Saint Lawrence River
February 4, 1932
The ice under the casket was jagged, but Royal Spencer hauled, and the casket slid. The smearing sound it made—thin butter over charcoal toast—was dangerously loud, but it was easier to pull when the wind was whipping across the river, clearing the snow in arcs. These geometries barely took shape before they vanished with a curl that Royal felt across his ankles. The snow and wind were so brittle, the bones in his legs might have snapped. He was muffled head to foot in all the wool he could find, but he would wake tomorrow with cranberry welts across his face.
The casket was eastern white pine, its studs cast iron, and its makeshift sledding runners were two old auto fenders front and back. Roy deemed it wouldn’t be missed very hard at the factory, where he worked as a casket liner. Clans that could still afford maple and walnut could be counted on just a few knuckles. But eternal business persisted, though the caskets grew cheaper and cheaper, the linings rarely satin. Now it was mostly duck cloth, and Roy’s three daughters—whose clothes had been extra-fine thanks to factory scraps and a seamstress mother—no longer stood out on the street. Not for their dresses.
He’d drawn caskets across the river every winter for the last three years because rowboats terrified him more than ice. So he’d ginned up ways to stoke a hearth inside his body just for warmth. Memories were like peat, reliable and dense, and they could be lit at will to warm the bones. And will it took for Roy to retreat from the biting wind. He clenched his recollection on that satin in his mind, jerked the casket over a hump, and the fearsome canvas of ice became a talkies screen, catching projecting pictures from his head.
Winnifred in her rocker, sewing darts in a daughter’s skirt, the stove door open for light as well as warmth. The skirt itself is of cotton, but now it shines with a satin trim and satin bowstrings. When Ruthie dances under the elms the following summer, her lavish satin will secretly match the final bedding of a shopkeep laid to rest in Bishop’s Mills.
The air smells like cinnamon, but that isn’t Winnie herself. It’s the milk-glass candy dish in the shape of a hen that gleams on the mantle. On the sofa hunch his daughters: three dark-haired, dark-browed girls tuned into the RCA that Roy bought in better times. Dodo, Ruth, and Sid crack spicy candy with their teeth while their heartthrob, Whispering Jack Smith, fills the room with trills and croons.
Roy’s daughters can’t help but sing. Sid dares the line about cuddling, and her sisters squirm at its naughtiness.
Dodo catches up a couplet later, but her pronunciation of cheer can’t match trilling Jack’s flamboyance and falls flat.
“You have to sound more French.” Ruthie has a point, but she fails to roll her Rs, leaving that expertise to the man on the radio.
Royal, tea in hand, leans forward in his chair and shows them how it’s done. Trrrrrue exits his mouth on a flapping butterfly tongue as lively as Jack’s.
Daughters cackle in delight. Wife shakes her head and smiles at her needlework.
“How do you make that sound?” Dodo insists on knowing.
Roy only studies the ceiling
(arcs of plaster arcs of swirling snow)
and remains inscrutable, never saying a word about Corentin’s blistering French on the factory floor. He waves a hand at his daughters, wanting to hear them mimic the crooner—better these trifling songs than the hymns his children absorb in church and even on the wind that blows across the river.
(the blowing river wind like ice-cloths on his face)
Tea steaming in his cup, socked feet on the ottoman. He reaches for the dial on his hard-won RCA and turns it down on the announcer. Now is the time. “I’m offered a bit of a side job.”
Winnie looks up from her stitching.
“Remember my trips to Walkerville, before this one was born?” Roy nods at his eldest child and hopes that Winnie catches on. Before there were any offspring, Roy roamed from time to time—when he was called to taste the whisky. He has a palate combined with no real desire for drinking, so there was money to be made. It allowed him to build a house.
Winnie nods at her needle. It’s clear that she’s curious, but she is practised in looking indifferent for the children’s sake.
“Goodwill remains on that end, and I’ve had an invitation.” Two gentlemen in tweed and Detroit haberdashery, come to visit him in his workshop. Roy clutched his sharp-edged level throughout that conversation, which was carried out in whispers. The offer was too sweet—his labour minimal, but for hauling loads across ice.
Winnifred is unreadable. Roy doubts she can approve, but she doesn’t shake her head or let her eyes drop at the corners. “Travel back and forth?”
“Only to Ogdensburg. My friends will deliver here. It’s only during winter. I won’t do the boats, and they know this.”
“Apprehensive. Phobic. Uneasy.” This from Ruth, who loves a crossword puzzle. She is fascinated by a father’s inability to swim.
“Wise.” Roy taps the side of his nose and turns up the radio before daughters might cotton on—or Winnie set down her needle with a frown.
He struggled to stay in his recollection, but it burned out like an ember. The cold around him deepened and the wind came even harder from the northwest, driving him along but stabbing him between the shoulders. The ice was rippled this season, its troughs and ridges a vestige of the restless water that had formed them. The cargo in the casket shifted backwards with every tug, as if it yearned for the Canada side as much as he did. Well wrapped in a shroud of duck cloth, however, the contents continued silent.
He turned his head to the left to avoid the worst of the wind. Bright as life—but hardly warm—the lights of Johnstown glimmered at the corner of his eye. From this distance, the grain elevator looked like a mile-long fortress, lined with battlements bloated with chaff. It dwarfed Fort Wellington, which squatted humbly to the west in Roy’s own town.
The fort was built to repel Americans a hundred years ago, but the silos were tasked with drawing them over in trade. Roy scrunched his face as he wondered at the drollness of his charge—trade in the wrong direction, for all of that. With a breath pulled sharp into lungs, he yanked the casket onward, trying in vain to ignore how the wind cut through his cap and reached his right ear.
His boots sought out the lowest ridges. These helped him propel himself forward as much as they tried to hold back the casket. He was too aware of the river beneath the ice. He had his philosophy—better to sink into freezing water and be instantly numbed and pulled down fast, than to splash into summer water off a skiff and have time to flail. Far better to go by car, but a bridge to Ogdensburg was nothing but talk and fancy. Bridges, anyway, were always patrolled, unlike the miles and miles of ice between two nations.
He’d once heard tell of an old ice railway that tried to be that bridge. One engine and two small cars had made their way across the Saint Lawrence, but the ice had collapsed on the test run. The engineers escaped but the train-cars sank. Somewhere below Roy’s feet curled the ice-train like a worm. He wondered what grew on its rods and axles, what fed off its rotting wood, and whether the rails and sleepers had fallen as neatly as they’d been laid across the ice—geometric as a stitch between two countries.
Roy faced forward again, determined to reach the lights on the U.S. side. A truck awaited in Ogdensburg, and men who were hired to thwart the Pietists. He made no sound but a rhythmic huffing and the nearly rhythmic squeaking of the casket over ice.
Huck. The casket caught and was stubborn. Roy straightened, took a breath, and torsoed forward with a lunge. His feet danced for purchase and nearly failed—nearly splatted east and west and put him on his haunches. But he found a nook for his heel and another for a knee and rose up with confidence. The surface of the Saint Lawrence—in this perfect windy weather—gave him roads through ice-dams and packs of snow, but every now and then that road reminded him it was a rink.
He blinked at the milky ground (there was no true darkness on a river turned to crystal—not up close) and studied the pattern of ice. The nearest heaves of white were at least ten feet away on either side. Before him was a mostly snowless passage, but the ridge against his casket had an inconvenient crest that caught the underside of his consignment.
He turned and looked behind him, seeking another channel. He’d been switchbacking east and west, wherever there was a smoothness he could follow. Windmill Point, where he’d parked his truck and loaded by the shore, was at his back. He couldn’t see the windmill anymore, but he sensed he had the right of its direction, and his own—a little spit of the States that jutted towards the north as if to catch him safely up from the Saint Lawrence.
Seeing nothing but a waste of time, Roy faced ahead again. The ridge that blocked his way was a stubborn slug. An urge to hack into that mound straightened Roy’s back—not just to clear a path but to inflict a riotous damage on the lump. He didn’t know why. An ice-axe hung at his belt, but he didn’t dare make any noise. That was for a sinking—a sudden crashing through—but it was really just for solace. In truth, if the ice gave in and he didn’t catch onto the casket, he had no chance. The ridge that braced the casket was safe from his chipping. It fattened towards the east but petered out in the other direction. That was where he’d have to trudge and hope for an opening south.
Roy turned to the windy west, moving along the ridge. With great deliberation, he pulled the casket along, scanning the hump of ice for some kind of break. Sooner or later, the ridge would let him shove over the casket—heavy as guilt, it couldn’t be lifted too high by a single person, one who could barely find purchase on the ice.
As he studied the obstacle, something odd happened to its colour. The further west he trudged—wind carving into his face—the redder the ridge appeared, which made no sense. The lights of the world around him were too far away, and too anaemically white, to reflect against the river where he stood. His own clothes were too grey, selected for camouflage in the dark of night.
Something was trapped in the ice, which wasn’t surprising. There was no such thing as an innocent river, especially the Saint Lawrence. Roy stooped and squinted—perhaps a tree, and that was a very good sign. Trees were finite, and would taper eventually and let him cross over.
When he stood, somewhat heartened, the wind from the northwest came at him like an opponent. Tears froze at the corners of his eyes and his nostrils stuck tight with the cold. He nestled as much of his face as he possibly could into his scarf and found his will. He nestled into his mind again, as well, catching on the memory of Whispering Jack Smith and all of the warmth.
They’ve had seven days of cantankerous cold, but Roy is cozy inside, standing in his best wool coat and felted hat. His glasses steamed when he entered the radio station, but it’s not his first time there. Even halfway sighted, he knows the best place to stand to watch his daughters through the glass, out of the way of staff who can read those technical panels like magicians.
“Pitch is just like stitch,” Winnifred instructs her daughters in the hallway before their show. “Precise, or worth less than a woodchip.” She’s so proud of her needlework that even her dearest friend remains excluded from quilting bees—stitches must resemble the prints of miniature talons in perfect formation. Winnie blows through her pitch pipe, then tucks it into her pocket as the producer takes their children into the studio.
Roy’s not very religious, but his daughters never miss a service for the singing. They bring home Sunday psalms—mostly American standards—that ring in his ears like pretty but worthless coinage. He drowns them out whenever he can with a baseball game.
“CFRC has a lovely treat to warm your Christmas hearth, brought to you by Canadian Club.” The announcer seems almost boastful as Dodo, Ruth, and Sid muster at the microphone. “Faith, Hope and Charity have three of your favourite hymns to ease you into the spirit. Take it away, young ladies.”
“They can barely define original sin.” Roy nudges at Winnie’s elbow and hides a smile. If anyone is proud that night, it has to be a father. He imagines his daughters’ voices filling homes across the province, all the way to Ottawa, and certainly to Prescott, where neighbours use his RCA to hear the trio’s moment.
“Listeners just want their voices. Such voices.” It seems, for Winnie, that her daughters’ talon-vocals are finely measured and spaced. She clutches her Sunday purse with full contentment on her face.
God is a satin nest,
I the trembling bird.
Give but all my best,
Heed, obey His word.
“They sound like Southern Baptists.”
“Only to a lapsed Presbyterian.” Winnie smiles and turns away. So deep into a marriage, Roy understands this closes the subject.
He hooks an elbow through her own, brushing the silk of her purse and recalling the dove-soft grey he puckered with tiny nail-heads just last year—another sort of nest for a dead Mackenzie outside of Cornwall. Dodo’s dress in the radio booth is trimmed with the self-same scraps, matching Ruthie’s hairband and the silken blossom over Sid’s heart.
My wing is strong and true,
His will directs my flight.
My song can troubles hew,
Should I accept His might.
Roy ponders the might, instead, of figures in Walkerville and even Detroit. The cold snap they’ve been having means the ice is good for his first trial. He doesn’t like the risk or even the principle, but a goliath recently toppled down in New York and shuddered the world. Now the ice is hard, but mostly bare of snow so early in the season. Roy has measured the smooth expanse from his idling jalopy.
The telegram, in a rough code, came just today: first shipment arrives tomorrow at Windmill Point, at 9 a.m. And the first Ogdensburg rendezvous is scheduled for noon. He suspects he’s ready enough—he’s struck a plan to throw off detection, but he hasn’t told his wife about every detail. These are his burdens to bear. A man’s first duty is to earn, to set aside, to anticipate a worsening stretch. His daughters will stay in school, his house will be warm in the pit of winter, and there will even be several presents under their tree on Christmas Day.
My will directs my own flight. He nearly whispers this to Winnifred but catches himself in time. Better to watch his daughters perform through the cigarette smoke
(smoke like blowing snow)
that hazes the radio station and adds to the press of warmth.
He clung to the reminiscence of daughters’ voices as they filled the chilly air above the river—but all at once he halted. There was no clinking in the casket, but the bottom squealed as it settled against the ice. Roy held his breath and listened. He had darkness on his side, but the Drys still sometimes patrolled as well as officers. He stalled in place for a time, listening for encroachers, but only the wind and the faintest of music made sounds in the dark.
The music came from the U.S. side, which was now much closer than home. He couldn’t make out a word, but it sounded like the featureless hymn his daughters had crooned for the Kingston station—as if dislodged from his recollection. The music didn’t lure him, but the lights of Ogdensburg were like a magnet. They were brighter and more concrete than the little stars that shone behind him. There would be heat on the New York side—his contacts always brought him a flask of searing coffee and let him warm his fingers against the burner in their truck. They’d also let him smoke inside the cab, out of the wind. Already his tongue was blooming for a puff, but only a fool would flare a match when trying to hide in the dark.
He had bypassed the reddish ridge and was moving south again, not ten minutes from the shore if the rest of his passage was smooth. Ten more minutes of killing wind and the worst of it would be over. He found himself humming, miserably, the hymn about satin nests. Shoulders straining against the hemp, he hauled on every iamb. The casket screeched on the frost. Roy filled the air with huffs. Snow-arcs scrabbled across the ice. But the whisky kept its counsel.
As the lights on the New York side grew more optimistic, the ice itself grew more defined. It seemed the world was seeping out of darkness, and he himself some chilled returner from a void. Those lights were such a comfort—and then they were not, because as they glanced across the ice, they revealed more reds. Reds like stitches in a quilt. Reds that searched like fingers, or like tendrils in a gem. Something was painting the underside of the crystal atop the Saint Lawrence.
A wrongness nipped Roy’s lower back, then slid its tongue along his spine to the nape of his neck. His logic told him he saw some kind of kelp trapped in the ice, but his instincts stilled his body. For a moment—in his wonder—he felt no cold. A weeping willow caught in the ice, he tried to fathom. So much debris in this river, and artefacts tumbled off foreign freighters. Yet the tendrils fanned to the north—not naturally to the west if they’d been carried by the current.
The sweat that sprang on his face turned to hard little dots that flew away when he exhaled. He wiped his icy brow, adjusted his spectacles, and gamely took a step towards his goal. Roy ached to drop the ropes, abandon the casket, and race back across the river to his home. But duty and binding word kept tugging him south. A truck awaited, couched in sternness. There wasn’t room for fancy on this border. And yet, as a distraction and warming trick, fancy arose—not that of a penny horror comic, but of memory.
Roy is surrounded by daughters—at his safest—even as he pulls a casket over the river. This haul is his very first, the day before Christmas Eve, 1929, and the sky is angelic blue, the world released from the cold, the wind barely present. With the sun overhead and the air nearly balmy against his face, a walk across the river is a joy. Within moments of pulling his load, Roy is soaking hot in his coat.
His daughters escort the casket in black woollen coats of their own, and the casket full of whisky is draped in black crepe. Normally, on such perfect Christmas ice, Dodo, Ruth, and Sid would be wearing skates to enjoy the river, before the season gnarls it with crests and pits and snow-pack. But skates would be unseemly for a funeral procession, so the children step along gently in their boots.
Roy, hatted in his black fedora, pulls the casket along with something that looks like respect. It’s not uncommon for people on either shore to use the ice for crossings—this is what Roy banks on as he flashes a disguise that he’s quite proud of. Would any passerby do other than remove their hat and lower their eyes for the dead and grieving?
“Come along, Pa.” Ruth knows to walk at the side of the casket in respect, but Roy can sense her tugging at Ogdensburg.
Despite the smoothness underfoot, the casket slows him down much more than he expected. The wood isn’t smooth enough and chips against the ruts on the Saint Lawrence. He quickly understands he’ll have to fashion some sort of runners for the casket. The going is dangerously slow. He also grasps—only once he has settled into the journey—that he might get away with one crossing in open daylight as a mourner, but the act won’t hold up next time for any canny watcher.
Never mind. The day is benevolent and his daughters are thriving on adventure. Not just natural singers but natural little spies, with their penchant for acting and storytelling and attention. Roy beams at the beaming sun, then remembers he’s in a procession and ducks his head.
“You are just too slow.” Sid is like her mother, maddened by masculine things.
“Patience. The fountain’s open for another six hours.” Roy nods his chin at New York, a reliable lure for his daughters.
“This is worth more than an egg cream each.” Dodo’s calculation is almost audible over the wrenching sound of pine debating ice.
“If they even have the sugar.” Ruthie follows the news like no one else in her family, which is normally helpful to her parents. Not today.
“Fiedler’s has a big supply.” Roy isn’t sure this is true, but the idea that Ogdensburg’s soda fountain has been compromised isn’t one he can let his daughters entertain. Prescott has no egg creams, so this currency is golden.
He shrugs in his heavy coat, shifting the sweat that coats his chest and lower back beneath all of his layers. The surface of the ice is a little creamy itself, softened by the weather. The warmth that he’s enjoying won’t pierce the solid ice built over the river, but it’s making it even harder to haul his burden. Every so often a daughter must stoop to clear slush away from the front of the casket.
“Perhaps a hymn—a tribute.” He doesn’t know who might be watching, but surely they’ve drawn attention. Like makeup on an actor, image must look like fact.
“Abide with Me.” That’s Dodo’s quick suggestion.
Sid makes a mocking sound that Winnifred would have scolded, if she were here. “Old Rugged Cross.”
Ruth ignores her sisters and begins to sing a song just recently reached their ears, though it can’t be found in a hymnal. I’ll Fly Away doesn’t sound funereal, but Roy’s daughters fall into chorus without a fuss. Ruth likes jauntier songs, and perhaps it fits the sunshine.
Then the feared thing happens—someone shouts in the distance. Roy straightens while his heart succumbs to a chill for a horrible moment. The shout comes from behind, which makes no sense—wouldn’t proscription come from New York? And the shout sounds like Winnifred.
He turns, and there she is—Winnie raging across the ice. He silently curses the sluggish casket, which has given her time to get home from her sewing circle, grasp the plan, put on boots, and catch up to her husband. One arm is raised and she seems impervious to the ice.
Roy doesn’t echo Dodo’s expletive. But he makes a droll expression, rolling his eyes and puffing his chest at his worried daughters, whose egg cream idylls vanish at the sight of their mother’s fit.
“She’s going to ruin the act.” Ruth is perceptive indeed.
Winnifred storms up to the casket and throws Welsh word-bits at her husband—no one understands her, not even God Himself, Roy would venture. Her face is the red of fury
(red of fibres trapped in ice)
and her great dark eyes are liquid in her head. She isn’t wearing a coat, and she’s marring the little play that Roy has produced on the Saint Lawrence.
Before she can find the words to lambast a thoughtless husband over engaging their daughters in the ruse, Roy points at the southern shore. “If we turn around with a casket, people will wonder.”
Dodo, Ruth, and Sid watch their parents with open mouths.
“We’re making a trip to the soda fountain.”
Words that Winnie would never speak in front of her daughters swim in her eyes, and all the smugness and amusement Roy is feeling disappears.
“Yes, my plan’s foolhardy.” He admits this in a whisper, taking care the children can’t overhear. “I promise this will work, though, and I’ll never take them again.” I needed their comfort, he hopes to tell her with his expression, because it’s true.
The radio in New York broke into his reverie. It was indeed a hymn, one that Roy didn’t recognize. The words were still no clearer but the voice was nearly anthemic. He shook himself back into being, and when he did, he saw what stretched ahead, keeping him from the shore. Not just a ridge or two or three, but an outright mess of fibres, most of them much thicker than his thigh. It looked as if New York had given birth to a web. The knots were stronger on this side and more in number. His heart collapsed. He couldn’t bypass such a jumble with the casket.
Behind him, horribly far, was the Prescott side, with the grain elevator looming in the dark. That outline seemed more visible than the Canadian lights, and for a moment he had to wonder. Would the shadow of that building stretch east and west along the river and devour the lamps near the shore? The modern outline of the plant wasn’t something, in that moment, that Roy could admire.
He turned back towards New York. The shore was damnably close beyond the obstacle course. He was too exhausted to turn around—to haul the casket all the way back, for he would have to. No leaving it behind, with the name of the factory soldered into the wood. No dumping hundreds of dollars’ worth of whisky, or there would be comeuppance from Walkerville or Detroit.
In that moment he understood: regret wasn’t abstract calculation but felt in the gut. Winnie’s pot roast and apple crisp. The smell of shavings in the factory, and the ball of satin scraps he toted home in his ambition. The shine of Prescott’s elms when they were in leaf, and the shine of the Studebaker in the neighbours’ driveway. The calmness of his wife as she worked her sewing needle for extra earnings against his wish, and the voices of his daughters as they sang. How they could sing—never mind meaning or lyrics.
The ice-axe at his side took on more weight. The idea returned again: find a way through all that ice and sink the casket and the bounty, never mind the problem of justice. It was quickly whisked away by what he knew he had to do. Chop through the reddish trunks and reach the shore. It was close enough to spot the demarcation of frozen river against the land—little toes and fingers made of frost that gripped for purchase.
He wrung at his ropes and studied the thick red tubes that stretched around him. They seemed recently to have surfaced—they were clear of traces of winter. A sudden idea of warmth and living flesh forked into his mind and he steeled himself in the tangle. But nothing moved. Nothing pulsed along the fibres. The ice could not have locked itself around something that lived.
And so he stooped, sliding off a mitten and reaching for the nearest cord. It was cold to the touch. And that would have been a relief, but for the fact of the taking. A pull at his deepest essence—a jerk of his frame—a sudden wetness at his nostrils and his lips and even his ears. Even his hand, he saw, in the taking dark—pitting with a drop of blood at every pore in his skin.
“Christ on a pole!”
Roy’s cry careened across ice and likely over the land that waited ahead. He didn’t care, in his disbelief. He flapped his hand and watched the droplets clear. With his scarf—still disbelieving—he dabbed at his face and ears, then examined the stains that Winnie would question if he could return. A moment’s anticipation—but the blood had stopped in his nose and the taste cleared from his mouth after he spat.
No flares of light along the shore, though in truth Roy would have welcomed even discovery at this point. He had never known such aloneness in his life. The land is just ahead—and when I get there, damn the river. I’ll find a car and take the long way over through Montreal.
He dropped to his knees, the ice-axe in his hands. Furious, and forgetting his exhaustion, he chopped at the trunk before him, making sure not to touch it. He half-expected a wail or hiss, or a convulsion of some kind, but the alien thing behaved as if it were dead and didn’t protest.
That gave him another few feet. Roy picked up his ropes and hefted, kicking aside the ends that his axe had chewed apart. The casket seemed more obedient than it had all night, as eager as Roy to get out of this jungle. Back in ’29, he couldn’t have hauled with such determination, but he’d grown strong in the past few winters—still, no yank had ever been so greasy, and the casket followed like a dog that wanted meat.
Another rope as thick as a tire. He knelt and savaged. The hymn that played in some nearby hall grew even louder, rising in his ears as if in response to his violence. He paid it no heed and thought of his living room or his dining table, where his chopping would surely get him so long as he kept up the fight. If there was an ache in his shoulder and upper arm and clutching hand, he didn’t regard it.
Was the ice growing thinner around the cords on the New York side? Roy couldn’t heed the sound of splintering creaks. He rose, gathered his ropes, and heaved another ten feet towards the shore, thrilled to find an egress worth his labour. One more cord stood in his way—one more crescendo in that hymn Roy didn’t know—one more bombardment with his axe, and he’d be on land again, out of this welter.
The final cable was the thickest around, but Roy was animated with endurance. On his knees—no attention given to whatever passed on the land, save for that endless hymn—he was a soldier. If the Drys or the law or the men he had to meet gathered on the bank, they went unnoticed. There was nothing but the ice-axe, which Roy now used two-handed. If the splintering of the river beneath a casket and fevered body could be heard over the praising of God, Roy ignored it. He had his work. A husband and father’s vital work, and it drove him.
A breach. A rising with the ropes, axe tossed aside. Under his feet he felt a give, but Roy had purpose and his boots found just enough purchase to slide the casket past the carnage of his chopping. Something cracked and sloshed at his back, but the casket floated and followed, and seven flying steps saw Roy meet land. He heaved the casket over the rim and felt the drag of earth. It’s behind me. He fell to his knees and hung his head, catching his breath.
When he stood, the promise of warmth and nicotine and narrow salvation in his mouth, Roy looked to the promontory where the truck was waiting. No headlamps gave a signal—no reason to flash a presence to patrols. But it would be there. He was mostly on time, and there was reason enough to wait for the whisky’s arrival.
He turned again to the casket, steeling himself for the final labour of a tiny hill—and yet another wrongness swept through the awful night. It took him an instant to fathom what struck the bottom from his stomach. There, across the Saint Lawrence, the grain elevator’s outline was no longer apparent. Nor were the lights—any lights at all—on the Canada side. Where he stood in Upstate New York, buildings burned with illumination and that feral hymn that wouldn’t end, singing of death and promise. But where he sought his home, nothing was left but a dreadful void.