Fiction by Ann Garvald
"Okay", I think, as the provincial police cruiser comes to a stop behind me and the strobes come on, "which way is this going to go ?"
Maybe a short pleasant conversation after I've explained that I've fixed the problem and that my house is only a couple of kilometres down the
sideroad. When I'm riding my vintage British motorcycle I seem to get stopped by police more often than most. Probably interest in the bike --- and in the rider too. Although I say it myself, I'm quite attractive. I'm only five foot five -- one of the few favours nature did for me in preparation for my real life -- my below-shoulder streaked hair not a bad asset, even when it ends up tousled after I've pulled off my helmet, and I have a ready smile that people tell me is infectious. Anyway, I find that in such encounters, provided there's no question of a traffic violation, police officers are generally friendly and enjoy talking with me about the bike.
The alternative ? First a request for my driver's licence, then the initial friendliness changing, after the inevitable double-take, to raised eyebrows and a cold politeness. Questions for sure. With most officers, that's as far as it will go -- professionals, they stick to business. But there are some others who are not so disciplined. With such guys an undisguised contemptuous smirk will follow. If I'm lucky that will be the extent of it and they'll then get on with what they have to do, although not in a particularly friendly manner. If I'm not so lucky there will be sarcasm and a brazen assessment of my looks, typically a slow stare up and down, calculated to insult. Almost certainly with that kind of guy, things will be as hard for me as the law will allow -- and maybe a bit beyond that.
So which way is this going to go ?
I move round to the back of the bike. It's dusk, the Crown Vic's headlamps illuminate my rear licence plate. I glance down at it and my heart plummets as the expired sticker jumps out at me. In my mind's eye I can see the renewal sticker lying on the dresser at home. How could I have been so stupid ? Shit, I don't need this.
Crazy Caitlin they call me at the office. I work as an insurance broker in the city but live out in the country in a little farmhouse on ten acres. Live by myself unless you count my family of three sheep, two alpacas, a bay mare and a golden retriever. Would be an all-female coterie if it wasn't for the dog who is decidedly male. All of them have names, of course. I won't bore you with those for the cloven hoof brigade, kept strictly as friends although annually shearing yields me fleeces which I spin. The dog is called Bunk; he's boisterous and a suck with people so he's useless as a watchdog. But he's vigilant and aggressive in protecting the sheep and the alpacas should any coyote be foolish enough to venture near the paddock.
My mare ? She's called Zazy, a name I stole from a wonderful book, "Ride The Rising Wind" by Barbara Kingscote. It's the true story of how, in 1949 when she was twenty, Barbara set out from Mascouche, Quebec on her little mare, Zazy, and rode all the way to Chilliwack, British Columbia. By herself. It's a truly enchanting book if you love horses and love Canada. My Zazy is little too -- just under 14 hands so strictly speaking she's a pony. She hasn't had quite the same extraordinary life as Barbara's Zazy but although she's into her golden years, she's still game for anything and always eager to jump when we enter local equestrian events, tolerating her less-than-expert rider. Show jumping is one of those few sports where gender of the rider doesn't matter, no matter what it is --- or how you've come by it. So I compete unhassled and I love it, even if I'm no threat to Tiffany Foster or Eric Lamaze.
I also have names for my Jeep and my vintage motorbike. The Jeep is a denim blue Wrangler and it's my everyday driver. It gets me to work, summer and winter, even when my sideroad hasn't been ploughed. Does chores around the farm and sometimes tows the horse trailer. I named the Wrangler "Jeans" -- predictable and not terribly original, I guess. But I was a lot more subtle in naming the bike. It's called "M.Duff". It's a 500cc Triumph Tiger, a 1950's equivalent of today's sport bikes or crotch-rockets. Original but in pretty good condition, albeit with some quirks, one of which is a throttle cable that sometimes comes undone. Easily fixed by the roadside, but a nuisance, particularly on this occasion. Why "M.Duff" ? When I'm asked that I usually just smile enigmatically, but to really trusted friends I'll say: "Make the "M" Mike or Michelle then google. You'll stumble on a hero of mine." And I wink conspiratorially.
The weather has been beautiful all this week so this morning I decided to give Jeans a rest and ride M.Duff to work (this sort of bike you "ride" not "drive"). First time this year. Yes, I should have fixed that throttle cable over the winter, and yes, yes, yes, I should have remembered to attach this year's sticker to the licence plate. So here I am, late already because I had to work until after seven, and instead of being able to get home to attend to seven hungry mouths, I'm standing by my bike waiting for what will not be a pleasant encounter.
There's only one person in the cruiser. The driver's door opens. I don't see the officer properly until she approaches. Yes, she. Well, that sure puts a new twist on things.
She's thirty-something, taller than I am, slim and pretty but probably tough as nails. A brunette with her hair tucked up under her cap. No rings on her fingers -- not relevant, I know, but it's just something I always seem to notice. "Is everything all right, ma'am ?" she asks in a concerned voice, but with body language showing considerable caution. I explain about the throttle cable, how it's fixed now, and how home is just down the road. She relaxes and looks at M.Duff. "Cool bike" she says and smiles. But then she looks at my rear plate, obviously spots the expired sticker, and there's a distinct change. In a strictly-business tone she asks for my licence and ownership. Watched warily, I pull my purse from the saddle bag, rummage in it, then hand her what she has asked for. And yes, the nicely-shaped eyebrows go up as she looks at my licence. A long, long, pause, then, in a cool measured tone: "You don't look like an Andrew -- in this photo, or in person."
" I'm not", I reply, "Haven't been for several years. I'm Caitlin. That licence was issued almost five years ago. I was already Caitlin but I hadn't gone through the business of changing my name. The licence is due for renewal in two months and the new one will show that my legal name is Caitlin." Another, long, long pause, then she says: "You should have had it updated. It's invalid now that Caitlin's your legal name. And you're lucky you haven't let yourself in for a lot of hassle -- some of it nasty." Another pause. "Maybe you have....." Yet another pause. "What about this expired vehicle licence; why are you riding illegally ?" More shamed-face explanations by me. "Look", I say, "my house is only two kilometres away. If you'll let me ride my bike and you'll follow, I'll get the sticker and attach it while you're there". Yet another pause then, "Okay, but no funny stuff". I put my helmet back on, kickstart the bike -- no fancy electric start on M.Duff -- and off we go down the road. We pull into my yard, illuminated by a powerful sodium light, and there are six welcoming faces at various heights along the paddock fence. Bunk erupts from the barn seconds later, loudly and excitedly telling me that he'd given me up for lost. Following that he bounds over to welcome the policewoman who is getting out of the cruiser.
I go into the house, get the sticker, show it to her when I come out, then carefully attach it to the licence plate. "So do I get a ticket ?" I ask. "No", she says, "not even a warning. But I will have write up my notes to account for my time here. That will give me time," she says with a smile, " to be formally introduced to your goofy dog and meet your little horse and the rest of your menagerie. And have that cup of coffee you're going to offer me."
Well, all that was four years ago. We've been together ever since.