Richard’s vehicle died before dawn on a Sunday morning in December on Highway 3 near Christina Lake. Pulled over on the shoulder of the road, just past the Chevron that had been there since he was a child, Richard was struggling to maneuver his aging bulging frame within the confines of his needing to be charged dead car. His winter boots, bought specifically for this Christmas getaway were located behind the passenger seat, while his mittens and toque were behind the driver seat. Upon locating and adorning his winter clothing, Richard wondered what he should do next.
The wind was blowing a wet snow. Richard knew that nothing in this town, this time of year would be open for another couple hours, at least. “Shit,” he mumbled as he struggled with his boots in the tiny interior of his Smart Urban Commuter. He knew that he should not have attempted this drive in this car. He knew that having made it to Grand Forks, he should have parked and waited for the charging station to open, but he tried his luck. Now here he was stuck in a summer tourist town. A town he idealized as a place of youthful innocence, but, if truth be told, a place he vaguely remembered. “Interesting what memory can do”, he thought as he pondered a way to avoid sitting in the -20-degree car for the next couple of hours. “This place, at least in the winter, looks like nothing, a place people like me would not drive through, at least in the winter. But here I am. Fuck,” he thought and punched the small dashboard as hard as he could. The dashboard must have froze quickly as it split upon impact. “Great, just great,” he thought.
Richard, having decided the best thing to do was to move his body to keep warm, got out of the car and started walking. He immediately headed in the direction of the house his grandparents lived in when he was a child. Walking along the streets he noticed that the campground that had once abutted the local mini mart had been replaced by a multistory hotel, a hotel that Richard feared was closed for the season. He headed towards the hotel anyway, it was on the way to his grandparent’s old place and maybe, just maybe, it opened for the Christmas holidays. “A coffee shop, the place probably has a little coffee shop open for people who check out early,” he optimistically thought.
He could see that no lights were on in the hotel. He kept going and as he got closer to the doorway a figure huddled in the alcove above the main doors shouted out: “I’m first in line”. Richard approached, clearly there was nobody else nearby. “First in line for what?” wondered Richard.
“Is the hotel open?” Richard asked the man.
The man, approaching Richard, stopped short and looked him up and down: “You here for work?” he asked chuckling.
“I am here to speak to the owner of the hotel”, Richard lied.
The lie, told for several reasons, first among them was that Richard had not encountered a destitute person since before the poor were relocated outside the Government Workers Zone about fifteen years ago, was not very convincing.
“You are not going to speak to the CEO today, not in Christina Lake, not in December. Fucking idiot,” said the man Richard assumed was some sort of day labourer.
Shocked, Richard wondered if he had anything to fear. The great monetary expense and political capital that was disbursed in relocating the poor away from the residences of people like Richard, must have been expended for a reason. By stating that he was seeking out the owner he placed himself in an even more powerful position.
“Why on earth are you standing here in the cold?” asked Richard “if you’re looking for work shouldn’t you just apply online?”
“The man, shaking his head in disbelief, looked closely at Richard and then said: “Where you from bud?”
Richard felt vulnerable to this question. He knew that he was from a place this person, a man standing outside of a hotel looking for work, would never be allowed to enter. He also knew that by saying where he was from he would expose his current vulnerability. Richard, if he was in his proper environment, would never see, let alone speak, to a day labourer. This morning though it was only Richard and this man. The police were not present in a community like Christina Lake, in the winter. At best, there may be a detachment in Grand Forks, more likely Kelowna was home to the nearest physical location.
“Hmmm,” the man said “you best get going wherever you’re going. Ain’t nothing for you around here”.
Richard knew that what this man was saying was correct. There was no reason to prolong contact with him. They shared nothing and could share nothing.
“You’re probably right,” Richard said. He backed up, turned, and walked quickly away towards the home built by grandparents.
His grandparents built their home in the mid-70s upon his grandfather, a veteran of the Second World War, retiring from the sawmill he had worked at since returning from Europe. This was before every veteran of the second world war was awarded government honours and deemed to be the backbone of the “Greatest Generation”. His grandfather had returned from performing his duty and then carried on. Adopted a couple of children, he suspected something overseas had made him infertile. The home situated in the middle of three lots was across from the town lawn bowling green, a sport, despite his grandparents’ senior status, they never played. As Richard walked towards the home he noticed nothing had changed; despite Christina Lake’s reputation as the summer playground of British Columbia’s upper-middle class, on this street at least, the surroundings were still identical to those that his grandparents encountered when they left the coast, the sawmill, for a peaceful retirement.
Richard saw light coming from the room his grandparents once called their own and smoke was coming from the chimney. He also saw a handmade sign on the front lawn, “For Sale BY OWNER” it read. With the wet snow blowing, Richard wondered if he shouldn’t knock on the door. The occupants looked to be awake, the lights were on and the fire was burning. He could simply tell whoever answered that his grandparents built this house, that connection, in some way, surely must give him some viewing rights.
There was no sense hesitating. It was cold and Richard would look suspicious standing in front of the home trying to make up his mind. Richard approached the door and knocked harder than he had planned.
BAM BAM BAM
He heard scurrying around in the front. The door was answered by a woman wearing clothes Richard would describe as rags. A filthy heavily patched Sun Ice coat from the 1980s, any hint of fluorescent long gone. A pair of jeans stained with what looked to be engine oil. And a pair of ancient Sorel boots that like her coat, Richard had not seen since his youth. In a raspy cigarette stained staccato speech: “Sorry…I…took so…long…are…you here for the…”, but before she could finish a wheezing cough doubled her thin frame over.
“I am so sorry to bother you, ma’am, but the reason I am here is that my grandparents built this home and,” Richard began,
Having caught her breath the woman took this introduction as something that was not only welcome, but something to be celebrated. “Well please…do follow me…I will give you the…grand tour…ha ha”, she said.
They entered the house and it was just as Richard remembered. A poorly designed home, no doubt. One built for immediate habitation and not for aesthetic pleasure. The entrance was the living room. There was a piece of linoleum and then a transition to carpet. The master bedroom, the washroom, and a second bedroom all adjoined the living room on the left. There was a dining room table about ten feet away from the front door, a small partition, and then the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen were the stairs to the basement.
No longer a home for a retired sawmill worker and his wife, the home was now in the hands of, what appeared to be a service worker, a worker whose health was visibly fragile. The woman showing Richard around would, Richard guessed, sell quickly and at a very reasonable price. What would it be like to live in Christina Lake? Richard wondered. With the dissolution of his family life, Richard felt he was at a crossroads and the time for change in his life was nigh. His wife and child were living in the exurbs of the Vancouver District. Richard stuck in a bachelor suite in the Government Workers’ Zone. Couldn’t he find a way to work remotely?
“What…ha ha…would you [long pause] like…,” the woman coughed a big wad of phlegm into her hand “…to see?” asked the woman who had proceeded into the kitchen, “not much has changed since our parents bought the place in the 1990s”.
“You grew up here?” asked Richard who was somewhat intrigued.
“Me, I’m June, and my brother…his name’s…Robinson…come downstairs…he’s cooking right now…we’ve…lived here…our whole life. Come downstairs you…should meet him.” she said.
Richard had no desire to meet her brother. He had seen enough of this ramshackle home. His memory was flawed, it had been for the last year. When Joanne left him for the programmer who lived two condos down, he entered a state of apathy that was unknown to him and his career driven companions. He still went to work, and produced a viable product, yet his heart wasn’t there anymore. He started to have thoughts about the divide that separated him from his past? But now after seeing a piece of his past up close, he realized the divide was unbridgeable. Who were these people that lived in the house his grandparents once resided in? All he felt was disgust, for them and the town, at least this time of year, where they lived.
“I should get going,” said Richard, “thanks for letting me stop by”.
They had walked the duration of the upper floor of the house. If Richard turned around he would be facing the front door, in front of him was the back door and to his left the staircase. “Well let’s…go downstairs…like I said Robinson is cooking down there”, June said, ignoring Richard’s taking of leave.
“Robinson…a guy…called Richard is…here to look…at the…house…seems his grandparents made it…and he…wants to buy it…back,” June yelled.
“Now wait just a minute, I never said I wanted to buy your home,” Richard interjected.
The woman stopped, turned around and in a threatening, snarling tone of voice asked him: “Why the fuck you here then, huh?”
Her brother began to ascend the stairs. “June, why’s this fella in the house?” the bother asked.
June looking down the stairs to her brother said: “this pretty boy came here with some story about how his grandparents built our house.”
“And now that he has scouted our shit, he’s gonna leave?” asked the brother.
Richard watched as the two unkempt siblings had their discussion. The brother, who was supposedly cooking in the basement, was wearing a bloody butcher’s apron which hung to his knees.
“Now, now”, Richard said “there is no problem, I was just in the neighborhood and saw the lights on”.
Before he could conclude his, admittedly, strange reason for being in what once was his grandparent’s home, the brother interrupted.
“In the neighborhood?” the disgruntled brother asked from the middle of the staircase. “Fuck off you were in the neighborhood. I have lived in this town my entire fucking life and I have never seen your face before. You show up here on a Sunday morning in December and act like you have some connection to this home because your grandparents supposedly built it? I know for a fact that the people that built this house weren’t your grandparents, they were my fucking parents.”
And with that the brother pulled a knife from a pocket in his butcher’s apron and began walking up the plywood stairs.
Richard was amazed that he wasn’t afraid. He was viewing the situation almost from outside of himself. He saw the brother coming closer, a menacing figure climbing the stairs. He saw June standing to his right. The whole scene was pathetic. Richard, a man of importance in the Government Workers’ Zone, was in a crappy little house in some backwoods town on a Sunday morning being attacked by proles.
“Shut the fuck up!” he said, “And go back downstairs both of you. I’m leaving and I’m reporting both of you to your boss for speaking to me this way.”
Richard began to slowly back up the stairs. The brother, with the look of a man who felt no qualms using a weapon, continued to follow Richard up the stairs. Richard, however, was trained, he had been to many a safety meeting about how to speak to and forcefully interact with the lower classes and unlike at the hotel, he would put these lessons to use. He pulled a small Taser from his front pocket and, without warning, as he had been taught, zapped the brother in the chest.
“You,” he hesitated, but he knew that decisiveness and brutality was the only way to get through to these people, “you pile of shit, you need to respect your betters. You are a service worker, nothing else. If ever you threaten me, or someone like me again, you will not just be tased. Someone will fucking kill you!” Richard screamed.
At this, the June half-heartedly flung herself onto Richard and slapped him on his head. “Stop it,” she pleaded, “we’re sorry”.
Richard turned towards her and with his right hand shoved her down the stairs.
Thump, thump, thump.
She crumpled into a pathetic ball on the bottom of the stairs. Richard, feeling adrenaline pulsating through his body, held down the trigger on the Taser one last time before releasing the line. The brother rolled down the stairs, crumpling in a heap next to his sister.
“Never liked this town anyway,” grumbled Richard as he began to ascend the stairs.