New Branteshire - In the Dubious Future of 1985
She had typed it in bold on some relic of a typewriter, before leaving a large blank space followed by the title:
Haunted Paper Route
From the Pages of Moira's Diary – Haunted Paper Route
Yesterday I managed to do this new paper route again and I realized that 19th Avenue is really spooky and they're right, maybe I should just leave it and forget about Field's News altogether but something compels me. I just don't know what it is.
I wrote that note to myself after first moving to New Branteshire in a visit to 1985. While I sat at my kitchen table that doubled as my desk, I poured over old papers the library had gifted me. Maybe there was something that would give me a glimmer of understanding as to why no one wanted to talk about the history of this place. The nearest I came to learning anything was from the librarian. She said, "If you know, you'll know." As I read that Perony Bowes had taken to walking circles around the old brewery in 1976, all in an attempt to find something she'd lost, and the article didn't specify what, I turned page upon page to see if they misprinted portions in the wrong sections, but I couldn't find anything except that Perony's picture, a gangly red headed girl with funny bright eyes had somehow made it onto three extra pages. Next to a car ad, in with the wanteds, and below a recipe for Hopscotch cookies made with caramel.
Whatever caused Perony to wander, it seemed to show up in the oddities of the paper and the town of New Branteshire itself. Its western road out to the train tracks that just stopped, leading to nowhere. Its trails that led to the church. The church that led to a graveyard that led to Field's Newspaper Office and remnants of the Hobo Jungle that existed during The Depression. It was a stop along the way to add some salt and whatever to the hot pot over the fire. (All hobos carried salt with them.) So maybe after eating and sharing stories, they could maybe sleep for the night. Maybe find work the next day. Some of the old news dated way back. There was the story about the poisoned well and all the residents leaving but one. They didn't say who, but somebody stayed. Such was the history of New Branteshire. A place between here and somewhere else and in Field's News they seemed to miss things. I saw on one page a place for a picture. It was just an empty box.
As I puzzled over the anomaly, I heard my radio crackle; it was like when I run my microwave, but that appliance stood motionless with its black window to another world, where radiating waves might potentially exist if only I push its magic buttons.
I had not pushed its buttons. Whenever I did, however, it was with a strange feeling that perhaps I should get a new machine. This one, after all, was the only thing left here from the old owners. I turned my attention to the news on the radio. It was winding down to the typical cheery segments they put on at the end. Someone in South Van had been delivering packages of goodies to people, leaving the items at their doorsteps, much to their surprise and good fortune. "They left me cans of ham and a case of macaroni," said a young female voice over the radio that persisted to crackle. "I don't know who would be so kind," but it couldn't have come at a better time. I just had a baby!" Hearing her voice took me instantly back to when I lived in that hasty city, not quite two years ago. And something in the way she spoke reminded me of my sister. Dana, I thought, was probably at this moment breaking from an early morning shoot of whatever the working title was of that movie— they still hadn't decided. I think it was Feller Street or something. I know it was being funded by a guy who wanted full creative control. That was the last I spoke with her. She got mad because I thought the whole project was taking too much of her time and from what I heard, much of the cast was quitting and they were turning over staff like a bad McDonalds. I told her, she's the only one not seeing the light. Dana. I couldn't stop thinking of her.
The happy girl on the news with the canned ham and case of macaroni had long faded to a song when the DJ announced, "This one goes out to everyone who's ever heard of New Branteshire, those that haven't and those that might. Here's Rossetta Tharpe with "Strange Things Happening Everyday". The gritty black woman sang like a Baptist minister experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, Rossetta. You got that right. It was very strange. Everything. And the fact that Dana had had a baby, too, but when it happened she was neither happy nor excited and no ham or macaroni would make any difference. Hardly missing a beat, she gave it up to Aunt Lilly. Well, it did seem to work out. Lilly promptly busied herself with the little girl, shopping and caring for her like she were her own. She named her Ada Lemonada because the day she arrived at her house, she was wearing a pink and white cotton dress with tiny yellow lemons printed together with frosted glasses of juice smaller than the size of the tops on the Q tips which had fallen from Dana's pack, spilling like pick-up sticks in a haphazard way as Dana frenetically dashed back and forth to her car, pulling out baby supplies that Ada wouldn't need for another year, all in some kind of attempt to assuage her conscience, not that she had much of one.
The Q tips that had never been intended for Ada, were a fine example of what mattered most. Rather than hold and kiss Ada before she left, she scooped the cotton swabs up tenderly. "Do you have a baggy for these, Aunt Lilly? It's bad luck to carry these loose after falling." Where on earth did she come up with this stuff? Dana would make things up and I just don't know. Sometimes I think she was given over to the characters she played. I had been sitting in the corner of Lilly's front room when Dana spoke the words as a two year old. She held the tips out like a broken toy. It wasn't funny and Aunt Lilly turned to me with the look she always gave.
The one of sympathy, sadness and a double helping of tolerance. I looked over at Dana, her dyed black hair rolling in waves over her shoulder, her silver hooped earrings catching the light, her long red fingernails assisting in balancing the little sticks with cotton that enveloped her entire reality— that precise moment I remember, on that early summer's day. June 28 of 1984 and I could see for certain into the future and back, although she was there, she had really gone away. Dana had left in small indistinguishable amounts when The Industry sunk their clutches into her. Movies and trips around the media circuit. And all the praise— it went to her head. Besides all that, Dana had some other problem. No one knew but Mom what it might have been and she had long passed from a battle with anorexia.
Sometimes I thought Dana might have had the same condition, too, but she turned it into something else. Can you do that? Mould something evil like that into a different sickness altogether? Funnel it all into the characters she played so she'd never have to play herself. There's no doubting Dana was a superior actress, though she never won any awards. She once said they put her on a list— the "not-to-call" one.
Aunt Lilly took the swabs to the kitchen and returned with them packaged neatly in a baggie. Dana said in some kind of accent, "Thunk Yous both! You so On-derful!" What movie was that from? I wondered. It didn't matter. Dana was out the door with her Q tips. She would use them to apply the heavy make-up she needed for her next role.
That was almost a year and a half ago. Ada Lemonada Carvelle is now toddling around and the little frilly dress— it's probably tucked neatly away in one of Lilly's many trunks.
On the day I wrote the note about 19th Ave, I wanted to write about its spooky regalia buried underneath the cobblestone walks and carved in the Foundation Stone, a memorial to Anders Hayes, the poet who lived here in the early during The Depression, but I had gotten busy in the shop. Someone had left an entire box of beautiful grey stone dishware at the back door. I felt as happy as the girl with the ham and macaroni. I washed and polished it all and placed it in the window together with some purple silk flowers I had unpacked from another box donated by the church.
That evening I had eaten a bowl of Mejadra, a middle eastern dish made with lentils and onions and rice and spicy cumin and coriander with generous sprinklings too of cinnamon and turmeric. That alone should have told me something. The night before I had stayed up until 1 am cooking the dish and prior to that, lining up the spice jars in neat rows like toy soldiers. On the day I wrote the note, there was a strange mood in the air along with the leftover smells of caramelized onions and hot spiced basmati rice.
I still hadn't gotten used to the quiet of New Branteshire and I wondered if that was it, but no. Something was afoot as I would soon find out.
It was nine thirty and well before the papers were due to be delivered. As usual, I padded downstairs in my slippers to open up my little shop. Not much of one, I might add, but it was what I wanted. The unassuming life of an amateur collector of "things"—
not necessarily antiques, although I had them too, but other things I fancied, (as did some people— likeminded as I was; yet others (there were lots of "the others" would ask why I'd bother to sell such things)like the little clay hand print made in someone's kindergarten class, the piece of fishing bait that was carried for luck but never used, the hand embroidered pillow case from Aunt Lilly that she so willingly gave up because she wanted it to be in my store.(Mom said Aunt Lilly had a gift for prophecy and that the pillow case would be the right thing for the person who needed it most. I don't know about that. I'd just as soon have a canned ham and macaroni.) But even still, part of me says there's room for the tidy stitches from another time. So far, no one's bought it at the lowly price tag of one dollar. Maybe it will sit pillow-less for a long while to come. Maybe I should buy it a pillow. Maybe—
Just as I turned to go back upstairs to my small living quarters above the shop and to finish getting properly dressed, (No one ever showed up earlier than eleven o'clock here). It wasn't like the city with the nervous energy of high power business people stuck tight in their suits, pumping coffee down their throats while stuffing a hot dog in their pocket to eat whenever they could slip away to the bathroom and avoid looking like the least likely candidate for a promotion.) Just as I took a step away from the front door, I heard the jingle of the bell and a man with thick dark rimmed glasses entered in. He was close, I supposed, to being an octogenarian, with a very brown suit that sat rumpled and oversized for his average frame. He came in with an apology when he saw my slippers.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I was looking for—" He looked down at the notepaper he held in his hand and then out over my head further into my shop and then down again at my slippers.
"No-no. I should be sorry. It's just that around here, no one really shows up until at least eleven. Please, feel free to browse. I'll go get myself together." I turned to go back upstairs when I felt his hand on my shoulder.
"Actually, I'm not here to browse. Can we go somewhere to talk?" He still looked perplexed at what to say and I now, too, was faltering, searching for what this was all about.
"Is this about Dana? Is she in trouble again?"
"You already did that— apologize, I mean."
I offered a smile and he then chuckled, but still, it was like he couldn't move.
"I've come to interview you. To see what you think about the legend."
"All I've got are a lot of missing pieces in newspapers that can't seem to agree on anything."
"You live here. You should know something."
"Truth be told, I've only "actually" lived here for eight months, with all the back and forth and all, a lot of places, it's, it's long and complicated, most of my time—
what is time! I've spent setting this all up. That, and trying to figure out why people keep saying, well, they keep saying that they don't want to say much. Too much has already been said. I don't see it." It dawned on me in that moment, when I noticed again the ragged notepaper he was holding in his hand that he, somehow, knew about me, about my shop. He'd gotten a tip from someone, but who and why. "I never told anyone where I was going or why. Ok I told my manager, but that's it. Ok my family, what little family I have. How do you know about me? Did he tell you? How much is he paying you!"
"I don't know your manager, but there was a small write up in The Sun. The Day the Music Died – Where is Moira and Why Did She Vanish?
"Cute. My stage name tucked into the title. Who wrote it?"
"I don't know. Some name. It was letters to the Editor. Well, Ms. Vanish, whoever it was had it right when they asked, 'Does anyone know? I was curious why someone on the top their game would all of a sudden quit and disappear.'"
"That's right. So how did you find me?"
"The girl at the Quick Mart. She said you'd bought a map. You asked her to point to a place anywhere but where you were and far enough away from the gloomy old city of Vancouver. Far enough you wouldn't dream of coming back. She said she pointed to New Branteshire because she was fascinated by the history."
"You mean, lack thereof."
"Potentially. She said you left in a hurry with the map and she just knew that's where you were headed."
"I want my anonymity. You understand? No more road trips. No more songs. No more nightclubs. Done."
"Alright, I'll be honest with you. I'm trying to pull myself out of a slump. I feel like I need one good story to do it and you're it."
"This isn't tag, but if I'm it, and since you're being honest, tell me, what did you find out? And please," I pushed him gently aside, re-locked the door, turned the sign to closed, and pulled on his arm to follow me upstairs, "Don't miss out any of the best parts."
It might have been too early for gin, but at least we weren't wired on coffee. Apparently, I had lived a stunning life. If he left out any of the best parts, then they had to be pretty darn good to top the one where I and a group of random strangers danced our way into Stanley Park singing "This is the Song that Doesn't End".
"How on earth," he said, as he tinkered with the ice in his glass, "how on earth, could you not remember that?"
"Well," I said, with a bit of forced panache, "I don't think I ever left the sixties. There were a few exotic drugs going around at the time. Maybe it was that. Or maybe I don't want to remember. You choose."
"So I am. What do you feel like, mejadra or egg salad sandwiches, or how about canned ham and macaroni with— I reached into the fridge, "You ever try macaroni and mustard?"
A very baritone "No," was his reply.
"Neither have I. Let's go with that."
We ate the macaroni and mustard with the sliced canned ham and bowls of mejadra on the side. The conversation meandered from my haunted paper route, to movies and music to eventually his world, his life, his work, which he felt was folding up on him. Cooper Johnson was his name, he said. "But they used to call me Coop, "Coop the Scoop" because I did. I always got the scoop on things. Even last year, I hadn't lost the touch yet, I got a story on a pastor who saved a dying church."
"Oh yeah? How'd he do it?"
"He got some help from a guy named Feller, Arnold Feller. I'll never forget because Pastor Roth, he—
"Did you say, "Feller"?"
"Yes, Arnold Feller. He apparently is some kind of Entertainment Analyst and a real creative genius. He knows how to bring in the crowds."
"Feller is a con. He just leads people like the snake that led Adam and Eve out of the garden."
"How can you say that? Do you know him?"
"I know "of" him. My sister is working for him on the set of "the-longest-time-it-takes-to-make-a-movie-that-still-has-not-been-made-or-named-and-has-lost-all-of-its-cast-three-times-over-and-counting!"
"Well, Pastor Roth seemed to think he was what saved his church."
"You'd think that Pastor Roth would know that Jesus saves and not Arnold Feller."
"You've got something there."
At that point I'd noticed that, "The three pm winter sun has drifted down to dream," I said.
He puzzled at me, "I detect a far off look in your eyes."
"Dana used to say that. 'Drifted down to dream.' I don't know if it was a line from a movie or if it was her own way of saying... Thinking. Being."
As I watched out the window, I allowed for the branch of a spruce tree to enter in my conscious. It held the weight of four inches of fresh snow that seemed to want to hang on for dear life, but couldn't. The snow went poof to the ground and I got up to clear our plates.
"Sometimes I can hear her whispering the words in an empty theatre somewhere. A theatre without a soul in the place but she and her lines. There was a way about her..."
"You talk like she's gone."
"It feels like part of her is. The Industry. They stole it. The way she marvelled at the little things and the big things, they were too big. That was the Dana I knew. Before they convinced her that little things weren't enough. If anyone were to have went wrong, I would have thought it would have been me. Do you believe in fate? Do you think some people— people like Dana, might be like, just not all there?
Like they're half in this world and half somewhere else? That's the way it seems to me now, when I think of her." I looked up at him then, realizing he was trying to grasp what he didn't know. "I'm sorry. You don't even know her. She's just so— difficult."
"Maybe you didn't just leave the city to get away from the music industry. Maybe part of the reason you left was to get away from her."
"It hurts when you care about someone so much and they are just them," I said, and I realized that all the laughter we had earlier that afternoon had gone and nothing filled the void except the scratching of his pen. He reminded me of my father whenever he'd take a bit of time to write.
"'Take the time to write," he'd said to me once before he got in his yellow taxi, the one where someone stabbed him for a few bills. "'There's more to life than fares. See you tonight.' he'd said and kissed me on the cheek before getting in and lighting his twentieth or something cigarette that day. I never saw him again. At least he didn't die of cancer. You remind me of him, but you don't smoke. You listen. You're a listener."
"Sorry sorry. You were sorry when you came in and you're still apologizing!" I started laughing again. He did too, for a moment, and then he went back to Dana again. Or maybe it was me that went back to Dana again, but he said,
"Dana's your sister. It's expected you feel that way."
"Half-sister. According to her. No. We really are full sisters, but she gets mad at me. Whenever I try to help. It's true. It's partly why I left. I told her I'd prove that fame and everyone surrounded by it, with it, in it, however you wanna say, are, mostly fickle and well, I want her to get out of the biz. Maybe if I set an example—"
"But she never left yet and what did you prove?"
"She's a showgirl. It's in her blood. She could never leave, not unless some kind of miracle happened. What did I prove? I proved I don't want any part of The Industry. It's not in my blood."
"Really?" his question came with a tilt to his head.
"Not anymore," I said, being honest, "There was a time. But it's gone. Do you think," I began, as I saw the lines in his old face generating an uncertainty as to whether I was telling the truth. "Do you think there's a possibility that it's still in my blood?"
"He looked down at my slippers— still on my feet and laughed. Nope. I think that genuinely it's not."
"Would you like another?"
He looked at his glass and thought for a moment before declining. I'm supposed to be working. I've got a room at The Hester Motel."
"It's the Chester Hotel. The "C" broke off. They need to fix that."
"Here." He handed me an old hand typed manuscript. "This is the legend. And you, my dear girl, are well in the thick of it with your paper route and all."
"Where did you get this? I've been digging around through old papers since I got here. Talking to people. No one knows anything and you show up from Vancouver—"
"I have connections. And don't forget, I'm a lot older than you."
My eyes fell on the old newsprint covered in plastic protective covers. Gold Miner Discovers Hobos Lair in Old Town New Branteshire.
Coop's eyes fell on yet another box on the floor I'd yet to take down to the shop. He plucked an old Fedora hat from it. "It's worth at least twenty. He passed the bills and placed the hat on his head, gave it a slight tilt for approval." I nodded in positive confirmation.
"I'll show myself out. Are you still closed?"
"Switch the sign. I'll stay open for a few. Just in case."
"In case what?"
"Arnold Feller shows up. This is New Branteshire, after all. And you just never know."
"Here's my number at The Chester," Cooper said as he ripped the paper from his notepad. Call me when you finish reading it. He turned around and then back again quickly. "Oh, and if you notice anything strange on page 3, let me know. Just let me know what jives. Or doesn't."
He pulled his coat back on and proceeded down the stairs. I could hear the jingle of the bell at the door and the silence of the place became loud.
Aunt Lilly ran after Ada who toddled from the kitchen to the living room and giggled when Lilly caught her and lifted her high in the air. "Ada Lemonada! You run so fast!" Squeals of delight as Ada tried to squirm out of Lilly's arms for another round of catch-me-if-you-can.
Dana sat in the corner where Moira did on the day Ada first appeared in the little house just off Marine Drive in south Van. She hung up the phone. Her eyes looked like she'd been shot.
"What's wrong," Aunt Lilly said, putting Ada down.
"We have to move," Dana said, rustling hastily through her script from page to page forward and back again."
"Arnold wanted to remind me he rewrote the script again. He's got the name. He's not changing it this time. I can't see it. He said it's on page— I don't know what page he said, he's changed this so many times. I don't even know if this was the right draft. I was in a hurry when I left."
Aunt Lilly settled Ada down with a cookie and then came to Dana's side.
"I don't want to move, Aunt Lilly. Not there."
"Where? We can go anywhere you need to. I know how important this movie is to you."
"But why? Why would Arnold want to go to New Branteshire?"
"New Branteshire? That's wonderful! We'll be with Moira again!"
"New Branteshire can hardly be called a place. I don't know why anyone would want to live there, especially Arnold. I thought he loved the city. I thought this was really going to be it, the movie of movies, that's what Arnold said. 'Don't pay any attention to the ones that leave. They just can't see it. That's all.' He'd say it and I don't know why I believed him, but I did. And now..." Dana flipped the pages of the script half-heartedly, but then something caught her eye.
"Arnold owns Field News." She looked up dreamily, gazing blindly into the thin air of realization that she was on the cusp of knowing what no one else knew about him. That he was more than a creative genius with a difficult personality.
He was a financier with deep roots so far down into history it would take a lot of digging to learn the real story. "He never let on, but he hid it, right here in the script. Look."
Lilly bent down close to the paper. "I don't see anything."
"Read Annie's dialogue."
Lilly tries her best. "He's a happy young feller. He who owns a field, who plants in it and grows it up. One day, he and I, we'll move there, to that place, they say don't even exist." Lilly looked at Dana with a slight bit of understanding. "You play Annie."
"Yes, but I've never read those lines. Happy young feller."
Dana took her pen and underlined the dialogue.
Lilly leaned back in her chair before finally saying, "Why do you think he did it? Keep changing everything. Was he testing people? To get on their nerves? Just waiting for them to quit? How many cast members did he lose?"
"I couldn't even count," Dana said. "Wait a minute... He didn't keep re-writing it. It was already written. He just kept giving us phoney drafts."
"What's wrong with him do you think?"
"Him? What's wrong with any of us? What's a good moving company?"
The exterior of The Chester Motel was like any other old relic of a place to lay your head for a few short hours. The parking lot flickered because the light from the sign had some kind of bad connection. The doors of the rooms were painted like jeans in a faded blue. A few truckers stood outside their rooms smoking and tucking back their cold ones. Inside room #9 Cooper lay on his bed sleeping. The phone rang like a fire alarm. Cooper jolted awake and fumbled for his glasses on his bedside table before picking up.
"I found it on page 3 what you were talking about. This place was built as a mirror town. I've heard of them. This one's traced to a little settlement believed to have once have existed in Austria, but it was only written about by that poet; no one could ever prove it had existed. Somebody wanted to make it a real place here, but who and why? I don't know, Cooper. Your guess is as good as mine. Cooper?"
There was a long pause. I wondered if my words were good enough. Dana could have done so much better, I thought, and still thinking the words: Somebody wanted to make it a real place here, but who and why? I don't know, Cooper. Your guess is as good as mine. Every breath of a word spun around in my head like an eternal carousal of horses going 'round and 'round together with the Ferris wheels and carnies who never know enough to stay put. For once, just stay put. I couldn't act it any longer.
Cooper knows. And he knows that I know that he knows that I am "it". That's how he tracked me down. Maybe— maybe it wasn't just Dana who was the one falling away, taken by The Industry. Maybe it was me, preserving my long held faith in Hayes; so much so that even a con like Arnold Feller could ride along with me in a beat up old van, sixties style, out to the place where the set and the town was built. "Coop, I whispered? Are you still there? I should be saying sorry."
"I'm here. I'm still trying to wake up. I had a strange dream. Like I'd finally given up on getting the story. It wasn't like me at all. I've made my life getting the story. But it was like—"
"I'm sorry I woke you up, but you told me to call."
"Yeah. I wanted you to call. It doesn't matter how it all happened. It happened. And it is, a good thing."
"Sure. Hayes would be proud."
"When the library had gifted me some of the old papers, I finally found a small write up on The Legend, funny it was so small. But then again, they don't devote much space to poets. That's what jives with me. Small bit of poetry in a small Brantesharian paper. The papers! I still haven't done the papers!"
"What if you don't?"
"Wait until tomorrow. It's just a day. You said so yourself. No one shows up until eleven. Does it matter?"
"I guess I could. Wait. Nobody's in a rush here anyways. I'll see you tomorrow, Cooper. The Chester does pot pies, but I'm all out of mustard. Can you pick some up?"
"Pies and mustard." he answered, and the phone crackled to a dial tone.
To my Dear Anders Hayes & All The Hobos at Dawn
New Branteshire at Last
There is a place named Branteshire, That never did exist
But those who ever lived there, Would know for what they wished
Since Branteshire, Is here for those
With broken dreams, Like Perony Bowes
And Pastor Roth, Who almost lost
The church to scoffers, At the cost
Of just a thousand, Dollar bills
To buy, A. Feller's Happy Pills
Branteshire, A Thousand Miles
From Van the City, And its wiles
Where In-dus-try, It drums and beats
Where singers sing, And sleepers sleep
Beyond that edge, Beyond that dirge
The Holy Rock Rosetta's Surge, So quaint so quick an offering
The strange things that are happening.
Moira Vanish – 60's Babe