• jill macdonald

Sidetracked - Dean

Dean checks into the Super 8 Motel. It’s a step down from the Holiday Inn, but more appropriate. He is 42 years old, unmarried, a Canadian living in Chicago. The way he usually spends his time off is on his motorcycle, racing through geography, trying to stay ahead. At speed, he achieves something like peace - the absence of distance and ambition. It’s been three years since his last trip to Canada. The bagel drops from the four-slice toaster in the breakfast room, perfectly motel grilled. He opens a plastic tub of white cream cheese and spreads the entire contents on one side, then opens a second tub for the other half.

During a cop’s career, there are crimes that cannot be solved, some of them linger and become a persistent conviction, a wisdom tooth that resurfaces long after it’s been extracted. This is the one that haunts Dean: Caucasian woman, 45, disappears from work, home, spouse and children, potentially abducted, potentially criminal, certainly attached to something lethal. For four years she's been missing, and she sticks in Dean's mind like a tumbleweed blown against a wire fence, always there, in the same shape as when it first happened. Recently, she turned up in his dreams, a shadow on the street below his apartment, a glimpse in profile in the stacks at the library, a peanut butter and cheese sandwich left on his desk that only one person could have known he liked. He had to take a leave from work to go after her.

Dean’s parents are Trevor and Marge. Marge does yoga and lives on smoothies and cigarettes. Trevor is an ace skier, drinks rum and coke and makes a mean pulled pork BBQ for Marge’s book club because no one in his family eats pork, including Trevor. He lives on salad and Thai chicken. Both of Dean’s parents are unhappy about eating cold, healthy food and his not living in Canada where they could see each other more often and all be less lonely. The last time they heard from his sister was ten months ago. She sent them a large amount of cash in an envelope postmarked from Mexico. American dollars, which Marge interpreted as an invitation for them to travel, but Trevor saw it as a downpayment for the trouble that would certainly follow because only criminals need to hide cash. Neither one wants to spend the money, they put it in a drawer for Dean to examine the next time he comes home.

Beth is his older sister by three minutes. Since the womb she has sucked life from his lips, taking more than her share while still keeping him alive. For nine months she thrived and he grew enough to maintain weight. Elbows out, she arrived in the world first and stayed there, blocking the light and the passage through. “There isn’t room for two full moons in the sky,” she once told him. “It would throw people off balance.” It was a warning to stay out of her way or she would crush him.

In the trunk is his hockey stick, which could be mistaken for a weapon, but instead is one of his methods for controlling anger and feeling something, anything at all. Dean gets out of the rental car. He is nowhere in particular. The stick is aluminum and feels good in his hands, swift and accurate with a wicked flex. He plays beer league twice a week in Chicago, and it’s possible to find himself playing with ex-professionals; they have the same moves they had on television, but faster. His style has nothing to do with finesse.

The highway is a long tongue of empty asphalt. Countless escapes have taken place on this straight stretch, employees with incriminating documents, young men afraid of what they feel, girls who don’t want to grow up. He finds a good rock in the ditch, taps it against his stick, rolls his shoulders and checks the horizons for traffic. For the next twenty minutes, he stickhandles the centreline, the way he used to as a kid, to escape Beth and her constant monitoring, the glare of their shared personality. The past and the future collide in his chest.

What he’d like to do is sit his sister in a chair and see if she can come up with an answer to this question: If you are still alive, who was killed?