Authors: Joanna Gosse
Dedicated to my mother,
Madeline Kean Gosse,
for her endless love and generous spirit.
© 2014 Joanna Gosse
All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Be careful what you give up, to grab what you don’t have. At the ripe age of forty-five, China Collins, known to her friends and family as a sculptor, mother, and grandmother, fell overwhelmingly in love with Sam Eagle, an aboriginal lawyer, who wanted to return to his beginnings. They moved to his birthplace on Grimshaw Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, pop. 2000, far away from China’s life in Toronto. She gave up her life to live his. Whither thou goest.
Sam was a descendant of the ancient Beothuk, a people whose past belonged to the fog-shrouded shores of Newfoundland, and the story-tellers, until the white men came to the new found land with shotgun history, murdering the Beothuk into oblivion, but for the few who escaped to Grimshaw Island. They managed to survive quietly until they deemed it safe to mingle again with the white race - forced to really. Fresh blood lines were needed to reinforce genes eroded by incest and disease. The strongest, the best-looking warriors went fishing, for women, and found them. They also found liquor and lost their pride. The lack of taxes combined with the abundance of guilt handouts from the Federal Government, should have made life relatively simple. Unfortunately, alcohol, drugs, sexual abuse and spousal assault were at an all time high and fish were at an all time low.
The only other problem was the continuing revolting weather.
The wind shrieked and shook the house and China's bones. She carefully watched the bay window buckle.
"Sam, is there any chance that window will shatter?" she asked nervously.
"Nah, it's made to give a little," he replied.
Not convinced, China pulled the drapes against the banshee wind. Her mother had made those curtains, lining and all, God bless her, just to keep her safe. In case the window did shatter, at least the heavy material would stop the glass from cutting them both to bloody shreds.
"Do you have any idea how many times a week I save your life?"
"Huh?" Sam grunted from his television coma.
"Never mind. Go back to the movie."
"Yeah, I just love this scene.”
China sat next to Sam and watched Mel Gibson and Danny Glover deal with a toilet bomb. China thought it was a very interesting way to blow someone up. She snuggled with Sam, enjoying his enthusiasm, safe in his ability to ignore the wind.
When China met Sam, her shell cracked and crumbled. She forgot why she had taken a vow of celibacy, forgot how much she would have to give up in order to love a man. She jumped off her familiar cliff into his arms, and followed him into the unknown. She had also forgotten that jumping off cliffs could cause serious injuries. Perhaps she thought that Sam with his warm, joyful heart and body, would heal past injuries. She remembered one injury that had healed another.
China was twelve and skipping rope during recess when her foot slipped off the sidewalk and she fell into the street right in front of a motorcycle policeman. Her schoolmates gasped, certain that China would be crushed. The motorcycle braked just in time and the policeman picked her up and carried her into the schoolroom. A princess for a few moments. She still remembered his hard body, his handsome face and the terrible pain in her ankle. The shock of the body gone wrong. The shock of a man's arms around her. The first stirring of lust.
China wondered why love was often accompanied by pain. She wanted to believe that love was perfect but in her experience, only pain was perfect. Love just felt better.
The sprain caused China trouble all year long. Her dancing was compromised. The following spring she fell off a bicycle, landed on her weak ankle, and fractured it. Her father, hearing her cries, ran outside, cursed at her (his way of showing fear and concern), carried her inside and yelled for his wife to come and fix their daughter’s carelessness.
When the cast was removed, her ankle had finally mended. It hadn't bothered her since. It had weathered point shoes, tap shoes, can-cans in high heels, city pavements, miles of jogging, childbirth and several men. A good injury. She hadn't broken anything since. China knocked on bone. She had learned how to bend.
China met Sam at the opening of an exhibition of Grimshaw Totems at the Toronto Art Gallery, where she worked part-time. She was standing next to Sarah, her best friend and a painter, when she saw Sam stride into the room and cross over to Bear, one of the aboriginal artists whose carving was part of the exhibition. China casually undulated in Bear’s direction ostensibly to see if he needed a drink, or some food, or a million dollars, but mostly to meet the handsome hunk next to him. China looked at up at Sam’s fierce black eyes, measured the width of his huge shoulders, and promptly fell in love, or in lust. It was a bit of a shock. She hadn’t been lost in love/lust, in a very long time. Sam’s black eyes traveled over China’s auburn hair, creamy skin and luscious curves, coming back to her face to find cool, green eyes, sparkling at him.
“Beer,” China asked Bear while casually devouring Sam with her eyes. “Do you need a bear or anything?”
Bear held up the full glass of beer in his hand and said, “No thanks, I got one.”
“I don’t,” said Sam grinning.
Sarah interrupted Sam’s discovery of China and quickly steered her away.
“Excuse me, but you’re wanted on the phone,” said Sarah pulling China across the room.
“Who is it?” asked China.
“Nobody you idiot,” whispered Sarah. “I’m just trying to stop you from making a fool of yourself.”
Sarah pulled China around the exhibition and stopped every now and then to greet an acquaintance. China kept glancing around the room to find Sam. Every time she found him, he was staring back at her. Finally Sarah gave up the thankless task of averting impending disaster and growled at China.
“China,” said Sarah. “I give up. Why don’t you just go over there and fuck him?”
“What? You know that’s what you want to do.”
China’s knees went weak when she saw Sam walking towards her.
“Oh my God. He’s coming over here.”
“I guess he wants to fuck you too. How serendipitous!” said Sarah gleefully.
“Shut up,” hissed China. “If you embarrass me I swear I’ll never speak to you again.”
“Hi there,” said Sam smoothly. “I’m Sam Eagle. Bear is my cousin, and we were wondering if you ladies would like to join us for a drink.”
“How thoughtful,” said Sarah sweetly. “I’m afraid I’m just too tired to go anywhere but straight to bed. You go ahead, China. So nice to meet you Mr. Eagle.”
China silently cursed Sarah’s tall, elegant, body as she disappeared into the crowd and vowed she was not only going to never speak to Sarah again, she was going to kill her first.
The next morning, China’s phone rang with unprecedented shrilling, dragging China out of a deep sleep.
“Hello,” moaned China.
“Did you fuck him?” asked Sarah rudely.
“None of your business!” answered China with equal rudeness. She hung up the phone and sank back into the pillow, wishing with all her heart that she had done what Sarah so rudely suggested. Would have done, if Bear hadn’t gotten very drunk and needed the support of Sam to find his way back to the hotel.
The phone rang again.
“Good morning, darling,” said Sarah cheerfully.
“I’m glad you called to apologize for your outrageous behaviour,” replied China primly.
“I thought our friendship went beyond the boundaries of polite how-are-you boring chitchat.”
“It does, but you went too far beyond the boundary. You should have said ‘good morning, did you fuck him?’ ”
“OK, OK! Good morning. Did you fuck him?”
“My next question is why not?”
“Mainly because my very dear friend deserted me with about four hundred and fifty pounds of aboriginal male. Bear misbehaved mightily and it took our combined strength to get him into a taxi before the bartender called the police. Bear may be a great carver, but his great drinking could ruin his career.”
“Nonsense darling. Just think of the marvelous publicity if he had landed in jail.”
“Yes, well, it was rather an awkward end to a promising evening.”
“So, when do you see him again?”
“I don’t know,” said China with irritation. “Do you have to be so nosy this early in the morning? Obviously you’ve forgotten I’m going to Newfoundland today.”
“What dreadful timing. Did you give him the phone number there?”
“Yes mother. Boy have you changed your tune. I thought you were dead against my falling in love.”
“I am against your falling in love. It’s not good for you. However a little lust won’t hurt. I decided to be generous and allow you to have a little lust in your life, especially since there’s very little in mine. You’ve been acting like a nun for far too long and it’s not very becoming.”
“So sorry I haven’t been able to provide you with a vicarious love life, but a quiet, peaceful life does have its advantages.”
“God! You’ve become such a grandmother since Tina was born.”
“We all have to grow up sometime. I’m sure your children will appreciate it when you do.”
“It ain’t happening in my lifetime. Anyway, I’d love to continue trading insults with you but one of us has to get to work.”
“Are you finished the flower series yet?”
“I thought I had but for some bizarre reason I’m considering inserting erect penises, or is it peni, in the bushes. Carefully concealed of course, just to see if the critics are paying attention.”
China burst out laughing. Sarah was a wonderful painter but her outrageous sense of humour usually turned her colourful canvases into erotic puzzles. One Rosedale matron had demanded her money back when she discovered, in Sarah’s painting of a wonderful old oak tree, the image of a dog humping the tree. In vain did Sarah try to convince her that it was just the bark of the tree that suggested a humping dog and the animalistic erotica was all in the mind of the beholder.
“I think,” said China. “That you’re the one who needs an affair.”
“Can’t,” replied Sarah. “I’m a faithful woman, more’s the pity, and it behooves you, as my dearest friend in the world, to supply me with erotic tales and exciting adventures to fuel my starving imagination.”
“Sarah, shut up and go slap a lurking penis in a bush. I have to pack.”
“Have a lovely, boring visit darling. Give Ma and Pa a hug for me.”
China finished packing her suitcases and got a cab to the airport. Of all the times to be taking a trip to Newfoundland. Normally she would have been thrilled to go back home but now there was something thrilling in Toronto. Something that would have to wait. She took out Sam’s business card and breathed in the faint scent of his cologne. She read,
Sam Eagle, Eagle & Whitlaw, Barristers & Solicitors, Toronto, Ontario, and Grimshaw Island, Nova Scotia. Specializing in Aboriginal land claims.
She had read enough material at the Art Gallery to know that ‘Eagle’ was probably the English translation of a Grimshaw clan name. Usually if a Grimshaw woman married a non-Grimshaw, she would take her husband’s name, but use the clan name as a middle name. Many Grimshaws living in Halifax, or further away, had even dropped the clan names altogether. Lately though, they had been revived, especially by those who were artists. These days if you had an animal as part of your name, such as Bear, Wolf, or Eagle, etcetera, recognition in the art world was almost assured.
China dined for hours on the feeling of her first goodbye kiss from Sam, a brief, chaste brushing of lips. She wrote her first letter to Sam the day after she arrived in Newfoundland.
How sweet of you to call last night. I would have called you but I was really too shy. I’ve done nothing but think of you since I arrived. It’s great to see Mom and Dad but life is pretty dull here in Spaniard’s Bay. We had a big snow storm and buddy up the road took all day to shovel the driveway. When buddy finished he said to Dad: “That’ll be thirty-four dollars. It took me seven hours.” Dad said, “How could it possibly have taken seven hours?” Buddy said, “I had a small shovel and I took me time.” How can you argue with that kind of logic?
“China?” interrupted her mother, knocking on the bedroom door. “You’re wanted on the phone.”
“Hello,” said China, picking up the extension.
“Hi,” said Sam.
“Hi yourself,” said China cleverly. “I was just writing you a letter.”
“What were you writing?”
“You’ll have to wait till you get the letter.”
“Send it by express post.”
“Okay. How about writing me a letter?”
“I don’t write letters.”
“Why? What are you afraid of? Would you start to sweat and get heart palpitations?”
“No. I just don’t do it.”
“Aw, come on. Be a brave. Just think of it as a conversation. Start with the weather and then tell me how the day is going, where you were born, your favourite colour, favourite sport, when you were divorced...easy information like that.”
“Okay, okay,” said Sam laughing. “I’ll try, but right now I have to catch a plane. I’ll call you soon.”
, I’m in love trouble.
She went back to her letter.
You called again! Writing letters will save you money unless you send them all by express post. Herein lies a poem I wrote concerning a difficult romance that finally ended about two years ago. Believe it or not, I haven’t had a date since then.
I would need a man with thinner pride
and a thicker way with romance
The man I have in a miserly way
has doors that lock around him
He is fearsomely busy
He bristles with purpose
and keeps my knock at bay;
He welcomes endeavours
to hasten his dissolve,
a less prideful man would puddle,
but his carapace is an armoured car
running over my caresses,
I stand and watch, exhausted by seige
My liege will rule without me,
I’ll search for a thinly fortified man
wherein I’ll find...kind shelter.
That’s all the information you’re getting from me until I receive a brave letter from you. Love, China.
China walked to the post office along the old railroad tracks that encircled Maul-Tree Hill. She smiled at the name seeing as how there wasn’t one tree left on the barren hill to ever make another maul. Her eyes swept the familiar view of the sea and Spaniard’s Bay, the small community where her parents had built a retirement home. She had tried a couple of times to return to Newfoundland but she always left after a few months to return to the excitement of Toronto. She was younger then and restless, and earning a living as an artist was easier when one had easy access to a large population. Now that she was more established she had seriously considered taking the risk of moving back home. However the idea of leaving her daughter and granddaughter was the only thing holding her back. Toronto was just too damn far from Newfoundland for frequent visits.
What was it about this wild, rocky shore that induced the unappeased yearning syndrome of all ex-patriot Newfoundlanders? They sniveled forever about being forced to leave to find work, waiting for the day they could retire and return home. Then they spent the rest of their days missing their children and grandchildren who could never understand why anyone in their right mind would want to live on such a remote, windy rock.
She walked back to her parents’ house, walked into the woodshed, selected a piece of pine and started carving. She dug and chiseled and shaved and smoothed and repeated her personal mantra,
I will not fall in love again. Men bring me nothing but trouble. I will not fall in love again. Men bring me nothing but trouble.
She reflected on the men in her life and wondered why she chose the men she had. When she met Sam she felt exactly as she had felt long ago, when she fell in love with Tim, her daughter’s father. Instant recognition, a feeling that this person had been known before, the cells in her body tingling with remembrance. Up until now, Jane’s father had been the one true love in her life but that hadn’t stopped her from falling out of love, and divorcing him. The men in-between were chosen for different reasons: loneliness, lust, life was boring.
China’s parents seemed to have borne all of China’s life changes with a kind of amazed concern. The years of dancing when China was going to be a prima ballerina. The years of singing when she was going to be an opera singer. Then, dropping the lot to become the strangest of all, a sculptor. A sculptor of embarrassingly erotic creatures, who sometimes even made a living at it. Her father prided himself on having made China take a typing course when just out of high school so that she’d “have something serious to fall back on.” And China did fall every now and then.