Authors: Sheila Watson
was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, in 1909. She took her B.A. (1931) and M.A. (1933) from the University of British Columbia, and then taught in elementary and high schools on the B.C. mainland and on Vancouver Island before beginning further graduate studies in English literature at the University of Toronto after the Second World War.
In the early 1950s, Watson lived in Calgary, where she wrote much of her novel
The Double Hook
. In the same decade, she continued her graduate studies, working on Wyndham Lewis under the supervision of Marshall McLuhan.
In 1961 Watson joined the Department of English at the University of Alberta. With colleagues there, she was a founder and editor of
, an avant-garde journal of literature and the visual arts. She retired from teaching in 1975, and moved to Nanaimo, British Columbia.
In 1992 she published
Deep Hollow Creek
, a novel she had written in the late 1930s.
Sheila Watson died in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in 1998.
THE NEW CANADIAN LIBRARY
General Editor: David Staines
Copyright © 1959 Sheila Watson
Copyright © 1966 by McClelland & Stewart
Afterword copyright © 1989 by F.T. Flahiff
First New Canadian Library edition 1989.
This New Canadian Library edition 2008.
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
Watson, Sheila, 1909–1998.
The double hook / Sheila Watson ; with an afterword by F.T. Flahiff.
(New Canadian library)
Originally publ.: 1959.
I. Title. II. Series.
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.
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
He doesn’t know
you can’t catch
the glory on a hook
and hold on to it
That when you
fish for the glory
you catch the
That if you hook
twice the glory
twice the fear
In the folds of the hills
under Coyote’s eye
the old lady, mother of William
of James and of Greta
lived James and Greta
lived William and Ara his wife
lived the Widow Wagner
the Widow’s girl Lenchen
the Widow’s boy
lived Felix Prosper and Angel
until one morning in July
reta was at the stove. Turning hotcakes. Reaching for the coffee beans. Grinding away James’s voice.
James was at the top of the stairs. His hand halfraised. His voice in the rafters.
James walking away. The old lady falling. There under the jaw of the roof. In the vault of the bed loft. Into the shadow of death. Pushed by James’s will. By James’s hand. By James’s words: This is my day. You’ll not fish today.
Still the old lady fished. If the reeds had dried up and the banks folded and crumbled down she would have fished still. If God had come into the valley, come holding out the long finger of salvation, moaning in the darkness, thundering down the gap at the lake head, skimming across the water, drying up the blue signature like blotting-paper, asking where, asking why, defying an answer, she would have thrown her line against the rebuke; she would have caught a piece of mud and looked it over; she would have drawn a line with the barb when the fire of righteousness baked the bottom.
Ara saw her fishing along the creek. Fishing shamelessly with bait. Fishing without a glance towards her daughter-in-law, who was hanging washing on the bushes near the rail fence.
I might as well be dead for all of her, Ara said. Passing her own son’s house and never offering a fry even today when he’s off and gone with the post.
The old lady fished on with a concentrated ferocity as if she were fishing for something she’d never found.
Ara hung William’s drawers on a rail. She had covered the bushes with towels.
Then she looked out from under her shag of bangs at the old lady’s back.
It’s not for fish she fishes, Ara thought. There’s only three of them. They can’t eat all the fish she’d catch.
William would try to explain, but he couldn’t. He only felt, but he always felt he knew. He could give half a dozen reasons for anything. When a woman on his route flagged him down with a coat and asked him to bring back a spool of thread from the town below, he’d explain that thread has a hundred uses. When it comes down to it, he’d say, there’s no telling what thread is for. I knew a woman once, he’d say, who used it to sew up her man after he was throwed on a barbed-wire fence.
Ara could hear the cow mumbling dry grass by the bushes. There was no other sound.
The old lady was rounding the bend of the creek. She was throwing her line into a rock pool. She was fishing upstream to the source. That way she’d come to the bones of the hills and the flats between where the herd cows ranged. They’d turn their tails to her and stretch their hides tight. They’d turn their living flesh from her as she’d turned hers from others.
The water was running low in the creek. Except in the pools, it would be hardly up to the ankle. Yet as she watched the old lady, Ara felt death leaking through from the centre of the earth. Death rising to the knee. Death rising to the loin.
She raised her chin to unseat the thought. No such thing could happen. The water was drying away. It lay only in the deep pools.
Ara wasn’t sure where water started.
William wouldn’t hesitate: It comes gurgling up from inside the hill over beyond the lake. There’s water over and it falls down. There’s water under and it rushes up. The trouble with water is it never rushes at the right time. The creeks dry up and the grass with them. There are men, he’d say, have seen their whole place fade like a cheap shirt. And there’s no way a man can fold it up and bring it in out of the sun. You can save a cabbage plant or a tomato plant with tents of paper if you’ve got the paper, but there’s no human being living can tent a field and pasture.
I’ve seen cows, he’d say, with lard running off them into the ground. The most unaccountable thing, he’d say, is the way the sun falls. I’ve seen a great cow, he’d say, throw no more shadow for its calf than a lean rabbit.
Ara looked over the fence. There was no one on the road. It lay white across the burnt grass.
Coyote made the land his pastime. He stretched out his paw. He breathed on the grass. His spittle eyed it with prickly pear.
Ara went into the house. She filled the basin at the pump in the kitchen and cooled her feet in the water.
We’ve never had a pump in our house all the years we’ve lived here, she’d heard Greta say. Someday, she’d say, you’ll lift the handle and stand waiting till eternity. James brings water in barrels from the spring. The thing about a barrel is you take it where you take it. There’s something fixed about a pump, fixed and uncertain.
Ara went to the door. She threw the water from the basin into the dust. She watched the water roll in balls on the ground. Roll and divide and spin.
The old lady had disappeared.
Ara put on a straw hat. She tied it with a bootlace under the chin. She wiped the top of the table with her apron which she threw behind a pile of papers in the corner. She went to the fence and leaned against the rails.
If a man lost the road in the land round William Potter’s, he couldn’t find his way by keeping to the creek bottom for the creek flowed this way and that at the land’s whim. The earth fell away in hills and clefts as if it had been dropped carelessly wrinkled on the bare floor of the world.
Even God’s eye could not spy out the men lost here already, Ara thought. He had looked mercifully on the people of Nineveh though they did not know their right hand and their left. But there were not enough people here to attract his attention. The cattle were scrub cattle. The men lay like sift in the cracks of the earth.
Standing against the rails of the fence, she looked out over the yellow grass. The empty road leading from James’s gate went on from William’s past the streaked hills, past the Wagners’, down over the culvert, past Felix Prosper’s.
Felix saw the old lady. She was fishing in his pool where the water lay brown on the black rocks, where the fish lay still under the fallen log. Fishing far from her own place. Throwing her line into his best pool.
He thought: I’ll chase her out.
But he sat, tipped back in his rocking-chair, his belly bulging his bibbed overalls, while the old lady fished, while the thistles thrust his potato plants aside and the potatoes baked in the shallow soil.
When at last he went down to the creek the old lady had gone. And he thought: Someday I’ll put a catcher on the fence and catch her for once and all.
Then he fished himself, letting his line fall from an old spool, his hook catch in the leaves. Fished with his chin rolled over the bib of his overalls, while his fiddle lay against his rocker and the potatoes baked in the vertical glory of the July sun.
Fished and came from the creek. Pulled the fish out of his pocket. Slit them from tail to chin. Sloshed them in the hand basin. Dropped them into bacon fat until the edges browned. Cooked them to a curl while the dogs sniffed. Cooked them in peace alone with his dogs.
Angel had gone. She had walked across the yard like a mink trailing her young behind her. She had climbed the high seat of Theophil’s wagon. Now she lived with Theophil at the bend of the road near the old quarry.
He lifted the brown edge of the fish and took out the bones. The terrier sat under the shadow of his belly. The hounds stood, dewlaps trembling, their paws shoved over the sill. Felix fed the terrier where it sat. The hounds waited, their lips wet, their eyes quick with longing.
When Felix had finished, he rolled out of his chair and gathered up a pan of scraps from the trestle on which the buckets rest. The hounds backed away from the door, jostling shoulder to shoulder, tail bisecting tail. He gave them the scraps.
If they walked out of his gate like Angel, he would not ask if they had hay to lie on. His own barn was often empty.
He went back to the table and gathered up the bones that lay around his plate. He stood with a fish spine in his hand. Flesh mountainous contemplating. Saint Felix with a death’s head meditating.