By Heather Lowe
This is the first of many excerpts from Heather Lowe’s novella titled Catharine. It explores her love affair with downtown St. Catharines through a series of shamelessly exaggerated vignettes.
In 1952 the city was small by any measure but masked with a metropolis attitude and charm. The downtown core flourished with dressmakers, tobacconists, all-or-nothing hardware stores and an unnecessary abundance of ice cream parlours: bubblegum, butter rum, banana split.
The time was sweet, sugar-coated and blooming with sinless flavours. The bandstand sang loudly in a smaller version of Central Park, zippers were mass-produced, and young love blossomed like happy daisies in this garden city.
Then, factories that ran three blocks and whored out automobiles for decades began to close their doors. It happened slowly at first and then all at once. The blue-collar individuals who infestedthe middle-class, tree-lined communities could not help but sulk as they unceremoniously lost their nine to five. Meanwhile the former bosses, Mr. Corporate and Mr. Colonial relocate halfway across the planet, greedily sip long island iced teas and golf far too much. Mr. BlueCollar finds himself in the muck, so to speak. Short of peddling antique televisions and moldy fishtanks in bi-weekly yard sales, engaging in underground dog fighting rings, or trafficking smack to his neighbour’s prepubescent sons or daughters, Mr. BlueCollar’s options were few. Like some domino game, the downtown core became overrun with frightened addicts, purple bingo halls and hookers who seemed to have passed their prime centuries prior. University scholars by day drunkenly littered the city streets by night, teenaged girls gave birth just in time for commencement and a terrifyingly attractive duo rape and murder three tragically young girls.
Fear, regret and despair lingered in the streets and we could smell it rising through the city sewers. This morose ghost seemed to follow the inhabitants from the old court house all the way to that long forgotten night club that no one is certain is even open anymore. The industrial and commercial streets of the city boast technicolour carpet sales, stationary chains named after stationary instruments, and a $5.99 All-You-Can-Eat brunch at the local stripclub.
It was no longer 1952 but over fifty years later and the face of the downtown has become completely unrecognizable. While the Garden City slowly begins to wilt the swollen suits at city hall lurk around a large oak table like the fucking knights of the round and wonder hopelessly what to do.