All Those Drawn to Me

Christian Petersen

The junction of Highways 20 and 97 forms a rough right angle around which lies the city of Williams Lake. These are the coordinates by which Christian Petersen’s fiction can be charted. From the building of the Gaol at Soda Creek to ruminations on the origins of the Barkerville fire, All Those Drawn to Me explores the unpredictable, romantic and spiritual qualities of life in rural BC.

The harshness of the wild west permeates Petersen’s second collection of short fiction. In the story “Horse from Persia,” a condemned man contemplates the injustice of life at his hanging speech: “I wished mightily that I could climb up on that horse and escape the sorrowful puzzle my days had become. For if it’s true time is a gift, mine was not altogether pleasant.” But Petersen is just as comfortable extrapolating truths from present-day life, as in “Laketown Breakdown” where a young man struggles to stay on the right side of the law while coping with the death of his parents. And in the title story, “All Those Drawn to Me,” Petersen creates a masterful blend, shifting from the gold rush to the contemporary with three motives, three lives and three battles with death on the treacherous waters of the Upper Quesnel River.

Whether in the past or present, Petersen’s characters explore romance, poverty and spiritual quandaries as they wander amid the landscape and back streets of the dusty little cities of BC’s Central Interior.

Caretaker

Ice cubes clink and glisten as I sip from my glass mug of rosehip wine, brewed from a family recipe and best served cold. My dog, big Zoot, pants and drools a bit on the weathered porch planks. Snaps at a fly. Young Will fidgets with the webbing of his chair, fixated on the pattern with a vacant gaze. He takes solace in a cold can of Miller, which he presses to the side of his neck for a moment, soothing the muscle and tendon there.

Oh, he’s involved with another woman, I suspect. Waiting patiently, I listen to Coleman hum and blow his reed, same mellow jazz that lured Will here the first time, one evening at the edge of summer. From my raised wrist comes a whiff of citronella I wear like perfume to fend off mosquitoes. He’d just come from feeding the horses, and a bit of hay chaff clung to his shirttail. Will had started working for McGuire a few weeks before, over at the barns, tending the rental stalls if the horse owners pay the extra. I am the caretaker here at the Stampede Grounds, and the job comes with this trailer parked behind the corrals. Yet Will and I had not met until that evening. As he walked by he’d peered over the gate at Zoot and me, clearly uncertain what to make of such a tiny woman with a giant dog, sitting on her porch grooving to slow sax music, I believe it was Hawkins’s “Body & Soul.”

I roll a smoke and pass him the makings, our mutual Dutch tobacco smudge. Playing cards lie face up where they fell, after the best of three games of cribbage. He’s fixed on the high cards and fives, too often throws six through nine to my crib, and that’s why I win more times than not.

Erratic bats launch raids from their colony in the old log shavings shed, weaving between the arcs of tall halogen floodlights, feasting on insects. We’ve sat like this for hours now, exchanging only cards and smokes. He cocks his chin, scratches the reddish stubble on his neck. Hopping on this sign of male life, this opening, I prompt him.

“Will, who is she?” Bluebird eyes dart at me, brimming with pained wonder. He suffers such torment in the hands of others, bedevilled by his own charms. Lanky Will, rusty whiskers, cleft chin, an uneven appealing bloom to his lips, with the slow smile and tender sneer of a young king. Blessed with charm to burn. Even charmed Zoot, and that’s not easily accomplished. Especially just strolling out of the dark up to the gate like he did that night. The dog might have bit the arm off anyone else, but Will calmly talked him to ease.

“Ah Gwynn,” he says, shakes his head.

The Cariboo becomes a character rather than just a setting for Christian Petersen’s collection of stories.

He blends tales from the past and present, drawing on history from the boom times of Barkerville to the building of the gaol in Soda Creek.

Petersen’s writing evokes the clear, crisp air and water that make the Cariboo such a special place in B.C. and how those natural elements can help influence the people who choose to call it home.

Nanaimo Bulletin