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Fathom Lines

by (author) Erin Bedford

E. Bedford
Initial publish date
Dec 2013
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2013
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    Publish Date
    Dec 2013
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This is how it must have happened ... On a grey day in a cemetery in Northern Ontario, Vee Tremblay stabs the point of a shovel into the earth where her husband was buried one year ago. She digs and digs. When the hole is wide and deep enough, she puts a cardboard box of mementoes inside, the seams already sealed with packing tape, the top already labeled: THINGS TO HOLD ON TO.

In Toronto, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day she buried her husband, Vee finds the box on her doorstep. Who would be cruel enough to dig it up and send it back to her so many years later?

The mystery is slowly revealed as Vee drifts in and out of memories--her childhood in the North during the 1950s and 1960s, her love affair with a charming Québécois man, a family wrenched apart by pride, a loss that unhinged her--and her daughter, Lise, pieces together the puzzle of her mother’s past in an attempt not only to understand her mother's life, but also her own.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Erin Bedford lives in Toronto. She attended and won a Certificate of Distinction for her completed manuscript from the Humber School for Writers. Fathom Lines is her first novel.

Excerpt: Fathom Lines (by (author) Erin Bedford)

This is how it must have happened:

My mother sits in her parked car at the end of a cul-de-sac. In the trunk of the car is a box full of mementos, photographs and keepsakes from her life with my father, and from her life before him too, because she will never be that girl again. Beside the box is a shovel, a shovel that she will use to bury the box. She emerges from the car, into the rotten cabbage air, the smell from the paper mill always worse on rainy days. Pulling up the hood of her raincoat, she walks to the trunk where she retrieves the box and shovel, then slops through puddles toward the entrance of a cemetery. A faded wooden arch announces her arrival, Wamish Community Cemetery. This is where she buried her husband one year ago. My mother walks past the memorial garden, unadorned except for a column broken in two unequal pieces, a deliberate break to represent decay. It makes sense that the one monument in the place would be so pragmatic?people in Wamish have no use for angels or chalices. From the monument, my mother walks six columns over and four rows back. This is where she stops. The stone is grey and cold, black letters spell out a name “Claude Rupert Tremblay?her husband's name, my father's name. There are forty-two years marked out, 1939-1982, and a little crucifix, but he never went to church. The space where a message might normally appear is blank; there are no words of consolation or remembrance. At the time the stone carver asked, my mother didn't have any such words to offer up. If she feels overwhelmed, my mother would swallow down the tightness stopping up her throat. She would clench her fists. She would tell herself, I am not alone in this grief. She would not need more proof of that, than the cemetery and its hundreds of markers. Other gravestones have names written on, and prayers, and the roles played in a life. Beloved Son, Cherished Husband, Loving Father. Some are adorned with intricately carved statues, a few have wreaths and flowers laid on, mostly fake, loud bright pink and purple colours that will never decompose. She doesn't have any flowers to lay though, just that box tucked under her arm. She sets the box down next to the stone, readies the shovel, and then stabs the point of it into the ground, overturning snow, and sodden grass, and mud, the same silty mud from the day we buried my father. The shovel bites at the earth, tearing away large sections at a time. The resistance of the earth travels up the wood of the handle and into my mother's bones. Her arms begin to hurt, but the hole is not yet large enough. She digs and digs. When the hole is wide and deep enough, she puts the shovel down. From her coat pocket, she removes a black garbage bag. She flaps it open, and maybe it catches in the wind, billowing, almost floating away. My mother sets the cardboard box of mementos inside, the seams already sealed with packing tape, the top already labeled: THINGS TO HOLD ON TO. She pulls the sides of the garbage bag up around the box and ties them closed with a tight knot. The bag is meant as protection against things that might otherwise seep in. The box inside the bag is laid into the hole gently, and as my mother shovels clumps of mud back into the hole, it is slowly covered up. When she is finished, my mother tamps down earth with the back of the shovel. Then she straightens up. Her body hurts. Maybe there is a spot on her back that is seized like a fist, or welled-up blisters on her hands. Her body will ache with the memory of this work the next day, but that would not bother her. It would fill her with a feeling of satisfaction. My mother does not linger over her accomplishment. Instead she walks quickly and purposefully away from the grave. She is moving forward now, pulling the car out of the dead-end street, merging back into traffic, heading south down the highway. That is what must have happened. And this is what my mother must have thought: If I am to move ahead, I must leave certain things behind?things too awkward or large to carry, things that weigh me down.


L I S E 7 am, March 20 2008 The green numbers of my alarm radio eat minute after minute as I watch from bed. Thunder rumbles far away, rain hits the window?bee-bee pellets on tin. Beside me, the bed is empty. David is a morning person, already finishing up his routine in the kitchen: half grapefruit, half cup of raisin bran, three sections of the newspaper, two cups of Earl Grey tea. For him, it is any other day. For me, it is the first day of spring, the day we buried my dad, twenty-five years ago. When I was seven, Dad took me with him on his yearly visit to Montreal. It was a long drive from Wamish, just the two of us, and that day is my last best memory of him. I remember squeezing close to him on the bench seat of the old pick-up to stay warm because the heater had broken again. I remember the smell of machine oil and cold on his coat. He looked away from the road to the passenger window. His brow lifted, his smile cracked as he pointed out my window. It was a buck he saw, but I didn’t look. Instead, I watched his face change, the smile lines melt and reform, a hand over his jaw, searching for the beard he’d shaved off earlier that week to keep his mother from pestering him about it when he saw her. Triangles of sun reached through the trees into the truck as we drove along, the light made him squint, traced his profile, and the shadow of him projected onto the car seat and rested in my hands for a moment. Three weeks later, after a fresh snow, he went for a walk in the woods as he loved to do and was a long time in coming home. Mom had a pot roast in the oven and the house smelled of it. She banged in and out of the side door, calling him and grumbling about the roast going dry. Finally, she put on her boots and followed Dad’s tracks in the snow. Mom found him, cold and grey in the snow, but still alive. He came home from the hospital, but he wasn’t better. They simply couldn’t do anything more for him, and so Mom did it all. For eighty-four days, she fed him and wiped his chin when the food came dribbling back out. For eighty-four days, she washed every part of him, and dressed him in his favourite clothes, and lifted him in and out of bed. For eighty-four days, she changed the sheets and the soiled clothes. For eighty-four days, she read to him from the newspaper, and shaved his face. For eighty-four days, she did all the work of living for him. And then she woke up on the eighty-fifth day, and he did not. At exactly eight o’clock, I roll out of bed, shower quickly, brush my teeth and pull a comb through my hair. The mirror above the sink is covered with a film of steam, all I see is the vague shape of my head. I swipe the condensation away and a woman is reflected, first the lips and nose, then the eyes. A pinched mouth and creased forehead, eyes that look so flat and sad. How long has my face been turned down this way? David sits at the kitchen table reading the Real Estate section of the paper, his curly brown hair perfectly combed and gelled, his lavender Oxford shirt freshly pressed, and a napkin puddled in the lap of his wool pants. “Sleep okay?” I shake my head. “Nightmare.” The same one as always. Faces, and also legs?all of them clad in black nylon or gray flannel?and the polished tips and heels of shoes slowly sinking in sticky mud, the tremulous voice of the pastor, and the robotic response of the mourning crowd...Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ... For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind ... Hallowed be thy name, forever and ever. Amen. Mom swaying slightly as she stands beside me, and every so often a little moan leaves her throat, like a mourning dove. The air on my skin weighed down with the threat of heavy rain, and the sulphur smell of the paper mill. But more than all of it, the thing that stands out is the way Mom grips my hand so tightly, and the way it feels dead with cold. As if she, and my hand along with her, are freezing and becoming stone.

Editorial Reviews

"[Fathom Lines] is a poignant and moving story about two women, mother and daughter, searching for an understanding of the mother’s past and present. [Bedford] is a talented writer who uses vivid images and graceful language to paint scenes of powerful emotion in the lives of the two women." Kim Moritsugu, author of The Restoration of Emily

[Bedford] drills down beneath the obvious to the bedrock of the character’s soul. In many ways, “Fathom Lines” reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s “The Robber Bride” in its un?inching exploration of women’s lives." review