North of Calgary
My friend drives me out to his family farm north of Calgary in Neapolis. He, a decade older than I and on the verge of a divorce. He has: two cats and a disused barn. The bitter wind, no chinook arch. Not that evening or the next couple of evenings. Before us, in the distance, the Canadian Rockies in their snow-capped glory and secret cloud shrouds. We are flanked by sleeted-over pastures and horses in coats, their breaths leaving minor figurations in the wind.
He speaks as he drives. It's a long drive up to the family farm and for some reason there is no music. In the mute snow he talks sorrowfully about his relationship with his wife, then his siblings and family. The crevasses appear, spread throughout his connections like cracked ice and he is moored by loneliness. “Do you hear me?” he says, not expecting an answer.
I part my lips only to exclaim about a dead fox by the road. Tomorrow the dispatch office will take it away but for now it is a meal for the circling scavenges. It is too dangerous for the government trucks to traverse this highway up north, but we are safe because we have snow wheels fitted and he is an excellent driver.
At the house we shuck off coats, gloves, emerging from cocoons as pale beings. The cold seeps in through the cedar frames, emanates from the concrete basement. We keep our socks on and descend.
On the wall there is a newspaper clipping from the early 90s with an image of him and his siblings in the back of a farm vehicle, picking asparagus. In it he has blonde hair and is hunched over the edge of the vehicle, his hands a blur of mechanical motion.
He says he has worn his hands down with hard work. He shows me his hands, drawing my attention to the bruised knuckles and shredded cuticles. In comparison, my hands are half the size of his and calloused only where the fingers grip a pen. His hands are those that have accrued pain and therefore dignity. He is more effective than me at securing screws and rewiring fuses. There is often dirt under the nail.
We run the taps in the kitchen, then the bathrooms. The pipes are known to burst from water freezing over. As we do so I dream about sealing off the gaps between the door frames and windows, letting the water overfill the basin and fill the bathroom like an aquarium. I don’t know what it says about me that I desire such excesses. He sticks a finger into the icy stream and swifty cuts the flow.
We shovel the driveway and put seeds out for the birds. We turn the carpets, air the house and he shows me around the bedrooms, the basement where the alcohol is distilled and the guns stashed. There is half a concrete slab and the foundation of the house is exposed. He unearths the clay shooter from its coffin. “Hold it”, he offers. It’s killed so many birds. He says in the warmer months the non-native species is a nuisance. I’m unconvinced that such extremes must be taken to protect the crops but I nod without demur.
I’m unused to the bitter cold and often insist on walking outside for miles despite the risk of frostbite. I’m slowly learning to concede to the weather, to grasp the severity of snowstorms and hail. The weather tells me to slow down, to be patient. I always want to meet the world head-on and impress my demands upon it.
But tonight we go upstairs, to the unfinished attic and quietly knock on the door of the night sky. The world answers, turns and unveils its constituents: ursa major, canis major. In this old house we stand slightly apart. I see his face reflected darkly in the window. He is thinking, I’m sure, of his failures and the smallness of his life. I rest a hand on his shoulder and reassure him. I’m here.
Violet Hara is a Kent-based multidisciplinary writer and artist. She is the author of Minor Histories of Island State, forthcoming from Greying Ghost Press. Her work can be found in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, The Hawker, and online at violetjordanhara.carrd.co. Her Instagram handle is @barathrites.
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