In the mountains there’d always been something new to look at.
In the months leading up to tour, Willa had been saving up podcasts. But from Kamloops to Calgary, Willa and Kiki—a.k.a. The Oblititrons—listened to their last episodes of This American Life and the last of the All Songs Considered episodes with music.
They were sick of listening to The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs and were well done with the Neil Diamond Greatest Hits CD, Dusty In Memphis and Le Tigre’s Le Tigre. All Songs had done nightly roundups from South by Southwest, one of which they’d listened to, all of which had just one song at the end, so they’d skipped them. Then, between Edmonton and Saskatoon—actually between Vegreville and Vermilion—they listened to them all.
And apparently THEESatisfaction had synchronized dances.
So, in a hostel in Saskatoon, where they hadn’t been able to book a show, they played their song “F.U.T.U.R.E.” at the lowest audible volume and creaked around the floor practicing moves somewhere between a cheerleading routine Willa remembered from middle school and a ballet choreographed by Miss Marlene, the woman who taught Kiki dance in the basement of the United Church in downtown Oakville when Kiki was eight. They debated over handclaps and only did the routine through twice because Kiki was embarrassed about the sound the floorboards made.
Out of new music and podcasts, from Saskatoon they listened just to the hum of the tires. Kiki, in the passenger seat, started guessing how long it would take to get to the next visible grain elevator. Willa blamed Kiki for the poor turnout at their Canadian shows, which had been Kiki’s responsibility to book. And why hadn’t she been able to find a show in Saskatoon, hunh? Kiki said the US shows weren’t much better and accused Willa of picking the easier job. After that the prairies seemed to get even flatter and the grain elevators even further away, though Kiki realized that she was counting in rhythm to her faster, angrier breath so she practiced some mindfulness to slow that down, which got the elevators back to predictable distances.
Willa pulled the car over onto the gravel shoulder.
“What’s up?” Kiki asked.
“I’ve got to piss.”
“Normally you say so before we pull over.”
“Isn’t this spot good?”
“Well, I’d prefer to strategize—like maybe we could stop somewhere with coffee or chips or something—but whatever.”
Willa rolled her eyes and got out.
While Willa squatted in the ditch, Kiki looked across the street. She saw the prow of a boat peaking around the corner of an overgrown hedge. She got out of the car.
“Good idea,” Willa said.
“What?” Kiki asked.
Willa zipped up her pants. She saw Kiki looking both ways along the highway. “Oh, I thought you were getting out to pee too.”
“Nope,” Kiki said. She crossed the road and took her cell phone from her pocket.
Willa followed her across the street.
The boat had been beautiful. The boat had been a boat. Now it was a crumbling pile of painted wood belching an anchor onto overgrown grass. Kiki was taking pictures on her phone. “For your dad?” Willa asked. Kiki nodded. Willa looked around. There was a rutted trail leading around a windbreak over which she could see the roof of a house. There was a field of stubble behind them that curved neatly into the horizon. Kiki’s phone made the whooshing “message sent” sound.
“Who’s that for?”
“My dad and sister.”
Willa nodded. Kiki’s dad was really into wooden boats. His bathroom in the basement, where he was exiled to shit, had a stack of Wooden Boat magazines, one of which always had a pen tucked inside it so he could make little notes in the margins. Willa couldn’t figure out why Kiki had sent the picture to her sister, Linda.
Hinges squealed, a screen-door banged and someone ran across a wooden deck. Willa ran instinctively towards the boat’s prow and the edge of the ragged hedge—the only hiding places for miles around. The hinges squealed again once, twice, and feet supporting tinier bodies beat an arrhythmic staccato across that same stretch of deck. Kiki just stood there. Willa ducked down and leaned against the boat’s hull. Kiki’s phone jingled and when Willa looked up her band-mate was wondering at a text.
A boy, seven or eight, came running around the windbreak between the Oblititrons and the house. He was wearing a skeleton costume with the hood and mask hanging between his shoulders. Playing cards fluttered in the air behind him and he was laughing. Two girls, one wearing a stained pink dress, the other a too large hockey jersey, chased after him picking up cards and whining, “Jaw-on,” or squealing “John!”
When he saw Kiki standing in his yard, John’s body spasmed and the playing cards burst into the air. They hadn’t finished fluttering and falling to the ground, though, before John had clearly decided that Kiki was no threat. John waved to her, then started picking up the cards. The girls were almost immediately at his feet and for a moment they were both tugging at cards in John’s hands. The girl in the dress managed to snap the card she was pulling free of John’s grip. John stepped backwards, dragging the girl in the hockey jersey along the ground a few feet. When the playing card she was tugging on popped out of her hands, John held it above his head and started dancing with his pelvis. Never mind how rude it looked, doing that at girls who were, presumably, his sisters—both Kiki and Willa knew that crotch was what their dance had been missing.
The girl in the hockey jersey spotted Kiki and let out a high-pitched scream before turning and running for the house. The girl in the princess dress was startled, but recovered quickly, set her brow to scowl and walked menacingly towards Kiki, who turned and ran for the car. Willa followed. They hopped in, giggling and sped away.
A few kilometers down the highway Kiki said, “So, I sent that picture to my dad and sister, right?”
“Look what Linda sent me back.” Kiki held her cell phone up just under the rearview mirror.
“What is it? I can’t see it,” Willa said.
“A skull emoji.”
Linda was some sort of fortune-teller, seer person. “Whoa,” Willa said.
“And she sent that without knowing any of the . . . ?” Willa waved her hand in the air, her body tingling.
When Kiki texted Linda the story of what happened, Linda wrote back and said that she thought someone had died in that boat, but that you couldn’t always know how to interpret visions.
When they got to Winnipeg, they went shopping for CDs. Kiki bought Missy Elliott’s The Cookbook and THEESatisfaction’s EarthEE. Willa bought a Gordon Lightfoot Complete Greatest Hits.
That night at the club, during “F.U.T.U.R.E.”, The Oblititrons broke into their dance and it was sort of synchronized, but when they got their pelvises into the act, the modest crowd clapped and laughed and shouted for more.
Toronto, May 2015
Emoji sequence: Regan Clarke
Story: Lee Sheppard
Read more about The Oblititrons here.
Read more about The Oblititrons here.