Observation’s Vehicle

One’s own emergence as a subject is itself a fraught porosity.
Erín Moure

It’s summertime. The expansive yard of the childhood home is green. Home was once a one-bedroom trailer. Home has become an ongoing project, onto which the father has built a living room and a second storey and onto which the father will build a new master bedroom. Wilderness surrounds the home. There is a forest beyond the dirt lane and the cow field. In childhood imagination this forest stretches beyond any conceivable distance. There is a second forest beyond the two side-by-side potato fields across the road. This second forest stretches just to the wharf of Savage Harbour, which the childhood self can see over the tree tops by standing on tiptoes and straining her green eyes. The home itself sits in the middle of a vast yard at the end of a dirt lane. It is one of only thirty or so family homes in the entire community of Canavoy. The exact number of residents is unavailable, since local statistics tend to ascribe the population to one of the two neighbouring towns.

At this point in the summertime, when both the mother and the father are likely to be exhausted from the fish plant and the lobster boat and the pervasive heat, the yard should be wild with yellow dandelions. No one would have cared to cut the grass in weeks. There should be yellow dandelions overwhelming the green of the grass, but as I recount this story now, spooling as it does from imperfect memory, it is all green. The dirt lane opens up from the gravel road, which would not yet have been paved. The lane circles down and loops in front of the splintered wooden boards of the unfinished deck. The deck will be unfinished still, nearly two decades later.

This evergreen moment of my childhood is the story I tell the man who is taking me to bed, the story I tell the friend whose bare thighs are sticking to the bar stool, the story I tell the class with whom I am reading a poem by Irving Layton. This evergreen moment is the story of the time that as a child I unlatched the gate of the butcher’s trailer.

A young bull entered the yard and ran bucking across the green. Where had my father been at the moment when I approached the dark and humid container? I am afraid of the wild creature inside, so I move slowly. A well-timed shout or the sight of an adult would be enough to stop me. Where had my father been at the moment when I yelped and pulled my hand back from the searing heat of the latch? Pain is not something I can take quietly. I cradle my hand and sulk for a moment before using the tail of my T-shirt to unlatch the gate.

My father and the butcher are standing in the kitchen, their grime- and blood-stained blue jeans nestled against the newly painted white cupboards and sweating glasses of moonshine nestled in their calloused hands. “Canavoy Tranquilizer,” my father calls it, pouring from the two-litre jug into the short multi-coloured tumblers from which my brother, my sister and I drink our 3.5% milk or Pepsi cola.

It is the moment after the gate gapes open that my father appears. His dark gaze lifts from the drink in hand to the sign of life bucking behind the kitchen window. He shouts. His voice rings out in the humid air, as it does in the morning when he discovers no one has fed the dogs, in the afternoon when he discovers his children sitting inside in front of the television, in the evening when he discovers his wife has scoured the hot grease, which he was saving, from his favourite iron skillet.

His voice rings out from inside the house as the young bull is seen from the kitchen window. Now, flinging open the screen door of our front porch and bounding across the green of our lawn, his voice rings out a second time and collides directly with my swimming head. He does not look at me as he jumps onto his red four-wheeler and, in one familiar motion of arm drawn down and out, revs the engine and begins his ride, standing tall, toward the road. Meanwhile, the butcher follows at a slower pace. He unlatches and disconnects the trailer from its pull before jumping into his red truck. My father’s sunburnt neck is already out of view as the truck turns from the lane onto the road. Both these men, my father and his friend, the butcher, drive their red vehicles after the young bull.

By now, the calf has spasmed in escape across the shallow ditch and down the narrow gravel road beyond the available eyeline. I am left on the red dirt lane, amidst the green lawn, with my mother and my two younger siblings. They had come pouring out from the home at the sound of my father’s second shout. My brother is a round toddler in this memory. My sister, just a year older, is already two heads taller. My mother is gripping my shoulder with one of her long-fingered hands. The finely sculpted white tips dig into the flesh of my skin. They leave an impression that will last for days: fine red points that, impossibly, go nearly an inch deep. We are standing in the empty dirt lane, staring into the gaping gate of the abandoned trailer. We are one woman and her three children awaiting the return of man and animal. My mother is speaking out of the side of her mouth, dismissive of the excitement or fear of her children. In the low and lilting voice of a woman perpetually amused by her own poor fate, she trails after the men. The bull calf will return to the trailer, she says.

My mother is in ass-bearing jean shorts and a wide-necked tank top, which in this memory is fraying against the mechanical support of her 38EE bra. This is the image of my mother seared into my mind: a woman whose body is front and centre, spilling outward and snagging on the eye of man and child. The boys at school enjoyed miming the curve of my mother’s breasts. The grins of grown men at the grocery store or the nearby beach were enamoured with the otherworldly size of my mother’s tits.

They’ll get him, she says. Of course, she is right. The bull calf returns, chased into the yard by my father’s red four-wheeler. The gate is latched by the butcher. The whole thing, trailer and calf, is reconnected to the truck. The butcher leaves with the young bull. Some days later, a gift in waxed paper emerges in our deep freezer.

This story, as I tell it, is mine. This story, upon proper inspection, cannot be mine: I was not a rebellious child. In fact, as far back into memory as my eyeline allows, it is evident I was committed to remaining wholly unseen and unheard by man, woman, or child. When my mother’s friends drove into our lane and poured out of their vehicles with their loud children in tow, I would hide behind the vertical blinds of the living room window and remain there until the silence of an emptied evening returned to our isolated home. When my brother, my sister and I were the children ushered into the dark green minivan and brought to the holiday party of an extended family member, I would crouch behind an uncle’s armchair, out of view, silently reading from a library paperback until my father had drunk one too many beers or my mother had insulted one too many sisters-in-law.  There is only the remotest possibility that this unseen, unheard young girl had ever been so bold as to interfere in the life of a wild animal or to disrupt the business of men.

We did have cattle in the field surrounding our home. We did sell this calf, and many others, to my father’s friend, the butcher. I did not like these animals: the slow-moving cows, the ferocious bulls, the bow-legged calves. I was afraid of these wild creatures and their rolling eyes. This was not the first young calf to attempt escape, but it would have been the first young calf to receive my assistance.

Jessi MacEachern, born in Epekwitk/Prince Edward Island, currently lives in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, where she teaches English literature. Her debut poetry collection A Number of Stunning Attacks was published by Invisible in 2021. Her forthcoming poetry collection is Cut Side Down and will be published by Invisible in 2025.