Essays

One Night at the Oceanview

J. Jill Robinson

There are two drunk guys fighting in the trailer across from me, I said to the answering machine. Please do something.

I used to like staying at the Oceanview, a small motel and RV park on the edge of White Rock, not far from the beach. It is a long, white bank of motel units backed by about a dozen paved RV/camper slots facing each other across the asphalt. I liked to be up front near where the driveway meets the road—#14 is my favourite space. Behind us once we’ve backed in is a concrete retaining wall with an old plank fence that blocks out a big empty lot full of old apple trees. Some of the branches hang over the fence and you can reach the apples.

The last time we stayed there, on a Friday night in August, the lot was almost empty. I backed the Mango, our 1976 VW van, into the site. Directly across from us was a big fifth-wheel trailer with Alberta plates, and parked beside it was a big white pickup with dual tires and chrome. Two fifty-something men sat drinking at the green picnic table they’d dragged over near the trailer hitch.

Emmett—my fifteen-year-old son—hooked the dog’s chain around a leg of our picnic table and then let her out for a pee, tethered her and filled her water dish. Then we climbed inside the van and together we popped the top, pulled down the back seat and arranged our pillows and sleeping bags and the dog’s blanket. We snapped the short mustard-yellow curtains across the back and side windows and the long one that sags across the windshield. We brushed our teeth and brought the dog in, and arranged ourselves for the night—I climbed up into the pop-top, and the boy and the dog lay side by side below. We read for a while and then turned out the lights. I was glad to be there.

Around midnight I woke up to the two men across from us yelling at each other inside the fifth-wheel. Hm. I am a bit of a scrapper, especially when it comes to my sleep, but something made me wary of marching right over and banging on the door. They sounded angry, and drunk. And there was pain in their anger. I climbed down, stepping onto the counter and then down to the floor, and opened the driver’s door. I went around the back of the van and had a pee on the grass and a couple of tokes while I was at it. When I came back around to the front, one of the men was sitting at their picnic table having a smoke. I got back in the van and closed the door and climbed up to my sleeping bag.

Around 1:15 the fighting started up again, and this time it was louder, angrier, drunker than before. The pain was bigger. Then they started fighting physically, and loud banging and crashing sounds came from inside as well as the yelling. I began to be more afraid than pissed off. They were pretty close. Just over there. I called the motel office on my cell phone but got an answering machine. I left a message: I’m in the Volkswagen van. There are two drunk guys fighting in the trailer across from me. Please do something.

Nothing happened. The yelling and swearing and threatening and banging and crashing escalated. Get out of here. Fucking leave! Bang. Crash. Thump. Get the fuck out of here. I don’t give a shit. Go, you bastard! Go! Get out!

The dog was sitting up. Emmett was awake. I climbed down and crouched on the floor and peered over the top of the sagging windshield curtain. I didn’t want them to see us. I’m calling 911, I said. Why? said Emmett. Because I’m afraid, I said. I called 911 and asked for the police and the woman started asking me questions and my voice trembled and my body shook and my brain felt shaky too because I was having trouble comprehending and answering. I don’t know the address of the motel, I said. I can’t remember what street. White Rock, I said. Sh, said Emmett, who was trying to hear what the men were saying in the yelling and fighting. The operator told me the police were on their way and just then Emmett said, Look! One of the men had come out of the trailer with a big red suitcase on wheels, and drunkenly he pulled it behind him on its leash. Two cop cars arrived. That’s a bit much, I thought, for a drunk guy. One car pulled into the driveway. The other car stopped on the road in front of the guy and two officers put him inside. Two more cop cars arrived. This is crazy, I thought. All this for a couple of annoying noisy drunk guys. Three police officers walked into the lot and banged on the trailer door. Come out! Come out! No answer. Bang bang bang on the door. Nothing. They went on tiptoes to try to see in the windows, but they couldn’t. The shortest of the three climbed up on the picnic table and jumped up and down on it, trying to see in the window. He jumped and told the others he saw a man in the bed. He jumped again. This time he saw a rifle beside the bed. The three exchanged glances and said he’d better report that, and away he went. In a very few minutes a swarm of police vehicles arrived. There were maybe ten cars in the road now, ghost cars and regular cars, city cops and RCMP, all with all their lights flashing blue and red. In the middle of them all sat a big new Suburban with no flashing lights.

Whenever anyone came into the trailer’s line of sight, they crouched and ran, guns drawn. Emmett and I could hear some cops behind our van, using it as cover. One said, There are people in there. They knocked on the window and told us that we had to come out. There was a situation involving a weapon across from us. Can we bring our dog? I asked. Leave the dog, they said. They “covered” us with their guns as they escorted us to the Suburban. I stood behind Emmett, hugging his chest with my head against his back. We were cold. I am sorry, an older officer said, but we have to put you in here for your safety, and he held open the Suburban’s door. He locked us in the crew cab, which had bars on the windows. He radioed the licence plate number of the big white pickup truck and asked where the vehicle was registered. Fort McMurray, he said. The boy and I huddled against each other in the crew cab. Good thing we don’t have to pee, I said. I don’t know how we’d go. Mum, the boy said. Be quiet. We watched as the police units readied themselves for action. Amid the flashing lights in a sea of police cars, they secured the perimeter. Taped it off with yellow tape. Evacuated all the motel’s occupants. Moving rapidly, quietly, with discipline in everything they did. Why don’t they just bash the door in? I asked the sergeant. Because there is only one door in and out in the trailer, he said. If the suspect feels trapped inside it could lead to dangerous behaviour.

A while later I asked the sergeant for a drink of water, but no one there had a drink of water. No water bottles and no coffee cups.

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J. Jill Robinson

J. Jill Robinson is the author of Residual Desire, Eggplant Wife, Lovely in her Bones, Saltwater Trees and shorter pieces in Canadian literary journals. She writes from Banff, Alberta, or Galiano Island, depending on the season.


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