From A Work In Progress (II)

From the same work in progress as this, although that has changed in the meantime. I write very slowly, as you can probably tell (and yeah, I fudged the geography a little). Comments are still down because I haven’t had time to fix them, but feel free to send me a message on twitter.

She hadn’t anticipated the boat. She’d gotten her fake Canadian ID, some bright plastic money in a bunch of different colours, smartphone registered with a Canadian carrier and a Canadian SIM card, even paid extra to have a chequing account set up in her new name at the Bank of Montréal. She had pictured a night crossing in the back of an ancient Toyota, glare from halogen lamps whipping across her face as they drove through the checkpoint. Lying to the border guards or even trying to stay quiet in the trunk if it came to that, legs cramping and having to pee and hoping she didn’t get sick from the fumes. She’d resigned herself to choking back the claustrophobia. But the boat, that was something else, a risk she hadn’t planned for. Her arm could conceivably survive if she went overboard, it had been built rugged, but most of her luggage was less robust consumer-grade computer equipment and some purpose-built maintenance gear running software she’d written herself, all the backups in the same bag as the mains. The boat was not ideal.

It was dark, anyway. She’d been right about that. She’d paid a guy to introduce her to another guy, not a lot in the way of names, and that other guy had a sixteen-foot Lund rigged out for silent running, which meant awkwardly fitted oars on a riveted steel hull painted bright red. He’d piled her bags in the back and put a life jacket up front for her to sit on while he rowed her across the border not far from International Falls. After that she was on her own, but she spoke both official languages and had a pocketful of money; she would be able to more or less blend once she got to a bigger city, though the arm would be a problem.

The crossing went well, if slow, the width and high sides of the Lund’s hull giving the guy problems with the oars. She asked him if the river was patrolled, and he said sometimes, but it was better not to take chances. He had a little outboard if necessary, designed for trolling. It wasn’t any faster than rowing; its chief virtue was that it would stop the current from being a factor in where they landed. It didn’t make much noise, but he didn’t want to risk it if he didn’t have to. When they got to the other side he asked if she had a GPS unit or at least a compass, but she said no, she hadn’t expected to need one. Her phone had GPS, but for some unfathomable reason it wouldn’t engage without a cellular signal. It would be tough walking, he told her, but if she followed the river east she’d be fine. Right, he said. Go right.

It took her hours to walk to Fort Frances, the town on the Canadian side. The bush had been thicker than she’d thought possible; tamarack and spruce grabbed at her bags, the Canadian Shield’s blend of muskeg and bedrock beneath her feet like some spongy, leaking waterbed that, perversely, contained shoals. The guy had landed her only a few miles from Fort Frances, but she’d spent nearly her entire life in the messy, engineered glare of cities, and her walk was made longer by the ancient human fears of the forest and the dark. When she finally saw the wilted, yellowing grass of that first backyard, the town spread out flat and dry ahead of her, it was all she could do not to collapse.

She managed to stay on her feet until she got to the Greyhound station, guided by a phone that was suddenly useful again, reunited with the infrastructure the dev who’d coded its GPS functions had taken for granted, infrastructure that, strictly speaking, shouldn’t have been necessary. The floor of the bus terminal was done up in vinyl tiles of marbled green that were split and coming unglued in places. The walls had probably started out white but had been stained with dirt and grease and who knew what else. It was still cleaner than she’d expected, and the little café sold poutine and perogies alongside the usual burgers and nachos with runny, fluorescent cheese. It was populated with the same collection of drug dealers, small-time hustlers, and panic-eyed homeless as an American bus station, maybe just not as many of them, and more sad than scary.

Her arm was hidden under unseasonably long sleeves, but Fort Frances was a place where it would stand out regardless. She was desperate for rest, but didn’t plan to linger. She studied the schedule on the filthy flatscreen hanging in the corner. Fort Frances was so small a place that the entire schedule for the day was displayed on the one screen, not just upcoming departures. She would make her new home in Toronto, because she wanted to get lost in a major city and the next bus was headed in that direction. Two hours earlier and it would have been Vancouver.

If the woman at the ticket kiosk noticed the arm she didn’t say anything, and neither did the man at the lunch counter. Nobody was looking at her, but she relaxed after realizing nobody was making a point of not looking at her, either. She bought deep fried perogies and a bottle of water and sat down to wait for her bus, studying the unfamiliar change. She understood for the first time that Canada really was another country, even if it was similar enough to feel familiar. The pictures on the coins looked strange to her, but a dime was still the size of a dime, a quarter still the size of a quarter. She could do it: she could make a life here.

She wished she’d brought a book.

August

Writer. Editor. Critic.

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