That Rose Girl
by Timothy Lea
The roses stood in a large black plastic vase in her refrigerator. She had purchased a new supply that afternoon. She stared at them with a dull ache behind her eyeballs as a carpenter might look at a hammer, or a cab driver at a car. She ran both of her hands tightly through her bed-flattened hair. She shut the fridge door with a sucking thump and started the coffee perk. It was Friday afternoon. Tonight would be big. It was important that she do well. She had preparations to complete. Fortifications to implement. But these were still a few hours away. She could enjoy her coffee and read her atlases.
Alongside one whole wall of her one bedroom apartment, stacked impeccably on a series of flea market bookshelves, lay possibly the greatest collection of atlases in the entire city. She ran her right hand quickly along the dust free spines with a soft lapping sound. Sometimes, late in her night, resting underneath the guarding eyes of the seahorse, she would think of this sound to drown out the thumping bass of the music and the sweating breath of the crowds.
When she received visitors, which was rare, they would talk politely and sometimes cast a sideways glance toward the atlases not knowing whether to ask about their presence or not. It was rare to see a collection of atlases. Especially one so impressive in its girth and magnitude. She picked one up in her right hand and tucked it to her breast. She held the coffee close to her lips in order to steam up her glasses. She sat down at the table and ran her fingers over the glossy finish of the atlas then picked it up again in her hands and shoved her nose deep inside its pages; she loved its smell. Exciting and foreign yet slightly nauseating, like the place names she would read and imagine about inside.
"Canada and The World: An Atlas Resource," she whispered the title to herself. She randomly opened its pages and let her eyes fall immediately into Penticton, Summerland, Hope, Golden Ears... She whispered the names softly to herself over and over again committing them to memory. Another flip. To the back pages this time. Sumatra, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Paloh, Kuching, Sarawak... She chanted the words through the steam of her coffee… Canberra, Wollongong, Broken Hill, Wagga-Wagga…Jonquiere, Chibougamau, St. Felicien, Roberval, La Baie... Her glasses steamed up again as she sighed into her remaining coffee and she drifted away.
Her earliest memories were of her father sitting at the kitchen table rubbing his mossy beard. His work clothes would hang loosely on four knotty hooks inside the porch. There were two sets of heavy greenish-grey oilskins covered in fish scales. A thick woollen sweater with a huge lumpy collar that looked like something to clean a sink with and four different pairs of waterproof boots that he would rotate through. He needed his boots immaculately dry. Wet boots made him mean. She remembers him mumbling inaudibly as he climbed in and out of his work clothes morning and evening.
At the kitchen table he would hunker over his rumpled notebooks and his maps of fishing grounds. He would tell her, when she asked, that they were maps of where he worked; his office if she liked. He pointed out the locations of the reefs and the navigational buoys, the currents, and the channel boundaries, but her eyes would be drifting off to the names of the small islands that peppered the shore and she would imagine all sorts of horrible three-headed creatures with poisonous fangs inhabiting those places. She could not imagine pleasant images in relation to those mapped places of which her father spoke with such scorn; yet in spite of her monstrous visions, the outlines of the land and the strange names were a magic intoxicant for her and she would take every opportunity to climb upon her father's back and dream into the map, the smell of whiskey and boiled cabbage rolling over his shoulder and into her nose.