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I hate that sound, I said. About the train horn in the distance, at night.
We used to hear that sound in Edmonton, my dad said. Lying in bed. At ten after ten. Same time, every night.
Was it mournful? Did you hate it?
We’d hear it three times. The first time, far away. And then you knew you’d hear it again when it passed by north of the city. And then eventually you’d hear it close, and the whole house would shake.
I walked by my elementary school track the other day, where we’d run the 400 metres in laps for gym class. Our grade 7 homeroom teacher was a runner and thought we could be too. She taught us how to breathe, her mouth making an exaggerated “o”, and we stood in a semi-circle contorting our mouths into the “o”, our lips blanching in the Pacific drizzle. When we’d mimicked the breathing and the mannequin arms enough times, we bobbed out onto the wet gravel.
I pushed myself hard those first few weeks. I’d lunge my body forward in space, through the burning in my chest, my oversized sweatshirt puffing out into a sail as I rounded the corners. The track was actually a rectangular pock-marked field, so there were corners. The teacher praised me as we walked back to the school: You really are good at this Dominique. I’ve never seen you participate in gym class like this before.
When I walked by recently, I thought of returning to the track. Maybe discipline would flirt with me there? But then I remembered that my efforts had flagged in the weeks after that praise, so much so that the teacher had taken me aside a while later, genuine concern on her face: Hey. What happened to you? You were doing so well. Are you getting enough sleep?
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was weary of the oncoming fate of it all. The circles. The pretending to dash toward it, when it was all just running up to meet me, regardless.
In the film The Dig, one of the characters talks about his desire to fix people in time by photographing them. I was struck by the use of the word “fix”: normal for the 1930s, but now mostly used to indicate making something better. And I wondered about the meaning of the word.
To fix: to make something better.
To fix: to make something forever.
To fix: to make something better, forever.
My mom had cancer three times. She wouldn’t have known after the first time - a lump taken out of her back - that it was coming back again. But she would have known after the second time - Stage 4 - that it would be returning for a third visit.
She ran in unending circles in an attempt to stave it off. She retired early. She meditated daily. She avoided the sun fastidiously. She exercised regularly. She took her vitamins and sprinkled her muesli with flax seeds. In photographs, high up on mountain tops or deep in forests, she radiates fitness and health.
When my dad was little, he’d go to his mother’s village for the summer, outside of Vienna. He was given the job of taking the cows out to pasture, which in fact meant accompanying the sheep dog Lumpi, as Lumpi took the cows out to pasture. Lumpi was black and white and would run unending circles around the cows to stave off their straying.
Lumpi is immortalized in a photograph, and I’ve seen the picture many times: he’s sitting proudly in the dirt road in front of my great-grandfather’s house. My great-grandfather is standing in a suit, hands on hips, a pipe in his mouth, glaring out from under his hat. My great-uncle is sitting on a chair in the road, cleaning a fish with a knife. My dad is standing beside Lumpi, feet splayed apart, knees poking out under his shorts, squinting into the sun.
I asked my dad what happened to Lumpi, and if he was sad when he died, since he spent all his summers with him.
Lumpi was killed by rats.
I was shocked. I’d never heard of a dog being killed by rats.
You know in the backyard of that house, where Preiner has his equipment now? There were rats living back there then, and they attacked him one day and killed him.
But how could those rats just live there all the time, and then only one day decide to attack the dog? I asked.
I don’t know why it happened all of a sudden.