Read Island Girl Online

Authors: Lynda Simmons

Island Girl (6 page)

BOOK: Island Girl
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“I found this one last night,” I told Liz. “It’s the first time I’ve had anything like it. I can keep an eye out for one for you if you like.”
“I don’t do seals. But if you see a skull and crossbones, be sure to grab it.” She picked up her bag, handed the basket to me. “Did Ruby tell you she tried to meet with me the other day?”
Liz tried for a long time to get me to call my mom Ruby too, but I think it would make her unhappy, so I don’t. It makes me sad that they’re still fighting, and that it’s all because of me, but I can’t make them stop. I’ve tried, but they both say the same thing, ‘It’s not your fault, Grace, it’s hers,’ and they won’t hear anything else.
“Did you talk to her?” I asked, not surprised that my mom hadn’t told me about her plans. She tells me all the old stories, the tales about Great-Grandma Lucy from Edinburgh and how she met my great-grandfather when she was only sixteen and told her family she was going to marry him no matter what and didn’t care when they disowned her. And then, after he died in a coal mining accident and she was only seventeen and pregnant and all alone, she still didn’t go home. She came to Canada and found her way to Ward’s Island and built a house and stayed here the rest of her life, just like every Donaldson woman since. My mom says that we are strong and capable women, just like Great-Grandma Lucy, and I am never ever to forget that.
My mom also talks to me about the customers and the perms and the roller sets that the seniors always want. Or the airport and the city and how lucky we are to live on the Island and how we must always be vigilant because there are still those who want to see us gone. But she never talks about where she’s heading when she gets on the ferry or what she does when she’s on the other side of the bay, even though I know there’s usually a man involved.
“Why would I talk to her?” Liz said. “She’s an idiot. I just thought she’d tell you. Anything to make me look bad, after all.” She grabbed my elbow and pulled me along to the bike rack. “Get your stuff quick. It’s going to be hot today, which means the crowds will be huge, the naked men will be out in droves, and we will need a good spot on the beach.”
She wiggled her eyebrows at me and I laughed and took my stuff out of the basket on my bike; looping the binoculars around my neck and jamming the field guide and notebook into the beach bag. We walked along the main road, talking about everything except why my mom wanted to see her, until we reached the cutoff for the nude beaches. Then Liz said, “Okay, go!” and we started running, racing each other to the first path that would take us down to the lake. I never go to the nude beaches on my own, but I love to go with Liz.
At the end of the path, we stopped and kicked off our shoes. The sky was clear, the sun sparkled on the water and the sand was warm under my feet. Liz was right. This was a perfect beach day and we weren’t the first to arrive. Six other groups had already marked their territory with blankets, coolers, and umbrellas attached to folding chairs. No children here. Just adults, mostly men, a few of them already naked and strolling along the water’s edge, displaying what God gave them and eager to share.
While Liz searched for a spot of our own, I finally asked. “Do you know what mom wanted to talk to you about?”
“Who cares?” she said, shading her eyes with a hand, surveying the possibilities. “Look at that one,” she whispered, and sighed. “Why do gay men always look better than the straight ones?” She pointed farther along the beach. “I see it. The perfect spot. Right there.”
I hurried to keep up. “But didn’t you wonder why she wanted to see you?”
“I know why. Mark told me. He says hi, by the way. Wants to know if you’ll do lunch with him on Centre Island on Sunday.”
I smiled. “I love lunch on Centre, especially with Mark.”
“That’s why I told him you’d meet him at the Swan Ride.” We slapped hands above our heads because I also love the Swan Ride and she knows it. “He’ll be there at eleven. Probably best not to tell Ruby.”
As if I didn’t already know.
My mom always said it was silly for us to see Mark. He wasn’t either of our real fathers after all. She says our real dads were both jerks, and we wouldn’t want to see them even if we could, but Mark wasn’t a jerk. And he was like a real dad for so long that I never did understand why she wanted to keep us apart after he left. But like the airport, I don’t say anything. I just keep my mouth shut, and meet Mark whenever he can come to the Island.
“Speaking of Mark,” Liz said, claiming our spot by setting the basket down. “Did you hear the news this morning? The court overturned another wrongful conviction. Another miscarriage of justice made right.”
“That’s nice.” I reached into the beach bag and pulled out my field guide and notebook. “I heard a strange bird by the lighthouse, and I thought we could look for it after lunch.”
She set our bucket of chicken in the sand—something that would have made my mom crazy—and came toward me. “Grace, this is important.”
I kept my head down and flipped through the field guide. “But in case you don’t want to, we can use the Lincoln sparrow for our bird of the day.”
“You need to think about launching an appeal of your own.”
I held out the book. “See? This is the sparrow. He’s not really exciting. Kind of drab—”
“Will you stop? We need to talk about this.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” I closed the book and turned away. “There’s no point dredging up the past when the future is all we have.”
“Listen to yourself! You sound just like Ruby.”
“Well, maybe she’s right.”
“Grace, honey, trust me.” Liz took hold of my shoulders and turned me around to face her. “She’s not right. She never was. You know Mark will handle everything for you. All you need to do is say yes.”
And that was just one more thing I couldn’t do.
“Maybe we could go to the lighthouse after lunch,” I said, and squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in hers. “Maybe we can find that other bird together.”
“Maybe we can,” she said softly, and rubbed her hands up and down my arms before letting me go. “But right now, let’s get this party started.”
I opened my eyes. She winked at me, letting me know it was over, we were on safe ground again. Then she opened the picnic basket and hauled out the blanket. “Take this end.”
I felt my shoulders start to relax as I walked backward with my end, slowly unfolding the red and black plaid that has seen more picnics than I could count. “Did Mark tell you what Mom wanted to talk to you about?” I asked as we gave the blanket a shake.
“Nothing we all haven’t heard before.” The blanket lifted into the air between us, once, twice, three times—a secret signal that the Donaldson girls were together again. “She wanted me to come back. Take my rightful place in the family home, blah, blah, blah.”
We let the blanket down slowly, spreading it over the sand and marking our territory. Then Liz took off her shirt, revealing breasts that are bigger than mine by a country mile and a belly button with a diamond in it. I don’t have piercings anymore. I took out all the plugs and rings when I found out I was pregnant. It didn’t seem right, somehow, for a mother to have so many holes in her body.
“You going to join me today? Add some color to that porcelain skin?”
I shook my head. She shrugged and pulled sunglasses, a straw hat, and a tube of sunscreen from her beach bag. “You never used to be a prude.”
“I never used to have stretch marks.”
She laughed and pulled another pair of sunglasses from her Mary Poppins bag. Handed them to me, then shucked off her skirt but left her underwear on. Good manners dictated that she wear them until after lunch. She stretched out on the blanket and closed her eyes while I applied sunscreen to my face and arms then went about setting up our picnic. Taking the bucket of chicken out of the sand and placing it squarely in the center of the blanket. Following it up with a tub of potato salad, rolls already buttered, and two cans of iced tea. I weighed down the paper plates with the cans, set out plastic forks, and said, “Lunch is ready,” after positioning myself close to the potato salad.
Liz went straight for the bucket. Tore off the lid and shoved a hand inside, searching for the biggest piece as usual. “I am starving. Haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday.”
I didn’t want to know what she did last night besides not eat, so I dug into the potato salad and shook a forkful of the sticky yellow mush onto my plate.
“Maybe Mom didn’t tell Mark everything,” I said, because just like Liz, there were some things I can’t let go of. I wanted to know what my mother had been up to in the city, why she’d been making more and more trips lately and why she’d think Liz would talk to her after all this time. “Maybe if you’d seen her, you would have found out more.”
“I found out enough. She wants me to come home because she’s sick.” Her hand stilled in the bucket. “You knew that, didn’t you?”
I said no and tried to ignore the sudden buzzing inside my brain. “How sick?”
Liz hesitated. She didn’t say, “Hardly at all” or “Don’t worry about it.” She hesitated and I knew right there that it was bad.
“How sick is she?” I asked again, and tried hard to hear the voice of my mother, the voice of reason saying,
Calm down, Grace. Calm down and listen.
But all I could hear was the buzzing and the buzzing, and my own voice rising, harsh and ugly and scary even to me. “What is wrong with her?”
“Grace, I’m sorry.” Liz pulled her hand out of the bucket, a thick and crusty drumstick dangling from her fingertips. “I didn’t realize she hadn’t told you.”
I knocked that chicken right out of her hand. “You wouldn’t have told me either, would you? You would have kept me in the dark, treated me just like she does. ‘Don’t say anything to Grace. Don’t upset Grace.’ I’m not stupid you know. I’m not some fucking retard who can’t figure out what’s going on all around her!”
Liz held up her hands in a gesture so like my mother I wanted to smack her. “I know you’re not stupid. I’ve never treated you like that, and you know it.”
“Do I, Liz?” I followed as she scrambled back, trying to stay out of reach. “
Do I?
You come here and tell me what I should do for my own good, just like she does. And then you keep me in the dark about the really important things, just like she does.”
“Grace, honey—”
I put my hands over my ears. “Don’t talk. Unless you’re going to tell me the truth, just don’t talk!”
Stop it, stop it
, I told myself, but the buzzing inside my head kept rising and the words kept coming out, louder and louder all the time. “Tell me what’s wrong with my mother!”
People were starting to look. I could see them from the corner of my eye. Naked men cutting their stroll short. Bathing beauties roused from sleep by the crazy girl.
“Grace, it’s not that easy,” Liz said.
I saw a can of iced tea hit her square in the forehead. Saw the drop of blood, the welt already starting to rise. I couldn’t think, couldn’t focus. The buzz was gone, replaced by a single phrase.
Your mother is sick. Your mother is sick
. Dear God, what would I do now? Now that my mother was sick.
I grabbed Liz by the shoulders and shook her hard. “What is wrong with my mother? What have you done to her this time?”
I used to be a marathon canoe racer. Discovered the sport the summer after Grace left, and by that fall I was hooked. Even in winter, I’d be out on some river with the rest of the team, breaking ice jams on the Speed, battling early snow on the Humber, and running with that damn canoe to the next checkpoint. Fools with parkas and paddles and only one thing in common—a love of life on the water. We called ourselves the T.O. Terrors and we were, growling and snapping as we passed the competition, howling our pain if we lost and shamelessly congratulating ourselves when we won, which we did—often.
I dropped out last year after the diagnosis, citing age and joints to my teammates when really it was nothing more than ego and vanity. Better to bow out early while I was still doing the talking, instead of waiting until Big Al gave me away, betrayed my dirty little secret.
I sat around for a month afterward, eating everything in sight and posing the inevitable “why me?” questions to a God I didn’t believe in, until I was as bored with myself as he must have been. Finally one night, the cookies were gone, Grace was eating the last of the ice cream, and I had two choices—raid Mary Anne’s fridge or find something else to do. As luck would have it, Mary Anne wasn’t home, so I wandered down to the beach instead, hauled someone’s canoe into the water, and set off by myself.
I didn’t cover anything close to the thirty- and forty-kilometer distances that were common for canoe marathons. But I was on the water long enough to realize what I’d been missing and convince myself that I still belonged there. By the time I arrived back home I was tired, sore, and the proud owner of a used canoe.
I didn’t miss a day until freeze-up after that and was back out again once the ice was gone. Every morning since, all the lamps in my room switch on at 5:45 A.M., a marching band starts into a particularly rousing version of “Anchors Aweigh,” and I am instantly awake, heart pounding while I stare, wide-eyed at the sign on my bedroom ceiling.
Go canoeing
. A note stuck to the alarm says the same thing:
Go canoeing
. As does the one in the bathroom:
Go canoeing, you stupid cow.
BOOK: Island Girl
5.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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