Tuska opened her left eye first and blinked it a few times before catching up with the right. Heavy curtains on the windows spread a dimness across her room, save a single shard of intense morning yellow which broke through and moved threateningly towards Tuska’s bed with a snail’s pace at the speed of light. She eyed the bright wedge with the left as the right one was still catching up. Although she was quite sure that she was no longer sleeping, she knew that it would be several minutes before she would rise from her well cushioned mattress. The cat was nestled between her legs, seemingly unperturbed by her stirring. Focus came back to her mind and room, as Tuska recalled plans, which when conceived the day prior, seemed far more appealing than they did there and now. She felt the softness of the cushions with her right hand, beckoning her eyes to close, the tug of comfort and consistency, something she knew well. But as this option pressed itself into her consciousness, a greater force of rebellion and adventure drove its dagger into the heart of the tug. Slowly but with determination Tuska buoyed her body off her bed and swung her legs down towards the floor. The cat, who was clearly fake sleeping, sprung down and let out an indignant noise. Fuck the cat, Tuska had spent the past week of the unparalleled heat wave in the house, spread eagle on a couch with fans blowing from every side, and the week before that she was too busy canning fish to go outside, and the week before that was probably some other very good and justifiable reason for her not to venture out into the world. No more will she lay around, sit around or be around the house, today, on her birthday, she will go for a walk.
As Tuska descended the stairs from the bedroom, her bones snapped back into place. She held a tight grip on the banister as step by step her body realigned itself. The cat, smugly limber, moved patiently along with her, mewing from time to time. The kitchen was spotless, which was a tactical decision of Tuska the Adventurer from yesterday. Had there been any reason to not go walking, like say, a sink full of dishes, then Tuska the Housekeeper would have gutted Tuska the Adventurer and used her head as a scrub brush. No such luck, the housekeeper grumbled, making her way to the Keurig coffee machine. As she filled the reusable coffee pod, her phone rang. It was her son, no doubt phoning to ostensibly wish her a happy birthday, but also with a pernicious agenda of seeing if she is going out on a walk. She looked to the coffee machine, the phone ending its third ring. Her son had given her a tongue lashing when she bought the machine. How she sat through a long explanation that the machines were originally designed for hotel use only, but buffaloed their way into the consumerist market, and how it was not even able to make a good cup of coffee, and how the culture of disposable coffee pods was just another nail in the coffin of a long dead world, and how she had made yet another horrible decision. The last ring ended. Tuska, with the ease of a trained marksman, slid her coffee cartridge into the Keurig’s magazine and nimbly loaded the machine, revelling in the sensory sliding and clacking mechanism that primed her reusable cartridge. While the black liquid filled her mug, she recalled how the creator of the Keurig publicly denounced the horrid machine as a life failing on his part. She smiled.
Eight A.M., the previous day’s scorching heat had not dissipated completely from the surrounding structures. Tuska stood for a moment at her front door, feeling the radiation coming up from the concrete, the building walls on her sides, and the already intense sunlight beaming from its still relatively low position on the horizon. She looked out over the Georgia Strait, and across the short suburban sprawl and small thicket she would be passing through on her way down the hill to the local farmer’s market. Campbell River had changed greatly since she arrived in the city over thirty years ago. It was no longer a small coastal resource town, whose people relied on coal mining, logging, and fishing to fuel their lives. A grotesque box store economy had taken over as the major employer in the city, where people worked and shopped their lives away, a company town of the modern age. The deforestation and coal burning industries had contracted greatly, their reduction leaving behind an annihilated work force and out of control emissions. Once fueling lives, now fueling death, dwindling fish stocks and the Canadian Heat Dome that all pressed in on Tuska on her day of birth. But the strait was still beautiful, shimmering silver stardust against the fuzzy green islands that surrounded the coastline. She could see the lighthouse from her home, which had long since been disconnected, its deep BOOOOOOOO WAAAAAAAA tones no longer audible across the town on the foggy nights. An invisible global digital system safeguarded boat passage now, silent, never again resonating to the shifts in the landscape, reliably informing the public on the state of the world. The cat watched her through the front window, head cocked to the side, as she finally strode off towards the market.
The residential area between Tuska’s home and the market rose up organically over the past 70 years or so. This growth showcased various building styles of the decades, a Vancouver Special here and there, some California Ranchers sprinkled around and a few custom builds that followed whatever was trendy at the time of creation. Quiet streets with no sidewalks, driveways with multiple vehicles and lush lawns in front of every house that proudly displayed each owner’s lack of imagination and no sense of value. The hot asphalt of the road radiated up intensely as Tuska made her way down the hill, sweat beginning to accumulate and dribble. Apples from people’s trees were amounting on the manicured lawns, rotting, fermenting. In recent years, black bears had started appearing throughout the residential zones of the city in much larger frequencies than ever before. Getting intoxicated on the rotten fruit, it was not uncommon to spot a drunkard bear careening through a neighbourhood, smashing through fences before collapsing in a garden somewhere to sleep it off. Recalling these stories, Tuska scanned for signs of property damage, loose lids on garbage cans or freshly broken fence posts. Seeing none, she lifted both hands up to shoulder height, and with a quick downward motion of the wrists waved them as if swatting at symmetrically flying wasps. Her mind was somewhat eased of danger, but still alert, as she approached the small forested area which would need to be passed before getting to the waterfront market.
A cooling fog welcomed Tuska into the lush greenery. Soon the tremendous heat of the coming day would evaporate this lagoon, but for now it was an appreciated constitutional boost, and Tuska decided to sit down on a log for a moment and rejuvenate. The thicket was approximately the area of a suburban block, and was accessed via foot-beaten trails that tangled their way across its topology. These blocks were a child’s play dream, perfect for forts and prowling about, evading adults and general planning of deeds that require privacy and secrecy. In addition, the blocks have become well traversed conduits for wildlife which naturally existed on the perimeters of the small town. Deer moved easily through the urban setting using the same trails that Tuska was using, a plague upon the various flower gardens maintained by the suburbanites. Bears too used these thickets to move about, something that occurred to Tuska right before she heard the very audible crackle of sticks from just out of sight, but close to where she was sitting. Then another crackle, and then silence.
Tuska’s previously calmed mind spiked into an animalistic state of alertness, as she trained her hearing on the location of the original sounds and scanned the deep green bush with her unblinking gaze. Images of drunk bears waking from their hangover, grumpy and groggy, brought back feelings she had recalled from her life in Poland, where as a young woman she often traveled by bus. The bus system had been well established, and anyone who cared to move from one place to another, was willing to sleep in a tent, or make friends in a village, could see a large part of the country. On one of her excursions, a mid-twenties Tuska, was dropped off at a late and dark hour on the side of the road about five kilometers from her destination. She knew she would have to walk when she started her trip, but the bus had been delayed and arrived many hours later than originally scheduled. In 1960s rural Poland, the existence of street lighting was scarce, and the likelihood of seeing another person out so late, at least one of no ill intent, was low. Soon after Tuska began walking towards the village, she became aware of a presence, moving in step with her, but in the forest a few meters off to the side of the road that she was on. As she hastened her step, the crackling of the twigs hastened too, her heart followed suit. She hoped the sounds were those of a drunk bear, but knew that it was a different drunk altogether, quite aware of the bus stop’s location. Soon Tuska was in full sprint, no longer hearing sounds of any kind, the moonlit dirt path in front of her the sole focus of her mind. When she slammed her first fist into the door of the village house, she had no recollection of how long she had been running for or if the knife was inches from her back or miles away.
A pinecone struck Tuska on her right shoulder and fell limply to the ground. Bears do not throw pinecones, it’s something Tuska happened to know about bears. Loud rustling pulled her attention off the ground and into the forest. She began triangulating the pinecone path against the noise in the bush and spotted three young boys scrambling away, laughter fading as they went. Kids, scum of the earth, who else would throw a pinecone at a lady sitting on a log. There is nothing more cruel and self-centered than a child with a pinecone, perhaps only second to a group of children on a playground with some words. Tuska gathered herself up off the log. She thought back to when she was still in grade school and how for some reason – one that she no longer remembered – she had been boasting about the talents of her father. The school yard kids began teasing her, but Tuska the Braggart pressed on, insisting that her daddy, the expert motorcycle stunt master, would have no trouble riding his bike up the large exterior schoolhouse staircase. The children’s mockery bit down hard, isolating Tuska for the rest of the day, with audible snickering whenever she was within earshot. That evening, her father noticed her sullen mood, and asked to be informed about what happened. He was, but then said little, leaving the crestfallen child to be tended by her mother.
The staircase was built according to soviet standards– wide, steep and imposing. Her father’s motorcycle pulled up to the curb and Tuska began to slide off, but then her father grabbed her leg and pulled her light body firmly into his back, instructing her to grip around his stomach and to be firm but loose, whatever that meant. He burped the throttle, for no other reason than to announce, “here we come mother fuckers, eat shit and die”. The bike lurched up onto the curb, the rear tire bumping hard, causing Tuska to leave the seat for a short time, but then landing softly on the yielding cushion. The stairs were approaching quickly and she had never realized how steep they were, the jagged cusps of each step a thin razor. The motorcycle roared in its low gear as the front end pulled up onto the first steps, all the children in the area stopped and watched in silence, their parents an overlapping projection of shock and disgust. Once on the steep grade, the bike performed beautifully, calmly climbing up the incline with not much more than a gentle bounce, which young Tuska found incredibly fun. At the crest, her father pulled the bike sideways profile, so all could gaze from below as Tuska dismounted in triumph. She tried to not make eye contact with anyone, no need to rub it in. She hugged her father and went inside, like any other normal school day, no big whoop.
Tuska slid off her log and dusted some pine needles off herself before setting out towards the ocean. Twisting single track trails pulled her down the slope, and out through a cavernous opening composed of evergreens, salal, and ferns. Golden light and blue waters spilled into view as she exited the green thicket. The market was within eye shot, already bustling with the townspeople, although it would be much more crowded in a couple hours. These early market hours were for a specific section of the population, early risers, elderly, vagrants and people looking to get a produce scoop on the freshest and in least supply. The middle-class scumbags and their spawn will be clogging the aisles soon enough, but for now, a civilized person could move about relatively unperturbed and engage in honest commerce with their fellow humans.
Market stalls were set up by vendors around the town’s pier. The pier was one of the crowning achievements of Campbell River, standing thirty feet above the ocean surface, built up on massive logs, with a walkway built from wide planks that shoot out one hundred meters towards the center of the strait, before making a dog leg left and running another four hundred meters to the side. Large tendrils of kelp, pulled by the direction of the tide, wrap thickly around the stalks of the pier, as white foam builds up in the turbulent waters. This structure was a testament to the local logging industry, which had successfully removed trees from ninety percent of the island’s surface area, many times over. With the town’s bear population a testament to the clearcuts. The scale of the pier did not match the scale of the town when it was erected, and it was a structure too grand for even Victoria, but maybe not Vancouver. Cool salt air made the transition from the thicket to the market less traumatic than Tuska was imagining, the sweltering heat left behind in the suburban hell that tried to murder her a few minutes ago. Produce is what she sought, some freshies for her evening guests to munch on as they smile in her direction and laugh at all her jokes, on this, the special day, of her birth.
Tuska moved among the stalls, shiny trinkets beckoned her attention from all directions, homemade jewelry, prints of coastal landscapes and polished driftwood lined tables manned by an assortment of townspeople. Shells glued to bottles, whose beauty and purpose eluded Tuska, were neatly laid out in front of one very old man that was crafting yet another one of his questionable objects. He sat relaxed, stretched out in his high-end patio gravity chair, and nodded a confident hello to Tuska as she stared, perplexed by his aesthetic choices. Colorful fabrics hung from hooks and blew wildly in the ocean breeze, while a three piece of teenage musicians twanged off some tunes in the corner, mostly in time. Tuska smiled, it was all so desperately charming.
Although the majority of the stalls were dedicated to useless garbage, manufactured by talentless people, some stands were still dedicated to selling locally produced, fresh vegetables at exorbitant prices. Exorbitant compared to the supermarkets perhaps, but as Tuska had come to believe, the value of food had skewed over her many years on this planet. The expected amount a person is to spend on feeding themselves, chiseled away over time, with the use of filler materials, preservatives and strategies for a commodification of food giving way to selling as many different things as quickly as possible to everyone and anyone who would pay. Tuska picked up a bunch of carrots and began a thorough inspection, deep colour, fluffy green tops, fresh, firm. As she turned the carrots over in her hand, the lady tending this particular table leaned in and through her salesman smile asked if Tuska had any questions. Tuska replied, in her heavily accented English “no, thank you, but this is a nice one” and proceeded to comb the lush green locks of the carrot bunch while raising her eyebrows and smiling. The comical jest did not manage to penetrate, and the stand owner replied with “No dear, those are KA ROTS…….KAAAA ROTS”. Tuska, who over her time in Canada, speaking her brand of broken English, being comical in her unappreciated Polish ways, had become used to being thought of as a moron. Cast off by many as a lesser than, and treated as though her intellect and true self did not dwarf the meager minds that she suffered on a daily basis. Often these condescending remarks were shrugged off, but today, on her day of birth, she was feeling puckish. She replied, in her accented way, but putting a bit more English on her manner, “yesssss they are, but you know, I am not stupid, yeees?”. The lady tending the stall, who reeked of the kind of civility and ethics that are constructed out of social obligation rather than deep personal introspection, went pale and placed a hand on her chest, gently fingering the small golden crucifix which hung from her neck. “Oh no, no nono, I did not mean that, no, but, please…” she stammered, her salty character presented to her in the crisp morning light of the beautiful seaside setting. “I will take this KAAAA ROT” Tuska inflected her pantomime, expertly matching the bigot’s speech. The lady behind the stall, shamed and horrified, tried to insist that the carrots be accepted as a gift, but Tuska was no longer satisfied by mere vegetables, she wanted her pound of flesh and insisted on paying. Tuska mouthed “KAAAA ROTS” as if desperately trying to learn a cryptic dialect, while she dug through her wallet for the money owed. She shoved the bill into the woman’s hand, while applying the widest and most pleasantly insincere smile she could come up with. With an added effort of poor grammar and syntax Tuska proclaimed “ThanK you much vAry for a KAAAAAA ROTS, Eeeeeteeeesahhhhnaaaice won” stroking the green tops as she secured her vegetables into her carrying bag. The stall attendant sank back away, into the shelter, letting the shadow of the awning fall onto her mortified expression, Satan had surely paid her a visit.
Tuska the Tremendous, her large sun hat brim bending at the headwind generated by her forward progress. Tuska the Tyrant, the taste of catholic blood fresh on her pallet. Tuska the Titan, lord of the land, marched home, with a power stride she had not felt in a while. She bulldozed through the thicket, swatting branches out of her way with masterfully timed karate chops. As she walked she kicked pinecones, her kicking leg extending beautifully as the projectiles gained substantial loft and zipped off into the bush, hopefully striking some little bastard between the eyes. She gave zero fucks as she blazed through the infernal suburbs, the thick syrupy stench of the rotting apples parting and then oscillating in her wake, the hot asphalt sticky underfoot. She was sweating and heaving as she slid the keys into her front door, but the exertion did not bother her, she had attacked the day and with much savagery came out on top. Her phone had a slew of messages from family, friends and well wishers. The cat was tracing a figure eight between Tuska’s legs, digging its neck joint deeply into her ankles. Fan on. Second coffee incoming through the Keurig. She decided to call her son.