BY MARCUS DAY
What a weird two weeks.
I feel I spent it lost in a dark, dense wood, running madly around in circles, arms flailing, searching for a path that would lead me to light.
I heard a chorus in the night air trying to guide me, but I was often too agitated to listen properly. I could put names to some of the voices: Marlene, Eileen, Connie, Louise, Karen, Phyllis, Peggie …
How did I find myself in this wood?
It started with a speculative enquiry to a newspaper in Merritt, British Columbia that was looking for an Editor.
The job appealed for several reasons – one paper per week, shared responsibility for reporting, and the prospect of the occasional day or weekend off. I’ve also been told that BC is Canada’s most beautiful province, full of lakes, mountains and wildlife; an Earthly paradise.
I wrote to the Publisher, attaching a resume and samples of my work, never expecting to hear back. Who would be interested in an ageing, old-school hack with only a handful of productive years left in him?
I wouldn’t hire myself.
Yet, my lack of faith was misplaced. Within two hours, I received a positive reply. Next came a request for an interview via Skype. It was arranged for 6pm on August 29, the last day of the Pow Wow.
I panicked. Skype? Why Skype? Why was it so important to see me? Would being bald and pudgy count against me? More worryingly, I had never used Skype.
After rushing back from the Pow Wow, I phoned my sister. No time for preliminaries.
“Hi, you’ve got to help me … and right away. I’ve got a job interview in 15 minutes via Skype. They want my Skype address, but I don’t have one …”
After a bit of bumbling and fumbling, I got hooked up, and suddenly, mysteriously, disconcertingly my potential employer and the outgoing Editor were gazing at me from my cellphone. The strange, hybrid nature of the interview, combining elements of a traditional in-person talk and one conducted over the phone, made me uncomfortable and distressingly verbose. I was so scared of dead air, of umm-ing and ahh-ing, that I became a politician, giving rambling, off-topic answers – lots of words spun loosely together, signifying very little.
“I know I haven’t really answered your question, but …”
I must have said that half a dozen times. To compound matters I kept twisting from the screen, hoping to escape critical assessment of my appearance. Usually, I would be wearing a jacket and tie for an interview, not a wrinkled, end-of-working-day shirt. Thankfully, my lived-in jeans were probably out of sight.
“We keep losing you,” said the Publisher. “Could you look into the screen?”
A few minutes later we lost each other completely. It took me a while to realize I was speaking to a frozen image. Bell then beeped me a message to say that my account had been blocked by law after reaching $50 in additional data charges.
The rest of the interview was carried out over the office phone – a blessed relief, although I suspected the damage had already been done. That night I went to bed convinced I had blown it. Ah well, I thought, I was only floating a trial balloon to test the weather in the job market.
Yet again my pessimism was unfounded. In the morning I received a job offer. I stumbled and stammered, my heart fluttering, a hundred thoughts chasing each other, leaving me incapable of coherent speech. I was given three days to make up my mind.
I felt breathless, as if I were falling through air, my arms moving in wide, frantic loops, unsure where I was going to land. Only now can I see that I was tumbling into the dark, dense wood of confusion.
At the time I was intoxicated with the notion of still being employable in a world often barely recognizable from the one I entered. I was wanted … how wonderful, how unexpected. Me, me, me …somebody wants silly old me.
Was I having a supernatural experience? A magical door had opened to a new life in BC. Nirvana beckoned. How could I turn away?
I formed a stunning mental image of my new provincial home. It resembled a Levine Flexhaug painting. I was standing in a pine forest and through a break in the trees saw a turquoise lake and beyond it green hills and snowcapped mountains.
Such beauty was within my reach. Giddily, I said “yes” to the job offer and prepared for my departure in a dreamy, disconnected way, not quite believing what was happening.
I went out into the streets feeling vaguely treacherous, nursing my secret. Telling someone would be like scrawling the words in big, bold letters across the air, immutable and final, when doubt over what I was doing still lingered, no matter how much I pretended otherwise. Did I really want to leave Maple Creek after just nine-and-a-bit months?
When I questioned myself, I fixated on the Flexhaug painting; it became a portal to paradise through which I wanted to dive.
At first there was a trickle of “I’m sorry you are leaving” comments on the streets. One lady, however, went further, telling me about an unsolved case in which an American rancher working near Merritt went missing. The RCMP are now treating the disappearance as suspicious.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Could I be moving into the clutches, or at least domain, of a psycho-killer? Did this monster feed his victims to pigs?
Instantly another mental painting formed, full of gore. I didn’t see myself in it, but was that good or bad? Perhaps the pigs had already gobbled me up.
The next day people began filling me with horror tales about the Coquihalla Highway. No driver leaves the highway alive, or so I assumed from reports of multiple pile-ups.
Now I had a third picture to fret about: my overturned, beaten-up Ford Fiesta rested in a ravine, having veered off a mountain road thickly layered with black ice. I added a few extra brushstrokes: my body lay at the bottom of a frozen river after being catapulted from the wreckage. In 100 years I would be discovered perfectly preserved, still wearing my baseball cap.
In this semi-hysterical state I began carrying a little art gallery in my addled brain: one Flexhaug and two images suitable as album covers for death metal bands.
With each passing day the gallery expanded, and as more artwork competed for my attention I became more bewildered. The wood started closing around me.
One morning I arrived at work to find my inbox overloaded with messages. “Please stay” was the theme.
“Something odd is happening,” I said to Kate. “I’ve suddenly got all these emails asking me to reconsider.”
A mischievous smile played around her lips.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
She showed me a Facebook message which read: “As most of you have heard, Marcus Day will be leaving Maple Creek News to head west but maybe we could persuade him to stay. ….”
People were encouraged to show me the love of Maple Creek.
For the next few days, everywhere I went – in coffee shops, bars, stores, on the street, at events – I saw the love. At last Tuesday’s council meeting, the Mayor handed me a bundle of printed-out Facebook messages urging me not to leave. I was flattered, overwhelmed and humbled. I was not worthy of this outpouring of goodwill. How could I be so arrogant and selfish to walk away from this?
I was still in the thick of the woods, however, unsure what to do. I had gone three-quarters of the way up one dark path, but voices kept calling me back. I retreated and began going around in circles.
Finally on Thursday night, I was invited to supper at a couple’s house. They spent the time telling me I would be making a big mistake by going to Merritt – a place they knew – and that the community wouldn’t embrace me the way Maple Creek has.
It was enough to clear the confusion, and suddenly a path appeared before me. I began running up it, faster and faster until I was bathed in a glorious fountain of light.
So here I am … still in Maple Creek, no longer feeling so treacherous.
The sun is shining as I write, the temperature is almost 30 degrees (Merritt is 15 degrees and cloudy), and I’ve just returned from the Jasper Centre, where Maple Creek Art Club officially opened its “Autumn Palette” show at 2pm on Sunday. I met some delightful ladies who seemed genuinely happy that I was staying.
This week two people dropped by the office, one to give me a zucchini pie, the other a copy of the New Testament, complete with a letter about life, death and eternity.
I feel like a lost sheep that has returned to the fold.
One hundred sheep are now gathered as one.