Authors: Janet Romain
Tags: #Fiction, #Families, #Carrier Indians, #Granddaughters, #Literary, #Grandfathers, #British Columbia; Northern
“Well, I think I will keep body and spirit together for a while yet. I still like to be on this earth, even though this old body has seen better days,” Grandpère says.
Rose spends the afternoon with us, and we have an early dinner so she can get home before it gets dark, which is about four-thirty at this time of the year. She has brought us a carrot salad and a whole roast chicken stuffed with rice. We three eat the whole chicken and still manage to put down the pie. We are content, and I compliment her on her good cooking. She tells me that it was not all that special, food just tastes better when you don’t have to cook it yourself. She should know; she’s been alone for over ten years now since her husband passed over. She seldom gets to see her only child, a daughter who lives in England. She went there for a holiday after high school and met and married her husband there. They have visited only three times, and Rose has been there twice. It think it’s a good thing that Rose has a job that she enjoys, for it is lonely for an older person to live by herself.
She has been telling us about the Wii game that the lodge bought to entertain the old folks. She tells me that I should buy one, that Grandpère and I would both like it. It sounds weird to me, but I tell her I will look around next time I’m in town.
Rose keeps up on current events, and she is full of excitement that a black man is running for president of the USA. I’m impressed too; I never thought I would see the day. Grandpère says it would be even more surprising if an Indian was running. Rose is worried about the recession and says that people are losing all their savings.
“Serves them right, silly buggers, trusting the banks with all their money,” he says. “Those banks are just stealing their money. The banks can print more money any time they want.” Grandpère never did trust banks. He’s more liable to put his money in a jar and bury it than to hand it over to a bank.
I’m inclined to agree with him. Lorne and I never did have any savings. He always said, “Money ain’t got no home,” and we spent any extra money we ever had. We didn’t waste it; we paid for our home and car, and his shop is still full of tools and toys. Sometimes I think we should have a garage sale, but the idea of selling his stuff somehow seems wrong to me yet. I don’t use much of it, but it’s comforting to know that the things he treasured are still right where he left them. The boys use his shop when they are here and keep it tidy.
Rose says she has to go and gives us big hugs. I tell her to come again soon. She has a quiet word with me at the door to say that Grandpère looks great, and if I ever need her to just call. She is such a lovely person. I thank her again and tell her to drop by whenever she feels the notion.
What a great afternoon on this cold New Year’s Day. We let the dogs into the porch for the night. It’s cold enough in the porch but a lot warmer than outside.
Over the next week the weather stays cold, and we stay indoors except for brief jaunts out to tend the chickens and bring in more firewood. The weather finally breaks with a Chinook wind that brings rain and warmth. The snow slides off the tin roof with a noise like an avalanche, and the rain pours down, turning our snow into a blue sea. The driveway and the yard are covered with a thick layer of ice when it cools off the next week.
We have used more firewood than usual, and I decide to fire up the snowmobile to bring in another load from the landing. I hook up the car hood and strap my snowshoes behind the seat, just in case the snowmobile breaks down and I end up walking.
The electric start works well, and I’m soon on my way with the dogs running behind me. There is a good crust on the snow, and the machine doesn’t break through. It is only a short jaunt to the landing, but when I try to turn around, the machine sinks through the crust and gets stuck on something. A big pile of wood. I put on the snowshoes and pack the snow down in front of the snowmobile. Then I see the problem. The ski has hooked under a big slab sticking out from the pile. It is frozen in place and will not budge, even with all my strength and a pry pole. I snowshoe back to the house and get a hand saw.
The sun is out in a blue sky, and even though it is cold, I am sweating like a hog by the time I get back with the saw. It doesn’t take very long to cut off the log, and then I have no trouble getting the wood piled high on the car hood. With the weight behind the snowmobile, it plows through the crust the whole way back, sending frozen spray over the hood that stings like needles on my face.
When I get back to the house, Grandpère is out in the yard. He was getting worried about how long I was gone and was coming to look for me. I tease him for worrying about me, and he laughs back, but I can see he is relieved that I am safe and sound. He helps me unload the wood into the shed, and we are just going back into the house when a taxi pulls up.
It is unusual for a taxi to come out here, so we both just stop and stare. A young girl gets out of the back. She looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t quite place who she is. She comes up and asks me if my name is Anzel O’Flaherty. I tell her yes.
“My mom told me you were my grandmother,” she says. “Can I stay here for a while?”
The girl looks like she’s on her last legs, and even though I’m pretty sure I don’t have any grandchildren I don’t know, I tell her, “Yes, you can.”
She pulls a ratty suitcase out of the taxi and pays the driver. He waves and drives off, and we are left staring at each other. I tell her to come in and get warm. Many questions are burning in my mind, but first I tell her that I’m going to make lunch and she should put her stuff in the bedroom. She comes back and sits at the table, silent. Her hair is long and dark, and her eyes are as blue as the sky outside the window, but she has dark circles under them and her face is covered with pimples. Her clothes are not clean, but her jeans are patched neatly and her blouse is buttoned right up to the neck.
I ask, “Who is your mother, dear?”
She speaks so quietly I can barely hear her. “Jane Moberly.”
I stare at her, and the name comes shooting up through my memories like a dart. Jane was my youngest son’s girlfriend when he died. I look closely at her and realize that the reason she looks so familiar is that she looks like Ben. Her hair is dark — his was reddish brown — but the shape of her face and those blue eyes are his. Jane moved away after the accident, and I haven’t heard of her since. That was over thirteen years ago.
“Does your mother know you are here?” I ask.
“No,” she replies. “She doesn’t care about me. I ran away. I didn’t know where to go, but I’ve had your address for a long time, and it was the only place I could think of to come.” She dissolves into tears, and I sit beside her and put my arms around her. She is as tense as a wild cat, and she sobs as though her heart is breaking.
“Now, now. Now, now,” I keep whispering. Inside I am astonished that a little piece of Ben has returned to me after all these years. This distraught teenager is one of my own. What am I going to do with her?
Grandpère comes and sits on the other side and pats her knee. She pulls away from him, and I shake my head, no. He nods and goes into the living room. She finally calms down and relaxes a bit. I dish us up the hot soup and call Grandpère back into the kitchen. She doesn’t talk but eats as though she’s starving, downing three bowls of soup and two sandwiches before she’s finished.
“Thank you, that was very good,” she says, and she says it just as Grandpère does. I smile at her and ask if she wants anything else. She says she is really tired, she has been on the bus all night and hasn’t slept. If it’s okay, she would like to have a sleep. I tell her to sleep if she wants, and she goes into the bedroom and shuts the door. Later on I try to look in on her to see if she wants some supper, but the door is locked, and I don’t knock. I just let her sleep.
Grandpère and I talk about her, wondering why Jane never told us about her. He agrees that she looks like Ben, and he says the Great Spirit must have sent her here. He never calls the Great Spirit by the name God; he says that God is cruel and unjust, but the Great Spirit is a kind and good provider who would never do the things that God has been credited with doing.
I wonder why this girl thinks that Jane doesn’t care about her and why she’s run away. She still hasn’t gotten up by the time we go to bed, so my curiosity will have to wait till the next day. We don’t even know what her name is. I mix up some frozen orange juice and put some cookies on a plate and set them just outside the bedroom door.
In the morning she is up before I am. When I get up, she is looking at the pictures of my children and their families on the living room wall.
“Is this my dad?” she asks, pointing to the picture of Ben on his graduation day.
“Yes,” I tell her, and take down the picture. She sits at the table and looks at the picture for a long time as though she’s memorizing it.
“I only have one picture of him,” she says, getting a picture of Ben out of her wallet. It is dog-eared and faded, but it is a good picture. He’s laughing and sitting on the picnic table in this yard. I can remember the day the picture was taken. It was in the summer, before the accident. Jane is sitting in front of him, and they look young and carefree. His shining hair is long and blowing in the wind, and he is smiling down at her, his hand resting on her shoulder. Her face is turned in profile to the camera, looking up at him. They were waiting for Lorne to come back from town so they could go fishing when Jane asked me to take a picture of them with her camera.
“I think I took that picture,” I say. “Where does your mother live now?”
“In Vancouver. I can’t go back there,” she says with such a look of anxiety that I reassure her right away that she doesn’t have to.
“I think we should phone and tell her where you are, though. She must be worried,” I say.
“She probably doesn’t even know I’m missing,” she says in a tone of utter dejection. “She hasn’t been home for a week.”
I just look at her for a minute. Poor little thing — she’s been looking after herself. Where the hell is her mother? My heart goes out to her. No wonder she ran away. “You must have a name,” I say. “If you are going to live here, I can’t just keep calling you ‘girl.’”
“My name is Angel, but most everyone calls me Angie,” she says.
“Well, my Angel, let’s make breakfast,” I say.
I put on some bacon and mix up some pancake dough. I tell her she can set the table and show her where the dishes and cutlery are. She sets everything around, and Grandpère shows up just as everything is ready. I’ve thawed out huckleberries to put on top of the pancakes. She asks what they are and says that they’re good. For such a little thing, she packs away groceries like a logger after a hard day’s work. She doesn’t talk any more till she’s done eating, then she offers to do the dishes. I wash and she dries, and we put them away together. Then she just sits silently at the table.
I sit down at the end of the table with a cup of coffee and ask her, “Do you want to talk about it?”
She shakes her head, no.
“What do you want to do?” I ask her.
“I want to know about my dad,” she says.
I can talk about Ben now. Her coming here has released a flood of memories.
“Ben was the youngest of our children. He liked being outside, he liked to ride the horses and the bikes and he was always messy. His room always looked like a cyclone had hit it, and he didn’t like me to clean it up. He was always teasing his brothers and getting into trouble, but he was so funny that no one stayed mad at him for long.
“Once, when he was little, he crawled under the house where the dog had puppies and went to sleep with them. Everybody looked for him for hours. We thought he was lost in the bush and had the whole neighbourhood looking for him when he finally woke up and crawled out. I was so mad at him that day, but we were so happy to see him that I got over it fast.
“He didn’t want to go to school at first — he wanted to stay home with me — and he cried every day at the bus stop till he made friends with another boy at school. Then he always wanted to go, not to learn but to play with his friends. All his report cards said he was disruptive in the classroom, but he did well on all the tests, so he finished school on time.” I pause. What else can I tell this girl about a father she never knew?
“What grade are you in, Angel?” I ask.
“I’m in grade eight, but I missed so much school this semester that I won’t pass,” she answers. “Why is your husband so old?”
“You mean Grandpère? He isn’t my husband, he’s my grandfather.”
Her face gets red, and I can tell she’s embarrassed. “No need to worry, it is a natural mistake,” I tell her and go get the picture of Lorne and me that I keep on my nightstand.
“This is my husband,” I say. “He passed on four years ago. Grandpère came to live with me after that. We don’t really know how old he is, but near as we can figure out, he will be ninety-eight this year.”
“Is he Indian?” she asks.
“Yes. When he was young he lived in the bush. He never lived on the reserve. He married a Métis woman, your great-great-grandmother. She was French and Indian. She has been gone for many years now.”