Authors: Rudy Wiebe
PEACE SHALL DESTROY MANY
FIRST AND VITAL CANDLE
THE BLUE MOUNTAINS OF CHINA
THE TEMPTATIONS OF BIG BEAR
WHERE IS THE VOICE COMING FROM
THE SCORCHED-WOOD PEOPLE
THE MAD TRAPPER
THE ANGEL OF THE TAR SANDS
MY LOVELY ENEMY
A DISCOVERY OF STRANGERS
RIVER OF STONE: FICTIONS AND MEMORIES
SWEETER THAN ALL THE WORLD
RUDY WIEBE: COLLECTED STORIES
, 1955–2010 (2010)
A VOICE IN THE LAND
ED. BY W. J. KEITH
WAR IN THE WEST: VOICES OF THE 1885 REBELLION
WITH BOB BEAL
PLAYING DEAD: A CONTEMPLATION CONCERNING THE ARCTIC
STOLEN LIFE: THE JOURNEY OF A CREE WOMAN
WITH YVONNE JOHNSON
PLACE: LETHBRIDGE, A CITY ON THE PRAIRIE
WITH GEOFFREY JAMES
OF THIS EARTH: A MENNONITE BOYHOOD IN THE BOREAL FOREST
EXTRAORDINARY CANADIANS: BIG BEAR
FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE
WITH THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF CANADA
Copyright © 2014 Jackpine House Ltd.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company. Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Knopf Canada and colophon are registered trademarks.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Wiebe, Rudy, 1934–, author
Come back / Rudy Wiebe.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-80887-5
PS8545.I38C66 2014 C813′.54 C2014-902259-X
Cover images: (letter) © Bruce Amos, (torn paper) © Robyn Mackenzie, (bird) © Christos Georghiou, all
For my family,
Robert Kroetsch (1927–2011)
For everyone will be salted with fire.
For now we look through a mirror into an enigma, but then face to face.
(I Corinthians 13:12)
The “Hal” in this fiction was a character in my first novel,
Peace Shall Destroy Many
, which was originally published in 1962; republished by Knopf Canada in 2001. The time then was 1944, and Hal was an eight-year-old boy in Wapiti, Saskatchewan, an isolated Mennonite community in the Canadian boreal forest.
n bright spring snow a slim woman in a black hoodie walked by along Whyte Avenue leading three children barely higher than her knees. The children clutched mittened hands, strung out like little linked sausages as she hauled them along with her left arm, her right urging them
Come on! Come on!
towards the green “Walk.”
From inside the coffee shop Hal watched them move across the window wall: blue, pink, purple stuffed parkas passing in a reflecting, streaky world. Could all those wriggly imps be hers? The pink little middle parka skipped twice, it began to shimmy within some body rhythm, tilting its hooded head back and tiny mouth open as if to catch snowflakes on its flickering tongue, and they reached the “Walk” corner at 104th Street with all three links infected by dance. Ignoring the huge Greyarrow bus roaring past them in the slanting snow, they pranced and wriggled south into the wave of pedestrians coming on the crosswalk. The woman’s sharp face bent lower, scolding, but that only added more rhythm to the fling of their heads, their joined arms waving, their splotching feet.
April children dancing through a glassy world fallen brilliant white overnight: O Edmonton rejoice, all’s right with your world.
They had sloshed themselves into disappearance, vanishing one by one past an ancient man bent over his walker wobbling through the snow, vanished completely behind a woman and man coming on. The woman’s short red-denim jacket was flung open to a cream T-shirt, her breast declared in taut crimson: BORED DOE.
Hal laughed aloud. A lovely ironic woman in longing. And clearly not for the handsome oaf flapping his chin at her as they walked by; her perfect profile, it seemed, faced only distance as the right silver edge of the window cut them away.
Good passing show, momentarily better than usual. Hal leaned back in his Double Cup armchair. He considered the chair his, the drooping black leatherette fitting warm around his buttocks, he sat in it every morning except Sunday. If some coffee drinker was already seated there when he arrived, he simply waited him out, he had all the time there was, now, and if Owl came in before him, Owl took the companion chair across the shaky little table and told anyone glancing at the vacant chair that his friend would be along any minute, sorry. Hal lifted his cup, the silver Waterloo University mug he used on Wednesdays, and saw Owl lean forward in his chair: he was staring up at the left corner of the window wall.
There, beyond the double forks of the ash tree growing out of the sidewalk, perched a huge bird; bobbing on the arm of the streetlight. Pitch black in thin flying snow,
with something white, large, clamped in its black beak. A raven … yes, that was it, he had never seen such a bird at a street intersection, not in all the years he lived in Edmonton. Its claws clinched tight on the snowy arm.
“She’ll fly the circle,” Owl said happily. “She was sitting on that southeast lamp over there by Kill for Chocolate and she flew straight across Whyte to the northeast post and sat there holding that white thing and then she come across 104th, across to here, and now she’ll fly back over Whyte again, just wait, that southwest post—”
“That’s no circle,” Hal said. “If that’s it, it’s flying a square.”
“Whiteman’s circle.” Hal could hear the grin in Owl’s voice, “Yeah, there she goes … easy …”
The raven crouched, launched itself into the bright, slanting sky. Lifting over the turning barrel of a concrete truck and above six tight lanes of traffic to land, steady, on the arm of the opposite lamppost. It had flown the path of the dancing children. Where were they? Hal had neglected to look after them and now they were gone—silly, he’d been distracted as usual by any passing Bored Doe or bent geezer—but the raven sprang up, up to the roof edge of what he abruptly remembered was the Royal Bank building fifty-six years ago when he came to Edmonton to begin university—and a clump of snow dropped on the people waiting on Whyte for “Walk” as the raven scrabbled, flapping on the roof edge. It gained its balance, hesitated, leaning, then swung one, two, three hops past the crumbling chimney and was out of sight on the flat roof. Still holding that white thing in its beak, gone.
“It didn’t complete your Whiteman circle.”
“Come and gone,” Owl said. “Good sign.”
“Good for what?”
“Maybe … maybe bad. Hard to tell sometimes.”
“I know,” Hal said. “And you’ll know which when it happens.”
“Yeah, for sure. Something always happens.”
They were both laughing a little, they splashed each other so often with their mutual skepticisms. Hope is the thing with feathers that perches … abruptly Hal gripped the arms of his chair, hoisted himself to his feet.
“I’m for refill.”
But Owl’s expression shifted; he seemed unwilling to let go. “You know,” he said, “the first bird named in your Bible is a raven.”
“What?” Momentarily Hal’s memory was empty. “There’s birds, lots in the creation stories …”
“Yeah, birds,” Owl said, “but not named. Raven’s named, the flood, he’s in the ark and Noah shoves him out, go look for land.”
“That’s the first bird named in the Bible?”
“How’d you know that?”
“Our priest, Fort Good Hope, he didn’t like Raven. He told us that story all the time, raven never coming back, no message to help Noah.”
“Yes, but the dove did, so they knew there was dry land again.”
“So, for the priest bad black raven, good white dove.”
Hal gestured outside, “Edmonton doves, they’re grey.”
Owl stood easily, laughing aloud. He pulled his worn toque down his brown forehead. “Time for hunting and gathering. Thanks again, coffee.”
Hal picked up Owl’s paper cup and his own mug. “Okay. Even when winter comes back end of April.”
“Just a day. If it was gone too long we’d maybe forget it.”
“Huh—Edmonton forget winter! How’s it up north? You hear from your sister?”
“Not yet, this spring—but it won’t be gone there, not yet. Deh-Cho River ice’ll still be three feet thick, but real dangerous now, water under the snow on top.”
“Safer hunting here, eh.”
“For sure, just potholes.” Owl pushed the door, snow twirled in on the draft, and then he was outside, waiting for the light to cross 104th Street. Yes, reverse the black raven. Hal turned and suddenly, as if a switch had flipped in his head, he heard the ceaseless sound of the coffee shop: something they called music these days thumping to a shriek or wail above the mutter of voices, he heard them but could easily refuse to listen, people sitting there forever repeating something, talking jokes or pleading sorrow, the music background actually less and less like any singing he had ever … but Becca was there, for once alone behind the counter lined with packaged food he never saw anyone buy.