Issue 7 :: Spring 2005  
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Hannah Holborn


Mary shuddered and slipped fully out of sleep and into sullen heat. She lay naked beneath a heap of filthy blankets, seeking ease while she turned things over in her mind. Sleep was an easy road, but it made waking hard. Not that sleep was always a castle of pleasure. Sleep meant dreams and sometimes dreams were hot roads with signs that read, Hades, ten thousand kilometres, or shopping carts that rattled down four-lane highways. Or dreams were her mother, red hair streaming and skirt hoisted like a sail to the wind, skimming along back roads with her naked privates warmed by a hot Chinook wind.

A male finch trilled just beyond the plastic that covered Mary’s bedroom window. The bird bobbed on a sunflower head visible through a hole where the plastic had once shown Death hitching a hell-bound ride. The mother Liza James had made her cut Death from the thick plastic with the hair-trimming scissors.

Mary reached to scratch her foot. She felt the telltale prick of bone. Bits of bone floated like so many toothpicks under the skin of both feet. Every day Liza applied herbal poultices, unaware of the splinters that broke through the skin, splinters that Mary pulled from her feet in the privacy of her temporary room and then hid like talismans between the musty mattresses of the bed.

The James family had found Mary discarded by a violent ride like a Big Mac wrapper on the side of the road. Despite Liza’s lipsticked pouting, the father Devon James had pulled their dusty truck to a stop. He scratched at his salt-and-pepper beard as he leant across his wife in the passenger seat. “Need a ride somewhere, kid?” he said.

“Nope.” Mary took another step on her bleeding feet.

Devon James turned the truck towards the shoulder to head her off. “We can’t just leave you like this. You have to let us help.”

“Devon!” Liza scolded. Two kids, blonde and petite like their mother, huddled in the backseat.

Mary caught the youngest child’s eye. “He can feed me,” she said.

On the James’ isolated mountain, Mary spent her days keeping the peace and avoiding the looming eye of god. She felt the eye upon her now as she slipped on an old tee shirt and a wrap-around skirt. Hers were ugly things, not like the Liza’s summer clothing. Liza owned pretty flower-print dresses, jeans too and little tank tops to go with them.

Mary buckled on her sandals before she crossed the room. She called the boy’s name into the empty hallway. “Benny!” The effort hurt her parched throat. He should be in the kitchen learning his alphabet or listening to his sister, Isa, read aloud. With no schools on the mountain, the children did their lessons every morning year-round.

An aluminium bucket sat on the kitchen’s black and white linoleum floor. Though the water was brackish and warm to the touch, Mary crouched on the floor and scooped up a handful to drink.

“Benny,” she repeated. Stronger now, her voice carried through the hot screen door as she pushed on its rusted frame. Black firs rimmed an open yard where insects baked to their deaths. The perky Wyandotte chickens were nowhere to be seen.

Each step Mary took lifted dust that swirled around her feet and ankles. The dense blue sky pressed down like a hand upon her brain. A lifeless frog lay flattened in a tire track made by the family’s missing truck.

Mary made for a stand of birch that shielded the creek. She rounded the trees and entered the river where the children often found refuge from the sapping heat. So cold! How could they stand it? Every day, with their arms and legs pressed together, the siblings searched the riverbed for rocks. Water gave the rocks colour, tuned them into the gold and rubies and opals that would make the James family rich and get them off the mountain. Isa, the serious child-mother, worked hard while Benny chased the golden tips of her floating hair. Isa kept Benny close, kept him away from Mary.

Shadow chilled the air. Cold shocked her hot skin as she waded deeper. The clouds passed and heat returned as she hobbled along. A vibration in the air grew into a hum. Mary shut her eyes and inched forward over the silky bottom. Water splashed her legs and arms, weighed down her skirt. She slipped and stumbled. Beneath the surface of the water, her head struck a rock, forcing her eyes open.

Horizontal bars of light rippled along the river’s bottom. Something drifted through the shadow cast by Mary’s head. It sparkled green-gold where the sun poked through. When her own black locks joined it, she reached out and touched where dark and light intertwined. Her searching fingers felt the silky texture.

Lifting her head, she sucked in metallic tasting air. Blood stained the water that ran down her face. The mollycoddled Labrador lay in the water. Around the dog’s bloated, waxy throat, an insect cloud hovered. Hair-trimming scissors glittered nearby.

Voices sounded in the distance, cheerful voices and a child’s laughter.

Mary dragged the dog into deeper water. She propelled the animal’s body mid-stream. One paw caught on the reedy bottom before it floated free.

The forest banked both sides of the river and hemmed in the sky. The sky was another kind of road and so was the river. Mary knew that the river churned and twisted until it spilled down the side of the mountain. She knew the water’s speed and strength. She knew about the falls, how they tumbled. She knew that in the valley it widened and slowed, becoming a wide brown ribbon.

“Mary!” Benny called.

As the rocky bottom cut her feet, Mary let the dog slip into the flow.