SHACK STO­RIES An­drew Bo­den

Sec­ond-year phi­los­o­phy student, meet your new boss

Geist - - Geist - AN­DREW BO­DEN

Rest up, pray and eat Tylenol

Mr. Mail­lard scared me from the mo­ment he stepped from his red Chevy pickup. He stood six inches shorter than me and weighed sixty pounds less, but ex­uded tough son-of-a-bitch like cologne. A lump of Copen­hagen made a grave mound be­neath his lower lip. His Hush Pup­pies looked hand-stitched from sun-dried meat. When he spoke, his lips hardly moved and his voice came out in the eerie mono­tone of a man who pre­ferred hit­ting to talk­ing. As for me, I pre­ferred silent, stu­dious re­flec­tion—sec­ondyear phi­los­o­phy student, meet your new boss.

We stood in a patch of dry scrub the rest of the sawmill crew called the “staff park­ing lot.” A cool breeze brought a gas-scented mist from a small lake to the south­west, which I later learned Mr. Mail­lard treated ev­ery spring with a gal­lon of diesel to kill, among other things, mosquito lar­vae.

“Jan­ice at student em­ploy­ment said you wanted me to start to­day.” I strug­gled to sound like Clint East­wood with a Koote­nay drawl, as if I be­longed on a farm at the foot of the Rocky Moun­tains.

“Oh yeah?” Mr. Mail­lard said. He lapsed into the type of si­lence that an­tic­i­pates gun­fire and stared at me, through me, deep into my spindly re­solve. He must have liked what he saw, be­cause he sud­denly shouted, “Everybody, meet the new one!”

He in­tro­duced me to the Hawk broth­ers, Laird and Corey; Alan, an en­gi­neer­ing student from the South­ern Al­berta In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy; and Fes­tus, whose real name I learned a month later was Brian.

My boss had ev­i­dently mem­o­rized at least part of my re­sumé, be­cause he said, “An­drew here is a phi­los­o­phy student at SFU.”

“Well, Alan can build some­thing and An­drew can think about it,” Laird said and then hee-haw laughed and so did ev­ery­one else.

I was re­lieved I wouldn’t see Mr. Mail­lard more than once a day. He had a farm to run and he only came by on the odd cof­fee break to see how smoothly Laird was “dog fuck­ing” his op­er­a­tion. He left Alan and me—the sawmill green­horns—in the charge of Fes­tus, who would be train­ing us in the fine art of peel­ing and stack­ing, not two-by­fours as I had thought, but rail­way ties, which the CPR would col­lect in Au­gust and haul away to coat with cre­osote. This was the only sum­mer job I could get. The stu­dents of par­ents with con­nec­tions had taken all the jobs that paid well, the ones with the union­ized sawmills or the CPR or the City of Cran­brook main­te­nance crews. My pay? Eight dol­lars an hour plus sun­burn.

“Light ties are maybe a hun’erd pounds,” Fes­tus said as we walked past piles of fir and pine logs. He looked like an ex­tra from Gun­smoke: ten-gal­lon hat, red checked work shirt, leather chaps to pro­tect his legs from the chain­saw blade, a paunchy swag­ger, but with­out the six-guns to back it up. “Pitchy ones are near one-fifty. First one of them damn near kill’t me.”

The mill sat on a plat­form of thick, sun-bleached planks nailed down to a foun­da­tion of three-foot-di­am­e­ter logs cut by Mr. Mail­lard’s fa­ther decades ago. A tin roof cov­ered the huge saw blade and its op­er­a­tor; ev­ery other part of the mill was un­pro­tected from the weather. A shack at­tached by a ply­wood bridge on the north side of the mill was the only out­build­ing in sight. Laird went to an an­cient diesel en­gine in the mid­dle of the mill that looked as if it had been plun­dered from a grader or a Cat, and fired up the beast. Soot coughed from the ex­haust pipe and the en­gine roared as it would for the rest of the day.

Fes­tus gave us a fist­ful of earplugs. “Yer sta­tion is down here,” he shouted at Alan and me. We could only talk in shouts when the en­gine was roar­ing. My thoughts soon came in shouts, too, but mostly I thought of noth­ing, be­cause my mind grew hoarse from yelling. The sound of that en­gine re­placed the low hum of my con­scious­ness.

Laird went be­hind the mill’s con­trols, a cou­ple foot ped­als and two long levers made from the han­dles of cant hooks, which sat about five feet in front of the six-foot­di­am­e­ter saw blade. Fes­tus had loaded the log deck be­hind Laird that morn­ing, so our sawyer had a sup­ply of fresh logs to cut. Corey stood op­po­site Laird on the other side of the saw blade and gave us a bored gri­mace—he’d worked here last sum­mer and couldn’t find a bet­ter job, or life. The rest of us waited at the end of a se­ries of raised metal rollers for the first rail­way tie, armed with our weapons: a metal blade at the end of a long stick for peel­ing bark, called a “spud,” and a short-han­dled axe.

The beast roared as the metal log car­riage, which Laird con­trolled, rammed the first log into the whirling saw blade and left a long strip of bark-cov­ered wood for Corey to throw into the back of an old dump truck parked be­side the shack. The air grew thick with diesel and fresh-cut pine. Corey pulled the first gleam­ing tie off the car­riage in less than two min­utes and pushed it along the rollers to­ward us. It was ex­actly seven inches high by nine inches wide by eight and a half feet long and it reeked of pine tar. Fes­tus let one end of the tie clunk to the floor, where it lodged against a piece of two-by-four that had been nailed there, so that the tie rested at a 45-de­gree an­gle with one end up on the rollers and the other on the deck of the mill. The beast roared again; the saw whined as Laird cut the next tie. Fes­tus stripped the bark off each cor­ner of the first tie and then lugged it six feet to the end of the mill, where he shouted that we should form a pile five ties high by five wide, which we’d later se­cure with metal strap­ping.

End of les­son. “Oh yeah!” Fes­tus shouted. “Keep up!”

Fes­tus showed Alan what to do at Corey’s sta­tion and left me to peel and stack. Keep up? Ties ar­rived in front of me ev­ery cou­ple min­utes. I aban­doned the heavy spud for the sleeker axe; I peeled and scraped; on the ties with tougher bark, I chipped off lit­tle ovals of bark and glanced at the two or three ties now backed up on the rollers. I lugged the ties; I piled them; I dropped one and then strug­gled to get my hands un­der it to heave it off the deck. The tough ones came from the logs that had been sit­ting in wa­ter. I lugged them in stut­ter steps and prayed I wouldn’t drop one on my feet or, worse yet, off the end of the sawmill, be­cause I would have to lift it back up six feet to the deck. I’d trained at the uni­ver­sity gym three or four times a week, but the gym was only a fee­ble sim­u­la­tion of hard phys­i­cal work. My lower back and wrists ached, but I had to keep up— not only to keep my job, but to show Mr. Mail­lard that a phi­los­o­phy student with an af­fec­tion for Hei­deg­ger’s meta­physics could sur­vive three months’ hard labour.

Ten o’clock. Cof­fee break. A fif­teen-minute re­prieve from the con­stant roar of the beast, in the lux­ury of the shack. The shack was a hun­dred square feet dec­o­rated with seats torn out of old cars and a metal stand that Laird used to sharpen the saw blade at lunch. We ate and drank and Corey chain-smoked. Alan and I stuck to ner­vous col­lege­boy-in-a-blue-col­lar-wilder­ness si­lence, which left the other three to gab. Laird bugged Corey about his thin­ning mul­let of dark brown hair.

“It’s on ac­count of my ex-girl­friend steal­ing my in­ven­tion,” he said in an Ida­hoan drawl.

His in­ven­tion was an elec­tri­cal de­vice he wore for an hour a day on his head to stim­u­late hair growth. With­out it, he’d be bald again in a few weeks. He dis­tracted him­self from the ter­ror of hair loss by con­duct­ing a “new ex­per­i­ment” on a cage of male squir­rels he’d trapped. “I aim to cre­ate ho­mo­sex­ual squir­rels,” he said, with the sin­cer­ity of a physi­cist who hoped to find a new quan­tum par­ti­cle in an atom smasher. Some­how, in the al­falfa fields of south­east Bri­tish Columbia, he’d redis­cov­ered the cu­rios­ity of a Vic­to­rian gen­tle­man sci­en­tist. I mar­velled that he called this a “new ex­per­i­ment,” be­cause it im­plied there had been old ex­per­i­ments and I imag­ined a barn lab­o­ra­tory filled with cages of mice, crows and go­phers; Corey in a lab coat about to flip the switch on a golem made from pine chips and steer ma­nure; the Mel Brooks movie star­ring Gene Wilder as the ec­cen­tric Dr. Corey Hawk. Mostly I think Corey was just bored.

Un­like his older brother. Laird seemed con­tent to cut ties for Mr. Mail­lard, work on his own farm and even­tu­ally re­tire there. He wore a wool cap, and a port wine stain cov­ered the left half of his face. He was mar­ried (un­like Corey, who pined for a “bar maid” who left him with a rash) and had young children. Laird’s wife packed him huge lunches, al­ways with a thick slab of cake for dessert. It was the fuel that kept Laird con­stantly mock­ing Corey or Fes­tus and some­times even him­self. He rented horses for him­self and his wife in Ra­dium one Sun­day and noted that the horses cost him eleven dol­lars an hour. “That’s what Mail­lard pays me: as much as a god­damn horse.”

“You’re be­ing rode,” said Corey.

After ev­ery break, Corey, Alan and I switched be­tween three sta­tions: we peeled and stacked ties or helped Laird turn or “cant” the ties on the log car­riage after each cut, or we manned the “com­fort sta­tion” on the other side of the saw blade and threw the light scraps of wood that came off the ties into the dump truck. The key, Laird told me when I first stood at the com­fort sta­tion, was not to drop a piece of scrap onto the saw blade or else the whirling blade would shoot it into his face. Once, long ago, Mr. Mail­lard had dropped a two-by-four on the saw blade and it struck him be­tween the eyes as he stood at the helm. Ex­cept no one no­ticed Mr. Mail­lard had been hit. He fell to the deck of the mill on his stom­ach, un­con­scious, and Fes­tus, who drove by on the loader ev­ery few min­utes, thought he was fix­ing the mill. “Ya know, re­pairin’ the pulley belts,” Fes­tus said. “Real slow like.”

Mr. Mail­lard stum­bled to his feet twenty min­utes later.

He dis­tracted him­self from the ter­ror of hair loss by con­duc­ing a "new ex­per­i­ment" on a cage of male squir­rels he'd trapped

I don’t know if he went right back to work or stag­gered home and lay on his couch or drank rye whisky for his good for­tune; I like to think his wife drove him to the Cran­brook Hos­pi­tal, that his farm could spare him for two hours. That even he had a chink in his ar­mour.

At 4:30 p.m., Laird took the axe from my cramped hands and laid it on top of the planer mill. “Mill’s go­ing to sleep now,” he said. “Rest up for to­mor­row. Pray and eat Tylenol.”

Alan gave me a ride to and from the mill in an old blue and white Ford Scout. He had grad­u­ated a year ahead of me in high school and, un­like most of his class­mates, dressed in a jacket and tie as if he were in cam­paign mode for an elec­tion that never seemed to come. He wore acid­washed jeans at the mill and old pas­tel-coloured tuxedo shirts, and when I’d first met him, I thought he wouldn’t last a day. I don’t re­call hardly a word pass­ing be­tween us, not be­cause we didn’t like each other, but be­cause we were both con­ver­sa­tional coun­ter­punch­ers; we let oth­ers lead con­ver­sa­tions and worked off their words. Some­times we talked about the job, the an­tics of the Hawk broth­ers. Some­times I cracked jokes and Alan laughed. Mostly, back at the mill, we let Fes­tus and the Hawk broth­ers do the talk­ing.

The best talk hap­pened in the shack. Shack life: ev­ery break was a glimpse into a world I thought ex­isted, but hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced. Laird told us Fes­tus didn’t drive a pickup as I imag­ined, but a rust­ing, sil­ver grey Hori­zon. “There he was in his ten-gal­lon hat,” Laird said, “all scrunched up be­hind the wheel of his lit­tle clown car in the Safe­way park­ing lot—what you call it now?—‘goin’ for vit­tles.’ My wife shops for gro­ceries and you go for vit­tles. You shouldn’t be drivin’ any­where.” A few weeks ear­lier, Fes­tus had fallen asleep at the wheel and rolled his car into a pon­derosa pine. He didn’t want to con­fess to his in­sur­ance com­pany that he’d been in a sin­gle-ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent, so he went to his taxi­der­mist brother in-law and took a hand­ful of deer hair and stuffed into his grille. “Deer jumped in front of me,” he told the in­sur­ance com­pany. He’d es­caped this ac­ci­dent only to have his li­cence sus­pended for a DUI, which he ig­nored so he could work. He’d also steered his mar­riage onto the rocks. He’d shot his wife’s “yappy lit­tle dog” off a log and hid the body in his sep­tic field. Un­til spring thaw, when the sep­tic field backed up and the re­pair­man his wife called dis­cov­ered the dog’s corpse block­ing a drain­pipe. Strange how the body was filled with num­ber ten buck­shot, his wife said.

“Think I’ll be tak­ing my bedroll to Bar­rhead for a time,” Fes­tus said to us.

“Don’t for­get to take along some vit­tles,” Laird laughed. Mr. Mail­lard loved his dogs. When he got too drunk at the Byng Ho­tel to drive the twelve miles back home, he sent the dogs back to his ranch in a taxi so his wife could feed them. Laird brought his hound to work one day, and at lunch in the shack he wrote Sam across his dog’s white skull with a felt marker and said, “My dog’s name is Sam,” and then hugged the poor an­i­mal and snif­fled. “Ev­ery time I come here,” Mr. Mail­lard said, as he stepped into the shack, “you guys are fuckin’ the dog.”

Shack life broke the robotic te­dium that drove its vic­tims, like Corey, to find relief in ec­cen­tric an­i­mal ex­per­i­ments. Ev­ery morn­ing be­gan the same way: I placed a gal­lon of wa­ter on the tie pile be­side me, slathered on 40 SPF sun­screen and took up the axe. All day, I strug­gled to have any thoughts at all, other than the dull ache of to­day was like yes­ter­day, to­mor­row will be like to­day. My body moved on its own: drove the axe into the bark, ran the blade the length of the tie, parted wood from its rem­nant of skin. Per­haps a hun­dred times a day. Be­fore tie mills, men hewed ties with five-pound broad­axes, and a good hewer could pro­duce ten to fif­teen ties a day. Some days when the saw whined a lit­tle too loud, I pined for the good old days of hand-hewn wood. But I couldn’t imag­ine the minds of the old tie hew­ers were any less blank than mine—you can’t phi­los­o­phize wield­ing an axe. At the mill, a novel thought might visit once a day, but it van­ished as soon as the next tie clunked against the mill deck. Even thoughts of self-care got lost in the flurry of saw­dust. Once when I worked be­hind Laird as can­ter-man, a log rolled off Fes­tus’s loader and across the log deck, and rammed into my thigh. Maybe there was a bruise, maybe not; maybe if I hadn’t looked up at the last mo­ment, I would have been thrown in the path of the log car­riage, maybe not. Back to the rou­tine. Even the weather was iden­ti­cal. Clear blue skies, hot after­noons, Rocky Moun­tain peaks that changed too slowly to cause ex­cite­ment or awe. The al­falfa changed colour in the fields, light green then tawny in a month or two. Every­thing dried up with­out con­stant ir­ri­ga­tion.

I craved those shack sto­ries. I craved the ec­cen­tric­i­ties work breaks let me see. I didn’t even care when Laird poked me in an ob­vi­ous ten­der spot: “So, An­drew, what’re you go­ing to do with that phi­los­o­phy de­gree of yours?”

I couldn’t see my life beyond grad­u­a­tion, so I said, “Law, maybe.”

“Law? Corey, whatta we do with lawyers?”

When he got too drunk to frive home, he sent the dogs back to his ranch in a taxi

“Drown ’em,” said Corey. “Then burn the corpses in Mail­lard’s slash pile.”

“Couldn’t you have just said ‘kill ’em’?”

“Shake­speare didn’t say how we should do it. Just do it.” Laird looked back at me, as if his brother’s state­ment was too ridicu­lous to con­sider. “No, An­drew, I see you more as a cardi­gan-wear­ing gen­tle­man ly­ing around on a couch and snor­ing your way to a pay­cheque.” He looked up thought­fully at the ceil­ing. “Bet philoso­phers get cal­luses on their brains.”

“Hazard of the pro­fes­sion,” said Corey in a dead se­ri­ous tone. “I keep the cal­luses on my hands soft with a pumice stone.”

“You see a pumice stone around here?” Laird held up one of the long files he used to sharpen the saw blade. “You feel a lit­tle brain cal­lus com­ing on, An­drew, you just let me know. We’ll soften it right up.”

I was too nor­mal to re­main in the shack spot­light for long. Corey chain-smoked, but as we only got paid once a month and he’d al­ways run out of money, he spent the last few days of each month smok­ing the butts on the floor, which he lit with Mr. Mail­lard’s acety­lene torch.

“How are the squir­rels doin’?” Fes­tus asked.

“I caught ’em goin’ at it last night,” Corey said. “An­other ex­per­i­men­tal suc­cess. Just gotta write it up in my note­book.” I half-ex­pected to open the Septem­ber is­sue of Na­ture and read “On the Sex­ual Pro­cliv­i­ties of Sci­uri­dae in Ru­ral Con­fine­ment” by Dr. Corey Hawk.

Sev­eral times a week at lunch, Corey, the man who hounded Mr. Mail­lard for a fresh box of earplugs so he wouldn’t go deaf be­fore his hair fell out, went into his Mav­er­ick and cranked up his tape deck and chain-smoked. The music was so loud I could hear Jour­ney’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” over the mill. What was im­por­tant for Corey was that he couldn’t hear the mill. “God­damn mill,” he said. “God­damn fuckin’ mill. It’s in my dreams. I hear it at home when every­thing is quiet. I hear it when I’m drunk. I’ll hear it when I’m dead.”

By mid-june, I’d be­gun to dream of my re­turn to uni­ver­sity, of men­tal stim­u­la­tion. At first uni­ver­sity came to me as long col­umns of numbers, which I added in my head as I peeled ties, so my mind didn’t leak out my ears as saw­dust. What I missed most of all was the books uni­ver­sity put in front of me: old books authored by men and women long dead, their ideas res­ur­rected be­fore me for a few days, as if part of me had slipped back in time. I went to the lo­cal col­lege li­brary and took out Martin Hei­deg­ger’s What Is Phi­los­o­phy? and strug­gled with the first few im­pen­e­tra­ble para­graphs. I fo­cused on my fu­ture. Come Septem­ber I’d move in with my girl­friend and I de­cided to build a fu­ton frame rather than buy one of the cheaply made Ikea ones. I needed wood. I asked Mr. Mail­lard if I could buy some two-by-eight fir planks from him and he said his price was a case of Koka­nee. Laird cut the planks for me and ran them through the planer and I stored them to dry at home by Au­gust, I hoped, when I’d start build­ing the frame. Un­til then, shack sto­ries kept me go­ing, which I wrote about to my girl­friend in long let­ters.

One morn­ing the Hawk broth­ers came to work smelling as if they’d bathed with a skunk. We won­dered what had hap­pened, be­cause all morn­ing we smelled them over the fresh-cut pine, fir and diesel. At break they ex­plained that they’d trapped a skunk that had ter­ror­ized their chicken coop for the last week. They threw the trap and the skunk into their pond to drown. Ex­cept they’d made the trap, a cage, from wood and it floated in­stead of sink­ing, and so the skunk had sprayed them at will as they tried to shove the trap be­neath the wa­ter with their tools of choice: hockey sticks.

Or there was the day Fes­tus stayed up un­til 4:30 a.m. drink­ing with friends, slept for an hour and came to work to buck logs as he did ev­ery day, an hour be­fore we ar­rived. He trudged around the land­ing like a zom­bie cow­boy armed with a Stihl chain­saw. But our cow­boy still had to drive the loader and feed logs onto the log deck for Laird to cut. By the 86°F heat of the af­ter­noon, Fes­tus fell asleep at the wheel of the loader as it sped across the land­ing to­ward Mr. Mail­lard’s tank of diesel. The four of us stood on the mill deck in dis­be­lief and then shock when he didn’t wake up and we screamed at him to avoid the ex­plo­sion, but he couldn’t hear us over the mill or the loader. Just be­fore the tank of diesel was a lit­tle rise and when the loader’s front wheels struck it, Fes­tus bounced about a foot off his seat as if a dream horse had bucked him. “I woke up,” he said later, “and holy-yyyyy shit if I didn’t steer some­thin’ hard.”

Twice a day we had to empty Mr. Mail­lard’s old dump truck of wood scraps, bark and saw­dust. The dump truck was an an­cient, rusted thing and the air brakes only stopped the truck if you be­gan pump­ing them to the floor thirty feet be­fore your an­tic­i­pated stop. Mr. Mail­lard dumped every­thing in great mounds be­side his lit­tle lake, and judg­ing by the charred ground, he’d burnt the piles as smoke of­fer­ings to the fickle gods of lum­ber prices. The rudi­men­tary road to the lake was on a shal­low slope and the first time I emp­tied the truck, I sped down to the lake­side, but mis­judged how soon I had to be­gin pump­ing the brakes and fi­nally stopped with the

God­damn fuckin mill. It's in my dreams. I hear it at home. I hear it when drunk. I'll hear it when I'm dead

front wheels im­mersed in wa­ter. Down be­low the blue­black depths of Mr. Mail­lard’s lake was Laird’s ’72 Mustang. A cou­ple win­ters ago, the two men had been fall­ing tim­ber and one af­ter­noon of a lit­tle too much en­nui, they were de­cid­ing whether they should cut more trees, or—“how far do you think your car would git across the lake, Laird?” Mr. Mail­lard asked. “I mean across the ice? You think it would make it to the other side?” A case of Koka­nee was the wa­ger. Laird parked his car fac­ing the down­hill slope to the lake and put a cin­der block on the ac­cel­er­a­tor and sent the Mustang rac­ing to­ward the icy lake. The car hit the ice at about forty miles an hour and spun into the cen­tre, and then a large hole opened up be­neath it and the cold wa­ter claimed it. “Guess I win,” said Laird.

At the shack, as we fin­ished lunch, Corey in­ter­rupted his brother’s story. “Of course the ice was thin, doo­fus,” he said. “The earth is heat­ing up.”

One morn­ing, Mr. Mail­lard came to the mill and told us to shut it down. Alan and I thought we were about to be laid off, but no: Mr. Mail­lard drove us all up the paved road past his place, to a dis­tant field he planned to seed with ti­mothy. The field was a clear­ing, maybe the size of a foot­ball field, sur­rounded by pon­derosa pines and tawny grasses and, in the dis­tance on the north side, the vaulted peaks of the Rocky Moun­tains. Fes­tus drove up in the dump truck from the mill and all that hot, dusty day the four of us fol­lowed who­ever was driv­ing the truck and picked rocks from the ground and threw them into the back of it. We ate lunch on the back of the dump truck. We ate in si­lence for the first time ever. Only one of Laird’s oc­ca­sional jibes at Fes­tus or Corey broke the long lull in our con­ver­sa­tion. But Laird’s jibes seemed lame and forced. The sto­ries that flowed so nat­u­rally in the shack couldn’t come in the open air. They needed walls, a closed door and shade. They needed to be off to the side of the main ac­tion, like the shack was to the mill. “Fuck, it’s dry here,” said Corey. “Nothin’ll grow.”

An­other day after work, Mr. Mail­lard asked Alan and me if we wouldn’t mind work­ing over­time in a field ad­ja­cent to the mill. Alan and I fol­lowed Mr. Mail­lard’s trac­tor as it towed a flat-bed trailer. We picked up ir­ri­ga­tion pipes from the soggy soil, which was knee-high with green al­falfa, and lay them on the trailer for de­ploy­ment in an­other field. The mos­qui­toes bred here in the pud­dles. As soon as the field fell into shade, they be­gan to bite and Mr. Mail­lard sprayed us with Off and maybe one in ten of th­ese farm-hard­ened mos­qui­toes didn’t at­tack. I didn’t mind for long. The field was cool and ripe with loam and I could see ev­ery muted orange and vi­o­let layer of the Rock­ies to the north of us. I told Mr. Mail­lard how beau­ti­ful the view was and I guess I ex­pected him to shake his head at such a “pussy re­mark,” be­cause I was sur­prised when he smiled and pushed the brim of his base­ball cap back and said this is what it’s all about, th­ese lit­tle moments.

By early Au­gust, the al­falfa was light green, al­most ready for the sec­ond cut. Our well of sto­ries was dry and we ate in the shack in si­lence or lis­tened to Laird file the teeth of the saw blade. We felt done. I’d fin­ished coat­ing my newly built fu­ton frame with lin­seed oil a few days ear­lier and I’d ar­ranged to have my things shipped to Van­cou­ver on the Labour Day week­end. In mid-au­gust, Fes­tus moved the stacks of ties to the rail­way tracks near the con­flu­ence of the Wild Horse and Koote­nay Rivers. CPR had left sev­eral rail cars on a side track into which we had to load the ties. Laird gave us short cant hooks and we waited in the cre­osote stink of the rail cars for Fes­tus to dump the ties into them off the loader. Two of us hooked one end each of the ties and tossed them into a neat pile. The three months of peel­ing and stack­ing had made us strong and we flung the heavy ties as if they were pil­lows. A steel-rail bridge nearby boomed in the af­ter­noon heat. The wil­lows and aspens bent with a cool breeze off the Koote­nay River. By four o’clock, ev­ery tie we’d cut had been loaded into the rail cars ready to make their way to a cre­osote bath in a dis­tant rail yard.

Mr. Mail­lard drove up in his Chevy and con­grat­u­lated us. “I didn’t think you dog fuck­ers would do it.” There was bonus beer all around, new sto­ries and old sto­ries.

I’d never see any of th­ese men again. In Septem­ber, I re­turned to uni­ver­sity with about half the money I needed for the year. I took a part-time job in the uni­ver­sity li­brary, where I shelved books at an un­heard-of rate. My sum­mer job had tough­ened me to phys­i­cal work, I said to my new boss. I wouldn’t find the com­fort­able rhythm of aca­demic life for months. I couldn’t con­cen­trate for long on Descartes, Kant or Hei­deg­ger. I couldn’t sit through Last Year at Marien­bad at the uni­ver­sity theatre. It was as if there was a shack in my head, where I re­treated from the main ac­tion, be­cause I kept hear­ing Laird mock my pro­fes­sors and fel­low stu­dents. When I fin­ished the fall se­mes­ter that De­cem­ber, I opened my re­port card to a neat col­umn of As and Bs. There were no cel­e­bra­tory beers, no sto­ries—just let­ters on a pa­per sheet.

An­drew Bo­den’s writ­ing has been pub­lished in The Jour­ney Prize Sto­ries 22 (2010), the New Quar­terly, Prairie Fire and Des­cant. He is also co-edi­tor of the an­thol­ogy Hid­den Lives: Com­ing Out on Men­tal Ill­ness (2012).

I half- ex­pected to open the Septem­ber is­sue of Na­ture and read " On the sec­tual Pro­cliv­i­ties of Sci­uri­dae in Ru­ral Con­fine­ment

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