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)
The back part of the hindquarter of a meat animal.
Gail spoke sense to him. Gruff
and clear. Burnt-out computer life, incipient financial floundering, apartment
stale without Athena's presence, that perpetual counter force he needed to stay
functioning. With Harry tucked into bed, he and Gail drank coffee with a drop
of cherry brandy, one of her old recipes, an old habit. His apartment devoid of
South Dakota life.
"Go see the house and let
the boy wander," she said, "see where you come from and show the boy his
inheritance. Get out of the city before it kills you. Millions killed already.
Big cities can break a man's spirit." She leaned back and heard the noises of
urban Detroit, a cluttering of competing sounds. Legs straightened out with
feet crossed. "I'll tell ya, that's a mad world out there. People getting shot
and mugged all the time. I'm happy there's a piece of the world that's safe and
good, where your family is. Every man oughta see where they come from, it's in
"See your new house. Think
of Harry. The Legges have a good name there. Be good to have another Legge up
there. Some nice women there too." She patted his arm, her hand lined and
strong. "Lots to do if you're willing."
Desperate all night head
split open with a hammer, fractured. Crumbling inward, crumpled and withering.
Then a calling and a ray of light through the clouds, a far off island of rock
and trees surrounded by white-tipped waters on a sea of deep blue.
It took a few tries to track
"I was out on the golf
course. Love the game. Better than playing it on the computer. Trust me. Don't
miss Detroit Leggey. Warm down here. I'm warm again. Rita loves her new
job but the pace of life is slower down here so it's a bit different. There's
been some adjustment but it's way better than how it used to be in the cold.
"The best thing is I don't
do anymore programming. My eyes are hanging by a thread so I wanna keep doing
stuff outside. Love working with my hands so I found a job working with a
landscaper. Good honest work. I like to see the finished product. Makes me feel
proud because they're real things I can touch, not written codes floating in
cyberspace! So what about you buddy? Getting much work?"
It felt good to spill
everything to Schiff, unleashing his gunnysack filled with grief. But the
inheritance of the property was reason for great hurrah.
"Check it out my man! Don't
let someone else move in there and snag it from you. If you're not there old
man someone will take control of it. Or if you sell it you'll be back where you
are with a son about to become a teenager in Detroit. Think of how it could
play out. So go to the house and let me come up and visit you. Where is it
"It's on Lake Huron across
from Michigan," he said. "All I know about the island is that it's windy."
A week later Schiff telephoned to make sure Legge
was still intent on going north. He had had direct experience with Legge's
inclination for not following through on projects. Schiff wanted to see him
succeed because he knew it was the right thing for him. All men have a right to
get the rust out of their legs.
"Tibor said you are a lucky
guy," said Schiff. "Where you're going is one of the best places to ride a
motorcycle in North America. He was sure of it. Must be good if it's one of the
best. I knew it man, it's a good omen this whole thing. Take it forward. Do
something involving motorcycles. He said the best riders go there for weekends.
Something about there being no traffic lights on the island?"
"That can't be right."
"Well think about it. Maybe
you could work at a shop there or run something out a' that house of yours.
Anyway there's a guy Tibor knows who has a garage on the island I think. Take
his number. You're gonna need work right? Never say no to a job lead."
Legge scratched it down on a
pad and left it there, afraid of the ramifications a single piece of
information could yield, a connection to his past.
It took the rest of the
month to find a suitable tenant and rent his apartment. Emptied the joint of
every valuable and slipped out mid afternoon during the quiet hours when most
So Legge and Harry drove out
of the city in the van, backseat packed, Harry navigating with the map
interrupted by gazing out the window. Rural vistas like a hungry man lured by
Into Canada along east Lake
Huron through Goderich and Owen Sound north to the Bruce Peninsula and its limestone
cliffs to Tobermory. Birch and cedar filled the air after the fresh melt, soil
warming in the hot sun parked in line for the ferry to South Baymouth, the
final step to a new life.
Hair flattened against his
forehead with seagulls hovering over his shoulders, surfed the air current
pushed up from the ferry, his cotton pants pinned to his legs, creased from
years of sitting. Aromas thick of aquatic life in the bloom of spring filled
his nostrils on the deck, scattered islands not big enough for a map still in
the waters just off Tobermory. Cool wind made his cheeks burn, his child
motionless beside him watching the waters and wondering. The lure of the open
space pulled them both forward. A swish of wings overhead.
passengers wide berth, Harry explored the deck like he would explore a
videogame. Lifeboats, anchor hoist, ropes, bird shit, exhaust pipe. Harry had
seen ships a thousand times but had never smelled the water and the life that
went with it. He smiled into the wind.
Gail sat on the bench that
lined the deck under the cafeteria, a toque to maintain the dignity of her
hair. Witness to a young spirit finding a home. Like a seagull migrating north,
a chance for Kurt to start fresh and for Harry a new beginning. Just like
planting a tree.
She had met them at the
ferry terminal in Tobermory to hold his hand. Someone had to make sure he
didn't turn back at the last minute.
When she spotted land she
felt a familiar reverence for its majestic beauty. A mound of worn rock pounded
by waves on the peninsula where the lighthouse stood, stripes of white and red
"How few people have ever
been on this fair isle," she said, Legge keeping his eyes on the land. "Do you
know much about Manitoulin Island?" Legge shook his head. "Who had come
here? Early explorers like Radisson and Grosseillers, and the Jesuits. It was
the farthest west Jesuit outpost in the New World." But the Island is personal
for everyone, she thought, a castle of rock hidden in a great bunch of water
that no one knows about. The Island to her was what it has always been to her
since her childhood: Hawberry bushes and spring-fed lakes, brooks for fishermen
and waterfalls for salmon, meadows of wildflowers and a playground of forests,
sawdust and alfalfa and soil and lilac, and waves hitting the dock in
long-blown winds. But there was an edge to the life here, she knew, cruelty for
those who missed the harmonies of nature. Watch and respect the currents or
they'll take you out and you won't come back, she remembered, the words of her
father after a young man had been swept out to the big waters from the mouth of
the river. It'll take you all right.
"You gotta respect her to
survive here; no one can see a deer in fog," she said, Legge still looking at
the approaching island. "The Indians burnt almost half of the island after the
Hudson Bay fort closed. Thought it was infected by the white man's disease and
evil spirits. The men at the fort were stealing firewood so the Indians kicked
them out and burnt everything. If there were any bad spirits here they
were burnt all right. Indians still live there so it must be good land. They
still have their piece never ceded to the Europeans." She pointed to the tip of
a long sliver of rock. "Never got that piece of land from them. Good enough to
keep." Fossils still there untouched, etched in the limestone.
missed the sound of the birds most of all when I moved to Toronto. I saw
homelessness and suffering like I had never seen before. Vagrants and drunks.
Could never understand why there were homeless people when there were so many
empty rooms. Never saw someone homeless on the Island though. People are too
friendly to allow it." She became aware that it was Harold's will that enabled
this to happen, but he had some penitence to do. Maybe it will be different now
that Harold was gone and little Harry was close by to watch grow.
Standing beside Legge, she
felt the cool wind blowing, seagulls drowned out everything else in her mind,
nature's arrival bells watching from above the rock of the cove and the dock.
(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)
supporting part resembling a leg in shape or function.
Legge followed his aunt along the main road north
from the ferry terminal up the highway towards Lake Manitou, Harry rolled down
his window and put his face a few inches out. The road crossed Blue Jay Creek
and over Manitou River curving around lakes only inches from the pavement. They
moved west past the sandy beaches of Mindemoya and entered the M'Chigeeng
Reserve on north of the Island. The escarpment cut across lush forests covering
the bay on the North Channel.
"I feel I have been here
before," said Harry.
"Feels ancient doesn't it?"
He followed his aunt in her
Cavalier over Jerusalem Hill to plains wide open and windswept. Old Victorian
homesteads every hundred acres until Bridal Veil Falls, where the river feeds
the bay from a waterfall. Down a hill a turn-of-the-century saloon stood on the
lip of the shore near a small white church, a lighthouse and dock with fishing
She pulled into the Kagawong
General Store. Smells of freshly made muffins rumbled his empty stomach. In the
far corner he found hunting equipment and country gear. Bought a thick flannel
shirt because he knew it would be cold and awkward in his city clothes. Let
Harry buy a small knife. Necessary equipment for a twelve-year-old boy he told
Gail talked to the man
behind the counter with bags of food in front of her. Butcher and deliverer of
"We're off to Harold's old
place. You know if anyone been up that way yet this year?" Eyes narrowed on
Legge behind her.
"Not that I seen but I ain't
lookin'," he said and turned to Legge. "You watch them deer through there on
your way, y'hear?" Eyebrows white and furious, eyeglasses low on the nose.
"Don't forget now."
Outside, Legge wearing his
flannel shirt, the small knife glinting in Harry's hand catching the falling
light from the sky, Gail insisted on coming in the van.
"The road will be too soft for my wee car. Just give me a lift
back later." She shared the front seat with Harry. Told him to put on the
Passing a long stretch above
the water where waves smashed against a long shore of worn limestone, she
pointed. "There was a guy I knew who lost his life down there fishing one
night. Pulled him up way off shore after a storm. Used to fish in a canoe,
always crazy, part Indian I think. Lived for water but the water got him in the
end." She waved her finger at Harry. "Always does."
Descending down and away
from shore he watched the forest suddenly enfold them.
"In the old days this house was only gotten to by boat. These
roads are new." The dirt road still soft from the spring thaw. Hands clenching
the wheel, carpal tunnel flaring, suspension weighed down by the load started
"This van better not bottom
out. It's pretty weighed down."
"Go slow then and watch for
deer. They're thick around here." The trees along the driveway like distant
friends from morning walks.
road branches off down here. There's Dragon Head Lighthouse close to it."
From the shade of the woods
out of nowhere water appeared, a lighthouse on a high point of rock at a
narrowing along the strait, water clear to the bottom. Legge felt the thrill of
connecting geography with the map in his head, novice cartographer finding his
footing north of the border.
Just after the lighthouse was a dead-end with a driveway.
"This is the beginning of
Legge's Cove in here. About a quarter-mile in I'd say." The gravel road
stretched along a ridge to a flat opening protected by steep rock. "It's a good
size cove. There's a trail inland for hunting somewhere here. Me and my horse
knew this path well as a girl." Dormant memories carved into limestone.
forest canopy opened to a clearing where a tall white house stood defiant
overseeing open water, protected by a row of cedars against the winds from the east.
Two large gables above a bay window and veranda, perched like a Norman castle.
Air chilled and moist like a slap in the face
"Made of ground limestone
this is, crushed and burnt in a kiln right here on the Island. They say these
ones will withstand a thousand winters and still stand straight," she said.
Opened the door and gave him the key. Papers on the table and dishes stacked
beside the sink, plants just starting to dehydrate.
"The ceilings are so high."
Compared with that small nest of yours, she thought.
"Happy to see the old man
has taken care of the place. Cold in here. Let me light a fire and put on some
food. It all should be here." She found the kindling in the wood room and lit
the stove, made some cowboy coffee and some soup with her purchase at the
Harry fell asleep on the
couch. Legge covered him with his sleeping bag and the heavy blanket from the
couch, the house warm from the crackling woodstove. Legge took the main bed
after Gail had changed the sheets and cleaned the room. The guest room where
Gail slept was already clean. Darkness falling in a soft fog
In the morning birds sang
outside the windows with vigor he had never before heard. Bird sanctuary. Scent
of pine and cedar. Profound silence in the background.
"The child hasn't moved all
night," said his aunt, poking the coals and watching the fire come to life.
"Must be the fresh air."
Out on the deck the water
opened up to rounded mountains of rock.
"Those rocks across the
channel are the hardest on earth they say," she said, sipping her coffee. "My
dog Penny loves it here."
Stepping outside on the deck
with the sleeping bag sill around him, Harry said: "Is this it? There's nothing
around." His voice startling something in the woods.
"Deer most likely. They're
hungry after the winter. Eatin' mostly low-hanging cedar branches around here.
Lots of food." The flat land to the west was cleared of timber and windswept
with grass, but it was the water that stirred his imagination.
"Could paddle miles with a
canoe," he said. The fog lazy above the water.
"Yeah, Harold had lots of
toys, like that quad over there." She pointed to the red four-wheeler parked
beside the garage. Harry went to it thinking of the possibilities that lay in
It had been years since she
had been here, letting Harold run it as he wanted, without any tending to the
garden. It angered her how mother had spent so much time on the garden and now
there was nothing but a few scattered lilac bushes. Only hawberry grew along
the stone fence by the sycamore and oak.
The house white and clean
against the grayish air. Above the front door was a stained-glass window
showing the Legge coat-of-arms. He had seen it before and instantly recognized
the triple rook upper line.
"I can ask someone to come
by to give you a hand putting in the dock if you need it," she said. "Some
things need an extra pair of hands so never be shy to ask when you need one."
The year 1909 was chiseled into the cornerstone, worn by time. "That was when
it was built. Good house this. Will still be here in 500 years as long as the
roof is good. Take a lot to bring down this house."
"Anyone in the family born
here?" Gail squinted at him.
"Yes. Your father and me.
And your uncle Harold. We were all born in the summer. Your grandparents were
active during the harvest."
A sailboat came into view
moving eastwards towards Killarney.
"A lot of boatin' along
here. Wish Harold had kept the boat working. I reckon it's around here
"A boat? Where?" Harry
asked. The aunt pointed to the open water where there was a speck with a sail
in the freshwater sea, evidence of life on the vastness before him.
Later, Gail in the garden.
Birds at the bird feeder where gobs of bird shit stained the deck. Legge found
the cedar bush that had held Harold in his final moments, some the branches
still bent to the ground. Nothing that sun and rain wouldn't fix. Breathing
deeply he felt the rich air expel city toxins from his lungs, the fog thinner,
moisture clinging to everything green.
Inside, books half opened
with bookmarks and magazines piled beside a chair by the fireplace, burgundy
crown molding along the faded pine ceiling with faded varnish connecting the
room to the past. Space enough to think. Floors made of thick lumber, solid
underfoot when Harry felt impelled to jump up and down. "No neighbors to think
about," he said. Upstairs the rooms spread out, master bedroom massive, far
away from the guest room. Harry ran from room to room trying to figure out what
each one was for.
"This one was his library
Dad," pointing to rows of books and papers accumulated over a lifetime. Wood
shelves handmade, bent with age. A desk swamped with notebooks and pencils, an
antique globe in the corner. In the room across the hall prints of paintings
covering the walls, none framed, all pinned with tacks. Wooden bunk beds
against the far corner, a chest of drawers and closet full of clothes. The next
room with motorcycle parts laid out on the floor, each with its own newspaper.
The aunt creaked up the
stairs. "Yep, still had that thing with motorcycles. Couldn't ever take it
outta him. Surprised it never killed him." One wall in the room had photos of
Harold standing beside his motorcycle in all sorts of different locations.
"He was different from my
father, seems like."
"Your father was a tyrant,
if you don't mind me saying. Your father never had it but Harold sure did. Give
him a horse or a motorcycle and you'll see him two days later covered in mud
and a grin. I reckon his motorbike is somewhere in the garage." She stepped
closer to the wall.
"That there is an old friend
of mine," she said, letting the corners of her mouth tense for a moment. Harold
beside a man on a farm with a red tractor. "I'll clean up a bit before you give
me a lift to my car. There's some dust that needs dealing with before the boy
starts sneezing. Let me know if you need any help." In the kitchen she took a
bucket and mop and made sure there were no more dust mites living in the
Legge followed his aunt past
his van to the garage, overgrown weeds along the base, and opened the doors.
Inside was an old YAMAMA RD400, ripped seat with well-oiled chain, helmet
hanging off the throttle grip.
"This is also yours," she
said. "I think it runs too. Harold was crazy to ride this thing. He reckoned if
he survived the war he'd survive motorcycling. No one could really argue with
that." Empty cases of beer in the corner, rags piled on a chair, cardboard on
the floor to soak up oil. Tires hung from rafters, fishing rods piled above crates
with skates and skis. Crooked map above firewood. An outdoorsman's repository.
"You could put a canoe up
there in the rafters," he pointed but his aunt ignored him.
"You make sure little Harry
doesn't go wild and take any risks with these here toys. They're strong enough
to kill a man." She stared hard at him to make sure he understood. His face
"You'll come to love this
place," she said. "It grows on you." In the van they drove out the driveway to
her car in front of the general store, soon reunited with Penny.