Laurie LaFrambois was pregnant and Jimmy Robinson stole a car. It was parked outside the Toronto Dominion on Ouellette Street, two blocks from the shop where Jimmy’s mother was serving coffee. He didn’t really want the car. It was a Ford sedan, with rusting fenders. A cardboard air freshener hung from its mirror and fuzzy plaid covers encased its seats. He drove past the hospital, the library, the funeral home, wondering how far he’d get before the police pulled him over. He wondered if he might make it to Toronto. He’d never been there before, but the starter’s gun in his heart was telling him to go.
One of the guys he’d done time with at St. Jerome’s Wilderness Camp, Jack Goulet, teenage-sage, told him Toronto was a good place to get lost in. “The buildings are so tall and the population so copious,” said Jack “that as soon as your feet touch pavement, you vanish completely away.” Jack knew things and talked funny. He had a synthetic plate in his skull. He’d been the victim of a farm accident in Essex, then shot both his parents the following year. Jimmy wondered if he might meet up with Jack again. If he might melt into the very same Toronto pavement that Jack had headed for when he broke from St. Jerome’s.
Jimmy stopped for a red light at the intersection at Quebec Street. He lit a cigarette and watched a bunch of schoolgirls from Queen Anne’s in their ugly pleated skirts getting off a bus. Some had hiked their skirts so high you could see the lace fringe on their bright little panties. The thought occurred he might lure one of these schoolgirls into his car, carry her off to Toronto, maybe take two, one for him, one for Jack, but then he remembered Laurie and the light turned green. “Green light Laurie,” he thought and began feeling queasy.
He turned left on Tecumseh, and drove out past the shopping mall. The car thumped over uneven tarmac and into a legion of diminutive potholes that flecked the road like a rash. He heard something clunk, something fall from the car, a hubcap or fender, a rusty exhaust pipe. He didn’t stop to find out what it was. He kept driving, past scraggy houses, past a boarded-up building that had once been a store, past telephone poles, past a motor inn. He could taste Toronto when he hit the deserted highway, feel his body fading away.
Sometimes when he was scared or lonely he’d still hear his brother Kevin’s voice. “Those Queen Anne girls were really hot,” the voice was saying now.
“I’m not going back. I’m going to Toronto,” Jimmy shouted. He covered his ears with his hands. The car swerved. Kevin’s voice stopped talking.
Laurie LaFrambois wasn’t hot. She was a scag. A pregnant thirteen-year-old scag. She was the only girl who didn’t fight when Jimmy pinned her to the ground in the park and hiked up her skirt. He put his hand down her ragged underpants, he put his hand in her shirt and pinched her breasts.
“I guess that makes you my boyfriend now,” she said when he’d finished with her and she heaved herself up from the mud and grass with dog shit on her back. “Aren’t we gonna kiss?”
Her lips were thin and white like scars. Jimmy had never been kissed before. She stuck her tongue into his mouth. He thought he might be sick.
“Don’t you know anything about making love?” she asked.
“Love?” Jimmy echoed.
“Oh, never mind,” she said.
Laurie’s brother had taught her to kiss, her stepfather had taught her how to “make love.”
“I stick my thing in your thing,” he’d said when she was ten. “We don’t tell your mother, O.K.?”
Laurie didn’t tell her mother, but she told the kids at school, she told her teacher. “You know what my stepfather does?”
The teacher had expected to hear something cute. He snores. He farts. He scratches his ass.
She didn’t expect to hear: “He sticks his thing in my thing.” Now Laurie’s stepfather was in jail, the same place Jimmy was going to be if he didn’t disappear into the Toronto pavement.
“I didn’t do nothin’,” he heard himself saying. He saw himself standing in a courtroom. Saw Laurie with her big round stomach, her huge swollen breasts saying she wanted to be a good mother.
“I wanna raise my kid right.”
“You can’t have a kid,” he’d said when she told him. They’d just had sex under an old Chrysler truck in the school parking lot and she impatiently rolled free from him. “Who says?”
“You ain’t old enough to have a kid.”
“If I’m old enough to get pregnant with a kid, I’m old enough to have one.” She yanked up her underwear.
At first he thought she was bluffing, thought she was trying to get him to marry her or something crazy like that. There was no way he could imagine her having a kid. But then she started getting fatter, wearing her sister’s maternity clothes, waddling instead of walking.
“My ma says she wouldn’t let you marry me even if you wanted to. She says you raped me. She says you should a known better then messin’ with a thirteen-year-old.”
After that, she wouldn’t let Jimmy touch her. The two policemen who cruised the projects had come looking for him this morning. He stood in the living room, peeking through a hole in the yellowed curtains. That’s when he decided to leave.
The fields that flanked the highway were desolate. Churned up patches of mud and weed existed where rows of sturdy corn once grew. A cumbersome train rattled through the wasteland, running parallel to his car. Jimmy rode the gas pedal. He rolled down his window and shouted, “Woo-Woo!” The rev of the car growled “Torrronnnnto.” And the train called out “Home-free!”
For a moment Jimmy was soaring through space. He was flying into the vast grey clouds shaking the world away.
“Torrronnnto,” the car purred, “Torrrrrrrrronnnto,” she sang. Jimmy laughed and punched the accelerator. It tore at a piece of green threadbare carpeting. It left a mark, a miniature horseshoe, embedded in the dusty vinyl mat. The car lurched then started to groan. It started to thump like a steel bucket pounding down a hill.
“Fuck,” Jimmy said.
Smoke poured into his window, poured through the cracks in the hood. The steering wheel seized. The car veered to the shoulder pulling him down into a gully. Gravel and muck spewing like hail.
The absent world suddenly returned. It was suddenly spinning. Jimmy’s head was smashing into the roof. When he woke, there were stars. The clear night sky shimmering above as if his broken head had released all its bright phantoms.
“You idiot,” Kevin’s voice bellowed into Jimmy’s throbbing brain. “How could you be such a jerk?”
An eruption of stars burnt Jimmy’s eyes. He tried to call for Kevin but his jaw was disconnected.
“You coulda been porkin’ them Queen Anne girls right now,” Kevin was shouting. “You coulda been in goddamned paradise.” It hurt Jimmy to swallow. It hurt him to move his tongue, to moisten his lips. “Now you’re all by yourself in this goddamned field with your guts fallin’ out.”
Jimmy fell asleep again. He dreamed he was at St. Jerome’s. Jack Goulet twisted a plucked bobwhite over a spit. The smell of roast chicken permeated a cathedral of trees. Saliva rolled off Jimmy’s chin, freezing in the dust. When the bobwhite vanished, there was frost on his naked hands, frost on his face. The icy ground beneath his back glued him to the spot and cracked when he tried to escape. He remembered the car flipping but could not recall how many years ago. He could not remember if he and Jack had made it to Toronto, if Kevin had ever come home.
The sun gradually rose behind a cloud of smoke. His hands gradually thawed. He reached into the fruitless earth and pulled from it the femur bone of some large dismembered animal. The bone was yellow and naked. A fine dirt vein ran over its curves. Jimmy remembered hunting with Jack in the woods at St. Jerome’s. He remembered killing a deer, gnawing the meat until its bones glistened.
He pulled himself up, gulped the morning air. The world swiveled and dipped. A mangle of ash and chrome and painted steel spun in his eyes. He’d crawled free. The highway seemed so far off. He couldn’t remember where he was going or why and then he remembered Laurie and looked again at the mass of charred metal that once had been the car.
He headed away from the wreck, across the field, towards the railroad tracks. The police were already looking for him, and it wouldn’t be long before someone discovered the ravaged car.
Sweat clung to his head like small clear pearls and mud attached itself to his feet. He walked like a drunken man, unsure of a teetering sky, his numb body finally collapsing a mile away against the wall of an old wooden tool shed that some farmer had constructed in more prosperous times.
Hints of sky-blue paint still clung to the decaying wood and an expanse of barren land relaxed before his misty vision. Houses that trimmed the land settled as his eyes adjusted, and patches of witch grass and wild rye emerged like shafts of gold from the tufted earth.
He crawled into the shed and thought he was with Kevin. “That car wreck shoulda killed you,” Kevin said.
A smile tugged at his sore mouth. “Houdini Robinson,” he muttered, recalling how Kevin saw a movie all about Harry Houdini once. “Houdini was the greatest magician that ever lived!” Kevin said. “He broke out of a Siberian prison, and jumped off a bridge into the Detroit River with handcuffs on his wrists. He died over there.” Kevin said, nodding vaguely towards the border. “His appendix blew up and he died Halloween night.”
After that movie, Kevin never stopped trying to escape. He got Jimmy to tie his hands together with rope and shut him into an abandoned freezer chest. “If I’m not out in twelve hours, come and get me,” he’d say.
Jimmy would walk around the projects, pining for his company, worrying about the oxygen in that cramped tiny space. But Kevin always broke free. He always showed up, right before Jimmy was supposed to go get him.
“Ta da!” he’d say, and Jimmy would badger him to know how he did it.
“Houdini never told, and I’m not gonna either.”
Robbie Carson was a friend of Kevin’s and he said he used to let Kevin out. He said he did it right after Jimmy put him in. “‘Twelve hours without my twerp brother,'” Kevin would say, and he and Robbie would laugh and smoke and drink tequila. But Jimmy knew Robbie Carson was full of shit. Kevin could get out of anywhere: locked closets, steamer trunks, the juvenile holding tank. He bent coat hangers and bobby pins and paperclips. There wasn’t a lock in the city he couldn’t pick. He broke into buildings, just because he could. He was charming like Houdini too. Some people called him polite, said even in the worst families there’s always a good one.
Jimmy tried to remember how he’d escaped from the crushed car. He tried to remember so he could tell Kevin, but all he recalled was tumbling through space, stars and bright planets, then the absence of light.
“They’ll think you’re dead,” Kevin told him. “They’ll see the car, and think you burned to death. You’re so goddamned lucky. You must have a rabbit’s foot up your ass!”
Jimmy saw his mother weeping like she did when they told her Kevin was dead. He saw Laurie LaFrambois, her stomach like a huge shelf, her eyes like little red piss holes in the snow. “It’s your fault he’s dead,” Jimmy’s mother was saying to her.
“But I didn’t mean for him to die,” Laurie would sob. “I didn’t mean for him to go away.”
Jimmy fell asleep and dreamed he and Kevin were together again. They were jumping into the cattle car of a slow-moving train. When he woke, a train’s whistle was sounding. The sky flared with bright electricity and rain began to batter the roof of the shed. He twisted his throbbing body, pushed his aching head out through the door and let the cold rain fill his dry, wounded mouth.
His stomach contorted with hunger, and he slept fitfully. He thought about Jack Goulet and St. Jerome’s, thought about everything he’d learned there. He always carried a knife in his pocket. He ate insects while he waited until he was strong enough to hunt: longhorn beetle larvae that bored through the shed and left sawdust trails; lantern click bugs that glowed when they flew in the dark and squeaked when they crunched in his teeth.
In his fist, he clutched the femur bone he had found in the earth. It sang lullabies and when it spoke, it used Jack’s voice. “Protein,” it said, “an essential nutrient and a major constituent of the living cell.”
It didn’t make the bugs taste any better. It didn’t make them feel any better when they squirmed in Jimmy’s mouth. Still, he ate them, because he knew he had to.
He set traps in the field beyond the shed when he was stronger. The kind of traps they’d taught him how to make at St. Jerome’s. He dug holes with stones and fashioned a spade from a dangling board. He used the thick brown grasses that scored his fingers as thatching. At night chipmunks and field mice stumbled into the traps. He killed them with his knife, sliced off their pelts, cooked their pink bodies over an open flame.
“I doubt we’d find much better fare in New York,” the bone joked. It wriggled in his palm. It chuckled. He gazed at its dry ragged socket. It was beginning to grow Jack’s face.
“Go away, Jack.” Jimmy said. “You ain’t supposed to be here. You were years ago.”
Jimmy dug deeper traps to accommodate larger game, rabbits and raccoons. Sometimes he worked an entire afternoon, hollowing out a site where he’d seen tracks, digging with his spade and sharp rocks, scooping dirt and clay. Sometimes he came across useful sticks, triangular rocks, arrowheads already formed. He carved a bow from a log. Stripped a piece from his jacket for the bowstring and fashioned arrows out of the bits and pieces the earth provided.
He ate pheasant then and wild turkey. He thought of Christmas and Thanksgiving when he and Kevin were small. Their gran had been alive then and used to fill their plates so high that they couldn’t see anything in front of them but food. They ate until they thought they’d bust. “You don’t feed these boys, Maureen,” their gran would say, and their mother would smoke and pick at lumps of stuffing on her plate, “I feed ’em just fine.”
“Why their little bodies are nothing but skin and bone,” gran persisted, “and their faces! Stone white!” She pinched Jimmy’s bloated cheek for emphasis; when he hollered, his mother cuffed him. “Don’t you never talk with your mouth full.”
“Leave the poor boy alone, Maureen,” gran said. “If you hadn’t run off with what’s his name you’d probably have had boys who knew some manners.”
Jimmy and Kevin had second and third helpings of everything at gran’s. For dessert they each had half a pumpkin pie. Jimmy could imagine the pie. Its sweet, spicy softness. He could imagine gran, patting the top of his head. “That mother of yours,” she whispered, “if she hadn’t gotten herself knocked up, she wouldn’t have had to run off and get married.”
For the first time in days, Jimmy thought of Laurie Laframbois, her expanding chest and stomach, and began feeling sick. He wanted to take himself back to gran’s place. He wanted to see him and Kevin stuffing their faces. He tried to get back there, but only got as far as gran’s door, where his mother made him and Kevin wait, because something was stinking inside the apartment. His mother didn’t say what she’d found. “Go home,” was all she said, but Jimmy whined, “I wanna see gran.” He was thinking of pie and cookies, of the cake gran used to bake and keep in a painted metal tin. He pushed past his mother. Past a barricade of stench. He gagged and covered his face.
“When I say go home, I mean it!” his mother said, ripping the back of his jacket as she lifted and threw him into the corridor. He slammed into a wall. Everything turned bright violet, then black. The next thing he knew, he was at home in bed. His mother was standing over him, telling him gran had been sick and unhappy, that it was lucky she finally died.
Robbie Carson said the newspaper ran a story about gran that said she’d taken a bottle of sleeping pills, put a plastic Safeway bag over her head. It said she was so neglected that she decomposed for three weeks before anyone found her, but Robbie Carson was a liar and Jimmy never knew what really happened to gran. It was a cold afternoon. Earlier that morning, frost had painted the earth white, transformed dark mounds to charcoal, but the cool sun was unrelenting in its brightness and made pools of tears form in Jimmy’s eyes. He slung his bow and arrows over his shoulder. Held the bone a little firmer in his grasp. He’d had enough thinking. He was going to go hunt.
“When the going gets tough, the tough start killing,” the bone chuckled. “Wasn’t that our once-time motto at old St. Jerome’s”
Jimmy didn’t look at the bone. “Beat it,” he said, loading his bow, as a kind of dizzy stillness fell across the field. “Heads up!” the bone said.
Above, the frigid sun began to tremble, and Jimmy witnessed as it sprouted a magnificent pair of wings. They were the largest wings Jimmy had ever encountered. The brightest wings he knew he would ever see in his life. He lifted his bow, took aim into the air, and let the arrow fly. It rose toward the bright clouds, a shaft of naked wood before it twisted in flight, and sped back straight towards the earth, back towards Jimmy.
Madeline Sonik is a Victoria, BC based writer. Her first novel, Arms, and her collection of short fiction, Drying the Bones, were published by Nightwood Editions. She has also edited several collections including Fresh Blood: New Canadian Gothic Fiction (Turnstone Press).