(1) Dulled by the wearisome sameness
I go to the river every day to see if it's finally free.
Before the sun rises--before daylight comes to illuminate a miserable world, before dawn chases away the endless possibilities of night--I shuffle out onto the barren streets of this godforsaken city.
Edmonton. A prairie town, crushed flat by huge, heavy skies. A northern outpost, encased in ice for months on end. Its houses huddle together against the cold wind, which digs its claws under doors and around window frames. Its roads are lined with mountain ranges of dirt-encrusted snow, painted orange by weak sodium streetlights. Its people sleep, dreaming of summer. Dreaming of somewhere far away.
I dream of green grass and running water as I walk to the river. My boots crunch on the salt-stained sidewalks. The dry air scratches at my skin, flaying my nostrils for daring to inhale, trying to force me back to bed. But I bow my head against the winds and soldier on, driven by the tiniest ember of hope.
When I reach the stairs that lead down into the river valley, I close my eyes and look out at the landscape. I let my desperate dreams flare up, projecting my desires onto the world. I imagine myself looking out on a shattered river, freed from its icy prison. I say a prayer to all the ancient gods of the earth and the river:
Please. Let it be today. Let the ice break. Let winter end.
But every day for the past six months I've been disappointed. The world defies my dreams. I stand on the top step and open my eyes and see a solid ribbon of dead white ice. The river is held captive, its waters locked in place. The skeletal trees along its banks stretch their brittle branches toward the sky. Tufts of blanched grass poke up through heaped snowbanks. The whole river valley--emerald green in summer, golden yellow in fall, blossoming pink in spring--is trapped in grey stasis.
I swallow my disappointment and start down the stairs, to search the ice for signs of fracture.
Edmonton is a typical grid city. It sprawls out over the flat, wheat-stubbled prairie like a smashed egg oozing across a crumb-covered kitchen floor. Its perfect, rectangular blocks are completely interchangeable. They stretch to the horizon like the world's easiest and most boring jigsaw puzzle. Apartments and restaurants and office blocks. Schools and houses and strip malls. Every part of this city looks the same: short, squat, and square.
But the river valley is different. The river rips this city in two. It carves a winding path through the heart of Edmonton, pulling the paved-over prairie down into a deep crevasse. The orderly grid of streets unravels into nonsensical curves. The structured metropolis gives way to a wild urban forest. Two dozen bridges stretch across the river, pulling the two halves of the city together like stitches trying in vain to close a wound.
I've walked across each of them, inspecting the ice from above. I hunt for some hint of a crack, some hope of an imminent collapse. But the ice is flawless, pristine, spread from shore to shore like a starched white sheet. It's just as strong today as it was yesterday, and it was just as strong yesterday as the day before that. And the day before that. And the day before that.
It's been six months since the First Snow fell. Six months since that grim fall day when frosty lily pads started to clog the river. The longest winter in living memory. It should've been spring weeks ago, but still the ice locks the river in place. It's the middle of May, and there are still no signs of summer.
After a while, my inspection of the ice becomes too depressing. The sun comes up, my dreams of spring are burned away by the pale white light, and I start to believe that the river will never be free. Winter will last forever.
I stand on the High Level Bridge, stare down at the thick white ice, and wonder what it would take to break it. Would an object, falling from a great enough height, have enough force to shatter the river and free us all from the tyranny of winter? I've flirted with the idea--hauling a bunch of rocks up to the bridge deck and throwing them down with all my strength. Or dragging one of the historical cannons from the Legislature grounds and tipping it over the railing. Or just taking a tiny step forward...
Praise for The Melting Queen:
"Heartfelt, flawed, and beautiful, The Melting Queen is a modern fairy tale. Cinnamon creates a lost history, writing a legacy for River Runson that honors missing ancestors and gives Edmonton a second chance to confront the truth of its hypocrisy around oppression and expression."
~ Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword Reviews
"... a worthy, interesting read based on the essential idea that now is the time to unmask history and change what no longer serves us."
"The novel, much like its protagonist and, I suspect, many of Edmonton's inhabitants, has an ambivalent relationship to the city it imagines: calling out its failings ... yet insisting on finding and, if necessary, inventing stories that reveal the extraordinary."
~ Jason Wiens, Alberta Views
Combining history and satire, this debut aims to lay a foundational mythology for Edmonton.
~ Becky Toyne, The Globe and Mail
"Bruce Cinnamon doesn't put a foot wrong in The Melting Queen, his fantastical debut novel. In addition to providing humour and a surreal plot, the author examines some serious themes: identity, friendship, betrayal, and politicians creating alternative histories."
~ Margaret Goldik, Prairie Books NOW