Wordcarpenter Books

Road Sailors

11

"One does not explain away what is already done,

one does not argue against what is already accomplished,

and one does not condemn what has already gone by." - Confucius

150km along the Cassiar Mountain Highway, British Columbia

Remy parks beside a swift-flowing river on the west side of the road where the winds are blowing with vigour. I park just out of visual sight of Remy's camper, as per twin etiquette, and join him. He is cooking some soup on his propane stove. Already I'm beginning to tire of cheese and bread and peanut butter, but not yet Dill pickles. The pickles are still the best thing about being back in Canada - something I'd looked for on countless supermarket shelves across the Orient but could never find. For some reason I can't eat enough of them.

I go down to the river with Inge and fill up my water bottle, thankful I have a flashlight. Returning to the campers, I tighten the scarf around my neck and do up the top button of my motorcycle jacket but I still shiver in the complete blackness of the night. I can only see the heater of Remy's smoke and a slight reflection from the propane flame running in the crosswinds.

"Thanks again for the flashlight. I need to pick one up. You're a saviour." Despite the new moon, I'm close enough to Remy to see him looking serious.

"I might be the Messiah." Remy studies my reaction: every little ripple of thought that goes through me as if he can see in the dark. I respect his honesty so I bypass the opportunity for a sarcastic comment.

"You really think so?" Remy gives me some of his soup that he has kept warm. I thank him with my voice shaking from the cold.

"I've known it for years, ever since my piercing seven years ago." I ask him about his piercing. He had explained it to me before but I still didn't understand, which is a rarity between us. And because of this I regard his piercing as the product of his imagination.

"My auric bubble was burst by evil spirits and my life force seeped out," he replies. "I've never been well after that and the prophecies say that I'll never be as strong as I was before. It happened about six months after you left for China." I still don't get it. Instead of pressing him, I ask him about his work.

"So what is your message if you're the Messiah?"

"The prophecies say that it will be a message that will unite all the religions of mankind. The message will be the quicksilver that binds all peoples as spiritual kin of the Creator." Remy's voice is calm in the violent crosswinds. "I don't fear death. I will graduate to the spirit world in due course but first I have a book to finish. Grandfather wants me to write down his lost-generation teachings so that they may live on through the generations. But in the meantime I'm writing my own teachings, so I will combine our wisdom into one book." The savage winds of nature rattle in my ears.

"Why do you think you're the guy?" I can see Remy put his hand to his chin to think.                        

"Because I'm Métis Indian and I have an identical twin brother. If I didn't have a twin brother I wouldn't believe it."

"Why? I mean excuse my ignorance, but why is being a twin so important?"

"Because many Native tribes believe that twin brothers were the founders of civilization here in North America - or Turtle Island as the Natives call it. The twins became the God of Thunder and the God of Lightning. And the prophecies say the New Messiah - the Pahana - will be an identical twin and that when each twin - one from the west and one from the east - come together, the two sacred stones will be reunited and the message will be delivered. The twins will reunite during the Seventh Stage of Man, which we have just entered at the turn of the century. And the Blue Star Kachina will shine overhead and the way will be revealed - like the star of Bethlehem. The Pahana will deliver the message that will heal the fissures that exist in world religions and help overcome the squabbles that cripple humanity. And look at me. Look at what I've been doing without the knowledge of the prophecies. It just too much to be a coincidence." The orange heater of his smoke moves frantically in the blackness. He is in deep. There has been no one here to prevent him from his extremism of belief. So completely entrenched now, I feel powerless to have any effect.

Later the next morning Remy leads the way north, driving faster than usual. Nothing but endless green and mountains surround us. A road into the heart of darkness into the unknown.

Near midday we reach Meziadin Junction where a good-looking blonde woman fills up my rig with gas except she chooses the wrong gas tank. She pours gas in my front gas tank - the one that had been removed by the mechanic. It is only after I hear the gas splashing onto the ground that makes me to come out of my truck.

"Rear tank, sorry," I say taking the blame. Squinting at the gas gauge on the pump, I see there's almost fifteen dollars worth of gas on the ground. When she's done I park beside the restaurant and buy two cups of coffee. When Remy finishes gassing up, I'm standing outside on the porch under the roof, keeping an eye on a large Pit Bull staring at me ten yards in front of me. The heavy drizzle doesn't seem to bother the canine. I hand Remy a coffee and then begin unwrapping the food I bought.

"Banana bread like Mom used to make," I say. "Want some?" I don't even wait because I know he does. The banana bread, just like the twin language, is another cue that brings me back to when we were kids. A flood of past images and long-dormant memories come to life that have been waiting to be re-awakened for decades. Remy and I were always eating banana bread as children because it was one of the few recipes my mother knew.

"I haven't had banana bread in probably 20 years," he says. "It always reminds me of home."

"Me too." We both revel in our distant childhood when suddenly I am acutely aware that almost all my most cherished memories were experienced with Remy. He's the one person on the planet who has any idea of who I am and where I came from. After so long trying to meet new friends and attempting to establish relationships with strangers in distant lands, all this time Remy has been here in Canada alone with all this rich history between us lying fallow. He was there when I rode my first bike and played my first hockey game and started my first day of school. He was there when my parents split up and when things became rough at home. We share an entire lifetime together now dormant and unmentioned. Instead of feeling justified by my anger at the fight we had before I left Canada, I now feel a profound sadness at my folly. It's a tragedy I haven't been here for him. Because I blamed him for the fight, my feeling of righteousness has prevented me from apologizing. Remy had apologized to me last year in one of his letters but I never have.

"You know," I say. "I don't know if I ever really said sorry about that fight we had before I left." I think it strange that I bring this up here, in the middle of a rainforest at some place called Meziadin Junction with a population of five. "I know it was no one's fault really. It just happened. And you know it was because of that fight that I left." After the fight I didn't speak to Remy for over three years. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry it all happened." I've been too sinless and selfish and proud to say the words.

"I appreciate that Trapp. We were both in a bad headspace back then. I think we both needed our space. But thanks for the apology. You know I apologized to you already but, for the record, I'm sorry too." We both stand there on the porch looking at the soaking wet Pit Bull, savouring our coffee and banana bread, and letting the apology permeate. The words diffuse our respective engines of blame, which enables the bad blood to clear. It is a long while before we leave the safety of the porch. I know from the sincerity in his voice, and he knows from the sincerity in my voice, that enough words have now been said. Watching the light rain fall from the sky, it occurs to me that nothing can break the bond we have - not even a stupid fight. I can't even remember what it was about - maybe something as silly as dirty dishes in the sink. Brothers fight, that's just part of the equation of being brothers, but that doesn't negate the connection between identical twins and between all brothers. I hope I haven't somehow punished Remy through my prolonged absence due to my own anger. I feel myself assuming a new responsibility: the role of caring enough to try to quell his religious ideation. There is no one else to do it. I feel an overwhelming urge to sacrifice myself to save him, like a mother for a child in the face of danger.

             


 12
"A craftsman who wishes to practice his craft well

must first sharpen his tools." - Confucius

40km north of Meziaden Junction, British Columbia

Back on the road, half an hour from where we ate our banana bread, the road changes from a single-lane paved surface to an unpaved dirt road full of ruts and potholes. A terrible mess. Remy slows down to almost half his usual slow speed and gingerly passes over the uneven road. Our one thousand pound campers sway side to side above us making speed a danger for the first time. We don't see anything resembling civilization for a long while until we pass through Bob Quinn Lake, where there is a well maintained storage facility that also has an airplane landing strip beside it. It looks out of place - likely a Canadian Forces base since Alaska is directly across the mountains. It's well hidden with mature timber stretching upwards to the sky with trunks 10-feet in diameter reaching over 200 feet high. Rivers slash through steep forested mountainsides winding through a thick carpet of ferns and spruce to lakebeds where moose and elk drink.

We stop for a break in a place called Tatogga where I go into the store to buy some more candles and beef jerky. It is here where I find a book all about mushrooms. Immediately I search for the yellow mushrooms I picked in Vanderhoof. To my surprise I find them. It says these mushrooms were once ingested by Russian explorers in these parts that caused them to go "berserk." But these mushrooms also contain parasitic microorganisms and are considered mildly poisonous. I blink in disbelief.

Back outside, I tell Remy about the mushrooms but leave out the fact that they are mildly poisonous so he's not upset about his dog. Telling him that they contain parasitic microorganisms is bad news enough. He refrains from saying "I told you so" because it isn't constructive to our purpose, but I must say I'm tremendously bummed out that I have a sink full of the wrong mushroom.

Back in the rig I steer gently over bumps and pass a big sign in the afternoon light that reads:

YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE ARCTIC WATERSHED

A wave of energy hits me that makes me forget about the bumps on the road and the bad news about the mushrooms. All rivers now flow not to the Pacific but to the Arctic Ocean. I light a cigarette and squint through the smoke just as we reach a small town called Dease Lake. I drive slowly past a Royal Canadian Mounted Police station beside the local general store, which fortunately is still open. After filling up with gas and parking, I go into the store with a violent hunger and buy a lot of food. My hunger hits a crescendo and I can't stop adding food to my basket. I keep my eye open for a propane stove for sale but do not see one, so I pay for all the food (including more Dill pickles) and then find Remy in the booze section of the store.

"Some Z?" he asks, using the short form of plan Z. "I saw a pub across the street. I need to unwind after that road turbulence."

"I hear ya. I feel like having some wine." We go halves on the beer and wine. I buy red wine and Remy buys white wine. The Native woman behind the counter looks at us curiously.

"I hope you boys aren't driving anywheres tonight?"

"Nah, it's not my thing," I say casually. She looks like she's in her forties and attractive with her long dark hair and laugh lines around her eyes.

"We have our campers right outside. No more driving tonight," Remy chimes in.

"I see. Just wanted to check ‘cause the police are around. You probably saw them." She has a pretty smile when she points to the RCMP station across the street.

"Yeah, we saw ‘em." 

"You two are twins?" Remy nods. "Identical?" It's my turn to nod. "Which one is smarter?" Such an inane question that we have been asked all our lives. Our IQ is within one point of one another.

"He is," we both say at the same time. We look at each other in surprise and laugh. It's the first time we have ever answered that way. Remy is as surprised as I am. Usually the answer is ‘I am.'

"Is the road this bad all the way to the Alaska Highway?" Remy asks.

"For another forty kilometres I would say." Remy looks winded at the thought of another 40 kilometres on this choppy terrain. Back in the parking lot, I dump most of my food in my camper and then walk over to Remy's with a bag of goodies.

"I come bearing gifts," I say outside his door after knocking. Always an important point of twin etiquette to knock before entering, since we both value our privacy to an almost irrational degree.

"Come in." I close the door after me but it won't shut completely. I leave the door ajar for fear of breaking something. It's another point of etiquette: never break or tamper with your twin's stuff. Respecting privacy and possessions are the pillars of our twin code of ethics. So Remy shuts the door, securing it in a unique manner with a bungee cord. We drink our wine in our coffee mugs and I eat Dill pickles and cottage cheese on crackers from my bag of food.

"I can't begin to tell you how much I have missed Dill pickles," I say. I know he's looking at me devour the jar. "I couldn't find Dills like these over there for seven years. Think about that man! I don't know, I think there's something wrong with me." We laugh and Remy begins to roll a joint. Soon I focus on the big bag of popcorn I bought, shoving huge handfuls into my mouth without being self-conscious at all. Popcorn lands on the floor that Blue is happy to eat.

"Do you have any other plan W on you?" he asks. "The weed is good but I've been smoking it all day." It's the look in my eyes that tells him I do. I pull out my wallet. "I thought you would! I've taught you well."

"I have some leftover technology from Vancouver I forgot about." After leaving Alexa the night before I left Vancouver, I met a drug dealer with the tattoo on his neck who approached me in Gastown. He was selling a drug I had tried when I lived in the Philippines. I knew Remy wouldn't have tried it so on reflex, and wanting to surprise Remy with some plan W he hadn't tried, I snagged a small ten-dollar baggy of the new big drug sweeping Asia.

"I have some ice," I say, but the mention of this drug fails to stir his enthusiasm.

"Ice? Is this something you learned in Hong Kong?"

"You could say that. Philippines actually. It's an amphetamine. It's the new drug on the street over there because it's so cheap. Have you ever done it?"

"No. Chemicals. Made by man. Scares me. It's not a medicine of mine."

"Ah screw it. The driving was rough today. I feel like having some after those potholes. If you have some tin foil, I can rig something up." Remy places his half-rolled joint on the counter and reaches into his cupboard for tin foil. I find it unbelievable that he has some in his cupboards.

"If we do it then we won't sleep, I'll tell you that much. And I don't know if I want to not sleep tonight." I say this yet go ahead and rip off a piece of tin foil to construct a long canoe-shaped ‘pipe.' Remy drinks his wine and tries to study the map on the counter, but his curiosity of my engineering prowess distracts him from his beloved maps.

"You shouldn't carry it around with you though. What's the point? All you need is a brush with the law and the cops will find it and it's jail time. Not worth it, man. I stick with my green medicine. It's practically legal here now anyway. Since you've been away the cops have pretty much said that they won't bust someone with anything under an ounce - unofficially."

"Yeah, I heard that from a Canadian overseas. But listen, this is a very small amount, enough for two peoples. But I'm only going to do it if you do." I hold the pipe horizontal, packed with a small pile of tiny crystals waiting to be burnt with fire.

"I don't know, man. Chemicals..." But I can tell he's coming around by the tone in his voice. I put it down on the counter and eat some more popcorn. The long, canoe-shaped aluminium pipe sits there beside his sage and cans of tuna.

"The high is just like nose candy but it lasts longer," I say as the final enticement and corrupting influence. As a twin, one is keenly aware of a specific combination of words that will unravel even the strongest will in the other.

"OK man. I'll do it with you." I had found the words.

"Nice one." I take my lighter and place it under the crystals on the tin foil, demonstrating to Remy the proper technique required to master such a fragile concoction.

"See you must let it slide," I say like a Kung Fu Master going through a new step with someone semi-accomplished in martial arts. The crystals begin to smoke until they turn into a clear liquid and slowly fall down the foil towards the other end. As they fall I suck the smoke from a rolled-up ten-dollar bill. I repeat it again as further demonstration and then hand it over to Remy.

"Hold it gently My Son," I say as he takes it from me. "Keep it level so the tech doesn't slide off the end." He gets the handling of the foil right but doesn't hold the lighter close enough.

"It's not burning."

"Hold the flame closer to the foil," I tell him. He sparks it closer, sucking the smoke rolling down the tunnel of pipe as the liquid crystals slide and smoke to the end. He squints, looking at me as he holds his breath. As he does this I can see how his face suddenly becomes flushed. It's very, very strange how the drug affects me. For the first time I see myself in my brother. It's startling. I point at him.

"So that's what I look like when I do that. Same technique with the hands." People have always asked me how strange it must be to see yourself when you look at your identical twin, but this has never registered with me because every time I look at Remy I never think he looks like me. He looks like Remy - nothing more. But now, after the puff, I see exactly how much he looks like me. It's a very, very odd experience.

"Yes, we have a similar gait with the hands," he says as he smokes another one and then hands it back to me. I can see the instant effect of the drug in his dilated pupils. He then begins to laugh at my technique with the foil. "So that's what my moustache looks like," he says as I take the foil again, still laughing. My moustache is like a frozen waterfall now since I haven't trimmed it since arriving from Hong Kong.

"I thought my beard was patchy around the sides here." I run my fingers along the bald patches on my own jaw-line.

"We both have that bald spot." We laugh again, looking at each other in a new light. "Am I that grey?" he asks looking at my hair in the fading light.

"Am I that grey?" I ask him back, looking at his hair. We laugh between sips of wine and smoking from the makeshift pipe. It doesn't bother us that we're right across the street from the Mounties. Like most twins, we can keep laughing until the muscles in our stomachs are sore, and this is one of those times. In fact I develop a pain around my ribs from laughing. I laugh at his laughter and he laughs at my laughter until we both hold out our hands to stop the raucous. I know my stomach muscles are going to be sore tomorrow.

We finish off the joint and most of the ice and then drive our separate rigs across the street past the police station where Remy parks beside the front door of a bar called the Tandzilla Tavern. I park two spaces away from him. Inside we walk directly to the poolroom where Remy inserts coins into the table. There is a group of four men nursing beers at a table in the non-smoking section of the bar that's quiet and dark.

"Stick?" Remy holds a cue in his right hand.

"Stick. I'm in." Remy pushes the money in and the balls fall out.

"Smoking room?" I take out my cigarettes.

"Oui mon frere...Ah here." The waitress walks in with a big smile. She is short with yellow hair and a friendly face.

"Two Canadians - bottles please," I say. She nods and leaves. I light my smoke and Remy breaks. Two stripes fall and I can only sharpen my cue with chalk as Remy sinks another stripe. A group of four women enter the poolroom and sit beside us at the table. They smoke as we immerse ourselves in the pool game, laughing at the twinspeak we use to communicate so the women won't understand.

"Some aguey over on the Louis," he says.

"Mild turb but no biggy. How's the tech?"

"Very goosey. Plan T?"

"Could be. One never knows. Soccer?" He walks past me and surreptitiously glances at my nose.

"No soccer. Soccer?"

"Nope." I sink a solid. "Looks like the Plan Ts are sporting some technique."

"Possible plan X?"

"I could be in." And on it went, game after game.

Soon a few others show up and we are challenged for the table. First a stout man with a moustache plays Remy and loses and then a woman plays him and she loses too. I lose track after a while because I begin speaking to one of the guys who happens to be a bush pilot. He says he's working up here for the government. I remember what Remy said about the magnetic force so I ask him about it.

"What's this I hear about magnetic force of the North Pole affecting electronics in planes?" I ask him.

"Very much so," he replies. "The magnetic force is strong here so far north. We can't use our navigation instruments because the magnetic force renders them useless, so we use radio beacons to navigate. You can see them built up on top of high sections in the mountains to receive and send signals. They're used as points on the land to follow so we know where we're going. After we find one we look for the next one and so on."

"Your instruments really don't work?"

"No, not this far north. That's why the pay is so good." He swigs from his bottle enthused that there's someone who is taking an interest in what he does for a living.

"Are there a lot of these beacons?"

"Every forty or fifty miles I'd say all along the Alaska Highway. As a general rule, pilots follow these beacons anywhere north of the 60th parallel. We're at the 59th parallel here around Dease Lake. The force is weaker here but it still wreaks havoc and makes our instruments unreliable."

When there's a break in the conversation with the pilot, I look for Remy and find him talking to the four women sitting at the table smoking. Remy is telling them about his healing powers. They look intrigued. At least two of them are Natives. I begin to speak to one of them - the same woman who served us the beer today at the store - but Remy looks over at me and says: "Inge Hammerstrom." I raise my eyebrows in understanding and notice that the woman is indeed interested in Remy. But after sitting at the table for some time I notice that Remy's technique with women is a bit rusty. I turn my attention to one of her friends, who takes an immediate liking to me. We smoke some cigarettes and she tells me about Dease Lake. From the looks of it, Dease Lake doesn't get a lot of through traffic so with us being here, there is some cause for celebration. I suggest to the woman that we should go outside and smoke a joint and she agrees. I tell her that we could roll it up in my camper in the parking lot. She smiles and squeezes my hand with a mischievous grin. I look for Remy and he's back at the pool table.

"I'm heading back to my rig with the plan T and we're going to roll up some plan W and perhaps some plan F." My face is deadpan. 

"Nice one." He shakes his head in amazement. "That didn't take you long."

"So I'll see you later pilgrim."

A little while later, after rolling around in my loft and each of us bumping our heads on the low ceiling, the woman says she needs to get home because her children will need her in the morning before school, so I drive her two blocks back to her house and then return to the parking lot. Unable to sleep, I finish off the amphetamine by candlelight myself. I rationalize that don't want to carry it around in my wallet anymore because it's dangerous. I want to adhere to Remy's philosophy of drugs: it should be natural and not man-made, and I need to dream about it so it becomes a medicine for me. My eyes are wide open and sleep is the furthest thing from my mind so I decide to drive to the Yukon.

I walk to Remy's camper and knock lightly on the door.

"Remy, it's Trapp. I'm going north tonight."

"Is that your brother?"

"Yeah."

"Come in." I enter and he is under his bear skin and Blue is beside him on the floor.

"I can't sleep."

"Neither can I."

"I'm going to gazelle to the Yukon tonight. I'll meet you in Watson Lake at the most obvious camping spot or at the first gas station. Use the talkie piece."

"You're a maniac. I'm going to stay here."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"There's no way I'll be able to sleep so I'm going to keep going." There is silence between us. "I'll be parked in an obvious place."

"Careful padre. It's black outside and there are animals on the road."

"I will."

"Make sure I'm able to find you."

"You'll find me." I jump out of his camper, somehow negotiate the bungee cord and get to my pick-up truck. I drive slowly past the RCMP station and gun it north for Junction 37 with Inge in the front seat beside me for conversation.

Crossing the bridge just out of town, I hit the unpaved road but instead of going gingerly over the potholes I accelerate fast enough to skim overtop. At eighty I can surf above the ruts as long as I don't hit a big pothole dead on. I drive like I've never driven before, like a crazed racecar driver poised high off the road. I speed through the darkness without any concern for wildlife on the road with the only light being my high beams. Long stretches of gravel road have grades as steep as seven degrees, but I only hear the scream of music over the sound of the shock absorbers absorbing the bumps. I know I'm wired but feel in complete control skimming above the imperfections in the road, some corners so sharp that several times I almost pull a Jimmy Dean. The Ford rambles north as the sun begins to rise with me singing the same Bruce Springsteen songs over and over from the cassette the mechanic left in the rig. Reaching the Yukon is not only reaching one of two Canadian territories, it's the end of the Rocky Mountains and that claustrophobic, pine-tree-walled-in feeling. In the emerging light I can see the drastic change of landscape: the land loses its mountainous flavour and becomes a collage of bright colours of fresh yellows to the carpet-like moss as if the forests had suddenly become polite. Lakes that reflect the morning sky have mossy shores two inches above the water. Even the shoreline is neat without a branch out of place. When I reach Junction 37 after three hours of mad driving without seeing one vehicle on the road, I pull into the gas station on the corner of the Alaska Highway where I take Inge for a walk before fatigue finally gets to me, directing me to my loft. I soon fall off into oblivion with a thousand new images still racing through my mind.

 
 

 

 

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