St. Martins, New Brunswick

By Mikka Jacobsen

Issue 009, Volume Three | Summer 2017

Maryse Larivière, Under the cave of winds (2014/2017), 16 mm.

GIF EXCERPT Courtesy of the artist and Untitled Art Society.

Most afternoons I tuck a tide table in my sock and clamber down to the caves. The bluffs are cursed with loose rock, and I’ve bloodied my damned knees more than once. Plenty of tourists around, so no excuse being lonely. You can tell it’s a tourist town because everyone wears some exultant colour, to put the lie to their holiday disappointments.

I bought my travel wardrobe at the Nanton Salvation Army, so the black skirts and sheer blouses are threadbare, the scarves patterned with lassoes and smelling of camphor. Wrapping my hair, I feel a little like Audrey Hepburn. At one of those gas stations rigged out for a good time—CDs and sand buckets and fireworks—I chose a pair of bug-eye sunglasses. On the trip out east, when I met someone’s eye I wondered if they were thinking I was the incarnation of Audrey.

But like a bohemian I’ve since given up bathing and combing my hair, so I probably do look half-cracked, scrabbling and slipping over the rocks, draped in black and singing Joni Mitchell. Solitude is what I came for anyhow. On the tenth day, I broke down and bought hiking boots at a shop in St. Martins. Paid for with my and Leonard’s joint account. Solitude is the name people use to mask the fleshy stench of loneliness. Is that what the shopkeeper smelled, keeping an arm’s length as he tied my bootlaces? 

The trails leading to the caves are overrun with calf-like children and their heifer mothers. In defiance, I discover untraveled, rocky ledges, grab branches for support—nettles catching, but not tearing, my long skirt. When I finally set my feet on sand, I ignore a staring, pot-bellied straw hat.

The caves are the second reason I came. Packed Looney in her travel case and drove all 4,523 kilometers from Nanton, Alberta to St. Martins, New Brunswick.

“A heart of stone,” Leonard said. “You don’t love nothing but yourself.”

I left my diamond beside the kitchen sink—the place Leonard would most expect to find me. Killing two birds with one rock. That’s smart; I wish I had a pen so I could write it down for later.

Maryse Larivière, Under the cave of winds (2014/2017), 16 mm.

GIF EXCERPT Courtesy of the artist and Untitled Art Society.

My boots draw pools of water that suck themselves flat. Folded on rose-bordered stationary, a letter sticks under the band of my bralette (that’s what the saleswoman called it). Rhymes with scarlet, starlet—maybe a poem’s there? I wish I had that damned pen.

I tear the letter into pieces, roll up my skirt, wade to my ankles, and toss the scraps over the puny waves. “Cast your bread upon the waters,” I say. Then I’m yelling, lapped in sound beneath the cave’s slimy ceiling, “and you shall find it after many days.” The echo makes a mockery of my voice. Maybe the cave doesn’t understand the verse either.

“My wanting to be a writer’s got nothing to do with you,” I said to Leonard. A black-and-white seaside apartment had by then formed in my mind—cliffs, surging waves, me bescarfed and typing my opus, smoking from one of those long stems that holds the cigarette for you. But all I’ve done so far is write letters to Leonard.

Dear Leonard,

I saw an albatross at the Royal Ontario Mus eum. Not a real one, silly. In the bird gallery. There’s a glass cage like nothing you’ll ever see. Hundreds of birds, suspended like a swarm of locusts, except they’’re all birds. You wouldn’t believe the plumage: shocks of aquamarine, fuchsia, botttle green. But the albatross is king. Did you know he’s the largest of all birds? Remember in high school when we read the poem about the mariner? The one where the sailor shoots the albatross, and the crew hangs it around his neck. Instead of the cross, the albatross. I always thought albatross was another word for seagull. Its wingspan is twelve feet, Leo! It can fly around the world without stopping. And here I was thinking it was a a seagull same as the ones we have in Nanton. Its eye was black and beady. That eye would look the same whether it was alive I bet.



I can’t even get the damned letters right. I left my laptop at home because I thought a typewriter romantic—perfumed stationary and click-clack floating out the window. Looney purring in my lap. But the keys stick so I’ve started writing by hand. I think I’ve got writer’s block. The apartment is a one-room basement with low ceilings and a dank carpet. I found mushrooms in the closet. Rusty stains ring the mattress. No shades over any of the bulbs, and the floor groans with the weight of the purple-eyed couple I avoid when I leave for the caves. Looney’s been hiding under the bed, and she’s pissing everywhere but her damned box.

“Cats don’t like travel,” Leonard said as he followed me to the car. He hadn’t seen the ring yet.

“Looney does,” I said.

            “How’d you know?” said Leonard. “You two ever been anywhere?”

            Looney’s been moaning too and not eating and I can’t coax her out for anything, not even the good can of wet Meow Mix that she only gets at Christmas and Easter.

Maryse Larivière, Under the cave of winds (2014/2017), 16 mm.

GIF EXCERPT Courtesy of the artist and Untitled Art Society.

Dear Leo,

Looney won’t eat and no one talks to me. Nothing ever happens here. I’m like a painted ship upon a painted ocean (I didn’t make up that last part. It was somebody else).



I’m digging into half a grapefruit when Looney darts from under the bed and arcs onto the windowsill. It’s open, not to the sea but to an alley stinking of sunned garbage. She flicks out the window before I can latch it.

“For fuck’s sake,” I say, pulling the scarf from my hair and thinking I’ll have to spend the afternoon looking for her. But there is a God, because not a minute later, Looney jumps back through the window and onto the kitchen floor.

“What’s that in your mouth?” I say, looking at the clump of brown brush hanging in her jaws. She yawns, I scream, and a tiny bird snaps into flight. Looney pounces. Flicks her tail. Lets the bird free again. They fly the four corners of the room, Looney leaping onto the table, scattering my papers and tangling the typewriter’s keys. Baby feathers float onto the peeling linoleum.

            The phone rings ten times before Leonard answers. “Yello?”


            “Didn’t you just call me?”


            “You called me, Sally.”

            I don’t know what the hell that’s supposed to mean, so I tell Leonard I have an emergency on my hands.  

            “Get a sheet. You’re going to have to catch it and drown it. In the toilet, I guess. Put it out of its misery.”

            “I can’t do that,” I say.

            “You can’t just let it suffer, Sally. Why’d you get a cat anyway?”

            “How do you know it’s suffering? I don’t see blood anywhere.”

            The bird whizzes past. “I gotta go,” I say.

I run to the bed and strip the sandy sheet. Back in the kitchen, Looney is losing her mind, scratching and mewling, trying to flatten herself into the inch of space below the greasy stove.

“Scat,” I say. Just like Leonard, she never listens.

Underneath the stove stray objects are furred like some kind of moonscape. I can’t tell if the black and blinking eyes look afraid; mostly, they look empty. I make cooing sounds. Looney licks her paws and flips her tail.

Maryse Larivière, Under the cave of winds (2014/2017), 16 mm.

GIF EXCERPT Courtesy of the artist and Untitled Art Society.

Hi L,

The water is covered with algae so I won’t swim in it. The tourists are dwindling. That bird survived.

I’ve named the bird Lou, she’s a sparrow, and I’m keeping her in my hiking-boot box with Kleenex and fresh holes in the top. She wouldn’t do anything but shake the first day, so I have her in the pantry, away from Looney. Today, I put some Meow Mix in the box beside the bottle cap of water. I should’ve bought birdseed, but Lou ate the Meow Mix, so it’s probably fine. When I opened the box, she looked at me with such bright love, and she made the happiest peep, that I thought for a second I might keep her. But it wouldn’t work out with Looney. Plus, Lou’s been here for less than seventy-two hours and she’s already in the way of my writing. I didn’t write two lines today.

Can I come home?

My bralette is salted with sweat stains. I tuck the letter in its lace and stretch an elastic band around the shoebox. Lou is cheep-cheeping, so she must be feeling better. Put her out of her misery indeed. Looney is pawing my legs, so I have to lace my boots outside. I could let Lou go in the alley, but I want to take her to the cliffside.

By the time we reach the bluffs, the wind is fierce. Shoebox pressed to my side, I’m walking the ridge to find the perfect spot to free Lou. I’ve imagined how it’ll go. Streaming black garments. Cupped hands. I fling Lou into the wind. She looks back from her sun-soaked soar. My letter will follow, fluttering to the waves. I’m going to write about it when I get back to the apartment.

I hear a gravelly scrape, and before I know it I’ve crashed to my knees. The shoebox flips, bounces once. I watch it jump against the rock before it finally spins itself free of the cliff. The elastic—an overstretched Goody I keep on my wrist to tie my hair—holds and the box hits the water with the lid intact. I watch and watch as Lou floats farther and farther toward the horizon. I wipe the blood from my knees, and when I lift my eyes the box is gone. For a long while I stare at the empty waves. “Help me I think I’m falling,” I sing, hoping Joni will cheer me up, “in love again.” Forgetting the letter in my bralette, I turn back the way I came. The wind is blowing hair into my face. I gather my rat’s nest in one hand and use the other to steady myself along the rocks. A strip of cloud covers the sun. Through my bug-eye sunglasses, the world looks smudged and dark.

"St. Martins, New Brunswick" by Mikka Jacobsen is a piece of creative writing commissioned by Luma in response to Maryse Larivière's exhibition Under the cave of winds, which runs through September 23 at Untitled Art Society in Calgary. Jacobsen's piece is a fictional rumination inspired by images, feelings, and motifs in Larivière's work, and was written independently of Larivière and her project.


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