By abandoned station
-it’s the filter. Looks to be in pretty bad shape.
Derek peers pretending to care, not really forcing his mind to make much of a note of what looks to be a dirty, brittle sponge. On top of this being as dull as taxes, he has six weeks here before it’s off to the real work and play of the summer. Why bother trying to commit any of this to memory? Do enough to get by, keep the tongue in check to avoid getting fired, collect the not very good paycheque and that’s it. He has no problem with Raymond Mactier thinking he was a moron; there was always space for a moron in a shop like this. Plenty of middling, a-monkey-can-do-it type carrying, packing, and stacking.
-zebra mussels, the old guy said peering at the filter closely, although he wasn’t really that old, maybe in his mid-fifties. It just looked like for a while in his twenties or something he might have done a lot of hard living, which could be the reason why he was a water and sewage pump repairman.
-okay…, Derek added, trying to make it sound like every word was being imprinted on his soul.
-huge pain in the ass, clogging up all sorts of pipes and hoses. When people come in you gotta tell them that they have to clean the filter of the hose that goes in the lake constantly. That’s a lot easier to do than having to take apart your now broken water pump and bring it here.
-don’t we want people to bring their broken water pumps here?
Raymond stares at Derek for a moment.
-what are you, a business major?
Raymond stared and Derek stared, and, since neither of them had liberal arts degrees, did not grasp any bit of symbolism in the moment.
Still, Derek was sure that Raymond was thinking ‘city boy’ with every sinewy fabric of his pulsating brain. He, after all, was thinking ‘hick’ in just the same fashion. It should be noted that he was okay with the rural for the most part, as long as his commitments here weren’t written in stone, which they were not.
It was the brainchild of his father. Some practical work experience in a not office setting. When the elder Willmann took the water pump from the family cottage in for repair in early April – the man liked to get the jump on the spring cleaning – he got along swimmingly enough with Mactier, and found out that the guy was looking for some help around for the spring months, when the cottage season began and business boomed.
This was met with middling reluctance from Derek, tempered by the not-quite-passive reminder by pop that the young man wasn’t paying for his own tuition, or room and board.
-it’s important for you to learn a bit about blue collar careers.
-it’s in Washago, Dad.
Washago. The halfway point between the suburbs and the sunny shores of Rockwynn Lake, home of the camp of the same name. Where Derek’s summer could actually begin. Where’d he spent three years as a camper and two years as a counselor. Where he could turn his brain off as a glorified babysitter during the day and emerge as a party monster by night as long as he was up before the kids the next morning. That was summer. That was the anti-school year, a palate cleanser from the twenty six weeks plus exam periods filled with rote memorization and optional classes, bendable schedules, heavy emphasis on etching out a place in society that will define you and your hopes and dreams until you clutch your heart and are put inside a ornate wooden box to be placed underground.
Winter’s discontent – with the return in September acting as the harbinger – was never completely of off the horizon, but at least the upcoming months could provide an antidote to the school year. A chance to remember his childhood by shaping the summers of those currently experiencing their own. With the added bonus of drinking and chicks. It was win-win.
Knowledge of the upcoming near future was all – along with the cute girl at the one diner open past supper time – that kept Derek trudging through the mundane present. Even five o’clock exactly couldn’t save him. Work ended when Raymond decided to go home, which was typically when he was hungry enough to call his wife and ask her if she had any ideas for dinner. If it was barbeque, he told Derek, he’d tell Lisa not to touch a darn thing in the kitchen, he’ll pick up and prepare everything and then toss it on the grill.
“She cooks in the winter. I take the summer. You have divide everything. That’s the secret to a successful marriage.” Then he’d hand Derek a pen and a grin. “Write that down.”
Raymond was a ball of energy, but Derek felt he wasted it on the stupidest fucking thing in the world. Pumps. It was useful, yeah, important for cottages, sure, but…
And he didn’t know how to finish that rambling and frequent thought. It felt like Raymond didn’t have a hobby outside of his job, that this was his life, and while a quick peppering of not really that personal questions could get to the bottom of the issue, Derek instead decided to dig his dumaurier ultra lights out of his pocket and shake them in front of Raymond while taking steps towards the always open because the hinge doesn’t shut properly door.
He had taken up smoking only so he could take breaks outside the shop in the backyard, littered with a dizzying array of old new busted pristine small massive simple and complex water pumps.
Derek had dragged them in and out, cleaned them, took them apart, put them back together, and placed them in the backs of sedans, minivans, and pick-up trucks. Early on Raymond dangled the prospect of fixing the pumps himself by the end of his tenure here, but it made for a poor carrot. Derek seemed to have no problem with asking the same questions over and over and tossing off an ‘oh right’, when Raymond reminded him that he covered this many times before. Finally the teacher realized the apprentice wasn’t going to even remotely best him, and so took to using him how Derek had no problem being used: Like a pack mule with a monkey brain.
The only thing that impressed him was the air ratchet. Whizz pop and the bolt is removed, a little wrench with oodles of attachments just dangling listlessly on the side of the workbench, a thin coiled hose providing enough power to disassemble an entire automobile (or so Raymond claimed when Derek assaulted him with first day questions).
Typically he watches transfixed while Raymond’s half-technical half-anecdotal spiel drifts in one ear and then sinks into his spinal cord, pooling at the base. Raymond’s eyes dart over to find Derek’s glazed over slightly.
-maybe I’ll test ya on your last day, like an exam.
Derek smiled weakly.
He wants to like Raymond. It would make everything easier. And sure, there’s always going to be some resentment because he’s the boss and his job is to tell his temporary, never-quite-willing lackey what to do, but he wasn’t a monster.
Derek was lacking nightmare anecdotes and seething hatred. There was nothing to feed on, to take up with him to Rockwynn and burn in a pyre for a sense of release, freedom, transition.
Which was a bland short-term blessing. It felt wrong to even think of him as an obstacle, slowly moving out of his way. Raymond was just another person. An old person. A classification that was not meant to be admired or understood by the young. It was too long since Raymond was a nineteen year old, focused on sex, booze, culture – both the winnowing pop and widening underground – and the openness of the future.
It wasn’t fair but it wasn’t permanent nothing was so it didn’t matter. And while this was obvious from the onset it was never said hey presto it didn’t have to be it was felt with every word between the two of them.
Raymond invested little and Derek less. The elder appreciated the help and the younger appreciated not having to help any more at the end of the day around five-thirty-ish, which was when the old guy’s belly usually finally rumbled.
So Derek always had one eye glued to the old Molson Canadian clock for that hung beside a yellowing calendar from 1993, which didn’t even reach December of that year. According to it, Derek had been working in September 1993 every time he stepped into the shop.
But even when he stepped outside and walked back to the car and breathed the sweet smell of freedom he quickly realized that there was nothing to do with this nearly hard earned privilege.
It was quiet and beyond suburban quiet which was instilled in place mostly by the mostly affluent residents’ mental demanding of a silence which proved that they had found a perfect tranquility and built a level of social control hitherto unknown to all but the pharaohs of Egypt and kings of Europe. Impeccable streets/lawns/parks, thousands of stop signs, and a police department bored enough to treat noise complaints with the serious of liquor story robbery officer down.
Here, however, it was quiet by default.
There wasn’t nothing, but certainly less of everything.
Owls. Loons. The odd cracking branch. It’s what didn’t keep Derek up at night. And where he lay his head was also a place of pristine predictability.
Every evening after walking the length of main street and back Derek would drive back down 169 and then a bevy of dirt roads and have the family cottage to himself except for the May two-four weekend – cousins, uncles, aunts invading his castle – but what was the point when it was just him and the lake was too damn cold?
It was nice to be away from the family, sure, but he got used to that in residence and now he can expect it all the time so after three days the cottage lost much of its mysterious power that it held over him throughout his teen years. Without a bevy of friends and possible summer romances – all stuck toiling in some Toronto or Ajax job for four months – the cottage was just a house in the middle of nowhere with getting drunk alone becoming an inch more pathetic every time he gave it a try.
Television couldn’t really hold an interest because it still felt like a waste to watch it here even though there was nothing much to do outside – lake still freezing, cold evenings, no one to do anything remotely athletic with –and when he had it on he would pace instead of surrendering his brain to the chattering shining Cyclops. Basketball playoffs? Meh. Hockey? Leafs were out of it. Some acclaimed cable drama? A hell of an investment, it’s like watching a movie every night to get through it all and I might not finish before I have to bail. And Derek knew he was moping but acknowledged that was no kind of solution, so it was almost as if he was wanting guidance from above or the left or right. Force him into action.
Couldn’t be bothered to start anything because too quickly he’d have to thankfully pack it all in and head north to open arms of old friends and tiny, easily controlled go-play-freeze-tag-again-dude faces.
Besides, shitty things like cable television and iPhones meant he was never that far away from the rest of the world so in some ordinary methods and motions he wasn’t here in the first place as it was relatively easy to have those typical interactions with the people back in Toronto who have now become more digital than ever.
And certainly the camp would be even further from this – no TV, barely any phone reception – but that was one of the cool things about it.
Washago didn’t go far enough.
It didn’t go anywhere.
Derek stood on the dock and watched the meager waves and yawns as if they were tiny clear blue sheep. Tired because the sun was closer than ever because of what and when he drank last night because after a restless sleep he woke up feeling like a gigantic cockroach because he didn’t have to be anything else.
Maybe he just needed something to eat. Had to be done no matter what, anyway. That was something he could do. Learn how to cook.
He cranks the handle on the propane tanks and begins turning the ignition knob on the Weber. It was a better barbeque than the one his parents had at home, and laughs at the small, charcoal swallowing rust bucket he and his friends bought in March for the residence quad. Who had it now? Did Rich or Blake take it home for the summer?
And those memories suddenly carry him through the next twenty minutes, a random flittering of images that crack his lips into continuous smiles. In between exams at the end of April he and Blake went to a couple apartments and townhomes for September. No residence for second year. A true place of their own. Freedom. In the city. Where it means something. Where the possibilities are endless.
Here the possibilities narrow down to one as the sun sets. When finished barbequing Derek checks his watch for two minutes and decides that he may as well race back to town and see what’s going on even though he’s 99% sure that he knows the answer but that 1% is better than the 0% that’s happening here in the cottage and he’s only barely sipped his beer so that’s not a problem and going through the motions of left gas right gas break reverse finds himself parked in the diner lot and he sees the girl working so he goes in and makes eyes and smiles because no one else is in front of or behind the counter it’s just them and he’s already trying to hold onto and push away the image of them doing it on the counter beside the cash register.
(your cock’s so big Derek, she sez)
She’s around his age. Would be cool if a bit older.
-You want something? She asks with a smile Derek is still not the best at reading and he has to remind himself that he can’t simply assume that what she wants is him.
-I don’t know, something to do more than anything.
This puts her off guard for a moment, you could see her stopping herself from blurting, ‘what?’ Derek was suddenly worried that he blew it, but then she recovers.
-yeah, well, good luck, right? Not much is happening here.
-what, in here or the whole town you mean?
-both, she shrugs, not really smiling now but certainly not trying to shut down the conversation, which Derek wants to imagine is the most interesting thing that’s happened to her all day. He’s not nervous or worried. This is not for keeps. It’s practice, exhibition, he’ll be moving on soon enough, suddenly the benefits and negative of a nomadic life were coming more clearly into view.
-what about you? What do you want?
-I was gonna step outside for a cigarette.
-yeah? I can join you, if you- if that’s all right with you.
-sure, but I’ll have to come back in if someone comes in.
She lifts part of the counter up over and upon itself and the division between them disappears suddenly she’s much more real and part of Derek’s life, no longer a distant employee of a shop that dispenses food for anyone who has a couple bucks in their pocket. She has become physical. She is three two one feet from him.
-is it nice that don’t have to wear a uniform, Derek asks, wishing immediately he didn’t use the word ‘nice’.
-I never really thought of it actually, she said, leading the way through the doors and into the still warm evening. The sun was caught between the thick and fresh green leaves of slowly swaying branches. For locals it was a wonderful transition. For Derek it could have always been that way.
-you live in town? He asked as they dig out their respective poisons.
-yeah. you don’t, right?
-no, I’m just spending a couple months here.
-at the pump place.
-yeah, is that like town gossip or something.
-could be, she said with a thin smile brushing off the slight dig, but no, you and that guy who runs the place sometimes come in here.
-yeah, Derek said, pointlessly agreeing.
-so you have a cottage near here?
-yeah, down on Glen Ellen, off Rama road.
(can I come see it, he imagines her asking)
-so you’re doing this all summer?
-no, I’m heading up to work at a summer camp in July.
Saying this out loud to someone who seems three-quarters interested is reminding him how it’s all planned but still listless and kind of shoddy, that if it was planned it shouldn’t feel this slow and pointless, bordering on waste.
-probably more exciting than water pumps.
And then there’s the lull as they both inhale at the exact same time halfway done their cigarettes and Derek wonders how often she smokes because for him he still gets a buzz a kick a reminder that it’s kind of a drug and does something to you that wouldn’t happen otherwise and suddenly he wonders if he’s thinking too much and talking too little and maybe the silence is freaking her out and even though he has no idea if this is true or not cuts it out with a laboured small talk.
-so do you go to school or something.
-yeah. Georgian college in Barrie. Tour and recreation studies. What’s about you? What are you doing?
-When? Right now?
-not just now, but always.
-what am I always doing?
She does that lady like chortle, flashing her teeth, but not letting it become an actual laugh. It was like he was playing around with words like a pro and not understanding them like an idiot and Derek was proud that he was able to straddle the two extremes. It was a little thing, a purely forgettable thing, nothing more than verbal ash as the real ash was tapped off their cigarettes and tumbled into the air. If nothing happened because for whatever reason like she had a boyfriend or thought she could do better he could still take that sound back to the cottage with him.
-you know what I mean, she says, not realizing that he doesn’t not really, but he does know that he couldn’t keep stalling.
-I don’t know, he said, bringing the cigarette back up to his lips only to find that he barely had a puff left before he’d be smoking filter, I’m doing this then I’m doing the camp and then it’ll be September and I guess I’ll be back in school, but…
He looks at her and the sun fights through the branches and hits her face in a way that makes her slightly younger and he realizes suddenly that he is taller than her by something like five or six inches and he feels older and wiser somehow that this was all fine for now and it was ridiculous to see this as a problem or a stepping stone to something better that had to be denigrated. It was just good enough and that’s always fine for summer especially a warm one with someone beside you who’s willing to hang onto your every word if only for a couple minutes outside of a empty dinner in a slowly pumping town.
-but nothing, he finishes.
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