SINKING LIKE A SUNSET
I had to move from the highest hill in Idaho, that was not a mountain. Now I live in a small cabin that is just one room in the Washington desert. Everything smells like sage. I have a picture of the smell - It’s of my lawn chair.
I am the son of a Canadian caribou farmer. I am also the son of a remarkably ambidextrous table tennis player. My mother began to play doubles ping pong by herself after my parents bought separate cars. She would play with two paddles, two balls against herself. My parents bought separate cars after my mother revealed her ambidexterity by being able to shake hands with both our neighbour and my father at the same time. My father and the neighbour had always been at odds, but my mother levelled the playing field, in a way, and saw them as equals. My father thought otherwise.
‘Don’t get out your guns till Goose’ is a series of sixteen dramatized images depicting the brutal death of our neighbours dog. It was murdered. Our neighbour made the photos and they were published in a Sunday paper. My father loved property lines and decorated ours with multi-colour 2x4’s spiked at the height that had only 10 percent of the plank visible and the other 90 percent underground.
“Like a photograph?” I asked my father.
“No” he said. “Like your mother.”
My mother Iris, was terrible at playing table tennis against anyone. She was fine with the wall, two paddles, two balls at the same time, but she could never beat anyone in a match.
“Table Tennis kept me out of radiation” she tells me every time I visit her. She also collects vintage lipstick which she thinks looks particularly good under all the neon’s at the table tennis gymnasium. My father told me “the inspiration for all my trouble” comes from my mother. I told that to my grade 5 teacher when she asked, “…and what makes you think you can drop out!”
They called my father who was on a six-week migration of the herd at the time and had to be contacted by smoke signals that rose up from nearly a days ride away. Turns out I couldn’t drop out of school, but I acted like I did thereon. I stayed up every night to watch all the late night talk shows eating canned soup and canned soda gone flat. I slept only about three hours a night worried that my dreams were where my mother would punish me. My father punished me in real life by making me prepare my own supper, (which was the soup) and not taking down all the pictures of my mother with her table tennis ribbons.
One day, I looked too long at one of her pictures. The contrast of her 1971 Macy’s sunset peach lips and the valiant blue of her participants ribbon crossed my eyes. I lost my balance and fell to the floor. As I sat myself back up off the caribou skin carpet. “I should try dropping out of school again” I thought. “Those pin-sitters! If only I could drop out of school!” I looked at the picture again. “That French teachers ugly skirts!” My jaw clenched, “Participant!” I grabbed the picture off the wall, collected a few things and headed for my mother.
During this complicated time of pre-adolescent transience, Canadian rock music came to me in a roundabout sort of way. I in fact am indebted to it for helping me to realize that I was not in fact a wild party, but rather was sinking like a sunset. This is an understanding I will take to the grave. With all nine lives still intact I got dropped off on the highest hill in Idaho that was not a mountain. This place I have only just recently had to move from. Now I spend my time doing mostly honest and mostly boring things like listening to Chopin on repeat and playing Tetris while sitting on a lawn chair in front of my cabin in the deserts of Washington unable to ignore the scent of desert sage.
I guess when you say it like that it’s a pretty ugly picture.
photo by cynthia ann broderick