Wordcarpenter Books

Road Sailors

27

"It is rare, indeed, for a man with cunning words

and an ingratiating face to be benevolent.' - Confucius

Seven Sister's Falls, Manitoba

At Doug Bell's house I hear music coming from the garage so I walk over and see Remy standing with a bunch of people. He comes out of the garage and shakes my hand as if he's been worried about me.

"Trapp! Good you made it." He regards me curiously, looking closely into my eyes, then introduces me to Doug. Square-faced and fit and a stern gait. He stares at me in amazement and the women look as if expecting me to tap dance.

"You brothers. You are twins. I never believed you Remy that you had a twin brother." The voice unfriendly.

"I haven't seen you in two days, Trapp. I was beginning to worry about you."

"I've been at Neil's. I must have fallen asleep last night." The mention of Neil's name causes a reaction, a hush on egg shells.

"For two days?" Dishevelled. Doug stares at both of us.

"Why didn't you wake me up?"

"I tried to but you were like a log. You should never take pills."

"Maybe you're right about that. Listen, do you have Inge?"

"Yes, I did have Inge." He shuffles his feet, sturdying himself to explain the word ‘did.' "She was going to starve in your camper so I snagged her yesterday and I fed her but last night she ran away. She just ran off on me. I looked for her but couldn't find her."

"She just ran off? Where?"

"Near Grandfather's place. It's only about a mile from here. By the way, of all places, Grandfather's in Wisconsin this week."

"You've looked for her?"

"She ran off. She's part wolf that dog - like Teetchema. She wants to be wild. It's in her nature."

"Remy," I say, exasperated. "Who are you to make that judgment? It should be my call not yours. It's my dog."

"I think she was looking for you." Irked by this, the only thing to do is to find her.

"If you're going to look for her, meet me at West Hawk Lake tonight if you can, tomorrow for sure. I've been here for almost three days now; it's time to keep going." A rolling stone craving the drug of movement and the rubber on cement.

I ask where in West Hawk Lake.

"In one of the campgrounds. I'll be in the big one on the water. You'll know. It's about two and a half hours from here." Hearing this Doug Bell's wife shakes her head and leaves the garage and Tattoo Jimmy's wife walks to Doug's side.

"You gonna leave just like that again with no thought for any others but yourself? You gonna leave your brother here? That's just like you."

"So irresponsible."

"Leave, leave, leave. You leave Beth just as youse were getting along on each other. You leave your Indian teacher just when he was needing you the most. You come and go at the bar and then drive around with your dog in your camper wherever you want. You have no home and you won't until you grow up. You gotta grow up. When are you going to grow up?"

The garage dead silent, everyone looking at Remy. He stands there with one hand holding a beer and the other holding a cigarette, ragged, dirty in a matted beard, his long Roman nose pointing straight down but bonier and pointier than before. White hair shows under the fluorescent lights, his eyeglasses bent and dusty. Colour has drained from his face, an old man, a hobo, who lives from one drunk to the next, one road trip to the next and one town to the next so people only get to know part of him. The pained part. They never see his road sailing genius dodging potholes, navigating roads, smoking out von crannies and enjoying the beauty of the land. They fail to see him healing people all over the country in bars, the makeshift office of his free service, a progeny of our time, mobile, educated and rootless but a master of his own time. I know now from the road that he lives life full-time in the now, an artist and philosopher and a true visionary.

"Your crazy talk about Indians, it's bullshit. It's like you live on the edge of a blade." I used to think you were just irresponsible but now all I see is a fool." Remy squeamish and sullen.

"Wait a minute, Remy left here to meet me, to help me find a place to live. He's doing me a favour." I walk out bringing Remy with me. I can see deep creases in his face and pain in his eyes.

 


 

28

"What use to a blind man is the assistant who does not steady him

when he totters or support him when he falls." - Confucius

 

It isn't right that Remy lost my dog but there are some things you have no control over, like Remy who answers to his dreams and his own wanderlust - a buck taking to deer trails through the trees and across the meadows.

I drive to the bar where I ask Molly if she's heard of anyone who's seen a lost dog. Her eyes light up.

"Is that yours? A white dog?"

"Yes! Where was it?"

"I saw a white husky running along 5 out here, maybe twenty minutes ago. A big white dog. Yup."

"Where's 5? This one?" I point to the road west of the tavern.

I hop in my truck and drive along 5 and slow down when I see an oncoming truck. Undoing my window I wave it down. A bearded face looks at me from the open window in the dust. Mennonites. I ask the man if he's seen a white dog.

"White dog. Big?"

"Yes, that's the one. How far is it?"

"Ten minutes back." The windswept face is pink and lined from the sun but his eyes twinkle with solar power, kids mumbling in the back seat.

 I tip my cowboy hat and drive fast down Highway 5 until I see her along the road running towards me, ears back in distress. So small in the wide-open prairie of tall grasses. I pull over and get out. She stops when I call her name and runs over to me. I hug Inge hard. Her happiness defies words. I put her in the front seat and see the pads on her paws are worn down raw. I can't believe I found her.

Instead of going to West Hawk Lake I drive back to the bar to thank Molly.

"Remy, is that your bro?" Brown-bearded with a ponytail, he approaches and scrutinizes me with his eyes, searching and identifying a hundred small differences in what Remy last was. "No, you're not Remy. He said he had a brother but wow! I never believed him that he had a twin brother. Wanna beer?"

"Well, at the moment I'm pretty pissed off with him for losing my dog." He waves his hand dismissively and I see some green and orange tattoos under his sleeves.

"Are you Tattoo Jimmy?"

"Your brother calls me that." Wrinkles around his eyes come to life, two front teeth missing like gates left open by the road.

"We were looking for you a few days ago here."

"Yeah, I heard. You hear everything in this town. So you're looking for property to buy." I take him up on the beer and postpone my trip to West Hawk Lake.

I tell him that's what we're doing. Tattoo Jimmy takes this as a serious thing.

"A man with land is finally a man. It's that simple." Head shaking, studying my face and seeing Remy but talking to someone new for the first time - a stranger. "Yup. No man's a man without land. I'm talking about owning property with no mortgage. The bank doesn't own it; you own everything."

"That's what I'm looking for." Tattoo Jimmy, excon and landowner, tells me that only when you can stand on your own piece of earth and no one can push you around have you the right to call yourself a man.

"Having your own property is freedom." Tremendous gravity in his belief.

Outside for a cigarette, a car drives by coming from the direction of Neil's shack. I ask him if he knows Neil.

"Miserable old cuss."

"A bit crusty but nice guy. I crashed at his place a few nights ago. Small cabin."

"He got that place from his parents, who he killed." I puff from my cigarette as if I had just heard a comment about the local hockey team, a bad trade that left their offence anaemic. I raise an eyebrow. "He murdered his father with his hands and then took the property from his mother and left her with nothing. She died a few years back."

To me it sounds like small town gossip, as valuable as a fish carcass.

"He went to court but there wasn't enough evidence so he lives in that cabin he inherited from murdering his own father."

"Didn't do any time in the joint?"

"No time." Cold wind fills my ears with the whistle of early autumn.

Molly brings us another round.

"Does Remy know about Neil?"

"Yeah, sure he does but it don't bother him none. But Remy's like that ain't he? Kinda got a kind heart or something. Jack of Hearts that one. But that gets ‘im in trouble. People are suspicious of Remy. They don't trust'im. Where does he get his money? He shows up once in a while, whenever there's a party and then boom! Disappears again. Sure it's fun to hang out with him but after he leaves he ain't around to defend himself so people always end up talking. I like Remy but you get some talking bad about him and people begin to look at him suspicious. People always want something to talk about and he's an easy target."

I ask if he knows the scar on Remy's face. "The one that goes down his face," I say to him. Remy sued the guy who cut him and the money he got is what he lives off." His face like a Venetian blind, unmoving.

"See, that's what I mean. If we just knew that then a lot of us wouldn't think he's an undercover cop. Why didn't he tell us that?"

"Why should he? He never talks about his bad eye. It's personal. And third-party speculation is really just bad manners. It's nobody's business but his."

"You can't stop the way people are going to act." We're silent for a minute.

"True," I concede.

"It still doesn't erase the way he lives. He only answers to himself. My wife doesn't want him coming over to my parties because all he does is talk about Indian stuff. Medicines and that. She gets nervous so I stopped telling Remy about parties and it burned me because I know he found out about them. And I think because of that he hit the bottle hard. I seen him in here drunk and wondering how the hell he was going to keep it together. Every time I thought it would be the last time I ever seen him."

I should go to West Hawk Lake but something makes me want to stay with Tattoo Jimmy to unlock the mystery of Remy's missing years.

"Do you know Tom Cardinal?" I ask.

"I know him. Sometimes I wonder if Remy's under his spell or something, like explain why he thinks he's Jesus Christ. He talks about him all the time as if he was God ‘imself."

I shrug my shoulders. "He's always been a bit of an extremist in his own way," I say. "But without me around it sounds like it's become a bit out of control. A few nights ago he almost died - twice. He's become so fatalistic that it's basically dangerous."

"That's right. Don't get me wrong, Remy is good people but there's a screw loose there somewhere and if it ain't tightened it's going to loosen more and fall off."

Or he may have a spiritual IQ of 160, I say to myself. Or he might be crazy.

It snows during the night and the camper is covered with snow in the morning. The 30-acre property where I stayed is unworthy of serious inquiry so I go east on the road to West Hawk Lake just as the snowfall turns into a Manitoba blizzard. I quickly surmise that driving is virtually impossible without the use of my windshield wipers. I can't see the road in front of me so I pull a u-turn and go to the only general store in Seven Sister's Falls.

"Do you sell any paperclips?" I ask the woman. "Actually I only need one." The woman, homely and buxom, picks one up from her till and hands it to me.

"You can have this one Remy," she says. I'm too harried to make a correction so I smile warmly and thank her.

I pay for duct tape and return to my truck where I unfold half the paperclip, tape one side of it and then attach it to the small metal piece. I fasten it with more duct tape, then try it and it works. The tape and metal hold and my windshield wipers come on. MacIvor. Duct tape and a paperclip.

I drive slowly through the blizzard and hardly see any traffic on the way through the forests of Whiteshell Provincial Park laden with snow, sugar sprinkled on boughs. It had been seven years since I had seen snow. Crows fly over the road going from tree to tree above, negotiating the snowflakes descending, undeterred and determined, black and thick and good.

When I arrive I find the big campground but I can't find Remy. It's deserted and forlorn in the unsoiled snow. After checking virtually every berth of all the campgrounds, there's no sign of him anywhere. I try the walkie-talkie but the power is gone. I can't reach him. I can't see him. Remy is gone.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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