The Motorcycle Inn
(ME leg, legge, fr. ON leggr
leg, bone; akin to OE lira fleshy part of the body, L lacertus muscles,
upper arm, lacerta lizard, GR lax with the foot)
One of the lower or hind limbs in human beings and primates.
Then the penny dropped, a
dove from the heavens, a chance meeting. Athena from South Dakota, loose, bold
as an arrow, took what she wanted with verve. She knew who she was, roaming
girl craving bounty from the bars she frequented, taverns in the old part of
town, grown tired and seeking a harbor with calm waters. Legge's nervous energy
clung to the positive vibe Athena extended in everything she did. Skin tanned
dark like red vermilion, lines around her mouth from living, hair long in a
braided ponytail like a mien from the painted horse. A scar on her temple
lightly covered by her full eyebrows. A doer's face. Legge stepped closer to
her trying to hide his shaking limbs.
"I know you," she said.
"I've seen you before in a dream. We're meant to be together aren't we? C'mon,
you know it too." Legge disarmed at such a display of bravado and sureness of
step, agape with awe. She flicked her hair back, exposing a cheek wind-burned
from an ancient prairie wind.
Legge nodded, choking on
words, but she knew what he wanted to say. He was her bee; she was his blooming
orchid. Pressed to her breast in her one-armed embrace, Athena grinned at her
catch, her senses piqued.
"Let's getta drink,
celebrate, have our own little party."
The next day spooning under
the covers hair all over the place, melted onto Legge like gravy on roast beef.
"I know you don't want me to go," she said. They stayed entwined as long as
they could, every morning for the first month. Then nine years of intermittence
and stolen feelings, only bound together by their union that created little
The woman from South Dakota
relished in her conquest of the safe and kind Legge, a malleable ball of putty
and stickman for her own needs, soon used and forgotten, ineffective and weak.
Demanding and fierce, she trampled over his scrawny legs and soon hungered for
exploits further a field, new warriors to slay with her sultry hips and
vermilion hue. She wasn't going to be kept back because of his lack of spark.
Forward march. A chin up!
As cashier at the airport
lounge, she lingered over pilots and flyers, eager to provide directions or
assistance. The uniform was good because she didn't have any good clothes up to
par with airport regulations. After the first year the visits of flyers
postponing their departures came and went out her room she had taken as her
own, ousting his office to the kitchen table.
"Why don't you stay here
tonight," he said during a full moon, pointing to his bedroom with a timid
finger, the first time in years. She wiggled herself away from his feeble
She thought Legge would
loosen up once he had soaked up her positive, can-do energy but like a tongue
hitting dry ice, he did not melt. Invisible boundaries held him hostage while
the woman he loved slipped out of his grasp. Apprehensive even in bed, she
insisted on sleeping alone with occasional visits after an unfulfilling day at
work. But she couldn't bring herself to ever love Legge because there wasn't
enough beef, only candy floss that when pulled comes apart. Right color but not
the right taste.
He thought he heard her say
"spider legs" but he couldn't be sure as the door closed after her, a whirl of
dust spooling in the corner. He could not love nor could he talk. Fracture
lines entangled his life in every direction. Disloyalty stung his morale. The
tragedy of unreached potential lay broken in the rain-soaked lawn. He wanted a
house and more children and Christmases with train sets, and electronic games
he designed for his son to admire him. But he was dangling from a ripped eaves
swaying in high winds ready to drop and shatter on the rocks below him.
The hope of gluing together
what he had with Athena was a lifeline he refused to let go. It was the waking
dream of hope that enabled him to look the other way at her transgressions. A
misplaced hope doomed from the outset.
In was the year after Harry
arrived in the world that she clawed back from intimacy. Excess weight and
stretch marks never left her hips and Legge was given the blame, a just charge
in a mind fed up with dullness and benign initiative.
Harry, sprightly and ironic,
seeing his father as the only safe haven in a world of dangerous currents and
steep cliffs, became his focus in the hope she would be drawn back to him.
Inherited some shyness from his father, sucking his thumb every moment he could
muster. Big calluses on his right thumb, cleaner than any other part of his
body. Buckteeth getting worse from the work he did on his thumb.
There were soccer games but
they soon ended because Harry could see the terror in his father's eyes driving
him to a game. Soccer replaced with video games, Harry taking advantage of the
huge library of old games on bookshelves. Father like son, he soon adopted the
bent-at-the-neck gait of a computer geek never bold enough to ask his father to
play, the defective gene handed down and manifest.
Athena soon lost interest as
if the boy was wayward off the street staying for a fortnight. Legge did as
much as he could but it always insufficient. The apartment lacked the touch of
a woman, the organizing principle of any dwelling. A gaping crevice widening,
the absentee mother, losing conviction for the struggle, a stirring pessimism
into his daily life, he longed for her thick ponytail, the warmth of her legs
and her firm touch.
When little Harry was six
she called him from the drunk tank.
"Gemme outta here Legge.
That's one good reason to still be living with you. Had a mix up last night.
Cops thought I was someone else. Drunk tank my ass!" Slurring her words. She
should never drink the hard stuff.
"I'll be there. Do you need
"Bring some anyway. And
hurry. This place smells awful." She hung up. There was no sitter so little
Harry came with him to the police station. Harry should see life as it is; need
to fight against the gene he has within him.
Harry pointed at the man in
the hat and uniform and said "policeman."
"Why did you bring the boy?"
Harry moved closer to his father. "Don't you have any sense?" Threw up her
hands and sighed, reached for a cigarette, resigned and pouting. The embodiment
"Did it start at the
lounge?" he asked, trying to diffuse the tension in the minivan.
"Doesn't matter. What
matters is my own kid doesn't like me and you go and bring him here to see his
mother walking outta a police station. What impression you think that's gonna
make? Makes me think what's the use? Too late. The boy's mind's made up. Why
should I hang around? You tell me!" Creases in her brow evoking empathy,
pleading her plight to the man who wanted her to stay. Don't throw it away. A
few days later she snagged a flyer from the lounge and brought him back without
any pretense of covering her tracks from either Legge or Harry. An icy
detachment to their presence, openly using the apartment as a place of courting
gentlemen with the means to support her. He reached for the light on the
bedside table and tried not to hear them.
Even in the morning, after
the grunts of lovemaking, Athena would feed her man beside Legge, who could not
find the voice to object. Instead of waiting a few minutes after Harry had gone
to school she would bring her boyfriends to the breakfast table while her son
was eating and Legge drinking his coffee.
When she said: "Why isn't
the boy at school?" like pressing a button, he ushered Harry on his way to
class. Legge fearful of having a large blind spot that others could see, wanted
to understand what was happening. He wanted to get her meaning, but he retired
to his room and left the couple to the breakfast he had made. He didn't know about
philosophers but he knew the stoics because he got what they did. Legge's
endurance of suffering was world-class.
His stamina was relentless
but he was not immune to the curveballs that sometimes roll into a man's life.
(ME leg, legge, fr. ON leggr
leg, bone; akin to OE lira fleshy part of the body, L lacertus muscles,
upper arm, lacerta lizard, GR lax with the foot)
The part of the limb between the knee and foot in vertebrates.
It was in April just before
Harry's twelfth birthday that the inertia cracked and shifted, an iceberg
harder than rock shattering the cracked mantle of worn riverbanks.
Harold Legge had always been
his favorite uncle but he had lost touch with him after meeting Athena. Legge
took the call from his aunt Gail when his uncle Harold was pronounced dead. Old
age, a machine with spent parts, grinded joints down to bone, creaking and
sheering from overuse.
The old bean had been out on
his snow machine only weeks earlier, right up to the April thaw she said. Just
dropped dead. No long song and dance, crisp like he lived his life. No kids, no
wife, free as a bird. Was just putting his snow machine in for the season,
hobbling more from his bad back, long a master of the art of ignoring pain.
The spring melt had just
come and old uncle Harold had been filling up his birdfeeder when he fell,
landing on the burgeoning cedar bushes he had planted with his own hand.
Sprawled and caught, motionless until a friend found him, birds eating above
him perched on the same cedar boughs holding uncle Harold.
A man in his eighties, aware
his time was near, left a will in his top drawer, beside a few photos from the
war. Harold's sister Gail named as executor, read his will: "I, Harold Rafter
Legge, bestow the property and chattel to my nephew Kurt Liddel Legge, son of
my deceased brother Randy." Gail was tasked with closing all his financial
affairs and keeping whatever money was leftover.
Legge hadn't seen him in ten
The funeral went by without
Legge a few days later in Gore Bay, his ashes scattered in the North Channel in
front of his house past Dragon Head Lighthouse. His old friend Doug Campbell,
fellow snowmobiler and hunter, emptied the urn where they went fishing. A
solemn ceremony, the water still with patches of ice.
"Did he leave anything to
us?" Athena asked.
Legge didn't know how to put
it into words succinctly. "Yes, his house and stuff."
"Not sure. House goods and
stuff I guess. There was no mortgage and he lived off what he made, no debts.
It's just there."
Island in Canada."
"Sounds cold to me." Athena
retired to her room.
Legge remained, locked in
Gail sent confirmation the
will had been completed and had the official deed for the property, and that
she wanted to hand it over in person. She was on her way to Detroit next week
so the business could be done when she was in town.
Just when Legge was at a
snapping point, rope taut and shaky, he sustained a blow blindsided leaving him
adrift and wavering.
"Athena stop this," he'd
said unable to hide the desperation in his voice. A new man from the lounge had
swept her off her feet, changed the severity of her frown, a man wanted to
travel with a "wingman." Two joined by the Achilles tendon, both wanderers of
bars in every port. Pillagers of free time.
"I can do what I wanna do.
Besides, this one's different. He's my lion, ‘lot more than you ever were,
that's for damned sure." No love in her voice, divorced at heart. "You keep
thinking it's good Legge but it isn't. It's no good and it needs to be axed,
like a log starting to rot. Expose the good wood still worth a damn, still able
On a Tuesday the airport
called and said she was absent from work. Bags and kit gone, Athena had taken
off with a rolling stone from Reno. He knew she would never say goodbye, just
as he knew she had gone for good. Legge had seen the joy in her eyes after the
few evenings she had spent with him. She had found love.
On the same day he had a
call from Schiff. "We have no more new contracts buddy. Besides I'm tired of
programming, can't keep up and don't give a shit. All new programming work will
have to be from your end. I'm out."
Legge had a vision of his
old business partner in shorts and a t-shirt outside on the back porch, cacti
and tumbleweeds. They had been partners for fifteen years and this was the
first time they didn't have a client.
"Used up Leggy, done and
dried to the bone, hands shot to hell, fingers crippled and wrists don't work
right anymore. I want to work outside doing things in real life. I gotta breath
when I work, not sit. I've had a taste of that desert air and I can't go back.
That's just how it is. That's the truth of it."
At the airport lounge her
fellow waitress Julie Anne told him she had been talking about it for a while,
that Athena would move in with the guy from Nevada so she could start over.
"She wanted the best for her
kid too but she had the good sense to see little Harry was better off with you,"
she said. Made up and pert, Julie Anne was a fetching number. "She was restless
you know? Seriously restless. Gotta be for the best."
"Do you know how to reach
this guy in Reno? I mean there must be some way to find her. I need to know
she's all right and not out on the street. What if this guy's a fraud?"
Travelers eating quickly before their flight, itchy hesitancy of impending
travel jittered the air.
"You know Athena. She never
had a cell phone. Just didn't work that way. This guy she left with, Richard,
he seems all right to me. I mean he had integrity and was honest. Good tipper.
Don't worry yourself too much. She chose well. They had known each other for
Hand dodging to the nose
then feigned adjusting the eyeglasses, felt exasperated. Speechless. Patches of
perspiration in odd places.
"Thought about taking the
boy but decided it wasn't worth you jumpin' up and down and making a racket
like you're good at doing in your own way. You know she liked you a little bit
but you are too much like a boy, quiet and shy. You're not sure of the ground
you walk on. That's a shame."
Legge shrugged and stood
still, Julie Anne leaving to her tables.
Back in the safety of his
apartment, resisted the challenge of telling Harry.
"Your mother has moved out
for a while so it's just you and me," he said, fluttering epiglottis. "We'll be
all right son." Blue eyes, thick lids, straight dark hair, so much the South
Dakota presence in the Harry mix. Father's small ears but the mother's
coloring. Sturdy. Cut on his chin still visible from falling off a stone fence.
Harry didn't take long to
get in trouble for excessive wandering. Like his father he was always moving.
Passive but knowing, Harry bordered on autistic how he could absorb everything
but remain impassive, as if watching clouds move. The face of a wonderer, a
face he knew well.
Athena had wanted to have
the child but she resisted giving up freedom of her other life that stirred
deep in her spirit. So Harry had always been his son; he always made sure he
had what he needed to get through. Legge had sensed this moment would come,
when the wayward mother flippantly leaves the nest. But he had seen it
happening when they were old and gray. She had inflicted plenty but this was
the ultimate knock. A fissure in his foundation cracked irreparably. But he
waited in Detroit in case she wanted to come home again.
Gail Legge, jacket with
paint on it and boot with broken zipper, sat comfortably on the couch watching
Legge stammer. A mess. Crippled. Shyness gene rumored to be part of the Liddel
side of the family, what her cousin Martin suffered from. She smoked a
cigarette and drank coffee she had made. Hair short but not one gray hair,
neat, no earrings, boots still on. Lines deeper between her dark eyes and high arching
"Drink the coffee, it well
help. And right now you need help. Trust the power of coffee to overcome the
big ones." Her throat like gravel and rock on a dusty day.
"I saw it coming but didn't
believe it would happen so soon," he said. "She was always a bit of a free
spirit, it's how we met. She needed to love. For her that was what life was all
about. Couldn't give her what she wanted. Wasn't enough."
"The coffee's getting cold.
Don't be shy. Warm your belly."
"And she knew this guy for
years. So it's been growing." Rubbed his nose. "She could never settle down."
Don't knock yourself out,
she said to herself. Had a good look at Athena on the mantelpiece, the hair
brushed back and the eyes that whispered from ancient forests. A swirl of sin;
that woman needs a man.
He placed the telephone back
gently, distracted by the distant wind in his ears. The police said they had
found her poisoned on a beach south of San Francisco, discovered days after her
death. Say she was bruised too. Took a room there in one of the hotels. She was
afraid of the water. If wasn't like her to be on the beach.
Strangers surrounding her
defenseless body covered in sand sent a chill through his center, people
prodding her until wrapped in a blanket by a caring hand.
The police had found her
things and Legge's telephone number in her room, and a bus ticket from Reno. It
had been her first night there.
Legge, crumpled pants and
stained shirt, stood stooped crooked fingers at his side. Checkmate. She was
gone. He could forgive her for leaving but couldn't forgive her for dieing so
Gail wondered why men
struggle to accept things they have no control over. Death clutches leaving
heartache. Probably why religion does such good business, she grumbled.
"You'll get through this
all right. You're a Legge and we have legs, that's for damn sure." Cigarette
lit, a nicotine frenzy only inches away.
"This wasn't her fault. That
guy was wrong for her. I was her husband." Bringing his hand up to his
nose he crashed a bottle of grape juice to the floor.
"Yes you were, right up to
the end. You were married weren't you? Had Harry? No one's perfect but you'll
get on." It calmed Legge to hear firm words from an aunt he hardly knew. "You
got the look of your great uncle Sandy, able man but didn't hardly speak at
all. Went about his business and spoke through his actions. That's how he was
remembered. Sandy Legge, long white mustache. Know him only from a photo I
have. Never met him. Didn't like his brother Sammy, your grandfather."
"I didn't know I had a great
uncle. So he was weak then?"
"Not weak just quiet. Gotta
be strong to live on the Island. What he did spoke louder than any words could.
Died on the ice crossing across the channel going to the mainland with some of
Sammy's friends during the thirties. They say he kept knocking under the ice
for minutes before he froze."
"I never heard that story.
My father and I never talked much."
"Had been crossing there for
30 years. Just a fluke though some... It happened in 1933 during Prohibition."
"I only heard my grandfather
was an outdoorsmen." Gail looked to see if it was irony. She hated being at the
receiving end of a joke.
"Hunters and farmers. The
Legges settled on the Island way back 1885 when it was full-time work just to
survive. Islanders are like that. Pioneers. Once you get there you're bound to
stay ‘cause yer too busy trying to stay alive. Some have left, like your father
and Harald, but they end up coming back like your uncle Harald."
Dawned on him his aunt Gail
was the only family he knew. Athena poisoned on a beach, his uncle Harald
sprawled on a cedar bush, he was encircled by death, of family, of
civilization, a stench wafting the stagnant air.
"The house you now own is
right in the heart of where the Legge clan came from. Kind of the Legge family
home." Gail frowned, some history left unsaid. "Was good Harold bought it back
from Old Doug Campbell. You always gotta watch a Campbell they say. Keep an eye
on them. But Old Doug sold it to him at a fair price."
Petty disputes of isolated
country life left him dry, but it was the only connection to any family he now
When Harry was caught, the
security guards found him wandering through the municipal government buildings
without any clearance. He was found walking the halls with his knapsack with a
look of unassuming curiosity on his face.
"We are wondering how he was
able to escape from school and then get into the hallways of the government
building without being seen," the school principal firm. "Probably came in
behind some folks and presumed to be their son. Never know, but there is
something more disturbing about this incident. It is one of a string of
wanderings that has put this child in danger. There are thugs out there, wolves
ready to pounce. This kind of wandering is all right in safe neighborhoods but
not in downtown Detroit. The thing is Mr. Legge, we need to know he's not going
to do this again. You need tell him it's not okay to leave like that." Hair in
a bun, voice tinged with maternal fingers.
Gail in the doorway, he gets
it from his mother, she thought, smirking at the similarity of the two
generations of Legges, almost semi-autistic.
"Harry is here at the
school?" Legge swallowed a stammer.
"In the guidance counseling
office. Can you find it?"
Harry was unfazed by the
events, happy to be out of school and to have explored inner workings of the
government. They were both boring, shiny floors and endless talking about
things that were so unimportant.
"Now that we're home, you
come here you rascal," she said when Harry walked in with his father. "You and
me are going to have a chat." Harry enjoyed the attention from his aunt. In
Harry she saw nothing of the boys she knew, an experience she enjoyed. She
spoke to him in a direct manner that Harry responded to.
In the short time Gail had
been in Detroit, they both saw that she provided a strong maternal force in his
life. She hugged him like Athena never did.
"Why don't you stay a little
longer here in Detroit," he suggested, shoulders slouched. "I could use your
help if you had a few extra days." She started to shake her head but stopped.
"Maybe for a few more days,
but I have things pressing on the Island. You'll be right in a day or two.
You'll know what to do." She patted Harry on the shoulder. "The thing is that
all this has given you an opportunity to change your scenery. You've never seen
your uncle Harald's house so you should. Take some time off from here, too many
reminders and such. It's spring and the best time to come to the Island."
She removed a photo from her
purse and grabbed Harry's hand. "This is Penny. She's my Labrador I need to
take care of." Eyes studied the photograph not showing any emotion, analyzing
the slight smile of the dog and the massive trees around the water behind the
Legge looked at the photo
and saw the great expanse of water behind the dog and cliffs of rock.
"I have to get back to
Penny," she said. "Poor Agnes hates taking her for a walk."