He had left Kingston Harbour on a Great Lakes coast guard icebreaker, onto
the deck of which he had loaded a stack of firewood, enough food to last at
least two weeks, a couple of bottles of wine, some whiskey, camera equipment,
and a backpack filled with winter clothing. Though it was only a mile or so from
the city to the island, the men on board had thought him reckless to go out
there alone in this season. They were somewhat mollified, however, when he
admitted he had a cell phone. Youll be using it soon enough, the
captain had ventured. Pretty grim out there this time of year.
Grim was what Jerome was after. Grimness, uncertainty, difficulty of access
a hermit in a winter setting, the figure concentrated and small against the
cold blues and whites and greys that made up the atmosphere of the landscape,
Ordinarily, residencies were not permitted during the winter months, but the
officials at the Arts Council were aware of his work, his growing reputation,
knew from his Fence Line Series that he preferred to work with snow. A young
woman whose voice had indicated that she was impressed by his dedication had
made the arrangements with the coast guard and had speeded his application
through the usual channels. In a matter of days he had found himself standing on
the deck of the vessel, his whole body vibrating with the hum of the engine,
then shuddering with the boats frame as the bow broke through the ice. The
wind had repeatedly punched the side of his face, and there was not much warmth
in the late March sun, but Jerome had preferred to remain on the deck in order
to dispel the impression that there was a look about him, a scent maybe, that
suggested longing, dependence.
The captain was right though, he would be using the phone soon, to call Mira.
He had to admit that he wanted to please the girl who had miraculously remained
in his life for almost two years, that he felt concern for her and must honor
her affection for him. In this way he had been able, so far, to slip easily
around the disturbing truth of his own feelings, the pleasure he felt when
thinking of her, and the ease with which he remained in her company. He was
almost always thinking about her.
For the time being, however, he had stayed focused on his journey, intrigued
by the dark, jagged path the boat had left in its wake as it moved through the
ice. It would be a temporary incision, he knew, one that would likely be healed
by the nights falling temperature, so he removed his camera from the case,
then leaned against the railing and photographed the irregular channel.
The opened water was like a slash of black paint on a stretched white canvas.
Breaking the river. He liked the sound of the phrase and would remember to
record it in his notebook once he got settled in the loft.
He himself would never be a painter, considered himself instead a sort of
chronicler. He wanted to document a series of natural environments changed by
the moods of the long winter.
He wanted to mark the moment of metamorphosis, when something changed from
what it had been in the past. He was drawn to the abandoned scraps of any
material: peeling paint, worn surfaces, sun bleaching, rust, rot, the effects of
prolonged moisture, as well as to the larger shifts of erosion and weather and
This island was situated at the mouth of the great river that flowed out of
Lake Ontario, then cut through the vast province of Quebec before losing its
shape to the sea. The idea that he would be staying near the point where open
water entered the estuary excited him and made the pull of the island stronger.
Now, two days after hed arrived, as he stood near the shore with the
camera around his neck and a snow shovel in his hand, the phrase breaking the
river was still fresh in his mind, and he had decided that it would be the title
of the first series he would complete on the island. He observed, by looking at
the shards of ice along the shoreline, that, in effect, the river was broken by
the island. Arguably, this would be true even in summer in that the island would
break up the current of the water that passed on either side of it. But it was
the ice that interested Jerome, the way it had heaved itself up on end and onto
the shore like some ancient species attempting to discard an aquatic past. He
plunged the handle of the shovel into a nearby drift, where it remained upright
like a dark road sign. Then he walked away and began to search the surroundings
for slim fallen branches of a suitable length.
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