J. R. McConvey,
"Home Range"

She is tiny and thin, maybe six, wearing a white blouse, smudged with grease and oil, and a navy skirt that barely covers her scraped knees. When Kyle hauls up the door she’s just standing there like a curious bird, dead still, echoes of the metal’s clang circling her like nervous black cats half hidden in the shadows. The sight of her inside the container, amid the stacked pallets and crates, the smells of wet tin and briny mildew, is like a lullaby lilted over a pounding hardcore beat, incongruous and adorable and unsettling as hell.

It takes Kyle three seconds to realize he can’t tell anyone about the girl, five to figure out he can’t just leave her there, ten to know how fucked he is as a result. Fifteen to write it off as just more of the cursed luck that’s his trademark, as much a totem of his being as the sleeve tattoos that fill both his arms from shoulder to wrist with a chaos of thorny blue vines.

He looks around the empty pier. The Atlantic sloshes and trickles, chewed around its edges by the croaking of gulls and the grinding of heavy machinery behind him. Pier 17 is out on the far edge of the wharf, many rows of lots away from the main office and the warehousing deck. It’s just him and his forklift and the sludge of trash and seaweed slapping the breaker wall. And the girl. Japanese, maybe. No. More likely poorer, easier to make disappear. Thai or Malaysian, something like that. Fuck knows. Wherever she’s come from, she’s far from home, and Kyle is willing to bet his signed vinyl copy of Jane Doe that the trip wasn’t her choice.

He curses in his head, cycling through options at blastbeat pace, whattodowhattodowhattodo.

“Speak English?” he says. No response. “Name? What’s your name?” The girl just looks at him, head cocked to one side, hiding with felted calm whatever explosions of terror and confusion must be raging in her brain like Bengal flares.

“Fuck,” he says to no one. The wind tickles his nose with gull shit, wood rot, and tar slag. In the distance he hears the bleating reverse alarm of another forklift, the harmonic whirr of the hydraulic elevator. Even out here at 17, he has ten, maybe fifteen minutes before someone drives by, fellow grunt or foreman, to ask what the fuck is taking him so long with the shipment from Kwai Tsing.

In the end it’s maybe a two-minute decision, based on what’s immediately available, proximity to the parking lot, number of hours left in his shift. All instinct, like the survival games he used to play as a kid. If there’s anything Kyle can say he’s good at, it’s surviving.

There’s a big roll of brown packing paper leaning against a nearby stack of crates. He gestures to the girl: Come out. She steps slowly from the container, blinking in the salt mist. Kyle notices the bruising on her arms. She probably spent her trip through the Suez cowering back into a far corner of the container. Maybe did the same when it was opened in Amsterdam. Someone there made sure she knew better than to try and hide when the door was opened the next time.

He wonders what she’s been eating, if he should check the interior for evidence—wrappers, crumbs, some kind of bed. Not that it matters. Whoever shipped her knows which lot she’s in, will have carefully traced its route from HK to 17. There’s no way she could have gotten this far without a network of people making it happen. Valuable cargo, this.

It’s a freak chance, a big mistake, that Kyle’s the one here on the receiving end. So he doesn’t have time to work out the consequences: it has to be fast, brutal, full-on punk rock. Instinct over thought.

Maybe, he thinks for the millionth time, he isn’t done with all that yet. Maybe he can save her.

Drawing out a large swath of the paper, he wraps it round the girl, placing his hand gently on the crown of her head to keep her still and try to communicate that that he’s trying to help, until she’s just an inconspicuous brown sausage, another bit of material piled on the back platform of his Caterpillar. He makes sure she’s on her back, has a slit to breathe through. Does what he can to tell her to keep still. She gives no pushback. Before folding the flap down over her head to hide her slick of smooth black hair, he leans in and whispers to her, shitting his pants, patting his chest, “Friend. Friend. Home. My home. Konichiwa?” A bit of packing tape and she’s invisible.

Hour and a half until quitting. Finish your tasks, don’t look anyone in the face, park the lift, haul her out like an old carpet or a bit of excess wrap for dumping, throw her in the back seat of the pickup, drive home without speeding, get her inside. Between now and then, he figures, he can sort out what the fuck he’s going to tell Abby.

 

Excerpt from The Malahat Review, 192, Autumn 2015, 21-31

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