Mark Anthony Jarman
Motor to the mega mall and the
mall moves me to a minor rage. I get in a fight with two women in the mall parking lot, a
mother-daughter tag team. Then in the woods a sleek cougar nearly takes my head off, but I
The story was, I was going to chop us a
free Christmas tree, but feeling base and mortal and morbid and pretty fine I collected
every damn pill in the trailer, including Flintstones and Aspirin and iron and old tiny
Infant Tylenol bottles. What the hell, I'll try anything once. In my pockets I had a dog's
breakfast of pills and I felt like a dog, felt lower than a snake's belly.
Things had gone wonky. No jobs in the
woods, our old mill sold to foreigners, and foreigners shut it down tight. They don't live
here. New softwood agreement too, and Asia gone down the tubes, so we're going right with
them, they sneeze and we blow our nose. A letter falls into my black mailbox: they talk of
markets, infrastructure, capital costs, mergers, new realities. I imagine them fine-tuning
this letter in a meeting over Danish and mineral water. Do they actually know any more
than we do?
My tiddly little house is for sale but
it's never going to sell because every nice little house is for sale there. I pawned the
Husqvarna and moved down island. Everyone laid off. We're global now.
No money for presents. Wet weather: sore
elbow, trick knee, bad back, feel I'm hobbling, falling apart, and my K car is acting up
since it got rear-ended and the physio making me wear a stupid collar on my neck. A mild
buffet of arthritis and angst in my bones, and my K car is not OK, the Reliant is less
I was not, it seemed, lying on a sunny
beach, I was not going to Disneyland after creaming the opposition, I was not leaning into
a forest of microphones.
It's hard to explain suicidal tendencies.
No one detail gets you, but little things add up, little things eat at you. No one uses
signal lights and every busker is convinced he can play harmonica. These things kill me.
Drear faces, substantially altered by
winter, marked by weakness, marked by woe, shadowed, teeth crooked and dun that were
straight and white last summer, whole childhoods perverted, lost, gone down with Asia and
you wake up to learn the world is no longer your bright laboratory.
Regarding my mega mall parking lot argument: an old woman and
daughter, both smug and slatternly in some japscrap car, stole my parking spot, even as I
backed into it. I began to feel I don't recognize this good old world anymore and I am
sick of being a recipient. Sick of rolling snake-eyes when I want the dice to come
up boxcars. Once this world was sweet as the low rumble of sixteen poolballs dropping as
one; now I'm a bozo arguing over a stupid parking spot.
That same night I motored past a Christmas tree lot. All those
strung lights and exiled, pointy-headed trees leaning around a little trailer used to
cheer me up, but instead of good cheer, all I could think of was the tiny newspaper
clipping that said the singer of the Tacoma garage band, the Wailers, died in a fire in
the trailer on a Christmas tree lot just like this one I drove by. The Wailers were a wild
band I really liked way back when, same time as the Sonics, both power pop punks from 1963
or so. I drove by, rain drumming, my car and head like an empty tin of British
biscuits. The Wailers had some great tunes on Etiquette Records: "Out of Our
Tree," "Hang Up," "You Aren't Using Your Head," "Bad
Trip." Maybe they covered "Louie Louie." Have to dig out my old vinyl.
Have to do something when
Christmas starts to seem like a humungous tax, an annual root canal, to seem alien and
overly familiar. To light out, I decided, to the dark woods, into the bush, into a valley
to think about things.
Weird weather in the firs on the edge of
a continent, wind over the dead ships and lost harbours, stop and go storms jumping off
the ocean, wind punching through treetops and stopping abruptly. Strange lulls, torn green
branches on the forest floor and crashing sea vibrating rock miles away.
Don't like the weather here, they say,
just wait ten minutes. They have said these same words to me every place I've lived or
I tracked through the false infinity of
ferns and firs and oak and owls, hiking and humming, If you go into the woods
today, you're in for a big surprise. I hiked up over rocks, then down a rocky draw,
into a bit of a jog moving downhill. Sometimes it's easier to run than hold back.
I was jogging along and WHAM! Like being
hit between shoulder blades by speeding bicycle.
Mayday! Mayday! some automatic
voice in me thought. AAOOGA! Bogey at three o'clock. A small thrilled monster with
saliva and bad breath riding my neck and we rolled in a tense frenzy. Noises against me, a
cat's mouth and breathing inside its throat, a rush of wind in some pipeline above, bass
notes fumbling as we rolled in rocks and moss and sword ferns, and I thought, illogically
of course, my face smushed in the rocks and moss, I will kill myself when I'm damn well
ready to go and perhaps because of global factors beyond my control, but just this instant
some sadass cut-rate panther with a wild face and bad table manners is not going to cut me
down out of the blue without so much as a hello sailor.
I didn't know it then, but the cat tore
me up a bit, tore my scalp and ear, shoulder, back, but it could have been worse. The cat
fell off with my neckbrace collar in its teeth. Maybe the physio's collar helped. The
little cougar shook the white collar, then turned back to gaze at me, the real thing, pink
meat in pink skin. The cat's fur was out like it was going for a punk look, a trendy
looking dude or dudette, ears twitching and rotating like radar, big Oriental face, mouth
twisted, white chin, dark where the whiskers poked out and some good looking teeth with
drool falling out, which adds greatly to anyone's street cred.
My drool dried up severely.
Luckily my Christmas cougar was a skinny
paltry thing, not full grown, and I believe a female, not a big stud tomcat, and not
knowing how to really hunt proficiently or I'd be dead meat and not telling this yarn, I'd
be remains with some dirt and leaves raked over me by the cat.
Remains. I suddenly knew, despite
my pockets filled with pills, that I did not want to be unidentified human remains, bones
scattered around the woods, bits partly buried by animals in a secret funeral, wallet
found years later with two-dollar bills in it like that hiker I read about in the
I was not going to kill myself. My
cockeyed world tilted, turned. I wish I could say I became magically happy but I was not
happy. More like muleheaded.
Remains: my neighbour, a university lady
hires me for odd jobs. I have helped her bury pigs. She dresses the pigs in flannel
shirts, denim, sunglasses. We buried one pig in a pretty prom dress and white gloves.
I dig the holes for the university lady
and she pays me. She studies the dressed pigs after they rot in the shallow graves, sees
what insects and beetles are present after one day, three days, a fortnight, year. Police
check with the university lady when they need to know how long a body has been in the
The university lady seems to enjoy her
work. I don't like to be there when we dig up what I have come to think of as Arnold from
the fine old TV show Green Acres. I didn't want to become Arnold, even though I
thought I came into the woods to become Arnold.
The tan cougar feinted, put its head forward and trotted at me
again, skinny but an impressive piece of work, muscles and moving parts leaping at you
like you're a big gingersnap it's going to break in two. What my dad called a puma or a
panther. In the highway ditches now the government uses expensive panther pee to scare
deer away from the road, away from the voters.
Rare to see a cat in the bush, no matter
how often you go in, and I've been in the bush a lot. They're good at hiding and are more
active after dark. This is rare. This one came out of hiding to try me on for size and I
knew I wanted to get out and tell someone about this impressive little creature wielding
muscle and razors if I could still get out, get out of the woods before dark drops, dark
so early now in December.
The young cat eyed me, ears pinned back,
small lower jaw dropped in a snarl, springing at my shoulders. I felt naked even with my
folding saw and hardware-store gloves and heavy coat and boots. I ducked and turned but
still got knocked over from the cat's force. I think my grandfather's heavy old mackinaw
helped deflect her dark claws. How does such a skinny creature generate such amazing
force? It was like being boarded by Eric Lindros.
In pure panic I got my old workboots up
and kicked the small cougar, but not before she sliced me on the shins. I had a blurred
close-up of curved canines, black gums, and white chin: her noise and cylindrical weight
driving in at me and turning back and I went crazy, shrieking like a fishmonger the entire
time, using my boots, kicking her several good ones in the pale muscled gut and soft
snout, her low centre of gravity and loose skin, her nose bleeding, head down. She tried
to get one paw up around me like a drunk, both of us rolling around and scrapping, and
then in the hurlyburly this moaning cat shit on me - no kidding, let go like a
semi-automatic semi-liquid weapon.
I jumped about three yards trying to get
away from that, found a handy hunk of fir and winged it and got her in the face with the
wood and she didn't like that. I cut her smooth broad nose, and she paused to peer at this
prey that can throw things and was recently sprayed in runny cat scat.
What a world: slide into the woods
feeling sensitive and Hamlet-like melancholy, feeling a fine fellow, albeit an antisocial
suicide who'd like to blow up the mall, and does Mother Nature smile on you and proffer
blackberries and real cream? No, Mother Nature says here is what I think of your finicky
Maybe at the mega mall I should have shit
on them, like the cat did.
You can't back into a parking
spot, the daughter sneered.
Yeah, you can't back in, they chorused
with their arms folded: stealing a spot and then feeling on the side of right. I had
pulled forward to allow the parked car to leave and then I started backing in. They
zigzagged in, stealing from me and then blaming me for having a reverse gear! I sputtered
in inarticulate rage and wanted dearly to smack their heads together like coconuts but
didn't because I was raised right, unlike some others I could mention.
In the bush I had to walk backwards a
mile or two and think about things while stepping very carefully in tripwire blackberry
canes and salal, bloody hard work uphill and down and stinking of cougar shit. An altered
sense of time. I walked backwards trying to look large and swearing at the little puma,
though it is hard to sound tough while retreating constantly.
The hungry animal followed me step for
step, calmly placing her hind paw exactly where the front paw had stepped, stalking me in
expired leaves and trees trying to live in rock and rucked landscape, skinny cat making
yowling panther noises. It doesn't jump but stalks me step for step, following me like a
machine, eyes in fearsome concentration, both of us thinking, and I waved a folding saw
and waved a worthless stick like a B-movie pirate, a branch of punky oak that was about to
fall to pieces, but the cat didn't know that. I walked backwards, waved a stick, and went
back in time.
Decades back my dad told me of a big tom
that weighed as much as he did, a big cat that would lope along beside fleeing livestock
and calmly flatten any goat or calf or sheep it wanted; one blow and it's down dead. A big
tom can leap twenty or thirty feet from a perch and it can snap your neck.
I knew that a woman died defending her
kids from a cougar in the Interior, and a few years back a cat killed a child up the
coast. When I was driving north from California to B.C. some years back, a woman in
Northern California, a famous Olympic runner, was training in the woods, running fast and
was jumped from behind and killed, and I was driving through the redwoods and heard about
it and was amazed, but didn't know it would be visited on me later.
I knew this cat could kill me and that
impressed me, made things clear, and I knew the mall scene with the twin harpies was not
important, even though I wanted to bend their windshield wipers into pretzels. It clears
your mind wonderfully to walk backwards in the backwoods and wonder will you die from four
sabre teeth or five claws attached to paws the size of country pancakes.
I walked backwards, went into my past,
and recalled all the old jobs I'd had: truckdriver, digging wells, digging clams by
lantern light, spark-watching, whistle punk, faller for a dollar, bucker for a buck,
busboy in Duncan, dryland sort and chainsaw maestro, choker, joker, smoker, timber
cruiser, a snoozer, a scaler, feeding the green chain, working in a box factory, riding
the milk train, and riding an orange forklift with a big battery on the back. Smoke meant
money but now all the jobs are gone up in smoke, love's labour lost. I walked backwards
and thought of burying pigs in the woods. It's legal but still there is something illicit
about the act of burying a body in the woods.
I thought of the singer for the Wailers
dying in the burning trailer and the space heater that killed him. Did his Christmas trees
catch fire too?
I have too many friends dead of
mundane things. Widow-maker branches blown down on their head or a chainsaw into an
artery, or touching the wrong wire, or porch-climber wine in your hand, or just some
greasy creations you eat once too often.
They jack-knifed their logging truck, or
they drove a 4 x 4 backwards off a cliff in the snow, thinking they're just turning
around, two guys and two women. The whole truck drops backwards with them in it, hood
aimed up, when the driver was just trying to turn it around, trying to get them back home.
Imagine their surprise, the terrible dashboard light on their faces.
I walked backwards cursing at the cougar
and remembering all the battered buses and muddy trucks, the company crummies with your
black lunchbox and sugary coffee and long muddy drives into the trees, driving logging
roads to the show and driving out the same way, hours and hours, the tiny taverns by the
bay much later at last light, trees by the parking lot, water a silver curve at the
picture windows, wind rushing the glass, and drinking feels good and logical. It's dark
and you should be heading home, true, but not right away. There are pickled eggs
and perfect clubhouse sandwiches and one more round, oyster shells piled outside, beer
cases and kegs piled inside, enough draft to float a coalship, float a peeler, start a
fight in the parking lot, the crews and friends and enemies and gilt-edged girlfriends and
ex-girlfriends who never thought you were like this, what does anyone really know of
anyone, and your friends die too young, play harmonica well, and drive innocently just one
foot too far over the cliff in the snow, the jilted joking faces and farces, the smiling
hours I thought were disposable, the smiling hours I thought would never run out.
One young woman from the 4 x 4 crawled
out at the base of the giant cliff, crawled for miles looking for me to help her and I'd
had a few, I saw her crawling like a turtle in the headlights and stopped, thinking, What
in Christly tarnation are these crazy schoolkids up to now? and then we found out what had
happened and the whole town in shock.
I was driving my '68 Cougar; that was a
very nice car but I had to sell it some time ago to a child who I knew would crash it on
Kangaroo Road, wreck my good '68 Cougar. I saw him drive away and envisioned his head
busting right through the windshield and my nice green car wrapped around a tree up by the
How you miss that job you cursed and the
guys that ragged on you; you miss the car that broke down, the life that never was, but
seems sweet now in retrospect.
The cougar's face is a mask. When kittens their eyes are blue
but later they turn yellow. Her dark eyes are almost crossed - strange, hypnotic eyes,
circles in a triangle, her eyes round and slitted and triangular at the same time, a weird
geometry, her dark eyes fierce and relaxed, like a good fighter, a boxer's broad nose, fur
scrunched up on her nose like a tiny rug piled up.
It stared at me and scrunched its nose,
mouth pulled back, four good curving teeth, two up, two down, a perfect clamp. Teeth
bared, that cougar walked me back over muck and rock and hill and dale to adrenalin and
feeling; that cougar walked me back to sensation, blood, good bread, IPA, choice, the pull
of home, to draw breath. I moved my brain in the woods.
Out of the pitch and pine and turpentine
the puma walked me back to life. The cat quit following me when it saw the rusty K car and
it melted away in two seconds, gone like a ghost, no regret on its face. Perhaps a slight
wince, didn't approve of the dull car.
Clothes cut up, and lacerations starting
to hurt more, after the fact, like in hockey when you don't notice some welts until later.
Covered in blood, stinking and shaking after I stopped and sat and thought about my date,
my escort, how close I'd been.
Stupid car starts. In reasonably reliant
Reliant I drove into town, past a Christmas tree lot, and I thought again of the burnt guy
from the Wailers, but it was all right: I'll have some grog or eggnog in memory of him and
his old fuzztone band. I believe he'd appreciate that more than any moping or mooning
about death and gases and fire.
Stars and constellations floating like shirts in the December
sky, Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons moving right over her white shining trailer. Her
porch and door lit yellow; tiny blue and red lights glowing on two shrubs. I limped
through the silky colours, saw her reading on the couch.
Her kitchen was warm and toasty; soup
smelling good on the stove, her whole trailer creaking when you walk. It creaks like a
ship, creaks like me. The soup sits on a flame, and flames killed the singer for the
Wailers, but soup will heat up my guts, restore me. Soup equals life at this moment. Poor
cat starving; it didn't eat me. I hope it has an okay Christmas, finds a few fat rabbits
or a little blacktail or a chihuahua, wrapped in a sweater like a burrito.
Did you get a tree?
Uh. Not quite. Guess I forgot the tree.
How can you forget? Were you out drinking
again? What happened to your pants? You look . . . is that blood? You get in a fight or
run into some wild woman?
Well yeah. I did just that. Both. A real
hellcat she was.
I thought of the cougar's face. It
thought it had me dead to rights but there was also a kind of glum resignation and hooded
resentment there in its face. A lost nation. Both of us missed a connection, lost a world.
I tried to tell her this in the kitchen.
She knew something was up. She knew I was
telling her something and she went quiet because she's smart and she waits for me to cut
I have no real job and no irons in the
fire and no cash on the barrelhead and there are no mills hiring and no king salmon run
past our window. No one in Bedford Falls brings me baskets of money and the only job I can
wangle is burying pigs for the university lady, but I am back in the world and I am going
to have some good steaming chowder and after that a good beer, and maybe a crossword
puzzle in ink, as I am careful and reckless. And maybe some screaming Buffalo wings -
suicide wings we used to call them - and maybe clams in a metal bucket and another beer
and maybe a bath with some salt for my multiple slashes from the cat, and her big soft bed
with the creaking filigree headboard rattling Morse code to the wall.
I was out of the woods. I was not
remains, not eating hospital food. In terms of rolling dice, I now felt I was throwing
Have yourself a very merry Christmas,
spoke a red bakelite radio on the oilcloth. Decided I liked that radio.
Damn right, Merry Christmas to you, I
said back. That soup ready? It smells great.
Please, she said, testing the
I said the magic word and was rewarded,
and I thought, My house up island ever sells I'll look for a '67 or '68 Cougar, a sharp
looking car, light green paintjob, pretty glittery paint, and I'll put good tires on it,
get a grip, control.
I see myself perched behind a clean
dark windshield, my brain steering the car, and every red and green wire in my world
working. Reflected in my shining chrome are bright planets and dark woods flashing past us
like the briefest of seasons.