got no insurance. Burnt to the ground. I’m lucky I got my sister up here. I’ll have one of them apple flips and give me five scratch-and-wins. Then she bit at a hangnail so her finger bled a little stream of thin bright blood, which she licked away. She was wearing plaid pyjama bottoms and a jean jacket with a rose on the back in plastic jewels and silver studs.
Because of all the activity I wasn’t that surprised to find a stranger at the beach.
Then I saw the cod jumping. Thousands, hundreds of thousands it seemed, throwing themselves in the air and flopping down. I wondered if there had been some shifting of tectonic plates out there. But we would have heard about that.
I was trying the phone, the man said. But you got no reception here do you? You got no way to call someone if you ever needed to.
You can’t get a signal in some places, I said.
Where are you from, he asked. You don’t belong here. He winced, a kind of slow spasm.
I grew up in St. John’s, I said.
You want a drink, he asked. He lifted the bottle.
No, thank you, I said.
Too good for a drink? he asked. I looked back over the cliffs, all the cars were leaving, one after the other. There would be something about the fish on the news.
I’m just out for a stroll, I said.
I’m Lorraine Cake’s cousin, he said. Lorraine will vouch for me.
I don’t care who you are, I said.
You got a husband or anything? he said. Fine woman like you don’t want a drink?
I turned off the dirt lane from the beach to the highway that leads to the store. At the top of the hill, near the church, I’d get a few bars of service. He took my elbow then.
Not going to answer me? he asked.
Yes, I am married, I said. The church is maybe five minutes away and is lit with garish red floodlights the new minister had installed at Christmas last year. They lit up the building all through the summer and fall. I wrenched my arm out of his hand.
Percy Strong’s truck drove up then and I waved him down.
Nice-looking woman, the man called out, as I got in the passenger side of Percy’s truck. He swept Coke cans and crumpled bar wrappers off the seat.
Heading up to the store, he said.
Yes, I said.
Who is that? Percy asked.
Some asshole, I said. The guy was in his truck then and he tore out in front of Percy Strong and zoomed away, down the road toward the highway.
Bat out of hell, Percy said. He stopped at the store and came in for smokes. He moved to the edge of the counter, and worked a handful of loonies out of the pocket of his jeans. He won twenty bucks and I opened the cash and handed it to him.
Have an apple flip on me, I said. I asked about the layoffs in the camps north of Fort Mac where he has a year and a half to go before he retires.
The likes of which you’ve never seen, he said.
After he left, the grey monitor affixed to the ceiling showed me the empty aisles. The engines of the milk coolers buzzed hard. There was a rush around nine-thirty, several cars at the pumps. Lorraine Cake came in and I asked about the man.
Said a cousin of yours, I told her. I described him and truck.
Lorraine said she didn’t know anyone fit the description I gave of the man at the beach. She was certain she didn’t know anybody like that. She questioned me on each detail. Then she asked me did I see the fish.
I never heard tell of anything like it, she said. They’re saying the scientists will be down here tomorrow.
Standing beside the man at the beach, when he had his phone out, I’d remembered a dream I’d had the night before. In the dream, on my left breast, four new nipples had grown overnight. They were raised and stiffened, raspberry coloured, incredibly tender. They were large nipples and threatened, it seemed to me, to spurt milk. They really hurt, the way nipples hurt when a milk duct gets blocked and the skin cracks but is constantly damp with seeping milk or bright blood. I was thrown back seventeen years to when I had given birth to my son. The gentian violet I’d used when I got thrush. The word “thrush,” something a barn animal would be afflicted with. The shock of it, because we were encouraged to continue breast feeding, despite the pain, so sharp it brought instant tears, and the baby’s mouth also painted that indigo purple, an ugly stain so everybody knew what was going on.
The new nipples in the dream made my breast like a pig’s udder, and in the swollen follicles around each nipple, stiff silver hairs were sprouting.
I filled with a shame so intense my main preoccupation in the dream was to hide the extra nipples, until terror made me show them to my husband. When I took off my T-shirt, the nipples were gone. The skin was inflamed and there was a mark and swelling where each new nipple had been, like a mosquito bite.
At midnight I shut the store and walked back down the road to the cabin. The ocean was calm then. No sign of the fish. The plant owners in Bay de Verde had been on the radio. They would have the plant up and running in a matter of months. There was work in the reconstruction. It would be repurposed to process cod. In the kitchen I made myself some tea and I thought I saw a movement in the garden, in the bushes. Jocelyn’s light came on at once and I couldn’t see what was out there, it was just me in the glass with my cup pressed to my chest with both hands.
That night the man was at the foot of my bed again. I could not move at all. After straining very hard, I managed to fling my arm over my body to the bedside table and I had the cellphone in my fist. He got on his hands and knees at the foot of the bed and straddled me until he had worked his knees into my armpit and held my wrists down and then dug both his knees into my chest. I couldn’t breathe. And he put his hands around my throat. He was wearing latex gloves. He was wearing the gloves I had near the salt beef bucket at the store.
His mouth, I saw, was stained blue, and he lowered his face toward mine and kissed me, and began to suck what little breath I had from me. When he pulled away from the kiss his face was gone, just an opalescent star of light hovering above me. With one hand he was working at his belt.
I felt the phone in my hand change shape, transmogrify. The man shimmied forward on his knees, thrust his hips out, waggling his penis near my face; the whole room filled with a sweet stink it took me a moment to recognize: vanilla paint. He must have bathed in it.
I knew rather than felt that the phone had turned into a syringe, and with more effort than I have ever exerted in my life, as though I were lifting a hundred pound weight with one hand, I forced my arm off the bed and drove the needle into his side. I felt it sink deep and hard; I felt the long needle crack as it drove against a bone. I gasped raggedly, drawing deep breaths, soaked now in sweat, sitting up on the bed. He was gone. My phone lit up. It was a text from Kevin. He asked me to buy a frozen pizza on the way home. I saw it was a text from more than a year ago.
It was then I heard the screen door at the back of the house wheeze open, the door off the kitchen, and then a key in the lock, and then the back door and the stamp of two feet, the scrudging on the rug. Someone was getting the dirt off his shoes. The clatter of an animal in the hall; it sniffled and trotted to my room. The dog. It was my husband’s dog. He found me, dug his snout into my lap, pawed me, moaned. Then he turned and barked, twice. Sharp high-pitched barks at the wall, as if there were something behind it. I hauled him out of the room by the collar.
In the kitchen, Jocelyn Strong’s motion-sensitive light filled the black window with the reflection of my husband. There were floaters on his face, two coins of shimmering light over his eyes; I blinked and blinked until they faded.
I thought we could talk, he said.
Please, I said. Really?