By Dawn Natelle
So far: River met with her family, and got an update on their activities. The next morning River and Liesl got a ride with Wayne to the edge of the reserve to visit with an interesting couple. After visiting one shop in the morning, she was headed to another home.
A little early on this posting, and a bonus -- two chapters for the price of one. The first chapter started off a bit short, so I added the next chapter, which went a little long. Hope you are all okay with it. As well, we introduce the first truly transgender person into the story, in Chapter 14. Thanks again to Eric for editing this.
“Anna Audette?” River asked George. “Is she related to Kyle?”
George chuckled. “No. Or at least not closely. There are five different families named Audette on the reserve, and six with the last name of George. Not me, luckily. Imagine being named Georgette George,” she giggled. “Apparently back in the 1800s there were Indian agents who went around registering us for the government, and when the agent couldn’t translate the Ojibwe word they just made a last name up. One agent, a Frenchman apparently, used his own last name, Audette, for many of the people. Another agent used the King’s name, so everyone he registered became ‘Somebody George’.”
By that time they had reached the home of Anna Audette, and George left them when a short, slight woman answered the door. Like all the other people River had met recently, she was gracious in inviting the rivertalker in, as well as Liesl. Kemosabe was even admitted to the tidy little house, and promptly curled up in a corner, never taking his eyes off the women. River explained her quest to find craftspeople on the reserve.
“I’m sorry that you won’t find anything like that here,” Anna said. “I’m not very talented at all. I do a bit of sewing, but nothing as fancy as the deerskins that you are wearing.”
“What do you sew?” River prodded. “The dress you are wearing is beautiful.”
“This old thing? It is just something I made from a picture in a magazine.” Anna said. “The fabric is pretty basic. Nothing fancy like the lady in the magazine. And of course I am not tall and skinny like the girl in the magazine was.”
“No, the people in magazines really aren’t very realistic in terms of their shapes,” River said. “Have you ever thought of incorporating native artwork into your sewing?”
“Not really. I do put some designs onto my shoes, but never on my dresses.”
“Shoes? Do you make shoes as well?” River asked.
“Makizins,” Anna explained. I make them out of moose and deer hide. Moose for the soles, and deer for the sides and linings. “Here. I have a pair that I have just finished making. Try them on.”
River pulled off her sneakers and put on the moccasins. Her eyes widened as she walked around the room in them. “These are wonderful,” she exclaimed. “So much more comfortable than those old shoes. How can you not claim to be crafty? These would sell like crazy.”
“Almost half the women on the reserve can make them. They are nothing special. We make several kinds. Short ones like those for summer, and higher ones, like boots, for winter. Then we make knee high ones for the men who hunt in the winter.”
River’s brain was spinning. A cottage industry with all the native women making moccasins … no, makizins … the Ojibwe word has the advantage that it could be trademarked. She needed to get hold of a lawyer somehow to look into legal issues. There was so much to do. Then all they needed to do is to get one Hollywood starlet to try these wonderful shoes and there would suddenly be a world-wide craze for them.
“If those fit you so well,” Anna was saying, “I want you to keep them.”
“Oh I couldn’t,” River said.
“I would be so honored if the rivertalker was wearing my makizins,” Anna said proudly, with a questioning look.
“In that case, I am honored to wear them,” River said.
Before long Anna had found a smaller pair of makizins for Liesl, who was thrilled to have them, putting both River’s and her running shoes into her knapsack so that they could proudly wear Anna’s footwear to their next stop. Anna accompanied them to April Audette’s cabin, not far away.
April’s home was a bit larger, since she lived with her husband, who worked on the seaway lake ships that travelled from Thunder Bay or Duluth down to Montreal during the season. He was currently away on a voyage. April was a photographer, and her home had her work covering her walls. River was astounded at scenes depicting the beauty of the Canadian Shield from season to season. Just looking at the Shield could seem to be only a random bunch of rocks, with a scraggly looking tree or two trying to work their way through the stones. But April’s work was amazing, and the balance and lighting could make that same boring scene vibrant and beautiful.
April showed River and Liesl the most recent work, and River stopped at one picture, showing a bereft Rod bent over the grave of Jerome the slain wolf. The image was so touching, it brought tears to River’s eyes. Then, the next picture in the pile was of Jerome himself, alive and vibrant, with his head stuck out of passenger window of Rod’s old pickup, his long pink tongue lolling out of his mouth, and a carefree smile on his face. “I will buy this one,” River said. “It will be a gift for Rod.”
April said: “I already planned to give that to Rod for Christmas. I am just waiting until my husband, Richard, comes back from the boats. When the lake freezes up, he is off for several months and he spends the time carving frames for me. This picture isn’t appropriate for any of the frames he has already made for me, so I will wait until he comes home to get one for it.”
Then River turned over to the next picture in the stack, and saw herself holding a tiny four month old native child, with his dark hair and skin contrasting against her blondness and pale skin. “I remember that. It was the first ceremony at the river, wasn’t it? I carried two babies into the river, and he was the first one handed to me. He was such a cutie.” The baby had a look of bliss on his face as he stared up into River’s eyes as she leaned down to give him a kiss on the forehead.
“Look,” Liesl noted. “All the people in the background are blurry. You can see Edith there, barely, but everyone further back is just a blur.”
“That is depth of field,” April explained. “I used a telephoto lens, because I was quite a distance away. If I had used a wide angle lens, everyone would have been in focus, but I would have had to be much closer when I took the picture. Everyone was moving around, and often people were standing in front of you. I got lucky: someone moved out of the way just as you went to kiss him. A second later and the view was blocked again.”
“That was an important day for me too,” April continued. “I don’t know why I brought my camera when I came to the ceremony, but for some reason I did. Then, when you called all the adults into the water I was afraid that my camera would get wet. As soon as I stepped into the water, the river told me that I shouldn’t worry. So instead of just standing at the edge of the water, as I planned, I walked fully into the water, even though my camera was getting wet.”
“Wait,” River said. “The river spoke to you?”
“It did. As well as teaching me the history of the people, and the language, it told me that I was special. I was to be the Chronicler, and should record the people in every way possible. Before then I almost always just took pictures of landscapes, but the river wants me to chronicle the people: how they live, where they live, and what they do. Most days since then I have been out taking pictures of the people and their houses, sometimes with them working on their crafts and projects, if they do them, if not then just doing simple things like making dinner, or cleaning the house.”
“Wow,” River said. “I thought I was the only person the river spoke to. Does it warm the water for you? Keep your clothes dry?”
“It doesn’t talk often,” April said. “And while it makes the water warm for me, I don’t think it would for anyone with me. And my clothes do get wet, though they tend to dry quickly. But my camera can be completely under water and it won’t get wet. It is a digital, and water would normally short it out, but none seems to come into it. I was even able to get some great shots of a beaver pulling a branch through the water to build a lodge.”
Liesl squealed when she saw the picture of the industrious beaver, and River had to admit that the picture was quite cute. April told her that she could have the print, and that River could have the one of her with the baby.
River had learned not to refuse gifts from the people, but she insisted that April sign each of the prints, and then add the date and the notation of 1/100 under it. “People won’t pay as much for a photograph as they will for a painting, but if you number your prints, they will have more value. You should get $50 for a print, which means that if you sell all 100 copies of it, you earn $5000. That makes it worth the time and skills you have invested in taking the picture.”
“$5000 for a single print?”
“Well, that is a maximum. Every time you create a new print, and sell a few copies, the money will start coming in. If you have 100 prints for sale, and sell one of each every month, then you will be earning $5000 a month, which is decent money.”
“Decent? It is outrageous. Who earns that much money?”
“In the cities, a lot of people. Some earn far, far more. Living is cheaper up here, and we don’t feel entitled to vacations in Cuba every year, or new cars and homes. But I really hope to see more and more of the craftspeople earning money.”
“My neighbors will be jealous of me,” April noted.
“Perhaps, but it can be a good jealousy if you don’t waste your money foolishly. Spend it locally, and people will be proud of you. Give free prints to your friends. Hire a local woman to cook or clean for you, and pay her well. Spreading your financial wealth will grow your wealth in friendships.”
April hugged River. “How did you get so smart?”
“I’m just a kid,” River protested. “The river is just using me to improve the people. I wonder if my ideas aren’t mostly from it.”
“So how do I start?” April asked.
“Well, we have Colin building a web site right now. I’ll make sure that he builds a section for your pictures. I think it would be a good idea if we offer them for free as screen backgrounds, which Colin says are really popular.”
“So my pictures go from $50 each to free, just like that? Can’t we sell them as backgrounds?”
“Apparently not. People don’t want to pay for things like that online. But think about it. The kid who has grown up with your picture on his screen gets out of college, gets a job, and starts making money. Pretty soon he has a house or apartment to decorate, and he remembers those cool pictures from his old computer. So he buys one, or several, signed prints from you. In the end, your generosity earns you money,” River said.
“That sounds cool,” April said. “Let me know when you want prints, and how.”
“You will want to talk to Colin about that,” River said. “But there is something you could do for me first. I need pictures of the things that will be for sale on the site. Things like Ben Stormcloud’s canoes and snowshoes, Kyle and George’s swings, and that big metal thing they made out of auto parts, Anna’s makizin’s and more, as I talk to more people. Could you do that?”
“Sure,” April said cheerily. “It fits in with the stuff the river wants me to do as Chronicler anyway. I’d be glad to help.”
Liesl and River travelled to several more families before the end of the day. At first none of the people thought they had any talents or skills, but River prodded and poked, and always found something that the person loved to do, and was really good at. Some were excellent cooks, and River wondered if there was some way to set up an online food service. A few others were seamstresses, and while none had the design skills of Anna, they were good enough that they could make makizins if the workload get high enough that Anna couldn’t meet the demand. Everyone seemed good at everything.
The men had skills too, and while they often were out during the day, their women explained the skills they had. One made fish lures, and River got a chance to test it. The woman showing it, Mae Audette, put it on a rod, and River waded into the river with the rod. She was there for less than a minute when a trout was hooked on the lure. She then unhooked the fish, and let it free back into the water, where the river cured its mouth injury.
“Hey, don’t do that,” Mae said. “That would be a good dinner for my family.”
River sent out a message to the other trout in the river to leave the lure alone, but within another minute there was another fish hooked. Apparently they found the lure irresistible. This time she unhooked the fish, and gave it to the woman. It was a few pounds bigger than the other, and she smiled at the free supper. River climbed out of the river and joined Kemosabe and Liesl with Mae.
Other houses had men who carved there, and their wives were happy to show off their mates’ work. One carved wooden duck decoys so realistic that River had to touch them to be sure that they were not alive or stuffed animals. A couple of others carved bird and animal calls. The wife of one played some of the calls, and was quite good at it. Her calls sounded exactly like the ducks or other birds that they were meant to portray. The other man specialized in animal calls, and could do moose, bear, or deer calls.
Another man carved dolls, and his wife made traditional clothing for them to wear, using remnants of the other clothes she made. Liesl instantly reverted to a little girl, falling in love with one baby that was painted so realistically it looked like the one in the picture of River at the ceremony. The woman gifted the girl with the doll, and River again was amazed at the generosity of the people.
They only had to wait a few minutes for Wayne to pick them up after 5, and as they waited, Liesl decided that she would join River again at any time, due to the loot she had gathered. She had received a picture of a beaver, makizins, the promise of a swing, and the baby doll. River had Wayne drive back to April’s house, where they had left their paintings. April had framed both of them, with River’s picture in a gorgeous frame that she figured would have to sell for another $200, while Liesl’s was in a simpler frame. Wayne admired Liesl’s picture of the beaver for a second or two, but stared long and hard at the picture of River and the baby. He finally noticed the artist’s signature at the bottom.
“It says 1 of 100,” he asked April. “Does that mean you can make more? Because I would like to buy number 2, in a nice frame like that one. Can you do that?”
“Sure,” April said, “I’d give it to you free, but River says I have to stop giving stuff away. I know you are going back to college. How about you pay me $100 for it -- once you finish college and start making some money. Is that fair?”
“More than fair,” Wayne said with a smile. He looked over at River, who was red-faced at the idea that Wayne wanted a picture of her to take to college with him. She was quiet on the ride back into town.
When she was dropped off at her parents’ campsite she showed the photograph to her mother. “I wanted something to give you to take back to Toronto next week,” she explained. “I’m going to miss you, and I suspect you will miss me. I haven’t looked like this very long, so …”
“It is beautiful honey,” Alison said, beaming with joy. “You look just like a little mother in that, with the tiny baby. She looks like she is in love with you.”
“She probably just had gas,” Mark teased.
“Listen, little brother,” River said with a smile. “On Sunday you will be going back to Toronto. And I will be staying up here with Dad. And I’m going to miss you.” With that she hugged her brother, who wasn’t all that much smaller than her anymore. He wriggled a bit, but clearly was glad he was getting attention from his pretty older sister. River looked over at Paul, Mark’s best friend, who was giggling at Mark’s discomfort. “Do you want a hug too?” she said with a smile. Paul darted away, and Mark took the chance to break loose from River and darted after him.
“Supper in an hour boys,” Alison called after the fleeing boys. “Don’t be late.”
“… or I will hug you to death,” River called after them, causing them to pause and make fake vomiting noises before running again.
So far: River has had a busy day exploring the reserve with Liesl, meeting more crafts people and developing her economic plan for the reserve.
At about the time that Anna was showing River her makizins, Nicholas Theodore Summer, Esq., was driving north from Toronto in his BMW, with his mind in a complete muddle.
It had been such a great start to the day. At 10 a.m., he had appeared at the sentencing hearing for Quentin Steele III. The teenager had been convicted of ‘dangerous driving causing death’ for speeding in his Corvette two years earlier, and faced up to 14 years in prison. Instead Nick had managed to win a sentence of 10 years’ probation, a hefty fine, and three years’ driving suspension.
Things soured at the end of the trial when Quentin strode away without even saying thanks, or shaking his lawyer’s hand. It was as if Nick were no more than another servant in the millionaire’s son’s life, no more important than the Filipino maid who picked up the dirty underwear from his bedroom floor. Nick was ticked off. He had worked hard to keep the boy out of jail. After all, his reckless driving, speeding on a city street, had killed a mother and two children who were legally driving through the green light when Quentin ignored the red. The husband’s tearful victim’s statement had clearly swayed the judge, but Nick had gradually rebuilt his case after that: claiming remorse by the boy, a desire to reform, and the fear that spending time in the federal penitentiary would turn a young man into a hardened criminal.
Quentin the Second did shake Nick’s hand. He had been adamant that the boy not serve jail time. The Steele family was too important in Toronto to be stained in such a way. The original Quentin had started as an immigrant from England, buying houses and renovating and reselling until he had amassed a huge construction enterprise. The Second was less industrious, but no less successful, managing to grow the company into one of Ontario’s largest real estate firms, although there were rumours that he was less than honest with the companies that worked for him. Numerous lawsuits had kept the law firm Nick worked for as a junior associate busy. Now the Third was in college, drifting through a business administration program, but spending too much time drag racing with his buddies. He had managed to keep off the roads during the two years that the case had wound through the legal system however, heeding Nick’s warnings that another ticket during the trial period would mean certain jail time.
Nick phoned in the verdict to his boss, one of the partners at the firm, who told him to take the rest of the day off. Thus Nick drove home at 1 p.m., rather than his normal 7:30 p.m., only to find his long-time girlfriend in his bed with another man. That caused Nick to lose it. In shock, he got back in his car, and started to drive. He turned off his phone after the third text from Gloria, claiming that he had misunderstood what he had seen. He was a lawyer, dammit. When you see your sweaty girlfriend in your bed, with a naked young man beside with a huge penis dripping fluids, that is sufficient circumstantial evidence to know exactly what happened. The bastard wasn’t even wearing a condom!
Nick was two hours north of the city when he pulled off the expressway, realizing that he shouldn’t be driving at 85 miles per hour when in the mental condition he was in. The secondary roads were slower, and he managed to travel at 55 most of the time. Soon he found himself travelling through a First Nations reserve on the northern shore of Georgian Bay. That brought back memories.
Nick’s real name was Nicholas Tecumseh Summerstorm. He had Anglicized it in his second year of pre-law. He had left his reservation on the shore of Lake Superior after high school to go to college in Kingston, and had only gone back once. He had been a bit homesick that first Christmas, but found it like going back to a third world country, with the snow-covered shacks and the primitive transportation in beat-up pickup trucks. He returned to Queen’s University in January and had never gone home again. That summer he took a bus into Toronto and camped out in front of the law firm he currently worked at. It was the third largest in the city, and only hired the best, but Nick used chutzpah and his eloquence to convince one of the partners to hire him as a lowly clerk. Later he would article with the firm and then take a junior position as an attorney once he passed the bar.
And now he was questioning his lifelong desire to be a lawyer. He had left the reserve hoping to help people. He wanted to help the innocent to get justice from a convoluted legal system. Instead he found himself defending criminals, and helping them escape justice. Why? Chasing the almighty dollar. Gloria was part of the reason. She wanted more: always more. Trips to France, and the islands, several times a year. A big house that he really didn’t need, and then a maid to keep it tidy. Gloria was still in university, taking as few courses as possible to keep her standing, and to keep from having to get a job. She was happy so long as she had a rich lawyer boyfriend to pay her way. She wore an engagement ring on her finger that had cost $65,000. Three months’ salary was the standard, she had said.
Nick had driven a long way, and just past the reserve he pulled over on a laneway into a field for a call of nature. As he was zipping himself up, he heard a sob in the distance. Pondering what to do, he heard another sob, and decided to work towards the sound. He had to fight through some brambles and underbrush, and then came across an old railway track. That made the going easier as he walked along the ties towards the sound, directly ahead. Soon he could see a girl sitting forlornly on the tracks, with a pile of rope next to her.
He was quite close before she heard him. She jumped up, startled. Then Nick realized that this was not a girl, but a young First Nations boy in his early teens. He was tall, and rather husky, and the dress must have been his mother’s. It fit him poorly, and was soaking wet. This was the traditional man-in-a-dress that many trans-people feared becoming. But Nick was sharp, and had dealt with trans-people before.
“Are you okay Miss?” he asked, knowing to use the address that the person identified with. The moment she heard the word ‘Miss’, she smiled a little, and Nick knew he was halfway to befriending her, without even knowing why he wanted to.
“No,” she whined. “I can’t do anything right. Even kill myself.”
“That is a bit drastic,” Nick said calmly. “What is your name?”
“Carl … a,” she said.
“Well Carla,” Nick said. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
The girl sobbed out her story. She was from a troubled family on the reserve. Her mother was accepting of two-spirited people, but her father had worked years in construction and had more of the white man’s beliefs on that. He beat her, and would beat her mother if she tried to defend her. Her mother became infertile after Carla was born, and her father considered ‘Carl’ to be a possession: it was his right to have a son. And over the last year, puberty had struck and Carl put on 50 pounds of muscle, grew four inches, and started to bulk up as her voice deepened. So she had grabbed a rope and came to the small trestle over the river and tried to kill herself.
First, she had tied the rope around her neck, and then the trestle and jumped. But the rope came loose around her neck and she merely splashed into the knee deep water. She got up again, and tied the rope better. But this time the rope came loose at the top, and she merely bathed again. The third time she tied the rope so it held at both ends, but for some reason it was now too long. Instead of snapping her neck, she felt her feet drop into what seemed like mud, arresting her fall. Then the rope snapped in the middle, and she dropped another four feet into the river. She crawled back up to the trestle, and lay on the tracks.
“So now I am just waiting for a train to come. It will be quick,” she said.
“Not so quick,” Nick suggested.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Look at the tracks,” he said. “There is rust on the rails. That means that there have been no trains for months, maybe years. I think you will have a long wait for a train here.”
“Damn,” Carla swore.
“Come on,” Nick said. “My car isn’t far. I’ll take you home.” Carla had started to move, but froze on the word ‘home.’
“H-h-home,” she stuttered. “Please don’t take me there. Take me with you. I-I’ll do … anything you want.”
“Hush,” Nick said calmly. “I won’t take you home then. And don’t worry. I don’t want what you are so reluctantly offering. You’ll come as my little sister. Okay?”
Carla smiled widely. “Okay.”
“I will insist that you write a letter to your mom, though,” Nick said as they walked back to the car. “You don’t have to tell her where you are, only that you are safe.”
“Dad will find out,” Carla whined. “He will come and take me away.”
“No he won’t,” Nick said. “I’m a lawyer. I know how to send a letter that can’t be traced.”
“You’re a lawyer?” Carla was amazed. “I thought you were First Nations like me.”
“Can’t a guy be both?” Nick said. “I am Ojibwe, although until recently I was kinda hiding it under my lawyer skin.”
“Ojibwe? That’s what I am. How did you get to be a lawyer?”
“A lot of hard work, and some luck. If you work hard enough, you can be anything you want.”
“I want to be a mother,” Carla said weakly.
That stopped the normally glib Nick for a second. “Well, I don’t know if that will be possible, but there are other things nearly as good. You could be a nursery or kindergarten teacher. People are more and more accepting of transgendered people these days.”
“What is transgendered?”
Nick was amazed that someone with gender identification issues in 2017 would not know of the term. “It is what you are, or seem to be: a person with the outward body of one gender, and who internally identifies with the other. I don’t know for sure that fits you: normally you go to a specialist doctor who makes the identification.”
“That is me, all the way,” Carla said. “Does that mean there are other people like me?”
“Yes, lots of them. Some who are quite beautiful, and others who are … well, less attractive.”
“I’m not pretty, am I,” Carla said sadly.
“Pretty is a state of mind,” Nick said diplomatically. “Besides, you haven’t taken any treatments yet. If you go on female hormones you can get prettier, with female breasts and hips, and your voice won’t get any deeper.”
“If I did that,” Carla said shyly. “Would you date me? Would I be pretty enough for you?”
“None of that talk,” Nick said firmly. “You are my little sister. Don’t talk about dating your big brother. But I am sure there will be someone out there that will date you. A man or a woman.”
“Another woman? But that is gay,” Carla said, parroting what her father often said.
“And there is nothing wrong with that,” Nick said. “Carla, you are still young, fourteen or fifteen? You have a lot of time to decide what kinds of people you will date.”
“I’m fourteen,” she said, smiling. “You called me Carla. I like that.”
The two reached the car, and Carla was impressed by the plush interior with leather seats, and didn’t want to sit on them with her wet dress. Nick got a blanket out of the trunk, and spread it over the passenger seat, then got into the driver seat.
“Oh, your suit is ruined,” Carla noted while the interior light was still on. It was true, brambles and branches had scratched into the $3500 designer suit, shredding the fine finish. It would never again see the inside of a courtroom. For a second Nick thought about having six others just as nice, but then remembered they were in his bedroom closet, and he really didn’t want to go back there.
“Don’t worry,” Nick said. “Where I’m going, I don’t need a fancy suit.” He started the car, and pulled back onto the road.
“Where are we going? Not back to my parents, please!”
“No. I’m going north. I didn’t know where I was going until now, but meeting you has helped me clear my mind. I am going back to the reserve I came from. We are not going to see your parents, but mine. I have a lot of apologizing to do. And I guess if you are my little sister, then they will be your new parents.”
“Will they … like me?” Carla asked timidly, looking down at her mannish body in the ill-fitting dress. “I mean …”
“I’m sure they will,” Nick said. “Mom had a brother who was two-spirited. Uncle John moved to Thunder Bay with a boyfriend, but they still come back every summer, or at least they did when I was younger. Mom and Dad treated both John and Antoine well. I’m sure that they will accept you for the person you are, not what you look like. In fact, most people on the reserve will. Some of the people from the town might say something, but you should just let that pass. There are jerks everywhere. There are just fewer of them in the north.”
They drove on for several hours, getting back on the main road. Carla’s adventures stressed her out enough that she fell asleep soon after they got on the highway. Nick stopped for gas, and she was still conked out. He finally prodded her awake as they were getting near Sault Ste. Marie.
“Wake up, little one,” Nick said softly. “We are coming up to the edge of Sault, and that will be the last chance to get a drive through. I don’t think you want to go into a sit down restaurant, do you?”
“No,” Carla said, looking at her dress, now dry. She wrapped the blanket around her until only her face showed. “Can we do McDonald’s? I love McDonald’s, but we only get to eat there if we go to Espinola or Sudbury. Maybe once a year.”
“We passed Espinola an hour ago, when we got back on the Trans-Canada Highway,” Nick said. “You were pretty conked out, so I let you sleep. But I’m pretty sure that this will be the last one before Thunder Bay.”
“Wow,” Carla said. “This is the farthest I’ve ever been away from the reserve at Whitefish River. It is kinda exciting. Especially with my new big brother here to look after me.”
“Well, every big brother should take his little sister to McDonald’s at least once in her life,” Nick said with a grin. He was starting to like Carla. “What do you want?”
While they were sitting in the parking lot eating, Nick checked his phone. As expected there were dozens of messages and texts from Gloria, slowly transitioning from ‘I’m sorry, please come home’ to a particularly racist one at the end, telling him that he was a ‘small-dicked Indian,’ and that she was better off without him.
Finally there was an urgent message from Walter McCormack, his boss. He phoned back.
“Where the hell are you,” Walter shouted as he picked up the phone. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you all afternoon.”
“You told me to take the afternoon off,” Nick answered calmly. He knew that Walter could be hot-headed at times.
“Yeah, but not drop off the end of the world. We have a crisis here.”
It was always a crisis for Walter, Nick thought. “What is the problem?”
“It’s that little punk you got off this morning. He left the court and went straight home, stole his Dad’s favorite sports car – a 1964 Jaguar E-type – and managed to wrap it around a streetlight at 120 mph.”
“Shit. How many did he kill this time?”
“Only himself. That’s why I’m calling. His funeral is on Friday and I want you down there to show the flag.”
“I’m not going to that little wanker’s funeral,” Nick insisted.
“It’s not a request, Nick,” Walter said. “This is not optional. His dad is one of our largest accounts, and you WILL be there.”
“Sorry, Walter,” Nick said. “I’ve got months of vacation time owed, and there was a personal crisis at home, so I’m taking a couple weeks off. And none of it will be spent in a Toronto funeral home.”
“If you aren’t there on Friday, you can make it a permanent vacation,” Walter said, getting loud again. “What is the crisis? Did you find out about Gloria and her boy toys?”
“What?” Now it was Nick who was shouting. “Did you know about that?”
“Yeah, I guess the whole office did. It is a pretty common thing in our business. My wife is always running around on me. It’s something you learn to live with. You should pick up a doxie or two of your own.”
“Christ! Everybody knew, and no one said anything? You are all a bunch of assholes.”
“Remember who you are talking to,” Walter warned. “So I’ll see you on Friday.”
“Like hell you will,” Nick swore. “And I know exactly who I am talking to. My ex-boss.” Nick disconnected the call, sad that you can’t slam a receiver down on a cell phone. For several minutes he was clearly steamed up, and didn’t speak or look at Carla.
“Pretty bad, eh?” she finally said.
“Not really,” Nick finally said. Just having Carla around seemed to calm him down. “Since this morning I’ve been giving my entire life a lot of thought. I didn’t become a lawyer because of the money, and lately that’s all it is about. I mean I’m wearing a $3500 suit. Where I come from, that is ridiculous when a $70 pair of jeans and a $50 shirt would do the same job.”
“Or a $15 pair of jeans from a thrift store, and a $5 shirt. Did you really spend $3500 on that suit? And you said you have more?”
“Well I did have more, unless that little gold digger takes them and sells them,” Nick said with a chuckle. “But I don’t care. I’m heading back home, and if there is no lawyer work up there then I will just collect welfare like the rest of them.”
He explained about the trial first, and how badly the husband of the woman Quentin had killed at reacted when the sentence was read. It was like the man had been punched in the stomach. You could see all his confidence in the judicial system dissolve, as the boy who had killed his wife and kids was let go, essentially scot free. Nick said he hoped that the man would see the boy’s subsequent death as a greater power overriding the judge, and dispensing justice.
The Nick told his story about Gloria: how they met, the several years of good times, and then the increasing greed she showed. Finally there was the way he had last seen her, naked and swimming around in his satin sheets as she tried to come up with a reason why there was a nude man standing beside his bed, reeking of post-sex smells.
“Whatcha going to do about her?” Carla said.
“When we get north I’ll get my attorney down there to evict her, and sell the damned house. Hopefully he will get there before she guts the place, but it doesn’t matter. Toronto real estate is booming, and it is a really nice home on a ravine lot. I should be able to sell it for $5 million. I bought it for $3 million five years ago, and still owe about 2.5 on it. But the other 2.5 will buy me a lot of land and house up on the Shield. I think this car will have to go too. It is perfect for Toronto, but way too much for the reserve. Everybody up there drives an old pickup. They’ll bitch if I get something that is less than five years old.”
It was well after midnight when they pulled into the reserve. Nick drove into the park, which was closed, but in the lax security of the people, he merely had to drive around the unmanned barrier. He drove to the campsites near the river.
“We can sleep here in the car tonight,” he told Carla. “There isn’t a lot of room in the back, but you’ll be able to curl up, and I can sleep here in the front. I don’t want to wake my folks until morning. But first I have to go out to the river. Do you want to stay here and get comfy?”
“Can I come with you?” Carla asked shyly. She was a bit afraid to leave the man she now saw as the anchor in her life.
“Sure. Just let me head over to those bushes for a second. That Coke from McDonald’s is looking to get out.”
Carla giggled, then said: “Mine is too. I’ll use the ladies’ bushes over there.”
Nick did his business, and Carla did hers as well, since a special girl like her really didn’t have the same needs as a born woman. Then they headed down the road into the pitch-black. There was no moon, and they shouldn’t have been able to see a thing, but it seemed that there was a dull grey perhaps five feet in front of them, allowing them to see enough of the road to make good time at a normal walking speed.
They got to the river and Carla gasped. There were fireflies flitting up and down the river making a beautiful scene, as though the stars had fallen to the level of the river, and now were dancing upon it. Even Nick was moved. He had never seen the river this way in his youth.
Carla was first to see the young girl out in the middle of the river, as she rose from a crouch to stand waist deep. Nick then noticed her, and wondered how she could stand the cold. Had global warming heated the water of the river beyond the freezing cold it had always been during his youth?
The girl in the water raised her hands, and called out. “Come in. I sense you are both of the people, and the river welcomes you.”
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