Wordcarpenter Books
 Road Sailors

5

"If a man is correct in his own person, then there will be obedience without

orders being given; but if he is not correct in his own person,

there will not be obedience even though orders are given." - Confucius

Outside my tent in the early morning I stand with my arms wrapped around myself as tight as I can. Coldness has penetrated deep inside my bones as if the marrow is frosted. I have forgotten how cold it can get in the mountains at night in Canada. I'm used to sweating amid green ferns and palm trees in the semi-tropical climate. Last night I needed every inch of my sleeping bag to keep from shivering, but worse than this is my tongue. It's as dry and coarse as a sun-dried sheet of sandpaper. I jump up and down in front of my tent to warm up and desperately try to get saliva on my tongue. My tongue is so dry that it almost cracks when I move it. I take out my wallet and remove a ten-dollar bill, placing it in my front pocket. A bet is a bet.

Still vigorously working on saliva production in my mouth, I walk over to the old log sheds half-submerged under the beaver pond. Birch branches are already stirring in the warming air as the sun sneaks up from the east over the pond. A splash can be heard from beyond the shrubs and trees. In the intense morning sunlight so high up in the Rocky Mountains, I put on my sunglasses and watch crows the size of small dogs fly across the sky towards the forest on the other side of the open field. I can't get close enough to get inside the barn because of the water so I decide to walk across the field. The tall grass with the morning dew soaks my hiking shoes and socks after a few minutes. The sun pierces the sheen of dew and blasts the cold from the flaxen grass bringing life and hope. The smell is fresh and green and good like a new beginning and s second chance. This is the Canada I remember; this is why I chose to come back to my native land; this is the sparkle that is Canada's hidden gem.

I reach the dense forest at the far end of the field where the stream runs down the mountain, patient and trickling enough to hear it. I peer into the darkness where the land slopes away, sounds of stirring wildlife that unleash my imagination. I shiver and then let out a sound, something less than a scream. I have warmed now so I know the shiver is not from the cold but from my fear of what lies in the woods. What's to stop a black bear from coming out of the forest right now? Remy is right. I do need a bear protector. I think of how Remy has absolutely no fear of them, which causes me to remember an expatriate doctor from the States I knew when I worked in Hong Kong who had researched twins and was fascinated by the fact that I had decided to leave my twin brother to live independently overseas. It was from this doctor that I learned about mirror twins. He told me that mirror twins are the closest of all types of identical twins because with mirror twins the egg splits between the ninth and twelfth day of gestation. All identical twins come from the same egg but mirror twins remain as one egg the longest before the egg splits into two identical foetuses. So in effect Remy and I were "one" and "the same" for over a week before we became "two." Any longer than 12 days as the same egg and there is an extremely high risk of being conjoined (or ‘Siamese') twins. He said it wasn't possible for two people to be as close as mirror twins. So even for twins, Remy and I are about as close as twins can be.

I remember very clearly what he said when I asked how one knows if one is a mirror twin. "Usually each twin has opposite characteristics," he replied. "For example one twin will be right-handed and the other left-handed." It was at that moment with these words that I knew for sure that Remy and I are mirror twins. Remy threw the ball with his left hand when we were really young. He's a natural left-hander, but since we're twins he was brought up to be a right-hander like me. It explains why he golfs and bats left. But there are other differences. I have one crown on my head and he has two crowns. His cowlick is on the right side and mine on the left. My left foot is slightly bigger than my right foot, but his right foot is slightly bigger than his left foot. He has a tiny cluster of hair on the underside of his left arm while I have the exact same cluster of hair on the underside of my right arm. He has a persistent zit on his left cheekbone while I have the same persistent little bugger of a zit on my right cheekbone. He's dislocated his left shoulder and I've had surgery from dislocating my right shoulder. He's chipped his front left tooth while I've chipped my front right tooth. But there are more things that make us identical opposites, aspects of our individual person that give it all a certain symmetry. His eye injury was to his left eye while mine was to my right eye. He studied history at university while I studied philosophy. He wants to write a book that will heal the world while I want to write a book that will inform the world. His master's degree is in international business and mine in international relations. He grinds his teeth when he sleeps on the left side while I have worn my teeth down from grinding my teeth on the right. He has lived and worked and traveled in Europe and South America while I have lived and worked and traveled in Asia and Australia. It has just ended up this way. The list is long but there is a unique correlation between us that supports that we are mirror twins, and Remy's complete lack of fear and acceptance of bears is another example of this.

Of course there are the obvious similarities, such as our unusual loping gait. We're exactly the same height and weight, and we have the exact same cadence in our laugh. And we have the same sense of humour and the same taste in women and music. But the most intriguing aspect of being twins is how we will have a dream at night and wake up knowing that the dream was a premonition. If I have a dream with Remy in it and he's in distress, nine times out of ten when I call him the next day he's had a bad night. How does one explain that?

Standing so exposed at the edge of the woods where I can hear wild animals go about their business is foolish without a dog, so I retrace my tracks across the acres of open field. As I walk I feel a nagging guilt at being AWOL from Remy for so long. I feel selfish for taking for granted the magic of being a twin. I begin to wonder if it was my absence that first started Remy on his nomadic life, and perhaps one of the primary causes of the turbulence he has had over the last seven years. It all seems to have begun when I left for the Far East after a fight we had that precipitated my departure from Canada.

When I reach my tent, Remy is sitting outside his camper with a mug of steaming coffee in his hand and his dog at his feet.

"'Morning," I say.

"'Morning," he replies. Same voice, same tone as me. "Coffee? I have some here."

"Yes, nice one. In my tent I have-"

"It's OK. I have a mug here for you." Remy steps into his camper and returns with a big mug and a small filter on top of it, full of fresh coffee grounds. He hands it to me and then pours hot water from a large blue kettle, but he purposely fills it up to the rim so that if I shake or move even a little the hot water will fall on my fingers holding the mug. I begin to laugh because the water is right at the maximum limit. My laughter makes the meniscus tremble and then spill over, which makes Remy laugh. I'm careful to angle the filter to one side so the boiling water doesn't burn my hand. Why is there always Tom Foolery between us even if it's somewhere in the Rocky Mountains at the crack of dawn? Already we're sharing our first laugh of the day despite the fact it's at my expense. Scheudenfreunden. Plenty of that between Remy and me but all in good fun, and seldom past a certain point when fun turns into danger.

"That was close," I say. "Dubious pouring technique." Just then Blue decides to check me out again. She sniffs my denims, which takes her nose up to my crotch. Remy laughs more as I try to move out of the way.

"Goooood doggie," he says, encouraging the dog and causing me to spill more hot water. This time the water spills on my fingers, which makes me take the mug into my other hand, fling my burnt hand in the air and yell out. But just as quickly as this, Remy changes the subject, acting as if there was no spillage.

"Good walk?" The coffee is poured and Remy removes the mobile filter.

"Yeah, good until I got to that forest edge over there. Thought I heard bears. My bear phobia has been evolving over the last 12 hours."

"That's cool. Black?" he asks. I nod at the double entendre.

"I usually take it with milk but in the bush I'll take it black." The coffee smells of home. To me coffee always smells of home but with Remy beside me at this moment I feel that here, right now, in the middle of the mountains, I am home. I savour the aroma as Remy looks at my soaking feet.

"You need some decent boots."

"Yes, boots are on my list. And that black Ford we saw yesterday. I think it might be a good call."

"It looks like a good piece," he says. "If you have enough coin, we should see it today. It would be a wise hardgood to snag." I sip my coffee and can feel the residual chill in my bones evaporate into muted steam like a mild sauna within my own skin. That's when I pull out the ten-dollar bill and hand it to Remy.

"You were right about the dry tongue." I place the bill squarely in his hand, adhering to the strict code of conduct between twins. "Driest tongue in the history of mankind, I'll say!" We share another laugh and then both turn towards the sun that is slowly emerging over the beaver pond. The sun feels closer here in the mountains and brighter. I'm surprised to see him put on almost the exact same prescription sunglasses as me, which I have worn religiously everyday for years. There is always something reassuring about these small coincidences. I know he has noticed the same thing but neither of us make a comment. It reminds me of the present I have for him. I rummage through my pockets.

"This is for you brother. The real McCoy." He holds it in his large hands curiously. "It's a Chinese moustache comb made of sandalwood with teeth that smell of finely cut wood." I pull out mine, which is identical, and demonstrate the preferred brushing technique on my bushy moustache. When Remy tries it the handlebars on his moustache instantly become fluffy and sunlit.

"I thought your ‘stache could use the same kick on the sides there," I say. Then I hand him a cigarette as a tobacco offering.

"Thanks bro." He combs his moustache again and then looks at mine.

"A bit of an Asterix piece." The hair on his upper lip is now fluffy and blonde in the sun. We stand quietly and sip our coffee.

"Let's go see that Ford pick-up," I say. "Another night in my tent and I think I'll pull some sort of muscle."

 


6

"It is only the most intelligent and the most stupid

who are not susceptible to change." - Confucius

  Just outside Prince George, British Columbia

Driving his brown Dodge past the pulp-and-paper mills towards Prince George, Remy is stroking his beard and looking all around him soaking up the greenery, talking, pointing, patting his dog. A grin on his face that he can't wipe off. His posture square with the wheel and his arm fitting comfortably on the armrest by his right elbow. A cigarette dangles from his lips between outbursts of words. He tells me how this is our time to finally catch up and do some road-tripping and how we have to make the most of this opportunity and that he knows of some places we could look for a place because he hoped - if the property is big enough - that he can camp on the land I buy. His hand flails when he talks, emphasizing his points with light beaming from his eyes when he speaks of anything spiritual. His voice calms and he speaks with authority when he discusses healing the human spirit, ready to breathe fire at anyone who doubts him. His long head hunches at the neck over the steering wheel and his sunglasses absorb the glare of the sun as his red bandana keeps his hair out of his eyes. He drives slowly - so slowly that almost everyone who is behind him passes us when they have a chance. But this doesn't bother him. He acts as if they don't exist, unless they tailgate. That's when he flips up his rear-view mirror and cuts his speed down by a third until they pass. He ignores the honks that come as if they are quacks from a duck in a nearby lake, still preoccupied with juggling the ten things on his mind: the conversation with me, patting his dog, humming to the music from the radio, changing lanes, navigating back to Prince George, sipping coffee from his thermos, keeping the truck in the middle of the lane, smoking a cigarette as if that were the only thing he was doing. But I have always trusted Remy behind the wheel. It's a gift he has always had. If it could be done on the road, he could do it. He knows how to treat a truck to maximize what she has in her. He's always had a special ability with four-wheeled vehicles, whereas my special ability is with two-wheeled vehicles. Four wheels is his North Pole, two wheels is my South Pole - two separate areas of expertise yet linked.

We pull into the parking lot of the mechanic's garage where the black truck is for sale. We walk around the Ford while Remy points to the chassis and looks at wires underneath that I don't know anything about. When he walks I notice his loping gait is more pronounced than it has ever been before. He sort of skids his ass along the pavement, moving his eyes along a level horizontal plane as if pulled by an invisible wire. To me his loping gait is always the first thing I notice about my brother, but now, after so long apart, it's so distinguishing that I have to laugh. I'm sure I walk the same way because people have told me but of course can never see it myself. A new addition to his look is his jeans. Hanging so low around his boots they look as if they are about to fall off. When I ask him about his droopy denims, he tells me his belt buckle is done up on the loosest of all the knots because modern trousers are poorly designed. They constrict digestion by cutting off of the natural flow of the intestines. His solution is to keep his belt as loose as he can "to ensure regular digestion and thus movement and absorption of nutrients." Always a method to his madness, an underpinning of logic.

"If you get this buggy we can really cruise, man. With a map and go-juice we can go anywhere in these rigs. Seriously. Think about it: anywhere." I feel the bug immediately and itch to buy the damn truck now so we can hit the road. He's right. This vehicle is ideal for looking for property. Then it strikes me how strange it will be for identical twins to be cruising in the exact same equipment except one rig is brown and the other is black.

The mechanic walks up to us. A massive man.

"She's a good truck this one," he says with some bluster.

"I hope so for that price," I reply, well practiced in the art of bargaining from my time in China.

"The camper is strong too."

"A bit of rust," I say, pointing at the door of the Ford. The mechanic looks a bit offended, and then with the demeanour of a parent speaking to a child proceeds to explain.

"This is a Ford half-ton pick-up. It's the biggest selling pick-up truck in history. All old Ford's rust, you know that. But the body is as strong as a bitch for a twenty-year-old truck." He points to the suspension. "Tight suspension, I did that myself. Sturdy Goodrich tires. Put them on six months ago." He speaks like a mechanic, with the same pride and awe of seeing not a hunk of metal but a miracle of interchanging parts.

"You're a mechanic here?" Remy asks.

"I work on my cars, yeah. I run a fleet of taxis." He gestures towards a half-dozen yellow cars. "I own the place. Where are you two from? Brothers' aren't you?"

"Yeah, we're brothers" I say.

"We're twins who haven't seen each other for a long time."

"Seven years."

"Until last night." The mechanic looks at us both, back and forth and nods.

"Where are youse twins goin' then?"

"Smithers and maybe out to Prince Rupert or maybe up to Atlin in the north." The way Remy says it shows he doesn't think the mechanic will know where Atlin is.

"Atlin! Jeez. That's a fair ways from here. But no problem. This truck will get you there. She's designed for these roads. She'll take youse up to the Yukon no problem at all. And here, look at the camper. I made it bigger last summer, because..." He puts his hand around his bulging gut, which hangs over his waistline. "Because I like my space." He opens the back door. "I cut down the size of the table to give me more room in the kitchen. It's handy-"

"To reach for beers," says Remy. We all have a laugh because that's what we're all thinking. The mechanic steps inside the camper and I follow. It's high enough by an inch or two to stand. Roughly the same design as Remy's camper but newer by a few years.

"So how much are you asking? It says $3000 but seems a bit much."

"It's worth every dollar of that three thousand. I love this rig, and I'm sorry to part with it but I bought a larger trailer." The mechanic looks down for a moment and then points through one of the small side windows to a large Winnebago parked beside the garage.

"I see. Lots of space in that. More than this one." I ask him if I can take a test spin.

"Sure. You have a valid license? Sorry I have to ask."

"Yeah, I do."

"Could you show it to me? Once this guy drove one of my cars and-"

"Yeah, no problem." I take out my temporary license and unfold it for the mechanic. "It's valid for three months beginning a few days ago." The mechanic's eyes narrow and after some cursory reading nods and hands the document back to me as well as the ignition key. The engine starts on the first turn. I steer the Ford to a side street and then take a turn, accelerating enough to feel its power, surprising for a truck with a camper on the back weighing over a ton. The Ford handles beautifully and for a moment I have difficulty keeping a straight face. The rig is ideal. The mechanic is firmly placed in his seat with his seatbelt strapped so I purposely hit some potholes head-on, the truck absorbing them as if they are small cracks in the pavement. I drive back to the mechanic's lot and am ready to make an offer. When I step down from the high-up seat and look at Remy, I'm sure he can see the impatient glimmer in my eye. In front of the Ford the mechanic appears to be a bit ticked off at my reckless driving.

"How ‘bout twenty-five hundred?" I offer.

"Oh noo... that's too low. This camper is worth two thousand on its own. And the rig, well, I don't want to sell it but my old lady... Let's just say I need the money." He looks for a moment like a broken man.

"Twenty-seven, cash."

"I can't part with it for less than twenty-eight. Sorry about that." The mechanic walks away and doesn't look back. I know I don't have that much money on me so I reluctantly walk back to Remy's pick-up and we leave.

"How'd she handle?"

"Lots of play in the wheel," I reply, "but it's too much cake."

"It's a solid hardgood Trapp. Staying in the tent again tonight could be tough now that you know that camper exists." He's right.

"So you think I should buy it?"

"Trapp, it's a reliable vehicle and the camper is refurbished and he doesn't want to part with it but he has to because he opted for more room in that crappy Winnebago. Man, I think you should snag it if you can swing the fundage." The thought of staying in my tent tonight makes me feel shivery under the glaring windshield.

"I need that money for the homestead."

"You need something between now and then. You know that life is what happens when you're making plans," he says, quoting John Lennon. "I respect your thing for your house piece but the road is no place for a wimpy van with small wheels and a stuffy backseat. It's claustrophobic el grande. You need decent tools and this puppy will get you to where you need to go. Once you get your place then you can ditch the camper and you'll have a pick-up as your mobile. It's a win-win Trapp. The roads in Canada are here for us to use my brother. Canada is as big as Africa, and it is our duty to explore her because she is ours and we owe it to her to respect her through knowing her."

"Fair enough," I say after a minute. It's true; the time between now and the purchase of the house will be our moment so I might as well be smart about it. I'd rather be in this rig during a storm than a van. "Okay then. I'll need a bear protector too so let's go get one and stop at the bank on the way."

Prince George is small so just around the corner we find a bank machine. I withdraw from my credit card and then we drive down the street to the SPCA where we park and go inside.

"I'm looking for where I might be able to find a dog to adopt, preferably a two-year old female," I say to the clerk. "Am I in the right place?" The woman smiles at the two of us.

"Yes, just go through those doors and down the hall to the last door on your right. In there you can look at the dogs we have." She points to where the kennels are so Remy and I walk down the pristine-white hallway that's so bright and disinfected it's suffocating. We reach the last door on the right that Remy has to yank open. We enter, dogs begin to bark, one in particular at which Remy points.

"That's the dog you should get. The one that barks at you first." It is a medium-sized brown-haired cross between a Shepherd and a Labrador with the saddest eyes I've ever seen.

"It's a male," I say. I walk past each dog looking carefully for a sign of it reaching out to me. Passing some young puppies and some old timers, I come to two pure white dogs at the end of the kennel. One of them has a fresh eye wound. I check the chart hanging on the cage. "Malamute/Shepherd cross" it says. The bigger one, the male, is nine years old and the one with the scratched eye is two years old and female. Remy looks at them curiously.

"They both look exactly like Teetchema." I haven't heard Remy say her name in years, but he's right. Both dogs are identical to the dog Remy had seven years ago. Remy had her for years until he was forced to shoot her after it bit a child on an Indian reserve in Bactchewana Bay on Lake Superior. Remy was asked to kill his own dog, something I don't think he has ever overcome. He told me it was the Indian way to kill any canine if they ever drew human blood. It's strange but here in front of us is the identical twin of that dog. I blink and try to ignore the coincidence but I can't.

"They look part wolf just like Teetchema," I say. Remy is lost in thought looking at the two white dogs. The most striking thing about the dog is one of her eyes: it's pure white. It's her brown eye that has the abrasion, like my right eye I injured last year in Hong Kong. It's the dog's eye injury, as well as our own eye injuries, that we're both thinking about in front of the cage.

"Vancouver Island White Wolf," he says. "The wolf is the totem animal for the western gate on the medicine wheel. It means loyalty and perseverance. It's good medicine Trapp and she's two years old so she's the right age." Loyalty is what I want and there's something about her wagging tail and the lack of barking that I like. The older white male growls at us.

"She looks just like Teetchema when I had to put her down. But we must not speak of the dead. But let me say this, if it's one thing I've learned about native beliefs and dogs it's that white dogs keep away the positive, not the negative. That's why Natives almost always have black dogs, or at least some black in them. Black keeps away the negative." I shake my head at him as if it's nonsense.

"White dogs keep away the positive, is that what you're saying?"

"Yes, exactly." We both walk back down the kennel towards the brown dog with sad eyes. I watch it bark and drool. When I put my hand through the bars to pat it, the dog becomes so excited that he bites my hand a little too hard, which scares me. Pulling my hand away, I move back to the white dogs in the corner. I reach out to her and she licks my hand, gently. Calm temperament. Manageable. Not irrational. Goooooood doggie. Low maintenance. Bear protector.

"I'm going to get this one. It's the eye. I can't help it. She's my bear protector." When I walk away I look back for Remy's approval, but I can only see him shaking his head as if he's unable to prevent a tragedy about to happen. I go back to the vet in the foyer and tell her I want the female white shepherd. Using my uncle Peter's address outside of Prince George, I'm able to get her.

"OK Mr. McFlynn, all your papers are in order. Remember that she was just neutered four days ago so careful not to rip her stitches open. They are designed to dissolve in dog saliva when they begin licking them. She can go with you now if you like, or you can come back tomorrow when she's a bit better. She may be a little subdued because of the medication we gave her."

"Might as well pick her up now," I say. I follow the vet through the doors down the disinfected hallway where she goes through a door behind the kennel. I go to the other side of the cage where I see Remy patting the sad brown dog. When she opens the backdoor the elder male dog is upset at the movement of events. We can hear the male growling when the dogs are separated. The growling stops with a yelp. The male returns to the cage and the backdoor is shut.

We meet the vet in the claustrophobic hallway where she hands the dog over to me. Remy and I begin to laugh. I'm laughing from excitement of having a new dog, but I know Remy is laughing at me for making the same mistake as he had before. He's thinking that all that befell him will soon happen to me.

"You two have identical laughs," says the vet. "Did you know that?" We both nod. "You're brothers?" More nods. "Twins?" We answer ‘yes' at the same time. "Which one is older?"

"He is by five minutes," I say jabbing my thumb towards Remy. He looks at the vet uncomfortably.

"I'm the older twin but the more irresponsible one."

"Oh, is that so? Well, there has to be one in every family." Her words buoy Remy as we walk outside to the parking lot into the smelly air of Prince George.

"We should think about fortifying our technology supply if we can," he says.

"Plan W?"

"Yeah, there's that guy I know down the street in that old saloon we passed. I think he sells all sorts of stuff. We could go see him tonight. His name's Frank. He's native and very cool."

"Yes, we should definitely fortify our plan W supply for the road," I say nodding in agreement.

"Nice one. ‘Tis wise to snagglepussy aujourd'hui." There's a word I haven't heard in a long time.

"OK, but let's go back to see the mechanic first. I want to make another offer."

 
 

 

 

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