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Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 07.01.05
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

The Great Canadian Short Story of Canadiana for Canada Day

Funding for this story was provided by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Department of Canadian Heritage, Agriculture Canada, Telefilm Canada, Groupaction, and the Centre for Disease Control.

"Lord tunderin'!" Alistair cried as he took a mouthful of steaming maple-and-pemmican soup. "She's some hot!"

Even though he had been in the woods of the Canadian Shield for years, the lumberjack's Maritime accent was never more pronounced than when he became excited, such as when he caught a beaver gnawing at the totem pole outside his log cabin or when he heard news of the expanding national railway on the CBC.

Alistair had only vague recollections of his childhood in Cape Breton - watching the men come up from the coal mine, filthy from the hard but honest work. Before long, Grandfather would be tuning up his stubby beer bottles and playing "John Alec Angus Donald McDonald's Reel." The family would dance late into the evening until Father would become enraged from too much rum and thrash them all to sleep. He was a hard man, but honest.

"Tabernoosh, just eat your soup," scolded Marie, Alistair's French-Canadian bride, whose girlish figure was but a distant memory after all these years of roughing it in the bush.

"You're always complaining, whether it's my Jos-Louis Surprise or my Northrop Fish Fry. Be happy with what you have. Don't you know there are Métis children starving in Manitoba?"

Alistair grumbled to himself, like a moose clearing his throat for a speech in the House of Commons. He thought of storming out and traveling by the gleam of the northern lights across the lake to see whether his friend Majalüguaq was in his igloo. But this was October and Majalüguaq was wintering in Florida these days, now that he'd retired from the Hudson's Bay Company.

"Will you be carving any soapstone sculptures tonight?" Marie asked. "The tourist season is nearly here and we have only a half-dozen kilograms of those snowdomes with the Dionne quintuplets inside. Of course, since we burned the American White House to the ground in the War of 1812, the Yankee tourist trade isn't what it used to be."

"Sweet Mary and Joseph Papineau, woman! Is your toque too tight? Of course I'm not carving tonight. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving - the right proper Thanksgiving, the one in October and not in November," said Alistair. "I've got to prepare for our guests, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

Alistair and Marie glared at each other. Their cultures, their languages, so different. Would there never be peace between them? Sometimes their marriage felt like an ill-fitting hockey sweater ordered from the Eaton's catalogue. Other times there was a comfort between them, a certain strained… confederacy.

Just then, there was a knock at the door.

"Great Mother of Atwood!" cried Alistair. "Who could that be?"

Marie opened the door to find the Iroquois hunting guide, Lightfoot Gordon.

"A man has come to see you, selling trinkets and promises of free medical care," said Lightfoot. "Look: Robertson screwdriver."

Behind the proud First Nations member was a tall lanky man in a cowboy hat astride a Skidoo. Alistair peered over Marie's shoulder to examine him. The man looked hard, but honest.

"Evenin' friends," said the stranger, coming closer. "Like he says, I've been all across this great land and seen everything from A to Zed. I've seen the gushing torrent of Niagara Falls, the mighty Rocky Mountains, the noble grain elevators of the prairies, stampeding Canada geese in Alberta, the pounding majesty of the Atlantic, the awesome stillness of the Arctic north."

"What about British Columbia, ever been there?" asked Alistair.

"British what? Never heard of it."

Before they could go on, the stranger opened his satchel. Out spilled wondrous Canadian content like they'd never seen: a Newfoundland souvenir watch (running a half-hour fast), insulin, donuts, some April wine, and, tied up in a bundle, a group of seven paintings.

The tension between Alistair and Marie began to melt away as they dug through the pile, doing what they felt they were destined to do as pioneers of this great emerging nation: go shopping.

What finally caught their fancy was a pair of audiocassettes of gentle instrumental music with nature sounds in the background: one crying loons, the other crashing waves. The only problem was they couldn't decide which one to buy. Marie smiled at Alistair. He smiled back. They decided to buy both.

"We'll take two Solitudes, please," he said.

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