Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sweeping Up ...

Ross shook hands with the auctioneer at the door, thanking him for the many tasks that were part of an emotional day. He watched as he crossed the street and hopped in his truck and drove away.

Glancing at the cheque in his hand he shook his head. His mind crowded with many thought, but atleast the money raised through auctioning everything off would save the building and their home. Tucking it in the back pocket of his jeans he picked up the broom and started sweeping the floor.

"Might as well tidy the place up for the potential buyer," he thought as he started pushing the broom across the wooden floor. Memories of what was and could have been swirled around him like the dust that floated around the head of the broom. The methodical motion of pushing the broom back and forth over the the old wooden floors helped sooth the ache that he felt.

Lost in thought he failed to hear the door open until J-- was standing beside him.

"Hey buddy," J-- said softly.

Ross looked up and wiped away a tear, "Damned dust," he said as he wiped his hand on his jeans.

"Yeah, these old buildings can kick up a lot of dust," said J-- softly, a slight smile crossing his face, "Got any coffee?" he said hopefully.

Ross sighed, "I do, but I've haven't even got a cup to put it in ..." his arm waved around the now empty building, only the 'Chipperfield Bros' sign was left hanging over the wall between the kitchen and the front.

"No worries," said J-- with a chuckle, "I brought my own," with that he pulled a burgundy mug out of his pocket, "call it a little souvenier from my last visit here."

Ross laughed, "you stole a mug? No wonder we had to have the auction to cover our losses." He took the mug from J--'s hand and stepped behind the now empty counter where one last pump carafe stood, "Your regular?"

"Yup," said J--, leaning on the counter facing Ross as he continued, "I had been hoping to get a set of 8 of those, but I only managed to snag that one yesterday when I was here, and I couldn't bring myself to come and watch the vultures pick the bones today."

Ross nodded as the hot black liquid filled the mug.

"It's like this everytime a business closes in this town," observed J--, "the folks who wouldn't darken the door while it was open show up to snag a few bargains."

"Bargains?" scoffed Ross as he poured cream into J--'s mug from the tiny cardboard container sitting along side the coffee carafe, "A closing out auction sale is no bargain ..."

"It is to the vultures," laughed J--, "Remember when the furniture store closed? Ninety percent of the people who were there never came in when it was running. But they sure as shooting showed up when it was closing. That's just the way this town is. They don't like change, and they would rather pay more going to Brandon to buy the exact same thing because it's the Big City, and it must be better ..."

"Even if it comes off the same freight truck," said Ross dryly.

"Exactly," said J-- pausing to sip his coffee, "Gawd, I'm gonna miss this ..." he lifted his mug with a smile.

"Yeah," said Ross quietly, glancing around the now empty shop, "Me too." his voice echoed in the emptiness, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Hmmmm," J-- sipped his coffee again before speaking, "it was a good idea, and it met a need. But it was too little too late for a town that wants to die."

"What do you mean?" said Ross, his face looking surprised.

"Look around you Ross," said J-- with a serious gaze, "there's a reason there are so many 'for sale' signs on houses here, and why Main St has more hair salons and empty businesses than healthy active ones. And now they want to build a 100 room hotel and arena. Seriously, how will this town survive when we keep closing the doors on business after business. We're becoming like Basswood, Clanwilliam, and Rapid City."

Ross stared at J-- without saying a word.

"You can see it can't you?" marvelled J--, "that our town is slowly dying? We've lost the Internet Pharmacy, the furniture store, the fried chicken outlet, the jewellery store, the florist and now the coffee shop. How much more evidence do you need?"

"I hadn't thought of it that way," observed Ross, "I was so caught up in trying to save this place, I hadn't thought about what was going on up and down Main St."

For a long moment neither man spoke, as J-- sipped his coffee and Ross was lost in thought. Ross broke the silence.

"But there have been new things open on Main St," he said hopefully.

"Sure, a half dozen new hair salons," laughed J--, and the old tractor supply building has new tenants, but nothing that will pull traffic off the highway, and keep people here on a Saturday to shop. Hell, I hate to admit it, but when I was a kid this place was happening on Friday and Saturday nights. We used to come down town early just to get a parking spot. But now you could fire off a howitzer on Main St most Saturday afternoons and there would be no damage to any one or anything. I tell you, this town is dying."

"I hate to think that," observed Ross, "I had always hoped this place would be part of reviving the town and drawing people in." Picking up the guest book he flipped it open and observed the many names and places represented there, "I mean, look at this," he held up the guest book, "It has visitors from around the world, and our regulars were always here."

"But you let small town politics come into play," observed J--.

"Huh?" muttered Ross looking up, "what do you mean?"

"When The Rev stopped feeling welcomed here, it was the beginning of the end," said J-- softly, "the people who fear change, and who want everything to stay the same and who want to control EVERYTHING prevailed and put and end to the potential that people like The Rev brought to our communty. He was an outsider."

"So am I," observed Ross, "but it wasn't that he was no longer welcomed," he paused as he chose his words thoughtfully, "there were other factors ..." his voice trailed off.

"Other factors?" J--'s face cracked into a broad smile, "the rumours and gossip about all the things he supposedly did? All of which you and I both know were complete bullshit. Or was it that he stood up to the dysfunctional and toxic people in our community and wouldn't let them get away with treating him the way they did? Or was it that he represented change to a town that isn't interested in having ANYTHING change now or ever? Or was it simply he ruffled too many feathers by being who he was and speaking out on things he felt passionate about?"

Ross stared at J-- and said nothing.

"Or was it the fact that he saw the cracks around here and wasn't willing to say nothing because he liked you and Bonnie and wanted to see your business succeed inspite of a dying town?"

Ross shook his head, "He just couldn't let it go ..."

"Let what go?" asked J--, "that he tried to help people and the community? That he ultimately did NOTHING wrong, but was railroaded out of town by a group of church people who have done this to a half a dozen ministers before him?" J-- paused, "come on Ross, he was your friend and you joined the mob that wanted to drive the monster out of town too. And the rest of us did nothing to stop them. It was just like the movie Frankenstein. They grabbed their pitchforks and torches and after a few ignorant proclamations, the mob went after him."

"It wasn't that at all ..." said Ross quietly.

"Come on Ross," laughed J-- dryly, "the guy had his life threatened, one of our so-called upstanding citizens sent an email dripping with lies to his friends, he had his van tire slashed, his house and van got shot at, they trashed his reputation, they accused him of affairs because he was friends with one of YOUR employees who was in a shitty marriage, the anonymous comments on his own blog and the whispered nonsense through town ... it WAS LIKE THAT. No on deserves to be treated that way, and yet everyone from the Church leadership, through to the Town Council played a role in it. It was like everyone took secret delight in watching it happen ..."

"He could have just walked away," said Ross looking down, avoiding J--'s eyes.

"Ross. You can't be serious?" J-- shook his head, "he loved this town. He had a dozen friends. He wanted to help this town become something more. He didn't want to leave and let the mob win."

"But he wouldn't listen," Ross' voice gained some strength, "we tried to help him ..."

"Sure, you offered him a job, then fired him without the decency of a conversation before," J-- shook his head again, "then you threw salt in his wounds by saying 'we value your friendship'. Think about it Ross, you let the viciousness of small town politics prevail. You let the bullies in our community control your business," pausing he glanced around, "and it turned out well didn't it?"

"It wasn't The Rev who did this," observed Ross, his face reddening.

"Fair enough," said J--, "but he was the canary in the coal mine. We drove him out of town, and with him went a lot of enthusiasm and support for this town. Talk to people in town, we're not just a town that is divided, we're a town that has no will to live. I hear "To hell with it," over and over. No body is interested in seeing this place live any more. And it is because we've let the lunatics take over the asylum."

Ross stared at the counter where the cash register once sat, pausing before replying, "We never wanted to drive him out." said Ross softly, "but he wouldn't respect the boundaries we asked him to observe."

"Boundaries?" scoffed J--, "true friends don't need boundaries. Boundaries are for keeping your enemies out, or for hiding things away. True friends can talk to you about anything, any time, and your support and care for them is unconditional. I know that The Rev offered that to everyone, and in return we treated him like Frankenstein's Monster and drove him out of the valley."

"But he wouldn't let things go ..." said Ross glancing up at J--, "We asked him ..."

"He wouldn't let it go because he could see the truth behind it," said J--, "he made some mistakes that he more than paid for, but he also had the ability to see through the situation and name the truth. Especially when it came to incompetence and the two-faced-ness of too many people around here. Remember what he said about his visit to that place in Ontario? The director said his ADD coupled with his high intelligence made him like a shark. He would pounce on the idiotic statements being made and leave the person angry because they had been embarassed by the young upstart who very much an outsider."

"But that was the problem," said Ross, "he couldn't bite his tongue and leave things alone."

"What wouldn't he leave alone?" asked J--, "God knows this town is filled with people who have attained thier positions because they have been the last one standing, not because they are particularly skilled or capable. People like The Rev are a threat to folks like that. Their inabilities and shortcomings are laid bare, and they react in fear. They have too many skeletons in their closests that people like The Rev could inadvertantly expose for all too see ..."

"That's not it," said Ross plaintively, "you don't understand."

"I grew up in this town," said J-- laughing, "I've had a long and winding road in this life. Don't tell me I don't understand. The problem is, I DO understand what's going on here, and I think we need more folks like The Rev who are willing to rock the boat and expose some of the dirty little secrets that keep this town rolling."

J-- paused to sip his coffee. Tipping the mug back he drained its contents with a smile, "Dang that was good." offering the mug to Ross he asked, "Got any more?"

"One last one for old times sake?" said Ross smiling, though his eyes were clouded with sadness.

"You bet," laughed J--, "might as well go out on a high note."

Ross pumped the coffee and nodded his head whistfully, "Guess it's not been a high note has it?"

"Could have been," observed J--, "if we would have had the courage to stand agaist the mob and stop the nonsense once and for all. But that takes a lot of courage. It's hard to tell your neighbour and friend that they are being a horses' ass. It's easier to turn on the new comer and drive them out of town."

"Kind of like Ibsen's play "Enemy of the People"?" observed Ross.

"Huh?" said J--, "Not familiar with that story."

"Oh, it's about a little town in Norway," said Ross, "they have hot springs that offer healing to people who travel from all over the world to soak in them. Then one day the young doctor or someone realizes that the water is poisoned and that it could kill people if something isn't done. But the only thing to do is shut down the springs."

"So what happens?" asked J--.

"The town leaders will not hear of it," said Ross, "they won't risk the reputation of the town by listening to this new comer who clearly doesn't know what he's talking about. So instead of listening to his wisdom and his suggestions the town father form a mob and drive him out of town ..."

"Was the place called Minnedosa?" asked J-- with a laugh.
"Maybe," said Ross, "The bit I can't remember is whether they drive him out of town, or if they kill him?"

"Kind of a difference in outcome isn't it?" said J-- wryly.

"Well, I remember the Arthur Miller play 'The Crucible' has the outsider killed, but I can't remember if Ibsen has him killed or just driven out of town." Ross shrugged.

"Most mobs want blood, and won't be satisified until they have the head of the outsider to parade around," said J--.

"Unfortunately that is too true," agreed Ross, "driving the outsider away isn't enough. They have to suffer too."

"I think The Rev has suffered enough," observed J--, "his reputation is in tatters, his job is gone, his circle of friends have vanished, his career as minister is very much in doubt, and his marriage fell apart, and everyone has held to the lies and the bullshit telling each other that because they keeping saying these things they MUST be true."

J-- glanced around the shop, "So, any idea who is gonna rent this?"

"Nope," said Ross sadly, "There isn't much interest in putting a business on Main St any more."

"Oh come on," laughed J--, "when they build that new hotel and arena complex this town will be hopping."

Ross shook his head glumly, "I don't see how we can build something like that when the hotels we have in town can't make enough to fix themselves up now ... it's just idiocy."

"Like I said - 'the lunatics are running the asylum', and we've let it happen." said J-- dryly, "so, where have all the girls gone?"

Ross sighed as he answered, "I don't really know," he shook his head, "I couldn't bring myself to even talk to them after we had to lay everyone off last week, it just hurt too much."

"I thought you always took pride in calling this place 'a family'?" asked J--, "sounds like a dysfunctional family to me."

Ross shook his head, "We thought we had a family, but ..." his voice trailed off.

"Maybe The Rev was right about that too huh?" said J-- shaking his head too.

"Maybe," observed Ross, "maybe."

"Too bad for us ..." said J-- with a shake of his head.

"Got that right ..."agreed Ross, "maybe the town will finally figure it out before it's too late. Maybe they will hear the voices of people who want to see the town grow and prosper and who aren't interested in playing politics, but who want experience, knowledge and background to determine who gets the jobs and opportunities rather than who is owed a favour."

J-- started laughing, "I've been in this town for 70 years and I've lost track of how many times I've heard that said."

"Ain't gonna happen will it?" said Ross.

"It ain't gonna happen," observed J--, "there will always be a town here. But the glory days are over. Just look at Rivers. That's where we're heading ... and folks like The Rev wanted to warn us and help us avoid that fate ..."

"But ..." added Ross.

"Exactly," said J-- tipping back his coffee and once again draining the mug, "I need another coffee ..."

"Pot's empty," observed Ross without even glancing at the silver pot.

"Hmmm," answered J-- with a smile, "sounds like we may need a road trip."

Ross nodded.

"Got some fences to mend along the way?" asked J--, his smile broadening.

Ross nodded.

"I've got the number," J-- pulled a business card out of his pocket, "shall we call him, or just show up at his office."

"Let's just show up," said Ross, "if we phone he may decide to be 'unavailable' when we get there."

"Good Idea," laughed J--, "Oh," he lifted the mug, "I'm keeping this."

"Go ahead," Ross answered, "consider it a souvenir."

"Thanks" said J--, "it was fun. I'm gonna miss this place."

"Me too," said Ross, "me too"

The two men paused at the door and took one last look around the now empty space.

"It was a good run," said J-- softly, a tear welling in his eye.

"It was ..." agreed Ross, wiping a tear from his own eye, "It didn't have to end this way."

"No it didn't" replied J--, "but no one had the courage to stand up and stop the nonsense and stand up for The Rev and others who have been brutalized by the "good" town folks."

"Hypocrites aren't they?" said Ross.

"Every last one," observed J--, "Oh and the stories that could be told about the skeletons in THEIR closets."

Ross laughed, "Reminds me of the closing scene of Brecht's play "The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui..."

"Getting all literary on us today are you?" laughed J-- softly.

"Sort of," said Ross pulling his keys out of his pocket, "In the last scene of the play, the main character who is a parody of Hitler, stands before a chanting mob then everything goes black and a single spot light hits him. He tears off his moustache and muses on the power of the farce that lets us laugh in the face of tragedy the he says: 'Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again' ..."

"Hmm," J-- stepped through the door out on to the sidewalk glancing up and down the nearly deserted Main St, "maybe we need to kill the bitch before she bears another generation that wants to let this town die ..."

The click of the front door lock echoed within the empty building. Ross and J-- stared at each other for a moment saying nothing.

"Shall I drive?" asked J--.

"Yeah," said Ross, "I need to think about what I want to say to him ..."

"It's never easy to say sorry," said J-- as he stepped towards his car.

"Got that right," said Ross opening the door and getting in to the car.

J-- pulled away from the curb and pulled a tight U-turn in the intersection, ignoring the sign and breaking the law. It was a chance he was willing to take given that there were no more than a half a dozen cars on the entire length of Main St. Heading south his car left a cloud of dust and exhaust that got caught up in the breeze and slowly dissipated in the wind leaving nothing behind but the soft rustle of the wind down a deserted Main St of a town that once seemed some filled with potential and hope ...


(author's note - The Real Chippefields is, for now still open on Main St, and Minnedosa for now is still a functioning town ... and even though the characters here are based off of real people and real events ... this is a piece of fiction ... try to stop confusing the two, but to those who feel uncomfortable by what they've read here (assuming they actually made it ALL the way through), take a moment to remember that even fiction has a ring of truth, and that sometimes the morales of our stories offer a lesson if we dare to heed it ... there is truth underneath ALL of what has been written here ... I'll leave it to the intelligence of my readers to hear the lesson, and glean the truth and to leave the rest behind for the wind to carry away ... As for me, the online Chipperfields is closed ... I am no longer welcomed in the real Chipperfields, and the welcome mat to Minnedosa has been rolled up and I've been soundly beaten with it ... so, my journey will continue to lead me elsewhere ... Like J-- said "It was a Good Run" ... and there is much about it I'll miss ... but at the end of the day the toxic, small minded, vicious and cowardly people have prevailed ... I'm done. Thanks and may your journey be a good one.)