In cities you find discarded clothing and other discarded objects all over the place but in small towns it is unusual, so when Carl saw the leather coat and the bag on the bench, he looked in the bag. This was when his family lived in Apox, Ontario, before they moved to Grimsby, before his parents divorced. He put on the coat. The shoulders were wide. There was a fuzzy lining, it was very warm. The leather was sort of inflexible. There was a key in the pocket. In the bag were eight empty liquor bottles and a few empty beer cans: he returned them to the beer store and got about a dollar. He enjoyed walking across town in the coat: he wondered whether anyone would recognize it and want it back, but nobody ever did. After leaving the beer store he threw the bag into the trees on the edge of town and nobody ever found it. Rainfall softened it and bugs and slugs crawled around in it but it was slow to decompose, and then the trees were felled and the ground moved around and they erected a subdivision as the town was dying and becoming a suburb of the nearest city, a place where people lived but did not work, except the farmers, who grew old and rare.
Oh Carl, it looks ridiculous, his mother said, talking about the coat. He did not give a fuck about what she said. They ate dinner; he had a younger sister and a baby brother, and they all ate together: the baby sat in a high chair fairly calmly. His mother was a little drunk. After dark they all went to bed. Carl had moved into an unheated room that had once been the horse stable of the house. He was glad to have his own room. Later on he heard his father arrive home: he heard pressure on the couch and the television activated and the volume lowered. Carl slid open the window beside his foam mattress and climbed out quickly. He walked through a sparse place in the hedges onto the street and flapped open the coat; he swung it onto himself. Then he walked downtown, following the river. The restaurants were closed, the storefronts were dark; only the bar beside the river showed some activity, very little activity, and Carl climbed the iron rail and lit upon the wet broken concrete, and walked along it till he was beside the wall of the bar, hidden by an overhanging tree. He sat on his feet, on the level of the water. Someone opened the door of the bar. He heard a woman’s loud voice. He heard a man’s quiet slurring. They were discussing someone vehemently, perhaps the woman’s boyfriend or husband: she was saying that he was such an asshole. The man with the quiet slur was mostly agreeing with her. Then the door opened again and a man’s loud voice said Here you are. The woman said Where else? A small man appeared to Carl from behind the tree branches: he was the quiet, slurring one. He flicked the end of a cigarette into the river. The loud man and woman were talking angrily to each other, and the small man sighed and returned to them. Carl said loudly in a silly voice Asshole! There was a brief pause. The loud man said What the fuck, Petey? You got something to say? Then all three of them talked over each other. The door opened and closed and just the loud voiced man and woman remained. They kept arguing. Carl said, giggling, You’re a fat asshole! And he lay on his back on the concrete. The coat kept him dry. A man scuffled around the tree. Who the fuck is talking, he demanded. He did not look beyond the rail.
The people went back into the bar. Carl sat and looked over the river. After a while he climbed the rail and kept walking. He passed the drugstore. There was an abandoned house he was thinking of. He had once delivered newspapers, and that house had been on his route, but the old person who lived there died, and since then it stood empty, and now the grass was overgrown: the house was just past a turn in the river. He had never gone there at night before. The sky was deep grey. The property was entirely dark. He went through a gap in the fence and crossed the lawn. It was a big stone house. Carl looked through the window and saw nothing. He went onto the porch. His footsteps were loud on the wood. He became nervous. But he tried the door. It was locked. A great wind started blowing. Leaves blew across the porch. There was a creaking. Carl reached into the pocket of the coat. He felt the key in his hand. He brought it out. He put his hand on the door. He felt for the lock; then he felt for the slit in the lock with his thumb. Then he tried the key. It went in. His heart jumped. He twisted the key. It did not turn. It would not work. He twisted harder. It would not work. He stepped back from the door. The wind died down. He reached out and pulled the key but it was stuck in the lock.
A week later a man in a truck pulled up to the old stone house. He was an auctioneer and he had purchased the contents of the house, and he had a key and written approval to enter it. He went up onto the porch with his key and found another key stuck in the lock. He tried pulling it out but he couldn’t. He went back to his truck for a pair of pliers but there was none. He was a bit lazy so he drove four blocks to the hardware store. He said Hey Jen. She said G’day, g’day. He said Just need some pliers, and he went and got them. He said How are you now, Jen? and he paid for the pliers. She said Can’t complain. He went back to the truck and back to the house and pulled out the key with the pliers. Then the auctioneer entered the house. It was sad that the grandson in Toronto did not care to see any of these things; there were many beautiful and several valuable things in the house, and two A.Y. Jackson paintings, two of them: they would have to be authenticated, but they really looked like Jacksons. The auctioneer ate his lunch in his truck, approximating the price he would get for all of it in a notebook, feeling pretty damn good. When he got home in the evening he emptied his pockets on the bedside table and took off his watch, and one of the objects, which he did not notice, was the bent and twisted key.
A man in a long light-brown leather coat was a wanderer. He had lived many places in Canada but he had been born in Apox, Ontario, and he grew up there, and on his thirty ninth birthday he returned to Apox in a little car that was breaking down. He had a dosage of peyote with him, which he consumed. He parked in a place he remembered well and watched the sunset through the windshield. He fumbled with the car’s cigarette lighter, dropping it, and he retrieved it and looked in the cylinder at the glowing orange circles, and held it up to cover the sun. He experienced bliss and loneliness, and then when it was dark he left the car and walked across town. It was a quiet night. He walked past the bar by the river. He sat on the steps of the town hall. He went and stared at old Mrs. Galloway’s house, the big old stone house, and it appeared as a colossal face with windows for eyes, and he experienced terror and amazement. He looked at the bright and greasy stars. As the effects of the drug wore off his feet began to feel cold, and he made his way back to the car, intending to run the engine a while and warm them up. But the engine would not start. It had finally died. And it occurred to him that old Mrs. Galloway had died too, for the lawn around the house had been overgrown; and that made him sad, for she had been kind to him many years ago. He sat in the car, huddled in his coat for a while. Then as the sun rose he roused himself and collected his stuff. There was one full beer left, which he drank; and he put the empties in a duffel bag, intending to return them. He filled his backpack with his dirty clothes. The key to the shed at the apple orchard where he had recently worked was on the floor, and he put it in the pocket of his coat. He left the key to the car in the ignition. Then he said goodbye to the car and walked to a bend in the road and sat down on a bench with his back to the river. He was sober and wondering what to do.
A white pickup truck reflecting the dawn came around the bend. It stopped in front of the man who was a wanderer in a leather coat on the bench. A window went down and a voice said Davey O’Brien. The man peered forward and said Amy Gilmore? She said Yep. He said Holy shit. He went over to the truck. She said It’s been a long time. He said I’ll say twenty years. She said How long have you been back? He said Just last night. Just passing through. She said Yeah? Well I never left till now. He said You’re leaving town? She said That’s right, that’s what I said. He said You look the same. She said Thanks Davey. He said Why are you leaving? She said Bored. And I’m leaving my husband. He said So you married the bastard eh? and they both laughed. She said Yep. Big mistake. He said I could have told you that, Amy. Does he know? She said Ah, he’ll figure it out. They laughed again. He said This really is wonderful timing. She said Maybe, Davey. He said I think it is. Where are you going? She said Fitzroy Harbour. He said We could spend the night in a shed on an apple orchard just outside of Proton Station. She said No, thank you. Thanks anyway. Where the hell is Proton Station? He said West of here. He indicated the west. He said Way west. Too far. Let’s go to Fitzroy Harbour. She said Don’t you have anything to do? He said Nothing at all. She said. Okay. All right. Good timing. He said Finally. And he swung the backpack full of dirty clothes in the air and lobbed it toward the river, and in landed in a garbage barrel on the tiny beach. He left the coat and the duffel bag on the bench. He said I have to get some new clothes. She said Oh really. He said I got some money in the bank.
Photo credit: Emilie Mover.