"No warmth is lost in the universe" (Hildegard of Bingen)by Alison MacLeod / July 23, 2005 / Leave a comment
Ron McLelland drives for IGA’s food fleet. Mostly meat and dairy. Sometimes fresh produce. Once, in a crazy kamikaze mission, oranges from Florida and back again to Halifax in three days. He’d called his wife Linda from a payphone beside a takeout place shaped like a giant burger and he’d tried to describe to her twilight in the Everglades. He said it made him think about what it must be like to die alone, and she said, what’s with men always brooding on their mortality; hadn’t she told him all those caffeine pills would give him the jitters?
Ron is one of six IGA drivers who have volunteered. He’s been allocated a 28-foot refrigeration trailer, made for long haul. He sits in his cab reading Friday’s Daily News, waiting for the programming instructions. On page three, a waitress at the Sou’Wester Restaurant is predicting doom for the local lobster catch. “People just won’t feel right,” she says. “Well, they’re scavengers, lobsters, aren’t they?”
He throws the paper to the floor of the cab. For a moment, unaccountably, he feels something choking the back of his throat, like the time his brother Neil made him pay ten cents to see a picture of Marilyn Monroe almost naked, and there it was, in grisly black and white, her bloated body on an autopsy table.
The call comes through from the depot. Minus twenty, they say. “Ron? That’s minus twenty.” Deep freeze.
Long-haulage was Ron’s solution to death, the family business. For him, it had been an unfortunate point of familial pride that, in April 1912, his grandfather, James McLelland—then a twenty year old completing an apprenticeship at John Snow & Co Undertakers—had been one of the team aboard the MacKay-Bennett the morning she left port with the tons of ice, the lengths of canvas, the embalmers’ tools and the hundred coffins.
They’d spotted the berg itself—you couldn’t miss it—a 200-foot mountain of ice. “Imagine it,” James McLelland would say to Ron and Neil over saucers of tea. “It was like God Himself coming at you. Not angry, just indifferent, which, I promise you, is worse.”
In the span of just three days, the bodies had drifted almost fifty miles from the co-ordinates the captain had been given. That much they could tell the papers. “Of course, what none of us could say is that we hit some of the bodies, there…