the alien CHAPTER SIX She could have been mine
A MACLEAN'S NOVEL AWARD
W. O. MITCHELL
Victoria would be safe from the young braves if she spent the summer with them, Carlyle decided calmly. But, as he watched her romp with his child, he felt the danger that his ambitious hopes and plans for her might he wrecked in a fleeting moment
FIVE YEARS as teacher and agent of the Paradise Valley Reservation had brought Carlyle Sinclair small satisfactions and deep frustrations. His bond of kinship with the Indians—through a fullblooded grandmother—spurred him to ambitious plans for lifting them from their ignorance, poverty and squalor. But as the years passed with meager accomplishment he became ever more impatient with government red tape and the indifference of most of his charges. And his life was increasingly complicated by his strange, unresolved relationship with the blossoming, half-white Victoria Rider, a relationship in which a man’s desires and a guardian’s ambitions were inextricably mingled.
AT FIRST THE ROUTINE of school and dispensary had carried Carlyle smoothly along in the absence of Grace and Hugh; he found a moderate sort of pleasure in caring for himself and filling his solitude with the hermit tasks of cooking, cleaning, self-communion. And always there was the slight stir of excitement always dim in the back of his consciousness whenever his mind touched with thought the impending arrival of another child. Then he would wish that he were out in Victoria with Grace, and then too he knew that he wished the baby to be a daughter.
Three weeks after Grace had left, Dr. Sanders called; they spoke of Lucille Bear and Raymond Blaspheme;
Sanders expressed concern for Victoria Rider. He hoped that no young hoys entertained romantic ideas toward Izaiah’s daughter; it would be too bad if Carlyle s plans for Victoria’s future were upset by the feckless agents of puberty and tumescence. Victoria’s future was special; if Carlyle accomplished anything with her he would truly have succeeded in his work among the Paradise Indians.
Carlyle knew that he had done a great deal for these people in his five years, but when he considered their gardens, the improved cattle, land, the operation of the school, he sometimes felt that the changes were superficial ones. He had forced them through, but he had changed nothing actually because he had changed the people themselves very little. They were the same as when he had first come in Sheridan’s time. Some of the children perhaps. Victoria. Sanders was right. This was different. This was the real thing; if he could manage this, then he had truly done something. She had. They had. They had done it themselves, not submitted to his authority. He wished that Sanders had not reminded him; but of course it wouldn’t have mattered; the concern had always been there.
The Raymond-Lucille alfair was the talk of the reserve. In school he looked at the empty desk to his right, then over to Victoria. His plans for her were so damned vulnerable! Perhaps they were hopeless; together they would never be able to lift the dead weight of her blood and the lifeless resistance of all her people.
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Sanders was right, he thought again with astonishment as he looked out to her during a morning class. She was altogether fine—her face—her throat was almost white—even her hands winking blue and green and ruby with the splendor of the Five-and-Ten; they were pale articulate fingers. She could have been his own child—the child to be born soon. Oh God, he and Grace would have to do something about her soon—when Grace got back! They must have some way of keeping an eye on her until she would go away to residential school!
He brought himself to with a start as he saw that the Grade Threes were looking patiently up at him; he realized that he had left them hanging in their spelling lesson for several minutes. He lifted the pointer to the board.
“Now this word—colour—in the States it’s spelled c-o-l-o-r—but we spell it this way—c-o-l-o-u-r—and your next word . . .” He lowered the pointer a notch . . . “porridge.” He must remember he was teaching them another language—English—as well as their spelling. It had been stupid—telling them that—the two ways of spelling colour—but he must underline each word somehow. He must pin them in their minds.
“Porridge—do you know what porridge is? It’s what you eat in the morning—for breakfast.” What had they eaten—not porridge—a chunk of boiled elk—tea—bannock.
“Ralph —wh at’s porridge? ”
He waited while Ralph looked up at him from under a lifeless mop of hanging hair. Now the boy was smiling idiotically as embarrassment tightened within him. “What do you do with porridge, Ralph?”
“Eat it.” The words were barely audible.
“That’s right. Does anyone know what it’s made of? It comes in a box — in a sack—you buy it at the Post.”
“Wheat.” Someone had whispered it at his left; he could not tell which one.
“Yes. Cracked wheat and oats. Oatmeal — in Scotland — that’s way over the sea—where my people came from—they eat porridge made of oats three times a day. It’s good for you.” What were they thinking? What were they thinking out there before him! Oats—oats—oats were for horses not humans. Elk—deer—boiled and stinking spring bear—muskrat legs—porcupine—not oats. “It fills you!” As he spoke he realized that his voice had tightened. It was as though they disagreed with him, and he could not help the irritation he felt. “It has vitamins,” he insisted, “stays—fills . . .”
He saw Ruby lean across the aisle, her half-closed hand held to her mouth as she whispered to Mary Jane. Grade Three! The business still of Lucille and Raymond Blaspheme. Sergeant James had the right idea; it worked in the Peace River—two Mounties going to work with fists and boots on the boy— two hours to leave him bruised and bleeding and unconscious and taught! They learned then—that was the only way to reach into them—not this way!
He pointed automatically to the next word on the spelling list.
“Outdoors.” Out of doors out of doors—the door. “What does this one mean? Where is outdoors?”
No one volunteered.
“Is it here? Is it—it’s a place? Where you are now? Inside this place? Is that it? Or is it—” he lifted the pointer—“is it out there—beyond the door? Outdoors?”
Several heads nodded almost imperceptibly.
“That’s right!” he said heartily as though the entire class had risen and shouted the answer for him. “And indoors is inside this door.”
His pointer rested on the next word.
“Suddenly. What does suddenly mean, Harold, Herbert, Melvin, Toots! Answer me! Tell me!” His voice ripped out high. “Anybody!”
He saw Victoria’s head lift, lips slightly parted—eyes astonished. No coarse broadness in the cheekbones. She could be his own! Oh God, he wished the baby were born, that Grace and Hugh were back with him!
Quick? Quick? She’d said it clearly —cleanly. Oh—“Yes, Victoria. Quick. Suddenly means quick. To do a thing quick is to do it suddenly. Now—all of you—write the words down—neatly, carefully.” They bent over, picked up pencils, opened scribblers.
“Moses, get to work. Yesterday you didn’t, you know.”
A gnome of a child in the second row by the window, Moses gave no sign that he heard or cared. “You hear me, Moses? That arithmetic—you could have done it yesterday. You didn’t. You still have to. Now—get those words down like the others.” He felt a pang of contrition for his sharpness. “You’re a smart boy, Moses. Your father asks a lot about you. 1 told him last week you were smart. He wants you to be smart. You want your father to be proud of you, don’t you?”
Moses picked up his pencil. Was there no way of telling whether he had got through to them—past the sliding pupil, the giggle of embarrassment, the lowered lids? Was there no way to get by their eyes? And Victoria—hers were the same—they were not white eyes at all! They were—they were! It was just the years of stinging camp-fire smoke. That was all. It was the way they had to live.
He turned away from the Grade Threes. The drawing lesson now. Today they were to do the owl.
HE PHONED to Grace three times in the ten days before the baby was to be born; the wait had become intolerable for him now. He wanted the thing over with and he wanted his family back with him. His last call Grace promised she would stay only a couple of weeks after she had come out of the hospital; she was to be admitted the next day; her mother would wire him. Three days later the station agent phoned out to him the telegram Mrs. Brockman had sent. He had a daughter now — eight pounds — Cynthia. Grace was fine. He supposed the woman had the sex right; by Cynthia she no doubt meant Sylvia, the name they had decided upon if they had a girl. He was unutterably relieved and for the rest of the week he walked upon air. The Friday after, he went up to the dance and church tent where the Indians were celebrating a calf cheque payment. He danced the Owl dance with Susan Rider, two Rabbit dances with Lucy Baseball and Mrs. Powderface. When he announced that lie had a daughter now, the shrill wha-hoos filled the tent and the drum rolled tight applause. He walked home through full moonlight, the night soft with spring, pulsing with the dying drum and the beating chorus of frogs.
Grace stayed a week longer than she had promised. He drove the department truck in to meet her late in the afternoon when June shadows lay along over the young crops spreading on either side of the road. Sitting high in the cab, jolting over cattle guards and ruts, he caught the brightness of a meadow lark now and again; the lightness of the afternoon, the season, the birds’ song seemed to have entered him. He was the luckiest man in the world! He had Grace and two children now! He’d never die—never! A son—a
daughter—never—never die! The words tyrannized his consciousness— they chanted themselves—ran together and lost their meaning—crystallized with sense again. Never die—never die —Sinclair’d never die. Sinclair never dies—he just goes rolling along—old man Sinclair with his two children of his own flesh goes rolling along—immortal in the department truck to meet his wife and son and baby girl!
He came to the town just after dusk, a half an hour before train time; over the main street hung festively colored strings of lights. He had trouble finding a parking place, since cars and trucks of ranchers in for Saturday night -—for the show, for the week’s shopping, for the beer parlor—had lined the street solidly. They sat in their cars, watching the crowds go by on the walk; here and there a friend leaned with elbows on a lowered window to chat with those inside. A woman with slightly anxious face stood waiting before the beer parlor’s green windows, the door opening now and again to emit a belch of laughter, talk, and shouts. Widearmed, wide and unsteady-legged, a drunk fought emptiness before the hotel. The town had a carnival air.
Just as he climbed from the truck, Carlyle saw Pete Lafayette.
“We’re stranded, Mr. Sinclair.” Pete was grinning at his predicament. “Can we come home with you tonight?” “Sure, Pete. Sure.” He found himself smiling. “How many of you?” “The wife—the kids—there’s Judy and his family and Old John and . . .” “How many, Pete?”
“Can you all get in the back?”
“I guess we can.”
“All right. The cab’ll be full, Pete. Mrs. Sinclair’s on the train.”
“That’s nice, Mr. Sinclair.”
“And Hugh and the baby.”
“What is it, Mr. Sinclair?”
He heard the train whistle in the
distance. “A girl, Pete. Sylvia.” “That’s a nice name for her. I’ll tell John and Judy and the others. We got our groceries too.”
“You see where the truck is, Pete. Load up there right away because I’m pulling out. I’m not waiting.”
He turned away. The train had already stopped in the station. He saw Grace holding the baby in a blue blanket, her eyes straining for him, Hugh by her side. Her face lighted.
“Darling, darling, how are you — how . . .”
He went to her with arms outstretched.
“Easy, Car. Watch out for her!”
He kissed her on the cheek, looked down at the blanketed bundle. In the dusk of the station lights all he could make out was a small nose, a fist. A cry threaded up.
“She’s a sweetheart, Car—but she’s got to be fed.”
“By the time we get to the valley
won’t be too late if we leave right away.”
“Where are your bags?”
She turned—with her head she indicated the suitcases.
“Give me a hand, son. How are you?”
“The truck’s just across the street. It’ll be full of Indians and groceries by now. We’ll put them in the hack.”
Before the agency buildings they stopped; the Indians piled out, thanked Carlyle for the ride, staggered off with sleeping children and cartons of supplies. With his arm around Grace’s shoulder he walked to the hack door. Hugh and Grace and the baby waited just inside while he found his way through the dark kitchen to the table and the lamp. The match lit up the interior fitfully; then the mantles were fizzing white and the room was stark with the glaring light.
“All right,” said Carlyle, “let’s have a look at her.”
Grace turned back one corner of the blanket. Her hair was thick—the unrelieved black he had seen in so many Indians, lacking all life-light on the small egg-shaped head. Olive skin the lids of the eyes . . . He looked up at Grace.
“She—she’s—she looks . . .”
“She’s Sylvia, dear.” Grace was smiling. “Take her.”
As he held her one fluttering fist trembled to her mouth; the plump face grimaced; there came a thin high sound like the start of the Chicken-dance song; it paused, took up again with tight fury and anguished need.
“Temper and lungs to go with it,” Grace laughed. “To bed now, Hugh. This little papoose has to have her supper.”
FOR CARLYLE the summer seemed to stand still, July and August stretching interminably; his concern for Victoria came back to trouble him. He spoke to Grace, asking her if there wasn’t something they could do for the
girl. Couldn’t she use her around the house now that the baby was an additional call upon her energies and attention. She could, Grace admitted, though Sylvia was good and actually required little care. A happy and contented baby, she lay on blankets in the sun seemingly for hours at a time.
In July he spoke to Mrs. Rider, asked her if she would permit Victoria to help Grace with the housework. Susan seemed pleased at the opportunity for her daughter.
“She can come at nine in the morning,” Carlyle explained. “Eat her lunch with us. I’ll bring her home in the evening.”
Victoria worked silently, doing as Grace told her, needing little supervision. She soon took over the care of Sylvia, and it was one afternoon while she was playing with the baby that Carlyle heard her laugh for the first time. She ate with them, though it was obvious for two weeks that every mouthful under their gaze was painful to her. They saw that her dark eyes watched every move they made at the table, that she took for her own each caution they made to Hugh about his table manners. Carlyle had to speak to her only once about her nails; from that time on the black lining disappeared; she bathed when Grace did; at least once a week she sat by the baby at the front of the house, her head bowed, gleaming hair drying in the sun.
After his initial shock, Carlyle paid little attention to his daughter; now and again he caught a glimpse of her black eyes, dark straight hair in such contrast to his tow-headed son. Hugh had successfully finished his Grade Four work, and Carlyle did not look forward to having him in school the next fall.
“It’s not fair to him,” he explained to Grace.
“I don’t see why not,” she protested. “He deserves the best education he can get. I think he . . .”
“I have faith in you as a teacher.” “No—I’m serious. A parent can’t expect to teach his own child as well as —as someone else.”
“He’ll do all right.”
“It isn’t just school.”
“Grace—this is an unnatural—he— I want him to have friends—his own friends—other than—the Indian children— white friends. He has other things to learn than . . .”
“He's no different than the children of the ranchers—they . . .”
“They send them to school by the time they’re Hugh’s age. There isn’t one that’s studying at home with his mother—not as old as Hugh.”
“What do you think he ought to do?” “I think we ought to make arrange-
ments to send him away to school this fall.”
“Yes. Moon’s grandchildren are going in—there are others going in from the Anchor T—we could make arrangements for him to board in town —go in and come out week ends with the others.”
“Not yet, dear.”
“It should be this fall.”
“Not this year. Next perhaps.” She was quite serious now. “He’s pretty young to be away from home. I-—I’d like to keep him a little longer.”
In August the Senator visited them again; a week later Mr. Gillis arrived; Carlyle went into town to meet him with the department truck. On their way out he asked how the reserve was going; Carlyle told him much the same. “All out of tents now?”
“What are you—”
“You did put my plan into practice, didn’t you? To get them into houses?” “Oh—no—they’re still in tents.”
“I told you how to do it. I’m surprised you haven’t done it. You do want them in houses, don’t you?”
“Then what’s the delay?”
For several moments Carlyle was silent. “You know, Mr. Gillis, now you ask, I don’t know. Other things more important have crowded it out perhaps.”
“Are there more important things?” Carlyle nodded.
“Oh — getting a hospital — more land.”
“We haven’t nearly enough for the number of families. Someday I’d like to see them each with his own piece of land —operating it—responsible—until that happens—well—that’s the most important thing.”
“Of course that doesn’t mean we couldn’t go ahead with the houses.”
The Senator, it seemed, had plans. Fie told Carlyle that Western Power and Hydro were more anxious than ever to make an arrangement for their project; they had come out into the open about it in Ottawa; perhaps they would be able to come to terms with them sooner than they had expected.
“So we’ve got to get ready,” he warned Carlyle.
“What do you mean?”
“They’ve started. We’ve got to start. And T think the first thing to do is to make Ottawa conscious of the need for more land—”
“But I’ve—Mr. Fyfe has already .. .” “No—we’ve got to build a fire under them.”
“I’ve been thinking it over. You
should have a meeting of the Indians— draw up—have them draw up a petition—send it in. I think you should do it this summer. Next spring—next summer—the following year you might have them include more specific details about the land they’d like—Western Power and Hydro land. Your fire should be at its hottest just about the time that Western Power and Hydro has reached theirs. What would be more natural for Ottawa to think of than an exchange?”
"‘Shall I say anything to Gillis?”
"‘No. Let him bring it up first. I don’t think he will. Not yet. I’d tell Fyfe though.”
Mr. Gillis did not mention the land matter during his week’s visit; he took his leave when the Senator did.
"‘Get that meeting going,” the Senator advised Carlyle just before he left. “Have each one speak—get down what each says—make out your petition — send it in.”
IT WAS a good meeting; the church tent was packed; all the councilors were present. Carlyle outlined to them the purpose of their meeting. He said that they had met to talk to Ottawa, for they were in need. They wanted more land on which to raise wheat and vegetables and stock. He explained that he would make notes on what each liad to say, that their words would be incorporated into a petition to be sent to the government. When he had finished, he sat down, knowing that such meetings were familiar to them, that they could carry on themselves.
After a few minutes Prince Lefthand walked to the centre of the tent, stood there with his stiff grey bush of hair up and back, thumbs hooked in his belt, his eyes on the seated circle of attentive men.
“Since long time ago these Indians are suffering,” he began, “and now he’s thinking these days he cannot make a living and he knows that. We need more land and now I talk with government friendly to go along with me in a peace way.”
As quickly as he could write, Carlyle took down Prince’s words.
“We suffer too much having not enough land for us all. The children are sick. That’s all.”
He sat down; his place in the centre was taken by Ezra Shot-Close.
“Thank you, Mr. Sinclair, for calling this meeting. 1 would like to say a few words. We need another piece of land because we lost the good life of the Indian. We lost all that now. Before white people come to this country Indian had a good living—never hungry for himself—for his horse. Been hunting in the fall—put up for dry meat and put up for dry berries too. We lost all that now; we lost the good Indian life. Those days we had buffalohide wigwam that was windproof— coldproof; now we got canvas tepee and the wind blow through. The Indian child get sick out of it.
“We want to make home like white people—more vegetables grow—grain feed grow—cattle raise. We want another piece of land and we ask that from the government friendly. What we got now is a lot rocky and hilly and one person needs a whole section of land to make a living out of it. There is why my people suffer in their hearts. We like to put that suffering out of our souls.” He paused, looked over to Mr. Dingle. “In the name of Jesus Christ Who died for us all Amen. That’s all.”
Old John limped to the centre; he wore his blue councilor’s coat with the gold-crowned buttons winking down the front. On his face now there lay a placid dignity; it was in the tan flat planes of his death’s-head face; in the
crow’s-feet at the corner of the sunken eyes, in the purity of his white hair.
“Whenever the government tells me to do things, 1 always do. The first time I want to say this. My father was a chief. He told me when the first Peace Treaty Number Seven was made under the red flag and the Majesty of the Queen, she promised this; she would help us Indians when they were up against it. She said she was going to protect us Indians. Protect us now. We lost all happy days. I want to hear from government to let us have more land before long. I obey what govern-
ment say. Now government obey me. That’s all.”
MacLean Powderface spoke without a hesitation or stammer.
“Cod make this land and the mountains too. He put us here. That is why I think we are Indians and why we want to be here. Our blood is in those grounds and hills. Our great fathers were buried there and we want to live here with them. We can’t leave these hills. But now without land we need we are just like in a sack. We been here first our color people. At Treaty Number Seven we were promised help if we
need it—as long as water flowing in the river. We need help. Water still flowing in river. 1 am very anxious to hear an answer for more land from Ottawa. That’s all.”
The meeting as always closed with a hymn and a prayer.
THAT NIGHT Carlyle with Grace’s help drew up the petition. The next day he sent it home with Victoria to be circulated through the band for their signatures and marks. He waited for Fyfe’s next visit to show it to him. When he had explained their plan of
action, the supervisor’s shrewd little Scottish face lighted.
“Fine—fine,” he said. “Now that’s the way I like to see a thing done. Practically. You can count on me. You know . . .” he leaned back to get his pipe from his pocket, “. . . you’re doing great work here, Sinclair. Perhaps I haven’t told you before; it’s not because T don’t appreciate it. When I think of the state of things in Sheridan’s time.” He sighed. “Now—-anything else on your mind?”
“Yes,” said Carlyle. “I’d like to see these people in houses instead of tents.”
Fyfe gave a short barking laugh. “So would I. So would I.”
“I think it can be worked.” Carlyle outlined the suggestion Gillis had made to him the year before.
“Well.” Fyfe held his empty and unlit pipe forgotten in his hand. “Well.”
“It would work,” said Carlyle.
“Aye-hee—it would—it would, I think, it would. Let’s submit your building plan at the same time as the petition; nothing’s going to be done about the one, I’m afraid—it’s just possible you might get action on the other quickly to sort of draw fire from the petition matter.”
Fyfe was right; they received an immediate answer that the building plan was being considered, that the petition for more land would take time. By the beginning of the year full permission had been granted to go ahead with the buildings; the only stipulation demanded was that half of the houses be of log construction.
In spring a number of the Indians had begun their houses; Fyfe and Carlyle had made their own mental lists of those who would take advantage of the plan; both tallied. MacLean Powderface was the first to collect a hundred dollars in April; he had a satisfactory foundation in, his log walls up, his roof on. Two weeks later the houses of Izaiah Rider and Ezra Shot-Close reached the same stage. In July five houses were completed, and their builders had turned to the construction of houses for others: Johnny Education, Prince Lefthand among them. Johnny and Prince managed to make their building money go twice as far as the others; they ran up credit at two stores on the strength of the building cheques they would get, lay around in the shade while the more industrious Indians did the work; the latter got the cheques as soon as Fyfe issued them. Johnny and Prince got their houses for no work at all, lived well for several months on the credit established by the building money; the storekeepers added to the total of their bad Indian debts.
By fall the houses outnumbered the tents on the reserve, and in October Paradise Valley was visited by several Indian Affairs dignitaries not only from the province but from the east as well in a ceremonial occasion arranged by Fyfe. Several formal little speeches were given at the Sinclair house after the delegation had visited the houses, gardens, the barns; in the living room, after coffee and cake, Fyfe pointed out that Sinclair had accomplished all this in the course of eight years. A laudatory write-up appeared in the TimesPost in which the reporter who had been invited took as his theme, The Vanishing Savage, giving his readers a glowing picture of a model community under the grandeur of snow-capped Rockies, with crops of experimentalfarm excellence and a Hereford herd sired by grand champions and kneedeep in lush grass.
The Senator had been present; he was concerned about the news story.
“Damn it—they’ll think everything’s fine and you don’t need a thing. Better
have another meeting—send in another petition.”
Another petition was drawn up and sent to Ottawa.
CARLYLE had been gratified and embarrassed by the attention focused on Paradise Valley. It seemed ironic to him that the most important person of all had been overlooked: Victoria. In September—without fanfare—the first Indian girl had completed her Grade Ten successfully and had left for residential school in the city. During the previous year he and Grace had prevailed upon Mrs. Rider and Izaiah to let her move in with them. Throughout the winter evenings both he and Grace had worked with her; at Christmas and Easter she had sailed through her tests. They had waited anxiously for the departmental results until they saw her name listed as successful in July. She had passed with a general first-class standing* When they took Victoria in to register, Hugh went with them; he had been entered at Shawnigan Lake
School on Vancouver Island near his grandmother. They could afford it now, Carlyle had convinced Grace; there had been the regular salary increases and money from the Major’s estate. When they had returned to Paradise Carlyle started the school term with a feeling of loss that he could not quite understand. Several times he recalled Hugh’s last night with them.
Carlyle had gone in with the lamp to the boy’s room and looked down at his son abandoned in sleep. The covers were thrown back; he wore only his pyjama top, and slept completely now with his arms up and his hands before his face on the pillow. His father looking down at him, seeing the young rib cage, the shoulder blades protruding sharply, the fair head bare and vulnerable-looking from the new haircut he’d got to prepare him for the trip away to school—felt the faint stirrings of guilt. Hugh was leaving them; he was a child no longer—youth now. He ought to have done more with him. He’d been much more patient with other people’s children than with his own—white—Indian. This was his son! His son with his mother’s pale skin and hair.
He stared at the lashes gilt across the cheeks. Perhaps he ought to have known him better, but he was not an easy child to know. Solemn—disinterested—no, that wasn’t it—not a responsive boy. It was probably what every father sensed in his son, simply disparity in age creating two worlds which could not merge. They were on different planets! Was it any wonder he was visited with the same feeling of hopelessness he had with the Indian children—the hopelessness of ever knowing what went on in his own
son’s mind and heart! All communication between all humans was hopeless, wasn’t it? Out of my skin and into yours 1 cannot get—ever—how hard 1 try—however much I want it! Just hope and desperately wish it were pcssible—fool myself—delude myself.
It was like love—possessing a woman. There was the same defeat of imagined perfection dying instant death in physical realization. What a weak bridge emotion was for people to walk across to one another! Arching emotions lifting in their centre the better to | held the heavy weight of communicaj tion which was just an illusion after alii, for once the passage was made the door was closed. He looked at blank wood! He called and no one answered.
But this was his child! This was part of himself and if a man couldn’t bridge the gap between himself and his own son ... As though he were struggling up and out of himself, returning from a long journey to familiarity, he brought himself hack to the immediacy of his sleeping son. The boy stirred, half turned; a bare foot dropped out from under the covers.
He had not made it back to familiarity. He was remembering oddly the day in university that he had looked on the page of his psychology text. It had been a rabbit—suddenly twitched invisibly so that the long ears were a bill and the thing was a duck
not a rabbit. On the next page the steps—this way steps in one direction -that way another direction. And his son’s features had shifted into a frightening cast of unfamiliarity; his lids ! possessed a tightness at the corners
a flat folding across as though the skin pulled with a touch of extra tension over the eyes. The face was revealing an under-skin under-flesh lift just under the eyes and the chin had tapered to create an exaggerated pear look in the flickering lamp light.
It wasn’t so! It wasn’t so! He turned away, back again.
That was right! That was the true way: the fair skin flushed with sleep
the slightly parted lips child-red. He watched the rise and fall of the chest in shallow and even sleep-breathing, and it was as though he had stepped hack and away to a new focus. He did so with unaccountable sadness that deepened, for the child was stranger now to him. More patience more attention—fight the feeling of inability and helplessness —the steady candor in Hugh’s eyes. Forget the sense of being over his depth with him. A father could walk into his son’s country of alien customs and accents, into the country of others. Look at his own father.
He saw the rough, square face with its ragged eyebrows, forbidding features contradicted by the gleam in the eye and the persistently questioning, consistently sympathetic voice in the surgery. He remembered the broken answers of Joe Kiziw being interviewed by his father. How far down to finish with the top soil, Joe? How much through to hard pan? To gravel? What rate do you dig a sewer, Joe? And Grace could do it and the Senator could do it—yes —and Sanders.
My son—my son! He lifted the lamp slightly higher, reached out and held the hare foot. Hugh’s face creased with momentary irritation in his sleep. Carlyle felt the foot pull away. He let it go from his grasp. Hugh’s features relaxed again. it