A stepping stone between Calgary and Edmonton, the meat in the middle
of the big-city sandwich… Red Deer, Alberta. With the sun
creeping over the tops of the pastures, painting yellow stripes
across the backs of the cows, the last stretches of highway flew
beneath our wheels to make this place our latest stop.
Inside the motor home, there was a round of droopy heads and puffy
lids. Eyeballs that felt as though full of sand; tongues that were
thick and leathery.
“Oh, man,” Val moaned. His eyes were closed, his index
fingers rubbing small circles upon his temples. “I’m
sooo glad it’s nothing big, just a small briefing. Informal,
casual; tiny and quick. Over before we’ll know it.”
Oh, but don’t count those chickens quite yet…
The ballroom positively gleamed with faces. The walls were lined
with newspaper reporters, their pencils at the ready; deep-voiced
radiomen twirled their microphones in lazy circles; camera crews
panned their lenses across the room.
They walked in, took one look, and stopped dead in their tracks.
“Remind me, Val,” Chris said, looking out upon the lines
of expectant faces, the reporters leaping in their direction, already
shouting questions as they came. “Was it… small briefing,
I believe you said. Or, something about… tiny and quick…?”
Pushing thought of beds and baths – breakfasts, too –
into the back of the closet and, reluctantly, sliding it closed,
we stepped into battle.
The trucks growled up and backed into the loading dock, filled with
food, packed with produce. “C’mon, guys!” Erik
yelled. “We got work to do!” We dragged out the boxes
and stacked them away. Erik jumped onto the forklift and did far
more damage than good. Val and Brad rolled their sleeves and assembled
up hampers. Chris went to the hospital… What? Wait a sec…
Hospital? Here, I’ll explain...
He’d been packing cereal, minding his own business, when a
Cheerio with a mind for malice had leaped into his eye. Jumping
like a madman, he’d poked, prodded, even turned a hose into
his face, but there it had stuck. (Rather like, if you’ll
forgive me, two boys on a horse.) So hospital bound, he was.
Round two. At Loaves and Fishes, where those without food…
were fed. As simple as that. One thing I must point out, though:
amidst these tired, these poor, these huddled masses there was no
shortage of… characters, I’ll say, and leave it at that.
People with a sideways view of life; an extra knot in the rope;
a different brand of circuits firing away in there.
“Yep,” one of the boys was saying to Erik. “We
gotta take the power back. The government, it’s just out there
to get us. So we gotta grab the power, man. Grab it and say no way
mister government-man, we got it now and you can’t have it…
And it was just after he told me this that my dad got elephantitis...”
“…And with maybe a month left of the summer, I can remember
because Bobby was still working up north, anyways, that’s
when we brought in the ninety-fifth kid to the house...” Brad
was talking to a middle-aged woman with a laugh that brightened
the day and a voice that ran a thousand miles a minute. “…Poor
little thing, his mum had just got put in jail and what could you
do, nowhere else to go for the little darling. No, we didn’t
adopt the ninety-sixth until that December, and let me tell you
it was a handful and a half…”
“…Yep, I found forty bucks in her wallet, so I know
that she did more than what she told me, because I know that rates
for this stuff, I used to be a pimp myself, way back when, so I
got rid of her pretty quick. I mean, you can only put up with so
much, right?” So said a red-haired handlebar mustache to Chris.
Ah, but laughs and chuckles aside, there were stories to break the
souls. Soften the hardest of hearts and set a lump in the emptiest
of throats. In fact, as we drove away, followed I do declare, these
eyes of mine spied a tears, or at least the beginnings of one, shimmering
in the corner of Erik’s eye. Moved, thoughtful and just a
little bit sad, we drove away in a chorus of voices. Don’t
be a stranger, y’hear! Visit again soon, okay! Good luck,
boys! We’ll certainly try, that much I promise.
Oh, c’mon Erik. Tell you what. On the way home, we can stop
at the go-carts, and bash each other to bits. Maybe even put Chris
though a barrel-roll. Run him from the tracks. Not how’s that
sound to you… Yeah, kinda thought so.