I didn’t notice her bangs in the morning, I was distracted by just seeing her. I felt bad and wanted to say something about them. She spoke about her very pregnant best friend and I realized her entire world didn’t revolve around me, the way mine did for her. We were taking a leap of faith, one that never really seemed real. We were in Thelma, her Ford Focus station wagon, heading north, north to Smithers and a new life for her that I was doing my best to be a part of.
She knew the spatial limits of Thelma well and we had crammed her full with all sorts of coloured boxes and hockey bags, snorkels, wetsuits, ice picks, and dry goods that had long ago expired. She had a name for everything. Bluey and big green go on the roof rack. There were interesting looking items that appeared to be hand-me-downs and a few containers with her ex-boyfriend’s name on them. There was wool for knitting and several pairs of snowshoes and skis and boots and everything else she owned, getting crammed into every crevice of that car. Tetris with the trunk space. I think this lamp has to go, I said. No that is old purple, she’s a friend, she’s coming, she said. Everything was a friend.
Leaving the city with no regrets, leaving the noise on clear air. It was a beautiful day and we were driving, driving north, north. It’s a leap of faith I told my friend Alex, he said watch the silences. They were comfortable so far. We waited for the giddiness though, the loopiness you get from staying inside too long, being hungover, or from long drives with the same person.
It was late and we hadn’t gotten far, but it was still light enough to see the unnamed jagged peaks soaring above us as we drove. These peaks were different than the Rockies. That seemed so long ago now. The glaciers had carved bare rock faces, faces like landslides. A climber’s dream, she said, I hope my knee holds up. I half hoped it didn’t, how many mountain men will be up there, waiting.
It was dark as we reached Lillooet. Chinese or Western food, you can get them both at the same place, we had a Greek surprise instead. We held hands across the table and the single beer made me feel drunk but I think it was just being around her. The entire town was made of wood and you could tell that telephone poles were made from around here. At the gas station there was a camper van filling up, it was from Quebec, of course. It’s cold over the lake as I take over the wheel.
North, north. Loopy now, there is a deer playing roulette on the highway. Why did Charles Darwin make deer want to stand in the middle of the road like that and why don’t cars in Canada have roo-bars? Sounds like Rhubarb. Who’s Barb? Moose signs all over the highway, they look like anteaters, a different animal every time. God I hope we don’t hit one.
Logging trucks barrel by, fog lights barely picking up the dissembled coyotes that lay on the road. We can’t go to Williams Lake tonight it’s too far. But 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, they roll on. Lac Le Hache, let’s stop there, it sounds French. Adventure Motel sounded fun, no rooms though, none at the Log Jam either. 140 Mile House. 170 Mile House. What poor creek these forts were on to get named this. Leaden eyes, we limp into Williams Pond at midnight and even then we can see it was made from nickel and sulphur and dirt.
Holiday Inn in the Land of Trucks - no that’s Red Deer – okay, the Land of ATVs. And strangely, passion. We could hear the TV in the next room each time we stopped to catch our breath; our bodies sending pulses back and forth like telegrams. It felt like the first time all over again, but better, like every time. Every time was always better. And Oh, the breakfast! Eggs, hash and waffles all served up with Styrofoam and gasoline coffee, I washed it down with ketchup and orange juice and more coffee. It was colder up here and it got in your bones, your bones.
It was the plateau now, Quesnel, Hixon, Stoner. We wanted to avoid Prince George as it would be too depressing but it sucked us in like a black hole. A town built for and by all the kids in the shop class making ashtrays and birdhouses, weighed down by a heavy, seagull-grey sky. You’re supposed to make a left at Prince George for Smithers but our momentum carried us straight into the town and we drove around it in circles, battling it’s gravitational pull. Perhaps we sensed it was our last chance to turn around, that perhaps the town might slingshot us back south if we drove around it enough times.
When we realized we weren’t able to drive clean through Prince George we stopped at 7-11 for provisions. Full of itchy people with calloused hands and grey faces, if they weren’t staring straight through us I would have felt unsafe. We bought popcorn and milk from the clerk with thin veins and red hair, talking to the other one, jabba jabba well Nick is supposed to pay me he said he got a cheque the other day he got that cheque so he’s gonna pay me jabba jabba and outside below the No Loitering sign someone had written with a marker Fuck Off. We loitered alright, we loitered about drinking milk out of straws eating popcorn and listening to Bill Cosby. Then we got the hell out of there.
We slung out to the west but still north, and each town we passed we felt the gravitational pull of Prince George a little less. The towns were still depressing. We almost bought a two liter of Growers cider in Vanderhoof but came to our senses just in time and bought beer instead. One liquor store next to each other on the only street in town.
We drank as the miles clicked on. I was nervous, nervous to get there, to let her go. We were really stir crazy too being in the car all drunk like that so we stopped at Fraser Lake for a swim. It was October but we needed a swim and it was deserted enough so we could be naked. Why after we had passed all these beautiful lakes we decided to stop at this gigantic duck pond I don’t know, but we lowered ourselves down using wooden poles, careful to mind the broken bottles in the muck. She looked sexy with wet hair and we made Thelma steamy while we laughed about driving furiously north. Coming from the city it felt like we were driving to the edge of the world.
The seagull skies made us sad, all the towns were so sad, I thought she might have been delusional after all the nice things she had told me about Smithers. So far I had seen nothing but ATVs and bad coffee, rural ranchland with rusted equipment and tired horses.
Evening and the yellow and brown slowly gave birth to green, the ranchland turning to foothills, the road starting to dip and climb and the country had changed along with the failing light. A mist thick as newspaper, we turned off the headlights, you can see better this way. There were no more cars anyway, we were all on our own. We drove through mist and fog for eternity, we could have sworn we saw half a dozen signs saying Smithers, 100 km. But this stationary moment in time was a blessing, we were holding hands, it was beautiful and I never wanted to arrive.
We passed Houston and his giant fly rod and now we were actually close. We finally entered the town of Smithers and the Bulkley Natural Food store was the first indication of civilization and of something different. Down Main Street, there were cafes and bicycle shops and outdoor coffee houses and the dentist office looked like a building in the Swiss Alps. It was so easy to drive there, I went through all the stop signs, I didn’t even stop or look once. Left at the corner of Main and Broadway, we’re not in Vancouver anymore, we pulled up to a house greeted by a pair of hounds gnawing on a giant moose rack.
We had made it and everything had been perfect and I didn’t have to go anywhere for a whole day and we hadn’t spoken about anything yet but give us one more night, we thought to ourselves.
We made a nest of flannel sheets as it was bloody cold and we dragged on the Scotch that we also bought in Vanderhoof, it was peaty and full of heat except at the back of the throat and not the tongue, and we rolled around in the sheets like it was the first time, like every time.
The sun rose with us to show us that this place was somewhere special and it truly was, you could feel it on your skin maybe it was the lack of soot and ash or maybe the way the snow sparkled in the bright sunshine. People tipped their caps and dogs sniffed our crotches, arm in arm walking down Main Street.
Across the train tracks we walked and now it comes, with guarded words our hopes our fears trying not to say how much our secret little plans involved the other person because what a helpless love this has been that has gripped our hearts so strongly. She says with sincerity I didn’t plan on this, I didn’t want to fall for you, and I took this strange compliment and held it for a moment, savouring its honesty. Everything seemed so real and so unreal at the same time, it was like we were in a dream, together, both knowing that this couldn’t possibly last but still there was something completely and very true about all of it. Squinting into the sun behind me, her eyes searched mine for a moment, then cast down as she scratched the gravel path with her foot, the sound carrying far on the crisp air.