Update 7

Calgary. With a mountainous sight to the west and an unblemished view to the east until the concrete of Toronto. Here, the first order of business was a doctor’s office. A checkup; an overhaul. Not for any of us, though. Rather, this big bumbly bus of ours.

“Hmmm,” said the mechanic, tapping his wrench at the underside of the motor home where it sat high on the hoist like a beached whale. He squinted up into the guts, the pipes, the metal, the mud, and shook his head from side to side.

“Please!” Brad said, his lower lip trembling, wringing his hands. “Tell me she’s going to be okay.”

Pulling his gaze from the machine, the mechanic placed a hand on Brad’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. “I promise you,” he said gravely. “I’ll do everything I can...”

But. To cut-and-paste this lengthy business, I’ll move things along. Hydraulics were tweaked, a water-pump wiggled, a battery tapped into place… And all was fine and dandy.

“Oh! Thank you!” Brad gushed from his knees, clutching at the mechanic’s greasy overalls like the proposal of a desperate man. “I don’t know what we would’ve done without her…”

Early the next morning, as per usual, a radio interview was waiting. An interview for which Erik was a surprising no-show. His flight landed, but he never walked off; he missed his appointment without even a phone call.

“Took a bit longer to wrestle it out than you figured, hey?” Chris said, waiting outside the bathroom. Nodding sheepishly, the misplaced soldier pulled the door closed behind him and walked away. Poor guy. Sits down for a quick number-two, pulls out the newspaper. And next thing you know…

What have I next for you? Cats in cages, reaching through the wires with a playful paw; dogs in their houses, pricking up ears and racing to the door with a lolling tongue; gerbils shuffling through yesterday’s newspaper. To put in all in a manageable bundle: the Humane society.

We hosed down kennels, chased bunnies, shoveled hay. Clipped leashes into place and were dragged for blocks; combed handfuls of sneezy fur from happily-wagging dogs who thought they’d died and gone to a Milk-Bone factory. We boxed with kittens, let them declare war upon our fists. And, with a fair measure of last-but-not-least…

“Oh, Erik just take a look at that!” Chris could barely contain himself. His feet shifted and shuffled like a freshman at a dance. “Ain’t she a beaut?”

A pig, it was, grunting and squealing at the back of the pen; huge, pink, hairy, and smelling like – ah, those dratted censors arrive in the nick of time, and force my hand to write – excrement… A surgery had been scheduled, so the task, then? Bring this little piggy to market.

They stepped inside, and leaped into the fray. With a headlock at one end, a leg-lock at the other, the veterinarian jabbed her needle at the space of pink flesh between. “Ow!” Erik said, rubbing his shoulder. Oh, don’t worry; a joker to the end, this one. The shot had gone true; the pig lurched like a drunk, crashed onto its side, and began to snore.

To shuffle the hours once again, and flip the first card face-up on the table: what would it show? Us, amidst music and flashing lights: Chris giving away trays of beer, with girls trailing in a wide-shafted wake as he made his way around the bar; Brad up on the speaker, pumping his limbs and smiling bright enough to guide a ship into harbor; Val, tucked in a corner dock with a certain someone, whispering sweets and candy. His phone rang. It was Erik, calling from port. “Oh, by the way,” he said. “Just thought I should maybe let you know. There was a mess-up with the hotels. We gotta be in Red Deer in three hours.”

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