Read The Cast Stone Online

Authors: Harold Johnson

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

The Cast Stone (10 page)

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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“What you going to name her?”

“Haven't thought of it.”

“If you have a dog it has to have a name.”

“Then we'll call her Betsy or something.”

“No, what was the name of that dog you had when you were a kid?”

“Duke,” Ben answered quickly through a flash of memories.

“Yeah, him.” Rosie remembered “Can't name a female dog Duke.”

“Then Duchess. She's kinda royal, don't you think?”

“Seems fitting to name a dog after monarchy, sort of irreverent. I like it.”

“Good start, but you've got six more under there.”

“Wait and see what they turn out to be first. They'll tell us what their names are.”

“Got to be careful what you name a dog. Give a dog a dumb name and they'll live up to it. My kids once named a dog Mischief. Good enough of a name, but it wasn't until I got them to change it to Maggie before that dog stopped getting into everything.”

The lake reflected high clouds at its north end, grey against dark water. The boat skipped across shallow waves as it followed along the west shore, to the lee of the line of hills. They rode in silence for an hour. Rosie sat with her back to the wind, huddled in a large red-and-white life jacket and watched the lake flow away behind Ben at the tiller. The boat curved across from west to east then followed that shore south, back to the community, and Rosie found herself on the rickety wooden dock wondering what the purpose of the trip had been. She tried to help Ben reload the boat to the trailer, finally gave up and just stood out of the way.

“He'd only been away for a few days and he was lonely for the lake,” Rosie concluded as she hoisted herself into the truck.

She stayed around all afternoon as Ben kept himself busy, not the busy of a man obsessed with doing, going, rushing, but the busy of maintaining space, putting away the net that hung on two wooden pegs on the cabin wall where it had been left to dry, folding it into a plastic tub so that it would come out easily the next time he used it. She kept up a steady stream of talk while she helped pick the dried weeds out of the net mesh. She talked for the sound. Now that her children were gone, her house silent and empty, she felt a vacuum that needed to be filled. And there was of course Lester. Ben needed to know everything about Lester, but she needed to be careful not to cross the line into idle gossip. Ben accepted Rosie's voice as background to their visit; let the words fill the space around them. The words were kind, and gentle, simple stories, everyday things that happened, remembered and brought back to life.

“And there we were with no spare tire, on a dirt road and nothing but prairie all around us. It's times like that when you really appreciate trees. Imagine four little ones, in the winter, and no way to make a fire to keep them warm.”

“Yeah, I like trees.”

The silence that followed did not last very long. Long enough to be noticed, but not long enough to be noteworthy.

“You like trees, but do you like children?”

“Sure, yeah sure, I like children.”

“But you never had any. You went out of your way not to have any.”

“Well, children didn't fit into the life I was living.” He placed the last of the net into the tub, and in picking up the tub to carry it to the shed, turned his back to Rosie.

“And, what kind of life was that, Ben?” She followed him to the shed, waited just outside as he put the bin on a shelf where it was less likely that mice might make a nest in it, then followed him back around to the front of the house, and pulled up the other white plastic chair and sat looking out toward the pines.

“It was a good life. I don't regret any of it.” Ben reclined his chair until it rested against the wall.

“Not even that you didn't have any children.”

“Especially that I didn't have any children. Children have to pay for the wrongs of the parents, and I don't want anybody to pay for me.”

The sun poured into the trees. Rosie leaned a little more into the chair, let it take her weight. The pines breathed back into the warmth of the day. She leaned forward. “We all have to pay, both you and me have had to pay, whether it was for our parents or grandparents, don't matter we had to pay. But it was still worth it.”

“How about your kids, Rosie?” Ben altered the direction of the conversation.

“Good, they're all good. Elsie called the other day. Her and the baby are doing just fine. Dougie, well Dougie is doing what Dougie does best. Working, always working that one. Takes good care of his family, but someday he's going to learn, maybe the hard way, that working and money aren't everything. And Theresa, she's still the same, spends all her free time with her daughters, so much so that she isn't even looking for a man these days.”

“I haven't met that one.”

“Theresa?”

“Yes, Theresa, I haven't met her yet.”

“Well, she won't come back to the reserve for whatever reason. When she wants me to come visit she sends me a bus ticket. Sure would be nice to get the girls up here where they can really play and away from that city. But she says that with her work she doesn't have time. I don't know, I think they get vacations.” Rosie rattled on and Ben reclined a bit more and listened to her tell him about her favourite subjects, her children and grandchildren, and she didn't ask him again why he did not have any of his own.

Lester Bigeye waited.

“Your father?” Monica looked at the young man, his dark hair and grey eyes were too familiar. “Your father?”

“My birth certificate says ‘father unknown'.”

Monica watched him over the rim of a paper cup of dark fresh-roasted coffee. She liked it this way, with that slight taste of paper. She liked the Broadway Roastery where they sat outside in late-morning shade across the old concrete bridge where Broadway Avenue began its journey south. The trees at the edge of the parking area were beginning to catch some of the rising sunlight. Early, she thought; it was too early in the day for such a conversation. To early, too soon in her busy life to speak about it. Her son had phoned her and asked to meet. Twenty years. Twenty years it had taken him. At the eighteen-year mark she had wondered. Would he come looking? Was he still alive? But the war had come and she had other thoughts to occupy her. Now he was asking for his father.

What right did he have to question her loyalty? What right did she have not to tell him? He was asking for his dad. He wasn't begging, trying to manipulate her. He wasn't demanding, forcing. He just sat there, young, innocent and at the same time impossibly old, jumped from being a baby held by the nurse as Monica sat in the Royal University Hospital bed and signed the forms clipped to the board in front of her. She answered the questions, except for the one that asked for the father's name, wrote “unknown” in the space, clamped her mouth shut, loyal. She would not give him up. Would not ruin a good man for her mistake.

“Benjamin, Roberto, Bird” the young man paced the words. “You gave me those names. I wondered why those names.”

“Roberto was after a writer I really enjoyed back then. I thought Roberto Unger was going to change the world.”

“What about Benjamin?”

The hard question.

“Your father was my professor. The reason I gave you up for adoption, well one of the reasons — I was young, a student, student poor.” Monica tried to find words, exact words to walk the line between truth and honesty. The rush of traffic on the street beyond the line of trees didn't help. “He would have been fired if anyone found out he slept with a student.” The wind out of the north swirled around the building, chilled the morning, chilled Monica. She zipped her light nylon jacket a little higher. Maybe they should have sat inside, it's always safer inside. It was his idea to sit out here, exposed.

“So you named me after my father. Was it his idea to give me up for adoption.”


No
! No, I never even told him I was pregnant. I've never told him. He doesn't know.” She caught herself, “I never said that I named you after him.”

“But you just did.” Benji smiled to himself. “It's okay, Mom. Strange to call you Mom. But it's okay, it's all right. It feels right.” He fumbled for words among his tumble of emotion. “It doesn't matter that you were sleeping with your professor, nothing wrong with that.”

“I wasn't sleeping with my professor.” Monica spoke firmly. It had to be made clear. “We made a single mistake, once. It only happened once. And I never told him.”

“Can I borrow your phone?” Lester stood in Ben's doorway, narrow in the frame of the solid door.

“Sure, what's wrong with Rosie's?”

“Cut off. She didn't pay the bill.”

“Oh.”

He wasn't listening in on Lester's conversation, he was trying to read his book. He was trying to concentrate on the complex structure of,
As I Lay Dying
, appreciating that a writer could have the courage to write a five-word chapter.
My mother is a fish
. Lester spoke loud enough to interrupt his concentration. Unwelcome words into a hard plastic device pulled Ben away from the 1920s America into the now.

“I want to talk to the chief then.

“Somebody at the band office has to be able to help me.”

Ben was forced to listen to one side of the conversation.

“Somebody has to pay for my meds. I can't. I thought you guys were there to make sure our Treaty rights were respected.

“That's bullshit. Tell them that the Treaties promise a medicine chest. They can't do that.

“You don't understand. I need those meds.

“But, I need them.


Shit!
” the phone snapped shut. “Shit.” Lester put the phone on the desk. “Shit. At least in jail I didn't have to pay for them.” He walked heavily to the door and out into the day that waited for him; not a good day.

“It's just the AIDS drugs that they refuse to pay for. I still get mine covered,” Rosie explained later as she poured her afternoon cup of tea.

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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