Conversation In Isolation III
There’s no one on the highway. No one except transport trucks.
I realize I have instantly categorized them as no one. These No Ones who are long hauling necessary goods — like food — across the U.S. border, a Nation with the highest cases of the virus, risking their safety so we can eat. I wonder if they are afraid. I would be.
Nothing is open on the route except gas stations. Their washrooms are closed as are all the restaurants and rest stops. There is nowhere to eat or rest or use a washroom. I imagine the ditches along the TransCanada Highway soaked in urine. I prefer not to imagine how to defecate with any satisfaction.
I stop to fill up twice. I slip on latex gloves to pump and pay at the pump. I feel like the last person on earth. No one else is at the station. I eat half a sandwich standing in the gas station parking lot and watch an old man walking his dog.
I pee at the side of the road and am grateful I decided to wear the funky impulsive-buy dress, with no underwear. I could still feel elegant squatting by the side of the highway while a steady stream of transport trucks roar past. No one honks or makes a lewd remark. They know how it is.
I’m stopped at a fork in the highway. One fork takes you to Riviere du Loop, the other south to New Brunswick. The newly recruited border guard reads from a clipboard then waves me on when I tell him I’m heading south.
I’m stopped again just inside the NB border. The highway has been blocked off and all traffic diverted to an offramp set up with tents, and dozens of border guards in yellow reflector vests, carrying clipboards with their guidelines. A tired guard peers into my window then backs away the appropriate social distance. He is not wearing a mask. I slip mine on then off, not sure whether it’s important that he see my face or not. We look at each other. Wary. But for what reason? How far do our suspicions of each other extend? A carrier? A criminal? A foreigner? The border here is closed tight. People are being turned away. No one who doesn’t live here can get in.
I never changed the license plates on my car when I bought it in NB two years ago and changed my driver’s license to NB to avoid insurance problems. I feel confident. But the guard doubts my story but knows he can’t prove it. Is it something in my expression that gives me away or is he one of those people who fears anyone coming in from outside the province whether they have a legitimate right to enter or not and if he were in charge would send everyone back, no ifs ands or buts?
Why are you coming now? He asks me, eyes squinting. Maybe from the sun or maybe to look into me better.
I was waiting to see what the freshet would be like. As you know we’ve had two catastrophic floods in successive years and roads were washed out, I say the last sentence with conviction. The Wolastoq, or St. John river floods every year but the last two woke people up to climate change. Everyone was impacted. The TransCanada was washed out as were other highways, downtowns built along the river were knee-deep in water, houses were utterly destroyed, cottages obliterated their contents scattered far along the shoreline like a shipwreck. Food was scarce. Schools closed. Towns were locked in surrounded by overflowed roads.
He softens, then nods, there’s nothing like home is there?
I nod and smile. A simple truth. He takes more information than I’m comfortable with, but I know I have no choice. He has all the power. He might well have been unemployed prior and now he has a job and he has the power to let you in or turn you away.
He tells me I have to go into isolation and gives me a sheet of paper with instructions on what that means. He’s not wearing gloves. I’m not sure whether to take it ungloved or not. I take a tiny corner between thumb and forefinger and let it drop to the floorboards.
I know all about it, I smile again. I’m not through yet. Stay safe, I add as reassurance I’m okay to be let in. No cough. No fever. Nothing but anxiety.
The last three hours drive seems interminable. The TransCanada through NB was only recently widened. The northern division of the province, where the French live, was only two lanes. The southern divide, where the Anglos live, was a four laner. Political pressure finally resulted in a four-lane highway right through the province, but it’s bleak in this stretch. The scars of excavations cut deep and the deep ditches are like gullies of gravel and rock, an unrelenting grey.
I fight fatigue. I’ve already driven seven hours. And I’m hungry. I try to find a radio station but I mostly get static in French. I sing instead. An earworm has caught hold.
“Sweet dream baby.” I hear Roy Orbison’s unmistakable velvety voice under my raspy dry-throated singing. “How long must I dream?”
I see the road sign for Swan Creek, a river flowing from the military base, under a bridge to the Wolastoq river. It’s my marker for almost there! I slow down to see if there are any fish weirs are in the creek. They’re usually set up for cultivated farmed salmon but today there are none.
I remember a number of people telling me they used to swim in that creek when they were young and blamed their various diseases on chemicals, like Agent Orange, that flowed from the base into Swan Creek. I don’t think I know anyone who has worked at the base who doesn’t have some kind of debilitating disease. I never eat farmed Salmon from NB.
I step on the gas and push 120 km/h to the cutoff to the paved road leading to a small village to a dirt road leading to a farmhouse I bought years ago. My heart races and doesn’t stop until I pull into the driveway and exhale fully.
I get out of the car and drink in the crisp clean air, the smell of salty brine wafting up from the river. The Wolastoq is a tidal river, emptying into the Bay of Fundy at a bottleneck at its mouth. When the tide comes in the ocean bottles necks in the same spot, pushing the river northward, rising ninety meters, then emptying to mudflats, twice a day.