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Authors: Robin McGrath

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Donovan's Station

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Donovan's Station

Donovan's Station

Other books by Robin McGrath
available through Creative Book Publishing

POETRY
Escaped Domestics
(1998)
ISBN 0-920021-57-3
$12.95

SHORT STORIES
Trouble and Desire
(1996)
ISBN 0-920021-36-0
$11.95

YOUNG ADULT
Hoist Your Sails and Run
(1999)
ISBN 0-920021-78-6
$11.95

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Donovan's Station

novel

ROBIN McGRATH

©2002, Robin McGrath

We acknowledge the support of The Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing
program.

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book
Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) for our publishing
program.

All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any requests for photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems of any part of this book shall be directed in writing to the Canadian Reprography Collective, One Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.

Front Cover Art: Photo of Betsy Donovan
Back Cover Art: Photo of Donovan's Station
All photos from McGrath family collection
Cover Design: John Andrews

Printed on acid-free paper

Published by
KILLICK PRESS
an imprint of CREATIVE BOOK PUBLISHING
a Trancontinental associated company
P.O. Box 8660, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
A1B3T7

Second Printing February 2004
Typeset in 12.5 point Centaur

Printed in Canada by:
TRANSCONTINENTAL

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data

McGrath, Robin

Donovan's station: a novel / Robin McGrath.

ISBN 1-894294-42-4

1. Newfoundland and Labrador—Fiction. I. Title.

PS8575.G73D65 2002         C813'.54                     C2002-901661-4
PR9199.3.M42427D65 2002

For Janet Kelly

May 22, 1914

Archbishop Howley,
The Palace
St. John's

Your Grace,

Enclosed are the papers you requested for your trip to Europe. I have been in touch with Brother Power in Tralee and have arranged for him to lie with you throughout your stay in Ireland. I only wish I had as much confidence in the assistance I have organized for your sojourns in Spain and Italy, and that you will not lie too greatly fatigued by the journey and the labours that accompany it.

During your absence, I intend to plan out the structural reorganization of the administration that you have approved, and see only one major impediment to lie overcome. Merging the various convents under a single mother house would benefit the Catholic education system immensely, but unfortunately the nuns appear to be firmly wedded to the system as it was designed by the late Bishop Fleming. While it may be possible to order compliance, it would be better achieved through negotiation.

As you are no doubt aware, I have in my Topsail parish an acquaintance of the Bishop, one Keziah Donovan, the proprietress of the flag stop station at St. Ann's. She has old ties with the Presentation Sisters and if she could be persuaded to give her support to the scheme it might be all that is needed to make it happen. I am assuming, of course, that the Bishop was scrupulous in his dealings with the woman. Evidence to the contrary might lessen the hold his memory has on the members of the order.

Mrs. Donovan is very elderly, and I had news this morning that she may be in failing health. Discreet inquiry indicates that any documents relevant to our concerns such as wills, letters etc., are in the hands of the Railway's lawyer. Conroy is one of our own staunchest supporters, a friend of the Church, and would warn you if there were any compromising correspondence in his hands. My intention is not to discredit the parties involved, but to protect the good reputation of one of the most respected members of our community. A reminder that you answer directly to Rome might be in order.

Your intercession with His Holiness, and the proposal of my name for elevation to the position of Domestic Prelate at the Papal Throne, is an honour that I can only say was beyond my greatest imagining. I can assure you that the affairs of the Archdiocese of St. John's may be safely trusted to me as Administrator during your absence, and after your return for as long as I am needed.

Your most obliged and very

obedient humble servant

Edward Patrick Roche, Vicar-General

May 23

Very fine, cool day. Doctor has been, and says that Mumma has had a paralytic stroke. Dermot forgot the bacon for the Society dinner; will have to make-do with fat-back. Kaiser William wandered onto the track and they had to stop the train. It took three men to push him off and one got kicked. Had a note from Monsignor Roche asking after Mumma. So kind of him
—
I didn't think they got along but he sounded quite concerned.

The crows are racketing—the train must be on its way. Funny how the crows always make such a fuss about the train, as if it were an owl or an animal that has to be scared off. It works, of course. They give the Irish cry as the train pulls towards the station, and the thing goes off again, leaving the cows and the farm to them.

The eleven fifteen was late as usual, no doubt. I hope they sent out the bacon to wrap the partridges for the dinner tonight. Or was that last night? No use fussing—I can't do anything about it anyway and it only wears at me. The Benevolent Irishmen, or the Orangemen, or the Mechanics' Society, or whoever it was wanted partridges will no doubt survive without me to feed them. Kate will always manage somehow.

Now the train is going, the 107. 1 can always tell that engine, it has such a huffy sound to it, like young Lizzie when she isn't getting her own way. Is Lizzie here or in town? I can't remember
what day it is. It seems so odd to be lying down in broad daylight, staring at the ceiling, with all that work in the kitchen to be done. Peaceful, though, with the crows and the train, and the sound of Kate's cows in back. Kate wanted to move me into her room, away from the train and the traffic, but I like the sound of the world going by my door; it's soothing, really, and it distracts me from worrying about whether someone will stop and want something we don't have.

I know I can't move, but it doesn't feel like it. I thought paralysis would feel like you were frozen and no matter how hard you tried you couldn't budge, but for once in my life I have no desire to move at all. If I could lift my hand this instant I wouldn't do it, not unless my sweet man was to hold his hand out to me and urge me to take his in mine, and that won't happen as he's seven years in the graveyard. “Happy as a lamb on a tombstone,” he used to say when I asked him if there was anything he wanted at the end of a meal. And at the last going off he said, “No lambs, maidey, not 'til you're there with me.” So the marble lamb sits in the back shed, packed in straw, waiting for me to go too, and I suppose that won't be long now. Not if I can learn to keep my mouth shut when Lizzie s around.

Eighty-four years is time enough for one life. My dear Mr. Donovan was only sixty-seven when he died. Too young. Ah, I can feel the water leaking out of my eyes at the very thought of him. Mustn't do that, for if Kate looks in she'll worry. Kate has enough to worry about, with the dinners for the Benevolent Irishmen and young Lizzie nagging her about how she dresses, and now me stuck here like a bump on a log, dying too slowly.

If only my mouth were paralyzed. I try not to eat, but they coax me and eventually I give in and have a mouthful and before I know it that's turned to three or four mouthfuls. How long has it been now? A week, perhaps. There is just too much of me to disappear in a single week. I know I'm losing weight, for when Kate turns me over now I can tell it's easier for her, and
when I look down I have to try harder to see the swell of the bed cover.

Last night—I think it was last night—they sent Lizzie with the apple and I could smell it as she came into the room. My heart sank down through the mattress, for I knew I couldn't say no to an apple. Kate had stuffed it with Demerara sugar and butter, and baked it to mush with a little grating of nutmeg, just the way I used to do it for her and Min and Johanna when they were little and had a cough or a sore throat. Lizzie sat so that I could see her face—so like mine when I was fourteen—and she said “You're going to eat, Nanny,” and I thought how like her it was to be bossing me around even when I'm on my deathbed.

That face of hers—it's so peculiar to see her eyes looking out of my face. We're as different as chalk and cheese, me and Lizzie. I was always soft, easy to shift, and Lizzie is like steel. If she ever falls in love, it will be a terrible shock to her. She sat there with the spoon and the apple and told me to open my mouth and when I didn't she leaned over and kissed me, right on my lips, and I was so astonished that I opened up. Before I knew it she had half the apple spooned down my throat, and I almost laughed to see the triumph in her eyes. She'll be berating poor Kate that it's her fault I'm not eating. I hope Min comes and takes her home again soon, so we can all get some rest.

I must keep my teeth together next time.

Thirty white horses upon a red hill;
Mow they stamp, now they champ, now they
stand still.

I haven't got thirty white horses left—only twenty three last time I counted—and they were never really white, but they have lasted me eighty-four years so I suppose I mustn't complain against them now. I used to hate my teeth, clamped my mouth
shut even when I smiled so that no one would have to look at those square, yellow pickets, but they were strong and when other women my age were losing their teeth, mine just went on champing and stamping. Old habits die hard, though, and only sweet Mr. Donovan could make me smile outright. It was just shyness gave me a mouth like an axe—in Lizzie, it's grit. I see the determination in the set of her mouth and I don't wonder any more that people didn't know I am just shy.

The shadows are different; I must have fallen asleep. And here comes another train, a special excursion going out to Kelligrews, perhaps. I remember the first time I saw the train, in January of '82 it was, just the two cars and half a dozen men hanging off the engine. They stopped over at Ann Fitzpatrick's and the engineer had burned his waistcoat and it reminded me of the Bishop. How Bishop Fleming would have loved the train. He was such a man for traveling, always off to Europe to raise money for the convents or to build the Cathedral or to fight with the Anglicans over the twelve shilling fee for Catholic burials, and when he was home it was off up the coast to Fogo or wherever. He'd never have let the train go by, day after day for thirty-two years, and not gotten on it to see what was at the end of the line.

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