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Immigrants on Vacation, 1965

By Diana Kiesners

After May 24th, all roads in Canada lead north.

Your mother wears olive green Crimpeline pants from Simpson's basement and your father's shorts are at war with his black nylon socks and dress shoes. A grandmother like a squat shrub in a headscarf occupies the back seat. The green rolling hood of the family Buick cruises the flat wasteland of the city limits and you wonder when will the Canadian wilderness begin? After which factory or donut shop? At which intersection, which traffic light, will you become Canadian?

Your father's nervous driving leads, in spite of Gravol and peppermints, to extended stops by the side of the road where you puke into a ditch-deep tangle of weeds. The sour taste of failure follows you to a motel called White Coral Bells or Scottie Dog Cabins or Sherwood Forest where there are black encrustations around the drain and where you develop a phobia about the shower stall. They are all run by a woman named Cindy who doesn't know what she hates more, city folk or foreigners.

One side of the motel looks out on pines and a septic tank, the other onto the highway. You can lean over the aqua-painted windowsill and watch Canada rushing past, hurrying to use the miniature railway at Santa's Village. Which, God help you, you long for. Too far, your parents say. If you whine they will tell you how exhausting it is, the unrelenting simultaneous translation they are engaged in. One day you'll see. One day, they warn, they could just drop dead, a word in a half-forgotten language on their lips.

Or you are at the Wee Plaidie Kilt in a place called Haliburton where the lawn is carpeted for minigolf, where balls roll in and out of turretted castles, sometimes landing in the moat. This seems to mean something but you do not know what. Other families, fresh and scrubbed as TV, play this game as though it poses no questions. They putt over the bridge, hole out at the steeplechase, go off laughing to a life of cheeseburgers and fluffernutters. You watch them hungrily, trying to learn fun. Your father confuses putt with put and flies into a rage when corrected. You want a fluffernutter so badly that 30 years later you still haven't allowed yourself to have one.

Or else you are in a hotel where the driveway is hemmed with white-painted stones and where you must eat white-bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off at prescribed times and play shuffleboard at others. Red geraniums leer from driftwood stumps. One day you will laugh too loudly in the dining room and a waiter will be sent to say: You're certainly having a good time! Your bowels will seize.

Soon itís back to the purgatory of the car, humid with damp Kleenexes and misdirection. Your mother braces the heel of her hand against the glove compartment, sighing. Your father passes slower cars erratically; it's a known fact that his nerves are shot from the war. No one can read a map. The real nature of leisure is suffering and the true way is completely lost. Tonight you will arrive at an aqua-painted motel where a woman named Cindy will greet you with derision, proffering a rusted key.


Diana Kiesnersí work has appeared in The New Quarterly, Descant, The Antigonish Review and other literary journals. She is one of three winners of the 15th Event creative non-fiction competition. With Maria Gould, she is co-founder of The Writing Space, a small press based in Toronto.

 

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