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From Crossings, a novel first published by Pulp Press (now Arsenal Pulp Press) in 1979. A new edition of Crossings was published in 2011 as part of the Legacy Books Project, sponsored by the City of Vancouver and the Association of Book Publishers of B.C.
I took the cats and flew up to the island. All the time I was getting ready to go, packing, neatly, like a lady, I felt frozen. As if the trembling had frozen into a single shrieking note, high-pitched on a violin, so high that no one could hear, only the mad dogs of the universe.
And I moved calmly, neatly, precisely, like a lady, a small poised smile on my face, cold with that shriek of terror. I was putting myself in his hands. I was going to his territory. I was going beautiful, a sacrifice.
“You can’t destroy me,” he had said. “I’ve been destroyed by experts.”
I rounded up the cats and put them, yowling, into the big Mexican basket. I put my typewriter in the case. I took enough paper for the last story.
The big plane flew low over the water and we came in. This was the end of the world but there was still another plane to catch. When the man opened the luggage compartment, Peter spat at him. He had gotten out of the Mexican basket. Sally and Lolly were still inside, huddled, afraid, frozen. But Peter was enormous, puffed out to twice his size with indignation. “I’ve got a tiger in my tail,” said the man and everyone laughed. I laughed too, and gathered Peter up, stroking him, saying, “It’s going to be all right. It’s all right, it’s going to be all right.”
I found a taxi. He seemed to know all about it. We drove to the sea. I went down the ramp as if it were the most normal thing in the world. There was a man in a hut, at the bottom of the ramp. A little hut with calendars and a telephone. I hired the man to fly me to the island, as if it were something I had done every day of my life. I had just locked the door and walked away, leaving all my things, the fake sarukhan rugs, the Renoir reproduction, all my stories, the bills that were going to come through the mail slot. I had walked away, as other people did, as Mik had done all his life. A shriek of freedom in my head. So this was what it was, freedom. To walk away and leave everything behind, to go to a man and say Kill me.
A week before I had phoned him. It was a radio telephone and he had to take the call in the cookhouse. Everyone in the cookhouse could listen in. Everyone on all those lonely islands could listen in.
“It was all sound and fury, signifying nothing,” I said. But he didn’t understand.
“What? What?” he said, his voice strange and crackling through the lost northern air.
“I’m not pregnant,” I said. And everyone heard. He was humiliated.
The men went into the forest and the women stayed in the compound. It was forbidden to go into the forest if you were a woman. Once I climbed the road into the forest, the cats leaping in and out of the trees beside me, running ahead and then dashing back, suddenly elemental, or following me, as dogs do, then rushing away again, their tails fluffed absurdly, scuttering back to the forest and leaping at me, the prey, arched-back, stiff-legged, doing the sideways daring dance of Siamese. I walked up into the forest until I saw them, the men, in their great yellow machines, grunting and roaring, tearing at the earth, ripping and gouging. I hid behind a tree and watched them, men alone in their secret world, and I was afraid. Men engaged in their mysterious rites, tearing great holes in the earth. The ground shook beneath them. I felt the shudder in the tree I was hiding behind. Like creatures from some fantastic world, the men moved, grunting, laborious, in metal helmets and thick boots. No one human could have such large feet, it was impossible.
But that was later. Now I was going to the island, I was putting myself into his hands, great thick hands, hands that grasped you and brought you down, hands like weapons. Not fists. Nothing that looked like that could be called “a fist.” A fist is small, with knuckles, the bones shine whitely through the skin. Thin and delicate. Mik’s hands were weapons.
“You can’t destroy me,” he had said. “I’ve been destroyed by experts.”
Sometimes at night I cry God God and before my mind can stop it, He comes and holds me. Over each nipple is a tattoo: one says Cream and the other says Coffee.
Later, that day in the forest, I crept away, unseen. I went back to the compound and had tea with the boss’s wife. She made doilies.
“How do you get them to stand like that?” I said. It was all mysterious to me, the world of women. Women who wait in compounds for men. I belonged nowhere.
“You starch them,” she said.
They were curved and bowed into elaborate arches and scallops, and they were everywhere, on the backs of the chairs, on the back of the sofa, on the arms, on the radio, on the side tables, everywhere. In their centres were ceramic fish or ashtrays, bowls and figurines. They said “Campbell River, B.C.” or “Victoria, B.C.”
But now the little plane is taking off. Inside it is wired. The chair I am sitting on is actually wired to the floor. Peter is yowling in the back. Lolly is mewing plaintively. Sally is stoic, resigned. I think, Held together with baling wire, just as the books have promised. This is “baling wire,” and I am delighted to meet it at last. You never meet a brickbat for instance.
“But what is a brickbat?” I said, nineteen and clever, all those years ago.
The old Marxists looked at me with scorn. But they never told me.
The world below us stretches deep and green and blue, miles of forest and sea and mountains. We thud through the great empty sky, and the white and the blue and the dark green ignore us. The man beside me is chewing a match. He drives the plane as if it were a car, as if it were nothing, as if every day he took someone like me to the island to be killed.
The wings go up on one side and down on the other. My stomach lurches, as if my body still cares for itself, as if it can still remember, and I am amused, as one is at a child who cries out in the dark. “There, there, it’s all right,” but the child too will die, one way or another.
Like a swallow we come down towards the inlet. The forest rises to meet us, alerted now. The sun glints sharply through the glass and the man curses, ducks his head. I am wearing my grandmother’s wedding ring. And here we are, an insect of wood and metal, moving calmly through gentle ripples to the dock.
Mik comes down the path to meet us. But he was not waiting. He must have heard the plane circling, but he is not waiting for us. He comes down the path now that I am on the dock. The man with the match hands out the typewriter, the Mexican basket, the suitcase.
Mik is filthy. Unshaven. Dressed in unfamiliar khaki and great tan boots. Even his face is grimy, streaked with grease. I know. He is so like me. I know everything. He wouldn’t clean up, he wouldn’t shave, he would not come down to the dock when he heard the plane circling in the sky. How could he? If he shaved, if he cleaned up, if he came running down, it would not be me. It would be someone else. I would not have come.