I have no enemies, but no real friends neither. My only friend, Julianne, I killed late last fall and now I’m waiting for the weather (can you believe it) to give me away, although before that happens I’m thinking I might just go and do myself in, make it all easier for everyone. Weird thing is, old Mr. Jankowski knows. I mean, he knows something, just not the actual details. Every time I come work for him, he looks at me with that sideways look he has, one eyebrow up like Jack fucking Nicholson in The Shining, only with low self-esteem, and asks in that annoying European accent of his:
“You okay, Johnny boy?”
We’re standing in the entrance to the barn. Magpies swoop back and forth over our heads, one at a time, stealing from the dog food dishes inside. Usually I ignore him or grunt or something. But today I answer him.
“No, Mr. Jankowski, I’m very much not okay.”
“Aaaah”, he says, like he’s gotten to the best part of a cake or a movie and is getting set to savour it, “you have girl troubles?”
“Yeah, come to think of it, I do.”
“Aaaah,” he says again, all the while looking at me all knowing, like. An urge to tell him the full truth comes out of nowhere, just to wipe that cockiness off his leathery old face. He stands there waiting for what feels like ages and I very nearly spill the beans.
“Ah fuck, it’s too complicated to explain.”
His eyebrows meet in solidarity. “Why you have to use language like that all time, Johnny boy?”
“My ma says it’s ’cause I’m a… let me think, an in-ar-tic-ulate moth-er-fuck-er.“
He stares at me for a couple seconds, wiping his large hands on the front panel of his coveralls, then he gestures toward a large brown paper sack.
“Go feed chickens.”
He walks off, slightly stooped, almost like he’s carrying a sack of feed himself, right there on his round shoulders. It’s weird, but I feel almost sorry for him.
This cold is a bastard, though. Winter’s been a bad one.
I think Julianne is the second person I’ve really loved, if you count my dog Rascal as the first. Rascal is gone now too, by the way. Hit on the main highway a couple years ago while chasing a gopher of all things. I don’t tell anyone this – well, okay, Julianne knew – but I cried my eyes red-raw at the time. No shame in that, I was just a kid then, and he was a good dog, nice and friendly to look at and a real fast runner. Not fast enough, though, it turns out. Who else? Oh, my ma can be alright sometimes, when she’s not drinking or having one of her so-called Dr. Phil moments, but love? She’s just kind of there, providing as she says, although what she provides comes mostly from the government and ain’t all that much really, you gotta say. And my dad I can’t remember too much of – a green baseball hat that I still have stashed in my room with the faded John Deere logo, a Chevy truck key and chain, vague memories of raised voices, night shrieks sudden-cold as coyote calls, the smell of Crown Royal and stale Marlboros. And the next day’s silence of course.
But I’m getting off-track here. Julianne. She moved into town when we were both around twelve and right away we got along real easy. She made everyone else seem like cartoons. Summers, we’d go swim at the lake or tie a rope swing at Carson Creek, and in winter we’d build shaky igloos from crude snow blocks or hop on her brother’s snowmobile and take it up to the draw, white train fanning behind, everything noisy and careless. We mostly just did things together – clambered up pine trunks like starved bears, stalked deer, careened down scree falls – but we’d also talk, and when we did her ideas fit alongside mine real comfortable, like peas in a pod or whatever that phrase is. She had the same smartness I’m cursed with; the kind adults don’t usually twig to. We shared a love of the stars – no, not just the Hollywood kind (although them too), but the night sky itself, so spiderweb shimmery up here pretty much most nights I seem to recall. And horror movies, especially the end-of-the-world zombie kind, all those various living deads with their unsatisfied hungers. More recently, a messed-up Limey singer named Amy Winehouse. The Jerry Springer show, too, because it’s downright sad underneath the mockery, and we couldn’t help rooting for them poor saps, talk about underdogs. An ’80s movie nobody ever seems to remember called At Close Range. Oh yeah, all that and a singer named Lou Reed from New York, who talked-sang in a way we couldn’t help but understand, kind of pissed-off and knowing and wishing everything could be different all rolled into one. We also spoke constantly about one day leaving this place, going to the big city, or a bigger city still, maybe even New York itself, becoming something else entirely like actors or genuine TV celebrities it didn’t matter which. I had it in my mind that we’d do this both together when we graduated high school a couple years away, so when she told me on that chilly evening last October, behind the big toolshed over at her place, that she was thinking of running away now this instant, well, I got mad fast, which you might say is weird, but hell I already told you I loved her, didn’t I?
“Julianne, you’re 15 years old,” I started babbling, “you can’t just up and go like that, you’ll get hurt or killed, you’ve got nothing to your name, no money, I mean, it’s damn near wintertime, where would you go…?”
“I have to get away from him, John.”
My face must have looked funny ’cause she actually laughed at me for a second or two, although it didn’t really sound like her heart was in it much.
“You know who.”
And I did, too. She’d dropped a few hints along the way that her dad had been doing stuff to her but I’d tried to ignore it, I’m not sure why. Okay, look, I have an idea why, but it’s totally shameful, okay? Then again, what the hell, who’s left to care? I’ll just say it, get it out: I was jealous. Of her old man. Of his decisive hands. I wanted to be the one touching her, not that creepy old bastard. I could have been not just her mostly best friend but her fucking complete boyfriend if only I’d had more balls.
“Hey, look, I can come with you.”
She fixed on me with a complicated look on her face and I knew right away it could never happen, this dream of flight and reinvention and marriage beneath the stars.
“John-John, this is what I have to do. You have something different to do. It’s like the satellites up there, they follow paths; sure they might cross a few times, but basically they’re alone, silent, always moving on.”
“Unless they fall back to earth.”
“Which case they’re dead.”
“I won’t let you go.”
“Yes you will.”
And she turned away, and all the awful sadness inside me came together like the stillbirth of a failed sun and became instead rage, swelling red hot and briefly roaring, and I grabbed at her, and she fought me, tried to get away of course, and I flung her far from me, and she landed roughly on the hard ground, her small dark head dinging off of a large rock with a sound both hollow and final. Around us such sudden silence, such a hush. Within it I heard the quiet straining of spring shoots beneath tough surfaces, the beginnings of whispers, stirrings, wingbeats. And hey, raised here all my life, trust me, I know death. After a brief gasp, eyes pinning like some exotic bird, her face a war of confusion, disbelief, deep disappointment, Julianne died in under a minute even if it felt more like ten. Without thought, I loaded her body on an ATV and drove to the far edge of the furthest field on her family property, where a barbed-wire fence-line is interrupted by a small stand of birch trees, too sparse to be called a wood or even a copse. I left her there, amid the trees. My actions, myself, not rational, stupid with shock, abandoned and lost more surely than any airless world spinning lonely in some desolate reach of some outflung nebulae.
How, then, could I have known that winter would come so soon, that the weather itself would buy me time? Time I neither anticipated nor desired. Blessed, cruel snow, each bright flake forcing me to choose, choose something, to grow up, to run off or to opt out altogether.
Mr. Jankowski is back, silhouetted in the doorway. He is staring at me. I realise I’m crying, silent tears, runnels of snot, no sobs. I wish him away, but he stays, watchful. It may not happen today, or even this week, this month, but soon, the snow will melt and reveal the frozen evidence of what I did. To my girl. Everyone thinks she ran away. Some who knew her better even have an inkling why. But when the white expanse melts to gloomy patches and then stark iron ground, amid those quiet white birch will lay my love and my fear, exposed for all and sundry to judge or to mock. I don’t know if I can bear that.
On the Internet, I found a way to tie a noose. The rope is in the tack room, loose and ready, stuffed behind old cracked Western saddles. I look at old man Jankowski. I remember from when he got all paranoid that time a shady bunch of city folks came through town possibly robbing folks or worse so the whispers went he has a phone in his kitchen with the local RCMP number on speed dial. My face is all creased up and heartbroke like when Sean Penn cries at the dramatic finale. I ask him what to do and he says “do what you think’s right, Johnny boy”, but I don’t know anything about that, or which direction to head in, or how to reach a single fucking place of warmth, and there’s a roaring first in my ears then seemingly everywhere which I take to be love and space and finally I get brave and take one small step for a boy.
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