August

I mail off a stack of Accomplice copies, more than I expected to (thank you). I interview for a job I don't really want, and don't get. A friendship ends--and with the very woman who gushed over Cat's Eye with me. During daylight hours I am sad but soberly relieved; at night I have nightmares in which she lets me know I won't get away with this. Dylan's parents buy a 1980 Dodge camper van christened "Mr. Copperbottom" by the lovely man selling it. We pack it up with a box of books, two plates, two bowls, and the bag of cat food. Simpkin, Dylan, and I drive off, heading north. In Grande Prairie, Mr. CB's carburetor dies. We lurch into a liquor store parking lot and set up domestic bliss, the three of us for one last night. We draw the curtains, expecting to wake up to a cop knocking on the window. In the morning a young man with huge, meaty hands and blunt, dirty fingers tows us up to a mechanic's shop in Dawson Creek. It looks more like a truck graveyard than a place any vehicle might drive away from. Long grass smothers at least twenty chassis rusting behind a building so dilapidated the sign is no longer legible. The mechanic's name is Little John; when we meet he is wearing a t-shirt that says "I apologize in advance for my behaviour tonight." We want to run away, but when John starts working on the van, he wraps his arms around the engine, tugging on levers and letting the flaps on the carburetor flutter against his cheek while Dylan guns the engine. He is delighted with the carburetor, which, he announces, is royally fucked up. This will be interesting, he says, and rubs his hands together. Dodge parts are like gold in Dawson Creek, he says, but lucky for us he has a buddy who works in the scrap yard. Miracle of miracles, Buddy has a Dodge carburetor just sitting on the shelf, gathering dust, and he can bring it by in the morning. Meanwhile, Little John says, we're welcome to camp in the yard. Hell, he says, one guy was there for a month while John rebuilt his engine from scratch. Dylan makes pasta and tomato sauce on our two gas burners across from the bed. We draw our curtains and try to read, but around five o'clock, restless and irritable, we decide to walk downtown to find a cafe/bookstore called Faking Sanity. We drink coffee, eat carrot cake, eavesdrop on the knitting group, and leave with Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, a copy of Franny and Zooey to replace our tattered copy, and a collection of plays by Sam Shepherd, who has just died. The skies in Dawson Creek are magnificent. When we get back to the van, Simpkin is gone. For the first time, we notice a hole in the floor left when we uncovered the engine. We search the truck cemetery and call his name until it gets dark, then leave a bowl of food out and try to sleep. I am convinced he will come back during the night, and jump onto our bed as soon as we open the van doors. He does not come back; the rattling of the food dish that we hear all night is every neighbourhood cat except Simpkin feasting on the bait meant to coax him home. We cry all morning. The scrap carburetor works, though for the rest of the trip, Dylan has to be careful not to flood the engine, especially when backing up. On the day we leave Dawson Creek, Little John's shirt says "Dick's Taxidermy: Stuffing Beavers Since 1978." We spend the night at Liard, taking mushrooms and wrinkling in the hotsprings. Two days later we make it to Dawson City, where our friend Joanna has been working all summer. We park the van next to her trailer in the Bonanza Gold RV Park and for the next two weeks, make a vegetarian dinner together every night, go on long walks, and explore Dawson. Dylan introduces everyone to his wife, which makes me extremely happy. (Something has anchored, surely and safely, since we got married; or it is as if we were two rowboats lashed precariously together and now we have finally reached a proper ship. We board gratefully and attend to our new positions as crew.) We go to the free store, adjacent to the dump, and retrieve a small brown plate, three books, and a men's dress shirt. We go swimming in a dugout, take the ferry (free, 24-hour, provincially-funded) to West Dawson and walk down the beach to a wrecked riverboat while the Perseids flicker overhead. We admire Dawson's pickup trucks, modified in myriad ways and with unprecedented pioneer style. A week in, Joanna mentions that there are still two puppies left unclaimed from her new dog, Lupin's, litter. It is suppertime, and beginning to rain, but we all set off down the highway to the Yukan Rental yard when a charismatic young French-Canadian man emerges from the one-room shed where he lives to call a pack of Dawson mutts. Though I don't want to live in a shed, Dawson makes it painfully obvious that the civilized south draws arbitrary and bourgeoise lines around how people are allowed to live their lives. Lupin is soon embroiled in a familial dispute with his siblings and mother, who hadn't expected to see him again. One of the puppies jumps up and licks my face. He looks like a black lab. The French-Canadian insists that his grandmother was raped by a wolf. Like most dogs in Dawson, he's mostly bear dog. Dylan, who has been on a westerns kick, names the dog Ranger, and I tack on Charlie, for Steinbeck's dog, and Yvonne, because my sister Grace thinks Yvonne of the Yukon is as good a title as any. I get a three-day job washing dishes in the hippy cafe where Joanna works and feast on free kale bowls and miso soup on my lunch breaks. Dylan works on a new screen play, reads Annie Dillard, and takes the dogs on long walks. I finish War and Peace. Both of us start writing grants for a September 1 deadline. On our last night in Dawson, Joanna leads us and all three dogs up into the woods in West Dawson, to a cabin where a band called Power Duo from Prince George is playing a bonfire show to about 20 skids and 17 dogs. We stick out a little, too-recently showered, but everyone loves the puppies. No one looks at a cellphone. A beautiful girl with a round face like a renaissance painting debates the most desirable interval between showers with a man named Louisiana Josh. The girl across from us passes around a deconstructed caesar (a bottle of Clamato and a bottle of vodka, which she monitors to keep at roughly equal levels); but Dylan and I have decided to stop drinking for a while. I don't miss it much. We drive four days home, stopping in Dawson Creek to look for Simpkin one more time but no luck. Edmonton is frenetic, self-absorbed, and rich, and we are uncomfortable surrounded by new cars and new clothes. Our apartment feels huge and luxurious as a Japanese bathroom. I start going through closets and cupboards, trying to figure out exactly what we have and if we need it. We take Ranger to the FAVA summer barbeque, where Dylan wins 6 passes to the Metro Cinema, Laura shows a short film she made on one roll of Super8, and I show off the green lace sweater I finished knitting in the van. I plan the first Open Apartment of the year. Hannah comes upstairs for breakfast and we eat the jam I made from highbush cranberries in Dawson. We borrowed a sieve from the owner of the hippy cafe to strain out the seeds. 

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