Jack’s house

The image for this site is a photo I took at a place called “The Cutoff” near Tunica, Mississippi. I was looking for a house for a character in a book. He was a far-off-the-grid kind of guy and I wanted him to be somewhere almost not on the planet anymore.

The novel takes place in Toronto and in the American south. Jack Beifus is a “non-paying spouse” who’s scarpered to the middle of nowhere in the state of Mississippi in order to evade having to pay support to his ex-wife back in Toronto. I wanted him in some kind of shack or house in a field or a cabin in the woods. Then I was having breakfast one morning and got to talking with a Tunica local who told me to drive down to The Cutoff. It’s called The Cutoff because the Mississippi river was cut off in two places to form a standalone lake there. This lady told me there was a place in The Cutoff called Charlie’s Camp that I should go take a look at.

Charlie’s Camp was on the other side of the levee. You had to drive to the end of Fox Island Road and then go right up the levee and down the other side.  This was where you launched your boat, and there was some kind of ramshackle corner store and bar there too. Around it, on about an acre of land, were a collection of the strangest houses I’d ever seen. Most of them (including the store) were raised up on six-foot stilts. Obviously, it flooded here often enough to warrant living six feet in the air. There were about thirty houses here, on either side of the launch area. But not very many of them looked lived in. And there had been more houses as well, because there were the remnants of demolished buildings lying around.

I started to drive and take pictures. Then I realize I’m being followed. It’s a gargantuan man in a monster-truck size 4×4. He cuts me off on the main road and demands to know what I’m doing. I tell him I’m a novelist from Toronto. “The hell you are,” he says. He has a head the size of a Hallowe’en pumpkin, but it’s the colour of a butternut squash. I ask him if he’s doubting that I’m a novelist or that I’m from Toronto. “I don’t doubt you are, but what the hell are you doin aroun here?”

He turns out to be Charlie, the guy who owns the land Charlie’s Camp is on. When I succeed in charming him with my friendly, naive way, he tells me that he’s owned the land for fifty years and as recently as two years ago he had eighty-two tenants paying a hundred dollars a month to park their stilty houses on. But there was a massive, destructive flood in May of 2011 and the federal goverment wouldn’t let people go back to their houses for weeks. So many of them simply left. Now he had seventeen tenants and he was about to wrap up his business at The Cutoff. I told him I could be on my way, but if he didn’t mind, I wanted to take some pictures. He told me to make myself at home. Then I asked him if I could come back out when he wasn’t so busy and buy him a drink, and he said, “I’m never not busy. Got no time to talk.”

He drove off and then I found the house. Couldn’t have found a better house for Jack Beifus, nor a better image for life as a writer these days.

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