Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chapter Forty-One

 Highway 4, Alberta, Canada

Deb gazed out the window of the sleeper cab at the prairie.  She had imagined Canada would look far different than the USA but realized now that was silly.  Rolling hills with distant silos marked the landscape.  The wind buffeted them every now and then as snow fled across the road. 
She looked back to the lower bed where Tonka stretched.  Moira sat atop him holding a DVD player Norris had bought her back in Wyoming.  Tonka sighed as the small girl shifted.  Scooby’s unique rugh-roh piped across the tiny room. 
“You hungry?” Grace hollered.  Grace was the very tall lady that had taken them in at the Hays, Kansas, truck stop. 
“Yes, thank you.  Want me to fix something?”  Deb replied over Norris' loud downshift of the massive rig.
“Nope, I’ve got something special in mind.”  Grace shimmied through the portal between the driver’s area and the extended sleeper.  It was an amazing arrangement made possible by an outfit called Indiana Custom Sleepers.  Deb had plenty of time and had read the wall plate that described the year and build of the cabin.  It was a beautiful space with dark cherry cabinets.  The miniature space had a full shower, a kitchenette and an extra long full/twin bunk that Moira occupied as a sofa.
Deb blushed when Grace explained the mirrored ceiling.  “Bless that little man’s heart but I swear he is the Energizer Bunny.  If I were petite like you he’d wear me out.”  She had a radiant smile when she said that.
If Norris heard her he gave no indication.  He just kept his hands on the wheel and his gaze on the road.  His forearms were like coiled rope – their sinew rippled whenever he turned the wheel.  Norris seldom talked but smiled often.  He clenched a briar bulldog pipe in his teeth though he didn't smoke.  He had taken to Moira and Tonka like a long lost grandfather and they to him.  When Grace drove, which was almost half the time, Tonka and Moira piled into his lap on the lower bunk and watched movies.  Tonka was far larger than Norris but still managed to find space with Moira as they scrolled through Scooby, Garfield and Looney Tunes.
When Grace drove, Deb sat up front and talked with her.  She poured her heart out about her father, Jake, her fear of being caught-- everything.  The windswept miles flew by as Deb unburdened herself.  Grace listened, occasionally reaching out to pat Deb’s hand.
The Canadian border crossing had been far easier than Deb would have imagined.  The North American Free Trade Agreement had streamlined some of the process of clearing customs.  Deb didn't understand it all – something to do with barcodes on bills of lading and something called a ‘PARS.’  Norris had handed the paperwork to a familiar agent when they crossed at Sweetgrass, Montana.  He had timed their arrival for friendly faces. 
“How’s the family, Benjamin?” Norris called when they pulled in.  From the sleeping cabin, Deb heard a  distant voice and a laugh.  The conversation stayed beneath the level of the big truck’s engine, but then she heard “Sure thing Norris, I’d not want to disturb Grace!”
Deb lay hidden behind the large woman’s frame, pressed against the wall beneath a down comforter.  Moira lay in front in Grace’s long arms, Tonka at her feet.  The customs agent played a red-filtered light around the cabin and whispered “that’s a cutie of a granddaughter ya got there, Norris!” 
Tonka’s tail whumped but he didn't rise from his spot.  “Holy cow, Norris, that dog is the size of a small horse!  He current on his vaccinations?”
“Yep, you want to check him?”
Benjamin shook his head no fast – and then Norris led him out the side door and that was that.
Grace had explained the likely process beforehand and had devised the plan. She told Deb that they entered Canada through this port almost every other month hauling large equipment to the oil fields in Alberta. Just in case, Deb had dosed Tonka with a few caps of Benadryl to make sure he didn't do his protective routine.
A burp from the diesel brake brought Deb back to the moment as Grace fussed around the kitchen, humming a familiar tune.  She placed a foil-covered tray in the oven and began beating a bowel of potato flakes into submission.  The whine of the tires, the engine and the swaying of the cab soon lulled Deb back into a trance, and then to sleep.
She woke with a start with Grace’s hand on her shoulder.  “Wake up honey. Supper's ready.”
Deb sat up and looked around.  The cabin had been transformed. It was decorated in red & green bunting. Moira wore a sparkly hat and even Tonka sported a bright paper chain.  Turkey drumsticks, mashed potatoes and all the fixings adorned the counter as Grace and Norris beamed at her.
“Merry Christmas, Sweetie.” Grace grinned.
Deb smiled and felt warm tears stream down her face.  “Merry Christmas. In all the chaos, I had forgotten. Thank you so much. This is amazing.”
Her throat tightened. She turned to look out the dark window at the snow.  “Merry Christmas, Jake.”  She whispered to herself.

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