The interpreter was about to leave the Nature House late on a holiday Monday. He always seemed to be the one scheduled to work on long weekends. As he was closing the door he remembered the rabbit. Someone had abandoned a domestic rabbit in the park, and another interpreter had caught it, put it in a cage in the Nature House, and attached a sign: Don’t forget to feed him .
The rabbit was grey. It looked bored. The interpreter opened the door and reached into the cage to add more pellets to the food bowl. The rabbit lunged forward and bit the interpreter’s little finger to the bone. It didn’t hurt at all, but bled like crazy for a few minutes.
The interpreter had not had a tetanus shot in at least a decade, perhaps longer. Perhaps it had not been since he was nine years old, when a nail pierced his shoe at summer camp. He sighed. No clinic was open at this hour. He took a cab to the hospital, expecting to spend an eternity waiting in Emergency because all he had was a rabbit bite—on his pinky.
A middle-aged couple entered the ER ahead of him. The woman seemed in distress. She told a youthful security guard that she had had an operation a few days earlier and now had a high fever and unbearable abdominal pain. It was peritonitis, perhaps.
“Please have a seat,” said the security guard. The husband was dinging the bell at the nurse’s station. There was a sign: Please ring the bell ONCE only. Someone will be with you soon.
The husband saw the sign, said "Oops," and sat down.
No one was with them soon. Twenty minutes passed. The woman and her husband asked the interpreter to ding the bell.
"But I came in with you,” said the interpreter. “You dinged it for me too. And you dinged it six or seven times.”
“I dinged it for my wife,” said the husband, indignantly. “You wouldn’t do that for your wife?”
“He probably doesn’t have one,” said the wife.
A woman staggered in who had been attacked by feral cat. She had been kneeling on a foam pad, weeding her garden, when a cat leapt from a hedge and torn at her face and throat. Dried blood trails ran from her brow to her chin, and puncture–swellings dotted her neck. She dinged the bell, once. Then a young man came in. He had been cutting molding and had sawed through his hand below his index finger. The hand was wrapped in a bloody towel. With the other hand he dinged the bell, once.
No one was with them soon.
They sat there waiting. The lady with the operation and the fever peevishly informed the most recent arrivals that the interpreter had not yet dinged the bell. Still, he didn’t. Having only a rabbit bite on his pinky, the interpreter felt more observer than participant. He bore their anger as they waited together, forever. His pinky throbbed, weakly, as if to remind him that yes, he belonged here.
Finally the triage nurse appeared from a hole in the wall and tended to everyone. Because all the interpreter had was a rabbit bite on his pinky, he was seen last, and then was sent to another waiting room for another eternity. Evidently this was a room where children were sent to wait; there was a non-functioning Etch-a-Sketch bolted to a table. The interpreter looked at his finger. The rabbit wound was now all but invisible.
The tetanus shot bled almost as much as the rabbit bite. "Oh, and watch the rabbit for a couple weeks for signs of rabies," said the doctor, "or take it to the SPCA and they’ll know what to do." Then he told the interpreter that in this province the incidence of rabies in lagomorphs was so low that there was no recommendation for rabies checks when bitten by these animals. “But keep in mind that rabies is universally fatal.”
What did that mean?
The next day the interpreter phoned the SPCA to ask if they would come to pick up the rabbit.
"You understand that if it’s unadoptable we’ll have to put it down," said the voice.
"Um," said the interpreter.
"We’ll put it down," said the voice. "If it’s unadoptable it will be put down. Do you understand?"
"Um, this one bit me ,” said the interpreter. “I guess it would be best if it were checked for rabies." Then he played stupid. He knew you check brain tissue for rabies. He had grown up in a province where rabies was common, and in elementary school had been taught about rabies numerous times. You kill the animal and send its brain away for testing. You don’t mess around. A mammal bites you, you take its brain.
"We don’t do that,” said the SPCA voice. “They do that in Abbotsford."
"You send the rabbit to Abbotsford."
"We send its head to Abbotsford."
“Oh,” said the interpreter.
“You want us to come and get it?” asked the SPCA voice.
The interpreter heard himself say, “Yes.” He looked at the rabbit. It sat motionless in its cage, as doomed as Dumbo’s momma.
* * *
William’s phone rang at 7 AM. Alan said, in an American voice, “Houston, the eagle has landed.”
In a British voice he said, “The Queen is at Buck-house.”
“We caught the bugger, I mean Beav.”
“You caught the beaver? Where are you?”
They were in the parking lot of a warehouse in an industrial area of Burnaby called Still Creek, named after the slow, polluted river that occasionally flooded it. They were in Baba’s ice cream truck.
“It’s going apeshit. Did you know beavers growl like lions? They also shit this weird stuff that looks like pancake batter. It’s everywhere.”
“Is it still in the trap?”
“Cover it with something. Keep it covered. Meet me at the Works Yard at about seven forty-five.” William could hear Milt moaning in the background. “How’s Milt?” he asked.
“Oh, confused,” said Alan. “I think he thinks he has either just given birth, or is about to.” William heard Alan yelling something to Milt or to the beaver and the line disconnected.
William had to take the Skytrain to Broadway Station and then transfer to the new line than ran north of the lake. From the Lake City Way Station it was a ten-minute jog to the yard. All the while William was hoping Baba was not running the engine; the music might kill the poor creature. When William arrived the ice cream truck was parked just outside the gate, silent. He slipped into the Works trailer and took the Gator key from the hook. Fortunately no one was there, because he had no legitimate reason for using the Gator that morning.
William knocked on the window where you would expect to buy ice cream. He wondered if this vehicle actually ever dispensed ice cream, or if it was merely an asylum on wheels. Alan burst out the far door and ran around the front, wild-eyed. He pulled William behind, laughing. “Insane insane insane!” he said. “A high speed chase, Turkey-in-the Straw all the way. God, we should have had Turkey-in-the-Straw in the Road Runner. It’s excellent escape music.”
“Is the beaver okay?”
“I think so.”
“Who was chasing you?”
“The workers from Stanley Park.”
Alan shook his head.
“Why would they chase you?”
“Bounty hunters. Their boss put a price on Beav’s head – 25 hundred dollars.”
“That’s insane,” William said.
“Absolutely,” said Alan. William saw that Alan was relishing this moment. He was totally pumped, or perhaps was high. William wondered what Baba really sold from his ice cream truck.
“Do they know you brought it here?” William asked.
“We lost them, somewhere on the North Shore.”
“You were on the North Shore?”
“We were everywhere. It lasted about four hours, and look at this!” he jammed his finger in a puckered hole in the back wall of the truck. We got shot!”
The driver’s door opened and they heard Baba coughing. He appeared around the corner of the truck, sucking his cigarette. “Here?” he asked. Apart from “Bang Bang,” it was the first English William had heard him speak. William nodded. He opened the back door and stood well away.
A wave of foul air hit with an almost physical force. “Kind of ripe in there,” Alan said, unnecessarily. Within the depths of the truck Milt was slumped over the cage, spotted with beaver excrement and sour milk residue and cigarette butts. One of his bags of birdseed had ruptured and an even layer of millet was dispersed on the floor.
“It’s okay Love, we’re almost there,” he was saying. From beneath a tattered blue blanket came an angry growl, and the cage jumped.
“I didn’t know they made that noise,” William said. “It sounds like a lynx.”
“There, there,” said Milt in a husky, tired voice.
“Let’s hurry, before someone comes,” William said. “Milt, can you push it this way?” Milt laboured to rise from the trap, but couldn’t.
“I’ll get Milt, you get Beav,” said Alan. They climbed in. Alan hoisted Milt aside as William looped fingers through the nearest two corners of the trap and pulled. The blanket snagged on something, so he peeled it off. Yes, the cage contained a beaver alright, a large, filthy, angry beaver. Its eyes were wide open, showing whites. It stamped its feet, and smacked its heavy tail against the sides. It chomped at the bars with its never-ending orange chisel-teeth. William kept an eye on those as he shimmied the trap left and right, moving backwards to the door. The scattered millet acted like tiny ball bearings and made moving the trap easier, but the beaver’s frantic lurchings weren’t helpful. A full grown beaver is a heavy animal, thirty pounds or more, and a trap empty weighs at least fifteen. William discovered he had made a mistake. He should have backed the Gator right up to the truck, but hadn’t thought ahead. He was following a general operating procedure developed over many years of handling wild animals: don’t think too much, just dive right in. Handling frightened, potentially dangerous animals is much like moving a sofabed down a twisting staircase: if you think too much about what you are about to do, all the things that might go wrong will paralyse you.
William stepped down from the truck, lifted the trap by the metal loop handle on top, and swung it free. The beaver jumped, and the shift in load jerked William sideways. His right ankle twisted and his leg folded. He ended up on his back with the trap and panicking beaver on his chest. It was scooting back and forth, making the trap bounce up and down. It was like being bludgeoned with a large, filthy bird cage. William couldn’t push the thing off, because when he reached for the sides, dagger-like incisors lunged through the mesh at his hands. Alan rushed to the rescue and between the two of them they dragged the trap to the Gator and lifted it in. Alan retrieved the blanket and threw it back over top. Milt was hovering, crying, “Gentle! Gentle!” trying to comfort the animal and getting in the way. Baba was hiding behind his truck.
William hobbled to the driver’s side of the Gator and started the engine.
“You ride in the front,” Alan said to Milt. “I’ll sit with Beav.”
The north trail would be busy with dog walkers and joggers, not to mention the quietly increasing number of Jesus zealots, so William drove the south shore Freeway Trail, which ran through a hydro easement parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway to a small side trail that followed Robert Burnaby Creek through the birch and alder forest into the Lake. The creek’s outflow kept a small area of the lake free of waterlilies, and so the beaver, if panicking when they freed it, would not immediately become entangled and drown. It took a lot longer to get there than William had anticipated, despite running the Gator flat-out all the way. He had previously thought its top speed to be about 20 miles per hour. That now seemed an absurd overestimate.
The release went remarkably smoothly. Alan and William carried the trap, still covered by the blanket, to the water’s edge. As William was opening the door, which was somewhat tricky and could be hairy if the animal inside wanted to kill you, the beaver remained hunched in the back. They pulled away the blanket, and retreated. After a few seconds the beaver shuffled out and then ran in its strange, humpy way until it was in water deep enough to swim. A mighty smack of its tail and it was gone.
“Yee-haw!” Alan yelled as he and William high-fived. Milt, however, and was wringing his hands. Alan snagged his sleeve as he lurched forward. He appeared about to plow into the lake after her. “Milt!” Alan exclaimed. “We’ve saved her! She’ll be okay.”
Milt took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I feel very conflicted,” he said. “This is a bitter-sweet moment.”
They watched the lake for signs of the beaver, but it didn’t surface again.
“We have to go,” William said, “before someone discovers the Gator is missing.”
“This is a big lake,” said Milt. “We should have implanted a homing device.”
On the way back to the Works Yard, Alan yelled into William’s ear that Monique had phoned him. Fooj was back from New York and they should all go get drunk to celebrate that, as well as the successful beaver relocation. William gave a thumbs-up. It would be great to see Fooj. It would be greater though, if it weren’t a reminder that soon William would have to write a speech for his wedding. He had no idea what to say and was becoming increasingly anxious about it.
“What’s wrong?” Alan asked.
“I’m covered in beaver shit!” William shouted. “I want to take a shower!”
Alan and Milt departed for Vancouver in the ice cream truck while William returned the Gator undetected. He had an appointment with Bob and Scott in a few hours and needed to clean up. He walked the north shore trail to the Nature House where there was a shower. A good thing about ex-whorehouses was that they usually had showers. He found an extra GVRD uniform shirt that would have fit him perfectly had he been five inches taller and thirty pounds heavier. It was in the room where the Sluggo the Slug costume hung on a hook. Being sentenced to dress up as Sluggo the Slug would have been much worse than being sentenced to Gator duty. It was a good thing Ed Daddle didn’t know the costume existed.
As William was cinching his belt, about to step out into the bright morning sun, an agitated Asian man, about forty years old, appeared at the door. He might have been Jesus’s dad. From his partial English and animated gestures William gathered that a wild animal had done something unacceptable down at the end of the spit, down by Jesus.
William followed him as he hurried ahead, frequently turning and beckoning as though he feared William might lose interest and wander off into the underbrush. At the end of the spit, next to the viewing platform, a wounded mallard hen lay on its side in the water. One of her wings was broken and stuck out from her body at an unnatural angle. Down feathers were billowing among the feet of the Jesus and the others.
”Hello,” William said to the Jesus of the East. He said nothing and turned his back. William asked no one in particular, “What attacked it, a dog?”
“A long, flat cat,” one of them said. “Very fast.”
“Was it brown?”
“I see,” William said. It had been a mink. Burnaby Lake had a healthy population of minks. One had affronted the Jesus of the East and his gang by trying to catch its breakfast. Odd Job the monk was particularly perturbed and began waving his arms while speaking angrily. For a monk, he lacked mellowness. “Sorry, I don’t speak Mandarin,” William said as he crouched to scoop up the duck. He tucked it under his arm, taking care to keep the wing immobile, and carried it back to the Nature House. He found a cardboard box of multi-coloured scraps of felt in the prop room and half-emptied it, leaving enough behind for bedding. He placed the duck inside. It was panting, but otherwise calm. He was always amazed by the calmness of injured birds.
He phoned Central Area Office. Colleen’s pleasant voice answered. “Hello, my dear,” he said. “This is William Kendall, assaulter of news media types.”
“Hello, my dear, yourself,” she replied, “and what can I do for you?”
He asked to speak to Tom.
Tom was able to drive William and the duck to Wildlife Rescue, a wild animal hospital located in an old house on the south-west corner of the lake. He waited in his car while William took the duck inside for treatment. Afterward they drove to a small soup-and-sandwich place in a nearby industrial plaza and bought take-out. They returned to the park to eat at a picnic table near the Nature House.
“Either you’ve lost a lot of weight, or you’re wearing someone else’s shirt,” Tom said.
“My own shirt’s dirty,” William said.
Tom had many times ordered additional shirts for interpreters, but Ed Daddle kept nixing the orders. It was one of Ed’s more perverse controlling behaviours. The interpreters were allowed one, perhaps two uniform shirts, and were not supplied with official GVRD rainwear, despite having to work outside, rain or shine. A few were better supplied and got extra shirts—and possessed the means to get a raincoat. None had been that desperate.
William pointed out that Ed Daddle always provided himself with the best GVRD outer wear available, that there were three or four pristine Gore-tex raincoats hanging on a rack in his office, and that he rarely went outside.
“Let Ed have his raincoats,” Tom said. “That’s his little victory.”
William was about to ask Tom to explain what he meant, but was distracted by who was approaching. “Look,” he said. “Here comes Jesus and his Mom.”
Tom turned. “That’s him?”
“Yes, and he’s a pugnacious little brat.”
“They’re coming this way,” said Tom, with a hint of excitement in his voice.
Jesus stopped thirty yards short, but his mother kept coming. She reminded William of Becky Pang’s Auntie Yvonne. Ten feet away she started making whooshing motions with her hands and speaking loudly in Mandarin.
“I think she wants us to leave,” said Tom. We’re sitting at Jesus’s table.”
“We could fight her for it,” William said.
“We should go,” said Tom. “I always capitulate when it comes to Holy personages, even if they’re pugnacious little brats.”
“I always capitulate when it comes to middle-aged Chinese women,” William said as they got up. “I’ve yet to meet one who isn’t pugnacious.” They sat at another table on the other side of the picnic area.
After lunch, Tom drove William to the Works Yard. He had a meeting at Head Office in downtown Burnaby but would come back at the end of the day and could give him a ride home. Tom was a saint. William pictured him wearing the golden hat.
William knocked on the door of the trailer. Carl Stribling was out, so William sat on the front step, waiting, wondering how the beaver was doing in its new lake. The faded Oldsmobile dropped off the boys at the gate, and they sauntered over just as Carl zoomed in, driving the park’s one-ton truck.
Today’s assignment wasn’t complicated. They were to drive the perimeter of the lake and pick up litter. Carl gave them a roll of clear, industrial-strength garbage bags, the size used to line oil drums, and two sets of rubber-tipped, long handled tongs with pistol-grip trigger mechanisms that made easier the snaring of repulsive items such as used Kleenex or bagged, but discarded, dog droppings. The boys tested them by pulling off each other’s hats.
As William dropped down behind the wheel of the Gator, Carl asked, “Have you checked the gas lately?” It wasn’t something William had thought to do that morning. When you were unaccustomed to driving, you tended not to think about mundane maintenance issues such as filling the gas tank. William looked at the dash board. There was no gas gauge. Carl said, not masking exasperation, “Get up and check under the seat.” The seat flipped forward, revealing the gauge. It read empty. The escapade to release the beaver had been done on vapors. They easily could have been stuck out on the trail, and William would have been hard-pressed to explain why. Alan was certain to get him fired, one way or another.
Carl said, looking at the box, which was filthy with mud and beaver shit, “Today when you’re done, why don’t you hose this thing down.”
After filling the tank with gas from a red plastic jerry can, they set out, making slow progress around the lake. There was a lot of litter. Rarely were they able to drive more than a dozen metres before stopping. After half an hour, they had gone a quarter mile.
“How long is this route?” asked Scott.
“Eleven Ks,” William said.
“It will take, like, a week if we stop for every cigarette butt,” said Bob.
He was right. They stopped stopping for individual cigarette butts.
Within an hour they reached the turn-off for the trail down to the mouth of Robert Burnaby Creek, where Milt’s beaver had been released that morning. William was surprised to see that the junction was in the process of being dug up. Several of the operations staff were preparing to replace the culvert beneath the trail.
By 2:30 they had gone only about 4 kilometres, not even as far as the Wildlife Rescue animal hospital. Even at full speed, non-stop, they would not possibly make it around the rest of the way, so William made the decision to turn back. Scott was sitting in the passenger seat and Bob was nestled in the bed among four bulging bags of trash. They laboured along, pedal to the metal, until they reached the equestrian trails. William reduced speed, from slow to extremely slow. He wanted no nasty horsey surprise today.
While they were hosing down the Gator, William’s phone rang. It was Monique. She was with Fooj at Central Area Office. They wanted to go for a drink. It was a quick walk from the Works Yard and when William arrived, there was his buddy Fooj playing one-on-one with Ed “4-Raincoats” Daddle in front of Monique, Stacey and Tracy. “Hey Willy,” Fooj called with a wave and a flash of a smile. Ed was being intense and pretended not to see him. Fooj put his shoulder into Ed and danced around him. His shot bounced off the rim and Ed caught it. Ed was the better shot, but Fooj, with his natural athleticism and model’s grace, could dribble circles around Ed, which made them evenly matched.
Ed was slightly ahead in the score, and must have been feeling cocky. He decided to take his shirt off. He must have been proud of his torso and wanted to show it off for the young ladies. This act, as much as any other, proved to William that Ed could be an incomparable fool. He was setting himself up to be immediately diminished, because it was a hot day and Fooj was bound to take off his shirt. Ed worked out some and was not obviously flabby, but his pale trunk with its patchy chest hair was nothing to swoon over, whereas Fooj’s body, as the entire world knew, was. Tracy and Stacey gasped as Fooj pulled his t-shirt over his head, revealing a tanned, hairless, perfectly muscled physique. Monique merely smiled as he handed her his shirt.
What happened next was an expression of envy, retaliation for being revealed to be in some way inferior.
Fooj caught a rebound from Ed’s shot, and was positioning himself to shoot. Ed let him glide past and then, with perfect timing, stepped on Fooj’s heel as he jumped. They all heard the pop. Fooj fell to the ground, howling in pain. Monique and William ran to him.
Ed walked away, bouncing the ball every couple of steps, with a look on his face that showed not remorse but victory. Fooj had gotten what he deserved.
Fooj’s calf muscle was knotted up and his foot was flopping. They dragged him off the pavement over to the grass, just in time. The park’s one-ton truck roared through the gate and mashed down the basketball net. The backboard and hoop sheared off and landed in the truck’s bed, while the upright snapped off the weighted base, rode up onto the hood, and then, when the driver slammed on the brakes, flew over the parking lot fence and into the front yard of the office.
Ed sensed he was in trouble and ran for his shirt. He might have thought he would be safe with his shirt back on. Carl Stribling burst from the truck’s cab like a man who had been in a lot of bar fights. As soon as Ed’s face popped from his shirt-hole it was punched.
“You’re lucky I don’t finish you off, right here, right now!” Carl yelled, pointing his finger as Ed, who was lying on his side with blood bubbling from his nose, reached for his basketball. It was rolling slowly away. Carl stopped it with his boot and then punted it over the fence.
William was sprawled atop Fooj’s leg, trying to immobilize it, which was much more difficult than holding still the wing of an injured duck. Fooj was in excruciating pain. Pregnant Monique was crouched uncomfortably beside him, trying to cradle his head, as Tracy and Stacey were dialling 911 in tandem. Tracy won.
At the time they all assumed that Carl also was angry about Ed intentionally injuring Fooj, but soon realized the timing was too tight. Carl had no clue about Fooj. He had his own reasons for hating Ed. Most likely he didn’t even know who Fooj was. Carl did glance at Fooj on his way back to the one-ton. “What’s wrong with him?” he asked in an off-hand way before climbing into the cab and reversing out of the parking lot, carrying with him the backboard and net. The only sign there had been a basketball hoop in the parking lot was the suddenly useless base, all alone on the asphalt.
Ed had evaporated. He was probably hiding under his desk, clutching his tree-puller.
The paramedics identified Fooj’s injury as a complete tear of the Achilles tendon. Monique rode in the ambulance. Tracy had already left, leaving Stacey and William in the parking lot next to her car. For William it had been a long and peculiar day. He lowered himself to the pavement with his back against her car door, totally drained. Stacey dropped down beside him . She said, “I hate violence.”
“Me too,” said William.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Not really, actually.”
“I know that you’re a victim,” she said, “of violence.”
“I’m what?” Well, yes, William had once been gored by a cow. That was violent, but William didn’t think that was what she was talking about.
“I know about your parents, that they were taken from you in an act of violence, that you’re an orphan. Alan told me .”
“He told you?”
“Are you mad?”
“No.” But William was confused. This was all news to him.
“Are you bitter?”
“A little,” he admitted, but it had nothing to do with being an orphan. He asked her, “Did Alan tell you how they were taken?”
She dropped her eyes and whispered, “It’s so terrible. I’m so sorry.” William made a mental note to ask Alan how his parents had died. Stacey then shifted closer and placed her hand over his on his knee in what at first seemed to be a comforting way. She leaned forward so that her hair obscured her face. William thought she was overwhelmed by Fooj being hurt and Carl beating the crap out of Ed Daddle, and maybe work-related issues too. She leaned into him and they became entangled in a clumsy snuggle. William saw Ed scurry out to his car, clutching paper towels to his nose. Ed saw William too, and who was with him. He saw one of his loveliest hand-picked junior staff snuggling with loser William in his parking lot, where his basketball hoop no longer existed. Ed’s world was going all wrong.
In a few minutes Tom pulled up. His passenger door popped open. “William?” he said. Stacey removed her hand from his and they stood up as if ashamed.
“My ride,” William said.
“See you, take care,” she said. She gave a little twitch of a smile.
William said, “You too.”
As they drove from the lot, Tom turned to him, smiling. He said in a mock scold, “William, you’ve been keeping secrets from me.”