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Authors: Anne Simpson

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Falling

Praise for
Falling

“A poetic and illuminating novel, with a tremendous depth of feeling and a bravely unflinching look at the most painful parts of human lives.”


Quill & Quire

“Powerful and utterly believable.…”


Literary Review of Canada

“Simpson tells the stories of [her characters] in a compelling way. She is a brilliant writer who not only understands people but has a feel for landscape.”

– Kitchener-Waterloo
Record

“A pleasure to read.”

– Montreal
Gazette

“We don’t quite realize the force of what’s built up until near the end, when we suddenly find ourselves fully invested in this compelling web of characters.”


Toronto Star

“[Simpson] dazzles us with lyricism, with meter and cadence as well as story.”


January Magazine

“The novel moves forward much like the rushing river that ends up as the tumbling waterfall, unstoppable, a force of nature, like life itself.”


National Post

“Masterly.”


Vancouver Sun

“Simpson’s clean prose is a joy to read.… Descriptions are fresh and immediate.…”

– Halifax
Chronicle Herald

“Beautifully written and engrossing.…”


Winnipeg Sun

Books by Anne Simpson

FICTION
Canterbury Beach
(2001)
Falling
(2008)

POETRY
Light Falls Through You
(2000)
Loop
(2003)
Quick
(2007)

Copyright © 2008 by Anne Simpson

Cloth edition published 2008
Emblem edition published 2009

Emblem is an imprint of McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Emblem and colophon are registered trademarks of McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Simpson, Anne, 1956 –
Falling / Anne Simpson.

eISBN: 978-1-55199-170-2

I. Title.

PS8587.I54533F34 2009   C813′.6   C2008-907387-8

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.

The epigraph on
this page
is from the poem “I Will Return” by Pablo Neruda, from
Isla Negra: A Notebook
, edited by Dennis Maloney (White Pine Press, 2000).

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5A 2P9
www.mcclelland.com

v3.1

Janet Elizabeth Simpson

Contents

Some other time, man or woman, traveller,

later, when I am not alive,

look here, look for me

between stone and ocean,

in the light storming

through the foam.

Look here, look for me,

for here I will return, without saying a thing …


PABLO NERUDA

 

THE GIRL ON THE FOUR-WHEELER
turned sharply at the top of the bank and felt the vehicle drop heavily beneath her. There was no time to correct the mistake, though she tried, and the four-wheeler fell, toppling to one side, slowly, all four hundred and eighty-eight pounds of it, as it slid down the bank, landing in the stream and trapping her body underneath. Her cry could have been that of an Arctic tern, high above, its wings an open pair of scissors against the blue.

Struggling to free herself, she could only bring her head above water briefly before her exertions wedged the vehicle more firmly in the thick, wet sand.

Damian
, she shrieked, raising her head out of the water a second time.

Panicking, she moved her head wildly from side to side, choking, trying to get air, which made her take in water. She heard an overwhelming beating in her ears.

Her body was splayed in the stream. She struggled several more times, with less vigour, and then she didn’t move. Though she was face down, one of her hands lay with the palm up so the water moved over her fingertips.
At the other end of the beach, where the rocks piled and tumbled like upended shelves and tables, Damian was dozing. He’d been swimming, and his bathing suit was still damp. The sun was warm on his body – it showed his pelvic bones in relief, touched his features with light – and it had made him sleepy. Each time he exhaled, there was the suggestion of a snore. He hadn’t slept well the night before, and now dreams came fleetingly.

He might have been carved in stone, except for the almost imperceptible movement of his chest, rising and falling. A fly landed lightly on his leg, and he reached out a hand to brush it off. Disconnected images flickered in and out of his consciousness until he heard the distant cry of a bird and opened his eyes. After a while he got up, and stretched to one side, the other side. He had a man’s body, with a broad, tanned chest, though his blond hair was as fine and sleek as a girl’s, and would have fallen past his shoulders if it had been loose. He picked up his towel and stood at the edge of the rocks.

The sea glinted and moved and shifted before him, becoming a hard, steely colour where it met the softer edge of sky. A roll of waves fell gently and retreated, leaving the sand darkened, velvety brown, as they drew away. The tides of the Northumberland Strait weren’t as high as those of the Fundy, and seemed almost lazy by comparison, and although the water was as warm as that off the coast of the Carolinas, the jellyfish had already come and gone: there were no more of their purplish, nearly translucent bodies, some as large as purses, to be seen on the beach. The light was beginning to slant across
the land in early morning and late evening, which meant autumn was coming.

Far off, so far as to be dreamlike, was a line of blue hills on the western coast of Cape Breton. To the north were the headlands of Cape George, but Ballantyne’s Cove was beyond the nearest cliff, with its reddened, exposed soils. On the water, some distance out, and apparently equidistant between the coasts on either side, was a white sailboat, but its sails were furled. There was no wind. The sky was clear, devoid of any clouds, and it promised to be hot all day.

Damian moved over the rocks with a kind of animal grace, dropping from this shelf of stone to that one, over a small crevice where some broken beer bottles lay, and at the edge of the rocks he leapt down to the sand below. He paused and ran his hand over initials carved in the stone:

Hey man! It’s 15°C – Oct. 21, 2000. J + E.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw something yellow, sticking up out of the sand. He couldn’t figure it out for a moment. It was all wrong. Lisa’s kayak. But why –

Lisa
, he shouted.

He ran, sprinting so fast that his heels made little tails of sand fly up. He yelled again, more loudly this time. When he reached the ATV, overturned in a stream on the beach, he howled – a long, drawn-out cry. But he’d already waded into the water to raise his sister’s head out of the stream, which he managed clumsily. He was shaking so badly he could hardly keep her head steady. Water dribbled out of her mouth. He opened it, checked it with his fingers, and started resuscitation. He worked as swiftly as he could, holding her head up, realizing, in a distant, shocked way, that it wasn’t doing any good, but continuing relentlessly.
On a ridge above the beach, a man came out of a house after hearing someone howl. A cry for help. All he needed was a glimpse of the overturned vehicle and a boy cradling someone in the depression where the stream ran out to the ocean. He went inside to make a phone call and then grabbed some plastic picnic cushions and ran to the beach, down the path between wild rose bushes with a glossy black dog racing ahead. He followed the tracks of the four-wheeler to where the trailer and two kayaks had come unhitched. Going over the bank, he fell, regained his balance, and plunged down the sandy slope.

Damian was still doing mouth-to-mouth; he hadn’t tried to move Lisa. But she wasn’t breathing. Her hands didn’t seem to belong to her. The twine bracelet he’d made, with the shells and blue beads, was still on her wrist. And how strange it was that the striped beach bag had been thrown on the sand a few feet away, flung to safety.

He moaned, unaware of the man who had arrived at his side, gasping for breath, and the dog, sending up a flurry of sand as it made circles around them, running in and out of the water and spraying them as it went.

We need to do
CPR
, said the man.

Damian looked up at him. She’s my sister.

Put these cushions under her head, the man instructed. Then maybe we can pull her free. I’ll see if I can hold up the end of this thing – you get the other end.

Damian nodded.

It was the man, not Damian, who stuffed a plastic cushion under Lisa’s head, carefully but swiftly. Damian had to be persuaded to let go of his sister for a few moments while they each took an end of the
ATV
and, with a great effort, hauled it to one side, freeing her.

Careful, said the man. Brace her head and neck.

They carried her up from the stream and set her down on dry, level sand. Her body was heavy and wet, and her head was turned to one side.

The man immediately began
CPR
. There was nothing delicate about the way he pushed down on Lisa’s chest, quickly, confidently. He pumped her chest thirty times, gave her two breaths, and continued pumping. Sweat appeared on his forehead, but he didn’t stop to wipe it. There was only an occasional grunt as he kept up the
CPR
, and, intermittently, the barking of the dog.

Time wasn’t moving in the usual way: it could have sped up, or reversed, or made some peculiar twist. The man thought that a year could have passed before he saw the paramedics running across the beach with the spinal board. They’d come along the path from the wharf road, the one with the old barbed-wire fence across it, then down the steep path. When they arrived they were breathless; they moved in closely while the man continued to do
CPR
. The red-haired paramedic quickly set up a portable defibrillator and prepared a bag-valve mask.

How long had she been under water?

Damian shook his head.

And
CPR
– how long had they been doing it?

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