Chapter Nineteen: Leaving Eden

“Are you having the dreams again?” Holstein asked Black.
They were having coffee in the high school lunchroom for teachers. Black nodded. It had been years since the dreams, the last time had been when he had done rehab from the booze. The dreams of Korea, the forgotten war. Black guessed today’s generation was much more familiar with the agonies of Vietnam, because the American media never hesitated to bring that debacle up if given half a chance. On the other hand, there was that TV show, M*A*S*H, but Black never remembered Korea being that amusing.

He and Arnold were good therapy for each other. Black told him of dream that kept recurring. In the vision, Black was walking along in a beautiful forest with people until explosions rocked the trees and destroyed the greenery. A common enough dream for a veteran. Coming back from the war, the companions walking along with Black had been Asians.
“The dream is different now,” Black said.
“How so?”
“The people in the dream; they’re Caucasians. Even the vegetation is different. The trees are taller, like the Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island.”
“And the age of your companions?”
“That I cannot determine, strangely enough.” Black sighed, and then said something odd. “I thought it was a foreign land.”
Holstein waited for him to clarify.
“I mean, when we were over there, in the bloody trenches, watching the Chinese doing those suicidal machine-gun charges, as if Ypres and the Somme had never happened. I thought as if we were on another planet. Do you understand?”
Holstein nodded slowly.
“I thought such insanity could never happen here. I mean, when we returned, Vancouver looked so beautiful to us both, but then Korea could be beautiful at times as well. What separated the two was the prosperity and peacefulness of the land. Trees with valuable wood for the chopping, the Strait of Georgia brimming with fish. Do you remember walking along the Spanish Banks picking oysters for a fine supper over a beach fire? It was like the garden of Eden spewing forth endless riches. That’s how it seemed to me Arnold, after Korea.” Black looked down at his coffee and lit another cigarette.

Alcoholics as a rule loved nicotine and caffeine. He had gone to two AA meetings already this week, and maybe he would stop by one tonight. It seemed John Barleycorn whispered to him every night since the news now, promising him relief. He remembered again how he had learned of the massacre. A goddamn TV crew had come to his door late at night. His wife had opened the door and had nearly been blinded by the lights. How they had gotten his address, he still had no clue. He had seen himself on the television later that night (amazing how fast those people worked). He had come across as a ruddy idiot, a hopeless fuddy-duddy. But he had been in shock. He had canceled classes for the next day, with the agreement of the superintendent of schools. That evening, he had gone to an emergency meeting of the trustees and just about every member of the education bureaucracy who could wangle an invitation, where they had been briefed by the police on all the gory details. God, nearly every damn one of the gang members had played on the football team. The leftists and pacifists on the board (of which there were many) had a field day with that revelation. Black remembered the glances that had come his way throughout the meeting. Most of the looks had been ones of pity. But he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He had been too baffled.

Later that night he had taken out the personnel dossier on every one of the boys. The one on Gates had held no surprises. The whole damn family had been nothing but trouble to society since the day Dad had screwed Mom. The other files brought forth no secrets. Really, none of the boys had commited any really serious infractions that could have warranted any special attention. He studied the file of John Poleshaw, the only boy left alive from the massacre, still missing. The boy participated well in athletics. His marks were good but not outstanding. Streaky perhaps, with a tendency to be excellent when the boy was interested, mediocre when he was not. Interestingly enough, not one but two teachers had marked him as a “born leader,” and “student president” material. No one wrote that about a student drug-dealer, let alone a killer.
“Don’t think too much,” a voice chided him, “you’ll hurt the team.”
Black looked up from his coffee. Holstein sat there, looking at him with pragmatic concern. For a brief moment, Black didn’t see a bald, middle-aged schoolteacher with a good-sized paunch, but a lean, hard soldier affecting a world-weary pose.
“It’s nothing less than a damn war on our doorstep,” Black told him.

* * *

The sun came out the next day as Black drove down Hastings Street, peeping out from behind a huge culmunus, turning the day a little brighter. Black thought of seeds in the soil, little stems poking out from the dirt in accordance with some genetic clock, timed to go off at spring. Normally this time, he would be looking forward to summer holidays, but he suspected now such a vacation would be permanent. Every disaster needed a scapegoat. One of this magnitude stained almost every one within striking distance. These thoughts did not bother Black so much. He had always known that one day his career would fall to the political machinations of the school board and the career aspirations of the bureaucrats. No, he had never planned to go gentle in that good night, otherwise he would have never asked to be transferred to Laurentian High.

It was the unanswered questions that nagged at him. Why had this happened? For what possible reason had nine students of his school blasted away at each other at sucidal range? There were still no answers. They still had not found the Poleshaw boy. By now the police were feeling intense pressure from the public, press, and politicians. They had requested Black’s help in completing a new psychological profile of the Poleshaw boy. Black had agreed to help, although how much help he would be he did not know. The boy seemed to be an enigma.

He drove his way through the seedy part of Hastings, past the aboriginal bingo hall, alongside the pawnshops and the no-name greasy spoons. The area used to be the proud working-class section of Vancouver, where the longshoremen and CN rail workers made their home. But the area had never recovered from the devastating recession of ‘81-’82. Now, children had to take care walking in the park because of the needles. The average monthly income in this neighbourhood, Black had read somewhere, was the lowest in Canada, only a few dollars above the welfare allowance. Closer to the police station was a famous corner, Main and Hastings. It was an end-point well know to the transients of Canada, the highway-walkers that hitch-hiked from end of the country to another, picking up welfare cheques from province to province, traveling because they had nothing better to do.

On every street corner now, Black saw young men and women idling, now enjoying the first break of sunshine in weeks. Maybe it was just the way he felt, but Black thought there seemed to more of them every year, bums with no place to go, or nothing to do. The number of people on social assistance had gone up in Vancouver every year for the last seven, Black knew that for a fact. Maybe it was time for him to step aside and let fresh blood take over. He felt tired, not physically but spiritually. Somewhere in his soul there was a persistent wail of tiredness. He glanced again at the sidewalk, at a hooded figure leaning up against an abandoned store wall. Black looked closer…

…And slammed the brakes on his car, simultaneously veering over to the curb. He could hear a horn blaring behind him but he ignored it, stopping his car and opening the door. He had enough sense of mind to check his rearview mirror; he closed his door again so that a passing pick-up would not sideswipe it right off the hinges. He could not wait for traffic to clear, so he scrambled over to the passenger side and got out that way. He walked quickly, almost breaking into a trot, but the figure gave no hint of flight.

Poleshaw. John Poleshaw, standing on a street corner not two hundred metres from the main police station of Vancouver, with every officer in the city looking for him. It defied rational explanation. Black slowed his walk as he drew closer, and stopped not three feet away from the boy.
Is that you? he asked the figure, scarcely believing.
Yeah, John said.
Black stood speechless for a moment.
Good God, do you know what you’ve done? he finally said.
Yes, I do know, John answered back.
What are you going to do?
I’m going to run.
This is madness, Black said, come with me.
It is madness, I know, but I’m not going with you. I told you, I’m going to run.
Where to? Black asked.

Maybe North, up to Whitehorse. Lots of space, few people. If you can handle the cold, I hear it’s beautiful. Maybe South, across the border. There so many people down there, I could lose myself so easily. I can go anywhere, really. What’s here for me now? I’m waiting now, the police are guarding the exit-points. But as time goes by, they’ll fall asleep and I’ll slip through. And I’ll be gone for good.
This is madness, Black repeated, and he looked close at the boy.
Poleshaw had changed somehow, obviously. He sensed no fear, none of the gawkiness associated with adolescents of that age. No machismo, either.
I’m tired, John said suddenly.
Come in from the cold then, Black said.
John wavered, uncertain.
You’ve been on the run now for days. You’re going to collapse any minute now. It would be better if you gave yourself up to me. And you would be able to rest, Black said.
I can’t, John answered. I haven’t even seen New Orleans yet.

Black felt for certain now that John had tripped over the boundary of sanity.
Listen to me John, he said. Can you see tomorrow?
John looked puzzled, then a flash of understanding lit up his face.
No, John said, I haven’t been able to see tomorrow for a long time. That’s what has been making so tired.
If you give in, you’ll be able to see tomorrow. You won’t have to worry, Black said.
John looked away for a moment, deep in thought. Ten seconds, twenty. When he directed his gaze back to the principal, there was new strength in his voice.
You were to suppose to do that already, anyways, before all of this happened.
What? Black said.
I mean, where were you all when Gates was running the show? Where were you when the bad people came after me and Scott and Woody and Mike? Where the hell were you? John asked.
No, I will not accept that, Black said. I will say whatever is necessary to get you into custody Jonathan, but I refuse to believe that none of this is your fault.

Did I make this world? John yelled. And who made me? If this is paradise, how did I get here? Am I a evil person? Is that it? What I did, happens every day.
John, you have to come with me, Black said, and he reached out his hand.
I want to come home, John said.
Take my hand, Black said.
I want to come home, John repeated, but it’s no longer there.

Just then, a crowd of Asians marched up the sidewalk, twittering noisily among themselves, paying no attention to the drama unfolding. They came between Black and John, and when they had passed, John had already turned away and started walking. He headed in the direction of the Burrard Inlet, to the railway lands. Black did not follow.

Copyright 2009 by DJ Dunkerley All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply