Old Jim and Katey tiptoed out of their bedroom and down the hallway of their apartment. Katey giggled as she peeked into the living room where Pepe lay asleep on the couch with his mouth wide open, quietly snoring. He complained about never getting any sleep at their place but whenever she looked in on him, it seemed like he was having a good rest.
She motioned to Jim for them take their shoes and coats into the outside hall before putting them on so they wouldn’t make too much noise. It was Saturday and Old Jim and Katey both had the day off. With Jim’s shift work, having a Saturday where they could wake up in the morning together and spend the day was rare, so they decided to go for breakfast before taking a drive and doing something fun. A group of Jim’s co-workers got together for a weekly pond hockey game and Jim had thought about going, but he had enough of them this week and it was likely the ice was getting a slushy and thin. After a handful of bright, clear days it was starting to feel like the beginning of spring and the air outside had a nice warmth to it. It made them eager to get out and do something to shake off the winter cobwebs.
They made an interesting couple as they walked along the hallway, Old Jim so tall and broad and Katey so tiny and round — taking two or three steps for every one of Jim’s. She, a complete bundle of giggling, caring energy, and he, quiet and subdued, taking things as they came. They had met at a party at a friend’s place — Jim was standing by himself in a corner drinking a beer, Katey thought he was cute and went to talk with him. She talked all night and Jim listened all night, and then they went home together.
In the basement parkade of their apartment building, Old Jim unlocked the passenger door of the car for Katey and then got himself settled into the driver’s side. They owned a small hatchback and even with the seat pushed all the way back, his long legs were always a bit cramped. They headed east and stopped at a favourite diner of theirs for breakfast. The smell of bacon made Jim’s stomach grumble when they walked in.
Katey looked at him wide-eyed. “Holy jeepers,” she giggled and patted his belly.
They sat down at a table in the bright light of the front window. The waitress brought them menus and turned over two mugs that were already sitting on the table, filling each with coffee.
“We’ll both just get bacon and eggs,” Katey said to the waitress while giving a Jim a questioning look.
He nodded in agreement.
Their food came quickly and Katey washed it down with lots of sugary coffee while Jim sipped at his one cup.
“So, what should we do after this?” he asked.
“Hmmm, I don’t know. How about maybe going up to White Butte or something? If it’s not too melty and mucky we could go for a little walk about. Seems like forever since we were up there. Remember that time when I found that baby deer? I sometimes still wonder what happened to its mother. I wonder if she ever came back or if she was hit by a car or something? There were no others around and that little guy was just curled up and frightened. I wanted to pet him.”
White Butte was Katey’s favourite getaway for a walk or a bike ride, with its rolling trails that were fun but not too tough. She especially loved walking there in the autumn when the leaves on the aspens were bright yellow and you walked along in some long cathedral corridor with white pillars on either side of you, their tops covered in gold that sparkled and danced in the sunlight and breeze. The grassy trails loped about boggy areas and through thickets of rose and saskatoon bushes. The sudden flapping from the wings of a startled sage grouse would make you jump and then laugh at your misplaced fright. It was a place where you could walk quietly and collect or lose your thoughts — depending on your mood.
"Is Pepe startin' to bother you yet?" Jim asked.
"No. I like Pepe. He'll bother you before me and it sounds like he might be moving on to Lil's place before long," Katey smiled. "It's not bugging you already having him around is it?"
"No, no. He's just a little frustrating. The guy needs a shake or a kick in the ass or something."
"He'll figure it out."
Jim nodded. He mopped up the last of his egg yolks with a piece of toast and wiped his mouth and beard with a napkin before getting up to pay. Katey finished the last of her coffee and brought him his coat as they waited at the counter for the debit machine to finish. Outside it had turned a grey — clouds beginning to roll their way, still warmish, but looking like it could rain. Jim opened the car door for Katey and then paused to look around. He got in and started the engine.
“All right, here we go!” he called out, rubbing his hands together and looking over at Katey with a wide grin.
“Oh boy,” Katey rolled her eyes then reached over and scratched the beard on his cheek. She pulled on his chin so he would lean down and she quickly kissed him.
Old Jim liked to drive fast. As soon as he got behind the wheel something came over him and he got a little crazy. The traffic and lights kept him under control in the city but he was trouble on the highway. When he was a kid he had a homemade go-kart with a washing machine engine and after that he got a zippy little dirt bike. He zoomed all around the yard on those things, tearing up the ground and causing his mother much stress. As a teenager his grandfather used to give him hell for driving the combine too fast and messing up the harvest, but it didn’t change him. At work he wished they still used the speeders on the railway. Since he first saw one on TV as a kid he had wanted to work for the railway. Those speeders looked like a lot of fun and it was too bad they were replaced by trucks with rail wheels before he started there.
As soon as he and Katey got on the road she began talking. She could talk about anything and jump from subject to subject, always keeping Jim entertained with her leaps of logic and threads of thoughts, especially when she’d tie it all back to something she’d been talking about an hour, or even days earlier.
After noticing a red-tailed hawk perched on a fence post she was in the middle of a story that had started out about them, then went on to the wire used in fencing, which triggered a memory of tufts of cow hair caught in barbed wire and led to stories of her grandfather’s ranch. After a few more twists and turns and some good laughs, Katey was now defending her undying love for the music of Lady Gaga and Old Jim was laughing and teasing her about it. He loved listening to her go off.
Speeding along the highway and paying more attention to Katey than to the road, he almost missed the turn. Jim stomped on the brakes and tried to make it at the last minute, spinning around in the loose gravel that collected on the road through the winter and smacking the car into the ditch.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” Katey yelled and waved her hands in the air in front of her. She paused and let out a big breath. “Holy jeepers! You all right?” she asked Jim.
“Yeah, yeah, Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. You okay?”
Katey nodded and Jim rubbed her shoulder. He grinned sheepishly and ran his hands down his face and beard before getting out. The ditch was slippery with old, crusty snow and new melting muck. He looked around the car making sure that everything seemed fine. The passenger side door was jammed against a pile of frozen snow and Katey crawled across the seat to get out the driver’s side.
“Watch your step,” Jim told her as she got out of the car. “If I’d’ve been going a bit faster we maybe would’ve rolled it. That would’ve been really exciting, eh?”
Katey playfully punched him in the shoulder a few times and looked things over for herself. “Should we call someone or do you think we can just back out of it?” she asked.
“We should be able to back out. I’ll get in front and give it a bit of push just to help get it moving,” Jim said as he walked around the car, inspecting its position.
Katey got in behind the wheel, adjusting the seat to suit her short legs. She started the car and put it in reverse but the wheels only spun.
“Ease into it and we’ll get it rocking a bit and then it’ll move,” Old Jim yelled to her from the front of the car. He had his hands on the hood and was getting himself a good foothold when he heard a vehicle coming down the road. He looked up to see that it was his friend Carl Quartermain in his beat up old truck. Jim waved him down and Carl stopped after seeing who it was.
He got out of his truck slowly and sauntered over. He noticed the telltale tire tracks across the road and shook his head. His bottom lip was full of chewing tobacco and he spit before starting to talk. “Do I have perfect timing or what? Holy shit. You didn’t really do a one-eighty? How in the hell did you do that? Jim must’ve been driving, eh, Katey!?”
Katey rolled down the window of the car. “What?” she asked.
“I said it must’ve been Jim driving, eh?”
“Yes it was,” Katey nodded and laughed. “How’d you guess?”
“Yeah, I was driving,” Jim said, shrugging his shoulders. “Just get up on the front here with me and help push. I’ll buy you a beer or something next time we go out.”
“You better. I just polished my boots,” Carl said, lifting his foot in the air to show off the worn leather of his cowboy boot.
He joined Jim at the front of the car and with the two of them pushing it worked quickly. Katey lightly stepped on the gas and backed the car gently up onto the roadside before getting out. Jim and Carl joined her on the side of the road.
“What you guys up too anyhow?” Carl asked.
“Just heading up to White Butte for a look around,” Katey answered. “Seemed like a good day to get out of town.”
“Yeah, it’s a great day for a drive — that’s what I thought, too. Looks like it’s clouding up a bit now but the morning was gorgeous, eh? I got a few things to do later but thought I’d take a spin first myself. Didn’t know I’d be helping some crazy driver get his car out of the ditch in the middle of a straight road,” Carl chuckled and kicked at the dirt with the heel of his boot. He spit some tobacco juice off to his side and pulled the tin from his back pocket. “You want a chew?” he offered.
“I don’t imagine you do,” he said to Katey.
“It’s polite to ask, eh?” Carl smiled at her. “Does Jim have you all up to date on all the goings on at work?”
“Yeah, mostly, I think. I hope you don’t end up on strike.”
“It’s nothin’ to get too worked up about. It all comes around.” He spit again and stretched his arms out to his side. “Anyhoo, I’ll let you guys carry on. You take it easy, eh, and I won’t forget that beer you owe me.” He pointed at Jim.
“Sounds good,” Jim said.
Katey waved. “See you, Carl. Thanks.”
“Yeah, see you,” Carl laughed. He stomped his feet to knock the mud off his boots and got back into his truck, spitting up gravel as he accelerated down the road.
Jim and Katey watched for a while as Carl and his rusty white truck drove from view, then Jim inspected the passenger side of the car. “Hmm, a little bit of a mark and a dent, but not too bad I guess,” he said to Katey as he wiped at the car with his hand. Katey walked over beside him and rubbed her hand over his back.
They got in the car and drove a ways down the road to White Butte. The trail was mucky from melting snow. Mud caked to their shoes, which built up until it felt like weights strapped to their feet. Katey walked with exaggerated steps as if she was some sort of Frankenstein’s monster. They stopped at the top of a small hill. Katey put her arm around Jim’s waist and pulled herself into him as they looked around. Grasses, bushes and trees. Patches of snow, ice and mud — a half-melted winter wonderland. They enjoyed the view and the quiet of the moment. Each of them breathing in the fresh air.
“How about we go over to that ridge over there?” Katey said, pointing with her free hand.
“Sure,” Jim nodded and began down the hill. He stepped onto a patch of crusted snow and his feet slid from underneath him. He fell to the ground with mud all up one side of him.
“Ugh,” he grunted. “Shit.”
“Whoa!” Katey squeeled. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Jim said, leaning defeated against the ground.
“Holy jeepers look at you. That’s pretty slippery stuff. Here let me help.” Katey held out a hand to him.
Jim reached up with a hand covered in mud.
“Eek! No!” Katey squeeled again and backed away a few steps. “Come on, get up and we’ll head back.”
“Maybe you should ride in the hatchback,” Katey said when they reached the car.
“Yeah, funny,” Jim answered. “Do you know if we have a towel or anything to cover the seat?”
“Yeah, I have a couple towels in that plastic bin in the back. But I’m driving home.”