Tuesday, September 29, 2009

XLIII: Friends of the Crooked Bush I

It turned out the so-called "Friends of the Crooked Bush" is just Mrs. Scurfield.

I rode my truck out to the Trees last Friday at 8pm, as instructed. Mrs. Scurfield was sitting quiet in her lawn-chair with a thermos on her lap, in the illumination of her headlights. Alone. “Welcome to the first-ever meeting of the Friends of the Crooked Bush,” she said with a mischievous, youthful grin, standing up to shake my hand. “You’re the second member.”

“When are the other members coming?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s just me.”

“Just you?”

“Yes,” she said, obviously pleased with her little deception.

I was amused, but also a little disappointed. Part of me had been hoping for a cult of people in black robes or something. What I’d been honestly expecting though was a stodgy little group of civic-duty types -school teachers and Christians- who met twice a year to decide who would repair the walkways through the Trees. Instead it was Mrs. Scurfield, and now me, hanging out at the Trees, drinking. I’d done that with her before.

“Now,” she said, after assuring me that, yes, she had put up the signs, and that, yes, she was really the only member and always had been, “to the first order of business."

"Okay," I said, curious.

"You must offer justification to the group as to why you hate the Crooked Trees,” she said in a very official tone, reveling a little in her own mock-seriousness. “The chair recognizes the member who smokes and drinks a lot.” She slammed her thermos on her lap like a gavel. "Mr. Wilkinson." She was being very child-like.

It was my turn to laugh. I shook my head in disbelief. “Well!” I said, like it summed up all my feelings. Then I settled myself into the chair she’d brought for me, pulled up the collar of my jacket -defying the evening chill, and glanced up at the car lights dancing in the jagged branches. I spent a few seconds taking it all in, then breathed deep and tried to pull my thoughts together. She’d really caught me off guard.

More tomorrow.

Monday, September 28, 2009

XLII: Clarke IX

Clarke dropped by on his way to work. I was making breakfast, and reading over those essays again. He knocked on the door and opened it simultaneously, then sat down at the kitchen table. I poured him a cup of coffee. We talked about my meeting with the Friends of the Crooked Bush for a while (more on that later. I’m still processing it) and then he started complaining about Leonore. They’ve been divorced for more than a year, but he still brings her up almost every other time we talk.

“The difference between me and Leonore came down to one thing,” he started. “And that’s the way we ate.” I raised my eyebrows in laughter and tired resignation. “When Leonore got hungry she’d think of what she’d like to have, then she’d check our ‘fridge to see if it was there, and would usually end up complaining that we didn’t have what she was looking for.” He took a sip of his coffee.

“And you?” I prodded.

“For me when I get hungry I open the 'fridge door, see what’s there, and then try to come up with something I’d enjoy.”

“So what’s the significance, do you think?” I asked obligatorily.

“Well, she was perpetually dissatisfied,” he concluded. I laughed.

“Whereas you are just the happiest guy I know,” I jested.

“No, but I accept my not being happy -in a way she never could. And I look at the world first, and then figure out what I can, y’know, reasonably expect.”

“That’s interesting Clarke. Though I’m sure she’d have another perspective. I‘m sure she thought her expectations were reasonable.”

“Yeah, well...” he began, and left the sentence hanging. It was early, I hadn’t quite fully woken yet, and I stared at him disapprovingly.

“You know what?” I said quietly. “I find it interesting that the only times you get philosophical are when you’re preparing some little assault on Leonore.” I was pushing it.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… I don’t know. I just find it a little suspicious.”

His face drew into a frown. I could see his temper rising. Neither of us said anything for five minutes as we finished our coffees. Finally he rose to his feet, looked at me and said, “Well, alright. Thanks for the coffee.”

I looked up without lifting my face, and then smiled. “Okay Clarke. Anytime.”

I finished my breakfast and wandered over to the Trees.

Friday, September 25, 2009

XLI: Friends of the Crooked Bush: Preface

I'm on my way out the door to join the Friends of the Crooked Bush. I'm pretty nervous.

And sad. The temperature's dropping. Winter's not so far away really. Visiting the Trees is inconvenient once the cold arrives.

XL: The Way III: The Party

“We've decided. You’re gonna take next week off,” Birdie commanded, standing on my doorstep last night with a bottle of white wine and my paycheque. Mr. Hung stood sheepish by her side with a twelve-pack. “Chan’s exhausted; you‘re exhausted,” she continued. “Let’s celebrate the money you boys made.” Mr. Hung and I looked at each other and smiled. I invited them in.

“Call Susan,” suggested Birdie.

“And Clarke,” said Mr. Hung.

I made the calls while Mr. Hung filled our glasses. Within ten minutes Clarke and Susan had arrived. “Hey kids,” Clarke said, waving a whiskey bottle. Susan followed with more wine.

"Kids?" laughed Birdie.

They all got very drunk very quickly. I drank ‘till I felt the click, then stopped. I watched the foolishness and high spirits rise with a mostly clear head.

By midnight Susan and Birdie were dancing to an old Beatles record on my back deck. Us guys were sitting on chairs on the lawn. “This is the way to do it,” Mr. Hung muttered to himself.

“To do what?” I asked. Clarke laughed.

At four o’clock I forced everyone to drink some water and then watched them all wander home. Mr. Hung was singing ‘Oh Canada’ walking down main street. Birdie kept whooping and hollering beside him. “Oh Jesus,” said Clark, stumbling over his lawn. Only Susan remained.

“Look at you, all sober," she said, putting on her jacket. "You’re changing,”

“Only temporarily,” I promised, laughing at her slurred speech. "I’ve got a week off. I need to be sharp. I've got to figure some stuff out."

"No, yeah. You're really changing."

"Whatever you say, drunk girl," I said, and kissed her forehead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

XXXIX: Mrs. Scurfield V

Mrs. Scurfield came by early this morning. Woke me up. I stood scratching my head in the doorway, waiting for an explanation.

“This,“ she said with a smile, “is for you.” I became aware of a small red pot in her hands. Full of dirt. “It’s a Crooked Tree seedling,” she whispered, and handed it to me.

I raised my eyes to meet hers.

“You can do whatever you want with it,” she said. “Pave it over. It’s all yours.”

I was astounded. The unexpected weight of the soil pulled on my arms.

“But,” she continued in decreased volume, “I have a favour to ask.”

I smiled.

“I want you to join the Friends of the Crooked Bush.”

I was looking again at the red clay pot. I coughed.

“We’re meeting on Friday at 8pm at the Trees,” she said matter-of-factly. I began forming a response, but before I could begin to answer she turned and walked away.

I felt like shit all day. I tried smoking a cigarette but stopped half way through.

My kitchen table is covered in pages of photocopied essays. I look without reading. Now that I have time off again, my obsession returns.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

XXXVIII: Bujalski Reunion Interlude

There's this big family reunion in town. The Bujalski Family. Hafford is, strangely, overflowing with people. On Saturday there was a parade. Lots of American license plates.

What this translates into for me is, I've been busy working at Hung's feeding all these visitors. One guy, a tall man from Turkey -of all places- offered me a Turkish Marlboro when I was on a coffee break. It was a longer cigarette than ours, and tasted immeasurably better. "Tobacco is so expensive here," he complained to me.

"Oh yeah. Big time," I replied.

I realized today that this blog has been fading. My efforts at distracting myself from battling the Trees, and then this Bujalski reunion, have kept me away from the keyboard for too long.

Let me assure you readers, old and new, that The Crooked Trees of Hafford, Saskatchewan will be returning in full force shortly. Shortly, shortly, very shortly.

I was out at the Trees last night for the first time in a while. It was cold, and I just felt distracted, sitting there on a picnic table in the tourist' parking lot -knowing I had to work in the morning. I stared at the gnarled branches and felt nothing. Visiting the Trees is a ritual for me, obviously, and so -like all rituals- sometimes you just do it, and can't work up any emotion, or don't want to. I guess that's how it works. And I suppose that's not so bad either. But I'm not feeling quite philosophical enough to take that one apart.

Excuse any spelling or grammatical errors in this entry. It's 3am, I'm drunk(ish), and I work in four hours. Damn those friendly American Bujalskis to hell. No. They've been lovely. Americans usually are.

Friday, September 4, 2009

XXXVII: The Demons Bite Back

I know I haven’t posted in a while. After my impassioned conversation with Clarke last week I decided to give my head a rest. I was supposed to face my demons, but I don't know if I'm quite ready yet. I asked Mr. Hung for some extra shifts at the restaurant. I thought it might distract me. It didn’t. Now I’m stressed out from days of long shifts and an unsettled mind. I haven’t been to the Trees in more than a week, but I‘ve been thinking about them incessantly. Also, without meaning to, I've cut back on cigarettes, alcohol, and weed. I feel awful.

Larissa came over last night to offer me a Popsicle. I accepted. We sat on my front steps talking about all the things she’d done over the summer. Camp, vacation, and two boyfriends. School begins next week, and she’s dreading it. I don’t blame her.

Autumn looms.

Larissa went home. I wandered inside, sober for the seventh day in a row, to examine a parcel sitting on my kitchen table. It arrived yesterday. Someone anonymously mailed me a photocopy of another Masters Thesis proposal on the Trees. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Several times this week I've caught myself sitting on the edge of my bed, or on the couch, staring into space, focused on nothing. In fact, that's what I was doing just before I wrote this.