Graham Jackson

Author of The Jane Loop

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Read an Excerpt of The Jane Loop

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An excerpt from Chapter One

THE NEW SUBURBS of sixties Toronto lived up to their reputations. They were safe, comfortable and convenient. They didn’t ask too much of their residents. On the perfect lawns, around the pristine pools, by the deliciously smoking barbecues, a plain language of favoured words was spoken: nice, new, neat, clean, young, sweet, marry, child, order, mine, God, bargain, among a few dozen more. For the majority, the distant city, known as “downtown,” was smelly and old, dirty and mean, riddled with crime. Husbands went there daily to earn a living, sons and daughters to attend the university; there was really no need for permanent departure. A network of freeways guaranteed a quick return to the good and godly life among the hydrangeas and spiraea.

But none of this was true for Neil Bennett, almost seventeen, who resided with his parents and older sister in a smart, newish red brick storey-and-a-half in the western suburb of Islington. Though he could see and smell the benefits of rich green lawns, leafy green hedges, and the paler, more delicate green of the weeping willows that had survived suburban expansion, he couldn’t wait to board the bus at the top of the street for his next foray “into town.” He didn’t mind the packed buses, the noise, the crowded streets; as far as he was concerned, journeys into town were exciting and pleasurable.

His sister Valerie, who worked part-time at the Eaton’s store downtown at Queen and Yonge, had asked him one day what was so attractive about the city. He’d answered, “The city never lies.” At this she’d rolled her eyes, called him a weirdo, and left the room. But it was true for him: the city kept its promises, promises of adventure and excitement, promises of novelty. The city was upfront. Nothing seemed hidden or dark or uncertain there. Everything glowed in the never extinguished light of street lamps and store windows. There was the constant movement, too: clanging streetcars coming and going along seemingly endless thoroughfares, movie theatres drawing in and spilling out their avid customers at all hours and lunch counter ladies in pale blue or tan or maroon uniforms clearing space every few minutes for another hungry customer or two. All this movement was strangely reassuring — the way a river often is, ever changing, but always the same.

And, of course, there was the library, specifically the Runnymede Library, where Neil shelved books. Here, all movement, all noise, all the usual city bustle changed complexion and became hushed and wonder-filled. There were promises here, too, of course, promises galore, but of a very different order. In his mind, the Runnymede Library contained all the knowledge he could ever want.

Heading back home was quite another issue. To Neil, suburbia was the furthest thing from paradise. It was an arid grid of streets lined with lookalike houses — either of the bungalow sort or the rather more impressive, but still complacent, storey-and-a-half. In the city, the presence of dwellings always promised a vibrant life, one that flowed out onto porches, or into gardens crammed with brilliant flowers, or over the busy streets themselves, full of kids and gossiping neighbours and boys on bikes. But that wasn’t true “back home.” Suburban houses were mute. They occupied tidy green lots on avenues empty of all life except cars. Their residents appeared to be mostly absent, or, at least, invisible. Porches sat untenanted. Front yards offered only faint hints of flowers. A sphinx-like mystery hung about them, even in the middle of the day. And if there was anything Neil hated, it was self-satisfied mystery. On top of this, he found the ditches, the hedges, the big garages shut off from the world by blankly staring doors, to be anything but reassuring. The opposite, in fact: as potential hiding places, they spelled danger to him. If asked why, he would have given his broad shoulders a slight shrug and said, I don’t know, but that wasn’t true. The danger, whatever form it took, was related to his father, who had a penchant for playing nasty tricks. If he wasn’t very vigilant, he would end up caught or, worse, immobilized.

It was the four-block walk from the bus stop to his parental home that posed the biggest challenge. Since he worked at the Runnymede Library at least two weeknights and all day Saturday during the school year, and even more in the summer, it was a challenge frequently met. He could make out the crimson maple that dominated his parents’ yard from the moment he stepped off the bus, but there was still a gauntlet of hedges and bushes to negotiate before he reached that safety. Dread frequently overtook him. Sometimes, he would respond to it by walking brazenly down the middle of the road, moving to the shoulders only when traffic demanded; sometimes, when he had been to a late movie with Tony and Rick, he would get one of his friends to stand watch at the top of the street as he made his descent; and sometimes, hardly breathing, he would run the distance, hoping against hope that whatever threat was lurking in the foliage was not faster than he. If it was still light out when he got back, the journey was an easier one, of course. But for most of the year he was coming home in darkness. And the darkness ... well, as his father was wont to say, Anything can happen in the dark.


About The Jane Loop | Interview with Graham | How to Buy | Reviews