K'ari Fisher,
"Mercy Beatrice Wrestles the Noose"

Ghost-Mom has been hanging around me all evening, smoking her cigarette. When she was alive she always had a pack of her fer shit sake sticks nearby in case of an emergency. Now that she’s dead, a machine-rolled Du Maurier hangs endlessly from her lips. She sucks on it pathologically. In the last few months, I’ve yet to see her have to light a new one.

“Why are you here, Mercy Beatrice?” she says. Her see-through body bristles up like a used scrub brush. “I told you to stay away from this place.”

Here is Bodie, British Columbia. Bodie used to be a self-sufficient whistle-stop along the Canadian Pacific Railway during the lure of gold mountain. When the rush was over, they flooded 920 hectares of forest to power the twin turbines running the aluminum smelter on the other side of the cordillera. Now all that remains is my father, his junkyard that operates off scrap brought in on the train, and Pauley.

I know she isn’t really angry because I’m in Bodie; she just wants to know why I’m hanging around my father. My mother’s ghost is a bit like the ones in those Biblical bully-fests she used to read to me at bedtime. Her voice still comes from a bottomless pit, and there’s a warning in it, like she’s asking for some sort of repentance, but I don’t know what for. What does she expect me to do? Air-grip her legs and squirt tears of supplication out of my eyes? She’s on repeat: Why are you here?I told you to stay away from this placeover and over.When she sucks in, the fiery cherry burns off her fog-body and evaporates her mouth.

The first time I saw her here, wind was tearing through the rusted carcasses in the junkyard, gathering speed off the reservoir. It was a few days after I’d arrived and she surfaced suddenly, as if she had always been there, but the wind took away the haze, leaving behind only the stubborn: the rocks, the trees, my mom. Immediately, cold goosebumps prickled up along my arms, but when I went toward her, there was nothing—no smell of her tar soap or trace of acrid cabbage soup off her breath. I cautiously waved my hand through her torso. She just stared and drained her cigarette like she always did when she thought I was being theatrical.

I have to admit, Ghost-Mom looks amazingly accurate, even down to the wiry dark hairs on her forearms, the muscular face, and the thin lipless dash of her mouth. She’s always dressed in her professional wrestling costume. The one she wore when she performed as “The Polish Poo-Bah,” with the blue tights and a flowing shirt with a wide red belt cinched around her diaphragm where her breasts should be. Her cape, with its carefully embroidered gold crucifix, falls flat against her back and its stiff collar rises behind her head like a hoary old carapace.

All I had when I got to Bodie was my suitcase and my dad’s old trading card, fished out of the garbage from one of Mom’s tossed cigarette packs years ago. The picture was taken around the time my parents met during a mixed tag-team event, when he was one of the world’s most feared heavyweights. He had just won the 1940 Midwestern title. His name, “Little Lew,”sashays across the stiff paper and underneath my father looks out like an Adonis.

When I handed over the money I got from Mom to buy the train ticket, I slipped Dad’s card into her empty cold cream tin to take with me and held tight. All I knew of him was what was found on the back of that card: 6 ft. 2 in, tall; 140 consecutive wins; 350 lbs., plus an anecdote describing how he once jumped off a balcony with a noose tied around his neck while he whistled Yankee Doodle—and lived due to the impressive strength of his 22-inch neck.

I stepped off the train and waltzed up to the junkyard with a dry knot stuck like a hairball in the heart. I couldn’t believe that I was about to finally meet my long-lost father. That I had made it here on my own. Most of all, I was relieved to have finally escaped the confines of the Old Ursine School for Orphans, its endless laundry chain, and the nuns with their arthritic charity. Even Mom in her last days of fighting TB was more chipper than Sister Patricia.

My father, it turns out, is pink-jowled and hog-necked. His pants are usually held up with twine suspenders tied with multiple knots because he doesn’t bother to undo when he goes to bed at night; he just cuts his way out with a knife. Pauley soon told me after I arrived that my father downs a daily spoonful of brandy mixed with strychnine, his old manager Blumenkranz’s prescription for broken collarbones and bent knuckles.

That first time we met he looked at me through milky eyes, perplexed, his forehead wrinkles lapping into the shore of his balding head. He smelled like old Mr. Armchair Antoni from the front lobby of our last apartment. And he must have seen it in my face—the sheer disappointment. I tried, unsuccessfully, to mask its presentation. Oh great, I thought. Then again, who did I think would ever marry The Poo-Bah?

“It’s your long lost daughter,” I chirped, spreading my arms.

“Daughter?” he grunted, stroking his chin with knuckle-less fingers.

I grinned, but even to me my smile felt rubbery and huge and my eyes red. Despite my efforts, I could feel one eye twitching wildly under the weight of his stare. There I was, one tiny moment away from jelly-lipped. I grinned a little harder.

“What’s wrong with your face, kid?”

 

Excerpt from The Malahat Review, 186, Spring 2014, 33-35

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