Authors: Stephens Gerard Malone
For Aunt Elva
ANE AT SIXTEEN
was all flaming youth and cheek-bones. Bold to her betters some’d say, mostly Rilla, by way of apologizing for her daughter. Jane would never be sorry for a goddamned thing, but Jesus! That girl could turn the head of a stone angel.
Now you didn’t usually see her kind in Demerett Bridge, Mi’kmaq had their place up in Indian Brook,
but Rilla had that thing going with her white man Amos so you couldn’t very well say no. And Jane? Half white so no one minded her checking herself out in windows up and down Commercial Street on account of her good half being on the outside. So, Girl don’t you be giving me any business, was all she’d get from King Duplak for sassin’ him and saying she’d make that ol’ catalogue dress and wouldn’t buy it in his shitty five-and-dime even if she could. She ripped the page right out of the T. Eaton book and slipped it into her pocket so she could paste it on her mirror.
Rilla was searching through cans on the shelf and Duplak said, Hey now, it took the wife some time to get them all facing right like. So Rilla counted out nickels, going red at the cheeks ’cause she’d been caught looking for cheaper prices in behind. Be glad when this strike’s over, Mr. Duplak.
Christ, she’s going to want this on account, King was thinking, knowing full well what no rails coming off the foundry lines meant. Wouldn’t be enough for Amos Stearns to feed his harem over there on Kirchoffer Place, specially since he’d been off sick. Amos’d been the security man at the foundry, sort of like a policeman with a lot more hitting power, but what good was that if you had to spend half your day in the crapper? When Amos’s poor stomach became a regular thing, there was talk of a pension or something, then the manager, Urban Dransfield—who everyone in
Demerett Bridge now hated because of the strike—said, Thank you very much you can’t work any more here’s a watch with your name on it.
That was before the strike, and now, not so many potatoes for the stew pot. No paycheques in a town controlled by the Maritime Foundry Corporation meant Amos’d been unable to meet ends with the boarders in that place of his. Must be why his old lady was back on the road. King’d seen for himself Stearns’s Mi’kmaq whore in that old Ford of his. Heard she was doing washing as far north as Raven River for those German yahoos up there. Hey, honest folks were hurting too and thank Jesus they’d rather starve before swabbing out skivvies and bedsheets for River people. Yeah, right. If washing was all she was doing. King smiled, remembering the old days when Rilla wasn’t looking so hard-ridden. Why if it wasn’t for the wife out back, he’d show Amos’s squaw his own laundry shed.
He counted each coin again. Didn’t matter that the woman had been a customer for over thirteen years. It’s not like she was Stearns’s legal wife. Indians got no credit no how, so Jane didn’t need a new dress and no, added Rilla, you’re not getting your hair bobbed either.
Daylight flooded through the open door catching the dust unawares. Barely reaching the latch, Harry had shadowed Rilla and her girls into the store. He was too young to be captivated by Jane’s adolescent charms
or to know he shouldn’t stare at the other sister, well, half-sister, the one who wasn’t as pretty as Jane. Normally the ugly one sat out on the front porch when she came into Demerett Bridge shopping with her ma and Jane. Sometimes she’d colour with chalk on a writing tablet. Once when she did it, Harry stopped carving his name in backwards letters into the steps of his dad’s pool hall across the street, came over and looked. Said she couldn’t draw and why didn’t she draw boats? He might like them better if she did boats, but the girl, Elva, just said, Go away. She didn’t sit outside today because there were men on the corner, shouting now, looking to make trouble for someone new around these parts.
Elva had trouble breathing on hot days or when she got herself worked into a lather, so when she turned away from the window and said, You have to help him, it came out all huffy.
Rilla stared at the Elva girl. What was she thinking, giving orders to Mr. Duplak?
Jane flipped another page in the catalogue. Big deal. It wasn’t like anyone was going to take notice of
“Help who and stop that wheezing.”
It took ages for Elva to get out, “There’s a man on top of the clock. Went up it like a caterpillar. He’s jabbing it with an army knife.”
How could he do that and hold on to the clock? Jane wanted to know, but more men were tumbling out
of the pool hall and crowding around the clock so Elva didn’t say. They were grey and furry like rats, Elva said and added, “There’s no more poison and there’s rats in the cellar.”
Jane reached over and pinched her arm.
“What’s he doing now?” Mr. King Duplak came over to the window to see for himself.
The pole sitter was showing the others a silver timepiece, one of those really old-fashioned watches on a fob that used to sway like a garland across fancy waistcoats. From the window where she watched, standing on her toes to be as tall as Jane, Elva guessed the watch had once been broken and maybe he’d repaired it. Probably thought he could set the town clock too. Some people are born that way. Wanting to fix things even when they don’t want fixin’, only the man no one had never seen in Demerett Bridge before didn’t know about the clock being sacred and you don’t touch it.
“Is he cute?” Jane asked.
“He’s kind of pasty and he wears funny glasses but he’s dreamy.”
Jane was always saying dreamy this or dreamy that, so lately
was Elva’s favourite word. Then she got all short for breath again when the men outside starting throwing rocks.
“He’ll fall and break his glasses!”
“Show’s over,” said Mr. Duplak, drawing the blinds. The town clock hadn’t kept time since the hurricane of ’04, and according to King Duplak, he’d no business up there in the first place. The rusting timepiece was a tribute of sorts, but less to the Nova Scotian town surviving the storm and more to the prevailing Scottish thriftiness that didn’t see the need to pay for a monument when a perfectly useless clock would do.
“Pink-whiskered Jesus! Like a pack of dogs been through here! Who’s going to clean that?”
It hadn’t been enough for li’l Harry Winters to follow Elva into the store and stare at her. No. He had to go to the counter for a penny jawbuster, then wander over to the corner where he stood wide-eyed and sucking, oblivious to the trail of black muck from his shoes. Goddamned tar ponds! A mecca for boys of Harry’s age, wanting to throw stuff in, or worse, drag dead things out. Now Harry’s cub-like marks were everywhere.
Jane said, Haw haw, when she saw the mess on His Lordship’s floor.
Only Elva saw the footprints as something more than an hour with a brush and bleach, taking some doing to scrub out the wooden planks. A tar map. Their long crescent harbour was right there, on the floor of Duplak’s store, Demerett Bridge at the far northeastern end with Ostrea Lake in behind, the foundry, the black ponds and the monastery about halfways, and just a little to the southeast, Kirchoffer Place, where the factory
workers lived and where Elva’s ma ran her man’s boarding house. Not that she’d learned about maps in school, Elva didn’t go. Gil taught her about maps. But his maps were drawn in sand.
Where do you think Gil is? she might have asked Jane, but Elva didn’t want her sister to think she’d been forgiven for killing her pet bird and as it was, Elva had a hard time remembering she wasn’t talking to Jane. Gil and his brother, Dom, were two years older than Jane, although Elva hadn’t seen Gil for so long now, not since he’d run off, that if it weren’t for Dom, she’d forget what Gil looked like.
It used to be that on Sunday mornings after church in Demerett Bridge, the brothers, free from starchy collars and wearing only torn-off dungarees in summer, drifted down to the end of Kirchoffer Place where the road tinkled with loose slate and ran off to the beach because, maybe, Jane would be there. If she was so inclined, they were not disappointed. Elva could always be counted on to be waiting.
Before they got a few years older and just sat around on washed-up logs moaning, There’s nothing to do in this armpit of a province, and, Can’t wait to get out, Gil would etch maps in the sand with a piece of sand dollar, all of them planning the afternoon’s adventure. Usually it ended up being to Corry Canyon, where there was a stonecutter’s hut and everyone knew the Indians had scalped him and left the hut in ruins.
Don’t be so foolish, Rilla said about that.
No one got tired of going out there, but organizing it was sometimes a battle. Dom would kick out the map with his foot, saying, No, stupid, that’s wrong, it’s over here! Gil’d say, Fuck off! His French accent made Elva giggle. Jane’d watch the two boys getting all sweaty against each other as if she was deciding something, but what, Elva never figured. A plan agreed to, they’d be off, running, whooping, jumping lupins if it was June, leaving Elva quickly distant, crying, Wait!
If anyone slowed down, that would be Gil. But like it was said, Gil had been away for ages and Dom was busy now, on the Lord’s day.
in here,” King was saying, pointing to Elva, “and she’s your problem.” Harry had already hightailed it back to his dad’s pool hall, the most prudent course of action, but King wasn’t about to let Rilla do the same.