Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award: Shortlist
A family embarks on their annual pilgrimage to the cottage in Maine. In the course of their journey, a tale will be told, spun from the long absence of the family's black sheep, and from the prospect of his return.
Garnet is the last of Verna and Allister's four children. Once a sensitive child, then a difficult adolescent, and finally a lost soul, his travails resonate deeply with his family and their own pasts.
As their journey brings them closer to their destination, the lives and stories of each character - Verna and Allister, and their children Spike, Evelyn and daughter-in-law Robin - are revealed in turn, gathering together into an intricate web of myth and memory, and of love lost and reclaimed.
Lyrical and deeply moving, Canterbury Beach explores the complex nature and bonds of family.
Allistair drove the Chrysler up the driveway towards the house and backed up beside the porch, putting his arm along the seat and looking over his shoulder. “Chantilly Lace” was on the radio; he was singing along to it. He hoped Verna had made a dinner of pork and beans. There was a garble of children’s voices and Spike was running across the Dysons’ yard next door. Evelyn called, “Neil’s in the tree house.”
The laundry billowed out white, gingham, striped. Its clean scent came through the half-open window of the car. Reversing the car slowly, he tilted over something hard, perhaps a tricycle, before the car bumped down again on solid ground. He opened the door quickly, seeing a child’s body by the rear wheel. A small hand, plaid shorts, black sneakers, an undone lace. Even as he tugged at him he called his name. Garnet. He was lying still. Over his white T-shirt, not quite long enough to cover his belly, was a picture of a red lobster with goggle eyes and waving antennae. His chest may have been rising and falling but Allistair couldn’t tell. All he saw was the picture of the lobster with the mark of the tire tread across it, like a brand.
Allistair’s grandmother once read him a story from a leather-covered book with gold-tooled binding. Each page was edged with gold. The story was about a prince rescuing his brothers, saving the kingdom, and winning a princess. But his grandmother said it was a story about finding fortune. When she finished reading it she looked at him, tamping the tobacco down in her pipe, and said that it would happen to him sometime. She had an odd smile that turned up on one side and down on the other, because she’d had Bell’s palsy. Her dress was pink and white, patterned with windmills. There were two ducks in front of each windmill. He concentrated on the ducks so that he wouldn’t look at her mouth slipping down on the left side.
When Verna Desormeaux leaned over the counter at the Snow King fourteen years later and kissed him, Allistair remembered what his grandmother had said. He didn’t expect it to happen. It was just another shift at work and he was finishing up, wiping the counters and tables. He had to mop the floor, too, turn out the lights, and lock both doors, but Jeannie Archibald and Verna were sitting at one of the tables, giggling. He had to work around them. Jeannie had eyebrows that arched up as if he’d insulted her. Verna had a smooth face and dark eyes that could have been grey or blue. He went back to the cash to count the bills and looked up to find her standing in front of him. She leaned over, in full view of Jeannie, so that her lips brushed against his. It was hardly a kiss, and even before she turned away it occurred to him that Jeannie had set her up to it. Maybe bet a dime that Verna couldn’t do it. He could hear Jeannie chuckling as they left, a snicking sound that reminded him of scissors.
Verna didn’t show up at the Snow King again but he thought about her. He’d discovered something, like the first time he’d had a swig of his grandfather’s Glenfiddich. He almost hated the sweet, rich burning inside his mouth, down his throat. But he wanted Verna. He wanted her so much that he asked Sharlene MacIsaac to the May dance and then he didn’t know why. They stayed out in his brother Frank’s truck at the far end of the parking lot where he could get her to roll up her sweater and hitch up her skirt, which was as much as she would do. So they sat up after a while, Sharlene pulling down her sweater with one hand and patting her hair into place with the other, saying she wished she had some spray to get it back into shape. They drank rum, hidden in a paper bag, until she threw up out the window and he drove her home. Then he cruised down Main Street and along Church, through the university and out to the Trans-Canada. There was nowhere to go. He started along the Lochaber Road absently, slowing down to pass a girl. She turned, looking straight at him, though she couldn’t see anything in the glare. Verna. He stopped for her, leaning over to open the door, and she got in. They went all the way to St. Joseph’s without saying much of anything until he pulled into the lane at her place.
“I’m not seeing Bart Chisholm any more,” she said.
She had her hand on the door handle.
“I’ll come around tomorrow night and see what you’re doing, then,” he said.
Fortune had fallen into his lap.
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