Excerpt from Jesse Ruddock‘s story collection Shot Blue, out February 20, 2017 from Coach House Books. Available for order now here.
Her mother tried to show her how to pack a suitcase, but Tomasin didn’t want to imagine where she was going or what she might need there. She held her hands out at her shoulders, forming a cross.
‘What are you doing?’
‘What are you stretching? What muscle? I’ve never seen that stretch.’
‘My body,’ Tomasin said.
Tomasin watched as her mother hung a shirt over the right arm of her cross. Blood moves – it skirts – she could feel it. But her blood didn’t just shuffle along as she breathed out, trying to slip the shirt off her arm and onto the ground by force of will. Her blood rushed insurgent from her heart in a current all its own. It was a river that pulled her under and through its rapids and lulls. This was, by now – she was sixteen and had never felt different for a day – familiar. The shirt fell.
‘Why are you standing like that?’ her mother asked.
‘You have to hold stretches for a long time or they don’t work.’
‘You’ll need that shirt.’
‘Who can tell what I’ll need.’
At the train station, her mother began to cry.
‘Don’t be sad. I’m the one who should be sad. You’re putting me on a train.’
‘By the end of summer you’ll have money to spend, and it’s so hot here, Tomasin, no one likes it.’
‘I like it.’
‘You’ll be on the water. You’ll like that.’
‘You don’t know what I like.’
‘You don’t know what you like either,’ her mother told her.
‘Do you know what you like?’ Tomasin asked back.
‘Some things, I do. And I know what I don’t like.’
When the train arrived, Tomasin didn’t hesitate. ‘Here I go,’ she said.
Her mother tried to touch hands but missed, and couldn’t tell if Tomasin had pulled her hand away.
Ten hours later Tomasin stood on a pool of loose gravel, the platform of Prioleau Station. The racket of the train all day had been a constant comfort, at least a distraction, and now she felt abandoned to her own thoughts, and while some people liked nothing more, she liked nothing less. A small crowd gathered to meet the train, and when the crowd grew to the size of a class, she felt better, commotioned. Look at me, she thought, and kept thinking it. But the people did not look. She watched them walk away and wished they would turn around and take her with them. She wished they also didn’t know where to go.
She was surrounded by steep hills of pine. The lower the light fell, the higher the hills seemed to rise over her head. At dusk they turned from hills to mountains, a sight that made her feel that her mouth was dry from the train. She was a girl with a fresh mouth, and to prove it spat on the ground once, then again, and kept spitting. She did not want to live in a painting. Not in these hill-mountains. She would wait for the next train and go back to the city. If her mother wouldn’t have her, then she would go to a friend’s house and live there. She would steal from the fridge and go in and out of a basement or bedroom window.
‘Over here!’ said a man she hadn’t seen coming.
‘Are you Tomasin?’
‘Let’s go,’ Keb told her, coming up to the gravel pool.
The first thing she noticed was that his clothes were too big for him. She wondered whose clothes he had on. She didn’t know that winter on Prioleau made the men thin.
‘Who are you?’
‘The water taxi. I bring everyone to the island,’ he answered. ‘I’ll bring you.’
‘Where are we going now?’ He walked in answer.
‘I need a drink of water,’ she said. ‘I’m desperate.’ ‘You can have that.’
Keb walked ahead of Tomasin down a dirt road. She didn’t know dirt roads. He walked to the docks. She didn’t know docks. She walked to the edge and looked at the water breaking below. The edge of a staircase, a bridge, or the edge of another person – these compelled her. Edges made Tomasin want to go over edges.
Keb picked up a tin cup from the bottom of the boat and held it out. She took it but didn’t understand. ‘There’s nothing in this cup,’ she said.
He took it back, reached off the dock and dipped it in the lake. ‘Oh,’ she said, taking it back. ‘Is this your boat?’
He helped her in and untied the ropes.
‘What do you do?’ she asked.
‘You work in the kitchen,’ Keb answered.
‘That’s what you do. You work in the kitchen.’
‘Maybe I’m going to but I don’t yet.’
She looked into the cup but couldn’t drink. She couldn’t drink because drinking water pulled from a lake was obviously a special and lovely thing to do, and she didn’t feel like doing something special and lovely.
As the boat took off, the wind drew tears from her eyes. She expected so much but had no idea what to expect. She didn’t try to hide her face from the man. She held her head high like a boxer, showing it off at a loose, tempting angle. Keb thought things might go badly for her.
Born in Guelph and based in New York, Jesse Ruddock first left Canada on a hockey scholarship to Harvard. Her writing and photographs have appeared in the NewYorker.com, BOMB Magazine, Music & Literature, and Vice. Shot-Blue is her first novel.