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Authors: Harold Johnson

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

The Cast Stone (5 page)

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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“End over end, not to the left or the right, straight through the heart of those righteous uprights.” Rosie completed the football cult song. Her light laugh brought out the missing humour. “I'm not bad.” She put down her beadwork. “How's Lester?”

“I'm standin' here.”

“I can see that.”

“I mean, they never broke me, I'm still on my feet.”

“I can see that.”

“I made it. I made it home again.” Lester put one foot up on the first step, so that he stood at a slight angle to Rosie, so that he could deflect any possible attack.

Rosie sat squarely in front of Ben's door, protective. “So what brought you back here?”

“It's home, I guess. Nowhere else for me to go.”

“I was just wondering 'cause you don't have any family here anymore.”

“Don't have family anywhere I guess.” Lester looked around, then looked back up towards Rosie again. “I guess you're about all the family I got Rose.” He closed his mouth firmly at the end of her name and stood there, with his mouth clamped shut so that his chin protruded. He looked strong, standing there with his hands tucked neatly away in his hip pockets, one foot on the step and his chin forward. Strong, and resolved, not begging. “Here I am; take it or leave it,” his body language spoke.

At that particular angle with the light filtered by pine, Rosie saw the resemblance between Lester and his mother. It was in the oval of the face and the proportions of cheekbone, chin, and brow.

“Have you eaten?” Rosie began gathering up her sewing. She would take him into her home. She was all the family that he had left and a cousin could never be turned away hungry, no matter what kind of a cousin he had been.

She was thinking about her Aunt Ester as she fried up the last few pieces of chicken. Ester had only been a few years older than Rosie, a young aunt, young enough that there were a few occasions that they had played together. Aunt Ester sitting with her little niece and putting dolls to bed. When they were a bit older but still young enough to be just playing, Rosie remembered Ester at parties, dances and laughter.

Then Lester was born and Rosie saw less and less of Ester. Then came Rosie's children and she saw even less of her young aunt and her hard working husband and their house on the other side of the village. She had seen Lester occasionally as he grew up.

She glanced his way. He looked almost swallowed by the large over-soft couch as he tried to figure out the remote control for the television. Rosie liked that couch. It fit her. It clearly did not fit Lester.

Where did he fit? Anywhere? She wondered how he had fit in at the penitentiary. Maybe that was the place for people like Lester. Maybe, who knows? Maybe he changed. Maybe in all that time locked away he had gotten over being mean. Somehow Rosie doubted it, not the power of an institution to affect change, but that anything could ever be done to take the meanness out of Lester. He seemed to have been born that way. Rosie remembered comments that followed him around the community and now resurfaced in her mind a quarter-century later. The voice of an old man, an Elder spoke clearly in her memory again. “He didn't get that way from either of his parents. He brought that with him when he came here.”

Rosie scraped the chicken from the splattering grease, careful not to leave anything stuck to the pan. The trick to brown chicken is in the turning. Rosie took pride in her ability to cook. It was something that she did well even, as was often, with very little to work with.

It made Rosie hungry to watch Lester eat. She left him at the kitchen table and took a cup of tea into the living room and visited with her friend the television. There wasn't enough chicken for both of them. Oh well, it wouldn't hurt her any to miss a meal now and then. She could call it dieting. She was happy that at this time of the day there were fewer food commercials, not like Saturday mornings when junk food lured children.

She suddenly wanted her children, any of her children, to be with her on the couch, to cuddle together against the danger. Yes, Rosie allowed herself to admit that she was afraid of Lester, had always been a little afraid of Lester. Even when he was a child, she had watched him closer than the children he played with, and never let any of her children play alone with him.

There were rumours that he tortured little animals, kittens and puppies and a squirrel that he knocked from a tree with a slingshot and kept alive until old Cecil found him and killed the squirrel out of pity. The stories had drifted through the community and followed Lester as he grew up.

“Norma went out with him; he said he was taking her to a movie in town. She won't do that again.”

“You know how Wesley is, he wouldn't fight back if he was being murdered. Why would someone pick on a guy like that?”

But, everyone is entitled to change right? Why couldn't Lester have changed? He was human. Maybe he learned something in prison. It was possible. Rosie changed channels, pointed the remote and clicked. Crime scene investigation was not something she wanted to watch at this moment. People can change, unless they're born that way.

He had put his dirty plate on the counter by the sink. Rosie quickly scraped off the bones and remains into a small plastic pail, something for the dog, hated to waste. Her hunger grabbed her again when she saw how much meat he had left on the bones. She was tempted to clean them off, nibble that morsel that hung loose, crunch the gristle from the end. Chicken bones should be clean. But she didn't want him to see, didn't want to embarrass him.

She finished her night routine; she had never gone to bed with a dirty dish in her house. The thought of it might wake her in the middle of the night and torture her. She did something however, that she had never done before and double-checked that the door to her bedroom was tightly shut before she put on her nightgown.

The sun shimmered on the black pavement, created illusions of cleanliness, of smoothness. Ben let the truck find its way around the curve, his hand easy on the wheel, relaxed. Summer exploded in colour where prairie met parkland, where farmland stopped pushing against the boreal. Aspen blended with large white spruce together in a canopy that protected the forest floor from direct sunlight. In the shade places, currants, and highbush cranberries grew in tangles. Where sunlight splotched the floor, broad spreading sarsaparilla protected the earth and buried its roots in the loam and lichens. Farmland ended in abrupt straight lines against walls of trees, a final fatal attempt at agriculture abandoned to scentless camomile and thistles. The fence lines that never did keep the deer from the fields sagged in droops of rusted barbed wire where some of the staples still held the strands to leaning posts rotted at ground level.

South, Ben cringed. Why in hell was he going back. He had a good life. He had everything that he needed. No one bothered him, no one asked him for more than he was ready to give. Time had become his friend, rather than his master. Mornings like this should be for good brewed coffee and bird song. He contemplated turning around, but Monica had asked. A promise is a promise, is a promise. Ben's word was more powerful than his wants. He clicked on the cruise control, set it to a hundred and nine, breathed in and let his shoulders relax as he breathed out.

Moccasin Lake pulled at his mind, or perhaps he was repulsed by the rush of glass and steel on asphalt. Rosie's actions yesterday perplexed him. He had expected her to behave like an old gossip, rush to his cabin as soon as Monica's car left to find out all that was to be found out. She had not even asked. Perhaps she was unaware? No, she had moved the silk scarf Monica carelessly left on the arm of the chair, picked it up, checked its authenticity by gently touching it against her cheek, nylon feels different up close, and laid it carefully aside before sitting.

Ben's ability to predict had developed over the years to the point now where he was confident in his gift. Rosie disrupted that confidence. She had not behaved in the manner he expected. That was it, wasn't it? She had not acted the way he, Ben, expected. His gift was secure. He had not used it. The gift was something outside of Ben. It was different from rationality, closer to intuition. His prediction of Rosie's behaviour was premised upon his ego, upon his sense of importance and superiority. He had assumed that Rosie would behave badly out of jealousy. A good lesson in humility, the most necessary ingredient of the gift.

He was going south, again. He touched the control and CBC radio entered the cab of the truck.

“ . . . is a ticking bomb. President Wright went on to say
that the US policy in Canada served the needs of the continent.
France again demanded that the US withdraw all troops from
Canada and Mexico and restore local government, however it
did not repeat its threat to withdraw from NATO.”

“Chavez speaking only for Mercosaur, again warned the US
to stay above Panama.”

“To analyze yesterday's developments CBC spoke with
Professor James Henderson of the Frazer Institute.”
A previously taped voice that produced well-enunciated though quick words came on. Designed for media, Ben thought, as Professor Henderson rattled.

“The overall change to Canadian society has been minimal
if we consider the possible paths that Canada could have taken
following San Francisco. We would have either had to develop
our own security at a cost that would have nearly bankrupted
the country given the state of our armed forces, or remain
open to sneak attacks. If the United States had not assumed
the responsibility for our security, we would have been forced
to impose the same or possibly more stringent measures.
Given the impoverishment of Canada's armed forces prior
to the annexation, it is reasonable to imagine that in order
to maintain security, Canada would have had to implement
measures to compensate for the inability to adequately patrol,
and enforce. Homeland Security has the manpower, equipment,
and technology to ensure we are not open to sneak attacks,
without undue physical intervention. The rights of Canadians
living under Homeland Security are actually less infringed — if
infringed at all — than if we were to have implemented our
own necessarily less-adequate systems to protect Canadians
from destruction.”

Ben turned off the radio. Hugo Chavez was shaking hands with President Obama in his mind again. He remembered those days of hope and dismissed them. Hope, what a desperate word.

He rode in silence for a few minutes, listened to the tires hum against the pavement and turned the radio back on.

“ . . . that's absolutely not true.” The voice of a woman came through the speakers. “This suggestion that the US annexed Canada only because of oil has huge holes in it. First of all, in today's world, security is more important than transportation or industry. Neither would be of any use without freedom from sneak attacks. And,” her voice rose an octave, “and, the suggestion flies in the face of the fact that Venezuela produces nearly as much oil as we do. If the issue was truly only about oil, Chavez would not be in power. He would not be free to spread hatred and would not have the resources to polarize the Americas into north–south blocks.”

Ben turned the radio off again.

“Of course Wright never invaded Venezuela. He might take it, but he could never keep it.” He spoke to the steel and glass. “Afghanistan showed them that.” The morning sun warmed his left shoulder through the window. The warmth melted his irritation, eased it away. Best not to get caught up in it. It's just a distraction. The important things are being ignored in all the hype, he reminded himself as he adjusted the airflow controls, considered the air conditioner control, decided against it. Better to have fresh air even if it was warm. Next winter he would appreciate a little warmth.

He gently pushed against the CD that protruded above the radio. The player pulled the disc into itself and a male voice sang over an acoustic guitar
. On a slow road home . . . Can't
dance in lumber jack boots, Can't sing with a mouth full.
Ben listened to the song nodding his head. “You got it, Jay. You understand.”

BOOK: The Cast Stone
4.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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