I Am a Truck, page 1
Halifax & Picton
Text copyright © Michelle Winters, 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any method, without the prior written consent of the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may use brief excerpts in a review, or in the case of photocopying in Canada, a license from Access Copyright.
All of the events and characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Winters, Michelle, 1972-, author
I am a truck / Michelle Winters.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-926743-78-3 (paperback).--ISBN 978-1-926743-79-0 (epub)
PS8645.I5762I26 2016 C813’.6 C2016-905502-7 C2016-905503-5
Edited by Leigh Nash
Cover and interior design by Megan Fildes | Typeset in Laurentian
With thanks to type designer Rod McDonald
Invisible Publishing | Halifax & Picton | invisiblepublishing.com
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts which last year invested $20.1 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada.
When you don’t feel it it shows they tear out your soul
And when you believe they call it rock and roll
— Spoon, “The Beast and Dragon, Adored”
For Nipper and Heidi
The Silverado was reported sitting next to the highway with the driver-side door open just eight hours after Agathe had kissed Réjean on the front step of their cottage and sent him off fishing in the rain with a Thermos full of coffee, four sandwiches au bologne, and a dozen date squares. It was pouring so hard that as they embraced, the rain smacked loudly on Réjean’s enormous back. He blew her a kiss as he reversed out of sight, and she smiled and touched her lips.
He was lying to her. She had known from the second he came home the night before and experimentally said, “Hé, sais-tu quoi?” As he told her the lie, she studied him, half-amused, waiting for him to crack. He was an awful liar, but he persevered artlessly in his tale of a fishing trip on Saturday with the men from work. Their twentieth wedding anniversary was next week and Agathe wasn’t about to challenge him on trying to cover up a surprise for her. In fact, she was relieved. Réjean had been so odd lately—distracted, distant…Only in bed was he fully engaged, and there they were trying something new. Their physical relationship had flourished over the years, despite the normalcy and tedium innate in all couples, and despite what Agathe considered to be the loss of her figure. As early as her twenties, her body had succumbed to a condition that afflicted generations of women in her family: a ballooning of her upper half, while her legs remained coltish and slim. As her top half grew, the weight strained her spine, giving her a subtle hunch that would grow more pronounced as the years wore on. But every new pound only enticed Réjean more as he kissed and bit and squeezed her extra flesh. For him, she would always be the girl who had awakened his soul that July day at the marché when they were teenagers.
Agathe had been watching the eaves for birds while her mother examined potatoes. When Réjean suddenly appeared, his eyes already on her, he saturated her field of vision. Agathe’s knees buckled and she slid to the ground. Édithe Thibeault was quick and sharp, tossing the bag of potatoes into the air and catching her daughter before she hit the ground. As the potatoes rained down, Édithe looked up and also set disbelieving eyes on Réjean. At only fifteen, he was close to seven feet tall, with a chest as big as a rain barrel and arms the size of a normal man’s legs. His hands were like a bunch of bananas. He was already working on the downy beginnings of his moustache. For her part, Agathe had just the year before peeled her way out of a rind of unremarkability, emerging that summer a very pretty girl. Her mother’s friends would comment that Agathe was now pretty enough to be a newscaster or a figure skater and that perhaps, her beauty would be the thing to finally put P’tit Village on the map. For Réjean, she became existence itself. He broke from his brothers and swept in, hands extended, and, without a word, pulled up both Agathe and her mother so that their feet briefly left the ground. His eyes locked on to Agathe’s until he turned to join his brothers, gazing over his shoulder at her. When she had finally lost sight of his back in the crowd, Agathe began to cry.
On returning from the market, Réjean asked his mother for a haircut and presented himself at the Thibeaults’ door later that same afternoon, hair clippings still in his ears, asking if Agathe would like to go for a walk. He couldn’t have expected that once they reached the woods at the end of the street, Agathe would grab him and pull him to her, knocking the breath out of them both. They had to wait three years to get married.
They’d learned early on that Agathe was missing one of the parts needed to make babies, which made them sad at first, then overjoyed when they realized they didn’t want babies, only each other. “Il n’y a que nous,” they would say, making a tunnel between their eyes with their hands.
Réjean said that the fishing trip should be wrapped up by dinnertime. Even if the fishing part wasn’t true, he wasn’t so foolish as to lie about when he would be home. Agathe had nearly eight hours to work on her surprise for him.
From between the box spring and mattress, she pulled her bloc-notes and pencils. They had agreed this year they would make gifts for each other. She had been toiling solidly for two weeks while Réjean was at work. She brought her materials to the table, put on a pot of tea, and emptied the ashtray. Agathe had initially started smoking as a means of trying to control her weight, but her top half only continued to swell—along with a new love of cigarettes.
She flipped to her drawing on the pad. It wouldn’t matter that she was working from a photo in the newspaper; it looked enough like the Silverado that Réjean wouldn’t know the difference. Agathe was pleased with just how much her drawing resembled the photo, and planned to put the picture in a frame she had taken from a watercolour painting in the basement.
Réjean had never owned anything but a Chevy and revered the brand with a feverish loyalty. Every year, he replaced his current truck with the newest model, not because the old one was lacking or showing signs of wear, but because every truck that Chevy brought out Réjean would declare more phenomenal than the last. He often lost himself in grateful praise of the corporation for designing such a sturdy vehicle with such excellent handling.
“C’est un beau truck, ça.”
Not long after they were married, the lumber work in P’tit Village began to dwindle, but Réjean had heard that it was plentiful in nearby English-speaking Pinto. They moved into a cottage in the woods there, and began a life of increasing seclusion, and the prospect of communicating only with each other in a town where no one spoke French. Agathe and Réjean understood English, but held it in heavy contempt—even if English made up half the French they spoke. At home and school, they had been taught that the Anglophone world was trying to oppress them, monopolize their culture, and eradicate their language. It was safest to agree. Being separated by language from the world around them strengthened their bond of exclusivity. Gradually, they retreated from the world altogether, existing solely for each other in the confines of their home.
“Il n’y a que nous.”
The hours sped by as Agathe worked, capturing every realistic inch, the darks and lights, blending bits of pencil with the twisted end of a tissue and her fingers. Smudging the lines was her favourite part. It looked so real. In real life, things were smudgy. As she reproduced the positive and negative spaces of the photo, she imagined what she and Réjean might try
If Réjean was any kind of liar, he would bring home fish, even if it meant buying it at the store. She would need to assist the lie by anticipating fish and making something complementary. She would make scalloped potatoes. Scalloped potatoes were always appropriate.
She hid her drawing back beneath the mattress and returned to the kitchen, where she devoted herself to the extra-thin slicing of potatoes and onions, loading the first layer into the pan, nearly skipping to the refrigerator for more cheese.
When she heard Réjean pull into his spot in front of the house, she checked the kitchen for any pencil-darkened clues. But as her eyes passed the window and stopped on the spot where the Silverado should be, she found it occupied by a police cruiser. There were two officers up front, who talked for a moment in the car before making their way to the door and knocking gently.
“Good evening, ma’am. Are you the wife of Réjean Lapointe?”
“Does your husband drive a black Chevrolet Silverado?”
“Would it be all right if we came in?”
They stood inside the door, because she didn’t invite them to sit, and asked a lot of rude questions about Réjean and their relationship: Did he seem happy? Were they having any problems in their marriage?
“Beunh, non,” she replied emphatically, and told them about their upcoming anniversary and the surprise he was without question preparing right now.
“Has he been distracted or at all different lately? Anything unusual?”
Agathe reached for her cigarettes.
“Ma’am, your husband’s empty truck was reported not far from here, sitting on the shoulder with the driver-side door open. Do you have any idea why that might be?”
She did not.
“The good news is it doesn’t look like there’s been any foul play or an accident. It’s more like he just...walked away. We’re still trying to get a feel for the situation, ma’am. Most times these cases turn out to have a perfectly reasonable explanation. Sometimes people have a strange way of sending a message—”
“Sending un message,” Agathe cut him off. “Comme quoi, un message? Pour qui? Pour moi?”
The other officer stepped in. “We just want to make sure we have all the details before we start speculating on what might have happened, ma’am.”
They told her to call if she had any information that might lead to finding him and promised she would be the first to know if they heard anything. As she closed the door behind them, she leaned her shoulder against it and studied the floor. Her mind had been so consumed with dislike for the policemen that she hadn’t considered how strange it was, Réjean’s truck at the side of the road, without Réjean. But now that the officers were climbing back into the cruiser, she was struck by the absolute impossibility of him leaving the truck of his own volition. This didn’t feel like part of a surprise; this felt like something going wrong. Her insides tightened. Réjean abandoning the Silverado? No. She couldn’t imagine him just walking away. Then, as she tried to picture it, her heart suddenly went cold.
The army man.
Réjean had seen Agathe and the army man together, she knew it. She now felt sure he knew she’d lied about it. She couldn’t tell, as they’d driven home in silence, whether she’d convinced him. But Réjean had been intensely preoccupied. Had he been plotting the whole way home how he would punish her? Was he trying to scare her? Or did he feel so betrayed by her indiscretion that he was willing to sacrifice the Silverado to be rid of her? No, Réjean wouldn’t do that. Or would he? She’d been trying to ignore his recent strangeness, even before the army man, but wished now that she had said something. She’d had so many chances. They both knew things felt different. But last night while they played gin rummy and she baked date squares, the few times Réjean was present enough to look directly at her, there was a distress in his eyes that had nothing to do with their anniversary. It had to do with the army man. She tried to picture what Réjean had seen, and how awful it must have looked from his perspective. She needed to let him know that it wasn’t what he thought.
The police officer’s words ran through her mind: It’s more like he just…walked away.
If Réjean was alive, she would find him. She ran to the bedroom and retrieved her bloc-notes, flipping her Silverado drawing over the coils of the pad. She would put up posters all over town. Someone had to know where he was. She concentrated on the empty page and pulled the cap off a black marker, thinking about the word for a moment before covering a third of the page in big block letters that spelled MISSING.
Réjean and Agathe were in the Silverado for a drive. Réjean had put on a clean flannel shirt, slapped a giant handful of musky aftershave on either side of his face, and groomed his moustache. Agathe admired him from the passenger seat as they travelled the wooded roads they felt they owned.
Réjean played the French folk-music station with the sound turned down to a whisper. He enjoyed music exactly as much as he did the hum of the engine and tried to create a balance between the two. While Agathe loved to see him so content, the music and its volume had set her teeth on edge since the first time they’d climbed into a vehicle together. It was so…fragile. Agathe longed for a crescendo, some histrionics, something loud to release the strap of tension in her jaw. She turned toward the window and opened her eyes wide, trying to take an interest in the landscape. She bumped her head rhythmically against the window frame, staring into the endless ranks of trees whipping past. What writhing mass of wildness went on in there when no one could see? Fanged, incandescent reptiles, prehistoric bugs, rainbow-swirly birds...
“Viens voir l’Acadie” was playing. It played every day; the French folk-music canon had hard limits. The sound had gone from a nagging drone to a roar, and bumping her head against the window frame was not scratching the itch.
There had been no rock and roll for Agathe growing up. It was not a welcome form of entertainment in P’tit Village. She remembered her father reading the newspaper after dinner one night, and letting out a loud “Tsk.” He shook his head and held out the page to a picture of a dark-haired woman with short hair and raccoon eyes, wearing a ripped black T-shirt and leather pants, playing guitar on a stage. “Le rockandroll,” he’d muttered. Later that night, Agathe had dug the paper out of the garbage, and with her hands covered in chicken grease and coffee grounds, a feeling awoke in her like her head was rising into the clouds. It was hard to say whether the ascent was one of flying or of actually growing taller—but either way, it felt like something she needed. But, as her family and Réjean and her entire town embraced one style of music and reviled rock and roll’s Anglophone roots, her life developed without it. Although she would sometimes hear it nearby, it was never close enough to take hold.
Réjean began to tap his wedding ring against the wheel to a non-existent rhythm, and without meaning to, Agathe turned suddenly from the window and said, “Réjean, y-a-t’il pas d’autre musique?”
“Autre musique,” he said, looking down at the radio, “ben, comme quoi, autre musique?”
“’Ché pas!” She took a breath. “Les kids, là, ça écoute le rockandroll. C’est populaire, ça.”
“Le rockandroll,” said Réjean, incredulous.
“Ouah!” said Agathe, reaching for the dial. As she fiddled through static and talk, Réjean gripped the wheel and set his eyes dead ahead.
At least two, but maybe eight, guitars all started playing at the same time, driving—piledriving—through the speakers, and Agathe felt the hinges in her jaw loosen. Réjean burst out laughing. “Ça?” he snorted. From the radio, the guy with all the guitars asked the lord to take him downtown so he could find himself some tush.
“Écoute comme c’est excit
“O, Agathe,” he laughed. “Ah non. Ah non. Non. Tellement stupide cette musique…Écoute ça,” he said disgustedly.
“C’est nouveau,” she said. “T’as pas envie de quelque chose de nouveau?”
“C’est pas même français!” he cried.
She knew how he was going to be, and it wasn’t worth it.
“Crisse que t’es bébé, sometimes. Franchement...”
She switched the dial through the static back to the churchy singsong of the French folk station. “Voilà ta musique, bébé.”
Réjean reached for her hand and kissed it. “Merci, mon trésor,” he said, triumphantly. “Notre musique, ça.”
She turned toward the window and fell asleep.
Rock and roll filled the truck as Agathe drifted out of a shallow nap. She smiled as she reached out for Réjean, thinking he had changed his mind and put the music on for her, but she touched only his empty seat. The smell of toasted buns let her know that they were at the Lobster Shack. Réjean must have felt bad about the radio squabble and was buying her a lobster roll. There was a roadside stand for lobster rolls every kilometer or so in Pinto, but Lobster Shack was her favorite. She kept her eyes closed and concentrated on the music she now realized was coming from the vehicle parked next to them. The loud, ominous song shuddered in, lifting her skin from her bones. She opened her eyes just enough to see the driver turn off the engine, holding the key in the ignition so the radio could go on playing. From where her head rested against the passenger-side window, she looked directly at him, separated by their two window frames. He was a big man, dressed in army attire, singing along. He caught sight of Agathe’s face propped against the frame. She grinned drowsily. The man turned in his seat and focused intently on her. He continued singing—to her—nodding more vigorously. When the song had built to a peak, he pointed for her to sing with him, sing for the years, sing for the laughter, sing for the tears.