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  • Endless Joke
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  • Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
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Friday
Jun302017

Adanac

Here. This place. One hundred and fifty. One fifty. Buck and a half. A birthday. Entire nation no older than the lives of two robust adults laid end to end. 

What ever did we do to deserve it?

But hey, did you know? Canada means "village." Yeah, me either.

Listen. A rest stop diner by the Trans-Canada, heading east. The Fraser Canyon. The white waters roaring from the north, headlong from the wicked throat of a bitter spring. You were scowling beneath butchered bangs—jagged as a silhouetted treeline—and a bad dye job. About to thrust out a ragged thumb. I picked you up in the dirt lot if only to keep you safe for the next few miles of your calculated self-immolation. You barely even thanked me, not that you needed to, although you did howl along to my road mix, gyrating in your seat to the Hip and to Bran Van 3000 and to Love Inc's "Broken Bones," for which I will always forgive and never forget you. 

We were ragtag then; more so now. My memory careens between blunt and compassionate. Both, really: I truly hope you avoided the murder-rape of your grim trajectory. Had I been the praying type, I might well have gotten on my knees about it, put myself in hock to some obscure god. But I wasn't. And I didn't. 

We moved on. Someone tracked a black fly cloud, draped microphones in boreal stands to capture cryptozoological ephemera, filmed the awkward and the implausible, crumpled Labatt deposits underneath an aurora, traced the opening of dry rustic cracks in some ghost-abandoned road, devouring handfuls of poutine and Ativan. Silent Sam and Black Fly Vodka Cranberry. Fantasy arrivistes. Supplements. Afterthoughts. 

Breathe an A-frame house built from fragrant cedar south of Sicamous. The drastic tang of a wood stove. Wholesome. Imbued with the cool mint breath of the forest.

Friend, grab a cold one, join us by the fire under the riotous stars, listen to the popping sap. Strum this here guitar for us. But first, here's my stolen story of the Thunderbird... 

One early fall the salmon didn't appear in the river. Thunderbird waited, but nothing. He asked the people, and they told him a great orca had blocked the mouth of the river and was swallowing all the sockeye. Enraged, Thunderbird flew to the river mouth, but there was no whale and no red fish either. Then he saw that the people had poured their dark toxins into the waters and brought disease to the fish, killing most of them. Now more angry than ever, Thunderbird flew out over the great waters and spied the fearsome orca. He hovered above the whitecaps and spoke to the mighty whale, once his enemy, and they came to an agreement, a truce. Thunderbird lifted the immense whale and flew closer to shore, where he dropped him from a great height. A wave of dreadful size moved like a locust plague toward the coastal homes of the people and began to level them. The people tried to run but many drowned. Then Thunderbird flew to the coast mountains and began to beat his mighty wings together many times, summoning a terrible storm, and the land itself began to shake and crack, and the people further inland were laid waste until only two remained, a woman and a man. Thunderbird flew to them and saw they were rightly terrified. He said, "Rebuild, but do not forget. This cannot happen again, or your kind will pass from this world." He named the man Father Tremor and the woman Mother Tsunami. Twenty, thirty, fifty generations followed and remembered the tale told by the great Father and the great Mother of the people, retelling it over and over, until a new people arrived from the east and called the land Cascadia. But the new people were heedless and laughed at the old tales and began to pollute the waters and burn the forests again, brought sea lice and deadly beetles, a wasting sickness to the elk, toxins for the bees, and wouldn't listen to reason even when the rumble of thunder in the mountains became ominous and the seething saltchuck swelled ever more restless. And this is where we are now. If Thunderbird abandons his patient forbearance and revisits the whale, when the edge of one slips beneath the limb of the other, this land will be wiped clean for a last time, and it would all have been for nothing, with no one left to tell the tales and only wolves and ravens to hear the last few echoes deep in the sacred and soon to be silenced forests.

You never liked that story, come to think of it. 

Afterward we blink at the music of Crash Vegas, wonder if we missed something resplendent, something drenched in the fragility of love, and get back to work. Especially now they changed the rules. Once knew a couple bought a house on unemployment. Saskatchewan, granted, but still.

Relax. There will be a fresh atrocity soon enough.

"I died so I could haunt you."

"No, you damn well didn't. You really didn't."

"You don't know who I am."

"Yes. No. You're right; I don't. What?"

What is this place? These stunted trees, this wetland, all our wonderments? This jingle-jangle, all these tricky agglomerants. Where did the majesty go?

The Last Waltz. Scorsese. Joni, the Band, and Neil. I even quote myself on Facebook: "There's so much Canada on that stage that the very air must taste like maple syrup." I think I got seven likes, but that was early on. Whatever.

I commit to this. My dreams are dry run coalitions. Dramaturges. Arcade fires. Must be Northern Ontario. Kenora. Thunder Bay.

Pick some place to cross the dry stream. We can't avoid the dry stream. Cross at Pigeon River into Minnesota, skirting Lake Superior, or drop due south to Grand Forks. North Dakota from the Peg. Harsh desaturated landscapes peopled by stripped down watchmen. Workaday men like weathered barns. Gaunt and barely functional. Even the gentle West: Blaine. Sumas. Laurier. Good Grief, Idaho. The hidden road to Kalispell. It's rarely gentle now. We are the chill shadow to the southern puppet show, faint shapes thrown against abandoned backdrops. 

That was then, at least a history. This is DNA memory. Once I rode out on my kid's bike under a troubled sky, running the elided gauntlet of endless wheat fields, mad at my mom and mad at my dad, twin runnels of tears on my cheeks flying pitiable streamers behind me, a funnel of sky and lariated dirt half-twisting on the southern horizon, while "Pigeon Camera" filled my headphones. A man in a dark pickup pulled up and asked me if I needed help, and I told him yes, no, wait, we all need help, but him most of all. Ivory-knuckled, he chased me a good two klicks or so till I veered off the highway and plunged through the amber amnesia of grain.

Recollection, loss. Farewell to wheat kings, rage, and weathervanes. Adieu to where the spirit sits. Where the masts lean. Skeena. Scarborough. Southern Ontario. Ask me about Alicia Ross and Alice Munro. Speak to me of pretty things. Of passage. Lesley. Kristen. The Highway of Tears. Go tell Marlon Brando. Now that's how he's gonna clear the table. See if he cares. It's the very same thing in French: bon voyage and sayonara. Hell, is there anything sadder and quieter than a distant grain silo standing erect on land so flat it's like someone drew it and then got bored?

Hence: this is the country with the longest coastline, the longest land border (okay, equal first, by definition), the most educated populace. And the nicest. All because someone got bored, and we were left alone. Even Robin Williams said this of us: "You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab." Funny guy. And he should know kind. 

You know what comes with all that good? A whole shitload of bad. The surface is a mirror. One great city. Two? Three, tops. A darker light breaking through a strident one. The Salish Sea to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Two solitudes (three, tops), hopping a Greyhound from Kamloops to Canmore, to Moose Jaw. Tar sands. Pipelines. 1867–2112. The tower of song. Up beyond the lighted stage, they urged us to be strong, not to be failers, to change the sheets once in a while, not to be weaker than (weaker than what?), to live like this, but we got it all wrong. Like all of them, we're still going down to the same old bar, same old people, same beer, and just like them we don't likely care much anymore. Yellowknife. Yellowhead. Blue. What is a jagged pill? A river we can skate away on. These ambulance blues, this case of you, a crowded hazy bar. Dance me outside, damn you. O tabernac, O adanac, O Tekahionwake, O Manitou. Late breaking story in the Globe and Mail, a nation chastened by Karla and Paul browbeaten further by a prairie atrocity on a midnight bus. Our nightmares like our treasures, buried. All our friendless misdeeds. Our worst crimes the loneliest of crimes.

Enough already. I hear the impatience borne on a prairie wind. I'm unnerved. Something is coming.

"Okay. Leave now. Go away."

"What? Why?" she says.

"I ran my race already."

"Nah, fuck off. That's pure bullshit."

"No, it isn't. Who do you think you are, anyway?"

"I don't think, I know."

"You're a smartass girl."

"More a loud-mouthed girl, but either way, don't make me wrong."

"So tell me."

"Alright, I will. I was the girl you picked up on the gravel lot near Boston Bar and played those tunes to in your car. You gave me a boost, like we used to do when we helped each other over fences or up trees, you know? You were a friend to me when I had none."

"Well, fuck, that's weird timing because lately I ran out of friends completely."

"That ain't weird. It's how it is."

How it is. 

It's not true, by the way. The kindness thing. Ask anyone who knows about missing women or residential schools. Or Oka. Are we even real? Has anyone ever captured our actual image? Lord pulsing thunderhearted gods of the motherloving prairies, we have so much still to fix.

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