I left while the sun was setting and came back before the dark anchored in for the night, before the neighbourhood came out to devour itself. The woman behind the plexi-glass counter in the lobby had been replaced by a muscular man wearing a tight yellow T-shirt; heavy artillery for the evening trade. A small square patch of discolored skin on his forehead glowed white against the rest of his face. He slowly swung his bulging eyes to me, mouth open slightly. I shifted my bags into one hand, pulled my room key out of the inside pocket of my suit jacket and dangled it for him. His expression didn’t change and I walked up the stairs.
I had rummaged through a thrift store nearby and returned with a blue and white quilt blanket, a red ceramic coffee mug, a shaving kit and a black suit that fit better than my green hold-over. I also found a dog-eared book of poetry by Al Purdy and a history written in the sixties about the Hudson’s Bay Company. And I found something to drink.
I parked the red coffee mug beside my new bottle of Wild Turkey. They sat there tugging at me, so I quickly took another shower. I missed the freedom of showering when I wanted to, for as long as I wanted to, and decided to shave at the same time. Back in the stockade you were given disposable razors and you had to return them afterwards, all under supervision. I felt a little buzz when I put the razor back in its case, like I was stowing contraband.
After my shower I realized my new cell phone was blinking a red light. Someone had called, but I didn’t recognize the number. I then spent five minutes figuring out how to customize a phone message. Cell phones were common when I went to prison, but this one sat in my hand like a silver dart from the future. I went in just before the Millennium clock turned over, and watched from a jail-cell as the year 2000 rolled by with a flat unbroken hum, despite all the hype of a global computer melt-down. No satellites and planes crashing, no Wall Street pulsing out like too many slot machines plugged into too few sockets, no nukes randomly taking flight like hair during a lightning storm.
I held off on the bourbon, and instead sat back on the bed and read about the Hudson’s Bay Company. Those early trappers trickled in like sewage water, slowly lengthening fissures on an ancient Aboriginal rock, seeping into areas that were the easiest to get to, the weakest to resist. For some, the global meltdown started 300 years ago. I heard glass shatter in the alley outside. My own bottle seemed to glow at me from the desk. I turned off the lamp by the bed and, in darkness, filled my red mug and moved over to look down through my barred window.
The back alley door to the bar was open, spilling out raucous light and music. A shabby, bearded man stood in the alley with his hands on his hips, his face tilted to the moon. A thick woman with bright yellow hair came out of the bar wearing a bluejean skirt that struggled to cup her ass. She was followed by another man wearing coveralls. All three moved further into the alley, weaving like the vertebrae of an undulating snake. They stopped in the gray shadow of the hotel, almost beneath my window, where the woman gingerly knelt down on the pavement and folded her hands in her lap while the shabby man unzipped himself. Then she sat up, grasped his hips and slowly bobbed her head back and forth into his groin. The shabby man watched what was happening to him for a moment, then carefully tried to light a cigarette. The other man in the paint-splattered coveralls approached the woman from behind and tangled one of his hands in her hair.
The Fur Trade was alive and well in Fort Edmonton. I reached into my cup and pulled as much as I could down my throat.