Jean Pritchard is a supermarket cashier, a news junkie and the mother of three: two teenagers who still live at home and another who speaks in italics and seems to have moved out. Then her kids start getting in fights for defending their Vietnamese neighbours, and her son takes up with "That Charlene," and her long-lost mother comes blasting out of …
Life assumed a kind of irregular schedule inside which each of them had their individual routines. Jean went out with the Old Woman depending on tide and Fisheries regulations, but made no attempt to go very far or stay out very long. She was not so much fishing as she was practising and honing skills she had thought she would never again need. Before she went gallivanting off on two- or three-day heavy duty expeditions, she wanted to know what every creak meant, what every shift in pitch and tone of the engine meant, whether the Old Woman was sneezing or getting ready to blow her top. Jean still felt a hollow ball in the deep pit of her stomach when she loosened the lines and got ready to take the Old Woman out, and until that cold emptiness went away and stayed away, there was no way she was getting adventuresome.
Eve putzed at home, playing Suzie Homemaker with a dedication that amazed everyone. Wasn't she the one who had turned her back on brownies and pecan pie, wasn't she the one had told the washing and ironing to go to hell and taken a hike as far from all that as she could? And yet there she was, with the CBC radio tuned in and turned up, and if she wasn't washing and waxing she was ironing and folding. "My grandchildren," she said fiercely, "are not going to have to take goddamn Twinkles in their lunch pails! They'll take good made-from-scratch or I'll know the reason why."
If Patsy launched herself into computers the way she launched herself into being apprentice Suzie she had a fine, stable career ahead of her. There she was, still talking italics, busy mixing, stirring and checking the oven temperature as if she weren't the one had loudly and often argued, fought and even cursed the idea of having to take home-ec in grade ten. "It's not the same," she insisted, "at school they only taught dumb stuff. I mean, really, how often do you need to make one cupcake? I mean ... one?"
Sally and Mark dutifully did school. They left in the morning with and his siblings, walked to the corner and waited for the school bus. Jean didn't know they waited in a group visibly distanced from the others waiting for the same bus, nor did she know that once on the bus they sat together, ignoring and ignored by the rest of the kids, and if she had known she wouldn't have had any suggestions for bridging the gap. It was more than the new kid syndrome, it was even more than the fact Joe's family were what the rest called Veets. They could have forgiven the Veets part, what they couldn't forgive was that the new kids obviously preferred the company of the Veets.
And then the kids came home with torn clothes, and Sally had a shiner that started at her eyebrow and went down past her cheekbone. She also had a grin that was maybe a bit tight at the corners, but totally sincere.
"My God!" Eve shrieked. "My God what happened?"
"I was talkin' when I shoulda been listenin'." Sally tried to pass it all off as nothing at all but Eve was in high gear, getting ice cubes, getting tincture of benzoin, getting ready to take hysterics.
"Yeah." Mark took Sally's hand, squeezed it gently, his smile stretching his swollen lower lip. "And you should see the other guy, eh Sal?"
"What other guy? What happened?" Jean decided Eve doing the fussbudget hysteric was enough for any household. She sat down and pretended to be calm.
"Oh, you tell 'em," Sally winced, blinking rapidly, fighting the need to cry as Eve's first aid skills blundered away at the eye.
"Well, we're waltin' for the bus at school, to come home, eh, and they start in on Joe, eh." Mark was obviously going to make it all as unimportant as possible. "So first it's the townies, but then the bus kids pick up on it. You know, Buddha-eyed bastard and goddamn boat person and that shit. So then the bus comes, eh, and we get on, and it just gets worse. The joke shit, ch. How can you tell how many Veets live in a house? Count the windows and multiply by thirty; Stuff like that. So we get off at the regular stop and don't they all get off, and so it's either let them pound on Joe and stand around as much use as a cuppa warm piss, or try to make 'em stop. So, they go for us, too. And I'm gettin' my clock cleaned real good and then whappo! and it's Old Sal, here, right in there like a dirty shirt, only this guy grabs her from behind, by the arms, eh, and this other guy gives her that shiner and Joe went nuts."
"So did you." Sally took the tea towel with the ice cubes wrapped in it away from Eve and held it against her own eye in self-defence. Eve was so fraught she was practically ramming it through Sally's skull.
"Yeah. And so I get the guy who's holding her and Joe gets the guy hit her and then Sal. . . " He shook his head, grinning widely. "Listen, don't you ever get noisy again about how we turn our brains to train oil watching Rambo movies because Rambo has nothing on Salbo, here. Yah-hoo! Dumbshit Mikey Tyson has nothing on Sally. Except the lisp."
Sally came off her chair, clowning, foolish, pretending to go for Mark who pretended to cower back in abject terror and the two of' them cavorted around defusing the anger, insult and belated fear of the others.
And then Mr. Nguyen arrived. And the guy who hardly ever said anything to anybody had his jaw in gear. The man who made everyone feel as if his opinion of them couldn't be much lower was carrying a small black lacquer bowl with two brilliant gold fish painted on the sides. He didn't even knock at the door, he just came in. Into the kitchen, right into the middle of the foolishness of the release of nerves and adrenalin. The kids froze, half expecting him to ream them out the way he had probably already reamed out Joe and the younger kids.
"Thank you," he said quietly. He very formally handed the bowl to Sally, looked at her eye and winced, then turned to Jean. "Cold tea," he said gravely. "You make tea. You drink tea. You settle nerves. Put cold tea bag on eye," and then he grinned, too. "My so" says they kicked ass." He turned to Mark. "That true? You kick ass?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Nguyen. And we'll do it again tomorrow if we have to."
"Damn kids," he decided. "Drive me crazy one day." He smiled and nodded all round, bobbed his head a few times, and then was gone. As he closed the door they heard him chuckling happily to himself.
"Boy," Mark said, "he's an odd bird. I thought he'd raise holy old hell about fighting."
"Probably would have done if you'd lost," Eve said softly. "It's hard to argue with the winners."
Popular mythology says it only takes one good fight to settle things own and after that everyone moves rapidly into friendship. It didn't a pen that way. It didn't happen the least little bit that way. There ere no fights on the way to school, bruises and swollen lips are too hard to explain when you walk into class. But the bus stop and the short trip from there to the front door became a war zone.
Everyone else had routines, more or less, to hold the edges of their lives together. The school bus arrived at a particular time, and returned at another particular time, Patsy's several rides to and from college were geared and timed to other people's shedules but became her routine. Eve was so into Dora Domesticus she was washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, brownies on Wednesday, oven cleaning on Thursday, floors on Friday, and only Jean drifted around loosely, depending on tide, weather, Fisheries regulations, dawn, sunset and how strongly the winds were blowing and from what direction.
She came in because the wind was blowing too strongly from the wrong direction and threatening to get stronger. She didn't mind, though, the tanks weren't full but they were so far from empty she felt cheered. The packer was waiting in the cab of his truck when she arrived. He waved and stubbed out his home-rollie cigarette, then got out and moved to help with the ropes.
It only took fifteen minutes. They lowered the fibreglass tub, dipnetted the cod from the live tank into the waiting water-filled container and when the live tanks were empty, Jean turned off her pumps and watched while the packer went back to his truck and winched his tub to the weigh scale. They both grinned; even when he subtracted the weight of the tub and water from the poundage indicated on the dial there was money, good money, being made.
He winched the tub into place, tied it down, signed the chit and handed it to Jean who tucked it very carefully into her wallet. The truck drove off. Jean walked over to the packers, presented her chit and waited while the bookkeeper made out a cheque.
She was in a good mood as she walked home. She had fewer worries right now than she'd had in four or five years. She was tired, sure, but tired can be overcome. A hot bath, a meal, a few hours sawing logs and tired is gone. Terry Dugan would be lead-footing it to the house soon to collect Patsy and head off, probably up a back road to neck until the cab of the pickup was steamed; maybe, after a nap she'd suggest the rest of them go into town for a pizza and maybe catch a movie. The movie. The only one in town. The only one for sixty miles.
She topped the hill and started down the other side, heading for the corner and the road home. That's when she walked into the brawl.
Joe was rolling in the mud, fighting desperately, Mark was pinned against a tree catching punches groggily and Sally was flailing and kicking while two bozos big enough to be on a chain gang laughed and slapped her repeatedly. Joe's siblings were racing down the road toward home yelling for their mother to come and help.
Some things you do before you even think about how to do them. Jean hadn't been in a fight for probably twenty-five or thirty years. She neither knew nor cared who was right and who was wrong.
One of the several taking turns turning Mark's face to mush had his back fully turned to her. Jean ran as quickly as she could and two and a half feet from the broad Jean-clad backside she fired a kick that connected squarely between the muscled thighs. Someone's pride and joy gasped and dropped to his knees. So she kicked him again, this time on the side of the neck.
There was a stick lying in the gravel on the side of the road. It wasn't a club, it wasn't even a baseball bat, it wasn't much of a stick, really, but when it landed on the head of one of the jerks giving Sally a hard time it did exactly what Jean wanted it to do. Suddenly the fight was withering on the vine. One of the valiant turned threateningly and Sally screamed, "You just dare touch my mother you fuckfaced asshole, you just dare!"
The word mother hit harder than any kick, harder than any stick, harder than the club Jean wished she had. They just froze. The, expressions on their faces changed. They stared.
"Come on," Jean puffed and panted, her heart thudding in her ears, "let's go home before the cops arrive."
The word cops finished what the word mother had started. Within seconds gladiators were drifting away wordlessly. Jean grabbed the groinkicked pride and joy by the shoulder, and helped him to his feet. "Do anything like this again," she said quietly, "and you arc going to be one very sorry little boy. Do you understand?" He nodded, too sick to be angry. "Seven against three," she rubbed his nose in it, "and one of them a girl. What would your mother say if she knew?"
Sally didn't cry until they got into the house, and then she just sat a chair, put her head on the table and let'er rip. Jean was so upset she wanted to sit with her and join in but all she could do was take off her work jacket, sit on the bottom step, take off her boots and put them on the newspaper on the hall floor, then pad upstairs in wool
socks to change her work clothes for clean ones.
When she came down Mark was washed and changed. Without the blood from his nose smeared all over his face he looked not too bad. Sally didn't have any marks on her, she had been pushed and shoved more than punched or hit.
"Looks as if Joe got the worst of it." Jean forced some calm into her voice but it still shook and quavered.
"You should call the cops," Eve's voice trembled. "This is starting to go too far."
"No," Mark said quickly, "no cops."
"Christ." Jean sat in a chair, and Eve put a cup of tea in front of her. "They all think they're John Bloody Wayne or someone."
"Joan Wayne." Mark pointed at Sally and tried to grin. Sally didn't answer, she just got up from the table, sniffing, and moved to the stairs. Jean left her tea untouched and followed.
Sally was at the bathroom basin, sponging water onto her face, still hiccoughing and sniffing. She turned and Jean folded her into a tight hug. "Oh, baby," she mourned, "Oh baby, I was so scared for you.
"I was scared for you," Sally walled. "What if they'd hit you, too?"
"When are they going to leave Joe alone? Poor little guy."
"It wasn't Joe this time." Sally looked as if she wished she'd kept her mouth shut but you can't let a cat half out of a bag, it's either firmly hidden or racing around yowling in the face of the entire world. "Oh, Momma," and she was sobbing.
It took ten minutes to get the story from her. Maybe the fights had started because of Joe, maybe Joe had only ever been the excuse. "They said Gran was a ... a. . ."
"Bunkhouse Bertha," Jean guessed. "Loggers' whore."
"No. But it's what they said to me when I was younger than you are. And I wasn't a very good fighter. It wasn't so much I was afraid of getting hurt, it was that I was sick at the thought of hurting Someone else! So instead of fighting with my fists, I fought with my tongue.
"Yeah. You just tell 'em Oh yeah? Well at least my Gran doesn't give it away for free like some cheap shits I could name but won't. I think I won when I told 'em all that the only reason they were raisin' hell about my mom was they knew their own fathers were at the front of the line, waiting in the rain for the one chance of their lives."
Sally stared. Then she nodded. No grins, no giggles, no hugs, no kisses, just a nod and total understanding.
They both heard the quiet gasp at the doorway. They both turned, startled. Eve stood, her face pale, her eyes suddenly sunk deep in her head, her lipsticked mouth half open with shock and pain. She tried to speak and couldn't, just shook her head, unable even to weep, and Jean knew every party Eve had ever attended, every fling Eve had ever flung, every don't-give-a-rat's-ass laugh Eve had ever uttered had come due, the bill was staring her in the face, the piper wanted paid. But she had no time, no energy, no interest in Eve, her problems, or her obvious pain and regret. Sally was sobbing heartbrokenly, and Sally was who was important. The sins of the mothers ought not be visited upon the children, even to the second and third generation. But they are. What's sauce for the goose is excused for the gander, the sins of the temptress outweigh those of the tempted. The double standard is alive and well and the innocent catch the shit.
She took one step forward, put her arms around her devastated child and held tightly. "I love you, baby," she said. "And that might not be much, it might never be enough, but it's just about everything I have. I'd give my right arm for you to never be hurt again, and we both know I can't stop the hurts. But we can stop this one. Fuck it. I'll sell the house, sell the boat, if I have to I'll sell my gumboots, but we'll get you away from all this generational bullshit."
In this powerful, shocking and highly absorbing new work, Anne Cameron picks up a thread from her prize-winning novel Dreamspeaker, in which an eleven-year-old abuse survivor and runaway named Peter Baxter is taken from his adopted family - two reclusive Native elders - only to be destroyed by the child welfare system that supposedly exists to prot …
The new place wasn't bad, it was just so far from everyone Fran knew. Not just miles away, days away by bus. They lived within sight and sound of the rail line, and the little kids loved to run up the hill and stand waving like fury as the train thundered past, clickety-clack clickety-clack. The engineer aIways blew his whistle and the kids thought it was for them.
"He blows when you aren't there, too," Fran told them.
"That's to say hello, anyway," little Scotty insisted. He was so convinced Fran didn't have the heart to make him believe the truth.
There were two bedrooms, a small living room and a kitchen about big enough for you to sit at the table while frying bacon on the oil-burning stove. The bathroom was a partitioned-off section of what had been a big porch before it got closed in and called a spare room. "You can have that for your own," Jo-Beth said apologetically, but Fran shook her head. It was blistering hot in the summer and as cold as the Arctic in winter. Besides, who wants to have a washing machine and a dirty clothes basket in what's supposed to be your bedroom, and a back door without any kind of lock, where people can just saunter in if they want to and there's your bed, and no privacy at all? Might as well sleep in the middle of the highway, with the white line for a pillow.
She shared the bedroom with the little kids - probably a good decision, all things considered. There was a slide bolt on the inside, and even though Jo-Beth rambled on about What if there was a fire, how would I get in there to get you out, Fran slid that bolt shut at night. There were just too many yahoos she didn't know who wound up at the place after hours with a case of beer or two.
Jo-Beth was working as a dispatcher at the taxi office, and the best shift was the one where she left the house after supper and worked from eight at night until eight in the morning. After that shift she would come home, make breakfast for everyone, maybe even help Fran with the laundry or something, then go to bed and saw logs until suppertime. She'd get up, have a meal with them and be a mother until it was time to go to work. She supervised the bath, washed hair, laughed, smooched and let them watch while she put on her face and got ready for work. She was sober the whole time. But after the other shift, from eight in the morning to eight at night, she'd stop off at the pub for a couple of cold ones on her way home. And Jo-Beth was no more capable of having just a couple than she was capable of joining the Olympic snowshoe team. Fran knew it wasn't going to change, no matter how many promises Jo-Beth made. She just couldn't walk past a pub unless the door was locked.
And it seemed as if the rest of the world didn't want her to leave alone at closing time either. lf Jo-Beth came home with just one guy things weren't bad, and if that guy stayed two or three days things were all right, sometimes almost nice. It was when the whole damn troop arrived, and your life got invaded by people you didn't know from Adam's off-ox and didn't want to know either. Sometimes the mad hatter's beer party would go on for days. Fran hated Jo-Beth's days off. Either you didn't see her at all because she was at the pub or at someone else's place, or you saw too much of her and her noisy friends.
"Ah, don't be that way," Jo-Beth pleaded, "they just want to be friendly, that's all. God, Fran, the world isn't halfways near as bad as you seem to want to think it is."
"Wake up, Momma. Take a look at what it really is."
But not Jo-Beth, she wasn't going to look at anything ever again. "Put on his best clothes," she wept, "went off lookin' like some kind of movie star or something, and for all I know he stepped off the edge of the earth and fell up to the moon. Just gone."
Fran knew it was nothing of the sort. Fran knew what had happened. It was like watching a movie, a private movie in her head. There were only two possible versions, neither of them with a happy ending. Either big Scotty had lived or he had died. In either version, the cop was bear meat. The cop car hidden in a gully or a ravine or off the Malahat and down three hundred feet to the chuck, maybe with the cop and big Scott both still inside. She didn't know if Scotty had taken one of the handguns he'd lifted off a German he'd killed or if he'd used a violin string or a rolled-up magazine or any of the other things they'd taught him to use, but he'd done it, as sure as God made little green apples. Probably just waited in an alley until the cop came along the sidewalk playing his part, being the lawman, walking the beat. Then grab him by the elbow, swing him into the alley, the sharp outer edge of the hand on the end of the nose driving the nosebone up into the skull, then back into his own car, on the floor probably, and drive away as calm as calm could be. Or maybe wait in the parking lot outside the police station, the last place they'd think anyone would dare try it. For big Scotty it would be easy, he'd been trained by the best in the world. Thump, then drive away, obeying all the traffic laws. Maybe up Green Mountain, maybe along a logging road up Copper Canyon way, or maybe down the highway and off through Cowichan into Paldi or Youbou or any of two thousand places where a crumpled wreck would be raided by bears, ravens, wolves, mink and rats until only bones were left, then the salal, blackberry and you-name-it would cover the car completely, the alders would grow up and punch through the glass, and before long the thing would rot down so that even if someone did find it they would think it was just another ancient hunk of junk.
And either big Scotty was dead inside it with a bullet from. his own gun lodged in what was left of his skull, or he'd just as calm as anything caught the ferry to Vancouver and then a bus to Seattle or to Tampa, Florida. That one Fran didn't mind at all, Scotty working a charter fish boat out of Tampa, his hair bleached snow white by the same hot sun that had tanned his skin to the colour of arbutus bark. Barefoot, bare chested, in shorts or cutoff jeans, he ran his charter boat, catching bluefin and swordfish, drinking beer from. bottles kept cool in the fish hold where the crushed ice was loaded in by the half ton. Fran could almost smell him, see him standing at the wheel, his body layered in muscle, singing and ignoring the admiring looks of all those women. Scotty would never get married ever again, and he'd never have another family of kids, he wouldn't do that, he wouldn't betray or abandon them that way. He'd live on his boat, alone except for the people he took out on charters, and everyone would wonder what a good-lookin' man like him was doing on his ownsome.
If he wasn't dead he was on the run, and one way or the other they'd never see him again. Even if he wasn't her real dad, even if she'd been nearly a year old before he set eyes on her, she had thought he was her dad before she found out different. And maybe what you believe somehow becomes real. Maybe what seems to be, is. He'd have made three of any of these idiots, that's for sure. Even when she was drunk, Jo-Beth knew it. And cried, lots of times. "Oh, Fran, what am I going to do? I'm so scared."
Fran hated school. Nobody there said anything to her about Jo-Beth's parties, but she knew they knew, and she knew they talked about it to each other. They pretended to be friendly, but it was only pretend. Fran hated knowing the teachers sat in their coffee room and talked to each other about how sad it was, how awful, how difficult for the poor children. Poor, poor things. But she couldn't tell Jo-Beth how she felt because Jo-Beth would go into a fury and start slapping and hitting, with a kindling stick or a leather belt or the cord on the iron. Then not only did nothing change, but she had to go to school with welts on her arms and legs and even in wintertime with a long-sleeved sweater it was impossible to cover all of them. Then they had even more reason to say poor thing. Poor, poor little thing.
It was bad enough and scary enough when the men fought, but when the women started fighting it was horrible. Men - well, they do that, and you walk around always half expecting a fight to break out, especially if there's the smell of booze in the room. But when the women fight, you know things have gone as far as they can go before people go insane and start doing things like setting themselves on fire or carving their initials on their cheeks. The first time Fran saw women fighting all she could do was stand in the open doorway gaping. It wasn't like in some silly movie, with a lot of rolling around and hair-pulling and nobody's makeup getting smeared and the women looking as if they were practising to make love to the men. In real life, women fought just as mean and as hard and as awful as men, with grunts and punches and terrible scratching, like tigers, with long bleeding claw marks. You slimy cunt, I'll tear your fuckin' eyes out. You scabby twat, you'll be sorry.
And Jo-Beth watching, shaking her head and saying Good God, girls, try to be ladies, will you, and then laughing, as if some point had been proved. I mean, my God, girls, if you can't be ladies you're in trouble. Because whatever else she was, Jo-Beth was a lady. In her own mind, at least. She didn't roll on the floor grunting and cursing, nor stand there swinging away like a fool.
Even worse than that, the really awful one, the one Fran knew she would never get used to, was when some guy started hitting on his woman. And all the women would run to huddle together, calling out things like Oh, God, stop him, and Jesus, some of you guys do something, and Call the police, he'll kill her. The men sat there looking as if they wished they could put a stop to it, looking uneasy in the same way as if someone had suddenly decided to pee on a parking meter downtown. But they didn't interfere. So someone would get well and truly beaten to shit by someone who was bigger, heavier and way lots stronger, someone who would be ashamed to beat up a man half his size but thought it okay to teach the old lady a goddamn lesson, by God.
All through the good weather, all through the fall and into the start of the cold season, one party after another and nothing but noise going on so much of the time.
The weather was another shock to the system. This wasn't the Island, with lots of rain and fog but no real bitter cold, This was the Interior, and Jo-Beth was right when she said Don't let your nose drip or it'll freeze and you'll have an icicle going from your top lip right up into your sinuses. It was so cold that your nose would bleed from. it. You couldn't put enough blankets on the bed. Not even Christmas time and you had to have hot water bottles in the bed before you could bear to crawl in between the sheets.
Ana Historic is the story of Mrs. Richards, a woman of no history, who appears briefly in 1873 in the civic archives of Vancouver. It is also the story of Annie, a contemporary, who becomes obsessed with the possibilities of Mrs. Richards's life.
Ana Historic is Daphne Marlatt's first novel, and was originally published by Coach House Press in Cana …
Winner of the ReLit Award for Best Novel
Shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley Award for Women's Fiction
An American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book
Ivan E. Coyote is acclaimed as one of North America's most beguiling storytellers; Ivan's honest, down-to-earth tales, many of which are based on personal experience, are compelling for their simpl …
"Cameron doesn't stop at a wall of despair. Her stories illuminate her faith in compassion and tolerance."
Life isn't easy in Bright's Crossing, the Vancouver Island town where these short stories are set. The locals make their living in the forests, the mines and the ocean; and it is rich strangers in far-off cities who get the …
Nobody was surprised when Cheryl and Fred separated, then divorced. The surprise was that they had ever married in the first place. That surprise was followed by the sixteen-year surprise of them living together, having two children, and not killing cach other at any point in the process.
Those who met him called Fred "charming" and 'friendly," they predicted he'd go a long way and commented on how well he had already done. Those who met Cheryl said she was "spunky" and "hard-working," and privately thought she had the disposition of a snake. Some called her Mighty Mouth, some made jokes about the Fastest Tongue in the West, some said nothing but prayed to God they would never again get on her wrong side or expose themselves to the razor-sharp, two-edged verbal machete she swung at the merest hint of an insult or argument.
Together, Cheryl and Fred added up to more than the sum of their parts. Individually, each had holes in their personality through which could be driven at least one Euclid truck. Together, they filled those holes and sparked each other to higher efforts. Even their families agreed he was more pleasant, she was much smarter.
Cheryl didn't dislike people, she just couldn't stand fools. Fred didn't care how foolish people were if they were useful. When these two met and got married, neither had much of anything. Sixteen years later they had two children and one house in Bright's Crossing, paid for and rented out to tenants, and they had moved to a small wart of a town on the northem tip of the island, where they lived in a badly insulated "carpenter's special owned by the trucking company for which they both worked. The trucking company owner had suggested several times that Cheryl and Fred buy the house and fix it up, thereby convincing the townspeople they intended to stay.
"l don't intend to stay here," Cheryl said baldly.
"I'd buy it back from you," the owner bargained.
"Why do you refuse a good deal?"
"Because I don't trust the motives of people who offer me good deals when I haven't even inquired."
The boss lived in Vancouver and flew into the wart of a town when the mood struck him. He showed up unannounced and unweIcome, poked his nose in every crack, cranny, and comer, aIways found something to bitch about, then flew back out again after causing a tempest in the small-town teapot. Fred always grinned, nodded, smiled, and agreed with the boss, Cheryl went about her work as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.
Fred was the manager of the trucking company and Cheryl was the office manager. That meant, theoretically at least, Fred was Cheryl's boss. Most of the time this fine distinction didn't matter to anybody; Cheryl looked after the books, answered the phone, took messages, scheduled the drivers, and handled most of the complaints. Fred gave estimates, organized the work orders and mechanics, and made contacts which might result in new business.
Cheryl also got up in the morning, put on the coffee, made breakfast, and organized the kids. While they were getting fed and ready for school, she took a cup of coffee to Fred, then, while he was drinking it and waking up, she showered and dressed for work. She and the kids left the house at the same time. She unlocked the Office, put on the coffee pot, and answered the phone if it was already ringing. She organized her day, and was working when Fred came in an hour later. He went to his office, she took him a cup of coffee, and by the time she got back to her desk, the red light on the phone was shining steadily: Fred had started working.
He was busy in his office for an hour, then went down to talk to the drivers and mechanics. If parts were needed, Cheryl phoned the city and arranged for them to be sent up on the daily plane. Fred got in his company car and drove off to check on the backhoe driver, the bulldozer driver, and the truck drivers, and to look for new business. His company car had a mickey-mouse installed so he could keep in touch with the office, where Cheryl was answering the phone, making appointments for Fred to go out and give estimates, arguing with suppliers in the city, or soothing the hurt feelings of a mechanic who had been insulted by the owner on his last trip in to check on things. Cheryl never asked Fred what in hell it was he was doing when he was out making contacts, and Fred never asked Cheryl who in hell she thought she was telling the mechanic the owner was an ignorant asshole who knew nothing about the kind of work the mechanic did so couldn't be expected to be appreciative, polite, or anything but an asshole.
And then the backhoe driver brought his machine in because something was wrong with the bucket. lt would lift, but it wouldn't tilt. The mechanic went over, stared at it for a long time, fiddled with this, fiddled with that, then diagnosed it.
Cheryl was upstairs at her desk, just finishing the waybills and freight records when she heard a godawful thump, a roar of pain and surprise, and the ohmigawdjesusdamn of the mechanic. She was out from behind her desk, through the door and down the stairs before the echo of the awful thump had stilled. The backhoe driver was standing where he ought to be sitting, leaning forward, his hand stuck in the middle of the mess of pneumatic tubes and gizmos in the shaft of the arm that regulated the bucket. His face was dead white, his lips blue, and his eyes threatened to bug right out of his head. The mechanic, breathing curses, was busy with his tools. All he said to Cheryl was, "Get Fred back here with the car."
She went back up the stairs two at a time, grabbed the mickey-mouse, pushed the button and shouted, "Shop calling Fred, Shop calling Fred. Accident. Accident in the shop. Come in Fred." When there was no answer and she had tried so many times she was getting frightened, she changed her call to "If anybody sees Fred tell him to get his ass back here right away."
A voice she knew she ought to recognize answered her. "l think I know where he is, I'll go find him." Cheryl dropped the whole rig and raced back down the stairs.
The driver's fingers were still jammed in whatever it was had jammed, and the mechanic was cursing frantically. Cheryl climbed onto the step, then into the cab, got behind the driver, bent her legs under him, and lifted and pushed him forward, taking the pull from his arm and hand.
"Got'er," the mechanic gasped. The driver's fingers came free, the glove leather startlingly white, all dirt, water, and grease squeezed out of the two leather digits. He sighed deeply and sagged. Cheryl hauled him back into the cab of the machine, got him on the seat, loosened the buttons on his shirt, and wiped the oily sweat off his cold face.
No Fred. No company car. No calm person to drive them to the infirmary. The mechanic's licence was under suspension for impaired driving, so it was Cheryl got behind the wheel of the gravel truck and somehow, nobody ever knew how or believed it was possible, she got the man to the hospital.
They weren't sure they could save the fingers. The operator was half frantic, and the nurse was totally occupied with the damaged hand, so it was Cheryl who had to calm the operator, soothe his fears and even make him smile.
"Will he be able to play the guitar?" she asked anxiously.
"Oh, yes, of course," the nurse soothed.
"Good," Cheryl cracked, "he never could before this happened."
The young operator grinned, shook his head and managed to say "Corny groaner."
Two minutes later, Fred came in. The doctor and nurse took over. Cheryl backed out of the room and moved wordlessly to the waiting room where the ashtray beckoned. She lit a cigarette and puffed nervously until her hands stopped shaking.
Fred was at the desk talking to the receptionist, and Cheryl watched him as if she had never seen him before in her life. When the forms were filled in and the operator was on his way to the small surgery, a driver arrived to take the gravel truck back down to the shop, and Fred told Cheryl he'd drive her back to work.
"Take me home," she said coldly.
"Just take me home. I feel sick."
"But... You can do it," she flared angrily. "You're the goddamn expert, you're the know-it-all, you're the boss! You do something for a change."
"What in hell is the matter with you?"
"Where were you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Where in hell were you? You're either supposed to be in the office or let me know where you are in case you're needed. Or be in the goddamn company car with the effin radio receiver turned on, Fred."
"I was busy!"
"You're supposed to let me know where you are and when you leave and where you go next."
He asked her who in hell she thought she was to talk to him like that, after all he was the boss, and she said the boss was supposed to be a responsible person and tell the office where he was at all times and he said she was just trying to be a typical wife keeping tabs on her husband and she said bullshit and he yelled he was busy, for God's sake.
"Busy my ass!" Mighty Mouth yelled. "I just bet you were effin' busy!" and it was the red rising from his collar to his forehead gave it all away.
"You bastard," she said quietly. 'You were effin', weren't you? You were busy, all right, busy ... you shit."
He dropped her off in front of the carpenter's special, neither of them speaking to the other, and he went back to the shop to unsnarl the mess. The mechanic had phoned the owner in the city, and the owner was on his way up by charter plane to find out how in hell come the manager had been unavailable and the office manager hadn't been told where he was or what he was doing. Fred could just about see the balloon going up, and knew he was going to have to work overtime just to keep his job.
The owner arrived and the yelling started. Fred sat in his big black leather office chair and nodded a lot. He heard the last plane leave and knew the owner was going to be stuck overnight in the little wart of a town, and Fred wondered how in hell he was going to calm Cheryl down enough to convince her she should save his job by cooking up a first-rate supper and making up the spare bed so the owner didn't have to spend any money on a hotel room or a lousy meal. The owner screamed and screeched and let Fred know that he already knew exactly where Fred had been, with whom, doing what, during work hours. Let him know the whole goddamn town at this point knew what Fred was doing while Cheryl was holding the whole goddamn show together and driving a badly injured man to hospital in a goddamn gravel truck while the company car had been parked beside the wrong house. And, he let Fred know, the husband who had been on dayshift at the sawmill was at this very minute screaming his version of everything and the owner wouldn't be surprised, by God, if Fred wound up with two black eyes.
But when Fred got home there was no problem about what he would say to Cheryl to persuade her to cook supper and be pleasant. She was gone. So were the kids. And their clothes. And the cat. And the turtle.
Bold and lyrical, sensual and highly charged, Cereus Blooms at Night is the beautifully written, much-talked-about first novel by Shani Mootoo, one of Canada’s most exciting new literary voices.
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