Read The Cast Stone Online

Authors: Harold Johnson

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

The Cast Stone (2 page)

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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Lester tried to read the words on the bus ticket, but the letters were nonsense. He closed his left eye and some of the reversed letters reverted to normal. The C and the L he remembered, yeah, the M was there. The ticket should say he was going to Moccasin Lake. He handed it to the man in the grey uniform, hoped he was the bus driver and not someone else. The man looked at the ticket and handed it back. Unsure but unwilling to allow anyone to see that he was unsure; Lester entered the bus. No one stopped him. He sat in a tall back seat with his small pack on his lap, his cheek against the cool glass, and watched the people move around the bus depot, watched for trouble. He saw no sign of anything that might be out of place, not that he knew what normal was out here. He wondered whether his ability to know when trouble was coming would work here in this world. Would he know when to shrink into a wall, find a corner, and become invisible.

The bus filled. Lester watched faces. Men he understood. Knew their way of walking, their mood. Women he could not read at all. They walked strangely, sounded strange. The bus continued to fill and pressurize. He turned back to the window, to the bright green building and black asphalt parking lot.

“Is it okay to sit here?” she asked.

“Yeah, I guess. Yeah. Sure.” I sound like an idiot he thought.

The driver closed the door and it did not clang and echo the way prison doors sound.

She was sitting close. Lester could smell her. The smell of diesel fuel and turpentine filled his nostrils. The base of her perfume overwhelmed the scent she had so carefully chosen. Or rather it was lost on Lester, or Lester had lost the ability to smell that particular aroma and only the turpentine that the scent was mixed with filled the thin air between them. Lester turned away, his cheek against the tinted glass and tried to breathe.

The bus rolled out of the little prairie city, crossed the arch of a long bridge across an ancient river, turned through an overpass, and headed due north. Lester watched the new prairie, the land turned by the rush of homesteaders a century before. People who hated trees and pushed the forest line two hundred miles further than the old buffalo hunters' wintering sites. They were easy to hate. Wealthy farmers with big tractors bright red or John Deere green and fancy pickups on the way to town, fat wives and fat children.

The land changed and so did the traffic; now there were more logging trucks. They still hated trees, slashed them down and hauled them to the mill to make paper to wipe their fat arses with. Lester wished he could breathe, wished the woman would get off the bus at one of the tiny dying farm towns where the bus stopped, unloading parcels from its undercarriage. But she sat there in her stink, eating some kind of health food bar, nibbled on it, one tiny bit of oatmeal at a time and flipped the pages of a picture magazine, stared long at photos of celebrities on glossy paper.

Abruptly the prairie came to an end. The bus rounded a corner and began up a long incline and the last farmhouse and bright red barn disappeared behind a stand of spruce. From here to the Arctic Circle was boreal forest; trees, lakes, rivers, muskeg and Indians. Lester was home. Twenty-four years, eight times three is twenty-four, three manslaughters, consecutive, a bargain. Not one minute off the sentence, every damn second of the judge's pronouncement. They had to let him out, couldn't keep him any longer. Fuck the parole board and early release, Lester Bigeye was free. They couldn't send him back. He was completely out. Not on parole. The last eight years had been tough. Ever since that fat cow had said: “Lester Bigeye, your application for parole has been declined. This board finds that you are an unsuitable candidate due to your inability to take responsibility for your actions.” Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”

They filled him with hope before every Parole Board hearing and took that hope away from him every time. Now he was beyond their reach. Lester was home and the trees were still there, beautiful poplars in full, dark mid-summer leaf, and tall spruce with spread boughs like a jingle dress dancer's skirts. The roadside flashed past and Lester caught sight of wildflowers. Flowers that he had forgotten. Brown-eyed Susans and lilies. There were still a few wild roses out. Summer was still young.

Moccasin Lake Reserve was where it was supposed to be; where the sign said it would be, at the end of eight miles of gravel road off the main paved highway that headed north to the mining towns, but it was nothing like the place Lester left. New metal-sided buildings stood over the places he remembered. The band hall was gone and something that might be a skating rink stood in its place. There was a chain link fence around where the schoolyard had been. The new building with steel poles placed architecturally above the entrance to look like a teepee had replaced the old school that he had attended. Then Lester saw the lake, blue and green with white streamers of foam and he knew that he was home.

The house by the lake, up the short, sandy road, amid tall spindly black spruce wasn't there. Lester was not expecting to find his car, the burgundy 1972 Monte Carlo, but he hoped the house would still be there. The house was gone. The car sat flat on the ground without wheels, glassless. Its windows long past the targets of kids with slingshots just for the wonderful tinkle sound glass makes when a stone passes through it. Poplars grew up through where the hood had been removed. Someone had taken the engine, Lester's pride — a Chevy big block that roared and spun gravel. He smelled the mould of rotted seats when he put his head through the gaping driver's window. The tape deck was still there, under the dash, an eight track add on. Someone must have needed door parts; the inside of the passenger door lay across the front seat. Lester thought he remembered electric windows. Something caught his eye and he forced the door to open, to creak against rust and time. He knelt and reached under the seat.

Canadian Club whisky, a twenty-sixer, right where he left it, and still a quarter full. He remembered putting it there, remembered the smooth feel of the neck of the bottle in his hand as he stashed it. He remembered slamming the car door and the solid weight of the 30:30 rifle, the chill of the cold lever action against his knuckles and the steps toward the house.

Ben stood in the doorway, one hand on the frame and looked out at the parallel indentations of sand that led to where his truck sat. They couldn't be called a driveway, just the marks of driving over the same ground again and again from the gravel road to the log house with its narrow deck all along the front. The logs had begun to yellow nicely, the way pine does, its own sap and pitch acting like an expensive treatment. Or maybe it captured sunlight and held it in its stickiness, glued the sun to the logs.

The cabin was square and solid with a low-pitched green metal roof. “Guaranteed for fifty years.” The lumberyard attendant had tapped the pile of metal with his toe. “A little bit more expensive, but probably worth it.”

“Fifty years sounds about right. I don't imagine it will be me who changes it. I'll be a hundred and fourteen.” And they'd loaded the sheets onto the back of Ben's truck.

The little brown bird was back in the willow clump. It sounded a melodic “
tchi tchi, tchi, whooi, whooi, tchi, tchi.

“You didn't fly all the way out there to tell me that Rosie was coming to borrow a twenty.” Ben stepped gently away from the door. The song sparrow shifted positions in the clump of willow and gave another version of its song.

Ben scraped a heavy white plastic deck chair out a bit from the wall so that he could recline it, and waited. The sun sat high, just over the pine tree, a little east of south, still on the morning side of noon. The pine stood solidly in the middle of its circle of brown needles and the parallel ruts of the driveway curved around it and crawled up behind the truck. The shade of the pine dappled the dark red of the heavy-built, four-year-old Toyota extended cab.

Ben had purchased the truck precisely because it was used. A new truck stands out. He thought about the morning he had stopped in a gravel pit to rub it down with grit to remove the shine laboriously applied by the dealer's hired help. It was a solid dependable vehicle. It didn't need to shine and attract attention. The truck was much like the boat he had purchased that same morning, solid, dependable, the way Rosie would describe Ben.

The song sparrow sang again. Ben mimicked its song. “Someone, someone, someone is coming for tea, tea, tea.” The little bird walked sideways along a branch, out of the shadow to where the sun caught its feathers and brightened its drab colours. “You sure have a nice song for such a plain-looking bird.” It responded to the compliment and gave Ben the long version of the song with a few quick trick changes. He sat back into the curvature of the deck chair and waited for whoever might be coming for tea.

There were things to do. There were always things to do. There might be three or four new weeds in his garden since yesterday. The gate at the corner of the pole fence was beginning to sag slightly and scrape against the ground. Maybe he should paint that fence around the square garden. Black spruce poles made excellent fence rails but they were not like pine, they darkened with age. Maybe he should paint them white. But that would mean a trip to the city to buy paint and someone, someone, someone was coming, coming for tea, tea.

The sun drifted past the pine and Ben noted the movement of the tree's shadow as it crawled slowly from his right to left across the grassy space. His mind drifted with the shadow and he let it spill back over time. He remembered his early days on this reserve, school, sports and people. He remembered his first metamorphosis. Not a physical change, a spiritual rebirth where all that he believed in came crashing down with the death of his father. Then there was the slow rebuilding of a personality, different than before, but only visible to him. That was the beginning of manhood. There were other times in his life when his universe had collapsed, when a strong belief in something was proven false. There was a poem from when he was twenty something:

Adrift in a sea of chaos

I gather my reality about me

And build a raft thereof.

What he had tried to say was that he had core beliefs that never changed. When his larger belief system collapsed, he returned to that core, that centre, that basic definition of Ben. After a series of metamorphoses he realized that there was very little in which a solid belief could be justified. Most of science, virtually all academia and political discourse was unstable and could collapse in a moment. That realization had been his moment of freedom, his emergence. He rose from the dark and walked in an ephemeral world open to change, open to contradiction.

The pine shadow crept across the planks of the deck and touched his foot. A yellow dog sniffed its way down one rut of the driveway, moving slowly the way dogs do in summer. Ben watched its cautious approach, lethargic in the heat. She would be the progeny of the dogs Dolphus and Zachius brought back. That's the story of where the good sleigh dogs came from. It was said that the brothers had paddled north with a canoe full of trade goods and returned in the middle of winter with two dog teams and sleighs filled with fur. Those dozen dogs were the great, great grandparents of every dog on the reserve. He noted that the yellow dog looked pregnant, a bit big in the belly, nipples beginning to show through the fur. She would be looking for a place to make a den, a home, someplace safe to give birth.

The sun sat high over Ben, shone down through the gap in the forest canopy that opened above the small clean space around the cabin. A little wind would be nice now, something to move the still air that was beginning to heat up. He removed his thin jacket, folded it over the arm of the chair, and bathed in the warmth. Old bones like warm sunshine. Not that Ben would admit that he was old, but he was getting there. Time now to slow down, to take in all those elements that he had rushed past, time to sit and absorb. Maybe, just maybe, he would find some way to give back, to make up for the things he had taken. Everything has a price, a cost, an affect that comes from every choice. Put out good things and good things come back. The more you give the more you get; the more you take the less you can keep. He remembered all that he had taken and wondered when balance would assert itself and something would come and take away from him.

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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