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Authors: Alison Preston

Blue Vengeance

BOOK: Blue Vengeance
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Blue Vengeance

Alison Preston

 

 

© 2014, Alison Preston

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, for any reason, by any means, without the permission of the publisher.

 

Cover design by Doowah Design.

Photo of Alison Preston by Ruth Bonneville.

 

Acknowledgments

Lyrics from “For No One,” written by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, ©1963 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. All right administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

 

Author's note: Although Norwood Flats is a real neighbourhood in Winnipeg, the locations of Nordale and Nelson McIntyre schools have been reversed for plot purposes.

 

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Manitoba Arts Council for our publishing program.

 

 

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

 

Preston, Alison, author

    Blue vengeance / Alison Preston.

 

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 978-1-927426-45-6 (pbk.).

--ISBN 978-1-927426-46-3 (epub)

    I. Title.

PS8581.R44B49 2014    C813'.54    C2014-905381-9

    C2014-905382-7

 

Signature Editions

P.O. Box 206, RPO Corydon, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3M 3S7

www.signature-editions.com

for John,

best brother ever

Your day breaks, your mind aches

There will be times when all the things she said

will fill your head

You won't forget her

—from “For No One”

John Lennon & Paul McCartney

1

 

Spring, 1964

Danny stood bareheaded in the rain, watching his sister's coffin being lowered into the ground. A puddle was forming at the bottom of the grave. If they didn't hurry, it would turn into a pool. Cookie wasn't fond of getting wet. At Rock Lake she wouldn't even poke her toes in the water. She didn't understand going in the lake, not even as a young girl.

He wondered if he should mention it to someone, the minister maybe:
Hurry the heck up so Cookie isn't buried in a lake
. Grownups could be so stupid.

There was no point in asking for his mother's help. She had been weeping on and off for days, with tears Danny didn't entirely trust. He decided to speak out in a general way to the group at large.

“Cookie doesn't like the rain.”

Aunt Dot, his mother's sister, turned and encircled him with her arms.

“No, Danny, dear. She didn't like the rain.”

She held him close, pressed his face into her flat hard chest. At thirteen Danny was slight of build and not tall — not yet.

He pulled away, not wanting to hurt her feelings, but unable to stay smashed against her strange-smelling dress. Mothballs. Her funeral garb had been stored in mothballs. Danny decided he would rather wear clothes full of moth holes than go around smelling like that. Also, he was fairly sure the holes wouldn't happen. He couldn't remember ever seeing a moth flutter out of his closet or chest of drawers.

“Hurry up,” he said. “We can't be dropping her down into a lake.”

One of the men in charge of lowering the casket started up an electrical device that hummed. Reverend Badger paused in his droning. The casket, on its canvas bands, was lowered into the earth.

The reverend went back to where he had left off. “The days of our age are three score and ten.”

“Fool,” Danny said, quietly now. Only a certified idiot would include that line under the circumstances. The guy was certifiable. However long three score and ten was, it didn't apply to Cookie. She was fifteen years old. And would be forever.

Dot squeezed his arm.

The rain kept on, snaking down the sides of the shining wooden container that housed his sister. When they had picked it out at the funeral parlour Danny had thought it looked like a miniature palace furnished in satin and sparkles, but now he could see that it was just wood after all, and it wouldn't be shiny once it was in the ground. It would be dull and wet and soon rotten.

“For Christ's sake,” he said now. “Fill in the hole around her.”

There were no shovels in sight. A small yellow machine stood a ways off, partially hidden behind a tree. It looked as though it may have been responsible for digging the hole; perhaps it also had the job of filling it in. Danny got down on his knees and began to push the piled earth into the space around the casket.

“Danny, please.” It was his mother's voice.

He didn't care.

Uncle Edwin, under orders from Dot, pulled him to his feet and led him away to one of the waiting cars. He didn't struggle. He knew by now that his efforts were useless.

Edwin sat with him as the rain pounded down on the black car that smelled of leather and cigars. It smelled like cigars because Edwin had lit one up.

Danny was glad that his uncle was the one chosen to be his minder.

They sat there, both of them dripping wet, Danny covered in mud, for what seemed a very long time.

A powder-blue '57 Cadillac pulled into the parking lot and sat. Just sat.

“That's the kind of car I'm going to have,” said Danny.

“Well, in that case, you better plan on getting a darn good job,” said Edwin. “Caddies don't come cheap.”

The rain let up, turned to a drizzle. Edwin rolled down his window.

“Let out some of the smoke so the womenfolk don't get after me.”

The crowd around the grave vanished inside the fog. Then figures walked out of it two by two, one by one, and in small clusters. Danny recognized his best friend, Paul, with his mum and dad; a few other kids from school with their parents; neighbours. He wondered who all the other people were: kids from Cookie's school, he supposed, and people who knew his mother — or knew of her anyway — people he'd never noticed, in the way that kids don't pay much attention to grownups. Was it possible that one of these strangers was his dad, and Dot and his mum thought it best not to tell him? He wouldn't put it past them. He didn't bother to ask Uncle Edwin. He'd be going along with whatever Dot had told him to do or risk her wrath.

Frank Foote was there. He was the one who'd found her, who'd tried to save her.

Then Danny saw another familiar shape emerge. She wouldn't know that she'd been walking inside a cloud. You never know it from the inside, when fog swallows you whole. Or almost never. He and Paul had tested it out until they thought they knew for sure. Then someone told him about paddling through a cumulus cloud on a mountain lake, and he knew he had further testing to do. Whoever had told him that said that the cloud had crisp perimeters. He'd believe that when he saw it.

The shape was Miss Hartley, the girls' phys ed teacher from Nelson Mac. She lit up a cigarette.

“What's she doing here?” Danny said.

“Who?”

“Miss Hartley. Cookie's gym teacher. Everybody hates her.”

“I don't know, Daniel. I guess she wants to pay her respects.”

“She should have paid Cookie some respects when she was alive.” Danny reached for the door handle. “I've got a good mind to…”

“Leave it, Daniel.” Edwin put a hand on his arm. “This is a hard day for everyone. Let it be for now.”

Danny knew that what he was really saying was: you've already caused your mother enough upset for today.

He did as he was told and let it be, as he watched his mother bounce in her wheelchair across the soaked grass of the cemetery. She winced as she rode, at the mercy of the man who steered her, the driver of the funeral car. Danny took a measure of satisfaction from those winces.

The guests gathered in the church hall. Ladies served coffee and tea to the adults and a nasty orange concoction to the kids. To Danny the orange drink tasted like death — what death would taste like if it were in liquid form. Why couldn't they have had Orange Crush, say, or Hires Root Beer?

His friends kept their distance. He supposed they didn't know how to act around him, the way he didn't know how to act around his mum. He hoped it wouldn't last forever.

There were dainties, but they just made Danny think of Cookie, and how she would have hidden herself away somewhere and wolfed down scads of them. And then she would have thrown them up — in secret too — always in secret.

At the church there was no booze, except on the breath of some of the men. Church and liquor didn't go together. Not this church anyway. Norwood United. Danny supposed some of the men had flasks in the inside pockets of their suits. He knew that Uncle Edwin did.

Miss Hartley, the gym teacher, didn't come to the church hall. That disappointed Danny, as he was looking forward to having a word with her.

Back at the house the liquor came out.

“Rye whiskey and beer for the men; gin and sherry for the ladies,” Aunt Dot said, as she bustled to get things in order.

Gin for the ladies. Danny wondered why it was divided like that, and if any of the ladies would have preferred beer, or any of the men gin. If there was a rule about it, none of them seemed to be breaking it, as far as he could see.

He tried the rye and the gin and couldn't believe that people drank the stuff. They both tasted like poison. Then he opened a beer and tried it. It tasted like piss, or what he imagined piss would taste like. He and Paul had been meaning to try it, but they hadn't gotten around to it yet. He finally sided with the older ladies and settled on sherry. It was thick and sweet with just a hint of poison thrown in. When he was throwing up later in the backyard, he thought again about Cookie, and how she had chosen to put herself through this disgusting act, to make it happen. He decided to give alcohol a wide berth for a while and then maybe just try one type at a time.

His dog Russell stood with him while he vomited, but looked off in another direction till he was done.

2

 

The day after the funeral the sun shone. The only clouds were across the river, sinking into the trees on the streets of Riverview. It was a drying day, but too late for Cookie's watery grave.

Danny went downstairs. He felt sick in his stomach and in his head. His mother sat at the kitchen table staring at nothing that he could see. Her hands gripped a cup of coffee that looked cold and oily, like the water beside the boats at the dock across the river. The water, though, was a swirl of colours from the gasoline that leaked from the boats' motors. He had often wondered why something as practical as gas was so pretty to look at. So far he had forgotten to ask anyone and he was certain that now wasn't the time. His mum probably wouldn't know the answer anyway. Dot might; she was a farm wife and knew lots of stuff city wives didn't.

She was at the sink washing glasses and small plates from the day before.

“I could have sworn I had them all yesterday,” she said. “People leave them in the dangdest places. I found some of these way out by the back lane.”

She wrung out her rag and hung it on a hook over the sink.

“Men,” she said. “Oh. Morning, Danny. Have you seen any sign of the can opener? I swear I've looked everywhere. Edwin can open cans with a knife but I'll be darned if I go that route.”

He wondered if she left the
good
out of
good morning
on purpose.

“Why couldn't they have waited one more day to dig Cookie's grave?” he said. “We knew it was going to clear today. Maurice Burchell said so.”

Maurice Burchell was the weatherman on CBWT. He had taken over from Ed Russenholt a couple of years ago. At the end of Ed Russenholt's weather reports, he had drawn a big heart around southern Manitoba with his chalk, and then, always with a smile, he'd said,
Ah, yes, for the Red River Valley, heart of the continent, it's going to be…
and told the local forecast. He'd acted as if the Red River Valley was the place to be. Danny missed him — missed his broadcasts.

“Say good morning to your aunt,” his mother said and then went back to staring at nothing. It was located somewhere between her eyes and the back landing.

“Morning,” he said and decided that he would leave
good
out of the greeting forever.

Dot dried her hands on a tea towel and scooted over to where he stood in the doorway. She may as well have been on wheels — casters, like on the table Paul's mum used to transfer items from the kitchen to the dining room and back.

She put a hand on his shoulder. “The funeral was scheduled for yesterday, Danny dear. It would have been too difficult to rearrange everything.”

He didn't like the way she pronounced
scheduled
. She said it like
shed
and it sounded sloppy and dirty, like cow udders.

“We could've,” he said.

Dot's eyes darted towards her sister and back to him.

“Would you like some breakfast, honey?”

“No, thanks.”

“Just a piece of toast?”

“No, thanks.”

“You've got to eat,” said his mum, like she knew all about it.

But he was on his way back upstairs. He sat in his bedroom chair, looked out at the blue, blue sky and wondered how on earth he was going to get through the rest of his life.

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