Excerpted from The Flying Troutmans, winner of the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Copyright (c) 2008 Miriam Toews. Published by Knopf Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved. In this excerpt, Hattie is driving through the United States with her teenaged niece and nephew in search of her father.
I woke up before the kids and noticed that Thebes had left a small silver notebook by the bed. Logan had covered himself up completely with his blanket. I couldn’t see him but I could hear him snoring softly, humming, like a little airplane lost in the clouds. I picked up Thebes’s notebook.
Road trip. First day. We are in America. I’ve been profiled at the border as a retard, by Logan. They still let me in. Hattie is sad about her boyfriend in Paris. He doesn’t like her any more. Logan told her Internet dating was making a comeback and I told her to try to meet a whale, they mate for life. Ha ha. Logan hit me in the face with the Frisbee. The good thing is we’re all saved. I miss you. I love you. I won’t forget the important things.
I went to the lobby again and phoned the hospital and asked to speak to Min. The nurse said that wouldn’t be possible right then . . . could they give her a message? Why isn’t it possible? I asked.
Are you family? she said.
Yeah, I’m her sister, I said. The woman didn’t think she had the authority to talk about Min’s situation right then, but I could leave my number and she would get the doctor to call me back later in the day after rounds.
Well, I said, I’m not . . . I don’t have a number. I’m at a pay phone.
Well, said the woman, will you be able to be reached later on in the day?
Well, I said, no. Is there a good time to call back? Then she told me that she believed the patient was having some difficulty speaking. That she was not quite ready to participate in normal daily routines. Yeah, I could understand that.
Hey, I said, my sister is alive, right? I immediately regretted it.
Yes, of course! said the woman.
I appreciated her emphatic confirmation, I did, but I asked her again if she was sure about that. Like, had somebody checked on Min in the last hour?
She’s resting at the moment, said the woman. It’ll take some time. She is alive, don’t worry.
I thanked her and hung up and briefly considered turning right around and going back. I felt like the kid at the end of the five-metre diving board. I didn’t really want to jump but there were twenty kids behind me lined up and yelling at me to go.
Thebes was loading the stuff into the van and Logan was picking and rolling around the parking lot with his basketball, periodically banging it off stuff like the van and the window at the front desk. The woman inside banged back and then came and told us to clear on outta there. There was a large black oil slick under the van.
Shotgun, said Thebes.
Already dibsed it, said Logan.
I hate you, said Thebes.
We were back on the road.
Thebes rooted around in the cooler and made us all peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. Logan let her use his knife to cut them up but made her promise not to lick it. She wiped it on her filthy, rotting terry cloth shorts.
Did you bring other clothes? I asked her. How do you get so dirty anyway?
Just by way of my life, she said. What did Min say?
She said hi and sends big hugs and kisses, I said. Hopes we’re having fun. Thebes smiled and moved her purple head from side to side like her favourite song had just come on the radio. Logan glanced at me, sideways, briefly, entirely hip to my bullshit. I honked the horn for no reason and whispered, Murdo, baby. Let’s go.
It was my turn for a CD. I put in some Lucinda Williams and Logan said noooooooooooooooooooo. He covered his face with his hands. Please, no, please, he said. I’m begging you.
C’mon, I said, it’s not country. Check out the lyrics. I tossed the CD case into his lap. He screamed and tossed it back at me like it was a shitty diaper. Just put on your headphones then, I said. I’m playing it. I might play it on my next turn too. I’ve got a broken heart.
Logan took out his knife and started carving in the dashboard again. I wasn’t going to try to stop him any more. I wanted to figure out what all his carvings meant. If the dashboard was his canvas, so be it. Who cares if it lowered resale value. It was a Ford Aerostar.
If I was a band I’d be breaking up, he wrote. The glove compartment door fell open and all the stuff inside fell out and he cursed and picked it up and rammed it back in and it wouldn’t shut and for the next five or ten minutes he kept kicking it, over and over, trying to keep it closed.
Hey, said Thebes, from the back, how’s morale up there? She asked Logan if he needed an oversized novelty cheque because she sure could make him one if he wanted, she had all the art supplies necessary. I peeked at her in the rear-view mirror. It looked like she’d cut her own hair along the sides. Logan took a roach out of his pocket and stuck it in his mouth.
Hey, no, you can’t do that, smarten up, I said. Give me that. I tried to grab the thing out of his mouth but he moved his head and then grabbed my wrist in mid-air and held it there for an improbable amount of time. And I realized he wanted to be holding my wrist or at least holding something warm and human so we drove awhile like that, him holding up my arm like it was a big fish he’d caught and he was eight years old and having his picture taken.
We flew past animated families enjoying things like waterslides and go-karts and minigolf. My CD was over and it was quiet in the van. Nobody was talking and it was making me nervous for some reason. I couldn’t stop thinking about Min, about what I should be doing, about how I had answered her question, her request, Help me die, and if it had been entirely wrong. The alternative seemed insane. Was I supposed to have agreed to kill my sister? Would that have bought her a little more time and made her happy? Just knowing that she had an out if she really, truly needed one? That her little sister would come along and knock her out with a hammer or something? Put a pillow over her face? What was I supposed to have said? Was it the least I could do considering that from the day I was born my sister had wanted to die?
None of us moved in our seats. We were all paralyzed, lethargic and irritable. Like we were a bunch of recently beached whales who hadn’t known each other in the sea and weren’t about to hook up out of the sea, but there we were, together, incapable of moving and stuck with each other.
Then Thebes spoke. What does it mean when a person asks, Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Are you stupid? asked Logan.
Don’t call her stupid, I said.
I didn’t call her stupid, said Logan, I asked if she was. Then he paused and said skaaaaa in a voice that meant he thought she was a loser for playing the sax in a ska band at school.
What does that have to do with anything? she asked. Are you clueless or didn’t you know that ska is all the rage in Mexico City?
So go there, said Logan. Want a ride to the airport?
Hey, said Thebes, what does “Do Not Siphon Gas by Mouth” mean? There was a sign at that gas station.
It means don’t steal the gas with a siphon, with your mouth, I said.
What do you mean? she asked.
I don’t know. I think just don’t suck the gas from the nozzle, like with a tube or whatever, and then spit it into your own car? Maybe. I’m not sure. There was actually an official sign that said that? I asked.
Who would do that? said Thebes. Like, who would suck gas from a car?
I don’t know, I said. People who really want gas.
Godspell, said Thebes. What’s so great about gas?
Just say “god,” Thebes, said Logan.
Hey, said Thebes, what does “Gonna Git Me Some” mean?
I don’t know, I said.