Authors: Connie Barnes Rose
Tags: #General Fiction
Road to Thunder Hill
Road to Thunder Hill
“This whip-smart, straight-talking novel tackles the big questions we face in middle age. How do we keep love alive? How do we make peace with our past? How do we muster the courage to change our future? In her clear-eyed prose, Barnes Rose has written an edgy domestic drama whose appeal is universal.”
, author of
“Barnes Rose has that rare talent for character building that can make a novel pop from its pages, each character fully drawn, rich and utterly believable. She also has a gift for gracefully moving her reader about in the plot line, dropping hints about stories in a character's past or future. Unlike some authors who abuse this technique, Barnes Rose manages to relieve the tension of that flashback or foreshadowing at just the right time, gently teasing us forward like a host mentioning a surprise desert at the door, thus making the whole meal all the more appetizing.
Road to Thunder Hill
is her first novel. I, for one, want to read more.”
The Montreal Gazzette
“Barnes Rose has created a host of likeable, eccentric characters whose destinies are inextricably intertwined.”
âThe Chronicle Herald
“It's unputdownable, it's unforgettable, and it's timeless.”
Road to Thunder Hill
ALSO BY CONNIE BARNES ROSE
Getting Out of Town
Road to Thunder Hill
CONNIE BARNES ROSE
Inanna Publications and Education Inc.
Copyright Â© 2011 Connie Barnes Rose
Except for the use of short passages for review purposes, no part of this book may be reproduced, in part or in whole, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically or mechanically, including photocopying, recording, or any information or storage retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council
for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.
We are also grateful for the support received
from an Anonymous Fund at The Calgary Foundation.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead or events is entirely coincidental.
Cover design: Val Fullard
Interior design: Luciana Ricciutelli
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Rose, Connie Barnes [date]
Road to Thunder Hill : a novel / Connie Barnes Rose.
(Inanna poetry & fiction series)
I. Title. II. Series: Inanna poetry and fiction series
PS8585.O72544R63 2011 C813'.54 C2011-905665-8
Printed and bound in Canada
Inanna Publications and Education Inc.
210 Founders College, York University
4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3
Telephone: (416) 736-5356 Fax: (416) 736-5765
For Eric, who holds my heart.
1. We Need to Talk
OR AN OLD DOG,
Suzie's ears are still pretty good, given she can hear a car downshift out on the highway before it even turns down our lane. She's barking at the window now, her long snout pushing aside the curtain, her paws up on the windowsill.
The pillows fly off my head, and here I sit up with the heels of my hands planted on the mattress hoping they'll ground me. There is something familiar about that wallpaper â¦ and what about that wall calendar with the picture of Peggy's Cove above the words, “The Four Reasons Gas n' Stop?” There's no mistaking that place. Alana's Danny, in a drunken moment of creativity, had come up with the name way back when. Now my life can slide into place. Apparently, the year is 1994, the month is April, and I'm home in bed. I'm all alone except for that old collie barking her head off.
I go to swing my feet out of bed but they're so snagged up in the sheets I feel bound as tight as a mummy. I struggle to untangle myself and make it to the window where I grab onto Suzie's ruff. Who needs to lock their doors with a watchdog like her?
I pull up the window blind and cannot believe what's happening out there in the yard. Snow! The blowing, biting kind of snow you expect to see in January, not April. Especially since only yesterday ground water gurgled from every possible hole in the yard and the first crocus buds had popped up. Whoever it is out there in the yard must have parked up close to the door. That rules Ray out. Ray parks his truck in exactly the same spot, rain or shine, right next to the linden tree across from our bedroom window. Excuse me,
For some time I thought things between Ray and me would be okay. I went so far as to fantasize about some cold winter night when, all snug and safe in our bed, one of us would say, “Remember that year you moved out? Remember how freaked out we both were?”
And the other would say, “Yeah. But think of the fun we had finding each other again.”
“Fun? You call what you put me through,
The fantasy ends there. The cold floor under my feet is all too real. Last night, I turned the oil furnace off thinking spring had come and besides, I had to be tough. Ray would laugh at that. He thinks our problem is that I'm
damned tough. My toes are freezing as I search for wool socks.
Now a cheery voice drifts upstairs. “Hello. Hello, it is I.”
“I” would be Olive, my so-called half sister. I forgot she was coming over this morning. She'll be carrying the book-of-the-month in her satchel, as well as some yummy treat to go along with our meeting. I'd like to dive back under my covers.
“Patricia?” she says, her voice coming up from the bottom of the stairs. “Are you okay?”
? “Yes, I'm okay,” I say, stumbling into jeans. “I'll be right down.”
I've given up on getting her to call me Trish, like the rest of the world does. Olive seems to think people should be called by their proper names. I've noticed that with some people she asks if they mind if she uses their real name. Not me though. She insists on Patricia.
“I'll put on the tea,” she calls up.
Heading for the door I catch myself in the mirror above the bookcase. Two words spring to mind.
But hey, thinner! Just the other night Alana pointed out that I'd sure lost a pile of weight since Ray left last year for the job down in Newville.
“We need to talk,” Ray had said.
Isn't that what a woman typically says to her man? The tone should have tipped me off, but I was still so mad at him. Our daughter Gayl had just declared her sixteenth birthday to have been the absolute worst in her life. Nobody else's parents got into a fight in the middle of their daughter's party and nobody else's father stormed off to town to get drunk. At least, that's where everyone figured he'd gone. But soon after everyone had left the party, he'd come back sober. This fact should also have twigged something in my brain, but I folded my arms anyway. “Talk away, Mister.”
He let out his breath like he'd been holding it in since he walked through the door. “Where's Gayl?” he said.
“She went into town with my mother.”
“She hates us, doesn't she?”
“Us? Am I the one who stormed out of here?”
“No. You're the one who threw a can of tomato juice at me, remember?”
Many times since then, I've cleaned up this scene in my memory. What I should have said was, Hey, we both messed up. Maybe it was wrong to fight on Gayl's birthday but we're not perfect parents, either. This kind of talk could have saved the day because there was a time when Ray believed in me.
But what I said was, “I'm sick of how you embarrass our daughter.”
He mumbled into the kitchen sink and then looked into the mirror above it. Something about his face in the mirror made me rush to him. Ever since my father died of heart failure I'm pretty sensitive about faces that suddenly turn grey.
He shuddered then, and still speaking to the dishes in the sink, said, “I'm taking that job down in Newville.”
We had talked about this job, just the week before. The salary for driving a Payloader in the salt mine was pretty decent. But it meant he'd have to board down there and drive two hundred kilometres to come home on weekends. We had decided, he had decided, he wouldn't want to be away from Gayl and me so much. To think I'd even made a joke about him giving up an opportunity to find a new family down in Newville, one whose daughter could pick up after herself. Why, perhaps he'd find a woman who'd provide him with stews and cookies and blow jobs on demand. We'd laughed at the very idea. We must have thought we were still in love that day.
No jokes on this day though. In the past, we may have flirted with the idea of putting an end to Trish and Ray, but as many times we'd fallen safely back into our lives together. This was the first time I felt weak in the knees. In less time than it takes to draw a breath, Ray was telling me he was leaving.
Turns out the big fat fight we'd had there in the kitchen in the middle of Gayl's party was all the excuse he'd needed.
“Don't you own an electric kettle?” Olive asks me now.
“Oh, probably, only don't ask me where it is.” I pull the remaining pieces of birch from the wood box and stuff them into the stove. “Anyway, the stove will be hot soon enough.”
The stove will be hot soon enough because at some point last night I had a dream about Ray getting that very service we'd joked about. What I remember about the Newville woman in the dream was that she had no teeth and Ray was groaning as if this was the best he'd ever had. The dream woke me up so I went downstairs to shake it off and walked over to stare out the back porch window. The moon was full and there was a big orange ring around it. On my way back to bed, I'd refilled the wood stove, which is why the coals are still hot this morning.
“Amazing that your coals are still hot!” Olive says, holding her hands together like in prayer, her chin resting on the tips of her fingers. I've come to know this pose. It's all about prying, not praying.
“I was up earlier to pee,” I say with a yawn. “So I filled it then.”
“I see.” She has that thoughtful look which says she thinks there's much more to it. Ever since Olive moved to Thunder Hill almost two years ago, I've discovered what it's like to have an older sister. Correction. Half sister. Correction. Not even. Olive also seems to be the only person on earth who believes we share the same father.
She says, “I thought Ray was supposed to come home last night.”
“He was, but he got overtime work. So now he's coming today.”
I set the kettle on the stove. Drops of water fizzle and pop across the stovetop. “He's been working a lot of overtime,” I add.
“He hasn't been home for a few weekends now,” she says. “I wouldn't think there'd be such a call for rock salt in April. Mind you, it certainly doesn't look much like April today, does it?”
“Nope,” I say, rubbing my hands together to warm them. Out the window, I can see that the snow has clumped around the corn stubble in the field next to our house. Snowy Saturday in April. Olive in my kitchen. Ray gone. No wonder everything feels so cold today.
Wanting to avoid gossip, I'd said to Ray, “We need a story. Just in case.”
“In case what?” he'd said, knowing I meant in case he came back. The story that we made up for the rest of the world was that Ray needed the work, and because of the distance, we decided he should take a room down in Newville. The move was a drag, but temporary, and as soon as Ray made his hours he would move back home and things would return to normal.
Most people bought the story. I could tell by the way they'd say, “Heard you shipped Ray off to the salt mines,” or, “How's Ray making out down there in Newville?” If they'd known the truth, all the talk would have swerved around Ray like a dead skunk in the road. The thing was, I wasn't sure how long I could go on pretending things were normal.
That was almost a year ago. Ray had been gone for only two days when Olive showed up in my kitchen with her satchel full of books.
“Everybody needs a book buddy!” she'd said, unloading the books onto my table. “And now that you're on your own, come over to Kyle House if you ever get lonely.”
Before I had a chance to protest by saying that it wasn't like I was really alone, with Gayl here and Ray planning to come home most weekends, she'd also handed me an extra reading list for when I finished with Jane Austen, Alice Munro, and some Russian writer named Nabokov.
To be polite I told her I'd been thinking of getting rid of the
But secretly I meant it. Things were going to change around here. No more wasted evenings under a blanket in front of the television. I'd do all the things I used to dream about. I'd join the theatre group in town. I'd read important books!
Under a ticking clock in my kitchen, I'd begun to read. But my mind would drift to things like the talk we had just before Ray left and how I even agreed that we'd run out of room to grow together and were starting to suck each other dry like raisins. I'd even said, “If you think you'd be happier by leaving, then you have to do it.”
It was a bluff, for sure. I'd expected him to drop his bag at the door so we could begin Trish and Ray all over again. But when he put his hand on the doorknob, I'd said right out, “Okay, Ray, you can stop running away from home now.” He stopped for about five seconds, his shoulders hunched, his bag looking too heavy.
I stood heartsick at the door, and watched him drive up the lane, away from our little home tucked in the hollow below Thunder Hill. I kept watching until his truck was well out of sight. He didn't even toot his horn when he turned onto the road.
I decided not to chase after him, to test the old “set him free” approach, but how long was a person supposed to wait for her lover to return? While I waited I read and sometimes stuck my foot out to rub Suzie's head. Thank God for Suzie, who is content to curl up on her rug near my feet. Ray had often said that I'd be happier if I could keep
tied to a leash.
Every so often, Carrie the cat, asleep with her white front paws tucked neatly under her chest, opened one eye to stare back at me. The house was so still. Gayl was spending more and more time in town with my mother and I thought about how strange it felt to have both husband and daughter out of the house. I tried to look at it in a positive light, so I'd keep reading, but the ticking clock kept putting me to sleep and I'd wake up at midnight with a sore back and barely a chapter finished.
For that entire month of May last year I tossed and turned and stayed awake every night until it was time to go to work each morning. I thought about taking time off from the factory so I could stay in bed just to catch up on my sleep, but I needed my job now more than ever. One night I couldn't wait any longer so I phoned Ray at his boarding house. I held my breath through five rings before he picked up.
“Hello?” I said.
I could tell by the huskiness in his voice that he'd been asleep. “You were expecting someone else?” I tried being my usual snarky self, but ended up swallowing too hard right after “expecting.”
“I was kind of hoping it was you.”
I stifled the urge to say, “you were?” Other than when he'd first moved to Newville and he'd put an end to our calls we hadn't spoken to each other except when he'd phone for Gayl, and the time he asked if I'd paid the oil bill.
“So,” I said, trying to hide my surprise. “How's life at the boarding house?”
“Oh, it's there I guess,” he yawned. I pictured him lying on his back, his fingers pulling at the triangle of dark hairs on his chest. “You know, I was wondering what you'd think about me â¦ about me coming home this weekend. To visit. Would that be wrong?”