Death Music Heroes

Paul de Marion

Paul de Marion

With her final cheque, Marlene bought a Volkswagen van—a diesel that needed a bit of work, which was okay because her cousin Lee the Ojibway said he’d fix it all for nothing. He’d been working in a grow-op through the summer south of Quesnel, keeping the generators running, so he knew everything you needed to know.

Probably the quietest person I ever met, Lee was also the most capable. He took off the head, planed it, ground the valves, and then decided to go all out and rebuild the whole thing from scratch. It cost about a thousand dollars in parts, which Marlene’s mom paid out of her disability, and when it was done, Marlene was over the moon. Everything worked now—the lights, the heater, the wipers—it was like driving a brand new vehicle for a total of fifteen hundred dollars. Lee took it on down to Oregon to break it in, test it out for any bugs, and when he got back you would have never known if things were good or bad. That was Lee. He just got out and said there yuh go, without looking either happy or sad.

He always kept his hair close cropped, almost military style, and he had oozes of class, redskin class. White people can’t do silence like Indians can because they never leave enough room in their heads to squeeze in the wind, the mountains, and the river they were born by. Lee could sit in a group of yapping people without tossing in a word and everybody would be thinking who’s the mystic, cause he always had that look like he knew what you were going to say. You could never surprise him. Like the day when Marlene called him inside and sat him down by a great big present. He opened it like it was the hood on an old rusty ford and just looked at it for a minute. It was the most beautiful swank leather jacket you could find, the kind that pulled in at the ribs and made you look sleek and lean like a leopard. When he put it on, Marlene nodded her head like told yuh so because she’d always said Lee was the most fuckable guy who’d ever been created, and there he was, looking like that was all he did morning, noon, and night. Me, I would’ve been jumping around the room like it was Christmas, but he just slowed down everyone’s heart rates and made you realise there was a sprinkler running out in the back yard. Silence: you knew it was the gateway to his world, it felt spooky, and you didn’t want to go any further right yet, so you said something stupid to slow down the drift.

Being one of those non-stop bigmouths, I tried to imitate him for a while, but it just didn’t work. People would ask me if something was wrong, or I’d forget right in the middle of some perfect double intimidating silence. It took me a while to notch myself down to his speed where you could actually join him rather than feel like a babbling twit, and when I finally did there was a big welcome mat waiting for me. He was a rare warm-hearted and constant person who protected it all with incredible skill. Alex made a play for him and got caught on one of the guard fences. Anna came close to luring him out in the open but presumed that silence was where he ended when actually it was where he began.

He was industrious though, much more so than Marlene and I. We went up to Prince Rupert together to work on the boats, but by the time we got there, both Marlene and I had cold feet. Neither of us could imagine spending a week on the high seas without coming down with a serious case of vertigo. And there we were explaining why we couldn’t go without realising we didn’t have to explain. He already knew.

He didn’t waste any time either. He went right down to the docks and got a job right away—maybe because he looked like he had the ocean in his eyes already. We went out shopping together and bought him a proper Viking so’wester and rain suit, bright yellow pants, and jet black coat before following him down to the barber. Had to be a candystripe pole outside though and the smell of hot soap and aftershave cause he always went for a shave too. And then we said goodbye at two o’clock the next morning with the wind up and the rain running cold and diagonal through the swinging lights by the dock.

It was spooky. Marlene said she wanted to get inland, away from the deep grey coast, away from the foaming black water because it just made her feel cold. Bone deep cold. Even with the heat on high and blowing clear through the van, she said she was cold. So we started to drive back down toward Terrace, alongside the mighty Skeena and further until it got light, and we were just too tired to drive any further.

I’d been sleeping on the floor on the drive up because Brett, who’d gone back to school, didn’t like her sleeping with anyone else. All that was forgotten about now because the mountains around us were too big and grey and cold and both of us were really in the dumps with the blues. We had a routine for moments like this, when things struck us down. Before we had a music system, we’d just lie there holding each other until we fell asleep, or it seemed to pass. Now we had music and all our death music heroes from Leonard Cohen to Diamanda Gallas, from Biosphere to the Animal Slaves. And there was a protocol—whoever was in the roughest shape got taken care of first and chose the first song. On this occasion, it was Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen, chosen by Marlene. We just lay there and bawled our eyes out as Uncle Lenny, as we called him now, writes a letter to the bastard who borrowed his girl for awhile, thanking him for the trouble he took from her eyes, cause he’d thought it was there for good, so he never tried.

It was a holy song, one of the few in all the history of music, and should have been sung in every church and mosque and synagogue across the globe, if they really gave a shit about truth and god and love. But they didn’t and that made things all the more sad, there at the side of the grey highway a thousand miles from nowhere.

We were both thinking of Lee when we awoke, which was kind of embarrassing, because here we were feeling sorry for ourselves while he was out on the high seas, probably listening to James Brown and looking up at the scowling lip on some thirty foot breaker. Marlene kept a little wooden box for times like this. It was kind of a redskin thing to do, which made it all the more fascinating. She’d locate the direction of her target, take a handful of pollen from the box, and place it in her palm. She’d then close her eyes for a second and blow the pollen out toward the person, in this case Lee, as some kind of offering. Sometimes she’d say something, sometimes not, but no matter what, you were always left with the feeling it was a total bull’s eye. Then she was okay. When I asked if I’d ever got the treatment she said, “Half the fuckin box, asshole, if yuh really need tuh know.”

And so we started back down toward Smithers and Vanderhoof, slowing down to a snail’s pace as snow blew across the early winter highway. It was time to turn on the dollar Christmas lights Lee had rigged up on the windshield and light the candles on the dash as well. It was a hit, just like he’d said it would be. The truckers loved it, and kids too. Anyone hungry for joy on the long lonely highway.


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