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Pickle Me This

October 6, 2006

Nigel and the Greatest Canadian Hero

Nigel somersaulted into the world and sniffed. Peering out from under an earlobe, the female body figured below him such a substandard vessel for an imp. For the next thirteen years, Nigel’s abilities were utterly wasted as he grew fat and mired in colonial domesticity, all the while he could have been hanging from the ear of a warrior, whispering the way to victory.

The War of 1812 was no reprieve from drudgery. The woman’s world was far from the battlefield, and after her husband was injured at Queenston Heights, her life became even duller, devoted to his care. When the Americans took Queenston in 1813, Nigel’s impotence breezed up around him like a stink as the woman waited on American soldiers billeted in her home and Nigel, locked to her lobe, was forced to bear witness to every blue coat dragged across the washboard, each pot of enemy sustenance boiling on the stove.

One morning, the woman cooked breakfast, Nigel hammocked in her hair, lulled by her stirring the oatmeal. The soldiers at the table behind her.
“We’ll leave tonight and be at Beaver Dams by morning,” one said.
“Victory will secure our control of the Niagara Peninsula,” said another.
“Fitzgibbon won’t be expecting us,” said the soldier beside him. “The element of surprise should win us advantage.”
Listening, Nigel’s languid heart jolted back to life and he couldn’t help himself. Nigel bit the woman’s neck, and she started. Reached up and rubbed where his teeth had been. But still, she stirred; she didn’t even raise her head. And so Nigel swung up from her lobe and hung from the helix.
“You’ve got to warn the British of the attack,” he said in his loudest voice, which was a murmur in the back of her mind.
The woman stirred on.
Nigel said, “The fate of British North America rests with you.”
The woman showed no sign of hearing. A soldier belched behind her.
Nigel said, “Never has King and Country required your service more.”
The oatmeal came to a boil, and the woman spooned out three bowls for the soldiers and another for her husband, convalescing upstairs. She served the men, and went to her husband, placed the steaming bowl beside him and kissed his sleeping forehead.
“There isn’t time to linger,” said Nigel, who was practicing back flips from the top of her ear, returning strength to his arms. It had been years since he’d felt so limber.
From the pantry, the woman packed five apples and a jar of pickles. The soldiers were shaving at the table with axes and they looked up when she came into the kitchen wearing her shawl.
“You’ve got to quell their suspicions,” said Nigel. “Tell them…”
But the woman needed no prompting. “I’m taking the big cow to sell in town. You’ll have to get your own supper tonight,” she said. She was already out the kitchen door, and toward the barn. She tied a rope around the cow and led it down the path, out the gate.

Pulsing with duty and the swiftness of the woman’s pace, Nigel hung on tight. For 32 kilometers, he travelled, tucked into her ear. Rain came midmorning and Nigel watched the torrent from his shelter, the woman’s hair wet to strings and her shawl soaked through. She walked along the Niagara Escarpment through St. David’s, Homer, St. Catharines and Short Hills, crossing field and bog between the towns. The woman ate pickles and fed apples to the cow. The cow walked with brambles and burrs stuck to its coat. The road stretched long before them and the woman’s boots squelched. Nigel glanced down at her face, freckled with mud. Her hands were raw and bleeding from the cow’s rope on her palms. At any moment, he feared she would turn around for home, which would be agony when, for the first time in this life, Nigel could foresee a finer fate than reincarnation.

Eventually, they blazed upon a group of Native warriors, camped in a clearing. The woman showed no sign of shrinking in their presence.
“Can you take me to Fitzgibbon?” she asked, her strong voice surprising after hours of silence.
The men eyed her carefully. Nigel rubbed his little hands together, hoping the friction would free the electricity compounding in his body.
“I have a message for Fitzgibbon,” said the woman. She touched her ear, and Nigel kissed the tip of her index finger.
When the men were convinced she was serious, they consented to lead her to the Lieutenant.
And so the journey continued. The weather had settled, but the cow was tired and Nigel ached from the bumps in the road. When they reached their destination, the woman tied her cow up, and Lieutenant Fitzgibbon came outside to meet the curious crew.
“I have come to warn you,” said the woman, mud dripping from her eyelashes. “The Americans are planning an attack on Beaver Dams in the morning.”
“Are you certain, Mrs.—?” And the Lieutenant stopped.
“Mrs. Secord, Sir,” said the woman. “Mrs. Laura Secord. In my kitchen back in Queenston, Sir. I heard them with my own ears. I am very certain.”
Fitzgibbon believed her. Nigel turned a back flip and punched the air. They took their leave soon after, leaving the Lieutenant to his preparation. With an attack to counter in just a matter of hours, he would not be sleeping that night. The woman and her cow walked until nightfall, tracing their arduous path toward home, where her husband was waiting, and where the soldiers had vacated, unaware that their battle was already lost.

The Americans were defeated at Beaver Dams in the morning, losing their hold in Upper Canada. Laura Secord lived for another 45 years, before being rewarded a mere one hundred pounds by the Prince of Wales. And Nigel, having inspired enough heroism for one lifetime, was somersaulted somewhere altogether new.

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