red pony alert
a semi-fiction by yours truly
Forget that I’ve been sneezing and blowing my nose all day. I’m going out for a run so I can sleep properly.
If you’re not looking for gold, the roads around Dawson don’t lead to many dramas. I jog out of town at least twice a week, following the gravel roadside trail from the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers to the Gold Rush gas station. I love it. Make it three times a week when life is going well.
The surprises are in the dust levels. One evening the sky was pimple-red from forest fire smoke; another night a pair of gravel trucks were still working their way to the green steel bridge, dumping crunchy loads every few metres. Both times the thickness of the air was lousy for deep breathing. Both times I stopped and walked.
But the trail itself is predictable. It’s part of the Trans Canada Trail, that network of cycling and walking routes laced across our provinces and territories. This Klondike Millennial arm (South Section) is layered with gravel and dust, edged with willows, dashed with grasses whose names I don’t know. Clumps of wild raspberry bush show their colours now that summer’s on.
Tonight the 4 km run will be a breeze. Colds in summer should be banned! I said dramatically to my lover as I took two of the blue pills. I figure anti-cold drugs plus exercise should have me sleeping my way to health within two hours.
Red spots appear when I’m six minutes out. The raspberries are in full fruit, shooting red tracers across the path as the wind riffles the plants. Red ponies could ride those tracers, I realize, and it comes to me: auburn dogs could run beside us and we would race as far as Solomon’s Dome!
A pickup pulling a boat trailer signals that it needs to cross in front of me. I didn’t know this side road was here. Red ponies?! I slow down, gesture the driver to glide ahead.
The sky grilled us to 30 today, so I held off running until 10 p.m. But it’s probably still about 22 degrees. And it’s dusty.
And I’m seeing the boat trailer silver-plate the entire road behind its shiny ass as the pickup drives on. The still-bright sun rebounds off the new metallic finish and sluices hot liquid into my eyes.
Overheating. The Bonanza Gold RV and gas station should have ice.
“It’s been broken for two weeks.”
“Your refrigerators too? Don’t people come here for Diet Coke and Freezies?”
Her face doesn’t change one bit. Did I manage to say that out loud? I try again. “What about cold drinks, a Freezie, a Rockstar?”
The tag surfing her poly-clad breasts says Nathan. Name of my first crush at summer camps, back when playing soccer was the only way to instigate body contact. I rest my forehead on the plexiglass countertop.
“Don’t sweat on the lottery tickets!” she snaps. I think she wants to slap my head away, but won’t let herself. Her frown makes her twenty-year-old face look forty.
I’m forty. Or just about. And trying to get some health back after two months of Northern partying. And still seeing tracers, white ones in here, from all the fluorescent lights.
“I’m really sick, I need anything cold, anything at all,” I try to explain.
“There’s a cold water tap in the bathroom, I’m sorry, I can’t help people without wallets.” Nathan reaches past me to accept the credit card from the next guy in line. “Thing is, RVs all have their own ice machines now, so there’s no panic to get that baby fixed.” The credit card guy needs the pen; I know it rolled under my neck sometime in the last hour. “Try again next week if you want.”
“I’m sweating so much I can’t see straight …” no one responds. Again, I can’t tell if I’ve spoken or simply thought the words. There’s no point staying here.
The counter is sturdy, and credit card guy helps me stand up straight. I manage to walk in half-steps to the door.
Then I see the black bear lift the diesel nozzle and start to sip. The adrenaline rush is enough to get into the bathroom, turn the cold tap on hard, douse my head from hairline to jaw. After my sinuses stop vibrating, I’m able to drink a little.
This is not an Alan Sillitoe story. I’m not a long-distance runner, and there’s no one to defy here. I am dripping with loneliness and hallucination. Until a neighbour slows down to offer me a ride on my limping walk home. I nod yes. She passes me an ice cube and I suck it to gone before we get to my front door.