A man with a truck

22 Dec

Today Danny Dykens was buried in the soggy earth of Christ Anglican Church in Stellarton.

Danny was a fixture in the Red Row, the neighborhood I grew up in.  He was a man with a truck, and he made his modest living most of his life from what’s called “light trucking”: doing truck related work for people who do not have a truck.  He hauled appliances away to the landfill, moved furniture between rental units, dropped off landscaping supplies, brought people’s big-ticket items home from the store.

I did not know Danny or his family well enough to attend the man’s funeral, but my father told me that, on display at the funeral home, next to photos and life artifacts, there was a copy of my 2003 novel, Twenty-six, open to pages 236 and 237, pages on which Danny himself, or rather a fictional character bearing his name, indeed driving his very truck, plays an important momentary role in the action.

One of the main characters, in a fit of sorrow and despair, decides to empty her house of all belongings.  She calls Danny to do the job.

Now, Twenty-six is a novel, a work of imagination.  But it is a novel based on real events, and in my angry purpose while writing the book I was so intent not to let the political culture of my province off the hook for the deaths of twenty-six miners, that I deliberately stretched the gauze of fiction very thinly in places.

I laboured hard over place and character names.  As is the case in much fiction, most characters in Twenty-six are purely products of my imagination, while some are composites: pasted together pieces of this or that real person with a big dose of pretend injected, mostly for the purpose of making the book more interesting.

But my old neighborhood, The Red Row, is called The Red Row in the novel.  And at one time, that neighborhood was my world entire.  So when the character called Dunya wants to have the physical artifacts of her life disposed of, the choice of whom to call seemed obvious.  If you live in the Red Row and you want some light trucking done, you’re going to call Danny Dykens.

I recall writing Danny’s real name in the first draft with a note to self to find a false name for him.  But when it came time to invent a  name, it just felt wrong to do so.  There was not one other character in the book who could be said to be a mere stand-in for some wholly real person.  And examining Danny’s role in the novel, I realized that the character in the book was only doing exactly what the real man would have done.  And so he stayed himself on the page.

I worried a little bit about what the real Danny might say if he found out about his fictional counterpart, but one thing writing fiction has taught me is to never underestimate the insignificance of literary work.  I honestly thought the real Danny Dykens would probably never learn of his literary counterpart.

“Danny was some proud,” those close to the man told my father at the funeral home.  “Some proud that he got mentioned in your boy’s book.”

Rest in peace, Dan.

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One Response to “A man with a truck”

  1. Greg Reid December 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    I have had many authors visit with my students over the course of my teaching career. A common thread that runs through the valuable writing advice that these writers share with my kids is how they create characters with bits and pieces of real people in their lives. With their adolescent enthusiasm they plead with the author to “put me in your next book!” Sometimes we meet characters in our lives who are indeed, “bigger than life.” Mr. Dykens appears to have been one of those. I don’t think you had a choice but to leave him as he is in your novel. No wonder he was “some proud.” Who wouldn’t?

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