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What It's Like to Be Smiling in Open Air

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My breath it stops here
I’m all open-eyed
And the need surprises
Justify my thoughts of flight

 

After Ray and I ended our Quest, I had been assigned to the Detachment of my father’s old partner, Buck Frobisher, where more often than not the hazards of duty were no greater than the usual challenges of survival in the Northwest Territories…along with the hazards of exposure to Sergeant Frobisher’s signature dish of moose hock rolled in wild boar tongue and covered with gorgonzola cheese.

The Detachment’s roster showed me to be partnered with Constable Thomas Tulugaq, but our routine patrols were solo ones, to cover the many miles assigned to us of the Territories. And that, for me, was just as well; I preferred working alone as I had done before Chicago rather than being reminded by a new presence that the presence I most desired was gone…and Constable Tulugaq, through no fault of his own, was a particularly egregious reminder, as his name - – “Tulugaq” –- had at Depot earned him the eponymous nickname of “Raven,” later shortened to “Ray”. On solo patrols, I could in solitude uninterrupted dwell on thoughts of my Ray…and those times alone in my tent at night, when Ray’s name escaped my lips as I touched myself, there would be no one to hear and wonder. Well, there was Diefenbaker, who grasped the situation but not its complexity : depending on his mood he would either moan in commiseration or grumble a suggestion that I give Ray the mate-seeking howl and promptly mount him in the way of permanent possession…relationship issues are much more simple for wolves.

We hadn’t found the Hand of Franklin and we hadn’t found the wherewithal to discuss Ray’s staying with me in Canada or my returning with him to Chicago…nor did we discuss what had begun to transpire between us with our sleeping-bags zipped together on those nights so cold outside our tent where we generated such intimate heat within. And so, sans discussion, what followed our Quest was to part at the Yellowknife Airport as friends rather than pursue the possibility of living together as lovers. My vision had blurred with unshed tears as Ray turned away from me to board his plane. No, I told myself, that would not do…I wanted my last sight of Ray to be sharply focused, and should he glance back, I wanted his last sight of me to give no appearance of the conflicted emotions I felt.

Those conflicted emotions were later very much in my thoughts as I huddled against the incomplete quinzee for the partial wind-break it afforded…those conflicted emotions and what my father had said to me about an earlier dangerously foolish love : “Sometimes in life all you need is that second chance. It’s the one thing you’re not going to have.” Whether or not there would even be time for any possibility of second chances depended upon whether or not Diefenbaker –- whom I had sent for help –- could bring that help from base camp before my cold-slowed physical functions reached the stopping point. Out on patrol when a blizzard started up, I had begun to construct a quinzee…and that was when –- the shelter only partially made –- the bullet that had been lodged near my spine for some time shifted enough to interfere with the workings of my legs. Now I was alone and –- as Ray might have called it from his boxing days –- “down for the count”. And then not quite alone, as if my thinking of my father had summoned him.

“Hello, Son.”

“Dad….”

“Your mother will be coming along later; she’s still at the bonspiel.”

“The bonspiel?”

“Oh yes, it seems that here there are some second chances. Your mother has taken up curling, and she’s quite an admirable player, the skip of her rink in fact. Well, you’ll see…eventually.”

“How close is that eventuality? As you’re looking quite…ah…substantial…I’m wondering…does that mean I’m….”

“Bluntly, Son, you’ve stopped shivering but you haven’t stopped breathing yet. And you need to make a decision about whether you’re going to take care of your unfinished business from this side of the Border or back on that side.”

“I can choose ?”

“Sometimes it happens that way. Same with death as with life. Some opportunities present themselves and others don’t. Seems that in both death and life there sometimes are second chances. So now is the time, Ben, for you to trust your partner and take a leap…tell him what you want and see what happens.”

“But he’s in Chicago, and I’m….”

“Possibly dying, yes…and that will help him to hear you. I can’t explain it, but I do know it.”

“You’ve never said something like that to me before, Dad…that you ‘can’t explain’ about knowing something.”

“Well, Ben, as I told you when we were in the mine-shaft, ‘nothing is permanent’…and that includes life-time habits…and afterlife-time habits. You can teach an old sled-dog new tricks. I’m dead, Son, not unteachable.”

Then my father vanished and I was there alone, with the tears that had remained unshed at the Yellowknife Airport spilling over as I sent my words out from the Borderlands. “Oh Ray, I am so sorry! Sorry that I never spoke to you of this. Never spoke of the love so aptly called ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. I didn’t dare, no. I thought to safeguard what we already had by not asking for more, and so didn’t take the chance that there could be more. I wanted you to stay. I wanted you. I want you.” Tears turned to ice on my cheeks. “I want a second chance.”

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Back in Chicago, I found myself talking to my turtle more and more –- not that I didn’t talk to Killer before –- but it used to be just a casual “here’s your apple” or “here’s your lettuce”. Now I talked to him about Fraser, about how much I missed Fraser, about how much I loved Fraser –- loved Fraser in that way a guy like me wouldn’t tell anybody except his turtle. I guess it was kind of a safety valve, like sometimes talking to Dief would be for Fraser –- except Diefenbaker could get godalmighty judgmental and Killer never did. And there were things that if Dief knew them about me the fur-face just might spill it to Fraser…however the fuck a deaf half-wolf could communicate so much info, he sure can do it with Fraser. Plus the turtle isn’t ever going to let on to Fraser why I named him “Killer”. I think people figure it’s that irony thing, callin’ a turtle a killer. I used to be afraid that if Fraser knew it’s for Walter “Killer” Kowalski, the Canadian wrestler, the wrestler whose match with Yukon Eric back in ’53 was the first professional wrestling match to be televised in Canada…well, there would have been no end to the ear anecdotes, what with Killer Kowalski having –- for real –- ripped off a piece of Yukon Eric’s ear. Not like in that story Fraser told me about a wrestling match he saw up in Freezerland, between some other guy with a Yukon moniker and that Haystack guy…the wrestlers who faked it about biting off each other’s ears. Hell of it is now I would even have welcomed hearing stupid ear anecdotes from him…just wished I could hear his voice again at all saying anything.

And then I did…I heard Fraser…and I was wondering do I have a head injury or am I just going crazy? There I was wishing to hear his voice again and then I was hearing it…and wondering is this that “be careful what you wish for ’cause part of the deal is you get it by going crazy”? And then I was seeing him, too. Never had one of those ESP things before…never seen a ghost…and I was sure as hell starting to hope this was a head injury or insanity, because otherwise it would mean…no…not going there, not going there! His eyes : blue, blue, so blue, but oh god his lips were a shade of blue, too, and that was r-o-n-g wrong. His voice : saying he had wanted me to stay with him…saying he wanted me…wants me.

Then whatever that was, it’s gone…and the detective part of my brain started trying to decide what to do about what I’d heard and seen. And then I got on the phone to the Canadian Consulate without knowing just what the fuck I was going to say when they answered. It was Turnbull who answered the phone –- a guy who’s a few sled-dogs short of a team –- but as strange as I was going to be sounding, Turnbull was actually my best bet for getting a listen.

“Canadian Consulate. Good day. Constable Renfield Turnbull speaking. Consulat du Canada. Bon jour. Constable Ren….”

“Yo, Turnbull. English.”

“Detective Vecchio?”

“Kowalski. I go by Kowalski now the other guy’s back.”

“Oh yes. Of course. These name-changes put me in something of a tizzy. I’m sorry….”

“Yeah, yeah, no harm, no foul….”

Then I asked Turnbull if there had been any unusual news about Fraser…and even though when it comes to Fraser it’s like unusual is the new normal, Turnbull got what I meant and wanted to know what’s up –- and not about my hair being up –- that I’d got this concern right here and now. Well, I’ve done plenty of undercover –- so much undercover that the deke and juke are second nature –- but this wasn’t a time for workin’ it …I leveled with Turnbull that this was plain and simple about a freaky-ass bad feeling based on a freakier-ass Fraser sighting. And Turnbull, being all Canadian like that, took it in stride and started talking about “the spirit walk”…which, yeah, I saw on an episode of that Canadian TV show with the vampire detective. So there’s Turnbull taking me serious and I did appreciate it, but this was not a time I could stand to wait through some long Inuit story…and I also couldn’t stand to say anything about “dying of waiting”…not when I was thinking of Fraser turning frozen blue in Wherethefuck, NWT. I gritted my teeth against my anxiousness and then did the Canadianly polite thing –- not wanting to set Turnbull off like that time when I had to stay holed up at the Consulate –- and I said “Turnbull, please make whatever calls you can make to check on Fraser.” At that he gave me a “right you are” and got off the phone.

When Turnbull called me back some time later, he sounded very tightly controlled –- which was, given that it’s Turnbull, scary as hell. I mean, you take a guy you’ve only ever known to be a big goof, a guy who wields a feather duster like housework is a sport and is a screaming fan of a sport that looks like housework, and when he sounds level you know the situation is truly fucked up. So Turnbull told me about Dief showing up at the base camp without Fraser and leading the rescue back, and about a near-frozen Fraser being airlifted to the Stanton Regional Hospital in Yellowknife. And then I was making decisions and taking action, and it was like setting off a row of dominoes, everything falling into place fast, as I got off the phone with Turnbull, on the phone with Lieutenant Welsh to tell him I needed to take emergency leave, on the phone for O’Hare Airport ticketing to get a one-way to Canada.

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“So, Frase, soon as I got here, the doc told me you thawed out okay…which I can see for myself…no freezer burn or nothin’…damn…don’t want to make a joke of it.”

“It’s all right, Ray. No offense taken. And I do have a very serviceable layer of subcutaneous fat….”

“And that thing with the pressure on your spine….”

“Resolved itself for the time being…shifted back….”

“When I saw your lips turnin’ blue….”

“You saw…?”

“Yeah…saw, heard. And now we’re gonna…‘dare speak’ .”

“You did hear me!”

“That cinches it! Fuck yeah I did. So, come on, Fraser, just tell me. Just say ‘I’m going to share my life with you –- Ray, my friend, I’m going to share my life with you in a wildly bizarre way’.”

“All right. Ray, my friend, I’m going to share my life with you in a wildly bizarre way.”

“Fraser...Ben….”

“You’re my partner. And you’re my friend. And you’re my…ah…that other kind of partner as well.”

“Was that hard to say?”

“Not in the least.”

“Okay. Okay then. Enough sayin’, time for doin’….”

“Ray!”

“What? Dontcha want….”

“Well, yes…but in a hospital bed…?”

“Someone walks in? I’ll tell ’em the patient needed immediate CPR….”

“Ray, Ray…mmmph….”

“Mmm…mmmhhhmmm…love ya, Frase…more than symbolically….”

“I know. And I you. All right then, let’s….”

“…god yeah OH OH….!”

So we run to a space on the horizon
There make a bed for us to lie on
We won’t describe even though we will try
What it’s like to be smiling in open air