Opening Lines: ‘Riff’ No.3, introducing ‘Unlit Spaces’

by caroline on July 30, 2011

OPENING LINES: Riff No.3,  July, 2011

The opening line from my own first novel may not immediately suggest, as Eduardo Galeono’s opening line did,  that you are about to embark on a life changing reading experience!  Still, I do hope you’ll bear with me, and enter into the first few pages of UNLIT SPACES with a measure of curiosity. Perhaps you’ll find yourself  at home with a fun summer read!  In mid August,  Chapter One will appear in its entirety.

introductory pages to Chapter One
©Caroline Shepard 2002

Cailey jiggles the spool in the old cash register.

Most mornings it’s the same, this easy ritual of jokes and apologies, a few customers waiting in line, offering suggestions while she is trying to free up the jammed tape.  Today though, her voice is pitched too high, her words drop away, disconnected somehow, from her intended good humour.

Three times she presses the sale button.  Nothing.  She shakes the machine, hits the button one more time, and just as she is about to call out to Steve for help, the ribbon of paper chatters freely from its slot. She smiles slightly at the round of applause that greets her success.

She tucks her shirt into her jeans,  tightens the kerchief that gathers her thick dark hair at the back of her neck.  Her brown fingers move swiftly over the keys as she punches in each price.  Tent pegs 5.95, Coleman fuel 3.50, toilet paper 1.09….the routine, mechanical activity restores her privacy….muskol 2.85,  kraft dinner 6 x .49….   She stops. A few macaroni noodles have spilled out of one box.

“I guess this box is broken,  why don’t you grab another off the shelf.”

Cailey chucks the broken box of kraft dinner under the counter.

“This one looks okay.”  She glances up at her customer, her eyes resting briefly on the rounded, bulging accusation stretched across his shirt. “Have You Hugged Your Kids Today?”.

He misreads her glance, winks, raises his eyebrows. “No kids today, ha ha.” The stench of stale cigarettes and beer hangs in the air as the bulge shifts  over a sunken belt.

She stares down at the bare wooden floor. There are always these types, she reminds herself.  The beer and motorboat type.  At least by next summer the cabin will be completely paid for and they will no longer have to work at the outfitters’ store.  It helps to imagine herself up the hill in her studio, drawing, uninterrupted,  wandering now and again out onto the porch for a cup of tea, coming down to the lake for a swim whenever she chooses.

The man’s nervous cough brings her back. He is visibly uneasy with her silence,  moving awkwardly from foot to foot.

“Oh. Sorry.”  She looks blankly at the money he has put on the counter,  tightens her kerchief again, then finally counts out his change from the cash drawer.

“Have a good day, miss.”

She hates the expression, the implied condescension in his bloated voice.

“Steve,”  she peers over the man’s shoulder as he turns to leave.  “Can you check the others through.”   It is not a question.   “I’m going for lunch out front.  I’ll check on Kim.”

Steve waves to her from  the back counter where he is marking canoe routes with one of the guides.  He looks up in surprise when she lets the screen door slam.

Outside, the morning mist has cleared, and Cailey has to strain against the brightness of the sun after the dull light of the store. She can see Kim swimming in the shallow water near the boathouse where a couple of guides are loading up their packs. A small dog is yapping frantically, biting at the water’s edge.  Kim sends splashes at it with her flat hand, working it into a frenzy of prancing around on the sand.  On the shore, a young couple argue about how to pack the canoe, where their yappy dog will sit.  A car radio sends the CBC news out across the parking lot. Cailey knows she should walk over there and talk to Kim. Show some interest in her swimming.

She sits down on the end of the dock and slips her feet into the cool water. She eats a few grapes, savouring the sweet juice popping into her mouth.  It’s not that she minds having Kim with them for the summer.  Well, yes she does. She does mind.  This year she minds the interruptions when she’s trying to work.  Come on Cailey, she’s only eight, Steve had raised his voice at her last night after Kim was asleep, she just needs a little time with you, then she won’t bother you so much.   And, Cailey had countered, mastering her own voice at a whisper, if she would just leave me alone when I’m drawing,  then maybe I’d have the time and patience for her.

Too often lately, she’s hurled that frustration at him.  She’s your daughter Steve, she can hear her own accusing voice, just keep her away from my studio when I’m working.  It’s not as if he doesn’t understand how frustrated she is with the drawings for this year’s exhibition.  She’s told him often enough.

Actually she hasn’t even started the drawings.  She hasn’t told him that.  He has no idea she’s been sitting at her table late into the night, staring at blank paper,  or doodling cartoons of customers like that guy this morning.  He hasn’t seen the piles of rumpled paper that end up in the fire.

She knows the drawings can’t possibly be ready on time.  Especially not now,  not with Beth arriving tonight.  She’ll have to call Jennifer in Montreal, tell her right away that she’s going to pull out of this year’s exhibition.

She moves her legs in slow circles, watching intently as the current bubbles up out of the darkened water in the shadow of the dock. She is wishing the summer was over.  She would like to be back in her Montreal studio, alone with her work.  She wants the snow to fall for hours onto the street below her window;  she wants to walk out into the cold night air, make fresh marks in deep snow with her high boots,  find her way down the road to Steve’s, surprise him with a bottle of wine, her sketch pad under her arm.

Right now, she would prefer this to a warm summer day.

Her thoughts shift back to the earlier events of the morning.  She had been half asleep when Beth’s call came.  She remembers the moment,  leaning

against the kitchen counter, watching absently as the coffee bubbled its pale beginnings into the glass top of the pot.  Steve was in the shower.  Through the window over the sink, she could see down the hill where the mist was beginning to rise off the lake.  She could see Kim curled up in the swinging bed out on the porch.  Looking like an angel.

The phone had startled her, made her jump, even though early calls were not unusual after a  rain  as heavy last night’s.  She had assumed, as she  picked up the receiver,  that they were being called to take the truck up some logging road or into one of the fishing camps, to pick up canoes and soaked gear and shivering trippers.

“Hello? What? Beth?  Are you calling from Wood River?  Oh, you’re kidding. What’s happened… is it Mom? Paul?  What about Paul?….oh….well of course I can wait till you get here, I was just….well, actually there’s no road to the cabin….you’ll see the sign for the outfitters store on the highway….it’s clearly marked….what?….no the store will be closed….don’t worry, we’ll watch for you….no we won’t miss you, we’ll see the car lights from up here….I’ll come right down to the parking lot….what?….no, the parking lot is behind the store….you won’t miss it Beth, it’s brightly lit, it’s where the road ends….I’ll be down there before you can open the door….okay, Beth, sure….see you tonight then…..”  Click.

Cailey had hung up, staring at the phone as if she needed its physical presence to make the call real.

“Who was that?”   Steve had come into the kitchen,  still drying his hair with a towel.

She had sensed the rough edges in him,  the lingering irritation  from the argument the night before.  She’d watched him pour coffee into the two large mugs on the counter, knowing she needed his closeness,  knowing,  that at least for now, it wasn’t there. She’d begun sipping her coffee slowly,  welcoming the bitter taste, the steamy aroma, not caring that she was burning her tongue.

“That  was Beth, Steve. You’re not going to believe this.”


“She’s arriving tonight.”

“Here?  Beth’s coming up here?”  He’d been amazed.   “Just like that?”

“Just like that.”  Her mind had gone blank as she stared into his face.  “I’ll tell you later.”  Then she had turned her back and started slicing away at a loaf of bread, letting the uneven pieces crumble onto the bread board.  He had touched  her shoulder lightly, hesitating for a moment before going out onto the porch to wake Kim.

Maybe,  Cailey had suggested as they cleaned up after breakfast,  she would  stay up at the cabin for the day,  really push herself into  the drawings for the exhibition before her sister arrived with god knows what story to tell about Paul.

Of course Steve had been right to say it wasn’t a good idea.   It was true that this is the busiest time of the summer, and the store really is too hectic for one person.  And that he hasn’t got anywhere on his work either, hasn’t even started preparing his new courses for the fall term.   Not that this was something Beth didn’t already know.

And now here she is, lying back on the dock,  fed up with just about everyone.   She turns her face to the sun, closes her eyes.  The clamour of the waterfront recedes, and for a while she hears only the periodic hollow thud of wooden paddles against the sides of aluminum canoes.  Beth is there in her mind, released into Cailey’s half sleep, tilting her head defiantly, looking straight into Cailey’s eyes, just as she had fifteen years ago, the day Cailey left Wood River.

© caroline shepard 2002


More, please…

by Binnie on 08/03/2011 at 10:45 pm. #

aah, perfect summer reading…tantalizing…more, please…

by Patricia Hurdle on 08/04/2011 at 12:02 am. #

OK…..I am hooked!

by Ron Benzie on 08/05/2011 at 8:07 am. #

check back August 15!

by caroline on 08/08/2011 at 4:51 pm. #

Compelling characters; can’t wait to read more!

by Kathy on 08/11/2011 at 2:40 am. #

This is great! I can’t wait to read the next installment.

by Barbara Leckie on 08/11/2011 at 7:16 pm. #

wonderful-can’t wait to read more!

by Chris on 08/31/2011 at 1:37 pm. #

wonderful-can’t wait to read more!

by Chris on 08/31/2011 at 1:37 pm. #

Carol…looking forward to reading more!

by Erna Ricciuto on 09/03/2011 at 3:22 pm. #

I am hooked. More please.

by Vourn G on 09/22/2011 at 10:06 am. #

Carolie, you have me hooked. Looking forward to more.

by Vourn G on 09/22/2011 at 10:08 am. #

I’m back and also hooked. Line and sinker.

by Gail Starr on 10/10/2011 at 11:32 pm. #