3:31

Who’s Who
…so far

The Author
***
Narrator
the Agency

***
Man & his machine
The Machine
The Maintenance Man

***
Weird people in New York

***
Meredith
The Mayor
Barney
The young Beaver

Incidentals:
old Johnston
Esther the cafe owner

***
Gareth
The Beaver
Edward (the rabbit)
Rowan
Caroline
The Mysterious Man
Gareth’s father

Incidentals:
The taxi driver

3:30

3:30

It’s a little know fact that beavers and rats harbour a vast enmity toward one another. It may seem odd, given how closely related they are, but nonetheless it is an unavoidable fact that if a beaver and a rat meet there is absolutely no chance the encounter will end peacefully.

Of course there are no rats in Alberta. For decades the Alberta Government and a small team of rat catchers have dedicated themselves to eradicating rats wherever and whenever they try to sneak across the border. Of course, that means, for a few short moments in and time and space, there occasionally is a rat in Alberta.

And Magrath is close to the U.S. border. Isn’t it.

 

3:29

3:29

Most people wouldn’t think that a beaver was that large of an animal. Generally people saw beavers floating gracefully through the water or crouched beside a fallen tree, and dismissed them as short and stout. But a full-grown beaver standing on his hind feet and stretched upright was more than sufficiently long to reach the top hinge on a door. And his agile claws were more than dexterous enough to pop the aforementioned hinge out with a quick twist of his paw.

The beaver gazed at the door laying in the shrubbery outside the concrete monstrosity that was his destination and briefly regretted his inability to hang it back up. After all, he wasn’t trying to cause any permanent damage or leave the building vulnerable to restless teenagers or drunken townspeople. But the beaver had things to do, and it certainly wasn’t his fault that evolution had determined he wasn’t in need of an opposing thumb.

A quick step took him out of the rain and he paused a moment to let his eyes adjust. Time to be about this little task and back to the pickup before Meredith returned.

 

3:28

3:28

Gareth didn’t know what he felt. Betrayed, bereft, or simply and suddenly alone? He just knew that something was suddenly and irrevocably changed from his life; and that it wasn’t the lemon tree.

As he wandered aimlessly from one room to another he couldn’t help feeling that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. He had no idea what was supposed to happen, but surely this sudden and jarring shift wasn’t it. As Gareth stood looking at the circular dent in the carpet where the plant had been, it started to dawn on him that Rowan was staring at him in a most peculiar way, and the tone of her recent comments stated to filter into his perceptions. Well, isn’t this a kick in the ass, he thought. He cracked a small smile as he replayed the events of the preceding five minutes from an outsider’s point of view, and slowly dropped to one knee to run his hand over the empty patch of dirty green carpet.

Well, at least there were some short, stiff brown hairs helping form the perfect circle. That ought to prove he wasn’t completely off his rocker. Of course, it might take a CSI dude to prove they were beaver and not dog, but the hairs lent an air of plausibility to his story. He rolled onto his ass and sat crosslegged on the floor staring for a moment longer into space.

Where had the beaver gone? Why had he gone? For that matter, why was he so sure that the beaver was actually gone? It couldn’t just be the missing tree. It had been small enough that the beaver never would have had it even for a snack. Maybe he’d find the pot shoved in a closet and the beaver out for a breath of air, trying to find some way to justify the citrus-icide. But somehow Gareth knew the situation wasn’t that simple and no pot would be found in the apartment.

He just didn’t understand.

Rowan was still standing there with a look of twisted humour, and sitting here wasn’t solving anything. Time to stand up and move forward. Beaver or no beaver, he still had things to do.

He moved to the boombox, hit the power button, and in the new and seemingly intense silence turned to his guest. “Can I offer you a beer?”

3:27

3:27

It was mostly for that reason that Rowan stopped suddenly on the threshold. Gareth bumped into her as he turned from shutting the front door and looked up to see her face slowly swivel in his direction. As their eyes met he suddenly felt like a naughty child caught with his fingers in the hidden candy stash.

“Don’t tell me you actually listen to this stuff?”

“Umm, no?” Gareth replied meekly. “It’s the beaver?” he ventured. “He likes a lot of weird stuff. Made me turn off Green Day very first thing and hasn’t let me turn back on since.” He grinned and half bowed in the small space Rowan had left him. “Welcome to my castle.”

Rowan met his eyes as he straightened up and said sternly, “Y’all be turning that off now, right? Wouldn’t want to irritate the guest too much, would ya?”

She stepped back and grinned lopsidedly. “Seriously, y’all can’t know how that there cack-o-phony gits on mah nerves. Reminds me of the not-so-stellar times of ma youth.” She let loose a long shudder and and rolled her eyes before turning to the archway that led to the living room. “So where’s this here critter y’all’ve been braggin’ about? Been a while since I seen me some beaver close up…”

As Rowan and Gareth stepped into the living room, the score rolled thunderously into the climax, and they unconsciously stiffed as if the big moment was upon them. Rowan looked slowly around the room, finishing her sweep with Gareth.

“Umm…” she mumbled, “I don’t know ’bout you, but I ain’t seeing no beaver.”

Gareth, however, was staring into the corner.

““Where’s the …,” he mumbled. ”What the hell happened to …” He turned quickly to the kitchen and then headed to the back hallway, still mumbling to himself.

Rowan caught up as he was coming out of what appeared to be a bedroom.

“It’s not here,” Gareth said plaintively.

“I just said that.”

“No, “ he replied. ”Not the beaver. The lemon tree. The little bugger’s stolen my lemon tree. That rotten, thieving rodent has made off with my tree!”

Rowan took a step back in confusion and then bonelessly fell back agains the hallway’s dingy beige wall with huge grin. “Well, now. That’s a different kettle of fish, ain’t it? Can’t have no imaginary beaver abscondin’ with yur foliage, can we? That’s just not sportin’.”

She opened her mouth to continue but found that her breath was being stolen by the laughter that suddenly began erupting from somewhere inside of her. She leaned against the wall for a few seconds more, snorting and trying to hold it in, until she gave up and slid down the wall to sprawl in a heap on the floor.

“I gotta say,” she gasped out brokenly, “this has been a helluva day so far. A hell-uv-a day!”

Gareth just stared at her with a hurt expression and then whined pathetically. “But he took my…”

3:26

3:26

As Rowan stepped into the apartment she heard some brass heavy concert music drifting from another room. It seemed to be the soundtrack from one of the Superman movies in the 80s. She knew that because, much to her chagrin, she had played in the high school’s concert band and had been forced to endure hour upon hour of off-key ensembles butchering ‘contemporary classics.’

While Rowan hadn’t had much of an affinity for movie soundtracks before that period, the couple of years had certainly ingrained a kneejerk negative reaction to the stuff.

Imagine hearing those oh-so-overblown, emotionally manipulative tunes again and again — and then imagine hearing them done badly. Rowan had so often sat with her head hung in aching chagrin, her forehead resting on the mouthpiece of her trumpet, that it wasn’t unusual for her to have a tiny round mark there for the rest of the day.

You can imagine the social consequences of that. Or maybe you can’t.

 

3:25

3:25

The Mayor of Magrath liked to think of himself as a reasonably sophisticated man. He’d left Magrath and attended university in Lethbridge. He’d spent time traveling the country and even spent four months living in Ottawa in his early twenties. He’d toured the museums, visited the galleries and breathed in the culture and history.

He had also spent more than his share of time out in the bush: annual trips to the foothills to hunt, duck hunting every fall and quite a few camping trips in the Rockies when the family was young. His young son had even taken an interest in bird watching and for almost a whole year the two of them had spent every spare moment engrossed in ornithology of all stripes: building blinds and walking around the prairie with binoculars identifying and studying the remarkably diverse bird life of southern Alberta.

But in all his days, he had never seen a beaver in the front seat of a Ford, at least not a live one. It was a little after lunch on one of the wettest days he could remember, and so far he had spent most of it in the small cafe in the hotel discussing ’civic matters’ with old Johnston and Esther, the café owner. They solved most of the town’s problems in principle by lunch and then celebrated with a Pil and a BLT. But there had been papers to sign and few calls to return, so he had decided to gear up and head back down main street to the town office and see whether he might put some of the principle into practice.

As he had stepped through the old wooden screen door, he zipped his collar the rest of the way up and peered into the mist before crossing the street. And there was Meredith’s battered brown pickup parked in front of the old eye-sore of a temple. He’d actually paused to make sure because for the life of him he couldn’t think of a good reason for her to be out on the greasy wet gravel roads on a crappy day like this. Those roads were one of the solved-in-principle problems he was trying to deal with because the County seemed to think it had better priorities than maintaining the roads immediately around the town.

And that’s when, in that momentary glance, he noticed the compact shape in the passenger seat. As far as he knew Meredith had no visitors or house guests, hadn’t since that disaster with the traveling confidence man who had caused him so much embarrassment. So he decided to step over and say hello — see if he needed to do any official greeting or mayoring or some such. He put on his best neighborly smile, stepped up to the fogged up window and gave a quick rap on the glass. The shape inside shifted and he thought he could see two dark eyes peering at him, but the window didn’t come down and the mayor found himself standing in the increasing rain staring at a closed door.

Well, this is ridiculous, he thought to himself. He grabbed the door handle and pushed in the button, yanked the stiff door open and found himself staring into the eyes of a rather small specimen of Canadian beaver. The beaver turned his head to look into the mayor’s  eyes but otherwise didn’t react or even look overly concerned.

“A beaver. What the hell’s a beaver doing in Meredith’s truck?” The mayor turned to look over his shoulder to see whether anyone else was around, but the street was deserted. “A beaver,” he repeated.

The beaver dipped his head slightly as if to acknowledge that the mayor, with all of his worldliness and sophistication, was indeed correct in his conclusion. Then he jumped out of the truck and headed up the shale path to the front door of the old temple.

At this point the mayor found himself dividing his attention between the open door of Meredith’s truck and the front seat, which was now slowly getting soaked by the falling rain, and swiveling his head to stare at the rapidly disappearing beaver. This little tableau existed for a few minutes before the mayor slammed the pickup’s door in in frustration and started after the beaver. But three steps up the sodden path convinced him he would never catch the suddenly speedy rodent, and he stopped again. At that point he turned back to head into the café again before realizing he couldn’t go in there with this ridiculous tale. Better he stick with the original plan and go back this evening for a beer or three and share the tale when he was more likely to be indulged.

A much better plan.

3:24

3:24

Meredith stared down at her wet beaver and shook her head ruefully. He had apparently taken it into his head to make the trek across the wet muddy yard and visit the kitchen. And while a beaver may be water repellent, that doesn’t mean beavers won’t make a mess of whatever spot they choose to shed the water they are busy repelling.

And that spot was the middle of her kitchen floor.

And so there he sat, staring up at her with a less-than-angelic expression and whiskers a-tremble, dripping water and thick grey sludge onto her linoleum as if he were the most important creature in the world. And, Meredith mused, for all she knew, he might very well be. It’s not as if she had ever been able to figure out what he was doing here or why he wasn’t like all the other beavers. In fact, now that she thought about it, she never had put much effort in to exploring the mystery of the magically appearing roommate rodent. She had just added him into her life like a comfortable old friend come visiting and started looking to the tomorrows.

Why, she hadn’t had any nightmares or stressed about pasts gone wrong or thought of that Barney in weeks, and she had all these new projects on the go and life was … well, life was just fine these days, wasn’t it. All in all this little mess-maker had brought nothing but positive energy with him; gone was the gloom of winter and cold stabbing knives of fear and worry.

“Huh,” she said to the beaver’s upturned face, “I guess we make a good team.”

“So, what do you want to do today, this gloom, rainy weird day?” she asked the beaver as she turned toward the cupboard and grabbed a couple of tea towels. “I suppose we could run errands. I really do need to pick some runners or a floor mat or two if you are going to be in the kitchen. Your claws aren’t doing my lino any good, and you can’t be getting too much traction on the hardwood in the living room.”

After giving him a brisk toweling she tossed the now dirty towels in to the basket by the laundry-room door and walked into the big pantry to grab the sponge mop.

“What do you think of a trip into town? You haven’t seen it yet and you can wait in the truck while I do a few things.”

The beaver walked over to the warm oven, stretched out at its base and smiled up at her before closing his eyes contentedly.

“Well, I guess you are entitled to a nap first,” Meredith laughed. “ How about I just finish with this load of laundry and then we can be off.”

3:22

3:22

As he stared at the dials and gauges, he took a moment to wonder why he did this job. It was ironic, at least to him, that the operator was generally more exalted a person even though the operator had no idea what the machine did or how it worked.

Years of study and many more years of practice had brought him to a place where he was beneath notice yet still crucial to the smooth functioning of the entire system. But did anyone know his name? Did anyone praise his expertise and admire his role? Did anyone even know what he contributed to all this?

No.

It was the clothes, he had decided long ago. Without the trappings, the worth was negligible. Without the velvet robes, brocade or embroidered overcoats, how could anyone be expected to take him seriously? Without the fine leather shoes, handmade hat or jewel-encrusted belt, why should anyone even notice him, machine or no machine?

Why indeed. Thus it had been his passion for the last few years to invest everything in the art of clothing. His portfolio had grown slowly, in sporadic leaps as he hesitantly learned the mode of couture. And soon it would be time. Soon they would see the man and not the machine. Soon he would stand as a member of the society and not cower beneath it as its slave. Soon his designs would break him free of the machinery.