Friday, 31 January 2014

4Q Interview with Marc Poirier - aka Joseph Edgar.

Marc Poirier is an exceptional Acadian musician that performs as Joseph Edgar. Former front man for Zero Celsius, his solo career is soaring with five albums to his credit; the most previous release is a single titled Alor Voila which appears on his newest album- Gazebo - released this month. Originally from Moncton, NB he now resides and performs in Montreal, Quebec. His music has taken him throughout North America as well as Europe. See below for his website.

4Q: I’ve been enjoying your singing for many years Marc and am following you as Joseph Edgar. Tell us how you come to choose Joseph Edgar as your performing name, what it means to you

JE: The story is actually quite simple. My full name is Marc Joseph Edgar Poirier. Edgar is my paternal grandfather’s name, and Joseph was the tag given to almost all male babies born Catholic at the time. When I came to choose which moniker I would go by for my solo adventure, I simply chose that. Before that time, as a member of Zero Celsius and other artistic adventures, I would just use the name Marc Poirier. However, as there are so many Marc Poiriers in Acadie, including a Radio-Canada journalist, I thought it better to use something else. Don’t know if I would choose the same name today, but four albums later, and another one coming just around the corner, I guess I should stick to that!

4Q: In August of 2013, you were able to reunite with your former band members in Moncton. It was a fantastic show. Share that experience with us.

JE: That was as overwhelming as anything I could have imagined. We had no idea so many people would show up! The organizers told us they were expecting 5000 people. We told ourselves that if 1000 to 2000 people showed up we would be extremely happy. To finally hear the roar of a crowd of ten thousand people just blew all of us away! Topping that  was the fact that we were playing next to the Petitcodiac River, a much maligned river for which he had been quite outspoken when we were a working band back in the 90s.
However, for me, the most important highlight came from hanging out with the gang, fifteen years later. We rehearsed for a week, day and night. Well, nighttimes were mostly focused on laughter, but we did get a few hours of constructive work done. It was quite fascinating to see and feel how no matter how much time had elapsed between our last show and this one, that synergy, that bond we had had not disappeared. It’s important to note that we never officially broke up. Our paths just took different directions, and that was felt deeply between us. Of course we talked about a few regrets, but bitterness between us was nonexistent.

4Q: Share a fond or amusing childhood memory with us.

JE: I watched Jaws when I was way too young. It was going to run on TV and all my older cousins had talked about how great a movie it was. Finally, I thought, I was going to be able to watch it. However, my parents had different plans and said no. I raised hell, convinced my life would not be complete if I did not watch it. Finally my parents, exhausted, succumbed to my crazed hysteria and let me absorb the masterpiece. They were right. I was too young.  In the summer, we would spend all our time at our cottage on Shediac Bay, and thus, spent a lot of time in the water. It took quite awhile for me to feel at ease again swimming in the sea. I tried to hide my fear as best I could, but a few times my cousins would sneak up on me in the water, laughing wildly as my girlish shriek would scare all the seagulls away. My terror lasted the whole summer. There has never been a shark sighting  in Shediac Bay. 

4Q: A new album is coming out in January, GAZEBO. Tell us about the making and inspiration for that album. (At this reading Gazebo was successfully launched in Montreal on January 28)

JE: That album came as a surprise as I had said to myself that 2013 would be a year where I would lay back and just work for the year. Then, out of the blue, I was approached by a record label who wanted to put out a sort of compilation of my previous four albums. I thought that the idea was interesting, if not just for the sake of signing with this label. My previous records were all released independently, with very little distribution. This seemed like an interesting opportunity. They did ask if I had a few new songs to add to the compilation. I had written many songs in the previous moths, but all in English. They said that they liked them, but would like at least one new French song. The following day I bought a new electric guitar and four weeks later had written roughly twenty new songs in a continuous writing ritual that would see me in the middle of the park, next to a gazebo, every morning around 8 am, scribbling notes and thinking of melodies. I would then go to my little set-up in my basement and would scratch out and record the embryo of a new song. As the label heard all these new songs, they opted to not put out a compilation, asked who I wanted to work with as a producer, and the rest, as they say, is part of my little history. We went to a studio next to a lake in the Laurentians where the producer had a cottage. We set ourselves up there, and intermittently, over the course of the next four months, banged out what would become my next album. Out of the twenty songs, we finally decided to go the short and sweet way, and finally stuck to ten. Sometimes you have to trim the fat.

Thank you Marc, for sharing your thoughts with us here at 4Q. Good luck with all your future projects. Visit Marc’s website at

Next week, Friday Feb/7, Detective Jo Naylor is back. She and her partner, Adam Thorne, search for the man that almost killed her.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Guest writer - Nancy Kay Clark- The Naming of Things

The Naming of Things
by Nancy Kay Clark
editor/publisher of 

MY NAME is Adam Doolittle. One day when I was 10 and just beginning to understand my incredible powers, I asked a crow whether it was true that all plants and animals had to obey me. He bowed his head yes. I smirked at him and like an idiot said: “Okay, I order two killer whales to beach themselves.”

The crow blinked at me, nodded his head again and flew off.

A week-and-a-half later, I heard on the radio that two perfectly healthy killer whales had beached themselves on Vancouver Island — to the great puzzlement of Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists. No one could budge them and despite a host of volunteers draping wet clothes on their backs around the clock, the whales baked to death in the sun.

Heart pounding, I ran out of the house and called for the crow. “Please, please tell me it was just a coincidence. I mean, how could two whales all the way out on the west coast know what I said?”

The crow blinked and replied: “The message was conveyed to them. I told a rat who was traveling on train west to Vancouver that afternoon. When he arrived, he told a gull, who went and told two whales, who accepted their fate and immediately did your bidding.”

“Holy shit!” I shouted, repeating one of my father’s favourite expletives. From then on, I was very careful about what I ordered flora and fauna to do.

I grew up to be an exterminator — an environmentally friendly exterminator because I don’t have to poison or trap anybody. I just ask them politely to leave and they do. Toronto Life magazine christened me the pest whisperer — I got a lot of business out of that moniker.

One night in August I drove to Cabbagetown to clear some bats out of an attic. It was a three-storey Victorian, scheduled for massive renovation. A metal dumpster had already been delivered — ready to receive the onslaught of reno debris. It squatted on the front lawn, crushing the grass and dandelions who whispered their pain to me as I walked by. The owners, my clients, weren’t there; they hadn’t moved in yet. I unlocked the door with the key they gave me and made my way up to the attic. As I entered through the trap door stairs, I was immediately swamped by sensations — the attic was buzzing with talk. I bowed low, as a dozen mice came to greet me. “Good evening. Sorry to disturb you,” I said.

They bowed back and launched into complaints about their neighbours — the bothersome dust mites in the old sofa, the centipedes who steal their food, the incessant buzz of the flies in the windowsills. They demanded that I do something about it — as if I were Mother Nature’s landlord. I said something noncommittal, but I warned them that if they didn’t like noise they should really move out because their home was about to become a construction zone. Then I asked them where the bats were. They directed me to a spot near the chimney.

It was a small maternal roost, probably 20 bats in total, all mothers and babies. They were sleeping, but some were stirring now. At dusk, the mothers, babies clinging to their bellies, would wake and fly out of the hole in the rafters to spend the dark night hunting. I stood and watched them for a while — they seemed so peaceful — but soon, as it always happens, I became aware of the thousands of lice humming, feeding, crawling through the bats’ fur. They made such a racket — it gave me a headache. So I went over to a window, pried it open, and squeezed through it to sit on the slanting roof and wait for dusk. There was no need to wake the bats so early. Let them dream.

I felt myself relax as I surveyed my dominion. A slight breeze had cooled the sticky air of this afternoon. In the west, the low red sun sent streaks of pink overhead through the contrails the jet planes made. The swifts skittered across the sky, catching mosquitoes on the wing. The silver maple in the backyard creaked with old age; its black squirrels scrambled over it, ignoring its complaints. It was August and the time of year that Monarch butterflies gather before going south.
A whole bunch of them, bouncing in the breeze, loped by the roof. I caught snatches of excited and frightened voices. “Where are we going? Does anyone know? How long will it take us?” They talked about the journey ahead of them — a journey that none had ever taken before, but which was etched into their DNA, felt in their tissues. And I wondered — not for the first time — about the ancestor I was named after, the first Adam, and how he came to name things.

Fritillary and Snow Leopard. Platypus and Newt. Sanderling and Macaroni Penguin. Bloodroot and Acacia. I love the feel of these names on my tongue. How did he think them up? Did he settle on some scientific, logical method, or was it pure whimsy? I’m not talking about the Latin species names, the science of taxonomy — but the original names Adam bestowed. Of course, he was not speaking English, but some proto-Indo-European/Uralic/Afro/pan-world language. I imagine in my mind Adam creating language as he uttered the sounds and named the world for the first time. God may have created the universe, but Adam named it and everything in it, and in doing so he cranked the key and set it all in motion.

I was sitting on the roof pondering motion and gravity, when I heard a cry. It came from my left. I half crawled, half slid over to look. It was a bird — a mourning dove. He had a sharp, thin black beak and a long tail. His back and tail were grey with black markings. His breast was pinky beige. Panting heavily, he lay on his side, a crushed wing beneath him. A bloody gash stained his belly feathers brown-red.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Damn cat. I barely made it up here,” the bird muttered — then I think he fainted from pain. I should have left him then and there, but I was curious. I settled down beside him and stroked the feathers on his head. A minute or two later, the bird revived.

“Help me!’ he pleaded.

I sighed and put my head down on the shingles — so that we could talk eye to eye. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I have a strict policy. If I help you I have to help everyone and there’s not enough hours in the day, not enough days in the week to do that. I don’t have enough resources. (Well, money really, but try explaining the concept of money to a dying bird.) I don’t have enough knowledge.”

“But you are Adam. You can speak to us….”

“Yes, but I don’t have the power to save you. I’m sorry.”

“You could tell the cats not to attack us.”

This was an argument I had heard before. “So I’m going to tell them they can’t eat? That they have to starve to death?”

He huffed and rolled his black eye, as if to say, “Oh come on like cats actually eat everything they hunt.”

True — but the principle remained. “Sorry, I can’t.”

“You could tell them only to hunt the old. I’m young. I have yet to mate.” Birds don’t shed tears — but if they could I knew this bird would be sobbing now. You could hear it in his voice.

I felt so stupid lying there shrugging, saying over and over again. “I’m sorry, no.” But what else could I do?

“You could ask for bird volunteers. Those who were too sick or old could volunteer to be eaten,” he said.

And I thought, Christ, yeah, that’ll work. I mean no one ever thinks they’re too old to live. He stopped talking. I rolled onto my back and looked up. The pink tendrils in the sky had vanished beneath a swathe of deepening grey. The streetlights had just come on and through their haze, you could see at least two of the stars in the Summer Triangle. “I have to go. I have business with some bats.”

“Don’t. At least sit with me a while.”

I rolled back on my side to look at him and settled there, knowing that I’d probably miss my opportunity to speak with the grandmother bat.

He took an hour to die — the pinks and greys of his feathers fading under the night sky, until he looked indistinct. I picked his body up and gave it to a passing owl — no point in letting it go to waste. All that was left to mark his passing was a dark spot where his blood had stained the roof shingles and his first name, which he had whispered to me just before the end. I won’t repeat it; it’s unpronounceable in English anyways.

I went back through the attic window. The bats had gone out for the night, so I’d have to catch them as they returned. I settled on the old sofa, cozying up to the mites, to wait for dawn.
Thank you for visiting. Please feel free to leave a comment. Look for more of Nancy's work at
Next Friday, Jan. 24, please drop by for a collection of oddities and interesting ideas.

Dark Side of a Promise is now available at or


Friday, 10 January 2014

The Gravel Pit & The River - Part 2

Leaving his chum no choice, he scrambles up the side wall and starts towards the forest. Reluctantly Chops stows the wagon behind the dense growth of small trees to follow his friend. The boys enter the woods at a tall and aged spruce that was planted sixty years ago marking the division of property between the Warren brothers. Every fifty feet there is another one the same age for the three hundred feet it takes to get to the river. A narrow path weaves through the giant trees, made by the many feet that follow an easy route to the river. Boys, a few girls, sweethearts, men and women that came to fish, they all followed the same route. John Jr is ahead by about four strides in a boyish gait, not yet a full run. Chops’ shorter legs make keeping up a tough job.
“Hey hang on, don’t run so fast.”
“No you run faster Phil.”
“Why do I have to keep telling you, don’t call me Phil”
John Jr comes to a boyish halt halfway to the water, sliding his rubbery soles along the dark earth. He faces his friend with arms akimbo. His eyes are even darker in the shade of the woods and Chops can see he’s serious.

When he catches up he’s breathing heavy from the exertion and questions his friend’s stony stare.

“Tell me what’s so bad about Phil?”
Chops reddens a little remembering the cruel jibes his schoolmates making of his name when he started school. He hated his name, not that any of the other three he had were any better. Many times in his young life he was disappointed to have been called Chadwell Horatio Orville Phileas Sangster. They called him Philly when he was very little. Then Phil; until the meanies at school started using it as a verb. While randomly doodling his initials one evening he noted they spelt CHOPS. He said it out loud a few times, liking the hardness of the P with the complimentary S. That was it; he would only answer to Chops. Everybody thought it was neat.
His voice is bashful, quiet, just above a whisper. “Well you remember the jokes!”
John Jr makes a dismissive waving motion in the air with one hand while he pushes his dark hair off his forehead with the other. He has a handsome grin when he says,
“So what? That was a long time ago. Nobody cares any more. And besides we’re bigger now, we’re tougher, right? And I think Chadwell is a neat-o name, just Chad is even better. Sounds like a movie star’s name.”
Chops eyes widen at ‘movie star’. A huge grin scrunches up his freckles, he’s totally attentive as John Jr continues.
“Use that, no more Phil. Problem solved. I mean who wants to be named after a piece of meat all their life. It’s worse than going to the john.”
John Jr starts to giggle at his jibe. Chops becomes serious as he thinks of the pork chops his family ate last night. His oldest sister had cooked them and they were burnt. Even though they were a bit dry they tasted not too bad. The nickname doesn’t hold the same appeal anymore as he considers this. He stares at John Jr with pursed lips and scrunched brow before finally nodding his head.
“Okay, I’ll give it a go if you promise to give anybody a knock if they tease me.”
“Even Mary Jane Baker?”
Chad is left speechless at the reversal of his joke, not quick enough to think of a good retort. John Jr doesn’t wait for an answer but turns to begin running to the river, his laughter following him there. Chad is about to get mad when a vision of the pretty young girl floats through his pre-teen head. He usually thinks of her laughing when he does but lately he has been focusing on the budding of her slim chest. He blushes again at his own innocence and shakes the idea away. Tearing off at a full trot he forgets Mary Jane as he sees John Jr. zig to the left at the last tree before the river edge.
The water is high with the winter run off, only a foot below the bank. It’s not wide, maybe fifteen feet. It rushes towards a larger river five miles away. Bubbles froth around debris that lies just below the surface. Dead branches poke their dark fingers through the twirling ribbon of racing water. Chad can hear it over a hundred feet away. The sound reminds him of the wind blowing in the leaves. As he gets closer the symphonic gurgling of the wavelets gets louder. He stops and scouts under the branches of the last old spruce and he can see John Jr seated on a dead log that fronts the water about ten feet away. Scuff marks on the ground at the foot of the log indicate where people have sat and fished for many years.  John Jr’s big brother, Dave, always said he wished the gnarly old log could talk The boy’s never understood what he meant and he never explained his comment but they would catch on soon enough.
John Jr is propped on the wooden seat, his feet about six inches off the ground and he’s a tall boy. Chad has to scrabble up the huge bole using the stubs of broken limbs for footholds. His toes dangle another three inches higher.  Sitting closely he watches John Jr unfold the hankie. A forbidden fascination pricks his senses and he feels the goose bumps on his neck but he can’t stop smiling. He’s thinking how manly his neighbour Mark looks when he has a smoke, he’s in college and the girls all follow him around.
“We’ll be just like grownups.”
John Jr is straightening out the four edges upon his lap, the brown shreds flattening out on the surface. He looks at Chad.
“Ya think?”
“Well, maybe not to grownups, I ain’t going to tell any but maybe to the girls."
John Jr can’t believe what he just heard. He tosses his hair back with an upward nod.
“So it’s okay now to talk about girls”
“I don’t wanna talk about them just maybe let them know somehow that we’re smokers.”
John Jr likes that and says,
“Yeah we’ll tell Ruthie, they’re friends.”

Concentrating on the task at hand John Jr pulls out a crinkled collection of small white papers. He tugged several from his brother’s pack and jammed them in his pocket when he took the tobacco.  While he is trying to unfold the tissues and loosen one free Chad says, “You know how to roll a cigarette?”
“No but I saw Dave do it, it doesn’t look so hard. Watch.”
John Jr finally gets one paper free from the group and passes the extras to his pal. He holds the glued edge facing him and sets in on the hankie edge. Pinching the weed between his fingers, he piles it on so that you can only see the white corners under the mound. They both stare at it for a minute, there doesn’t look anything round about it. Chad finally says, “Now what?”
John Jr nudges his friend who is sitting too close to his right arm. “Gimme some room and hang on a sec, I’m trying to remember what comes next, how am I supposed to pick this mess up?” Chad shrugs and says nothing. John Jr remembers Dave making a U with the long flat sides. Grasping the edges and bringing them together proves to work quite well. It’s rolling one under the other that requires a little skill. John Jr fumbles with the paper trying to roll it back and forth like he saw his brother do until he eventually tears it and spills all the tobacco on his dungarees. Chad has been quiet watching the procedure. Now young Sangster may be a slow learner with his numbers and the alphabet but he has an acute understanding of what John Jr is trying to do. “Let me try.” 

On the dotted cloth spread upon his pal’s lap, he flattens out another paper, the strip of yellowish glue on the top. Two generous pinches of curly cut leaf cover the paper once more.  Fumbling with the edges, the excess tobacco spilling out, he gets the paper into a respectable U shape and starts to roll it in his stubby fingers. Most of the stringy mass is in the center and when he tucks the edges in, the handmade cigarette is fat in the middle and pointy on the edges. John Jr is all smiles at his friend’s skill.
“Wow, that’s pretty good Chops…Chad, I mean. You gotta lick the yellow edge to make it stick together. Unroll it a little bit.”

Chad just nods, fully concentrating on the task. Slowly unfurling the wrinkled paper he exposes the glue. He frowns before he sticks his tongue out. Saliva moistens the yellowish strip. A quick roll back and he proudly passes his buddy the finished product. Pleased with himself, his feet are rocking back and forth like a dog wagging his tail, the heels knocking on the dead log. He beams at John Jr who has the cigarette clamped between his lips as he fumbles in his shirt pocket for a match. The cigarette dangles and bobs up and down as John Jr mumbles.
“Do I look more grown up?”
“Oh yeah, you look like you should be in Grade 9 or 10.”
Chad only nods as he watches John Jr take a wooden match out of his pocket. The red head is perfectly round and fills with fire as he runs it over the toothed zipper of his jeans.  As the flame flares John Jr sticks the end of the cigarette in and takes a huge puff, remembering the deep breaths that Dave would take when he smoked.  Removing the burning torch from his lips he inhales a mouthful of smoke that is half paper and half tobacco. John Jr’s lungs are as virgin as the rushing water before them and they don’t react pleasantly to the harsh and foreign substance.

John Jr spews smoke and spit as he begins to deeply cough. The cigarette flies from his hand, the match flips into the air. Both land in dried leaves and twigs that make the finest tinder. John Jr losses his balance and with flailing arms rolls backward from the tree they are on, still coughing. Hanky, tobacco and crinkled papers are flung in the air. Chad is struck by one of the flailing arms and tumbles over the log as well, landing on his side. John Jr is beside him curled in a fetal position hacking and spitting.

Chad sits up to help his friend, dried leaves stuck to his shirt and in his hair. Tugging at John Jr, they come to rest with their backs against the log. A few minutes later John Jr finally stops coughing and looks at his friend. Snot runs from his nose, tears have trailed down his cheeks, his eyes look confused, his throat stings and he doesn’t want to cry in front of his friend. Chad doesn’t say anything, instead hands John Jr. the dusty rag from his back pocket. John Jr gratefully takes the cloth and starts to wipe his nose when Chad says,
“I don’t think I want to start smoking, not if I have to do that too.”
They can’t help it, they’re boys and start to snicker and soon they’re rolling on the ground again laughing when suddenly John Jr sits up, the laughter dies. “I smell smoke.”

The wooded area they are in is mostly alder bushes along the river edge and some narrow open grassy strips like they are on. The grass is long, stringy and dry as birch bark.  The match has started a small fire, the cigarette close by is working on another one. The smoke swirls straight up turning grey as it cools, a slight breeze carries it over the fallen log. By the time the boys realize something is burning, the fire is spreading and already three feet long.
The boys stand quickly looking towards the water. The smoke shifts shape at eye level and dances in the air. The two are mesmerized by fear as they stare down at the flames.

It looks larger than what it is as the flames lick the tall stalks of dead grass. Bits of fire seems to leap off the ends of the burnt threads as they jump from one clump of grass to another.  John Jr is the first to react from the realization that they could be in a lot of trouble. Scrambling over the log he yells,

“C’mon Chops, we gotta put it out.”
Chad is broken from his initial fear to follow his buddy. They hustle over to start stamping their feet on the flames. The grass strip is twenty feet long and two to three feet wide before it tangles into the alders where more fuel lies in the shape of dried yellow and orange leaves. The puffs of sparks and bits of flame disturbed by their sneakers only spreads the fire. The smoke blooms thicker and engulfs the boys. They have to back away, terrified of the burning grasses. The two are coughing when from behind them comes a barreling voice filled with anger.
“What are you hooligans up to here?”
Old man Hamm was strolling to the river to fish. Although the water is high, he is usually one of the first to cast his worms into the chilly water. He was coming upon the last tall spruce when he smelt the smoke, soon to see it as stray wisps floated by the opening in the trees. Leaving his fishing rod on the path he rushed forward to find the two boys near the grass fire coughing. They jumped at his deep voice turning to face him with both relief and guilt etched into their youthful faces. John Jr blurts out,
“We didn’t meant to start a fire Mr. Hamm, it’s…it’s my fault. Please help us.”
“Get out of the way then boys, let me at it.”

Purvis Hamm has already eyed where the fire is going. The end away from him will stop at the worn path where the trail continues down river. This end could be trouble so he stamps his boots on the grass near them. His Kodiaks are a size twelve and crush the fire beneath their large soles. He soon has the flames under control and watches the other end die out. The river bank for about twelve feet is blackened ash, some of the grass or thicker stems still smouldering.  Hamm turns towards the boys standing off behind him, his chunky arms upon his hips. The two that stand before him, one of the Sangsters and the Williams kid are about the saddest sight he’s seen for a while. He’s ready to give them a blast when he stares at them with a scowl and puffed cheeks.  But he can see that they’re cowed. Their knees are both shaking. He remembers when he was about their age and started a fire in the school yard one spring. He softens inside but doesn’t let on.
“What happened? And no fibbing.”
John Jr has spied the hankie on the ground close to where he is standing. He bends to pick it up. Tiny shards of tobacco still cling to the rough fibers. Staring at it he says.
“We were smoking.”
This causes Hamm to grin, such pups being so adventurous, he thinks.
“Well, did you like it? Was it worth burning the forest over?”

The boys shake their head vigorously with nothing to say, they’re studying the ground at their feet. Both red in the face with shame. Chad thinks of his father’s thin branch in the wood shed and whispers,
“Are you gonna tell our folks?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
Hamm studies them for a moment, wanting them to know they did wrong. The heads are down. He wants to laugh at what he knows they must be feeling, he was a boy too once. He thinks the fire scared them enough
“You boys should wait until you’re older before you start smoking. You could have caused a lot of damage today and I expect you both know that.” He rubs his jowls as the boy’s chins fall deeper on their chests. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. The heap of drying wood behind my house needs to be piled by the shed. Make sure it gets done before the end of next month and I’ll keep mum on what you two were up to.”
Both young heads pop up in unbelief. They can’t contain their relief. Chad is jumping from one foot to the other and John Jr is shaking his head up and down. They both speak out at once. “Thank you Mr. Hamm.”

“Okay get out of here you two and no more fires.”

The boys take off running. They run all the way to the gravel pit, Chad not far behind this time. They’re panting and puffing when they reach the wagon.  Both realizing how close they came to burning down the forest, they are deep in thought as they head home. Chad pulls the wagon as a matter of habit. The wheels squeak in the silence, the dust balls puff at their feet, the flames grow larger in their thinking of what might have happened if old man Hamm hadn’t of come along. 

Chad Sangster started smoking when he was eighteen, the day after he joined the army. John Williams Jr never had a cigarette again for the rest of his life.
Please leave a comment if you like. Next week I'll have a guest writer - Nancy Kay - with one of her entertaining stories, don't miss it, she's a great storyteller. She is an award winning author and editor. Publisher of  eZine -

Dark Side of a Promise is now available at or .com or or  A promise is made. Drake Alexander searches for the man the killed his best friend's sister.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Gravel Pit and The River - Part 1

The gravel pit is overgrown with alder bushes. Big chunks of sandstone poke out of the earthen walls, others lie in heaps at their base. Some are the size of coffee tables, some no bigger than dinner plates, most are two to three inches thick but they’re all mixed with sand that hasn’t stirred for years. The giant hole is abandoned now, only frequented by lovers and miscreants. Fourteen feet deep, it is wide enough to hide the fifteen to twenty trucks that have carried the gravel away over the years. The entrance is almost a quarter mile from the main road. Beans and Chops are halfway down the dusty lane. Chops, as usual, is pulling the wagon even though it belongs to Beans.

It’s the end of April, last Sunday of the month, the sun is just west of its zenith. They left just after dinner.  In the country there is still snow in dark forest crevices and deep ditches. The fields are lifeless, the dull brown of dead grass, dry as old paper. Bushes and trees stand naked awaiting their robes of green. Seeds and roots will awaken soon to fill the air with the scent of wildflowers and growth, now it smells like the dust the boys’ sneakers kick up. There had been little rain in the last two weeks and the side road is finally dry.

The boys decided to begin their weekly bottle run officially today. Their chatter accompanies the creaking of the small wheels, the cawing of the crows, the shrieks and whistles of other birds. Their conversation has gotten serious when they began to discuss their names. The taller of the two is saying,

“I don’t think I wanna be called Beans anymore. From now on I’m John Jr.”

Chops is about three inches shorter than his best friend. He’s a little pudgier.  A serious frown rearranges his freckled cheeks.  His reddish mop bobs up and down as he ponders this serious remark.

“Well I sure as heck don’t want to be called Chadwell, or Horatio, or Orville or Phil. Phil the least. I’ll stick with Chops. But you’ve been Beans since we were in grade two. Why do you wanna change it now?”

John Williams Jr. turned eleven last month. His hormones are changing gears. Chops will be eleven next month, his hormones have had a head start.

“My brother was telling his friend Christopher how I got my nickname when we saw him yesterday afternoon at the movie theater.”

Chops is tugging the wooden wagon, the red sideboards and front wheels wobbling from the uneven ground along the gravel road. He has both hands behind his back griping the handle. He hurries to catch up to Beans who is in front of him.

“So what? Everybody knows that story.” “

“Christopher’s sister Nancy was with him and she started laughing.”

Chops has stopped walking to stand straight staring at his friend’s back. Bean’s hears the noise stop and looks back. Chops is on the opposite side of the road with a wide smile on his boyish face. It’s only the downcast look on his buddy’s face that contains his laughter. He says,

“Well sure she would. You thought having gas would be good for your Dad’s car and someone told you you could get gas if you ate beans. You ate nothing but beans for three or four days. I still remember you farting in class. It’s your brother Dave’s fault, he’s the one that started calling you that.”

Almost ready to let go with the titters, Chops has a revelation.

“Oh wait! I get it. You have a crush on Nancy Smith. Ha! And you teased me all winter about Mary Jane.”

This is too much for Chops. Beans has always claimed girls were not as smart as boys and hard to understand and he never, never, ever wanted to be kissy kissy with them. Yuk! Chops lets go off the wagon handles to hang on to his belly. He laughs so hard he can hardly breathe. His heehaws are high pitched and he dances around as he fills the air with glee. Beans, whose face is a reddish beacon just gapes at the laughing boy.

“It’s not that funny”

“Yes” More laughter “Yes it…”

 He’s tittering too hard trying to talk. “Yes it is!”

Just then the wagon surrenders to gravity, it begins to roll backward down the shallow incline behind them. The road has a crown in the center, the wagon decides to go right. The wooden handle that fell to the ground is swinging back and forth Iike a wooden windshield wiper, the small wheels can’t decide which way to go.  It picks up speed until one of the front wheels hits a small rock. The obstruction causes it to head directly for a three foot deep ditch filled with dead grass and small bushes. Losing its balance when the back wheel goes over the lip, the cart tilts to its side and flips onto its top. The clunking sound it makes doesn’t suggest soft earth. The four wheels they had shined up only a half hour ago are spinning in the air, dirt all over the rubber. They stop rotating in a small cloud of dust.

It belongs to John Jr. His parents financed his scheme to use a wagon instead of hauling burlap bags over their shoulders when he and Chops collected empties along the road every Sunday. He had paid them back at the end of autumn last year. The gravel pit had become more popular as a drinking spot or a place to take a girl on a hillbilly date. It proved to be a goldmine for the boys.  John Jr runs up to the edge of the road.

“Look what you did Chops! It landed on some rocks, it’s gonna be scratched.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Well that’s it isn’t it. You let go of the handle.”

Chops is not laughing now. When he stands beside John Jr both looking at the wagon, he thinks right away of how much he loves the wagon even though it is not his. He always asks to pull it. He always works hardest at shining it up. He’s disappointed just as much as John Jr. Looking up at his friend who is frowning at him, he says,

“I’m sorry.”

John Jr looks directly into the shy green watery eyes and knows that statement comes from the heart. He knows the Sangster’s can’t afford one for Chops who flutters about the wagon with obvious joy.

“It’s okay Chops, nothing is broke I don’t think. Help me get it out.”

They jump down into the ditch, the road up to their bellies. The edge beside the road is more vertical, the opposite side slopes away towards the field, rising gradually for six or seven feet. One on each end they lift and turn the wagon onto its wheels. The metal part you put your hand through on the end of the handle is bent.  John Jr. lifts it up and shakes his head. Chops only studies his friend and remains quiet.

“I’ll hold the handle and this end, you lift that end Chops and we’ll get it back onto the road. And don’t let go until I get out.”


The boys lift their ends pushing it onto the side of the gravelled path. Chops holds the back end while John Jr, climbs out. Soon they’re on the road facing the pit. Chops pulls a rag from the back pocket of his coveralls to start wiping the side boards. The paint is nicked and scratched on one side and on the end of the uprights in each corner. John Jr tries to pry apart the hand hold with no success. Their knees are dusty, as are their black and white sneakers.
The forearms of their plaid shirts are smudged with dirt. Chops shirt is brown and beige and the dust is not as noticeable as on John Jr’s red and black one.

“We’ll have to bend that back with pliers when we get home. For now we can wrap our hand around the wood part behind it.”

Chops stops wiping to watch, still sad over the incident and casts down his eyes. John Jr, glad that Nancy Smith has been forgotten about, says,

“Forget it Chops. It’s just a few scratches. We can paint it up again. C’mon, let’s go.”
John Jr is still puling the wagon when they start down the incline cut into the ground. The road descends to ten feet and swings to the right where powerful shovels have dug dirt from the foot of a small rise at the end of the field. Fifty feet back, a forest stands at the edge. The wall of dirt on the right is hidden from the road. It is here that the bottles are more plentiful. The sun throws tiny beams from the scattered glass where one has broken, the shards are sharp, to be avoided.  More than a dozen bottles are scattered about. Quart beer bottles,
clear and green soda bottles, mickeys, an empty quart of Captain Morgan dark rum; all waiting to be picked up. They’re all grins at their find.

“Wow, we can almost fill the wagon with what’s here. We might have to make two trips Beans.”

“I said no more Beans okay? Call me John Jr. No... Just John, yeah just John.”

“Like going to the john?”

John has an armful of bottles and he stops to look at his friend who is tittering by the wagon.

“Watch your mouth. Whoever decides to crack a joke will get the rough side of my fist in their face.”

“Even Nancy Smith?”

He has to stop to think about that. His lips are tight shut and they move make and forth as he concentrates. After fifteen seconds he says,                     

“Well okay, John Jr then.”

Chops starts to laugh and John Jr can’t help it, he cracks up too.  They chuckle for a minute before snatching the last of the bottles. They have fifteen all together. The racks are almost full.   They are rubbing their hands on the dusty rag Chops has, trying to get the sticky soda off that spilt from one of the bottles.

“Yeah, this is great. We might even make a dollar today, fifty cents each.”

In 1960, a dollar is something to be excited about. With four more cents you can buy a gallon of milk or twenty five stamps or five loaves of bread or four gallons of gas. If you had 2600 of them you could buy a car. While the boys are rearranging the bottles to fit better, they talk about what they might do with the money they save up. Chops says, “I’m saving for a wagon, like yours.”
“Oh, yeah, now that mine’s all scratched up, you want your own.”

“No, no, I was going to do that anyway.”
Chops sees that his friend is joking and says, "What about you?”

“I’d like to get my dad a new electric drill for his birthday. He was looking at them pretty close at the Canadian Tire last week when he got the winter tires off. I know he’d like to have one.”

“Gee that’s nice.”

They kick at the dirt and chuck a few rock as they fantasize about things as if they had a full time job for a few more minutes until Chops says,

“Maybe we should head back.”

John Jr is looking at his friend seriously for a few seconds before saying,

“I’ve got some tobacco.”

“Tobacco? Where did ya get it?”

John Jr pulls a blue hanky with white polka dots and plain edges from the front pocket of his faded denims. It’s shaped like a ball at one end and the edges are scrunched together with an elastic band. While he removes the rubber and opens the bag to reveal enough loose tobacco to roll about three large cigarettes, he says,

“It belongs to Dave. He started smoking but Mum and Dad don’t know.”

“What are ya gonna do with it?”

John Jr looks at his buddy as if he has three eyes.

“I’m gonna make fairy dust out of it and turn you into a frog, dummy. What do ya think, we’re going to smoke it.”

Chops holds up his hands and backs up. “No way, I’m not smoking it. My mother hates smoking and if I get caught, she’ll have Pa take me the wood shed.”

The Sangster’s woodshed is where punishment is doled out in private. Mr. Sangster hates the chore but to keep peace with his Mrs., he doles out the strokes she deems suitable to the crime committed. Thank goodness it isn’t often, usually the threat of their father’s switch is sufficient to cool tempers. All three of the boys and both girls have felt the sting of the tiny whip even through the cloth of their trousers or skirts.

Pointing to a small group of alders near the side wall twenty feet away, John Jr says,

“They’re not going to find out, I brought gum too. Hide the wagon over behind those bushes and let’s go down to the river.”

Leaving his chum no choice, he scrambles up the side wall and starts towards the forest. Reluctantly Chops stows the wagon behind the dense growth of small trees to follow his friend. The boys enter the woods at a tall and aged spruce that was planted sixty years ago marking the division of property between the Warren brothers. Every fifty feet there is another one the same age for the three hundred feet it takes to get to the river. A narrow path weaves through the giant trees, made by the many feet that follow an easy route to the river. Boys, a few girls, sweethearts, men and women that came to fish, they all followed the same route. John Jr is ahead by about four strides in a boyish gait, not yet a full run. Beans’ shorter legs make keeping up a tough job.