Chase & Haven
|Chase & Haven by Mike Blouin |
In his first novel, Chase & Haven (Coach House Books), award-winning poet Michael Blouin creates a haunting story of suffering and love, made of thousands of small impressionist facets that refract the quiet spectrum of the beauty and the detritus of two entwined lives. In the excerpt below, the titular child protagonists discover something is wrong with the frogs...but what is it? There's only one way to find out.
Chase & Haven
Haven was around seven when the frogs died. It seemed like thousands of them at the time; a slow quilt of death across the lawn in front of the trailer, their white bellies up to the sky like the first snow.
"Wake up," she told Chase, reaching over the warmth of his body and wiping more of the condensation from the window of the warming trailer.
"What? No," he said. He never wanted to get out of bed or open his eyes.
"Yes," she said, leaning on him and pressing her face against the wet glass, "I think you should..."
"You just should, that's all," she replied, sitting up and pulling a sweater over her head. "Maybe they're not all dead..."
Outside, the grass was cold and wet on her feet, the parts of the grass that were not covered with dead or dying frogs, and the smell in the air was like the smell after a rain when the worms come out of the ground, only more froglike, and Haven pulled up the bottom of her nightie and gingerly stepped between the green legs and gaping mouths.
"What's going on?" Chase was out now and wiping his eyes.
"They're all dying," Haven said, standing very still and turning around in a slow circle to survey the extent of the carnage.
"You're not going to cry, are you?" Chase said grumpily, sitting to pull on the rubber boots he had pulled out behind him.
"No," she said, "I'm going to find out why."
“Shit,” Chase said, the numbers of little bodies sinking in.
|Mike Blouin |
So she had tried to find out why, clumsily, in the trailer's tiny bathroom with the door closed and the sound of the TV in the next room - Family Affair a show she would normally have been glued to with its promise of suddenly and inexplicably disappearing parents and a gruff but kindly uncle who took over everything and did a fine job of it. At the time she didn't think about why she loved the show so much, she just basked on the carpet in the warm glow of the coloured television which her mother said they couldn't afford and her father went out and bought one day and which they fought over every time somebody turned it on.
She left Chase watching it. She tried to find out why.
Spread before her on the floor of the bathroom was the body of a frog stretched coldy on its back, its arms and legs angled up, slightly stiff. She pushed down on them tentatively and they sprang back.
"Okay," she whispered to the frog, "okay."
She reached into the pink zippered bag on the floor next to her and pulled out a small pair of scissors - cuticle scissors, her mother called them. Haven didn't know what cuticle meant and it bothered her.
"What does cuticle mean?" she had asked her mother.
"What does it matter?" had been the answer.
She thought it best to start between the legs and cut up towards the throat. She was a bit uneasy at first, but as soon as she poked through the rubbery skin and made the first cut she was okay.
"I gotta go." Chase was knocking at the door and pulling on the knob.
"Not now," Haven said, snipping through the tissue and watching it spring away from the silver metal as she cut.
"Yes now," Chase pleaded, "I gotta go."
She sighed and carefully laid the scissors to one side on the furry pink bathmat and stood up to let him in.
“Don’t let the cat in here,” she said as he squeezed past.
He stood holding himself in one hand and stared at the open frog.
“You're gonna be in so much trouble," he said.
"I'm not," Haven told him forcefully, "because you're not going to tell."
Chase continued to stare, his mouth open.
"Okay, I'm not," he said with his eyes still on the frog. "But I get to watch."
She could feel Chase breathing next to her as she picked up the scissors and carefully started again, finishing the long cut to the throat.
"What's inside it?" Chase asked.
"Quiet," Haven told him and then laughed because she realized that quiet was exactly what was inside a frog.
She wasn't sure what to do next. She continued the cut up the centre of the throat but she cut too deeply and a lot of blood started to leak out.
"Gross," Chase said with barely contained excitement.
"Pass me some toilet paper," Haven told him and she mopped carefully at the spill.
She sat looking at her work and thinking.
"Well?" Chase was becoming impatient with the pace of the show.
Haven backtracked and began to very slowly slice across the top of the frog's chest down from her first cut to just under each arm.
"You just have to be very careful," she told Chase.
"Or what?" he asked.
"You just do, that's all," she said.
"He's already dead, you know," Chase said. "You can't kill him"
Haven thought about what would happen if their mother or father came in, which was more and more likely the longer they were both in here.
"You should go back," she said.
"I'll tell," Chase threatened.
She picked up the scissors again and finished two cuts from her first cut down to the legs. "Now we peel it open," she told him.
"Like a banana," Chase said.
"I suppose," she said, shaking her head as if dealing with someone half her age.
She gingerly pulled at the flaps of skin and coaxed them along with the help of the scissors. She was surprised how easily everything came apart.
"There," she said.
"What's that?" Chase asked pointing to a large lump at the centre of the frog.
Haven peered closer. "Its heart," she decided. "Or its lungs...maybe its lungs."
"Its lungs," she decided. “Where it breathes."
"Not any more."
“No. Where it breathed then.”
Haven sat back again and wiped her hair away from her face with her arm.
“What are you two doing in there?”
Her mother’s voice had the sound in it that pulled coldly at the bottom of Haven’s belly.
“Nothing,” she said, quickly picking up the small corpse.
“Pooing,” Chase added, lifting the lid of the toilet.
Haven dropped the frog in.
“Done.” Chase called as Haven flushed. They stood and watched the little body twirl in smaller and smaller circles and held their breath as it caught briefly at the bottom and then gave up and was carried off to wherever things flushed down the toilet went. Away.
“Yes,” Haven said quickly. Yes was the best word to say when her mother’s voice sounded like that. She elbowed Chase in the ribs.
“Yes,” he echoed.
© Mike Blouin 2008. Published by permission.
Mike Blouin has been the recipient of the Diana Brebner Prize for Poetry from Arc, Canada’s National Poetry Magazine, as well as the Lillian I. Found Prize for Poetry from Carleton University, and his work has been shortlisted for a National Magazine Award. He is the author of the collection of poetry I’m not going to lie to you (Pedlar, 2007). which was shortlisted for the 2008 Lampman-Scott Award for Poetry. He resides in Oxford Mills, a rural community near Ottawa.
(Photos courtesy of Coach House Books.)