Read Jericho Online

Authors: George Fetherling

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Canada, #Social Science, #Travel, #Western Provinces, #Biography & Autobiography, #Archaeology

Jericho (22 page)

BOOK: Jericho
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Jericho had already been in business fifteen centuries when Joshua pulled up out front with his Jewish army. This was during the reign of a pharaoh by the name of Airerbotep the Third. (Great name.) The Book of Joshua, which I had to wait until I was in the Facility to read because all they give you in hotels is the New Testament, tells you all about the Canaanites living the Life in their city when the Israelites came on a search-and-destroy. Joshua picked Jericho because he thought he could pick it off. Sure it had walls. It had wall after wall, like the mountains between here and the Coast, always another range just when you think you’re over the last one in the chain. Some of them were built overtop of the rubble of even more walls (lots of earthquakes). So maybe it didn’t always look like much. Joshua skipped Jerusalem because it looked too tough. Right nearby there was Ur (Abraham was born there, they say) that was surrounded by a wall seventy-five feet thick at the base and had over a hundred towers. Jericho had only one tower, because it was a loose place, you see, it was a wide-open town, it made its living off the plankton that floated past: other people’s Citizens, the suckers, the rubes, the farmers. It was, you might say, open for business. Like the sign on the greasy spoon says:
ALL DAY BREAKFAST
. This made it an easy hit. Especially on account of a woman called Rahab. (When I first read that, I thought she was called Rehab which was funny cause that’s where I was at the time.) Rahab sold out the town, leaving the doors unlocked you might say, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The yarn about the trumpets making the walls
collapse? Sure, why not, that’s what I say. Trumpets and earthquakes and treachery bringing the joint down only a week after Joshua turns up at the gate, threatening folks. He wrecked the place and it never grew back. As I picture it, though, it died slow, so that some people spent their whole sad lives living with moral decay, feeling the oxygen seep out through a tiny hole in the balloon. One day you’d wake up and the all-night diner wasn’t open at all. The next time you looked a tae kwon do school had taken over the space upstairs. Finally the hotel got turned into a group home for homeless individuals, with a retraining centre in the lobby where the Posh Room used to be—the place where all those band singers got famous on the radio broadcasts. You can look all this stuff up. Run a search on my memory. Read about all this the next time you find yourself in a Facility. That’s one way of telling it. What I’m giving you here is the Book of Joshua according to the Bishop New Unauthorized Version.

Object truly is the most ignorant character I have ever encountered in any capacity that I recall. The book of Diagnostic Criteria describes him to a T in the section on schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Section two-ninety-something point something else (note to self: look this up) is clear about the symptoms of a Brief Psychotic Disorder, of which there are four. To be classified, a patient needs to exhibit only one or more symptoms for more than a day and less than a month. The Object displays several at the times of my observing and probably has revealed these his whole life. In the name of clinical accuracy, I must state that I haven’t known him for one full month as yet and hope I will not, but I can
extrapolate from what I have seen thus far. A)
Delusions.
Well Jesus Mary and Joseph he has deluded himself into believing that he is intelligent and that this pathetic collection of rotting shacks is a city rising up from the savage wilderness. At the very least, my mother would have diagnosed him as having the Error of False Pride. In any case, he has issues with reality. I could go on. B)
Disorganized speech.
He has no other type. Thoughts skip but words continue emitting. C)
Disorganized behaviour.
He virtually does not show familiarity with any other type. Item: the way he raged at me with reference to the credit card incident. Item: his erratic path to this desolated place. Item: the way he oscillates back and fro. Etc. D)
Hallucinations.
I thought he was hallucinatory when we came out of the woods and he pointed to the tumulus or whatever it is and said “Behold Jericho!” But perhaps that was more delusional and disorganized speech. Object is rich study who I find often fits more than one category. I am certain that he is ingesting controlled substances, tho’ until now have not observed such practices directly. Could I be mistaken, could symptoms devolve from direct physiological effects of such substances or possibly Schizoaffective Disorder? No. I am an independent social therapist. If anything I am too lenient in my diagnosis. Look at this place and tell me he is not meeting criteria related to psychotic and delusional themes. Look at this mess and tell me I am not correct.

When the three of us finally got to where we were going I started to feel much kinder towards Bishop and his plans and all the work that he’d done. For one thing, he didn’t seem as tense. He seemed smarter, too. He really did know a lot of stuff. It wasn’t just the stuff he needed to live in
Vancouver or make the trip all the way up to his beloved Jericho—which, I have to say, was at first glance not much to look at. A surprise for sure, maybe even amazing in a way, but not much to look at, though pretty soon it started to grow on me—a little.

It was a weird place. You hiked for a while from where the trail or track ended by the rock. Suddenly on your left was this narrow slit in the earth, a canyon I’d guess you’d have to call it, like the ground had been unzippered. Maybe an earthquake hundreds of years ago. Could be. I don’t know. It startled me because I wasn’t expecting it, nobody would have. It was completely out of character with the country up there, except maybe in the sense that it was a surprise. The gap was too wide to jump across but not wide enough so that you’d notice it if you weren’t paying attention. A person could easily fall over the edge.

Bishop was ahead of me with a load of stuff. T was lagging a good ways back with a small bunch, talking to herself, I thought (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t humming).

“Come over and take a look,” Bishop said. He was standing right on the lip, with his heels on solid ground but his toes in outer space.

I said I was afraid of heights, which I am. Then he did a sweet thing. He took my bags and stuff and put them down, then took my left hand and helped me onto my knees first and then on my stomach in the weeds as he did the same thing, so that the two of us were lying on our bellies peering over the side. He made me feel safe. I don’t know how far down it was. I’m not good at judging heights like that, but gee, it must have been fifty metres, I’m not really sure. I just naturally thought there was going to be a river or stream at
the bottom but there wasn’t. It was dry and overgrown. Wild-looking.

“That’s something, isn’t it? A shame it doesn’t run east-west or I could build part of the defences round it.” I didn’t yet have a clue what he was talking about. “Come on,” he said, “you’ve gotta see this. You won’t believe it. Just leave the stuff here.” Theresa had caught up with us now, but he didn’t ask her to come along. I could almost feel the heat of her disapproval on my back as Bishop and I crossed the field or clearing or whatever it was. On the other side was this huge pile of gravel, flat on top, with some old wooden buildings on it. He was excited to be there again, and as we got closer I saw what he meant. The hill was an oval-shaped gravel deposit, maybe forty metres long and fifteen or so from front to back. The top was perfectly level, so it looked like a giant ironing board or something. The sides were steep slopes but not steep enough that I couldn’t climb up. Under the vegetation, the soil all around this gravel place was very sandy. Later I saw there were long stretches of nothing but sand running through it, twisty-fashion, like the marbling in a marble cake.

I didn’t know what to make of the dilapidated buildings. There was one place, near one of the rounded edges, where the gravel had given way in a kind of miniature rock slide, making a sort of driveway that let you get up to the top without huffing and puffing. I was surprised how much you could see from up there. Trees hid most of the view at the back of the property, farthest from the way we came in, but the tops of the mountains way off filled up the sky. Not a cloud in sight. On that side, where the trees were, where the slide had happened, a tiny stream ran past, just a trickle really.

Out the other way, the way we came, Theresa was coming towards us. Her load was a lot lighter than ours, but then of course she was pretty tiny. Anyway she’d put it down in the bush about halfway to the hill of gravel and was hollering something. I could make out her saying, “If you two aren’t going to carry your share, I’m not either.” I was surprised she said “you two” that way. Bishop yelled back down to her to tell her where the entrance was. She went around and trudged up, and Bishop gave us both the tour.

My heart let out a gasp when I saw the building down at the end of the row. It was a tiny version of the place I grew up in, a little runt of a construction-site shed, not more than four metres long, with three plastic milk crates for steps and the wooden runners underneath all rotten. In fact the whole thing was rotting away.

He took us inside and showed us all the stuff everywhere. It was really quite amazing what he’d been able to store at a place this remote. Old wooden crates were nailed to the walls. He took the lid off one and showed us hundreds and hundreds of fried-noodle packages and lots of rice and flour and powdered milk—staples like that—laid up in containers with tight tops.

“If you pack it right, it’ll last forever,” he said. I guess he was right. On the wall at the far end he’d put up an old bathroom medicine cabinet he’d found somewhere. He opened it up to show us. This was his spice rack. It turned out all the buildings were full of stuff. Second-hand clothes—men’s, women’s, kids’, all sizes, every kind—in green garbage bags hanging from the ceiling in one of the places, which looked like a big lemonade stand but which he told me a friend of his named Clarence had “found in town” at a used car lot. It
had a let-down front, like one of those old-fashioned hotel beds, I forget what they’re called.

I can’t remember if there were eight buildings or nine. I keep recounting them in my head. I suppose it depends how you count the rusty old car turned upside down and half buried in the gravel. “This is where I lived when I first found this place,” Bishop said as he gave us the tour. His next words were: “I remember all this before the Europeans came. It was paradise.” Then he let out one of his squawky laughs. Anyway, there were two buildings made of logs. One was a perfectly decent little cabin (he called it the miner’s cabin) but the smallest I’d ever seen, just big enough to have two log bunk beds for kids or very short grown-ups with their knees bent. The other had some of its logs missing and sort of leaned back and to the right. “Like a lot of log buildings, this one has been used for chickens or some other kind of animal,” Bishop said. “It’s contaminated. You can’t stay in it or stuff’ll get in your lungs. I haven’t quite figured out how to fix it.”

The others, including a partly converted woodshed, were made of old grey boards. They were set up as a sort of street—two sides facing each other, with a kind of alley crossing them in the middle, just wide enough for me to squeeze through.

“How did you get them all here?” Theresa wanted to know. Maybe she felt she had to ask something. “Are you bringing them in with a helicopter?” I couldn’t quite judge her tone of voice as she had such a funny one to begin with.

Bishop just laughed but not the ornery laugh he used to answer himself with. “Clarence is kind of an agent, my real
estate scout. He keeps his eye open for abandoned buildings in the bush and in town.” I wanted to say: What town? But I knew that if you interrupted Bishop, especially with another question, especially when he was calmed down and talkative like this, you’d never get to the end. “Sounds incredible, but sometimes people just throw broken buildings out in the trash. Clarence takes em apart and hauls in the pieces and I put em back together. Sometimes he helps. With the hotel”—he cocked his head to point down the street to the place that reminded me of Mother’s—“it damn near took me most of a summer. That was after it laid there all spread out for a whole winter and spring. Clarence, he disassembled the frame and dragged it a bunch at a time by Ski-Doo. It looks pretty good considering, don’t you think?”

BOOK: Jericho
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