Recently a friend sent me a copy of something I had written for a competition in either the late eighties or early nineties. It won an Honourable Mention in its category, a designation that I can recall filled me with deep disappointment because I always expect better than I can deliver. Considering that this was a Canada wide competition, a competition that has launched many writing careers, it certainly was churlish of me to object to not winning a first prize.
The story, or essay, was later read on all of the CBC AM Radio networks, including on the international short wave service. As such, I should have received a fair bit of money for its broadcast but I had entered the contest under a false name because I was working at the CBC, and the rules forbade any participation.
I do wish I could recall the false name I used.
Anyway, enjoy the next 700 words, but I can’t answer any questions about the Llamas because I have no idea where I got that title.
NOTES OF A TRIP TO SEE THE LLAMAS
Creston, British Columbia, Tivoli Theatre. Empty spittle plastered ticket office.
International Harvester school buses move with the sudden runnels of desultory traffic through the dying town. Clutter of business signs, Creston Cafe, Pro Hardware, Sears catalogue office, all housed in false fronts joined one to another as though imitating the walls of granite surrounding the town, hemming it from the progress and wealth it hungered for and has all but given up on.
The mountains are the only thing that distinguish this town from the thousands of others like it cluttering the map speckles of ink dots and faint names between the cities. Were it not for the mountains Creston would not be. Night and mountainside eight hundred feet up, rain, fog, sign saying one lane for two kilometres. And then a fall of more clogging fog as the car slows and slides into the sluice under the ice slides.
Creeping along in second gear. Avalanche, Do Not Stop, says the sign. Cannot go fast either. Inching along over the road.
To the right a rounded triangle of concrete curb, then; “Uh. Can you move to the left please.” From the passenger on my right who has been silent since the car started to creep. I move left a bit closer to the rock wall. There’s no need for me to be here but I humour the passenger. Not a place for an argument.
Car at the other end of the narrow lane and moving toward us. Nasty feeling of not knowing where the back end of the car is as we back into the pull out. Flash of friendly headlights on the way by as a thank you and we are left alone again on the mountainside.
Steep winding road to a summit far away from the world. Lost in trees cloaked in pillows of freshly fallen snow. Tenseness of left hand turns and curves on gravel at night with nicotine bluing the glass and the wipers smearing.
Road goes away and the car moves on faith.
Ferry. White and green gloss paint.
In the belly the car nose to bumper with the others and the trucks hulking in the centre. Up the steep metal ribbed stairs to the gloss paint and the smell of cooking oil from the snack bar run by a fourteen year old girl and an older woman behind the bulkhead putting the orders together.
Man sitting at the counter describing to a stranger the death of his son in Montreal over the holidays. Shot accidentally or on purpose by a man cleaning his gun in his house. There’s a doubt and a mystery and a crying in his suffering yet calm talk.
Mad rush to the cars below decks as the ferry suddenly docks. There had not been the slightest suggestion we had been anywhere near the shore. How the crew knew I didn’t know. And then the rumble of the trucks and the flight down the twisting dark road.
Highway puddled with water getting set to freeze in broad car traps of slipperiness.
A red flaming snake of taillights slithers through the never straight road and the night for the east. Poor bastard in the lead is pushed by the tail. Some can’t take it and drop from the ritual of leading to the side of the road to wait the darkness before creeping on by themselves.
Night creeps over Arrow Lake deep in the Selkirk clefts.
Prince George and a dull washed out mall.
Coffee shop suddenly full of old people. Nowhere to go and nothing to do.They roost and chatter and pass the hour. Just as bats have atime to leave the cave and gulls a time for the shore, the old are ruled by the tides of human need and spirit and will move again with the passing of their tide. What other tides might there be? All of the interior wet and damp and coated with the black constant sheen of rain.
Energy levels drop.
No point to anything because each day will be the same as the next and of the last.