Authors: Joel Thomas Hynes
—Well, Mr. Kavanagh.
—So what’s this big important thing you have to talk to me about that just couldn’t wait?
Her eyes are fogged over and bloodshot. There’s a smell of weed off her breath. She’s stoned. This is no good.
—What were you at down in Pat’s woodshed?
—Spyin’ on me now? I was havin’ a draw.
—Nice to know I’m well up there on your priority list.
—What is it, Keith? Did you get me up here to rip my heart out and leave me? Lighten your own load by addin’ to mine? What? Go ahead.
She gets right aggressive on the weed. Gives her a real power trip. Wish it’d hit me like that. Anytime I has a draw I turns into a stuttering moron, can’t carry on a sensible conversation to save my own life.
She tips her head back and gives her eyes a shot of Visine. In no time they’re clear and blue again. God she’s gorgeous. I feels myself soften. I’d spent the past couple of days preparing everything I had to say, reworking it in my head ’til I got it just right. But now that the moment is here, I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want to. I can’t. I takes a step towards her and hugs into her. She giggles, her breath hot and sweet on my neck.
—I just wanted to see you, girl. We haven’t come up here in a while and I thought it might be nice. Look at me.
I takes a step back, holdin’ her face in my hands. She won’t make eye contact. She smirks and stares off. I hugs her again and as I do I sees something black move into the opening at the far end of the Grotto. At first I thinks it’s a dog, maybe the O’Brien’s old black Lab out for an evening tromp. But it’s not a dog. No, by fuck. It’s a darkness blacker than the shadows it moves through. A fast, bottomless black movin’ right towards me and ’Tash. I tightens my grip around her back, afraid to move or take my eyes off the shadow.
—What is it, Keith?
I can’t get to speak. I turns around, takes her by the hand.
We starts walkin’ as fast as we can without actually runnin’. She holds on tight to my arm, lettin’ me know that she feels it too, that I’m not imagining things. We’re being pushed, swept out of the Grotto by something more than just a bad feeling. We’re ridin’ on a wave of something old and dark. It gets closer, crawls up the backs of our legs. We are unwelcome. No choice but to leave. It’s dead cold in the Grotto now.
We don’t speak or even so much as glance at each other ’til we’re well down on the road and even then we’re too afraid to acknowledge it.
—There’s a big bash goin’ on down the Shore tonight.
—Got any money?
We walks up towards the main highway, hand in hand. All is calm across the Cove, not a ripple on the water. Fine night for thumbin’.
I takes one last glance back up at the Grotto before we rounds the turn past the church. The trees are twistin’ and whippin’ back and forth in a sudden outburst of violence, threatenin’ to uproot.
Something’s just not right about the place.
—Just what do you think you’re doing, Mr. Kavanagh?
—Cleanin’ my nails. Why?
—Put it away, please.
Fuck sakes. Sure everybody I knows got a knife in their pocket. I flicks the blade closed and slips it back into my coat. What fuckin’ next?
—I would appreciate, in future, that you refrain from brandishing knives or any other weapons in my office.
Jesus Christ. Nothing like a trip to the welfare office to make you feel two feet tall. Natasha tried to make me feel better about it.
—Look, Keith, that’s what they’re there for. You’re entitled to it. It’s not for the rest of your life.
Yeah. Right. Try walkin’ in here with
attitude. They goes out of their way to make you feel like you’re robbin’ from their own personal piggy bank, that their kids are in for a second-rate Christmas because of you. Welcome to your new life. And what’s with all the goddamn questions? Have I committed a crime? Jesus, it’s only a lousy hundred bucks or so. Where’s that gonna get me?
The flimsy bastard behind the desk hands me the cheque. I reaches out to take it, but he won’t let it go. I pulls my hand back right away. I’m not playin’ that stupid game. I stands up and makes like I’m gonna leave, hopin’ he’s not gonna call my bluff. He does. He lays the cheque down on his desk, starts rearranging his papers. Puts on his readin’ glasses. I sits back down. He holds the cheque out again and this time when I reaches for it he yanks it away. Bastard.
—Plans for the future, Mr. Kavanagh?
I have a few plans for that cheque, you lanky prick.
—I have a few plans.
—Well I’d kinda like to keep ’em to myself, if you don’t mind.
—We’re going to be looking in on you, Mr. Kavanagh. This is about more than just showing up every month and having a cheque cut. We have an active interest in your case. Our system is designed to help get people on their feet. This cheque is to go towards your room and board at the…ahhh…Healy residence. Nowhere else. It’s not spending money, not party money. If your living situation changes you are to notify us immediately. Understood?
He folds the cheque in half and scratches his cheek with it, stares blankly at me.
He finally holds out the cheque. I snatches it from his hand, turns around and makes a straight cut for the door.
I’ve been stayin’ at Natasha’s place for nearly a month now. I fell out with my own crowd. Big time. Natasha’s parents don’t seem to be for or against my bein’ there, which is fine by me. Her old man is on a bit of a power trip these days, but I keeps a low profile for the most part. As long as I’m not sleepin’ in the bed with Natasha. Of course that’s where I usually ends up. I offered to pay my way but her mom said not to be so foolish. She’s been pretty good to me. It’s only for a short while anyhow. I might be goin’ to school in St. John’s this comin’ fall. Waitin’ to see if my student loan is gonna come through.
Up on the road from the welfare office I sits on the guardrail and unfolds the cheque. One hundred and sixteen dollars and seventy-six cents. Wonder how they came up with that figure? They couldn’t just round it up to one-twenty? No. That’d be too easy I s’pose. Room and board. Sure if I handed this over to Natasha’s mother it’d be like slappin’ her into the face. What’s she gonna do with this?
I hears a car comin’ round the turn. It’s only Francey O’Dea, so I don’t bother to stick my thumb out. He loves to see me out on the road thumbin’. Loves to pass me by too. I’d sooner walk the whole ways back to the Cove than get in with the likes of him. So it’s quite a shocker when he slows down and stops a little ways up ahead of me. The passenger side door falls open. Fuck it. Feels like rain anyhow.
Francey is drivin’ a rickety rust box of a Chevette these days, not much guts in her at all. She can hardly make it up over the hill goin’ into the Cove. I feels bad for him. He used to have a dandy car. On the way down the other side of the hill he floors it, the little car rattling and shimmying all over the road. I reaches for my seatbelt but there’s neither one there. That’s no good. In the side mirror I can see puffs of thick blue
smoke shootin’ out from the rear end. I glances at Francey, his bloodshot eyes hangin’ out of his fuckin’ head. The needle on the speedometer keeps on climbin’.
Please God, don’t let me die in a car with Francey-fuckin’-O’Dea. Don’t tell me this is what you had in mind for me all along. I don’t want to be tied to this motherfucker for the rest of eternity. I didn’t even have my thumb out, for Christ’s sake. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m sorry. But please God, get me home safe and sound just this one more time.
—What’s the matter, Keith b’y? Scared? I thought you were the real speed freak?
Francey reaches behind himself and hauls his seatbelt on. The car swerves over into the left-hand lane. He grins and whoops and pulls it back to the right side of the road. I’ve got my body squashed as far back into the seat as I can get it, my feet pushin’ hard against the floor beneath the dash. Both my hands are gripped tight to the edges of my seat, knuckles bone white. But even in the midst of all this panic, I can’t bring myself to ask Francey to slow down. I’d never hear the end of it. The car picks up more speed and I jams my eyes closed, fully expectin’ to lift right off the ground any second at all.
Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom fuckin’ come thy will be fuckin’ done
On earth as it is in Heaven…
Francey roars at me over the noise of the car.
—Now then. Satisfied?
He nods towards the dash to show me that he’s after buryin’ the needle. I s’pose he’s hopin’ I’ll spread it around town, make a hero out of him. I lets go of the seat and slips my knife out of my pocket. I flicks it open and, quick as a wink, slashes right through Francey’s seatbelt. When he feels the pressure
of the strap lettin’ go, he reaches down to check the buckle, only to find it still in place. He releases it and snaps it in place again. His hand finds the end of the seatbelt. It’s a clean cut. One thing I’m good at is sharpening knives. He looks across at me. I holds the knife up to his face. He can’t believe his eyes. Neither can I. Things are gettin’ out of hand here.
—Let me out of this fuckin’ thing, Francey O’Dea, or I’ll gouge your goddamn eyes out.
He hits the brake. My free arm automatically reaches out for the dash in front of me and an image of my father flickers through my head. Back before the seatbelt law came to Newfoundland my father used to drive an old grey Ford Custom. Whenever I was in the truck with him I’d get to stand up in the front seat. If he had reason to touch the brake he’d straighten his arm out in front of me to keep me from flyin’ through the windshield or fallin’ into the dash. I’d latch onto his arm with both hands ’til he’d pull it away. A seatbelt’s never made me feel that safe.
Francey manages to bring the little shitbox to a stop. The engine stalls. He makes no attempt to start it up again. He don’t speak or even look in my direction. Sweat trickles down his forehead.
From out of nowhere the sickening wail of a cop car fills the air. The old blue and red lights in the rearview. That’s all I fuckin’ needs. Francey peels a strip of hash off his steering wheel. A gram or so. I hadn’t noticed it ’til now. He pops it into his mouth and squats it in place under his bottom lip, checks the look of it in the rearview.
I closes up my knife, slips it into my pocket and jumps out of the car. The cop car grinds to a halt inches from Francey’s back bumper. Two cops jump out and the one on the passenger side
runs straight at me. It’s Stanford. That angry fucker. He hates me too. He’s movin’ with such speed and savage intent that I takes an instinctive step away from him, loses my footing, and slides down into the ditch. He’s upon me before I even hits the ground. He pulls me to my feet and pushes me over to the hood of the Chevette.
—Spread your legs, Kavanagh, hands out in front.
—Get your fuckin’…
He grabs me by the back of the neck and pushes me facedown onto the car. He shoves his knee up between my thighs, forcin’ my legs open. My arms are stretched across the hot bonnet. He’s riflin’ through my pockets. Fuck.
—You’re not allowed to do this! You needs reasonable doubt or reasonable cause or something!
cause, Kavanagh. Probable cause. That’s exactly what I got. Been drinking this evening?
—Why did you try to run away just now? Trying to get rid of something? Oh my, what have we here?
He’s flicks open my pocketknife with a sarcastic whistle of admiration.
—Nice knife, Kavanagh. Who owns it? Look here, Officer Bowden.
Bowden is searchin’ the backseat of Francey’s car. He must be new. I’ve never seen him before. He nods towards us.
—Will we call this a concealed weapon?
Bowden eyes the knife, doesn’t even look at me.
—I don’t know. We’ll have to take it back to the station for measurements.
Cocksuckers. It’s a tiny little gator blade. They knows it’s under six inches. But they’re gonna take it anyhow. Nothing I
can do. Stanford keeps rootin’ around and then pulls the cheque out of my ass pocket. He holds it up to the sky and reads it.
—Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. I didn’t know you worked for the government, Kavanagh. Why didn’t you say something? Oh, wait now. Oh. Department of Social Services. Oh, I see. It’s a handout. Not a very big one though. Jesus, Kavanagh, you think they’d throw a few more bucks your way, fine upstanding citizen that you are. Unless you’re on a day rate with them?
Embarrassed and pissed off as I am, I decides not to say one more word. That gets ’em every time. That’s the best way to deal with the cops. Just shut the fuck up. You’re better off. Plus it drives ’em off the head. They can’t stand it. Believe me, there’s nothing they loves more than playin’ head games and puttin’ words in your mouth and lettin’ you dig yourself into a hole. It’s the RCMP for fuck sakes. They got nothing better to do.
Once Stanford realizes I’m not gonna speak no more he lets up on me and hands me back the cheque. The other cop gives Francey a speeding ticket and another ticket for not havin’ functional seatbelts in the car. Ha! Francey’s shittin’ himself, givin’ me the evil eye. Wouldn’t know but it’s
goddamn fault. I can see the outline of the hash under his bottom lip and I fuckin’ well feels like pointin’ it out to the cops. But I’m not that bad.
They won’t let Francey drive the car the rest of the way to the Cove so he gets in the back of their car. They offers me a ride but I refuses. Time enough for the backseat of a cop car. Francey gives me the middle finger and makes the cutthroat sign as they drives away. When they’re well out of sight I
launches a hefty chunk of pavement at Francey’s front windshield. Right on the driver’s side. I stands and watches the spiderweb spreadin’ across the windshield. When I’m satisfied with the damage I turns towards the Cove.
It’s only a half-hour walk to the Cove. I decides to hoof it. It commences to rain. It pours out of the heavens. By the time I makes it to the Cove I’m drenched to the bone. The first house I comes to is the Careens’ place. I was never allowed near the Careens’ place when I was young. Course that’s where I spent most of my time. When I was growin’ up, the Careens’ place was forever teemin’ with hooligans from all over the Shore, carousin’ and scrappin’ day and night. But, aside from the two youngest brothers, the place is pretty much empty these days. The whole clan scattered when the plant shut down. The parents drowned in a canoe in Slaughter’s Pond a couple of years back. All the two b’ys does these days is drink and sell and smoke dope. They’re a bit older than me, but I gets along with ’em pretty good. I started buyin’ dope from the youngest brother, Gerald, when I was around fourteen. He’s twenty-six and easily the hardest of the two. He’s got a reputation from Bay Bulls to Trepassey for bein’ the fastest, toughest son-of-a-whore on the go. He don’t look like much. He’s only skin and bones really. But I’m after seein’ Gerald Careen take down fellas twice his size with one smack. One night we were sittin’ around playin’ cards when a car pulled up outside and blew the horn. Some big lummox jumped out, belchin’ at the top of his lungs for Gerald to come out and fight. Gerald had a few beer and a few draws in, so he didn’t give a fuck. He stood up from the table, whipped off his tee-shirt, marched straight to the car
and beat the livin’ snot out of the stunned fucker. I watched the whole thing. Gerald punchin’ the poor bastard to the ground, then pullin’ him to his feet so’s he could punch him down again. The car was full of hockey-heads but none of ’em dared open the door to help their buddy. Finally, Gerald gave it up. He spat a big dirty snot onto the windshield, said he’d kill the whole crowd of ’em if that’s what they came for, if not, go to fuck home out of it. Someone got out and Gerald went towards him but the fella was only tryin’ to get his shit-hauled friend back into the car. Gerald gave him a hand. When he came into the house again he sat back down to the card game and started bawlin’ me out for supposedly riggin’ the deck while he was gone. Like nothing happened. Blood drippin’ from his knuckles. I asked him who it was he’d just pounded the daylights out of. He said he never laid eyes on any of ’em in his life.
There’s no one home at the house when I walks in. I goes out around back and yells for Gerald, but there’s no answer. The stove is blazin’ and there’s a forty of Russian Prince on the kitchen table, so he can’t have gone far. I puts some ice in a glass and fills it to the top with vodka. I drinks it down and then fills it up again. I drinks it down again. That warms me up a bit. I takes off my jacket and shirt and hangs ’em on the clothesline behind the stove. Pours myself another drink. By the time Gerald walks in I’m feelin’ a good buzz. He joins me for a drink and then puts the bottle away ’cause it belongs to his older brother Harry. ’Cause when Harry wants a fuckin’ drink there better be one waitin’ for him. I’m in no mood to stop drinkin’ though. Neither is Gerald. He’s got no money so I offers to go over the road for some beer.