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As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation. On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Roxanne Bouchard learned to sail 10 years ago. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec. David Warriner translates from French and nurtures a healthy passion for Franco, Nordic and British crime fiction. He lives in British Columbia.
Read an Excerpt
The moment O'Neil Poirier glanced out of his porthole and saw the hull of the sailboat moored alongside, he figured the day was off to a very bad start. From the Magdalen Islands, was Poirier. His personality too, and his two deckhands. They had motored into Mont-Louis two days prior to stock up on their way to Anticosti Island, where the cod and the herring were waiting. Wanting to leave at dawn, they had hit the sack early the night before, and hadn't heard the sailboat dock beside them. The hum of their generator must have covered the sound of the neighbouring crew's footsteps.
O'Neil Poirier barked at his men to get up and clambered out on deck, intent on making a bit of racket to show these fair-weather sailors they were far from welcome. When a man gets up at half past three in the morning for a hard day's work in the frigid waters of the Saint Lawrence Estuary, he does not want to have to shift a boat out of his way, especially not one that's full of sleeping tourists who'll grumble about being woken up early and fret about fishermen not retying their mooring lines properly.
Poirier sniffed around outside. Talk about nerve. The owner of the sailboat had had the gall to hook his power directly to the fishing boat instead of running the cable across to the wharf! The fisherman yanked the plug out of the socket, leaned over the monohull and rapped firmly on the deck.
'Out of there, you heathen! I've got a bone to pick with you!'
That was when he heard the sound of a woman groaning from below deck, a long, harrowing wail. Poirier felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, since these were sounds unlike anything the fisherman had ever heard. But O'Neil Poirier, who had tackled seventy-five-knot winds off the coast of Anticosti before, wasn't afraid of a thing. He grabbed the long knife he used for gutting cod and jumped aboard the sailboat just as another scream sounded out, more breathless than the first. Poirier yanked the hatch open and scrambled down the five steps in a split second.
'Hey, give it a rest!' he growled.
No response. It was hot and humid inside the cabin. All he could hear in the darkness was heavy breathing and something moving, but not in any controlled sort of way. It was such a mess down there, it took Poirier a while to ascertain what was happening. Still on his guard, he slowly approached the berth where she lay. When he saw what was going on, he acted without hesitation and plunged in headfirst with the kind of determination he had always been known for. He slit the umbilical cord with his own knife, bathed the baby in warm water and tossed the placenta to the fish.
Then he mopped the young mother's brow and placed the carefully swaddled newborn in her arms, before wrapping them both in a warm blanket and leaving the sloop without a sound.
That day, the men aboard the Alberto ever so gently moved the sailboat belonging to the woman who had been forced to emergency dock alongside them. They double-checked that her mooring lines were tight and plugged her power cord into the outlet on the wharf themselves. They were a little late setting out to sea and looked over their shoulders for a long, long time.
Cyrille said the sea was like a patchwork quilt. Fragments of waves joined together by strands of sunlight. He said the sea would swallow the stories of the world and digest them at its leisure in its cobalt belly before regurgitating only distorted reflections. He said the events of the last few weeks would sink into the darkness of memory.
* * *
Before, I used to think of myself as white and translucent. Flawless. An empty glass. Even my doctor thought I looked pale. Too pale.
'You don't have much colour in your cheeks.'
'This is my natural skin tone.'
'How do you feel?'
'Well, I've maxed out my quota of bad days and I've stopped adding up the hours.'
'Adding up the hours?'
'Yes. For a while, when I woke up, I would count how many hours I had to live through before I could go back to sleep again. I stopped two months ago. I think it must mean something.'
'It means a lot, actually. Are you seeing a psychologist?'
'No, I don't think that's really my cup of tea. That's what my friends are for. I don't want to have to pay just to have a chat.'
He took off his rectangular glasses, put them down on the desk. Over the years, this man had given me my vaccines and saved me from measles, appendicitis and countless colds, bouts of the flu and other tissue-box ailments. He had known me for so long that he was entitled to his opinion about me.
'Why do I get the impression, Catherine, that you're not doing so well?'
'I'm OK, doc. It's just ... It's like I've lost the manual for having fun. For getting excited about anything. I feel empty. Transparent.'
'Do you ever feel like the world is turning without you? Like you've got off the train and are standing by the side of the tracks and watching the party from a soundproof box?'
'Well, I'm nowhere right now. I'm not at the party and I'm not watching from the sidelines. I'm just a pane of glass, doc. No feelings, nothing.'
'How old are you?'
'Thirty-three, but there are days when I'm way older than that.'
'You need to take care of yourself, Catherine. You're a pretty girl, you're in good health —'
'Sometimes my heart feels, well, tight. I get all dizzy and everything goes black. I end up flat out on the floor, waiting for the hand of death to move out of the way so I can get up again.'
'That's your blood pressure dropping. Does this happen to you often?'
'No, but I worry it might happen more. It's weighing on my mind.'
'Well, next time it happens you can try lying down on the floor with your legs up against a wall. That'll make you feel better.'
'And what do I do about the rest?'
'Yes – the horror stories on the TV news, the death of my mother, plants that don't flower in the winter, the crappy weather, comedians who just aren't funny, ads you can't fast-forward, films that shoot themselves in the foot, housework that doesn't get done, the dust of our days, bedsheets with creases in them, and reheated leftovers that stick to the bottom of the pan – what am I supposed to do with all that?'
He sighed. He must be sick and tired of troublemakers like me who don't know what to do with their lives and waste the miracles he prescribes. What good are antibiotics to a man with a bad cold who ends up hanging himself the very next week?
'How long has your mother been dead now, Catherine?'
I had told myself that, when my parents died, I would leave. I had been sailing around lakes for years, and I had set my sails to the wind everywhere along the west side of Montreal proper, yet it was the sea I saw in my dreams. I wanted to see how the Gaspé Peninsula opened the way to the river, to take refuge in the Baie-des-Chaleurs and scream into the Atlantic. I had every reason to leave. Recently I had even received a letter, mailed from Key West, summoning me to a small fishing village in the Gaspé. I knew that, to get to the bottom of my story, I would have to start there. But I lacked the courage, and racked up the seasons in layers of grey on the bookshelves of my oh-so-Zen condo. What good would come of wanting? Dreaming? Loving? I didn't know anymore. In spite of myself, I felt an uncertain freedom as I stood watching the sidewalks, cracks threading their way beneath the feet of the passers-by. I was a landlocked sailor, stranded in dry dock without a sail. With lead for ballast.
'You need to take your mind off things, Catherine.'
'Take my mind off things? This is all real, doc! Other people out there have hopes and dreams. Me, I ... I'm alive, but I don't see what I should get so excited about.'
'You're an idealist. You wish life were exciting. But excitement is a youthful ideal. Truth is, life is just one day after the next. You only have two options. You can lose hope, or you can learn. It's time for you to learn, Catherine.'
'To learn that everything's just blah?'
'To learn what beauty lies in every day, just waiting to be discovered.'
Behind him, dust floated on the soft light filtering through the vertical blinds. The same light that had, over the stubborn years, yellowed the old Latin diplomas hanging in their frames.
'Summer's coming. Why don't you go on a trip somewhere?'
'A trip? You think swanning off to Morocco for a spot of sex tourism's going to spice up my life?'
'No. I'm just suggesting something a bit more exotic.'
'Exotic is a ploy, doc. A temporary diversion for people who take snapshots and make a scrapbook out of their lives.'
'You're stubborn and complacent, and irony isn't doing you any favours here.'
'I'm sorry. It's true, I do enjoy driving. It gives me a sense of freedom. But it's a waste of fuel and it's bad for the environment. So I go around in circles and always end up right back where I started.'
He stood up, white coat and all, to show me the door.
'You used to go sailing with your father, didn't you?'
'Yes, but you know what they say: Leaving is like cheating – Or something like that.'
'So cheat away to your heart's content, Catherine. Shed your skin, leave all your thoughts behind. And try not to come back too soon.'
I went home and read the letter from Key West again. Where the heck was Caplan? I looked it up on the map. Then I took care of business, packed my bags and hit the road. Like the doctor ordered. Let's see, I said to myself.
And see, I did.
* * *
Today, the swell rolls like a watery carpet, lapping against the hull of the sailboat, flickering in the slivers cast by the rising sun. The wind fills the sails as the horizon glows red, dawn washing the sea with colour and transforming this story into a scarlet fresco. The sky turns blue, with just enough of a hint of pink to pave the way for the sun. One last time, I turn my light-flooded pupils towards the rugged coastline of the Baie-des-Chaleurs, which, already far behind, fades into the stubborn mist of sunrise.
I lean overboard. In the broken mirror of the water's surface, I am splinters of stained glass, a tarnished mosaic, a dysfunctional memory out of sync, a jumbled assortment of images pieced together by a watery goldsmith. I open my hands and let the spool of my memories reel out onto the swell, one last time unto the waves.
Dredgers and trawlers
'Well, let me tell you, mam'zelle, that hotel and bar over by Caplan beach – burned to the ground, it did!'
He opened the dishwasher too early, allowing a scalding cloud of steam to escape. He slammed it shut again and turned to me. Leaning over the counter, he tried to catch a glimpse of the letter from Key West I had reopened to remind myself what it said, but I pulled it away.
'And let me tell you, quite the fire it was and all! The whole village came out for a ganders in the middle of the night. Folks even came up from Saint-Siméon and Bonaventure to see! I made the most of it and opened up the bistro. It didn't let up for two days! The flames were licking all up the walls, and bed springs were popping all over the place. Had the firemen running around in circles, it did! You should've seen the ashes all over the beach! And let me tell you, it all went up in smoke! The hotel, the bar, even the slot machines! You're not too disappointed, I hope?'
I smiled. If I'd driven for ten hours to feed the slots at the Caplan beach hotel, then yes, I probably would have been disappointed.
'Over there, see? It was just the other side of the church – a bit further west. But now there's nothing left of it. Must've been about two months ago, I'd say. Everyone knows what happened. I can't believe you didn't hear about it – it made the front page in the Bay Echo. They even did a special feature about it, with colour pages and everything! They say it was probably arson, and the insurance won't pay up. Cases like this, they're always looking to point the finger. But let me tell you, it's funny they told you to go sleep there, you know ...'
I checked the date. The letter had been mailed from Key West two months ago. I put it back in my bag. I had nothing to hide, but nothing to say either. He cleared away my leftover pizza, tossed it into the bin and took a step to the side, not entirely satisfied.
'Let me tell you just one thing, the best place to stay is at Guylaine's, right here, just across the way. You'll be a lot more comfortable there than up at the hotel that burned down!'
Keeping his distance this time, he opened the dishwasher again, which was still rumbling away. He picked up a red-chequered tea towel and started flapping the steam away like a matador struggling to tame a mad bull. Then, brimming with local pride, with the tip of his chin he pointed out a big house to the east of the bistro, nestled against the cliffside, looking out to sea in quiet contemplation. A charming auberge that promised a warm welcome.
'It's the finest one around! Quiet too. Guylaine doesn't have kids or a husband. And further down, over there, that's the fishermen's wharf and the Café du Havre is right alongside. If it's fishermen you want to meet, you should go there for breakfast mid-morning, when they come back in. Guylaine will be out for her walk right now, but she's sure to stop by later. She always comes in to say hello.'
He visibly softened. Without thinking, he picked up a scalding glass, juggled with it then flung it onto the counter like a curse. He gazed out towards the auberge again, then turned to me with a sigh. 'How about a coffee while you're waiting?'
I've never really liked those bed and breakfasts where you're expected to make chit-chat, tell people who you are, where you're from, where you're going and how long you're staying, and listen to the owners spouting on about their country-home renovations. But it sounded like I might as well forget about finding another hotel around here, and I'd never been one for camping, so Guylaine's was beginning to look like my only option.
He cleared my plate and empty glass away and placed a mug on the counter in front of me before charging back for more, index finger pointed questioningly at my bag. 'If you're looking for someone around here, I can probably help.'
I hesitated. Swivelled my chair around to face the other end of the bistro. As I recall, the sea was the only thing on my mind right then. The thick smell of it. The breakwater darkening into shadow, ready to slip beneath the heavy blanket of night. With no lights out here, how much could you see along this coast?
'Let me tell you just one thing, though, I know plenty of folk around here.'
I still didn't have the words to talk about her. She had always been unpronounceable; but now, all of a sudden, I had to casually drop this woman's name into conversation. Should I roll it seven times on the tip of my tongue, swish it around my mouth like a vintage wine or crush it with my molars to soften it?
'Spit it out, then. Who are you looking for?'
I figured I'd have to get used to the name, for a while anyway. Put on a brave face and add it to my vocabulary at least, if not my family tree. So for the first time, contemplating the sea, I said it. I took a deep breath in and let it all out.
'Marie Garant. Do you know her?'
He recoiled. All the sparkle in his face fizzled out, as if I'd blown out a candle. Suddenly on his guard, he looked at me suspiciously.
'She a friend of yours?'
'No. I don't actually know her.'
He picked up the glass again and started rubbing the heck out of it.
'Phew! You had me worried there. Because let me tell you, that Marie Garant, she's no woman to get close to. Especially not you, if you're a tourist that is. I wouldn't go around shouting about her if you want to make any friends around here.'
'But you're not from around here, so you weren't to know, of course.'
'No, I wasn't.'
'Is she the reason you're here?'
'Er ... No.' It was barely a lie. 'I'm on holiday.'
'Ah! So you are a tourist! Well then, welcome! I'm Renaud. Renaud Boissonneau, dean of students at the high school and businessman with business aplenty!'
'Er, pleased to meet you.'
'Let me tell you, we'll take good care of you. How did you like the pizza? Most of the tourists haven't arrived yet – this place is usually full of them. That's right, it's always packed here. People think it's nice and rustic. Did you see the decor? This place has history, let me tell you. Because you might not have noticed, but we're in the old rectory. That's why the church is right next door! The patio wraps all the way around, so anyone who wants to avert their eyes from the steeple while they're drinking their beer can go and look at the sea or the fisherman's wharf instead. Oh, and the curate lives upstairs. Which means, let me tell you, that when you've had a couple of drinks and you're ready to confess your sins, you can just go right on up!'
Having successfully tamed the dishwasher, he was now noisily unloading some mercifully unbreakable plates.
Excerpted from "We Were the Salt of the Sea"
Copyright © 2014 VLB éditeur.
Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 FISHING GROUNDS,
Dredgers and trawlers,
Traps and nets,
2 CHARTED WATERS,
Charted Waters (2007),
The flow of the current,
3 WHARVES AND MOORINGS,
Choosing your moorings (2007),
Chains, cables, tethers,
4 THE SALT OF THE SEA,
Watertight hulls (2007),
Fenders and capstan hitches,
5 TETHERED TO THE HORIZON,
Letting it all go,
Hoisting the sails,
Daughters of the sea,
About the Author,
About the Translator,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a magical and ethereal, haunting novel which beautifully captures the essence and landscape of the Gaspé Peninsula The setting is the story and the story is the setting. Written by an author who knows the area she writes about well, she paints an ethereal picture of unique shades with colours and the essence of the ocean. The main story of a woman going to find out about her mother becomes entangled in the nets of a mystery. It opens up the secrets and lies of a very traditional fishing community which when the nets are opened, the sea claims everything for its own. The mystery and murder story play out against a strong background with strong local characters at the fore. There is so much I want to say about this novel, rave about it and shout how much I recommend it, but that will spoil your discovery of it. Each chapter section is entitled with an ode to the sea – Traps and nets, Dredgers and Trawlers and with stories of a boat called The Alberto in 1974, this is all encompassing. It’s an immersive read. I do just want to say how excellent and flawless the translation was as well. David Warriner has injected another level of mystery and overriding spookiness to the novel. It’s a novel to savour, to sink into, to allow the words to flow over you and immerse you fully.