Authors: Stephens Gerard Malone
Gil’s grasp tightened. “I could break your fucking neck right now.”
Major barked and jumped, like maybe it was play time. Elva felt Gil’s hot words as close as a kiss.
Something in him responded. He dropped her to the ground, staggering away from her.
“I … I just wanted to help.”
“By telling Dom that I … about Jane and me? Jesus Christ, Elva! Do you hate me that much?”
No! No, it’s not that way!
“You stupid kid! Dom’ll kill me, or Jane, or both of us when he finds out.”
Elva scrambled for words, trying to undo damage she hadn’t foreseen.
“Not Dom, he’s your brother.”
He shook her. “Where’s Oak?”
Elva said she didn’t know, but just who had Gil been sitting in the dark for, hoping to meet?
“Damn! I’ve got to sort this out,” he said quickly, distracted, aloud to himself.
“Your ol’ man’s truck. Let’s go!”
HERE WAS THE RAIN?
It always rained when the wind blew from the east. Loud, full of spray and sand from the beach, whipping the air with curling, dead leaves—but no rain. Jane used to tease Elva that wind like this could suck out your breath and you’d die of a dry drowning. Right there, plain as day, in the middle of the world.
Elva flew along, dragged by Gil, on the tips of her toes until she tripped in the gravel of the driveway. Get up, get up, he said until she begged, Wait!
“How could you say that I hurt her that I forced her, where’s your mother, Elva, how could you even think such things?”
Elva said Rilla wasn’t home but stopped herself short of saying she was at her auntie’s.
“It wasn’t that way, no, Jesus fucking Christ, Elva! I’d never! Not that way, it’s not what you think.”
“What are you doing?”
He said, “Shut up, Elva,” and tossed a handful of stones against the second-storey window of the room he once shared with Oak. No light. Nothing.
“Told you, he’s not here.”
“Where, damn you?”
“Haven’t seen him all day. Sometimes he walks, a long way. I don’t know where.”
It’s because of you that he does.
He hated the way her voice was quivering, hated that she knew so much about him.
“Fuck!” He looked at the shed and said, “C’mon.” Major followed, ears pinned, sensing no fun in this. Elva and Gil struggled to unhinge the wooden doors.
The wind was too strong. They kept blowing shut. Gil took them in the side door, shutting out the wailing but not the wash-wash-wash of shrubs against the back windows. Gil, Elva and the dog, panting.
“Where are we going?”
Gil crawled under the steering wheel of the old Ford and worked a few wires together. The truck rumbled and sputtered. Smoke, blue and oily, rose up around them. It stank. Slowly, without lights, he eased out of the shed. Those damned doors banged loudly against the truck, banging back against the sides of the shed, swinging back and shattering one of the headlights.
“Gil, you’re scaring me!”
“Shut up, Elva!”
Major barked and they were free of the shed. Elva pushed against her door and before Gil tore out of the driveway, she jumped out of the truck. So too the dog.
Gil was faster and before she could even think to scream, they rolled onto the grass, his hand thrust over her mouth.
“Elva, don’t fight me! “Gil pushed her back into the truck. “Get in, boy.” Major licked her face. The house remained dark. Gil thumped his hands roughly against the steering wheel.
“Don’t try that again.”
Gil turned the Ford, gears grinding, spitting up gravel, lopsidedly lit with only one headlight, onto the road and headed north past the ponds and the black sentinels of the foundry chimney stacks.
“What are we doing?” Elva asked.
The dog looked as well as if to add, Yes, Master, just what are we doing?
“Going to see Big Head.”
“Oh, Gil, I don’t like going there!”
“Too bad! You shouldn’t have shot your fucking mouth off.”
“I won’t say anything more. I promise.”
“You’re not out of my sight until I figure what to do.”
She looked at the dark road ahead, barely lit by the remaining light.
“How come you’re going there?”
“Gotta get out of here.”
“Why not take the bus?”
“Because, Elva, I’ve done things, remember. I gotta disappear!”
Sprucelike shadows tossed against a starless sky, canopied the winding road. They did not speak. Major sat up expectantly between them. Elva huddled against the door, watching Gil, his face set.
“Maybe Big Head and Squirrel Boy can give me work, get me on a boat to Newfoundland. Get to England from there. Forget about all this.”
England! Kingly castles and lawns of green carpet where everyone walked around with a crown, but Elva wasn’t thinking about that now.
“Yeah, I know, Elva, why would they help me after the
eh? I’ll tell ya, strangest thing, all what folks say about me? Well, right after the accident Big
Head takes me aside and says he didn’t hold no grudge against me. Could’ve happened to anyone, he said. Maybe he’ll remember saying that now.”
Rilla wouldn’t like this, not one bit.
Major settled in for the bumpy ride. Elva felt her eyes get tired as she kept trying to make out things on the side of the road. Raven River, a crossroad with a scattering of houses around a steep pitched Lutheran church set back from the highway, came and went.
A mile or so past the crossroad, Gil pulled onto an S-curved lane and followed it up to the clearing. Jesus, Gil swore as he steered the obstacle course of timber, trusses and piles of finishing stone. There were lights in the ruin.
“I don’t like going in there, Gil.”
He jumped out of the truck and pulled Elva with him, Major having to two-step. “Stay, boy,” Gil said.
The plank bridge groaned, but weeks of dry weather had left a gully of cracked clay and no mosquitoes. Gil held Elva tightly with one hand, hammered the door with the other. He’d have to repeat it before they heard hurried steps on the other side, like a big mouse, Elva thought.
“Gil Barthélemy. I know it’s late but I have to see Big Head. Please.”
Oh, and the hurried steps went away. Then they came back. Then a blinding square of light. Squirrel
Boy, full in the hips, thin in the neck, with a shock of red hair around a spotted bald crown and head to toe in soupy green Dominion army surplus, shifted from boot to boot like something was wrong with one of his legs. Look who’s here, what to do, what to do, Squirrel Boy said, before Gil forced Elva inside.
“Is he here?” asked Gil.
Squirrel Boy was too surprised by the likes of Elva showing up to say anything, to even nod how-do. Elva gazed at the gallery of ancient tits under the languid and haughty gaze of corseted beauties. Air, stinky of the inside of a bait jar, the kind full of worms that Gil used to bring around and tease Jane with when they were little. And the nets. Mosquito nets over everything. A vast indoor three-ring circus, weighted down by years of damp dust and lit by hissing oil lanterns circled by moths.
They followed the greeting that sounded like a command into the great room and to the glow from the fire in the monumental hearth. Elva accidentally brushed against the net-cave. It rained a shower of dust.
No, no, no touch, fussed Squirrel boy.
“Nets.” From years of trying to sound Canadian, the now only lightly German-accented nasal voice boomed from the fireside chair in the corner. It resonated within Elva. “Bugs here’ll cut you to pieces without them.”
Big Head was a behemoth of a man, best described as overflowing, fleshy wet folds absorbing his neck, sliding onto his shoulders. Eyes too close together, prominent nose under which a much-preened moustache was pampered and waxed up with a flourish. And, like the Boy, turned out in army fatigues, but with an automatic pistol tucked into his overstretched belt.
“The very last person I’d expect to see, Guillaume. And who’s this? You’re that washwoman’s girl, aren’t you?” A cindery glow rose up from Big Head’s waist, and as he paused to inhale, the cigarette lit up his face. Creepy. Didn’t offer a hand to shake or nothing. “Something for our guests.” He gestured to Squirrel Boy, who bobbed and limped out.
Fool got his leg bit and now it’s infected, the big man explained. “It’ll have to come off. Like to watch?”
Elva shook her head wildly, believing he’d do it right now.
“Oh sit, girl.”
Elva did, across from Big Head, but the chair was old and high and her feet didn’t touch the floor. The arms were sticky to the touch and she hoped that Gil would hurry and finish here so they could go home where she vowed never to open her mouth again.
“Heard you were back in these parts. From an old associate of ours. Bryant Slaunwhite. Understand you went to work for him when you left here.”
Gil tried to betray nothing. “You heard from Bryant?”
“Oh, he was here. Dropped by in the spring. Offered us a little business. I understand he was on his way to New York to see some kind of specialist. Medical condition. Didn’t say. Did you know he’s taken to wearing a scarf?”
Gil managed, “Really?”
“Asked us to look you up and pass on his regards.” Big Head tapped his cigarette. Ashes right on the floor. “Sorry ’bout that. Meant to, but with one thing or another, we never got around to it. Keeping America’s spirits up, well, it’s a full-time job these days. Been in and out of here, most of the summer. Looks like you’ve saved us tracking you down.”
Squirrel Boy came back with a tray of steaming mugs and a plate of what looked like hardtack. He offered a biscuit to Elva, and Big Head gestured for her to eat, but it was too hard.
“I was hoping, wondering, if you’d get me work. For two. Anything. As long as it’s out of province.”
Big Head cast a glance at Elva.
“You haven’t got this young lady in trouble, have you? She hardly seems your type.”
And Squirrel Boy laughed.
“Not her. A friend of mine.”
“Doesn’t want anyone to know. Secret?” said Squirrel Boy.
“Are you in trouble, Guillaume?”
“Just don’t want anyone to know where I’m heading.” Sit, was the gesture. Gil remained standing. “You did say after, well after you know, that if I needed help—”
“Yes, yes.” Big Head waved a biscuit elegantly. “Felt bad about that business with the
you being just a boy and all. Awful. But then you up and left us.”
“I couldn’t stay.”
“No, you couldn’t.”
“Drink your cocoa,” Squirrel Boy said, quietly interrupting the behemoth.
The giant ripped out his pistol and fired, blowing the mug and the table to pieces. Elva screamed, but caught most of it behind her hands. They could hear Major barking distantly in the truck.
“It always tastes like goat piss.” Big Head laughed, tucking his pistol back into his belt. “Of course I’ll help you, Guillaume. We’re all friends here, right? I’ve got the
Nellie J. Banks
sailing for Canso tomorrow night. Could use your help with our American customers. You and Oak be on it.”
Squirrel Boy offered Elva more cocoa.
The single headlight was fading. Major had finally settled down and was curled on the seat beside Elva. Gil drove back to Demerett Bridge in silence, Elva washing under
waves of sleep, her head rolling against the seat, but always being knocked back awake.
“Rilla will be worried.” Now that Gil had things sorted, he sounded conciliatory, maybe even sorry.
Damn! Roadkill, glowing pulpy red in the headlight, forced Gil to swerve.
Elva wasn’t forgiving just yet. She might get all loose-lipped then, and she sure didn’t want him to know that Rilla was away for a few days and Jane was home alone. He’d want to see her.
“Christ, Elva, don’t you look at me like that. I shouldn’t have done this to you. I’m sorry, but don’t you see, I had to bring you. I knew they’d done business with Bryant, was afraid they might not help me, maybe worse. Figured nothing would happen to me if you were there. I used you, Elva. I fucking used you. Some man I’ve turned out to be.”
She always dreamed she’d hear someone say, I love you, or even, I came to love you. And perhaps in some way, on some level, Gil cared for her—but not love, not really. Guess she always knew, deep down. The Janes of the world and movie stars got that. Still, Elva cared enough, and always would, to feel sorry for him.
“You are a man, ’cause Jane’s baby might be yours.”
Another dead animal on the road and Gil turned sharply. “Jesus!” Elva was thrown against the door. “What?”
“I think that’s why she won’t marry Dom.”
Gil stopped the Ford, the headlight cutting a yellow cone into the night. The Major was growling.
“No! That can’t be, can it?”
Elva nodded, starting to think she shouldn’t have said anything.
“I’ve got to find Oak. I don’t know what to do. Got to think. And this all arranged. I’ve got us a way out of here. It went so easy, didn’t it? Gotta settle things with Oak. I have to see Jane.”