|GATOR SPRINGS GAZETTE|
a literary journal of the fictional persuasion
|A QUESTION OF BALANCE(page thirteen)|
Andy Taylor is standing in line at the corner store. He's carrying a list and a gun. The gun is in his pocket. It makes his jacket hang to one side. Andy keeps a hand in the other pocket to try and even it out. The list says, 'Juicy Fruit Gum and bullets.' The lady in front of him is trying to decide what kind of cigarettes to buy. They're out of her brand. She reads the nicotine labels on the packages and keeps changing her mind. She wants ones with white filters. Lou, the owner of the store, gives Andy a look, nods at the lady and mouths the word, "Mainlander."
She makes her choice, trusting Lou's judgment, and leaves.
"Hey, Andy, what brings you out on this fine night?" Lou asks.
"Just picking up a few things," Andy says, "I'd like some Juicy Fruit gum and a package of these," he says tapping on the glass counter.
"Sure," Lou says and unlocks the cabinet, "but they're not going to fit in your hunting rifle."
"I was thinking I'd just scare them this year."
The box thuds on the counter.
"Yeah, well, you'll be able to do that," Lou says and puts the gum in a bag, "Need anything else?"
"No, that'll be it," Andy says.
"Say hi to your dad, eh," Lou calls after him.
It's cold outside. Andy pulls the collar of his coat up and breathes in the night air. He can taste the mill, smell the pulp, it never goes away. He takes the gum and slides a stick out of the silver wrapper. It smells like his mother. He thinks of her, remembers sitting next to her in the car, the way she drummed her fingers against the steering wheel in time to the music. She always chewed Juicy Fruit, "It's the only thing that takes the stench away," she told him. Andy smiles and folds a stick into his mouth. She was right.
Andy was born and raised in Port Alberni, he'll probably die here too. That's what happens, you either leave, or die. Andy touches the gun through his jacket. His mother died. They said it was cancer. He knows it was the town, the pulp; it got into her lungs and chocked her to death.
He walks up the hill toward the Seaside Inn. Music plays, the house band. He used to go there on payday Fridays. Hook up with the crew for a few beers after work and stay for the night. He met Gina there. Gina. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on. She had long dark hair and big hoop earrings. She looked like a gypsy. She asked Andy to dance. No woman had done that to him before. Andy was average. He wasn't a great looking guy, but he wasn't a bad one either. He looked like a man that knew his place, like a man who was right at home in a hardhat, working the green chain, four on, four off. He'd settle with a woman from town, have a few kids. Live his life out like every other guy that never took the ferry to the mainland; like every other guy that never met a woman like Gina.
Gina had moved to Port Alberni from the citythe city on the other side of Andy's ocean. He loved the ocean more than anything. It was the only thing in Andy's life that was always different. He liked to walk as far as he could down Grief Point to where the sand turned to rocks and the rocks turned to boulders that were stacked so high, he'd have to climb to get to over them. He never walked the other way, where they threw his mother's ashes. Andy liked to sit on the shore, look over and imagine her there, watching him.
His mother wouldn't have liked Gina. He knew this just as he knew he wouldn't be scaring any moose with his handgun. Gina wasn't like the girls from town. She didn't bake or volunteer for the Rotary. Gina heated up leftovers in her microwave, thought the aluminum foil swans the restaurant put them in somehow made them taste better than the night before. Gina was loud. She laughed loud, made love loud and screamed from the tip of Grief Point, "I love Andy Taylor!"
The Seaside Inn is packed to the rafters. Andy recognizes every car, every license plate, every dent in every fender and every story about how it happened. They're all there. All the guys he grew up with, the guys he works withhis friends who would back him in a fight and be the pallbearers at his funeral. Port Alberni is a tough place to be from and an even tougher place to stay in.
This was how he lived, from the time he was a child, watching his father come home from work when he was leaving for school, to now when getting overtime was good news and a two day shut down brought quiet on the car pool home. Andy didn't know any other way and came to expect no more.
When Gina asked him to dance, he nodded his head and wiped his hands on his jeans. Gina was one of the girls that Andy only looked at. He could tell a mainlander from a local. Besides knowing all the locals, Andy knew all the Islanders bought their clothes at Wal-Mart and wore work boots. Mainlanders that stayed for any length of time were usually hippies, granola lovers that thought they would find inspiration and themselves in Port Alberni in their Birkenstocks and gauze shirts. Gina was wearing a long peasant skirt. Her hair, her beautiful hair, fell down her back and swayed when she walked towards him. It was a fast song, Andy remembers that, that and watching Gina dance and lip-sync while he played air guitar, badly. Then the band started playing, "Oh, black water keep on rolling, Mississippi moon won't you keep on shining for me." It was one of those songs you could dance fast or slow to. Gina raised her eyebrows and motioned for them to stay on the floor. Andy said, "Sure," and started strumming his imaginary Strat. Gina stepped towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck.
He drove her home. They laughed and talked and she sang low and soft. She worked in town at the coffee shop, to save enough money, she said, to get a place of her own. Gina was a painter and wanted to open a shop that sold local native art, and hopefully, some of her own pieces. She asked him about things he never spoke of and some things he still wouldn't. She leaned over the consol of the truck and watched and listened. He wanted to touch her, to lift her hair and kiss the back of her neck. When he pulled up to the front of her house, Gina leaned over more. They sat and stared out the window.
"Can you see that?" she asked, pointing at the sky.
"I think so."
"It's the Belt of Orion," she said.
"They're just stars," Gina said.
Andy turned his head to look at her, "They're nice," he said, and stroked her cheek.
She kissed him then. The salt of her surprised him; how real she tasted. She was like the ocean on his lips. She reached over and opened her door, "Are you coming?" she asked.
Andy got out of the truck and followed her up the front steps. He didn't go home till the following week when he went back to check the mail.
He moved in with her, not technically, he supposed, but he was there all the time. Gina rented a place in old town, where the bosses used to live, in the big, now run down houses on the cliff overlooking the mill and the ocean. It was closer to work for Andy, closer to his dad and the Inn, closer to Gina. He looked forward to coming home to her. To her weird food and stories about her day, to sharing his life for the first time. He told her all the things he didn't tell anyone else, things about his mother and about sitting on the shore at Grief Point. Gina opened his eyes to something he never knew he wanted, never knew he could haveand never wanted to lose.
He stands at the foot of her driveway. The house looks the same. Somehow, he imagined it would be different, in need of repair, in need of him. It didn't take as long as he thought to walk here. He spits his gum out into a Kleenex and walks up to the front. Andy takes the key from beneath the planter and unlocks the door. The house is quiet. He didn't know what to expect and realizes, standing there in the hall, that he hoped she'd be awake, waiting for him and they'd sit down at the table and talk and laugh like they had before, before she told him to leave.
He walks up the stairs to her room and goes inside. The drapes are open. He can see Grief Point in the distance.
He took her there that day, the day she called out his name and scared the seagulls. They laughed and looped their arms through each other's and walked back. They sat on a log in front of the trail and played footsies in the sand. A heron was on a rock about twenty yards in front on them. Andy watched the bird and thought, if it takes off to the right, I'll ask Gina to marry me. The sun was shining. Gina looked at him and smiled. Andy held her hand. The heron propelled itself from the rock, veered left and turned back in the other direction. He followed it down the shoreline.
When he told Gina that he loved her, that they could leave Port Alberni and go back to the city if she wanted, he felt like he was finally climbing the boulders, the ones that were stacked so high against him.
"I want to marry you," he said.
She looked at him and took her hand away.
"I'm a for now Andy, not a forever. I thought you knew that."
I did know, Andy thinks and closes the drape. She is sleeping. Her hair is shorter now, maybe it always was and he just never noticed. Like he never noticed how she didn't unpack all her boxes and made up every excuse in the world not to meet his dad. He reaches out to touch her. His other hand falls to the weight in his pocket.
"Gina," he says and rocks her shoulder.
She shrugs and swats at his hand.
"Andy?" she says and looks at him.
He takes out a stick of gum and runs it under his nose.
"She was right," he says, "I can't smell it anymore."
The barrel feels cold and hard in his mouth.
© Patricia Parkinson 2005
Patricia Parkinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a newly married mother of two children that make her laugh at herself and other things she once took too seriously. She lives in Langley, British Columbia
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