What Happened to Quincehead
Excerpted from One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath Copyright © 2012 by Polly Horvath. Excerpted by permission of Schwartz & Wade, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
I was sitting with Bert and Evie. Evie had their cockapoo, Quincehead, on her lap and was staring into space. Bert was absently patting Quincehead on the head and rhythmically stroking his back while he told me what had happened.
“This morning when we woke up Quincehead’s stomach was huge. Bloated.”
“Too big,” said Evie.
“Not normal big,” said Bert.
“Because sometimes when they eat too much, it gets big,” said Evie.
“You can tell easier with little dogs like Quincehead.”
“It shows more.”
“The big dogs don’t show so much.”
“Not that we ever had a big dog.”
“ ’Cause we haven’t.”
“I prefer a dog that can sit in my lap.”
“We always get Evie lapdogs.”
“So,” they said together as if this were a logical pausing place in their narrative.
I waited patiently. They were looking out the window at the storm with unseeing eyes. The rain poured down and the wind howled. It was probably the last real winter blow.
The storm had started that morning. We had been able to hear the surf even in our classes at school, pounding the shore, flinging spray.
I had been sitting in class thinking that when the earth shakes like this, what you need is some solid ground beneath your feet, such as the bedrock of multiplication, where if you multiply correctly, you always get the same sum. But one look outside tells you how it is all just an invention in the end. What do we really know? Everything we know is just something someone made up. I like to cook, and you would think one of cooking’s reassuring aspects would be that if you make the same recipe the same way, it always comes out the same. This would be a nice antidote to random events if what you always wanted was a peach melba. But anyone who cooks a lot can tell you that it is hogwash. You can make the same recipe the same way a dozen times and each time it comes out differently. There are whole days when everything you cook comes out terribly and others when you can do no wrong. So many factors you will never be aware of are involved. Anyone who thinks they’ve got it all scoped out is in for a few surprises.
I’d nudged Eleanor, who sits next to me, and continued this thought out loud. “So if you’re going to make something up, you might as well make sure it is something good. Just like if you don’t know what is going to happen and have to assume, you might as well assume something good.”
She’d looked at me blankly. She hates it when I nudge and whisper during class, even though our teacher, Miss Connon, is extremely tolerant. Miss Connon doesn’t mind the odd communication while she’s talking, and she reads us essays by people like Walt Whitman and Mary Oliver because she credits us all with at least as much intelligence as we have. I could see Eleanor turning to look out the window and her brow furrowing again as she thought about what I’d said. I know mine is just one way of seeing things. That this was what I saw in the storm. I’d been hoping, as always, for a meeting of the minds but she just whispered, “Oh, great, indoor gym again.”
I’d turned back to watch the ocean. It looked like the sea was flinging bedsheets over a bed that refused to stay made. It could not make the sheets lie flat and neat and tidy. Waves bunched up and wrinkled and lifted high into the air to be flung across their sea beds once more. Order and disorder, order and disorder, I’d thought, staring out the window until Miss Connon called on me. That snapped me to, and looking down at my textbook to answer her question, I’d realized that the last time I had looked at my book we were still on math but it turned out they had moved on to Canadian history and the settling of the plains. Miss Connon turned tactfully to someone else while I switched books and caught up. We were now apparently talking about the Doukhobors, who walked naked across Saskatchewan. “We all live in uncertainty, and people will do amazing things in their need to get a grip, even, it would seem, naked protest parades,” said Miss Connon.
I’d drifted back to the window and wondered if my father, who is a fisherman, had docked his boat yet or had come in early before the storm started. I was a little concerned because the previous year he and my mother had been lost at sea during a bad winter storm. So I’d been relieved when after school I met up with my father, still dressed in his fishing gear and carrying a salmon home for us. I had waved, called out I was going to Bert and Evie’s and trotted on. I don’t tell him that I still worry every time his fishing boat goes out. I don’t want him to worry that I worry. After all, what can he do? This is how he makes a living.
Bert and Evie had been my foster parents for a short time when my parents were lost at sea. By the time my parents returned, Bert and Evie and I were like a small family unit, so it was very unsettling for them to find me leaving for another family, even if that family was my own. The previous night they had called to say I should drop by after school. They might have some good news. But now, here I was, and instead they told me about Quincehead.