from “Anglican Cowboys” by Robert Thompson

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Standing straight, Bay could be six-three, so the horse-sized doors of the loafing barn appeared in scale as she drew the bolt and turned the patent handle latch. A tall buckskin colt backstepped, lips whickering, head tossing his pleasure back to his mother out in the yard. The mare raised her head from a study of yesterday’s hay and nodded hello. A small, tidy cat wove her affection back and forth between nervous forelegs, keeping an eye on Bay, who ran a hand down the gelding’s nose and an eye over his grey-gold sealskin hide. Leading with the carrots, she’d shut the horses out of the barn, spoken to the cat about the mice in the oat box and was hunting her fork in the stable when the roar of an engine and the hound announced company.

Watching the woman climb from the truck, her careful leverage on door and frame, the slide not a jump from the seat, Bay waited to see what Sam had brought this time. She moves a bit tender, a long time to find gravel, maybe she’s tight. Good boots. Good grief! She’s no spring chicken, that’s for sure. What kind of trouble have you found yourself this time, Salmon?

Introducing Katherine to Bay, Sam gave his excuse, “She’s lookin’ for a place. Wants to live up here. Thought you might talk sense to her.”

“How d’ y’ do.” Would you look at that walk. She’s been ridden bow-legged. Bay had a moment’s pining for the old days before she’d wrecked her back. I’d ‘ve had her on a horse and into a ditch and Sam in the sack myself so fast those boots wouldn’t touch stirrups.

“I just love it up here. You’ve got the sexiest landscape,” Eyes shining, arms waving with fingers spread to the edge of the frame, Katherine meant what she said, “I grew up in Muskoka, lots of water, but nothing like these hills. This’s real backwoods. Really raunchy, I love it!”

Squealing sarcasm, I love it! I love it! Muskoka? How grand of you. Backwoods, eh? Bay’s thought turned to Sam, I need to sit for this one, Salmon, she misses a fence in my house, you’re barred. Stabbing her fork into the mattress of straw, she reached for the latch, “This is going to take more than a minute. We’ll go into the house, then.” The basset lay on his back at Sam’s feet, begging a scratch as Bay passed to the gate, “You’re a slut,” she said, to no one in particular.

The big dogs crowded without aggression, but their size and unblinking attention slowed progress through the kennel and summer kitchen to the door. Almost convinced she’d just been called a slut by this giant__ What? Turtle, that’s what she looks like, a great big ugly redneck turtle bitch!__ Katherine’s nose snapped shut at a whiff of spoiled meat. Eyes squinting in the gloom, her pupils grew wide to see a threatening avalanche of filthy pack-ratted rubbish, her lips pinched tight to sip shallow air and her fear panicked for a thought. Something’s died in here. I’ll get polio. What do these dogs eat? Why’d he bring me here? Ohmygod, I’m gonna throw up. No! She looked hard at the woman’s dirty big hand flipping the glove and took hold. Pointing to the rusted-out doorknob she elbowed Sam’s ribs as she passed in, “You’re a carpenter. Why don’t you fix that for her?”

Sam ignored her because that was the kind of thing women said. Workin’ a tag team, goin’ for your balls. Bay ignored her because the glove worked just fine, thank you, worn into a tighter fit than the latch ever was, and she only barely smirked as she rolled her eyes at Sam and asked if he was opening those beers, or would somebody rather a glass of wine? Then swallowing her annoyance, “Certainly. Red, or white?” she stooped to tug a bottle rattling from a paper sack buried under the table, lifted a bunch of black bananas stuck to a bag spilling chocolate rosebuds to get at a corkscrew and lumbered into the pantry in faint hope of finding the woman a clean glass.

“You’ve got a black ten on a black jack here, B…”

“You touch those cards, I’ll shoot you, Salmon. Go sit down,” A big-mouthed goblet next the sink showed a few finger marks that would come off with a polish of flannel shirt and the crust of red in the bottom wouldn’t matter once it got some wine into it, “Go on into the den. You might have to clear the couch a bit,” Bay huffed a breath into the glass, rubbed and hollered, “Leave that stove alone!”

Katherine’s eyes were so wide her mouth wouldn’t work, her response to Bay having been little more than a red grunt, for she’d never in her life seen such a sight. Appalling as it was, the mess of the summer kitchen wasn’t an unknown, for she’d been in more than one old hippie hutch in her time, and her own back shed in the city had once earned her a threat from an insurance agent. People did live with that, but this… this… the glove in the door hadn’t kept this out.

“I’d clean, but I can’t find the vacuum.” They stood, drinks and cigarettes in hand, in the front parlour, Bay letting the woman look because she’d asked. Despite an overwhelming cram of tables and chairs and sofas and benches and whatnots, it was a pleasing room with a deep bay of windows opposite a tall fireplace set in a wall of dark cupboards and shelves piled with books and curios. A thick nap of grey dust lay on every surface and like fishnets, tossed stockings, Isadora’s chiffon, brown cobwebs hammocked across corners, draped windows and pictures and swagged down the walls. “Haven’t seen it for years, but it’s here somewhere.” Strangers often shied at sight of the kitchen and never came back, the few who wanted to see more of the house usually gave Bay good reason not to invite their return.

Bay watched the woman look about, watched the brow that was raised in a certain amused contempt widen then narrow, startled and suspicious, as her stare picked out marquetry, tapestry, carved mahogany, ormolu and ebony amongst the junk of piled books and papers, overflowing ashtrays and filthy glasses. Bay saw the glint of covetousness and the hand that failed to keep itself from grabbing up a bowl of crystal chased with silver, the brush at dust and tipping out of mouse dirt.

“You don’t use this? You should use this, it’s a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t hide it in a… heap of… stuff. You don’t use it?” Her desire darting from bowl to split velvet chairback to bronze lion paw, Katherine’s eyes skimmed Bay’s hoping for signs of uncaring stupidity, or at least a grand generosity that would let her have the bowl, let her at this room. At this house! Stupid’s better, a couple of bucks for dirty junk. If she gives it, I’ll have to be nice back.

Keeping her own brow free of contempt, Bay swallowed her anger with a mouthful of beer and lit another cigarette from her stub until the woman finally put the bowl back down with a tidying, dismissive poke at the rim. Bay expected greed to have the intelligence to disguise itself, she saw no breeding to speak of, “We’ve left Sam to himself, he’ll be bored. Shall we?” With a tip of her head toward the door for ceremony, she herded Katherine back across the wide hall to the den and a perilous seat in the centre of a lumpy couch piled both ends with yellowed newspapers and mashed cartons.

From her chair of state, a ponderous oak Morris with room for a picnic, Bay delivered conversation largely predicated upon CBC programming, city newspapers and anything to do with horses, her critical pitch coloured with the snobberies of a conscious intelligence, a richly embroidered heritage and a long addiction to tales of English crime. She fancied herself a raconteur and polished her stories with a desire to entertain that prevented interruption of the newest telling, “…and he’s still training! Man beats his horses, I know it. Jockey Club won’t turf him, he must know something. Bastard wins races though. Did I ever tell you about the Cup race that…” and “…it’s all about oil, oil and armaments. Did you know that Krupp…” and “…all of those ‘best friends’ who popped out of the woodwork when Margaret Lawrence died? Christ! Who d’ you think took her that last bottle of scotch? Umhum. Did I ever tell you…”

Sam drank beer, smoked joints and asked silly enough questions to spur her at fences. Katherine made one attempt to speak and was told not to be silly, that wasn’t the way it was at all, so she lowered her mask and confined herself to the bottle of wine Bay had brushed aside rubbish to set before her. I could certainly do a better job on this place if it was mine. What a godawful waste! She’s somebody to know, though, so keep smiling, act interested.

When Bay finished her set, she was pleased with her performance, but she thought of the stable, “Won’t be mucked out by spring, you two sit around talking. Nice to have met you. Go home now.” Sam had trouble getting his head off the back of the chair, his hands pawing his pockets to know where he was. Katherine had polished herself with the wine to an edge that was fated to cut a wide swath through whatever pathetic pretensions passed for local colour. One queen per valley. No competition. Bay let the dogs bark goodbye, watching the woman bang her truck door on a dangling lap belt all the while Sam crawled himself in, found the ignition and rolled them out of the yard.

“I want that,” Katherine said, “I want that woman’s life. Pull over here.” And they had undignified, but explosive sex on the seat of the truck.

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~ by Rocky Green on February 5, 2007.

 
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