Wayne Blake was born at the beginning of March,
during the first signs of spring breakup of the ice
a time of great importance to Labradorians who hunted
ducks for food and he was born, like most children in
that place in 1968, surrounded by women his mother had
known all her married life: Joan Martin, Eliza Goudie,
and Thomasina Baikie. Women who knew how to ice-fish
and sew caribou hide moccasins and stack wood in a pile
that would not fall down in the months when their husbands
walked the traplines. Women who would know,
during any normal birth, exactly what was required.
The village of Croyden Harbour, on the southeast Labrador coast, has that magnetic earth all Labrador shares. You sense a striation, a pulse, as the land drinks light and emits a vibration. Sometimes you can see it with your naked eye, stripes of light coming off the land. Not every traveller senses it, but those who do keep looking for it in other places, and they find it nowhere but desert and mesa. A traveller can come from New York and feel it. Explorers, teachers, people who know good hot coffee and densely printed newspapers but who want something more fundamental, an injection of New World in their blood. Real New World, not a myth that has led to highways and more highways and the low, radioactive buildings that offer pancakes and hamburgers and gasoline on those highways. A traveller can come to Labrador and feel its magnetic energy or not feel it. There has to be a question in the person. The visitor has to be an open circuit, available to the power coming off the land, and not everybody is. And it is the same with a person born in Labrador. Some know, from birth, that their homeland has a respiratory system, that it pulls energy from rock and mountain and water and gravitational activity beyond earth, and that it breathes energy in return. And others dont know it.
Wayne was born, in bathwater, in the house of his parents, Treadway and Jacinta Blake. Treadway belonged to Labrador but Jacinta did not. Treadway had kept the traplines of his father and he was magnetized to the rocks, whereas Jacinta had come from St. Johns when she was eighteen to teach in the little school in Croydon Harbour, because she thought, before she met Treadway, that it would be an adventure, and that it would enable her to teach in a St. Johns school once she had three or four years of experience behind her.
I would eat a lunch of bread and jam every day, Joan Martin told Eliza and Thomasina as Jacinta went through her fiercest labour pains in the bathtub. Every woman in Croydon Harbour spoke at one time or another of how she might enjoy living on her own. The women indulged in this dream when their husbands had been home from their traplines too long. I would not need any supper except a couple of boiled eggs, and Id read a magazine in bed every single night.
Id wear the same clothes for a week, Eliza said. My blue wool pants and grey shirt with my nightie stuffed under them. I would never take off my nightie from September till June. And I would get a cat instead of our dogs, and I would save up for a piano.
The women did not wish away their husbands out of animosity it was just that the unendurable winters were all about hauling wood and saving every last piece of marrow and longing for the intimacy they imagined would exist when their husbands came home, all the while knowing the intimacy would always be imaginary. Then came brief blasts of summer, when fireweed and pitcher plants and bog sundews burst open and gave the air one puff, one tantalizing scented breath that signalled life could now begin, but it did not begin. The plants were carnivorous. That moment of summer contained desire and fruition and death all in one ravenous gulp, and the women did not jump in. They waited for the moment of summer to expand around them, to expand enough to contain womens lives, and it never did.
Excerpted from Annabel by Kathleen Winter. Copyright © 2011 by Kathleen Winter. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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