31

31

Well there we are. 31 days of narrative. I think we’ve proven a point here, haven’t we.

With guidance and proper supervision it is possible to to create a story. It isn’t easy, mind you, as you may have noticed; but it is possible to steer the chaotic character elements into a relatively straightforward text.

Of course there is some help from without, but all in all, by themselves the ideas in the universe do not a story make. One must have structure, pacing, development — a veritable arsenal of narratorial tools to help create a text worthy of consumption. And this, I have humbly provided.

But no matter. Shall we not move forward? Action is upon us, characters are moving and the elements are engaged. We sit in that moment where what will happen has begun with no way to turn back, but the future in not yet now; it is but the merest of reactions. Potential roiling and writhing with no way to know what will grow, no way to perceive what will soon be.

And we sit on the edge of this scene, fully engaged, completely separate, torn between participant and voyeur. Shall we breathe and go on? Shall we?

 

30

 

30

On July 1st in 1985, Canada celebrated its 118 birthday, the VPs at Commodore were looking for a scapegoat because the tablecloths they had ordered for the massive launch of the Amiga were the wrong colour and no on thought they could be replaced in time, and Meredith calmly and with great presence invited Barney Falls to leave her home. She didn’t t need a shotgun, although the Hendersons had suggested it. She didn’t need Armand, although he had insisted to the point that Meredith had to remind him it was her home and her problem and she had her own way of doing things. She didn’t even need the drink that the mayor had offered from his big desk drawer, although she took it to be polite. All that she needed, all she had ever needed, was her dignity, her self-assurance and the knowledge that simply by acting she could and would affect the outcome.

This is not to say she wasn’t scared. She was terrified in a way she had not yet experienced in all her years. But she truly believed FDR’s views on the nature of fear and rarely let it do anything but provide energy and forward momentum toward eliminating whatever source of fear she encountered.

Barney was out in the shop as he regularly was. She asked a few times what he found to do out there, but he’d just smiled and said it was a quiet place to think. Meredith hadn’t used it for much beyond storing the truck on those days the temperature sank below minus 30, so she had been content to let him have his privacy. Until yesterday.

Meredith believed in people. She believed in the community of people. She believed in their power to do good. No matter whether they were alcoholics or homeless, arrogant or ignorant, Meredith lived a life in which people created the world around them and the world that Meredith lived in was a good one. And she thanked the people for that and tried her best to respect their necessities. But everyone had a line. Some people believed they were flexible, that their line was a zone that shifted with their circumstances. While that zone might or might not exist, the line always did. At some point every soul that ever existed judged someone else as having crossed the line, and then acted.

Some lash out unthinkingly, some retaliate in a quite thoughtful manner, some just move out of the way. But at some point even the most forgiving and pacifistic spirit will be roused to action. And today, after much thought and consul, Meredith was acting.

29

29

When Meredith invited Barney to stay at her place while he was in town consulting for the mayor, she was just acting out a part she had performed so may times before. She liked people and she liked to help. The big place was empty so much of the time that it just made sense to help out with a bed and a room. Generally people stayed a day or two, but if Barney need to be around for a few weeks, well, that was all right with her. It was always nice to meet new people and experience, however vicariously, how the world outside went along.

And Barney seemed to have a lot to say about the world. He was one of those naturally gregarious souls who watched everything and interpreted the world for others to share with him. Meredith liked people like that; they seemed at ease with everything and therefore seemed to experience the world so much more deeply that she did.

All in all it would be a pleasant change and give her an excuse to air out some of the upper floor. And maybe she could get a hand with some of the chores that needed doing. Some things simply weren’t possible without a spare set of hands.

 

28

28

“It’s all about imperatives,” the beaver thought as he turned lazy circles in the old tub. “Biological, cultural, spiritual, it doesn’t matter where they come from, everything has an imperative it can’t avoid.“ With a flick of his webbed feet, he surged out of the tub and slid down to the mat. A quick shake and he headed for his spot by the lemon.

“It’s funny, though, how we try to ignore those imperatives. Putting off eating, ignoring the pretty girl, walking away from a problem. We all try so hard to think we have a choice. That somehow our personal decision will override the imperative and we can avoid that thing that many so clumsily refer to as destiny. It’s not destiny, it’s not fate, it’s not some cosmic plan; it’s no more and no less than our own urges, our own desires, our own need to fulfill that certain something. Sure, we have choice. We can shape how and when and where we engage the need, but the need drives us. With all the power and strength in the universe we are still nothing more than a Percheron pulling against the traces, driving forward to move us to goals that exist outside us. We merely pull without consideration for why. Some pull hard, some try to avoid pulling, some balk and rear, but coachmen never falter, never give up and allow us our own path, just drive us forward to fulfill that almighty imperative.”

The beaver rolled onto his side any peered out into the night. “Of course it’s not all bad. I for one have no desire to overthrow the coachman. Why revolt when you are going in the right direction? Freedom is such a facile concept. For some — for many, I suppose — it’s not that clear, but your energy is better spent on shaping your future, not fighting invisible forces that are so far beyond your reach that one might as well try collecting molecules and and try arranging them like figurines on a shelf.”

Outside it was one of those brilliant nights where stars and satellites twinkled and the Milky Way spread across the night sky like a thin veil of crystals blurring the lines between the tangible and unbelievable. The immensity of it all suited the beaver’s mood tonight. “I shouldn’t worry so much about things changing around me. I can adapt to whatever comes. I have choices and paths available, and this maundering does nothing but make me worry over things that will never be. Let it be.”

As the beaver closed his eyes to to beauty of of the heavens, he remembered the imperatives of others he had encountered; he remembered the yokes they had to bear and he remembered the difference between thinking you had free rein and the tragedy of running into the very imperatives you refused to acknowledge. He remembered, exhaled, curled up and slept.

 

27

27

Friday, June the fourteenth, nineteen hundred and eighty-five

The stupid bitch seems to think she has some say in the matter, like anyone so fucking ill-prepared to even care for herself could ever wield enough power to affect how I conduct myself. I fucking look forward to the day she learns how the world really works. Jesus, I hate the cow and her doe-eyed view of the world. I’ll just do her the favour of fucking her over a couple of times and then be on my way. A good fucking Samaritan. Helping stupid people find their proper place in the universe.

Today I made sure the damn neighbour’s dog wouldn’t wake me, or anyone else for that matter. I can’t understand why people have such yappy mutts. Quiet and deadly, that’s how they should be. Not worth much if they’re always scaring away people who will come back later. You think people would fucking learn, the only good enemy is a dead one. Or a helpless one…those are pretty good too. Just the same, Rover isn’t a issue anymore. Good riddance.

I’ve searched most of the upper floor and found a little.

CIBC 765-67854-876

CIBC 543-51006-298

SIN 329 602 555

Most of it’s old, but I’m pretty sure there’s something there. Merry came home while I was upstairs and felt the need to lecture me on privacy. Christ, as if someone stupid enough to leave anything out knows shit about privacy. Probably thinks her fucking delicates drawer is sacrosanct too. maybe I’ll leave a surprise there when I leave; something to warm the ice-bitch’s cold, cold heart. I figure another couple of weeks and I’ll have all the getting I’m gonna get. Still time to make it to Great Falls and see what Stu’s got going.

Anyway, tomorrow is the town hall so I’ve got some ironing to do. Mere-maid still hasn’t clued into the fact that she should be doing my fucking laundry. Too old to look good in one of those French maid things but but at least she could clean my fucking shirts.

Ordo ab chao,
Barnabas

The beaver closed his eyes and shut the notebook. He would have to start from the beginning if he was to get the full picture. But tomorrow: tomorrow in the light of day was a better time for that particular chore.

 

26

26

One of the first things the beaver encountered after Meredith showed him his new home was a tattered spiral-bound Hilroy notebook with page after page of neatly printed notes. It had been crammed under an old saddle propped up in the corner that the beaver was intending on using as a perch to see out the round window that provided a stream of sunlight into his cozy loft.

The notebook was blue, and the notes within were consistently inscribed in a particular loopy print and written in ink that was always a particular green as if the writer put a weird sort of pride in consistency and precision. The notebook was about three-quarters full, and each entry seemed to end precisely at the bottom of the page. At the top of each page was a date written out in an old fashioned style: Monday, March the second, nineteen hundred and eighty-five. The bottom of each page was signed simply Barnabas in an elegant hand that was completely in keeping with the rest of the page. It all looked so out of place in the tatty Hilroy.

The beaver put the notebook aside as he surveyed the rest of the loft. There was a warm light from the window, but still some dark cozy corners at the far end where one could curl up for an afternoon nap. The furnishings were sparse but the beaver didn’t need much and was still too young to have acquired the habits of a luxurious lifestyle. One wall, only about three feet high due to the slope of the roof, was crammed with old cardboard boxes and wooden crates while the opposite wall was stacked with old tack, saddle blankets and something that looked suspiciously like bits of an airplane. The floor was clear of clutter except for an old shipping crate and a lamp made from a leather cowboy boot.

“Except for a cold pond, this looks like everything one could need,” the young beaver exclaimed.

“Like it?” Meredith enquired from the base of the stairs. “If you get worried about the dogs, you can always pull up the stairs, and I’ve got a rain barrel and a trough just outside for baths.” Meredith didn’t keep any dogs, but she liked them well enough so never bothered to keep them out either when they came visiting from the neighbouring farms.

“Well, I have to check in at the house and see if there are any messages. Come up to the house after you get settled and we’ll find something to eat.” With that she closed the sliding door of the shop and crossed the yard to the house.

The beaver watched from the window as she disappeared inside and then turned to the room again and started building a cozy nest of blankets. He placed the notebook on the crate for later consumption. Somehow he had a feeling there was something there to be learned.

Fifteen minutes later he trundled down the steep steps and poked his head out the dog door built into the wooden shop door. There didn’t seem to be anything about that would threaten a young, healthy beaver so out he went and headed for the house. It had been a long exciting day and he was hungry. Meredith would take care of that, he was sure, and then it would be time for a well-deserved rest.

 

25

25

Barney was a bastard. He was one of those guys that no one, not even the Barneys of the world, wanted to admit actually existed. Everyone encounters those selfish pricks who think the world revolves around them and who seem to spend all their time spreading misery and discord. We write them off as damaged or disturbed and try to move on. And the people who seem to go out of their way to screw with you can be found here and there, but can generally be cast aside or worked around or even confronted and made at least to conform if not reform.

But literature and history seem to be filled with a sort of unmitigated, despicable ass that one never seems to encounter in real life. Perhaps the Iagos and Mussolinis were just that aberrant, just that rare, that they only cropped up once or twice in a lifetime. Or maybe they were just like Barney: petty, small, inept beyond imagining, brilliant in the smallest and most focused of ways, and continually balanced on the knife edge between massive failure and overwhelming triumph. And throughout the history of humankind they’d mostly eventually encountered someone like Meredith who prevented the kind of heinous outcome so often described in the novels and plays and poems of history.

Barney arrived in Magrath not long after encountering the mayor and some of the city staff at a trade show in Lethbridge. He’d been strolling up and down the aisles and stopped at the Magrath booth to tell all who would listen about his experience in tourist development. As is often the case, the delivery outshone the content, but the Mayor found himself nodding, agreeing and making noises that added to the seeming sincerity of the dialogue. In the meantime Barney was asking questions and making everyone feel that Magrath was one of those rare gems, the next big thing, an undiscovered gold mine that, properly nursed along, would bring riches and prosperity and long life and happiness to anyone and everyone with wit enough to open their eyes and see. And then Barney winked and waved and walked away. Leaving the mayor and his young assistants happier and more positive than they’d been since he’d won his first election.

About three or four weeks later, Barney was fueling up at the Esso on the highway outside of Lethbridge when he heard two old biddies talking about a certain Meredith McGrath and her fortune, and wasn’t it a pity she had no man and wasn’t it a shame the old McGrath place was going to ruin without someone to run it somewhere other than into the ground. Barney had been heading to Great Falls because he’d heard from a friend there that something was brewing and money was looking pretty slim at that point. Better to move on now than be stuck with no prospects.

He had offered to fill the two ladies’ truck with diesel at the pump next to his on the off chance that something might come his way and, as history and fate often provide examples of, something did. He had visited the trade show looking for leads and spreading the gospel according to Barney because hope and and opportunity often travelled side by side. Of course his ideas of opportunity and other people’s was generally not the same thing.

Barney had big appetites and he was always searching for people and things to fill them. And right now it sounded like Magrath was a cornucopia of possibilities. He nodded respectfully to his informants, touched the tip of his forehead in a friendly salute and hopped back in his car to check the map.

 

24

24

The McGrath place was about 7 miles outside of Magrath proper. The spread had been mostly grassland with over 300 head of mixed Herefords grazing on it, along with some hay and a bit of this and that, but the family had lost a huge chunk of their land near the Nine Mile Coulee when the government had decided in its infinite wisdom that it needed some off-stream storage and created the Milk River Ridge Reservoir. That had been 1956, and while she admitted the reservoir was pretty, she missed the sense of pride that came with owning a piece of the land. She still had some, but it wasn’t the same as standing on the edge of the coulee with her dad and staring out over the family property. Property was wealth, and it had broken her dads heart a little to know he wouldn’t be passing that wealth to his only daughter.

Thank heavens her place was on one of the coulees feeding the main reservoir; otherwise, she would have to put up with the jet skiers and boaters and who knows what nonsense. As it was, she saw the occasional early morning fisherman down in the shallow bay that was formed by her part of the coulee, and it was a peaceful place.

Of course this meant that for the last 45 years she really didn’t need to do much to get by. The payout for the McGrath land had gone into the bank when she was barely 28, and it’d done well by her over the years. Not rich by any means, she got by and hadn’t too much to spend her money on except her brother’s kids and a trip or two. Meredith was a homebody and really didn’t feel the need to travel outside Southern Alberta, barring a few trips a year to Montana to shop.
After her folks had died when she was in her thirties, she had dabbled with a bunch of different crops on the hundred acres she had left, but mostly she had keep livestock, a dozen head of cows, a horse now and again, and some llamas for a while. In the 80s, the Dekkers down the way had encouraged her to get into hogs, but she didn’t much like pigs and the effort to actually make money off the smelly buggers wasn’t in keeping with her idea of a farmer’s life. She didn’t mind hard work, but farming was seasons to her, and those damn pigs were a 365-day-a-year chore. She would stick with what she knew, thank you very much.

The old farmhouse was a relic from the early years in Alberta’s short history. A two-storey gabled monstrosity with room for twelve and a kitchen set feed an army of hungry hands. It had been mostly hers for years, with the occasional long-term visitor. Sometimes an oil worker looking for room and board , her nephew for a couple of years when he was going through that difficult phase, and of course Barney.

 

23

23

In January of 1961, a southern right whale was found washed upon a beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island, thousands of miles from its home waters. Biologists went into a frenzy, writing academic paper after academic paper, tossing theories back and forth.

In January of 1971, there were multiple Sasquatch sightings within 10 miles of Grand Forks in southern B.C. It caused a buzz around the world for years afterwards, and to this day every summer the folks of Grand Forks still make money off those supposed Sasquatches from tourists passing through.

In that same month in 1981, a kettle of 24 ferruginous hawks was seen battling above the top of Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana. The skiers paused among the snow ghosts and stared. There was one injury as a young snowboarder was paying more attention to the battling birds than the trail and went hurtling off the edge of Hellroaring basin and into the out-of-bounds areas.

On January 18th, 1991, a women befriended a very small, very distressed beaver kit. It was a most unusual beaver kit in that it seemed very interested in being the woman’s friend and not at all interested in returning to the nearby frozen slough. The distress was mostly due to her trying to scare it away. There was a small hole in the ice — surrounded by discarded beer cans and stumps sitting on end, probably left over from local ice fishermen — from which the kit emerged as she was strolling by. She tried shooing it back towards the slush-filled opening but the kit just sat there and smiled. It was the smile that did it. She couldn’t ignore the fact that a beaver had smiled at her.

The woman, whose name was Meredith McGrath, had lived in Magrath for all of her 60-some-odd years. Southern Alberta was a beautiful place to live, always some place to explore, always something new to discover — that is if you could stand the wind that came roaring over the mountains like tsunamis of air breaking over the Rockies. Meredith didn’t mind it. After all it brought the West Coast’s warm air every winter, and she’d always believed it’s what made the air so clean and fresh in the summers. A little wind was a small price to pay for such a bounty.

Beavers were a pretty common thing, occupying the small rivers that criss-crossed the prairie like a network of veins. And a short drive west or southwest would bring the mountains with their accompanying wildlife, so Meredith wasn’t particularly surprised to see a beaver. To be sure, a beaver in January was a thing to behold, but stranger things happened in the land of the chinook. When the warm winds came, minus 30 could give way to the heat of the desert in just a a few days. And something like that always brought surprises.

On this particular day, Meredith had been out for a walk down the coulee that meandered across the landscape east of town. She had driven out in her pickup because the weather was warming and she wanted to check on the ice on the slough before her nieces and nephews arrived in a few days. Afterwards she just continued past and down into the valley to take in some nature.

Meredith smiled back at the beaver and said, “Well, I guess you’re going to need a name, little fella!”

The beaver didn’t answer.

“Shall we head up to the truck?” Half believing the beaver would stay behind, she turned upslope and headed for her old brown-and-tan Ford parked on the edge of the slough. Without turning her head she could sense the beaver scrambling up the hill. There was no snow to slow the little fellow down, and he seemed to keep up pretty readily.

When Meredith opened the driver’s door, the beaver reached up with his front legs. Meredith reached down and gave him a boost into the cab. He jumped up on the vinyl seat, moved over to the passenger’s side and settled in, peering at her with his eerie brown eyes. Meredith sighed, hopped in, pumped the gas pedal exactly two and a half times, and turned the ignition to start the engine. The old 400 roared to life. The beaver didn’t even blink. She threw it into reverse and backed onto the range road.

As she headed back home she considered living arrangements. The old chicken coop was empty but smelly: she’d had chickens until about five years ago. There was plenty of space in the loft over the shop. If she left the attic stairs down the beaver could have his own bachelor pad, and the shop was heated year round. She hadn’t been up there more than once or twice since Barney had left. It was mostly his junk up there, and the beaver could do whatever suited him. It would be nice to see some of the dusty old spaces used again.

That resolved, Meredith glanced down at her new companion. He had closed his eyes and was resting his head on his front paws. His rich brown fur glistened, and she barely resisted the urge to reach over and stroke him like a cat. This is going to take some thinking, she mused to herself. This fella’s definitely not a pet.

He was definitely not a lot of things, but she had no idea just what this particular creature was.

“Well, I guess there’s time enough,” she said aloud to the sleeping beaver with a quirky look on her lips. “I guess we’re going to find out soon enough, aren’t we?”

 

22

22

Rowan walked through the trees, casting a shadow out onto the roadway that grew and shrank, formed and flickered with every step. Passersby would see the light flick across their eyes and glance up only to see the retreating form. At the edge of the greenspace, Rowan step determinedly onto the asphalt and crossed to the sidewalk that led to the busier throughways of the city. As Rowan was soon swallowed by the growing crowds, all that was left to mark Rowan’s passing was the crumpled ball of paper at the bottom of the forest-green trash receptacle that the city’s park departments had designed to vaguely resemble shrubbery.

Across the park, Gareth was also emerging onto the path that led back to his apartment. It ran lazily between rows of suburban-style homes, all with yards facing the green space. Gareth could sense the tension in the gates and fences: owners wanted to enjoy the beauty of the park and its trees but at the same time were  trying desperately to avoid providing ripe pickings for the imagined cut-purses and rapists that inhabit the forests of everyone’s mind.

Emerging from the lane, he skipped lightly across the deserted street and turned onto the avenue. Gareth smiled to himself as he glanced down the street. This was the road he’d met the beaver on. It had been one of those days, not long after he had moved into the apartment. He had fallen into himself. Loneliness was one of those insidious manifestations. It crept up slowly on an unsuspecting victim until he was unknowingly trapped in its net, and then would come crashing down like a piano dropped from the fourth floor and render the victim insensible. Gareth was pretty sure it had been a Bösendorfer concert grand, complete with a bench and a pianist who needed to go on a diet. He still remembered the Vaseline-lens effect that had shrouded everything as he stumbled out and away from what had seemed like a minuscule, vermin-ridden hole (he had really been sick of staring at his bedroom ceiling). Then suddenly, at the end of the next street, his bloodshot, rheumy eyes had glanced up and there was a beaver. Sitting on the side of the road. Looking like he belonged there and pretty much ignored by the smudgy figures Gareth could perceive passing to and fro. It was a sign of how far he had been gone that Gareth’s first thoughts were of how soft the beaver’s fur looked when it was dry: Gareth had  one of those mini-epiphanies about how the fur trade must have arisen after some Frenchman in a lumberjack jacket first encounter a Canadian beaver sunning himself under a sugar maple. Just as Gareth’s incoherence threatened to block out even the beaver’s presence, the beaver sat back on his haunches, reached out a forelimb beckoningly and tilted his head with the most unusual smile Gareth had ever seen. So Gareth took him home.

And home they had both stayed. It had had all made so much sense at the time. And while Gareth regretted not a moment of it, it was definitely looking to be one of the highlights of his as yet unstarted memoirs.

And on that note, Gareth mused to himself, I ought to be home. And so he went.