This Great Society - Writing


Illustration: Alissa Kloet

Sharon Bala: All That You Left
Illustration: Alissa Kloet


Your name is Allan Dowden and you are born to a fisherman called William and his wife Susannah during the middle years of Queen Victoria’s reign.1 You are an Englishman by birth and a Newfoundlander by death, though your life is spent on one island.

You grow up in a blue house on Mullock Street2 among a gaggle of siblings and cousins, all flailing limbs and open mouths and leaking noses. The cousin Dowdens live in a mirror image house next door. The walls are paper thin. When the cousins on one side burst into impromptu song, the cousins on the other pick up the chorus. On Sundays there are hymns and turnip peels.

This neighbourhood of close-set chimney pots is perched on the edge of the city limits and empties into an open field where your childhood disappears in a blur of fierce loyalties and small jealousies, ill-suppressed whispers carried by the wind. The field is a vast ocean that shrinks as you expand.

After a time, there is a girl. You take her skating on a frozen pond. She is unsteady and falls often. Though her lip trembles, she does not cry. You feel simultaneously protective and proud.

The wedding is held on a Tuesday in July. Your bride wears blue silk and a dainty white hat.3 Marriage brings solace. You move out of the boisterous blue house—still inhabited by your mother, two grown brothers and a sister4—and into a newly built two-storey on Circular Road. The smell of hops from the brewery at the end of the street hangs low with the fog. You are a mason for Harvey and Co.5 Your bride is soft spoken. On Sundays, she takes a little sugar in her tea. Before she climbs in, you lie on her side of the bed to warm it up. She makes partridgeberry pie and serves you the biggest slice.

Your duo becomes a trio. Her name is Phyllis and she arrives in March with a blizzard that enfolds the city in a white cocoon. Tiny fingernails grow on lengthening limbs until it is her turn to race through fields of long grass, until she is too big to sit on her father’s shoulders and stare up at the endless shelves of biscuit tins at Murphy’s Grocery. One day while inspecting tomatoes at the market, your mother clutches her head and dies.

It is your turn next. A tightening in the chest, a twitch, a twinge, and suddenly there is a doctor called McPhearson.6 He warms the stethoscope in the crook of his arm and delivers the news to your wife as kindly as possible: you are dead. In a cemetery on a hill overlooking a lake, you lie alongside your compatriots.7 A name and two years. And the space in between.

1. St. Thomas’ Anglican Baptism Records 1867-1875
2. McAlpines Directory 1894
3. St. John’s Daily News, July 21, 1909
4. McAlpines Directory,1908
5. McAlphines Directory, 1913
6. Obituary, Daily News, July 1923
7. Anglican Cemetery, coordinates 47 degrees 34.49 north by 52 degrees 41.97 west.
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