Willie Bob walked out of his house to greet the afternoon. It was a bright and sunny day in Chilliwack, British Columbia—an early-summer sort of day, with the outdoors inviting exploration. He wore overalls and a straw hat, and on his feet were sandals made of burlap and rope. His beard was long and his hair lank and greasy. Clenched in his teeth was a bit of timothy hay that he waved around with his lips and pointed at things as he talked to himself. “Yessir, a right fine day this is, sho ’nuf!” In his breast pocket was a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette that he planned to smoke later, at the old mill by the river. But first he wanted an ice cream.
“Wonder what kinda flavors they got at the Goldeneye right now,” he pondered aloud, tapping his nose with the bit of hay. His long legs made fluid, insouciant strides. He was walking down Lombard Lane, which was the dusty dirt road that stretched from Willie Bob’s house to town. There was no one else on the road, so Willie Bob kept up conversation with himself.
“I bet they gots the salt carmel an’ the lavender an’ the mint chocolate an’ all that other good stuff. But gee, I could sho’ go for a custard right now. I sho’ hope they got that.” Willie Bob whistled to himself, a tuneful, practiced warble that varied without end.
Soon he heard a rumbling three-cylinder engine coming up behind him. It was Farmer Bill’s truck, a rusted once-green heap that conveyed Bill’s hogs into town for slaughter. Farmer Bill slowed as he came abreast of Willie. “Hey there, Willie Bob!” Farmer Bill’s two sons, Gill and Hill, sat in the cab with him. They nodded to Willie, who nodded back. Willie was known to many in town as “Chilli Willie”—for his scrumptious, organically-grown peppers graced many a Chilliwacker’s dinner table back home. “I know space is tight an’ all,” Farmer Bill yelled over the engine, “but we could give a fella a ride into town.” The cab was quite full. On the flatbed were three large hogs tied up to one another. Because Farmer Bill’s family was a bit on the fat side, the only feasible option would be to sit in the back, with the pigs.
“Why, sho’, Farmer! I ain’t never been one to turn down a ride, no sir.” He jumped into the back, and the pigs squealed in surprise. All three immediately defecated in unison. Willie didn’t seem to mind, and he found the least-soiled spot to hunker down. “You pigs got it good back here! Warm breeze an’ sunshine—shoot, I couldn’t complain one bit!”
The ride into town was short but bumpy, and Willie Bob was soon covered in the pig excrement that littered the bed. The hogs appeared agitated, nervous; perhaps they understood the fate awaiting them. Willie Bob endeavored to lighten the mood. “Ya’ll ever heard the story of the three little pigs? Ya’ll ain’t so little now, but I reckon you’s gonna appreciate the moral, all th’ same…”
Stinking of pig poop, Willie Bob jumped off the truck at the corner of Lombard and Mason Avenue and stood at the passenger window. He waved goodbye to Bill, Gill, and Hill, and to the three not-so-little pigs. “Much obliged, gennelmen, much obliged. Nice pigs you got there.” Farmer Bill glanced back at the pigs and shrugged. Willie Bob walked another block down Lombard and turned right onto Naleigh Street, where Chilliwack’s modest downtown began. Naleigh was lined with ornamental cherry trees and fancy wrought-iron streetlamps hung with flower baskets. People were strolling the sidewalks—a small family here, an amorous young couple there, a group of teenage boys lugging skateboards across the street. Willie Bob noticed that passerby wrinkled their noses when he greeted them, as if he had uttered something offensive. Then he looked down and saw his shit-streaked pant legs. “Well, gee, thas’ why! Folks think I done shat myself. I wonder if sweet ol’ Susie might lend me a stitch or two, seeing as I’m in right need of a change.” He crossed the street toward Susan’s Sartorial.
The glass door rang with bells as Willie Bob entered the shop. A stockboy looked up from his shirt-folding and frowned, whipping his head to the back counter, where a stout woman named Susan was repairing a jacket. She stopped the sewing machine when she saw Willie Bob and crossed her arms over her chest. Her heavy sigh could be heard from across the room.
“Willie Bob, you son of a bitch, what the hell you doin’ here? You’s covered in shit, to boot.”
“Now, now, Susie, it sho’ is nice to see you, too. As you can see, I am in a bit of a predictament, an’ I was wonderin’—”
Susan held up her hand. “Oh, I sees it, and I smells it, too. I don’t give a hoot ’bout this ‘predictament’ of yours—an’ I’ma ’bout to boot you outta here—’less you got the money you owes me for them jeans I made you las’ month.”
Willie Bob thought about this. She was right: He did owe her for the pants. He had been able to placate her then with a couple jars of pepper jelly from the previous summer—he had forgotten about it completely. Willie Bob found himself with a dilemma on his hands. If he paid the five dollars for the jeans, he wouldn’t have enough money left to buy an ice cream. But to buy an ice cream, he needed a change of clothes—because the Goldeneye didn’t tolerate any slovenliness, especially the shit-smeared kind. Ultimately, to Willie Bob the choice was simple.
“A’right, Susie, I’ma pay you for them jeans. But do you think a man might be able to borrow a change of clothes, seeing as how he is desperate need?” He gave her his warmest Willie-Bob smile.
“Shit, no, Willie Bob, I can’t be lendin’ out merchandise willy-nilly. Besides, you’re covered in shit—them new clothes gon’ be covered in shit, too.” Her indignation wavered, though, and her eyes softened as she looked at Willie. “But what I kin do is allow you to use the washbasin out back, and you kin air-dry yousself in the sun.”
So Willie Bob walked out back and stripped off his coveralls and gave them a wash. Carefully he removed the marijuana cigarette from the breast pocket, along with his empty wallet. He gave himself a wash, too, so that when he emerged from Susan’s Sartorial twenty minutes later he was clean as a whistle. Or at least as clean as a wet-Willie-whistle could be.
The afternoon sun was like a giant heat lamp, and Willie’s coveralls were steaming. The cigarette was behind his right ear, and his wallet was in his right hand. He walked down Naleigh, pointedly avoiding the Goldeneye because his desire for custard was now acute, all-consuming—and the sight of it would just be too painful to bear. As Willie made his way toward Graham Street, which led down to the old mill by the river, a group of teenagers—two girls, one boy—approached him. Willie thought he recognized one of the girls.
The boy spoke first. “Hey misstah, kin we ask you a favor? We need us some beer; how ’bout we give you cash to get some? You kin keep the change.”
Willie Bob looked around. No Mounties in sight. “Sho’, I kin do that. What ya’ll lookin’ to get?”
“Kokanee,” the boy said. “A case of ’em. Here’s twenty bucks.” Willie Bob smiled inwardly. The custard dream would be realized, after all. He walked over to the convenience store, grabbed the beer, and carried it to the counter.
“I.D. please.” The Senegalese clerk spoke impeccable, if accented, English. “Thank you. Hey man, it is your birthday, yes? Happy birthday, man.” He handed back the I.D., beaming. “You going to celebrate, yes? Celebrate!” He gave Willie the beer and his change. Willie had had no idea.
He walked back to where the teenagers were pacing about. The girl, he realized, was the daughter of Gerrardo Aguirre, the owner of a tapas bar that bought peppers from him. “Say, ain’t you Angie, Gerrardo’s girl?” Willie asked.
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Yeah, I am. Aren’t you…aren’t you Chilli Willie?”
Willie laughed. “Some call me Chilli Willie, yep. ’Cause I grow the best peppers in town.” He smiled self-consciously. “But ya’ll be smart with them beers tonight, you hear? Don’ be actin’ stupid an’ all that.” He bade them adieu and walked back toward the Goldeneye. Angie’s voice rang out behind him. “Don’t tell my dad, okay?” Willie Bob just waved without turning his head.
He walked triumphantly into the Goldeneye and was delighted to find the custard ice cream waiting for him. Because it was his birthday—his twenty-fifth, no less—the kindly attendant gave him an extra scoop, on the house. “Custard a’gin?” Willie Bob nodded. He put the rest of his beer change into the tip jar as he made to leave. The attendant tipped his hat. “Thank you, sir, an’ you have a happy birthday.” Clutching his ice cream cone in one hand, absentmindedly scratching his right ear lobe with the other, Willie Bob smiled and gave a baffled laugh. “I always do, you know that? Sho’ nuf, I always do.”