“At the hundredth meridian, where the great plains begin.”
– The Tragically Hip
You come from the North. That’s how everyone enters. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. But it’s always from the North. In the winter, you emerge from a curtain of snow. Cotton balls stick to your face. They are wet and biting. When you inhale, they go down your throat and suffocate you. You don’t choke because they are magical. Everything is beautiful. There is total silence.
You stare dumbfounded at the whiteness and grayness of everything. You squint as your eyes adjust. In the distance, you see branches poking up from the cloud you are floating on. You step forward, but your foot sinks through the cloud and strikes the earth. What kind of cloud is this? You take another step but the cloud is thicker than before. It is like a wall you can not penetrate. I demand to float over these clouds! You aren’t polite, so you are mute. You cannot make a sound. Instead, you think the thought, and it is enough to ask, so two tennis rackets appear beside you. They are brown with leather straps. You clamp them on your feet. These are weird. Am I walking on rackets? Yes. But the rackets float and so you float, and you move towards the branches with a furrowed look.
Of course, you didn’t come dressed appropriately. No one ever does. You are freezing slowly from every tip of your body. The tip of your nose and the tips of your toes. The tips are red, but when they go white you have to worry. And if they turn black—well there’s nothing I can do. I’m not a doctor.
There is something in your heart that wants to know this place. You reach the branches and they are sticky. They taste piney. Sappy and piney. These are not good. Someone once said that if you travel North, you can eat the trees. But you can’t eat these.
Champagne sparkles drift down from the sky. It’s slow-motion. Can I touch them? You hold out your hand and they disappear. Your insides feel weak and hungry so you open your mouth to the heavens and let the sparkles lands on your tongue and cheeks. They freeze you immediately. Now your throat, your nose, and your toes are stinging with cold. There must be heat here. There must be someone here. But there is only one person here that matters. He has everything you need. And you are in luck, because he turned up last night. If you had come yesterday, or years before, you would be waiting and everyone waits at the lake. They love the lake. I don’t like it much. But everyone else does. The mosquitoes bother me.
Like I said, only one person matters. Nobody knows he is here yet. He doesn’t shout these things. He must be around somewhere. You keep looking. You are a foreigner. You are not one of us. Most people never make it this far. If you find this man, you have a chance to stay here. He will tell you about our scars. He has seen a thousand years of us. He knows me too. More than I know myself. I need to consult with him later, but I’m busy helping you right now. Otherwise, I would leave tomorrow after breakfast. It’s good you are not a kid. The kids don’t get it.
The rackets take you over wide clearings, rolling hills, and deep valleys. The sky is white but pockets of indigo appear. You pass a poet. Excuse me, where am I? He says you are in the Himalayas. You don’t see any mountains. You are not in the Himalayas. Where is the lake? He shakes his head. Everyone is at the lake. You need to go the town where the constellations reveal themselves, one star at a time. And if you can not find this town, I have to ask you to leave. I’m sorry.
Time passes quickly and you feel anxious. It’s urgent that you find this man. You approach a cabin in the forest. You discover a wolf and a bear in dress rehearsal. A hornet stings you. Ouch! I don’t like it in here. You leave and watch the sky for signs. What else are you supposed to do? You fall backwards into the cloud and it cushions you like an expensive mattress. You fall asleep and have a feverish dream about a fish who jumps out of the ocean to kiss you. When you wake up, you move your arms and legs in sweeping motions. The sparkles and the cotton balls have stopped. A painter stands over you. He’s complaining because last night he coloured the sky green and purple, and you didn’t care. He thinks you don’t appreciate his work. Even the bears have stopped caring. You want to talk to the painter. You still don’t know where you are. I demand to know where I am! Mute. Sorry, can you tell me where I am, please? Unmute. You’re at the hundredth meridian, of course.
But you have never heard of the hundredth meridian. And it hasn’t heard of you.
The painter has two dark braids and is wearing a crown of feathers. Are they coming out of his head? No. It’s a headdress — a gift. He lives in the auroras and tends to a herd of buffalo. Do you know the man that matters? The painter nods and replies. His name is Wicapi Omani. Man who walks among the stars. You are in the stars. And I paint the sky. My wife will take you to the town where he lives. The painter draws his wife from the constellation Virgo.
She looks at you with deep curiosity. Foxes circle her face and hands. I don’t know what she thinks of you. Maybe she finds you odd. Maybe fascinating. I don’t care much. I want you to get going because for a girl I know, it’s Mother’s Day. I have places to be.
It’s nearing noon. You arrive in the town but can’t remember who brought you there. I saw foxes. Did I travel the ocean on a killer whale? It’s possible. The town feels familiar but you have never been here. Is there food? You think the thought, and a bag of milk appears. You must nip the corner to drink the contents. You look in the pub, the radio station, and the grotesque shopping mall. Empty. You kick a beer bottle which yells at you for not recycling. You collapse on a bench and look into the knot of your own heart. How will I ever find the man who walks among the stars? The man appears twice. You see him first in the far distance. He’s wearing a hat with an eagle feather pinned around the band. He’s wading through a pond of water only five feet deep. The edges of the town blur and wobble. You could step through the town and straight into the soul of the man wading in the water. He is humming to himself.
You see the man a second time. He walks in front of the bench you are sitting on. He’s wearing a denim jacket, thick-rimmed glasses, and two socks wrapped around his neck like a scarf. He tapes a poster to a streetlamp. There’s a concert tonight at the lake. Everything inside of you feels warm and comfortable. The dream you told him is safe. He disappears and takes your tongue with him. You want to speak but you cannot. Your eyes, and ears, and nose still work. You sniff and squint to check. Everything you hear is magnified. Please, can I know this place? I want to stay here. This is a thought.
The man in the water is still waiting for you.
I don’t know why it’s taking you so long to figure this out. Everything I have told you is true. If you are brave enough to listen to him, you can stay.
By Lexie Angelo
- Lexie Angelo is a Canadian writer and snowboarder. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Royal Roads University and completed a literary residency at The Banff Centre. She moved to Edinburgh to pursue her postgraduate degree in Creative Writing and is currently working on her debut novel. You can find Lexie on Twitter: @angelolexie // Website: www.millionsofpages.com