Yesterday I stopped in at Bruni Bruni’s 80th birthday party.1
I had groceries in the back of the cart, including two trays of thawing ground pork, and the cougar was still on the loose. The small and almost inconsequential signs were posted at the trailheads of the park. There was a larger sign down by the dock.
I’d seen the cougar. I’d been exercising in front of YouTube and I paused after finishing the arm routine. The routine was a flow, like sped up tai chi. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on to the second part, the legs part, so I turned and looked out the window and that’s when I saw the cougar pad across the deck, waist high, lithe and uninterested in anything going on in the house.
I motioned to M, who was standing in her workout gear looking at me, and she turned quickly enough to see its pale body, lit by moonlight and not the porch light, and then she spent a few minutes pawing at my arm and saying “Holy fuck, do you know what we just saw?” and because of this moment on the deck I felt a tingle when I left all that pork, frozen but thawing pork, out in the golf cart and walked through Naomi’s gate and into the house. It’s a funny house — there’s a dog house out from and sometimes a plush dog keeps watch from inside until the rains come and the dog goes soggy.
M and Amanda were already at the potluck, which was otherwise full of islanders I only tangentially knew, or didn’t know at all, and maybe we weren’t the only ones to come because of a general obsession, or at least interest, in Bruni Bruni.
She was difficult to miss at her own 80th birthday party. I recognized her long grey dreadlock from the all-candidates photos, and other photos of her over the years, as she’d run in every single election since I’d been back and because she didn’t have a large budget for signs like the other candidates, she’d chosen location instead, including one homemade banner that stretched across the fencing around the giant hole in the ground downtown, where a fire had years ago torn through a restaurant and sex shop, and the Bruni Bruni poster said immediate housing for the homeless and how we needed rooftop gardens.
Because it was winter and dank and rainy enough to soak that little plush dog outside in the doghouse, Bruni’s skin was whiter than usual — any other time I’d seen her she’d been tanned chestnut, aggressively tanned, from laying out stoned on her sailboat, but I’d never actually spoken to the woman, so after a slice of the birthday cake, and after Adrian and I saved Amanda and M from the relentless storytelling of Britney’s dad. I called her over.
I asked if I could hear about the most recent election and how she got started, how she’d become interested in politics and the politics of this little part of the coast. She stepped towards me — she still has a flirtatious aura, she knew I was going to listen, cake in hand, and she knew a couple of others would listen to and she talked about the first campaign up in Parksville, and while she was telling me about the campaign, she leaned in and I watched as she fingered the black buttons on my London Fog coat. I stayed in the moment but I could see in the periphery that M and A were watching her hand on my button. She told the boat story, her origin story, she’d never been on a sailboat but this one called to her and she described the rocking of the ocean, the way it just made sense, the life on the ocean, because, she said more than once, I’d been selling real estate. She said the word with disdain.
Seeing Bruni made me think of poet Tim, who’d disappeared. His battered sailboat was no longer given a free berth down in the harbour. I never saw him in it with his little dog at the prow.