Joey looks down from above

The Compass - - NEWS - — Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: pick­ers­gill@mac.com

Peer­ing down through the thick cloud, the old man was hav­ing trou­ble un­der­stand­ing what was go­ing on be­low. He couldn’ t s e e clearly.

He took off his glasses and u tt e r i n g a n im­me­di­ate sigh of relief as he lifted the heavy black frames con­tain­ing a pair of very thick lenses from his ears. He pulled the bot­tom of his shirt out from in­side the belt of his trousers and be­gan to pol­ish the spec­ta­cles. He thought, not for the first time, how sur­pris­ing it was that up here where Good Peo­ple went af­ter death, there was still dirt float­ing around to set­tle on the lenses of your glasses and muddy the view.

He was sure he re­mem­bered be­ing promised by the man with the wings and halo who guarded the en­trance to this gated com­mu­nity that earthly trou­bles like dirty glasses were a thing of the past. The re­ward for those pro­moted to this Eden in the sky meant an end to mun­dane trou­bles of that kind. It was part of the deal. It was guar­an­teed. The fel­low at the gate with the wings and the halo had said so.

He had added, “If you ever have any trou­ble of that kind, dirty glasses, any­thing like that, don’t hes­i­tate to call me. Tell the re­cep­tion­ist to put you right through. Ask for Peter. If it’s af­ter busi­ness hours just leave a mes­sage on the an­swer­ing ma­chine, I’ll get right back to you, I prom­ise. Your call is im­por­tant to us.”

“Oh good­ness,” thought the old man, now that I think back, this sounds fa­mil­iar to me. Peo­ple guar­an­tee­ing things that end up not turn­ing out the way you imag­ined they would.

The old man slid the glasses up his nose and wig­gled them into place atop his ears. He leaned for­ward and and looked down be­low once again.

Seen through clean glasses the clouds had en­tirely dis­ap­peared. The big river be­low stretched from the great basin in the west and splashed over the spillway that drove the tur­bines at Churchill Falls. From there, it con­tin­ued to wind its way east­ward all the way to the Labrador Sea.

Turn­ing back to gaze at the western basin he noted once again, to his sad­ness, that the sur­face of the wa­ter that flowed west from above the dam was coloured a bril­liant sil­ver and gold.

He re­mem­bered now that when he first came up here to stay, he had thought it was a trick of the light in the western sky that made the wa­ter in the basin ap­pear to be sil­ver and gold. But it wasn’t, he had re­al­ized. It was real sil­ver and real gold and it was all flow­ing west across the bor­der into the ter­ri­tory of the part­ners who had dou­ble-crossed him. Be­low the dam there was an oc­ca­sional tiny fleck of sil­ver and no gold at all. That was the tiny per­cent­age of rev­enue flow­ing east­ward into the most pop­u­lated part of his prov­ince. The prov­ince that, as pre­mier, he had led into ac­cept­ing a hy­dro deal that turned out to be com­pletely one-sided and had ru­ined his rep­u­ta­tion.

At the time he had been en­tirely con­vinced of its to­tal vi­a­bil­ity. When crit­ics warned there was pos­si­ble trou­ble ahead he had shouted them down, scoff­ing at their lack of faith. He re­mem­bered now what he had said then. It is not a bad deal as my op­po­nents claim. It is a good deal. No, not a good deal, a very good deal. Not a very good deal, an ex­cel­lent deal. A deal that will be our sal­va­tion and stand as a mon­u­ment to our wis­dom for years to come. For 50 years, no 100 years, no, longer than that, 500 years. I be­lieve this will be an ex­am­ple to the world of wise man­age­ment for the next thou­sand years.

He was very hurt and an­gry when it all came un­done. He de­nied to the pub­lic that he had done any­thing wrong ex­cept to trust his part­ners would play fair.

A few years up here though, look­ing over the world from far above, his per­spec­tive be­gan to change. He came to un­der­stand that he had in­deed been wrong. He had not been care­ful enough. He had al­lowed his part­ners to see that he was vul­ner­a­ble. Once his back was to the wall they forced him to change the agree­ment they had signed. He could do noth­ing to stop them. He was ut­terly com­mit­ted and had taken his prov­ince too far in. There was no turn­ing back. What had seemed to be a re­ally worth­while project for ev­ery­one in­volved, turned out to be an ab­so­lutely great deal for one side and a catas­tro­phe for the other.

The old man turned to look down­stream. From up here he could see a frenzy of ac­tiv­ity. Great swaths of for­est were be­ing razed to the ground as swarms of ma­chines raced back and forth. Tun­nels were be­ing drilled un­der the sea. Clouds of smoke from bon­fires of $1,000 bills swirled up­wards and de­posited ash on the lenses of the old man’s glasses. He pulled them off and with his shirt­tail be­gan to pol­ish them once again, mut­ter­ing, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

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