On the bank behind the house here is a ledge and that is where Charlie would wait. Charlie was a red fox who lived on the mountain I face. Trotting down off, one spring day, he discovered a man raking his gravel in a driveway. “Howdy, fox,” I said then got the creature a piece of homemade bread from inside. He ate the thing whole before leaving for the high cover of his beech, birch and maple. “Charlie,” I call, “Charlie. You like the name, because it’s yours now.”
He didn’t look back. I thought I would never see him again.
But I will call that name because it is early evening now and I have had enough of my atlas. Also I could use a friend as night is chugging on like a demon train. Maybe the fiddle will rouse him and get him down off his mountain. Naw, no Charlie. I wear glasses now. I take a moment to pause to put them on before climbing to his ledge.
My name’s Miles ‘Meter’ MacPherson and I was born in a village in north-eastern Cape Breton in 1961. In 1974 I was 13 when our Canadian Prime Minister Mr. Pierre Elliot Trudeau came along and changed the road signs from miles to kilometres. Soon the change started showed up on car speedometers and odometers. Likewise my name changed: from Miles to Kilometres, then Klicks to Klicker to Klicksit to Klickety Dickety. It became Meters in the end then Meter; there are still vestiges of Klicks about. I lived it down, though. But then I was gone twenty-two years next to circumnavigate the globe seven times. It’s back to Miles now. It’s nice to live in the adult world here. Here being home, that is. But…I stop, I break off a stick to protect myself and assist in the climb. I haven’t got the strength I had. “Charlie...” I call in a low growl that enters like a slow bullet, the beech, the maple, the birch to die away unshot.
It was on this very first plateau, one hundred feet up above the house I built that I had cut the mountain ash tree and carved a face in its stump. I see it now stand like a miner whose been hammered deeply into the ground. My nieces and nephews came two summers back and I asked each for their names. Their moms, a pair of sisters stood and encouraged responses from each. I asked if anyone wanted to see the Tree Ghost that talks in a kind voice when the sun goes down and the sun was almost down. “He should be talking very soon.”
Well, there was a registry like you never saw, there was the kind of enthusiasm that it was impossible to say no to. “Go then,” the mothers said who would drink the offered tea.
This was a dry summer, the same kind in which the wasps build their homes underground. And so as the children and I climbed a size-four sneaker darkened the roof of a wasp kingdom. Its royal fleet was summoned and at shoe removal there came a thunderhead cloud of bees.
The sound was like a bagged chainsaw held underwater. I was higher up but turned and it took a moment to see how the buzzed children stood paralysed. How they screamed to high heaven as wallops of stings struck them one by one. The militant cloud moved like a blow of dandelion, brushing up against every tender sad raw cheek and every upper arm:
“Get out!” I screamed in a voice I hadn’t used in a decade.
“Get the hell out! Yas don’t understand that much! Run, run! Like you never ran! Run!”
Who ran? I ran. Not them. Down over the bank of this Kicking Horse Pass that fell off like a bicycle frame. I ran to clutch up what I could of them in armfuls, telling meanwhile the others to scram, git, go!
They did not. I did, down over that ever loving hill I did, with young heads and arms flipping and flopping like long balloons of lost inflation. It was to their waiting mothers I came and they are fully and matronly out on the step now, grown in motherhood, with once fair faces wearing only carnivals of terrors. Perhaps there was this Tree Ghost thing, they thought! Perhaps it is murdering the my children, my children, my poor children!
My lungs were on fire. I know that. I couldn’t communicate this, though, but left them what of their brood I had and, with a good foot on Charlie’s ledge, I dug in. I climbed for more.
I had loaded the stragglers when one of the boys tugged my shirt: ‘What?” I said. “Pst...! What!”
Like a Rembrandt painting he looked up land and he too spit a bee from his lip to touch his eyeglasses: “My father’s allergic,” he said.
I turned, a bees was in my ear. Oh no, Neil, I had forgot about him. But there he was, his bulk, circumspect on the bank, stung and failing. Ah my...I could only do what I could, which was to dash these others down to the step. Oh, the load, huff, puff, a metric tonne in my arms. “Wait...” I called, but produced no sound. And yet I had run back up to this father and his frame, I edged him and it off the hill like good furniture. He is inside the house. And here...look at me, in my car to dash to the neighbours for a remedy to his fatal bite. “Come on!” My busted transmission: it was not heating up! Go, go! It went. I went. I got the antidote.
He sat heavy and grey, this young patron parent Neil in my wood chair by the window, the daylight making him grim forever. But also in favour of not making it. He breathed...once. My quiet room, how its middle floor was a muddle of hysteria with wails and sobs. I didn’t think I would ever get rid of the rising plaints when they were gone. But there was a falling off, one short lived, before a great utter renewals of misery initiated by the youngest whelp assailed my ears. What had happened was terrible! You don’t realise? I realise. Welts as big as big as twenty-five cent pieces made me realize. And who is also allergic and we don’t know yet? Every time you looked the stings grew like pock on young arm and neck. The Bubonic plague was in my house. Someone said they saw a bee and this made one kid wail blue murder to outdo another engaged in mortal fear. I’ll lose hearing over this.
But the faint father, in my favourite chair, having taken the “Epeenefereen” was placid. What I mean to say is pallid. But the sight of the anti-histamine did calm the redheads, some. The blonds, blacks and browns sniffed. Then the all-calm rang and in the whole living room not a sound could be heard. The boy standing at his father’s knee looked up. His dark innocent eye on him was on him:
“You were crying.”
“No I wasn’t.”
The gang blew up in laughter.
“I wasn’t! I wasn’t!”
I thought they were going to shake the roof off its moorings with the laughter. I enjoyed it. We were safe, none was harmed, what story we had. I wanted a family of my own then. But the mothers laughed and squared their happy heads. That was enough. “All right, you crew.” The gang piled into family vehicles.
And these gold glasses that I now wear? Where did I get them and how do they fit in? Well, these delicate antique frames that bring in freshness of sunlight through harsh Acadian tree world over here on a northern slope, I will tell you where.
I found them in the old house around the Salt Lake. Jammed down between the wall and the China cabinet, they were in the cold room where I had slept as a boy. I’ll wear them I said, right off the bat, right away I will. I had felt my eyes becoming weak but was far from any civilization to allow you to get a set. But, was the proud look of the scholar also my aim? I don’t think so. Something in their wearing though said a lone man on a quiet hill would be more proper if found in eyeglasses. The things said relax, relax. You needn’t go nowhere. For night is coming on in your life as well.
I took the pair into Dr. D. R. Philippe in Sydney, who encouraged my vanity. “They are light I will say. They fit you and they look good. Okay, pay attention, you will feel a firm puff of air on your eye. You say your mother had glaucoma? We must check that. You do have a stigma in your left eye. I can see that.”
“Not my right as well?”
“What do you mean?”
He looked at me here. He was the only one in this crowded second-story shop that did not wear glasses. He wore jeans instead, a long-sleeve denim shirt wrapped around his shoulder, and a leather loafer.
“I travelled to Nepal with Doctors Without Borders.”
“Did you need a passport for that?”
“Yes...I don’t know. A lot there needed heavy prescriptions.”
And then, this he told me in confidence:
“Watch for eyesight, in the poor.”
“Because is why.”
Now this had been an answer my mother was fond of. Because is why. But that doctor without a border D. R. Philippe had told me too much. That was the sense anyway. He seemed distant, then; he had thought of me as someone to understand him since he had gleaned in our conversation that I had travelled and, far. He gave me a few shots in the eye that blinded me. He told me to stand at a wall where there hung purported glasses from a rack. I think I felt the rack. I had given my own pair to him and this second pair was free. I could only think of the old women in town. I felt around for what seemed to be a decent frame, not too big, not too small, smooth, I guess. I drove my car then into the street whereupon I remarked: “Why, look at the all the other car down here too at fifty fathoms.” I was wearing the second free pair, which I’d lose before the week was out. But yes, how great, the idea, to see again! My gold pair from behind the china cabinet was to be fitted, too, with lenses adhering to the good details of a new prescription. They’d be dipped in gold cleaning solution, set up with the nose-bridge pad that had gone missing. I was a happy man. I’d pick them up in a week, in town. And that sign I just took said either Exit or...Stop.