Sadie came back from her father’s house. I was relieved for the company once more, not that Doris was not good company but Sadie hugged me. She loved me and I felt it in my soul.
She was happy, bouncy and had a bag full of sea shells. It warmed my lonely heart that her father had made her happy without buying her expensive clothing or the newest video game. He had spent quality time with her and collected sea shells, she bragged about the stories they made up about each crustaceans.
“This hermit crab wasn’t allowed to sit around the table with his family, his claw was too big,” Sadie placed the old purple and white swirled crab home on the table. Botanicals made the perfect shell sharp, I didn’t blame the hermit crab for shedding this one. It was not unlike my own home, beautiful to look at but with hidden pain.
“This clam got stuck after a giant ling cod body slammed him,” she pried open the shell and I gagged at the odor that emitted.
“Where are we going to keep these?” I held my nose as she popped open a second rotten clam shell.
I had introduced Doris to my daughter and they melded like true friends but I knew I could no longer afford to stay here. Certainly not two rooms, plus it’s the middle of May. Busy season would be full swing soon. The weather had warmed and the daylight hours stretched well into the late evenings, not quite as long as Fort St John. There we would have daylight well past 9 pm.
“We’ll start with here,” Doris waved to the rapidly boiling pots. “Cook out that stench.” The smell quickly filled the room and masked the previous delightful scent of fresh blueberry muffins cooking. I had watched Doris prep them before leaving to pick Sadie up and knew that once broken open, they would ooze blueberry jam and cream cheese.
I hadn’t gone back to the café after that day. Relief was an amazing feeling and lifted such a weight off me chest. The beautiful barista had gone well over her break as she listened to my woes but she had assured me it wouldn’t be a problem.
After I popped the proverbial cork of my desperate concerns, everything had rushed out so quickly and within an hour, she knew my life story. She had hugged me and assured me everything happened for a reason. Pulled another free Danish from her apron pocket and bid me a due.
The next day, I had completed three chapters in my novel. The crushing anxiety had been released and I felt renewed.
Although I had dreaded telling Doris that I would be leaving her, I was sure to have that conversation before Sadie came to the B&B. Doris had grown on me, with no grandparents of my own living, I adored her.
“Are you sure you need to go?” Doris asked, the muffins were ready. Steaming hot, she put the largest one on my plate and a solid square of butter on top. It melted instantly and slid, leaving a trail of golden calories.
“Yeah, trust me, I’d love to stay. Forever even! But it would take away from the experience of this trip,” I rip the muffin top off and stuff the whole mushroom shape into my mouth. Heaven bursts in my mouth. I stifle a groan, pure ecstasy.”I need inspiration from being free, sleeping on the beaches. As I once did when I was young.” The feeling of being that free is hard to describe, not easily duplicated and never forgotten.
“Where will you go next?”
“I was thinking the south facing Parksville’s beach,” butter has moistened my lips and I wipe the rest off my plate with the oozing stuffed muffin bottom. Maybe she’ll let me take some to go?
“Oh,” Doris laughed, “you think no one will see you down there?” She placed an equally large muffin in front of Sadie. With peanut butter melted into the twin cap as requested. The sea shells dried on a nearby paper towel. The kitchen came to a slow stall. The sense of disappointment was apparent with Doris.
“I hope so,” I reply, the picture of the map I had examined sprung to mind. “It’s a bit of a hike and it could be private property but the house looks far enough away. Besides, so many islanders are gone until at least June or July. Snow birds, that own homes in Arizona and flock back only when the temperature is well above twenty degrees.”
Sadie doesn’t pay attention to our talk, which is good. If she realized how far I had intended to hike, she would beg to stay at the B&B. We had lots of luggage already. I also need to purchase sleeping bags, a tent, blankets, pillows, coolers, food, and water. Pot to cook in, bug spray, fire wood, and more. My plan had so many holes in it, I needed another muffin top.
I pluck the third largest off the plate, Sadie has destroyed the second. Doris picks politely at a dwarf muffin.
“Well, the least I can do is lend you some stuff,” she left her half eaten mini muffin and set about collecting items.
She created a small first aid kit for us; a Safeway bag with bandages, gauze, scissors and water. An old prepay mobile phone, a bottle of tequila and two bags of the strangest chips I had ever seen. Stated her friend imports them just for her. From Hong Kong, and Doris hasn’t the heart to tell her the pantry is loaded with uneaten stale chips.
The bag boasted a picture of a beet, with a hat and winter boots on. No face but his green stems bent down to appear as hair. Borscht Beats, it said. She stuffed a pot and two drinking glasses, one plate and stated, “that’s the only extras I have.” I tried to give the chips back but she told me it was a package deal.
Before the weather turned cold, Sadie and I promised to return. It would be her slow time and over due for us to reenter civilization. I might even miss television. I think of the times James had turned the volume when I spoke, on another thought; I would never miss television.
The trip to said beach would be much more involved than what the ferry had been. Three city buses, two hour hike into the bush and at least three separate trips to pack everything in.
We walked to the first convenience store to purchase a calling card. A bus from there took us to the nearest Salvation Army to stock up on camping supplies. With the pile of gear in a shopping cart, I caved and called a taxi. It ended with three separate taxi rides: second to the grocery store and third to the entrance of the walking path. Forgoing the meticulous plan I had done for the three buses and hiking.
I paid the first cabbies extra (to cover when we cabbed and dashed in Fort St John, guilty conscience was always my weakness). The balance in my account was shrinking by the day, it sat now at $25,720.
I hoped to make it last until Halloween, that would ensure I had enough to pay for Doris’ through the cold months. I was excited to paint rocks and throw sticks at fires, late night conversations with my daughter, making s’mores.
The second cabbies for the trip to the beach was a van, I told the dispatcher we were a party of eight to ensure we had room.
“Afternoon,” the driver greeted me as the automatic sliding door opened. I am shocked to see she is East Indian, not shocked at her nationality but because she is a she. Not often do you meet a female East Indian taxi driver.
Her smile is kind and I nod in response, “hi, good afternoon.” Our luggage and camping gear just hardly fit in the backseats, her large brown eyes stare at me through the rear-view mirror. I cannot tell if she’s annoyed or relieved, “the rest of my party walked.” I lie, not sure what inclined me to continue the fib but I did. She appeared only a few years older than me. Not a wrinkle on her face, as silky brown as leaves turning to fall. Her hair is thinning at the top and pulled too tight into a hair tie. The tail hanging down far past the base of the seat.
“No worries, I don’t judge,” her accent was thin, nearly nonexistent. She is quite possibly more Canadian than myself. I was born in Canada, my parents were born in Canada but it was almost the same automatic love that a parent has for a child. Immigrated families I feel are closer to step-children. They don’t have to love the step-parent. They can keep their love for only the original but sometimes you will get one that chooses to love you. Just as an immigrant chooses to love a new country, pouring their heart and soul into it.
“We’re headed to Parksville beach,” I request.
“Maybe just drop us off at the entrance,”
“Oh, you have a lot of stuff for that! I will drive you right in, all good.” The van taxi takes off and I’m not sure how to tell her that we will actually be trespassing to squat on a private beach. I keep the words to myself.
“Thank you, don’t see very many…” I catch myself, why did I even start a sentence like that, what was I going to say? I cringe at how rude my comment was about to sound. Maybe this time away from my ‘panty hose and proper’ life was getting to my head? Am I becoming the inconsiderate asshole I always wanted to escape?
“Women?” she completed the question for me. I hung my head. “There are two others, at my work. One the dispatcher, the other a car detailer. So yes, I guess, I am a rare gem indeed.” Her eyes catch mine in the rear view mirror, habit had forced me into the seat behind and to the side of her. Never had I sat in the front passenger seat.
I’m unsure how to read her response, I stumble over my tongue even worse, “such a small company?” Sadie is looking sideways at me. Her eyes scream at me, “what the hell is wrong with you mom?” She doesn’t save me this time though, she sits cross armed, watching me drown.
“It’s not small, there’s just mostly white guys employed. A few East Indian men but mostly white. I am the only woman that owns her own car, brown or white.”
“Good job,” I smile but her eyes are still uncertain of me.
“I am the only one with a car at my house too, you know, those men, always asking for rides. I’m not married but have to take care of my brother and uncles still. My uncles are old and my brother, he just wants a new flavor of the week. He doesn’t care, he’ll make me pick the girls up for him too.” Her story has caught me, her fall leafed brown eyes are holding me as we sit at a red light.
“My brother, he lives in the basement but I still hear them,” she shakes her head and hits the acceleration stern. Apparent frustration traveled through her into the gas pedal. “Every week, or two, a new girl. Always quiet until the bedroom door is closed.”
I’m uncertain where this talk is going, she is speeding and the heightening of her words sounds like she’s speaking to her brother. Lifting the tail end of her statement so it sounds like a question. Her eyes trained on the road. She’s lost to us.
Sadie nudges me and I can only shrug. I glance at the cab number, 6402, and wonder if it will be the last thing I see. She weaves in one lane then the other as we fly over Island highway.
“These girls, I greet them you know. I don’t judge but they run off and hide as if I said something wrong. I try to be friendly, I don’t understand. So, now when I hear the door open the next morning, I stand at the top of the stairs. I see them run past, not wanting to look. I make sure they know I’m there, I yell good morning to them. Once, a girl screamed.”
I fought the urge to laugh and looked to see Sadie holding her own back with both hands. Who was this cabbie 6402, yelling to the bottom staircases at the floozies her brother brought home? It almost became too much but her eyes were still serious as she continued.
“They don’t say goodbye either, my brother will walk them out the front door but never acknowledge me as I stand there. So, I stand in the double pane, ceiling high window and watch as he kisses them goodbye. I stand with my arms crossed to show my disapproval.” She shakes her head and I’m grateful she doesn’t look in the mirror again, my own hands are blocking my humor same as Sadie. We are both red faced and trying to not laugh, “I stay there, in the window until they stop kissing and the girl leaves!”
“At least you don’t have to see the same one twice,” I force my words slow and concise.
“No, I suppose not,” she caught my gaze and I hold my breath. Can she tell I’m about to pee my pants laughing? I held it so well I thought.
I am relieved when she smiles and we pull off the highway for the entrance to the park. The hike will be a few minutes longer from here but we pay her and unload our gear. The last bag hitting the gravel road, she turned in her driver seat, “sometimes a change of scenery, is enough to prevent a change needed in self.”
Her words lingered with me as she pulled away, Sadie and I turned toward the pile of belongings.
Our campsite was pristine, the sun rose off the rock beach and reflected silvery crystals off a train bridge 50 meters off to our left. The trees stood back a few yards from our camp site, giving enough privacy that we feel secluded but protected at the same time. Our tent was positioned not on the customary beach but on a cross section of two rivers before they dumped into the ocean. We had hair thin streams all around us. A mound of an island stood in front of us but it was perfect. Any concerns of seeing James’ face in the crowd faded.
We had been camping for two weeks, the days were warm and long and perfectly quiet. Every tour for Vancouver Island were two hours in the opposite direction on the white sand beaches. Our site was on a rock beach hidden by trees and the train bridge. The river was too vicious to attract fisherman and the private property that we had hiked through, didn’t even appear to have a house located on it. Not one that I saw anyway.
Our campsite came together as a second home; a lean to made from dead fall gave us shade during the day. Our one cooler had been emptied and buried into the river to provide on going refrigeration. Clothing washed in the ocean and hung in nearby trees. Waking to song birds and morning sun and sleeping by dimming stars and crickets. Camp fire cooked chicken, roasted marshmallow lunches, and boxed cereal breakfasts made up our diet. We hiked, read, slept, talked, swam and did nothing at all in particular. I thought surely, we would love our summer here.
It’s June 11th, my laptop kept me in contact somewhat. We hadn’t gone to the store in over a week, when I caved and purchased a portable charging device for my laptop. We also required more batteries for flashlights as wildlife had begun to move around more.
The day had been uneventful, now we sat and played cards by the fire. I had been sipping the tequila for over an hour and had even offered Sadie a small glass. We both mixed it with grape juice, it was much too strong for me. I recalled when I was thirteen, standing in a parking lot with a wad of cash. Trying to convince an adult to buy my friends and I alcohol. The memory made me laugh.
“What’s up?” Sadie asked.
“Just reminiscing,” I reply and put down my hand of cards. Rummy is my favorite game and it pleased me to see Sadie took to it.
“Nothing good, I’m sure,” she snapped when I won the game.
“Your turn to deal,” I push the cards to her on the large rock we sat around. It had taken both of us to hike it back to our camp site. It had worn out my legs and now the alcohol was wearing out my eyes. I considered telling Sadie I wanted to turn in for the night but she was enjoying the game so much, and her own alcohol.
“So, I told him I didn’t know how to make eggs. The next day I surprised him with scrambled eggs in bed,” she’d been talking about the trip to her father’s house, I am only half listening. My mind is tired too, apparently.
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Yeah,” I wipe sleep from my eyes.
“What’s wrong Mom?” Her eyes turn up to me, concern filled. I’m just tired and buzzed but also embarrassed even to tell my daughter. All too often I am reminded by my children that I am old and go to bed early.
“Nothing, I…” wasn’t even sure what my excuse was going to be but then we heard a crack. A sharp snap of a branch in the woods to our right. Our heads turned in unison. Did someone find us squatting here? Did the police finally get called to escort us out? I stood immediately, not because I would confront them head on but because I wanted to dive into our tent and hide. I felt the first thing to do was bury my head under the blankets and sleep. We could deal with any police fines or locals complaints tomorrow.
“Did you hear that too?” The green in Sadie’s eyes sparkled with fear even through the darkness. They would be jaded with time but for now they were still jewels. Shattering through my solid resolution that it had been a person in the woods.
“Yeah,” I whisper, there are no further sounds. No foot steps or police identifying themselves.
“Mom! Stop saying yeah! What the heck was that?” Fear resonated from her, it sunk into my bones. The tent felt a mile away and how well would nylon protect us? There were broken dill pickle chips all around us, mashed milk soaked cookies and melted chocolate marshmallows. We were a beckon for a bear.
I stood but my knees felt weak. They trembled and nearly dropped my weight as a second snap of a twig echoed. This one denoted weight;, a heavy crunch of a fallen branch being smashed into bark mulch. I could hear no grunting, breathing or howling. Whatever the animal was, they didn’t want us to know they were there yet.
“Do you have a flashlight?” I waved my hand behind my back, expecting Sadie to slam a lit one into my palm. I should have known better, the new batteries were still in the tent.
“If James were here, he would have a gun!” Sadie sniffled.
Her fear was real, raw and I echo it clearly. It wouldn’t help our situation. I try to run a catalog in my mind of what animals live on the island. There’s no grizzlies, thank god. We have those in Fort St John but not Vancouver Island. The only bears here are fruit eating black bears which should be more terrified of us. There are deer but they are light footed. I know hunting skills, I know how to deal with bears but it all eludes me.
A brown bear you run, climb a tree or do you play dead, docile on the ground? Either way I am sure we will end dead and docile on the ground. Sadie shudders my arm and pulled me from the trance. I take another step toward the crunching pebble sound. I am prepared to start yelling and make myself sound big, scary. To ward off a black bear. Hope it’s not a she and hope she doesn’t have a cub. The breaking twigs change to scuffling. As if furry legs are being rubbed together in anticipation of a charge.
“Okay,” spoken out loud, the word does nothing to help me. Behind me is a thirteen year old girl, I can see her vibrating in fear from where I stand. Three-quarter full tequila bottle on the rocks below our make shift table. I could throw that at the animal, if I knew exactly where it was. The light from our fire hardly reaches the tree line.
“Okay? Okay what Mom? It’s, it’s…” Sadie is losing her tongue, I am not sure either what the animal is. By this point we are both certain it is an animal and that’s not charging us. I suddenly remember there are mountain lions, bob cats and other large tailed animals that would happily lick our bones clean after stalking us. Does human meat taste better with high levels of cortisol in it? Bile lurches up my throat. I have to move to action.
“Grab the first aid kit,” there’s scissors and a knife…
We had kept it by the fire, that’s where the matches were stored. Sadie makes too much noise ruffling through the plastic bag.
“Mom, Mom. Mom, here. Mom,” she is frightened half to death, I am frightened frozen but she stuffs a something solid and plastic in my hand. It might as well be a ghost holding a beating heart in front of me because what I cannot see it. It’s not physical. That scares me more. Like being abused by words rather than a fist, you can’t see it coming. You don’t know how to react or what to expect.
Another tree branch snapped, then another. The movement was quickening and it was coming our way. I fumble the plastic object in my hand. I know what it is.
A sigh escapes my lips and excitement thrills as I pop the cap, pull the cord and hold the burning ember of the flare up and to my left. The glow illuminates the area but not far enough. I hunch back and lunge it toward the forested creature.
Sadie inhaled sharply as the light swung upward to the starlit night. Spinning several times in the murky sky before submitting back to the ground. Falling slowly to the earth, it catches us a glint to our intruder.
He stood further than what I had imagined. On the opposite side of the river bend. Two glowing eyes were caught in the flare before it clunked to the ground. The red smoke billowing still emitted a cloud of view. It’s head down but I could still make out the enlarged palms jutting from it’s head. The sharp upward bend of his back and muffled chewing sounds now added to the twigs breaking. His eyes watched us through the thick brush, eerie that the flare would show no face. Only enough to watch the camera flash type eyes watch us.
Sadie cursed, inaudible at best but the feeling was definitely a bad word. My own fear diminished as I knew the majestic moose would not charge us. He was happily eating, would possibly have a quick drink and then crash back off through the bush.
My original adrenaline had veered me away from imagining it to be a moose or elk or bull deer. All I had thought was, “predator” and “flesh being chewed off my bones.” Sadie turned and sat back at the fire, I remained standing staring at the moose. The flare light was slowly dying and the beast was returning to the shade of the night. The protection from hunters, as I once was with James.
I could hear the brushing of rocks as Sadie collected the mess of cards from off our rock table. A mutter of something that had fallen into the fire, possibly one of those hundreds of snack foods that probably beckoned the moose to attend our camp in the first place.
“Mom?” Her voice broke through my night dream. The other side of the river was once more, pitch black. I could still hear the faint chewing sounds.
“Stop saying yeah.”
“Okay,” I chuckled and turned to resume my seated position with her. All drowsiness gone, I poured us each another short glass of tequila.
“I guess we wouldn’t have needed James after all,” Sadie said, stuffing a cookie into her mouth. “You can protect us with a flare.”
I knew she was joking, and it was funny. In a way. I had grown to rely on the protection of my husband too much and apparently so had Sadie. I hadn’t intended to raise a girl to expect protection from a man but in reality that is exactly what had happened. It happened to me as well, I had leaned on James so much that my first thought too had been, “if James were here…” It also is what caused my quick thoughts to, “what would James say,” I shook the downing realization into a far corner of my mind. I sat up straight and picked up my hand of cards. A renewed surge of power crept where the fear had been only moments before. An energy that I raised up out of my chance of staying where I had stood. Standing in front of my daughter, to protect her from whatever creature was standing in the woods in front of us. I had done that. I had protected her. Without the need of a gun. Or a man.
“No, we don’t need James.”