Reprinted by permission from the publisher from The Strange Truth About Us, © 2011 M.A.C. Farrant, published by Talonbooks in 2011, Vancouver.
HIGHWAY 17 REVISITED
They were Rockatree practitioners, Keith and Ray, and he was the first person after five years of building rock stacks to be invited along.
Three men in their fifties.
It was a hot clear day in June. They parked the truck and walked some distance across a stony field to reach the site. As they walked Keith brought out a joint. Part of the ritual, he was told, but declined because he felt unsure of himself—nervous about how he’d perform with the rocks.
At the edge of the field where the rock stacking took place they were in full view of the highway. He said the amazing part was the way people honked their horns in encouragement, or shouted out as their cars sped by: “Way to go!” “Good for you!” He said building the stacks was like giving a performance before a continually applauding audience—only the audience kept changing, kept whooshing by.
They spent three hours at the site. For a while he helped Keith and Ray lift and carry rocks—there were some large ones—and then, like a disciple, he was invited to make his own stack and made, in fact, five. He said each man, as he worked, became absorbed, quiet, even though the intermittent honking of horns continued.
Keith told him there was a current of energy that travelled from rock to rock as one was balanced upon the other and that because of this the rocks seemed to snap into place in the most delicate, yet unlikely, ways.
He experienced this for himself.
Ray made stacks that resembled animals and searched for some time for small round matching stones to represent the ears. Keith made beautiful geometrical shapes, several over seven feet tall. His own stacks were modest but one, an oddly balanced spiral of four rocks, was said by Ray to be stunning.
Each stack, he said, looked like a monument. Looked as if the earth had produced it in praise of itself and he and Keith and Ray were merely helpers.
When they finished there was the satisfied walk across the field to the truck. Then a stop at the Prairie Inn for a beer, another part of the ritual.
Afterwards, at Keith’s house, Keith lit another joint. This time he had a drag. When he came home he looked happy but bewildered. My daughter and I made supper while he lay on the bed staring out the window. It was some time later when he told me all this.
I was putting on my boots, my husband waiting. So I asked him, generally speaking, if waiting bores him. He’d been cracking his knuckles. I said, doesn’t waiting provide us with the opportunity to scrutinize things? Like when you’re in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and time gets caught in a cement frieze? Or like the other day when you were waiting at the dollar store behind that man in the checkout line? You with your discount birthday card, the man with two coffee mugs and a stack of pale yellow towels? You said you were so close to him you could see the hairs on his neck and wasn’t that a strangely intimate thing to occur? Or the casual glances any of us may take out a window? The way traffic, pedestrians, clouds, birds, sky confirm that our lives will one day be excluded from the scene? Doesn’t that give pause? Or now while I’m putting on my coat with you standing there in your muffler and heavy gloves. Look at the way dust swirls in a sunbeam atop the kitchen counter and how splendid that is? What about that?
Fuck off, he explained.
We were heading out to buy Mayday emergency survival blankets and SOS food rations. The stock in the survival bin needed rotating. We’ve been waiting years for the earthquake.
WHEN THE TIME COMES
Stars don’t cost that much, my mother-in-law said, one hundred, two hundred, five hundred dollars. Some include planets.
She bought a small one near the Big Dipper and named it Irene, after herself.
Somewhere there’s a proof-of-purchase ticket from the Own A Star Foundation.
Irene would point at the sky after a few drinks. That star is mine, she’d say, the dinky pinky-blue one.
She liked a good time and would ask the dog during Saturday night cards: Well, what do you think of the weekend so far?
We had her cremated in her full-length mink coat. That was something you had to have back then—a mink coat. That and a Cadillac and a pair of diamond earrings.
Though when the time came there was no Cadillac and we only found one earring, a stud. My husband wore it until the dog came into the story again and the earring disappeared off the bedside table.
We searched the boulevard for days but all we found was crap.
Let it be said that our generation also likes a good time—we have a loud appreciation for music, for easy laughs. We have our own stars, too, mainly the cerebral kind.
When the time comes they’ll cremate us with our drugs, our bamboo flutes.