Trav­ellers

Prairie Fire - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - HANNAH FOULGER

Oc­to­ber 2005

John C. Munro Hamil­ton In­ter­na­tional Air­port

PENNY HAD SEEN A NUM­BER OF AIR­PORTS THAT YEAR, but Hamil­ton was by far her favourite, de­spite its lack of meal op­tions. Heathrow was a par­tic­u­lar blight. You would turn a cor­ner from the wait­ing area and be am­bushed by a cap­i­tal­ist hell of bright colours and blink­ing signs: MCDONALDS DONUTS UK EX­CLU­SIVE. She had walked through that val­ley of the shadow of death with a sense of hell be­yond hell.

Fam­ily had never been her strong suit, her brother least of all. The last time her fam­ily got to­gether in Burling­ton, the cap­i­tal­ist/ Marx­ist de­bate had ended with Pa­trick’s copy of At­las Shrugged in the pud­ding. Their last Thanks­giv­ing as a com­plete fam­ily of proper colo­nials, and the pumpkin tart came with soggy prose. Pa­trick had moved to Lon­don af­ter that, met his part­ner and put his Cana­dian pass­port in a drawer.

Still, Penny un­der­stood her duty. She fol­lowed Pa­trick and Mar­cus half­way around the world and back again that sum­mer from one clin­i­cal trial to the next. Perth one week, Mum­bai the next, she saw it all while drag­ging Pa­trick’s air pu­ri­fier down the run­way, through sub­way trams, into town cars and, once, onto a bike taxi. Mar­cus had to mort­gage his fam­ily’s cas­tle to pay for all the treat­ments. In Perth, he threat­ened, with­out irony, to send Penny “back to the bloody colonies” but she none too po­litely re­minded him he’d have to pay some­one else to be there. There was no men­tion of send­ing her back to Canada af­ter that.

Pa­trick was dead now.

Penny picked the square black bag off the floor and set it on the chair be­side her. By now Mar­cus the wid­ower would be at Pear­son. He re­fused to fly with any­one but Bri­tish Air­ways or their af­fil­i­ates. If he hadn’t been so stub­born about his air­line, Penny would have tricked him into book­ing a flight to Lon­don, On­tario. She knew she was sup­posed to feel bad for him. The man’s part­ner had just died, but the way he had dragged Pa­trick from trial to trial dur­ing his last few months en­raged her. She knew Pa­trick would rather have lived the re­main­der of his life qui­etly. God, he hated trav­el­ling.

Sum­mer 1986

Craw­ley, UK

Mummy! Mummy! MUM ME!

Pa­trick’s pitchy screams seeped around the edges of the door. Penny, six, was al­ready packed and sit­ting on her suit­case, wait­ing out­side their coun­cil house. She wore her white knee-high socks, shorts and a gol­li­wog T-shirt. She did not un­der­stand what that meant. Penny drew a smil­ing face on the dirt with her foot, only slightly aware of her fa­ther pulling the scream­ing Pa­trick out of his room by his an­kles. Pa­trick’s fists gripped his bed frame, drag­ging it along the floor. Wider than the door, the bed was tear­fully aban­doned. Their fa­ther tucked the lit­tle wet ball of her brother to his chest, wrap­ping a towel around the sob­bing boy and rock­ing him. Mum ap­peared, non­plussed, car­ry­ing the large bas­ket of sand­wiches that Richard had made.

“I DON’T. WANT. tuh. GO!” Pa­trick screamed into his knees. His mother of­fered some com­fort­ing words, rub­bing his back, but she took Penny’s hand and led her down­stairs to the car. Richard fol­lowed, car­ry­ing his son. Pa­trick shrieked on ev­ery third step. When Richard buck­led Pa­trick into his seat, he gave Penny a small wink and a bis­cuit.

Pa­trick calmed down af­ter that, re­ceived his jammy dodger and the trip to Clac­ton was al­most quiet.

Five years af­ter she burned the racist T-shirt, a town car picked Penny up out­side Heathrow to drive her to Mar­cus’s Lon­don res­i­dence. As the driver shut the door be­hind her, fear stabbed her. Mar­cus was al­ways po­lite but terse, never shar­ing more than a brief ex­change

about the weather, his flight or her stud­ies. Any men­tion of her spe­cific in­ter­ests in pol­i­tics, he would change the sub­ject or ask Sylvia, her mum, about her snap­drag­ons. Mar­cus prob­a­bly knew as­sas­sins, or had a man who dealt with such mat­ters.

Penny’s claus­tro­pho­bia wasn’t quite as bad as her brother’s, but it made her slightly ir­ra­tional in un­known sit­u­a­tions.

She ar­rived at Mar­cus’s place un­scathed: how­ever, the driver was not so lucky. Mar­cus had cleared the res­i­dence of staff that af­ter­noon to cut costs. The driver was fired af­ter he brought Penny’s bags in. The cas­tle too was at half staff, but most of the em­ploy­ees main­tained the build­ing in­stead of its res­i­dents.

Pa­trick rose from the arm­chair, one wil­lowy arm on his cane. He hob­bled over to his frozen sis­ter. His eyes sunk un­der heavy bags, his pony­tail limp and patchy. Penny no­ticed the ev­i­dence of a bruise creep­ing above his collar. He was twenty-five.

They stood in si­lence for a few mo­ments. Pa­trick prided him­self on self-suf­fi­ciency. It pained him to need his lit­tle sis­ter, she knew. Ev­ery sec­ond, a decade long, am­pli­fied the whirr of the clock.

“Good to have you, Pamela,” said Mar­cus, ap­pear­ing in the door­way.

“It’s Penny, dar­ling,” Pa­trick croaked. He coughed, but didn’t cover his mouth.

“You haven’t been tart­ing it up, have you?” she said be­fore she could stop her­self. A gig­gle es­caped her. One hand flew to her mouth. Mar­cus glow­ered. Pa­trick laughed so hard he had to sit down.

“Best keep mum,” he said with an amused glance at Mar­cus, “or you might not be one.”

Even leukaemia couldn’t keep them from tak­ing the piss out of each other.

1987 Clac­ton, UK

Penny swam four lengths back and forth, and on the fourth she stopped and looked to see if her mummy and daddy were watch­ing. She saw Pa­trick first, dip­ping his fin­gers in blood left on Mum’s chair. He sniffed his wet fin­gers and drew two lines on his cheek. The tip of the mark dripped.

Richard yelled from the back of a lorry at Pa­trick to stop. Two paramedics loaded Sylvia into the back. Penny stood, let­ting the wa­ter lap around her neck, watch­ing the am­bu­lance drive off the

beach, back through the newly cleared path be­tween tow­els and spades, dash­ing a cor­ner of a sand­cas­tle. Aun­tie Car­o­line called her out of the wa­ter. She wrapped the chil­dren in their fa­ther’s towel, hug­ging them tight. Pa­trick rubbed his red cheek on Penny’s nose, stain­ing her.

Katy wasn’t born for an­other three years.

TWIT TUHWOO

Penny’s phone sang from within her carry-on. Are you landed yet? Is he okay? How does he look? —Katy

At her par­ents’ house in Burling­ton, above the chest of draw­ers in the en­trance, were three sets of por­traits. The first set was of only Penny and Pa­trick, in their school uni­forms from their par­ish school in Eng­land. These were not school pho­tos, but Sylvia found their uni­forms rather sharp. Their pho­tos in the sec­ond set in­cluded Katy. The el­der two had pri­mary school pho­tos, but Katy’s framed plump baby face photo came from the stu­dio. The third set was from much later, their first school pho­tos in Canada. Pa­trick wore a cap and gown, and his mother’s wry smile. Penny sat in front of a fake library back­drop, mak­ing the same face her fa­ther did when she gave him snark. Katy beamed like it was Christ­mas. She had been sent to school in Penny’s old gol­li­wog T-shirt, but Richard had been called in to bring her freshly washed favourite shirt with a puppy on it. Penny burned the of­fen­sive shirt that week­end at a bush party where Pa­trick hooked up with a girl for the last time.

As the loud­speaker an­nounced some gar­ble about the bag­gage claim, Penny re­al­ized, trac­ing a heart on her palm, that the rea­son she had pur­sued a ca­reer in hu­man rights stemmed from her orig­i­nal in­tol­er­ance of her brother’s ori­en­ta­tion. Katy, who was six when he came out, who had never gone to the par­ish school, grasped the con­cept on in­stinct. What did it mat­ter to her who her tall, gan­gly brother held hands with?

Pa­trick came out to his fam­ily on their third Thanks­giv­ing in Canada, when they were landed im­mi­grants. Stony as a tomb, Richard rose from the ta­ble but said noth­ing. His chin twitched with un­said dec­la­ra­tions. Penny stewed in her chair, un­sure of who she was or

what she be­lieved. If Pa­trick was gay, what did that make her? The gay kid’s sis­ter? He wasn’t even a fun gay. He still looked, sounded and smelled like ev­ery other punter in their school. Why de­clare your dif­fer­ence if you weren’t go­ing to be dif­fer­ent? Teenage Penny thought you could choose who you were, as if life was a vend­ing ma­chine. You were sup­posed to pick the Dairy Milk, not the Fruit & Nut.

Over some years, their ide­olo­gies switched. Pa­trick de­cided he was not a “free-loader”; he would make his own for­tune, his own path. While he worked part-time at the bank, Penny vol­un­teered with a gay rights ad­vo­cacy group in town. She couldn’t be­lieve gay peo­ple couldn’t use their part­ner’s health in­sur­ance or take time off if their part­ner died, let alone their in­abil­ity to get mar­ried. The work as­suaged some of her guilt, but ev­ery statis­tic she read, ev­ery slight to their rights, held the face of her brother, but never Mar­cus. She al­ways as­sumed he could buy his way out of any slight.

Mar­cus and his credit card carted Pa­trick from Lon­don to Perth, from Mum­bai to Tuc­son. Pa­trick seemed to make mar­ginal im­prove­ments in In­dia with the stem cell treat­ment, but af­ter a brief re­prieve where he was even well enough to do a lit­tle sight-see­ing, the cancer re­asserted it­self over Pa­trick’s blood cells. The doc­tors re­fused him fur­ther treat­ment, no mat­ter how much Mar­cus gave them.

Pa­trick didn’t want to move on to Tuc­son. He and Mar­cus had it out in the mid­dle of a mar­ket in cen­tral Mum­bai, yelling, scream­ing and throw­ing hand­fuls of garam masala at each other. Then they made out. Even Penny, who stayed at the mar­ket to help clean up while the boys went back to the ho­tel, had to ad­mit it was rather ro­man­tic. When she re­turned to the ho­tel, how­ever, Pa­trick sulked on an arm­chair, while Mar­cus cre­ated a replica of Stone­henge out of the empty mini-fridge bot­tles.

On the bed were three tick­ets to Tuc­son. The tele­vi­sion, play­ing The Tyra Banks Show, soaked up the sounds of the city. In the dis­tance, the Ra­jabai clock tower chimed half past. Pa­trick took his part­ner to have a quiet con­ver­sa­tion on the bal­cony. Penny laid out the night’s an­tibi­otic cock­tail while Tyra donned a cos­tume to go un­der­cover as a fat per­son. Mar­cus came in to make tea af­ter Tyra re­vealed her trans­for­ma­tion. Penny brought Pa­trick his med­i­ca­tion with a glass of ice wa­ter.

“When was the last time you show­ered?” he said, sip­ping the wa­ter.

“The last time you thanked your fuckin’ awe­some sis­ter,” she said, hand­ing him a painkiller.

“What did Katy do?” Pa­trick dodged the swat of her hand. He chuck­led wanly, taunt­ing her with his wicked smile, and used the rail of the bal­cony to help him stand.

The clock struck quar­ter to the hour.

1987

St. Al­ban’s School

Penny sat on the curb, wait­ing for her mum.

Pa­trick snuck up from be­hind and wiped his snotty nose on her crisp shirt. Penny flicked his nose. He hit back, his watch catch­ing her nos­tril. She bled on his sleeve.

2006

Tuc­son, USA

The digital clocks at St. Mary’s Pri­vate Hospi­tal clicked from green to red and when the time changed from 24:00 to 00:01, five clocks beeped, caus­ing a slight echo down the hall. It was quiet enough not to dis­turb the dream­ers, loud enough to re­mind the night guardians how much sleep they weren’t hav­ing. Penny dozed in a plas­tic chair by the win­dow, while Mar­cus played soli­taire on his phone. Pa­trick hadn’t taken to the treat­ment as quickly as the other study pa­tients and while his dreamy breaths had dusted his blan­ket an hour be­fore, they now be­came shal­low and ragged. She’d been half awake, half dream­ing about the nurse with deep brown eyes and a dis­arm­ing smile. Hot nurse had just pulled down her trousers when Mar­cus woke her from this utopia.

He was hum­ming “Un­der Pres­sure,” Pa­trick’s favourite song, while Pa­trick huffed qui­etly in his sleep. Mar­cus ran his hand through Pa­trick’s hair, mov­ing it off his cheek, Pres­sure! Push­ing down— Mar­cus asked just as one of Pa­trick’s ma­chines went off, drown­ing out the po­lite beep of the clock on the hour. Nurses filed in. The hot one es­corted Mar­cus and Penny out into the wait­ing room. A doc­tor sped around the cor­ner, her lab coat splayed out like a cape be­hind her, and ran into the room. Hot nurse shut the door. Mar­cus stared at the door, un­mov­ing, un­til Penny guided him to a chair. She paced the square sec­tion of the ward. Mar­cus held his head in his hands.

The alarms were turned off about twenty min­utes later, but no one came out to ex­plain or to re­as­sure them. Mar­cus had gone to re­lieve him­self.

Penny sat, her left foot tap­ping, her eyes never leav­ing the door. Two nurses de­parted. Then an­other. Dr Wil­son came out and left the door open. Only one nurse re­mained. Were there only three?

“Are you Mr Clarke’s sis­ter?” Dr Wil­son asked. Mar­cus ap­peared from around the cor­ner.

“Is there news?” Mar­cus asked.

“You’re the sis­ter?” Dr Wil­son asked her.

Penny nod­ded, her foot still.

The doc­tor gave her a thor­ough ex­pla­na­tion of Pa­trick’s con­di­tion, but all the science flew out of Penny’s head. Pa­trick was dy­ing.

“Now we can ad­min­is­ter the last dose of the drug and pray it re­stores some func­tion to blood flow, or we can give him a good dose of pain meds and let him say good­bye.”

Penny felt as if a lorry had landed on her chest. It was im­pos­si­ble to de­cide.

“We’ll take the chance, madam, please,” Mar­cus said, nod­ding his head up and down, over and over.

“That’s not your de­ci­sion, sir. Only fam­ily.” Dr Wil­son turned to face Penny. Mar­cus turned pink. Tears welled up in his fum­ing eyes. The doc­tor fo­cused on Penny. “We only have a small win­dow.”

It was Penny’s in­stinct to give Pa­trick a lit­tle mercy, let him have some less painful mo­ments be­fore—but just as she opened her mouth to say so, she saw Mar­cus twitch un­der the in­stinct to cry. It cut into her.

1997 Kitch­ener, ON

Katy sat be­tween them. She wore a blue dress with white lace for the oc­ca­sion. Penny rubbed the lace be­tween her fin­gers, slough­ing off dead skin. The cal­lus ir­ri­tated her, but not as much as her new braces. She would have the per­ma­nently dis­pleased look of a brace-face on her cit­i­zen­ship card, for­ever. This would later be a charm­ing story to tell at­trac­tive men in bars, but in the mo­ment, red blos­somed on her cheeks like a teenage crush. De­spite, or per­haps be­cause of, the pomp of the oc­ca­sion, Penny started to doze off, but any move­ment, even a slouch to re­lax, ac­com­pa­nied by any move­ment in her mouth,

shred­ded the in­side of her cheek and set off an­other twinge in her gums. Penny had been un­able to sleep the night be­fore, and some­thing about the gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial’s voice sent her into the soft realm of doze-town. It took Pa­trick’s sharp jab to the shoul­der to wake her up. Her fam­ily was gath­er­ing around them for a group photo to mark the oc­ca­sion. Katy plopped down to sit on the floor in front. Pa­trick shuf­fled over be­side Penny. She still hadn’t for­given him for the jab, but he seemed to reg­is­ter some­thing in her face, ei­ther the an­noy­ance or the pain.

Ev­ery time their friend Paul tried to take the photo, Pa­trick ducked in front of her. Paul yelled, Penny jabbed him back, be­fore re­turn­ing to mas­sag­ing her jaw, doomed to look­ing un­com­fort­able for the next two years, and be­yond, if this photo got framed and put in the din­ing room. It wasn’t un­til they got the pho­tos back that Penny re­al­ized Pa­trick hadn’t blocked her face ev­ery time—just her mouth.

Re­mem­ber­ing the taste of metal and blood, Penny said, “He’s his part­ner. You lis­ten to him,” with a steely edge in her voice.

Dr Wil­son shook her head.

“With all due re­spect to Mr Clarke’s spe­cial friend, the pro­to­col is clear. Only fam­ily gets to make de­ci­sions as to a pa­tient’s med­i­cal needs,” said the doc­tor. “You have to make the de­ci­sion.”

This was the rea­son. This was why Penny left Amnesty In­ter­na­tional to travel the world, air­port to air­port, hospi­tal to hospi­tal, to carry the air pu­ri­fier, give med­i­ca­tions and join three’s com­pany. Mar­cus’s fears had come true. Penny felt briefly vin­di­cated, and then the rock of shame sank to the pit of her stom­ach, scrap­ing the lin­ing.

All the mois­ture in her dried up. She was a raisin in a hemp dress, redo­lent with sweat and fear. Some­how her body man­aged to con­jure a well of hot tears. She’d not cried at any point in the jour­ney, ex­cept while laugh­ing with Pa­trick at a Can­did Cam­era re­run in Perth. He’d wet him­self.

She didn’t want to make this choice. She wanted to com­plain about car­ry­ing the stupid air pu­ri­fier or tease Pa­trick about some shirt he was wear­ing; she wanted to flirt and pos­si­bly hook up with Hot Nurse with­out reper­cus­sion, be­cause she would be leav­ing town in two weeks with Pa­trick and Mar­cus, look­ing for the next mir­a­cle cure.

Or would she be leav­ing alone?

Penny told the doc­tor, with Mar­cus by her side, re­fus­ing to bar him from any part of the process. Her sec­ond batch of tears burned with the sting of selfish­ness, of Pa­trick’s peace over Mar­cus’s choice.

She wanted a chance to say good­bye, cry on his pil­low, call Mum, Dad and Katy. He had writ­ten them all let­ters, but there were none for her and Mar­cus. He wasn’t ready to say good­bye ei­ther.

The clock struck the hour.

02:00

2005 Lon­don, UK

“You haven’t been tart­ing, have you?” asked Penny.

“Of course not, you cunt,” Pa­trick said, smil­ing. He took her arm and forced her to help him to the guest bed­room. They stayed up all night and Penny told him all about post-grad­u­a­tion de­pres­sion and un­em­ploy­ment lead­ing to an of­fer from Amnesty In­ter­na­tional. He dished on blue blood gos­sip and on din­ing at Wind­sor cas­tle. Pa­trick in­sisted Prince Harry was at least a lit­tle bit gay.

“You wish,” Penny laughed. They talked so long they fell asleep on the lounger.

Mar­cus came in close to three to find Pa­trick asleep on Penny’s breast. He coughed five or six times be­fore the sib­lings woke. Pa­trick, upon real­iz­ing where he was rest­ing, pushed him­self away with such force he fell off the lounger. Mar­cus bent to cush­ion the fall, but he was too slow. Pa­trick hit his tail bone. Mar­cus of­fered to carry him out. Penny was sure Mar­cus had never car­ried an­other hu­man be­ing in his life. She was wrong. He had played rugby at Cam­bridge.

“Up­sidaisy,” Mar­cus cooed, tuck­ing his man­i­cured fin­gers un­der Pa­trick’s thin legs and slip­ping his lover’s arm around his neck. The way he looked at her brother un­der­mined her pro­le­tar­ian re­sent­ment. Such ten­der­ness. Such fear. As if he had been a tick away from per­fect hap­pi­ness.

The clock struck the hour. Mar­cus grunted as he stood, car­ry­ing Pa­trick out of the room.

No, only the bit about talk­ing all night hap­pened the day she ar­rived in the UK. The episode where he fell asleep on her breast hap­pened when she was six­teen on a bus to Thun­der Bay. Mar­cus car­ry­ing Pa­trick out of her room was the day be­fore the curry fight. They’d fought and Pa­trick had tried to leave in a huff but was too weak. Her brother had wept, brush­ing the tears away as fast as they came, the blush of anger turned in­ward.

An an­nounce­ment came over the loud­speaker, re­mind­ing any­one re­main­ing at the gate that their lug­gage was ready. Penny was the only one left. She had got­ten off the plane and sat with the pas­sen­gers wait­ing to board the flight to Win­nipeg in­stead of meet­ing her fam­ily at the carousel, where the air pu­ri­fier went un­claimed.

Al­most an hour af­ter she had landed, Penny opened the small black case and pulled out the urn, wrapped in a towel to keep it safe. She closed her arms around her brother and pulled him and the towel to her chest.

Penny wanted some game show host to run in and tell her it was all a joke. Can­did Cam­era. Tyra Banks. Penny wanted to fix ev­ery­thing and be noth­ing. She wanted a cure. She wanted more time. She wanted to take Pa­trick’s hand, dipped in the blood of their mis­car­ried sib­ling and smush it into her cheek, leav­ing his hand­print on her face for­ever. She wanted one chance at a per­fect mo­ment in their re­la­tion­ship, a per­fect me­mory, un­blem­ished.

One sec­ond could be enough.

One sec­ond.p

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.