Wordcarpenter Books
The Motorcycle Inn
 
10
 

leg: (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)

 6.b. The part of an air route or a flight pattern between two consecutive stops, positions, or changes in direction.

 &

 

Gail chilled to the bone under her sweater, the woodstove off and air cool off the water when he walked in the house. Her face stoic, a melancholy tinge. Penny loyal at her feet.

"Has something happened?" he asked. Penny looked up with droopy eyes, devoted.

"Where's Harry?" Voice languid.

"Outside. Is everything all right?"

"It's nothing. Just thinking of some things, that's all. Thought I'd come here and see Harry." His aunt bent and broken, leaning on the table. Stoicism ran deep in the Legge clan. Found a bottle of whiskey in the cupboards and poured two.

"I heard from old Doug's son Kyle and he's willin' to fix up your garage if you want. I told him you wanted it done before it fell down." She drank the whiskey in two swallows.

"Has he seen it?" Skeptically.

"Oh he knows this house. Been here lots of times. Knew Harold pretty well. Knows just what to do too. Needs some more support along the walls for the overhanging beams he said. Has all the tools. Shouldn't cost too much. Happy with a couple hundred plus a case of beer at the end of the day." She poured herself another whiskey. He listened to his aunt, distracted.

"Said he could come anytime next week. Might as well get it done now before people start coming by. He's as fair as they come that one. Got that from being fourth generation Islander. Fair play or off you go! Knows his boats Kyle does. Lives on those boats all summer, as much as he can. Doesn't like the land they say. Got water in his veins, sea legs like his daddy. Fighter too. No messin' with neither of them. Never win a fight against a Campbell. Law of nature I reckon."

Gail leaned back, let her hands relax, cheeks colored. Harry walked in with Manitou in his arms, a bur of white and black like the underside of a bird's wing.

"And who is this?" she said, eyes widening.

"Manitou. We just got her," said Harry, proud like a father.

"Manitou! What a lovely name. Is it a boy or a girl?" She picked her up.

"A girl."

"You have quite a responsibility mister," she said, waving her finger in mock sternness. Harry wide-eyed, sitting at the large table. "She's just like the one we had as kids. I was about your age when we got Amy. She was the apple in my eye, my favorite friend for a long time. You treat her good and she treats you good back. That's how it works. You understand?" She wouldn't let Harry look away until he acknowledged.

"Make sure she eats as much as she wants for the first six months, and always make sure she has water. Most important. You'll see, puppies are always hungry. That's how we done it way back." Penny sniffed her new cousin, postured and wagged her tail. "Good to see Penny has another dog to play with. Maybe you can help me walk Penny sometimes if you're already walking Manitou. My knees aren't as good as they should be you know. I'm getting up there in age. No spring chicken anymore."

Gail Legge poured herself and Legge a double, and gazed through the sliding glass doors at the dock.

"Kyle could probably fix up that dock too while he's at it. Need a working dock here." Remembered Tuttle's voice.

The dogs barked at the sound of a truck in the driveway. Sound of boots crunching gravel, lazy pace, then a knock on the door.

"Legge old chap. How are you?" Mac came in, frilled native jacket, bandana hiding his mop of red hair, moccasins on his feet. Noticed Gail. "Didn't know you had company. I'm Mackenzie."

"Gail Legge," she said, hand firm.

"Pleasure Gail. Hope I'm not interrupting something."

"No, not at all. Pull up a seat." Voice waning. Handed her a bottle of Pelle Island red wine. Patted Legge on the back like old friends.

"Thought I'd drop by since I was in the area," he said, voice like thunder. "Liked talking canoes with you the other day. Thought I'd bring one by to see if you'd like to use her for a while." Legge sat up in his chair.

"You brought a canoe?"

"I have three canoes so don't worry about me. I heard your place was on the water so I thought if you didn't have one you should. Your shoreline is good for paddling. Good push-off spot I'd say. Was thinking you could use it." Gail smiled.

"Have some whiskey."

"Ah! Irish wine. I'm partial myself. Love a wee dram. Ever know a Scotsman to refuse a drink?" Harry and the dogs walked in. Mac patted Manitou when she jumped on his leg. "Love this dog I do." Told Harry about the canoe, who ran outside to look.

"Nice of you to bring the canoe. Are you sure though?" Beholden now, obliged and in the red.

"Oh yeah, no problem. Thought if it was here you cold use it, give Manitou her sea legs and Harry some time on the water. There's nothing like a canoe. No sound, no motor or fuel. Just the soft splashing of the paddles and calls from birds along the shore. Beats anything else in life if you ask me. Skimming the surface of a lake silent and safe and fully stocked with food and a tent and a dog, how can you beat that? You Canadians have it all right here at your fingertips. So many forget to use it. Never understand that. Brilliant canoeing around here. Best in the world some say." Gail stood up.

"Well I'm going to look for my dog and then cook up some dinner. I've had a long day and I need something in my stomach. Hungry Mackenzie?" Wondered if the bandana could contain all that hair for much longer.

"I've had my tucker m'am but I might sneak a few pieces of whatever you're serving."

He and Mac went outside to check the canoe in the back of Mac's pick-up truck. Red with some cracks repaired with white fiberglass, wood gunnels with meshed leather-strapping, rope and paddles, weathered by water but the wood strong.

"It all hit me only when I started to live here, the canoeing. So much water waiting to be explored. How did the red man get around before the Europeans? Canoe. When I breathed in the scent of the water it was so much different than Scotland. This here is drinking water, clean as it gets. You know this island is full of springs? That's why there are so many lakes." Brought it to the lakeshore. Legge and Harry squatted beside it and listened to Mac.

"I always paddle slowly for full effect. You've been out on one before?" His hand to his nose.

"I have." Just a white lie.

"Good, then you know how to handle her. Don't get caught out too far. Hug the shoreline as much as you can. I've been up and down these here shores for the last ten years, since I arrived here. See beaver and otters and fish jumping out of the water. Almost land in the boat! Great feeling, nothing better than I can think of."

"Amazing," said Harry. "We have a canoe so can explore the water's edge."

Gail brought dinner and whiskey down to them. "I'll take a little more," said Mac, holding his cup out. "If you have it handy." Gail, with lips pressed firmly together, executed superbly. Presentation neutral, heart forty years in the past, distracted. Mac nipped from his cup letting the amber liquid coat his mouth.

"I've been spending my free time exploring in my canoe. Throw's you back to the days of les voyageurs and even the Jesuits. Paul Rageneau and his mission at Ten Mile Point. No one talks about it but it was all here, 1648 to 1650. During those two years Manitoulin Island was the farthest outpost of European exploration north of Virginia. It closed only because the Jesuit mission in Huronia was stopped after the martyrdom of Brebeuf and the other seven."

"Read a book did you?" said Gail, eyes relaxed with an ironic grin.

"I did indeed Miss Legge. How else am I going to know about this unusual location in the middle of the world's largest reservoir of freshwater. We Scots have our history but so do you here since Champlain made his stand in Quebec. The British move up here and fortify after the Revolution in 1776, push out and contain the French and join forces with the natives. The stronghold of power was the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. It's beautiful when you think about it."

Gail finished her drink, patted her dog and listened sleepily to Mac.

"I go on canoe trips during the summer since I started living here. Lots of mileage. Took my Molly, that's what I call her, across to Killarney Provincial Park. Rocks like you've never seen them before, ancient Precambrian shield. I wanted to canoe down to Tobermory but there's something scary about that current around Fitzsimmons Island. Ferry traffic I don't know. Kept north. It's all accessible from right here. This dock is your home address to the world's waterways.

"My ex-fiancé was a canoeing maniac so she had something to do with my initial involvement, but I knew before I landed it was a vehicle I wanted to master. I just never knew how beautiful it was. I've never lived off the land, but with a tent and some food sleeping by the shore is a total immersion in nature. Swim with beaver and watch them dive under you for five minutes and then reappear beside you. You're lucky to be Canadian. I always say that but you have a lot here mate."

"You're not wrong there Mackenzie," she said. "Good of you to see it."

"On the rivers and lakes with its nooks and bays, just you and Mother Nature. Quiet and calm, violent and rough, you can't help but see it up close. It is life as it was before civilization, before castles and bridges and motors, when it was on bedrock, the starting point, ground zero as the Yanks would say. That life is just off this dock. Go anywhere for a thousand miles, or if you think about it: anywhere in the world." Mac poured himself more whiskey. Gail's eyelids closing.

"Do you want to stay over aunty?" he asked. Gripped her empty cup and stood.

"No thanks, no, I'll be going now. Where's that dog of mine. Penny!" Once found, they left.

"Have one," said Mac, filling his cup.

"Dangerous though, the water."

"There's always danger to an adventure. Look at motorcycling."

"But with a motorcycle you can stop when there's a storm. You can't on a boat. You fall overboard and smash against the rocks." Mac registered the reference.

"You heard about it then, the mystery of Old Doug's sons?"

"Heard about old Doug's boat history from Tuttle down the road. Went on about the son's death and his beef with Kyle."

"Tuttle, he's quite the character."

"You said ‘mystery?'"

"The mystery surrounding the smashed skull. Makes you wonder what happened to crack a man's head open. Must have been a brutal wind. Always windy here on the island."

"He said it was cracked on the rocks. Didn't say anything about any mystery. He fell off the boat into the water and was thrown against the rocky shore. That's it."

"My word, he missed out on the most compelling part. So!" Mac lifted his hand above his head and gestured to the water. "As far as I've heard it told, some think the crack on the skull was from something sharp, like an axe. Wasn't blunt enough to be the rocks. And how did he fall overboard? Why wasn't he inside the cabin with Kyle? There were rumors that they had been fighting that weekend and that it had something to do with a girl. Now no one really knows but at the time there was talk about why Thomas had fallen overboard. And it wasn't Kyle who found the body. It was a volunteer part of the search party.

"It was quickly ruled an accident and there was no investigation into Kyle's possible negligence. If they did have a fight that day, who is to say if he didn't kill him and throw him overboard and hope the wolves got him on the shore? All in a fit of rage. Who knows? But it made some people uncomfortable, people whispering and talking behind his back. There's a hush every time he goes to the bank. Nothing proved but the whispers still come. Thomas still had his shoes on."

"So?"

"So if he was alive in the water and struggling against the waves wouldn't he have removed his shoes? Morrell is convinced Kyle killed him. Goes on and on about it."

"Sounds like Morrell."

"So Old Doug doesn't talk to him to this day. Must be a reason for that. Maybe old Doug believes he murdered his son, like Cain and Abel right out of the Bible. The thing was they could never find the murder weapon, no axe was found. But Kyle could have thrown it overboard anywhere out there. Who's going to dive along the bottom and look? No one that's who." The gentle sound of the water like lips on sand and rock.

&

Gail Legge looked bravely into the north winds that harassed the boughs above her. Stood near the sand dune that defined the corner of the cemetery, sun only half shining through the hazy sky but already dry and smelling of pine needles. The tombstone a rounded arch, granite, durable. The knoll stirred with a circular gust caught by overgrown cedars crowding the perimeter. Hand shook placed her palm on the cold granite.

"You were a good man Benny, taken too soon from this earth. I cry inside when I think of what mighta been. But we had it good when you were with us, had that mischief that kept things fun. That's what I miss Benny." Eyes wet.

"We lost Harold this year. He never apologized for what he did to you. He went to his grave without coming clean. God rest his soul. You would like Harry. Named after Harold. Maybe he'll lay down some roots here. Sorta think he has something that needs to get out." Thought of the family she never had and cried. Shoulders collapsed and wept into her scarf. Anguished and reverberating.

After some time she stood and wrapped her tear-stained scarf around the gravestone, tying the ends together with a firm knot.

 

11

leg: (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)

 6.c. One of several contests that must be successfully completed in order to determine the winner of a competition.

 &

 

The sky a deep blue, barren of a single cloud, the sun magnified by water. A synergy of light. Thick forest infringed the integrity of the garage, decrepit wood, bent and broken pieces with patches of new shingles, an old camper on sawhorses waiting patiently to be used again.

Saturday morning when most of Kagawong was at church, he and Harry cleared debris and old lumber away from the walls of the garage.

"Are we leaving everything inside?" asked Harry, frowning.

"I think everything can stay. He's going to rip off the old roof and put new shingles on. And fix that." Pointed at the buckled corner, wood rooted at the ground.

"He can fix that?"

"Hope so."

"What about the sides. Are you going to paint them?" Hand on the weathered wood.

"Yes, but I haven't figured out what color yet."

Kyle pulled up in his pick-up truck with a ladder sticking out the end, music playing loud.

"You must be Legge. Good to know you. Hear you have some work for me?" Big man, arms twice the size of Legge's, the Campbell chin and bull neck, eyes dark and darting in a puddle. Smelled of fishing tackle and bait. Gloved hands the size of a football.

"Kyle, good you came. We have a garage in need of repair." Kyle easily a hundred pounds heavier.

Surveyed the garage. "Definitely needs a new roof." he said. "Let me see this." He walked to the buckled corner, his huge hands exploring the break in the joint. 

"Got a break in the two-by-six where it meets the supporting beam. Seen this before. Doesn't look like a problem. Need to reinforce here with two pieces of two-by-four angled against this piece here, and maybe some added support there with some well-placed brackets. Strong'uns though. No sense puttin' on a new roof and having the thing fall over in a big wind."

After surveying the patchy roof, with the ladder from his truck climbed onto the roof and pinpointed a hole at the stovepipe exit. Looked massive twenty feet above. When he came down from the roof he leaned against his truck.

"It's good ‘cause I have my nail gun. She's a beaut. Pop those nails in no problem. My uncle owns the hardware store in Little Current so I get to try the new toys. Discount. Used to work there in the summers when I was at school." Had the same Campbell chin but none of the wrath of his old man.

Just then Gail pulled up.

"Brought some fresh deli stuff for brunch. Kyle, good see you're here," spunky in her long wool sweater. "I'll put on some coffee so you boys can get to work. Even brought some croissants from the bakery. Harry, why don't you come in and help me. I have some goodies for you too." Gail and Harry went into the house.

"So what color do you want for your roof? Dark green like your house?" he asked.

"Green."

"I can pick some up tomorrow. Think I can get a good price. My uncle comes in handy when I do odd jobs like this."

Harry came out with two cups of coffee. "This is tricky," he said, balancing without spilling.

"Good job son." He took the mug from Harry, hair disheveled in the wind.

"These croissants are good with the coffee," said the aunt, finishing her second. "Can't beat Mum's bakery. Everyone goes there for a reason. Big portions."

"Serve a good breakfast," said Kyle. "Those mornings you want something substantial to keep you warm, go there and have the full breakfast. Put you in business for week."

 

After lunch he and his son let Kyle rip the shingles off with a pitchfork in peace and went down to the dock. Both eyed the canoe still on land, too timid to put in the water. So they both cleared the path to the water and rocks around the dock, adding a new leg.

When the sun began to lower Kyle came down to the canoe with a few beers, his face wet, marked by shingle dust, gloves wet from sweat, lumberjack jacket his solution to the water's chill. Gail seated on the porch, a clear view of the dock. Harry did everything but touch the canoe. Forbidden fruit, too dangerous for hands not yet worthy of the task. Galahad not yet.

The fresh smell of marine life. Drank beer listening to water slapping legs of the dock.

"You canoe much?" Kyle eyed the red canoe with two paddles neatly lying next to it.

"Not yet. Just got it. Haven't had the chance yet."

"Get to it man. Nothing stopping you." Looked at Harry. "No MNR patrols to worry about this far west. They tend to patrol inland lakes more."

A purple hue reflected off the water as the sun fell off the end of the earth, the quiet dark of the water replaced the sparkle of day. Only Dragon Head Lighthouse marked the shore, its red light twitching with regular beats. A wave reaching shore drowned the cry of a loon.

Kyle gone for the day, the aunt held court in the temple kitchen, ceiling 15-feet high, playing backgammon with Harry. The woodstove heated with a scent of Maple.

"'Been playing this game for years. Thought I'd teach young Harry to play," she said. "Used to play your father when he was about Harry's age. Went through a phase we played it almost every night one summer. Didn't have a television growing up, probably a good thing though I reckon. Backgammon and cards, only a few games. Good for two people." Rolled the dice with a flourish of the hand, many years expertise coming to the fore. Harry observed, eventually developing his own rolling technique.

"See? Harry's getting the hang of it. It's all in the wrist. Gotta throw good dice to win. Need a good roll of the hand to even have a chance to win. That's the way of it. Need good dice."   

Lured by Manitou, he lost interest against the unbeatable Gail Legge. Wasn't any fun. Her eyes became dark, lips thin as paper. His puppy had precedence over backgammon with his aunt.

Harry played in the upstairs hallway, throwing a tennis ball down the hall, the puppy retrieving it. Downstairs in the kitchen Gail slurped whiskey in her favorite cup.

"The dice sound good when they're shaken in these things," said Legge, picking up the leather shaker.

"These cathedral ceilings, that's why." Twinkle in her eye returned. "You like the sound do you?"

"Pass me a cup and let's play. You might have the Legge backgammon gene." Pout gone, pieces assumed their positions, a silent army waiting for the order. The orders hidden in the dice. Cricket songs coming in through the screen window.

&

Woken by pounding in his heart, a dream of being outside in the morning dew. Standing over a dead body, blood oozing from a bullet wound in he chest merging with the dew. Remained under the blankets, listened in silence, a ray of light hitting the windowpane, over the water the sky brightened the color of pink champagne. Only the sound of seagulls calmed his heart, coming from beyond the forest, the link between him and the wilderness he wanted to follow to make one.

Slipped on his denims, threw on his hiking shoes and left for the cool morning air, following the sound of the seagulls. Disappeared behind a tree to relieve himself, shivering for a moment under the cedar, and discovered an old trail leading into the woods. Overgrown and unused, the trail bent its way east under a boreal canopy of maple and popular, spruce and cedar, keeping his hand in front for old cobwebs connecting spruce branches gnarled with knots, gray and brittle, bare of needles. Butterflies multiplied when he reached an opening, white, blue, purple and red. The sound of a creek urged him forward in a burst, breaking a branch and scraping his hand drawing blood. Beside the creek a hunting shack with only one standing wall, guidepost to hang slain deer to drain.

A beaver dam had flooded most of the land around it. New growth cedar groves grew out of the wetlands, a broken snake fence sunken into the water. Soaked his feet across the beaver dam, followed the water to the shore. That's when he saw the jar.

An old moonshine jar covered in yellowed weeds and wildflowers, its handle still unbroken. Legge rubbed the neck until he saw writing on it: Broken Leg Whiskey. The cork dried and cracked. When he emptied it nothing came out. Bone dry. Found another jar a few feet down crumpled over and broken. He left the good jar there in the woods and took the trail home, past poplar patches and knotted spruce boughs, rigid like knives sharp enough to cut skin like a knife through cotton.

In a clearing he watched a man in a boat slow down in front of the dock, looking at the house. Old boat, wide and shallow in the bow, circled at low throttle, fifty feet out. A lumberjack jacket under a down vest and baseball cap was all he could see, red flag fluttered attached to the windshield. Water quiet and calm and bright until it turned back into the rough waters of the North Channel.

Legge picked up pace on his way back, used a stick to break the nasty spruce twigs threatening all who passed. Wanted to come this way again. His own piece of nature in this world.

&

"Looks like you found one of the trails," said Gail, eyes puffy from the night before. The thick smell of coffee hung like chocolate, the sun shining off the aunt's hair combed strictly off the forehead. Harry scooped large mouthfuls of porridge covered in a brown-sugar mess, milk brown up to the rim. 

"Had a call from Kyle. Says he can't come today. I had a look and there's only a small part left. You might want to take a crack at it. Said he left his tools inside the garage. Ladder looks like it's still leanin' ‘gainst the roof. Looks okay to go from what I can see." He had his share of fears but his fear of heights was the strongest. Wondered if she could see the horror on his face. He felt wetness on his forehead confronting the real possibility of pitch-forking shingles off the roof's edge facing a ten-foot abyss. Poured some coffee and went out to ponder the task.

From the ladder looking up, the roof had a hefty pitch for snow to fall off easier. Couldn't stop thinking about slipping on loose tarpaper and sliding down. Finished his coffee and climbed with pitchfork in hand, dizzy from dread. At the edge of the roof his legs shook the ladder until it clattered against the garage. Only by going up could it be stopped. Pushed off from the ladder just as it moved, leaving it askew. Foot gripping the few shingles that remained he darted up to the apex, straddled both sides with each foot, legs shook like leaves in the wind. Had to crouch. Back pain and trembling arm.

Around the stovepipe a ring of shingles and along the lip in the corner. Would have to face down to pry them off. Crouched low and threw the pitchfork at the remaining shingles, unsteady on his feet. Didn't look beyond the edge. Dug the pitchfork blades under the last row of shingles and shimmied them loose. Pulled the pitchfork back nearly fell ass over head. Sent a shockwave through him, left leg shaking.

He was able to get a row off before he took a break, rubbed his hands and massaged his lower back. Moisture from waves splashing against the dock washed up in intermittent sprays through the poplar patch, tops rustling in the wind speaking a language only the wind God understood.

On the edge of the roof he guarded against overshooting his pitchfork, his left foot aching, the odds against gravity thinning as fatigue grew. Scraped and clawed until the only remaining shingles were around the ladder. Muscles long dormant screamed for mercy but the remaining few were a point of pride. Harry watched silently.

 Attacked the last of the roof until he forced the ladder off with one mighty blow, it falling on the driveway, loud whap scaring nearby birds. Stranded without a lifeline back to safety.

"Son could you put the ladder back please?" 

"Sure Dad." Harry picked up the end of the ladder but was too weak to push it up so he dragged it around until it leaned against the wall. Pushed it up but the ladder was upside down, rungs slanting the other way.

"Is it in the same spot on the ground?" Harry stubbed his toe against the bottom rung, the angle now level with the ground.

"It's in the same spot"

"Okay I'm coming down." Reached for the ladder slowly putting his foot on first rung but couldn't turn. Harry held the rope to the ladder, realizing he needed to hold the ladder. Not knowing where to throw the rope before he could hold the ladder, just then Legge swung around putting his weight on the second rung. The base of the ladder jerked backwards six inches until it caught. Legge's foot went flying in the air at an odd angle and came down on the outside of the ladder, curled around the metal, clinging for life. Foot started to slip down, muscles raw, then caught the edge of the ladder with a toe inside on the next rung. Ladder thumped but didn't slip anymore.

"Could you?" he said. Legs shook, tight from prolonged strain, shaking the ladder. Threw the pitchfork onto the driveway, took a breath and descended. On terra firma, he blinked at his son in bewilderment, stunned by how close gravity had come to pulling him down.

 
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