Heaven is Just One Step Away
By Nathan Turowsky
The wind blew in over the estuary and buffeted the grey paps of water around the lower rocks of the sea-wall, and at the brink of the drop into the brine she stood with the sounds of the weekend’s last shanties swelling in her ears. The wind blew her hair around her face like a shifting shoggoth of a curtain, lapping at her glasses with the soft black insistency of crows’ feathers. One hand was holding the two breast flaps of her coat together; the button had come off several days ago, when she was fumbling with her clothes after voiding some bad Chinese food in a PetroCanada bathroom in Sherbrooke. The other hand, whose fingers were splayed down against the palm like a folded wing, gripped a brochure that sagged with the weight of the fog condensing along the top edge. It was a simple length of white paper that had been printed and then folded up like an accordion. On the front it bore the legend ‘Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, La Fête des chants de marins’ over a picture of a sailboat.
This woman with her corvine cast, a raven of the mountain fields standing amidst the gulls of the sea’s gullet, stood with her back to another woman, shorter, with some feline energy about her, who was running along the jetty to the sea-wall in hob-nailed shoes that she had used these past few years for hiking and moving about in treacherous circumstances. Such as, for example, sprinting full tilt down a stone spit soaked with the mingled leavings of sea and sky, the grey St Lawrence lapping only a few feet away to both sides. ‘Mattie!’ she cried as she ran. ‘Mattie, don’t turn your back to me!’
Mattie was not actually turning her back to the other woman—Ellie, her dearest friend, the mate of her heart, though she would not tell Ellie so in as many words for fear of Ellie’s response. She had this fear for the same reason that she was facing away from Ellie now. It was an inarticulate, almost babyish horror that seized upon her at times like this, a horror at the idea of having to face anything that might reward her gaze by casting her away. She shivered as Ellie’s footsteps behind her slowed and then stopped, the last few wet slaps of boot against water and stone very close by to her left. She shivered and she would have liked to think it was the weather but she wasn’t going to fool herself with false roaring-boys’ bravado.
‘Mattie,’ said Ellie again, her thin, artificially tense voice cutting to the quick through the music of the water and the hearty tones of the singer in the white tent on the shore behind them.
‘I’ve decided,’ said Mattie, ‘that I really love this place, you know.’ Her voice cracked a little; again, she was not going to tell herself that it was the wind. ‘I think we could be happy here for much more than a few days if it came to that.’
Ellie frowned, which made little difference to the actual cast of her face out here in the sea wind, and said ‘I really don’t think you realise the full import of what you actually did, Mattie.’