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Authors: David Adams Richards

Nights Below Station Street (9 page)

BOOK: Nights Below Station Street
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Myhrra went in, and there was a smell to the large room of white sheets and the faint scent of blood. There were six beds in the room but only three patients. Allain Garret had cut his stomach open falling against a stake, and now happily showed her the wound. Myhrra looked at it unpleasantly, and tied her kerchief tighter. His skin was brown, and scarred, his fingers were bent in all different directions. Joe Walsh was sitting in the corner talking to him.

“Here’s Myhrra –” Allain said, smiling, and trying to reach some candy on the bedside table to give to her.

There is always something frightening in the human body when it is incapacitated. His hands were rough and
his elbows looked thin, as if he was now losing his strength. Myhrra at this moment stood very still and could not bring herself to look at Joe. Myhrra very quietly asked to see his wound again – for some reason she thought she should do this. She kept staring straight ahead.

“Well, you should take care of yourself,” she said, suddenly, in an unnatural voice.

Allain then offered her some more candy, which she hadn’t taken the first time. Then she tried to think of the names of his sons and daughters to ask him about. Unfortunately she forgot that Claude was in prison, and this was the only name she could think of.

“Where is Claude now?” Myhrra asked, in a loud, somewhat angry voice.

“Claude’s fine,” Allain said. “Still in jail.” He smiled, and then suddenly made fun of himself and his injury. Then he made fun of Joe not drinking any more, which was done in a totally harmless way, but Myhrra stared straight ahead, blinking, as if there was nothing in Joe they could possibly find funny.

Allain again turned on Joe and said that he shouldn’t be so foolish. And then he commented on the time Myhrra had pulled her dress up over her head, one evening in the summer long ago, to show the flowers on her brassiere, when she was thirteen. Then at this moment Joe felt that he should not laugh at this. So old Allain did not know what to do, except look about here and there and comment on things, and ask no one in particular if it was snowing outside.

Finally he looked embarrassed because the visit had become as painful to him as to everyone else.

Joe got home from visiting Allain Garret to find that Adele had been caught shoplifting. Rita was at the kitchen table and Milly was watching television. She had five or six dolls sitting on the couch with her, and her great big rainbow-coloured hat on. She was in her nightgown, had no panties on, and was sitting there with her mother’s three big blue brushes, brushing the dolls’ hair.

The grass was covered in snow, but there were still patches of it bare. The house was on a slope, with the driveway pointed down to some alders. Joe went outside to carry the garbage cans to the street, and when he did, he could see Adele’s bedroom light – it was covered with an orange peel to make the room glow. Sometimes during Joe’s drinking days he would see that light burning at two or two-thirty in the morning as he came home through the old back lot, stumbling over the rocks. As soon as he would get halfway across the lot, he would see the light go out. It never failed. He stood outside for a moment thinking. He huffed and spit and lit a cigarette. He could see ice on the porch steps, and it glistened under the faint porch light. He
rubbed his face for a second and went back inside. The whole house was occupied by his family and the huge philodendron that sat over by the wall.

Before going home, Allain had asked him to go down river and see to it that his chickens and pigs were being fed, and asked him to see to it that some rocks were put into the pig troughs, for the pigs to chew on, and asked him to go into the woods on their land and check his wood lot. He was sure he would get out of the hospital any day, but things had to get done and he couldn’t rely on his son who was home, who never went outside in the winter, unless it was to pick up his mail.

So he asked Joe to do it, and Joe complied. It was easy enough to check the wood lot, to see that the wood Allain had yarded was still there, and Joe walked down to the brook to check for any deer signs. It was a cold afternoon, and there was a breeze at the top of the trees. Just a few months ago, he and Rita had come here to fish for trout, and now everything was cold and bleak. But the coldness and bleakness gave Joe a thrill because it smelled of hunting. And he could actually scent the deer, and know they were here.

At dusk the sky took on a reddish haze over the trees. When Joe was a youngster he used to work with his father out here. He would not get to town very often, but sometimes he would hitchhike alone up to a dance. He would walk up the street just at dusk, when the convent was lighted, and the courthouse steps looked solitary, and there was a sting in his legs because of the cold. Sometimes, when he couldn’t get a lift, he would hike home; and so, sometimes late, with the smell of hides and animals coming to the road, he would make his way, a silent lonely light flicking far out on the bay.

Joe sat under a rotted stand for a while, near the brook. He wondered why he had not died that time he got caught up in a turbine in the Bay of Fundy. He was thinking of this as he sat there.

He had felt his way along the round turbine for ten minutes, and found that he had not progressed in the right direction. In fact he had to swim back, but he had to swim back as carefully as he had come, or else lose his sense of direction completely.

Yes, it was all so strange. If anyone asked him what had happened he wouldn’t be able to tell them. Halfway back along the wall he had to switch to his reserve tank. And he finally found his way through the opening and back to the surface, with four minutes of air left.

For some reason he felt that he had something more to do, and every time he did something he felt that wasn’t it He shuddered suddenly and spit through his legs. Milly needed new pills because she was hyperactive and they were going to put her on Ritalin. Last spring she went sliding and fell over the embankment behind the house, and he carried her home. The next afternoon, she climbed out the window and tried to get onto the roof. Then she got caught in a pipe under the street, and everyone could hear someone whistling and yelling underneath the pavement, and it so happened it was Milly, stuck in a little drainpipe.

He thought of this for a moment. He thought of the turbine, and how he had managed to get into it without knowing that he was – and then how did he manage to get out of it?

While he sat there the sky smelled of ash and darkness. There was always a feeling of hunger. He straightened one leg out, to relax it Off in the undergrowth he heard a snap,
and saw a buck tine glimmer in a space of light between two heavy trees. Then it was gone.

When he got home, Rita, furious with Adele and her shoplifting, told Joe to go upstairs and “shake the living shit out of your daughter.”

Milly looked at him and said:

“Hi Daddy – you gonna go get her?”

“Sure I am.”

He sat down heavily on the couch beside Milly and picked up a doll. He smiled at her and kissed her doll and then she got him to kiss all of her other dolls. Then she kissed him and asked to feel the bump on his back.

Then he picked her up and took her upstairs to bed.

After he put Milly to bed he went in to see Adele. It was the second time she had been caught shoplifting. The first time, she had only stolen some eye shadow, but this time she had shoved five packages of panty-hose down her pants, and was caught trying to walk sideways out of the store.

“Zellers wasn’t made to keep the likes of you in pantyhose,” Joe said, coming into the room, and looking about gruffly. Her room had been completely changed over since he had last been in it. Now there was a big poster of a flower above her bed, when before there wasn’t. Now there was a sign on her door saying: “To all little creeps – stay out on pain of death,” whereas before there wasn’t. Also her bras and beanies were lying about the room, and her panties were lying on the chair. Joe noticed all of this quickly and felt he had intruded. He stepped over to the chair and moved the panties off carefully. He sat down.

Adele was lying in bed reading. Her face was white, and her lips moved over what she read. Now and then she slapped the magazine pages abruptly. The Russian ship whistle sounded in the distance. There was a great big curler in her hair, right at the top, while her hair was taped down on the sides, which made her ears look particularly innocent.

“How come you didn’t visit old Allain – ya know,” he stuttered. “We been down there for supper a hunnred times?”

“As no relation to me,” Adele said, under her breath.

“Ya used ta get him ta buy bubblegum for your hockey cards though, didn’t ya?” he said. “Ole Allain walkin around chewin big wads of bubblegum.” Adele sniffed.

Her pink blouse was buttoned up to her throat and made her skin look cream-coloured, except for a little pimple on her nose, which had a dab of Noxzema on it.

Joe had a stutter and Adele liked to mimic it when she was showing off. So he was often hesitant to speak to her in case she would start to mimic his stutter. Sometimes when he was out in the woods alone, he would go up to a tree and say: “Hello how are you, me name’s Joe Walsh, boilermaker, mechanic of sorts who lives with Rita and two kids,” and would not stutter at all, and nod with conviction.

And it seemed as if he would be able to pronounce every word correctly from that moment forward, and that he would never stutter again. But by the time he got home, the same identifiable stoppage in speech would have reappeared.

Even Rita became intolerant and impatiently finished sentences for him. Adele had picked up on this also and she would finish sentences that he hadn’t even intended to say.

The stutter only came when he was nervous, as he was
when he went to the unemployment centre to talk about getting a job, or now and then when he went out with Rita to a play at the high school or church.

Joe sat in a chair with a cigarette in his hand. His bottom lip had puffed out and had developed a little sack for putting snuff. He sat on his fingers and looked about. On the dresser, there was an old black and white picture of Adele as a child with pigeons all over her body. Her arms and legs were covered with pigeons, and two pigeons were sitting on her head, and she had the absurdest look of terror on her face. Seeing this and Adele’s pictures of flowers, and her decals and stickers, Joe, sitting there with his large arms and shoulders, once again felt as if he had intruded and that there was no way he could be stern with her. He had every intention of being stern when he came into the room, but now he became silent, and listened to the train off in the distance above the creamery.

And suddenly without knowing he was going to, he told her he had not meant to hurt them when he was drinking, and he was sorry she had melancholy feelings.

He spoke about his last drinking binge which lasted eighteen days. Days went by and he wanted to come home, but he couldn’t bring himself to. He thought everyone would have gone. At one point he woke up sitting in this office. Everyone was walking back and forth and not paying the slightest bit of attention to him. The personnel manager was standing over in the corner whispering to the secretary, who was looking at him. Joe found out that he was in a mine in Quebec. How he’d gotten there he didn’t know, except it seemed perfectly obvious he should be there.

They had sent for a guard because they didn’t speak English well and he didn’t speak French. He finally made it clear that he was going to send for his family and bring
them all to Quebec, and with that resolved, he started on his way again.

As always, he found a tavern and forgot all about going to Quebec. Two days later he was in Truro, Nova Scotia, drinking with people who had become his friends, and who were all going to come and visit him. He remembered then that he had promised himself he would never drink again. He had had all the will in the world to stop. He had even started his own business, of auto body repair, and he had had cards printed, and even had taken out ads on the radio. But though again, as always, and like many drunks, he was capable of making money quite handily, he got drunk. And once he was drinking, whatever he had been doing seemed all wrong and all worthless, and something else had to be done, something which was different from anything he had ever done before.

BOOK: Nights Below Station Street
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