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Fallsy Downsies

Travel fiction: an excerpt from a novel in progress by Stephanie Domet.


Lansing Meadows sat in the back. He pressed the little tab that made the windows go up and down. He pressed it up, he pressed it down, he pressed it up again. Evan Cornfield, steering the car over the rutted road, around roadkill and potholes and the various other detritus of an old highway in rural Nova Scotia, bit back the urge to bark at Meadows to stop it. He didn't want to come off like a soccer mom in an Excedrin ad. He was happy to drive Meadows to his next gig; he was. Meadows couldn't drive himself, after all. He'd had his licence suspended some years earlier, for transgressions Evan Cornfield could only imagine. Impaired driving, no doubt.

And Lansing Meadows was an important figure, in Canadian history and in Evan Cornfield's own life. In some ways, taking the great man to his show in Antigonish was a dream come true for Evan Cornfield. Two singer-songwriters on the road together. Just the open highway to egg them on. A road that would become embroidered with stories as they travelled it, their guitar cases snugged up against each other in the back seat, the two of them sharing a smoke in the front seat, talking about songs they'd write, gigs they'd played, girls they'd screwed. In Evan's imagination, it had the potential to be the start of a new era, a moment the historians of folk music would look back on, a moment when, they'd say, the passing of the mantle had begun.

Evan looked in the rear-view mirror. Lansing Meadows was asleep, his head lolling to the side, his mouth open, a pool of spit gathering there and threatening to spill over the banks of his old-man lips. The trademark hat was crushed between head and shoulder. Evan sighed, and clicked on the radio. He twirled the tuner, in the mood for old music, torch songs from the forties, or the kind of music farmers played on porches when their day was done. He'd just about found something listenable when he felt the car rise up on one side. Hump...hump!

"Frig was that?" Lansing Meadows said, suddenly awake. He sat up straight,pulled his black cowboy hat back up onto his head and wiped a rough hand acrosshis mouth.

"Not sure," Evan said, pulling over to the side of the road.

"Gotta get to the gig," Meadows said, starting up with the window again.

"I know," Evan said, "but I think we hit something."

"Christ," Meadows said. He pulled his hat down over his eyes. "OK, well, let me know what you're going to do." He leaned back in the seat.

Evan stared at him for a moment, hard, in the rear-view mirror. But Meadows stayed behind his hat. And, Evan figured, it was fair enough. Meadows did have to get ready to play. Evan was the dogsbody here, his job was to facilitate. He sighed and opened the door.

The road was littered, as it had been since they'd left the main highway at Meadows' urging, with various things. Small furred bodies were everywhere, the luckless creatures who'd met their end beneath the wheels of city cars like Evan Cornfield's or country pickups such as the ones that'd roared past him at every opportunity, driving up onto the dirt and gravel shoulder to get by when Evan drove too cautiously.

Evan felt pale, his stomach all in an uproar. Please don't be someone's pet, he muttered. Please not a dog. Nor a cat. He stopped by the rear wheel hub, squeezed his eyes closed and breathed as best he could, his breath a shallow sputter. He heard the window glide down.

"You alright boy? Gig's in an hour."

"I know," Evan Cornfield whispered. He dug down deep inside himself and opened his eyes.

The racoon lay there. Evan was glad to see it was at least still three dimensional. He could see its heart beating, its chest heaving up and down. It didn't look too badly hurt; the road wasn't covered in blood. The eye Evan could see looked pissed off if anything, but not at death's door. Not that he'd had a ton of experience with wild animals. But in books, their eyes always glassed over when they were about to die and this racoon actually looked pretty spry.

"Be OK," Evan muttered. "Please please be OK." The door swung open behind him and Lansing Meadows spilled out onto the road. He fixed a gimlet eye on the situation and said cooly, "Should I brain it with my axe?"

Evan spun around. "You're travelling with an axe?" He could feel the thin wave of hysteria rising in him. The racoon breathed louder. Lansing Meadows laughed a little choking laugh, full of cigarettes and dissolution.

"Get a hold of yourself," Meadows said. He reached back into the car. "My guitar. Hardcase, should do the trick."

Evan turned back to the racoon, who seemed to be rallying. "I don't think so," he said softly. Then, to the creature who was picking himself up delicately, shaking off the stunning of being rolled over by a 10-year-old Toyota Corolla, "Go on, guy. You can do it." And the raccoon slunk off the road, into the scrub and away.

Lansing Meadows watched it go, waited a beat. "OK, then," he said. "Gig's in an hour. And I'm hungry. Let's get at 'er."

Evan Cornfield watched a moment longer, stood by the rear wheel of his mother's old car and peered into the low scrub, thinking he could see the bushes moving, thinking he could see the grasses swaying where the raccoon made its way. He gazed down at the dirt and gravel of the shoulder, where little paw prints werebarely visible.

The slam of the car door brought him back, the honking of the horn made him turn. Lansing was in the front seat, leaned over to the driver's side, beating a staccato rhythm on the steering wheel's horn.

Two singer-songwriters on the road, Evan thought. The open highway ahead of them. The raccoon would become a myth. He'd write it or Lansing would. It didn't matter. "Alright," he said, reaching for the door handle. "Gig's in an hour, let's get moving."

Stephanie Domet is the author of Homing, published by Invisible. It won the 2008 Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. She's pretty sure those animals on the side of the road are just sleeping: They are so tired!

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