Friday, July 25, 2008

Another Province

Cindy Hauser, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative reporter, cocked her perfect blonde head to the side preparing to throw the first question at the odd little gnome of a man with the large head who was sitting across from her at his kitchen table.
Both of them were surrounded with cameras, technicians and crew but he was behaving as if such things happened every day. He had savoir-faire, she thought, much like the rest of the Newfoundlanders she had interviewed for this story.
At the outset he said he wouldn’t tell the story twice. Just the once. And that was it, take it or leave it. So the normal interview process was abandoned and she and Cal, the director, let it go this time, as the old man was so forceful.
Chester Blunt. Eighty-four years old. She glanced at her notes again as the camera came in for a close-up on his remarkable eyes, a clear, intelligent, light blue. The kind of eyes that took it all in quickly and dealt it out slowly.
She had previously acknowledged to him, Mr. Chester Blunt, in an effort to relax him - in hindsight this was a mistaken perception for rarely had she met an interviewee as relaxed as said Mr. Blunt - that word had it that he was the historian of the village of Bridie’s Cove.
At least that was the general consensus when she and the crew had slogged and slopped around the village in the rain looking for information. Chester had all the answers they said. He would be able to fill in all the blanks on these fantastical yarns about spirits and fairies that were being spun around the Avalon Peninsula for over a week now
And then she had sat back, feeling she had disarmed him completely, bestowing on him the practiced open beaming look she had thrown away on oh, so many before him.
“Now Chester,” she said incisively, in the interview style that had seen her rise to the top of - the weekly provincial affairs programme of the CBC, featuring a different province every week. This week, it was Newfoundland’s turn.
“What do you know about,” and here Cindy briefly paused for effect, letting her polished scarlet nail slide down the notes that her assistant had handed her a few minutes before, “This ‘other’ Newfoundland that had this young couple, Colette and Tom Ryan and their baby in such a state?”
And she laughed, assuming she had drawn him into the ‘us against them’ world that she had perfected over the years.
“’Other Newfoundland?’” asked Chester, flicking his eyes at her, taking her measure, it looked like, cool as a cucumber,” I don’t know about no other Newfoundland.”
Oh, this was going to be a tough nut to crack. She loved it. This made the job worthwhile, got the adrenalin pumping. He wouldn’t know, wouldn’t care probably, that she had pried prime ministers wide open, and the head of the Bank of Canada, even the premier of Alberta. As if he could beat her, Cindy Hauser, interviewer extraordinaire.
She threw a sideways glance at Cal, the director, accompanying it with a slight roll of her eyes. Cal grimaced back, holding up one finger with a raised eyebrow of a silent question. They might have to cut tape and straighten out this old fellow.
“Oh, come now, Chester,” and she laughed again, shaking her head no at Cal, satisfied she could engage this Chester person, “These youngsters have been terrorized, visits by strange beings in the night, ghostly mutterings about taking their baby from them?”
Chester nodded in agreement with her, saying nothing.
“The Ryans have had you over at their house,” she continued, “Consulting with them to remedy the situation. What happened? Can you fill in the blanks for us? ”
“Well,” said Chester, taking his time, giving her more patience that she deserved running off at the mouth like that on stuff she could never hope to understand. He pursed his lips for while, scratching one of his eyebrows with a pinky finger,
“Some have it that when the Irish settled here, way back – four hundred and fifty years ago now, they brought the little people with them.”
And he leaned even further back in his chair, watching her carefully.
“Have you seen these little people - leprechauns right? – around?” Cindy hid her impatience. This was like drawing blood from a stone. A shame he hadn’t agreed to a dry run, she could have fixed his answers and smoothened the whole process. It was taking far too long.
“Don’t know about calling them leprechauns, that wouldn’t be right, a bit insulting to them’s my guess.” Chester moved forward again, screwing his face up like a child before taking a deep draft of his tea. Thank God for editing, she thought.
He continued slowly in his own good time.
“Some say as they’re a race that live in the interior, that they only come to the outports to either tempt men in or to use them. Or they come right in to snatch a babby. They say the lifespan of one of these little people is two hundred and fifty years so its only the once in a blue moon they do these things like bringing back babbies into their world.”
“Steal babies? Kidnap young men?” Cindy was incredulous, “do you personally know of that happening?”
“Oh yes, sure I do.”
And annoyingly, Chester shut up, leaning back again. Looking at her in that odd way of his with those remarkable, clear eyes. As if he knew how irritating he was.
“Tell me, then,” Cindy threw him a double scoop of charm across the table.
“My second oldest sister was taken,” he said calmly, folding his hands across his middle.
“Let me get this straight, your sister was stolen by the fairies who came in from the interior of Newfoundland?”
“Oh yes,” Chester said with conviction, “Now that was about ten years afore I was born b’y, nearly a hundred years ago now, but my eldest sister, Clara, God be good to her, remembered the day well, she was five at the time”.
“I see, and would you mind sharing the story with our viewers,” she encouraged, looking at her notes and not at him, “This sounds absolutely fascinating, Chester.”
“Well, not fascinating exactly,” Chester admonished in his calm voice, “At the time now it was very upsetting, so it was, for my mother and Daddy and for Clara who saw it all happen.”
There was a long pause again but Cindy didn’t care, this would all be edited, she kept reminding herself.
What a snail’s pace of a piece this was.
And she with a wedding to plan in Montreal. The wedding of the year.
She barely paid attention to the little man as he went on in his measured way.
“Ruby was out in the little garden at the back, Mother would grow greens and carrots and such out there and it had a fence to keep the cows and horses and chickens out. Little Ruby would have been a month old then. My daddy was out at the fish, he was always gone weeks at a stretch, so Clara was keeping an eye on Ruby who was on a blanket on the ground near the rhubarb, Clara said, which gave a bit of shelter from the sun.
“Clara was playing with her dollies when she saw something out of the corner of her eye, more like a shadow but with a lot of colour. She thought it to be another child around her own age but it wasn’t, because she got a quick look at its face and it was the face of an old, old woman. A crone, some’d call it. The face was like a very old rotten apple, she said. There were wrinkles on top of the wrinkles. But the creature came so quickly in and out of her line of sight; she could never see all of it at once, just bits of it. The face one time, then one arm, then one leg.
“Its clothes were all cobbled together most curiously - in different coloured leathers, and they shone, like they were polished, a long leather skirt in a green she’d never seen before and then a little weskit, blue it was but the deepest blue and covered with embroidery and paintings, pictures of birds and caribou with black shiny antlers on them.
“And it had a hat, a very tall hat, made of the same stuff again but with feathers all over it, coloured feathers. This was all writ down, you see, this is how I know so much about what poor Clara saw that day and what she talked about until she refused to talk about it anymore, so tired she was of it all. She used to say that to talk of something like that, to go on and on about the same thing, took all the strength out of it and made it seem less real and she wanted to keep it real because of all that happened afterwards.”
Ah, what a relief, Cindy heard his voice go silent. She signaled the director for a break and let out a big sigh.
“Oh this is great, Chester,” she enthused, disengaging her microphone from the front of her sweater, slapping her notes on the table and all the while looking at Cal, the director, “We all need a break, a little walkabout to freshen up?”
Chester pushed himself off the chair and strutted about, waving his arms about him, stimulating his circulation, like a squat windmill. He watched as the makeup man came over to dab Cindy’s face and fluff her hair out again with the portable dryer.
Damn rain, he heard her mutter, it hasn’t stopped since we got here!
Once more, Chester perched on the chair; as if all the moving about had injected him with renewed energy. He watched as Cindy waited for the red light and she focused on the director’s fingers until he had completed the countdown.
“So, Chester, we’ll get back to the story of your sister a little later,” she said dismissively, glancing at her notes, “ The Ryan couple consulted you, when?”
Chester had heard about attention deficit disorder and thought to himself this woman should be the poster child.
“Well, I was asked to visit them right after the priest had been and gone, after they’d seen and heard the spirits a couple of times – our priest tried an exorcism, you see – the Catholic…” he tried to continue but was interrupted.
“Yes, I’m aware of the procedure, getting rid of evil spirits, right?” Cindy was impatient, her nail tapping lightly on her notes.
“And sure these spirits aren’t evil! They’re from the fifth province!” the look he gave her was loaded with amazement at her ignorance. Though, come to think of it, what could you expect from a mainlander?
“Tell us about that; would you Chester, the fifth province?” Cindy repackaged her famous simpatico and beamed at him.
“Well, there are five provinces in Ireland, are you familiar at all with that?”
“I thought it was four,” Cindy was puzzled.
“Well. Four that are generally known, Munster, Leinster, Connaught and Ulster but there’s a fifth too, the nameless one of the soul, where all the exiled people can go whenever they feel they want to go home.
“Like they don’t actually go to Ireland, but they can go to the fifth province any time, go into the spirit of it. Now it’s there where other spirits live too, other creatures, uite small, they used to call them the Fir Bolg, in the days of old. I’m talking about the times BC now. Small creatures, not unlike myself in appearance. ”
“Please go on.”
“So part of this province, this fifth province, came along with all the people that came here in the sixteen hundreds, in the boats, you see, and never went back to Ireland.”
Cindy was puzzled.
“The Fir Bolg don’t take to the sea too well,” Chester offered gently as if to a very slow child, “They get fierce seasick”.
“Right,” Cindy agreed, very much disinterested in people being sick, wondering again, in God’s name, where all this was going.
Chester appeared oblivious to her impatience, in fact he seemed to slow down even further.
“Once they got here,” he continued in his own time, at his own pace, “they couldn’t face the journey back to Ireland at all. So they took themselves off and went into the vast interior and settled in nice and cosy. As far as they could get from the sea, b’y, sure they could never stand the sea. Brought all their magic and potions with them, and their music, all the old tunes of Ireland that you can hear coming out of the drokes here on a clear night. And pots of gold of course, and their ways too. Like, they’re good at mending boots and shoes, leave them outside your door on a night with a full moon and you’re all set in the morning. Boots as good as new, all fixed up with lovely silver nails and a fine polish.”
Thank God for editing, thought Cindy again, flicking a glance at Cal. Sometime over the next few years it looked like, they’d get back to the Ryans and what he saw. But meanwhile, they’d return to his missing sister.
After another short break, she tapped her notes.
“So back to….Ruby,” she glanced down, “Tell us about what happened after….Clara saw the strange being in the garden.”
“Well,” Chester drew out the word, watching as Cindy motioned the makeup man over to powder her nose yet again, “Clara was frightened, so scared****PAUSE**** that she ran into the kitchen to get Mother.
“And Mother raced out to the garden and picked up Ruby, only to have the shock of her life as it weren’t Ruby at all, just this pale sickly little angashore, so weak that it couldn’t let a good cry out of itself, it sounded fair like a kitten, a tiny bit of mewling, you could barely hear it, Clara said. Not like Ruby at all who had a huge lungful of roars always in her. A little sliver of a being this was, not bigger than a few pounds of butter. Ruby had been hefty, a ten-pounder when she was born. The talk of Bridie’s Cove at the time. Biggest baby ever born here, you see.”
Chester took another sip of his tea and a big bite out of a local type of cookie that Cindy and the crew had privately joked about earlier. Adults calling their cookies ‘jam-jams’! Imagine! Printed on the bags even! Seriously! Did these Newfoundlanders ever grow up?
“Oh, do go on Chester, what happened to…Ruby?” Cindy looked down, admiring her shiny high-heeled shoes, turning her feet this way and that.
“What do you think happened?” and Chester took a final bite of his jam-jam and dusted off the front of his blue cardigan.
“You have to tell me Chester,” she could barely conceal her irritation; this old fellow was getting a rise out of her.
“Oh, I will so,” said Chester, slugging at the remains of his tea.
“The poor little thing, a changeling, only lasted less than a day. Even Daddy said - they kept the body until Daddy got home from the fish you see - that it weren’t no child of his, that weren’t his lovely Ruby. There was an awful carryon with himself and Mother and Clara. Clara was wrung out from telling the story of the old wan coming.
“But the story never changed. No. It didn’t. The Fir Bolg took Ruby all right. And left one of their own sick ones instead. Buried in Bridie’s Cove graveyard, though the priest was agin it, having baptized Ruby Jane the week before and he said it was no Ruby Jane he was putting into the Blunt family plot. But he went along with it as there was such wailing and carryon from all the Blunts. Like I said, he buried her as a Blunt against his own best judgment. To keep the family happy.”
Chester fell silent; pressing his lips together, his elbows on the arms of the chair, his fingers steepled under his chin watching her.
Cindy seemed ill at ease all of a sudden, moving around in her chair, now fiddling with her necklace, then with her hair.
“Soooo,” she drew it out, concentrating fiercely on her notes, “So you went to the Ryans, Chester, being familiar as you were with these spirits, these ‘far bullocks’…”
“ Yes,” said Chester, ignoring her massive mispronunciation, “ I know how to handle them, you see. When they come. You have to stay in the one spot, not moving a muscle, not even an eyeball.”
Cindy was looking more and more uncomfortable. Fearful almost. She kept shifting in her seat until finally she held a hand up and Cal cut the tape.
“You’re like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, there, Cindy, need to have a pee?” Cal asked, busying himself with the monitor and some cables.
“There’s something behind you, Cal, “ Cindy said impatiently, getting up, and removing her mike,“ What are the crew doing moving around behind you? It’s very distracting!”
“Shit, Cindy,” said Cal looking around, “There’s nothing behind me. The crew is behind you; it’s just me here and Lenny the cameraman beside me. All that’s behind me is the kitchen door, for God’s sake!”
“Jesus,” said Cindy, “It’s not funny Cal, you’re putting me on. Stop it!”
“Resume tape,” said Cal shortly, glaring at her.
Bloody diva. He counted five with his fingers in the air as she sat down again.
Cindy took a deep shaky breath.
“Tell us how you managed to do it, Chester, how you saved the Ryans’ baby,” said Cindy, looking directly at him for the first time.
“Well, like I said,” and Chester clearly gave the impression he was not going to repeat himself again, “ You stay in the one spot and wait for them and then the whole thing is, you let your eyes find their eyes, it can take many, many hours, and once their eyes lock on to yours, they’re in your power and you can tell them to leave the child alone.
“You make them a solemn promise, an oath, that you’ll find another one for them.
“But that they can’t take this one.”
Cindy was all over the place, restless in her seat, shredding a corner of her notes as her eyes left Chester’s, and then they became increasingly, almost imperceptibly more fearful searching the space behind where Cal stood.
‘So you saved the Ryan child and banished the evil spirit?” Cindy repeated, wanting to wrap this up and fast, her voice racing even in her own ears. Cal made a gesture for slowdown.
Chester’s voice was slow, almost dreamy. His eyes did not leave her face,
“I promised it another.”
There was a long pause. Cindy’s eyes had widened as they focused at some point behind the director.
“You see them, don’t you?” Chester asked next, leaning forward in his chair, his tone changing, an ill-concealed curiosity in it. He was watching her intensely. He continued, almost in a whisper:
“Out by the kitchen door, right?”
With considerable effort she slowly dragged her eyes to meet his and nodded bleakly.
“Ah,” he said, with an air of satisfaction, “Aren’t you the lucky one entirely! You’ve got advance warning so to speak. They’ll be after your first-born. Mark my words.”

Go raibh mile maith agat. Thank you.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mending Fences

Chester is more than a little surprised when Marzie Coombes pulls up at his house in her thirty-year old truck, patched and plastered with four different colours of paint showing through on it. Marzie isn’t in the habit of dropping in on him. Her husband Mike and him had a bit of a set to up on that patch of no-man’s land on the hill behind the church three years ago, when Mike accused Chester of taking more than his fair share of the wood that four of the village families, now represented by himself, Mike, Georgie and Albert, had carved up between them every fall since God was an altar boy. Mike had dropped dead since, very sudden, last spring out at the cod, and he’d passed on this grudge to Marzie in his will for she’d barely nod at him at Mass on a Sunday morning.

He’s sitting on the bit of a stoop he’d put on at the front of the house a year ago, you wouldn’t want to call it a verandah as it’s short and stumpy, much like Chester himself, but built to last through any battle that would come its way, be it with weather, man or beast. It has barely enough room for the old rocker that his father built for his mother a hundred years ago, God be good to them. Chester takes his comfort out there in the late evenings, rocking away, feeling he’s entitled to it now that he has turned seventy. You wouldn’t have caught him out there in his sixties, mind you, sitting on any old rocker. A list of names a mile long was folded and tucked into the minds of the villagers and it would be hauled out and used on anyone under seventy taking it easy. You wouldn’t want to attract that kind of attention to yourself. You’d never crawl out from under it.

But now he feels he has earned the stoop and earned the rocker with his stumpy ass tucked tidily into it of an evening. He likes to look around him, down at the shop in the village, up at the church and out at the bay and over sideways at the road. He keeps track of things, does Chester. For a while there it was hard, as everyone visited the new stoop, some of the older ones bending down and poking around underneath it as if to find fault with its construction. A trail of visitors inspected that stoop, all making it look like it was an accidental dropping by. Something new in the village always caused a great commotion. Hang up a new clothesline and they were all up to finger it and run the pulleys and where did you get the fancy nails for it b’y, next thing you’ll be getting new clothes pins to match, ha ha ha. That’s the way it was. You couldn’t get away from the endless curiosity of the village. And he’s guilty himself too, God knows. When Georgie and Betty put in the hot tub, you could have sold tickets, everyone trekked up to take a look and make the kind of jokes that Chester found distasteful. The first, and for now it looks like the last, hot tub in St. Bride’s. Right out in the open in the back where Georgie’s mam and dad used to keep the chickens. Rolling in their graves they must be. And the steam coming off it. Chester couldn’t get over it, walked around and around it, looking at the little seats inside and the shelves and the churning blue water. Betty said you put your wineglass on the little shelves and then lolled about inside it with your friends. Naked? Chester had wanted to ask. But didn’t. He asked Barney at the shop instead. He had to be careful how he phrased the question and thought long and hard for a while and then asked Barney what would he, Barney, bring to one of those hot tub parties if he was invited. Barney asked him was he invited to one. In St. Bride’s you could never ask a question without getting another one lobbed right back at you. This could go on for days. There were questions asked fifty years ago that were still unanswered. So with seventy-two years of practice, Chester waded right in immediately with the next question, would you bring your own soap, like? And at that, Barney, who was a young pup of forty-five, fell down on the counter laughing so hard his big ugly baldy head flared up in a bright red. Chester just stood there gathering his dignity around him while he waited for Barney to get his breath back. Young Jimmy Nick chose that moment to walk into the shop and Barney, gasping, told Jimmy that buddy here was bringing his own soap to a hot tub party and Jimmy turned on Chester and asked him what were the plans for the soap? Could he teach him and Barney a few old tricks there with the soap? And Chester folded his arms in front of his chest and told Barney to hurry up there, he didn’t have all day, he needed to pay for his bread and milk. Jimmy howled out and what about the soap? And Barney fell over again. It took an awful long time for all that to die down. Every now and again, and it’s over two years since the hot tub went in, they come at him with soap questions and one morning he found a bar of Palmolive on his new stoop.

By now the excitement of the stoop is over and he can sit there and think and watch and rock. So as not to give the impression he’s a damn fool idler, he always has something with him, his toolbox is sorted regularly, and he sands a bit of wood for down the road, you’d never know when you might need a nice bit of wood for a corner of a cupboard or a tobacco shelf. As he watches the sun go down of an evening he feels this is the best time of his life and he would damn well enjoy it, rocking on his bit of porch. There was Albert Deacon, three lots over, in the hospital and dying. All rotted up inside, Barney said. Not a garter of a healthy organ anywhere in the body. It’s in his gut. And everyone knew what that meant. In the gut was the death warrant, days to live. He and Albert had words over the wood three years ago too; Albert had been on Mike’s side in the whole barnie. Chester had lost it completely and told them to count his stack back at his house. They could count every damn log and then their own as well to see who had the most. It all wound up in a right kettle with Mike and Albert taking all this offence and the fourth man, Georgie of subsequent hot-tub fame, saying he was not saying anything at all. He wanted nothing to do with any argument. Of course Betty had always worn the pants and removed his backbone for good measure on the day that they’d married. So there was an awful strain between Chester and Albert, they’d stopped speaking even when it was now just the three of them up at the wood last fall and they did all their communicating through Georgie. Chester made sure he took far less wood than Albert and even tossed a few logs out of his truck and back on to the ground before he jumped into it, and then made an even bigger point by glaring at the big load on Albert’s truck before he squealed out.

Albert was a fool about his property. He had seven acres, just like the rest of them, original lots divvied out when Newfoundland was doing such things way back. The only difference was Albert had gone to the trouble of putting a white picket fence around his whole property, all seven acres of it, and it was just about a full time job maintaining that fence. There was always a picket loose or rotting, or even falling down completely, or needing a fresh coat of paint. Daily, Albert would pace around the perimetre of his property, inspecting the fence, carrying his tools in a wooden hod, bending down, hammering here and there and putting on a dab of paint when it needed it. There was always a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, smoke curling up and over his bushy eyebrows. Nobody ever saw him light a cigarette, or throw a butt away. Legend had it that smoke came out of his mother’s canal a minute before he was born with this very same original, magical cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth. He was a rake of a man who’d had a big fat wife by the name of Annie-the-Balloon who spoke French better than she did English and had dropped dead in their bedroom seven years ago and it took four men to get her down the narrow stairs and out the front door into the ambulance. Albert’s children were all to the mainland but it didn’t seem to matter for the pickets were his family. Every day he circled the property, smoke unfurling over his fine thick head of white hair, which had a slight tinge of yellow from all the smoke, he never washed it and he bragged about this, he said washing hair made it all fall out. Hammering, painting, aligning and replacing, it never stopped. Every new picket he cut by hand. He had a little template of plywood and he’d go up to no-man’s land behind the church and cut four or five new pickets and they would do him for a few months or so. The inside of the house was falling down around him, they said, but the picket fence was a showpiece.

So here was Marzie now getting out of her truck. A fine, strong woman. She’d given Mike six strapping boys, all to Alberta for the oil. Nineteen grandsons they had too, all born in Alberta, some half-breed. Mike would brag about them. It took real men to have real men. Chester wondered how Marzie felt about all those men. No one to keep her company. Chester’s two big sisters had been great company, God rest them. He’d been a change of life baby. His mother kept him close to her side until she died at ninety-five. Twenty years ago now. Too late for him to marry then, not that there had been anyone out there waiting for him. His fine qualities were all worn on the inside, his mother would say, and would last a lot longer than that fancy schmancy outside stuff. But no woman had ever taken up a pickaxe to dig up all that gold that was inside Chester.

Ah Chester, says Marzie now, squeezing on to the stoop, how are you and all. She hoists her hip on to the rail and looks down at him in his rocking chair, now stilled. Chester squints up at her in the fading light, letting his penknife fall into the toolbox and wiping his hands on his shabby old coveralls.
No complaints, he answers briskly, and yourself there now, Marzie?
Ah, she tells him, I was in town with Albert up in the Waterford?
Right, answers Chester, right, how is he? It’s in his gut, I hear.
In the gut alright, says Marzie, shaking her head sadly, he was a great friend to Mike, God rest his soul. And here she blushes, looking as if she’d like to bite the words back out of the air and swallow them down her throat.
Chester acknowledges her discomfort, waves his hand about, no offence, Marzie, no offence at all.
The thing is, Marzie continues, he wants to see you Chester, he says it’s very important, he has to see you.
No, says Chester, shocked, sure we haven’t spoken since let me see, three years ago now? The wood…
She cuts him off. Ah I know all about that, you silly boys, fighting over a few sticks, will ye ever get a bit of sense, my four year old grandson has more sense than the pack of ye.
Chester sits and takes on the shame of all three of them, Mike now dead, Albert’s guts riddled, and he on his stoop rocking. She’s right.
Are you sure there now Marzie? He says slowly. Positive like?
He says it plain as the nose on my face here, Chester, he has to see you, he says. Immediately, he says. Urgent business, he says.
Well, says Chester, still baffled, will I head in to town tomorrow, so? And see him? What floor of the Waterford?
The fourth, says Marzie, and then puts her head to one side and looks knowingly at him; it’s for the hopeless cases, the fourth, Chester. Chester knows all about the fourth on the Waterford as his sister Clara had died there a few years after his mother. The first time he walked in there, the nurses knew him before he opened his mouth to ask where Clara was, they just nodded at him as he got off the elevator and pointed down the hall to her ward. For Clara and Chester and their sister Isabel had all looked alike, short and stumpy with big heads.
A thought strikes Chester out of the blue. Ah, now Marzie, maybe… and he can’t find the words but touches a finger to his skull and twists it hoping she’ll understand.
Oh, as sane as the pope, she picks up on it right away and then laughs a little, why his marbles are as good as yours or mine there, Chester.
Ah good, good, says Chester, his mind already on his few bits of decent clothes upstairs and how much gas was in his truck.
What would I do with the truck once I gets there? He asks her.
She understands what he means.
You drive along Topsail to the Waterford and into the lot where you gets a ticket and you pays on the way out, she says and adds, it cost me three dollars.
Three dollars! Says Chester, his mouth falling open and you’re parking here and I don’t charge you a red penny!
Ah, its town and they’re all stunned! Marzie is dismissive and unhitches herself off the railing.
You’re all set so then are you, Chester? He nods, his mind now on the three dollars and should he buy some oranges for Albert, but they might be wasted if his gut was all rotted.

Albert looks worse than what he’d expected, is Chester’s first thought when he stands at the bottom of his bed in Ward 419. They must have surgically removed the cigarette and poor Albert looks stark naked without it. Tubes are running into him from everywhere. And out of him too, God knows. And his hair must have been washed; it is almost lost in the whiteness of the pillowcase that he’s propped up on. And his bushy yellow eyebrows are bleached as well. His face is all sunk in, his nose and chin peaky and lonely above it. Albert wouldn’t know himself if he fell over himself.
Come here, he says in an awful, raspy, whispery voice as soon as he sees Chester, hurry up will ya?
Chester moves around the bed and up to the side of it, leaning over the person who used to be Albert.
I counts three of them before they took me away. The words are painfully slow as they crawl out of Albert’s mouth.
There is a long silence. Marzie’s been all wrong. The marbles have all rolled away taking the original Albert with them. Chester looks around at the other three beds, each bearing its own burden of misery in various stages of decay, with tubes running hither and yon. Just like Albert. The smell in the room is appalling. He thinks longingly of his stoop and his rocker, after he’s been up to Barney's of course, to tell them what shape Albert’s gut is in.
And what do you want me to do? Chester says next in the most patient and kind voice he can muster.
For God’s sake, man, wheezes Albert, don’t torture me here, I’m dyin’, can’t you see?
Distressed, Chester feels his heart rate increase and once again looks desperately around the ward for inspiration, but nobody’s listening to the crazy conversation.
Suddenly, Chester feels like a character in the comics that he loved when he was a boy. As if a light bulb shines over his head and the answer to a problem flashes on and off like a neon sign. With huge relief, he takes Albert’s tubeless left hand in both of his and squeezes it gently.
Right you are, he says now, confidently, right you are, man, I’ll see to it, you can rest aisy. I’ll see to it the minute I gets home now.
Grand, says Albert, his voice fading, his hand going limp as his eyes close.
Chester watches the sleeping Albert for a minute and then leaves; delighted he only has to pay a dollar on the way out. One up on Marzie, he’ll have to tell her.

Right after he pulls into his driveway, Chester goes back to his shed and carefully puts his supplies together and heads on up the road. He spots them right away at the side of Albert’s house. Three of the pickets have loosened and are leaning to one side. In no time at all, he hammers them back into place.

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