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  • Writer's pictureWellington Lambert

South of Moosonee 21



My two favourite ladies Mom and Aunt Norma



68F/53F Foggy

I’m awake. It must be three in the morning. If I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s always three. I remembered to take my rock out of my army surplus bag. I tucked it away in the side pocket, where I put one of Jutta’s cassettes. I hold it in my hand and look out the window while I do my teeth ritual. I add an attachment to the ritual. I tell my brain that doing the ritual makes the next day safe. No matter what happens the next day, if the ritual is completed the night before, everything will be alright.

The fog is thick, and the foghorn is going off every thirty seconds or so, how the hell does anyone sleep here?

*

(Click) (Jutta’s Tape)

Happy? Am I happy? (pause) happiness is a golden ticket. A feeling we touch on now and then and spend the rest of our lives searching for. Like I’ve said about death, we need to change the language. When people ask about happiness, they are usually asking if you are content. If you are satisfied with how you feel at the moment. If you understand contentment, it will have a longer shelf life than a feeling of happiness. (Pause) Happiness is an addiction like attraction. It’s a strong feeling that pulls your brain into a mood of sudden and absolute belonging. It can be beautiful if you understand its brevity. You don’t need to search for it, it will just happen when and if your brain feels capable of escape. When your brain hums at a level that produces the chemical that creates the feeling of happiness. (Pause, sip) I know I am speaking in very general terms, but what I am saying is out of experience, not science.

I have been lucky to feel happiness a few times in my life, but I am even luckier to feel contentment. (Chair movement on floor.) Contentment didn’t happen for me till my old age. I hope it happens for you sooner. It came to me with a lot of work. I had to come to the realization that life was neither a gift nor a curse, it just is. How I decide to live with my life and work with it is up to how I decide to feel about it. (Pause) I am the only one who can alter my perspective. Once that realization is in place, life can produce a feeling and level of contentment that serves as a beautiful platform to live in. (Pause) I hope you find this, it takes time, and work.

(click)

I was thinking of bringing a mix tape with me to listen to with the extra cassette player I bought. I forgot, but now that I can listen to the radio it’s even better. Maybe I’ll find some cool punk music, something I haven’t heard before.

*

I went downstairs and had breakfast.

I talked with my aunt about when I was a kid and wrote her a letter and tied the ends together with shoelaces. She laughed and told me how much she enjoyed the letter. I didn’t tell her how disappointed I was that she never wrote back. Once again…thicker skin.

We talked about what jobs I could do. She told me I couldn’t wear shorts. Uncle Sherwin didn’t like it. I didn’t ask why, but I can think of a few reasons.

She told me my first job would be with Salty Sam. He was this old guy doing construction near their one and only store by the harbour. He needed help and I could start tomorrow. I tried to picture what someone named Salty Sam would look like. A peg leg, a hook for a hand, a patch over his eye, barking orders while I work a 12-hour day.

After that job, my aunt told me I could learn to pick dulse and sell it. I know about picking dulse. My cousin did it. Going out on a small boat, pulling it off the rocks at low tide, bring it back in canvas sacks and drying it on the beach over a net. This is exciting, learning to do something no one back home will ever do.

There’s also scooping Herring. But that’s not till later in the season.

*

I walked around the house after breakfast, trying to remember what was familiar. The enclosed front porch with every possible fishing Nik Nak around. Not cheap tourist stuff but real things, from real fishing life. There’s a small room off the kitchen where my aunt disappears to talk to my uncle on the boat. It’s a CB radio I think, I can hear the noise and clicking between her talking and him talking, like he’s a ghost on another frequency. The dining room and living room feel unused. Most of the living is in the kitchen. I go outside and walk around the work shed filled with nets that my uncle is constantly mending. There are also chickens in a coup. A lot of rock fills the spots in between the buildings and reminds me of the north. Rock, bush and lakes, that’s what the north is. Here it’s the same, except all the water is around you.

*

My cousin John was my favorite cousin. I didn’t see much of him when I was younger but when I did, he would talk to me. He was short like me and had a weird laugh, like me. When our family would visit every summer, I would sleep on the floor in his room. We would talk about stuff that was interesting, stuff anyone I knew back home didn’t talk about. Like, what happens after death, what a soul is, if you are going to die in a plane crash and you decide to believe in God at the last moment, does it count? Does it matter? We would laugh…it felt good to laugh with someone about the same thing.

Then he disappeared.

*

Salty Sam looks old and cracked.

I met him at a hollowed out one room building beside the local store. I am helping him with construction. I don’t know anything about construction, but it seems simple enough. Just help him get stuff, move shit around.

I like Salty Sam, he seems to appreciate a hard worker, I am a hard worker. I want him to like me.

Wanting people to like you seems a lot harder than not wanting people to hate you.

*

The end of the day felt sooner then I thought.

He wants me to build a scaffold on the inside of the back wall.

I said, no problem.

I have no idea how to build a scaffold, or what a scaffold is.

*

I woke up in the kitchen.

It was 3am.

I must have been sleep walking.

I could see someone standing in front of me by the kitchen table. I thought at first it was my aunt waking me up to go back to bed, but they slowly started to fade. Like those hallucinations I get once in while when I wake up.

I haven’t slept walk in ages.

I went back to bed and tried to remember if I did my ritual.

I wasn’t sure.

If I did, it’s not working.

*

I got up early to go build the scaffolding before Salty Sam got there. I found out what scaffolding is from my aunt. When I arrived at work, I started looking for things to build a scaffold. Two hours later I had a sort of Dr. Suess contraption I called scaffolding.

When Salty Sam got to work, I was a bit confused by his reaction.

He didn’t laugh, he wasn’t angry, but I knew he knew, this wasn’t really a scaffold. At least not one anyone could use without a death wish.

After we took the scaffolding down, he was different to me.

He was softer, nicer, like my attempt meant something.

Eventually when we took lunch breaks, he would give me cigarettes.

*

Uncle Sherwin told my aunt Norma, he doesn’t like me listening to the radio, so I keep it turned down real low. It’s something to do with the evil influence of the mainland coming into the house, who knows.

I can’t find the national Geographics they used to have in the porch, or the Carpenter records they used to have. I wanted to listen to Mr. Postman, I love that song. I asked Norma about them, and she told me something about John coming back from Oral Roberts University and getting rid of them, or someone getting rid of them. It wasn’t clear. All I know is I miss them.

*

Mr. Ends

My third-grade teacher picked me up from my desk and held me in his arms in front of my class. He was telling everyone that I was the smallest person in the class, and even I knew how to draw without going to bottom of the blank page. I’m not sure if my accomplishment was being small or my drawing. He smelt like pipe tobacco and coffee. He lived alone in a cabin in the woods. I pictured him by himself, sitting by a roaring fire, with his pipe, reading, doing teacher things in the woods.

One day I brought a picture of the Southern Cross in Grand Manan. It fascinated him and he wanted to know more. Southern cross is near Deep Cove on Grand Manan Island. It is a pile of rocks at the bottom of a cliff near a light house. It has been shaped into a cross by the water and wind. I was told that once a ship went down near it and the men were trying to climb up the cliff to safety. Then, when all was lost a burst of wind pushed them up the cliff…something like that. They said it was god’s work, it was the strength of the cross that did it. Of course, no one mentions God caused the wreck in the first place. Whenever you question why the tragedy happened in the first place, the usual response is something about testing their faith, like a mini rapture. I guess those that believed enough were saved. Kind of like a pop quiz, for your life.

Eventually Mr. Ends went to Grand Manan and brought back pictures of his visit. Proof of purchase. He talked about it to the class like it was his discovery. I didn’t mind, I was kind of proud I did something that took him out of his cabin in the woods. It occurred to me, even then, that what we do and why we do it is just a continuation of someone else. Even in our dreams, we are connected.

*

How do some people live so long and learn so much and others…nothing.

*

It’s my last day with Salty Sam.

Aunt Norma told me that he told her I was the only person he didn’t hate working for him. My aunt thought that was high praise. But she doesn’t know, I’m used to being one step ahead of what others think of me. I give them a version of myself that will match their basic expectations.

It’s a survival technique.

My last lunch with Salty Sam was interesting.

The freedom he felt, knowing he wouldn’t see me again allowed him to say anything he wanted about anyone. He told me about the division on the island, those that have more than others. It was hard to believe that such a small place with barely one hundred people could have a dark side. But then, Kap is small, kind of a land locked island, and all sorts of darkness hangs out there.

I wasn’t sad saying goodbye to Salty Sam, something told me that most people I would get to know in life would be temporary. There is only so much inside me I can let anyone see.

*

Norma introduced me to Brian. He’s going to show me how to pick Dulse.

*

I just got a letter from Crystal. It was hilarious. She drew a picture of what seaweed pants would look like. Also, what seaweed nail polish would look like.

*

Crystal

Crystal is like me, we both keep things hidden, even from each other.

She lives in her own world but manages this one better than I can.

We connect over music and share a general dislike for all things cool.

Her house is cluttered and like John, her parents seem invisible.

She made a photo album for me. It had an article from the newspaper that had a typo in it declaring “Pubic” awareness week. Also, an article from a magazine saying rock music can use beats that are opposite to the bodies natural rhythm causing a loss in muscle strength. They did a study…doctors and stuff. It had pictures of us playing shows. It looks like we had fun, it seems like a long time ago.


We had pork and pork drippings on potatoes last night, with fried bread that you dip in molasses. It was amazing. I also like Norma’s fish chowder and homemade bread.



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