Authors: Gail Anderson-Dargatz
“A beautifully written and satisfying tale.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Ghosts weave in and out of the smoke, decades-old passions are re-examined, life-changing options present themselves, life and loss continue, unabated.
is both haunting and haunted (as it’s both a romance-mystery and a ghost story) and it carries powerful magic all its own.”
—The Hamilton Spectator
has all the hallmarks of the author’s previous best sellers.… It zooms into the heart of rural life, with its family ties and rivalries, while ripping open the doors of family closets and letting the insecurities, eccentricities and dark secrets pour out.… Another suspenseful page-turner.”
—The Vancouver Sun
“As with most celebrated fiction in this country, a sense of place is as important as the characters.… There is a homespun, 19th-century quality to Anderson-Dargatz’s work.”
lives up to Anderson-Dargatz’s gothic reputation, with ghosts dashing out from behind the farmhouses, mysterious flocks of ladybugs clinging to the ceilings, stoves leaping to life at strange hours and horrible secrets hiding in the family well.… It’s a tense, passionate story of family and memory, haunting and history.”
“Anderson-Dargatz is skilled at peeling back the layers of love, commitment and confusion that most families experience.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Part mystery, part memory story, part eco-conscious tale, but a rare take on illness in the context of a marriage is what makes
a winner.… Gripping.”
The Miss Hereford Stories
The Cure for Death by Lightning
A Recipe for Bees
A Rhinestone Button
For Mitch and for all my family and friends in the Shuswap,
a place I will always call home.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
THE FIRE ON THE HILLSIDE
shimmered in the night like a bed of dying embers in a fireplace. Pretty. Not frightening at all. The smell of woodsmoke in the air conjured ghosts of past campfires. Wieners and blackened marshmallows. Watery hot chocolate. But the fire was crawling across the top of our mountain, and was now beginning to head down the slope as well, threatening this valley of farms and acreages. Several huge columns of smoke loomed over the Ptarmigan Hills, blackening out the stars.
Across the field, Jude passed under the yard light, carrying a box from his kiln shed to the Toyota pickup. If I could see him, he
could see me standing here in my mother’s kitchen in the T-shirt and panties I had worn to bed. I reached for the switch intending to turn off the light so he wouldn’t notice me as I watched him, but I changed my mind and pressed my hand to the glass of the window instead. The smell of cumin on him as we danced in the Turtle Valley hall all those years ago. The heat of his hand at my waist. His thigh against mine.
A bird bashed into the pane and I gasped and jumped back. It was a junco, scared off the mountain by the fire, I imagined. When it flew away I saw a figure reflected in the window, an old woman standing beside the door to my parents’ room behind me. I swung around to see who it was, but I was alone in the kitchen. My mother’s whistles and Dad’s snores still rang from behind the closed door to their room. When I looked back at the window I saw only my own face mirrored hazily there, but I had seen the old woman, there had been someone in the room with me, I was sure of it.
I grabbed my father’s robe from the bathroom and put it on as I started my search through the house for the woman, opening my sister Val’s old room first, where my son, Jeremy, slept on one of the two single beds, his face flushed and his hair wet with the heat. Then I eased open the door to my parents’ room, careful not to bump the fire extinguisher that hung by the door, as it often fell from its housing when someone brushed by it. My mother was curled into herself and nearly falling off her side of the bed, her eyes moving beneath their lids in dream. My father spooned her; his arms and legs were outlined under the covers. Then to my childhood room, where my husband, Ezra, snored, his arm hanging off the side of the double bed. I opened the door to the parlour, which my mother used only for storage now.
The boxes and bags stacked on the piano. But there was no one else in the house.
I checked to make sure Jeremy was all right one more time, stopping a moment to smooth his sweaty forehead, then went back to the kitchen, where I turned on a burner and placed a small pot of milk on the stove in an effort to calm myself. The
I had picked up that afternoon at a gas station in Golden now sat on the table; on the front page a headline about this fire read,
If you have 10 minutes to flee a forest fire, what do you take?
The whole of Turtle Valley had just been placed on evacuation alert, and if the fire did take a run down that slope toward the valley, we would be given only a ten-minute warning to get out. Not nearly enough time to salvage my parents’ precious possessions. So we had begun to gather them now, for storage at my sister Val’s place in Canoe, just outside of Salmon Arm, until the threat of evacuation was over.
All around me cardboard boxes and garbage bags were stacked hip-high. But even before this fire, the house was not simply cluttered but tumultuous, each room full of my mother’s accumulated thrift-shop finds of wicker baskets, dishes, bags of yarn, and stacks of books, as well as her contest winnings. My mother entered competitions of all kinds, and her mailbox was jammed with junk mail as a result. But she did sometimes win. There was a ceramic geisha from a contest advertised on a box of mandarin oranges; a barbecue from a local grocery store; an exercise bike from a sporting goods store. These items sat about the house unused, gathering dust and cat hair. She never gave them away as gifts, as both Val and I wished she would.
Ezra, Jeremy, and I had arrived in Turtle Valley earlier that evening, after driving all day from our farm outside Cochrane,
Alberta, to help load my parents’ things and deal with their farm animals. As we passed through Salmon Arm, we had seen a crowd of tourists on the pier, watching the Martin Mars water bomber as it picked up water from Shuswap Lake to dump on this fire. Twenty or more firefighters in full gear, grimy in soot, were gathered at the Tim Hortons that we stopped at for washrooms and donuts. When we entered Turtle Valley, making the skip from pavement to the reddish gravel of Blood Road, we saw neighbours sitting out on lawn chairs, drinking beer and watching the fire creep over the hills above. The sun, shining weakly through the plumes of smoke, cast a thin yellow light over the trees of the hillsides, the pastures on the benchlands, and the farms in the narrow valley bottom. On one lawn, children jumped on a trampoline as a light dusting of ash fell around them.
I turned off the burner, poured the milk into a cup, and carried it to the window, where I stood for a time looking out at Jude’s yard. He carried another box to his truck, loading up his possessions for storage elsewhere, out of the path of the fire, just as we were. I hadn’t spoken to him for nearly six years. He had once come over to my parents’ place for coffee any time he saw our truck in the yard. But that last visit with him had been our first since Ezra’s stroke, and Ezra had still been very often confused, and prone to blurting out whatever thought came to mind. During a lull in the conversation he had asked Jude, “You come here to glance at Kat, don’t you?”
Jude’s cheeks reddened. “Well, yes, I came to see Kat. And you, and Gus and Beth.”
I put my hand on Ezra’s. “He comes over to visit Mom and Dad often. He’s not just here to see me.”
“You still want her, don’t you?”
Jude pushed back his chair. “Maybe I should go.”
“No, please, Jude,” I said. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying. It’s the stroke talking.”
“It’s okay. Lillian is expecting me back home for lunch. It was good to see you Kat.” He nodded. “Ezra.” I watched him walk over to his place, following the path that wound past the old well. After that I waved to Jude when I saw him in town, or as I drove by his place on my way to my parents’ farm, but he didn’t come over during my visits home anymore, and I never summoned the courage to face him or Lillian, to stop in on them and say hello.
The fire extinguisher slipped from its mount on the wall and crashed into the open box below. I startled and turned, expecting to find my mother, as she often knocked that extinguisher down when she left her room, but there was no one there. I listened a moment to see if the noise had woken Jeremy, but the house remained still.