‘Meet You at the Door’ by Lawrence Hill


From The Walrus:

This happened back in the dinosaur days, in the town of Gull Lake, population 800. The gulls had all died, and if ever there had been a lake it had dried up. On the Saskatchewan farmlands, oil pumps bobbed up and down, up and down, looking like black grasshoppers on speed. Folks were fuming about the metric system and had a nickname for the new top-loading railway car: a Trudeau hopper. I had other preoccupations. A ghost had chased me out of university and had hounded me for a year in Greece, Italy, France, and Spain. And now I was back in Canada, to take a summer job in a place where I knew no one.

I had hitchhiked into town. I had come to work in the one-room station of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Hitchhikers held up their thumbs every which way back then and jockeyed for the best spots on highway ramps. As for me, drivers usually stared good and long and pressed the gas pedal harder. Eventually, a priest took mercy on me in Medicine Hat and drove me all the way to the Gull Lake turnoff at forty miles an hour. I walked up the gentle grade into town. On my left arm, balanced against my chest, was an L. C. Smith typewriter, heavy enough to be a weapon of war. Catapulted over a battlefield, it could have taken a man out. In my right hand was a classical guitar, purchased in Granada from the man who made it. On my back was a knapsack, stitched with the Canadian flag, so Europeans wouldn’t take me for an American. It was 1977. The summer job was part of my recovery plan.

The only advertised room for rent in Gull Lake was above the one bar in town. The Mad Dog. No way I was staying there. I knew, from my late father and from the men before him, that certain places would only bring trouble to a person like me. I passed the bar and walked into town, ringing doorbells and asking to rent a room. The first five doors did not stay open long enough for me to explain that I had a job and would pay for the full five months — in advance, if necessary.

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