A Place to Stand
On Green Island
The GRIS-RT station and Athenia University Service Center were situated more or less in the center of Athenia's campus; as we came out of Athenia Central, as it was commonly referred to, the campus spread around and before us, with the College for Social Economics (CSE) visible behind us back towards the airport and the original university grounds ahead, through which lay our destination on this day. I gave More a brief history of the place as we walked along through groups of colourfully dressed, animatedly talking students - I loved the old campus myself, having done an undergraduate degree in Biology here myself, followed by a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine four years later.
"I'll just give you a very brief tour of the area on the way to your rooms, to help you get your bearings," I said; "There's a map and several books on the city and campus and history and your computer and things waiting for you in your room to help you get oriented, but it's a nice day to take the long way there."
(I noticed his eyebrows rise a notch when I said 'computer', but he didn't say anything, and I thought I would save any explanations for later...)
"What you see ahead of you are the grounds of the old University of Prince Edward Island, which was formed during the late 1960s. At that time it amalgamated two older institutions, St. Dunstan's University and the Prince of Wales College, both of which dated from the mid-to-later 1800s, and you can still see many of the old buildings from that time, although somewhat refurbished - Dalton, over there, Steele ...."
I pointed various things out to More as we paused for a moment under the great old birch tree in front of the central admin building, and we shared a brief tale or two about our undergraduate days at university - we were both struck by how similar some of our memories were, although the periods we spoke of were almost 500 years apart in time. Some things, as they say, never change.
We left the main square and wandered past the large vet college, and on across the GRIS-RT tracks into the newer section of Athenia which, with the CSE, were the main additions we had made over the last few years. Directly in front of us a short ways ahead was a pond, maybe two acres in size, surrounded by paths and small greens and marshy areas and small copses of trees, many of them with small information plaques to identify them and tell a bit about them - the biology and natural history programs were very central to the new direction of the entire university. On the other side of the pond, fronting on Mt. Edward Road and the eastern boundary of the campus, was a large building, built somewhat in the shape of a large, thick, squat mushroom, with an upper structure sticking out of the top that could, if desired, from certain directions in a certain kind of light and with a certain openness of mind, be taken for a hookah-smoking caterpillar, especially when one of the boilers was fired up and smoke curling from the chimney that was, by chance or design, somewhat concealed in the design - the design that had outraged some of the Island's more conservative members and had been expunged from the original plans by one such committee, but the new Green Island government was disinclined to let ancient taboos, reflective of the control of citizens by a paternalistic elite which we were disengaging ourselves from slowly, influence our new outlook and the caterpillar stayed, one of the early 'We the Citizen' decisions overriding 'Those Who Would Be Kings' - it was now quite famous all over the world, actually, as any grisoogle-search revealed, and a popular visiting place, not only for the design but for the environmental displays and activities that were a central part of its purpose.
"This is one of our pride and joys," I said to More, stopping for a moment to let him take it all in, and pointing out a couple of things for him before directing his attention to the Hookah, as the building was often referred to. "It was just opened last year - the Earth Sciences and Environmental Center - ESEC for short. Our planet is in pretty serious shape these days - human carelessness and greed and, really, simple stupidity, over the last hundred years or so has caused a great deal of damage to the air, the water, the oceans, the great forests that once covered large areas of land, and so on - we've been destroying things for much longer, of course, but only recently has the scale become so all-encompassing that the planet can't keep up with us. Although our little Island here didn't get ravaged as badly as many other places with major industries, we've still suffered our share of damage also, with the loss of original forests, serious depletion of ocean fish stocks, river siltation, loss of topsoil, pollution of the groundwater, general degradation of the land we live on, and incoming ocean and air pollution from other sources. This center was established to conduct research into our own problems here in Green Island, and also world problems, since everything operates in a holistic sense on the planet, all things being interconnected. I am not exaggerating when I say our small university is conducting a lot of research on the leading edge of anything done today - such research, I am sure you appreciate, is more a function of attitude than anything else, and with cutting edge funding and priorities, we have managed to attract some of the world's leading people in environmental, holistic research, and that fact that we do not put everything we do through the 'how much direct profits will this provide for the ruling capitalist class' filter makes a big difference in how we set our priorities. It is also a teaching center, of course - thus the pond and other things. Our students first learn about holistic ecosystem functioning, and how to conduct research on both macro and micro levels, here - since water is the source of life, and the life of a pond is endlessly fascinating in its own right, we feel it is a good place to start. You can't see it from here, but we also have a facility which fronts on the pond underground for quite a large area, making it accessible year-round, in the frozen months as well..."
As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm, for I truly loved the ESEC, I could see More looking up at me out of the corner of his eye with his white eyebrows slightly raised. I stopped speaking and gave a little laugh.
"Sorry," I said, grinning ruefully, "but I do tend to still get excited whenever I see this place - must have something to do with my wife, Brittany - it's her dreamchild, and I've taken on a lot of her enthusiasm over the last quite a few years as we helped it grow from talks over late night scotches even before the revolution to what you see in front of you, through many changes and problems. Whether or not you are a lover of nature, I'm sure you'll enjoy walking around it in the evening - you'll be staying almost beside it."
"Will I indeed?" replied More, with interest in his voice, "Excellent! In my younger days I was something of a city man, but as I grew older I found the natural world to be of considerably greater interest..."
"Well, you should find lots of that here," I said; "Shall we go on, then?"
We moved off to our left, on the gravel path which was the main thoroughfare around the pond. A small flock of mallards, black ducks, and teals swam and dove near the shore, black webbed feet waving in the air as they poked and splashed around the shallows. The air was spiced with the varied sounds of birdsong, some sweet, some raucous, some soft, some penetrating - finches and martins and robins and sparrows and canaries and crows cawwwing from the treetops, a few chattering squirrels joining in at times, scolding and complaining about something as they do, the hum of flying insects passing by occasionally adding to the chorus. Snippets of conversation reached our ears from small groups of students and teachers examining the intricacies of the apparently simple pond, or just using it as a pleasant place in which to conduct their studies -
"...but why should it matter to the bluejay, Miss Seng Tzu, if the tiny algae gets poisoned or mutated by pesticide in the groundwater ...?"
"...so you see, the very business of living requires dying as a final act, to make room for someone else, and something else - that is not to say, however ..."
or again -
"...but the words of a true poet are eternal - they have new meanings for each generation that reads them anew ..."
"Bobby! not now!! Geez! Think of something else for a change!"
I could see that More was taking it all in with interest, a small chuckle at the last comment, turning towards the impassioned voice of a young man, or reaching out to a chattering squirrel, and laughing in delight as the tiny creature almost let More touch him, then scampered up to a higher branch to turn and chatter down some more at us as we walked on.
As we rounded the corner of the pond, soft guitar chords could be heard, a not uncommon sound in a campus filled with young people in the nice weather, accompanied by words we could not yet make out, and on the path a few yards ahead I could see the person for whom I had been watching sitting on a bench and looking out over the water. He was a sort of curious looking fellow - late middle age, wearing a loose white shirt and baggy dark trousers, with a long dark coat draped over the bench beside him, large pockets bulging, some folded papers sticking out of one of them. His footwear was long black laced boots, which were now casually lying beside the bench - his faded red woolen stockings were quite worn, and had several holes, some darned and some showing patches of pinkish flesh. He had a book in one hand, closed at the moment with a finger inserted to mark his place, and an open notebook with pencil resting on his knee. Shaggy black hair sprinkled with white, hooked nose and bushy long sideburns framing a wide mouth with somewhat sunken cheeks, and deep black eyes gave his face a memorable cast.
Between him and the pond, sitting on the grass with one leg stretched out in front of him, was a youngish looking man, long blond hair flowing from under a well-used, dusty white baseball cap, strumming a guitar which rested on his knee, and singing. As we approached, he turned to the man on the bench, smiling, and they sang out together -
"Wa wa wa wa, waltzing with bears! Shaggy bears, raggy bears, baggy bears too! There's nothing on earth, Uncle Walter won't doooooo - So he can go waltzing, wa-wa-wa-waltzing, So he can go waltzing - waltzing with bears!"
- and they finished, the young man with a guitar flourish and the man on the bench with a burst of happy laughter, sharing a joyous moment. As his laughter died down, he turned and saw us approaching.
More and I had paused as the two figures finished their singing, smiling along with them, sharing the happiness they were spreading around, and as the last sounds faded in the afternoon air we approached.
"Henry!" I said to the figure on the bench, "Hello! How goes the writing?"
He pushed his long, knobbly fingers through his hair and turned to face us, grinning widely.
"Why, Bigelow!" he said, rising from his seat on the bench with a smile, "I was beginning to wonder if you'd gotten yourself lost somewhere - but no problem, as I have been well entertained otherwise, as you can see!" - and he waved to the figure on the grass, who struggled just a bit as he got to his feet - struggled, I say, because as he rose we could see he had a silver knee-brace on one leg, the kind I hadn't seen for years, when a childhood friend had been stricken with polio. But it didn't seem to slow him down much, and he stood with the guitar held in one hand by the neck with the end resting on the ground, and swiping his cap from his head with the other hand, transferring it to a couple of the fingers holding the neck of the guitar and sticking out his hand, at which I reached forward to give a quick shake.
"Howdy! - at your service - songs and laughs and words for a world gone astray, as they say!" he finished with a flourish and bow, taking back his hand.
Henry interrupted, unable to contain himself, "Why, this young man knows ever so many songs - and songs with wonderful words! Have you heard, oh what was it, 'The Blowing Wind'?"- he looked at the young man -
"Blowin' in the Wind," he smiled back at Henry.
"...yes, yes, Blowing in the Wind, an amazing song, Bigelow!, so very reminiscent of the struggles in my time with freeing the slaves - and I had thought that by this time that would have been done! - oh, but I'm sure you know them all, of course," he said.
"Well, yes, I probably know a lot of them," I said, turning from Henry to the young man, "but I am interested in your singer - I donít think weíve met before?"
He smiled back at me. "Just a singer, man! A travellin man, they call me Abraham at times, or other stuff at other times - not important. Heard about your new university and stuff here and thought Iíd come take a boo, y'know? Pretty great, I think - really cool, the ESEC. And itís been really cool meeting ol Henry here - his writing has inspired me many times, and now maybe I've returned the favor a bit - all this karma stuff is so cool!"
He glanced up to where the sun was more or less overhead. "Look, itís after noon already. I promised a friend I'd go visit her - she's kinda down. Itís been real great meeting y'all - hope to see you again!"
And so saying, to a chorus of surprised "Good-bye"-s from the three of us, he was gone, swinging his guitar around to hang somewhat troubadorily by its strap jauntily over one shoulder, his braced leg arcing a bit to the side on each step. As we watched, he then reached into one of the many pockets on his worn blue overalls and pulled out something, smacked it on his leg a couple of times, and brought it up to his face. The haunting sounds of a harmonica floated back to us on the wind.
We stood quietly for a moment, small smiles on our faces - the young man seemed to have a mesmerising effect. Henry was the first to speak, after a few seconds.
"Most interesting young man, I say. Oh, the writing, Bigelow, you asked about the writing? Oh, the writing is as usual - slow and often ponderous, rather painstaking to get just the intended meaning from the brain to the paper sometimes. It is so much easier on the mind to sit and contemplate the pond and the mysteries around us - or to spend a few pleasant minutes just listening to songs! - than to organize the thoughts into coherent fashion and set them to paper. I fear, as always, each hour of writing in the journal will mean a day or two somewhere down the road trying to sort it all out into some sort of sense. But that can hardly be of interest to you and your companion. Mr. More, I presume?" he finished, holding out his hand to my companion; "Henry Thoreau, at your service."
More looked back at him, and met the bony fingers with his older ones.
"A pleasure, Mr. Thoreau, a pleasure," he said by way of greeting; "You are, I take it, a writer, then?"
"Oh, not so much a writer, not so much," replied Thoreau, with a small chuckle, shrugging his thin shoulders as he took back his hand, "I fear my prose is somewhat dry compared to many. More of a quester after the mysteries of the human spirit, I suppose, a seeker of the proper way for a man to spend his years on this very pleasant earth we inhabit, whether tis more fit to quest for riches of the material world or riches of the spirit, that sort of thing - I spend much time on the shores of one little pond or another, or roaming through a forest, and speaking with my fellow humans here, and reading things that seem to offer some ideas on what it's all about, and then reflecting on what it all means - what is the proper life for a man to live, if you see, based on the experience of real things?" he finished, dropping his long frame once again onto the brown wooden slats of the bench. With eye and hand he gestured to More to join him on the bench if he wished. "And what of yourself? Bigelow here has been somewhat unavailable the last few days, and has done little more than warn me you were coming. You are, I gather, the More who wrote the book 'Utopia', concerning the establishment of an idealistic society in the early sixteenth century?"
More had taken Thoreau's offer and joined him on the bench, stretching his legs out and watching interestedly as he spoke.
"Yes, that is so," More answered Thoreau, taking off his tricorner hat and placing it on the grass beside the bench; "I once wrote a book of that name. I wonder, looking around me today, if someone hasn't actually accomplished something similar, if this university called Athenia is anything to judge by on first appearances at any rate! What I have seen so far seems quite admirable indeed."
Thoreau nodded as More spoke.
"Oh, it isn't so bad here, alright," he said, in the quiet voice with the not-quite-a-smile twitch of a corner of his mouth that was a characteristic of his. He looked up towards me, then back to More. "Bigelow and his crowd have a few good ideas, from what I've seen, but a lot of others don't agree with them - as is ever the way, it seems, one man's freedom is another's displeasure and so on - a contrary bunch we are, no doubting it. They're having a bit of a problem this week, I understand, but I expect he'll be telling you all about that soon enough if he hasn't already."
I set down More's bag by the bench.
"Well, I'm certainly glad that you two seem to be hitting it off alright," I said; "Mr. More, I hope you won't take it amiss, but I'm going to have to leave you with Henry and get on to my meeting. He's agreed to let you share his lodgings for the next few days - I thought you might be good companions - so he knows where to put you and the like."
More looked up to where I stood. "Oh, not at all, Bigelow, not at all," he said smiling, then reached over and patted Thoreau on the shoulder, "I am quite sure that Mr. Thoreau and I will have no trouble at all in amusing ourselves. And I am ready to freshen up quite soon, and perhaps even have a small nap under one of these trees by the pond - it looks most peaceful and inviting! So don't trouble yourself on my account, oh no, not at all. I leave myself completely in your hands - or Henry's. And thank you for taking the time to arrange for my visit here, and meeting me - I am thinking again it will be a most enjoyable time."
"Well, good then," I said, smiling at the two of them, "I'll be off then. If I don't make it back this evening, I'll be along about nine o'clock in the morning for our first trip into the country, alright? And thanks once again, Henry - very much appreciated."
So saying, with a wave I turned my back on the pair and strode quickly off down the path towards the Earth Sciences Center where I was to meet Brittany. Even as I left, I could hear Thoreau's deepish voice speaking behind me:
"So, Mr. More, what do you know of ponds? We call this one Walden, which is somewhat of a pleasant coincidence, if coincidence it indeed be, one never knows these days what the great scribe is getting up to. Look, let me show you the most amazing and sweet smelling little flower...", and as I took a brief look back I saw Thoreau rising from the bench, taking More by the arm to help him up, and pulling him towards one of the new Green Island short-season hybrid pear-apple trees that were being developed by some of our biologists.
A number of thoughts vied for time in my mind as I quickly paced around the perimeter of the pond towards the ESEC. As I walked, my eyes took in the new Center - its beauty and size and functionality were still a source of joy and pride to all of us involved with its planning and construction. From the domed greenhouse and surrounding gardens on the south exposure to the atmospheric balloons tethered to the north, the whole structure was one of the most advanced on the planet, and already drawing ten times the number of applicants - for both students and faculty - than we could possibly accommodate. Most major environmental organizations were looking for office space on the Island and offering research money, as were many of the multi-national corporations who were belatedly realizing that they had better start spending some of their huge budgets on preserving the very source of their wealth - we were having some interesting discussions with some of them, trying to convince them to change their actual behavior rather than spending money on PR while carrying on business as usual behind the scenes.
And if there was one driving force behind it all, it was Brittany.
From the very day - the very memorable day, of joy and disbelief and celebration and euphoria almost five years ago now - that the bedraggled group of determined visionaries calling themselves the Prince Edward Island PEOPLE'S Coalition had taken control of the Island legislature in an election which saw the traditional parties devoid of original ideas and rocked by scandal (neither particularly new, axiomatic really, but both at rather unprecedented heights that one time), Brittany had had one goal, one dream, one overriding ambition - the Earth Sciences and Environmental Center. The rest of us could worry about the economy, the justice system, the hidden worms of power and corruption, the constitution, women's rights or whatever we wanted - Brittany had decided that her particular vision was the ESEC, because the home and the Island and the planet she loved so very dearly were threatened, and she was going to help, and the ESEC was the vehicle that would take her - and everyone else - to a better place.
I had found over the course of years since our marriage that when Brittany Forrest made her mind up about something, Brittany Forrest usually prevailed.
As I approached the great entranceway to the Center - in the shape of a trail into a green woodland, with branches overhead and a well-lit clearing beckoning ahead - I could see her standing with two other people. Still, after all these years, the sight of her sturdy body and sandy-reddish hair caused a brief tightening of my stomach muscles, a flutter in my heart, and a quick sense of fulfillment in my mind. An instinctive desire to use my veterinarian tools to emasculate any male who threatened her without benefit of anesthetic, as I perceived from the body language the pair who were with her now were doing, flooded my bloodstream and increased my heart rate, although I had learned quite thoroughly that Brittany was more than capable of holding her own with most people.
I increased the pace of my steps, and could hear the cold anger in Brittany's raised voice as I approached.
"Don't even think of it, Joseph, or the only court you'll be attending this week will be at the Pearly Gates - and I don't imagine for a second even you are stupid and arrogant enough to suppose that St. Peter will have any mercy for you!" she was saying to the man in front of her, who I recognized as her first husband, Joseph Black.
The sight of Black took me by surprise - I had had no idea he was back on the Island. He was dressed in his usual impeccable, expensive fashion, as befitted his profession (slimeball lawyer), grey business suit with a blue tie, well-fitted over his somewhat paunchy frame. His dark eyes still had that insolent glare with which he viewed the world; that a few of his greying hairs were out of place was ample indication that Brittany was taking her toll on his demeanor. The other person present was another I would have preferred not to see, although I was forced to spend more time than I cared to in her presence as we both met regularly in the chambers of the Island legislature - Daphnid Hewlett. Hewlett had been the chief lawyer for the previous Island government, up to her brown page-boy haircut in back-room dealings and local graft and corruption - one simply doesn't join the inner circles of power in capitalist societies without such connections and dealings. A formidable opponent in a court of law, however, and one of the primary movers in the present push of the old parties to regain power on the Island.
Hewlett was just beginning to speak when I joined the little group. She barely acknowledged my presence with a glance.
"Listen, Brittany," she spoke in a low, threatening voice, "I'm not going to stand here any longer listening to this crap. We've made our final offer, and if you have any idea of what's good for you, you'll accept it and keep your mouth shut." She turned to her companion. "Come on, Joseph, we're leaving this fantasy world. We have work to do."
And she turned on her heel and headed off for the small parking lot which fronted on Mt. Edward Road at the other side of the ESEC.
Black looked at her, then back to Brittany.
"Wait a minute, Daphnid, please," he called, waving at her rapidly receding back; there was no slowing in the swishing of her stern blue business dress. He turned to Brittany with anger in his eyes, "You'd better listen to her, Brittany. I have plans, and I need and will have Greenways back!"
With this final warning, Gray turned and hurried after Hewlett, who was just disappearing through the far side of the center. Brittany watched his retreating back for a few seconds, taking a deep breath.
"Black!" she shouted.
He stopped and looked back at Brittany.
"What do you mean 'back'?" she said, "You never had Greenways to begin with! When we took over the farm, it was just a run-down house with a little barn out back, and I don't think you set foot on the place twice after that! Everything that Greenways is today was built by me! It's mine, Black, and you'll never get it! Never!"
Black stared at her for a few seconds after she finished speaking, his mouth in a thin line. Then he turned and hurried after his companion.
Brittany raised her hand, and looked at the piece of paper she held in it, then flung it angrily to the dusty cement at her feet.
"Damn!" she said, turning to me at last.
"Hello, Sailor," I said with a small smile, not appropriate in the circumstances, but I could rarely not smile when seeing her after even short partings, "long time no see. How about a hug before we get serious?"
"Oh, Stephen," said Brittany, grinning back a bit I think in spite of herself, "it's good to see you."
And she reached her arms out to me. I buried my face in her hair, and spent a few seconds rubbing her back, feeling her heart and her breath warm on my neck.
As we slowly detached ourselves, I could tell from the worried frown on her brow that Brittany was very upset.
"What is it, love?" I asked, taking one hand as she reached and retrieved the documents she had recently flung to the ground with the other, and leading her away from the main entranceway of the Center to a bench under a tree in the lawn around the pond, "It all sounded pretty serious there, with Hewlett and Black. What's he doing back in town, anyway? I thought he was long gone, and good riddance! And Greenways...? Surely I didn't hear what I thought I did?"
"Yes, so did I think he was long gone, Big," she said in a moment, using the nickname she had christened me with the night we met, "So did I. But I guess the son of a bitch just wasn't finished causing me grief yet. Why is it that good things take so much work, and are so fragile, yet evil seems to constantly return and darken everything with no apparent effort? I just don't understand sometimes." She paused for a long minute, then looked at me, with just a twinge of fear mixed with the anger in her eyes and voice, as she spoke so quietly I had to strain to catch the words; "They want Greenways, Stephen - and Hewlett says they can get it. The 'offer' she mentioned is that I pack and leave with what I wish, they'll be happy with the basic physical infrastructure, or I go to court and they go for everything, and there was some sort of additional threat coming through that they didn't make clear, some bogeyman stuff, I don't know. I don't know what they have up their sleeve, but they sounded pretty confident."
The shock must have been extreme to her, to have her this subdued - Brittany was a fighter from way back, with just a bit of Irish temper lurking under those red locks, and normally would reach a point after a certain amount of prodding where she reacted to adversity the way Alexander is said to have reacted to the Gordian knot. If Black and Hewlett really had a serious plan to take Greenways from Brittany, however, the reaction was understandable - Greenways was Brittany's life, as much as her daughter Elizabeth or myself or the ESEC. She had made it her dream over the last decade, fought for it and built it almost singlehandedly - it would be as good as taking her life to take Greenways from her now.
"I can't believe it, "I said, taking her hand again where she had clenched it into a fist on the bench between us, "Your title to Greenways is rock solid, is it not? There were no restrictions on it when you won it in the settlement, were there? No conditions or grounds for repeal?"
"That's what I thought, too," Brittany said, looking over the pond, "No, not just what I thought, but the way it was. Judge Campbell was clear - in return for my years of unpaid contribution to the marriage, and his career, and my own lost working years Black forced on me, that the farm at St. Peters was fair compensation. There was no appeal, it was an agreed decision in the end. The title deeds are in my name. No doubt at all." She paused once again, thinking, then turned to look at me.
"But Hewlett laid it on the line, Stephen, although you certainly won't find it in any written papers. Black has a lot of friends in Ottawa, and in the Canadian government, and she says he's gotten powerful enough to call in some favors. She says that the Supreme Court of Canada can overturn a land decision made by a provincial court - and that Black has been assured that if he reopens his case, and appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada, that they will declare the divorce settlement null and void and turn the property over to him. And apparently he has done so, and the SCC is going to be hearing the case this very fucking week when they come to Green Island on the other constitutional case!"
I listened in disbelief.
"That's absurd, Brittany!" I finally managed to say, shocked at what she had told me.
"Oh, don't think I don't know that," she replied, a little warmly, "But what would you think? You know Black, and you know Hewlett, and you know first hand as well as I the kind of corruption that is possible in the old court system of this place! So as absurd as it may sound, I do believe that they have come up with something they think will work - and knowing Hewlett, I have to take it seriously, and do."
"Yes, you're right, of course," I said, sliding closer to her on the bench, and placing a hand on her knee and squeezing to show I was with her (one of the strengths of our relationship was that we were both 'touchy-feelies' - we liked being close, in physical contact, a great deal of the time; in times of stress we tended to share our problems in this manner as well). "You're right - they have to be taken seriously. But I still can't believe there's any real threat to Greenways - you've had exclusive title to it for what - ten years? The title was uncontested for that long - what grounds could they possibly raise to take it from you that any court even pretending to legitimacy could use to justify it? And without even giving you some sort of warning in advance - I know we've been going backwards in Canada for a long while now, but surely they can't call you a terrorist and go after you with a secret trial???"
"Well, let's see," said Brittany, shaking out the pieces of paper she had retrieved from the dusty sidewalk before we sat down; "There should be something here."
She quickly read through the top sheet, and turned back the page to read the second. I leaned over to read with her, her eyes narrowing slightly, lips pursing and chin beginning to jut out - sure signs that her fine mind was taking in what she read and making computer-like connections with the stored information in her brain. As she finished she raised her head, looking thoughtfully out over the pond with a slightly desperate look on her face under the anger and fight. Like David may have felt as he saw Goliath approaching. No shortage of courage, but -
The gist of it was simple enough, although couched in some puffy legalese even at this preliminary stage.
The essential contention was that Brittany was not a Canadian citizen - was, in fact, an illegal alien, and therefore not entitled to hold property in any Canadian province - should, in fact, in consideration of her previous false presentations concerning her past, and 'rather significant national security considerations arising from this dishonesty and related matters' be deported back to the country she came from immediately and any property presently held in her name thus be reverted to its former owners as property acquired illegally and thus with no legitimacy to any titles thus held, and thus with suitable compensation as suggested by the Court hearing the matter to compensate the rightful owner for lost benefits, and various other thuses.
I knew a bit about Brittany's past. We had never gone into it in great detail, as her failed marriage and some serious emotional trauma following was something of a black hole in her life she preferred to leave in the past, and I had not pushed her on it, thinking she would get to it when she was ready; I trusted her completely so was content with that, but I was aware that her father had been one of the so-called 'draft-dodgers' during the American war on Vietnam, and, along with several thousand like-minded young men had moved north into Canada rather than be conscripted into the American army to be sent to that small country to murder small yellow-skinned people and be involved in other acts of unspeakable barbarity in the service of one of history's more barbaric governments.
There had been some sort of general amnesty, I had thought, from the U.S. government years back - and also, I had thought, some sort of acceptance by the Canadian government of these refugees - and, of course, their families. Not according to the Statement of Claim given to Brittany by Hewlett, however. But many things had changed in the years since the Americans had arranged the 'war on terror' to replace the cold war.
According to this, Brittany had been born in the United States, had never formally applied for nor been granted permanent Canadian residency, and therefore, quite simply, was an illegal alien. As such, of course, essentially her only legal 'right' was to a 'fair' deportation hearing before they chucked her out of the country - a deportation 'hearing' conducted before a tribunal of patronage-appointed officials basically serving the government of the day - not officially of course, oh no no - but in reality.
I looked over to where Brittany sat, still deep in thought.
"I take it, then, that the charge is true?" I asked, "You never have become officially a Canadian citizen?"
"Well, yes, I guess it is," she replied, slowly, "I just never thought to do it. I mean, really, Big, I've been living here for over forty years! Can they really do this to me? Now?" She reached over and took the legal documents from my hand. "Oh, Stephen, I can't believe, after all the years of fighting, that it will end so - so - ridiculously!"
"I don't know what to say, Brit," I slid over and put an arm around her shoulder and squeezed, "I do know that Hewlett is a bright lawyer with the books, and so there must at least be grounds for the case; I also know that there's still a lot of corruption in the legal system here that we haven't got cleaned up yet - when Campbell retired last year, we lost the last really sort-of honest judge, and the rest from before the election are hanging on like grim death waiting for the return of their buddies in the legislature, and we just haven't dealt with them as maybe we should have, since we now use the Citizen's Courts for almost everything and were waiting for them to just die off from attrition, I guess. So the guns may well be loaded in their favor, as we know the Canadian government is going to want to use the old courts and not the Citizen's Courts - that will be a given. But that's not to say we can't prepare a strong defense and maybe think of some other things we can do in a Green Island sense - and there's no way they're going to get it without a fight, you know that!"
"Yes - and I'm married to a true blue Canadian citizen now," she smiled at me with those eyes I still liked to get lost in even after all these years, "So that will muddy the waters for them too. I guess we'd just better not get lost in maybes, and I'll go down and see MacGregor or someone this afternoon, eh?"
"Yes, MacGregor would probably be good," I answered, "or that Indian guy, Zhistin, who's been working with Paine, if he's not too busy. Whatever, my love, you make the calls and/or visits this afternoon, and we'll think about it and talk about it tonight, decide what we're going to do. And by the looks of things - "
- I said, looking down at my watch -
" - we've sort of eaten up the time instead of our lunch, and there's some people coming to see me this afternoon about some glitch with the security system on AGORA for the referendum and a couple of other things that need to be dealt with, so no lunch today. I guess I'll see you later when we get back to Greenways and feed the cows, eh?"
I rose from the bench, smiling as I finished, and reached out a hand to her. Life was at times a bitch, as the old saying had it, but as long as there was Brittany and Greenways, I could live it and enjoy it. And if somebody else wanted to get serious, well, we could do that too.