When Jacinta was not groaning with the mind-stopping agony of having her pelvic bones wrenched apart by the baby that was coming, she too indulged in the dream. I dont believe Id stay here at all, she told her friends as she poured scalding coffee from the small enamel pot, her belly as big as a young seal under her blue apron covered in tiny white flowers. Id move back to Monkstown Road and if I couldnt get a job teaching Id get my old job back at the Duckworth Laundry, washing white linen for the Newfoundland Hotel.
Thomasina was the only woman who did not indulge. She had not had a father, and she regarded her husband, Graham Montague, with great respect. She had not got over the fact that he could fix anything, that he did not let the house grow cold, that he was the last man to leave for his traplines and the first to come home to her, that he was blind and needed her, or that he had given her Annabel, a red-haired daughter whom she called my bliss and my bee, and who helped her father navigate his canoe now that she was eleven years old and had a head on her as level and judicious as Thomasinas own. Graham was out now, as were all the hunters in Croydon Harbour, on the river in his white canoe, and Annabel was with him. She rode the bow and told him where to steer, though he knew every movement he needed to make with his paddle before Annabel told him, since before she was born he had travelled the river by listening and could hear every stone and ice pan and stretch of whitewater. He told her stories in the canoe, and her favourite was a true story about the white caribou that had joined the woodland herd and that her father had encountered only once, as a boy, before he had the accident that blinded him. Annabel looked for the white caribou on every trip, and when Thomasina told her it might not be alive any more, or it might have gone back to its Arctic tribe, her husband turned his face towards her and silently warned her not to stop their daughter from dreaming.
As her babys head crowned, Jacintas bathroom brimmed with snow light. Razor clam shells on her windowsill glowed white, and so did the tiles, the porcelain, the shirts of the women and their skin, and whiteness pulsed through her sheer curtains so that the babys hair and face became a focal point of saturated colour in the white room; goldy brown hair, red face, black little eyelashes, and a red mouth.
Down the hall from Jacintas birthing room, her kitchen puckered and jounced with wood heat. Treadway dropped caribou cakes into spitting pork fat, scalded his teabag, and cut a two-inch-thick chunk of partridgeberry loaf. He had no intention of lollygagging in the house during the birth he was here for his dinner and would slice through Beaver River again in an hour in his white canoe. His hat was white and so were his sealskin coat and canvas pants and his boots. This was how generations of Labrador men had hunted in the spring.
A duck could not tell a white hunters canoe from an ice pan. The canoe, with the hunter reclining in it, slid dangerously through the black water, silently slowing near the flock, whether the flock flew high overhead or rested their fat bellies on the waters skin. Treadway lived for the whiteness and the silence. He could not see with his ears as Graham Montague could, but he could hear, if he emptied himself of all desire, the trickle of spring melt deep inland. He could inhale the medicinal shock of Labrador tea plants with their leathery leaves and orange, furry undersides, and watch the ways of flight of the ducks, ways that were numerous and that told a hunter what to do. Dips and turns and degrees of speed and hesitation told him exactly when to raise his gun and when to hide it. Their markings were written on the sky as plain as day, and Treadway understood completely how Graham Montague could hit ducks accurately even though he was blind, for he had himself noticed the constant mathematical relationship between the ducks position and the hollow, sweeping sounds their wings made, a different sound for each kind of turning, and their voices that cracked the silence of the land. The movements of the ducks were the white hunters calligraphy.
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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