Yaana Dancer acquired Bachelor and Masters degrees in Fine Art, working text into video and photographic installation and performance art. She taught digital media, drawing, and cultural history before studying creative writing with mentors Jen Currin and Betsy Warland. She has published short works and given many public readings in Western Canada. A collection of short stories based on ancestors is in progress.
Between Us and the Wild Beasts
After all our brood married, Dad and I rattled around in our dried gourd of a home. We barter since the ’29 crash. S o, we switched properties with a man who wanted to move into town and we ended up on three and a half acres on Kilmer Road in Lynn Valley. No more walking ‘round the corner to pick up buns and butter. If I want a bun I must make my own from morning milk left on the porch and eggs from Marshall’s chicken farm along the road. Neighbours, yes, but not so near we can see them and when I stop in for eggs, the missus has things to get on with. I haven’t known lonesome, growing up in a brood of six, and then raising my own three but with Dad away at the millworks all day, our acres are far from folks I know. Mercy! I’m a canoe, adrift! Get busy, I tell myself, and I seize a trowel to shift bulbs. Bluebells, hyacinths, snowdrops. They don’t thrive in the reddish brown dirt that smells of iron but a few flowers are better than none. I check my watch, Father’s watch that’s lasted a good long while. He wore it when he left us on the Humber – me, a little mite –to take a job with a new railway on Vancouver Island. He took the Canadian Pacific as far west as Field, with a gap of hundreds of miles between there and Yale, where tracks snaked east from Port Moody. Hundreds of miles Father tramped with a packhorse. Walked his boots to shreds. Who would have guessed the lot of us would land, a few years later, with our milk cow in Port Moody. It’s there, I dove in the inlet, eyes darting through dark water, came up for air, and shook like a dog, droplets of salt water falling away. Was the shaking too hard or not hard enough? Since then, the thing I hear best is the sound of my own breath, sawing in, sawing out. The world’s bundled in cotton batten, even the robins far away. More often than I care to admit, I nod as if I’ve heard when I have not. To save Dad from having to repeat the same thing three times over, I clip a hearing aid to the neck of my frock. Such a nuisance! The darn thing jossles, falls, jerks the earpiece out, the cord tangles, and the devilish thing sets to screaming! I grab for the volume knob and make it worse before quelling the racket. Mercy! Alone all day, I leave the darn thing on the chest of drawers and life is more peaceful. Sometimes, I think the blessed world would be better without talk. But then, what would a chatterbox like me do? Good gracious! What are the dogs carrying on about? I squint toward the lower field where the grass has baked gold. Two black bears! Lickety split, I scuttle to the door, call Lano and Chew. Call and call until, snarling, they scurry in with tails tucked, hackles high. They butt and tangle my legs. I peer out and a bear is sniffing the verandah steps, lifting snout, sniffing the air. Deary me! Shush the dogs. Shoo them in the living room, close the door behind us. Two flimsy doors between us and the wild beasts! Goodness, my heart thuds. I expect that’s not good for angina. The dogs circle and whine and twitch. I strain to listen. Nothing. The dogs flop and put their tongues to grooming. Surely, Dad will be coming home soon. Streetcar, ferry, another streetcar, and he’ll walk up the trail where the bears came from. Goodness! How to warn him? Father’s watch reads half four. How many rivers did Father wade? How many ranges did he slog up and down? He made it to Vancouver Island to find the job as much a phantom as the Island railway. Not a single foot of rail was laid. He returned to us with nothing to show for his year of adventure except a gnawing, a longing for the mountains and valleys he’d tramped with his own two feet. Goodness, what’s a couple of black bears!