Up­hol­stery

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Mireille Sil­coff

When i told Judy that I was go­ing to marry Thom, she didn’t pause be­fore telling me that Thom was a car crash wait­ing to hap­pen. For my mother, the gestalt psy­chol­o­gist Judy Glaser — and to me al­ways Judy, never Mom — this was typ­i­cal tech­nique: wal­lop you over the head and wait for clear-head­ed­ness to en­sue. A cou­ple of years af­ter her words ca­reened into an ac­tual pre­dic­tion, I asked if she re­mem­bered say­ing them. “Now, how can I an­swer that?” she asked. “If I say yes, it’s like ad­mit­ting I knew what would hap­pen to my only child and let it hap­pen. And that’s im­pos­si­ble. For me to have that kind of re­spon­si­bil­ity in this. So for­get it.”

On the day of the car ac­ci­dent that cracked my skull, Thom was wear­ing a T-shirt he got while pre­sent­ing a paper at a math con­fer­ence. It read:

Dear al­ge­bra, Stop ask­ing me to find your x. She is not com­ing back. And I don’t know y.

For years, he con­tin­ued wear­ing it. In cer­tain lights, you could see a faint pink mark on the right shoul­der. Thom said the stain was from a pair of our daugh­ter’s brightly coloured py­ja­mas in the white wash. He’d re­mind me that on the day he ran the red light (and veered away from the truck and crashed our car into the con­crete sound bar­rier), it was snow­ing hard. Only log­i­cal, Thom said, that he’d have been wear­ing a ski jacket. It was his jacket that would have taken my blood, not his T-shirt. “I guess we need to be more care­ful with the laun­dry,” he said. “I need to be more care­ful with laun­dry?” I asked. “No! I mean us. We. Both of us. Okay, me. I need to be more care­ful.”

Thom’s in­sen­si­tiv­i­ties go with the rest of him: a man moon­walk­ing through life, the sort who glides in and out of ev­ery­thing with no re­sis­tance, his body so slim it nearly dis­ap­pears in pro­file. Back when he was study­ing at Whar­ton, partly be­cause of the open

se­cret of his IQ and partly be­cause of the way his cor­duroys flapped around his skinny an­kles, Thom was tagged the one who would best ev­ery­one af­ter grad­u­a­tion: the ge­nius among the ge­niuses, who would soon be en­sconced in a gilded Geneva of­fice, pulling the levers on world fi­nance. But then the time came, and he sim­ply couldn’t rise to any of the lux­ury po­si­tions he was of­fered. He main­tains the is­sue was ide­ol­ogy, not in­er­tia. He came back to Canada and took a po­si­tion teach­ing at Mcgill. My own ca­reer got crossed out by the ac­ci­dent. The lin­ger­ing brain in­jury, com­bined with Abi­gail’s birth, made any kind of re­turn to work ex­tremely re­mote. We had no sav­ings. Thom still had his stu­dent loans. More than once, we’d needed to bor­row from Don, my dad. Thom would ask me to ask. “He’s your fa­ther,” he’d say. “Which is why you should ask.” So many times, I re­solved to di­vorce him. I’d look up apart­ments, imag­in­ing my­self and Abi­gail in these sin­gle sunny rooms. I’d scan au pair web­sites, un­sure where in the sin­gle sunny rooms I could put a Ger­man teen, the need to be free of Thom thrash­ing against the im­pos­si­bil­ity of leav­ing him. I’d com­posed a pic­ture in my head, so beau­ti­ful and serene, of Abi­gail and me sleeping to­gether in a big bed with yel­low sheets, wak­ing up in each other’s arms. But my internet searches were usu­ally in­ter­rupted by my hands, which could only pause over the key­board for so long be­fore be­com­ing clumsy with tre­mors.

My fa­ther, Don Mais­lin, bought the chalet a cou­ple of years be­fore he mar­ried my mother, Judy Glaser, and adopted me, Iris Glaser, her daugh­ter. Don owned a small chain of phys­io­ther­apy clin­ics, and Judy was by then well known for her books. When they di­vorced, Don con­tin­ued be­ing my fa­ther, even though Judy was no longer his wife. Ev­ery week­end and school break and sum­mer, I was with Don and, usu­ally, at the chalet. Don re­mar­ried a few years ago. His new wife, Heidi Slot­sky, was a home or­ga­nizer by pro­fes­sion. Her com­pany was called Get­ting It To­gether Or­ga­niz­ing. Heidi Slot­sky was a great fan of cap­i­tal­iz­ing prepo­si­tions. Some­times, you could catch her cack­ling away on lo­cal break­fast TV, where she had a slo­gan: Love It Or Toss It. She is only ten years my se­nior but wasted no time in mak­ing Don buy match­ing burial plots, as if, in mar­ry­ing her, Don be­came in­den­tured to ar­rive ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing at death’s door, with Heidi Slot­sky. Heidi called the chalet “the cabin.” She said she couldn’t imag­ine what Don did up there for so many years — decades! — all those sum­mers and week­ends, with noth­ing but a bunch of trees and no wife. The fact that as a child, a youth, un­til my twen­ties, I was often there with him never seemed to pierce the Slot­sky thought cloud: “It bog­gles me. Just bog­gles! I mean, I, per­son­ally, am not one for rot­ting away in an old house. I love ex­cite­ment. That’s why I have such a pas­sion for travel. And you know? So does Donny.” “Don has a pas­sion for travel?” From what I knew of my fa­ther, “far afield” was Stowe in­stead of Mont-trem­blant. Don isn’t a trav­eller. He’s an in­vet­er­ate ski bum from the era when the best skiers kept their legs to­gether as one. “Like a Mommy and Daddy! Like a Mommy and Daddy!” he used to bel­low up the hill, hard life facts not­with­stand­ing, coax­ing me out of my snow­plow by stand­ing at the run base, shak­ing a box of Smar­ties in his gloved hand. “Oh yes, Don! Ab­so­lutely. That cruise we took in Septem­ber?” “The one in Mex­ico?” “Oh no, that was last March. This Septem­ber it was the Black Sea. You have no idea how much Donny loved it. Now that Donny is re­tir­ing, it’s time for him to see the world.” Even so, Heidi said she had no choice but to do Don’s chalet over. She said she could not spend so much as another week­end with all the “yucky car­pet and ran­dom old junk.” Heidi preached a kind of high-gloss clean­li­ness — my mother, Judy, called it “pro­jected anorexia,” a neu­rotic dis­or­der ex­pressed in decor, where items are only al­lowed on sur­faces if they have a pre-ex­ist­ing ap­point­ment. In Don’s do­mes­tic uni­verse, Heidi’s over­haul was un­prece­dented. When I was grow­ing up, Don saw the re­dec­o­ra­tion of coun­try places as the weak­ness of city peo­ple un­able to leave the ur­ban thrum be­hind. For decades, he con­tin­ued to have and re­pair and en­joy the same green­ish heather sec­tional, the same round rag rugs of in­de­ter­mi­nate col­oration, the same col­lec­tion of odd­i­ties: the ce­ramic lighter shaped like a lum­ber­jack’s head, the speared Inuit whale sculp­ture, the clammy, nutcrack­er­less wood bowl of wal­nuts. Heidi got rid of all of it. She stripped Don’s place down and then whipped it back up in fur­ni­ture white­washed and pre-dis­tressed to ex­ude some old Cape Cod sig­nif­i­cance it had no proper claim on, not least be­cause it sat in the mid­dle of Que­bec’s black-laked Lau­ren­tian bear coun­try, with its dense forests and dark log houses smelling of decades-old woodsmoke. Now, at Don’s, a sun-bleached piece of coral lay on a white-painted man­tel­piece in a room redone with white walls and white fab­ric blinds with even whiter seashells em­broi­dered on them. Dec­o­ra­tive can­dles as fat as tuna cans sat, white wicked, on beds of pale river rocks en­cased in glass lanterns. It was hard not to feel Heidi’s taunt­ing pres­ence in Don’s house, even when she wasn’t there. And, in­creas­ingly, Don and Heidi weren’t there. While we were driv­ing

Thom liked to say that I treated the grow­ing clut­ter as a fait ac­com­pli and that per­haps what we needed was a “sys­tem.”

up for Abi­gail’s win­ter break last year — Heidi and Don “do­ing Alaska” on yet another town­ship-sized plea­sure boat — Thom cal­cu­lated the num­ber of week­ends they’d been away in the last year alone and said we could al­most start see­ing the coun­try house as our own re­treat, since Don was go­ing to leave me the place even­tu­ally any­way. “Thom, please stop killing off my fam­ily,” I said, look­ing back at our fouryear-old daugh­ter sleeping in her car seat, dou­ble-fist­ing open mark­ers, pink and or­ange blobs emerg­ing on the two up­per quad­rants of her snow­suit. “Oh my god, Thom. Why does Abi­gail have mark­ers?” “I packed them. She loves her mark­ers. You al­ways say you are too tired to pack, and then you com­plain about my pack­ing.” “You should not have taken out her mark­ers — ” “Take out sug­gests they were put away,” said Thom, un­able to help him­self. “I just col­lected them off the floor. Low-hang­ing mess.” House­keep­ing no longer held in our home, a com­pact ground-floor two bed­room where the peel­ing ’90s Ikea fur­ni­ture had long been over­whelmed by un­re­lent­ing haystacks of play yarn, ba­nana-grit­ted jig­saw pieces, and stuffed an­i­mals scarred with Frozen plas­ters. Thom liked to say that I treated its grow­ing clut­ter as a fait ac­com­pli and that per­haps what was needed was a “sys­tem.” I told him he could try vac­u­um­ing. “I have to work, Iris.” “Peo­ple also vac­uum evenings and week­ends. Even math pro­fes­sors.” “Well, my brain is tired.” “Don’t talk to me about brain and tired, Thom.” The fis­sure in my skull was like an Alice band; a cruel, lac­er­at­ing rain­bow, com­plete in its ear-to-ear arc, this side be­fore, this side af­ter, chop, chop. Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Thom had cuts and bruises that faded to noth­ing af­ter a few days. He felt guilty and, per­haps be­cause of this, was fond of telling peo­ple that I’d got­ten off lightly, that, like a “typ­i­cal type A,” I had walked out of the hos­pi­tal shoul­der­ing my own bag.

Be­fore the brain in­jury, I had only been in hos­pi­tal once be­fore, when I was eleven, for a bro­ken leg. Don car­ried me in and car­ried me out, my blue ski pants cut off above the cast. Don called my cast Casper. “Casper the Plas­ter Caster!” we chimed on the phone to my mother. Judy was lead­ing a twelve-day gestalt train­ing in­ten­sive in Florida over the Christ­mas hol­i­day. She seemed an­noyed by our gid­di­ness, but Don and I were pleased with our set-up: he’d brought nearly ev­ery­thing from my down­stairs bed­room into the up­stairs liv­ing room, even the teddy bears I said I was too old for, and pulled out the bed part of the heather sec­tional, laying it with fresh sheets. Don also put a bell, a big Swiss cow thing for bong­ing at ski races, by the pull­out in case Ineeded him when he wasn’t close by. He stocked the fridge with marsh­mal­low Whip­pets and Nathan’s hot dogs and baked beans in maple syrup and chick­ens that he would roast with his spe­cial pota­toes, which he placed right in the fire­place, en­cased in tin­foil. For the rest of that hol­i­day, Don said he would join me in aban­don­ing down­hill. He would use the cross-coun­try trails be­hind the house, so he’d never be away longer than a cou­ple of hours. Don said I also needed sun and air. So, for an hour a day, he had me sit on the porch, on a heavy wooden deck chair he’d hauled out from the shed. Don po­si­tioned the chair to face the solid, snowed-over lake and its back­ground of bulky, rounded hills, the gi­ant sleeping bears in their pen­cil-scratch sweaters. “Now I am go­ing to give you a chal­lenge,” he said as he brought me out one morn­ing. “See how on the moun­tain, the parts where it’s not all pines, you can see be­tween the trees, be­cause it’s win­ter?” “Yes, I see it.” “Well, we know moose and deer live in those hills, right? But you never see one, not one, be­tween the trees. You can stare at the moun­tain for hours. It’s a real mys­tery. But maybe you can get lucky and see some­thing.” At that age, I had yet to con­sider Don with any com­plex­ity. He was my par­ent, a hu­man fig­ure I be­lieved ex­isted for me alone. I was old enough to have been bush­whacked by the school-bus epiphany that ev­ery other per­son’s head con­tained as much stuff as mine and that their thoughts were made of them, not me, but I never saw it as ec­cen­tric, or even sad, that Don was so often up in the coun­try by him­self, never with a grownup com­pan­ion. I couldn’t imag­ine his lone­li­ness be­cause I still held the un­ex­am­ined be­lief that he dis­ap­peared when I wasn’t with him, as if sum­moned only by my pres­ence. Sit­ting in the deck chair, I took my mis­sion se­ri­ously, spend­ing hours un­der a wool blan­ket scan­ning the moun­tains for an­i­mals, my cast shod in a plas­tic bag. It was a child’s win­ter, the sky rad­i­cally blue, the snow pearl white. I day­dreamed about telling Don, “Don, I just saw a moose be­tween the trees, I saw two moose, I saw a fam­ily of three!” as if this would be a true con­tri­bu­tion to our lives, a fill­ing in of blanks. But I didn’t see any­thing deer- or moose-related. Not un­til that Au­gust, when the hills be­hind the lake had been densely blot­ted in with green and the smell of wild berries rose from the grav­el­road banks. One morn­ing, Irv­ing Wexler, a lawyer who owned the dou­ble A-frame down the slope, walked up and asked Don if he would mind if he snooped around Don’s prop­erty. His minia­ture schnau­zer, Nookie, kept on dis­ap­pear­ing into the woods that separated the two houses, and there was noth­ing of in­ter­est

Mrs. Naimer would swim the whole way across the lake and back, a feat ev­ery­one on the beach ig­nored on pur­pose.

that Mr. Wexler could find on his side. Mr. Wexler said Mrs. Win­nikoff was re­port­ing some­thing sim­i­lar with her two dachshunds, Coco One and Coco Two. They had her in a com­plete panic three days be­fore, gone for some­thing like four hours. “I bet some­body’s dumped a bunch of garbage be­tween the trees,” said Mr. Wexler. “Well, I’ll come help you,” said Don, lo­cat­ing some yel­low rub­ber gloves from un­der the kitchen sink. He re-emerged from the woods twenty min­utes later, pad­ding across the grass. When he saw me stand­ing on the porch, he waved some­thing over his head, club-like. “I’m Fred Flint­stone! Yabba dabba doooo!” The bone’s white­ness was some­thing we both no­ticed — its dry clean­li­ness. It was not the type of bone you’d ex­pect from a moist mulching sum­mer for­est edg­ing two dozen coun­try homes; it was more like some­thing from some sun­flared West­ern place with a cracked desert floor and shelf-like cliffs that dropped straight down with no warn­ing. Don said it had to be from a young moose, a year­ling. I asked Don if it was the dogs who killed the moose. “Nookie and Mrs. Win­nikoff’s Co­cos?” laughed Don, walk­ing into the un­fin­ished part of the base­ment. “No. This would have to have been some­thing big. Like a bear.” Don found a garbage bag and wrapped it care­fully around the bone. “Ex­hibit A,” he said, putting the bag on the wood­pile and then qui­etly leav­ing the room, as if the bone con­tained some­thing that needed to re­main undis­turbed, some­thing Don needed to keep for him­self.

Ev­ery morn­ing over Abi­gail’s win­ter break, Thom and Abi­gail crept up­stairs be­fore me and ate marsh­mal­low ce­real they thought I didn’t know about. There was a lot of hush­ing and shush­ing about not telling Mama, even though the in­crim­i­nat­ing rain­bow-hued fam­ily-sized box was on the top pantry shelf, about as hard to make out as a traf­fic light. I would stay in bed the ex­tra half hour, in the guest room that used to be my bed­room, lis­ten­ing to the glu­cose dis­solv­ing in their blood. The knotty pine pan­elling that once cov­ered the room’s walls was now painted over, all the wood’s old friendly black eyes lid­ded and shut. I’m the king of the cas­tle and you’re the dirty ras­cal! Nanny nanny boo boo! No, I’m king of the cas­tow, Dada! You a dirty ras­cow, you nanny boo boo head! Abi­gail and Thom loved go­ing crazy to­gether. He’d drop her onto the bed head­first; he’d swing her by her feet like a pen­du­lum. The times I said it was too rough for a lit­tle girl, Thom replied that there were fa­thers in Siberia who tossed their naked new­borns into the snow, and those ba­bies be­came the hardi­est chil­dren alive. One morn­ing, it went silent too sud­denly. I got out of bed and climbed the stairs and found a cush­ion miss­ing from one of the two white so­fas in the liv­ing room. The sound of run­ning wa­ter came from the kitchen. “A bit of an ac­ci­dent,” Thom called out, not turn­ing from the sink when I en­tered the kitchen. Abi­gail was hug­ging Thom’s leg, scowl­ing in my di­rec­tion. “A ac­ci­dent Mama,” she yelled, pre-emp­tively. “It was a ac­ci­dent!” Thom was rub­bing the sofa cush­ion with a dish sponge, try­ing to over­take a fairly large beige stain. “Oh fuck, you’re kid­ding me — ” “Abi­gail jumped on me. It’s cof­fee — ” “Thom, why were you drink­ing cof­fee on crazy fuck­ing Slot­sky’s white sofa?” “I don’t know! Be­cause it’s the morn­ing and I was sit­ting? And watch your F-bombs please.” Abi­gail be­gan cry­ing. “Ok, Ab­bie, okay, don’t worry,” said Thom. “Mama will calm down now.” “It was a ac­ci­dent, Mama!” I rushed to the fridge for some soda wa­ter. “Thom, stop rub­bing the stain like that! You need to dab it. You’re only mak­ing it worse — ” Be­fore leav­ing on their Alaskan cruise, Don and Heidi came over to our condo to drop off the rem­nants of their fridge: a plas­tic bag that in­cluded a heel of Jarls­berg cheese and a few of the kind of ap­ple that ev­ery­one has in their crisper, not yet rot­ten enough to throw out but too mealy for good eat­ing. “Well, I am so ex­cited!” said Heidi. “Aren’t you ex­cited, Don?” Why was this woman bring­ing me old rinds, like I was a home­less per­son? Over the din of wa­ter and Abi­gail cry­ing, the out­rage of it ex­panded again in my chest. The fa­ther who gave me ev­ery­thing now giv­ing me horse fruit and cheese wax. As they left, I had heard Heidi say: “See? I told you she’d take it, Donny. Food is food.” Thom found the ap­ples in the garbage bin that evening. “Why don’t you bake these?” he asked, gen­tly lift­ing the fruit out of the trash. “Oh man, you used to make the great­est baked ap­ples. I still re­mem­ber the recipe. The but­ter and raisins in the mid­dle.” “Why don’t you bake them, then?” I asked, and we fought. These fights tended to rear up af­ter Abi­gail was asleep. I con­vinced my­self that they never woke her up. “Why don’t I bring you break­fast in bed ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing while I’m at it?” “Hon­estly, Thom? Why don’t you?” “Be­cause I’m not Don putting a bell by your bed, okay? I’m just a per­son.”

In that sum­mer of the moose, Don said the only per­son around who could help us solve the bone mys­tery was Mrs. Naimer, be­cause Mrs. Naimer knew a lot about na­ture. Around the lake, peo­ple had names for Mrs. Naimer. Irv­ing Wexler called her the Astrologer. Judy, who “knew her from around,” mean­ing some­body at the of­fice had prob­a­bly seen Mrs. Naimer as a client and told Judy about it, called her “trou­bled.” Mrs. Naimer had been mar­ried to Mr. Naimer, who was the Naimer from Naimer’s Su­per­mar­kets. In the city, ev­ery­one shopped at Naimer’s — ev­ery mom’s hatch­back trunk was as likely as not lined with their stiff paper bags. You heard “Naimer’s” and im­me­di­ately saw the or­ange logo, a rounded, thick-andthin N that looked like a curled-up fox. At the beach, Mrs. Naimer didn’t anoint her­self with sun­tan lo­tion or do what Don called the mechiah stroke, the bob­bing, hairdo-con­scious pad­dle

favoured by the other moth­ers. I’d seen Mrs. Naimer tramp onto the beach in her dark-green bathing suit and walk right into the wa­ter, her long ma­roon-red hair un­furl­ing be­hind her like rib­bons. I’d also seen her be­tween the trees by the lake bank with a jar, pick­ing the blue­ber­ries that usu­ally only kids both­ered with. The other moth­ers said that Mrs. Naimer had “aban­doned her child.” And, given that none of the moth­ers spoke to Mrs. Naimer and that Mrs. Naimer was al­ways alone, I as­sumed the words were true. Some­times, I’d see Mrs. Naimer swim the whole way across the lake and back, an amaz­ing feat ev­ery­one on the beach ig­nored on pur­pose. Peo­ple said that Solomon Naimer — Mr. Naimer — took the daugh­ter be­cause Mrs. Naimer smoked mar­i­juana and re­fused to con­vert. The moth­ers on the beach said her sin was not that she was a Gen­tile, or a drug user, but that she was so airy-fairy that she just let her daugh­ter be car­ried off, full cus­tody. “If some­one was go­ing to take my Jes­sica away,” said Con­nie Wexler, “I would con­vert to Blue Alien Mar­tian. I’d be­come an Arab if I had to.” That sum­mer, I took Don’s row­boat out to the mid­dle of the lake alone a few times. I brought a fish­ing pole but never caught any­thing. I won­dered if the fish sensed I wasn’t se­ri­ous, if they knew that I was float­ing alone so that I could think about kiss­ing boys — kiss­ing boys in brick-walled al­ley­ways un­der fall­ing rain, kiss­ing boys in swim­ming pools (our hair as sleek as seals), kiss­ing boys on a real beach, the non-cana­dian sort with palm trees and the froth­ing ocean crash­ing into us. Don told me one af­ter­noon, com­pletely out of the blue, “You know, you shouldn’t lis­ten to what peo­ple say about Mrs. Naimer. I mean about her daugh­ter. It’s a bunch of yen­tas pick­ing the wrong side be­cause that’s where the money is.” Don had lit­tle pa­tience for the moth­ers at the lake. He ac­tively avoided them, tak­ing his swims at times when the beach would be empty. I put his de­fence of Mrs. Naimer in a frame of fa­mil­iar com­plaint: those ladies have noth­ing to do but sit around and gos­sip all day. But then one af­ter­noon, I came home with my fish­ing rod, think­ing about set­tling into the green sofa with a bowl of Ritz crack­ers and Fam­ily Feud, and walked in to find Mrs. Naimer in my place on the couch, hold­ing a glass clink­ing with ice. She was wear­ing a faded or­ange sun­dress with shoul­der ties and smock­ing that went the whole way around. Her torso curved into the sofa as if un­hin­dered by any­thing as hard as a skele­ton, her whole body like a long, invit­ing, ques­tion mark. By her bare feet were san­dals of the sort I’d only seen in Hanukkah plays — a footim­print sole and laces that tied up the leg. Mrs. Naimer’s laces were loose in a pud­dle at her feet, which were big but very nar­row, the nails neat and trans­par­ent, ev­ery­thing so slim and clean and nat­u­ral, as if made to be naked. I could sense my face go­ing red, like my feel­ings were seep­ing out of my pores. “I’m just go­ing to have a de­li­cious snack now,” I said, try­ing for non­cha­lance and veer­ing into the kitchen. “Some re­fresh­ing juice.” “Okay,” said Don. Don was kneel­ing by Mrs. Naimer, hold­ing the moose bone with up­turned palms, like an of­fer­ing. When I came back into the liv­ing room, I’d taken my shoes off like Mrs. Naimer, although my toe­nails were grimed by a green peel of dirt. “Honey, you know Kristin, right?” said Don. “She says this bone was def­i­nitely a moose bone.” I nod­ded, even though I thought we’d fig­ured that out al­ready. “A young moose,” said Mrs. Naimer, di­rectly to me, this soft, whis­per­ing voice, so dif­fer­ent from the mother voices at the beach ( Jennifer! Jor­dan! Jodi! Joel! Come here and eat your sand­wich! Your lips are blue!). Mrs. Naimer’s voice sounded like it came from a TV com­mer­cial about a va­ca­tion pack­age, an or­ange disk of sun be­hind the fig­ures of a man and a woman hold­ing hands, their bod­ies shad­owed all black from the blaz­ing sun­light, so you could put your­self in their place, just step into their out­line and there you are. “The poor thing must have been in trou­ble,” con­tin­ued Mrs. Naimer. “Maybe it was hurt or got stuck in some way. Moose are very wary. They know bet­ter than to hang around so close to where peo­ple live. I mean, hu­mans hunt, right?” In ad­di­tion to peo­ple say­ing that Mrs. Naimer was airy-fairy and trou­bled and a drug freak and a child aban­doner, they said she was just plain crazy. Only a crazy per­son could come back for the whole sum­mer and live in a big lake­side house like the Naimers’, shorn of both hus­band and kids. But af­ter meet­ing Mrs. Naimer, even I could un­der­stand that if she had gone coo-coo it was be­cause she was the one who had been hurt. Even I could see that chief among the rea­sons none of the oily, pecan-coloured moth­ers at the beach talked to her any­more was the fact that Mrs. Naimer made them look down at their full-cov­er­age bathing suits and smooth them over their hips, snap­ping the bum elas­tics in place, and they hated that, and it was eas­ier to hate her, to cre­ate a barbed net around the truth, so that no­body could reach it, and even­tu­ally it would dry out and die of de­hy­dra­tion. By the late au­tumn, Mrs. Naimer was gone, the big lake­side house sold to a French Cana­dian fam­ily who put a burnt-edge wood plaque in the shape of a bear at the mouth of their drive­way: TREM­BLAY. The older in­hab­i­tants of the neighbourhood never had plaques like that. Peo­ple made jokes: you’d need a full tree for Ch­er­ni­chovsky. Pos­si­bly in a kind of we-were-here-first one-up­man­ship, Mrs. Win­nikoff planted a sign at her drive­way that read, “PLEASE BRAKE FOR DACHSHUNDS,” its wood cut into the shape of both an ar­row and a dachs­hund. As soon as win­ter came, it got run over by the snow-clear­ance guys. I asked Don where Mrs. Naimer had dis­ap­peared to. “Oh, she’s moved to Cal­i­for­nia,” he said, whistlingly, as if this was some­thing he’d just that minute fig­ured out. I had never been to Cal­i­for­nia, but in my mind, I loved Cal­i­for­nia, land of teens. I imag­ined ev­ery­one there was a cheer­leader named Candi or a life­guard named Seth, and they had their noses frosted with hot-pink zinc ox­ide and drove around in con­vert­ibles, pop mu­sic blast­ing through their whip­ping blonde hair.

“She’s liv­ing in San Luis Obispo,” said Don. “A lot of artists live there. It will be good for her.” I thought of all the things Mrs. Naimer would have, be­ing an adult: a house full of huge fur­ni­ture like beds and fridges and ar­moires. How did you move things like that to Cal­i­for­nia? “Did she fly there?” “Be­lieve it or not, she drove,” said Don. “I think she just got in her car and drove and drove. You know, Mrs. Naimer is a pretty brave lady to do that.”

In­ever saw Mrs. Naimer again, but she re­mained an ac­tive cat­e­gory in my mind, one that never stopped at­tract­ing in­for­ma­tion. A few years back, a gallery in Toronto be­gan sell­ing her paint­ings, and there was an ar­ti­cle in the news­pa­per. And, not long ago, a book club I’d joined was read­ing a mem­oir by a woman who’d gone to Afghanistan. There had been a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity in­volv­ing food sup­ply and the US Army. She had left her six-month-old daugh­ter back home in Cal­i­for­nia. It was only sup­posed to be temporary, but the woman ended up stay­ing abroad, let­ting her mother raise her only child. “I know it’s hard to take, the whole story,” she wrote. “I mean, you don’t DO some­thing like that, right? No, you don’t leave your baby for an ad­ven­ture in a Mid­dle Eastern war zone. The child is sup­posed to be enough. But what if the child just isn’t?” I didn’t make the con­nec­tion be­tween the writer, Alexa Naimer-mas­soud, and her mother un­til I reached her book’s third chap­ter, where she de­scribed “the cliquey Cana­dian-jewish cot­tage coun­try” to which her self-made, emo­tion­ally abu­sive fa­ther sub­jected his free-spir­ited non-jewish wife. “My mother called the beach ‘the snake pit,’” she wrote. “She was not wrong when she said she was too pure a per­son for that nar­row, un­der­min­ing place.”

Iasked thom to go to the vil­lage to buy some paper towel be­cause I would re­quire a lot of it. Abi­gail said she wanted to go with him, which was use­ful, be­cause I needed to con­cen­trate fully on stain re­moval. It was snow­ing fat, wet flakes, but Thom said he’d be care­ful. As soon as they got their coats and boots on and left, I wres­tled the tight white cover off the gi­ant sofa cush­ion and then doused the cover with the con­tents of a green bot­tle of Per­rier. I then be­gan blot­ting, try­ing to lift the stain. I may have gone over­board with the Per­rier. The orig­i­nal stain was no big­ger than a fist, but soon the whole cover was wet, a faint cof­fee colour spread­ing. There was only one roll of paper towel, and when I fin­ished it, I de­cided to switch to cloth, rather than wait around for Thom to bring more rolls. I pulled open a kitchen drawer and found a stack of red-check­ered tea tow­els. I took two — they were, in­sanely, ironed — and pressed them into the soaked cover, adding the laun­der­ing and iron­ing of dish­tow­els to the num­ber of chores nec­es­sary to keep my fam­ily trace­less in Don’s Slot­skied house. I’d have to start a writ­ten list. I then peeled the tow­els off to find that they were only ironed be­cause they were brand new, un­washed. A sur­plus of red dye was now im­printed across half of the cush­ion cover. I felt my right side be­gin to go floppy. This hap­pens when I am over­tired or stressed, the feel­ing in my arm blue grey,

I knew noth­ing other than how my room would be: there would be a bed with thin sheets and knotty wood walls with so many black eyes. mireille sil­coff’s work has ap­peared in The New York Times Magazine, Haaretz, and Elec­tric Lit­er­a­ture.

like a cold fish flac­cid on a hook. I re­main co-pi­loted by these types of symp­toms. Some­times, my right foot parks it­self at an ugly neu­ro­log­i­cal an­gle; some­times, pins and nee­dles cover my face. I also have to think about think­ing all the time. This sounds like a philo­soph­i­cal stance, but it’s merely brain in­jury. There can be bram­bles to push through to know whether ad­dresses on a street are go­ing up or down or to re­mem­ber what I am or­der­ing from a menu by the time the waiter comes. I’ve burned so many ket­tles, Thom won’t let me have a stove­top model any­more. I let my right arm rest and re­turned to work on the cover with a bunch of Thom’s white T-shirts in my left hand. Af­ter an hour, the red was blush pink and by two hours, gone. I stood on the toi­let and man­aged to shoul­der the wa­ter­logged cover onto the shower rail to dry. The sun was al­ready touch­ing the top of the moun­tain at 3 p.m. I made a fire and made some toast and went to the bath­room to check on the cover and burned the toast and made some more toast and went down­stairs to change my damp T-shirt and burnt the toast again. Thom and Abi­gail would be back any minute. I put on my boots and went down to the frozen lake. There wasn’t a thing to do at the lake, bound as it was in ice and snow, but walk­ing back up to the house, I felt bet­ter and grander to­ward Thom, happy, even, to see the car back in the drive­way. I de­cided to for­get the planned box of mac and cheese for din­ner that night. I’d try to cook us all a good din­ner. Thom was wait­ing for me in the kitchen. A sil­ver pole leaned against the fridge — the shower cur­tain rail. “I think the cover was too heavy,” he said. “Where’s Abi­gail?” I asked, hear­ing car­toons from the base­ment as Thom brought me to the bath­room. “She’s fine now,” he said. In the bath­room, the dry­wall was ripped off ei­ther side of the tub. Thom then showed me how he’d draped the cover over two chairs in front of the liv­ing-room fire­place and how he’d opened the glass doors of the hearth to get as much heat as pos­si­ble onto the fab­ric. “It would’ve taken a week other­wise,” he said. The fab­ric was al­ready pock­marked by a burn hole, brown with yel­low halo, some rene­gade fire log too green, the wood with still too much ex­plo­sive youth in­side.

Acou­ple of sum­mers af­ter Mrs. Naimer went away, I grew strong and old enough to swim across the lake, the way she had. I re­mem­ber the breath­less sen­sa­tion of ar­riv­ing at the mid­dle of the lake, of not know­ing how much longer it would take to reach the op­po­site shore. I’d pad­dle in sections, ten strokes at a time, never al­low­ing my­self to think be­yond the section I was in, be­cause any­one can do ten strokes, no mat­ter how tired they are. Putting my boots back on, I told Thom I was go­ing to the hard­ware store in the vil­lage to see if I could lo­cate a handy­man to fix the bath­room walls. “If I am not back by din­ner, make Abi­gail mac and cheese,” I said, the words ex­it­ing my mouth in a way that made me hear them as if ut­tered by some­one else. My heart was pump­ing in my ears, my right arm swing­ing like a sev­ered limb. In the car, a nearly blind­ing static siz­zled be­hind my eyes. Without mean­ing to, I zoomed past the exit for the vil­lage, the me­chan­ics of the turnoff some­how more than my sys­tem could han­dle. Rather than cir­cle back, I told my­self I could cool down and drive to the hard­ware store the next vil­lage up. But then I blew that exit, too, and the one af­ter that. A phrase looped un­der my breath, one I now rec­og­nize from the Naimer-mas­soud book: You don’t DO some­thing like that; you don’t DO some­thing like that. The car was mov­ing fur­ther and fur­ther away from Thom and Abi­gail, my fam­ily at Don’s house, stranded with no car. As the high­way lights blazed and dis­si­pated, I got flashes, images: Abi­gail’s palms, the creases still faint in the puffy flesh; Abi­gail’s pinky toe­nails, which grew in per­fect cir­cles; her lit­tle heartshaped calves. This year, she’d de­vel­oped a sparse cov­er­ing of tough blond hairs on her legs, hairs that hinted at eras to come, years that would ar­rive no mat­ter where I was. It was dark when I pulled into a log cabin–style ho­tel in the ham­let of ValDavid, an old place called Au­berge des sap­ins. I knew it from the few years Don and Judy were to­gether and I was their child. Au­berge des sap­ins was once where ev­ery­one from the lake did New Year’s Eve, all the moms and dads and their kids, the smell of maple smoke and red wine and red can­dles, and all the chil­dren wait­ing for the mid­night mille feuilles with sparklers in them. My phone rang. I turned it off. The lobby was dark and dank with old oil and mould. Was I just em­bark­ing on a lost week­end? A two-day mis­take that would turn me, in Thom’s mind, into the type of crazy woman I was ac­tu­ally noth­ing like: one who could think of leav­ing a child whose breath was still sweet be­hind her small white teeth? The lady at the desk said she could give me a reg­u­lar room or one of the pine cab­ins that had a whirlpool and a kitch­enette. She’d give me any room I wanted. The ho­tel was not very full. I said a cabin, and I knew noth­ing other than how my room would be: there would be a bed with cold sheets and knotty wood walls with so many black eyes. I would wake up in the morn­ing, and the eyes in the walls would con­nect with mine, and it would not mean that I was in a good place, but rather that I was some­where.

Tax niʔ pik̓ak — a long time ago, Ka titi was in her kitchen when Un­cle Pat came in and said: “Did you see what the suyupi did now? They built a statue to David Thomp­son. They say he is a great man. Many peo­ple gath­ered at the hill­top and there were speeches and ka·pi. I like ka·pi, so I went there and that’s what they said.” Un­cle Pat was known for a few things, his old beat-up red-and-black Ford truck and his love of ka·pi. “If you keep drink­ing that it will make you think like a crazy suyupi,” said Ka titi. It was true, Un­cle Pat had be­come more and more like the suyupi with ev­ery cup of ka·pi. He used to dream with K ⱡ aw ⱡ a and Kupi, but ever since he en­joyed too much ka·pi they dreamt on their own. “Ka·pi is for cer­e­mony and bless­ings,” said Ka titi. “Ev­ery day is a bless­ing,” Un­cle Pat said as he rum­maged in the ka·pi can for a hint of brew. Ka titi stood at the kitchen win­dow look­ing out to­ward the bones of Yawuʔnik̓. “I tell you some­thing that you don’t know,” said Ka titi. “Oh what’s that,” said Un­cle Pat. “Ever since the white man showed up on teevee, a lot of us In­di­ans don’t be­lieve in mir­a­cles. Un­less Alex Tre­bek shakes your hand or Pat Pay­check gives you a spin, there is no magic to be had.” “Uh-huh.” “David Thomp­son was hun­gry, lost, and afraid when he came to Ktu­naxa ʔa­mak̓is and that’s how he should be re­mem­bered. In­stead, we get this story that celebrates him as some great ex­plorer, and that is wrong. He didn’t know where he was go­ing.” “Oh ya,” said Un­cle Pat, lis­ten­ing in the way that men do and do not. “Well that’s not what they say in town,” he con­tin­ued. “Uh-huh,” said Ka titi. “And that’s not what’s in the news­pa­per.” “Uh-huh,” said Ka titi. “They said they are go­ing to name the new school for him too. Maybe even change the name of the Over­waitea to the David Thomp­son Memo­rial Over­waitea.” “ⱡ a taʔqna,” said Ka titi.

“That’s what they are say­ing,” said Un­cle Pat. Ka titi had been alive longer than most of the peo­ple on the re­serve. She re­mem­bered when David Thomp­son ar­rived in Ktu­naxa ʔa­mak̓is and she wasn’t im­pressed then and she wasn’t im­pressed now. Un­cle Pat had man­aged to scrounge enough ka·pi grounds to fix to­gether a half a cup. He put the ket­tle on the stove and waited for it to boil. Ka titi waited for the ket­tle. As she waited, her thoughts took her away. Some­times her thoughts brought her to places where she had been long be­fore and places that she hadn’t been to at all but still could re­mem­ber. Her thoughts were some­where be­tween the first glacier win­ter and the first Hockey Night in Canada. The whistling ket­tle brought her back to the present as Un­cle Pat poured the boil­ing wa­ter into the cup he had placed on the counter. Un­cle Pat headed to the out­house to do his busi­ness ex­pect­ing to en­joy that lovely, hot cup of ka·pi when he re­turned. He must have been in the out­house a long time as it was get­ting dark when he got out. On the way back, he thought he heard Kupi call his name. This scared Un­cle Pat, so he ran into the house. Ka titi was sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble with his cup of ka·pi in her old hands and a small pile of smokes next to a well-used cig­a­rette lighter. “Kupi called my name,” said Un­cle Pat, scared and filled with the hee­bie-jee­bies. “Sure she did, you are not the only one to use the out­house.” “I’m not?” “Waha. Think of all the an­ces­tors who are in these woods, where do you think they go?” That had not oc­curred to Un­cle Pat. In that con­tem­pla­tion, Ka titi put a smoke to her mouth, lit the to­bacco, and took a long drag. Un­cle Pat had not seen Ka titi smoke be­fore, and that along with the call of Kupi re­ally put him in a state. Ka titi handed a smoke to Un­cle Pat and told him to take a drag and give it to the moon. Only then could he smoke it for him­self. Un­cle Pat heeded her di­rec­tion and went out­side giv­ing his smoke to kȼi miti nuqka. It was good to give the smoke to kȼi miti nuqka as it was just com­ing up be­hind papa ·kwuk iʔit. The buzz from the ka·pi had left Un­cle Pat, and his eyes were clear­ing up. “It sure is beau­ti­ful,” said Un­cle Pat. “It sure is beau­ti­ful,” an­swered Kupi. Un­cle Pat did not see Kupi near him when he smoked. He was so sur­prised he nearly dropped his smoke. He of­fered Kupi the pipe, but Kupi laughed like an old bird and flew off to­ward Bon­ners. “Crazy bird,” said Un­cle Pat. He took another smoke and gave it to papa ·kwuk iʔit and headed back in­side. Ka titi was still sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble when Un­cle Pat came in. She took the cig­a­rette roller, looked at it, and put it back into its buck­skin case. “Kupi didn’t like to smoke,” said Un­cle Pat. Ka titi looked at Un­cle Pat: “a taʔqna.” “I know, Ka titi.” “Let me tell you about David Thomp­son,” said Ka titi. “He wasn’t just lost, he was a copy­cat.” Un­cle Pat lis­tened to Ka titi, eye­ing the ka·pi swirling around the cup in Ka titi’s hand. “David Thomp­son heard the story of your Un­cle Skin and was try­ing to do the same thing,” said Ka titi. “What are you talk­ing about,” asked Un­cle Pat. “Your Un­cle Skin,” said Ka titi. “What, you think you are the only un­cle around here?” “Well...” “There have been many un­cles be­fore you and many more are still to come.” “Oh well.” “And David Thomp­son heard of your un­cle’s tale and tried to do the same thing.” “What story is that, Ka titi,” asked Un­cle Pat. “Your Un­cle Skin has been miss­ing for a long time.” “Yes, Ka titi.” “He wasn’t al­ways miss­ing, you know. He used to go miss­ing, but he would al­ways come back, usu­ally around jump dance and the rodeos.” Un­cle Pat just lis­tened to Ka titi speak. He never knew his Un­cle Skin, and any time folks talked about him, Un­cle Pat would get quiet and lis­ten. “Your Un­cle Skin was crazy, not like the suyupi with their cars and their ka·pi. He was crazy like numa in umay­it­namu. He knew things that were hap­pen­ing far away and he knew things be­fore they hap­pened. He was a clever man, but that made oth­ers in the tribe wary of him. He was often seen walk­ing with Kupi on nights like this. “One day the tribe had been without a good meal in a long time. Hunt­ing sea­son was over and there was lit­tle game to eat. So Skin started walk­ing. At first it seemed like he was walk­ing in a trance. But he soon found his way over the moun­tains to the east, towards the kuȼkiyawiy. Ev­ery­one thought he wouldn’t come back, as most of our men who went that way got tan­gled up in rodeos and love tri­an­gles. “That’s not what hap­pened to Un­cle Skin. He walked from here at ʔaq̓am, through the moun­tains to the plains, all the way to a place called Leth­bridge. When he got there, the suyupis were open­ing a brand new Over­waitea. They were just about to eat when he walked in the store and asked for food. As these suyupi had never seen a Ktu­naxa be­fore they were nat­u­rally im­pressed as we Ktu­naxa are known for our well-de­vel­oped bod­ies and easy­go­ing at­ti­tude towards sex.” “I’ll say,” said Un­cle Pat. “Any­how, Skin made his way to the deli and asked for a beet salad and some chicken. The suy­pui didn’t know what to do so they gave it to him. He put it into a buck­skin bag and headed west. “The suyupi were so im­pressed by his feat of courage that they be­gan to tell sto­ries about him. They built a statue in his hon­our and this is what David Thomp­son learned of in his Lon­don condo.” “Uh-huh.” “When Skin came back to the tribe, ev­ery­one was hun­gry and some of us were re­ally ir­ri­ta­ble. Just the sight of him was enough to up­set the tribe as there was just enough food for ev­ery­one un­til spring. “Na­suʔkin saw Skin and said ‘waha, Skin! We don’t want you here. You have

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.