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Authors: Harold Johnson

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

The Cast Stone (3 page)

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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The shadow of the pine moved away and began to point more easterly. Five children on three bicycles wove noisily down the gravel road. The sun's heat drove them to the lake and the water. Two larger girls, eleven, twelve maybe, each peddled a bike with a younger child balanced on the cross bar. A smaller square boy with a long towel over his shoulders that was in danger of catching in the chain and sprocket, peddled as fast as he talked. He was one of those children that had not learned that internal dialogue should be kept internal. He voiced every thought, unconcerned whether any one was listening. The two older girls were not listening; they carried on their own conversation. The sounds of tires on gravel and the voices of the children dimmed as they travelled on down the road past Ben's home.

He went back to his thoughts from before he caught the pickerel this morning, President Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. Yes, that was the last time he had hope. The world looked as if it might heal itself. But then . . . Oh well, best not to think about it too much. What was, was. It had been so long; so long since the famous handshake. And hope. What the hell was hope anyway? Such a pitiful word.

The afternoon settled into summer silence, too hot even for mosquitoes. The sun eased across the westerly part of its zenith and began its course to the horizon. Ben stayed in his chair. He sat forward slightly and looked for the song sparrow. It wasn't in the willows. He sat back and waited, wondered what he would have for supper, or rather how he would cook the fish, or which fish. If the person who was coming were white he would fry the pickerel. White people seem to like that kind of food. If the visitor was an Indian, he would cook the big whitefish.

Lester found his way back to his car as the sun touched the horizon. He had not really tried to find his relatives today. How do you return to your family and say, “Hi, I'm Lester, remember me? I'm the guy who shot my father, my mother, and my wife.” He had walked around some, kept mostly out of sight, not skulking, just avoiding where people gathered, like at the gas station and store or around the band office. He found the old trails were still active, the paths through the trees, the short way to somewhere. The change to the reserve in twenty-four years was incredible. Who could have guessed that the Canadian government would be so embarrassed that they would build houses for Indians that were more than the shacks that Lester left? A quarter of a century is time enough for change, but for Lester who had been away from any change at all, confined to the constants of concrete and steel and wire reinforced glass, the reserve was unrecognizable.

He sat in the back of the old Monte Carlo and sipped slowly and steadily from the bottle. Was the whisky better after twenty-four years of aging under the seat of a car? Lester could not answer, he had no comparisons to say better or worse than. It was different than jailhouse brew, but he could not say it was better. The light changed to copper, tinted the treetops, softened the colours and eased the day to a close. The whisky had the effect that Lester sought; he closed his eyes and let himself drift away.

Ben fried the pickerel. Monica laughed and joked and got in the way as she tried to help in the preparations. “Where do you keep your potato peeler?”

“In the knife block.”

“I don't see it.”

“It's called a knife, it's the one with the handle sticking out.”

They managed to get through the preparation of a very late supper and enjoyed the simplicity of crisp fried fish, boiled potatoes, and canned tomatoes.

“What took you so long to get here today?” Ben eased back from the table and placed his fork across his empty tomato-stained plate.

“What do you mean?”

“I was expecting you earlier.”

“Stopped to shop in Saskatoon.” Monica gave Ben her puzzled look. He let her stay puzzled. He had his answer. He had sat all afternoon in the sun while she shopped.

Monica sat up straight, rested her thin arms on the table, “What do you mean, you were expecting me? Has someone been here?”

“No, no one.”

“Then why were you expecting me?”

“A little bird came and told me you were coming.” Ben poured himself the cup of tea that he had waited for all afternoon. It did not matter if he knew anything or not. He was satisfied. He was fed, he was dry, and he was warm. The tea held a hint of the wild mint he picked that morning along the shore.

“As long as it wasn't Homeland Security.” Monica wiped her mouth with the square of paper towel she had placed beside her plate. “Have you kept up with the Resistance? Her voice changed pitch. It was sharper now. The visit, the customary extended ‘how do you do?' was finished and now it was time for business, for work.

“Only what I get on CBC.”

“And that's all bullshit.”

“Are you telling me that we haven't had three thousand bombs dropped in Canada since the annexation?”

“Annexation! Annexation, fuckin' invasion. CBC may as well be NBC for all the shit they put out.” Her anger pulled at her face, lengthened it.

Ben shrugged.

Monica leaned back, “I know, I know, they put out what they can. But, it pisses me off that the people don't hear what's really going on.”

“Is the bomb count wrong?” Ben's question wasn't rhetorical.

“Who knows, probably. Does the bomb count include cluster bombs? Does it include Bolts from Heaven? They've dropped at least a dozen. Tore the shit out of the boys in Lac La Biche. What gets me the most is that garbage about balanced reporting; I mean what was that righteousness stuff about? The Christian right isn't balanced, hasn't been since Bush. And we all know that isn't what it's all about. It's about Fort Mac, it's about oil. They invaded us because Prime Minister Thoreau threatened to cut off all trade with the Americans. San Francisco was just an excuse. Everyone knows that it's about oil. Terrorists from Canada, immorality and drugs and atheism and all that other crap are just excuses, and the world allows it.”

“I'm not defending the invasion, annexation, but the bombing of San Francisco changed a lot of things.”

“I'm not convinced that bomb came through Canada. I think they don't have a clue how it got there, and used it as an excuse. I wouldn't doubt they did it themselves. Think about it. The Christians didn't like what was happening in Frisco; they called it sin city and hated it as much as Islam did.”

“That's too far for me. Nobody sacrifices that much.”

Monica sat back “I don't know. I don't know.” She used a stray strand of dark brown hair across her forehead as an opportunity to run her hand over her head, to soothe her thoughts. “Frisco changed things. But, how did anyone get a dirty bomb across the border. Ever since 9/11 there have been radiation detectors at every border crossing. I'm just not convinced that those eight were the ones that did it. And now we'll never know. Nobody can re-examine them.”

“Quick trials and quick executions have a way of putting an end to questions.”

“James Henderson was talking at the university awhile ago and he said we were back in the last century, that all of the gains in human rights have been erased. His argument was that we have to start all over again and redevelop a body of law stronger than the old UN Charter or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a body of law developed without interference by special interest. You should've been there Ben. The entire theatre sat there with their mouths open. I was wishing someone like you were there to push his buttons; get him to see the other side, to see the people in the equation.”

“James is doing what James knows. It took courage for him to stand up.”

“He wasn't standing up against the Americans. Never once said directly that the bastards needed to be put back into their place. His argument was that law needed to be redeveloped. He was quite conciliatory.”

“As he should be. Calling people bastards doesn't do much.”

“Have you read Warren Churchill's piece about American Bastardism?”

“No, What's he saying now?” Ben stacked Monica's plate on top of his, gathered the knives and forks and carried them to the sink.

“Oh, it was a wonderful piece about how the Americans are truly bastards in the literal sense. The world does not recognize the marriage of their parents, that the left was not free to marry the right, the Democrat–Republican marriage was never consecrated, thus American politics is illegitimate.” Monica poured herself another cup of tea.

Ben stood for a while looking out the window above the sink at the night's blackness, at the silhouette of the pine with a few stars in its crown. He looked skyward to see more of the stars but the house's eaves stopped his view. “Like I said, it doesn't help.” He turned back to Monica. “We can swear at them all we want; they're still here.”

“Churchill does inspire however; everything becomes important now. Every act of resistance adds to the body of resistance. Someday the world is going to stand up to the Americans. That's why we need you Ben. Your work on supremacy is far more important now than it was when you were writing about colonialism. You know your students are at the head of the resistance. It was you who inspired them; Jeff Moosehunter, Roland Natawayes, Art Livelong, Betsy Chance. They're all part of it. Betsy was at Lac La Biche when it got hit.”

“Is she all right?”

“Shook, really shook. She wasn't hit, not physically anyway. But it changed her. She's jumpy, can't stand noise. I saw her at Batoche, looking over her shoulder all the time, thinks she's being followed. But, she hasn't weakened; she's still strong the way that Betsy always was strong, a proud Ojibway woman.”

“She'd correct you and say a proud Anishinabe woman. You know this was never our fight, this American–Canadian thing. Canada promised in the Treaties that we would never be asked to go to war for them.”

Lester's head hurt and he put it back down on the seat of the Monte Carlo. His nose was plugged and his eyes felt itchy. This was more than a hangover; maybe something in the whisky, maybe old whisky caused this. He opened his eyes again in the early light at the sound of an approaching car. He watched the lone white woman drive past, wondered who she might be: social worker, public health nurse, schoolteacher — probably a schoolteacher to be up and around this early in the morning. Dawn light bronzed the land, softened the features of the trees, coated them until they appeared to have been dipped in a vat of boiling copper and set out again to stand guard along the side of the road.

The smell of mould filled him as he tossed about on the back seat of the car. Here was the answer to his symptoms. Whisky would never betray him but mould he knew about. It had been in the farm annex when he spent time in minimum security. That was black mould, the mould that killed people, and prisoners were assigned bleach and scrub brushes to get rid of it. Lester needed a better place to live. His old Monte Carlo no longer held the power and prestige of its and Lester's youth.

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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