jaron summers (c) 2023
No Offense Given; None Taken
There wasn’t much to do Saturday night except a movie at The Avalon, the town’s only theater, or maybe have a cold Coke and a warm piece of pie at Chong’s Cafe. Sometimes there was a dance or a wedding.
Mac’s pool hall had no ventilation, blue with grimy smoke (from roll-your-owns) that made me cough. Mac in his 80s, smoked Camels jammed into a cracked ivory cigarette holder. He was usually drunk, and one night he threw his 75-year-old, 95-pound wife out of their home. She slept in a wicker clothes basket in his tool shed.
Mac teased me about being a virgin. “Hey, when are you going to get a piece of ass? Time is flying, Boy. Get it when you can. ” This chiding was tough to endure when there were only a couple of regulars in his pool hall, but it was more than I could handle when the place was packed with farmers, ranchers and locals … all itching for an opportunity to laugh.
Friday and Saturday nights, I avoided Mac’s. Mostly just walked around.
“Hey, Sport,” said a voice.
I squinted down the dusty alley that bordered Chong’s Cafe.
Kort was sitting behind the wheel of a new 1961 Chevy Coupe. Kort was 18, the same as me—except he looked like a man—he’d been shaving since he was 12, and he had muscles. Big muscles—the kind that made it easy for him to fling monstrous hay bales around like they were prairie puffballs on his father’s farm.
“What are you doing in town?” I asked.
“Came to see my woman—it’s her birthday tomorrow. Got her some imported French perfume. Like my new buggy?”
“It’s great,” I said. I was thinking about Jill. She had sparkling green eyes and was my idea of what a 17-year-old dream girl should be. Jill could have any guy she wanted, but I never put the moves on her because Kort had asked me to keep an eye on her while he was roughnecking on the oil rigs of Northern Alberta.
Kort and I had been buddies since the third grade, and dozens of times he had stopped locals from breaking my underdeveloped body into smaller pieces. When a friend like that asks you for a favor, it’s hard to say no.
“Pile in,” he said. “Let’s liven up this berg.”
For a new car, the Chevy was deteriorating quickly—a dent in the rear fender, a broken bumper, and a missing tail light. The back window was cracked and caked with mud. I guess that’s what happens when you work in the oil fields.
I walked around to the passenger side and got in.
“Seen much of Jill?” asked Kort, grinding the car into second and turning onto Main Street: a couple of hardware stores, a couple of service stations, a couple of banks, a couple of cafes, a couple of grocery stores, and a couple of laundries. There was also a drug store, a butcher shop, and a junk shop.
“Anybody been getting down to brass tacks with her?”
“Not that I’ve heard of.” Brass tacks was Bret’s code for getting laid.
He reached under his seat and snared a bottle of beer. He offered it to me; I shook my head, gave him a weak smile.
“Still don’t drink, ‘eh? Remember them times your old man got drunk at the barbecues, and one night old lady McCalpine called your mother and said your old man was rooting around like a crazy bear in her carrot patch?”
“Yeah. I remember.” I didn’t want to remember. Dad drank far too much but so did most guys in our tiny corner of Alberta.
“Well, pop the lid on this brew for me.”
I found the bottle opener and flipped off the bottle cap. I passed the bottle to him, and Kort lifted it to his lips and took a long pull. Then he gave a sidelong glance. “Hey, you’ve been putting on muscle—another couple of months, and you can be a roughneck.”
“Mom says it’s too dangerous.”
“Doesn’t she know our middle names are danger, Pal?” Kort wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jean jacket. He looked at me and smiled, smiled with the satisfaction of a man who had left home and was successful in the world. “By the way, thanks for keeping an eye on Jill. Anything I should know?”
I wondered if he had heard that I had gone to the movies with Jill a few days earlier. “Naw. She studies a lot. Everyone says she’s going to university”.”
And there she was, the dream girl.
Jill stood in front of The Builder’s Hardware amid a group of Hutterites who had come into town for Saturday night. The Hutterites dressed in black shoes, black pants, black skirts, black shirts, and black hats. They spoke English with a thick German accent and lived in a Hutterite colony about twenty miles from Coronation—they collectively held massive sections of land. But the individual owned nothing. The head man of the colony gave the men enough money to buy a couple of beers on Saturday nights. The women didn’t get any money, so they waited on the streets and window shopped while their men drank beer and talked. There was usually a brawl somewhere in the town around midnight. Not among the Hutterites. They watched the locals kick the shit out of each other.
Jill was a daisy in a field of black shadows, standing there in the middle of all those Hutterites. I don’t think I ever remember anyone looking more beautiful. She could have frozen an incoming missile with one of her minor smiles.
She saw me and flashed me a warm smile—with teeth as white and perfect as chicklets. Then she looked past me and saw Kort, grinning at her.
“Hi, Kort,” she said. “What are you doing back in town?”
“I like your car.”
“This old jalopy? Bought it off a toolpush who got a contract for South America. Get in., Jill”
“OK if Irene comes with us?”
Jill flashed Kort a sparkling smile. (Until I saw that smile, I didn’t think Jill was capable of a warmer smile than she had given me. That gives you an idea of how much I knew about women.)
Jill opened the back door of the car so that her friend could get in. Out of the shadows came her friend — she had acne that was close to a terminal case, lightly cross-eyed, and her nose was not great. I was afraid she was going to be my date for the night.
“Hey,” said Kort. “Why don’t you sit up here with me?”
“Irene and I want to talk—“
“You can talk any time.”
“What’s on your mind, Mr. Roughneck?” giggled Jill. She stayed in the back seat.
Kort flashed me an annoyed look. “Women,” he mumbled.”
“That’s an evil tone to your voice,” said Jill. “You’re better than that, Brett.”
“No offense given, none taken,” said Brett. That was an expression he had recently learned from one of his uncles. I had to admit it took people off guard and made Brett seem kind of educated.
“Wow. You must have been reading some of the classics.” There was approval in her voice.
“Here, Pretty Lady. Happy Birthday. Pass this back to her, Jerry” he said and I handed her a small package wrapped in silver and gold.
As he drove down Main Street Jill undid the wrapping, and both girls squealed with delight. “It’s all the way from Paris,” said Irene. Kort checked his rearview mirror, keeping one eye on Jill. I had an eye on Kort.
Jill screamed: “Stop!”
BEGIN EDIT SUNDAY
Kort hit the brakes, and my forehead nearly bounced against the windshield. If we had been going any faster, I would have probably gone through the glass.
Standing nonchalantly on the gravel road—two inches in front of the Chevy’s hood was Bart Barley. Actually, his name was Harland Barley, but everyone called him Bart Barley—but never to his face. Bart Barley and Kort were the two toughest guys in town. No one messed with them. They both had the same philosophy—if anyone challenged them to a fight, they exploded like hammers coming out of hell.
(Dec 18 23)
Bart—who had seen Rebel Without A Cause about a dozen times—was lighting a cigarette. He took a long drag, let the smoke trickle out of his wide nostrils, tucked the package into his sleeve, pulled his ear, adjusted the crotch of his jeans. He glanced into the headlights of the Chevy as though he had seen it for the first time. Bart had skin the color and texture of old potatoes—this was from working in the summer sun on his uncle’s farm.
The mercury vapor lights made the metal tabs on his shirt collar glisten like twisted stars. Bart’s shirt was western cut—he always wore it when he had on his silver belt buckle. He had won the buckle at the Stettler Rodeo when he was 16 years old. The win had cost him five broken ribs, a twisted ankle, and the tip of his right small finger. He once told me the buckle would have been worth his entire finger.
Bart ran a callused hand along the hood of the Chevy. Then he looked in at Kort and said: “Son of a bitch, this is some car—where’d you get her?”
“Same place you could get one if you’d work on the rigs,” said Kort.
By this time Bart was standing next to Kort’s door. Bart looked in and saw me, then he spotted the two girls in the back seat.
“Hop in, and I’ll show you how this thing takes the corners,” said Kort.
Bart shrugged and reached for Jill’s door. I guess he