Read The Cast Stone Online

Authors: Harold Johnson

Tags: #Fiction, #FIC019000, #General, #Literary, #Indigenous Peoples, #FIC029000, #FIC016000

The Cast Stone

BOOK: The Cast Stone
12.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Cast Stone

Cast Stone

Harold Johnson

© Harold Johnson, 2011
All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright). For an Access Copyright licence, visit
or call toll free to 1-800-893-5777.

Thistledown Press Ltd.
118 - 20th Street West
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7M 0W6

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
The cast stone / Harold Johnson.

ISBN 978-1-897235-89-8

I. Title.

PS8569.O328C38 2011           C813'.6           C2011-905348-9

Cover: photographic detail of Gag by Kate McGwire
Cover and book design by Jackie Forrie
Printed and bound in Canada

Thistledown Press gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for its publishing program.

Cast Stone

gunwale, a silent flare amid thousands of sparkles where brilliance smashed into rippled water. The boat rocked gently to the rhythm of the man's pull on the net. He stood in the bow, feet set apart and pulled hand over hand, a steady draw that moved the boat incrementally forward, stopping now to kneel for a moment as he untangled a pickerel, pulled the net mesh from the sharp teeth, the head free. He clawed the remainder of the mesh over the thick-skinned body and dropped the prize-sized fish into a plastic tub, stood, and resumed lifting the net.

The pickerel changed the man's thoughts. His eyes lifted from the net that slanted into the water in front of him and found the blue green hills off the western shore, where the scars of industrial logging blotched brown smears against the boreal, smears that leached mud and silt into the streams where pickerel spawn. His thoughts followed the silt flow down the ancient hills into the once rich lake, swam through the weed beds and rushes back to the boat that floated on beige water and the mostly empty net.

He turned his head to look toward the northeast for a moment. There, where the horizon was flatter, where muskeg began at the shoreline and spread back for kilometres of wetland, of moss and stunted spruce and tamarack, the death of the fish began there. Acid: sulphuric and nitric, built up, absorbed from the wind, held there during the dry periods and winter and pulsed out during the spring flood, when snow melted and filled the bog and overflowed into the lake. The acid concentrations poured into the water at the same time that the pickerel found the small streams to lay and fertilize eggs.

The pickerel disappeared. Their death was sudden. Fisher people scratched their heads, stood on the shore and stared at the water. The government biologists scratched their heads, took water samples, and went back to their offices to write reports that never completely answered the question. As lake after lake died, fishers began to understand that the dominant northwest wind was bringing acid from the tar sands refineries. It wasn't just killing the lakes, it was killing the trees. The pine were turning red, the birch were not producing leaves. They stood barren and dry and over the years the memory of their lushness began to fade.

With the last of the net into the boat, the rock anchors and white plastic jugs that served as buoys stowed in the belly between the seats, Ben Robe released the clasp and lowered the motor's leg into the water. He thought for a second of using the electric start, decided against it, and pulled on the starter cord. The four-stroke engine purred into life. The electric start was there for when Ben was old. Today he decided at sixty-seven he was still too young to use it.

The boat clipped the water, resonated dull metallic thumps with each wave, a sound that betrayed the boat's heavier than normal construction. Ben gave silent thanks for the fish as he rode, one hand on the tiller, throttle open three-quarters across the lake, gave thanks for the new day, for the sun, for the sky, for the water, for his good health. Dread thoughts found him and he pushed them away, accepted the day as it was, a good day, a day of sunshine and wind. He followed the east shore of Moccasin Lake for a distance then cut across the large open end towards the reserve at the south.

A speck in the distance grew into a bird, a small bird flying straight toward him, something unusual. The bird did not belong out on the water. Here gulls swooped and swirled or followed the boat, chased for a moment, hung in the air on slender wings then slid away. Eagles sometimes waited high in a dead tree near the shore until the boat drew too close for comfort before they dropped, spread their wide black wings and powered away with forceful thrusts that lifted and carried them over the trees and out of sight. Cormorants formed packs and hunted fish. Long lines of large black birds chased fish across the surface of the lake, hundreds of silent hunters worked together to drive a school, lifted off the water to land again in front of the wave of feeding birds, a constant feed, lift, land, and eat.

The little brown bird did not belong out here. It did not fit. It belonged in the willows close to his cabin. Shy and quiet, patient in the summer heat, it was a bird that moved slowly and never for any distance, a seed eater.

Ben watched it beat the air, fight the wind with rapid wing strokes and struggle straight for him. Straight and purposefully, its short wings never intended for long flights, it should not have been here on the water. It was out of place; a message, a warning, an abnormality to pay attention to. The bird belonged at the cabin.
Someone is coming to visit.
The thought came unbeckoned seemingly from nowhere, the way intuition always defies logic. Ben opened the throttle full and the boat responded, lifted a little higher in the water and clipped the waves a little quicker.

When the fish were prepared, and the cabin was cleaned, and the dishes done and a pot of tea was set on the table beside a new box of cookies opened on one end, the clear plastic wrap torn back in invitation, Rosie knocked at the door. Another abnormality, Rosie never knocked.

“Why are you beating on my door? Have you got something against it?”

“Just bein' polite, I didn't want to interrupt. Never know what you're doin' in here by yourself.” Rosie noticed the clean swept floor and kicked off her shoes; she had seen the cookies and was heading straight for them.

“How's your diabetes this morning?”

“You are a mean son-of-a-bitch, Ben.
” She pushed the word through her teeth, curled her lips back in a snarl to stifle the smile that was trying to betray her feigned anger.

“Help yourself.”

“Oh, you are a mean bastard Ben. Put them away.” Rosie opened a cupboard, moved aside a heavy black mug with Z99 Radio blazoned all over it and selected her favourite thin, white china cup, the one with the little blue and purple flowers. Before she poured the tea, she folded back the plastic wrap on the package of cookies and put them in the wooden breadbox on the counter, the box with the lid that could shut.

She settled heavily into a chair, rose slightly to slide it back from the table for a little more room, then lowered her weight fully before she leaned a shoulder against the log wall. “You always make a good cup of tea.”

“Did you want some sugar for that?”

“Fuck you, I'm tryin' to be nice. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason you came back was to give me a hard time.”

Ben couldn't hold the laugh back; it oozed out, a little rolling chuckle. “Give you a hard time?” His eyebrows raised above his deep grey eyes. The forked lines around the edges showed lighter than the wind and sun-darkened face. “Give you a hard time.” He repeated the words because of their ridiculousness.

His laugh spread itself thinly through the cabin, wrapped around Rosie and melted her pretension of anger. She jiggled, set down her cup of tea before it spilled, and let her mirth mingle with his. Her higher pitch laugh played with his deep quiet rumble, the laughs twisted together and became one sound that reverberated gently around the room and chased away anything of remorse or shadow.

This was the reason Ben had returned to the community on the shore of the lake. He had said it was for the quiet, for the return to nature, for tranquility, but in reality it was for the company of laughter, to share, to belong. Here in the cabin he built with his own hands, where the logs soaked up the water from broken blisters, where he was warm and dry, fed and belonged, where memories had roots. Here with Rosie, the little girl from his childhood, the little girl that used to follow him, shyly. Rosie who stood in the shadow, with cotton flowered dress and moccasins. Little shy Rosie, smiled and looked away when he glanced at her, then followed at a distance, a kit fox pretending to hunt but still too full of play.

“Yeah, give me a hard time.” Rosie again feigned sternness. “I came here try'n to be nice and you give me a hard time.” “Okay, Rosie. I'll apologize. I shouldn't pick on you. But I was just getting you first before you jumped me like usual.”

“Maybe you should lend me twenty bucks for being mean.”

“Is that what you came over for? To borrow a twenty?”

“Well, yeah, but since you were mean to me, you should just give me twenty instead of lending it.”

“I suppose.” It really didn't matter to Ben whether he loaned or gave Rosie a bit of money in the middle of the month. In the three years that he had been home she had never repaid a loan or reciprocated a gift. Not that Rosie lacked in generosity or gratitude. The little welfare that she received did not leave any cash over to match the greatness of her heart.

“I sometimes wonder Ben, whether you have a stash somewhere.” Rosie stuffed the twenty into a pocket. “You can stretch a pension cheque further than anyone else.”

“I don't play bingo.” Ben responded quickly.

“And you don't drink. But even so, you seem to always have money when everyone else has run out.”

The accusation had more power than Rosie knew. It forced Ben to keep a steady face, forced him to calculate his response, his words, his actions. He chose not to respond and let silence do its work. It did. Rosie finished her tea, rinsed her cup, and put it in the cupboard. Never let it be said that a man washed dishes for her.

BOOK: The Cast Stone
12.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Vacation with a Vampire & Other Immortals by Maggie Shayne, Maureen Child
Ready or Not by Melissa Brayden
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
The Bark Tree by Raymond Queneau
Tell Me No Secrets by Joy Fielding
Hornet's Nest by Jaycee Ford