The Smallmouth Bass
In the final minutes of two thousand and ten, Nancy Weisman sat alone in her rented high-rise apartment in downtown west Vancouver. The shaking bass line from the neighbours’ record player radiated through the paper-thin ceiling boards and forged perfect, circular ripples across the oily surface of her bourbon shot. Upstairs, muffled voices fell to a hush, and the record was silenced mid-chord to a static zip-zip-zip. It was time. “Ten, nine, eight” they chanted. Rats could be heard scuttling in the cavity overhead in the quiet intermissions between the numbers – “seven, six, five”. Nancy downed her whiskey in one tight gulp and braced herself for the moment – “four, three, two, ONE”. A frenzy of delighted cheers fell to meet her. She sat back gently in her chair, her book resting face down on the arm. Above, feet stomped in broken rhythms as the stereo was turned back to full blast. She leaned over and poured herself another glass. A New Year had been birthed, teeth and fists first, screaming into the face of the city.
Nancy was raised in Dothan, Alabama. Hers was the only Jewish family in a traditionally protestant community. They were “bees lost in a W.A.S.P’s nest,” as her mother would say. She remembered peeking through the net curtains to watch her neighbours walk in droves up the lane, red dust rising in tiny clouds beneath their feet, as they dragged their deck chairs to weekly Neighbourhood Watch meetings. Nancy’s overwhelming sense of disconnection with the small town outside triggered many a solitary hour lost in literary worlds or submerged in songs, dreaming of one day moving far away from the claustrophobic conservatism of Dothan.
She had moved northwest to Vancouver at the age of nineteen. She vividly recalled the day that she left home. She awoke at 5.30 to find her mother already sitting at the kitchen table, with a pot of tea and two china cups laid out neatly in front of her. The early morning sunshine streamed through the linen and bathed the room in a deep orange glow. She studied the tear lines that streaked the wrinkled contours of her mother’s skin. Nancy wondered if she had been sitting there all night. She rested one hand tenderly over her mothers, and poured a steaming cup of rosehip tea with the other. Both women sat in silence, broken only by her mother’s gentle sobs. Thinking about her mother in Dothan, the sticky humidity and those red soil stained streets evoked one painful childhood memory – the time she watched a Smallmouth Bass jump out of the river and flop furiously onto the bank, only to drown slowly in the hot open air.
The music upstairs built to a loud crescendo and abruptly broke her thoughts. The whiskey filtered quickly through her bloodstream. Nancy decided to take a short walk to clear her head. As she stepped outside of her building the thick scent of roasting hazelnuts mixed with the icy air. It had an instant sobering effect. Nancy often walked the city streets in the early morning when she felt homesick or unable to sleep; there was something strangely comforting to her about getting lost in the city’s maze of skyscrapers and apartment buildings. She walked two and a half blocks north from her apartment towards Granville Sky Train station. New Year’s Eve had left an electric charge hanging in the morning air. She continued to weave through the tall buildings further north towards the waterfront, her hands stuffed deep in her coat pockets for warmth. The sun was beginning to push between the buildings and reflected back and forth against thousands of rows of identical office windows. Nancy walked over to a bench that faced the water and sat quietly, crossing her arms tightly across her chest. She took the cold air deep into her lungs and closed her eyes. Behind her, she could hear the street cleaners whir up and down the gridded streets, whilst early morning delivery trucks chugged by. In the distance, the Sky Train shrieked hard against iron rails. Nancy sat and watched as her adopted city roused itself from a short, dissatisfied sleep. Towering buildings cast black wavering shadows out over False Creek. She stared deep into the water and thought once more of her mother, of Dothan and of the gasping Smallmouth Bass.