Paul de Marion

Kerouac Moms                                   

                                                     
Marlene said it was good to see me with my hair back in the wind – and smiling again. But there was no reason why I shouldn’t be. It was summer and we were driving down the highway in a 1967 Pontiac Parisienne convertible, through the warm evening air with a cool beer between our knees and a big fat joint that was already making the music system sound like some message from heaven. The Thompson river ran alongside us – you could actually smell it, distinguish it from the hay in the fields and the sweet reek of the cows, from the hot bubbling tarmac and the lush green trees flinting the brilliant August light amongst their million luminescent leaves. Why wouldn’t I be happy? There was something about summer evenings like these, the perfect ones that made your life feel eternal once again. Where the chemistry in your body had been tricked into the sensation of love when you had no target in sight, only the light blue sky.
     
We were looking for a place to paint the car, with brushes and a can no less, pure sacrilege for those car buffs who spend thousands on restoration. In our case there wasn’t a great deal of time left for sentimentality. We’d borrowed it from an oldie car lot in Kamloops and tomorrow would be Monday. Someone would notice it was gone. So we followed an old logging road up to nowhere, set up our tent amidst all the bugs and quiet and started slopping on the paint, just me and the redskin, the best friend I’d ever had.
     
We’d borrowed a canoe too, from some rich-assed house up on the hill cause it kind of looked like a statement or an ornament that said we’re outdoor people, much like Brad Kepler’s aunt used to leave books like Madness and Civilisation by Michel Foucault on her coffee table because that was what she wanted you to think she was reading. It hadn’t been used for years so Marlene gave the thumbs up, read out the squatter’s rights law of 1873 whether it existed or not and off we went, after dumping the golf clubs we found inside in the trash. Alexandra, Ronnie, and Brett were on the river with it as we spoke, probably thinking they were in heaven too because the Thompson was such a gentle river up that way, green and flat and just slipping silently along between the fields and the trees.

The next day it was our turn and Marlene and I were in a bit of a funk. It was hot, muggy, the brilliant summer of the day before had been clouded over. A storm was in the works too, one of those atomic affairs that ripped the tin off every scrappy little shack and blew great swarming clouds of dust from the loose corners of the fields. That was what had begun at least when we heard laughter nearby and saw Ronnie and Alex swimming in the eddies upstream, looking like they were together now, with Brett paddling dreamily along behind. By the time they’d reached us it was pretty obvious that something was wrong and in respect of it they started packing up in silence. Marlene and I were sitting about fifty feet apart. We’d just had the most rat-assed argument we’d ever had and some really ugly things had been said over nothing. It had come as a shock, like everything we thought we felt toward each other was a lie.

Money was kind of low, for everybody – we’d been living off advances until we got our final cheque, which might not be for another month. And the atmosphere was pretty bad now so everybody voted to take the easiest way out which was to go home, back to Lynn Valley and warm beds, home cooked food, showers and clean clothes.

After they’d hid the canoe Alex took the wheel and Brett and Ronnie jumped in the front, leaving us two plague rats squeezed against the edge of the rear seat as far away as we could possibly sit from each other. Brett offered me the last beer because he was still feeling sorry for me while I, caught in a generous moment passed it to Marlene without an inch of feeling and got it stuffed back in my face. So I tossed it out onto the highway - reminding everyone what a delinquent I was. Alex put her foot to the floor and in a very short amount of time we started feeling the first drops of rain, which got harder and harder until we found ourselves cursing the fact we’d picked a vehicle that didn’t have a working roof. An eternal summer had seemed probable way back then. A whole three days previous.

The storm was demonic, right through Kamloops and past Logan Lake. It got cold as we climbed up high but no one complained. Even as it got dark and the thick steady downpours of the coast burned pure cold into our bones. I tucked myself in behind the seat while Marlene sat stiff and steely-eyed - her sharp redskin cheekbones sticking out like she still had the fire in her to scalp me if I made one false move.

We stopped in Hope, or rather, the cockpit crew leapt out at some roadside gas station A&W to buy coffees for everyone. I could see Marlene was shaking now, and I wanted to say something but turned away because she had a poker face and could just as easily tell me to go fuck myself. That’s when I heard her voice, kind of forced but feeble, with some background castanets that turned out to be her teeth. It wasn’t us, it was the storm I heard her say. It sounded almost comical, and it would’ve been nice to laugh as we’d always done but we’d sunk ourselves pretty deep this time. So I just pulled her down into the floor, laid Ronnie’s tent over the both of us and held her until she stopped shivering and fell asleep.

Each of our homes had different rules. Ronnie couldn’t bring friends home except on the weekends. Alex couldn’t make noise after ten. Marlene’s mom was moody and you never knew where you stood. Brett was from Sechelt so that left my house as the only logical place to crash since it was now about two in the morning and all other doors would be locked. My austere catholic mother who always slept lightly came marching out under her umbrella, full of piss and vinegar, but soon lightened up when she saw how saturated we were, and cold. After blaming me for the whole mess she got to work throwing towels out, making soup, telling us to shut-up and kind of spoiling Marlene to death cause her dad had been to prison, her mother got sick a lot and despite all that she graduated with a damn sight better marks than I did.

Normally she would’ve separated us like wood from metal but this time she let us all sleep together on a couple of double air mattresses, in the same room – since we’d probably been living like frogs in a pond anyway. When the lights went out I felt Marlene roll into me, warm and dry now, the clutch of her hand falling limp with the rest of her as she drifted off to sleep. And we slept off everything. The cold, the blues, the strange fit of insults we’d cast each other’s way without quite knowing why.

Two days later our checques came in the mail and we started making plans for a run to the orchards up by Naramata. Some of the planters had been put up in shacks and said there was room and the farmer didn’t mind if we only worked half a day as long as we kept up with his production schedule. So we left at four in the morning because that was the way you left Vancouver for the Okanogan. You left when the light had barely come to the sky, when the freeway was empty and the smell of the damp grass in the fields left you with this euphoric sensation, half dream and half real which of course made sense because that’s the way the world appears after a nice pipeload of B.C. homegrown.

I was kind of the bum of the operation because I never wanted to work. I wanted to be at the lake when the sun rose, at noon as well, and in the evening too because I loved swimming. And reading. And the best used bookstore in the world was in Penticton, which was kind of a paradox because Penticton was about the most vacuous town in the world. And across the lake from Naramata was the best thrift store in the world, in Summerland, neither of them more than a block or two from a cheap Chinese restaurant.

It was up in this part of the world where Marlene and Brett got together, which kind of surprised me, and left me a bit squirrely for a few days because I’d always relied on her company and now it was just me, me in a group of five, two of which were couples. She said it was kind of utilitarian and probably wouldn’t last but above all he was a nice guy, both of us thought so - one of those people who didn’t get ruffled over shit and at the same time was about as passionate as a two by four. Each night they’d take off into the orchard with their sleeping bags and it was hard not to feel jealous cause even in the middle of August the nights were still warm. You’d wake up alone beneath the stars and wonder what it would be like to turn and see someone at your side. If a breeze rose up and rustled the leaves in the trees it seemed to make it all the worse.

In the end it was always rain or money that sent us home again. Marlene and I, whose talents could have avoided such excursions, were constantly outnumbered, our criminal habits generally scorned as juvenile and unhealthy. So it was back to Vancouver, back to the valley as we called it for short, although this time there was a bit of a hitch along the way. Marlene fell asleep while driving and ploughed the car into a corn field up by Chilliwack. All of us were dozing except Alex who was the first to appreciate the air time we did coming out of a ditch, and the landing as well, whereas the rest of us woke up with corn cobs flying past our ears and Alex sounding like Maria Callas getting freight trained. We might have been able to drive away from it all if Marlene hadn’t put the brakes on, which probably cost us our momentum and left us spinning in the dirt.

A light went on at a farmhouse nearby and shortly after, a spiraling shaft of light, a torch of some kind began approaching us quickly. It was all a panic but we got our stuff out and started bolting into the darkest stretch of field, over fences, past barking dogs – at one point we lay flat on our bellies as a cop car ran its long search light through endless rows of corn, the radio in the cab echoing through the night as it passed. It took the full night to make our way to the bus depot, all of us moving like commandos where the light was low and taking cover the instant we caught sight of headlights coming our way.

The story was the car had broken down, we didn’t have money for bus fare, and could she maybe come and get us. Ronnie’s mom was a soft spot but she wasn’t happy about driving through morning traffic. We’d have to wait a few hours she said, and we did, starving all the while, but she arrived as she said she would, with boiled eggs, fresh bread and flasks full of coffee, and I think she was really hoping for a bit of conversation on the way home but everyone just fell asleep. 


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