Deadhorse was remote, it was a hamlet, a backwaters in BC. It was typical hillbilly country. The sort of village where only ‘your’ people from the own village are okay and you do not allow anyone from another village going out with someone from your village. We had already driven past a sign pointing at dead horse hill, the hill there was more of a mountain, which suggested that they did not like to exaggerate. The Pontiac made its way down the main street and it was Richard who first noticed that many shops and businesses seemed to be owned by the same family. ‘That can not be coincidence,’ he said, ‘the hardware store is Jones' hardware 'but the butcher and the baker are Jones’ as well, who else than Jones.’ ‘That must be an industrious family, 'said Beverly and Don said,’ it smells like inbreeding. ‘ ‘Does anyone else fancy coffee,’ I asked? ‘I pointed at 'Jones coke and burgers.'‘ ‘Good idea,’ Richard said, ‘I'm quite hungry.’ You could park anywhere, the village was empty in a dazed way. The country western tune came out to meet you from an old radio above the bar.
The old man behind the counter looked at us quizzically when we walked inside. ‘Good morning,’ I said, 'I suppose you have coffee? ‘ ‘Yep,’ the man said, 'How much coffee do you want? ‘ ‘For me at least one coffee,’ I laughed. ‘More coffee?’ Asked the old man while he lifted the jar and with his other hand stroked his mustache. ‘I'd rather have a Coke,’ said Bev and Don and Richard agreed to a coke as well. My cup was filled to the rim and Don coughed. ‘Mr. Jones,’ he began, ‘do you have something to go with my coke something typical from this area?’ ‘Do I know you young man?’ The oldtimer looked at Don in a scrutinizing way, ‘No, no,’ said Don, ‘but I thought this to be your business’ and Don pointed to the text on the bar window and that would make you mister Jones. ‘ ‘So that is what you think,’ the man said, ‘You think too much, we do not like that here. Then you should take a chucklewig. ‘ ‘What did you say,’ asked Don, ‘a Chucklewig?’ ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘that stands to reason it is a local.’
‘Do me a chucklewig with my coke,’ said Don. The man took a plate from the counter and an ice cream scoop and scooped two balls of Russian salad from a plastic bucket and piled it up it as a snowman. He pressed it for a moment and now it became a mound of stuck together salad. He grabbed ketchup and mayonnaise, and in turn he gave a big squirt, as if he was spray painting over the salad balls that began to droop. Bev looked very disapproving. ‘So,’ said the man, ‘one chucklewig, anyone else?’ ‘No,’ Bev said, ‘do me some toast and jam please,’ and I said I wanted a donut. ‘Sit tight,’ the man said, ‘get yourself a table, I'll come past in a minute.’ It was not difficult finding a table, there was no one else besides us. ‘Not very busy here,’ Don said as he sat down. There was some scraping and crackling in the old speakers above the bar and ‘Moon River’ took the upper hand and surrounded us.
‘The time has stood still here,’ I said and I tried to describe it better I tasted the words on my lips but the right words did not come. ‘It's like stepping into a movie set,’ Bev said, ‘I see what you mean.’ ‘Yes, it comes close to what I was thinking,’ I thought, 'but a set where the other players do not see that it is a set and think it is the real world. ‘ Our musings were interrupted by the man, of whom Don had thought it was Mister Jones, holding a tray with coffee, donuts, toast and jam, some coke and a chucklewig which he put down.
‘That looks awful,’ said Bev, 'how has this come about, the Chucklewag? ‘ ‘That's chucklewig,’ the man said. ‘That's as old as this environment and its villages. Since Bill Comley was taken by one and another tore his horse apart. ‘ ‘What's this about,’ said Richard? ‘The chucklewig,’ the old man said, simply. ‘They do not like horses.’ ‘We are not from here, do you mind telling us,’ I asked? ‘Did that Chuckle wig have something to do with place names such as dead horse,’ ‘You bet,’ the man said, ‘bet on yes!’ ‘We are passing through and I for one am very curious about your story,’ Beverly said with a smile that melted the old timer. He picked up a chair and turned it around backwards and began, ‘... nowadays the world is getting smaller, but that was not always so. When I was 7, ‘and he looked thoughtful, then added,’ that's 62 years ago, I first heard about the chucklewig, I stayed with my grandfather who was visiting his neighbor . .. Neighbor, ‘he glanced at the sky .. 'well I'm lost, I forgot his name, It’ll come back to me. That neighbor was older than my grandfather. That neighbor had known Bill Comley and he remembered how groups were composed of Cree trackers and cowboys to find Bill. Neighbor was 10 years old then by his own words. ‘ He seemed deeply lost in thought.
‘You know,’ he said, ‘this is a complicated story, '' I better get a cup of coffee’ and he walked back to the bar. ‘This is real,’ I said, ‘ can you feel it? This is no bull shit story. ‘ We all nodded, ‘we're talking about something at least 100 years ago or so, if you count back.’ The old timer came down again and stroked his mustache out of habit. ‘It was the time that Colonel Sartadi still rode through the first streets of our village and his gang infested the region. The houses began to form a village where people felt secure all close together. That time, when there was still fighting between us and the Cree and the Blackfoot. My grandfather's great-uncle, was scalped here. ‘ A time so nearby, I thought, and yet so far away, with unimaginable things that evaporated in the stained glass of the time. ‘Bill Comley,’ Don said quietly. ‘Sorry,’ said the old-timer, ‘I trailed off, '' I have that more often lately 'and I thought it does not matter, I would like to have heard some more about that time, about who ever colonel Sartadi was, or had been, or about the Indian wars.
‘Okay,’ said the old-timer, ‘I am talking about Canada from the 1880’s so when the state was only 20 years old. Bill Comley was a young man in the prime of his life and he worked harder and longer than any cowboy around. He had a ranch from which the ruins can still be found outside the village, where he first started breeding and improving quarterback horses. He knew a lot about horses and could talk to them, so they say,' I forgot my coffee and listened fascinated by the story and I was drawn into the flow of events that was slowly unfolding. I am talking about that Bill, the old man said, and he lit a pipe of tobacco.
San Daniel 2015
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