About the Author

Christy Ann Conlin

CHRISTY ANN CONLIN is the author of The Memento and Heave, which was a Globe and Mail “Top 100” book, and a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, and the Dartmouth Book Award. She is also the author of a young adult novel, Dead Time. Conlin studied creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she received the William Rhea Fellowship in Television Writing. She lives in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Books by this Author



And I am.

Going so fast it seemed as though I was hovering above myself, watching as I went veil first into those massive oak doors in the foyer because no one makes a getaway in high heels. Just look what happened to Marilyn Monroe – naked, bloated, DOA. That’s what happens when you wear high heels. I put my hands out, just like they taught us in high school gym class, you know, when spotting someone on the trampoline: hold up hands, don’t push, let the person touch and then bounce back to middle. But only an idiot would wear high heels on a trampoline and there was no bouncing back to the middle as those shoes took me down on that hot June day, my sweaty hands flat on the cool oak door panels only long enough to feel the old wood on my palms and I was crashing straight through the doors that hadn’t been properly latched, yards of silk dress floating behind me like a flock of angels as those carved oak slabs were falling silently shut. Magic it was that pieces so large could move with no noise, wrought-iron hinges no doubt well-oiled by the latest sexton. I slipped through the crack and left the musty church behind, all those pews full of stunned guests, and then the sweet outdoors was in front of me but I was crashing backwards as the doors slammed shut, the stupid billowy dress jammed in the doors, and I was smashed back and up, three feet off the top step, hand pounding back into the hard wood, pain dull and distant, and then me, dangling there, garland of flowers down over my eye, battered bouquet of freesias and roses still in my right hand, its scent floating up on the hot summer air, enveloping me in the sweet and squashed miasma of my life.

My life seems to have been about crashing backwards. Ever since I finished high school, which really wasn’t very long ago, I’ve been on the run, so to speak. On the road. I mean, I bolt in the middle of things. Well, I finish some things and bolt. I took off to Europe and then landed in a rehab-sort-of-nuthouse (I wasn’t insane, believe me. I was just temporarily unable to communicate.) I started a degree – Classical Studies. I enjoyed the Greeks and Romans. I enjoyed the books, always looking to them as a getaway, a portal in time. Actually, I enjoyed the building the classes were in. The Classical Studies Department was located in a series of grey Victorian houses that ran along a quiet Halifax street with huge sweeping trees. I still don’t know the name of the trees.

I was pulling at my dress, the skirt wedged up there with the bodice, and the goddamn jeesly antique lace train that Aunt Galronia had insisted on attaching was pulled tight in the door, most of it still inside. I was pulling, wiggling, tugging, my sweaty skin squeaking against the wood, trying to demolish my vintage 1940s wedding dress, and just thinking about the dress made me so mad that I pulled even harder. “So much for antiques,” I hollered. Somewhere in Foster a lawn mower buzzed. A huge jerk and then ripping and buzzing were one roaring sound as the silk and lace tore and I fell to my knees, hands out in front, drooling libations on the indoor/outdoor green carpet covering the steps. And then I was up with the remains of the dress on me, and a bit of the train hanging off my butt with yards of it still inside the doors. I wondered if it was laid out along the aisle like a banquet tablecloth with all the guests on either side waiting for me to be served up and then I heard Grammie say in her clipped dry voice, You know that old saying, he who hesitates is not only lost but miles from the road out, so I launched off the steps, kicking one high heel over the railing, and sending the other soaring over the heads of the late-arriving guests, second cousins from Ecum Secum with lips going round, opening and shutting, not saying anything, me thinking how people mostly get that piscine look when they are horrified and then it was me smiling and panting, not knowing whether to say hello or goodbye or to cry or pose for a picture and then Grammie’s voice again, Now or never, Serrie.

I threw the bouquet up in the air and took three steps at a time because being in bare feet is being eight years old and eight-year-olds don’t worry about how many steps to take, not like a twenty-one-year-old woman in high heels and a princess dress who can only do various forms of teetering.

Flaps of dress fluttered as I ran down Main Street, pulling at the ripped bodice, shedding pieces of silk until there was the red bra that I had worn, the only vestige of the rogue I had thought I was. At least up until we were in front of the preacher. Actually it started when I saw Elizabeth’s head, the back of her head. I admired her wispy bits of hair and thought what a flattering style it was, wondered why it was done so daintily, with little daisies in it. And the hairdo got blurry and I wondered about that too, realizing the daisies were blurry because Elizabeth was right up there now, at the altar with my groom and the preacher and the best man who had been making bad jokes and smacking everyone on the back. And then it was all blurry.

And so I went. I walked up to the front, wondering if the guests could see my red bra, or at least the suggestion of the bra. It was lacy, really pretty, a push-up. But I didn’t think so. I was the only one who knew about it besides Elizabeth who had helped me dress. I focussed on the teeth. There were so many teeth. I assume this is because people were smiling. At weddings, people usually smile, right? Goddamn, it was like being surrounded by Mormons. I always think of Mormons as people with big white teeth. But no one was Mormon here. It was the Foster First United Church, in old-style Nova Scotia, where change is slow like winter and tradition as strong as the forty-five-foot tides of the Bay of Fundy.

Those white teeth became a haze of cotton and the music was squeaking. God, it was terrible, which surprised me – my brother is a concert violinist.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Wish you were here. But don’t worry because I’ll be visiting soon. When the boat can’t come to the sea, the sea will come to the shore.

Isabella. She is coming. The handwriting is unforgettable. Like a birthmark.

Her postcard balances on my fingertips.

It is a vintage card, with pale colours, two girls in a wooden boat. Rowing on the Annapolis River at High Tide. Nova Scotia. It’s not far from where my father grew up, from his childhood town he took me to that one summer. The girls are wearing white dresses. The girl in the stern has the oars and she is facing away from the camera, looking at the girl in the bow. That girl is facing the camera, not her captain in the stern. She is serious, as though she sees something on shore. Children have boated and canoed and sailed on that river for generations. The Indigenous people thirteen thousand years before Champlain came in 1605, before the settlers arrived. It is an old part of the new world, a world built on a society which existed long before.

There’s a moment, a slack tide, where my breath stops, and my mind is empty, where everything stops. Then the beating of my heart, a rush in my ears as though it’s a dream. Sound is simultaneously amplified and muffled. The moment turns. Sweat creeps over my skin, tiny waves undulating down from my hairline, along my spine. It’s just a postcard. Hardly anyone sends real mail anymore. Greetings don’t come on paper. It’s an extra effort to pick up a pen. To write in cursive. Who would make that effort?

Isabella will arrive without warning, I’m sure of that. During visiting hours. She will arrive smelling of pine trees and sea winds. That’s how it will unfold. She will come into this institution as a force of nature, a piece of the world no one can control, and then she’ll leave, only her smell left behind. The scent of summer innocence, lost and found, and lost again. Isabella always liked the smell of the woods. The smell of snow and sun. The scent rising up as summer rain fell on a dirt road. Rain on hot pavement. There is no smell like the earth, the ground, releasing heat into damp air. I like sweet smells. The vanilla heliotrope Isabella’s Granny grew in her summer garden.

It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen Isabella. Since the day at the lake.

Time is running out. There is never enough time. It was my earliest worry.

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