Drifting in and out of consciousness, his raw face pricked by the coarse grass, Evan’s sense of betrayal burned through the pain. His first tears in over sixty years spilled down his bleeding cheeks. His cowardly attempt to escape witnessing her anguish had failed.
He had made many promises in his life, some of which he had not kept. His “till death do us part” to his wife Willow had been cut short by divorce. His “Count on me to be there for grad night,” to his son was preempted by an emergency board meeting.
But although he was not always reliable, Evan prided himself that in his most essential commitment, he remained true. Together to the end had been his youthful commitment the first time he sensed her splendor although, even then, he had known that he was one among many.
After seventy years, sight of her still made his heart lurch. However extended their separation, nothing diminished his devotion, nothing challenged his surety that without her, he was as air, and that, in turn, he was embedded in her. Nothing, so he had thought, until violently, minutes earlier, sliced between the moment of falling and the sight of his own mortality, he acknowledged his duplicity.
As he hurtled to the rocks below, the raw terror of the impending pain had ripped the screen from his eyes. Flashing like pin ball lights, the many times he had chosen poorly: opportunities ignored, actions put on hold, and inexcusably gullible to promises that his vulnerable lover wouldn’t be harmed through his actions.
Thanks to the forgiving cliff side bushes, he had survived the fall.
When he regained consciousness, first at his side was his son Tim who had hurled himself down the hill after his father when he saw him slip.
This was to have been the day Evan was to demonstrate to Tim that as CEO of Canadian Wood Industries he had been a wise steward.
“Betrayal,” Evan slurred through his bleeding lips.
“Did you say ‘portrayal,’ Dad?”
“All right, sir, the ambulance is here. You’ll soon be safe in hospital.”
Safe? Evan scoffed. He’d never be safe again.
“It’s Evan Williams,” someone shouted. “Christ, do the media know?”
They’d know soon enough, the old man thought.
“Are you worried how they’ll portray you, Dad? Daran will deal with that.”
Daran, the bugger, had dealt with too much. In his smoke and mirrors dips and dives, he had convinced Evan that all was well. He would have prevented his boss’ visit to the site today had he known. For the first time in years, Evan had slipped behind the P.R. screen and was appalled by what he saw.
When they arrived at the hospital, unknown forces jerked the stretcher out of the ambulance. Evan was bumped along as harshly as a cart rumbling over Roman cobblestones: swirls of lights flashed overhead, anxious grey faces swooped down at him.
He needed it to stop. He needed a minute, a silence, a chance to reconnoiter.
“Get the Director,” a voice hissed.
“Find him a bed. Now. Well, move someone.”
A profound melancholy crushed his chest. He was sinking.
“Evan,” he called to himself leaning forward to catch his outstretched hand, and then watched helplessly as his body was sucked into a black whirlpool. It’s the shot, he assured himself, grabbing onto the possibility of resurfacing.
The irony was that he had discovered the betrayal the day that was to be one of celebration. Back after forty years to the paradise of his youth with his long estranged son roped in for the occasion. Evan smug that his son Tim would be forced to acknowledge that, however it had appeared over the years, his father had been true to his roots. As CEO, he had ensured that Wood Industries addressed the environment concerns when they developed property. Moreover, he had involved young people in the project, so that they would have, as he had, the experience of living with nature.
He had relished the idea of witnessing Tim’s amazement when he saw the Youth At It project. Time then for some apologies from a son who learned the phase “Show me” at 11 and never passed up reading a company press release without strutting around asking for proof.
The decision to come had been last minute. Evan had challenged his son to come and witness what the company was doing and, as it was his father’s 70th birthday, Tim had relented.
The struggle to keep profits up, to respond to community concerns, and to convince the Board to take on the youth project had been difficult but as the press release six month earlier had shown, it paid off. He had succeeded; profits were up and the environment was protected.
On the drive to the mountain Evan had taken the opportunity to send a few last messages, instructed his staff what to do in response to the pipeline proposal. It was only when he left the parking lot with his son and the guide, that Evan noticed the changes: peeking out from behind forested openings, the haggard face of abuse.
Where once there had been the strong forest, now a violent clear-cut, the brook’s banks eroded wounds. This was where bears scooped salmon from the stream, no salmon now. “You’re the only bear left around here sir,” joked the young guide.
Evan, puffing and in pain, hurried his pace as they mounted the hill, they would soon come upon the youth project. It showed that, if a CEO kept the faith, business could benefit. From the photos, he envisioned the camp just down from the mine. The project used the water from the stream for electricity and recycled by-products from the excavation.
Around the corner and there it was. But no, no it wasn’t. What had happened? Instead of the old stream, there was a dry bed. The forest had been roughly clear-cut and a pile of rusting metal equipment collapsed against a sagging lean-to.
“What happened to the Youth Camp?” he asked the guide.
“The PR thing? All gone.”
A disheveled young man crept out of a transit hut, blinking against the sharp sun. “You want something?”
“What’s up?” Evan cried angrily?” He pointed to a faded Youth At It Project sign swinging from a post. “Where is the camp?”
“Kaput. The P.R. moment for Wood Industries passed.” Then, with a hopeful grin, “Are you with the media?”
“I am not,” Evan said. “Wasn’t there a camp here?”
“Yeah, but they dammed upstream for the mine and then there was a slide because of the cut above. Ask them down below what happened.”
“And the kids?”
“Long gone. I’m here ‘til the end of the month to watch over the Company’s assets,” he laughed, pointing at the pile of rusting equipment.
“What’s this eyesore?” his son asked.
Daran had known, damn him. Known that the celebrated youth camp promoted at the stockholders meeting was a bust. He’d put the bugger out to dry when he got back.
His anger pushing him, Evan struggled up the hill to view the site from the summit. When they finally stopped, his heart was jumping. He was too old for this. She was weeping, her dress was shredded and torn, a victim of rape, gang rape. How could you do this? she cried, reaching her arms out to him.
“Watch out, dad. It’s slippery,” his son called.
Evan leaned cautiously over the crumbling ledge to witness the winding river below. From that height, even the murky waters appeared pristine. He marveled at the tiny figures moving purposefully, oblivious to his watchful eyes. Behind him, he heard her cries but he hadn’t the courage to turn and face her. And then, he flew.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Printed in Selected Places: An Anthology of Short Stories, Simone Press. April 2017.