Fiction Mary Lawson Other Side of the Bridge

ISBN 13: 9780099437260

Other Side of the Bridge

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9780099437260: Other Side of the Bridge

Arthur and Jake: brothers, yet worlds apart. Arthur is older, shy, dutiful, and set to inherit his father's farm. Jake is younger and reckless, a dangerous to know. When Laura arrives in their 1930s rural community, an already uneasy relationship is driven to breaking point...

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About the Author:

Mary Lawson's first novel, Crow Lake, was admired by critics and adored by readers all over the world; translated into 23 languages and published in 25 countries, it was a New York Times bestseller and spent 75 weeks on the bestseller lists in her native Canada. It was chosen by You magazine for its Reading Group and won the McKitterick Prize. Her second novel, The Other Side of the Bridge, was longlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and selected for the Richard & Judy book club. Lawson was born and brought up in a farming community in Ontario, but came to England in 1968. She is married with two grown-up sons and lives in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

FireFighters Battle BushFire

Lost Bear Hunter Located by Plane: In Bush 40 Hours

Temiskaming Speaker, May 1957


On a small farm about two miles outside Struan there lived a beautiful woman. She was tall and willowy with a lot of fair hair that she drew back into a thick plait and tied with whatever came to hand—a bit of frayed ribbon, an elastic band, an old piece of string. On Sundays she rolled it into a shining ball at the nape of her neck and fastened it somehow so that it wouldn’t fall down during church. Her name was Laura Dunn. Laura, her own name, soft and beautiful like she was; Dunn, her husband’s name, solid and lumpen like her husband. Arthur Dunn was a farmer, a big, heavyset man with a neck at least twice the width of his wife’s, and to Ian, sitting with his parents three pews behind, he looked about as exciting as dishwater.

Ian had first noticed Laura Dunn when he was fourteen—she must have been around all his life but that was the year he became aware of her. She would have been about thirty at the time. She and Arthur had three children, or possibly four. Ian wasn’t sure—he’d never paid any attention to the children.

For a year he made do with watching her in church on Sundays—the Dunns came into town for church every Sunday without fail. Then, when he was fifteen, Ian’s father said that he should get a job working Saturdays and holidays and start saving up for his further education, the theory being that you appreciated things more if you’d helped to pay for them yourself. Ian couldn’t recall anyone asking him if he wanted more education—it was another of the many assumptions people made about his life—but in this particular case he didn’t argue. He got on his bike and cycled out to the Dunns’ farm.

The farm was an oddity in the Struan area because Arthur Dunn still worked his land with horses. It wasn’t because he couldn’t afford a tractor—the farm was prosperous enough—and it wasn’t through any religious convictions like the Mennonites farther south. When asked about it Arthur would study the ground thoughtfully, as if the question had never occurred to him before, and then say that he guessed he liked horses. No one bought that explanation, though. They all believed that Arthur had been put off tractors years earlier, when his father got one and drove it down to the lower forty, where he rolled it into a ditch and killed himself, all within two hours of its arrival on the farm. Even the youngest and least intelligent of the plow horses would have known better than to fall into a ditch. The day after the funeral Arthur got rid of the tractor and harnessed up the team again and he’d been plodding along behind them ever since.

He was out in the fields when Ian cycled up to the farm. Ian saw him, off in the distance, being towed along by two great heavy-footed animals like a picture postcard of a time gone by. Ian leaned his bike up against the pump, which he guessed would only be used to fill the water trough—all but the most remote farms in the area had running water, and electricity too; they’d been connected up to the grid two years ago, when the power lines were run in for the sawmill.

Ian picked his way between the chickens to the back door. There was a front door on the other side of the house, but he figured no one ever used it. It would lead into the sitting room, where probably no one ever sat, whereas the back door led into the kitchen, which was where life would be lived. He could hear Laura Dunn talking as he climbed the three steps to the door. The inner door was open, letting the sound of voices out, but the screen door was closed, making it difficult to see in. She was scolding one of the kids, by the sound of it, though Ian couldn’t make out the words because a baby was crying. Her voice wasn’t sharp and sarcastic, as Ian’s mother’s voice tended to be when she was annoyed about something. It was exasperated, but still gentle and light, or so it seemed to Ian.

There was a lull in the baby’s crying and Ian, standing on the top step with his hand lifted, ready to knock on the door, heard Laura Dunn say, “Well for goodness’ sake, Carter, couldn’t you share it? Couldn’t you let her have a turn?” And a boy’s voice said, “She never shares hers!” and a little girl’s voice wailed, “I do so!” and the baby started to howl again. There was the sound of a chair being scuffed along the floor and then the screen door was flung open, nearly knocking Ian off the step, and a boy charged out. He gave Ian a startled, angry glance before jumping off the steps and disappearing around the side of the house. He looked about twelve years old and had the sort of face, Ian thought, that made you want to hit him. The sullen, sulky face of a kid who thinks the world’s against him.

The screen door slammed closed again and Laura Dunn appeared behind it. She gave a start when she saw Ian standing there and said, “Oh! Oh . . . hello! It’s Ian, isn’t it? Dr. Christopherson’s son?”

“Yes,” Ian said. “Um, yes . . . um, I’ve come to talk to Mr. Dunn . . . about a job. I wondered if he’d be taking on anyone this summer. I mean, full-time this summer, but maybe Saturdays right away, and then full-time once the holidays start.”

He felt himself flushing. He was gabbling, because she was so near, just inches away behind the screen door, and she was looking at him, directly and only at him, with those wonderful soft eyes, eyes that he’d noticed always seemed shadowed, as if they contained deep, unfathomable mysteries, or—the possibility occurred to him now, what with the crying of the baby and the behavior of the kids—as if she were tired all the time.

“Oh,” she said. “Oh, well yes, I’m sure he’d be glad of some help. Just a minute, Ian. . . . I’ll come out. Just a minute.”

She disappeared. Ian heard her say something to somebody and then she reappeared with a baby in her arms. A little girl was behind her, but she shrank back when she saw Ian standing there. He moved down off the steps and Laura came out, bouncing the baby gently up and down on her hip. The baby was fat and sexless, like all babies, and had round, unconvincing tears rolling down its cheeks. It and Ian looked at each other and the baby gave a sort of snort, as if it didn’t think much of what it saw, and put its thumb in its mouth.

“There, now,” Laura said, brushing the top of its head with her lips. “That’s better. This is Ian. Say hello to Ian.”

“Hi,” Ian said. He smiled warily at the baby. It stared back and then curled up and buried its face in the folds of Laura’s dress, its free hand clutching possessively at her breast. Ian quickly looked down at his feet.

“The thing is, you’ll really need to speak to Arthur,” Laura was saying. “He’s plowing at the moment.” She nodded in the direction of the picture-postcard view of her husband. “If you’d like to go out and have a word with him . . . just along that track there.” She looked doubtfully at Ian’s bike. “Only I think you’d be better to walk. The horses cut up the path a bit. . . . But I’m sure he’ll be pleased—it’s so hard to get help. Men nowadays don’t know how to deal with horses, you see.” She smiled at him. “But maybe you like them. Is that why you’ve come?”

“Well, sort of,” Ian said. He hadn’t given the work of the farm—the actual job he was applying for—a thought. Arthur Dunn could have hitched his plow to a moose, for all he cared. At the moment all his attention was taken up with trying not to look at the baby, which had now, unbelievably, wormed its hand inside its mother’s dress and was tugging at what it found in there, all the while making fretful smacking noises with its lips.

Laura gently disengaged the small hand. “Shush,” she said to the baby. She smiled at Ian again, seeming not to notice his embarrassment. “Come back and let me know what he says, all right?”

Ian nodded, and turned, his mind filled to the brim with the nearness of her, her overwhelming presence, and made his way down the muddy track to where Arthur Dunn was plodding up and down the furrows behind his horses. Arthur Dunn, so solid, so dull, so obviously unworthy of such a wife. Arthur Dunn, who, when he saw Ian approaching, halted his team and came across the field to meet him, and said yeah, sure, he could use a hand, and would Ian like to start this coming Saturday?

Ian’s grandfather had been Struan’s first resident doctor, and when he’d answered the “Doctor Wanted” advertisement they’d put in a Toronto medical journal, the grateful townspeople built him a house just a block west of Main Street, a couple of hundred yards from the lake. It was a handsome wooden structure, white-painted and green-trimmed, with lawns on all four sides and a white picket fence surrounding the lawns. In the early days there was a neat white stable for the horse and buggy twenty yards from the house. Later the first Dr. Christopherson acquired a Buick Roadster, which became as much a part of him as his old black leather medical bag, and a garage was added beside the stable. He kept the horse for use in winter, when the back roads around Struan were impassable by anything except a sled. His son, the present Dr. Christopherson (who also drove a Buick, though his was the sedan), was sometimes heard lamenting the absence of the sled even now, given the state of the town’s one and only snowplow.

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