Issue Forty-Two - Summer 2023

The Open Gate

By Richard LeBlond

“I know I look white,” she said, “but I have the high cheekbones of the Chippewa. I’m half white. I was adopted.”

That’s how she introduced herself as I ate breakfast at a coffeehouse in an outport near Corner Brook in western Newfoundland. Later that morning I encountered her on a guided walk in Gros Morne National Park. After the first stop, she disappeared.

That afternoon, I ran into her again at the coffeehouse – or rather, she into me, as she voluntarily sat down at my table.

“I got impatient,” she said of the morning walk, “so I climbed the mountain, picking up rocks on the way. That was stupid. I should have picked them up coming down.”

She said she lived in Toronto, but grew up in Newfoundland, and was on her way to visit her parents.

“I like to drive around the island and meet new people.”

Then she invited me to join her for a beer on the small beach near the coffeehouse, where she was parked.

“I’ll grab one of my beers on the way,” I said. When we got to the beach, we opened our beers, and she lit a cigarette.

“I only smoke when I drink,” she said. But she could have said, “I only chain-smoke when I drink.”

She had an odd way of speaking, frequently starting a thread of conversation, then turning her head away and drifting off. Then a new thread began another cycle of turning away and drifting off, as if through a gate that should have been closed.

Then she told me what had happened the night before. Some fishermen at the wharf in a neighboring town had invited her to a lobster barbecue. There, a young fisherman made sexually aggressive moves that had to be quelled by the other fishermen. I thought it odd she would put herself in what I thought was a precarious situation, a pretty woman alone at night among strangers.

Because of the thought-drifting and risky nighttime behavior, I began to regard her with caution.

“I think I’ll build a beach fire tonight,” she said. “If I don’t build a fire, I’ll read in my car with the light on. Why don’t you join me?” A little before this invitation, she had touched my upper arm with casual affection, something I also do. But after this invitation, she briefly touched my thigh.

Join her in her car at night? What was she thinking?

“What are you thinking?” I said in a concerned voice “You don’t even know me. Isn’t it risky for you to hang out by yourself at night with men you don’t know?”

“You’re not going to rape me,” she said in a tone that admitted some uncertainty.

“Of course not,” I said. “But I doubt I’ll be back. I’m getting up early in the morning,” which was true. But the real reason was her troubling behavior.

As I got up to leave, she handed me her business card, announcing her as an artist of Chippewa paintings. Who was this provocative and seemingly vulnerable woman?

She opened another beer and lit another cigarette as I walked away.

Copyright LeBlond 2023