Danielle Blake 2016
The Northern Breeze
She stood on the veranda, watching the trees move by the merciless wind as if stretching their limbs to escape from their bound roots, only to regain their composure, as if nothing had happened. She could see the north wind whipping around the cliffs, feel it pass through her and leaving a cold, hollow feeling in her chest. Even so, just like the trees, she regained composure and remembered she was strong enough to withstand it.
It was spring, Hank and Aliza McGee were celebrating their girl Stephanie’s birthday on the ranch. Hank built this ranch up from the dirt, working doggedly from morning to night. He endured a hammer to various fingers, and only a few bouts of heat stress. Aliza had told him he ought to get someone to help him out, get the job done faster.
“I ain’t need nobody’s help Aliza.”
“If it don’t seem like it’s worth the effort, it probably ain’t.” said Aliza as she folded the laundry.
“A ranchers hands are as strong as steel and as tough as leather, don’t you go forgetting that.” And so, Aliza continued with her laundry, knowing that when Hank is on the job, nobody else is.
She looked up from her laundry to see Hank nailing the floorboards down with sweat dripping down his forehead and back. Behind him, the larches sway to and fro, the very tops of the trees hinted of a change of season. She watched to the leaves fall and blow away, and waited for the snow.
It took Hank 12 months to finish building the ranch including the blistering, dry Montana summer. That summer was the worst one yet with long, dry, rainless weeks followed by a day of roaring thunder and wind, then back to the blazing sun. Stephanie was now five and Eric four, they both had their own rooms with their own bed and chest of draws. Eric prized his new cobalt blue sheets and car toys. He spent most of the following summer outside playing his version of monster trucks with his toys and thinking about how much fun the professional monster truck drivers must have.
“What do you think it’s like being a monster truck driver daddy? Do you think I could be one?” Eric asked his father curiously.
“Hey why you thinking about that huh? You gon be growin up, becoming one of those Sapheads are ya. Never ask a barber if you need a haircut son. You’re going to take up this ranch, live out our legacy.” Hank said. But Eric knew that this wasn’t his pa’s ranch, it was his fathers. He had been to pa’s ranch, it was a long time ago now. Pa’s ranch was big and empty with a think, lush wall of redwood trees around the fence. He always felt as if he were trapped, like he wasn’t allowed out. Eric remembered helping his dad fix the trucks, his role was handing him the tools and putting them back. But why didn’t daddy take up his ranch? Eric didn’t have the nerve to ask, but Stephanie did.
“But daddy, you didn’t help pa with his ranch? Why did you make this instead? Why don’t we ever see him anymore?” Stephanie asked as she brushed her dolls hair.
“Excuse me miss?” Hank glared at his daughter.
“I just don’t get it. You don’t want Eric to not take over the ranch, but you didn’t take pa’s ranch. I even remember him asking you but..” Hank interrupted.
“That’s enough from you Stephanie! Shouldn’t you be helping your mother with the cooking!” Hank howled.
Eric stormed out and entered his car. He drove until he reached the ‘Thanks for visiting Helena, have a safe trip’ sign. He pulled over onto the gravel lane and listened to the wisping wind. The cool air of outside began to seep into his warm, heated C/K Chevrolet. He remembered his old man ordering his sister to clean up the shed while he sat there swigging his whiskey. Hank began to help his sister before his father said,
“What do you think you’re doing boy? That’s your sisters, not yours. Us men ain’t doing no cleaning.” Hank didn’t really understand at the time, but obeyed none the less. As Hank sat alone in his pick-up truck, memories of his childhood began to flood his brain. He could almost feel his father’s tight grip on his wrist while repeating,
“You’re brothers a retard, he ain’t running my ranch. You gotta step up son!”
Hank had begun fixing up the ranch as his father, John got older, but could never please him. He renovated the bathroom, re-built the broken down shed, put down new floorboards, fixed the pick-up trucks and herding the animals, but it was never sturdy enough or never finished properly. Hank had always felt smothered by his father, but it wasn’t until John started to heavily belittle Hank’s brother, did Hank decide to leave.
Although he hadn’t forgiven his father, he seemed to grow more like him as each day passed.
The year moved like the wind through the empty sky. She felt relief from it in the warmest of times, but as the colder times approach the feeling was much less heartening. The doors blew open, the house creaked, the children cried. The wind brought the dirt in and Aliza could never seem to sweep it away. It was as though it wanted to be there, it stayed in spite of her.
Aliza saw a newly opened bookshop while she went into town to get groceries. She found a book called Sexual Politics, and thought Hank wouldn’t notice if a few dollars were missing. Aliza spent the next few days reading and cleaning and cooking. She had grown fond of her new book and spoke to the salesperson at the bookshop about it on her next trip to the grocer.
“Well, aren’t you the book worm. It’s nice to see some people around here reading about women standing up for women.” The shopkeeper was a young lady, Aliza guessed maybe in her early 20’s. She was tall, thin with long blonde hair that reminded Aliza of a horse’s tail. She didn’t seem like she was from Montana, but maybe New York. Aliza wondered what she was doing in a place like this.
“Yes, I find it most interesting, I didn’t know much about how us gals are being treated out there. It ain’t right.”
“It’s not just out there, it’s everywhere, it’s here. Actually, there’s going to be a march next week just over in Missoula. I haven’t found anyone to go with yet, would you want to join me?” This came as a surprise for Aliza. What would Hank think? She hadn’t even told him about the book, let alone that she supports the ideas in it.
“Ah, I’ll have to check with my husband. Not sure if he would be able to take care of the kids all day. You know what men are like, can’t keep still, gotta work all day. I’ll get back to ya.”
As Aliza walked out she heard,
“Ok, well don’t let your husband go changing your mind!” but she was too far out the door to reply. It took Aliza 3 days before she built up the courage to ask Hank about her ‘roadtrip’, as she liked to call it, with her new friend from the bookshop.
“Hank darlin, I got something I want to ask ya” she said hesitantly.
“Well, go on, spit it out.”
“There’s this new bookshop in town now and I bought a book just last week. Oh don’t worry darling, it was real cheap. Anyway, it got me thinking about maybe looking for a job or maybe even going back to school you know. Make something of myself. I know it’s gonna be hard but it’s what I want. The lady at the store also said there is a march in Missoula this weekend, and maybe I could join her.” Aliza hardly took a breath, the words came out like water flowing down a waterfall, fast and uncontainable. She continued.
“The shopkeeper said that us women are being mistreated, suppressed by men. I know I’m lucky that I got you as a husband, but I can’t stop thinking about all those women that are in pain and don’t have nothin. They’re like my sisters, we gotta stick together. Don’t you understand?”
“What do you mean it got you thinkin?” His voice began to rise.
“They’ve planted thoughts into ya head Aliza! You don’t need no job. You got a job; being my wife, watching the kids, cleanin.” His cheeks began to glow like a wild rose on a sunny day as he continued.
“You are my wife Aliza! You ain’t going to some walkout about how I am mistreating ya. I can’t have people looking at me like I’m some exposed wound, letting my wife run the show..”
The sound of a toy truck falling to the ground stopped Hank. He looked over to the door and saw Steph holding a tear stained Eric by the hand.
“What you lookin at? You wanna go to? Get out of here!” Hank snarled. He turned back to what he first thought was Eric, but it was his wife, on her knees snivelling into her hands.
“Don’t be pathetic, get up and watch your children. Call me when dinner’s ready” Hank snarled as he walked out, slamming the door behind him.
In that moment, the shopkeepers words, ‘It’s not just out there, it’s everywhere, its here’, hit Aliza like the waves hit the shore.