The Dove In Bathurst Station

Written Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from The Dove In Bathurst Station…

 

The Dove in Bathurst StationAt first Marta thought it was a cat when she saw it in her peripheral vision. An elongated, slightly deformed cat. But the way it moved. She swivelled to view it directly, and it curled its sleek head around at the same moment and looked at her, its black eyes friendly, if somewhat beady. The hair rose on her arms, and her fingers and toes vibrated. One minute she was dreading seeing Matt, wondering what state the house would be in, whether or not the neighbours had complained again about the garage, and then this. It had to be a sign. Sure, you could find wildlife in the city—eighteen racoons per square kilometre, she’d heard on CBC. And coyotes in High Park and the Rouge Valley, deer along the Humber. Skunks, squirrels, shrews, slugs. But a mink. A brown mink scampering along the concrete edge of the Toronto Island Airport.

The ferry glided forward, and a man’s voice said, “You need to move inside, miss. This deck’s for crew only.” She reached for the handle of her carry-on bag, but her eyes stayed fixed on the break wall, though the mink had disappeared. She dawdled till the man’s voice said, “Are you ok, miss?”

“Fine,” she said. She turned then and strolled back inside the ferry, hardly registering its progress toward the mainland.

She thought the sign would be more obviously religious. She’d been looking for the face of Jesus, not a mink. Well, God moved in mysterious ways. She was Protestant, not Catholic—maybe God decided a mink would seem more affable, more accessible, than a supernatural visitation. She’d been searching for months now—since her friend Lily told her of her own little miracle. Lily had been hospitalized with flesh-eating disease, and her priest had visited and prayed with her. “He’s had the stigmata,” Lily had said, with respect, even awe, in her voice. “He prayed, he blessed me, and then, after he left,” Lily went on, “I felt peaceful, like I just knew I was in good hands.” Marta had heard Lily’s story four times now—it had become Lily’s show-and-tell at gatherings, their friend Ashleigh’s baby shower last month, for instance. Whenever Lily got to the “I felt peaceful” part, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” played in Marta’s head like a soundtrack. “And then I got well,” Lily said. “At an amazing rate. ‘Miraculous speed,’ my doctor said. ‘Unusual in these cases.’”

Marta’s own search for a sign had been a private thing. Mostly private. She’d told her sister Jennifer, but Jenn had snorted. “You mean like Jesus’ face in a pancake?”

Well, yes . . . exactly like that. Marta knew about the eBay scams—people paying thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands, for a Virgin Mary likeness in grilled cheese. Those didn’t tempt her—the artefact wasn’t a real sign if you bought it from someone else; it had to appear to you personally. So she had found herself scouring the street as she walked down Dovercourt Road, pausing at puddles, scrutinizing the pattern of detritus floating on the top. Was there a face in there? Once, the cream had curdled in her coffee and gathered into an impressionistic visage. Against her better judgment, she called her sister. “Jenn, I think it’s Jesus. You can see a beard, and the eyes are weird. So unusually kind.”

“Oh, Marta, pour them down the sink. The cup of coffee and the container of cream!”

After she had hung up, the face was gone. Had drifted apart. Or maybe it hadn’t been there at all.

Marta strolled off the ferry and strode out of the terminal to the parking lot. She had waffled over the decision to fly to Timmins just for a weekend. When her colleagues came back from trips, even short ones, they used words such as invigorating and rejuvenating to describe their experiences, and the claims struck her as inflated. Yet, she was feeling that the splurge of her trip, the relaxed visit she’d had with her parents, and the slower pace of the northern city had soothed her. Maybe she could bring that serenity into the week ahead; it could propel her like a tender breeze at her back.

The May wind was mild, but gusty here by the water, and it whipped her hair into her face. Her cellphone rang as she was climbing into a cab. She rummaged for the phone, bumped her head getting into the taxi, and fell clumsily onto the seat. The call display read Private Name Private Number. Could be Matt; might be Jenn. Six rings now. Marta pressed Answer.

“Hey, Marty-girl.” Her husband was using his deep-timbre voice. Marta turned her head toward the car door so she could face an escape route. Too fast. A charley horse in her neck. Her tongue went numb.

“Hi, Matt.” Excruciating pain. Tears in her eyes.

“You’re back in T.O.? Did I catch you at a bad time? I can tell I did. I won’t keep you. How were your parents? Enjoying retirement?”

“I think so.” She rubbed at her neck. “How are you doing?” Shoot. She had planned not to ask, not to give him an opening.

“Oh, up and down. Met with a new band yesterday.”

“Looking for a manager?”

“No. Rehearsal space.”

Marta rubbed her neck some more. The garage he rented behind their house was not zoned for commercial use or drumming late at night.

“But, hey, that’s not why I’m calling. I won’t be home when you get here. I’m meeting with The Wheat Girls.”

“Okay. When will you be back?” Her voice sounded small, like feathery breath against a blast of wind. Marta pictured the two young singers, one blond, one strawberry blond, usually dressed in vintage floral ensembles, which made them look like little waifs playing dress-up. Men liked them, especially when Zara, the redhead, strummed guitar and Molly, the blonde, played xylophone, singing ballads and broken-heart songs in haunting harmonies. When Matt talked to Zara—when she phoned him, for instance—his voice slowed. Each word stretched a little, ending with a hint of suggestion. A small thing, not something anyone would notice, except maybe a wife listening in the background.

“Not sure. We’ll probably go out afterwards, hear some music. We need to talk tomorrow, though. You and I, I mean. I’m having trouble getting my share of this month’s rent together. Waiting on payments from two of my bands. Can you cover us for this month?”

“I don’t have the money. Not after this weekend’s trip.”

“Fuck!” A long pause. “Sorry about that. I’m a little desperate here. I didn’t want to tell you, but I left my wallet in a cab last night. I’ll probably get it back—I have a call in at the cab company. Driver seemed honest. But for now, I’m in a bad spot. Feel terrible about letting you down.” He paused. She couldn’t tell if he was lying. Sometimes he lied; sometimes he told the truth. It didn’t matter; he used both deceit and sincerity to corner her, and most of the time she was helpless against him, fragile wings fluttering into a web. “Do you think we could borrow some money from your parents? The last time, I promise.”

“I guess.” She felt the sticky filaments wind themselves around her. One day he might paralyze her, and then what? She turned her mind away from that possibility and thought of the sleek brown mink. To her surprise, her exhilaration returned. Muted a bit, but strong enough to buoy her spirits. It had to be a sign.