By Jeffrey Carter
Strolling through the industrial park, I asked around, and took the first job offered.
Hank – his last name was of Swedish origin – ran a small fleet of truck-mounted, industrial steamers used to remove the stink of unrefined oil from equipment and buildings and thaw ice-choked culverts.
Tall, spare, with a shock of dark hair and skin that would surely darken to a leathery consistency when exposed to the sun; Hank reminded me in a small way of my father. He liked his sardines wrapped in a single slice of white bread, showed me how to trace back the wiring to enable brake lights on the trucks – there were no actual brakes – and told me of being stranded miles from his oilpatch bunkhouse.
“My old pins, they sure were sore when I got back.”
I hitched my way there for the job. Walking to the outskirts of town, an older indigenous fellow with an aging pickup appeared who seemed, now that I think about, to have been waiting for my arrival. I hopped in and he looked me over, then poured an ample amount of whisky into the mug sitting on the level dash and accelerated slowly to a sedate pace. Few words for spoken until about 90 minutes into our journey.
He asked if I’d like to meet his nieces, offered me a meal and a roof for the night. I immediately thought of my friends in town, the wisdom of stopping in an unknown locale and offered what I hoped was a polite refusal though the thought of taking up the offer intrigued me.
He left me at the crossroads.
Dahlia told me she was born in a tent and was the first of the people to have completed Grade 12, travelling south to Edmonton for the experience. She attempted to elaborate upon the subject but considering my initial incomprehension simply offered the words, “You don’t know what it was like.”
She said I was “old-fashioned” on more than one occasion and after having taken my clothes while I was showering – Geena was a willing accomplice in the caper – told me that my legs were too short for my body.
Geena, Dahlia informed me, had a four-year-old boy. Pregnant at 13, she would ride bareback on one of little horses that persisted in that place. She was regarded in a poor light for her mixed heritage, and unlike Dahlia, was most reserved in both word and demeanour.
It was a fall day when Geena and I walked to the bottle depot to claim the deposit. Our bottles, we were informed, needed to be emptied of butts and stale beer and we were told “not here” and the word “dirty” was applied.
I looked the pair of fellows over, a good fit for that place or any bottle depot in the country I thought, and I signaled to Geena that we would comply. On our way back, change in our pockets, I made an offer, “You can come with me if you want, when I go.”
It was Dahlia I admired though. It was sometime later that she asked if I would purchase, for only $20 dollars, a pair of deerskin boots with “just a little beadwork.” With thick pair of woolen socks, they’re keep my feet warm in the coldest of weather and could be accompanied by a pair of rubber overshoes if the weather grew sloppy. I would, of course, need to see her mother for the fitting.
I declined, a decision I’ve regretted on more than one occasion, though I wonder now, as I did then, where it might have led.
* * *
“And what of Dahlia’s brother?” Pinkie asks.
“I don’t remember seeing him since that midnight encounter in the field near the motel, Pinkie. With the job in the oilpatch, I left the girls to look after the trailer on their own. I’d return on the odd weekend, but stayed in the hotel. I liked the quiet, the solitude, the opportunity to sleep in late.”
“So, you moved on?” Pinkie offers, as much a statement as a question.
“I didn’t mention this, Pinkie, but the trailer rental agreement was in my name. I sublet to others, the pressman at work and his girlfriend, the buxom Miss Brown who seemed interested in a relational change, given her penchant for dressing skimpily when I was alone with her. They moved on. Next were a pair of brothers around my age who thought it appropriate and amusing to throw pennies at the young women who served drinks at the bar. It wasn’t long before I insisted that they find other accommodations.
“One more thing, Dahlia and Geena lost the trailer. It was a week later that I received an invoice, my name having been attached to the place. I paid the tab, the cost of a pair of deerskin boots.” ◊