First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 89

ART+LIT From the story collection BAD ENDINGS excerpt from “War of Attrition” M by Carleigh Baker (Anvil Press, 2017) Y MARRIAGE IS ENDING and it’s my fault. In the other room, Andrew is snoring. I’m on the couch. Here is the buttery weight of polar fleece on bare skin, the entire length of my body unblemished by a goose bump. Try not to anticipate the cold. Squint at the dark window, listen for the rain, but only to harden against the inevitable. At five I get up: sweater, housecoat, slippers on the floor within reach. Pull them under the covers first. To turn on the gas fireplace is to risk making inside too comfortable. Kettle on while I dress for work: long underwear, fleece vest, wool sweater. Two layers of socks, even though that’s not a good idea. Cuts off circulation, Andrew says. Shell pants. Rubber boots. An old snowboarding jacket that was never used for snowboarding, Scotchgarded. A toque, and over that, a Sou’wester, from when Andrew and I used to go sailing. Gloves with the fingers cut out. My last layer, the standard issue Metropolitan News vest with a pocket in the front for extra gloves and tissues, and a plastic panel in the back for today’s paper. Stand at the window with a cup of tea I’ll only get a few sips into, and listen to Andrew. In the summer months, this time of day is clandestine and peaceful, but in the winter, it’s just lonely. It is raining—misting really—a wet that will sneak up on me as the morning progresses. Moisture will collect on the SkyTrain supports over my head and drop down when the trains pass. Hit me in the face when I look up. Down four flights of stairs in my rubber boots. Our suite is top floor, looks over the neighbourhood with a peekaboo view of the river during the day. I’ll never afford something like this after I leave him. There are seldom any SkyTrain cops on the first train of the day. They’ve never hassled me on the way home either; the Metropolitan vest seems to have some kind of cloaking effect. With it on, I’m at the bottom of the food chain where I belong. Lana taught me to always keep an expired ticket, just in case. She says they’re paying more attention to how guilty you look than the actual date on the ticket. Lana is technically my rival; she hands out the 48 Hours paper. She’s good at working the system, which is very Russian of her, or at least that’s what she says. I haven’t met many Russians. “Life is shit,” she says in a Doctor Zhivago brogue. We’re pulling papers out of the morning stacks and folding them in half. “You marry doctor, move to Canada, then husband leave to have sex with nurses and you must marry butcher so you can stay. And for what? Canada. Is not so great here.” —Carleigh Baker excerpt from “The Honey House” M ONDAY MORNING. Al is lugging beehive boxes into the truck three at a time. “Ever done any sailing, Ember?” This question isn’t conversational; Al doesn’t do conversation. I’ve been at the honey farm one week and I know this. I study him and try to formulate the least stupid response. All I can come up with is the truth. “Once. But I got so seasick they had to take me home pretty quick.” “Figures.” He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans and pulls out some packing twine. “I’ll teach you a half hitch. You’ll be making a lot of ’em today.” I nod. Al and I are going out to work with the bees. Claire, his wife and usual assistant, needs to make some deliveries in Vancouver. “Over, over, under, through. Easy.” Al ties the knot with practiced precision, while I race to keep up. He rolls his eyes when the knot comes apart in my hands. “Again,” he says. He spends a good five minutes with me and my jute, repeating an endless cycle of over, over, under, and through. There are beads of sweat forming on his brow when he finally throws up his hands. “You’ll get the hang of it. Get in the truck.” We’re going to build bear fences. They’ve been wreaking havoc on the hives in a few locations, looking for a free lunch. Just Al and I, alone for eight and a half hours. And the bees. Several thousand bees. Last week all I did was sweep the shop and scrape wax out of old hives. No bees in sight. Al and I drive a few kilometres out of town, towards Lower Madrona. Donna, my honey house co-worker, lives out here somewhere, in one of the trailer parks. Last week she mentioned a place where you could buy the best salmon jerky in town. Al and I turn off the main road by a corner store. BEST Salmon is scrawled in green paint across a piece of plywood, propped up against a burned-out barrel. I assume that’s it. Al’s truck kicks up a James Bond-like smokescreen of dust behind us as we drive past an old farmhouse. One side of the front porch seems to be sinking into the ground. A battered wicker rocking chair sits on the low side. I imagine it sliding there from the ground-level side, slowly but surely, unnoticed, like those mysterious moving rocks in Death Valley. An angry Rottweiler peels out from his doghouse and chases the truck for a few minutes, then disappears into the dust trail. Seriously pastoral stuff. —Carleigh Baker WINTER 2018/19 | 87