What's This?

My dad says, “Jake, I’m looking forward to today, but before I come in, why don’t we just get this out of the way.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Sure you do. I never got to say goodbye to my sister because of you, and you’ve never apologized. So let’s just get it out of the way and we can get to reacquainting.”

Jake looks stunned for a moment, but then he laughs, sits down at the table slowly, sips from his beer and slams the pint glass onto the table with a bang. It’s all very mobster like, and obviously meant to be so.

Sam immediately reacts to the beer can — “Dad” — and she says it as if reprimanding him. He doesn’t notice. Kate’s dad notices, he looks over at us and his expression is a bit paranoid. Kate raises her palms up while looking at him, as if to say “What’s this?”

"Lovers" by Thomas Berg, edited by A. Malcolm

"Lovers" by Thomas Berg, edited by A. Malcolm

Baring his Teeth

We walk into the kitchen. It has a sliding door facing the back porch. It also attaches to the front foyer by way of a dining section. We don’t even get a chance to explain Claire’s whereabouts; an air of tension shuts us up the second we walk in. My parents’ coats and shoes are off, but their feet are firmly planted in the foyer still. They don’t notice us walk in.

Jake stands up from the dining table. “Come on in, Ted.”

My dad looks aggravated — he’s baring his teeth, which he often does, the way old Scots do. Jake takes a step closer and my mother takes a step closer to my dad.

A Full-Family-Affair

Kate says, “I think your parents are here.”

Up the hill and through the trees on the left we can see part of the driveway, and coming up it is a cab.

I say, “All right, guess we should head up there.”

“Don’t sound so fucking excited.”

“Ah, I’m not to be honest. Haven’t seen my parents in three years and for good reason: they’re miserable people.”

We stay around and talk about what to do with Claire, eventually deciding it’s best to leave her where she is. Obviously she’s exhausted, and it would be better if she was rested before entering a full-family-affair.

We walk up the hill, but drag our feet. I don’t think any of us are excited about mingling with the older generation while they awkwardly reacquaint themselves. Of course we have no idea just how bad their reacquainting has become.

Chapter 1 | When she was a Baby

I’m happy to have a piece of information to relay about my sister with confidence. “She can fall asleep instantly in any boat and stay asleep through anything. I think it was the only way to get her to sleep when she was a baby. My parents would bring her down to our dingy anytime she was crying.”

“Aw, that’s adorable. Is that the same with you?”

“Me? No, I hardly sleep at all. I think it’s been a couple days actually. That’s why I’m the best deckhand to have on a crew. Nobody sleeps on fishing boats, at least not ones with hard core captains, and I never sleep anyway.”

Kate says, “Jesus fuck, did I ever get your name right then.”

“You know what? If I’m not out on a fishing boat I’m on a beach around a bonfire, so yeah, I guess you did.”

Hippy-Trip-Innovations

She looks so peaceful when I come down to the dock, I can’t help but get a flash back to the last time we were really close, when we actually talked and spent time together — right before high school.

Sam says, “Holy crap, is she okay?”

“She’s fine,” I say. “I guess she was really tired, maybe hasn’t slept for a while.”

Kate says, “What the hell is she sleeping in?”

Sam says, “Isn’t this set-up great? I’m test rigging for a trip next week. It’s going to save us two days of paddling if we start with a tail wind, which there always is on this la—”

“Okay, I don’t care about your fucking hippy-trip-innovations when you could just as easily bring a trawling motor.”

“So why do you think she’s here?” Sam asks me.

Sleeping in a Canoe-Catamaran

Since I haven’t spoken to Claire in three years, not since she graduated and started university two years ago, I don’t know if she always acts like this. I’m feeling a bit embarrassed about not knowing my twin sister that well, so instead of answering Kate’s question I ask her why she called me Coast.

“Coast, because you’re a fisherman, and you moved from one coast to the other. So now I’m calling you Coast. Be happy, I could call you worse things.”

We continue looking for Claire, walking along the sides of the yard down towards the water, where I spot her. She’s sleeping in a canoe-catamaran — two aluminum canoes lashed together with old wood paddles and polypropylene rope. It has a tarp sail that’s held up with tent poles, and one of the canoes has a heavy green nylon sheet clamped to the gunwales of the front half so that the sheet forms the hammock bed that Claire is sprawled out in.

Show some Understanding

We step outside and see no sign of her. We walk around to the backyard and see no sign of her. Then we plop down on the edge of their back deck, which overlooks Lake Ontario, Toronto’s skyline just visible through the hot, humid air.

Sam says, “She’s probably feeling really awkward about all this, particularly without your parents here. We have our whole family here and we feel awkward.”

Kate says, “What? I don’t feel awkward.”

“Okay, whatever, I’m just trying to show some understanding.”

“Coast, what the fuck’s up with your sister, is she always like this?”

"Pastel" by Benson Kua, edited by A. Malcolm

"Pastel" by Benson Kua, edited by A. Malcolm

A Bit of a Disappearing Act

I arrive at Jake’s house a little before Claire. Our parents’ flight is delayed, we learn. I try to say something to Claire, but it’s really awkward even making eye contact with her. I left the East Coast for the West Coast three years ago, after I finished high school a year early, and it was a bit of a disappearing act. I didn’t call home for a year. By the time I did Claire had moved to Montreal for school. She took about a year to call home too. I told my mother to give her my number once, but I never heard from her, and I didn’t make any other attempt to contact her.

Anyway, before we can really say anything, we end up sitting around the living room with five relations we never knew we had. They ask me questions and I answer — I’m out West fishing, like I did every summer back East, with no plans to go to school or do anything else. They ask Claire questions too, but she barely grunts out answers and leaves the iciest silences hanging in the air. They ask if she’s feeling all right. Claire abruptly stands up and says she needs air. A while after she leaves, Kate and Sam suggest we go check on her. I jump up realizing everyone’s expecting me to do this all along.

Two Thousand Kilometres Inland

“‘He says the weather’s horrendous. And getting worse. Perfect! Just what you wanted!”
⎯Redmond O’Hanlon, Trawler

I’m at a family reunion, but don’t think I give a damn about my family. I never have, except for my twin sister, and it’s only because we haven’t talked for three years that I came inland from the coast at all.

Okay, there’s one other interesting factor. My mother called to tell me about the reunion a couple weeks ago. It’s meant to end twenty years of estrangement between my father and his brother. They stopped talking to each other when my dad’s brother, Jake, persuaded their sister to move inland to Hamilton from Halifax. She was pregnant with my cousin Kate, and Jake’s wife was pregnant with my cousin Sam, and he wanted them to start their families where there was work (Hamilton steel mills). She died from Cancer shortly after they moved. She died so quickly after she was diagnosed that my father never got a chance to see her, and since he hated his brother for moving from the East Coast to the mainland and bringing their sister with him in the first place, he blamed her death — two thousand kilometres inland, two thousand kilometres away from him — on Jake, and he never forgave him. For this reason I had never heard of these people until that phone call from my mother. Since I’ve never given a damn about my dad and his silent, brooding grudges, I was only pleased and curious to learn I had cousins, both of them nineteen, only a year younger than me and Claire, and apparently as clueless to us as we were to them.