[Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from the Crossfield Publishing book, Old Broad Road by Phyllis L. Humby. It is reproduced here with her permission. – James]
Sylvia Kramer flees two thousand miles from home and switches out her Jimmy Choos for rubber boots. She stubbornly adapts to the unique culture and dialect of Newfoundland embracing diverse friends and east coast delicacies. In a psychological roller coaster of events, she finally reconciles with her estranged family when a brutal assault shatters her spirit and plunges her back into depression.
Mr. Howard’s vehicle lurched over the mud-packed ruts and my hand gripped the door handle. We slowed to a stop, the ocean barely visible beyond the densely treed lot. Before he turned off the ignition, the muddy driveway was tugging at the soles of my shoes.
“Let’s check the property first,” I said, without a sideways glance at the empty house.
The smell of wet vegetation and seawater created a nervous flutter like butterflies batting against my ribcage. Despite the mounting apprehension, I felt an urgent need to explore. Not waiting for the agent, I hurried to the back of the yard. Seeing the salt-water bay, overlooked by jagged rocks, calmed me in spite of the exhilaration I felt.
The agent’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Miz Kramer? You’re not dressed for this damp marnin’. Let’s go in, now.”
My stomach heaved with nerves. A fear of being sick in front of this stranger was a growing worry, but there was no turning back. Chapel’s Cove would be my retreat. My refuge. Despite the anticipated backlash of Dan and Darlene, I wasn’t going home to Toronto.
“Yes, this is it. I’m sure,” I nodded toward the view.
His eyes widened and he stepped towards me.
“You haven’t seen the inside of the house. That’s where all the work is. ’Tis fairly isolated here and I don’t think you know what our winters are like.” The representative’s strong east-coast accent made him difficult to understand. “You’d be lonely as a gull on a rock livin’ ’ere.” His considerable weight shifted from one foot to the other, his face wrinkling into a whine.
“If I didn’t know better I’d say you didn’t want to make a sale this morning.” My voice inflected a haughty tone – one I had perfected over the years.
Turning toward the abandoned house, I glanced down at my sodden canvas shoes, feeling the wetness soak through to my socks. The rain had stopped and I closed my eyes and inhaled. The smell of the damp earth aroused a childhood memory of shiny worms inching across a wet sidewalk. Recollections of my life before I became a wife and mother – and grandmother – were rare.
A cool, wet breeze dampened my hair, its mist settling into the deep lines around my teary eyes. I turned back to the magnificent view. During the weeks spent touring Canada’s east coast, I dreamed of living here, though never expected anything to come of it. Pretending was part of my healing process. Pretending to be alone in the world gave me solace. On the beach at night, screaming into the crashing waves, I raged against my fears. Nighttime was when I ranted and cried. That’s when I felt old and unhinged.
The agent ended my wandering thoughts with an attention-getting grunt and a dubious look.
“I plan on checking the house, Mr. Howard.” Jangled nerves added a harsh edge to my tone.
Turning away from the crest of the craggy coastline, I looked up at the weathered frame edifice. Clinging to the back of the house was a wooden deck atop supports from the sloped landscape. Its stilt-like structure appeared to tremble with the strong breeze.
Water-drenched weeds tangled around my ankles like restraints to keep me from entering the house, which at a glance, looked old and unloved − much like the way I felt. The realtor appeared relieved when I moved towards the dwelling. Seeing the decaying bottom step of the raised deck, I changed direction and led the way to the front door.
Mr. Howard followed so closely behind me that I heard his ragged breathing, and smelled the lingering smoke on his clothes. As a reformed smoker, the smell was neither tempting nor revolting, but something my nose immediately identified. A smell that, one day, would signal danger.
Through the open screen door, the battered inside entry with its peeling paint, added to the general tired appearance. I was beginning to understand the realtor’s skepticism.
The house key worked, but not without difficulty.
“This won’t be too good, I don’t imagine, now. The good Lord only knows what we’ll be findin’.”
The portly agent stepped aside and allowed me to enter the enclosed sun porch. My heart thumped with the realization of what I was doing and the finality of it. On my own for the first time and trembling with fright, I didn’t want anyone, least of all this agent, to think I was incompetent. I’d smile until my face hurt if that would make me appear at ease and in control of the situation.
Two mice skittered across the room when the screen door banged behind us. The salesman glanced sideways. I smiled and stepped over the splintered threshold of the screened porch. It would take more than mice to deter me.