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110th And Last

I’m not sure I can handle any more important stuff. This whole Magic deal seemed fun this morning. But mercilessly Rolf goes on, ‘He has been tracking your mother for a long time. Once before, he nearly caught up with her. But he has been severely constricted by his human form and needs, and by his human old age. When he did finally hunt her down, however, he was delighted to find her much more vulnerable than before, now that she has children. And the reason his attention was attracted by your mother, I am sorry to tell you, is that she has been teetering on the edge practically from the word go. He had been observing her while still in the Council.’

I try to speak, but can’t. I clear my throat. ‘On the edge?’ I repeat hoarsely.

‘Yes, on the line between having credit and being in the red. Although, as I explained earlier, being in the red has no immediately visible consequences for your kind.’ Rolf averts his gaze from mine. ‘Please do not judge her too harshly. It is at the very least… partly my fault.’ He clearly has to force the last bit out. ‘I see she has been doing alright lately, though. And now her first child is of age. With a bang!’ He smiles a lopsided little smile, which somehow makes me look at the spot on the floor where the body has been. ‘So… have I… crossed the line now through… what I did today?’ I ask.

‘No,’ replies Rolf. ‘The reason being that you haven’t done anything. He succumbed to you, and very swiftly owing to your exaltation, because he was trying to make a child pay. A child is not allowed to pay. Not in the presence of Magic in credit. That’s not your doing.’ He tries another little smile. They’re clearly not his strong suit. It makes me ask the question I’m burning to ask. ‘So… would you have saved my sister if I hadn’t?’

Although Rolf must have expected this, there’s the briefest sore flicker on his face before it settles into deadpan. ‘That… is not my place. I must leave you now. I’m sorry that your birthday had to be like this. But remember, you are Juno’s firstborn. Remember your name!’

‘My name?’ I repeat, puzzled.

‘Use your powers wisely!’ says Rolf, and is gone.

I’m still staring at his empty chair when my sister says, ‘Where am I?’ She’s sitting up.

‘Umm… in Lab A,’ I answer cagily.

Why are we here?’ she asks.

‘We… I brought you here ’cause… you weren’t well. After you hurt your leg, remember? I figured you should lie down.’

‘I remember heading for the staff room…’ she mutters slowly. ‘But I don’t actually remember getting there.’

‘Yeah, I found you… in the hall,’ I lie.

‘So you took me to a lab?’

‘Well, ha ha, funny, that,’ I stall. ‘Ahm… y’know, I tried a little Magic. Since it’s my birthday? But, ahm, turns out… I’m not that good at it yet. ’Cause instead of at a physician’s, as I’d planned, we ended up in a physics lab.’ I’m kinda pleased with myself for that one.

‘Gosh, remind me not to rely on your Magic for anything serious,’ says Bobby and gets up.

 

So I was supposed to use my powers. Wisely. To find out about my name, apparently. But how? That’s what I was wondering as I sat with my back to a tree in Hastings Park a little while later. It was a clear day with just a few drops of spring watered down in the sea of snow around me. Yet I wasn’t cold. My name, I pondered. Jock…

And then it happened. ‘Dreary…’ I thought. ‘Aptly named, the place. Depression for sure. Oops! Damn stairs. Damn size twelve feet.’

I was so shocked about thinking thoughts that weren’t mine that I somehow gave the inside of my head a regular yank. That seemed to do it. I was back in my own mind.

Almost.

For some reason I was still half-convinced it was Friday, September 13, 1963.

 

I spent nearly the whole day under that tree in Hastings Park. I learned to read minds irrespective of space and time, and to read what I read. And I learned what it means to come of age. It means to find out that your parents haven’t got a clue.       

 

THE END

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33

Jock the art student became Juno’s main Depression persona. She found that here she actually liked fading into the background a little, and hearing people talk about music and politics and stuff that was going on, which gave her a chance to try and figure out what that feeling in the air might be all about. She even came to enjoy being talked to in a relaxed way, and talking to people that way too. Folks seemed to like Jock. In the afternoons she sometimes had him strolling ’round the Alberta College of Art and Design, so he’d be seen by the Depression regulars among the students. One of them turned out to be none other than Joni Anderson. Looking at all the silent paintings and drawings and sculptures while the leaves drifted past the windows actually made Juno feel kind of calm for a change. 

For a little while the plundering of her coffers slowed almost to a halt.

Jock only got occasional nights off, when Juno reckoned that Peter, John and Joni deserved a break from his face, and once when David Wiffen passed through and she went as herself. That night he was sober, though. He still managed to hold off furtively scratching his balls until after each final chord had rang out, but when Juno went up to talk to him as soon as he’d finished his third and last set, he looked like all the headlights in the world were bearing down on him, just like the rest of them.

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32

Nevertheless The Depression became Juno’s regular hangout. You could drop in on any night and there’d always be something going on. The players on the circuit figured out pretty quick that there now was another port of call on the long trek from Toronto to Vancouver besides Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton. The scene was so small yet exciting that a basement could be the centre of the world.

At The Depression Juno got that vaguely Magic vibe she’d felt in the air this past year or so more strongly than at any other coffee house, even when people were only playing chess or checkers. Comedy night soon started being a part of events, and folks seemed to come down with their guitars from all over the mountains for the auditions on Wednesday night. And obviously there was Joni Anderson. She and Peter Elbling were the house acts and would open for players passing through, and on the few weekends when there were no guests they’d feature themselves. Juno could feel Joni getting better every time, by the stinging on the back of her neck and the concentrated elasticity of the air. Joni sure seemed to like Judy Collins’s choices. Besides Maid Of Constant Sorrow she often did The Rising Of The Moon. In between she’d play some other traditional songs and some protest songs, and some traditional protest songs. When Johnny Comes Marching Home she sang a lot. But everyone got big into the anti-war vibe.  

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31

Right away Juno started flinging spells at Joni. They bounced off her like tennis balls off a wall. All over the room folks started coughing and scratching themselves and singing along out of tune. Juno hardly took in what Joni sang during the rest of her set. All she kept on thinking was, was it possible… could it be… Could it be she’d finally met another witch?

But deep down she knew that wasn’t the case. The feeling was real similar, but not identical. And once Joni’d finished her set to enthusiastic applause, it was easy for Juno to make her break two strings while she tried to stow her plectrum between them and her sad little kiddie guitar’s neck.

‘I guess now that she’s starting to make money from shows she’ll soon be able to buy herself a proper guitar,’ Juno said to her neighbour, a sturdy guy in his twenties wearing a shirt and tie and thick horn-rimmed glasses who right a this moment was a little irritable. Up until fifteen minutes ago, he’d reckoned he’d kicked the nasty cough he’d picked up by modelling for his cousin’s graduation sculpture, which was entitled Nude With Burst Pipe. The last thing he needed was another dumb art student.

‘Are you for real?’ he responded and looked disdainfully at the paint-stained hand that held Juno’s character’s coke. ‘It’s a ukulele, man! And she’s real good on it too! Good job we’re not all brushheads!’

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To polite applause a real pretty eighteen- or nineteen-year-old girl with hair like a golden helmet strolled onto the stage. Juno thought she seemed mighty confident for someone new to this game, and not at all embarrassed by the fact that she only had a toy guitar. But the moment Joni started singing, Juno knew why that was.

The song was Maid Of Constant Sorrow as popularized by Judy Collins recently, which by that stage Juno’d heard a good few times. Not as it was meant to be heard, though, as it turned out. It wasn’t only Joni’s voice, and that was as pure as anything that came out of a jukebox back then. It was what powered that voice. Instantly the atmosphere in the whole hazy basement got fantastically condensed and endlessly expansive at once. Needles seemed to be growing out the back of Juno’s neck. There was no doubt that Joni had it in her to be better than everyone else who had ever sang that song.

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29

August turned into September and term started. Juno’d gotten no closer over the summer to a better option than going back to school, nor to finding out what the real deal was with anything. But she had enjoyed herself occasionally. So she kept on visiting the coffee houses. Talk was of a new one shortly opening in Calgary, which had so far been without a permanent folk venue. The leaflets were out.

Thus on Friday, September 13, Juno went along to the opening night of The Depression, in the guise of an art school student with paint on his hands and a snazzy beret. The place was pretty aptly named. Visually it was one of the least appealing establishments on the circuit. A dreary staircase plunged down to a murky, low-ceilinged basement with bare walls and the usual mix-and-not-match furniture. It was packed, though. The main act that night was Peter Elbling, an Englishman Juno’d seen in Toronto before and who was pretty good, in the sense that she had to stare right at him to make him sing flat. But first John, the owner, a genial giant with a neat take on those chin beards that seemed to be springing up everywhere right now, welcomed everybody and told the story of how he’d come to Calgary from Toronto and missed a coffee house so much that he just had to open his own. He went on to plug his regular events, which included the usual poetry and audition nights, and so on. Obviously Sunday was hoot night. But of course all this was new to the excited local crowd. ‘And now I’d like to introduce a great new talent from right here in Calgary,’ John concluded. ‘Please give it up for… Joni Anderson!’