(a short story, by Sha’Tara – part 3 and last)
Morning came, and the noise of a truck backing out of the driveway woke me up. It was clear and cold, I could tell. I dressed as warm as I could in my sweats, my coat and wool hat and after wishing Pete a good morning as he busied himself with a couple of shopping bags dropped by the door, walked outside to stretch. Everything was frozen, grey white, sparkling like fairy land. The first thing I did was slip off the steps and land painfully on my butt. But the beauty and freshness of the morning made me quickly forget my bruises. My car was covered in ice but I realized the sun would soon melt it off – seeing it’s a dark blue and would attract the heat. The dog was nowhere to be seen so I assumed (I know, bad idea) she was in the old van in some warm nest she’d made. The food was all gone but something made me look closer at the ground and I saw small animal tracks. So it had been taken by wild animals and I wondered what made such small tracks, and would not be afraid of the smell of a watch dog? Did they have raccoons up here?
I walked around the cement foundations, now half covered in drifted silt and weeds. How many years had it been since that dream had shattered? I did something unusual then: I reckoned it from my own age. I am thirty-two years old. Those foundations must be thirty-three years old, maybe thirty-four. According to the orphanage records I was born in 1975. So these foundations were laid by Pete and Sally in 1973. And that’s another thing that hit them: the Hippie era when young people suddenly left everything in search of something better than what they’d known, even if they had known the best life anyone had ever had on this world since history began. They were an unhappy lot, and moved as such a lot, as cattle perhaps, or lemmings, following some path, some will o’ the wisp, with no real purpose to look forward to. So they created a myth of peace and brotherhood, a mantra, a ‘mission statement’ and proceeded to screw it all up with drugs, irresponsibility and wanton lust. Then they woke up one day, the lot of them except those too far gone to wake up, or those few who still believed, and went back to Big Daddy and his Big Machine. Now they run the world and what a place they’ve made of it.
So Sally became a sort of Hippie. Probably experimented with drugs, perhaps even when she was pregnant, drank too much, lost her sense of personal value, dumped her own kid and disappeared. Was she still alive? Physically, maybe, but spiritually, mentally? Seems like whatever was done to her as a child had turned her into something a little less than human. Some would call it karma. I just call it sad, terribly sad. If such a person ever wanted to, could she redeem herself? How do you redeem yourself? I can’t answer that. Only if I get there and I have to make such a choice can I truthfully say, “I know.”
My shoes must be wrong for this world. Not only do I find it almost impossible to stand, my feet are now freezing, although I have an extra pair of socks on. I had to force my feet into these boots with those socks. Why am I cold? I’ve got more clothes on than I remember ever wearing at any one time. I walk towards the sunrise and stand at the abrupt edge of a deep ravine, or as Pete calls them, a coulee. I can’t hear any water running and it seems to me very strange that such deep clefts would not have rivers of water in them. A pungent smell comes from some bushes I disturbed in passing as the sun is just beginning to melt the ice from their branches. I see what I recognize as stinging nettles and foolishly avoid them thinking they would sting me. Frozen, and through all these clothes? Ah well, much to learn, and much that will never be learned due to more pressing matters. I must conclude my interview with Pete today and start back. I don’t like this weather and I’m suddenly afraid of this land and the strange dirt roads my car was never designed to drive on. Edward was right. I should have rented a real prairie dirt road vehicle in Prince Albert. Stubborn. But I like my car, it’s personal, private, an extension of me, especially when I’m far from my own home.
I smell cooking and I realize I’m past hungry. I return to the house, being careful to stand relaxed on the icy steps. My boots slip but I manage to stay upright, grab the door handle and walk in. I hear eggs frying. And bacon. A steaming pot sits on the side of the stove and there’s a percolator chugging away on one of the burners, or covers or whatever. A real percolator! I lift the lid on the steaming pot and it’s porridge. I’ve never eaten porridge.
Pete is busy tending the eggs in a large cast iron frying pan. He seems to have dropped twenty years from his face since yesterday. ‘What’s the occasion, kind sir?’ I ask him, smiling my widest and most natural, unfeigned smile.
“You,” he replies, smiling in turn. He has a beautiful smile, a perceptibly familiar smile. Where have I seen that smile before? Somebody I know, know real well, but whom? Not Edward, not even close. That priest who “advised” me when I left the orphanage and got me my first job as a copy editor and helped me find an apartment? No, not him. Ah well, never mind. I’m starving.
“Can I help Pete?”
“We’ll need plates for the porridge and the bacon and eggs. We’ll need to slice some bread and toast it. There’s a couple of loaves in the fridge and a bread knife in the drawer to the right of the sink.”
I slice the bread and look for the toaster, feeling foolish. Probably some too obvious contraption I should know about. I see nothing, and no plugs above the counter either. “Sorry, where’s the toaster?”
For the first time he breaks out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your question. I’m currently using the toaster, but in a few seconds, as I move this frying pan over, you can have it.”
“The burners? You want me to just lay the slices of bread on the top of the stove?”
“Sure. I’ll tell you when to flip them.”
So we had a wonderful breakfast. I began to think that maybe that’s what he ate at every meal, or that maybe he only ate breakfast. No matter. I felt great after, drinking the strangest tasting, but hot and strong coffee from the percolator.
“Where’d this food come from, Pete?”
“I should have told you, I have an old CB radio here. I called Webster’s and they brought some supplies. It’s been a very long time since I had company, Reed. I spent the night wondering how I could express my gratitude for listening to my story, and for staying over last night, so as not to cause me worry.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, suddenly feeling very young, very childlike. “Well, thank you. I’m glad I stayed, I can’t imagine driving through this stuff.”
“The roads will be fine during the day except for the bottom of the coulees where the sun doesn’t shine in winter. If you’re careful to drive from side to side of the road and not on the icy tracks, you wouldn’t have any problems. Of course most people with those modern 4×4’s don’t know how to use ’em properly and frequently end up in the ditch. Too much power to the wheels at the wrong time, in the wrong places. You have to feel the road, let it talk to you, tell you what you’re doing wrong. And you have to feel your car or truck as well. An empath should know that, hm?” He winked at me and I laughed. Then, in between mouthfuls and sips of scalding coffee, I began the questions again.
“So, you never ever thought to look up Sally’s child, not even out of curiosity?”
“Oh yes, many times. But what stopped me after my initial bout of anger was that she’d remind me of Sally every day. I’d be raising a part of her, but would never have her. I looked at my life, what it had become and after a few years I convinced myself that the girl was much better off in the city, among people she knew, surrounded by opportunities completely unavailable here. If I went to get her I’d just cause more harm and grief.”
“Don’t you think that maybe that was selfish thinking on your part? That this girl needed a father of sorts in her life, especially knowing she had been abandoned by her own mother? How do you think that affects a child?”
“I don’t know Reed. I’m no psychologist. I’m a farmer with a grade nine education. I don’t know much about people. And in the state I’ve been in, I couldn’t even help myself.”
“Well there’s another point. This girl, maybe, being of Sally, she could have given you the love you never got from the mother. This girl could have been the necessary filler your heart needed. Don’t tell me you’ve never read of such things happening.”
“I don’t read much, but I have. I just don’t believe it. Just stories, Reed. Feel good stuff. Happy endings. Not for us, just for writers and those who for a moment believe their inventive trash.”
“I’m a writer, Pete. I’m going to write a story about our encounter and my trip here. Will you read my ‘inventive trash’?”
“Oh, so sorry… so sorry Reed. Please forgive me. My bitterness is quite used to have me for itself anytime, anywhere. I’ve never practiced the discipline of hiding my pain from others. Probably why there are no ‘others’ in my life anymore. I prefer to be alone so that I can give vent to my feelings without having to worry about the effect I’m having on others.”
“That’s all right. I’m a journalist, a reporter. I’ve got tough skin. I too was raised in difficult circumstances and I’m a survivor and over-comer. I could tell you some stories about my own upbringing in an orphanage. It was a priest who helped me get out of that life and find a job and a place to live. I suppose, depending on how you look at it, I got lucky. And have been ever since, if you discount the sleepless nights working on a computer and the loneliness.
“But lately I’ve been questioning that. I want something better than that animalistic instinct to survive and beat my competitor to the prey. I’ve been seriously thinking it’s time I became a different, a better, person. It will definitely hurt my career, maybe end it, but what’s left of my life I want to dedicate to me. To myself. I have a dream, a vision, of what I want to become. It frightens me, Pete. It frightens me because I’d be so alone in doing this. No one can really share in it. I see a great similarity between us. You changed after Sally left you. You dedicated yourself to nurturing your grief, to never let it ease or heal. You became your grief and it grew to control you and in turn, it became you. In it you have been intensely and utterly alone. You could not share that with anyone without hurting them. So you detached from all of them and kept only the suffering you. And wasted over thirty years of your life to date.
“I want the opposite, but just as intensely as you pursued your own dream of living in heart-mind agony and grief because you lost something that was never yours to start with.”
“Oh yeah? Hmmm.” Long pause. His voice lowers a bit: “You’ve thought about this a great deal I sense. How will you accomplish this dream of becoming better than yourself, of becoming a better person in your own eyes, assuming you intend to be extremely tough on yourself in this?”
“Yes I’ve thought about it a great deal. I’ve looked at the world from my journalist perspective. We’re taught and encouraged to dig deep into the human psyche, to look for reasons, causes and to make value-judgments about everything. We are supposed to be experts at uncovering what makes people do what they do. So that’s the method I used to look at myself; at my motives for everything I think, say and do. Who is the person behind it all? And I’ve decided that perhaps that person needed to be what she was for a time, but no more. She is past all that now. She’s too young to give up the idea of positive change and too old to play the games people play, of seduction, money and popularity. She’s at a crossroads that comes but a very few times in one lifetime. Choice. So she chooses change through self-empowerment. That means the tough reporter bitch makes herself vulnerable, exposes her soft underbelly to those who would beat her. She chooses the path of compassion. And hopes she is strong enough to accept the inevitable.”
“Doesn’t that make you a sort of fatalist? That doesn’t suit you, somehow.”
“I prefer to think of it as being pragmatic. I’ve seen some of the world, perhaps using my life as a microcosm of the macrocosm. I’m basically middle aged. I have enough past to be able to surmise, or hypothesize my future at least. I don’t want to live in the world I’ve come to know. So if I can’t just leave it for greener pastures provided by someone else, then I’ve got to create change right here. And there’s nothing else I can change but myself. That’s what the people who chase after leaders do not realize: that nothing changes until they, themselves, become that change. The change I propose to put myself through is going to cost me much. I have no problem accepting the fact of those costs, but can I pay my debts? Can I ‘take it’ to use the vernacular?”
He sighs deeply and stares straight into my eyes. “You’re goading me, aren’t you. You don’t mean any of this, you just want me to react, defend myself, or admit I’m a total failure and tell you I’m not sorry; that I choose to be where I am and I’m staying here, then to prove you are right, to ask you to leave and not write any story about me, but forget you were ever here. You are pushing me into some kind of admission.”
I stand up and pace across the small kitchen, careful to avoid several empty cardboard boxes and a stack of firewood partially blocking one side of the table. I’m feeling anger coming and I need to let it out carefully. I don’t want to use that sort of energy in an interview.
“You’re wrong Pete. Sure, I came here for a story, that’s what I do, write stories, do documentaries and spout off on talk shows. But primarily I am using this trip to find myself. You can help me. I see many similarities between us, our lives. We had it tough, both of us. But here’s the interesting difference. I chose to overcome my problems and rise above them. You chose to use yours as an excuse to cop out of life. Now, I don’t know. You show me courtesy and treat me as your guest. You order special groceries and cook for me. You let me sleep in your shrine, knowing that no matter how careful I am, my presence in it will forever desecrate a part of it and it will never be the same to you. You are taking chances with me, exposing vulnerable parts of yourself to me. Showing me the Pete who wished he could have a chance at life again. Why?”
“Good question Reed. I don’t know. You’re making me think back over things I’d stopped thinking about long ago. You’re making me look at my miserable life… and maybe, just maybe, to question my place in it. You’re making me think that maybe I can make the pain stop and I can change. You’re a witch, Reed. A very powerful witch. I’ve always been scared of witches, you know. They are unpredictable. Sally was a witch, that’s why she attracted men who abused her and grew bored with me because I let her be, happy to just love her, or as near to love as I knew how to give. I think witches have a death wish but have so much of life’s power they get stuck in places they grow to think of as prisons. A witch must have her broom, Reed, always ready to fly off to some place where no man can go to.
“Tell me about your priest.”
I have a sudden vision of my own mother riding on a big black broom, holding me in her arms until she finds a suitable place and dropping me to fall through black clouds, then down towards a city and into my own prison. I imagine she just wanted me to find my broom, learn to fly on my own, and leave my prison as she had done. Which I did, to a point. His question startles me. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Your priest who helped you leave the orphanage life and found you a job. What was in it for him?”
“Pete, that was the Nineties already! We were lovers! We met in the confessional. I’d been baptized Catholic and had to follow through on the rituals, or else. I had so much anger and hate then, I can’t believe it myself now. So I confessed stories I made up of erotic and terrible sins. I think my confessions turned him on.”
“So this priest seduced a young virgin from an orphanage, is that it?”
“You’d sooner find a virgin in a whorehouse than in that orphanage! Shit man, we were regularly ‘farmed out’ to certain people for ‘domestic labour training’ if you get my drift. But that came after the in-house fondling and other stuff. Women and men used us: we were nobody’s property, so we may as well be theirs. Father Logan, Bertrand Logan, was my out from that life. If it hadn’t been for him, I’m pretty sure I would have been sold to some pimp, oh, excuse me, an employer who had a very legitimate job for me. I’ve met some of my former mates on the streets, even did stories about them, but I never saw the point of taking it to the law, that’s not my thing. Probably some day, when it’s too late to do anybody any good-as if this sort of thing ever does-someone will spill the beans and a battery of lawyers will make a killing, as will the Media sharks and the courts. The orphanage will have to shell out some insurance money, maybe close down and re-open somewhere else as a new and improved institution. Some old man or woman who worked there will be dragged out of obscure retirement, put on display for the public to vent its outrage upon and die in jail. That’s it. Nothing will change for the victims of these systems, not until the systems themselves are destroyed.
I could see the white knuckles as he clenched his fists tightly. Was he upset because of what happened to me, or was he thinking that maybe the same thing had happened to Sally’s daughter and he could have prevented it?
“But you asked about Bertrand? We met in my apartment on a regular basis for a while. Then he had second thoughts. He chose his vows over me. I’m no fool and I wasn’t surprised-angry, oh yes, but not surprised. He may have been a Catholic priest but he’s a man. There’d be other, younger girls to choose from if he kept his profession. Sure wish I’d a known I was a ‘powerful witch’ at the time. I’d have revved up that broom to the max and rammed it up his ass. I certainly was angry and very confused then. What was I, Pete? What purpose did I serve? Everybody else seemed to have it so together, from my point of view. I thought I couldn’t do anything right. But then I found out, through my job as a copy editor, that I could write, and I could listen to people and remember, maybe selectively, but remember, what they said. The rest, as they say, is history. My history.”
“I’m sorry, Reed.”
“Why?” Now I knew I was deliberately goading him.
“Because of Sally’s daughter; that girl who should have been ours, to be raised in a loving environment by us. Because I realize now I was so wrong not to go and get her and get us a new life.”
Suddenly he was old again and his head dropped in his hands. And just as suddenly I went to stand behind him and I hugged him. And when I bent my face down to rub against his, noting he had shaved and smelled better, I felt that electric shock go through me again. And I knew, without a doubt, as if I was seeing it happening in a docu-drama; as if someone else was explaining it to me. I knew because my name is Redemption. But more than that: I knew because I recognized the connection. This was not just some man who had been married to my mother. This was my father. She was dumped by the surveyor when he found out she had been pregnant by her husband before she left with him… and she had known it.
“I’m your daughter, dad. I’ve seen some of the records and it all fits. My real name is Redemption. I’ve come home. Let me in, please?”