What I Did Not Become by Harrison Kim
What I Did Not Become by Harrison Kim
I’m talking with Mrs. Everton, the anorexic faced one lunged Grandmother puffing cigs by the wood stove as snow falls outside. She tells me more blizzards fell in years past, we’re not snowed in yet. She coughs, continues again in that smoky voice; my best friend Keith’s over by the fridge laughing with Lori Baker. Lori’s Mrs. Everton’s great niece, black haired, pale faced, arms thin as branches stuck from a frost covered sapling, and fifteen years old. Keith and I walked up here in the snow, whiteness coming down silent all around from a black and starry sky, how can this be? We wondered, because another light in the sky kept moving, under the bulk of the mountain edge. Could be a U. F. O? Light just doesn’t hover over the bush like that, without an engine noise. It floated back and forth silently as we hiked all the way up the road to the Everton’s place.
Keith and I rode the transit bus up from Vernon. It dropped us off about four miles down, near his Mom’s house. We walked full of energy, pushing through the snow in the dead of winter. “I want to see Lori,” said Keith, so we headed for Evertons. Many snowy steps over the cold ground, the cold rising into your moving feet and up your knees to your chest and out your mouth, frost on the breath, freezing upward. Keith said he liked Lori, he’d met her just the day before, by the Fun House at the Fall Fair in town. …. “18, and I don’t know what I want” we all said, but Keith knew what he wanted, back then, anyway.
As we moved towards Evertons, we tried to understand the mysterious light pulsing around the mountain. It couldn’t be a car, no roads up there. It rose up and down, “maybe it’s a skidoo,” but there was no sound, and the light hovered above the trees. “At least it’s not coming for us,” said Keith. We turned the corner, and there in the winter night stood Everton’s clapboard shack. We smelled wood smoke, and headed for the warmth.
Mrs. Everton was legendary around the area. Some say she gave birth to twins who died from the flu after a few months. She and Art Everton buried them out back under the trees. Cancer took one lung and as I talk with her in the kitchen she’s pulling cigarette smoke into the other, and wheezing badly. I’ve been curious about Mrs. Everton, from all the gossip and rumour. We’re talking local history and winters when she was young.
Keith and Lori flirt, laughing and wrestling on the couch, then down from the attic come Ethan and Roy Lee, the two teenage Everton brothers. All the kids sleep on mats in the attic. Maybe they were having a nap, up there, or a wrestle like Keith and Lori. To me, it’s all strange and poor, to share an attic floor beneath bare rafters. Roy’s staring at Keith.
“Where do you know my cousin from?”
Lori answers for him “We met at the fall fair. Just in town there.” Lori’s here from Kelowna, she’s at Everons on some kind of long visit due to various factors she won’t mention, but I get the idea of nowhere else to go.
Keith’s a chipmunk faced fellow with glasses, he’s run off with girls before, don’t know how he manages his popularity, though he does conjure up a great sense of humour. I ask Mrs. Everton if she needs more wood for the fire and she says “yeah, always need more wood,” and laughs a deep tooth gone tone, but the offer’s an excuse so I can talk with Keith, I don’t like the way Roy Lee stares at him. Keith and Roy have known each another for years but Roy’s highly unpredictable, and he’s gawking at Lori, too. He’s tallish with big shoulders and glasses, he keeps pushing the rims back towards his curly uncombed hair. He’s had some run ins with the law, mostly for shoplifting and stealing pharmaceuticals. He’s only just turned 19.
Ethan, the other brother, is three years younger, more mellow and childlike, he’s giggling and poking a tiny screwdriver around some kind of model airplane engine. He formed the EKRK club together back a few years ago, that’s the Ethan, Keith, Roy, Kim club, and Ethan took it real seriously. He put together a uniform out of different clothes from the Value Village, and he crept around at night looking in people’s windows just to see what was going on. He convinced Keith and I to do it once or twice, but frankly it’s really boring watching people cook dinner, feed their dog, or reach their hands towards the holy TV.
Mrs. Everton tells me about how in the old days her friends used to drive up here to visit, perched on a horse and sleigh, all the bells sounding, “no one does that any more around here, we don’t get the snow like we used to” and I turn and there’s Lori laughing and Keith making more jokes, and Roy standing and leaning on the wall, glowering and pulling on maybe what he thinks might be a beard soon, couple of stray sideburn hairs, “I want you guys to leave,” he says. “You guys need to leave now, we got to go to bed here.”
“Yeah, sure,” I agree. It’s hot in the room, the stove glows red on the sides, and I stink like Mrs. Everton’s cigarettes. The wood heat washes over me. “You know, we maybe saw a U. F. O. on the way up here and I want to check that out.” I say. “Weird lights up on the mountain.”
“Hey, why don’t you come with us, Lori?” says Keith, “We could track the aliens.” and Lori leans over his shoulder.
“Wow, you guys saw a U. F. O?” Lori raises her small chin, touches it, and smiles.
Ethan lifts his head from where he’s taking apart his engine and laughs “You guys been taking mushrooms?” He “Did it look like a giant headlight?” He’s already up and putting on his snow boots. “Well, I want to get out in the fresh air anyway.”
“You gotta stay away from those mushrooms,” Roy says, and mimics popping a fungi into his mouth. He gives an ugly laugh.
Mrs. Everton keeps smoking and totters over to put another log in the stove. Some sparks fly out as she opens the door. I jump to help her.
“Yeah, the aliens could just rise up out of the swamp,” says Keith “Like this!” He rises up. Lori squeals and grabs his arm.
“Let’s go, maybe we’ll be abducted!” She giggles, she’s already at the window peeping out at the bare branches of the trees shadowed by the night. She presses her nose to the glass.
Roy laughs again, “What do you see in that guy, he’s a total goof.” He sweeps his arm over the table, an empty can falls.
“OK,” I say. “We’re leaving. Right, Keith?” Keith’s got his arm around Lori. He doesn’t seem like he’s in any hurry, but Keith always has a plan. He stands up, he winks at me.
I’m over at the door, pulling on my boots, I wish I was Keith, and could find a willing girl so easily. But then you have to deal with jealous guys like Roy. Mrs. Everton lets all the teenage noise go on around her, puffs on one cigarette, and then on another one.
Keith and I rush out to the Everton’s yard, Lori and Ethan right behind. I have time to wave the old smoky lady goodbye. People say she’s always yelling and bossing her husband around, but tonight Mrs. Everton’s been a gentle fount of local historical information on the family winters of long ago, in fact, she seems to be very much in the long ago, and her voice, though interrupted by coughing is rather resonant and deep, fading and then coming back strongly, and fading again. She’s there, but she’s not there. Her pale face looks out the window, her tiny hands waving goodbye.
I see Lori and Keith walking single file, moving towards the barn, Keith plowing a trail through the whiteness ahead, “he doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction,” I think.
Lori catches up to him and he reaches over and throws some snow. She jumps back, laughing. Ethan’s out by his Dad’s old car. he has the hood up, doing something with the inside, I go over to him and he says he’s planning to hook up a big floodlight so we can track the U. F. O…he grins…. I see no sign of Roy Lee.
If you looked down from above, from the proposal of the alien ship, you’d see our heads moving among the trees, our positions criss crossing over the snow….how far apart we become from one another is dependant on how close we feel, and Lori and Keith are pretty close, you can’t find them any more as they make their way up into the hay, it’s what kids have always done. I see myself from above too, regard myself from that different perspective, and I’m alone and in the wilderness up at this retro cabin cut off from everyone and everything except these folks, just stepped off the bus and into a distant past, it seems, like imagination never stops working here, and whatever we think of could perhaps happen… I am wondering where in this yard Mrs. Everton buried those twins.
Then Roy bursts out of the house and he is packing a .22 rifle, not a powerful rifle if there’s just 22 short bullets in it and that’s exactly what Roy says as he passes me “I’ve got a round of 22 shorts in here,” and I say “So what’s with the gun?” and he fires it into the air. Now, a 22 short bullet is not that loud when it goes off but in the quiet of the bush it’s unmistakable, and Keith pops his head out of the hay barn “What’s going on?”
“I told you to get the hell out of here,” Roy says. “She’s my cousin, not yours.” He’s swinging the gun around and then firing once again at random, kind of in the direction of Keith, who is running now away from the barn and Lori’s hiding somewhere I guess.
Yes, Roy’s got a lot of power with his gun.
Ethan though just walks up to him and grabs it. “That’s mine. I didn’t give permission.” He backs away quickly with the weapon, dodging between a few trees, and I don’t know where he’s going, but Roy starts after him and there’s silence for a moment…… and then, they both disappear through a gap between the trees.
I think Mrs. Everton hasn’t heard us because there’s no immediate stirring from the house, she does have a radio turned up loud, perhaps, but now I don’t recall if there was a radio, I don’t even remember if they had electricity or candles. I only recollect her aged face pressing on the window glass. It’s strange what we remember. I see clearly the U. F. O. light moving along the base of the mountain as Keith and I walked up earlier, it moved up and touched the tips of the trees and then swooped down beyond into the valley where there’s only fields and fences and above these shadows the stars, and in between the shadows, the action.
The lives we live move second by second, through interaction and space, somewhere in a misshapen frame all of us appearing and disappearing, under the light, or the stars.
I catch up with Keith, he’s loped a fair ways along the dark road, “wow, Roy’s super jealous!” he says, “But I sure would like to go back there tonight!”
He’s laughing and also shivering looks like he forgot his coat. “Are you going to get it?”
“No way, let’s move,” he says, “if we keep moving we won’t freeze.”
We move along quickly under the starlight. Snow’s falling under that clear sky, but maybe it’s frost powder from the branches of the trees. Nothing makes a sound. There is no wind.
Behind us the light from the window disappears, and all around the narrowing avenue of trees on either side of the road. We’re quite mesmerized by the whiteness on either side, and because the road’s not plowed we have to look down to avoid tripping or falling off the side. We don’t hear the car approaching slowly from behind. It’s lights are off. They don’t switch on til they’re almost upon us….
“It’s the aliens!” I think just for a second….Keith jumps completely over the bank and heads for the biggest trees to hide behind. His shadow form moves here and there, zig zagging to avoid bullets.
It’s Ethan in the driver’s seat, and Mrs. Everton on the passenger side, Lori in the back, and they pull up to me. Mrs. Everton hands over Keith’s coat.
“You guys forgot this, you’ll be cold without it” She’s still smoking a cigarette, the lit end glows and the smoke comes out the window into the clear air.
“Thanks. What happened with Roy? He was pretty scary there.”
“He’s okay,” says Ethan. “He’s contracted a bit of cabin fever. Sitting in his room all weekend. Guy needs a regular job. He jumped off in the bush somewhere, looking for you guys, maybe.” He shrugs “Say, have you guys seen the U. F. O. yet?”
Keith’s appearing out of the trees now, he waves at Lori in the back seat. I keep my attention on Ethan. “I think it’s probably a helicopter,” I say. “Roy’s looking for us?”
Mrs. Everton laughs, “Ethan took the gun away. He won’t bother you guys.”
Everyone so casual and a few moments ago gunshots. Or maybe pop shots, from the 22 shorts. The bullet won’t hurt except if it hits your eye, I guess. No one even mentions the police.
“You forgot your hat, too,” coughs Mrs. Everton, she hands me Keith’s cap and I pass it over. He’s pulled his coat on now. He plunks on the ball cap and he’s still laughing. That’s always Keith’s default move. He’s escaped again. So why not find a bit of joy in being alive? It isn’t til later that you start to shiver, and understand the complete situation. For Keith, it happens much later. After years of his own drinking, and his own descent into darkness.
“When will I see you again, Lori?” he says. She’s leaning forward into Mrs. Everton’s smoke, looking shell shocked, her hair pulled all up around the top of her head, her pale ears showing bare in the car shadows. “Maybe we can talk on the phone,” Keith continues, because Lori’s not saying anything. She’s alone and rocking back and forth, there in the back seat.
Ethan nods at me, backs the car up without a word, in reverse gear return from where they came. He turns the headlights off again, I believe he’s a guy who sees better without them.
Keith and I walk on, looking behind us nervously from time to time. But nobody pops out of the bush with a baseball bat. We move down over the snowy hills to his mother’s house.
And all above us the trees, and as in many memories, the stars silver clear, or maybe it was the snowfall bright, pouring through openings in the sky, in tumbling chaos. We walk in the foreground, in front of the night, and view a blur of shapes, of incidents and events passing.
That’s where the U. F. O. Keith and I imagined remains. It belongs to crazy dreams of romance, danger, and youth, along with the rest of the characters of that night. I see them not for who other people told me they were, I see them with vivid imagination, as they drive backwards in that silent car, forms fading across forest darkness, as my eyes slowly refocus on the falling snow, through the space already growing between us.
Copyright Harrison Kim 2019