The Bottleneck Years by H. E. Taylor - Chapter 1

The Bottleneck Years

Chapter 0 Table of Contents Chapter 2

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 1

The Burning Lake, May 11, 2055

I don't know what Matt said to dad, but whatever it was, it didn't take long. I had a quick shower downstairs and changed clothes, thinking to head back to university. By the time I got back upstairs, Jon had arrived. He had been in the Arctic doing community outreach work for a mining company and now he was in the kitchen talking to dad. For a second I stood at the top of the stairs watching them.

Jon looked incredibly straight --- like an advertisement for the chamber of commerce or a budding politician, which was closer the truth. We all three looked the same of course, but had each adapted in our own way. Matt had a moustache, I had long hair and Jon looked like a boy scout.

Dad looked old. He had lost a lot of weight and he hadn't shaved for several days. His white hair and stubble contrasted sharply with his dark weather worn face.

Jon turned and saw me.

"Where's Matt?" I asked.

"He was just leaving when I arrived," answered Jon.

Father shook his head. "He tells me the wedding is off," he said, not meeting my eye.

"Probably just as well," said Jon. "I told him Adelle was too stodgy for him anyway."

"So tell us about your trip. When did you get back?" I said to Jon.

"Just now. I will, but first I have some great news."

"What's that?"

"I have a job interview with Senator Arbuthnott. He's looking for a new aide."

Dad sat down at the kitchen table a little suddenly. It wasn't quite falling into the chair, but it was abrupt.

"Do you want anything?" I asked him.

He waved me off. Jon seemed not to have noticed. He was going on about how great it would be to be in Ottawa.

"Whoa. Wait a minute. You haven't actually got the job yet, right?" I objected.

"Right. But once I get my foot in the door, I am sure I can talk my way in." Dad was smiling but silent. Jon started looking through cupboards for wine. He practically danced across the room with the glasses and a bottle. We shared a toast to the future.

Jon was a political idealist. He was the one who had volunteered to distribute food aid in the northern refugee camps when he was a teenager. He had spent two summers building packed earth houses. Some people would have become cynical and hardened by that experience, but Jon wanted to do good in the world. He had come home and thrown himself into political science, economics and more volunteerism.

"I ran into Pierre Jacques, that old Metis guy you intoduced me to." Jon looked at dad for acknowledgement. We had each accompanied dad on one of his Arctic trips years before and I guessed they had met then.

Dad nodded with a smile full of memories, his hair and stubble glowing white.

"I just missed the plane and had 6 days to wait for another flight after my job ended. I was in town and I remembered more or less where Pierre lived, on the far side of Crooked Lake, so I went over to see him."

"I couldn't believe how old he looked. Bent, but spry, he had the same ready smile and the same clear eyes. We had tea and talked. Then he told me he wanted me to see the burning lake."

"The what?" I wasn't sure I had heard correctly.

Jon ignored my question. "Well, I had the time and nothing else to do, so we made plans to go the next day. It would be two days by ATV, if we left early, he said."

"The ATVs were fun at first. Then it just got to be a hard ride. I have to say I don't much like the bugs. Pierre made a smudge when we stopped, but the air was still thick with them."

"The next day we were up with the sun and by noon we were close enough we had to walk. The land around the lake was all muskeg."

"We could see from a distance there was something funny going on. A low cloud hovered overhead. There were no birds, not one. Some smoke hung in the air, and the the smell. It was like a roasted sewage lagoon. We climbed a low hill on the south side and that is where we saw it.

"The whole lake was on fire. It was boiling with gas released from the rot below. The sky was wild, muddy grey. The fire would die down except for one side, then swoosh across the water, reigniting the whole lake. The wall of flame lit the sky and roiled the clouds.

"Pierre was mumbling to himself, a prayer he repeated over and over -- half French, half Dene, with a few choice English swear words thrown in for good measure. I stared at the lake in disbelief and then...I'm not sure what happened. I kind of lost it. Maybe it was the fumes.
I felt like I was swimming through the flames. The next thing I knew old Pierre was dragging me back through the muskeg toward the ATVs.

"Don't let him fool you, by the way. He's a strong little bugger even though he looks like he's about ready to keel over

"We tramped back the four or five kilometers through the muskeg. By that time I was focussed on just getting out of there."

"When we got to the ATVs, old Pierre said, 'Tell your father what you have seen.'"

Dad nodded, but was strangely unperturbed. "It is unfolding as I thought it would. A little faster perhaps, but as I expected."

Jon looked put out. He was expecting more of a reaction.

Dad's concerns seemed to be telescoping down to his own state. "I'm sorry, but I'm very tired. I have to go lie down for a while." He stood and tottered down the hall toward the bedroom.

I stayed to make sure he was alright, while Jon headed down into the basement where it was cooler. After a minute, I stuck my head in the bedroom to check.

Dad was sitting dejectedly on the side of the bed. "I hate to be a burden," he said.

"You are no burden. You are our father," I replied.

He sighed and laid back closing his eyes.

As I was half way downstairs, it crossed my mind that I had exposed my centre of gravity by saying "our father." When it came down to it, I thought of myself as one of three. It was uncomfortable territory. I didn't have much patience with the mystical claptrap about twins and multiples that got bandied about. But the plain fact was that I identified strongly with Matt and Jon.

For some reason, I have always played the arbiter's role between Matt and Jon. We are one flesh but... Jon thought Matt was wasting his time and energy in business. Matt had no respect for politicians and he used to enjoy needling Jon. As far as I know they never came to blows, never brought things to a head and cleared the air. Instead they sniped at each other --- a sneer here, a cutting remark there, to be followed by a month or two of relative calm --- with me in the middle, the peace maker scientist who most of the time didn't know what was going on.


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.

Last modified August 7, 2012

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