READINGS

An excerpt from
An Expectation of Home

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This manuscript won The David Adams Richards Prize in the 2000 WFNB Literary Contest of the Writers Federation of New Brunswick

The room where Calvin slept was dark. He could hear the fire burning out, the snaps of wet wood getting slower and quieter. The house creaked as the coldness outside overcame the warm interior. Winter nights made more noise than summer ones. The noises were female. His mother's slippers scuffed from her bedroom to the kitchen in the dark. Each night he heard her lift the lid on the stove, he heard the cold stick hitting the hot coals. The smoke followed her back to bed, drifting from her housecoat into his room as she passed. His two teenage sisters slept in one double bed on the other side of a cardboard wall; one turned, then the other, adjusting to the heat that escaped from under their quilt each time one of them moved.

Calvin listened to his mother get out of bed and stoke the fire. He heard her shake his father who was asleep on the couch in the living room, calling softly to him. "Melvin, come to bed." He heard her shuffle back into their room and get a blanket to cover her unresponsive husband with. She pulled aside the blanket that hung in front of Calvin's bedroom doorway. She saw, as Calvin had seen, the top bunk empty, no sagging of the mattress above him, no window sash lowered so cigarette smoke could escape, no Arnold. Calvin pretended he was sleeping, though he knew it would not help her sleep any easier.

When Calvin went to bed the sky was clear and the moon glinted in the bedroom window. The cool afternoon had turned into a mild night. The few icicles left over from winter that clung to the eve of their house refracted the moonlight into his room and onto the walls. The icicles bled away, producing a chorus of splats on the waning snow below his window. Calvin knew what the inside of a case of Carnation Milk smelled like; the red insignia stared at him each night in his cardboard room. The boxes were supposed to be a temporary fixture. His father stapled them to the walls in the bedroom the previous fall when the family moved from the decrepit house next door to their new, but unfinished one. How temporary was it supposed to be? His father was not a fussy carpenter, but when he stapled the cardboard boxes to the wall, all of the carnations were right side up. Winter was to bring plaster and paint to the walls and ceilings, but it was almost spring, the ice was piled high against the bridge, and Calvin and Arnold still slept likes cans of evaporated milk.

Clouds passed in front of the moon and cast their shapes on the wall. A deer swam above his head. A dog ran in circles, its mouth gaping, streaking from one corner of the room to the other with each passing cloud. The melting icicles were like fangs or daggers, and the water was blood or tears and dripped down the wall, the stains lasting only until the morning. He couldn't remember if he slept, couldn't remember falling asleep. One instant it was dark and the deer was still swimming, the next it was light and Arnold was saying to him, "Are you getting up?"

"What time is it?" Calvin answered. The sun was a grey-yellow swath above the bridge. The icicles were gone. He answered Arnold with no hesitation like part of him had been sleeping, the other part alert, waiting for the morning.

"It's seven-thirty. Don't you have hockey?" Arnold leaned on the sill of the window and looked to the river. He was wearing the same clothes he wore to school the day before. He hadn't been home since he got off the bus to piss.

"It's the last day," Calvin said.

"Go get your stuff and get ready."

"Is Dad up?"

"What do you think?"

"I don't have a drive."

"I said go get your stuff, I'll get you a drive." Arnold pulled the blankets back on Calvin's bed. Calvin rolled out of bed and straightened his long john's that had twisted around his legs and crotch while he slept. The floor was cool. The basement would be cooler; that was where his bag of hockey equipment was. He put on a heavy pair of socks and went into the basement.

When Calvin came from the basement, Arnold was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. His fingers stretched his scalp and pulled the skin around his eyes tight. One side of his face was puffy. There was dried blood around one nostril. The collar of his shirt was torn and his sleeve was stained from wiping the blood from his face.

"Do you want something to eat?" Arnold asked as Calvin unzipped the bag and fished through its contents.

"Were you fighting?" Calvin asked.

"Are you deaf?" Arnold got up and went over to the fridge.

"No," Calvin said. "I don't want anything."

Arnold leaned into the fridge, one arm resting on the open door. He stared blankly, then shook his head and shut the door like he forgot why he opened it in the first place. "Need some help?" he said.

"No." Calvin shoved his shin pads inside his striped socks and twisted trying to find the garter that hung behind him. His fastened the garters then pulled on his pants. They were a few sizes too big. His woolen socks flopped at the end of his feet, not easily pulled up once the shin pads and hockey socks were on. He looked nothing like the boys in the Canadian Tire catalogue, and nothing like most of the boys on his team, but he could get dressed and undressed faster than any of them, and he could skate from one end of the ice to the other quicker than most. Turning and stopping were not his best skills. "What time is now?" he asked as he pulled his sweater over his head.

"Going on eight," said Arnold. "What time do you have to be there?"

"In a half an hour. The first game is at nine." He sat at the table, expecting to have to get undressed because neither he nor Arnold wanted to wake their father to drive him to the rink in Newcastle. Their mother didn't drive.

The living room was down the hall. Under a plaid blanket stuck out the arm of their father. Mel fell asleep on the couch with the TV on. There was a wooden chair by the couch, a heaping ashtray on the chair. There were four empty bottles of beer on the floor, and two half-full ones standing by the motionless arm. Mel often forgot which beer he was drinking and opened another. When the ashtray got full, he knocked the ashes from his cigarettes into an empty bottle. There were times he got a mouthful of ash.

Arnold, not trying to be quiet or gentle, lifted the blanket. He reached under and found his father's wallet in his back pocket. There was ten and a two in it. He took the ten. Calvin stood in the doorway watching him.

"What are you doing?" he whispered. He knew that it would take more than voices to wake him, but he didn't want to wake his mother either.

"Here, bring back some change."

"Change from what?" Calvin followed Arnold into the kitchen. Arnold dialed the phone. There was a number scribbled on the inside cover of the phonebook. Calvin saw his father dial the number many times; minutes later a taxi would arrive and the driver would bring beer in a paper bag into the house. "What are you doing?"

"Do you want to go to hockey?"

Calvin didn't answer. Arnold kept dialing. "Hello. Bert? Can you come up to the house....No, nothing today, Calvin needs a lift to the rink...Yeah, a bit too much to drink.... Great." He turned to Calvin. "He'll be here in a minute."

Calvin sat back down. He was starting to sweat in his gear. He rolled the purple bill into a tube, unrolled it, folded it. "Put that somewhere before you lose it," Arnold said to him.

"But I don't have any pockets." Calvin had his helmet on, his skates were tied over his stick. He stuffed it into his hockey glove. "Where were you last night?"

"Out."

"Dad was looking for you. He put in a door."

"He didn't need my help." Arnold took off his coat and unlaced his boots. He glanced at the new door. "Randy and me were over at Matchett's shooting pool." Will Matchett was a bootlegger. There was a crooked pool table in his barn and a cooler hidden under a tarp in the back full of wine and beer. Randy and Arnold walked across the train bridge then through a path in the woods to get there. They bought some wine, played some pool and got into a fight. Randy got a black eye and a kick in the nuts. Arnold tried to even the score, but got hit from behind and bled from the nose halfway home. They drank wine and smoked a joint while sitting in the barn at Corcoran's until it got light, planning how they might get even someday.

"Mom says..." Calvin began.

"Mom says, Mom says," Arnold mocked him. A horn blew. "There's your drive."

The taxi driver came to the door. The dog lunged to end if its chain, barking. Bert Coughlan didn't knock, he just opened the door and came into the kitchen.

"Old man sleeping?" he said. He was very loud. Arnold just nodded. "Who the hell is this, Gordie Howe?" He laughed and shook, patting Calvin on the shoulder pad and turning him out the door.

"Do you want Bert to tie your skates at the rink?" Arnold asked.

"I can do it," Calvin was quick to say, his words muffled by the mouth guard that was stretched across the front of his mouth.

"Does he need a lift home?"

"The old man should be up," Arnold told him.

Calvin got into the back seat, grateful, somewhat ashamed. Bert slammed the door and revved the engine before putting it into gear. The exhaust cast a great pale cloud in the cool air

An excerpt from An Expectation of Home (Gaspereau Press, 2002). For further reading see Charles Spurr's book review, Class and clash in the Miramichi.


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