Tom Farr and First Distance
In days when we might rather have hitched instead, we boarded The Canadian in Vancouver, bound for Union Station, Toronto. Late winter, 1971. Won't now more than tried then to hide. I am that I am, avowal not less profound for having come from Little Richard in them days, no matter where he got it.
Not long after departure, a man I'd noticed up and down the aisle stopped at our shoulders and spoke. He was built slight, in early middle years, close-cropped and clean-shaven, jeans and a windbreaker, a mild face, and quietly he told us he'd chosen us.
If we'd give him our full attention, what else would there be to do - between Hope and Tee-O he would teach us the Secret of Delight. That's what he said. Nothing we didn't want anyway, and all we had to pay was attention. He had looked over all his other prospects in all the other cars, from Baggage to Observation, and we were the ones he could tell.
He was on his return from Australia, where he'd been a tire recapper, and he was hoping to make contact with his estranged family, his children last seen around Hamilton whence mail sent went unanswered were maturing wherever they were, and for them, too, he had what he had for us, and the only thing he wanted in this world was a Mobile Home.
Having made his introduction, he said he'd leave us get ready and be back. So we stirred and stared at each other, and somebody sniggered, and somebody did not, but said she thought she saw Satan, which was a little strong, I reckoned. Somebody was disdainful. Somebody didn't care. I wasn't sure I didn't mind.
Dogged by sorrow all our days, what's special. He didn't get much from us. That's all. I sat apart with him a time or two. He neither quoted nor cited, no rote, no rhetoric. Pure instinct. But he craved Authority. And a medium must be covert, that old theme. I want what else he wanted. Achievement of a lay order. Graciousness in isolation. Pardon cant if I slide. If he had a Secret to impart, he needed time we lack. If it was our souls he sought, I'm wrong, Lord have mercy. I don't know who he was.
Tired, discouraged at Union Station in the throng detraining, rueful, into the diaspora of our like, salut, elusive Delight, Tom Farr, salut.
An elderly man boarded the Greyhound at Kenora. I cleared ' my bag from beside me so he could sit. White hair. Ojibway - He didn't speak. We didn't speak. I was remembering paddling out of Kenora twenty-three years before, and almost told him about it, but didn't. He sat. I dozed. We rode. After a time I dug out the trail-mix, asked him if he'd want some. Cranberries. No more words. He took a handful, a small handful. When he brushed his palms I offered the bag and he took a small handful. We got off the bus separately at a rest stop and I saw him once unaccompanied in the crowd.
In the men's room I was faintly surprised to hear suppressed weeping from the next stall. Faintly. You never know, travelling like this. It didn't sound desperate. It sounded - reticent.
I expected the old man to board the bus when it left. He hadn't indicated he was going to, just somehow I expected it, but he didn't show and the driver's head-count seemed to tally so we pulled away of course.
Many miles and hours later I found beneath the seat beside me a plain white plastic shopping bag with a sweater, fairly new, new enough the nylon bit thrift stores secure price tags with was still hanging in the label at the neck. Also in the bag, a worn tooth-brush stogged in a box of CREST. That's it. Anonymous. Unclaimed. I don't know.
Tom Farr was first published as a limited edition broadside from Fine Line (Cobourg, Ontario, May 1999). First Distance appeared in A Gathering for Gael Turnbull, edited by Peter McCarey (Au Quai / Vennel Press) (with thanks also to Richard Price).
|Kater Murr's Press, Piraeus Series,
Texts copyright © Guy Birchard, 1998, 1999, 2003
Cover drawing by Anne Heeney;
copyright © Anne Heeney, 2003