By Carrie Connel-Gripp
He was glad of his freedom, but the events of the past year left him brooding. Contemplating what he should do and where he should go only brought a swamping uncertainty. He could drown here just as well as somewhere else. There was nowhere he called home. He had gravitated to the tavern as this Northern Ontario town lacked anywhere more enticing. He sat at the bar with a half empty beer in front of him, nervously picking at the label.
“Hey, you Joey Charrette?” asked a voice behind him.
He looked into the mirror on the back wall. “What’s it to you if I am?”
“Take it easy,” the man said. “Paula Renfrew said I’d find you here.” The man sat on the stool next to Joey. “She told me your story and asked if I could do anything for you.”
Joey turned, wondering how much of his story his release counsellor shared.
“Ed Tubuck,” came with a proffered hand for shaking.
“Nice to meet you,” Joey said and took his hand, deciding he liked Ed better now he had a good look at him. “Tubuck? What kind of name is that?”
Ed said, “That’d be the kind of name you get when you’re half Métis, half something else. You?”
“Half Cree. Birth mother lives in northern Manitoba.”
“Birth mother, huh? Where’d you grow up?” asked Ed, signaling to the bartender to bring two more beers.
“Ohio,” said Joey. “Should’ve stayed there.”
“Naw, look at how much living you’ve done,” said Ed, taking a drink.
Joey laughed. “Living, right,” he said, gazing at his own face in the mirror. Deep brown eyes – bloodshot, sleepless, haunted – looked back at him. “So, what can you do for me, Mr. Tubuck?”
“We’ve got a fishing lodge up north from here, needs roof work and other repairs. You interested?”
“Who’s ‘we’?” asked Joey.
“Just my little family group. It’ll take a couple days to get there. You got a place to stay tonight?”
Joey shook his head. “They didn’t give me much money.”
“That’s okay. Stay with me and we’ll head out in the morning.”
“All right, mister.” Joey fished a pack of cigarettes and a cheap plastic lighter out of the pocket of his jean jacket as he walked out the door into the twilight.
Ed paid the bar bill and followed him out. “Come on. My truck’s over here.”
Two days later, Joey was sitting in the front of a fifteen-foot Alumacraft using a blue tarp to keep off the spray. The noise of the engine and the bone-shaking boom of the boat slapping against the surface of the water made any conversation impossible. They started out at dawn, Joey barely awake after a night with Ed’s “little family group” of twenty or so adults and countless children running around. He’d been offered a meal of some kind of stew and bread, and then left on his own. He chose a stump on the outer circle by the fire to park his butt on while he ate and someone passed him a can of beer. He sat the beer on the ground in front of him, looking around at the people. Intuition told him he was safe and he picked up the can. Ed found him later and put him to bed on a couch, pulled off his running shoes, and threw a blanket over him.
As the boat swung around an outcropping of rock, Ed eased up on the motor. “That’s it up ahead,” he shouted.
Joey straightened and looked at his new home for the next few months. It was large in relation to the islands they had passed on the two-hour journey out. Ed motored to the right and angled the boat farther out into the lake, then pivoted and made a beeline for the dock jutting from a natural break wall and small beach area. A teenager waited on the dock.
“Get ready to grab the dock,” Ed shouted.
Joey positioned himself on his knees in the bottom of the boat so that he could reach out without tipping over the side. He grabbed hold of the vertical four-by-four support as Ed coasted into position and turned off the motor. The teenager tied the lines and Joey clambered out of the prow. Ed introduced Joey to his son Ren. They unloaded the boat together, gathering up what they could carry, as Ed led the way onto the beach and up the incline to the clearing. A main lodge building and several smaller cabins in various states of repair came into view. Ed led Joey to the lodge, opened the door, and put the bags down on the floor.
“The generator only covers this building. Ren’s been keeping it going for the past few days. In here, you’ve got the fridge, stove, and lights. I’ll show you where we keep the gas and how to work the generator. You want to keep it running so the food doesn’t spoil. Freezer’s loaded with trout, walleye, some whitehead, moose and deer meat. Help yourself to whatever you feel like. You’ll find flour, sugar, powdered milk and canned food in the cupboards.”
Joey didn’t respond, looking around at his new environment. The lodge was large with six bunks in the west end. A long table seating more than twenty on benches and mismatched wooden chairs extended from the sleeping area into the kitchen on the east end. Windows were sparse on the north side, allowing in shaded daylight through the pine branches. Two large windows on either side of the door provided a southerly view of the beach and water.
Ed took Joey back out to the open air, showing him the work that needed doing and what he had to do to keep the generator behind the lodge running.
“We’ve brought up all the materials you should need and the tools are in the shed,” Ed said, motioning for Joey to follow him into the woods. The path was well-worn.
“How long you been coming out here?” Joey asked, waving away a swarm of midges.
“There’s been a lodge here for more than fifty years, but my people have been fishing this lake for a long time before that,” said Ed, stopping in front of a little shack.
Joey looked at the dilapidated structure. “This where you keep all your treasure?”
Ed laughed. “This is the outhouse. We need this one filled in and another dug over there,” he said pointing at a place thirty feet deeper into the woods marked by stakes with red tape tied to the tops.
“Right there, huh? How come not over there?” asked Joey, motioning in the other direction.
“Well, if you dig over there, you’ll be digging into an old pit. You don’t want to dig up that treasure.” Ed turned back the way they had come.
When they re-entered the clearing, Ed looked at the sky. The sun hung low in the west. “Time Ren and I should head back,” Ed said. “Look, we don’t expect miracles. Just do your best and we’ll all be happy, especially you.”
The three men walked to the dock and Ed said, “I’ll be back in a couple weeks, see how you’re making out. Anything you want me to bring?”
“Cigarettes, beer,” said Joey, as he untied the lines, “a Big Mac and fries.”
“I’ll see what I can do. When I come back, maybe you’ll tell me what got you into Kenora,” Ed said, then started the motor.
Joey gazed out on the lake, watching Ed motor away. He turned and raked his eyes over the scene of his new exile. At the lodge, he sat down on the wooden bench outside the door, leaned back against the wall. He took out a pack of du Mauriers and his lighter. He had two cartons of name brand cigarettes he picked up before leaving Kenora. He thought about the last thing Ed said. What got you into Kenora sounded like he had been accepted into a fancy college. Well, Ed, it’s like this, see … straight As, sports scholarship, community service, blah, blah. In reality, it was a series of bad choices and worse decisions that landed him in Kenora Jail.
Several months previously, Joey lived in London, Ontario, and was looking for love. She responded to his message on the dating site, agreeing to meet him for coffee. Joey was habitually early, standing outside smoking, when Lorraine drove up. He recognized her car from her description: an older model Honda Civic. He watched as she parked in the crowded lot and turned off the ignition. He walked over as she got out of the car, her face lighting up when she saw him. Lorraine had the most beautiful smile Joey had ever seen. He wanted to keep her smiling. They had coffee at the café in the bookstore, then dinner at a nearby restaurant. At eleven o’clock, she said she had an early work day and left him.
That was November. When Lorraine returned from her family Christmas, he moved into her apartment. She hadn’t exactly asked him; he just stayed one night and didn’t leave. Joey had access to television and the Internet, and three meals a day. She did laundry and cleaned.
They talked. Lorraine preferred to listen to Joey talk about his life. He told her he thought he had a twin that may have died. He had this image in his head of an angry man, maybe his father, throwing a sack against a wall, and he and his sister hanging onto each other. He talked about being in hospital with casts on both arms.
Joey remembered living at a home, but didn’t know if it was an orphanage. When he was bad, the lady pushed his hand onto a hot stove burner. He had no memories of his mother from this time. He told Lorraine about being adopted with his older sister by a man and woman from Ohio, how the Canadian government made his new parents change his name from Joseph to Josiah, but he’d always just been Joey.
He showed her his Indian Status card, the only identification he had in his wallet. Lorraine helped him to replace his social insurance card and his driver’s license. He said he would pay her back the eighty dollars but he never did.
In January, Lorraine took Joey on an overnight trip to Niagara Falls. He spent a long time looking at the Horseshoe Falls from their room on the twenty-third floor of the Embassy Suites. They spent their time at the Fallsview Casino and watched the fireworks at night. The next day, he talked her into taking out more money and playing slots at the Casino on Clifton Hill. The drive back was quiet. He thought Lorraine was miffed about something.
It started to go downhill after the trip. Lorraine would come home from work, see him sitting in the middle of the couch with her laptop, the same place she had left him in the morning. She’d go into the kitchen to start dinner, banging cupboard doors and slamming pots on the stove. He’d duck out to the balcony to have a cigarette in the frigid air. Later, she’d be in a better mood and they’d watch a movie. A few times, they went out for a walk. Just so happened, there was a beer store within walking distance of the apartment. He would drag her inside.
“Can you get me a couple cans?” he’d say, opening the cooler door.
This look would come over her face, eyebrows down, making the vertical wrinkle between her brows more pronounced, like she was calculating what he already owed her in rent and food. “Ok,” she’d reluctantly say. And he would reach for the Budweiser King cans.
“Just get the tall boys,” she’d say behind him and the negotiations would start in earnest, Lorraine insisting on a six-pack of tall boys and Joey explaining the King cans were a better deal. She would tire quickly and let him have what he wanted: three King cans. He would keep the change from her twenty and run across the street to buy a couple packs of smokes. Lorraine would be quiet again. He’d drink and she would read then go to bed early. One time she got up in the night and found him passed out half on the couch, half off. She tried to lift his feet, waking him in the process. They argued.
“Come to bed,” she said.
Joey mumbled an answer.
“I don’t know how to deal with this.” She turned to go into the bedroom.
“Don’t turn away from me,” he yelled. “You don’t know how many people have turned their backs on me.” He slumped onto the couch, while she stared at him. When she heard him snoring, Lorraine went back to bed.
Things were good for a while after that, until April when Lorraine went on a shopping trip with friends to Michigan, leaving her car with Joey so he could change the tires for warm weather. The job didn’t take long so he hopped a bus downtown. He drank the afternoon away with a few people he knew. She called him when she was back on the Canadian side of the border, said she’d be an hour, and asked him to pick her up at the same restaurant he had dropped her off at in the morning.
She got behind the wheel and Joey took the passenger seat. She sniffed the air, wrinkling her nose. “Really?!” Lorraine yelled and slammed the heel of her hand on the steering wheel. Joey thought it best to keep his mouth shut.
The next day, Lorraine let him have it. “I cannot believe you drove my car under the influence. Why didn’t you just tell me you’d been drinking and couldn’t pick me up? My friend would have dropped me off at home.” Lorraine breathed heavily, hands on her hips.
“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” Joey mumbled.
“Well, it’s too late for that. You could have killed someone,” said Lorraine, starting to pace. “Look, this is not the life I envisioned when I left my husband. I want you out of my apartment.”
“Where am I supposed to go?” he asked.
“Wherever you want. Go find your son and be a father.”
Lorraine went into the bedroom, took his clothes out of the dresser and threw them on the bed. She pulled his knapsack out of the closet. “Pack,” she ordered. “When I come back, I want you ready to go.” She left the apartment, returning thirty minutes later.
“What have you decided?” she asked.
“I’m heading north,” he said.
“Fine. I’ll drive you to the bus station.”
She bought him a ticket to Thunder Bay and gave him two hundred dollars cash.
“Good luck,” she said, walking out of his life.
That first night on the island, Joey sat watching the changing sky. As twilight descended, he felt peaceful, his thoughts calm, as close to meditating as he could achieve. This was the time of day when he felt at home, the grayness of in-between wrapped itself around him in an intoxicating embrace, like a warm blanket infused with the perfume of an absent love. In-between was how he felt most of the time, a sense of not-quite. He was not quite white, not quite Native; not quite an American, nor a Canadian; not quite of this culture, nor the other. He was not quite an alcoholic, but closer to one than sober. Sometimes he felt not quite a man but a little boy lost in a confusing alien world. The sun descended and the night creatures rose into a crescendo of owl hoots and cricket chirps. Nearby on the water, a loon called, answered by another across the lake.
The solitude of the island was something Joey welcomed. Kenora Jail was over-populated and noisy, the third largest of nine jails in Ontario with capacity of 105 beds. As an inmate in protective custody, he exercised and ate alone, and did not have to share a cell. For Joey, it was yet one more place in his life where he was on the outside. He looked Native, which meant “different” in Findlay, Ohio. He was raised by white parents: respected members of the community. In high school, he was accepted, he knew, mainly for his abilities in track and field. If you were a team star, you were worshipped until the day of graduation, then dropped while attention turned to the new stars coming up behind you.
Rising from the bench, Joey went inside and turned on the single overhead light. He inspected the contents of the cupboards, settling on a can of soup for his supper. He felt the first bit of loneliness when he sat down at the long table, but pushed it aside. He washed up the few dishes and put everything back where he had found them. He put away the supplies he and Ed had brought that day, and stowed his bags under the bunk on the west wall. The other two bunks lined the north and east walls. In the corners, he found stacks of books and two small lamps. He turned on one lamp and switched off the overhead light, then grabbed the first book he touched and lay down on the bunk.
His first night on the island was very much like a night at Kenora. There were sounds that made him jump, like a branch cracking free from a trunk, and when there was silence, it was absolute, which in itself was more nerve-wracking, both in the jail and the wilderness. At times, the sound of flying insects and the chorus of frogs and crickets, reminded him of the applause in a stadium. Other times, it was the murmur of inmates, facing their individual demons. He opened the book and started to read. He was asleep within minutes.
The next day, Joey began his occupation of the island by taking stock of the tools and supplies available for the work expected. The shed contained everything he needed for building. On the shelves were boxes upon boxes of screws and nails, and an assortment of tools and odds and ends. His mind visualized a variety of projects he could do after the necessary repairs were completed. He enjoyed creating and working with his hands, especially focusing on functionality. Out in the clearing, blue tarps covered neat stacks of materials from 2x4s to plywood. He found asphalt roofing tiles closest to the lodge. Behind the shed, he discovered two aluminum ladders and he carried the longest one out to inspect the lodge roof. As soon as he set one foot on the roof, which actually went through both tile and plywood, he knew the work would take the better part of a week if not longer. Job number one. He figured he would just get started and not think about everything else that needed doing. He went back down to the shed, grabbed a hammer and crowbar, and started removing the asphalt tiles, being careful to salvage whatever was still good. Being busy kept his mind occupied. He replaced most of the plywood sub-roof and hammered nails in a steady rhythm.
On the third day, Joey watched as dark clouds moved in from the northwest. He spent time moving building materials around under the tarps so that he could use one to tack over the roof. He checked the generator and filled the fuel tank. That evening, thunder cracked and rain poured down. The rain continued the next morning and Joey made repairs inside the lodge.
The bus to Thunder Bay was scheduled to leave at eight-thirty that night, four hours away. As Lorraine drove down the street, Joey stowed his bag in a locker and went to see Matt. Matt opened the door after Joey had been knocking for five minutes.
“Dude,” said Matt, wiping sleep out of his eyes, “are you kidding me?” He stepped back into the house with Joey following him to the kitchen. Joey sat down and Matt popped the caps on two bottles of beer, set them on the table.
“She threw me out,” said Joey.
“What’d you do?” Matt looked at Joey with a half-smile.
Joey looked down at the beer in his hand. “Drove her car …”
“So, now what?” Matt gulped his beer.
“Bus ticket to Thunder Bay.”
“Huh. You going?”
“Yeah.” Joey turned the empty bottle in his hands. “She left me with nothing. You got any cash?”
“Man, you know I haven’t worked in a month.”
“What am I supposed to do for food?” Joey pleaded.
“Alright,” said Matt. “Don’t start crying. I’ll see what I got.” He rose from the table and went into another room. Matt came back after a few minutes, handed Joey a wad of bills. “That’s all I got, man.”
Joey shoved the bills into his jeans pocket. “I appreciate it.”
“OK. Now get out so I can go back to bed,” said Matt, smiling.
Joey stood up and walked to the front door. “Be seeing you,” he said.
“Good luck,” said Matt, giving him a fist bump.
When he was no longer in sight of the house, Joey pulled the cash out to count it: seven fives.
Joey returned to Richmond Street and walked to Dundas where he panhandled for an hour and a half. It was easy in this university town to make twenty or thirty dollars in a couple hours. Panhandling would get harder the further north he travelled. With the money he raised, he went into a convenience store to stock up on supplies for the trip: cigarettes, chocolate bars, licorice, cookies, and nuts. Next was Tim Horton’s for a sandwich, couple donuts, and an extra-large black coffee. He returned to the bus station in time for a bathroom break and a smoke. He grabbed his backpack from the locker, climbed aboard the coach, and took a seat near the back; he put his bag on the seat beside him so no one would try to sit with him.
Passengers filed onto the bus. It was Saturday and there were a number of students with backpacks, a few seniors claiming their spots at the front, a couple children with parents, and the rest were middle-aged men and women, all with a certain tiredness about them. The bus growled to life, the door closed, and the driver backed out of the station. By the time the bus exited onto the 401, Joey was asleep. He woke each time the bus pulled into a station or stopped on the main street of a small town. When the driver stopped for a dinner break, Joey used the time to smoke, thinking about his son.
At Wawa, a young man boarded the bus and took a seat across the aisle from Joey, who struck up a conversation that took them well into the night. Turned out Tyler would be catching a ride to Dryden which was on the way to Joey’s final destination. Joey kept him talking until Tyler said he just couldn’t any longer and needed to sleep. They both dozed, waking up when the driver announced they were arriving in Thunder Bay and it was ten-thirty in the morning. When they got off the bus, Joey asked Tyler if there was any way he could get a ride to Dryden, explaining he needed to get to Red Lake from there. Tyler found his father’s pickup truck in the parking lot and convinced him to give Joey a ride. It was a long, quiet ride and Joey fell asleep against the passenger door. From Dryden, Joey hitchhiked to Perrault Falls, then again to Red Lake.
After travelling almost two thousand kilometres, he walked into the Blue Elk Bar and Grill. Joey stood in the doorway, allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom. At the back table, he saw Jimmy Stone elbow Dwayne Wallace and motion with his head toward the door. Although he couldn’t hear over the jukebox, Joey saw Dwayne say something, and he had an idea what his reception would be at his destination. Joey ordered a beer at the bar then sauntered over to the table.
“Joey! Where you been?” said Dwayne.
“How are you?” asked Jimmy at the same time.
“Good. Spent some time in the south,” said Joey. He drank and waited, knowing one of them would ask the next question. Dwayne and Joey looked at each other.
“Why are you here?” said Jimmy.
“I came to see Paul.” Joey drank his beer.
“You plan on staying long?” asked Jimmy.
“Nope. Just a visit before I head west,” said Joey.
Jimmy looked at Dwayne, who shrugged one shoulder. “Ok,” said Jimmy. “We’ll give you a ride.”
Joey bought a round. He sat and listened to the others chatter on about those who died and who gave birth, the size of the buck George brought down the year before. After the initial questions, Jimmy and Dwayne didn’t ask him anymore. Joey observed Dwayne getting jumpier as Jimmy did all the talking.
Three hours northeast of Red Lake, over rocky land and through deep pine forest, Joey would see his son Paul, born almost three years previously. Joey followed Jimmy and Dwayne out to a Jeep 4×4 a few years old. The storage area and most of the backseat were jammed with boxes of canned goods and ammunition.
“You’ll have to squeeze into whatever space you can, Joey,” said Jimmy as he walked around to the driver’s side. Dwayne opened the passenger door and hopped in. Joey opened the back door, moved a box to the floor behind the driver’s seat and shifted other items to the back. He climbed in and fished around for the safety belt. The three men were quiet, Jimmy concentrating on driving and Dwayne falling promptly to sleep. Joey’s mind raced along the road and through the tree branches.
When Lorraine said she wanted him out of her apartment that day, he was shocked and slipped into autopilot. If she didn’t want him, then there was no place for him in London. The only place he could think of to go was where he had family, and not the family he left behind in Ohio. So, he set his sights on Paul. He told Lorraine about Paul just after Christmas on a day he was feeling down. She called it a blue day and said there was only one remedy. She flipped through her small collection of record albums and pulled out one with a green cover.
“A little blues to fight the blues,” she said, putting the disc on the portable record player. When she placed the needle on the vinyl, guitar and harmonica rang out followed by the voice of an old African American man singing about sitting on top of the world. They listened, not talking; the song ended and the next began, a song about a motherless child.
“I have a son,” he said.
“How old is he?” asked Lorraine.
“Two, almost three, I guess.”
“Where is he?”
“With his mom up north. Her name is Ruthie.”
“Why aren’t you with them?”
“What’s with the third degree?” he asked, getting irritated.
“You brought it up. I’m just curious. Don’t you want to be with your son as he grows up?”
“He doesn’t need me. When he’s eighteen, he can come find me.”
“That’s a great attitude.”
He went onto the balcony, lit a cigarette, and sat down on the patio chair. Lorraine didn’t know what it was like to be him. No one knew. When he was eighteen, he left Ohio, crossed the border, and headed to northern Manitoba. He had his birth certificate to lead him. When he found his birth mother, all she wanted from him was money, which he didn’t have. He stayed a week, then went to Winnipeg to look for work, getting a job in new home construction.
The Jeep bounced over the dirt road. It was twilight when they arrived. Jimmy drove up to the community building in the centre which was surrounded by houses that were just four walls and a wood floor, laid out in a grid around it. He’d built better portables on school properties throughout Ontario and Manitoba. Running water, hell, drinkable water, was a luxury and electric heat a dream.
Joey climbed out of the Jeep before Jimmy had turned off the ignition. Once the engine noise ceased, the only sound Joey heard was a solitary loon call out on the lake. He started walking away when he heard Jimmy shout out.
“Hey, Joey, come and help us unload.”
“I want to see Ruthie,” Joey called back.
“She doesn’t live in the same place. Help us, then we’ll take you to her.”
Dwayne stood behind Jimmy kicking at the gravel with the toe of his boot. Joey walked back to the Jeep, helped them unload the food and ammunition, taking everything into the community building, which was a large room, the walls lined with art work and textiles. Dwayne took the ammunition to a locked room on the far side. Joey and Jimmy took the food into the communal kitchen in the back, leaving the boxes on the countertops.
The three men got back into the Jeep. Jimmy drove to the backside of the building and down a dirt street into the oldest area of the community. Joey recognized Dwayne’s house when the Jeep stopped in front of it. The men got out, Dwayne running up the steps and through the screen door. Jimmy put a hand on Joey’s shoulder to stop him from following.
“Just wait,” Jimmy said.
Joey saw Ruthie come to the door, look at him, and turn back inside. Her face was hard, cold with anger.
“They’re together now,” said Jimmy quietly.
“Yeah, I thought so. I just want to see Paul.” Joey kept his eyes on the door.
Dwayne appeared again, said, “Ok, I’ll tell him,” as he came back outside. He walked up to Joey, cleared his throat and looked off into the distance. “Paul’s sleeping. She said come back tomorrow.”
For a moment, Joey didn’t say anything. “That’s alright,” he said.
“C’mon, Joey,” said Jimmy. “Let’s go to my place.”
Joey climbed into the passenger seat of the Jeep. Dwayne said something to Jimmy, who looked shocked for a moment, then he nodded and got into the driver’s side. They drove a short distance to Jimmy’s house. They entered and found a teenage girl watching television in the front room.
“You remember my sister, Tammy,” said Jimmy, heading into the kitchen.
“Yeah. You’ve grown,” said Joey, sitting on the far side of the couch.
“We tend to do that,” said Tammy, and she ignored him.
Jimmy brought out two plates of sandwiches, and two cans of beer. He handed Joey a plate and set both cans in front of him. They ate in silence, watching TV. Joey drank down both cans and the next one Jimmy handed him. Tammy left the room. Jimmy turned the TV off, threw a blanket on the couch then headed to bed. Finishing the last of the beer, Joey leaned his head back and fell asleep. His dreams were invaded by the sounds of doors opening and people whispering. He had a sense of someone removing his clothes, but he was unable to protest.
It was the pain that woke him: a boot to the head. Joey was on the floor, the side of his face pushed into the rough carpet. Reflexes slowed by the alcohol still in his system, Joey tried to fend off the blows. He arms were heavy as tree limbs. Kick after kick slammed into his ribs and back. His eyes already swelling, he couldn’t see his attackers’ faces in the murk of early dawn. A blow landed on the back of his head, stars exploding in his eyes, then all was black.
Joey woke next when rough hands rolled him onto his stomach and pulled his arms behind him. He vaguely heard the sharp click-click of metal handcuffs being fastened. He was hauled to his feet, where he swayed with pain and dizziness. He couldn’t see nor breathe through his nose. He heard a low murmur but couldn’t make out any words. There was an ocean roaring in his ears. He had a sense of what was happening and did not resist. He allowed himself to be led out the door where the cold morning air hit his bare chest, back and thighs, and down the steps. He felt each stone of the gravel driveway bite into the soles of his stockinged feet. He hobbled along until he was leant up against the cool metal of a large vehicle. He heard the muffled sound of the door opening. A hand on his head and another on his arm maneuvered him into the seat. The unseen hands strapped him in and shut the door. Rather than hear the vehicle start, he felt the vibration of the motor revving, and the slight jerk as it was shifted into gear.
Though the way back to Red Lake was rough, Joey fell almost immediately to sleep. Those same rough hands maneuvered him out of the vehicle hours later and he shuffled along, his body stiff, head aching, nose throbbing. The ocean roar in his head had subsided somewhat and he was able to provide answers to the questions asked of him: name, age, no fixed address, status Indian or not. He received no response to his requests for medical attention and some clothes.
Joey was led to a cell, his handcuffs removed and the door clanged shut behind him. He felt along the bars until his leg bumped into the bed, where he found a blanket; he wrapped it around his shoulders before laying down. He slept. When he woke again, he could see his surroundings, the swelling having subsided. He sat up and gingerly touched his puffy eyes. He felt the crust of blood flaking away from his upper lip. His nose was definitely broken. Knowing medical attention may not come soon or at all, Joey braced and made the slight adjustment to the bridge of his nose. He yelled in pain.
“Shut up back there,” came an immediate shout.
“Can I get some ice and a towel?” Joey yelled back. No response. He used the blanket to staunch the flow of blood, then cleaned himself up as best he could at the combination stainless steel sink/toilet, splashing cold water on his face for a long time. A guard came to the cell, shoved a white T-shirt, orange sweatshirt, and cotton pants through the bars onto the floor.
“Why am I here?” asked Joey.
“Like you don’t know,” sneered the guard.
“I don’t. Can I get something to eat?”
“We’ll see.” The guard turned and walked away.
Joey dressed, his movements slow and painful. Sometime later, the guard returned only to drop a plastic-wrapped ham sandwich and small carton of milk onto the floor of the cell.
“Thank you so much,” Joey said to the receding back.
Early the next morning, Joey was transported to Kenora and installed in a cell at the jail. He didn’t have a cell mate. He asked everyone he came in contact with what the charges were against him but received no answer. After two days, a guard told Joey he had a phone call and took him down the hall.
“Yeah,” said Joey, lifting the black receiver to his still-swollen ear.
“Mr. Charrette, my name is Linda Marshall. I’m the court-appointed lawyer for your case.”
“Miss Marshall, no one will tell me what the charges are.”
“You’ve not been told yet?” she said. “Mr. Charrette…”
“Joey, will do,” he interrupted.
“Ok, Joey. You’ve been charged with sexually assaulting a fourteen-year-old girl named Tammy Stone.”
“I didn’t touch her.” Joey told the lawyer what he remembered.
The line was silent a moment, then she said, “I’ve had cases like this before. Someone didn’t want you there.”
“We can’t prove that. I will work to expedite the court process and have the case in front of a judge as soon as possible.”
“How long will I have to stay here?”
“I can’t say. I’ll check in with you in two days.” She hung up.
The next few days were spent in solitary, eating and exercising alone. That was fine by him. Joey knew if he was put in the yard with other prisoners, he would probably experience a worse beating. It was five days before Ms. Marshall called again. A preliminary court date was set for the following Tuesday.
“We’ve got a sympathetic judge. You’ll be brought to the courthouse in the morning and we’ll have time to review and prepare. I’m positive the case will be dismissed but ready yourself for the off-chance things might not go as planned.”
Joey thanked her and set about waiting out the next few days.
On Tuesday morning, Joey met Ms. Marshall at the courthouse to review his case. He was led into the courtroom and sat down at the table.
“Your Honour, my client has been falsely accused. As you can see, he still bears the results of being physically assaulted by unknown assailants prior to his arrest. He received no medical attention while in police custody in Red Lake, and he was not informed of the charge against him until I spoke to him by telephone two days following his arrest.” Ms. Marshall stood looking at Judge Frobisher until he raised his head.
“That’s enough, Ms. Marshall. Mr. Charrette…”
The lawyer motioned for Joey to stand.
“How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, Sir.”
“Do you live in that community.”
“No, Sir,” said Joey.
“Why were you there?”
“I wanted to see my son, Sir. He lives there with his mother.”
“Mr. Charrette, are you prepared to accept that you may not see your son again until he comes of age?”
Joey swallowed. “Yes, Sir.”
“Counsellors approach the bench.”
Ms. Marshall told Joey to sit and stepped forward along with the counsel for the prosecution.
Judge Frobisher looked from one lawyer to the other. “Ms. Marshall, how many of these types of cases have been brought before me.”
“This one makes five, Your Honour.”
“Mr. Phillips, how many of those five cases have you been assigned to?”
“Five, Your Honour.”
“Five. And do you think, Mr. Phillips, that I want to see another one?”
“No, Your Honour.”
“This case is dismissed,” announced the judge to the courtroom. “Mr. Charrette, you are free to go with the court’s apologies.”
“So, there you are,” said Joey.
Ed Tubuck let out a low whistle. “Man, I can’t believe it.”
They sat on the bench in front of the lodge, watching the boats arrive. It was the middle of September, a time when Ed’s family gathered at the lodge in celebration. Bonfires were lit and the aroma of roasting meat filled the air. As the men came up from the beach into the clearing, they appraised the work Joey had accomplished. A new cabin stood in place of one that had been allowed to crumble. The wood of the old was feeding the cooking fires. Some of the men traipsed into the woods in the direction of the new outhouse. They would find luxury in the partitioned double latrine and the carved, finely-sanded toilet seats.
When the women came up from the beach, they headed directly into the lodge and Joey could hear their excited voices exclaiming over the new double bunks and the improved layout of the kitchen and dining area. Newly built benches dotted the clearing and a double swing set had the children screaming in joy at the freedom of flight. Several men came around to where Ed and Joey sat, handing them cans of beer. Joey placed each can at his feet until there was a pyramid two feet high.
“Aren’t you going to drink one?” asked Ed.
“You know, I’ve been so long without drinking beer, I think I won’t right now.”
“Good,” said Ed. “That’s good. How about a cigarette?”
“Nope, don’t need one,” said Joey, smiling. “But I could really go for a Big Mac.”
“Well, I hope our traditional fare will tide you over until you get back to civilization. What will you do now?”
“I’m going to Calgary; get a job in construction.”
“That’s a good plan. I’ve got some friends there who can help you get settled.” Ed left him sitting there to oversee the preparations for the coming night.
Joey was startled from his reverie when a woman, the matriarch of the group, yelled from the lodge doorway. Everyone dropped what they were doing. She took Joey by the arm, making him stand. The people stopped outside and waited while the woman led Joey through the door to the table. The others followed and circled the room. She made Joey sit and then everyone found a place on the new benches he had built. Ed sat beside him, explaining in a low voice that Joey was the honoured guest. They ate heartily and listened to stories told by different people.
After the meal, the men vacated the lodge bringing Joey with them to the fireside. Wood was added until a large bonfire lit the clearing. The men sat smoking and the women joined them after cleaning up the kitchen. Joey heard three drumbeats and moved into the circle of firelight. Hands pushed and pulled him into the circle towards the drum. A drumstick was placed in his hand and he took a seat. Joey waited, wondering if someone would show him what to do. The man next to him, he realized, was Ed who poised his drumstick over the surface of the drum and nodded to Joey to do the same. Ed set up a beat and when Joey was ready, he took it up, matching Ed’s rhythm. Two other men joined them and then a male voice rang out clear and steady. The voice wove an auditory journey. Joey couldn’t say how long the song continued. He lost himself in the rhythm and cadence; he was mindful only of the stick in his hand hitting the tautly stretched skin.
Something cued him to stop drumming in time. The song ended. The men rose and others took their places. Ed led Joey out of the circle back to the bench in front of the lodge. They didn’t speak. Joey closed his eyes, laid his head back against the wall. He felt a sense of peace, not just from the experience of drumming, but from the time spent here on the island. This treed mound of dirt had been the whole of his world for the past few months. In this world, he belonged to the nature surrounding him, to the rhythm of wolf howls, wing beats, and loon calls across the lake. While he had kept busy with the repairs on the lodge and the new buildings, he focused on his future, trying to put the past where it belonged. Joey sensed Ed move away and the party begin to dwindle down to a few talkers lingering by the fire. Joey opened his eyes and decided he had had enough company. He sauntered down to the beach, taking up position in a spot that had become his favourite, looking out over the water. The brilliance of the Milky Way reflected in the glassy surface; the lap of water on the shore lulled him to sleep.
By early afternoon the next day, most of the group had packed up and pushed off in their boats, the buzz of outboard motors echoing in the air. Joey gathered what little he had and loaded it into Ed’s Alumacraft. He was standing on the shore looking out over the lake when Ed came up behind him.
“This has been good for me, Ed. I want to thank you for allowing me to come here.” Joey turned and held out a hand.
Ed shook it. “You’re welcome,” was all he said before getting into the boat and starting the engine. Joey untied the lines and climbed into the front. Ed pulled out from the dock. Joey never looked back.
Carrie Connel-Gripp lives in London, Ontario, with her husband. She has an MLIS and Honours BA in English Language and Literature from Western University. Her short stories have recently been published in the literary magazines Synaeresis, The Novice Writer, and Academy of the Heart and Mind, and the print anthologies Fterota Logia 1, Tales From the Realm, Volume One from Aphotic Realm, and NOPE Horror Quarterly from TL;DR Press.