“Years ago things seemed to be different from now. You would see and hear things.” —an account from Helen Creighton’s Folklore of Lunenburg County, 1950
Cabbage Night that year was bright and humid.
No one around here knows that anymore,
before Hallowe’en, when tricks were played.
We prayed to God it wouldn’t get too bad.
Ashley Conrad owned a general store,
the kind that sold can goods, tobacco, salt,
scotch whiskey, snowshoes, handwoven nets
and things the neighbors made—trade a rake
for a bristle broom, apples for a hooked rug.
The Depression was in another country.
No one along the river went hungry
or lacked a thing they needed. All of it
went together, you knew that—Cabbage Night,
making things by hand, the old ways, and if
it went together, it went out in a flash,
like a television set turned on. Bang—
the bulb must have blown on this thing,
you could put it that way, and there’s the smoke
drifting over the decades. The smell soaks
into the curtains. The old ways are gone.
Except that all of it didn’t go out.
Some things—just a few have stuck around.
It’s getting dark by six that time of year.
Supper is over, dishes put away,
and Ashley goes out back with the night’s scraps,
but there’s a wire tied taut at the back steps.
I’m alive, he says, but he hit his head.
His wife is stocking shelves the next day
when she hears the bang at the front counter.
That was the end of Cabbage Night on the river.
The new couple that ran it didn’t last,
they’d notice a few things missing—stolen,
no, but pushed off the shelf. A tin of oats
or a bag of sugar. Hungry, I guess,
for the things he liked. You’d be out of sight
when it happened, but hear it hit the floor,
or was the thud something like the sound
when he fell at the counter, only quieter.
After I moved in, come cold weather,
didn’t the fire alarm start each midnight.
Turn the friggin’ thing off, she tells me.
There never was anything to turn off.
There’s no batteries, no power going
to the thing. It’s going off on its own,
screaming into the night about the life
the old fellow left behind—the life
we all left behind years ago.
There, do you hear it now, just faintly
beeping in one of the upstairs rooms.
Come tonight it’ll be going full-bore.
It hasn’t been a general store for years.
People watched television, didn’t sell
so many snowshoes no more. No sir,
I mean to use it as a house—I like
the big window in front to stare down
the river and watch the ferry.
I don’t mind the odd thing flying around.
It doesn’t get far, then it’s not so real
if you can say something about it.
Then it seems made up. I can imagine
that later tonight I won’t hear it.
Michael Goodfellow’s poetry has most recently been published by Verse Daily, the League of Canadian Poets and The Nashwaak Review. He lives in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia and graduated from the University of King’s College in 2006 and the University of British Columbia in 2017.