Jamie Tennant has covered music and pop culture both locally and nationally. He is the Program Director at 93.3 CFMU FM and the host and producer of the literature program Get Lit. In 2016 he published his debut novel, The Captain of Kinnoull Hill. His new novel is tentatively scheduled for fall 2023.
In anticipation of his appearance at our next event, Jamie Tennant shares an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, tentatively titled River, Diverted.
It’s the mid 1990s, and screenwriter River Black is still Helen Delaney, a waitress in Toronto who spends most of her spare time watching horror films on VHS. Having trouble coping with her father’s death, she decides to move to Japan and reinvent herself.
The blurred confusion of airport concourses and unintelligible signs. The soothing voice of the Skyliner train. The baffling intensity of the three-minute walk between Ueno train stations: crowds like schools of fish, darting and twirling without a single collision; chirping traffic signals like battery-operated sparrows; low-hanging bridges against high-rising neon. Finally, the train, where I pressed my face against the window and peered into the dark.
Behind me, a salaryman in a sharp blue sharkskin suit watched me, amused; I could see his reflection in the window. His amusement would not dissuade me. I had been briefed on sixteen dozen Japanese do’s and don’ts. Don’t stick your chopsticks vertically in the rice. Don’t eat or drink while walking down the street. Don’t pass food from chopstick to chopstick! There was no rule about pressing your face against the train window. I was going to respect this culture, but I was still going to be me.
A confusing proposition, I guess, since I’d come here to become someone else.
The window vibrated in its casing, causing my top teeth to rattle against my bottom teeth. I opened my mouth to end the chattering and stared, gape-jawed, into the invisible Japanese countryside. I let a long, low “aaaaahhh” stretch its way out of my throat. The juddering motion of the window gave my voice a rapid vibrato, and I wondered what the salaryman must have thought about this strange foreign chick bleating into the night like a bewildered goat. Sometimes I did things that felt good and looked weird. Still do.
I stood up to hit the vending machine. The train seemed to make a perpendicular shift on the tracks. I felt like a surfer on an erratic wave. With surfing on my mind, I spread my arms out for balance and launched into a mostly off-key approximation of the Hawaii Five-O theme. No one in the car seemed to notice.
At the end of the car, a row of vending machines shone with the promise of so many garishly-packaged pleasures. Beer! Cigarettes! Boss Coffee! I opted for a Pocari Sweat because, I mean, it’s called Pocari Sweat. What’s a Pocari? Why does it sweat? Neither the milky translucence of the bottle nor the blue and white label provided this pertinent information.
As I hung ten down the sideways-shifting aisle, Pocari Sweat in hand, we barrelled into a tunnel. The train shook like a plane in turbulence. I shot my arms out with a short squeal and the bottle tumbled into the aisle, and rolled to the salaryman’s shiny leathered feet.
I stepped forward, embarrassed, and kneeled to retrieve my beverage.
“Sumimasen.” Excuse me. A phrase I was likely to need with some frequency. The man, however, appeared to be amused, which was a relief. When people don’t find my antics amusing, they find them annoying, and I never know which way it’s going to break.
Back in my seat, I tasted the Sweat. It resembled a sports drink, but sports drinks at home are the colour of crayons and salty enough to curl your tongue into a Twizzler. They kind of bully you into thinking you’ve been refreshed. This was more subtle and did not, despite its promise, taste like the sweat of anything.
In the window’s reflection it could see the salaryman nodding off. His head lolled forward, his chin bouncing off his sternum. The way my dad used to get after the fabled seventh brandy. Used to get. Past tense. Former tense. Dead tense.
“Dead.” I said it aloud, as if to remind myself. “My dad is dead.”
“I’m sorry,” said man in the suit, who hadn’t nodded off at all.
“Thank you.” I said, genuinely moved. “Thank you so much.”
I plopped down in the empty seat across the aisle from him.
“Are you on vacation?” he asked.
“Sort of. I’ve been fascinated with Japan ever since I was a little kid,” I continued. “Godzilla movies and anime and all that. I mean, I don’t think Japan’s all marauding kaiju and Hello Kitty. I have a lot of respect for the culture. I even studied the language a little bit. And it helps that Japan is far away from Canada, in just about every way you can imagine. I need to go through something transformative right now.”
“Excellent!” The man was delighted. Other foreigners probably answered that question with a grunt and a shrug. “What does it mean, transform…forma…?”
“Transformative. Something that will change my outlook on life and help me become a new person.”
“No, I bet you don’t.” I rested my right foot on my left thigh and turned towards him, my hands held out as if preparing to catch a ball. “I’m changing everything. All my life I wanted to write movies, right? But I never did it. I just sort of wandered through a boring university degree I didn’t want, and wandered into a boring job I didn’t care about. After my dad died, my sister said to me, now’s the time, go be who you want to be, so I thought, why don’t I? Do something different, start writing, and even change my name? So that’s what I did.”
I spoke as if talking to myself, which I sort of was. Honestly, half the time I’m talking out loud, a listener is optional.
“What is your new name?” he asked.
“My name is River Black,” I stuck out my hand with jokey formality. “And you, sir, are the first person in history to meet me.”
“River.” He smiled but did not take my hand. “In Japanese, River is kawa. I think people will call you Kawa-chan, if they are your friends.”
“Well, I hope they do!”
“May I call you Kawa-chan?”
“Of course you can,” I replied. “You’re my very first friend.”
Jamie Tennant visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, November 11, 2020 starting at 6:30pm alongside Joshua P’ng, Zoë S. Roy, and Larry Baer. Dina Del Bucchia, writer, podcaster, literary event host, editor, and instructor, will give her talk on, “Podcasting for Fun (And Zero Dollars”.
Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:15.