(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 a garment, esp. of a pair of trousers, that covers the leg.
The motorcycle fit like an old pair of leather boots.
The bike heavy and tough to balance, the turns slow and throttle quick. Pickled
by an overwhelming accomplishment, heart pumping like a piston, emboldened like
a child, dizzy with expectation whizzing down the vacant road.
Through Kagawong he cruised
across open plains and escarpment between Ice Lake to Gore Bay. Boardwalk and
tennis courts, sailboats and seagulls. He rode through town, houses with
third-floor balconies, gardens and cedar hedges. A courthouse built when Jesse
James still lived, stone churches with bell towers. Just off the main road behind
a realtor office a weathered sign read: SMALL ENGINES AND SERVICE. Some pick-up
trucks in various stages of repair, two motorcycles parked beside the entrance.
A Quaker State sticker in the window of the open wooden doors.
Legge hung his helmet on the
handlebars. A plaque hung crooked, ‘THE WICK' written in black paint, an
image of a burning candle. Faded by the hand of time. Rock music played
somewhere inside, two motorcycles side-by-side, one with the seat off and the
other a Harley Davidson. The clanging of tools offset with laughter around a
corner he could not see. Stepping out of the sun he saw the mechanic. Red
toque, white stubble, deep scars along a cheek slightly redder than the other.
"You come in on that RD?" he
asked, good cheek showing. "That's a good bike. Collector's item. I seen it
before. I'm Chuck Patterson, chief mechanic and full-time babysitter for bikers
who want to talk shop. Come here to get parts so they can go back home and
screw it up. Know what I mean? I tell'em it's best to stay right here and git
it done. Never listen. You a friend of Legge over near Kagawong way?" Rumors
and neighbor's business, loved it like a salmon loves an open stream to spawn.
His bread and butter trade.
"I'm his nephew."
"Yeah. Thought I knew that
RD. Rare them bikes." Fingers too grimy to shake hands. His piece said he bent
down to his work.
A skinny man with a white
ponytail and beard sauntered around the motorcycle holding a mug of coffee.
Sunglasses with bug debris couldn't hide the heavy lids of his eyes. His jacket
Harley Davidson, worn on the sleeves, creased to perfection around the elbows.
Face lined from miles of riding, white beard protecting from further damage,
fingers browned from smoking, rings on each finger suffocating circulation, his
skin scratchy like sandpaper. He drank from a dirty mug and smoked his
cigarette slowly, watching Legge from behind the bug guts.
"Morrell ken fix almost
anything. The man who knows everything about every bike in the world but he
just don't wanna share it. Comes here and lectures me, like to feel superior."
"Yer riding Harold's bike I
see," he said, nasal voice dry as his hands. "Remember when she was without
brakes? That Harold lived on the edge, man. Just geared down like a madman
whenever he needed to stop. So he chose the roads where he wouldn't have ‘ta
stop! That was his way all right. He had to ride that thing. Loved that
bike. You gonna keep care of it for him?"
"He died about a month ago,
so yeah." Morrel and Patterson looked at each other. "I'll be taking care of
"Good ‘cause they'll be lots
of maintenance on that bike. Fastest two-stroke street bike ever made.
Discontinued makin' ‘em because the kill ratio was so high. ‘Bout 79 they
stopped. Can you handle her?" His crooked grin opened to a gum crevice. Legge
nodded and looked away to not stare. Legge had never seen a toothless man smile
From around the corner a man
with mat of red hair, freckles the color of ginger ale, nose a massive patch of
red, remnants of a mustache uneven and forgotten in one-piece overalls stained
with transmission fluid, burrowed his hands into a massive toolbox.
. Friendly blue eyes. The
whites of his eyes clear and pure like albumin.
"Love ‘ta see that bike
still getting mileage." Smooth Scottish accent revealed in the rolling Rs.
"A classic. Modest she is, but strong. You know she has spunk!" He waved his
dirty rag at Legge and kept looking for the right tool.
"Mac works on trucks that
come in. Poor bugger came here from Scotland, can you believe it? A romance
that never worked out. What? Loves the natives so much he stayed. Goes to all
the powwows. His place is full of pipes and drums there's no place to
"Which you always seem to
wreck every time you come over."
"Surprised he doesn't live
in a teepee."
"Bloody rat's ass you are
He and Morrell followed Mac
around the corner and saw a massive truck lifted on the hoist, bright light
revealing its underbelly like a moonbeam in the night. Each part lying under
each other in an array, a mathematical mind manifest on the oil-stained floor.
A new gasket still white and unspoiled. Electric heater kept the air hot and
made the smell of fuel and grease more palpable.
"You need to store them
Indian beads and dream-catchers or getta bigger place."
"You still owe me an eagle
feather. Still can't believe you sat on it." There was a serious look in his
eye. "It's not good medicine to sit on an eagle feather." Shook his head
in pity. "Simply boggles the mind. Boggles to think how little you know about
the culture right in your backyard."
"They get too much money for
"I'm talking about the culture
and he thinks about monthly cheques. Just can't bridge that gap. Never even
been to a sweat lodge and he's been here his whole life." Morrell put his mug
down on an old telephone book and picked up his gloves.
"You git any problems on
that bike you look me up. I'm just outta town. Don't trust this man with
anything more than a flat tire." Morrell gestured to the garage with bikes half
worked-on at various stages of repair. "Never gits done." Outdated calendar
above the tool bench.
"I don't know about
motorcycles," said Legge. "It's runs well that's all I know."
"Harold knew that bike like
his own son so you should be all right for a little while. Remember to put the
choke back in after it starts. And don't ride the brakes too much. If I were
you I'd learn whatcha need ta ride safe here on the Island. Watch out for deer.
Lots of bikes comin' for the summer. Comin' soon." Morrell stepped
outside to the Harley.
"Ferry just started up,"
said Patterson, "so business should be picking up."
Morrell's motorcycle started
like a charm. His helmet barely covering his head.
"Heading to Meldrum today. I
feel like riden' some."
Legge listened to the sound
of the engine down the main road to the highway, stepped out to his bike and
reached for the engine switch.
The rest of his first week was spent riding his
motorcycle and fixing up his house. Harry settled into his new school to ride
out the tail end of the school year. Legge took Morrell's advice and bought a
good map showing every road and even intermittent paths and snowmobile trails.
The limestone island shaped like a big trumpet lying on its side full of holes
and cracks filled with water. He wondered if it was legal to have so few stop
signs with so many miles of roadway. Only one traffic light at the swing bridge
in Little Current; all else wide-open riding and small bridges over rivers and
creeks. Culverts functional in ditches, farmland puckered between forests, old
barns hanging on in variable degrees of destruction from the elements. Roads
designed as if by a motorcyclist: corners engineered with angled precision,
wide shoulders to allow for wildlife infringement with the bush cut
thirty-three feet from the road's center line. Danger from deer and turtles
necessitated careful manicuring of road peripherals, foliage to be cut to
prevent frightened animals from blind-siding vehicles.
Took a break from his
‘research' on the shores of Evansville, fortifying coffee, reading through The
Manitoulin Expositor, the local paper since 1879. Articles on native
funding for healthcare centers, local student achievements at school, community
events and services a peek into the past: "Community Circle sewing group
meeting at the Little Current United Church, Spring luncheon at the Holy
Trinity Anglican Church, Support Group for Women, Parkinson's Disease Support
Group in Mindemoya, Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings every Wednesday and Saturday
at the rec center, Alzheimer Support Group, Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps
meeting every Monday, Country Music Show at the Tehkummah Triangle Senior's
Hall Saturday at 7pm, art lessons in Gore Bay at the old schoolhouse."
Sound of a motorcycle
outside parking. Coming through the door Morrell unzipped his jacket, walked to
the table, boots hitting the wood floor with authority.
"How's she goin'? Saw yer RD
thought I'd stop in. You getting' to know the newspaper too eh? Bloody gossip
rag." Shook his head. "See those sections with the gossip?" Legge flustered.
Couldn't remember seeing them.
"Where are they?" Morrell
took the paper and laid it open on the table.
"See? ‘Tehkummah Talk and
Times' and "Little Current News, Notes and Nonsense.' Huh, nonsense is right!"
Legge skimmed: weather, music nights, new residents and recent deaths. Very
casual writing style.
Morrell snatched it and
pointed to a paragraph. Morrell drank hot coffee, sunglasses off. Legge read:
'The light of and in our lives was this Sunday's sermon. Marilyn Wohlberg was
our organist while Elaine was hockey tournamenting in Sudbury this weekend.
Next Sunday after church at Fairview our annual lunch at the church before our
meeting at 1:30pm. Sandwiches and squares. I'll make a pot of soup.' Who writes
these?" Showed his gums in all their glory when he smiled.
"One of the many old ladies
who live here in the Island," he said. "They have their little world. Just
don't dip yer toe in that soup! Never git your toe out, I reckon, at least in
one piece. Or without being charged with somethin'." Dry laugh. "Why don'tcha
read the euchre reports?"
He found them near the last
page. "From Sheguiandah," he said:
"'Lloyd Taylor won high with 74 points and 6 lone
hands. And can you believe this? Terry's score was even lower than last week
(47). Really sad. For the ladies, Maria Willis won high score with 71 and 4
lone hands. Ruth McGregor won low prize with 44. Rick Gjos won the door prize.'
"Very local. And how about announcements of
‘I'm pleased to tell you that
our town has three new residents. You may have seen them exercising down at Low
Island. The distinctive thing about them is their boots. Aero wears pink and
Popeye wears blue. I forgot to tell you these two are canine residents. They
come from a warmer place so they need the boots to protect their feet. The
sight of dogs wearing boots is so distracting that one driver had to swerve to
avoid hitting them. They're a cute pair and so is their owner, and welcome to
"Hope there isn't anything about me!"
"Wouldn't doubt it." A frank
manner to Island life, blunt aspect acknowledging muddy boots, unpolished
opinions, rusty snowplows and four-wheel drive ‘duellies.' Piped to its own
rhythm and swam to its own pace. Don't even know where Detroit was. No reason. Land
of Indian trading posts and Hudson Bay forts, stopover for les voyageurs
going west. Never bought into Toronto life. A separate private Idaho.
The following week Old Doug
dropped by with his truck full. Two beds. Tires crunched over new gravel, packing
it down after the morning rain, parked. Limped to the door. Spoke to Legge as
if they had been old friends.
"You need some beds?" Voice
deep with hardened empiricism. Legge swallowed. Wore sandals and dirty shirt,
afternoon nap. "Give me hand, easier with another pair of hands."
Old Doug, flannel shirt and
boots tucked into denims, gloves on. Baseball hat greasy and folded. Wandering
eye. Chin carved out of wood, jutting out under his visor. Led with his chin,
wisps of hair around the edge of his hat. Loose-legged and gangly, eyes like
gray steel, pit bull mean.
"Yer Harry's son?" Unlatched
the back of the pick up.
"Nephew." Shook hands, his
fingers smothered in a vice. Both looked at Legge's sandals.
"Makes sense. Didn't think
you had the look of him. He was good people, yer uncle. Did what he said
he would do, unlike most who talk a good yarn. I hear yer going to run an inn
here, well good for you but you gotta git it done. I'll tell you about me for
example. I'm old but still good fer a few years more." Picked up the end of the
box spring and waited for Legge to back into the house. Stumbled in his
sandals. "Better change your footwear son." Old Doug balanced the mattress on
the new gravel. Legge brought his shoes to the deck.
"Grandfather landed here
when theys was opening up land to white folk, bought here 100 acres just across
the highway on the south side and farmed it. Early times were tough at first.
Relied in the Injuns to give some food late winter. Mainly fish. He was
respectful so the Injuns treated him fair. That's what ya gotta be: respectful.
Not like those big cities where everyone's pissed off all the time. Can't
survive here without yer neighbors. That's the truth too. Took to cattle and
fishin' mainly. Granddad tried to go out on his own mostly, didn't like relying
on the Injuns or his Christian neighbors. Stubborn like me, but he got it done.
Fell through the ice more than one time and lived to tell about it. You don'
wanna go through the ice never. But you keep it simple up here and yer' do
fine." Shifted his weight from one leg to the other, favoring his right.
Legge felt out of his depth.
Soft-kneed, bred on city luxuries, his chin marshmallow compared to Old Doug's.
Shivered at the thought of falling through the ice.
"My folks made it but some
don't. Yer clan is around these parts so you git yerself acquainted with her
history here. I can tell you you got some history here boy. Me and yer uncle
used to git in fights at the Saturday night dances. He could throw a punch but
so could I. Still can." He lifted his fist, putting fright in his guts. "But
we'z always slap each other on the back and drink a little bit more whiskey and
got things right agin. Can't hold a grudge up here. It'll kill ya. But things
are gettin' easy now. You gotcher supermarkets now and yer drugstores and
clinics. And yer got these reservations that're spending money everywhere. It
was good they closed the train down, left us alone. Ferry's bringing more
people now and there's more people like you coming up from the cities. More
competition for jobs. Government's tryin' but not really getting' it." Hand
cupped his chin, showing a missing forefinger.
"Everyone thought the
tourists would bring more money but they'z coming up here and buying
properties. Wanna do stuff like fish and ride on their four-wheelers. None of
‘em do any work. Gettin' more expensive for us all is the only thing they done.
"But it's them bastards at
the MNR that done the most harm."
Resources." Frowned. "Every chance they got they're pulling people over an'
countin' fish, checking fishing licenses, and arrestin' poor fellas. See, they
got quotas themselves and need to fine people, but tourists leave here and they
never wanna come back and go through that agin. Bad taste in their mouth you
know. You hear what I'm saying? The government wants to do right but their
method is for the birds. Ass backwards if you ask me. Huntin' season is just as
bad, pulling people outa their trucks and checking firearms. Random checks
Rheinhardt callz it. I call it out of control boy. Too many damn laws if
you ask me." Old Doug waved his finger, a piece of knotted wood.
"My sons got training from
the government but they did good by choosing electrician and home building.
More houses being built but it's good ‘cause the Island needs more homes along
the shorelines. They done good. One boy is here, lives close to his old man.
He's still lookin' fer oil. Lots here. That's why the white man broke the
treaty with the Injuns you know. American oil companies were still here when I
was a boy. Did find some but not enough. Though I know a few sons-of-bitches
that are getting oil without no government knowledge either. Just keep yerself
outa their way son and you'll get on.
"I was in Toronto for a
while during the war. Couldn't fight ‘cause of my damn eye." Pointed to his
glass eye. "Ten years roughly. I got trained in that industrial machinery.
Worked construction driving bulldozers. Good pay. We built power plants,
overpasses, shopping malls. Too much cement. But sees, that's the government
doin' trainin' agin, tryin' to give the young guy a leg up. Didn't really work
either. Couldn't git the work here. Went back to what I know. Fishin'. Sellin'
minnows. You can eatcha damn paycheque."
Lifted the box spring and
backed it into the house and up the stairs. Placed it in the small guest room.
"Some people say I only sell
minnows but that's jus' one aspect. You gotta find sources of money from
everywhere, not a single place. A little fishin' and a little from bait and a
little from firewood. Maybe git someone ta work done on yer land. That's where
it all comes from: the land. The fish or the wood or the rent. Real simple. I
do most of it myself ‘cause I like workin' alone. Better that way, unless you
get injured and there's no one aroun'." Creases appeared on his forehead.
"Right. Real simple." Took
the rest of the beds upstairs and then retired to the driveway again. "Youse
wanna beer?" Reached in, removed two bottles of Carling, handing one to Legge.
"Only drink after I done my
work. After four." Raised the bottle and drank. "‘Been thinking that this here
old place is good for an inn."
"That's what Gail said. Lots
of ‘em around here in summer. Can't think of any B&B that serves ‘em.
Special breed those ‘uns. They'll come if youse get yer name out there. Just
stay outa trouble with them police and MNR. Jus' gets worse every time you
expose yerself to ‘em. Always git in trouble for nothing. And insurance: you
need that. Might need commercial zoning. Who knows? Plenny to do to become
"I don't mind the police,"
his voice suffused with beer.
"Don't talk to ‘em. Truss
me. You don't wanna know them. If you do they'll keepa file on ya and know
everythin' you do. Motorcycles can be a dark sort of business and so you keep
your nose clean. Keep it clean if you can, son. You got any dark secrets and
they'll come out."
"Small community here on the
"Damn right it is." Drained
his beer, looked at Legge's beer, hardly touched. Cheeks hollowed in the
afternoon light. Legge handed him the beer because he thought Old Doug want all
the empty bottles.
"You ain't drank it yet."
Embarrassed, he tried to drink it all down but failed. "Whoa, jus' keep it and
finish it in your own time." Climbed in his truck. "Living here is all about
findin' yer own time. Don't let no one push ya ‘round none. They push ya once,
they'll always push ya." The truck eased down the graveled driveway slowly,
stones pinched under wheel.
Harry walked down the
driveway after the school bus had dropped him.
"You must be Harry," said
Old Doug, leaning out the window of his truck. "How old are you?"
"Twelve." Harry's hands
pulled the knapsack tight on his back, studying the unusual face in front of
"Good to meetcha Harry. I'm
Doug Campbell." Harry glanced away from the intruding chin. "You liking
"It's all right. Boring
right now though."
"'Course it's boring. Better
to use the Island as your school. Learn from living in nature." He slipped it
into drive. "Will sees you." Light tap of the pedal spun a divot in the gravel,
the sound of beer bottles clanging in the back.