AVERY SMELLED of dirt and semen and cigarettes. Her father sat rigid in the dark on the front porch. She stepped past him, eyes on the door. Damp between her legs, Micah’s sweat on her skin.
“Avery,” he said. “Come sit.”
She took her seat on the peeled steps but left a foot or so between them. She whistled for Earnest, her red Cocker Spaniel, who bounded from the rhododendron grove at the edge of the yard. The tags on his collar jingled, a sweet sound. Earnest bumped her father’s knee with his black nose then sat at her feet. His tail swished against the flagstone walkway, swept dry leaves from side to side.
With artist’s fingers, her father plucked a wet fibril of moss from her sleeve, then grabbed a moon-blonde fistful of her hair and wrapped it around his hand. His teeth shone blue.
“You smoked without me,” he said.
Avery wanted him to let go, wanted to massage the pressure from her scalp, but remained still. He pulled her closer by the hair and pressed thin lips into her neck. She squeezed her legs together, drew strength into her spine, and closed her eyes.
That morning, Avery had woken to a murmuring like wind through poplar leaves. She found her father at the kitchen table with a woman wearing a Cowichan sweater.
“Avery,” he said. “This is Jennica.”
The woman, mid-fifties, had thick grey hair to her shoulders and acorn-brown eyes. Her face, reddish, shiny, and tight, looked as if a layer of skin had been peeled away. Spare lips parted to reveal straight, milk-white teeth. “Grant was right,” she said. “A celestial beauty.” She extended a chapped hand.
“Jennica was talking about living on the beach in Haida Gwaii,” her father said. “Making agate jewelry and hauling Tyee.”
“Sex with surfers,” she added. “Driving two hundred clicks along the sand.”
Her father watched Jennica and tongued the inside of his cheek. Earnest slept in a tight ball in front of the woodstove; flames the colour of his fur thumped behind the glass. Avery filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove’s top, lackluster from soot. She leaned between her father and Jennica to adjust the tendrils of English ivy that sat in a jar on the kitchen table. Jennica smelled of juniper – peppery and turpentine.
“Visiting?” Avery said. “Or do you live here?”
“Been working in Silviculture all over BC for the last decade. My buddy in PG talked about the pristine Sunshine Coast. Decided to visit and next thing my fingers are getting creative with sandwiches at The Balsamic.”
Her father bought coffee beans and rye bread from The Balsamic, a café on the harbor in Lower Gibsons. Beneath the table, he stretched a foot – yellow and dry – toward Jennica’s. Avery had never seen him touch another woman.
“Going to get smokes,” Avery said. “C’mon Earniebockle.”
Earnest rose and stretched, shook himself, and followed her to the hall closet, where she donned her father’s grey wool crew-neck, the maroon toque and mittens he’d knitted for her last Christmas, a navy down-filled vest, and fleece insulated gumboots. She stepped outside with Earnest at her feet and closed the door on the shriek of the kettle.
Back on the dark porch, Earnest mewled and pawed at her shin. Her father opened his fist, and Avery felt relief in the weight of her hair against her back, in the tingling of her scalp.
“Well let’s have them then,” he said.
Avery drew the pack of Marlboros from her pocket and set it in his hand. A snap of the match cast his face in bronze light: tall forehead, fair brows that jutted far beyond the sockets of his eyes, cheeks and jaw honed by a lifetime of smoking, insomnia, and a meager appetite. He extinguished the flame with his tongue and took a long pull from the cigarette, exhaled into the dark; the smoke rolled out over his knees, the damp lawn, between the rusty bars of a birdcage that hung from the maple, and into the autumn night. Avery reached for the pack, but he trapped it beneath long fingers.
“I won’t. Share. Now go shower. You stink.”
The hot water loosened twigs and golden needles and lichen from her hair; they eddied around her feet and down the drain. Avery washed Micah from her stomach, her breasts, recalled his weight on her body, the softness of the earth under her spine, how the forest’s moss-coated trunks and underbrush of salal, sword fern, and snowberry muffled their sounds, how a few feet away, squirrel meat smoked on the fire, and the October air had a round warmth to it. Micah smelled of dirt and wood smoke and sweat and piss – there was no shower at his camp in the woods – but he spoke softly and had steady hands and eyes the colour of red cedar and knew the taxonomy of west coast plants and the difference between a Spotted Towhee and a Black-Capped Chickadee. He’d asked if she could live in his world. She weighed autonomy against shitting into a hole in the ground, separating rabbit flesh from bone, the damp slinking under her skin. The plick of rain on nylon might make a nice lullaby, but the earth beneath her back would be hard and uneven. Avery stepped over Earnest, who lay on the bathmat. She toweled off, and he licked between her toes.
Downstairs, Earnest took his place in front of the woodstove. Her father had set the table for supper. In Avery’s place, a plate crowded with thick slabs of rye, maple-baked butternut squash from the garden, and chicken breast seared in rosemary and oil. He sat before a mug of coffee, a newspaper, and a tin of Copenhagen.
“Better,” he said. He reached across the table and fingered her wet hair, broke through a knot. “Forest gypsy doesn’t suit you.” He went to the sink then returned with a Mason jar of autumn crocus. The purple heads hung limp over the lip of the jar. “Picked these for you.” He placed the jar on the table in front of her.
The small kitchen was heavy with dry heat.
“Jen-ee-ca,” Avery said. “Thought you didn’t like hippies.”
Her father – cheeks bright from the heat of the stove, ashen braid unraveling, eyes the kind of blue you’d want to fly a kite across – spun the tin of chew in his palm. “Jen-i-ca,” he corrected. “Isn’t she fun?” He opened the lid and packed his bottom lip with dark tobacco.
“Sure,” Avery said. She cut into the squash and took a bite, squished it between her tongue and the roof of her mouth.
“Whoever he is, forget him. Stay with me, Little Moon.” He’d done a painting before she was born that now hung above his bed: her mother, high above a wild sea, wore a gown of stars and sky, her face in the moon. I’m the sea, he’d told Avery when she was a little girl.
Grant wasn’t her real father; he was her mother’s best friend. But he loved her. Never loved anyone but her. Still has that pull even though she’s gone. Her real father took off as soon as he’d buried the seed, left Lonnie in her sundress on the pink sand under the weeping willow, the bastard.
Then Lonnie left Avery – seven months old – on the seat of Grant’s Ford, called from a payphone. I can’t feel anything, she said. I’m going to Alaska. Maybe the sky-fire can teach me something about love.
So Avery was his. Little Moon. Little Budgie. She’d inherited her mother’s rounded face, wide-set greens, pale skin, white-blonde hair.
After supper, Avery sat on the floor by the window that overlooked the backyard, Earnest’s peanut-shaped head heavy on her lap. She stroked his ears, the softest things she knew. A floodlight illuminated the Colorado spruce that grew on the other side of the glass, with sharp bundles of needles, waxy blue. Her father stood with a cigarette clenched between his teeth and palms open to the tree. He smacked the needles again and again until his hands fell to his sides; he flexed and rubbed them against his jeans. He did this often.
The first time coincided with her first haircut, eleven years prior. She was twelve. Her father held off cutting it as long as possible, so by this time it hung past her bottom. On his instruction, she wore her training bra – don’t need extra bulk getting in the way of the scissors – a soft white cotton with little blue forget-me-nots. The swish of metal, graze of his cool fingers on her shoulders, her lower back. His breath, chalky and sour. At the sight of her hair on the floor, separate from her body, Avery found it difficult to breathe, as if her mouth was full of sweet wax. She thought of the mosquito suspended in the gardenia-scented candle on her father’s nightstand. Her father gathered the bulk of her hair from the floor and stowed it in a vintage cookie tin, tucked that tin on the shelf in his studio alongside jars of brushes and mechanical pencils and his box of paints. The tin was still there, with its garish print of multicoloured biscuits etched with moons, sailboats, clocks, rabbits, and Humpty Dumpty. Peek Frean’s Playbox in bold white letters. He brushed severed hairs from her chest, her back, her thighs, swept the evidence into a dustpan and emptied it into the trash. After, he stood before the spruce, his long hair – then blond – stuck to wet, sharp cheeks. Ten minutes later, he disappeared into the woodshed. Avery went outside in her bra and stood before the tree as he had, hands splayed like starfish. She looked to the woodshed, where her father split kindling, and listened for the dull thwack of axe against stump. She held her breath and drove her soft palms into the needles until they tingled, hot, and pearls of blood rose from her skin.
Alone beneath the sheets, she circled her nipples with a finger.
She’d met Micah a month prior, on a smoke run for her father. Instead of taking the paved road, she cut through the thicket that divided their subdivision from the town of Gibsons. A path had already been sheared through the green, which wove between trunks of cedar, pine, and fir. Beneath her feet, verdant moss, tawny needles, clumps of Robert Geranium. Earnest buried his nose in a mound of leaves, tattered brown, translucent with decay. Just off the path, mushrooms sprung from the pulpy innards of fallen trees. The air was pungent with rot. A bird clung to a burl halfway up a Douglas fir and drummed at the bark with its black beak; it had a fluffy white breast, slick black wings spotted with white, and a black mask with white around the eyes.
Avery jumped at the male voice, heart skittering like a stone across water. The bird flickered away through the trees, revealed a clean strip of white down its back and a tuft of cardinal red on its nape. A man – who looked a couple years her senior, about twenty-five – stood barefoot with a chunk of charred meat in one hand and small binoculars in the other.
“Male,” he said. “Digging for insects.”
“Jesus,” Avery said. “You scared me.”
“Sorry—” a shrill call – pik, pik, pik – cut him off. “There he is.” He pointed to an alder about twenty feet ahead, where the woodpecker hung from a branch.
“I love those little dudes.”
Earnest emerged from the bush with a grey sock in his mouth. He dropped it and circled Micah, sniffed the meat in his hand.
“That’s my sock,” he said.
“I’m not trespassing, am I?”
“This is Crown land.” He hung the binoculars around his neck, pinched the meat between his teeth, and said in a muffled voice, “But I do live here.” He wound his long, russet hair – same colour as Earnest’s – into a bun. “Nice dog.”
“This is Earnest.”
At the mention of his name, Earnest cocked his head and wagged his tail in a languid motion.
“Château Micah is this way.” He pointed to his left with a thick thumb. “Whisky?”
His camp consisted of a tent, a fire pit, a cooler strung between two firs, and a clothesline between two alders. About twenty yards away stood the bathroom, a hole in the ground sheltered by three walls and a roof made of plywood. He spread a windbreaker across the moss to the right of his tent and beckoned her to sit. Earnest investigated before settling at her feet.
“What’s one thing you’re sure of?” He plucked a sock – the mate to Earnest’s – and a tee shirt bearing a portrait of Rumi from the clothesline.
“Plants.” Avery sipped from the bottle, which was beginning to provide the same comfort as lying on her bedroom carpet in a parcel of sunshine. “There’s nothing more arresting than the honeyed scent of a Fawn Lily, the softness of a Lamb’s Ear.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Have you ever seen a Moth Orchid?” Avery asked.
“Some look like they’ve been tie-dyed with wine. I want to explore every continent, study botany as I go.”
“You should.” He dragged a low wooden stool – hand-carved – over to where she sat. “I drank Ayahuasca in Peru, lived in Dominical and surfed everyday for a month, hitchhiked along the east coast of Spain. Travel is imperative.”
“What are you sure of?”
“Birds,” he said. “The woods. And poetry. Used to white out pages of home décor mags and fill them with my own words, with pressed flowers and insect wings and sketches too. Back in Nelson, my dads wanted me to become something more than just a Woodland Sonneteer – idiots, I’ve never written a sonnet – would’ve paid for me to go to any school.” He chewed his thumbnail then spat a brown crescent into the dirt. “What drives you mad?”
“Zoos. Picket fences. Subdivisions.”
“Why zoos?” he asked. “Are you scared of the big mean kitties?” He pinched his tongue between top and bottom teeth.
“Cages are cruel.”
They smoked cigarettes and passed the bottle and Avery’s cheeks began to throb with heat. With a finger, she traced her name on the blue outer wall of the tent.
“Do you use a sleeping bag or wool blanket?” Like dominoes, each word toppled into the next.
“Want to see inside?” Micah laid a hand on his crotch. “I’ll unzip the fly so the stars can still watch us. They make the perfect audience.”
Warmth travelled between her legs but she shook her head. “I’m very drunk.”
On the way back home, Avery stopped by a stream and washed the taste of booze from her mouth, brushed dirt and twigs from her pants and hair. She picked lemon mint from the neighbor’s flowerbed and chewed it as she walked up her driveway. She sat on the front steps and pulled Earnest to her chest, pressed her nose into the top of his head and inhaled – it always smelled like mushroom soup.
Avery threw a pinecone across the yard and Earnest bolted after it. She laid back on the warm porch and imagined the tent and Micah and what it might feel like to press her skin against his and she arched her body towards the bright blur of stars.
Avery sat in the passenger seat of her father’s truck. The suspension creaked when they hit knots in the asphalt. A cigarette dangled from her mouth, from his. To her right, Micah’s woods. Was that a finger of smoke through the trees? Could he be setting traps? Following the voice of a bird? Or maybe he lay in his tent, etching free verse on a slab of bark.
“We never go camping.” Avery ground out her cigarette on the rear-view and gave it to the wind.
Her father took a final pull and did the same, then reached across the seat and buried his hand in her hair, massaged the back of her neck. “Everything I need’s at home. Paints. Smokes. Food in the garden. A cute pup. My girl. I’ve got the sky and more.”
“Can you even start a fire without matches?”
“Let’s go together then,” he said. “Kootenay’s? Okanagan? Jennica could show us the good spots. She’s been everywhere.”
Avery leaned against the door. “I’d like to get out.”
He splayed his fingers on her scalp and pushed. No pain, just a cold, pointed pressure.
“Five years or so before you came along, we trudged through this guy’s field of golden grass – your mother, Piper (her beau at the time, the skeez), and me – then cut through the forest – guy’s property was huge, dentist or something – of Ponderosa pine. Woods had rattlers and these brown and purple checkerboard flowers—”
“Chocolate lilies,” Avery said.
“Sure. We followed the trail down to Okanagan Lake – shallow in this one bay and green as a bottle of Heiny – and set up camp on the pink shore. Lonnie took out the lemon gin and soon we were all bubbly and shook as pop. Piper hit z-land first, passed out with his pants around his ankles, too wrecked to do them up after taking a piss. Lonnie said to leave him. She stripped down to this little kini – blue and white gingham – and dove into the water, called me in. Was so nervous I thought I’d die, but I followed her. We had to walk a long way out for the water to reach our necks. She brushed against me with skin white as the moon. Asked me to kiss her. Got so scared – fuckin’ fool – I dove under the water and swam away, left her there, prettier than any goddess. Slept cold on the beach – her and Piper had the tent. Next day, when I tried to explain, she denied it ever happened. Called me a drunk loonie.” He pulled into the mall parking lot, released his grip on the back of Avery’s head. “You coming in?”
“I’ll wait,” she said.
Avery lit another cigarette and in her mind, walked to the copse, removed her shoes, let her feet to sink into the cool moss, inhaled the tang of pine. A jay dashed from stump to branch, cobalt blue and cocky. Micah sat at the base of a Douglas fir, his back pressed against its wide trunk. A sapling, with thin rope fastened to its tip, lay across his lap. He whittled at a y-branch. Components of a small-game snare, he said.
Avery’s father returned to the truck with a canvas tucked under his arm, a brown paper bag filled with tubes of paint and protruding brushes – fan, rigger, filbert – and a potted Boat Orchid, its petals and sepals bubblegum pink, each labellum a lemon yellow with burgundy spots.
“For you, Little Moon.” He placed it on the seat between them.
On the drive home, Avery counted the seconds in each of her breaths. She imagined that with each exhale, a white bird popped from her mouth and careened out the window, up, up, up into the blue.
The wipers smeared dust and needles across the windshield. It wasn’t raining.
I’ve met someone, she mouthed.
Avery didn’t know whether he’d read her lips or felt it in the taut air of the truck’s cabin, or if he was lost in his own corridors, unaware of the corporeal, but he snapped an orchid head from its stalk, mashed it in his hand, and let it quiver to the blurred pavement. Avery turned and watched it grow small, like road-kill does, as the truck climbed the hill and rounded the bend into the subdivision she’d known her whole life.
The next day, Avery took the path through the woods on the way to buy smokes.
“Like an apple bored out by a single maggot, a straight line, not too messy. Just a bit taken. That’s me.” Micah spoke with a silken lilt, hushed, slightly effeminate. He slit the squirrel beneath its tail with his knife and turned it inside out, pulled fur and skin from flesh and bone like a wet sock from the foot. “Think I’ll go back just to visit. I miss their hackneyed jokes about gay musicians. How serious dad gets about safe boating and safe mountaineering and even more so about safe sex. How Ben – his husband – drips with nostalgia on the first snow of the year. Gets champagne-drunk Christmas morning and cooks carob chip waffles in his skivvies.” He severed the squirrel’s legs then twisted off its head like a bottle top. Slit the stomach and scooped the warm innards into a pile of leaves at his feet. “Do you miss her?”
“Nothing to miss,” Avery said. “I never knew her.” She touched the shiny body in his hands, flesh darker and tighter than raw chicken. “It’s much smaller like that.”
“You should come to Nelson with me. Snow gets waist-deep and glitters on a sunny morning. We could tunnel through the yard to the woods and I could show you the river where I almost drowned. Skate on Summit Lake. Mt. Rainier, sharp and blue beyond the tree line, makes you feel small. Then we could defrost by the fireplace – I can see you, cheeks roughed from the heat – fuck a little. Maybe even stay. Get our own place. Not in a subdivision though. Don’t worry.”
Soft clucks and a whisper of dry leaves sounded from the underbrush. A flash of hennaed feathers, a fantail.
“Grouse,” Avery said. “Ruffed, female.”
“Hot,” Micah said. He set the meat on the ground and drove his tongue into her mouth.
He squeezed her backside, which sent a jolt between her legs, then pushed her towards the tent. They’d had sex in the dirt but never inside. She crawled into the blue dome and Micah followed. It was small, with nothing but a sleeping bag – black polyester shell and flannel interior – and a pillow mottled with sweat stains. It smelled like yeast and armpits and bedhead. Micah snagged her toque and removed her mittens, then cast them aside. She lifted her arms and he pulled her father’s sweater over her head.
“I’ll keep the fly on,” he said. “Those fat clouds mean rain. I can smell it.” He pushed her onto her back and tongued her skin through a hole in her leggings, mid-thigh, then put his head between her legs and blew hot air through the cotton. “You could have this every day.” He hooked his thumbs under her waistband and slid the leggings to her ankles, then shed his own layers: jeans, long underwear, a fleece zip-up. He kept his socks and tee shirt on. He dragged a finger, tacky with sap, along her inner thighs, her labia, then inspected the sheen.
“You’re a caracal.”
“A wild cat, baby.”
Micah entered her with a sound akin to Earnest’s grunt when flopping down to sleep, a grump, she liked to call it. He kept his tongue in her mouth – flicked it along her teeth, gums, the ridges of her roof – while he moved inside her. She pressed her palms against his bare chest, ran them along his taut shoulders, his freckled arms. Earnest entered the tent with a jangle and stood over them with bloody jowls. His breath, metallic and sweet, filled the small space.
“Earnie,” she said. “What’d you get into?”
Micah stopped. Still inside her, he touched Earnest’s mouth, then sucked the blood from his finger. “Squirrel guts, I bet.”
He resumed and Earnest lay down beside them, his eyes like pots of melted chocolate. Micah finished on her stomach, and the scent of bleach mingled with the other smells. He pulled off a sock and used it to sop up the warm puddle.
Avery returned to a dark house, save for the orange light that flit about the kitchen walls. Her father rocked in front of the fireplace, a painting held to his chest. His bottom lip protruded, taut with a mound of tobacco; in the corners of his mouth, dried brown spittle.
“Your hair’s tied up,” he said.
An attempt to conceal the squirrel blood.
“Forest gypsy,” he said. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve as if the words tasted bitter.
“You should be a writer with that unbridled imagination.”
She tasted Micah on her tongue, felt his dried semen pull against the fine hair on her stomach.
He extended the canvas, his hand slashed with paint. Avery turned it around, and at first she thought it was the painting from above his bed. When she looked closer at the moon, she saw her own face.
“Let it down,” he said.
“You shouldn’t care this much. It’s just hair.
Her father leapt from the chair and crossed the room to where she stood. With a finger, he snapped the tie that held her hair in a bun. Its weight fell against her back and he raked his hands through it. When he reached the blood-matted tips, he held them out for her to see.
“Wash.” Fingers fanned against her back, he pushed her towards the door.
Avery rested her chin on her knees in the pink bathwater.
“Hearing them fuck is the worst,” Micah said earlier that day.
Until Jennica, she’d never seen her father with a woman. But one morning – she was fifteen – she went to his studio to borrow some paints. She stopped in the doorway, unable to move forward or backwards. He stood before his shelf, illuminated by the apricot light of morning, white bathrobe open, one hand buried in the Peek Frean’s tin, the other on his cock. Like a one-winged moth the way his body moved in that robe. Heat drove up her neck, into her cheeks, her ears, and she drew a breath. He turned, saw her there, yanked his hand from the tin and it clattered and twanged to the ground. A bright swath of hair fell across his bare feet. He stood still, his own hair plastered against shiny cheeks, his mouth an inky tunnel, his cock bobbing stupidly. Avery retreated upstairs, drew the blinds, and squirmed beneath the sheets.
“Pine.” Micah crouched at the base of a tree and brushed the dirt and needles from a mushroom, its cap a clean white that bled into a tawny centre. Once he’d cleared the earth around it, he sliced – squeak – through the thick stalk with his knife. It filled his palm. He flipped it upside down and pressed the gills to his nose. “The scent is unmistakable.” He held it out for Avery to smell.
“Sharp and sweet – like the needles – but more earthy,” she said.
With a reed basket hooked on each of their arms, they continued through the woods in search of mushrooms. They dug at the roots of trees, clamored over soft logs, and leapt over cold streams that dissected the forest. A cluster of Chanterelles – marigold orange with ruffled edges and fluted stocks – peppered a mantle of moss.
“I wrote a poem about you and your dad,” Micah said.
“Can I read it?”
“I found a Lobster mushroom that inspired me. You can have it if you like.”
“Look at that towhee.” He pointed to a round bird – russet, black, and white – that clung to a snowberry bush. “Sometimes I trap them to know them”
“Any bird I can get. Goes beyond the satin wing, the art of the feather. It’s in the eyes. What they’ve witnessed that I haven’t.”
Her father sat shirtless in a chair by the fire, thick jeans cuffed to the knees, feat soaking in a galvanized basin. He inhaled the peppermint steam and his eyelids flickered. His smile – close-lipped and broad – was reminiscent of a cartoon frog’s. Jennica knelt on the floor beside the tub, dressed in a thin cotton shirt that revealed lissome arms and back. She laid out a series of instruments on a towel: file, scissors, double-ended cuticle trimmer and pusher, pumice stone.
Avery’s pie cooled on the kitchen table: a rotund, flaxen pastry stuffed with caramelized Chanterelles and Pines, garlic, parsley, and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. She scrubbed dirt from the Lobster mushroom, bright red and disfigured, divided it in three to reveal a meaty white interior, and tossed it in a pan with a wedge of butter.
“My buddy Jay in Haida Gwaii held Rasta jam nights once a week.” Jennica clenched a cinnamon stick between her teeth, which muddied her enunciations. “Played his Nyabinghi drums with eyes closed and a silly, purple-lipped smile that showed off his brown teeth. Left, please.”
Her father lifted his wet foot from the water and rested it on her lap.
With the scissors, Jennica cut a thick flap from the callous on his big toe. “You’re next,” she said to Avery.
“Don’t like my feet touched.”
“Not true,” her father said.
The meat hissed and popped in the pan as Avery stirred.
“One night, on the way home with groceries, I pulled over for some fire trucks.” Jennica scrubbed his heel, arch, and ball with the pumice stone, then dipped his foot in the basin, turning the water milky. “The air smelled of smoke, toxic and heady. I rounded the bend and there it was: Jay’s claptrap house, lit like a drunk at an all-inclusive. Neighbors stood in the yard, on the street, their faces illuminated by flames and by the quiver of red emergency lights.” She pushed and trimmed away his softened cuticles, cut and filed his thick nails.
During this time she didn’t speak, but the room filled with other sounds: the click of her utensils, the thud and crackle of flames in the stove, Earnest’s gentle snoring.
“Right,” Jennica said at last.
He switched feet, eyes still closed.
“The turret went up with a whoosh – funny how fire sounds like a mad sea – and hundreds of magazine pages fluttered to the ground, landed at the feet of neighbors and their children, charred images of teens with their pussies spread, Rubenesque women getting anal, blondes scissoring on satin bed sheets. Jay just stood there, hands in the pockets of his parachute pants, face still as a stagnant pond in summer.” Jennica dried his feet and applied almond oil to his cuticles, rubbed Avery’s rosehip lotion between his toes, into his arches, up his calves.
She put away her tools and emptied the basin in the garden. They sat around the table and Avery cut into the pie, releasing threads of steam.
“Jay took a job in Edmonton. Spends his money on prostitutes. Lives with a son who hates him. When I think about him I see myself: three cats and a stack of erotica by my bed, barren as the IGA parking lot at three am. No one wants to go out like that.” Jennica pointed to the pan with her cinnamon stick. “What’s this?”
Avery dished one third of the cap onto each plate. “Hypomyces lactifluorum attacks and parasitizes a host, turning it this colour.” On her way back from the forest, she’d practiced the Latin Micah had taught her; despite this, the words felt clunky and foreign on her tongue.
Her father rubbed his puckered feet together under the table. “You talk like you know a lot.” He pierced the meat with his fork and sniffed. “Stinks.”
Avery sat down and cut hers into slivers, cupped each one on her tongue, moved it from cheek to cheek, chewed slowly. It tasted peppery like Micah said it would, the host a Lactarius piperatus.
“We should do a trip to Haida Gwaii,” Jennica said. “Us three. We’ll camp at Lepus Bay, fish for salmon in the kelp beds, cook biscuits over the fire.”
“It’s good you’re here,” Avery said. “Grant could use another muse.” Avery gathered her hair into a bun and secured it with an elastic. Her father stared, eyes like the clearest autumn sky. He reached toward her, then looked to Jennica and dropped his hand, knocking his fork to the floor with a clang.
“Delicious, Avery.” Jennica moved to the floor beside Earnest, stroked his ears and his back, twirled his fur around her finger.
Avery pushed away from the table: shudder of wood against linoleum.
“Ocean won’t move without the moon.” A tremor in her father’s voice divided the last word.
She set her cutlery on her plate, stood, and roused Earnest by grabbing his collar. She left the kitchen and stood in the doorway of the studio – the light had been left on. The biscuit tin was brighter than anything else on the shelf. Earnest danced at her feet, his nails clacking against the wood floor. She flicked off the light and left through the front door.
They walked the road into town, wet and yellowed by streetlights. Frogs sounded from the sodden ditches and bats rose and fell in the dark. Earnest zigzagged ahead, his nose hovering above the ground.
Avery stopped a block from the bus stop and took off her father’s sweater, spread it out on the gravel at the side of the road and sat down in her white tank top. She patted her lap and Earnest climbed onto it, curled into a knot. She lifted his paw to her nose and inhaled the scent of grass and soil. When they didn’t smell like this, they smelled of popcorn. She kissed the scratchy pad and set it down again.
A bus barreled past, warm air in its wake. It stopped up ahead, and with an exhale it lowered to the curb and opened its doors. A woman pushing a stroller stepped off and waved to the driver. The bus pulled away and continued in the direction of the ferry terminal.
“We could catch the next one,” she said to Earnest. “Go to Alaska, watch the neon feathers of aurora over Mount Denali. Rent a float house on the Thames, a stone cottage in Iceland on ten acres of green, a villa in Corsica with a lemon tree.” The cold chewed into her bare arms and she held him tighter. “I could forage and sell to ritzy restaurants. Become a florist, a moirologist, open an emporium. Refurbish broken furniture. Cut my hair and dye it red, like yours. Change my name.”