Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing;
Confederate season, else no creature seeing Lucianus, nephew to the king.
The stolen van was home to one thousand donuts, some laced with crimson jelly; some lacking. My sister and I peppered our puzzled metabolisms, worked our jaws scarfing the contents of said donut van, spilt pounds of sugar dust in our laps. Any pilgrim or fellow travelers we gave them some, jetting gifts at any mouths that murmured. We had baking-sugar epiphanies and we employed retro rockets; fly and crash, fly and crash.
A rich person, a smarter person, might decide not to eat an Econoline full of someone else’s jelly donuts. Is this solemn choice one part wisdom or two parts repression? As when love, jealousy and hate break themselves over your head: Can you read the true ratio of each? So. Can you cease consuming yourself like a cruller, cease being the less than exemplary creature you are? Whose life is fuller? Whose belly?
Often police are associated with donuts in a comic manner. Not this time. Well, later they were, later the RCMP were involved. But we finished the donuts days before they found the van abandoned in the Okanagan hills where I picked cherries and apricots and peaches so many years ago. The RCMP nailed us but they got not a single donut.
They did find the $10 receipt from the tollbooth. A tiny white receipt lost on the slushy floor of the abandoned van and THEN they had the papers on us. The Bauhaus tollbooth with its video-cameras killed us. Evidence, dates, videotape, lenses, Desdemona’s handkerchief. My sister borrowed money from the woman at the tollbooth and then later I paid the woman back. Paying the money back was what actually sunk us. My brilliant idea. My brief stab at honesty, trying to be good just once. Jails are stuffed full of people who have not thought things through, folks who are not clear on the concept. This is no state secret.
Recounting my tale in Remand I saw others at the long steel table rub chins and say, I believe I have heard of your exploits, how you were caught. These learned fuckwads chuckle into their dun sleeve and I know most of what that chuckle means. They are in the same boat as me, exact same—Remand, Corrections, a bit less a day or the Feds if the judge is pissed off and adds a day or two and then you’re working toward Club Fed—but my snickering protégés have a need to feel superior to someone, to an idiotic other. I’m their man, their buffoon. I keep my mouth shut. This much I know.
In the spring before this soap opera unfolded I had a pretty great job running a backhoe, a blade-runner working a sharp point of land, a tiny peninsula jabbing its nose into tricky ocean currents and sparkling riptides and shaking planes of light that moved me to sneezing fits if I did not avert my pale eyes.
The blandest of mornings demanded excellent sunglasses so first chance I steered my trusty prune-coloured Rambler under dusty trees and Tarzan ivy vines to the tiny drugstore to purchase a pair of Ray-Bans and inhalers. Extremely fine real estate. Gaze each way and step into another staggering view: sheets of hazy ocean sailing off toward Seattle that direction and China many leagues that way and six sea lions following each other in a line like precise bulky Rockettes just past my backhoe’s knobby back wheels. Your skin warm, eyes pierced. A cancer doctor I know in Alberta froze his eyeballs climbing mountains: brutish pain for hours when the ice in his eyes melted but he could still see, his eyes still worked.
Twelve killer whales cruised by my backhoe one sleepy afternoon, a pod blowing water like steam trains and rolling their long black fins like nightsticks in the waves, harassed the entire time by whale-watching Zodiacs and sundry small craft and even a red and white floatplane carving circles above us. A dog swam in the cove and I wondered would an Orca swallow a giant poodle.
My backhoe drove sharp shores, shovelled purple and orange boulders while crabshells and bivalves were dropped and broken by gulls and shearwaters for their delight, for their seafood buffet.
Seals eyed me with professional interest and paranoid herons (they flee from me) hiding around corners in orange poppies and east of these wild poppies a snowcone sits on a volcano and to the south-west glaciers spread spectral light on a range of American mountains rising straight out of the water that divides my two countries, snow glowing up there all summer in strange light like goldbeater’s skin and ocean all around us in a whispered charm and I worked the haul road listening to FM radio thinking of blue money and raising-Cain taverns in smoky American milltowns huddled under that washed India wall of mountains where the jukebox played Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard singing songs about life in prison.
William Head medium security prison, where I am incarcerated, looks out on the same view. Club Fed, the taxpayers call it. William Head has a floating pier where we are allowed hooks and glow hoochies to fish for chinook and coho and pinks and sockeye, where the Kokanee Bandit can’t find a choice spot to fish and goes nuts, yelling and pushing skinners and rats off their side of the wharf and into the freezing sea. Cobalt seas moving on three sides and turkey vultures hanging overhead waiting for a good draft to help them cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca to another country. He shoves hard at the skinners, nervous guests of the nation yelling and flailing like hopeless Morris dancers, then the Kokanee Bandit plunges in himself, feet-first and sloppy, swimming with a little kid’s thrashing stroke far out into Quarantine Cove, into the tugs and log booms and gloomy Indian burial islands and colonial leper colonies and American submarines hiding under the freighters in the strait. Staff gallop excitedly past the Buddhist shrine and the native sweat-lodge and vandalized Wicca altar, confer at the wharf that lifts on wash: now what? This is a new one for most of them. The bullhorn lifted to lips, Excuse me, you’d better hightail it back in here right now!
“Cold day in hell when I come back to that goof-joint,” he yells over the water, breathing hard, hanging onto a log as if waiting for a Haida war canoe to zip by like an Uplands bus, spiky islands ranged behind him in an infinite granite archipelago. Swimming is harder than he thought. We laugh, egg him on, but I also wonder what the staff will do.
A guard produces a trim little shotgun and jams in two shells. What would that baby bring in a pawnshop? we think collectively and all of us jump as he fires one loud shot at the Kokanee Bandit. A tuft of wadding flows out from the shotgun as we jump and water flies up beside the Kokanee Bandit. He lets go of the deadhead log to swim like a sullen dog back to shore. Okay people, party’s over. How depressing.
Our friend has been dubbed the Kokanee Bandit because he lifted a case of Kokanee beer on the way out of the 27 beer and wine stores he robbed. His signature act, his claim to fame. He could do a very convincing Kokanee beer commercial when he leaves prison if they wish to employ him.
You better wake up, he yelled at us on the shoreline, a sodden seedy moralist, and he yelled the same in court. People on this island better wake up! Bunch of pervs here! This is the animal kingdom gone bad. I’ll take Kent over all these fucking skinhounds. I’ll take maximum security. I like Kent, I love Kent! In Kent I can think straight.
He waded shivering surf, chattering, hardly able to ambulate, yet our sky open and warm, weird birds in it pushing where they wish to push. He’s right: there are too many sex offenders here now; it creates some tension.
The William Head prisoners staged a vampire play years back and at night a convict escaped on a coffin, floating rough seas like Ishmael on a stage prop coffin. I don’t know if the screws ever found this cowboy. You could be drowning and you’re all alone and pulled eight directions in razor-rock channels. Maybe the guy with the coffin got away. Just this month an inmate with one leg tried to swim out through the riptides off the maintenance shop. The amputee was in the fifth year of a fifteen-year bit. Ten more years. He could not wait. He didn’t have a coffin to cling to.
Walking along the foggy shore at daylight I thought I saw plastic bags floating toward me, but it was our amputee, something syphoned from him, neck limp, his face down in the misty sea, white hands brushing the rocky shores of our very private peninsula. Peninsulas that taper and distant peninsulas that end in a pencil line and sink under the waves with seabirds squabbling and whistling, grebes with their skinny necks and beady eyes diving under the amputee, and white noise waves that drive us to this shore, waves in my ears rhythmic and endless—don’t hear them after a while. A tug in the distance yanking a barge, seeming to get nowhere. The amputee went away briefly but he came right back to our bored arms, his brain put on hold (we value your call), no pulse, no red flash. What exactly was inside that head that has left the building? Where did it go? Where did he go? Escaped: here but not here. I found what was left to float like a jellyfish, dead man float we used to do at the city pool. The sun feels kind but freezing seawater seizes your buffed-out muscles. You try to move but your limbs are jelly, torn sails, a jail.
People from the city drive out to the jail to stare at plays we perform; cling to the Kangaroo Road, purchase a ticket at the country store and an affable prisoner chauffeurs you the last stretch in a green Corrections schoolbus. Past the conjugal trailers, under the towers and videocams. The old driver sells his cedar cigar boxes and native carvings to the visitors. He’s become a good carver since he’s been inside. Inside we favour Beckett, Sartre, Greek tragedies. Our prison productions are festive and paranoid at the same time.
At William Head we live in housekeeping units with four bedrooms and dishes and chores and forks and steak knives. It’s a new approach in Corrections, preparation for life in the world. We have to take turns cooking, though one guy refuses and gets someone else to cook his day, exchanges some favour. Some of these men do not know how to open a can or turn on a vacuum. We are being taught how to turn on a vacuum.
However, two tough older cons in our common-room, fueled on homebrew, start arguing over which TV channel to watch (I kid you not) and out come the rolling pin and steak knives supplied care of the Feds. First it’s the rolling pin to the teeth, and that old guy drops with splintered molars, he’s gone, he’s history, but then, to my amazement, he springs back up, mad and fast with a flashing steak knife. Now Rolling Pin Guy crashes and hinges down on the new broadloom and Smashed Teeth Guy cuts the writhing man’s throat open, slashes this giant new mouth on the front of his gargling neck, then starts slowly sawing Rolling Pin guy’s head off while he’s still alive, cutting in a bloody methodical rage through the man’s voicebox, cutting and cutting at the knuckled links in the man’s spinal column like it’s a hard corn cob.
The bloody beheading takes some time, some diligence to draw toward an end for you, sir. Smashed Teeth Guy’s applying himself, he’s mad, but knows a hawk from a handsaw, knows he’s never going free now. Covered in blood, head bowed as if in prayer, fight suddenly gone from him. There goes the new broadloom (Shout it out), there goes the new approach, the Alternative to Violence Workshops. Back to the drawing-board, back to maximum security, back to the hold for No Teeth Guy, and no more pastel condo by the ocean. Location location location! Just when he was getting healthy, his teeth filled, his shit together. Several of us roomies stare at him in shock, the half-severed head drooling blood at his knees, then we silently slide (wanting to vomit vapourous chunks) over to the next building with the pool table and telephone and mortified red mailbox; pretend we’ve been hanging there the whole time.
One traumatized roomie immediately transferred out to another prison; he couldn’t deal with it. I have had Technicolour nightmares about this murder. In one version I’m being beheaded. In the other version I’m doing the beheading. Don’t know which I like least.
You know what is a pain about prison? No-one cares about your beef but they all assume you’d love to hear theirs. Everyone beefs all day long: at the meals, at the pool table, watching TV, writing puzzled letters, washing the steak knives, feeding the resident raccoons and cats and deer under the coils of razor wire, bitching about case managers or useless city lawyers or bragging about women (slept with Tina Turner I did) or how much smack they’ve beaten through their bent liver or protesting their innocence (wasn’t me what pushed her off the balcony). Standing around at lockdown, our brains of pink coral breathing like tongues, you hear the crackling walkie-talkies and older guards’ voices calling out in the dusk over the concertina wire and you think of people downtown at Swan’s pub lifting a cool pint of Bavarian with art on the walls and women walking between oak tables in light bouncing from the harbor and no jukebox songs about life in prison and on this shore our collection of brains under the rain clouds, the cloud factory behind the American mountains, our addled brains, our puzzled brains: How’d I end up here?
Doubtless I will find trouble at the border from now on; men and women in uniform, and me blinking on their baby computers. Our summer camp that never ends.
From the seat of my Case 580 backhoe our city seemed small and harmless in the distance, a puppet city hovering over water with angelic seaplanes riding high past hills, log booms and tugboats, sawdust barges and sailboats pulling splashing dinghies, flat-bottomed Zodiacs zipping fast as coffee through tricky channels, ripping through rocky islands right offshore and me swiveling nearly to and fro in my Yellow backhoe.
A million views: one person can not take them all in. And when his house sits on the earth, one man will own each view I knew. Property—the first hard division of the mantle of earth. Will we be invited, industrious citizens that measured and made the mansion, those that swore and dug and hammered full of grim percussion? Will we be invited back to the house we built? Don’t hold your breath. And if it was my house would I do any different?
One morning on that backhoe job the water was so low—a negative tide—that I walked to an island, scrambled slippery rocks in my city shoes, climbed a cliff and on top of the steep chimneyed island a windy complaining rookery.
This is my island now, I yelled at the wheeling birds. Pay me rent! I’m your new landlord! The warden! I’m your puppet.
I made bird faces and stomped about but was secretly careful not to disturb any nests in the tall yellow grass. For seagulls I was considerate! Is there any shortage of gulls? No. What a fool. This island trek, this parting of the water made me happy.
In this negative tide I saw a sailboat strike an underwater rock with its keel. They swore mightily, late for their regatta and drinks. They couldn’t back off and sat to wait grumpily for the tide to lift them, give them freedom. They were not there fifteen years.
On the haul road rock trucks came and rock trucks went, doing rounders, and neighbours in sun-hats grumbled and stared but often I worked by myself. No one on my case. The grader broke down and the clay punched out of the haul road, leaving holes that break your back, drive your spine into your skull, but that was a decent job.
In the rock we drilled holes the width of hot dogs and blasted and split and scratched to find the T-shaped foundation drawn on the blueprints.
An old Newfoundland dog wandered down each morning to stand in deep water, to ease his sore bones amid the sea sorting and cooling its gravel and glass on the sloping beach and trees blossoming like Salish sweaters.
Occasionally the land owner drove out to watch, climbing out of his V-12 Mercedes with a childlike smile, his white Scottish face flushing with pleasure. From the Old French plaisir: to please. He waited years to knock down his farmhouse. Now he’s a laird lifting up a glass pyramid full of native art and star blankets. A chain crossing the driveway with fluorescent ribbons whipping in the sea breeze. Private Property. He owns private property all over this city, a hotel and pub, a bakery, nightclubs, gentrified apartments. No flies on this silver-haired boy. He has no wife, no family, no tollbooths. He has real estate and dotted lines and silver glasses and serial lawsuits.
My machine touched each of his stones lightly, convincing each block of the glacier’s rock where it must now live in the seawall. I was like a mother with a precious infant child. That light a touch.
Children on the beach imitated me, digging with plastic dump-trucks and tin excavators. Three boys studied me, my yellow backhoe, read out CASE 580K from the shovel of my machine. Three children studied me and I studied the rich man, as if he was a blueprint you could read.
When I have monied moments with monied people I study the trim words living in their symmetrical mouths and I try to think as they think, be like they might be, but in the flesh I can’t pin down what transpires, what exactly they prove, moment to buzzing moment, to claim and deserve it.
Perhaps this is like trying to watch someone pray.
The guards (the furniture we call them) confiscated my cat, trucked it to the SPCA. I trained it to hide under the bed during inspections but someone reported it and they raided. Sometimes the female guards are the hardest cases, which you don’t expect. But I have made my peace with lowered expectations. Often I am happy as a clam just to tag along for the ride, a passive passenger, mobile in terms of miles put on, but stretched out lazily in back of a roomy American-made car, say early Paul Butterfield Blues Band on the tape deck, Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar, Butterfield and Bloomfield both on heroin, both dead now from their smack, all of our heads empty of maps, empty of nitpicking neurons or knowledge, head empty of destinations or covered granite islands. I leave that responsibility, THAT, to someone else.
I am a fast form flitting under cool underpasses and gliding finely engineered shoulders and curves, these nearly perfect roads, these garden paths. I am a savage luge rider rocketing through the amazing system but I’m not entirely engaged, not actually plugged in so to speak. What is peripheral is pointed and pleasant.
I am not a wheelman, not a triggerman, just a passenger glancing up past hills of ponderosa pine to appreciate fully, to murmur in a stoned voice, Cool cloud. Data and stardust up there in files, possibilities. Sky is the best blue. Is there a better blue?
Not a wheelman, I insisted to the court appointed lawyer. A passenger.
The Crown hoped to prove I was a wheelman in the Penticton and Kelowna robberies where the Chinese kid got shot in the ass or the one where Werner claimed fruit punch in a syringe was AIDS blood.
I thought Werner’s prank with the syringe showed imagination. The legal question: does fruit punch constitute theatre or indictable weaponry? Imagine it’s your parents’ store and the silver needle with the tiniest eye is aimed at you. The eye never closed and the Crown wants Federal time for provincial transgressions.
Sea otters close their eyes clutching onto kelp; they tie themselves to kelp and sleep. I saw several otters while working by the ocean. I thought of them sleeping peacefully in the coast’s swaying kelp while we were on edge in the mountain blizzard or knocking over nervous drugstores in the Interior, our heads full of snow, mouths full of powdered donuts. The pharmacies wait for you now, resigned, stoic; you are part of the equation, you are overhead, a business expense they would love to deduct.
My pale sister and her boyfriend Werner boosted a white van full of donuts and the three of us rolled happily toward Hope and the expensive hot springs and the sudden sullen mountains.
My sister didn’t know about the tollbooth at the top of the pass. I was not thinking clearly; clearly I was a passenger. I liken myself to Switzerland in the war. We climbed straight into blizzard echelons in a van from Van with skinny summer tires that made us feel hardly conjoined to the icy hills and climbs and tense tunnels and curves.
We were lunar, on some frozen bulbous moon, on a lightbulb. Cars down the ditches and every car in the ditch looking like it had flown off sideways in a big swath, a swath that the snow and light started filling immediately, leaving the fine sedan stranded, a melancholy nervous vista.
My sister failed to read the fine print on the tires before she boosted the van. You wish the murderous journey had no corners, you could just go straight with some dignity. With ice, contact is erased, the contract changed. You’re alone, abandoned, out of real time; it can’t help but seem a warning. Your stomach drops from your abdomen but it’s also fun.
It wasn’t snowing in Vancouver; why on earth is it snowing up here? The snowy tollbooth looms above us like a bleak windmill, an icy guard tower in dark glass and concrete and coffee breaks, lemon lights and wheeling whipping gusts testing the smoked windows.
At William Head the guards hate pulling time in the tower; the furniture get so bored watching over us pilgrims, watching the mindless waves and the empty parking-lot.
Why is the tollbooth leaning up here in the middle of nowhere stormy mountains? The government must have its reasons. Likely this was the first part of the highway completed before Expo 86. They put the tollbooth here to start collecting revenue, some dinero. The staff drives hours to get to work, to stand guard where sharp fir and dark unfocused mountains dwarf our paltry line of vehicles huddled in snow and exhaust vapour and tail-lights, cars stopping as if at a cold war checkpoint and a camera hanging above, giving us the lubricated eyeball.
Werner! You have any money for the tollbooth? Nope.
Three losers who can’t come up with ten bucks between us. What are we going to do?
My sister was amazing talking to the woman working the tollbooth. My sister rolled down her window, drew in breath, and soon she had ME believing that my mother was dead, that we were speeding to the funeral in Jasper, beside ourselves, no time to think, no time to stop by our bank, stunned by the terrible news, our loss, upset, grieving, moping misty-eyed at the thought of our sad bereavement. Werner’s face beside me was both red and white like some European flag.
My sister was unnaturally good. Our loss started to be real, and I began to pine for this imaginary mother whom I imagined as resembling an older Betty Crocker.
Hang on Ma! We’re coming Ma!
My sister should be in Hollywood, she’s wasting her life (unlike the rest of us). Depths and tempting green hallways in her eyes and a golden sensual tongue. Definitely Oscar material. The camera likes her, but it can’t catch her.
The woman working the tollbooth listened and considered, a tight mailbox of a mouth, then she paid our $10 toll out of her own pocket. She handed my sister an empty brown envelope. The clerk had written her own name and clerk number on the empty envelope.
On the way back drop off this envelope with the $10, okay?
The woman at the tollbooth (You’re a lifesaver!) also gave us a tiny receipt which my sister let flutter to the floor of the stolen van where it would be discovered later, after the robberies, by the RCMP who always get their man and where women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply.
In Remand my mind went back to my lazy excavation work, running the backhoe by the ocean with rusty Russian freighters and seals drifting past me. Sailboats with the jib and mainsail down, a little toy engine pushing, tall naked masts moving the way giraffes on television move their long lonely necks, masts moving awkwardly past on slow rhythmic waves, and I’d be hitting a midden pile, crunching into the past, shells and bones and carbon stripes, my bucket grinding into some Songhees tribe with the white sea in their head, the white sea in my head.
My straw-boss made it clear: you hit any middens or dead and gone tribes or skulls or bones or graves or native artifacts you keep digging. Don’t tell a soul.
I dream of running the backhoe in sunlight off the sea, but I want to make this clear. I don’t pity myself now. I pity myself back then, whistling and working happily, not knowing that I was going to jail and fingered for a rat, that I’d come out of court and find a dead rat in a plastic bag on the front seat of my Rambler. I was working on that seawall just as innocent as a baby with building blocks and the fact is no baby knows a thing worth a tinker’s damn, that’s how I feel right now.
The RCMP find the receipt. They talk to the tollbooth staff. We’re all there still on snowy video, every car rolling through like smoke is recorded on video. They watch the clerk hand us a brown envelope, back it up, watch her hand it over again.
Why sure, she remembers, I lent them $10. They gave me donuts for the whole staff. And me trying to slim down. A few days later they came through again going south and dropped off my $10. Paid me back.
They paid you back?! Brought back the $10?! The RCMP are in shock.
The RCMP go back to the video, fast forward to the right day and see the taxi we took from Kamloops enroute back to Vancouver, the taxi with the plush purple upholstery and the East Indian driver who leased it. I like cruising in those big V-8 American numbers: Rollin rollin rollin keep those dawgies rollin. On the video they can make out the cab’s number and company logo. They call up the driver in Kamloops.
Yes yes, says the driver, yes I remember them: I always insist on cash on the dash, pay up front and they did. Much cash. They were drinking alcohol, they were gunned, they were testing the portal vein.
–Mr. Driver? You having fun?
–Oh yes. I am having fun.
–We’re fun people!
–Leave him be.
–I want to talk to our chauffeur. I want to make sure everyone’s happy.
–Yeah yeah right. Good road. Why is it here?
–It’s easier than the Hell’s Canyon route.
–And because the suntanned Premier and his suntanned friends bought a bunch of real estate up this way.
Here’s the address in Vancouver, the taxi driver tells the police. One guy got out by himself near the Sky Train, but the couple I dropped off at this address.
They gave their own address! Why didn’t Werner and my sister get out down the block? Why give your own address? Retards.
Everyone concerned remembers us. They must all be taking those Dale Carnegie lessons.
If I hadn’t insisted on stopping to pay back the $10 we would not have been picked up. I thought it would be a classy touch to pay the clerk back. Bonnie and Clyde.
The SWAT crew put on their strangest black and yellow costumes and, hyped for door-wrecking, drove straight to my sister’s address in Kitsilano, knew exactly where to find them, so Werner and my sister become convinced I ratted on them, cut a deal with the narc squad. All because we paid the woman in the tollbooth her $10 back.
The Crown decided I’m the wheelman, and not just a passenger. As they say in the darkest fields of Texas, if you hang long enough you get used to hanging.
Werner tried to explain his idea to me by the orchard the bank had repossessed: A thief steals something it’s because he put a value on it, but now a fascist takes something because you put a value on it. Of course the net result is the same, he giggles.
Oh, thanks for clearing that up, Weiner.
In the backhoe’s worn out seat, I alone controlled the levers, pushed hydraulics like blood in an artery wall, I had power and vision, my back like teeth on a string. I pretended I was a Pharoah’s architect piecing together a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings. That time on the beach working for a rich man seems like someone else’s time now. I was a puppy, a chicken; now I’m a new fish.
Pre-fish. Trying to decide who to rob. You assume the mellow neighbourhood grocery keeps a whack of dough around; they must be flogging hundreds of Lotto tickets when the jackpot climbs up near $17 million. But the whole Chinese family comes running out to defend their stash, lay some chopsocky karate moves on Werner and my stunned sister.
Werner went down like a tree under this crazy family, his finger on the slim silver gun and his gun popped, action, reaction, and there’s a stray cap embedded in this teenage kid’s skinny ass and he’s okay but mama-san is freaking, ends up down writhing on the floor. She has a bad heart. The store has it on video. Smile. Cameras everywhere now.
Werner and sister exit stage left. Obviously the kid’s not totally happy getting shot in the ass, but it’s nothing serious. The mother, however, decides on a heart attack and in the voir dire the lawyers say this doesn’t look so good, they’re implying her heart attack is our fault, that her heart attack opens yet another can of worms. $650 Werner paid for a clean gun. Weapons charges carry a minimum four-year bit under the new laws.
While they were shooting this skinny kid in his skinny bullet-prone ass I was in the Toyota rice-burner waiting, parked by a school (grocery stores always by a school). Toyotas are easy to get into. I guess in Japan they don’t steal.
The donut van already history; we ditched it by an orchard near Naramata on that windy road by the repossessed orchard. Werner and my sister thought it wise to change vehicles, take the Toyota, lose the van, get rid of evidence, links. They thought they were using their brain.
When my day in court came I admit I was graceless trash, was less than articulate. The Xerox in pieces on the floor and nowhere lawyers sweating and popping Rolaids by slabs of marble and coffee tasting like a foreign language. Not my world. I am not a rat, I decided looking around the courthouse. I decided to say nothing in this world.
Clerk: You have to stand up to be sworn. Please take the Bible in your right hand. Please state your full name for the court.
Me: I’m not testifying.
Judge: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.
Clerk: Spell your last name.
Me: I’m not testifying.
Clerk: You have to stand up.
Me: Charge me. Whatever you want.
Judge: I find you guilty of contempt in the face of this court.
Me: Up yours.
Judge: I sentence you to a period of incarceration of six months consecutive to any–
Me: Fuck you, you goof.
Judge: –time now being served or assigned.
Judge: Get him out of here.
Crown: I think the case has not been advanced by that witness’ attendance.
Judge: That would seem to be the case.
Crown: No further evidence to call.
I tried to demonstrate to an invisible audience that I am not a rat, not a performing seal, not a killer whale jumping through a hoop (jumping the waves that drive us to this shore).
The children play with plastic bulldozers and the children’s mother finds the dead otter on the beach and throws the otter’s limp carcass in the bushes so the kids won’t see something like that. Her children play with bulldozers in the sand. Why can’t you share? she asks in tense falsetto. Why can’t you share? A blond boy hammers together a raft from long driftwood logs, wanting to strike out, escape.
Some predator found the otter while it was dreaming tied into the kelp, tied up, while Werner’s arm was tied off, while we were driving the donut van in the Interior. In the Interior we entered towns that consisted of FOR SALE signs where it seemed entire populations were herniated. Sun-wrinkled dwarves in those orchard towns. Repo men and tow trucks and bailiffs took away their most valued pieces. There were sun-wrinkled dwarves in those orchard towns offered extended warranties, new roofs, earthquake insurance, Lotto tickets. And we were the same, took from them just a little more. How do you like them apples?
I picked apples here in these hot spicy valleys. Plums too. Peaches full of beetles but beautiful plump cherries, if the rain didn’t split them. The Bank of Montreal owned the orchard on the hilly meadows that slanted down to the cliff above the lake.
Alive in aluminum, we shall gather by the trailer park, by the river, or we’ll sleep on the grass strip beside the beach until the programmed sprinklers come on in the middle of the night to soak us and keep us moving, keep us away from the beach, keep the tourists from seeing our bent figures dragging sodden U.S. army sleeping-bags.
The rich man with property wanted a channel carved, wanted real seawater to cut right under his palace of iron girder and glass so his suspect men friends inside the house will be suitably impressed gazing at a piece of ocean brought inside or maybe they’ll drop their sore ugly feet in the saltwater and wait for some rough trade equivalent of Mary Magdalene with her long convenient hair and questionable heritage.
I wondered if this channel idea was legal. The rich man did not hold a gun to my head. The children play, do not want to share. The children’s paths are faint in the sawgrass and wildflowers. The man’s property is above the high-water mark. Below that is public land. Below that belongs to all of us.
At the tollbooth I tried to do the right thing, pay the $10 back my sister conned, pay back the woman, and that $10 was the only link to us, the only evidence, and it sunk us, sunk me. I did it and someday they’ll try to get me, maybe sink a sharpened toothbrush into my kidney. That would be original.
I have my Class I with Air, my Dangerous Goods Certificate, my WHMIS card; I’ve built and destroyed, rattled up and down punched out haul roads with my sore back like a pinched-nerve concertina, climbed into black halls of mountains and into eye-piercing points of television light. I’ve been an incoherent passenger lying over the gnashing gears and I’ve been a wheelman working rented reptile sides of my brain. But I am not a rat. I refuse to sit on the rat side of the pier. I won’t fish on that goof-ghetto side of the pier. I don’t want to be shoved in freezing Quarantine Cove or feel a sharpened toothbrush ratchet and maneuver between my ribs. But really, who does?
Should I have dug that channel on the shore? I wore cool sunglasses and ingested inhalers, a village idiot bombing my own larder, a shovel with hands crunching madly in middens, a stuttering machine with sugar and sand swimming in the gas tank.
The rich man does not own the shoreline. I own the shore if you want to get technical.
Mark Anthony Jarman currently teaches at the University of New Brunswick and is the author of 19 Knives, My White Planet, among others books. His novel, Salvage King Ya!, is on Amazon.ca’s list of 50 Essential Canadian Books. He has been short-listed for the O. Henry Prize and Best American Essays, won a Gold National Magazine Award in nonfiction, the Maclean-Hunter Endowment Award (twice), and the Jack Hodgins Fiction Prize. His work has appeared in Walrus, Canadian Geographic, Hobart, The Barcelona Review, Vrig Nederland, and reviews in The Globe and Mail. A graduate of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a Yaddo fellow, he has previously taught at the University of Victoria.