Bookmark #16 Hamilton, Ontario

The Fishers of Paradise, by Rachael Preston


She pulls her muffler over her nose and ears and pushes her legs out in long easy strokes, feeling muscles and tendons lengthen in a glorious stretch. Scratch, scrape, the sounds of Aidan carving the ice behind her begin to fade, his little legs unable to keep up. Her speed builds and with it, the urge to charge alone down the stretch of ice before her. Instead she executes a stiff spin and skates backwards past him and into Cootes again. A sharp turnabout and then, “Get ready,” she shouts, speeding up. “Hold out your hand.” She folds herself into a tuck as she draws close and reaches for him, gripping his arm above his wrist and pulling him along. Now she straightens and they’re flying together down the length of the canal, flickers of light and shadow as they pass under the iron fretwork of the first rail and High Level bridges, and then the oblong of cool cast by the stone abutments of the second rail bridge. As she warms up, Egypt’s strokes grow longer, her speed increases.
– from The Fishers of Paradise, by Rachael Preston, published by Wolsak and Wynn. Bookmarked at Hamilton, June 9, 2016.

Rachael Preston at the unveiling of Bookmark #16.

Rachael Preston at the unveiling of Bookmark #16.

Rachael Preston signing The Fishers of Paradise at the Bookmark location, June 9, 2016.

Rachael Preston signing The Fishers of Paradise at the Bookmark location, June 9, 2016.

 

Rachael Preston’s The Fishers of Paradise is the 16th Bookmark on Canada’s literary trail. The installation was unveiled by the author and Hamilton City Councillor Aidan Johnson, on Hamilton’s Desjardins Trail near the floating bridge. The Fishers of Paradise is set among the fictional residents of Hamilton’s historic boat house community at Cootes Paradise. The novel explores Hamilton in the 1930s, the City Beautiful movement, and considers what it means to live beyond the margins. In 2013, the book won the Hamilton Arts Council’s inaugural Kerry Schooley Book Award and in 2016 it was published in a new edition by Hamilton-based publishers Wolsak and Wynn.


About Rachael Preston and The Fishers of Paradise

Born in Yorkshire, England in 1962, Rachael Preston emigrated to Canada at sixteen. For eleven years she taught creative writing at Sheridan College and Mohawk College, and in 2005-2006 served as the Chair of gritLIT, Hamilton’s literary festival. In 2007, Preston moved to the west coast of Canada, and now lives in Departure Bay, Nanaimo, BC.

Preston received a City of Hamilton Arts Award for her novel the Wind Seller and in 2013 she won the Hamilton Arts Council’s inaugural Kerry Schooley Award (presented for the book most representative of the Hamilton region) for her third novel, The Fishers of Paradise.

The novel was inspired by a walk along this path. Set among the fictional family of the Fishers living in the real boathouse community of Cootes Paradise, The Fishers of Paradise explores Hamilton in the 1930s, the City Beautiful movement, and considers what it means to live beyond the margins.

The Fishers of Paradise is published by Wolsak and Wynn. This excerpt is used with the kind permission of the author.

Photo credit: Christian TW Photography

Photo credit: Christian TW Photography


The Passage

Aidan is already skating back towards his sister, leaning out over his knees, scissoring his arms to help propel him forward. Like most of the boathouse boys, he’s taken to the ice as if born with blades sprouting from his feet, but when it comes to hockey, his size counts against him. As he draws closer, Egypt can see from his fierce little face that the boys gave him a razzing. She slows and falls into line beside him, one stroke for every two or three of his.
“They’re bigger than you, Aid, you’d only get hurt.”
“I can keep up with any of them.”
“I’ll play with you if you like.”
Aidan rolls his head and his eyes, pushes out in an exaggerated sigh. “You’re a girl. And girls are for cooking and cleaning. Hockey is for men.”
“You cheeky monkey.”
She’s too surprised to be mad at him, by how much he sounds like Ray. Looks like him, too. As they glide into the canal that cuts through the Heights she stares down at her brother frowning in concentration, squinting into the sun. He carries his father’s slight build and mousy colouring. And his nose has grown straighter and more pointed, his face more heart-shaped since Ray’s arrival, as if Mother Nature decided to step in and help: see him? He’s yours.
“I’m asking Dad.
“He can’t even skate.”
She deserves the wounded look Aidan throws her, but she can’t help it sometimes. Dad. How easily the word spills from his lips. I’ll ask Dad. As if the man had been a presence in his life, there for all his birthdays and Christmases, and not some stranger who just turned up out of the blue one day. Dad. Egypt tries sounding it out when she’s alone, but whether shouted into the seclusion of the forest or muttered at her ceiling, whispered inside the lid of her desk at school or chanted under her breath as she walks home, it sounds false and feels worse. Like her tongue is in the wrong mouth. 
She pulls her muffler over her nose and ears and pushes her legs out in long easy strokes, feeling muscles and tendons lengthen in a glorious stretch. Scratch, scrape, the sounds of Aidan carving the ice behind her begin to fade, his little legs unable to keep up. Her speed builds and with it, the urge to charge alone down the stretch of ice before her. Instead she executes a stiff spin and skates backwards past him and into Cootes again. A sharp turnabout and then, “Get ready,” she shouts, speeding up. “Hold out your hand.” She folds herself into a tuck as she draws close and reaches for him, gripping his arm above his wrist and pulling him along. Now she straightens and they’re flying together down the length of the canal, flickers of light and shadow as they pass under the iron fretwork of the first rail and High Level bridges, and then the oblong of cool cast by the stone abutments of the second rail bridge. As she warms up, Egypt’s strokes grow longer, her speed increases.