FICTION: CATHERINE BUSH
BLAZE ISLAND: AN EXCERPT
Miranda woke in darkness. She was riding a fierce wind. The changes were not going to stop. Someone was moving about below her, and the small sounds would have been reassuring, except that it was only a little after five a.m. Whoever was below had lit a fire. Heat ticked in the metal chimney on the far side of the room, the ticks speeding up. Miranda whispered to Ella, the dog, not to stir.
Through the half-open door of her father’s bedroom, she took in the tussle of his empty bedclothes, reading glasses tossed atop his dresser. Always there had been secrets in this house, and she had surrendered to her father’s desire for them, the things they’d kept hidden about their past, other things he’d attempted to hide from her and she’d allowed herself to ignore, but a new impatience surged as if she were struggling to climb over the fence that encircled her.
Downstairs, in his coveralls, eating a slice of toast at the counter, her father turned sharply at the sound of her footsteps. “Miranda, what are you doing up?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” She kept her voice as low as his. He’d made only the one mug, not a pot, and everything in his posture made her presence an intrusion. He wasn’t welcoming her, she was merely slowing his escape.
“Why don’t you go back to bed. There’s no need for you to be up so early.”
But she was wide awake. “Where are you off to?”
His face relaxed into a smile. “To see if by some miracle I can access the internet at the cabin.”
“Can I come with you?”
It was an impulsive thought, and he said no before adding, “There’s no need for that.”
“Why not if I want to. Are you meeting someone?”
He shook his head. “Best to have one of us stay with our guest.” Our guest, she thought, and then, more possessively, my guest. Something else gnawed: Would her father lie to her? Had he before, would he again? Did her own safety make the lies justifiable?
“Dad — the plane that landed at the airstrip the day before yesterday, who was on it and what are they doing here?”
Her father gulped down the dregs of his tea and set his mug in the sink.
“Miranda, I need you to sit tight for a bit. Can you do that for me?”
He was ruffling her hair, asking her to do something for him once again. She shook herself free, some essential part of her refusing to be deterred, a new resolve forming in her throat.
“Why won’t you answer me? I’m supposed to do what you want but you’re always hiding things from me — saying we should never leave then inviting people here and going off with them. What are you actually doing? Whatever you’re up to, it isn’t just weather monitoring, is it?”
“Miranda.” He stepped into the middle of the room. “If I’ve kept secrets, it’s only been for your own good. Things are in such a precarious state. I’m trying, from this out-of-the-way corner of the world, to do everything I can—”
“What if I don’t want to be protected like that?”
He didn’t have an answer, other than to show her that she’d jarred him. When he hugged her, the strength of his embrace stopped her mouth even as she struggled to say more. The next moment, with a rustle of jacket and shudder of boot, her father was gone.
Always when she’d allowed herself to think about the future it had been shaped by the contours of the past: how else did you envision what was to come other than by reconfiguring what you knew? There were days when, swayed by Caleb’s suggestions, Miranda had imagined living with him on the far side of the cove even as another part of her retracted from the dream. She had assumed that somehow Caleb and Sylvia would be in her life forever. What she loved would always continue, how could it not? More often she’d seen herself living in the little white house in Green Cove with her father and Ella, taking care of her father, because he needed her to do this. She’d ruffle Ella’s fur, meet her brown-eyed stare. There’d be more animals, because she wanted more, she would tend the land, build a bigger greenhouse, listen and note each time the wind shifted, there would be order and safety in such a life, in its deep choreographies and self-sufficiencies, in being responsive to sea and sky and the wild and ragged weather growing wilder all around them. There had been ruptures and alterations, but nothing had shaken her fundamental belief in the continuity of this life, given to her after the biggest rupture of all, the catastrophes that had sent the two of them fleeing to the island: everything here was proof that, despite grief, a new life could be made. Even the rupture of losing Caleb, painful as it was, had somehow been bearable. She’d gone on. They all had. Now, though, the world looked so different she wasn’t sure she could step back into the body she’d inhabited only a day ago.
Catherine Bush is the author of five novels, including Blaze Island (2020), the Canada Reads long-listed Accusation (2013), the Trillium Award short-listed Claire’s Head (2004), and The Rules of Engagement (2000), a New York Times Notable Book and a L.A. Times Best Book of the Year. She was recently a Fiction Meets Science Fellow at the HWK in Germany and has spoken internationally about addressing the climate crisis in fiction. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Guelph and Coordinator of the Guelph Creative Writing MFA, located in Toronto, Canada, and can be found online at www.catherinebush.com.
Blaze Island: a novel
By Catherine Bush
Goose Lane Editions, 2020
The time is now or an alternate near now, the world close to our own. A devastating Category Five hurricane sweeps up the eastern seaboard of North America. On tiny Blaze Island in the North Atlantic, Miranda Wells finds herself in an unrecognizable landscape. Just as the storm disrupts the present, it stirs up the past: Miranda’s memories of growing up in an isolated, wind-swept cove and the events of long ago that her father, once a renowned climate scientist, will not allow her to speak of. In the storm’s aftermath, things change so quickly and radically that she hardly knows what has happened. Blaze Island asks how far a parent will go to create a safe world for a child and how that child will imagine a future. A gripping story, the novel unfurls in the midst of constantly shifting elements: drifting icebergs, winds that grow ever wilder, and the unpredictability of human actions.
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