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   Tl
AAJ international  "Yj
JV/U international
Editor
Debbie Howlett
Executive Editor
Neal Anderson
Piction Editor
Barbara Parkin
Poetry Editor
Mary Cameron
Advisory Editor
Keith Maillard
Business Manager
Heidi Neufeld Raine
Editorial Board
La Verne Adams
Margaret Coe
Martha Hillhouse
Karen Justice
Sanjay Khanna
Jim King
Blair Rosser
Pierre Stolte PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T 1W5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1990 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover artwork and design: Michael Mclnulty and Sandra Patrich.
One-year individual subscriptions $12.00, two-year subscriptions $20.00, Library and institution subscriptions $18.00, two-year subscriptions $24.00, Sample copy $4.00.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International Reply
Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient postage will be held for six months and then discarded.
Payment to contributors is $30.00 per page plus a one-year subscription. PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, the Dean of Arts' Office and the University of British
Columbia.
Also financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British Columbia Cultural Fund and Lottery Revenues.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. April, 1990 Contents
Vol. 28, No. 3    Spring, 1990
Jill Robinson
Michael C. Kenyon
Norbert Ruebsaat
James R. Mayes
Cameron Macauley
Caroline Woodward
Fiction
Amy    7
Chaste    23
Dick Und Jane   32
The Hired Boy   37
The Woman in the Well   54
Hen Hierarchy   67
Liliane Welch
D.C. Reid
Poetry
Garden   52
Without Its People   53
Sandra Patrich
Artwork
Cover Art: "Ariela" oil on canvas 22" x 28"
Contributors    71 1989 Short Fiction Contest
Winners
$2000 Prize: Jill Robinson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
"Amy"
$200 Prize: Michael C. Kenyon, Victoria, B.C., Canada
"Chaste"
$200 Prize: Cameron Macauley, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
"The Woman in the Well"
$200 Prize: James R. Mayes, Birmingham, Michigan, USA.
"The Hired Boy"
$200 Prize: Norbert Ruebsaat, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
"Dick Und Jane"
Note: John Issacs of Munhall, Pennsylvania, was also a $200 Prize Winner, but his story
"My Karineh" was later disqualified after winning the 1990 Raymond Carver Short Story
Contest.
1989 FINALISTS
Claudia Gahlinger, Canada "Telling Stories"
Thomas King, Canada "Trap Lines"
John C. Makuch, United States    "Snowfall"
Sheldon Oberman, Canada "This Business with Elijah"
Darlene Quaife, Canada "The Invisible Part of the Spectrum"
Joyce Wayne, Canada "The Night Tim Buck Sat in our Rose Garden
and Drank Vodka"
We would like to extend a special thank you to Aritha van Herk, this year's final judge and to
Brian Preston, our fearless contest manager. Amy
Jill Robinson
Next day or the next I was sitting on the clothesline platform
steps waiting for my husband Pete to go. He wanted me to go
with him. To the IGA. The store is not far—just down the
road—on the corner. You can see it from here. But I did not want to go. I
had things I wanted to do. Had to do. Pete stood going from foot to foot.
Come on to the store with me, Amy.
No thank-you.
He rubbed his hand over the nubble of his beard. Took out his kerchief
and blew his nose.
Come on, Amy, give your legs a stretch.
I'm shelling these peas. I mean, I'm shelling these peas.
Well, you think on it for a minute. I'm going in to get my jacket. You
can change your mind, you know.
I couldn't go to the store. And if he didn't go I wouldn't have time. I
don't like going to the store anyway. The store lady is frizzy and unfriendly. The store man's white apron is always covered with blood. She,
the wife, she-the-wife runs the money and the checkout tick tick tick tick.
She has frizzy permed hair. She bulges from a turquoise uniform. Her
mouth is fixed in a priggy purse as she pecks in the numbers, tick tick
tick; she watches, watches with black beady chicken eyes.
Pete likes her though. Pete likes everybody. He'll stop and talk with
her. When she'll talk, that is. If she's not too busy looking over her bifocals and down her nose at us, acting like she has to match the name with
the face when we write a cheque. She's just doing her job, says Pete. He
says, I can see her point of view. Ha. That's what I say. Ha.
When Blondie was here, Pete asked the man for bones, and he always
gave them. Here's for that good dog of yours, he said. Then he married
her and she made us pay. Twenty-five cents for a bone for Blondie—
Dear Blondie who buried them and buried them, away from us from us.
And the woman had a baby, and it cries from the room in their house-
store. Get yourself one of these; that'll fix you right up, she said, white
bundle in one hand tick tick tick with the other. Her stomach bulges
where the baby lived. Inside her. Pete found a nest of dog bones in the east field one day. Said it was a
regular boneyard. He wanted me to come out of the house and see. Just
leave it, I said. I don't want to see. Don't touch what's been buried.
C'mon Amy, c'mon and see. So I went. To the dog's special place. Secret
place. Pete laughed and kicked the bones around. Smart ole dog she was,
wasn't she? he said. Silly old hound. Thought she hid 'em real good, didn't
she?
We caught you out, Blondie ghost. We caught you out. I'm sorry. She
stood sadly wagging in cobwebs under the firs by the fence. Her head all
smashed in from the car; her skull all crushed and oozing. Boys, my father
said. Boys. You watch out for them, girlie STOP IT—
Later that night, I went back to the place, told Pete I had to check the
latch on the chicken coop door. It was broken. I bound it shut with a
hayrope coarse as a dead woman's hair. Only an old hayrope keeps the
freshborn babies in until I take them, morning upon morning. I know
where I'm going in the dark. I often go out at night, if it rains, and Pete
seldom catches me. It is my secret. He smells like lime on his side of the
bed. I am soft and light as eider, he says, and he is right. I slip out of bed
on my cat feet, sneak down to the creek and stand in the wet. I hear
water and night skitterings. I am not afraid. I have a knife.
I could see the gleam, pale gleam of white bone against the black earth
and air. Brr. I tried to re-bury the bones, kicked dirt over them, but then
I had to get down on hands and knees to search for the holes Pete made.
Then I touched the bones, I had to, to bury them, and touching the bones
made me feel dirty, evil, bad, as though I had touched that which was not
for human touch. And Blondie would know I'd been there and touched her
treasure. Human scent.
Human scent. They say bears come around a woman at That Time.
Scent. Keep out of the woods during That Time.
They say there are no bears around here. I don't know. They said
there are no seals on this part of the west coast, either, and then one day
at White Rock a baby seal was washed up on the beach. And last year
they found that man-o'-war lying all bloody and gooey in the sand. By the
pier. Floated all the way from Borneo or someplace. Looks like afterbirth, a man standing there said and I stared and stared does it? at it oozy
on the muddy grey sand.
From my own side of the bed I dream of bears. Bears that live at the
end of the house, under the wooden platform that holds the rain barrel.
Bears that lurk, bears that are composed of black shadows and wet black
fur. I wake up shaking when I feel those bears but do not reach out to the limey shaved smell of Pete on his side. I curl into a mole ball and rock myself in skinny arms to sleep.
In the day I make myself go and look under the platform. No bears. I
see tall green grass that missed the clippers, and black beetles scurrying.
No bears, I tell myself. But at night the rain barrel platform is a dark
cave, and bears are waiting in there. In the pitch dark I feel blindfold fear.
Don't reach out with grizzly-clawed hands for me. Don't touch me—
My father whose trunk's upstairs went out on his rounds each night. The
cat stalked him as he went. I saw her golden eyes. He went counter
clockwise all the way around the yard and then locked the gate, shook the
lock with both hands, and locked the truck and then tried the doors. The
beam from his flashlight stared at the locks. Then he came in and locked
the front door, and checked the windows and the back door. I could hear
the faint rattles and dull jerks in the middle of the night when he would be
up to check them yet again.
One night I changed for bed, and turned on my bedside light. I started
to read my school reader. Then I felt funny, and I looked at the window.
A monster pig face pressed hard against the glass. I screamed and I
screamed, and I ran and pulled the curtain. I heard him laughing, heard
him choking on his big laughs as he rapped on the window pane. Ha Ha!
ha ha!
Pete came out of the back door to go to the IGA. He was putting on his
plaid jacket. He bought that jacket in Saan's. He bought it on a Saturday in
Saan's on a day there was a sale. That was the day he brought the
sausages home. That was the day he brought the sausages home his
arms in the sleeves of that new jacket he carried them in a bag a brown
paper bag and he put them on the table just like my father put the mama
pig on the table STOP IT-
What's the matter Amy? You cold? Want your sweater? Pete asked me. I
looked at him; he was far away inside a telescope. I jumped back into
daylight, back to the green pods in my white freckled hands, green and
white fingers shaking together, and Pete wanting to go to the store. No,
Pete, I'm fine.
Dear, you're mixing up the pods and peas! Daydreaming, aren't you?
Let me help.
No! Leave me. Leave me don't touch me.
Okay, okay. Calm down, dear. You're shaking like a leaf.
I'm fine; I'm fine. Go on now. You coming?
No.
Oh come on. Give your legs a stretch. You're gonna get chubby.
No. No. I have to feed my chickens.
Well, I won't be long. You hear? I won't be long.
He would be at least an hour. It is a good two miles to the store. And
he would have a visit too. A small visit with the store people, I knew.
I didn't look at him. I nodded. As he started down the driveway I was
sorry for being sharp with him. Poor man. He didn't expect me to be so
much like me, I'll bet, when he took me on. I love you, Amy. Whatever it
takes, he said back then. Whatever it takes. We stopped by the side of
the road, I remember. I watched the bulrushes in the ditch. I watched a
calf on the wrong side of the fence wade into the marsh and start to bawl
when the water hit its belly. See the calf, Pete? I asked. Back in a sec, he
said, and climbed down into the ditch and across and chased that calf out
of the marsh. When he came back he tapped on the glass of my window
and I rolled it down. He'd cut me a bulrush with his penknife. Whatever it
takes, Amy, he said as he held it out to me. Whatever it takes. Deal? Alright, I said. Yes. Shake? he said, offering his hand. I shook my head no.
No. That's okay, he said. That's okay, love. Just take this bulrush.
I wondered if he'd change his mind now, so many years later. Seven,
or ten perhaps. I watched him walk down the driveway, teetering down
the muddy brown spine. He stopped to check the mail. I could feel the
coolness inside the mail kennel, and the touch of the cold aluminum, and
hear the squeak of the hinges open and shut. Empty. He walked out onto
the wet grey road. Poor dear good man. And how days go by, keep on
going by, one two three four one two three four as though they were
wearing my father's uniform, my father's uniform in that trunk waiting upstairs.
The chickens cackled me welcome as they came out into their yard and I
threw wide arcs of grain for them in the dirt. I filled up their water and
lifted out the wet straw. I crouched down against the wire fence with my
fingers through the mesh and watched them eat. Peckity peck peck; peck
peck peck their beaks bounce up and down against the ground.
When I was a little girl I walked along the path to feed my banty chickens; I always stepped only on the grassy latticework around the planted
pathstones. Like gravestones growing over, each of them his, one for
each hand, one for each leg, and the big one at the end for his head.
Hopscotch jumps landed me with both feet on that one. And then they
would all grow over, the stones silenced with green grass and clover.
10 I would play hopscotch on him until the stones disappeared. Then I
would plant nasturtiums. Nasturtiums and California poppies. I would
have thousands of them all over where he was, and I would walk through
them and over him every day until I forgot he was there or ever was anywhere.
I was a little girl.
I was a little girl and my father was in the kitchen when I came home
from school. He took the toothpick out of his mouth and smiled at me.
Amy. He picked between his two front teeth.
Yes.
He furled his lip and picked around his eye teeth. Did you feed your
chickens yet today? He took out the toothpick and looked at it. I got cold.
Not yet. I'll go now if you want.
Well get on out back there, girl. I'll bet those chickens of yours are real
hungry today.
The door of the coop was open. My chickens were gone. I turned
around. My father stood in the back door. His toothpick pointed at the
clothesline. My chickens dangled up and down.
I couldn't breath and I breathed too hard trying. I reeled couldn't get
air. I breathed bird breaths, drank empty dark bird mouths of air while he
laughed and laughed.
In the woods I watched the thick reddish trunks of the trees, and
watched the sad sweeping limbs of the cedars. My white freckled arms
and ugly hands lay in the brown lap of my skirt. My rough hands with
their big knuckles and broken nails. The gold band loose around my wedding finger. My bloodless arms limp in my lap. Light freckles spattered on
the flesh of my arms and hands, and underneath. Speckled white flesh.
At the stream fungi grow, fungi with smooth, white bellies as flat as
mine, facing the ground. One brown stick could write a brown name on a
fungus. Leave it alone. Leave me alone.
Beside the creek I lay among the ferns and violets and mauve bleeding
hearts. For my head I had a mossy pillow on a log. I looked up to a latticework sky of pale green vine maples and distant blue. The vine maples
weaved and waved, soft palms turning outspread, fine green webs
against skeletal fingers. Webbed child's hands, grey wrists. I closed my
eyes and saw them still, saw them still against my dark inside eye. And
watched as they turned to brown, dead, falling, lifeless leaves to the
ground,  into the dirt,  compost,  earthbound to earth.  Grey wrists.
11 Scared, I opened my eyes and was dazzled, pain of light in my eyes, and I
shut them again to the blaze against black inside. Then I turned my head
and opened slowly to the earth, to the anemic, fragile stems of the bleeding hearts, to the hearty yellow violets, to the tiny brown spores lined up
on the underside of each frond of fern. I could smell the black stream's
earth, rich fertile soil, pushed to the side, to the banks, while the clear
water rushed weakly over rocks and pebbles in the stream. Black rich
earth wet and soft under me.
My cheek touched the earth My other cheek was warm from the
speckled sunlight. Bleeding hearts. Bleeding. Tear half the heart away,
and inside is the princess, in her pale royal cape. Mauve shroud and pink
mantle; pink lady's cape. Tear off her clothes. Tear off her clothes and—
I rolled my head back straight up and shut my eyes again. Girlie, my father said. Go away, I whispered. Girlie. Go away. The smell of leaves
and stream, the smell of earth, the spattered sun's warmth on my whole
face.
I spread my arms out in the earth, and then my legs. No one could see
me there. No one comes there. Girlie, girlie. He won't go away.
I heard my husband, I heard my husband Pete calling from far away, and I
rolled over and perched my chin on the moss covered log. I can't, Pete. I
can't. Boys, my father said. Keep away from those boys, girlie. Do you understand me? Later I heard Pete call some more, and I came up, came up
over the edge of the ravine. Pete, wanting to be real husband, wanting
me to be real wife.
His face was furrowed. His rough hands waved uselessly in the air. He
stood there with hands empty and reaching. He told me my father died.
In the Home they let me, finally, sit by myself in the waiting room. I sat
there at the end of the hall every day. Watching in case. Windows looked
out on the drive, down the drive to the wrought iron gate, to the road he
would travel if he came to get me. Time went away and came back, went
away and came back. At the Home they told me I could go when I felt
ready. I was never ready. Though he never came, I could never be sure.
Every second afternoon Pete came down the hall, pushing the floor
polisher in large sweeping arcs. Back and forth across the dark green
hall, leaving a gleam in his wake, arcs of shiny floor. On the in-between
days I'd forget and look for him, craning my neck out the back of the
couch.
12 My father stood behind me, one hand clamped on each of my shoulders.
Pulled my shoulders back until my shoulder blades were closed wings,
and reached in my shirt with one hand. Say, you're getting titties. Tweaked
me. You don't let nobody see them, now, he warned. Keep away from those
goddam boys.
I went behind the garage, went and crouched down in the dying grass.
Crouched down with knees pressed to chest. From my cloth drawstring
bag I drew out two work socks. From inside one of the work socks,
wrapped in Kleenex, I drew the razor blade. Bits of his beard still clung to
the edges. I wiped the blade on my dress against my knee.
He found me in the crimson grass. Jesus fucking Christ. Wrapped my
wrists in tea towels and took me into town. Took me to the Home and left
me there. And every second day, Pete swung the brushing polisher down
the dark green hall.
Sometimes he left the polisher, and went out the glass front doors.
Stood just outside, and rolled himself a smoke. Reached into his white
overalls for his tobacco pouch and his cigarette papers. Yellow cat package. One flimsy frail paper held in his hand, rich brown tobacco sprinkled
into a white tissue rut. Carefully he lifted the paper in two rough hands,
and a sliver of pink tongue touched the white, then fingers rolled and
tightened, He struck a wooden match on the leg of his coveralls and a
flash of flame lit the cigarette. I watched him. I watched the fire in the
glass. He'd look up at me through the plate glass window over the flame.
Then he'd wink. I'd bow my head. Bow my head and press my hands
against the cold vinyl couch.
He didn't ask about the red marks.
Don't touch me, Pete.
Amy dear—
Don't touch me.
Dear.
Love me. Leave me alone.
After some time, he came and sat beside me on the couch. Didn't talk.
Just was nice. Then he came after work and signed me out for walks.
Around and around the fence we went, inside the fence and then outside
the fence. We didn't talk; we just walked together. Then we got farther
and farther away, in his pickup truck, his pickmeup truck, he said. Where
would you like to go today? the Sundays always started. I don't know, I
said. Just away. More Sundays and he'd say goin' my way? and I nodded
sure and smiled because he didn't touch me. And the gear shift rattled
and bumped against his knee and my right knee was always cold against
the window roller and my face half against the cold pane watching fence
13 posts telephone poles and cows and grain go by and half in the warm air of
the truck and his warm words and whistling. Away away. Away from
here and my father.
Then he was away all week, and didn't shine the floors, and I sat alone
on the couch, but he came on Sunday. He was sad when he said goin' my
way? He'd got laid off and I said I'm goin' your way, don't go, don't go
without me. He said okey dokey, we'll go. And he said all solemn Amy,
will you marry me then, and I pressed hard against the door and I couldn't
breathe and I whispered no no I can't, please, I can't, but don't go without
me please don't leave me here. We stopped by the side of the road.
That's when I saw the calf. Pete sat beside me and rolled a cigarette with
his careful hands and lit it and blew smoke out the window and then he
said well hell, we'll get married in our own darn way, won't we Amy? And
we'll go west and what the hell will anyone know or care about papers and
bull-oney, okay? And then he saved the calf and brought me the bulrush. I
love you, Amy, he said. Whatever it takes is fine with me, he said.
Whatever it takes. Deal?
On the day my father died the cool dark of the wooden larder washed
over me and calmed, and why not crouch here, I thought, why not crouch
here like a little brown mole in the earthy smell. Crouch among the sacks
of onions and potatoes, dirty burlap bags rough and fibre smelling. I
thought how being in here is what it must be like being buried. Earth. I
crawled over to the slice of light from the door and closed the door tight.
Dank earth, chill. I was a mole in that room. A furry brown mole.
Then I saw maggot gleams of white in the dark sack beside me.
Potatoes. Sightless white shoots crawled out of their eyes, appeared in
the night, grew and grew without light, and shone in the darkness. My father's brain is full of maggots, I thought. He eyes are crawling with bugs.
His mouth is full of dirt and he will never yell at me again. I tried to know
it was true. I tried to know and couldn't. His hands have no more skin, I
said. Girlie, he said. He will never touch me again. Girlie. I shook, and he
wouldn't go away. He said, You, girlie. I couldn't believe he was dead.
The stucco on the house did not sparkle.
Amy. For the last time open the goddam door or I'm getting the goddam
axe out.
I looked in the dark in surprise. Pete's voice was so close. His voice
was angry. He is never angry. I let him in. His hands were shaking.
Why'd you lock this door? Amy? Why'd you lock the door?
I-
Don't lock this door. Don't lock this door. Ever. Do you understand?
14 Do you understand me? He is very angry, but his eyes are filled with
tears.
Outside the next morning the sky was turning grey. As I watched the sky
I felt the ominous thrills begin to churn within me as the whorls of darkening grey clouds formed outside. Fold in egg whites. Fold in grey as grey.
Churn and turn and twist. Stay inside for the rest of the day, dear, Pete
said at the bedroom door. Stay inside out of the cold and damp. You'll
catch your death.
You'll catch your death, your death, I said in my head. I moved over
into his warm spot when I was sure he'd gone. You'll catch your death by
the foot. By the neck. By the neck. Wring their necks and hang them on
the line.
I have to feed my chickens, I said.
The stucco on the house did not sparkle. I went to the coop. I unwound
the hayrope from the broken latch; I shivered. Wake up, chookie chooks.
Wake up, chookies. The hens heard the squeak of the hinges. Cackled
company in the straw nests. Bare yellow lightbulb unable to send light
and warmth to the corners. Almost visible far reaches, the farthest it
carried. Dark and cold corners and edges. Brown banty feathers puffed
up, throaty condolences to each other in the pale yolk light. Soft cackles.
Steal our babies; yes. Steal our babies; yes. I have done it often. I have
done it every day, so they must be accustomed. Accustomed.
I gently pushed my hand underneath a feathered brown chest, chilled
outdoor hand under warm covert where the new egg rests. I withdrew
my hand, clutching the warm oval, and didn't look in her eye. Moved on
to the next one. Every day I come with my hand for your egg. Every day.
No babies for you, chookie chook. No babies.
The warm eggs huddled in the brown wicker basket, and I stole out the
door. I'll be back to feed you, I said. Their wary eyes watched. I walked
slowly back to the house, squishing every step, through into the porch,
left to the larder door. I swung it open, and entered the cool wooden dark
again. Jars of jam, jars of canned fruits and vegetables gleamed. A faint
shine of light against the glass, just enough to show they're there. On the
lower wooden shelves belong bread, and mushrooms in a box. And eggs.
I placed the basket of eggs on the shelf.
That night the sky burst and I went to the storm's crashing in the middle
of the night. The rain ticked against the window. The world darkened. In
my bed I heard an enormous crash. I cupped my hands and I peered out
15 the window. I saw a thousand tiny birds who couldn't see coming blindly,
gladly driven against the glass. Stunned after initial smacks against the
panes mad rivulets coursed down. The line of firs by the fence in a furious
dance against the gleam grey sky.
I was right. Next day or the next a big blue truck came up the driveway
and brought his trunk. I saw it turn in, and I hid in the laurel against the
house. I carefully turned around, and around again like a cat, and sat
against the house, my back jammed against the stucco. I whispered no
take it away. Don't let him, Pete, don't let him.
Amy? Where are you? Where do you want this trunk? Nowhere, I
whispered. Take it away, take him away.
I don't know where she wants it. Amy? Where are you?
The stucco dented my hands. Bits of clear and green and brown glass
made tiny bites in my flesh. Now I will have dents all over my back, tiny
dents all over, like the lady in the accident. The accident at the store
corner when they changed the stop signs around. A huge big crash and I
wouldn't go but Pete went to help, and came back so serious. A woman
with a broken back. And a woman who was all right except the back
window shattered into a million little pieces and the car rolled and her
back was embedded, her back a sharp carpet of prisms. Or a great big
brooch. A brooch like my turtle one with green stones in his back and
eye. There was a dead man then, too.
The truck drove away and I pulled away from the house. There were
tiny tearing noises from my dress as I leaned forward. I looked up
through the tiny shiny green leaves into the blue and cloudy sky, and
made patterns in the dirt with my fingers. Girlie. Girlie. Now he was
here.
Amy? Where are you? No. She won't come, he said low to himself. His
hands went up in the air and fell down at his sides. He shook his head and
walked away behind the house.
Then I came out. I circled the trunk. I circled the broad black daylight
trunk but I didn't get too close. Around and around and around I went.
Pete made me jump. He had hayropes in his hands. Guess I'll haul it up in
the attic, he said.
He dragged and bumped through the bedroom to the narrow blue
stairs. Up it went, up over my head. Pete dragged it up by the hayropes
bump bump bump he backed and pulled up the stairs, and I followed.
Amy? Where should I put it?
16 By the window. So there's light. Just leave it there, now. Just leave it
now. Now. Now.
I figured Pete must have got to the store. I went into the house past the
larder, into the kitchen. I took a hammer with me. I catwalked through
the bedroom, up the narrow blue stairs to the trunk.
The trunk was under the cobwebbed window.
It was solid and black and leather.
It had wooden slats. Leather straps. All scratched, all old, solid, ancient hunk. The hayropes folded on top. Someone folded the hayropes on
top.
Out the dusty attic window I could see fragments of the Chevron gas
station sign at the store far far away through the corner trees. Red,
white, and blue. Red white and blue.
By now Pete would be in the store, at the back, talking to the man, her
husband. In the butcher section, behind the glass and white enamel
showcase full of bloody meat and white rubbery chickens decorated with
fake parsley. There is fake green grass around the edges.
A huge pig was on the kitchen table when I came home from school. A
huge pig was on the kitchen table. A pale, bloodless dead pig. Its head
hung over the flowered oilcloth, pig throat gaping and raw.
How's this for pork, girlie? Eh?
I stared.
Got it from Fred Barnbard. Traded him. Straight across. Even gutted
her for me. Kept the piglets for himself though. Those tender little morsels, eh girlie? Girlie?
I couldn't shut my eyes.
Put down them books and help me cut her up. Here's a knife, girlie.
I ran from the room, ran across the field, knowing he watched me, was
coming after me and I couldn't get away had to get away couldn't. Knowing he yelled, furious, from the door. Ran and ran to the copse of birch,
and crumpled beside a tree and cried and he strode after me and stood
over me and I cried to the ominous shadow Please not the pig. Please not
the big mama pig.
By the forearm grabbed and clenched and pulled up to my feet and
dragged back to the house.
Take this goddam knife and help me with this sow or you'll be up on the
table with her.
17 Pete came home from town that day with a new jacket and a great big
paper bag moist around the bottom. The day of the sale at Saan's. A Saturday.
Got a real treat for you, Amy. Lookee here! He sounded so pleased.
I looked. I was too startled to move. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to
fall down. I held my stomach.
I got ten pounds of them, Amy! Ten pounds for next to nothing! Ben
Oddleifson offered them to me. Met him in the Saan's store where I got
this here jacket, too.
He heaped the links of pale ground flesh, endless chains of white flesh
on the kitchen table. I ran. I ran and threw up, sat rocking crouched behind the closed bathroom door and cried at the pale sausage bellies.
Amy. Bewildered. He knocked at the door and his voice was helpless.
Amy. What's got into you now? What's the matter with a few sausages?
Maybe he could hear that baby crying from their apartment. Maybe he
could hear it. Poor baby. Poor dear baby with a mother like that.
He is always covered with blood, that store man. Dried blood or fresh
blood. Blood on him. Always. He'd be a nice man, if it weren't for the
blood.
The floor squeaked as I crossed to the trunk. I heard my father when I
touched the lid of the trunk, I heard him tell me to keep away from what
isn't my business, and this, my girl, isn't your business. Yes father. He
came here when I thought he couldn't. He travelled here, and here I
heard him in my attic. Boys, my father said. Boys. You watch out for them,
girlie, he said, and sliced that mama pig open. I bashed the metal lock
with the hammer, bashing and bashing until the lock was flat and crushed
and fell all apart.
I knelt, and I put the hammer down beside me, and spread my arms
and grasped the trunk at each corner. Girlie girlie girlie screaming and I
covered my ear with one hand and fumbled with the other, I lifted the lid.
I open my father's big trunk, with its wide leather straps, and its broken
lock.
I drop the lid as soon as I see.
Got your skizzers handy? Go get your book, he screams. Got your skiz-
zers handy? Go get your book.
Three of the scrapbooks are right on top. He kept them.
Boys, my father said. Boys. You watch out for them, girlie, he said.
Every Tuesday the weekend newspaper came in the mail. My father
carried it up the driveway rolled up like a club. He teased the dog, beating
her around the head with it. Then every Tuesday he sat down at the
18 kitchen table with it and said Here's a good one, Amy. Here's a good one
for you. And he'd fold over the paper and say Got your skizzers handy?
Got your skizzers handy, Amy girl? Go get your book.
Boys, my father said. Boys. You watch out for them, girlie.
And when one book was full, I hoped that would be all, but then he
brought me another book. I filled it. And another.
Girlie, Girlie, come here.
I covered both ears with my hands and tried to rock away his voice. It
doesn't matter, I told myself. It doesn't matter at all. He is dead. He is
dead. He is dead. See what else is in there. I lifted the lid again. I stared
at the books. They lay innocently there. Gingerly I touched them. Are
my child's handprints still on them? Small fingerprints on the covers, on
the pages? I piled the three on top of each other, and placed them on the
floor beside me. I pushed them farther away from me and looked back
into the truck. At first my eyes would not work. They glazed, they
ached, they would not focus. Then I could see that there were a lot of old
clothes. The uniform I knew was in there. And an old black suit. Two
white shirts with cardboard down their backs. Under those, a woman's
white satin peignoir set, yellowing ivory, smooth and lace trimmed. And
three photographs. A picture of him, young, dressed up maybe in this
suit, standing on the front porch. A picture of him with me. I almost came
off the ground as I dangled from his hand. His hand held mine so hard my
arm pulsed. The other one I had never seen before, but I knew who it
was right away. He said there was no picture. He was a liar. The picture
is black and white, but I remembered she had red hair like me. She had
blue eyes like me. I am her daughter, not his. There in the attic we
looked at each other with love. When I turned her picture over, tiny
slivers of glass fell out into my hands and onto my lap.
My mother gave me yellow chickens on a wood platform. The chickens
had red feet and beaks. A ball was suspended below, and strings from the
chickens made the chickens hop up and down and peck for food. I put
cornmeal on it for them. And then she was gone. A hazy yellow space of
absence, of change. Then there was just him. Just him, and me, and real
chickens.
His face breathed at me. His hand was a vice that held my face and
squeezed to his words. Don't You Ever. Say. Anything. About. That
Fucking Bitch. Your Mother. Again. Got It?
Amy?
Too much time went by. I hadn't heard Pete come back from the store.
I had forgotten to watch out the window. I hadn't heard him climb the
stairs. Hadn't heard him come up beside me, and I jumped, but I didn't
19 have time before he picked the first one up.
Don't-
What's this? You didn't tell me you kept a
Don't look at it keep away sirens and sounds and screaming don't touch
it stop it
scrapbook when you were a girl.
I bowed my head and held her picture to my chest. I was shaking and
trembling teeth chatter no no don't look no don't touch me. But Pete
wasn't seeing, wasn't hearing, and he opened the scrapbook. He looked
puzzled. He turned the pages. And more pages. He saw the pictures of
the bodies with white sheets over them, lying on the ground. Saw the
headlines, "Sex Crime," saw "Seven Nurses Slaughtered," saw "Rapist
Dismembers His Victim," saw "City in Terror as Rapist Stalks." And his
breath sucked in.
Good God, Amy! What is this?
My head was bowed and I held my mother and I shook.
Amy?
What is this. What is it. It is a scrapbook, I said.
A scrapbook he whispered. He sounded numb.
He sounded numb. His face was white. Sweet Jesus Christ. I haven't
known half of it, have I?
I held my mother.
Oh God. Pete's laugh was a groan, was deep.
He stood beside me, stood beside me as if he were fighting with our
wall, wanting past. I tried to stand up. He had to help me. His hands
gripped my wrists and I rose. When I stood, the slivers of glass fell from
my skirt and tinkled onto the floor. I clutched my mother's picture.
Pete shook. He threw the scrapbooks back into the trunk. We stood
side by side and stared down at the happy covers. On one cover was a
picture of a little girl, about six years old, with blonde curly hair, sitting on
her palomino. She had a red and white checkered shirt. She had curly
hair. On another was a little girl with long dark braids and a straw hat.
The third was a redhead, like me. Pete slammed down the lid to keep
them in. He buckled the leather straps. Jesus have mercy, he said.
We sat side by side on the trunk, with the space between us. I felt the
air move in and out.
My poor Amy. Amy, I'm so sorry, so very very sorry.
It's not your fault, I whispered. You didn't do anything.
I always cut carefully along the edges of the articles. I never went over
the edges. I made little circles of scotch tape, one for the back of each
corner, and placed the clippings straight on the pages.
20 Nice work, he said. You're learning, girlie. You done real good on that
one.
Now read it to your papa.
I don't want to.
You read it, and you read it good. You gotta learn.
Beside me Pete whispered I love you I love you into the moted sunlight
coming through the dirty attic windows. Everything was full of dust, and
the beams reached and touched the dusty floor. There were spider webs
in the window, but no spiders. Girlie girlie, I heard my father whisper.
Love, Pete whispered. He was in his own arms. Love. I never knew.
Sweet Jesus I never knew.
And I reached over, I reached over and put my hand on his poor leg.
That's all right, dear, I said. And I watched him as he slowly, slowly,
lowered his hand over onto mine.
This morning Pete put up a trellis. I watched out the window. I saw the
nails in his mouth. I saw them wobble as he thought with his mouth. I
imagined what it would be like to be those nails. I would try to be a spike,
if I were a nail between his lips. A big cold spike that could feel the soft
wetness of his lips and tongue as it rolled over me.
I pretended I was the nails in his mouth. I felt his lips and his tongue. I
felt the sure roughness of his hand as he took me out of his mouth,
steadied me against the wooden trellis, steadied me until with his other
hand he drove me into the trellis, in through to the dry old beam of the
house.
The trellis is for purple clemetis to climb, the purple clemetis Pete
bought me in town this morning.
This afternoon I went down to the creek and blessed the green and
blue watered plant of a day. I lay down and closed my eyes and felt the
black richness take me, this cutting, take me and grow me. I wrenched
the new sprouts of maples from the earth, I yanked off leaves that tickled
my arms or got in my smoothing way. I kicked my legs out and in, my
arms out and in, my head bang banged and indented the earth.
I loosened and listened for a long time. I heard my panting. I could feel
the dirt drying on my arms, in my panties, felt it against my thighs,
knees, in my shoes. My white freckled arms were painted with black
smears. Dirt caked solid under my nails. White runners packed with mud.
Still the sunlight speckled through the leaves, through the vine maples
onto the flowers, the ferns, and me.
21 Tonight I crawled into bed. I placed a cold foot on Pete's calf. Mm? he
said, and stirred. I could feel that his eyes opened. I slid, I slipped over
closer, and warmed myself against his warm back.
Tonight we had a bonfire. The biggest bonfire. We burned ghosts, my
husband and I. They flashed like burning paper and flew fused with smoke
away.
In the field the rain sizzled onto the burning pile out in the field. Out in
the field where the dog bones are buried.
22 Chaste
Michael C. Kenyon
Sometimes you think there's not enough time, or no time to spare.
Then there's too much time, you don't know what to do with it.
Here I am, it's the end of summer, the sprinklers, the crowd, the
trees.
"Dad's never disappeared like this before," says my daughter. She's
such a worrier. Although I agree with her that it's probably a good idea to
keep leaving messages wherever we go—Glendale, Bishop Cridge, the
hospital—I don't think we're justified in taking taxicabs. The rental bus
carrying the rest of the singers is not really slow, never more than half an
hour late. I don't understand her panic to arrive everywhere exactly on
time.
My husband was supposed to drive us, but he's vanished into thin air.
Gets me mad, Helen's fretting, does no good. He'll show up soon now
I'm very sure, he knows our itinerary. If Helen would only shut up I could
think. I'd remember something he said to me, some plan of his, some
clue. Perhaps he had a headache and has gone back to Helen and Alex's.
Next booth we see I'll ask the driver to stop. Helen treats the cabbie like
an untrustworthy servant, the same way she treated the nurses and orderlies. I expect she's picked up the habit from Alex. He was born into
that world of servants, if that's an excuse, but she wasn't. When I think of
telling her off I don't know where to begin.
We sang a lot of hymns at the hospital—they wanted hymns, not show
tunes—but I've still got Good Night, Irene going round in my head. Good
night, Irene, good night, Irene—
"What's that, Mother?"
"Nothing. Just mumbling."
Somewhere there's a quiet place with a comfy chair and he's there,
looking up in mild surprise at all the fuss, ready to explain why he disappeared. Soon Helen and I and her choir will sing the last of the songs,
and we'll be able to go home, meaning to Helen's big fancy house. It's inevitable.
Well my husband has not materialized. So I swim lengths and lengths of
the family pool beside the tennis court. I've always been a strong swim-
23 mer. A long time ago I was the first girl to swim round Kootenay lake in
December. I said I'd do it and I did. I have a newspaper clipping to prove
it. Glynis Tilley was my name before I married. Now it's Glynis Arnason.
I said I'd stay always with my husband and I have. Forty-three years.
My grandson Greg Martinet is twelve years old, big for his age, and his
father is teaching him to drive. The lesson was planned a week ago and
Alex thinks it best to pretend nothing is wrong, at least for today. Helen
and I look on from the veranda. We've just called the police. My skin
smells of chlorine. We're drinking brandy. Helen's face turns toward me
slow as an owl's and I'm lying again by Piet's side, upstairs in bed, listening with every nerve.
"Mom, are you all right?"
"Why must Alex teach Greg to drive—he's too young. He looks terrified. "
Helen sips from her big round glass. "Alex learned when he was that
age. Greg's scared of everything. If he learns how simple it is to drive a
car. ..."
We stand together at the veranda railing. I want to be friends, I want to
talk of how parents can be wrong about their children. Ordinary conversation seems impossible now with Piet gone, pointless. There's been
a family accident and I've been thrown clear. I feel calm and as transparent as this beautiful snifter, completely strong. But I've no warmth to
spare. I close my eyes and see Piet walking up the driveway toward the
house. He's young again, he's carrying a suitcase, he'll want to make love
because he's been away, and I don't want to make love, not when I feel
so perfect—but now, seeing Piet, I feel guilty, almost as though I've been
unfaithful-
Greg releases the clutch too fast, the car stalls. He looks defeated.
Alex, stiff as a board in the passenger seat, shrugs in our direction.
They're like a comedy team in this odd warm light.
"Of course Greg is too young," says Helen. "I've never been sure
about pushing him like this. Alex is sure though. And Greg does seem
more confident."
After a late supper, I'm weary of Helen's what t/s and Alex's don't let's
jump to conclusions and I'm finding it difficult to concentrate. "I'm tired.
I'm going to bed," I tell them. "You can stay by the telephone and worry,
if you like."
"I'm sure everything's fine, Mom," says Alex.
Upstairs I peep at my sleeping girl, my granddaughter, cross the hall to
Piet's and my room, undress and crawl under the covers. I read for a few
minutes, then lie on my side in bed and watch through my door the black
space of Sheila's upper doorway. Listen! She's breathing, so'm I. I should
24 be worried sick, but I'm not. At this moment I experience loss the way a
five-year-old would: I don't believe in it.
"It is not always easy to tell the difference between thinking and looking out of the window." That's a line I read in Wallace Stevens' letters. It
tickles me. Does Alex always practice this late? I hear the bounce of a
tennis ball between board and racquet. Whack. Experience. Ping. Loss.
Thud. At any moment it's possible for any child to love any person. You
just have to provide the right situation, the right ingredients. I've had lots
of experiences, many losses. Alex has had lights installed round the
court. He had to show them off first thing when we arrived. Ripples from
the pool across my ceiling. Every so often the curtain blows right into the
room; every now and then the ball hits the wire fence. I'm sleepy. Piet,
where are you? Tennis angels above me lock fingers in the mesh. My
dear. A flock of gulls crying overhead. Late for birds, too.
"Can I have a glass of water?" Sheila wakes us all in the middle of the
night. Alex Martinet, my son-in-law, stands in my bedroom doorway in
his underwear.
"What we need," he says, "is a good detective. A good detective, yes,
and to get hold of any friends of Piet's who might be living in the area.
Any that Mom's not thought of. Maybe a business acquaintance?"
"What has become of him?" Helen enters to say. She's actually wringing her hands. "People can't vanish. He couldn't have run away. I mean
he couldn't, could he? Mom?"
"He's not a teenager," I tell the silhouettes. "He's firm of mind, steady
of purpose. But maybe yes. Perhaps that's just what he's done."
"But aren't you worried?" Helen asks.
"I want grampa. I want grampa."
"Sheely, go to sleep," says Alex. "You'll see him soon, I promise."
They both take a step into my room. "Helen's right, you must be
worried. Maybe we all should take a sleeping pill. I know I haven't slept a
wink. Tomorrow we'll get organized. OK, Helen? OK, Mom?"
"OK."
"Are you crying?" says Helen.
"No."
"You are. Alex, she's crying." And Helen begins to sob, there in my
bedroom in the dark my daughter is crying in her husband's arms.
"I'm fine." I say, "Fine. Now go on back to bed, you two."
"I feel so helpless," says Helen. "What can we do, Alex?"
"We probably know something, one of us probably knows something
that would prove helpful, but it's not easy to put it all together. We're
nervous and overtired, we have suspicions—"
"This nonsense is not helping anyone." I have to stop him. Helen's
25 snuffling is getting worse. "I'm quite able to sleep, I don't want a pill.
Good night."
Of course! what we need is a good detective. A good detective, yes,
and to get to the bottom of this. Alex will make everybody tell when they
last saw Piet, what their last conversation with him was about. Did he
seem upset? Was he acting strange? He will add it all up, no doubt, it's an
interesting puzzle. Piet. Where are you, dear? I know you're not dead,
not hurt. What has this to do with me? What does it meau? Is there anything of you that is not of us? We're almost the same person. Listen to
that wind. I know something, but it's not clear what I know. Except it's
not a trick. You're a simple man, not capable of trickery. Are you capable
of abnormal behaviour? We made love again, after years of abstinence, in
this very bed. Should I tell Alex and Helen? Is it significant? They'll think
it alarming, or think there's another woman. They'll trot out theories like
crooks inventing alibis. "Where were you the day grampa disappeared?"
They'll assemble a mountain of facts, a brigade of detectives, diviners,
and I'm falling asleep, g'night love.
It's interrogation Monday, and we've been grilled, and what we've
learned amounts to this. All Saturday we ate the same food, shared the
same water, kids were splashing in the pool, they were our kids, our
kids' kids, it was our annual Labour Day weekend reunion, we spent no
money, we ate outside, it felt like our moment. Everyone agrees we had
a wonderful time. They think they can speak for Grandad. Alex remembers you saying, "It's a real shame it couldn't last all year," isn't that silly,
but you know it sounds like something you would say. What I can't stop
thinking, what it comes down to, what we shouldn't forget is we were
pretty happy. So how could what happened have happened? how does
anything happeu? Has anything happened?
We drove down for the long weekend, we arrived Friday night, were
to have returned Tuesday, tomorrow, after walking Sheila to her first day
of kindergarten, after seeing Greg off on the bus to his boarding school.
You know all this as well as I. What you don't know is the wind has left
the pool scattered with bright rowan berries and first autumn leaves. Friday and Saturday nights we made love—for slow hours it felt like—in the
dark, in the mild September bug-free air from the open window. You
know this, too. We could smell the sea as we fell asleep. And it was delicious, both nights. I've never felt closer to anyone in my life. I wouldn't
want to go back in time, I wouldn't go back over the years we've spent
together. No, as lovely as they often were, I wouldn't go back to those
times. But I will return to these past nights in our daughter's house. The
26 big house, the big bed groaning the first, the second night; then last
night, me alone on my back in the middle of the bed, feet and hands at
each corner, for four hours of dreamless sleep, a melodramatic intermission, and four more hours of dreamless sleep. The breeze kept me cool,
and I didn't budge an inch till morning.
The starlings are still busy in your singing tree. This morning I walked
the same route we walked Sunday morning, before we were to help
Helen do her "Charity rondelet" as you put it. The same dabchick families
strutted the same mudflats down to the water. But I didn't recognize anywhere the silent tree, there are too many quiet trees.
Friday night we dropped to sleep immediately after making love. Saturday, however, we stayed awake a while. We talked over the day, how
nice it had been, we talked of how middleclass, how acquisitive our
daughter had become.
"Alex is a prominent citizen," you said.
"Yes, he is. Is and ever will be."
"They seem afraid, somehow," you said.
"We're not afraid, are we?"
"No."
"Do you understand me if I say I feel so good?"
"I feel quiet," you said. "It's late. Did you hear the owl?"
"Yes."
"He stopped when we did?"
"She stopped."
"She stopped."
"I'm drifting, love, going to sleep now."
"I wonder why we're not afraid," you said. "D'you think it's because
we're old? And no need for us to ask, about this, What happened, is
there? No need for us to ask What was that, what did you want, what did
I, what did we do. In effect nothing has changed. But. ..."
"Sleep, Piet, sleep."
You were right, Alex is, no, both are afraid. Helen and Alex only think
they're concerned about your disappearance. In fact it gives them something to focus their fear on. It's another convenient mystery. I heard Alex
on the phone this morning tell his tennis partner they wouldn't be able to
play today because his father-in-law is missing. The big phony deep
voice. And Helen, red-eyed, eating nothing at breakfast. Shushing the
kids. They can't help it, but they're enjoying themselves. I must find a
way to say stop. What we need is not a good detective. Everybody told
their story, each member of the family has told their story and the facts
27 have been added up. We don't need the police. It seems to me they want
murder or something awful to have happened. Helen says it's her way of
dealing with the world. She must think the worst, she says, she has to
imagine every possible scenario.
"Scenario," I said.
"Mother," Helen warned.
"Well you know how I detest that word."
"Come on you two," said Alex. "I'm trying to talk to an operator."
"How can you cope with anything without eating?" I whispered.
"That's right, Mother, I'm not hungry. It's a normal physiological reaction to shock."
But it's sinister, Helen not eating while I'm ravenous. And the way
they all watch me. As if Helen and Alex and even the kids want me to
swallow dreadful possibilities. Piet Arnason, why couldn't you have disappeared at home?
The train whistle. When did I notice it before? Clouds have rolled
across the sky this afternoon. We heard some thunder earlier and now
it's raining. I find it difficult to place events in any kind of order. Yesterday time started growing and it hasn't stopped. You were to drive the car
into town and meet us in the flower shop at The Bay. The kids are swimming in the rain, while Helen and Alex and I stay by the phone. I wonder
if it's raining back home. It will keep the dust down, will wash the leaves.
Alex has the phone to his ear a lot of the time. He's calling Alberta, calling
the Kootenays, calling Vancouver. From a quarter to till a quarter past
each hour he hangs up, folds his arms and waits for incoming calls. The
train whistle. The train whistle. It's stuffy in here, even with the window
open. It isn't easy to tell the difference between thinking and staring out.
Rain hisses on the surface of the pool. Helen wears a shawl and has situated herself behind the curtain so she can shoot glances at Sheila and
Greg who look like they're doing water ballet. What about that horn?
Sweetheart, sweetheart, what I wanted to remember, the train whistle. I
did dream. I dreamed of you as an ape man, you were crazy, crying like a
saxophone, you thought you'd lost me, but I was with you, we were in
the jungle, you were looking for me everywhere, but my body was glued
to your furry back as you ran and ran.
So here we are after dark at the post-modem kitchen table drinking
single malt scotch. I won't let them pull the blinds and turn on the fluores-
cents. Greg and Sheila watch tv in the next room. Weird lights flash
beneath the kitchen door. Marsh gas. I want to go home.
"But we know he's not gone home," says Alex. "The police have
checked your house more than once."
28 "I can't bear to think of you driving alone," says Helen. "If you must go
back—and I think it's crazy—if you must go, then I'll come with you."
"We're doing everything we can," says Alex. "All our contacts have
this number. It's just a matter of time. Someone will turn up something."
"Maybe you don't feel upset," says Helen. "But I know you well
enough to know you're suppressing it. At home you'll have some kind of
delayed reaction. You know you will. You'll get sick, then I'll have to
come look after you."
"And," says Alex. "I don't want to be bleak, but we must be realistic, if
something, well, if something unfortunate has happened, well I don't
know, let's just assume— I mean I wouldn't be able to tell you over the
phone, if you were— You'd want to be with your own— Of course if
you're dead set on leaving us—"
"Can't you see it would be selfish, Mom?" says Helen.
"Oh, I don't think we can use words like that here," says Alex.
"Won't you at least say why it is you want to go home?" Helen asks.
"Is it me?"
"We can give you Greg's room tomorrow," says Alex. "You'll have all
the privacy you want."
"Shut up a sec and let her answer, Alex," says Helen. "Is it me? You
can't stand being around me?"
"Helen," says Alex.
"Just be quiet," says Helen. "This is between Mom and me. You don't
know anything about this."
"Maybe I should leave the room," says Alex.
"Good idea," says Helen.
There's the sound of gunfire from the tv room. I'm hungry again. Alex
refills our glasses. Rain has squashed the huge-headed begonias that circle the pool.
"It's you I'm thinking of," says Helen. "You and Dad."
"Turn down that racket!" Alex yells. "We're trying to talk in here!" He
stands up, sits again. "Listen," he says, "if you ladies would feel better
alone here, I mean if I'm in the way, just say the word. I only want to
help. I just thought I was easing the load, you know, taking care of the
phone calls and so on, the investigation. I figured you wouldn't have to do
a thing. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you need to feel you're actively looking for Piet. Is that right, Mom? If I'm in the way, you know, taking over,
say the word. I'll steer clear. I've lots of work at the office, I don't need
to spend time doing this. It's just I'm concerned, Mom, I really am. It's so
damned strange and all. What I say, then, is stay with us. Let us know
what you want us to do—"
"Please, Alex," says Helen. "That's very nice, but you're repeating
29 yourself. We appreciate what you're doing. Honestly. But honey, I think
Mom and I really need to talk."
"I'll leave you two, then," says Alex. "Think about what I said. Let me
know. I'm concerned. I'm just as concerned about you, Mom, as I am
about Piet," he says. "I love you guys," he says. He stands up and opens
the kitchen door. A lot of trebly tv voices are talking at once.
"Dad?" asks Greg, "What's a chastity belt?"
"What're you watching in here?" Alex says. He crosses the room and
puts himself between us and the screen.
Helen says, "Mom, we've got to talk about you and Dad." She says,
"There's something you're not telling me, isn't there?"
"What's chastity?" says Sheila.
"Go clean your teeth and put on your pjs," says Alex, switching off the
set. "If you're in bed fast I'll tell you a dragon story. Away you go." He
says to Greg, "No more wisecracks out of you. Go get your packing finished."
Alex comes back to the kitchen and sits down again.
"Christ," says Helen. "Christ Christ Christ—"
The phone rings, Alex picks it up. "Hello? This is Martinet speaking.
Yes? Arnason, right. The son-in-law. Yes, she's here. She's right here,
but. ... One moment... It's the Nanaimo police, Mom. I can handle it if
you want."
I shake my head, reach for the phone. They think I won't be able to
speak.
"Yes?" I say. Helen mouths Nanaimo? at Alex, who puts his arm
round her and holds tight. Suddenly she looks eleven years old and my
eyes feel hot. Nanaimo, I'm thinking, what a strange word. Nanaimo.
And it's a hundred miles away. Not jungle, but rain forest.
A body has been found, it seems, the body of a man answering the description of my husband. They want to know about the gold ring.
"Yes," I say.
And a birthmark.
"Yes," I say.
A badly scarred right forefinger.
"Yes, "I say.
The faces of my daughter and her husband loom across the table, full of
worry. I don't know what my face is doing. Sheila arrives in the doorway,
fresh and clean, each hand clutching a sheet of paper with a drawing. The
man at the other end of the line is saying appropriately sad things. He explains that foul play is not suspected. He says it was likely a heart attack
and a fall, or a fall and a heart attack. Finally, he asks would I be able to go
to Nanaimo tomorrow, would tomorrow be all right for the official identi-
30 fication. Helen looks white and stricken. I want to take her in my arms.
As I hang up, Mex is hustling Sheila from the room.
"Alex, wait," I say. "She wants to show me something."
"It's Grandad," Sheila says, scrambling to my side. She holds up the
faces she has drawn and coloured. The faces smile. Sheila is smiling. She
smells of soap and toothpaste. And she has done your eyes just right.
31 Dick Und Jane
Norbert Ruebsaat
D
ick and Jane were these two children. They were like my sister
and me. Pretend we are Dick and Jane.
I took out the book. This is how we must behave, I said to my sister. I
spoke to her in English because this is the language I thought we should
speak about this place. It is important that children speak the right language for the country they are in.
Dick looks up.
I looked up.
Jane looks up.
I got my sister to look up. She didn't understand at first. She thought it
was a game. She giggled. But then she did it.
Dick and Jane look up. We stood there, our two chins raised to the sky,
like Canadian children. This is how brothers and sisters behave in Canada. It says so right in this book.
See Spot jump.
We didn't have a dog, so we used one of my sister's dolls. Jump Dolly,
jump. We pushed and shoved, threw her in the air, pretending it was
Spot. But it wasn't Spot. That doll was still way too European.
See Spot, question mark.
I was learning this English language and reading. Reading about it in its
own language. You learned how to come here by looking at the words.
Mother and father. Sound them out. They don't sound exactly like they
32 look. Father is sounded o, not a, and mother has an u sound, not an o.
This is how the English words can fool you. Their sounds don't go right
into their letters like that. They go into other letters.
See muther and fother, I read. See Norbert read.
Norbert is reading a book. It is about a snowman who melts. He walks all
the way from winter into summer, where he doesn't belong, and so he
melts. All that's left of him is his red scarf and his carrot nose. A handful
of coals that used to be his vest buttons lie in a puddle of water.
Poor poor snowman.
He went from the place of winter into the place of summer and that's why
he melted. That's the lesson of the story. You shouldn't go into places
where your body doesn't belong.
The story about the snowman is in the second part of Norbert's Dick and
Jane Reader. Reader. The Reader is both a book and a person. It is the
person reading the book and it is also the book itself. Every child in
school has a Reader, the same one, but they are all different readers.
They are not the same child. You don't become the same child, til you get
to the end of the book where you become the Reader. You meet him and
try to become him.
I was "reading ahead" in the story about the snowman. I don't know how
I got there. We, the class, were still "on" Dick and Jane, but I, Norbert,
was reading ahead to another place.
It is a very dangerous thing to go into books like that when you are alone
and it is not your own language.
I read and read, and Norbert read and read. His mother sometimes didn't
understand the words he was using at home anymore. He was "ahead" of
her in English (was he?) and going away into another language. He was
leaving his mother. Don't read so much, she said. You'll get bad eyes.
My European language is for talking, and this English language is for
reading. This is the secret language I have at home. Norbert is practising
his "silent reading" so his mother won't know what his thoughts are. He
thinks the letters are hands reaching out of the book to lead him away.
33 In school, of course, it is the other way around. Here the loud language,
the screamed language—the children yelling at him for not understanding
them when they talk—is English, and the silent one, the one nobody has
ever heard, is his own. He speaks it to himself secretly. It is an imaginary
language you can only think in.
See Norbert reading a book in his own language. He opens the lid to
listen. The letters writhe and wrestle on the page. They are black foreign
shapes that won't let their sounds out to him. The book won't speak to
him because its letters don't want to come to this place, this Canada.
European letters go to European places, and Canadian letters go to Canadian places. Words don't want to go where they don't belong. They stop
talking.
See Norbert think.
Does he think in his own or another language?
Books are thoughts. That is the story of them. They think you when you
are thinking them. They read you back. You just open the lid and listen. It
is wonderful to imagine that a story can give your own thoughts back to
you packed in a box.
Norbert looks at the pictures in his Dick and Jane Reader. Dick's father
(fother) wears a blue suit and has a hat on. Dick's mother (muther) wears
her frilly checked dress and her smile and her bobbed curly hair. She
doesn't look at all like Norbert's muther. These people don't look like
parents.
They're book parents. They're the parents of words. Mother and father
are there to take care of the words so they don't get too lonely. So they
don't run away.
Poor poor words. Here, you can hold their hands.
See them.
Dick and Jane looked.
In school, the hero of this story opens the lid of his book to read "out
loud" to the class, but it is still a secret. The language won't talk for him.
34 It knows he's not really the Reader and that his clothes, his sounds, his
thinking are still in another country. Even the teacher can see he's imagining somewhere else.
Words pretend. See the book read.
The boy is reading ahead in his Reader about the snowman and the melting to find out how the Reader imagines it. What is the truth about this
story?
For instance the teacher has told him not to read ahead to the snowman
story until the whole class is "there." You're not to go to places before
the rest of your class. There is something there you're not allowed to
know.
He tries the book on his sister. Here, he says, you be the snowman, and
I'll be the sun, melting you. Slowly I come up over the mountains. You
don't know how dangerous I am at first, I'm warm and friendly, and then
suddenly—zap—I melt you.
Okay, we're going to do it now, okay?
I have to tell you something about this boy's sister. She never believes
his stories. Even though he's two years "ahead" of her in life, she won't
do what he tells her.
She changes language. She thinks he's making this up. She'll walk not into
summer, but right into fall, and on into next winter, for instance. Or she'll
change countries just like that, walking on water.
She doesn't understand that you have to speak the correct words for
where your body is. She thinks books are something to eat.
So Norbert never found out if the story about the snowman and the melting, about summer and winter and Canadian and European places was
true. Or whether it was just a story made up to fool ignorant immigrant
children.
He doesn't know if when you go to live with words of another country you
lose your body. It melts.
The Dick and Jane stories never talked about these kinds of scary things.
35 Those children never had to go out into the world to another country to
meet the Reader. They just stayed home with their muther and fother.
And Spot. And Puff. And Baby Sally.
See them.
36 The Hired Boy
James R. Mayes
The dream is like this: it's a flying dream. Melanie first, off the roof
in her nightshirt like in Peter Pan, her arms held out to control the
wind. Zeke is behind her, gliding through the waterfall of willow
leaves and into the dark space that is the sky at night. They fly around
and around the house and then around the three maple trees in the front
yard, higher and higher until the house is small enough to fly away from.
When they can't see the barnyard anymore they fly low over the dark
fields, close enough so that Zeke can see the glimmer of stones under the
moonlight, in the fresh furrows of the plowed field. He holds his arms out
like Melanie and flies as low as he can up the gentle rise of a hill, daringly
close, so that he won't be pulled away from the earth by the stars or the
temptation of other planets.
By the time they see the fire they've been flying for hours. Zeke's
arms are tired. The black air is cold. Melanie flies down, and he is right
behind her. They drop down among the cowboys who sit around the fire.
But Zeke lands in an odd way; he straddles the man he lands on. He
wraps his arms around the man's neck as if it were a pony at the free fair.
The man's hat falls off, and both of them fall backward in surprise. Zeke
feels a weight against his chest, his heart beating under the pressure of
what he holds.
When he wakes up he has that feeling that something awful has happened. There is something curious that he doesn't understand, and he
doesn't know what it has to do with cowboys. He's had cowboy dreams
before, riding horseback through the sage, tracking mountain lion. Other
dreams were not like this one; he can't sleep the rest of the night, counting out memory verses from the Bible on his fingers.
Melanie squats in the driveway, dirty hands on her dirty knees. She is
writing how many years old he is with her finger in the earth, and from
where he is kneeling in the dirt on his knees, the eight is sideways. He's
that many years old, and now Mama will let him have his own garden.
The hired boy will bring in rocks from the fencerow and put them in a circle around the little birch tree in the front yard. He'll dig up the ground
and spread a layer of fresh manure in the bottom. Zeke will watch from
the front porch while the hired boy fills in the rest of the earth.
37 Now when he looks at a photograph, there is always some tree that he
forgot or an expression on someone's face that he failed to memorize. It
seems that Zeke remembers more clearly when he has no visual cues:
Melanie's hand under the piano lid, a slice of turkey sticking out of the
side of her mouth. Later there would be the way she looked at him
through her glasses or how careful she would be when she wore a dress.
If he crossed the furrowed field today, her arms would reach up through
the grass and her hands would pull him back for a moment. Her dead
body would push him up the hill to the house: forever.
When Zeke looks down at his own hands, he's holding a clump of red
radishes, wet under the tap water. It's the red of the radishes in his
soiled fingers, the round weight of them and then the memory of pea
blossom from too long ago. It is as if he just woke up. He is bending over
the kitchen sink, washing them off, the last from the garden. He tries to
remember; it's summer now, this year, but he's been thinking about that
other summer.
When the guys at work ask him, Zeke tells them that he lives alone because he likes it that way. He talks to himself a lot, and he likes to read
for hours in the bathtub. If he needs something, he brings it in or he
grows it himself: like the radishes.
Zeke remembers that he has to walk Sal, who is sitting near the front
door. His mind falls onto the shape of the clip on her leash, an association:
the shape of the numeral eight. He's standing in front of the sink one moment. And the next moment he's out in the barn with his cousin Melanie.
He knows that he's a lot younger because she's young: this is the summer when he was eight, and she stayed with his family. He remembers
because his shoes are too tight; when he takes them off tonight, his
mother will pull them away. She'll cover him up with the summer sheet.
But she'll leave his feet sticking out. He's too old for this, but she'll rub
them, first one foot and then the other in her large, dry hands. She'll tell
him about Saul on the road to Damascus.
Zeke follows Melanie in her daisy-printed overalls. They're trying not
to step into the manure on the floor of the barn. He wants to ask Melanie
a question. But when he pulls on the strap of her overalls, she spins
around with a finger pressed into her lips. She frowns, as if he's done
something wrong. Then she turns and steps over a pile of scours, the
sweet manure from a calf that's taken too much milk. Zeke looks down at
the puddle, a brilliant yellow porridge. It smells like the powder they use
to wean the runt calf.
He hears water splash and someone laughing. There's the hired boy,
standing up, bare naked, in the water trough: he's got hair down there,
38 between his legs. His body is red with sunburn; sunlight comes in
through the cracks in the barn wall, presses the bright stripes into his
skin. The hired boy stands up to his shins in the water. Melanie is laughing. She must have crept up on him while he was taking a bath and Zeke
has followed her. The hired boy wades across the width of the water
trough in three long strides. The ragged towel goes around the white line
of his waist, the tight skin around the hired boy's navel. They don't run
until he leaps over the side and starts after them.
When the hired boy rushes forward, the cold water splashes outward.
Zeke looks down, and there's water on the front of his Levi's; the cold
water from the sink is splashing up, almost overflowing. He turns off the
faucet and catches his breath. That summer... it is as if he has trouble
breathing... before they cut back on the livestock, before he was old
enough to do the rest of the chores himself, even before they rented land
out to Mr. Jorgenson: Mama had a hired boy. His name was Garth.
Zeke decides to take a bath himself, to sit in the tub with a stack of
comic books and the paper. He has the day off because it's Saturday, and
the local paper doesn't stuff inserts on Saturday. He sits down on the toilet. He opens a double album in his lap and dumps the weed out on top of
it. He rolls one more joint. Then he squirts Palmolive dishwashing liquid
into the tub. The hot water's running before he remembers to let Sal out.
When Molly comes up the walk, he's standing in his bathrobe inside the
front doorway. Molly gives Sal a dog-hug and steps up onto the porch in
her sensible, black shoes. Molly wears neat clothes. She always kind of
dresses up when she comes to see him. Zeke lives in a small house; he
has to step back from the door to let her in.
"Do you know what time it is?" she says.
"Yeah." He looks down at his wrist where his watch usually is, but it
isn't there.
"It's two o'clock," she says. "And you're not even dressed yet."
"I know," he says. "I've been up since eleven."
Molly walks over to the bathroom door and looks in.
"You taking a bath?" she says.
"About to," he says. He wraps his bathrobe tightly around himself, ties
the cord.
"Well don't let me stop you," she says. She smiles at him. Zeke looks
away.
Molly walks into the living room and sits down in his rocker recliner.
"I'm bored," she says. "I'm bored as hell." She holds her head with
both hands and sways back and forth.
"You wanna do something?" he says.
39 "What you got in mind?"
"You wanna smoke some?" He pulls a joint from the pocket of his robe
and holds it up.
"Take your bath first," she says. "You look like shit."
Zeke walks to the front door and lets Sal in. Then he goes into the
bathroom and closes the vinyl accordion door. He pulls off his robe and
scratches his balls. Then he lowers himself into the hot water and the
bubbles. He hears Molly walking around in the other room, the jingle of
Sal's collar as she follows her.
"Whadda you got in the sink?" she says.
"Radishes. I'm not through cutting them up."
"What a mess," she says. Again, she laughs.
"I like my privacy," he says. "When I'm taking a bath. You mind?" He
hears the tv; she must be back in the living room, changing channels. The
rocker recliner makes a noise; he can hear the sound from the bathroom
when she sits down. When he lies back in the water, he remembers that
he didn't eat his breakfast this morning. He turns his head and sees the
white terry robe, hung over the seat of the toilet.
Friday night was popcorn night. Sometimes Mama would make fudge
and hide warm dabs of it in the bottom of the bowl. They put the metal
bowl of popcorn on the chair beside Melanie's bed. He remembers the
pajamas, too. They both had white nightshirts that Mama sewed up for
them. That night was hot because as he remembers it, sinking into the
bubbles, their nightgowns were off and thrown over the back of the
ladder-back chair. The window was open.
Zeke looks around the room and Melanie isn't there. There's a chill
from the dark. He feel awkward standing in his underpants in front of the
window. Now there's a voice.
"Zeke," she says. The hand is waving inside the window. "Come out,
Zeke." He steps out onto the shingles, and then he can see her: Melanie
with her stringy hair and her skinny back. She turns around and even
though the night air is as blue as creek water and just as deep, he can see
her toothy smile, the freckles on her nose. She's not wearing anything
except her underpants. She's only ten, but Zeke feels a height in his legs,
even in the dark. There's a sticky hand around his wrist, and she pulls
him out.
"Come on, retard," she says. He steps carefully across the roof, still
hot from the sun under his bare feet. Now he can see better. The wind
blows through the willows above the roof, and the leaves rustle like a wall
of water. They duck under the waterfall. Furiously breaking off branches,
Melanie steps all the way over the edge of the roof.
40 "What are you doing?" he -says. She giggles, and then she turns
around.
"Make a window," she says. She's talking low, in confidence. "Garth's
got the barn lights on." He helps her, breaking away sticks and then pulling off leaves from the hanging branches until they can see the barn better. Melanie leans back against the biggest branch of the tree, a limb that
comes straight up from the ground only an inch from the edge of the roof.
From there she stares out through the newly-fashioned window in their
hide-out of willow. Zeke looks out the window too; the light shines out
through the cracks in the barn wall, casting shadows of giant boards down
the hill.
"I don't see a thing," he says. "What's he doing in there, anyway?"
"Playing with himself," she says. He turns around to look at her, and
she laughs uproariously. She has to slap herself on the lips because her
hand remembers to be quiet before her mouth does.
"Melonhead." He remembers his name for her. "He is not."
Melanie slaps his arm.
"You're in love with him," he says. "Aren't you?"
"Aren't you?" she says. She presses herself against him, and he can
smell the popcorn on her breath. She's wrapping her bare arms around
him so that he can't get away. She's blowing words into his ear: "We saw
Garth naked, we saw Garth naked, we saw Garth naked." His ear feels
fuzzy inside and warm. Vowels pour out over the sticky feet of consonants; words roll over the back of his neck and down his spine. A train
howls through town miles away, and when a strong wind picks up, the
leaves rush against him, brushing his face. It sounds more like water than
wind.
His arms make a splash when they come down on either side of him.
Zeke sits up in the tub.
"You all right in there?" Molly says. She's shouting from the living
room, above the noise of the tv. "Are you stoned already?" she says.
"Yeah." He sinks back down, relaxing his back. He makes a quick wash
of himself. Then he steps from the tub. He feels the ring of suds around
his shins and wipes it off.
"I wish I had a place with a shower," he hollers, sociably, through the
vinyl door.
"I wish I had a place with a tub," she hollers back.
He slaps open the door and locks it there with the flimsy tie-thing.
"You wanna take a bath here?" he says.
"No," she says. Molly looks embarrassed. She rocks forward in the
chair. Molly is kind of pretty. She has big, brown eyes. A nice, lean shape
41 in the body. "I mean. I don't take my bath until I go to bed. Shower, I
mean."
Zeke and Molly sit on his back step. He pulls the joint out of his pocket,
and Sal crouches down beside him, watching the movement of his hands
attentively.
"Garden looks good," Molly says. She coaxes Sal over to her side of
the step with one empty hand. She pats her on the head, and with her
other hand she passes the joint back to Zeke. He takes it, and Molly
brushes her hair back with her fingers.
"Thanks." He draws in on the joint and feels a head rush, the backyard
turn. He's walking around the radishes and the peas in his vegetable garden. He's wearing his stiff new play shoes and stepping from stone to
stone to stone, around in a circle. He's falling and falling, and it's not actually that he really is falling; it's just that there is a falling inside of him.
He gives Molly the roach. She sucks on the end of it until all the smoke
is drawn out. She licks it to make sure it is cool enough and then sticks it
in her mouth.
Zeke is restless. He walks over to the garden: a half dozen tomato
plants, the peppers, leaf lettuce and the row of carrot where the radishes
used to be. He remembers the sweetness in immature peas; he should
have planted peas this year. Lacey carrot leaves shiver, the pepper
leaves and then the young tomato plants tremble. Zeke feels a breeze
cross his bare arm; the hair there puckers into goose pimples.
"Why don't we just go skinny-dipping?" Molly says. A cloud has
passed; she pulls her arm down from her forehead where it was blocking
the sun.
Zeke has already thought about that. He was afraid she might suggest
this.
"I don't think so," he says. He bends over to pick a stone out of the
dirt. "You bring a pair of cut-offs?"
"No." She stands up and wipes off her bottom. She really is kind of
pretty. The way she moves, or something. So why doesn't he want to go
skinny-dipping with her? Zeke watches her.
When Molly looks up at him, she blushes.
"I don't need to go swimming," she says.
Zeke drops the white pebble into his pocket. He opens the back door
to let Sal in. Then he and Molly walk around the little house through the
front yard, and they walk down the street. They walk as far as the newspaper office, where they both work. He directs her through the parking
lot behind the building.
"Follow me," he says.
"Where are you going now?" she says.
42 "We don't want them to see us stoned, do we?"
Behind the newspaper office, there's a railroad track. She catches up
with him, and they walk along the track.
"You're silly," she says.
"I am not," he says. "Everything I do is logical." She steps from one
railroad tie to the other.
"Everything you do has its own logic."
He balances one foot before the other, toe to heel, along one of the
iron rails. The train comes through at 9:15, and they know this because
Melanie got a watch for her birthday. He counts thirteen summers since
he saw her in her underpants, since he felt the tar shingles bite into his
back while they lay against the slope of the roof and counted how many
dogs they heard bark at the train.
Out of boredom they dig the moss out from between the shingles and
throw it over the side of the roof. Melanie can whistle, and she makes
missile sounds as the clumps of moss drop over the edge. Some nights
the train is late. He lies in bed holding the pillow for fifteen minutes before he hears the whistle, and he knows that she is in her room too, grinning in the dark. Some nights they listen to the cats yowling out behind
the apple orchard, and Zeke wonders if Tabitha or Saluki or Deadbeat will
come back the next morning with ripped ears or a torn claw: bloody
prints across the boards on the porch.
They collect dreams. That is what they talk about. Dreams hang
heavily in the hickory limbs above them; they come knocking down onto
the roof until they land with a splash in the water trapped in the eaves
trough. It is the sound that carries him, with Melonhead. The train plows
through the middle of a dream and whistles right out into breakfast under
the ladder rungs of sunlight through the overgrown lattice outside the
breakfast room window. She had the same dream again, and she tells him
that over jam. The gray wicker crackles. Her silverware flashes in the
sunlight, the ham and eggs. When Mama walks out to the road for the
mail, they sneak sherbet from the groaning refrigerator and run out to
the barn. A morning wind blows across their knees through the cracks in
the wall. Wiping the bowl of her spoon clean with her milk moustache,
she tells him that she has dreamt about the beagles rolling on their backs
in the dirt, about wheat grown tall outside the window of the hide-out.
She warns him about the legs of the approacher, the boots and the overalls. It's the hired boy, stepping over barbed wire.
They walk through vacant pasture, radiating with dandelions and the
quality of sunlight which is the same colour. It heaves up into his face, up
from the earth: that ridiculous yellow. Not only the light makes him
breathless, looming down over the patchwork of the fields in the after-
43 noon: clover and beans and corn and alfalfa. The farmhouse is on a hill;
they can see all that from the roof in daylight. Zeke and Melanie stand up
on the roof in the middle of the day, and Zeke feels the height as if it were
just another feeling, like being sad or mean or mad. Melanie says it's because you can see everything. When they aren't on the roof or in the
barnyard, they sit in Mama's rocking chair on the wooden floor of the
screen porch. They wait with the cats in their laps and watch the place
where Garth threw down salt for the stock.
Three deer approach through the silence at the edge of the woods.
Melanie says they smell the salt. Zeke is telling her about his own dream.
And then the wind changes; he and Melanie are still flying through the air
when the deer are frightened, gliding over the reeds. In Zeke's telling,
they never land. And when they are gone, it is as if they had never been
there. Maybe the deer heard him speaking. Maybe they smelled something that didn't belong in the marsh along the edge of the pasture.
"As if they could tell," Molly says.
It is full summer; Zeke hasn't noticed until now, but the chick weed is
overgrown, blue and leggy along the track. There's the sound of a lawn
mower, the squeak of some kid on a swing. Zeke hops off the rail of the
train track. He has to push a branch out of their way as they walk along a
sandy path that runs up an incline above the track.
"Watch it," he says, holding the branch so Molly can walk past.
"You high?" she says. He has to catch up. She turns around, and he
watches her wipe the sweat off her forehead.
"Oh yeah." They walk down into the woods along the trail that leads to
the dam. He kicks stones along ahead of them, and Molly plays too. She
chases one of his stones in her sensible shoes and then kicks it back to
him. Then each of them choose their own stone; they kick these ahead of
each other as they walk. It's an old game he used to play with Melanie.
Molly spreads the blanket out, and the two of them sit on the beach at
the foot of the dam. A hundred years ago, it was a mill pond. It gave the
city power when the city wasn't much of a city, or at least as much as it is
now. There is talk at the paper about turning the area around the dam
into a park. The university has already bought the land. It's still a place
where westside kids go swimming without a fee. A lot of them come from
the reservation after curfew; they smoke dope and drink beer and sometimes, when the cops come through to check it out, they hide under the
water.- They hold their breath until they're left alone.
"Wanna go swimming?" Zeke says. He doesn't look at her when he
asks; he's watching the guys on top of the dam.
"No. I didn't bring anything to wear in the water."
"Just go skinny-dipping," he says. He looks at her, and Molly looks
44 away. She digs her shoe in the sand.
"No." She gives him a sharp look, and he laughs. "Not with all these
guys around." Molly sounds irritated. A large group of young men
crowds around a keg at the top of the dam, talking loudly. There's a stand
of cottonwoods over the dam; when the wind picks up, a million white
puffs of cotton float out through the air above the water. They pour
through the air like dandelion seed.
Zeke watches a few of the men build a fire. Some of them gather wood.
Someone crumples up newspaper, lights a match under a stack of tinder.
Smoke curls out between the photographs and fine print. A guy in a black
hat kneels before the flames, blowing into them to help them spread.
"A fire," Molly says.
Outside the barn, the hired boy chops off the heads of chickens.
Zeke stands up.
"Let's go wading," he says. He helps her up by giving her both of his
hands and pulling her up. His hands feel wet in her hands, which are
smooth and dry. Zeke and Molly walk slowly into the water, up to their
knees by the time the current is strong; the ground underfoot is packed
and pebbled by it.
Then Melonhead throws her white Bible onto his lap.
"You have to win," she says. "You have it easier than I do because
you're in the third grade. If you learn twelve verses, they give you an Illustrated Children's Bible."
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not
charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." It has
rained, and he is following Melanie across the boards laid down through
the mud between the house and the barn. "And though I have the gift of
prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I
have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I
am nothing." They are reciting his memory verses; it is Melonhead's favorite chapter from the Bible.
With one hand, Garth holds the hen by her two feet. He rests her on
her full beast on the block.
"Reverend Brawn says that even though it says 'charity' in the Bible
that it means love," she tells him. She picks up a white stone from the
driveway and throws it into the reflection of a tree in a mud puddle. "So
when you say it Sunday, use the word 'love' in place of the word
'charity'." The thorns and branches of the tree become a ring and then
more rings within the puddle. And though I bestow all my goods to feed
the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and have not...
love... it profiteth me nothing.
The hen won't resist; she lies on the block with her neck up, the wings
45 spread out as if she were ready to fly up at the sky as soon as her soul is
free from the dark space under her spine.
"Love is all it takes to fly," she tells him, matter-of-factly. She points
through the daytime darkness of the barn, up the wooden rungs of the
ladder into the height above the haymow. "If you can love everything in
the world, everything you can think of, then you can fly."
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. While in bed each night, long before taking each
rung of the ladder under the stiff brown leather of his new play shoes:
Zeke has tried it.
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily
provoked, thinketh no evil. Every thought that comes to him, he will
learn to love.
Rejoiceth not in iniquity but in the truth. Every word, every object,
every person he knows. Beareth all things, believeth all things. Even if it
kills him. Hopeth all things. He hears the chop of the hired boy's axe.
Endureth all things.
The higher Zeke goes, the slower he goes. His hands prickle with
sweat, and when he looks down through the rungs of the ladder that
frame his face, he sees the haymow, the great pile of straw below him.
Melanie stands beside the pile of straw, shouting up the verses from her
memory.
"Love never faileth," she says. And Zeke says the words with her. But
whether there be prophecies. A prayer. He steps up one more time,
holding himself close to the rungs. They shall fail. He hears the squawk of
another hen through the barn wall. He is holding on as tightly as he can.
Another chop. He feels it all along his arm: dust falling down from the top
of the barn. Whether there be tongues, they shall cease. His nose tickles. Another chop. It's a round rung, smooth and polished from a hundred
years of age; he stares at it, holds on as tightly as he can. Whether there
be knowledge it shall vanish away. Zeke sneezes. For a moment the rest
of him disappears. The snot blows out of his mouth and nose, and he
comes back feeling dizzy. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
Both hands are still gripping the solid rung. It is as if everything, the
whole world has turned around. But when that which is perfect is come,
then that which is in part shall be done away. He looks down to find his
center of gravity. The distance opens up beneath him like the dark mouth
of a giant. Light falls through the wide gap between the barn doors. He is
several feet in the air, above the pile of straw.
"When I was a child," Melanie accuses, raising her arm and pointing up
with her finger, her neck craned back: "I spoke as a child, I understood as
46 a child, I thought as a child." Then she smiles. Her arms are straight out
on either side of her. She whirls around once, a complete circle, from her
position on the ground. She falls back into the straw so that she looks at
him from upside down.
"And when I became a man," he whispers. He cannot say it loudly
enough; she does not hear him because his body is held so still. She cannot see that his lips are forming the words because the rest of him is so
quiet. He moves his eyes to look down, and the four walls of the barn
revolve around his vision, as if he were looking through binoculars: as if
he were actually very small and round in a square world, a box. He's holding on tightly, so high up in the air that the roof of the barn curves around
him like a globe. I put away childish things.
"Fly," Melanie says. Zeke looks down his nose over the bird shit on
the rung. He looks into her eyes, and she trusts him. He breathes in: the
air is dust.
Another chop, Garth laughing: a curse in the barnyard.
"Goddammit," Molly says. She's got her arm out in front of her face to
protect it from the water; her makeup is running down. "Stop it," she
says. She's standing up to her ankles in the Chippewa River. Zeke has
gone all the way in, is splashing, trying to get her wet. He laughs.
"Come on," he says. "Come on, Mol Old Girl." Her clothes and her
magazine are all wet, and she's pissed. He wants her to tell him to fuck
off. He wants her to splash him back. He wants both of them to dive in
with all of their clothes on and to come out laughing, a big scene for the
guys on top of the dam. But Molly is honestly angry. She rolls up her
blanket, packs everything together. She walks up the steep beach, into
the trees.
Zeke knows that she wants him to follow her, to apologize. He sits
down on the wet sand with his ankles in the water. He doesn't want to
think about Molly or what Molly wants or what he doesn't want from
Molly. He watches the guys from the frat, who are standing by the fire.
He'd like to forget about Molly. He'd like for Molly to tell him to fuck off
and then leave him alone. The guys at the top of the dam are waving at
him. They wave for him to come over.
When he does join them, somebody offers him a plastic cup of beer.
"You a townie?" the guy says.
"I guess so," he says. "I used to go to school here." This guy wears a
stetson, one of those "bad guy" black ones. It hangs from his neck over
the back of his bare shoulders, like in those old cowboy movies when the
men ride into town with a pistol in each hand.
"Name's Duane," he says. "This is Fred and Tony and that's Mike with
47 the beer." Mike wears a beret. He offers Zeke a beer, and Zeke takes it.
When they go looking for firewood in the bushes, Zeke follows Duane.
He slaps his back for mosquitoes as they bend over, looking for dead
limbs.
"Fly," Melanie says. Above him, the pigeons flatter the air with their
wings, out of the rafters, down over the haymow in a jumble of body and
dust in the yellow air. He clings to the highest rung of the ladder in the
barn, inches from the pigeon nest, the sound of wings around his head.
Outside of the barn, a mourning dove shudders.
"Baby," she says. She cups her mouth in her hands and rages at him
from below. "Faggot. You faggot." He can't fly. Zeke is not like Melanie;
he knows that now. Melanie is brave. Melanie loves the hired boy, the
dirty red-haired kid from down the road who does the chores and smells
like a horse and takes a bath in the cow trough. The pigeons reel in the air
below him. They climb through the air to the nests; they grow used to his
body at the top of the ladder. Melanie is gone.
When the rest of the stock is sold, when the hired boy leaves: even
when Mama has the weeping willow cut because it interferes with the
plumbing, Zeke won't see that these are gone. He sees Melanie, laughing
at him from the floor of the barn. He sees the willow tree, the ladder:
even the hired boy, chopping off the heads of chickens.
There is one last time to see Garth, walking with his pregnant wife
Sandra through the tombstones, up to the edge of the grave. After the funeral, the three of them drive out to the intersection. Sandra waits in the
car while he follows Garth, kicking through the bean field and then the
ditch. They are looking for something: not a plastic sandwich bag, not the
case for a pair of missing sunglasses. For about a second, Zeke wonders
if Melanie really could fly. But he can't ask her at this distance from the
body: this height.
Soon after the sun goes behind the trees, it is dark. Duane has to keep
splashing him with water, getting him wet, urging him in; Zeke is not so
easily convinced. There's no moon when they climb the rocks to the top
of the dam. There's no moon, but Zeke can still see almost everything
around them in the dark. White seed from the cottonwoods are snowing
over the water. They stand at the top. Both of them are supposed to
jump. But when Duane goes over, Zeke does not. He watches the legs of
his new friend, the curve of the lean body as he dives into the suds.
He is still at the top of the ladder when Garth walks into the barn and
looks around. Zeke makes a sound in the bottom of this throat. That's
how Garth discovers him. When he climbs up, the rungs tremble in
Zeke's hands from the heavy boots. He hoists himself up, so that his body
covers Zeke. He straddles him with his legs. The big hands rest on the
48 rung above his own. The plow boots stick out large and long on either
side of his play shoes.
With long, freckled arms around his arms, the rough dungarees against
the back of his bare legs and the feel of the hired boy's body leaning into
his back, Zeke stops shaking: he solidifies. A breath moves through his
hair, a tickle in one ear; the wide chest swells into his back, then pulls
away. They step down a rung. One rung and then the next one under it,
the left feet and then the right. They step down together, a step at a time
with both feet resting on the next rung for one second. They go down
backward, as if they were one person with eight limbs: an insect lowering
its body backward into its hole.
"Let's race," Garth says. Zeke looks down, and they are low enough.
He jumps down the last few steps, tries to escape by dropping down between Garth's legs into the haymow.
He picks Zeke up, and holds him in his arms like a baby. He wades
through the loose straw of the mow to the window of the barn. He holds
Zeke out over the edge of the open window, and for a moment Zeke
knows he's going to die. He sees the blood sprawled over the grass below him, the entrails and the feathers. His mouth falls open, and he
screams. When Garth lets go, the ground rushes up until he crashes into
the loose pile of straw. The straw gives way underneath him, and he's
still screaming. He chokes on the dust.
Duane comes up out of the water. The flow carries him away from
where the water churns, where the whiteness lights up the dark. Zeke's
new friend stands up and looks around.
"Zeke?" he says.
"Up here."
"What the hell," says Duane. "You jump?"
Zeke feels motion; Garth is beside him on the straw. Then he is on top
of him. Fingers pull his shirt out of his pants. The fingers scratch his
stomach. Zeke throws a fist out. And Garth pulls back. Zeke is up, pushing his head forward. He pushes Garth backward, and then he's on top of
him, sitting on his chest. His hands are slamming into him; the body
bucks up and down underneath him. Then there is the solid grip of the
hands on his wrists, pulling him down. The face is inches away. Zeke
kisses him.
"I'm coming," he says. He tries to sound like he isn't a chickenshit, but
his voice cracks open anyway, over the sound of the water. "Where do I
jump?"
"There's no ledge," Duane calls up. "Just jump out as far as you can,
and the current will carry you out." Zeke sees an arm moving in the dark,
hears a splash As if this were natural, the easiest thing in the world.
49 "Come on," says Duane. "The water's great." He goes under again
with a snap. Then two feet stick out above the surface; he's standing on
his head.
Zeke decides to go down fancy, with his arms held out on either side.
The air is clean and fast, and it smells like bruised leaves in the dark. He
comes down hard on the water; but underneath, he curls up into a ball
and holds his breath. He hugs his knees to his chest and rolls over and
over himself. He hits something, and then he feels a hand. An arm pulls
him up.
He breaks up out of the surface, and he's laughing and choking at the
same time. He puts a hand on each of Duane's skinny shoulders and
pushes him back until they're both under the water. He holds him there
for a couple seconds. He feels the lean muscle. Then Duane has his legs
and pulls him under. Zeke escapes; he swims away a few feet. He swims
up to the surface, casually cleans the water out of his ear with a finger.
"Let's do that again," Duane says. But Zeke walks up on the beach.
The rest of the guys have gone home. There are still coals around the
bonfire. Zeke sits down in the sand, and Duane walks out of the river.
"Still a beer left." He pumps away at the last stale beer in the keg.
"You can have it," Zeke says. He's feeling shy again, but he's also feeling tired: a good tired.
"Let's share it." Duane sits down beside him. He hands the beer to
Zeke. He fiddles with the front of his swimming trunks, as if the string is
too tight. They pass the plastic cup back and forth.
"We gotta take the keg back?"
"Yeah. Better keep an eye on it."
The face changes. Garth spits at him, and Zeke feels the spray across
his face. At least his arms are free. He runs down the pile of straw. He
bends over in the grass, and he picks something up. It's warm and
bloody, and it flies through the air. Then there are feathers. Zeke looks
down. There's blood on his shirt, the heads of chickens around his feet in
the grass. The hired boy stands up. He throws another one. And then another one.
When Zeke knocks over the bucket of water, and when the water
pours onto the ground, steam rises out. A few plucked chickens roll onto
the grass. Garth is shouting. Zeke decides it's time to leave. He walks
unevenly around the wide horseshoe of the gravel driveway. He tries to
hum, but his throat is too tight. There are things inside of his pockets that
he forgot: a useless key, the pebble he recalls is a white one, a buffalo
nickel that Melanie gave him.
The back door reaches him too soon. He doesn't want to go in. He
runs to the front of the house and crawls under the porch. He waits
50 there, holding his breath until his shoulders start shaking, until the air
comes out in gulps. He covers his face with his hands. His fingers are hot
and wet. He looks out through the broken lattice and the burdock leaves
growing around the front step. And there's dust hanging in the road; he
knows, without seeing or hearing it, that a car has passed. One of the
neighbours must be driving into town.
"Why don't you just take those off?" he says.
"What?" says Duane. He snaps the elastic in his trunks. Then he
laughs a little.
"It's giving you that much trouble. You ever go skinny-dipping?" Zeke
stands up and slips his cut-offs down over his butt, down the wet fuzz on
his skinny legs. He lifts one foot and then the other one, stepping out of
his shorts.
"All the time," says Duane. "Sure." He walks into the bushes, and
Zeke has to wait for him while he takes off his trunks. When he comes out
into the open, Duane is white and shivering, and his hair is all matted
down from the water. He walks with his hands over his crotch, but the
beach is steep and he has to hold his arms out in order to balance himself.
He laughs.
"Don't mind me," he says. "I'm just as dirty-minded as you are. I'm
just... "He sits down abruptly in the sand next to Zeke.
"Bashful," says Zeke. "I know what that's like."
"Good. Then you'll appreciate my situation." Even though he's sitting
down, Duane has to keep moving, first by combing his hair with his hands
and then by jiggling his leg: as if he were nervous. Zeke looks into his
face, and he looks away shyly.
Finally, he runs into the water, and Zeke is right behind him. They dive
in and come up waist-deep in cold river water. They splash each other.
They struggle for a moment. Zeke wraps his arms around Duane and
picks him up like a baby. He swings him around and around, and then he
drops him under.
Zeke knows that as soon as he comes up for air, Duane will be after
him. He takes off out of the water. He runs up the side of the dam in his
bare feet, careful not to scrape his toes against the stones. White seed
from the cottonwoods is stuck to the water on his legs. He runs out over
the top of the dam and this time, without hesitation: he jumps over the
edge and into the water.
51 Liliane Welch
Garden
Marianne Moore saw poetry as imaginary gardens and human beings as
many-foliaged trees against the moon. On a photo she's glamourous like a
cat, dressed in white blouse, black cape and cornet hat. A feline, she
would have adored Rousseau's horticultural spirit, his garden as mood;
could have longed with Goethe for the slender trees of Italy; might not
have joined Beckett to the blinding terraces of southern France when
during the war he wrote Waiting for Godot. Outside the trees are turning,
men of the cloth, deserted by their God at the first frost. All weekend I
indulged in my new hobby, weeded our lawn. I mused about the Summer.
While we climb mountains, devil's paintbrush rises, seeds, devours the
grass, infinite desire subversive as a libertine. Exultant tendrils
surrounded me and compelled me to work for the other side of
smothering tenderness. It seemed last July, while I climbed in the
Dolomites, that French gardens were laid out on the slopes below,
perfectly patterned carpets rolled out of chateaus, lined with apricot,
mulberry and poplar trees. I was sitting amidst the hairy medallions of
wilderness not unlike the skunk which at night comes to root for grubs
under the dense tuft: alert grazer taking possession of promiscuous
loves. I wondered whether words playing, breeding and brooding
together could translate the terror of life's garden. Cyril was cutting an
eighty-foot spruce. He thought the next storm might blow it onto our
house. I remembered the apricot trees, when he was leaping away from
the deadfall into the sway of sap odour, his arm part chain saw, part tree;
his hand part panic, part wail.
52 D.C. Reid
Without Its People
Emptied of its people, this ring of crude buildings grows old, derelict as
dust covered lives that hung in empty grain elevators. Time has lifted the
farmhouse like soil to the sky. Sore as mud too long in sun, the fireplace
still stands, a swimmer's arm rising from this pothole of prairie ringed by
sunburnt hills. Further in, the chicken coop is snake warm, deep in white-
brown kernels of chicken shit, windows specked with flies that tapped
their S-O-S until they starved.
There are people in the air, the surge of
muscle, ruck-ruck of underwear in washing tubs. The garden gate is
swallowed by thistle brimming with droning of bees, long dresses swish
in grass, corded arms bully logs into place. Dreams of tomorrow are true
as the earth beneath one's feet bristling with wheat that'll crack like
rifles.
An open kiln was spared, a mud-chinked barn made of muscle,
logs hand-squared and slotted. The high corral kept the stallion half mad
hooves kick, kicking in the night. In darkness, I gash winters of deep shit
veined with white centipedes, wriggling nerves, feel hairs stand on their
own in this place too empty without its people, filled with evil loneliness.
At the back, a shallow ravine stroked against the trees. A place for
refuse, hand-stitched shoes, green-aged bottles. Deeper are buffalo
bones, arrow heads. I shiver, eat my sandwich, lettuce and melted
cheese, toss my remains into this cloudless August day bloated with
grasshopper heat. I wade into grass, thigh, waist deep, lose bearings
generations of farmers lost to eastern bankers, eastern freight rates.
Trains left empty if they came at all whistles piercing townships for
years. Fickle wind blew away hope, crumpled families like paper cups.
Frozen by injustice I cannot change, I stamp my feet, topple into the tide
of grass. I fall into coolness, dumb probings of beetles, suckers of roots.
A swath of sky tosses in vertigo. Green grass closes over me, straw
heads of timothy and brome brushed by hands of summer wind. I am not
here anymore.
53 The Woman in
the Well
Cameron Macauley
No one could be certain whether Kadi had died by accident or by
her own design, and it was much debated, in the manner of the
Fulas, over smoky fires far into the humid West African night.
Adulai Embalo, spokesman for the village elders, cited the evidence for
an accident: Kadi had often slipped at the muddy, sloping edge of the well
as she drew water; that morning, she had been up before first light and
could not have seen clearly where the bucket-ropes of other women had
worn a new, more hazardous incline at the lip of the well; her sandals
were found nearby but not her enormous tin washbasin, which suggested
that she had been raising a heavy load to her head when her wet bare feet
lost their hold on the slick clay. The others listened respectfully to this
evidence, and paused in silence to consider it in the glow of the dying
coals.
Mamadu Kamara, the village blacksmith, then proposed the facts that
suggested Kadi had taken her own life: she had quarrelled bitterly with
her husband Demba the night before—and indeed the air had been tense
between them for several months; she showed no shame at having failed
to conceive again since her third spontaneous abortion the previous rainy
season; her rice plot had been damaged by wandering cattle so that her
harvest would be less than half of what she and Demba had counted on.
That meant little money to purchase medicine to fertilize her womb, or
far from enough to purchase a second wife for Demba—a wife who could
take over some of Kadi's burden to bear children, to work the rice plot,
and to keep the house comfortable and clean.
Little could be done about Kadi now, except to discuss each point cited
by the two speakers, which is what the other village elders did far into
the night, savouring the joy of extended and articulate conversation in the
arcane Fulani of older men.
The next day men with hooked ropes fished in the murky water of the
well, but found only her washbasin and a cloth pano that Kadi had often
worn around the house. Her corpse had apparently settled gently to the
54 bottom, to remain silent and sodden in the depths until a moonlit night
would call it forth to snatch small children from their beds or to haunt
travellers on the road.
Demba stayed closed in his house in mourning, the gate of his compound tied shut with a twist of cabaceira bark to display that he was lost in
sorrow. After the customary period of eight days, he made his way to the
village mosque to humble himself before Allah, begging mercy for
whatever sin he might have committed to bring down the Rage of the Almighty. Sobs wracked him and tears coursed from his eyes as he
smeared handfuls of dust on his head and clothes.
Yet in his heart of hearts, Demba was not distraught. The marriage
had been an error from the start, what with a large brideprice for a virtually barren woman from a small termite-infested village some distance
to the north, a place of desolate grassland where people swelled up and
died from the nokeh worm that lived in dirty drinking water. Her father
had insisted on five cows, four cloth panos, ten calabashes full of seed
corn, a new hunting-knife, and a weanling donkey foal as payment for his
slim, demure daughter, who at fifteen had bled monthly for only a year
and had but very small breasts. Demba now realized that he should have
sought for a woman who would bear a multitude of children and gorge
them to fatness on rich milk.
All of this had been one part of a cunning family plot. The union was arranged, like most Fula marriages, through Demba's parents, who were
expecting to marry Demba's sister off to one of Kadi's brothers and
wanted to get as the brideprice a grove of orange-trees that lay between
the two villages. They had coveted the orange-grove for many years.
Demba's mother persuaded him to accept Kadi on the grounds that a
woman from such a poor village would be more diligent than the sleek,
well-fed women of wealthier regions.
It seemed to be true at first. Kadi was willing to work hard, planting
the largest rice plot in her new village and getting up before dawn to wash
her husband's clothes and look after the house, but she grew morose after her first pregnancy ended in a discharge of blood and tissue one hot
afternoon in the fields. When her second pregnancy failed as well, she
took to praying for fertility five times a day, and whereas this devotion
was praiseworthy, Demba thought it a bit excessive, and certainly time-
consuming, when there was so much work to be done. After all, it is well
known that Allah rewards not those who beg loudly in the mosque, but
those who pray silently in the fields.
During the last rice-harvest, Kadi announced her third pregnancy with
heartfelt joy, and for some time she worked even harder to put by extra
so that the child would be born into a household with security against hard
55 times. She avoided things that would bring harm to the child, moving her
bed into the small cooking-shed so that Demba would not be tempted to
mount her during the night, and so damage her womb. She avoided eating
mandioca leaves and candja and other green foods that may produce a
blind or deaf child, and she made sure not to drink kasam, fermented
cow's milk, which is known to induce daughters but not sons.
Demba was impressed with this thoroughness, but he found her difficult to talk to, and often brusque and unpleasant in her mannerisms, such
as when she greeted his mother with a terse "Nyaluda", and failed to
enact the lengthy greeting ritual with which any Fula woman honours her
elders, inquiring after the health of each family member by name and asking about everything important in a woman's life, even though it may take
all morning. Indeed, Kadi had shown little respect for Demba's family as a
whole, which was shameful because they were dignified people from a
prosperous village and far above her own fly-ridden, scavenger family
who lived in the tall grass. He had found himself envying his neighbours
Sisau and Kumba, who enjoyed each other's company so much that they
would sit on the bamboo platform outside their compound and have long
conversations. How pleasant that would be, to hear your praises sung
through the whole evening by your wife, to sit together and talk where
other people would see that she adored you.
For it was plain that Kadi did not adore her husband, all too plain to
other people, Demba thought. And while it might seem that she honoured him by planting a larger rice plot than any other woman in the village, she may well have been doing this for her own ends. He also
thought that her protectiveness of her third pregnancy was selfish—
Demba could not quite think how, but it was as if she held the child in her
womb away from him, as her own property, rather than a mutual joy.
One night in the eighth month of her pregnancy, the fever of malaria
had come upon her, and as she lay shivering with a paroxysm, the skies
had opened with booming thunder. Sheets of water ran down the walls of
the house and mixed with blood pouring from between her legs. They
called the midwife for assistance, but when the tiny grey baby spurted
out of the womb, she pronounced it dead. Kadi's weeping was hoarse and
full of pain.
Her anger sprouted then, and took root, and bloomed vividly as the
rains ended. She wore a constant scowl, her face taking on an age far
beyond her twenty years. When she called Demba to eat she spat his
name like poison from her lips and shoved the calabash of rice toward him
with contempt. Whenever his mother stopped in to visit, she contrived to
offend her with evil glances and great sighs of weariness. Demba grew
56 anxious when his friends came to the house, because of her ill-veiled
rage. And then he cursed himself for this frailty, and resolved that he
would teach this thin, hollow-eyed woman some respect, instead of
clutching at his pride when she reviled him.
"What's wrong with you?" he demanded tersely. "This rice is barely
cooked! How dare you prepare such a meager evening meal! My brother
is coming to eat with us, as you know, and you should have killed a
chicken for him!" She never answered these complaints, but she would
slam the tin cover down on the rice pot until it cracked, and leave the
house unswept until it was littered with chaff blown in by the wind and
with splats of dung from wandering hens.
Her anger bloomed wickedly during the harvest months, when a dozen
cows killed the better half of her rice plot, treading the heavy golden
stalks of rice-kernels deep into the hoof-macerated mud. And while another woman, discovering this, might have wept, or prayed to Allah for
patience, Kadi merely turned around and walked home, her calabash of
dry clothes and cutting tools still on her head. She said nothing until Sisau
came to tell Demba what had happened. Demba rushed out to inspect the
damage, and then confronted his wife in the cooking-house that afternoon.
A fierce quarrel erupted, and she screamed like a hen about to be
slaughtered. She flung a spoon full of hot porridge at him, and when he
moved to strike her, planted her two hands on his chest and pushed him
down among the pots and bowls. Then he began to bellow with fury, too,
and shouting that no wife could be so hopeless and worthless, and that Allah should have mercy on him and take her soul to Hell that very day.
When he opened his eyes the next morning, after a restless night, his
back aching where he had landed on the edge of a clay water jug, he had a
sensation of great calm, as if a terrible sorrow had been lifted from his
mind. The compound gate was swinging open in the morning breeze, the
sun's early light beaming through the wicker window-shades. He felt
alone for the first time since he had been married—gratefully unburdened, unmolested. In some uncanny way, he knew that Kadi would
never return to his house again.
His peace was shattered when wailing neighbours burst in to tell him
that Kadi had slipped into the well. Amidst all the howling and cries of
mourning that followed, and through his tears, he thought to himself in
his heart of hearts that Allah had heard his prayer.
Custom dictated that no women should enter his house until forty days of
mourning had passed, and so Demba's mother sent some children to
57 clean and wash for him. They brought him meals in covered calabashes,
and spoke only in whispers in his presence, in respect for his terrible
grief.
But as the days passed, Demba found it difficult to conceal his joy. He
realized that Divine Intervention had erased his blunder in marrying Kadi
and that he could now seek out a fertile, good-tempered woman who
would bless him with a numerous family. Praise be to Allah! Demba
grovelled in the mosque, tears of happiness streaming down his cheeks.
The problem of the corpse annoyed him for a time, since it fouled the
well permanently and meant that a new one would have to be laboriously
dug. The women of that particular part of the village, grumbling and
weary, would have to fetch their water from a more distant well. And,
with the corpse still unrecovered, there were bound to be the ugly
rumors concerning small children and night travellers.
But surely these things were minor compared to the great happiness of
his new freedom and his mind at rest. Kadi had surely deserved her fate.
Can we doubt the Wisdom of Allah? All things that come to pass have a
significance in His Scheme, and Demba Djau, Faithful Servant and Loyal
Devotee, had been worthy of this most gracious salvation. Demba
resolved to pray five times a day until his forty days of mourning were finished, and then to kill a goat in gratitude.
It was three weeks after Kadi's death that the first dream visited him.
The first of the rains had come, and the air was thick with moisture. He
lay awake and sweating for many hours on his straw mattress, fanning
himself with a banana leaf and wishing for a night breeze. He felt like a
loaf of bread, lying on the baker's wooden oar, puffed out with the oven's
fiery breath. Finally, he drifted into an uneasy dream.
At once a sensation of coolness washed over him. Rivulets of cold
water splashed down his shoulders and neck, soothing his tired muscles.
He was sitting in a bath, and someone was squeezing a sponge over his
head, letting a stream of life-giving cold envelope his scalp and face.
Cool hands massaged his back, rubbing out the sticky heat. He sat
back and felt the softness of a woman's body holding him, filling his
nostrils with the musky perfume of a bride. The hands pressed into the
muscles of his chest, and he felt a joyful relaxation. Then he realized he
was looking at Kadi's hands.
He turned, and she was there, smiling at him sweetly. Her hair was
braided elaborately in the fashion that Fula women use to please their
husbands, and her eyes held his for a long moment, admiring him, asking
him if he was happy. She was beautiful, and he was content to be with her
again. What joy a woman can bring you, thought Demba, when she
serves you thoughtfully and sees to your needs. He reached up and
58 touched Kadi's cheek affectionately, feeling the freshness of her skin, the
cold of her breath, and then the numbing chill of her hands on his chest.
Abruptly he awoke, shivering. The room was pitch black, but he was
slimy with sweat, and he noticed a foul stink rising out of the earth around
him. He sat up and heard a noise behind him—a snuffling sound, and a
sticky slap. The stench hit him hard, choking his breath back and stinging
his nostrils. He reeled, and put his hand out to feel mud underneath him.
Momentarily his eyes caught a glimmer of light coming through a chink
in the wall, and he knew he was not at home, but trapped in some foul
place. Creatures thumped and coughed in the darkness all around, and he
shuddered again. His skin was smeared with muck, his eyelids caked with
it. He groped around and found a rough wooden surface, and scraped and
shoved until it gave way. A door opened and moonlight poured into the
pig sty where he had been sleeping.
He got onto his knees and pulled himself towards the door, but he was
butted by the snout of a massive hog, snuffling and squealing, as if demanding to know why he was there. He nearly gagged at the injustice of
it—how could he know why? He pushed his way through the door and
staggered into the yard.
It was not his compound, but after a minute he recognized a stand of
palm trees against the night sky and knew that he was in a Balanta village
not far from his home. He gagged again—Balantas! Filthy pig-keeping
wine-swilling infidels! He could never bring himself even to pass by this
village, let alone enter it, let alone to sleep with its pigs!
He gasped with fright, and staggered out the gate towards his home.
He was covered with pig shit from head to toe, his very breath stinking of
pigs, and in horror he leaned against a tree and vomited. How could this
have happened? He wept with revulsion as he stumbled along the forest
trail.
At home he found a basin of water and had washed off most of the excrement when dawn came. His head cleared and he sat down wrapped in
a clean robe to consider his ghastly experience. Surely Kadi was responsible for this monstrous sin! She must have returned to haunt him in his
dreams, and as he stared, entranced, into her eyes, had led him through
the forest, to lie down among the pigs, and to smear himself with
their... waste! He retched one more at the thought of it. Now he was
defiled in the eyes of Allah, and would have to do penance. Luckily no one
had seen him, or the entire village would have shunned him as an outcast.
The people of the village knew that Demba's sorrow must be heavy for
him to pray so diligently five times a day at the mosque, reciting long passages from the Qu'ran and begging for Divine Forgiveness. They wept in
59 their hearts and prayed that his forty days pass quickly, so he might seek
a new wife and put aside his grief.
On the thirtieth day after Kadi's death, Demba requested the village
elders that they renew efforts to retrieve his wife's body, that her remains might be interred properly. Although it was customary to remain
silent, except when praying, throughout forty days, the village elders
recognized that Demba wanted to benefit the community by ensuring that
Kadi's ghost would not haunt the premises. They authorized two young
men to climb into the well with ropes one morning and probe the depth
with hooked poles. Unfortunately, there had been several rainstorms in
the preceding week, and the water had risen. The poles snagged nothing
and could not touch the bottom.
Demba cursed to himself, but reasoned that perhaps his dead wife had
had enough and now would rest in peace. After all, he had been a bit
harsh with her after her miscarriages, acting as though it was her fault.
And certainly he might have been more sympathetic after the cows destroyed the rice plot, an accident she could not have prevented. Well,
good enough then, she had her revenge. He would beg Allah to dismiss
her soul to The Blessed Afterlife and pester him no more. After all, it was
better for both of them that their marriage end thus, in that they need not
suffer the shame of divorce, nor the continuing discontent of life together. Yes, Allah's Wisdom is Supreme, and always to the benefit of His
Loyal Servants.
The rainy season progressed, and with it came The Hunger. The village's last rice harvest had been no more than usual, and no less, but in
many other parts of the land the harvest had been poor and a number of
the villagers had sold their rice at high prices. As the rains washed over
the thatched roofs, many people now sat with empty bellies wishing they
had rice instead of fine cloth or silver necklaces.
Demba was hungry too. The damage done by the cows had left him
with little to fill his storehouse, and he had had to pay his sister's sons to
harvest it for him by giving each a calabash of rice. At the very end of his
forty days of mourning he found himself scraping the bottom of his clay
rice-jars to provide a celebration feast for his family, showing that he
would put aside his grief and seek a new wife. True to his secret promise
to Allah, he slaughtered a goat in gratitude—an extravagance his family
much appreciated.
But the next few days were damp and weary ones, as his belly began
to ache with emptiness. Many people in the village stared hopefully at the
new rice shoots coming up in their plots, and it made Demba even sadder
to think that now he had no one to plant for him, and next year he would
be even hungrier. He would be forced to sell off all of Kadi's cloth panos
60 and perhaps even the remainder of his goats and chickens, just to survive. In all probability he would have to put off remarrying until the year
after next, when he could afford a new wife.
Finally one evening Demba was reduced to eating some green bananas
from a tree in his compound, and he went to bed with his stomach aching
for real food. He lay for a long time listening to his guts growl, his mouth
watering at the thought of a bowl of steaming rice loaded with palm oil and
chicken with peppers. As he drifted off to sleep, he imagined that he
could actually taste it.
In his dream the meal was laid out on the straw mat of his house, and
the aroma of cooked rice filled the room and made it a home. Before him
lay a great yellow calabash filled with a heap of chicken legs, drenched in
blood-red palm oil, sprinkled over with roasted hot peppers and garlic.
The giant tin washbasin was piled high with rice, brilliant white in its
freshness, steam floating off it in a fragrant cloud. New loaves of white
bread lay on a cloth, their brown crusts still warm, and a great jug of the
sweet juice of baguiche flowers sat near him. A magnificent feast! Demba
lifted up the bowl of chicken, hefting its weight in his hand, and poured it
over the rice, watching the palm oil glisten as it soaked in. The soft white
chunks of meat were so huge they must have come from many roosters
of gallant proportions. He lifted a leg to his mouth. The flavour was superb, the peppers spicing the juicy meat to perfection, yet not burning
the taste away. The rice had cooled to the point where he could thrust his
hand into it and fill his mouth. The bread was soft and rich, and the juice
colder than he ever thought possible. Demba Djau knew he was in Paradise.
Suddenly he felt someone looking at him, and he turned. Beside him
sat Kadi, dressed in her finest bridal robes, her skin as smooth and fresh
as it had been on their wedding day, a smile of joy on her lips. She said
nothing, but in her eyes he knew she wanted only his happiness, and he
felt overwhelmed with the sensation of having a great and wonderful
thing, the treasure of a wife's worship, that no man should scorn. Demba
leaned towards her and put his arms around her.
At once the stench hit him and he gagged, spitting foulness from his
mouth. He opened his eyes to the grey light of dawn, and sat up quickly,
knocking his head on the low roof of the pig sty. He gasped with recognition and gagged again, his gorge rising until it hurt. In his mouth was the
revolting taste of shit, and his hands and face were smeared with it. His
body rebelled and he vomited, brown filth pouring from his mouth to mix
with the brown filth on the floor. Behind him a young piglet squealed with
fright and the mother snuffled and grunted threateningly.
Demba scrabbled at the door and lurched outside,  his stomach
61 clenched with nausea and horror. The dawn's light touched the clouds
with pink and coloured the stand of palm trees with gold. Demba took a
few steps and then stopped at the gate. Behind him he heard the clang of
a tin pot falling to the ground.
A Balanta woman stood staring at him, her coarse features frozen in
fear. Beside her lay a tin basin she had been taking to the well. Demba
belched involuntarily and the woman moaned, dropping to her knees and
mumbled a protective incantation against ghosts. Demba wrenched the
bamboo gate open and ran off down the forest trail toward home.
That evening the village elders congregated to hear the complaint of the
Balanta clan leader, Aliu Njai. He claimed that a horrifying phantom had
appeared in their village the previous night and had been caught attempting to kill their pigs. Aliu was convinced that this was due to the corpse
lying inside the well of the Fula village, and felt that a Fula ghost, being
Muslim, might well hold something against his pigs. He stated that he
thought it was shocking that no one had thought to call on the services of
a djambakus to exorcise the evil spirit living in the well, and that it was
the responsibility of the Fula elders to authorize an exorcism. A long
debate followed, in which the Fula elders advanced the possibility that the
phantom might have been generated by some act of the Balantas, who
are known to be filthy in the Eyes of Allah. And why the phantom should
choose to go all the way to the Balanta village to make an appearance
seemed mysterious, when it could have caused much more havoc among
the Fula homes standing next to the well. However, the logic of Aliu Njai
prevailed, and the Fula elders ordered that, since his people were bent
on keeping such grotesque creatures as pigs on their property, then they
should pay for the services of a djambakus to avoid further molestation
by the phantom.
Outraged at this, the Balantas responded that it was by no means their
fault that a Fula woman had fallen into the well, but local rumor had it that
she may have had cause to throw herself into the well, in which case
those responsible should be questioned and made to pay for the services
of a djambakus if one was, in fact, required.
The elders consulted together and noted that there had been some
speculation that Kadi had committed suicide after quarrelling with her
husband, and it was decided that Demba Djau could be called to make a
statement to the elders regarding his wife's death. Privately, the elders
knew that any intelligent man would deny everything, in which case the
elders could rule that the Balantas pay for the djambakus. If, however,
Demba Djau were fool enough to admit that he might have contributed to
his wife's death, then there would be no reason why he should not also
pay for the exorcism. A messenger was sent to Demba.
62 He appeared before the assembly, ashen-faced and obviously ill. Several of the Fula elders politely inquired after his health, and he told them
that he seemed to have contracted malaria and had been vomiting continuously all afternoon. The elders were about to begin questioning him
gently about his wife when Demba groaned and held his stomach. A loud
belch escaped from his mouth.
"That's him! That's the phantom!" A woman's voice issued from the
crowd of Balantas, and she stood up, pale, pointing a trembling finger at
Demba Djau. "I recognize his growl!" she cried.
Demba gasped in pain and surprise, and the assembled crowd broke
into an excited chatter. Then Aliu Njai stood up. "Respected Elders," he
said, in heavily accented Fulani, "My wife claims that she saw this man
crawl out of our pig sty this very morning! It is my opinion that Demba
Djau was trying to steal our pigs!"
"That's ridiculous!" shouted Demba Djau, recovering from his attack.
"Why would a devout Muslim steal pigs? Respected Elders, this accusation is a gross breach of decorum and a hideous insult! How can you permit it?"
"Haven't you been as hungry as the rest of us?" shouted Aliu. "Wasn't
your wife's rice plot trampled by cows last season? Even Muslims fancy a
bit of pork now and then!"
The assembled Fulas rose as one, outraged by this taunt. The elders
had to shout themselves hoarse and pound on the floor with their Staves
of Office to restore order. Demba Djau was asked to respond to Aliu's accusation. He folded his arms across his chest and glared at the Balantas,
the colour now restored to his face.
"That charge is utterly foolish," he said. "I am one of the wealthiest
men in this village. I haven't been hungry a day in my life. I could buy all
your little Balanta hovels on the spot."
Even the Fula elders were taken aback by this—they knew as well as
anyone that Demba Djau was doing badly. In fact, it seemed pretentious
to claim such wealth because modesty is a prized Fula trait. But it was
Aliu that broke the silence.
"In that case you can surely afford to pay for a djambakus to exorcise
the ghost of your late wife as a service to both of our communities," he
said.
Caught in his own lie, Demba was forced to agree.
He was consumed by rage that night as he sat alone in his house, but not
unhappy about the exorcism. It would do away with these ghastly pig-
games that Kadi's ghost was playing on him. He had spent the entire day
retching and coughing up chunks of pig manure, and his mind had nearly
snapped at the horror of it. If he could condemn the evil wraith to Hell
63 forever he would sell everything he owned to pay for it. For the
hundredth time that day he kneeled down on his prayer-mat and bowed to
the East, towards Mecca.
"Almighty Allah, You have seen fit to take my wife's body from this
earth—please now take her spirit away also! And please have mercy on
me for my involuntary transgressions, for You in Your Wisdom should
know that I would never have contact with Unclean Things by my own
will."
The next day a Fula djambakus from a nearby village arrived at midday, a tall black-skinned man with grey stubble on his face but the vigour
of youth in his limbs. It was said that he was over ninety-years-old, but
kept his youth by magic potions and syrups. He had walked the distance
between their two villages in only a few minutes, although the messenger
boy had taken an hour by bicycle. He entered Demba Djau's compound,
his long purple robes sweeping around his feet, his white scarf thrown
over his shoulders with careless vanity.
Demba greeted him respectfully in Fulani, and they took the appropriate time to inquire after each other's lives and assure each other that "all
is peaceful," although the djambakus already knew that Demba Djau's life
was in turmoil.
"A proper exorcism," said the djambakus, "Is expensive." And he
named a price that made Kadi's bride-price seem insignificant.
"The price will be remitted should the phantom persist?"
"My dear sir, have no fear. My exorcisms are always final, and so your
payment is irrevocable. Surely we need not discuss this any further."
"When will you require payment?" asked Demba, rapidly counting in
his head the names of friends and relatives from whom he could borrow.
"As soon as the exorcism ceremony is completed," said the djambakus.
That afternoon the djambakus ordered that the area around the well be
swept clean and encircled with a pile of dry brush and firewood. He requested a table, pen and paper. As the afternoon waned and shadows
were growing long, he called all the people in the Fula and Balanta villages to assemble around the well.
"There is no god but Allah!" cried the djambakus, "And Mohammed is
His Prophet!" All the villagers knelt to pray. The djambakus took the pen
and began to write in long, flowing Arabic script the name of Demba
Djau's wife, Kadi Djata Al-Hajii. Around the name he drew a box, and
around the lines of the box he wrote in small letters a magic incantation to
drive Kadi's spirit out of the well. He stood and read the incantation
aloud, then called for a bowl of red-hot coals to be brought from a nearby
fire. On the coals he laid the paper, which curled and flamed into glowing
64 ashes. Then from his sleeves he drew a glass vial containing the dried
leaves of a secret flower. He sprinkled these on the coals, and instantly a
great plume of red smoke shot into the air. The djambakus seized the pot
of coals and flung it into the well. Then he ordered that the brushwood be
set on fire. As the flames crackled at the lip of the well, the villagers
swore that they could hear the screams of the phantom of Kadi crying
from within. When the last of the sun's rays had died away in the west,
the djambakus proclaimed that the spirit had been exorcised, and would
not trouble them further. Demba Djau heaved a sigh of relief. Even
though he was now deeply in debt to almost everyone in the village, he
knew he had nothing to fear from his wife. Wearied by the strain of begging for money all afternoon, he went home and went to bed.
Kadi came to him in his dreams one last time. He felt her touch on his
arm as she slid into bed with him, and he smelled her sweet perfume. She
leaned over him, naked but for the gold and silver bangles and necklaces
she had worn on their wedding night. Her breasts were smeared with the
ash of a fragrant herb, and her belly and thighs were firm and full, as they
had been before the miscarriages sapped her strength. She smiled down
at him and caressed his nape, then drew close to him and stared into his
eyes. He could feel her craving for him, her desire for nothing other than
his pleasure, her hunger to bear him strong sons and beautiful daughters,
to make their family great and happy, and to be with him until their last
hour on earth. And Demba knew that he, too, wanted nothing else—no
other woman would tempt him for the rest of his life. He rejoiced in the
soft warmth of her body as she held him, and he took her into his arms
and prayed, at the moment of ecstasy, for a son.
The Balantas sent for the djambakus as soon as they heard the commotion in their pig sty. It was broad daylight by now, and the djambakus
strode into the Balanta village in company with the Fula elders. Inside the
pig house the hogs grunted and squealed and butted against the walls, but
the door was held shut by a huge rock the Balantas had shoved against it.
"Were you not paid to exorcise this phantom?" cried Aliu Njai. "If this
creature has injured any of my pigs you will pay me the animal's price immediately! "
"I think this is not the phantom from the well," said the djambakus.
"Open the door and we shall see. You need not worry—I can prevent any
supernatural being from harming us."
The rock was shoved aside and when the door opened the pigs rushed
out, squealing in terror. Only one large sow remained struggling within,
wrapped tightly in the arms of Demba Djau, who was naked and lay with
his eyes closed, a smile on his lips.
65 "I have sold everything I own to pay you."
"And are you not satisfied with the results?" said the djambakus.
"Demba Djau has been driven in disgrace from his village, his land and
cattle taken by his creditors, his house burned to the ground. Surely you
have punished him enough for praying for your death."
"It is Allah who has punished him, not me."
"Now you can slip across the border into Senegal, give yourself a new
name and history, and find a new husband. No one will be any the wiser; I
will hold my tongue."
The veiled woman stood and went to the door. She hesitated there,
her head bowed in thought.
"Is there something more I can do for you?" the djambakus asked.
"No," she said, and then, "Yes—give us a happy marriage!"
"That is something only Allah can give."
66 Hen Hierarchy
Caroline Woodward
Renegade Hen lurks in the tree that no hens are supposed to fly up
to. Renegade is mostly Leghorn, lean, mean and wild-eyed. The
rest are inside the chicken house, counting all their eggs, eating
till their gizzards pop, romancing the tired old rooster. Their plump red
hulks are all cozied up on the roosts.
But she, the runaway, the renegade, is not afraid of the dark. She
hangs on, a little unsteadily it's true, to the poplar branch twelve feet up
and makes a tiny angry bubbling noise back in her throat.
Her eggs are small and extremely white. She's the harlot of the
chicken world. She won't go near the regular egg boxes inside the house
to lay any of her precious farm fresh ova. This one squats in the furthest
corner under the roosts. Or out behind the woodpile. Under the barn
ramp. In the toolbox of the old John Deere.
She waits. The moon rises. A woman carries a full pail of milk from the
barn to the house. Lights go on automatically in the barnyard, the better
to see bears, anything with rabies or, God forbid, flames. Lights go off in
the chicken world. Renegade Hen sighs, almost happy, undetected on
the poplar branch and sleeps the sleep of the unrepentant.
Myrtle the Cowgirl turns on the old radio in the barn. It's a proven fact
that cows produce more milk to music. Not heavy metal, mind you, more
like Chopin. Myrtle's cows do fine with vintage country: Kitty Wells, Bob
Wills, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and best of all, Patsy Cline. It's no coincidence that milking time is eight o'clock sharp just like CJDC's Classic
Country Hour.
Myrtle grabs the rickety milking stool, the shining galvanized pail and
plops herself down next to the sweet-faced Jersey. Kitty croons and
wails it like it really is about honky-tonk angels and who created them in
the first place. Myrtle lays her head in the warm V-shaped hollow in But-
terfield Mae's flanks and sings along.
The double streams of milk foam in the pail and Myrtle floats away. Up
and away from her messy housebound world with five healthy, yammering kids, a skinny little husband who can't get enough of her and the fifty
67 extra pounds she's gained, ten pounds per baby, weighing her down,
making her wheeze. She rises in a glittering cowgirl sateen shirt and tight
white jeans with boots over top and a white hat on her curls, looking remarkably like Jessica Lange. This is why Myrtle won't teach the oldest
one to milk.
Myrtle comes back to the house at dusk, singing softly to herself, and
starts up a fine-tuned humming and purring at the cream separator in the
porch, one spout skimmed milk, the other a fine cream, still smiling, still
glowing.
Down the road half a mile, Myrna reaches for her twenty-fifth cigarette
and stacks it with the others in a black velvet case which snaps shut with
a solid metallic click. On Friday she is going to the Dawson Creek Hospital to have her gall bladder yanked out. Bad enough she's got diabetes
and poor circulation.
"Life's a bitch and then you die" is what Myrna has tacked up in her
sewing room. Myrna is used to feeling rotten and she says so at least
three times a day. Nobody listens. Her boys are good for nothing except
rolling cars and getting very young girls knocked up. She rents the land
out to a neighbour and gets by, just barely, she tells the boys who want
money for this or that.
Five years earlier her husband took out a bunch of insurance on himself
in February and rolled the tractor on himself in May. Myrna has gone to
Reno on package tours twice a year ever since but life is no longer sweet
no matter how many trips she takes. New chesterfield and drapes, be
damned. "To hell with it all," says Myrna out loud, smacking her tv wand
which doesn't work worth a crap unless it's pointed right at the set. She
doesn't want the news. She wants a half-decent movie, that's why she
got that satellite dish monstrosity in the first place. Myrna often stays up
all night, smoking and jumping from channel to channel.
Sometimes around daylight, the newest victim huddles under the roosts
where she spent the night. Too tired to fly up and claim her rightful place
as a producer, a layer of reliable brown eggs in her day. Feathers waft off
her back and looking closer, advancing, we see the bald, scabby patches.
Exciting.
An experimental peck by our leader. She jerks back a little. A squeak.
Another. A half-hearted defense. Take a couple swipes just below the
neck, someone advises. There, where it joins the back. Lots of bald surface. There. And there.
The chicken house fills with a scuttling, rustling noise and then the soft
footfalls of twenty pairs of chicken claws marching over wood shavings
68 and shit and silent downy feathers. Toward the undersized one in the
corner, weeping. Trying to have a heart attack to be done with it quickly.
Instead of bleeding to death with everyone else getting drunk on her
blood. Praying also for a concussion. A good sharp peck on the skull and
nothing.
At the next house on Haliburton Road with the lights off by nine-thirty,
summer and winter, is Maggie Morris and her oddball friend in the little
trailer, the one who changes her name about once a year. Maretta Dawn
Giddings aka Aurora Dawn Giddings aka Melinda Hope Giddings and on
and on for about nine different names. This boggles the mind of the community at large.
Maggie is a strange, mean hermit with a permanent scowl on her face
as far as the rest of Haliburton Road is concerned so Maretta's name
changing antics are a pleasant enough diversion. As are her flouncy
Southern belle clothes and the bright yellow Japanese jeep she drives like
a bat out of hell down Haliburton Road.
People can't figure out what she's doing at Maggie's place for going on
three years now. Maggie's folks died in a smash-up between their grain
truck and a P.G.E. freight train when she was seventeen. Maggie ran her
own brother off the place the day she turned twenty-one and he was one
year older. He always bounced in and out of jail, starting young. People
say he beat her up and worse. Maggie took to wearing overalls and gum-
boots and her father's old shirts. Anybody who didn't have business being
on her place got shown the gate pronto. Except Maretta of course.
At the Co-op Myrtle Owens told Myrna Jenkins that she'd seen Maggie
and Maretta walking back from the river breaks with a milk pail full of saskatoons between them, walking and laughing like a pair of schoolgirls.
Myrna sniffed and looked sideways.
"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," she said and
smirked in that sneaky way of hers. Myrtle was truly bewildered.
"But it was nice to see Maggie laughing, is all. Enjoying herself, having
fun with company. Nothing wrong with that, is there Myrna?"
Myrna shrugged her leathery little shoulders and Myrtle felt herself
getting into a huff and decided to finish her shopping and get home.
Renegade will be stringy and tough. The rest leave her alone. A hen
hierarchy depends on size, weight, general alertness and an undefinable
streak of meanness. The ability to lunge at somebody else's eyes. The
urge to flaunt a wingspan quicker than anybody else. To knock somebody
off balance for the sheer pleasure of it. You can watch it operate at the
69 half-tires filled with grain and water and oyster shell. There'll be a couple
hogs. Top hens. Queen bees, all the same diff. Same goes for the laying
boxes. The Top Hen picks the very first box so everyone else has to
walk further down to climb into an empty one and work away.
Maggie Morris used to get migraines so bad she'd crawl into the pantry
where it was coolest and lay down on a cot she kept there for just that
purpose. Sometimes they lasted three days. She hasn't had a bad one for
about three years. She still jams a heavy bladed knife into both doors at
night and puts the German Shepherd on the long line between the house
and the trailer porch. She keeps the old duck gun, a shotgun, in her
bedroom. Just in case.
Renegade Hen will end up as stew or coyote finger food. She will have
the last laugh if anyone can catch her at all. This bird can fly.
70 Contributors
Michael C. Kenyon is a frequent contributor to Prism international. He has two books
due out this fall, Kleinberg, a novel, with Oolichan Books, and Dinners, a short fiction collection, with Brick Books. He lives in Victoria.
Cameron Macauley is a Physician Assistant. He previously served in a war-zone refugee
hospital in Cambodia in 1984, and in a hill-country hospital in Sumatra in 1985. He has published stories in The Sonora Review and The North American Review and journalism in The
Boston Globe and World Monitor. He is currently in the Peace Corps and posted in Guine-
Bissau, West Africa, where he runs a clinic.
James R. Mayes has just completed a collection of short stories as a thesis for an MA in
English at Wayne State University in Detroit. The Hired Boy is his first published story.
D.C. Reid's poems and stories have appeared in many magazines recently including Prism,
Dandelion, Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, Quarry, Matrix, Queen's Quarterly, Prairie
Fire, Capilano Review, Canadian Author and Bookman, Arc, Zymergy and Woscana
Review. His work has been anthologized in Open Windows (Quarry Press), Northern Spirit
(Aya Press) and A Labour of Love.
Jill Robinson grew up in Langley, B.C. She earned a BA in English Literature in 1982,
and then an MA in American literature (thesis: The Circumferential Vision: Love and Death
in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson) in 1985, both at the University of Calgary. This May she
will complete an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
She is currently completing a collection of short stories, Putting On The Invisible Dog, and
also rewriting and revising her first novel. She still lives in Calgary, but yearns for the sea.
Norbert Ruebsaat writes poems, plays and translations. He has recently translated and
adapted Mauricio Kagel's Oral Treason, which premiered at the Banff Centre in March
1990. Dick Undjane is part of a series of immigrant stories that Norbert Ruebsaat is writing. Other stories in this collection have been published in event, Writing and Ruebsaat's
Magazine.
Liliane Welch teaches at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. She has published
ten books of poems and a selection of autobiographical essays (Seismographs). This spring
Ragweed Press will bring out her new collection of poems, Fire to the Looms below.
Caroline Woodward's work last appeared in Prism international 27:3. Her first collection
of short fiction, Disturbing the Peace, will be published by Polestar Press in Spring 1990.
71 EPOCH
continues to publish an Incredibly wide range of
the best new poetry and fiction
Recent contributors Include fiction writers
Rick DeMarlnis, Dallas Wiebe, Harriet Doerr,
RusseU Edson, Joyce Osddl Gates, and Robert Morgan;
and poets A.R. Aapmons, Wanda Coleman,
Nathaniel Maokey, Peter Dale Scott,
Thylias Moss, and John Taggart.
Published three times a year at
251 Goldwta. Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853
Sample copy
$4.00
One year subscription
$11.00  

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