Contemporary Women

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Bad Ideas
Excerpt

Why do they do it?

 

Why do they do it? What makes them drive their fists through walls, through windows, into each other’s faces? What makes them press the burning ends of cigarettes into the backs of their hands while staring into each other’s eyes? Why do they ride wild horses, bucking bulls, motorcycles, whatever crazy, dangerous, stupid thing they can climb onto? And when they are thrown, trampled, broken to pieces, what in God’s name makes them get back on?

What makes a man imagine that he can drive a car up a ramp and fly over bales of hay, buses, creeks, canyons and forget that he will break his ankles, his ribs, puncture his lungs, bounce his brain off the inside of his cranium when he lands. If he is lucky. If his sorry life is spared one more time.

And why are these the ones? The ones making noise, wasting space. The ones that are covered in scars, that should be dead. The ones with less than half a brain inside their heads. Why are these the only ones she ever loves?

And here comes another one, sad story and all. His jeans riding so low, his T-shirt so thin, his eyes so dark. Jesus Christ. She’s a goner.

Again.

 

Because the air became water

 

That first spring evening seemed like a long time ago now. A lot can happen in seven months. A lot can fall apart. Trudy would say that it was like a scene in a movie except no movie she had ever seen was set anywhere that looked anything like Preston Mills, Ontario. Scrubby shit-town clinging to the bank of the cold grey St. Lawrence River.

Eight hundred inhabitants, one grocery store, one gas station, one corner store called Smitty’s where you could fill tiny paper bags with stale penny candy. Swedish berries, toffee nuggets, black balls, licorice nibs.

One pool hall no female would dare to enter and that hollering, fighting men tumbled out of at hourly intervals each evening.

Six churches, one of them Catholic, one evangelical – complete with snake-handlers and speakers of tongues – and four barely distinguishable flavours of Protestantism: Presbyterian, United, Lutheran, Anglican.

A mile east of town, one massive set of locks that hugetankers eased into, then were slowly lowered and released to continue along the river to the ocean.

And there was a mill, WestMark Linen Mill, that employed Trudy and her mother, Claire, as well as most of the other working adults in the town.

There must have been other mills at some point, at least one other, to justify the town’s name. Maybe a long time ago, when it was Preston Mills, the first. Because this was Preston Mills, the second. Preston Mills, the ugly.

In the 1950s the town had been taken apart and reassembled between the river and the railroad tracks when the Seaway had gone through. Highway H2O, they called it. The way of the future. Higgledy-piggledy little Preston Mills – with its winding streets and courtyards, its barns and chicken coops and crooked lanes, its docks and boathouses and pebble beaches, was taken apart and put together again in straight lines. Houses jacked up, wrenched from their foundations, lifted onto trailers behind trucks, dragged back from the water and deposited on dirt lots along a grid of new streets. Schools and churches were taken down brick by brick and built again. The scar of the old town was still there, at the bottom of the river: the streets, the sidewalks, the rectangular concrete foundations, the fence posts. A map-like outline of the whole town imprinted on the riverbed. And every day giant ships passed overhead, casting shadows over the sunken town like long, black clouds.

Graveyards were moved, too. Coffins dug up and tombstones moved to flat, treeless fields. People worried that the workers had lost track, that the bodies no longer matched the names on the stones. But how would they ever know? They wouldn’t. The empty graves were flooded along with everything else. Slowly erased by silt and stones and shells and waving fields of seaweed.

(There were still bodies under there, though. Everyone knew it. For some graves, living relatives could not be found. Or there were people who were too squeamish or too superstitious to have their loved ones disturbed. Slabs of stone were placed over the graves to ensure the coffins didn’t float up to the surface after the flood. A sad fleet of haunted little boats bobbing around here and there on the surface. Not good, thought Trudy. That would not have been good at all.)

A new, arrow-straight highway bordered Preston Mills to the north. The old highway was under water about a hundred feet from the shore. In a couple of places, it rose out of the water and dipped back in, like the humps of the Loch Ness monster. Enough grass had broken through the asphalt and grown weedy-high that the hills looked like small islands. But if you swam out to one, you could see it was a road. There was a faded yellow line down the centre and you could walk along until the road sloped back down under water. In some places you could walk for half a mile before you lost your footing and started floating above the road.

That was how Trudy had felt when she first saw him: like the ground was suddenly dropping away beneath her feet, like the air had become water and she was floating up toward the bright blue sky.

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