Chapter 2 – Alicia takes a train

After kissing her father lightly on both cheeks, Alli entered the foyer of Chatham train station.

Her family had always lived, at least during all of her 17 years, in the small Southern Ontario town of Chatham. Her father was born in Windsor and her mother in Picton, but they had met at the University of Windsor while at business school. Alli’s father had studied accounting and her mother marketing, and while his field was well-chosen for both his personality and his demeanor, her mother was never really very comfortable in the business world. She was an artist, an original – she had an anxious streak and a fine eye for beauty. She had decorated their country home tastefully, in a French provincial style with Spanish colonial accents.

So Alli had been educated, her nose deep in books, hunched over the dark chesnut table in the living room and lying on the chocolate brown leather couches in the family room. Winters were pleasant for Alli, for she would sit by the fire with her mother, and put her feet up close to the brass grate, sometimes resting her feet lightly upon it until the heat got too intense through her thick lumberjack socks. Then she’d cross them underneath a stripey burgundy and gold polar fleece. Sometimes she’d pretend to read, but really, she was looking deep into the flames – finding stories in their flickering theatre of light and shadow. Once in a while, her mother would bring green tea and they would sip quietly from the earthen cups and listen to her father play on the old Estonia grand piano across the room.

Now Alli was on her own, boarding a train in Chatham station, on her way to Hamilton, the Steel City, as her father had called it. She had passed by Hamilton on the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake on a school trip once. They had gone to watch Pygmalion at the Shaw Festival and Alli had the window seat. She was felt a little withdrawn and spent most of the trip looking out the window, taking in the changing scenery as it rolled by – suburban malls, forested ravines and then the rolling vineyards and orchards of Niagara. Seeing the vineyards and orderly rows of fruit trees surprised her – she had never though that Southern Ontario could be so beautiful, so foreign, so distinctly French or Italian.

On the way back from the play, which she had enjoyed thoroughly, the weather had changed. The clouds had gone a steely grey and lightning flashed through the twilit gloom. Darkness fell as they left Niagara – the lake was a dark forbidding mass to their right. The sky was devoid of stars.

As they neared the Burlington Bridge, Alli looked out and saw the closest approximation of what she thought the Inferno might look like. Flames belched from dark spires in blue and red and brilliant orange. Great plumes of smoke snaked across a flashing sky punctured by grey smokestacks, some mute and others sporadically piping out toxic exhalations. Mountains of lustrous black slag rose like temples between abandoned railcars and sea-faring tankers that traveled the Great Lakes. Alli had poked the teacher sitting in the seat in front of her and asked, “What is that Mrs Thorne? What is that place?” Her teacher replied, with a bemused smile: “That? Oh, that’s just Hamilton, Alli. It’s quite the sight, isn’t it?” Alli had nodded and then watched the mad-looking, weird place drift past as they rolled up and down the Burlington Bridge and back into the comforting scenery of suburban normalcy.

Now it was a sunny morning and she was dumping her giant duffle bag on the rack near the door of the VIA train and settling into her seat. The car was almost empty, so she could sprawl across a couple of seats, her thin bejeaned legs crossed in front of her and her back against the window.

She took out her copy of The Walrus, that headiest of Canadian literary and current affairs magazines, and settled into the long, cozy ride ahead to her new home.



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