IT’S A FREE COUNTRY (Conclusion)

Mount Sinai in winter

Mount Sinai in winter

2 – . . . From Happening

On Monday morning, Olga grabbed a snack from the fridge, a leftover from our Saturday night meal.  That was enough breakfast, she said.

Olga was glowing.  For six hours she had wrestled with one-armed bandits and had come out a winner.  Nothing spectacular – just a few bucks.  And Laura, Laura had not lost much – not enough to complain about.  So she was happy.

Laura went to bed – had to catch a few more winks before her night shift.  I was free to pursue another banquet at the Tim Hortons.

I sauntered up to the counter with parka unzipped and tuque stuffed in a pocket.  I ordered the café mocha in a mug.  That was the signal, see, that I was eating in.  The new waitress – well, not necessarily new, but different – smiled from ear to ear.  She served the oatmeal in a china bowl and slipped the steaming muffin onto a porcelain saucer and artfully arranged the feast on a silver platter – well, not necessarily silver . . .   And did that waitress smile!  I could have counted every tooth in her dentures but, out of courtesy, I didn’t.

The mocha in a mug was perfect.  Have you ever had a Tim Hortons mocha?  Half coffee, half cocoa, with a generous dollop of whipped cream sluiced with chocolate syrup.  It is wicked.  Guaranteed to inject fist-sized globules of fat into one’s bloodstream.  As I said . . . Perfect.

As my submissive body absorbed the heart-attack-in-the-making, another uniformed waitress was clattering and swooshing around the near-empty diner, and as she shifted the furniture and mopped the floor, she smiled from ear to ear (Sorry, I don’t have a new hyperbole that’s half a good as that one).

What a gorgeous smile!  That smile, folks – that smile resurrected an Old Testament prophet, and Elijah or Ezekiel or EzraNehemiah, or maybe it was Esther, Job, or Psalms (I didn’t catch the name, sorry) swanned into the diner in a thin parka and thinner boots and a brambly beard encrusted with locusts and honey, and enthroned himself in a metal-and-plastic chair directly underneath the world-warming smile of Re’s consort, the Sky.

Br-r-r-r, he said.  Cold today.  Like a Manitoba morning, he said.  And Sky agreed.  She’d grown up in Manitoba.  Near Broadview, I think she said.  Oh yeah? he said.  Well, he’d lived in a cabin in northern Manitoba, an hour and a half by canoe from the Northwest Territories, and it got really cold up there.  He kept his vodka bottle under the mattress.  And then he said something about the OPP – correction, it was the Mounties.  Yes, she said, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and he said they were a good lot up there, not like the city cops, and in that thirty seconds she finished mopping around his feet and moved on, leaving her radiance behind.

The prophet sat there, back to me, basking, his capped paper cup sitting on the table, and his gaze transported him through the glass pane and across the frosty urban landscape to where vapours spiraled from hot exhaust pipes and the overarching sky stayed tethered to earth by columns of smoke.  Nope . . . Not as cold as the Manitoba he knew.  Not even as cold as the peak of Mount Sinai in winter.

I licked the last crumbs from my lips and stood up and slipped on my parka and debated:  Dare I?  Should I?  And I decided.  I strode over to him.  Excuse me, I said.  Couldn’t help overhearing you.  You sound like a trapper.  Yup, he was.  My brother, I said, he’s a trapper.  And a miner.  Worked in northern Manitoba – Lynn Lake, Thompson.  The prophet did too.  John worked there in the sixties, I said.  He, on the other hand, was mining in the seventies, he said.  I wish you a Happy New Year, I said, and shook his hand.

Olga and I couldn’t tear ourselves away from the city.  Ran some errands, made some courtesy calls on family.  When we left in late afternoon, the thermometer read minus 19 (Celsius).  As we drove north, the mercury dropped, the sun set, and by five-thirty we were driving in the dark.  It was minus 30 and still dropping.  The snow and ice permitted intermittent glimpses of the centre line.

Highway 11, north of Nipigon, carries 80% of the cross-Canada traffic in wintertime.  The other east-west highway, No. 17, skirts Lake Superior, and at this time of year, savvy truckers choose No. 11 in order to avoid the slippery mountainscapes as well as the storms off the lake and the hours of traffic stops as semi-trailers are unfolded from jackknife configurations or winched up the cliffs they toppled off of.

A trip in this country is an adventure, if you survive, or a tragedy, if you don’t.

Minus 33 and dropping.  We prayed.  Silently.  That the next driver we met would keep to his lane.  And dim his headlamps.  That we’d miss the loose gravel on the hidden shoulders.  That we’d pull out of an uncontrollable skid on the next curve.  That the overworked heater would keep pumping, and that the engine wouldn’t stall.

A stalled engine would mean that, on this broad, single-laned highway, our car would become a launching ramp for the next sixteen-wheel transport that came up behind us.

When we reached home, it was minus 35.  Add another 10 or 15 degrees for wind chill effect.

Now, I want you to reflect on the last 10 or 15 minutes.

How many stories happened?

And they didn’t cost you a dime.

How much did they cost me?

Not a dime.  For I was going to be there and doing that anyway.

Is this a great country or what?

And now, having scooted around the globe and touched the heavens and travelled across several epochs and met, however briefly, some fabulous people (most of them in large part fictional), I am going to sleep in my own bed tonight.

Perhaps preceded by a demi-tasse of an imported liqueur.

And I won’t have to store the bottle under the mattress to keep it from freezing.

How civilized.


About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website
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