A man named Dan Shoemaker lived in the garage, and a woman everyone called “Aunt Shoe” lived in the house. Dan used to get knee-walking, snot-hanging drunk in the summer and open the garage door up. He’d sit on a lawn chair with a baseball bat or a broom on his knee. Kids would ride their bikes by and he’d curse them out in incoherent phrases and elaborate strings of profanity then get up to chase them off with his improvised weapons. He was built like a stick-bug. He cursed like an animal. Older kids used to ride by slowly and taunt him with their own curses, daring Dan to catch them, before they pedaled off hard and left him dry-heaving and fuck-swearing on the asphalt amid the potholes. The police were seldom involved. If they were it was because Auntie Shoe called them. Every once in a while, Old Dan would lose his mind and try and get into the house. Why didn’t she just evict him? She couldn’t. It was his house. He owned it outright, paid for with his good railway wages. When the railway adjusted their labor force, he got a decent package and, retired without his consent somewhat earlier than he’d figured, he commenced to kill himself with Rye. Railway pensions are good but not good enough. Dan had fines, liquor has been taxed into being a serious expense, and Dan was dying too slow. He needed the money and Shoe needed a place to live. Shoe drank too—not like Dan—but harder than your average woman. They both had imposed some sort of privation upon themselves, and they endured what only they must.


Dan’s father was a bad man named Joss, and Joss Shoemaker was by turns a fool, lazy, ingratiating, and terrifying. He had three sons, Doug, Dan, and Dave.  Joss worked for the railway. He was a drinker. He’d have a few here and there with like-minded men and he’d start to brag about how he could talk any woman into anything. But where he spoke loudly of persuasion others whispered of coercion. More people disliked Joss than liked him, even when he wasn’t drunk. Of all of the boys Doug, the oldest by more than a few years, took after the old man the most. Joss had knocked up Doug’s mother when she was sixteen after a high school dance they never actually made it into. Her daddy—and his—both told Joss that they were getting married and that was the all of it. The younger brothers didn’t come until Doug was already in grade school. Whatever happened between Joss and his son’s mother out there in that old pickup parked in a field she wasn’t in a hurry to repeat.  At some point she started drinking a bit, with Joss or without, and then the two younger boys came as quick as Catholic twins. People talk, and there is no limit to conjecture or approbation, but there are no pictures either. Maybe they were Joss’s, maybe not, that’s all there is to say.

Willard told Dougie that if he wanted to sow his wild oats, he should just go ahead and do it. Only a craven asks for permission granted by another’s opinion. Dougie worked for the railway too. He ran east, from the provincial border to Medicine Hat. Out in Medicine Hat, somewhere somehow, he met a little girl. After some back and forth on the telephone and half-hour dates in gas-station restaurants he asked her to come to Lethbridge to see a rock and roll concert with him. He’d come pick her up he said, he’d come and get her and bring her back. It’s late July and the weather has never been better he told her, the time in the car will pass in company and comfort.

The day came and Dougie went and got her. He drove out to Medicine Hat in a 1976 Mercury Meteor Rideau 500 he’d bought just barely used off of a woman whose husband had died before he’d put a thousand miles on it. He took Dan and Dave for the ride, 13 or 14 years old the two of them, and on the way out Dan sat in the front with Dougie and smoked a few cigarettes and little Dave sat in the back and passed them a few beers from a cooler. Dougie told his brothers about how much fucking he was going to be doing that night and that this girl, this girl from Medicine Hat was red-haired and wild, good to go, and he wished the brothers were old enough to drive because he figured she just might want to go right there and then and they’d never make Lethbridge in time for the show. “You boys could sit up front and drive,” he said, “but don’t let me catch you peeking in the back seat or trying to set the rear-view mirror for a show.”

The beers were cold and the cigarettes warm like they always are. The rock and roll was loud on the radio over the wind through the rolled down windows. They all nodded and looked away from one another. The only thing that cast a shadow on their good mood was having to listen to AM radio somewhere on Highway 3 when they were too far away from an FM station to pick up anything good.

The ride to Medicine Hat passed in no time at all and soon enough Dougie was on the front step talking small talk with the girl’s mother. She didn’t have a daddy to talk to. He was long gone back to Regina they said, where he had his own life with another wife and another child. The girl’s momma was nervous, but Dougie told her whatever he needed to tell her to put her mind at ease.

Dougie’s girl came out in suede platform shoes and brand-new flare-side jeans that she’d never worn before. She’d had to lie down on her bed and hook a coat hanger through the zipper to pull it up so she could get the snap done up. She had told Doug that she was 17 but she was really two weeks out from sixteen. She was going to a rock-and-roll show in a town 90 minutes away and she wanted to look a certain rock-and-roll way. She had been two hours getting ready and her mother both feared and understood her excitement. She kissed her mom on the cheek and with her purse full of lip gloss and breath mints she got into the Mercury. She had a thin silver ring on her finger she’d inherited from her grandmother. Her grandmother told her that her grandfather had won it for her playing poker against a miner from Fernie in 1936. She’d shown the ring to Dougie over a fast lunch at one of those gas station lunch counters before. He told her that her ring was more romantic than a book, and better than any song. That’s why she was getting into the car. That and a chance to wear those shoes, and wear those jeans.

The girl sat with Dougie on the front seat and Don moved to the back for the ride to Lethbridge. She had a half a beer in 90 minutes and smoked a handful of cigarettes. She complained with them when they were reduced to AM radio in the FM-dead zone. When they got to Lethbridge Dougie hit the gas and went on through and then drove on out into the country. He drove into a field of canola, the blossoms bright yellow like a painting of late July. There isn’t anything like canola in bloom anywhere else in the world. It was a Hutterite colony he said, and the largest canola field in the world. They’d taken down the fences to farm more land and now it was the biggest. Here and there the orange-red tarps for the leafcutter bee shelters rose above the canola at regular intervals. Dougie jerked his head to send the younger boys out of the car and they went and stood in the car’s tracks in the canola. They leaned against the trunk of the Mercury smoking the last of the cigarettes and nursing the last of the beer, now very warm. Insects sang insect songs, tribal and frantic, the words and music from ciphers written on their DNA, and leafcutter bees filled their ears with endless drone. Pollen and road dust clung to their brows and to the condensation on their cans and their sweat beaded brown and wet their hair to their heads and they became dirty. Not a word passed between them.

20 minutes later Dougie drove them all back to Medicine Hat, all together, and no one spoke of going to the rock and roll show. The red-haired girl sat on the front passenger seat and leaned against the window and looked out in silence. Dougie turned the radio loud and drummed on the steering wheel and drove twenty miles per hour under the limit. When he dropped her off at her mother’s back in Medicine Hat, 30 minutes ahead of when he said he would, the mother was in the doorway. The girl walked in with her head down and behind her mother and into the house. Dougie talked to the mother and made something up about the concert they’d not seen.

“I told you” he said, to the brothers when they got back in the car. “Was I right about her or was I right?”

Dougie bought gas and cigarettes and then some beer “off-sales” from a hotel bar and headed back into the night. Medicine Hat is about a thousand feet lower in elevation than Lethbridge; it’s all uphill to the west. Two trips down and two trips up. Dead leafcutter bees and canola blossoms in the radiator grill. That Mercury needed a lot of gas.


The girl’s mother was upset. Dougie she said, Dougie, had given her daughter a fat lip—he bit it, she said—and a baby.

“Can’t prove nothin’.” Dougie said.

“Can’t prove nothin’.” Joss said, remembering how his daddy and Dougie’s momma’s daddy had married the two of them up.

“Your daughter got what she was asking for,” Dougie’s mother said, “But my Dougie wasn’t asking for any damn baby.”


The girl from Medicine Hat had a baby girl. There was some back and forth with her mother for a couple of years. In spite of what she said, Dougie’s mother kept something open, less than a door, but something. She sent the cards and money on Christmas and birthdays. She wrote her name on them, not Dougie’s. Dougie never did admit to anything. No one asked Dan and Dave anything about it. Dougie quit the railroad and started trucking. He was killed in a wreck hauling drill stem in North Dakota. He hit a train at a level crossing, ran right through it. The drill stem came through the cab and cut him in two halves. His legs were intact, and most of his ass. They indentified him on the scene from the wallet in his pants. His torso and head fire and rescue washed off of the truck, train, and road along with the gas and oil with a high-pressure hose. Dougie was now something for the flies and for other, nameless insects, payment in salt and flesh for the music they bring and the service they render. There was not enough Dougie for the mortician’s art to restore to anything you could bury or even offer to cremation.

Joss cried at Dougie’s service. He told anyone who would listen that he and Dougie were more like brothers than father and son, and not just because Joss had been so young when he’d fathered him. “We had the same soul,” he said solemnly, “We had the exact same soul.”

Dougie’s mother did not cry. Someone tried to express sympathy to her by way of admiring her stoicism. “Thank you,” she said, looking at Joss, “but I want you to understand: Doug was his daddy’s boy, made in his daddy’s image, from conception. I did the best I could with that.”

Joss was across the room and crying again, there at his son’s funeral, crying after all that talk of fucking.

The girl from Medicine Hat and her baby girl lived with her momma, and then Regina with her dad, and back and forth. She met a new man, a real good guy they said, and moved in with him in Regina. The baby conceived in the Mercury parked in the canola, went back and forth and back and forth, and somehow, someway, wound up in Medicine Hat with that grandmother. There was more back and forth, always with the grandmother in Medicine Hat, and then one day, Dougie’s mom brought the girl back to live with her and Joss. No one knows what was said, and really, what needs to be said? Was there money? Maybe. Maybe the little girl from that field of yellow didn’t really belong to the mother, but to the field and the leafcutter bees. The only thing for sure is that everyone practiced saying it was the right thing to do until they believed it. By that time Dougie was dead, and Dan, a drunk drunker than his dad ever was, didn’t look like he was ever going to get married and have children. Dave had met a nice Mormon girl and moved to Saint George, Utah. His wife couldn’t have children. They saw him rarely and he didn’t come to Dougie’s service. After that they saw him not at all.

Joss had complained, a bit, but Grandma Shoe, as they called her now, told him to mind her this time, this once. “None of those boys of yours is ever going to give me a line.” she said. “This little girl is my line.”

They renamed the girl. They did it all legal, with her mother’s permission in writing and notarized, so she went from the name her mother gave her, and her mother’s surname, to “Jessie Shoemaker.” Joss wanted “Jessie” and Grandma Shoe conceded to him on that and that alone. So Jessie Shoemaker is “Auntie Shoe,” and it’s her living in the house Dan owns while Dan lives in the garage.

Joss died and went to hell. Grandma Shoe died and no one knows where she went. Doug died a long time ago. Dave is gone and will not be coming back. So all there is Jessie “Auntie Shoe” Shoe, in the house and Dan, old falling-down-drunk, raging Dan, in the garage. They are all that’s left.


Auntie Shoe did well enough in school but wasn’t scholarship materiel and didn’t really have any interest in higher education. She’s been working the till at the local grocery store for minimum wage and no pension for all of her adult life. She walks to work more days than not. It is not so far. There is no one now who knows her first given names. Dan has drunk himself into the permanent state of forgetting everything; all his memories now flit within the shadows of bottles. One of her co-workers asked Auntie Shoe why she stayed in that house with Dan living in the garage, drunk out of his mind more days than not, and why she didn’t move into the city or even farther away. Maybe she could find someone, have someone, and even have children too. Give yourself a chance they said, this town is getting smaller, not bigger, and soon enough even this job will be gone, and then what will she have? Auntie Shoe said that to the southwest she could see Chief Mountain and that she knew it was actually in the United States of America. She said that on this side, the side we see, Chief Mountain was an almost sheer cliff and that very few people, if any, have ever scaled it. But she knew the other side was just a gentle slope covered in scree, and that you can walk on up as easy as anything can be. She said she had never been there herself, but this is what she had been told. She believed it to be true. She did not need to see it herself to know it.