BWS 11.09.19: Catherine Hernandez


Photo: Marko Kovacevic

Catherine Hernandez is the Artistic Director of b current performing arts and the award-winning author of Scarborough (Arsenal Pulp Press). Scarborough won the 2015 Jim Wong-Chu Award, was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award, the Evergreen Forest of Reading Award, Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, the Trillium Book Award, and longlisted for Canada Reads 2018. It made the “Best of 2017” lists for the Globe and Mail, National Post, Quill and Quire, and CBC Books. Scarborough will be adapted into a film by Compy Films, Reel Asian Film Festival and Telefilm, with Catherine authoring the screenplay. She is currently working on her second and third books, Crosshairs and PSW, both forthcoming from HarperCollins Canada.


Before appearing at our next event in September, Catherine shares the first chapter of her second book. “In Crosshairs, QTBIPOC folks learn to take arms against white supremacy and prepare for an uprising against a fascist regime.”


Evan. My beautiful Evan. Here in the darkness of this hiding place, I write you these words. Without paper, without pen, I trace these words in my head, along the perimeter of your outline. Watch this sentence travel along the meat of your cheekbone. See my teeth dig into your it playfully. Watch these words ball into your hand along with a fistful of bedsheet, which you pull over us to create a tent. I imagine your voice now, lying across from me, improvising a silly song about the smallness of my ears. Ironically, you sing it half in tune, half out of tune.

“Maybe you’re the one with the small ears,” I suggest, and you scrunch your face in embarrassment. You are talented at many things, but music isn’t one of them. Sometimes the image of you is clear, right down to the curl of your eyelashes. Sometimes, especially when I am hungry, I recall the shape of your smile and nothing more. Watch these phrases ink across an imaginary page, a Whisper Letter, folded twice, placed in an envelope and mailed to wherever you may be. I will never forget your name, Evan. And I pray you will never forget mine.

If by some miracle my whispered words reach you, I want you to know that I am safe at 72 Homewood Avenue where Liv has hidden me in her basement.

No room in Toronto is ever used in the way it was originally intended. That’s what happens in a city always trying to reinvent itself. Like it has an itch to leave. Like it has a commitment problem. This place was meant to be a cold cellar. A place where, before the invention of refrigeration, the woman of the house would have likely stored things like butter or eggs. That’s why even in the heat of the summer, the heat of this hellish summer, I feel like I am swimming in the cold breath of ghosts. I am wearing all the clothes I ran away in. Five layers, which you told me to wear. There is no finding me. At least I hope so.

To ensure that I am hidden, I have set up my bed beside Liv’s furnace. My bed consists of two layers of cardboard boxes cut to fit in the corner of space behind the humming engine, and a pile of Liv’s old winter coats, which I use as blankets and a pillow. The idea is, if I need to leave again and in a hurry, what remains behind won’t resemble a hideout for me: a Queer Femme Jamaican Filipino man. Anne Frank, minus the diary.

It is here where I await news, where I hope for your arrival, where I wait for Liv to feed me or to tell me it’s time to run again. I am unsure of exactly how long I have been here as counting days is its own form of torture. Instead, I understand the passing of time by watching the moon’s cycle from the basement window. Maybe you are doing the same. Lunar crescents have grown fat then thin across the night sky almost six times. And at the swelling of every moon, Liv has replenished my supplies. It is through this same basement window, that I know I have been here long enough to have watched a racoon give birth, pushing those puppies out, one at a time, in the space between the spider web-stained glass and the corrugated metal framing. Long enough to watch them grow too large for the cubby hole. Long enough to watch the mama bite the collars of each of her whimpering pups and bring them to the surface of the world, high above me.

In the dead of winter, under the fingernail-width-light of a waxing moon, I jogged in place to keep my limbs from feeling wooden and numb. In the spring, when the floodings began, I would stand in ankle-deep filthy water. Under a new moon, with flashes of lightning as my only guide in the darkness, I filled buckets with floodwater and passed them to Liv through the hatch to pour down the kitchen drain. Since the summer has returned, and the moon is pregnant-round, I am thankful the musty smell of mould has dissipated a bit.

I can see the sky peeking through the opening of the basement window like a half-circle picture-perfect blue. I’m not sure what is better: to look outside the window and long for sunlight or to lie on my dark makeshift bed, close my eyes and dream of bicycling with you through the city, fast and free.

Long ago, when I first arrived, I kept to my cardboard bed and wept, seeing the basement as my prison, my tomb while the Renovation unfolded at ground level. Then, as time passed, as the moon scratched a wound across the sky, I began to inch my way about the concrete to witness the untold history of the home with my curious hands and squinting eyes. At the opposite end of the basement where a broken stove sits, just beyond the reach of its power cord’s coil, is a washroom rough-in. Three unfinished pipes stand neck-deep in the solid concrete. I picture a couple in the early 2000s renovating the basement as a separate apartment, then halting their construction as the stock market crashes. In the adjacent corner stands a dusty wooden bar and dysfunctional sink. I imagine a husband in the 1970s, wearing his paisley shirt, sneaking through its shelves in search of his favourite brand of whiskey. A mysterious series of headboards from several different time periods from several different occupants lean against the cold walls.

Every corner of this basement tells a tale and so too does every inch of my body. The landscape of every curve is a map of my traumatic experiences. Between my kneecaps are bodies of water, deep with your touch, remembered. The distance between my belly button and my throat is measured in increments of kilometres run in my escape and the sequence of events that led me here, to this nightmare lived. The canyon of my palm is where I feel everything and everyone I have lost in the last several months. And constantly echoing through these vast mountain ranges, is the sound of first screams and final goodbyes. The cartography of memory. The navigation through valleys of scars.

Tonight, the light comes. I hear the kitchen table slide roughly across the floor and then the hatch is lifted.


Catherine Hernandez visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Anubha Mehta, Téa Mutonji, Charlene Challenger, and guest speaker Rosamund Small who gives us “Notes on Beautiful Collaboration in Playwriting” or “I Wrote This, Please Make It Alive and Ephemeral (But Also Do It Perfectly and Exactly How I Imagined It Every Single Time). Playwrights are simultaneously the most and least important element of the theatre. They may be the loudest voice in the rehearsal hall, or dead for five hundred years before auditions even begin. 

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