Coming Of Age

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Monkey Beach
Excerpt

Six crows sit in our greengage tree. Half-awake, I hear them speak to me in Haisla.
La'es, they say, La'es, la'es.
I push myself out of bed and go to the open window, but they launch themselves upward, cawing. Morning light slants over the mountains behind the reserve. A breeze coming down the channel makes my curtains flap limply. Ripples sparkle in the shallows as a seal bobs its dark head.
La'es — Go down to the bottom of the ocean. The word means something else, but I can't remember what. I had too much coffee last night after the Coast Guard called with the news about Jimmy. People pressed cups and cups of it into my hands. Must have fallen asleep fourish. On the nightstand, the clock-face has a badly painted Elvis caught in mid-gyrate. Jimmy found it at a garage sale and gave it to me last year for my birthday — that and a card that said, "Hap B-day, sis! How does it feel to be almost two decades old? Rock on, Grandma!" The Elvis clock says the time is seven-thirty, but it's always either an hour ahead or an hour behind. We always joke that it's on Indian time. I go to my dresser and pull out my first cigarette of the day, then return to the window and smoke. An orange cat pauses at the grassy shoreline, alert. It flicks its tail back and forth, then bounds up the beach and into a tangle of bushes near our neighbour's house. The crows are tiny black dots against a faded denim sky. In the distance, I hear a speedboat. For the last week, I have been dreaming about the ocean-lapping softly against the hull of a boat, hissing as it rolls gravel up a beach, ocean swells hammering the shore, lifting off the rocks in an ethereal spray before the waves make a grumbling retreat. Such a lovely day. Late summer. Warm. Look at the pretty, fluffy clouds. Weather reports are all favourable for the area where his seiner went missing. Jimmy's a good swimmer. Everyone says this like a mantra that will keep him safe. No one's as optimistic about his skipper, Josh, a hefty good-time guy who is very popular for his generosity at bars and parties. He is also heavily in debt and has had a bad fishing season. Earlier this summer two of his crew quit, bitterly complaining to their relatives that he didn't pay them all they were due. They came by last night to show their support. One of my cousins said they've been spreading rumours that Josh might have sunk his Queen of the North for the insurance and that Jimmy's inexperience on the water would make him a perfect scapegoat. They were whispering to other visitors last night, but Aunt Edith glared at them until they took the hint and left.

I stub out the cigarette and take the steps two at a time down to the kitchen. My father's at the table, smoking. His ashtray is overflowing. He glances at me, eyes bloodshot and red-rimmed.

Did you hear the crows earlier?" I say. When he doesn't answer, I find myself babbling. "They were talking to me. They said la'es. It's probably — "

"Clearly a sign, Lisa," my mother has come up behind me and grips my shoulders, "that you need Prozac." She steers me to a chair and pushes me down. Dad's old VHF is tuned to the emergency channel. Normally, we have the radio tuned to CFTK. He likes it loud, and the morning soft rock usually rackets through the house. As we sit in silence, I watch his cigarette burn down in the ashtray. Mom smoothes her hair. She keeps touching it. They both have that glazed, drawn look of people who haven't slept. I have this urge to turn on some music. If they had found the seiner, someone would phone us. "Pan, pan, pan," a woman's voice crackles over the VHF. "All stations, this is the Prince Rupert Coast Guard." She repeats everything three times, I don't know why. "We have an overdue vessel." She goes on to describe a gillnetter that should have been in Rupert four days ago. Mom and Dad tense expectantly even though this has nothing to do with Jimmy.

At any given moment, there are two thousand storms at sea.

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