Excerpt from Street Angel by Magie Dominic
From Chapter One Saturday Day One
It’s 1956. “Tennessee Waltz” on the radio in the kitchen. Ingrid Bergman and Marilyn Monroe. The Russians are sending dogs into space and the dogs have spacesuits and helmets. Ed Sullivan and the show of shows. The Honeymooners on Saturday night. Pat Boone and Nat King Cole. Food rationing has ended in England. Lady and the Tramp and Peter Pan. Elvis Presley appears on TV but we’re not allowed to look at his legs. Polio shots in the school auditorium.
It’s the summer between grade six and grade seven. I’m eleven years old. A June Saturday afternoon and I’m in my father’s blue Chevrolet, on a Newfoundland section of the Trans-Canada Highway, on my way to the home of my father’s brother and his wife and their two boys.
My father has heavy snow chains attached to the car’s back bumper and the car drags them like the silver tail of a dragon—a dragon travelling at a moderate speed through occasional clouds of dust. Dragging chains from the back of a car prevents anyone in the car from having a sudden attack of car sickness. That’s the theory. The technique has never worked for me, but my father attaches the chains every time we go on a trip just in case this is the day that the technique may actually work. My father is always prepared. A look in front is better than two behind. My father also has a fully equipped glove compartment. Along with Band-Aids, flashlights, work gloves, and maps, there’s a bottle opener for sodas along the way. The glove compartment also has a supply of brochures—my father is a travelling paint salesman—and cards with all the amazing names for a single colour. Strips of cardboard with shades of white—Bone White, Glossy White, Matte White, Natural Ivory, Medium Ivory, Pure White, Pearl White, Off- White, White. My father is prepared for a sale right in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway as it cuts through forest.
My mother is in the front seat. When she was young she was breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve seen her in black-and-white photographs. Loved to go skating with friends—a graceful figure sailing on ice. She imagined herself a movie star. She smiled often when she was young. Her face is round like a moon and her skin is soft from sweet Jergens lotion. Thick, dark-brown hair. Average height, but she has an air of tallness. Fair Scottish skin. Greenish eyes like a cat. She wears lipstick the colour of pomegranate—Fire Engine Red. If the Chinese Communists ever come to our door to take us away, my mother will greet them in Fire Engine Red. She looks into mirrors as if she’s expecting something to happen—a stranger’s face to appear in the glass. Another person—someone she wants to scare or control. Then she does a last-minute flick of her hair, freshens her lipstick, and goes off into town, a whiff of Tweed perfume trailing behind. A part of her lingers. A part of her always remains.
I’m in the back with a small bag. My suitcase is in the trunk next to the spare tire, crowbar, jumper cables, boxes of cookies, and samples of candy. My father is also a travelling confectionery salesman.
I want to be somewhere else for a while—even just for a few days. Away from the madness of home and the nuns. But I’m not sure what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I’ll be staying with my uncle and aunt for nine days, to take care of the two boys—one aged three, the other aged two. They’re both plump and lively, and I’m told that they’re both good as gold. Got the faces and eyes of angels.
What am I afraid of? I ask myself. It’s the unknown. I’ll be in charge of two children’s lives and I’ve never been in charge of anything in the entire eleven years of my life. Maybe it’s anxiety more than actual fear.
Fear—real, honest-to-God debilitating fear—is an affliction. My mother has the affliction. She lives in absolute fear. Of getting sick, of having an accident, of sounds in the night. She has a debilitating fear of the night. Night is the pinnacle of her affliction. She envisions long, creeping shadows of monsters. She fears a bogeyman under her bed except there is no bogeyman under her bed. She’s obsessed with a fear of cancer. My birthday is in July—I’m a Cancer. But my mother maintains that she’s the Cancer even though she’s a Leo. Fear plays a major part in everything she does. She fears the colour green. That fear has its roots in the Newfoundland fairies. Unlike fairies with magic wands, Newfoundland fairies can cause bodily harm. According to legend, they appeared after the great battle between Lucifer and the archangel Michael.
There were angels in Newfoundland who remained neutral during the battle. When the fighting was over, they were forbidden from heaven because they hadn’t supported Michael, but they couldn’t be banished to hell because they hadn’t supported Lucifer. So they were forced to remain in Newfoundland and can work both evil and good.