Authors: David Adams Richards
“Invested with a passion and acuity that strip away false fronts of smug misunderstanding and ideological or moral comfort…. David Adams Richards writes novels that are essential….”
“Richards is a writer of great talent and mighty vision. In Richards’s marvelous characters … we see ourselves.”
“A distillation of powerful feeling, and an eloquent call for compassion…. A remarkable book.”
Quill & Quire
“Compelling…. The fire in Richards’s voice makes the action explosive….”
“This novel is powerful: a wrenching subject is developed with skill and sensitivity. Richards has created a place for Jerry Bines in the pantheon of twentieth-century tragic heroes.”
“His writing seems to reflect the unflinching nature of man…. He masterfully mixes tension and fear with a poignancy that is itself wounding.”
“Richards wants us to avoid easy explanations, the ones that separate us from ‘the wounded’ and just explain them away.”
“Richards is a painfully sharp observer, who possesses one of the most distinct and compelling voices in contemporary literature.”
The Coming of Winter
Dancers at Night
(short stories, 1978)
Lives of Short Duration
Road to the Stilt House
Nights Below Station Street
Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace
For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down
Hope in the Desperate Hour
The Bay of Love and Sorrows
Mercy Among the Children
River of the Brokenhearted
The Friends of Meager Fortune
The Lost Highway
A Lad from Brantford, & Other Essays
Hockey Dreams: Memories of a Man Who Couldn’t Play
Lines on the Water: A Fisherman’s Life on the Miramichi
Playing the Inside Out
OR RICK TRETHEWEY
with the love of my heart
“The rifle kicks hard both ways
(from “Killing Whiskey”)
In 1981, during the interval between
speakers at the meeting in the prison, a man was led in late. He was placed at the back of the crowded room.
It was an
meeting that Joe Walsh chaired every week here because he felt he was duty-bound to do it.
But the man they had brought in that evening, who sat looking around cautiously, and at the same time impervious to other prisoners, was Joe’s nephew, Jerry Bines.
So after the meeting, feeling compelled that he should speak, Joe walked over to him. But it was Jerry who broke the ice.
“How are you, Joe,” he said. “Doin good – doing
good right – drivin tractor-trailer now – that’s what being sober will get you.”
“Yes,” Joe answered. And he could not help but smile, because of how Jerry’s face lit up when he saw him.
“Good – good –”
He thanked Joe for coming, and said that he would start to attend these meetings on a regular basis now.
“You like them.”
“Don’t like them, no – no don’t like them – gives me a chance to get out a my cell – out of my cell,” Jerry said, smiling.
Then he asked about Joe’s family. And then he paused, as if trying to think of something to say.
“Your daughter Adele’s got herself a good lad now,” Jerry said innocently. “Ralphie Pillar, right – I like Adele – always have,” he said. “When I first went to Kingsclear – she was the only one to write – only one.” He glanced away when he said this as if thinking of something…. “Don’t blame those who didn’t,” he said.
“How long are you here for?” Joe said.
“Christ, I don’t know – three or four years or so,” Jerry said, and he looked around as if musing at this. “Three years – and then I’ll be free.” He stood up to go.
Joe remembered Jerry’s father and his mother as he watched him go, and he wanted to say something kind, but, as always with Joe, words failed him. He only watched his nephew who, even when he moved in shackles, reminded Joe of himself.
A few years passed.
And the town grew up around them and became another town. And they grew older.
When Jerry got out of prison, he was twenty-three. He married a young woman from Lyttleton and had a son, who he called William Digger Bines, after his father. His past seemed to be gone, and often he attended
meetings that Joe went to at the small schoolroom up on the highway. He wouldn’t speak himself, and at the end of the night he would have a coffee in a styrofoam cup, before he left, alone. Now and then he would glance at someone coming in, or someone leaving whom he perhaps had confrontations with in his past, but he wouldn’t say anything.
Joe helped Jerry and his wife out with money, and Jerry worked the boats. His wife, they said, was small and attractive and fervently religious – and this is what happened to him (that is, the hope of change through the celebration of a positive female character).
You would see him standing beside Joe at
meetings or passing alone through darkness along the street.
“That’s Jerry Bines,” someone would whisper.
“Oh – I always wanted to know what he looked like,” someone else would say.
“Well, there he is – see, see, there he is.”
He occasionally sat with Joe’s wife Rita at night, reminiscing. That is, Jerry would mostly listen to stories she knew about his mother and father, the dances they
went to, when they were all firebrands of a sort and smouldering young.
Joe had brought a new kind of chair for Rita to rest upon because she was sick, and Jerry would sit across from her as she spoke with her head slanted down to the left. He would nod at her quietly as she spoke in the dark, the spring air through the opened windows smelling of soft earth and paint, the town chugging silently into the future. Jerry was always polite and respectful to everyone. Joe and Rita never had very much – and Jerry knew this. Rita and Joe had taken care of him after his own mother’s death in 1968.
Now and then when he wasn’t working a boat Jerry went with Joe on his tractor-trailer runs. Joe never really knew how Jerry was doing, because Jerry would touch Joe’s shoulder – a touch that by its very nature or the nature of the toucher seemed more compassionate than an ordinary man’s: “Good, Joe – doin good – don’t worry about me.”
His smile too was so infectious that it was like a lamp going on. How was this?
Joe talked incessantly about his son-in-law, Ralphie Pillar, about how intelligent and kindly he was, and Jerry seemed particularly interested in him.
“I could never do that,” Jerry mumbled one day when speaking about Ralphie being hired as a consultant for a government study. “All them brains – some smart, eh?”
But he seemed embarrassed to say this, as if it were a
world he did not understand.
“Like Adele too – always did –”
And Joe felt sad that he had bragged a little.
In the summer of 1986 Joe’s tractor-trailer was stolen and a month later Jerry was charged with the murder of Buddy Savoie, in a dispute at the Savoie house. No one could prove he was implicated in the tractor-trailer hijacking. No one could prove it was murder either, or that the gun would actually fire twice in succession, which seemed to prove Jerry’s testimony that Buddy had a knife and so he had picked up the gun as a last resort.
And he was acquitted because of this.
But his wife and son left him because of his terrible past, and he no longer took in the meetings.
Rita often talked about him. But she was not able to see him, and she died before he went to trial.
Adele no longer wanted anything to do with him, though she had heard that Jerry still spoke fondly of her and of Ralphie. She knew too that she could contact him in a moment if need be. And that he would come.
But he was, in fact, a part of the family that no one mentioned. Adele did not mention him to Ralphie, thinking that they would never meet.
Again a year passed. Joe Walsh died as broke as he had been most of his life, attending meetings to
stay sober and never once saying anything against Jerry Bines.
By 1989 Jerry began to be seen again in town.
The boy Andrew met him in a hunting camp. He was ordinary in every way except for his eyes, and the small scar above one of them. He had a tattoo of a star between his thumb and forefinger and he wore a parka and toque.
If he was down on his luck he didn’t say so. He had a peculiar way of expression; almost everything seemed to be said slowly and in duplicate. “That’s no good – no good,” he would say. Or if asked how he was he would reply. “Not too bad – too bad – how are you?”
And he would smile. He had a wonderfully attractive smile, a smile which suggested that he would die in a
second for whatever he believed in, in whatever place, no matter what.
And so the boy, who was only nine, was drawn to this quality, as boys generally are, infatuated with it, as boys generally are, and romanticized this man immediately as being the kind of man he would like to be himself. It was because of the object of his look, the almost casual disregard for private benefit when he spoke to others.
“He was the only man to ever come over the wall at Dorchester,” someone mentioned.
He did not stay long. His camp was further away and he’d only come in here to see how they were making out.
Then he left.
“Do you know who he is?” someone said, a man at the camp who liked to think he knew people very well, and could tell others about them.
“He’s Jerry Bines,” the man said. “Have you ever heard of him?”
“No,” the boy said.
“Well, you will,” the man answered him, smiling delightedly at himself. “You will. Jerry Bines,” he said. “You have to stay away from lads like that.”
He said that Bines was down on his luck. His little boy had leukemia.
And so the conversation went back and forth from one man to the other as they sat in the smoke-filled gloomy camp, and the boy sat on the edge of the chair listening. Fog rolled in between the thick dark spruces
and the lane was muddy and dotted with puddles as far as the eye could see.
The boy was generally kept away from all of this conversation in any other locale; but because he was in the camp with men there was a certain idea that he was of age. The talk was not disturbing to him, except for one thing which none of the men knew. He thought of how sad it must be to be
of life, and that Jerry’s physical aspects took on a certain heaviness, as if the physical space he inhabited was somehow different and more limited than that of the other men there. He did not know how to articulate this, of course, and perhaps this feeling came because he was young and not given to all the froth and worry of the men themselves.
As the afternoon wore on they spoke about Bines’ father and how he had a plate in his head from the Korean war.
“Did he really take Jerry out to fight other boys in the pulpyards for a quart of wine?” one man said.
“I heard that,” the man spoke, as if nothing was unknown or surprising to him, and that this had happened was a certainty which he delighted in.
“But that’s the worst thing I ever heard of,” another said. “That’s the most terrible thing I ever heard of,” he added lowly, keeping at bay all of his anger – as if getting angry at anything associated with Bines was not the thing to do, even when the man was not present.
But the man said it wasn’t the most terrible thing, and he related how other men had acted with their
children. “Making them become priests or professors,” he said. “Or, worse still, lawyers.”
The young boy sat there in the gloom listening. He thought of his own father who had died, and who had loved him, and of his uncle whom he now lived with.
He too was an orphan, in a way – like Bines was – but how different their lives. Learning his catechism at Sunday school, and learning about the crucifixion, he was told that each drop of blood Christ had shed was shed for a particular sin. This perhaps exaggerated claim was now manifested in the boy’s psyche when he thought of Bines, whom he had witnessed walking into the gloom of the trees and looking back over his left shoulder and then becoming a spot in the globes of fog that seemed to surface from the road. He thought of a drop of blood for Bines’ look, and another for a murder, and imagined as he did a picture of Christ in his small catechism.
He thought of his priest, his white soutane, his bowing when he took the host, and saying: “Body of Christ.”
And all of these memories and impressions came flooding in upon him when they spoke. Perhaps no one else thought of them. But he himself was only a child and therefore could think of these things without self-recrimination.
An argument of sorts started in the camp over the severity of Bines’ actions in comparison with other men who led respectable lives. It was, of course, the ageless argument.
The men spoke differently after Bines left. When he
was present they, all of them, directed their conversation to him, and he politely listened.
“Don’t know about that,” he would say. “Don’t know.” Or “Ya – that’s right – right, ya.”
But when he was gone, they mocked their own fear of him, and their voices rose perceptibly as if to thwart some feeling of former intimidation, which they only secretly admitted in the privacy of their hearts.
The boy noticed this but disregarded it and forgave it in a second as he was always forced to do with adults, not because he was so humble, but because he now understood their psychology.
As the evening came on he imagined Bines in his camp alone.
“He spends all his time alone now – he hardly sees his wife and little boy.”
That was because of the shooting of Buddy Savoie in 1986, the first man maintained.
“It wasn’t the first man he shot,” someone else said.
“Well, no one knows. He did enough, though – enough.”
“Did enough to last two lifetimes.”
The boy himself wanted to fly an airplane. He had airplanes all over his bedroom. And if he could do this, he wouldn’t want to do anything else. He thought that he would fly his mother everywhere she went.
“No one knows what happened between him and Buddy – except Buddy tried to kill him and so he was forced to defend himself.”
“Well, that’s what they say anyway.”
“Buddy shot though the walls of his house at him – with his wife and baby boy there – the night before.”
Then the conversation turned to the moose they should be able to get in the morning, if by good fortune it turned colder. Bines had told them, in fact, where there were moose, and each one of the men was now anticipating this.
As the wind came up the boy snuggled into his sleeping bag, on a bed at the back of the room behind the stairwell. It would grow colder tonight and the fog would lift. In fact, after a while it started to clear and a large moon came out and shone down upon the mud that was already half-frozen.
Late at night the boy woke as a truck went by, casting a feeble yellow light against the walls of this strange place.
Two weeks passed. It was now early October, 1989.
The sky was growing dark and he came out at the edge of the chopdown, back from this place on the river about one-third of a mile. The wind was from the north and the sun was at the trees, beginning to set. The moon seemed to be sitting directly upon it, in the darkening, bleeding twilight. Far away he could hear a pulp truck rattle and throttle out one of the logging roads a mile or more away. The highway below, soundless without a car, stretched broken and cold, between small white houses
and propped barns, into the distance until he lost sight of it at the top of a faraway hill.
Now that he knew where he was – he had been mixed up for a time this last hour – he turned swiftly and went back into the trees again, so anyone standing far away on one of the chopdowns – many gorged and pitiless humps of soil and torn, thrashed roots – would have believed he was an apparition at the edge of the cedar swamp.
He was not seen in the open again until after dark. Then a man crossed the main road at a place between two smaller woods roads, between the mature spruce of two woodlots some miles from the chopdown, and disappeared again.
A half-hour later he was at his destination. He sat in the field of dry deadened hay and looked down towards the house with its one upstairs light on. He could see her moving back and forth in the window, in the space between a twisted hanging curtain.
He moved slowly towards the door and knocked lightly and entered.
He nodded to her. “How’s William,” he said.
His son had just come from the hospital. There was something the matter again.
Bines sat down at the wooden table and looked at her.
“He has another appointment,” she said.
His wife had left him and had taken the boy. He didn’t mind any more. And he knew what was going to happen now, and, because of this, he had come to ask his wife a favour: “I think we should change his name.”
“To your name – your name – it’d be better for the boy – better for William.”
“Well, everyone on the river knows who he is.”
“No, no – better for the boy – better for the boy,” he said. “Better for the boy,” he added again, staring through her.
He didn’t like this but he couldn’t think of what else to do at the moment.
“I’ll have to go to a lawyer to get the name changed – it’s a lot of rigamarole.”
“Lot of rigamarole, ya – lot of rigamarole,” Bines said as if reflecting on something else.
She told him that the doctors had made him another appointment for a blood analysis.
“We could take him down to Halifax now – down there ourselves,” he said, suddenly. “We could – take him down there – take him down there,” he said.
“Well – the appointment’s set. I think if we went and prayed at the church for him,” his wife said. She was a Pentecostal girl and although she would do whatever she could for her son she didn’t put as much faith in specialists as others.
“Ya, well – anyway – you go,” he said. “That’s all right – you go.”
He went in to see his boy. He was four years old but he looked younger. He had not gained much weight and Bines stood over him for a moment, looking at this small face turned sideways against his teddy bear. His face had a white pallor, his lips slightly blue.
“How ya doin?” Bines said to the sleeping boy. “How ya doing, boy?” He went to touch his head – but Bines had hardly ever touched his son, and his large hand only slightly touched the pillow.
“I might burn my house,” Bines said when he came back out.
His wife looked at him.
“My camp too,” Bines said. “People coming to get even for the tractor-trailer racket. Gary Percy’s on his way back. They let him out on day parole and he’s gone.”
His wife didn’t answer. But the fear she’d always secretly held for him took sway. He looked at her.
“Don’t worry about it – I’ll straighten things around – get a sprocket for the bicycle for him – you wait and see.”
After giving his wife some money – and after telling her she would have to make do for a while on her own – he turned at the door to look at her, and then towards the room where Willie slept. After he left his wife he crossed the river, at the farthest point of the bend.
Jerry Bines’ father had shot through his bedroom wall in an attempt to commit suicide when Jerry was fourteen.
“I hit the floor that fuckin time,” Jerry would say.
The only thing his father left was a house at the end of a dirt road. The only thing he gave Jerry was a watch with a studded strap, which Jerry now wore. He had cancer in his stomach and wouldn’t go to the hospital, and Jerry used to go out and buy him Aspirin and Rolaids and come home and force his mouth open.
“Here ya go now – here ya go,” he would say as his father sat on his bed, the sheet covered with sweat. “Here ya go,” Jerry said.
Jerry had loved his mother but she had died when he was four years old. She was Joe Walsh’s sister, and he had always liked Adele and her younger sister Milly, though they wouldn’t speak to him after he was fifteen.
Jerry was Dr. Hennessey’s namesake and godchild. The night he was born a storm had closed the roads and schools and made travel impossible. His father had hitched the old horse and put his mother on the sleigh and started down the river, beating the horse around the ears to get it across the ice.
And when they came up over the bank near the bridge Hennessey was waiting for them. He had come out as far as the bridge but couldn’t make it past. The horse’s face was turned against the storm and capped with snow, and seemed eerie in the lights of the tractor-trailer that was trying to secure passage.
When he was little he used to sing for the men who visited the house: songs like “love’s going to live here – love’s going to live here – love’s going to live here again”
and “the lights – in the harbour – they don’t shine for me – I’m like a lost ship – adrift in the sea – sea of heartbreak, lost loves, and loneliness.”
And walk three miles to get a pop at the corner store.
You turn right instead of left and your life changes forever without your knowing any change has come. Or you need a sprocket for a child’s bike and turn in one direction instead of another.
One afternoon Ralphie Pillar was working in his shop. When he looked up, a man was standing with his back to him looking out the window at the dusty gravel lot turning to hard callused dirt in the afternoon sun.
The man was caught in this afternoon sun, this October afternoon drawing to a close. (Ralphie looking at him was suddenly reminded of things far away and almost forgotten.) His back appeared to be a part of the wall, near the window where he stood. The window trembled slightly in the wind – a few leaves blew upwards in the yard and became still again while the sun made an effort to regain the cloud.
Suddenly the man looked over and smiled, sunlight on his cheek. Far away in the great afternoon children scrambled and kicked the drywall boards of an old building. It was Thanksgiving weekend.
“Hello, Ralphie,” the man said, as if he’d always known him.
Ralphie nodded and smiled, but he wasn’t quite sure who the man was. There was something instantly unapproachable about him, though, even when he turned and smiled. And Ralphie instinctively wanted to draw away. Ralphie had become a quiet, reflective man and he didn’t know many people in town anymore.