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Authors: Alice Zorn

Five Roses (10 page)

BOOK: Five Roses
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Fara didn't like standing so close to the top of the ladder. The metal trembled as she reached over her head. She imagined crashing and Frédéric finding her unconscious, neck broken, sprawled under a tumble of aluminum geometry. She shouldn't be doing this while she was alone in the house. She dipped the scraper into the bucket of putty and reached up again. A million-umpteen things they still had to do before they could move in, but first she had to hide this hole.

She'd shown it to Frédéric, who asked if it bothered her. No, she said, I'll just step aside so I don't bump into his body. He assumed that, if she could joke, she was fine. He didn't understand that she wasn't joking. She didn't believe in ghosts and didn't worry about the house being haunted. But as long as there was a hole for the hook where his body had hung, she saw his body hanging. She wasn't even sure if filling the hole would help, but she had to try.

At least now she knew where and how. She could stop sniffing the air in the kitchen. Or peering at the grout around the tub for bloodstains. He'd killed himself here.

So what? A hole was a hole was a hole was a hole. She repeated it the way she'd once told herself a bag was a bag was a bag was a bag. You recited a word until you reduced it to a meaningless nothing. Even so, how many years had passed before she could use a green garbage bag? She'd kept remembering Claire in bed, hands folded over her chest, her matted, eyeless teddy bear tucked in her elbow, green garbage plastic knotted over her head. How could she have done that to herself ? Like saying, look, I'm garbage. Fara hadn't wanted to believe it was Claire — except that no one but Claire would have hugged that ancient, discoloured teddy bear.

Fara scraped putty into the ugly gouge in the wood. When the putty was dry, she would paint the frame with a darker stained varnish to disguise the patch. Except then she would have to paint the skirting boards to match. The window frame, too. Hiding a hole was work.

Making one, too. He'd drilled through the wood into plaster. Bought a hook long enough to hold his weight. He must have done it secretly over several days so his father and brother wouldn't notice. Screwed the hook in place, then waited, wondering when to stage his death. Once the hook was in place, he could do it any time. Every time he walked into the room, he knew it was up there. The steel curve of a beckoning finger.

She stepped off the ladder and looked at her work from the floor. The patch of putty was only slightly paler than the wood. Maybe when it dried she wouldn't even see it. She would still stain and varnish it — get another layer between herself and the hole.

Rose

Rose had said Kenny should pick her up on the corner of Parc and Villeneuve. She'd thought it would be easier than having him look for her address. She also wasn't sure she wanted him to know where she lived.

Though she was early, she found him already parked in a white van with red letters along the side:
FENÊTRES FAVREAU
. He wagged a bag of doughnuts at her through the window. “I got you coffee.”

It wasn't yet seven. Traffic was sparse, moving easily past stores, Chinese restaurants, pizza shops, apartment buildings. Kenny jabbed the radio button until he found music he liked. He asked if she liked it. She shrugged then said she remembered it from when she was in high school. He grinned, assuming that meant yes. She felt she was still asleep, dreaming she was sitting in a van and leaving the city to return to the cabin in the woods.

Kenny said he was pretty sure he knew where to find Rivière-des-Pins. “Near Rawdon, right? But why don't you get out the road map?” He pointed at the glove compartment.

She unfolded the map across her lap and legs. A network of lines tangled thick around Montreal, thinning as they headed north. The occasional town was a hard knot.

“Why don't you fold it in a square with the part we want to get to on the outside? You don't have to hide under it.”

She wished she could hide. She hoped no one would recognize her.
Thérèse's daughter. Crazy Thérèse. Imagine living in a cabin the woods in this day and age! Her poor daughter. Poor Rose.

Rose hated how people always used to feel sorry for her. She didn't feel sorry for herself. She knew she wasn't like the other girls at school, giggling about TV shows and makeup, whispering their silly, made-up secrets. Rose knew that when you had a real secret — like meeting Armand in the woods — you kept it to yourself.

No one except Armand ever came to their woods. Even the roaring ATVs stayed away since the accident with the Bilodeau boy. The trees grew too close. The ground heaved with their roots. When the boy fell from his ATV, his brother couldn't stop it from rolling back and crushing his head.

Kenny sang a few lines along with the song on the radio. He was always in a good mood, but he was especially happy today. Even if she told him that people in Rivière-des-Pins believed the forest around her cabin was cursed, he would still want to go. His green tackle box and fishing rod lay on the floor behind them.

Yesterday he'd shown up at her studio with his fishing rod.
Isn't it a beaut?
He swirled it in the air like a wand.
I'm going to practise outside.
She'd seen the odd person standing along the canal with a fishing rod. She didn't think there were fish. Certainly nothing one should eat.

She was painting a dresser she'd found in a furniture shop in St-Henri. Three large drawers with two small ones on top. Twenty dollars, no tax, and the man had delivered it. He was an older man with an eye dulled by a cloudy spot she hardly noticed because he kept winking as he talked, turning every sentence into a possible joke. He had leaned against the counter in his shop, surrounded by shabby, scuffed furniture he'd cleaned up and repaired. He had a rhythm to his voice that reminded her of Yushi when she talked about food or her mother. Rose wondered if the man in the furniture shop came from Trinidad, but she was too shy to ask.

She would use the dresser to store yarn, shuttles, bobbins, and combs. When she finished painting the drawers and set them on their backs to dry, she peered out the window along the canal. Where was Kenny? She finally walked down the hallway to the loading dock. The sculptor waved her around to the side of the building, nowhere near the canal.

Kenny stood on a bank of grass, swinging his rod back smoothly, then forward, abruptly stopping short. The rod formed an elegant arc of movement tethered to his stocky arm. Sunlight caught the long glint of string slithering through the grass as he reeled it in. She backed away, not sure if he would be embarrassed to be discovered fishing in the grass. Though anyone cycling by could see him.

Today he planned to go fishing while she took her loom apart. She wanted to tell him not to mention her name if anyone stopped him or asked how he got there. She'd taken care to disguise herself, getting her hair cut to frame her face, wearing a new pair of capris.

She sat in the van, staring straight ahead, pretending not to see the outlying houses of Rivière-des-Pins. Modern prefab bungalows, the bank, the pharmacy, the Corvette where Maman bought clothes, the IGA. Once a month she and Maman came to Rivière-des-Pins to buy flour, oats, rice, molasses, lentils, and potatoes.

“The old hometown,” Kenny said.

She wanted to say no, home was where she lived now, with Yushi — except that she knew this place and its stories. The stone church with the steeple. The street to Lisette's house. Maman used to bring Lisette the rugs and shawls they wove, because Lisette knew a woman who distributed to stores that sold Québécois crafts.

In Montreal Rose had seen the price of hand-woven goods. Four cotton placemats cost more than Lisette used to give Maman for a whole woollen shawl with a braided fringe. The placemats weren't even hemmed properly. Rose understood that stores needed to make a profit, but Lisette must have taken a hefty cut as well. Rose didn't ever want to see her again.

“Here,” Rose said as they approached the gas station. “Turn.”

She felt disembodied, sitting high up in the van with Kenny, driving through a landscape she recognized but where she no longer felt she belonged. The horizon of trees. The dip in the road. The Tremblays' yellow house. Jacques Tremblay collected disability for his back and worked under the table for a buddy of his who was a plumber. Madame Burns stood on her porch shaking out a mat, her periscope head following the van as it passed. Madame Burns lived for bingo, driving not just to Rawdon for a game, but as far as Joliette and Mascouche.

With surprise Rose saw that the land Armand used to rent from Maman had been planted with corn. The plants were almost waist-high, shading the long furrows of rich brown earth. Where and how did he pay rent? Maybe there was an account at the bank. She'd never thought of it, though she knew Armand was honest to the last clod of earth for any detail related to farming.

A windbreak of cedar trees hid his white clapboard house. She jerked her head away, not wanting to look, but she'd already seen the car set on blocks beside the driveway — another of Jerome's projects he'd begun and never finished. Jerome was six years older than she was, Armand's youngest son who still lived at home. No one understood how a hard-working man like Armand could have fathered such a useless son. When Rose was in high school, Jerome often sat in his car at the back of the school parking lot. He wasn't in school anymore, just hanging out with the older boys, selling whatever it was they smoked. She never told Armand. They didn't talk about his family. Nor about Maman. She couldn't actually remember a single word Armand had ever said to her, though they must have talked to arrange meetings. When, if not where. Where was always the same. Deep in the woods by the lean-to where Armand stacked the wood he cut in the winter and fetched with the trailer in the summer when the ground was dry.

“Are we there soon?” Kenny asked. The fields and few houses had given way to densely wooded land. Thick cedar and pine, the smooth white trunks of birch trees, the grey bark of maples.

“Soon.”

He drove slowly on the dirt road. “You really did live in the sticks, didn't you?”

Rose didn't understand the admiration in his voice. “Here,” she said. “Slow down.”

“Stop?”

“Not yet.” They passed the dead tree where, at the top, an owl nested. The pine with a tuberous growth on its trunk. “Here. Stop.”

The weedy edge of the road dropped to a deep ditch. Rose stared out the window into the shady depth of the trees.

“Wow. We're really in the middle of nowhere.”

Madame Burns had seen their van. And who else? Kenny had to leave before someone drove by and saw where he'd stopped. She pointed down the road. “You continue to the end, then turn right.”

“Aren't you going to show me your cabin?”

“I need to go alone.”

“Because of your mom, eh? I thought it might be easier if I came with you the first time.”

Nothing would be easier. With or without him. But she wanted the loom.

Kenny leaned between their seats into the back of the van to snatch a red hazard rag from the floor, hopped out, and crashed through the weeds.

“No!” Rose clambered from the van when she saw him reach for a branch to tie the rag. “If someone sees it —”


I
need to see it. I'll never find this spot again.”

She couldn't think of another way. “Okay, I'll meet you here.”

“Around four?” He jiggled his legs, anxious to get going. “Wish me luck! We'll have trout for supper!”

The canopy of trees grew so dense that only puzzle pieces of sky could be seen high above. It was cooler in the woods than in the city. Fern brushed against Rose's legs. A chickadee dipped in flight across her path and landed on a branch. She and Maman used to hold out handfuls of seed in the winter. She remembered the grasp of thin claws on her finger. The greedy black eye and quick peck on her palm. The air smelled of cedar, pine trees, and resin.

The trout lilies should have finished blooming long ago, but here was one late yellow flower poised like a lantern over the sleek, speckled leaves. Maman had taught her the names and habits of the flowers. The puffed jowls of the
orchidées
that grew under the maple trees. The intricately pleated crowns of wild columbines.

There was the story, too, that Maman used to tell about the five roses.
There once was a girl who lived in a cabin in the woods with a garden of five magic roses.
The story changed with each telling, because the roses told the girl different secrets about the woods. How bees lived in decayed tree trunks where they made their honey. How the owl swooped through the dark to catch mice. The biggest secret was about the girl's name. She didn't have one so the five roses named her. They called her Rose.

Rose walked slowly, remembering. Another chickadee flitted past — or maybe the same one — sending her a questioning chirp.

Through the trees she glimpsed the slap of sunlight on the metal stovepipe. The tarred black peak of the roof. In the clearing she stopped. After only one winter empty, the cabin seemed to have sagged into the earth. The blank window stared at her.
Who are you?

She wasn't going in the cabin. She only wanted the loom. She followed the short fieldstone path through the cedars to the shed, but when she saw it she was startled. She'd remembered it as white. She'd forgotten she'd painted it blue last summer. She'd worked alone because Maman kept losing her breath. Rose had thought she was tired. She hadn't understood why she was so tired, but she also hadn't asked. And Maman never said.

She grasped the doorknob but — of course — it was locked. The key was in the cupboard in the cabin. She had no choice. Move, she thought. Get it. You need the key. Go.

The key to the cabin hung on a nail in the shelter where they stored wood. There were no more than a dozen logs left — pretty well advertising that the place was abandoned. She wondered if anyone had used the key since she'd last touched it. It slid into the lock of the cabin door and turned, but the door had swollen in its frame. She had to shove hard with her shoulder, each ram thudding through the cabin and her body.

When she burst through, she stumbled over the doorstep into the box of her past — the sofa where she used to sleep, the enamel-top table, the chairs, the wood stove. The faint stink of a squirrel nest or mice. How had she ever lived in such a cramped and dim space? Except that it had felt different with Maman there.

She had to step on a chair to reach the top shelf of the cupboard, tapping her fingers along the shelf until she found the key. She kept her eyes on the task and didn't glance around the cabin. She slammed the door behind her.

She felt calmer as soon as she unlocked the shed and saw the squat angles of the loom and the warping frame hooked on the wall. They were old friends waiting for her to fetch them. The loom was still dressed with a runner in brown linen that was only half-finished. Rose had wound the warp and put it on the loom, but Maman had tied it. Rose lay her hand on the width of threads that spanned from the back beam. She felt the give of strung linen against her palm and fingers, and wished she could keep the sensation to remember Maman.

She straightened. She had to get started. No choice but to cut the runner off the loom. The linen would be ruined in any case. Left on the loom all winter in an unheated shed, the tension would be stretched and uneven. She grabbed the heavy steel scissors and rasped long, sharp bites across the threads. Tension chopped, they collapsed against the heddles in sloppy twists. She unrolled the cloth that was already woven off the front beam and rolled it again, carefully folding the unfinished edge inside. She would hem this half-piece and keep it. Maman's last weaving.

Moving more quickly now, she unknotted and bundled the remaining threads off the back beam. What a waste. Though maybe not completely wasted. If she scattered the threads outside, the birds would tug ends free for their nests. The
marmottes
and the chipmunks could line their holes.

She realized she should have brought boxes to carry the shuttles, bobbins, hooks, and extra heddles. The harnesses lifted off the loom, though each one swayed with the weight of three hundred heddles — too heavy for her to carry through the woods. She tried to open the frames to remove the heddles, but the clips were jammed. She squeezed and pulled, then tapped with a hammer until the metal began to bend, but it still wouldn't release its hold.

BOOK: Five Roses
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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