Varmint: annoying pest.
Uncle Cuthbert, 98, was the subject of stories that thrilled Edgar Miles as a boy.
“Raised on a cattle ranch in Okotoks – Blackfoot Indian for rock,” Miles told his wife.
“Cuthbert was dad’s hero. Has a picture of him in a 10-gallon hat. Roped and sold horses near Pine Lake, Alberta, at 15. Drove steers ’cross the Montana border. At 17, rode rodeo broncs. Mary – the love of his life since grade school – settled him down before he wound up crippled like a lot of cowboys.
“Cuthbert loved cars, didn’t he?” Jan said.
“Opened a garage here. Cuthbert used to say, ‘You don’t live longer in a city; it just seems like it.’ It was okay. Mary let him race cars at Mission Track.”
“How long were they married?”
“Sixty years. For a wedding present, Cuthbert bought Mary the dream car, then – a ’57 Chevy Bel Air. Big 283-cubic-inch engine, rear fins capped with chrome moldings. Turquoise, her favorite color. Cuthbert told me he knows Mary’s still sitting next to him when he takes the Chevy out, singing along with Dinah Shore … See the USA, in your Chevrolet. America is asking you to call …
“Romance isn’t dead, Ed. Is it safe for him to drive, though?”
“Sure is. Besides, we’re not going far. Pitt Lake, then home. Less traffic.”
“Ed, before he’s 100, cars will drive themselves.”
“Robocars in two years?”
The idea riles Cuthbert.
“What polecat says so’,” he says. “Put his brains in a bumblebee, he’d fly backwards.”
Jan got the phone.
“He’ll be late. Some ‘varmint’ a brick short of a load ran the light at 207th and clipped an SUV.”
Ed’s brow darkened. Anger could trigger the transformation, and Cuthbert was family. Earthman would be out of body, dealing out justice one more time.
“Don’t go, Ed,” she said. “They said it’s not your job any more. Respect their plan.”
Cuthbert held the back door of the Chevy open.
“Howdy, Jan,” he said, “always pretty as a pie supper.”
Dewdney Trunk west was closed, so Cuthbert drove east, though it was “busier than a dog in flea season.” At Laity, a car shot the red light.
“Varmint’s ridin’ a gravy train with biscuit wheels,” said Cuthbert.
“You’re so calm,” said Jan.
“Nope. Folks moving faster than gossip make me nervous as a fly in a glue pad. Mary and me enjoyed the ride.”
At 222nd, Cuthbert slowed for crosswalks.
“Says 50 km/h,” Ed said.
“Whoever figured that, ain’t got horse sense,” said Cuthbert, who’d been doing 20.
When he stopped for a woman on a walker, a car whizzed past.
“That no-account’s so low, he wouldn’t scratch his mama’s fleas,” said Cuthbert.
It was a short trip: right on 224th, west on Lougheed. A cyclist – bag on handlebars – shot across four lanes. Cuthbert hit the brakes again when three school kids at 210th dodged cars moving at freeway speed. They jumped when a white pickup sounded a train horn and sent a cloud of soot out the tailpipe.
“Should be a light here,” Jan said.
“Was a time, I’d ride that varmint down and hog tie ’im,” Cuthbert said when they parted.
“Happy trails,” said Ed.
Once inside, his transformation began. Seconds later, he hovered above the pickup. It floated to the roof of city hall and settled. When Ed returned, Jan had the news on TV: “33,000 dead, $230 billion in insurance claims. Thank varmints like this for robocars.”
“They’re right” said Jan. “We’ve lost the right to drive.”
“Not enough Cuthberts left,” said Ed, “but long as it’s up to Earthman, he and Mary take the Chevy to Pitt Lake til he’s 100.”
• Editor’s note: the story of Earthman is a fictional account.