By Jackie Bateman, UK/Canada (Published in Issue 5)
Her father had left his record collection and a coffee shop. Lara had no clue that he’d owned anything of more worth than his rhinestone leather chaps, and was blown away when his lawyer presented deeds and a set of keys. Three boxes of vinyl would be waiting at the ‘property’.
‘It’s is on the coastal road between Sooke and Port Renfrew, on Vancouver Island. It’s all yours, Lara.’
She took the brown envelope and peered inside. ‘There’s no photo, just a map.’
The lawyer leaned back on his leather swivel chair. ‘Apparently it’s done out really nice. There’s even living quarters out back.’
‘So it’s not a total dump.’
‘I have a feeling you’ll be pleasantly surprised,’ he said.
‘There’s no note, either.
‘Your father was a man of few words.’ He looked out the window at the rain. ‘Interesting words, but there weren’t many of them.’
Lara was curious about the records, although they would probably be mostly country music 'greats' and she’d always found their droning lyrics about life's hardships a little trying. The set of keys was intriguing though, and at last she was on the property ladder. As she stepped out of the lawyer’s office and onto a wet Georgia Street, she began to walk differently, less slouched. This could be her chance to change things. Her job in marketing research was well paid but somewhat destroying her soul. She was ‘in between’ boyfriends. A coffee shop on the island - well there was a thing.
This Sooke coastal road seemed a little out-of-the-way, but owning a business had to be a step up from handing over fifteen hundred a month to a landlord with small-man syndrome. She’d been renting a contemporary waterfront apartment in Vancouver, part of a building that was predictably - some would say hideously - called Urban Living. Mr. Parsons once offered some sheepskin moccasins to wear indoors as apparently when she shuffled around the tiny living space, the noise of her footsteps was deafening the tenants in the apartment below. She had borrowed an excellent phrase from her father’s repertoire.
‘Stick them where the sun don’t shine.’
‘The mocassins. In your arse. Maybe you shouldn't have cheaped out on the building insulation, Mr. Parsons.’
There had been no complaints since, but still, that was no way to live.
She ached to find out what her Dad had left her in his will - presumably to make up for the years he’d spent on the road with his country music band, Coast Rodeo. He was often away for months at a time. Growing up with Auntie Babs had been fine; she was her mother's sister and she loved her. But it wasn’t the same. She studied the keys. Her father had put them on a plastic cowboy hat key ring and, when you pressed the underside, a series of lights flashed around the rim. It was very ‘him’.
She was six years old and it was her mother's funeral. On the previous day she’d heard, but not understood, a heated debate between Dad and Auntie Babs about whether she should be allowed to go. She was standing right there in the sodden English field, so Dad must have won. Auntie Babs had said 'it's no place for a child,' and so she was nervous but the big black car was lovely and shiny and all the flowers were so pretty. Lara wasn't fully aware that she would never see her mother again, smell perfume on her scarf, share secrets.
The day was bursting with colour. There was an expanse of grass, bright green like her crayon that said 'summer meadow' on it. The Church was pure white, the rose bushes very pink. Dad was crying and she held his hand, studied his crushed face. She wasn't sure what she should say to him, who was in charge. They lowered her mother into the hole in the ground and he lurched forward so violently that his hat fell off. She picked it up for him and dusted off the leaves.
The road from Sooke wound in and away from the ocean and went on forever. Huge ferns and old-growth trees gave way to dusty shrubbery, then firs, then back to Jurassic forest again. Lara drove past French Beach Provincial Park and Point no Point and continued on towards the Jordan River, windows down, her left arm sticking out to burn in the sun.
She knew it was the place as soon as it came into view. It was painted Marigold Yellow with a thatched roof of the kind you might see on a postcard from Devon, England. Her father’s elderly Aunt Winifred lived in the West Country and insisted on sending them predictable cards adorned with cottages and scones each summer. They were supposed to find the cards endearing but they always had a good laugh about them. She felt a searing guilt for all the scorn and then sad that her father wasn't here to present this funny, poignant building to her in person.
Lara pulled up on the graveled area outside, the crunch under tires oddly comforting, like she’d come home after a long spell away. Framed by blue sky, the yellow was startlingly bright and she was concerned it would half blind the drivers trying to negotiate the treacherous bend in the road. It shouted 'hey look at me and don't watch the road'. She went inside and the place smelled of fresh paint and adhesive and newness. The walls were painted white, the small countertop in the centre contrasting in dark granite. There was a note stuck on one of the cabinets and she grabbed at it, hands shaking.
He used to pronounce her name Lar-ra and she could hear his chesty voice reverberating around the tiny room. It was just as well he was the guitarist and not the lead singer in his day because his throat was spoiled from too many roll-ups. She opened the note and sat outside on the wooden step to read it.
I built this place with the rest of the crew, we've been coming over here a few times a year to play music and write songs. It’s the dog’s bollocks. We loved it and I'm hoping you will too. The place is licensed and ready to go, all you have to do is name it. You don't need all that city shit, just be yourself. I'm sorry I was such a crap Dad.
I love you. Dad.
That was it. So all those times she’d thought he was on a road trip across Canada, through Oregon, hitting California, he was just a couple of hours away from Vancouver - on a regular basis. She’d wanted to read something poetic, some heartfelt regrets about how much of his life he had spent with some sad old musos. But there was none of that.
She crumpled the note and threw it down the steps, unable to look at it or to throw it away.
She was standing in the doorway of Auntie Bab's house, trying to ignore the obnoxious noise of her cousins inside. Lara was twelve, just had a birthday, and Dad was going away again after staying for only a fortnight.
‘Summer holidays have only just started, Dad. Please stay a bit longer.’
‘Can’t, my love. We’re on tour in a week and we’ve got to practise, get the old fingers moving.’
‘Can’t I come with you?
‘Can’t take kids on tour, you’re joking, aren’t you? Don’t worry darlin’, I’ll be back in two shakes of a monkey’s bum.’
‘I’m not a kid any more.’
The other members of the band were in a battered white van in the driveway, cigarette smoke billowing out of the windows. The smell of tobacco mixed with cheap aftershave and leathers wafted over. She wanted to be a part of it. Touring seemed so exciting compared with staying there and having to help with the boys, do the washing up, clean the bathroom, there's a good girl. Her father had a clod of scrambled egg on his collar and she flicked it off. There was the back of his hat again, hair hanging down to his shoulders, his drainpipe legs disappearing into the van. There was cheering and shouting. The wheels squealed in the driveway as she watched them go, hand raised.
There was an old Sony record player on one of the tables, speakers on the window ledges. He’d taught her from a young age how to use a stylus without scratching his vinyl. Dad had never really understood new technology.
‘Ain’t nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned LP. Shiny as a badger’s queer-thing and solid as.’
‘Solid as what?’ she’d asked.
He didn’t reply, just showed her how to place the stylus. It was one of her many unanswered questions.
She dug out a Coast Rodeo vinyl from one of the boxes in the back of the shop. It was their second release, Go With The Heart. It came out of the cover smoothly, the face of it scratch-free, immaculate. It crackled slightly when she put it on, but otherwise the sound was clear. It was good. She left the door open and sat on a wooden chair outside, the sun on her face. There was a blank sign out there. As the sounds of her father’s band drifted, she thought of what she could call the place. The Guilty Caffeine could reference her father’s guilt money and to coffee being naughty. Dead Bend was a good play on words pertaining to the treacherous road – and to the old man in the ground, after enjoying one too many of life’s pleasures. Lara's Lattés was kind of ironic, the Latté being a Vancouver staple and reminiscent of other city status symbols, like tiny pedigree dogs and branded yoga wear.
A kingfisher flew overhead; she had never seen one so close before. She shut her eyes and concentrated, found that she could smell the ocean, salt air mixed with cedar. She listened to the lyrics, really heard them, and finally she understood.
I'm missin' you baby,
You’re stuck in my mind,
The sounds of the waves again,
Washin' away the pain.
He missed Mum, of course he did. Couldn’t bear to come home because it reminded him of all things her. A place like this was an escape, another world. After the funeral, he had been absent, and distant even when he was around. He always said she reminded him of her mother. Had she been hard to bear too?
She would call it Cream Tea. The name was perfect; it suited the thatched roof and the Devon influence. She’d open up and give it a go, ‘play it by ear’ as Dad used to say. It was his way of admitting that he had no plan and didn't intend to have one. It used to irritate her, but she’d started to like the idea of it. She’d buy several sets of fake 'English style' china teacups and saucers. As well as organic ground coffee she would serve Devon cream teas, a refreshing change from all those flax seeds and spelt cookies that often rear their ugly fibrous heads in more rural areas.
Go with the heart, Lar-ra.
Well ‘the heart’ was in the dog’s bollocks, now. She could be herself here, make as much noise as she liked. Just be. She clutched the cowboy hat key ring, deep in the pocket of her jacket and felt closer to her father now he was dead and gone than she did when he was alive and gone. She heard his voice for the last time. ‘I’m sorry I was such a crap Dad.’ That’s alright Dad, she thought, you can be happy now.
Jackie Bateman is originally from England and will always champion the marmite sandwich. She is now settled in beautiful Vancouver with her husband and two children. Her first novel Nondescript Rambunctious was published in 2011. More of her stories can be found at www.jacbateman.com