Wordcarpenter Books

Twin Fiction

Road Sailors
 

  1

 "There are, are there not, young plants that fail to produce blossoms,

and blossoms that fail to produce fruit?" - Confucius

  Vancouver, British Columbia

Walking down the corridors of the Vancouver International Airport, I look for the crowds that simply aren't there. After seven years of living in cities throughout Asia jostling line-ups of people speaking an indecipherable tongue is still the norm for me. The total lack of people is striking. Clean carpets and freshly painted walls adorned with proof of Canadian culture. Inuit masks older than the arrival of Columbus bespeak a power of calm. Totem poles polished standing 20 feet high like a hidden authority watching all who enter its realm. Silent. Wise. When I stop at the custom's line there are only two people standing in line. It is a new world with the space and quietude and clean air to prove it. Behind the uniformed customs official there's a sign on the wall. Without my eyeglasses on I squint at the sign but it's blurry. The inertia of living in China is still with me. I half expect it to say:

COMRADES! DO NOT SPIT ON THE FLOOR.

Walking through customs to the airport lobby, I grin at the thought of seeing my twin brother but I don't see him. Instead a bevy of tall Canadians looking at me. It could be my droopy handlebar moustache but I'm used to people staring. The norm among the Chinese, gawking, mouths agape, eyes unfriendly. So many words unspoken. An international language through the eye. To escape their stares I take a seat at the bar in the foyer and order a drink. My twin intuition - ancient, omnipresent, true - tells me there's been a change of plan. Remy lives on ‘Indian time." Expecting him to be here at exactly this time on this day after driving across Canada from the east is merely wishful thinking. A rolling stone, above appointment or deadlines. Anything  detracting from his sense of freedom is anathema to him. In his own time; a roving one-man country without papers or taxes. As a precaution I had arranged to stay with an old friend from university. In a phone booth on the other side of the foyer, I call Danny. No answer. I leave a message: I'll be at the Cambie Street Hostel in Gastown. Meet me there.

I pay for the drink and leave the airport in a taxi.

Slowly I begin to relax. Last-minute deadlines before leaving Hong Kong, international borders, papers, passport; it has finally passed. I'm on no one's time schedule except my own now. The streets of Vancouver are empty compared to Hong Kong. Not quite deserted but budding, adolescent, like a fawn finding its legs. No honking horns or traffic jams, no scooters weaving through stationery cars. Ordered, planned, crisp, with fresh pavement, curbs manicured with brooms. Green, full-blooded spruce and pine spaced with method and design.

I arrive at the Cambie Street Hostel but instead of getting a room I go into the adjacent high-ceilinged tavern. It smells of beer, its large tables scarred from years of imbibing. Old as the Canadian Pacific Railway. I feel right at home. I place my bags at my feet under the bar. Melodies from my youth - long-forgotten-yet-familiar mix of Canadian music - jolt me away from the emotional baggage I'm carrying from my years overseas. It makes me suddenly relish the journey I have before me. Groups of people in their twenties stand in clusters smoking cigarettes, showing off their tattoos. An old-timer swaggers past me looking at the tattooed youths with suspicion and contempt as if they are trespassing on his own property. A new generation who have MTV as their religion. These are the ones who have chosen to rebel against the government war on fun. The cycle repeating itself. Outlaws giving the finger to authority. Armed with mobile phones instead of a six-shooter, these are the descendents of those who were here in the wild west. Dusty, dishevelled and full of brawling booze.

The beer, full-bodied and rich in flavour, calms my nerves like an elixir, slow, melting the frost accumulated around my heart. My mind turns to where I have just come from, distant, crazed. A city that never sleeps.

I call my mother in Toronto to find out where Remy is. He is in Prince George, 600km north of Vancouver. I learn my uncle has a property for sale in Prince George that might be what I'm looking for. Since he is crossing the Rocky Mountains near Jasper National Park, Remy is going to meet me there. Yes, I see the logic of the plan so I call the bus station to find out departure times. Just as I return from the phone, Danny walks in.

"Trapp!" he says. He looks exactly the same as I remember him except he's leaner. The clear eyes are the same, but he's now carved from wood. "Great ‘stache but what's with all the white hair?" I stand up and give my old university friend a bear hug.

"I'm sure my brother's hair is just as white."

"Didn't know what day you were coming." In the melee before leaving Hong Kong, I hadn't confirmed my arrival date with Danny. 

"I haven't been online for a couple of weeks. I sent all my stuff in boxes two weeks ago so I've been living out of a suitcase since then. The friend I was staying with didn't have an Internet connection. But hey, I'm here. And you're here, so let me get you a pint." I order a round of beer and we catch up on each other's lives. I tell him a bit about teaching at the university and about some of my travels but then I see it: the dull eyes, the lack of interest, indifference and a whiff of mild envy. Discovering a new colour, explaining it to another is an exercise in futility, like a hunter relaying a kill to someone who has never experienced the smell of gunpowder.

I ask him what he's doing now.

"I'm still a waiter," he says. "The money's good so it's OK for now. I mean it's not so bad. I can't seem to find a decent job. I don't know... Every company seems to be hell-bent on hiring minorities so I keep on being overlooked. But I don't mind being a waiter; it's good for now." On my face can only be surprise. Danny graduated on the Dean's List from one of the best universities in Canada so why is he still waiting on tables? I think to myself. Guys like Danny, like countless other white males in the country, should be running companies. They shouldn't be ostracized from society because of oppressive hiring practices. A whiff of the old achy malaise I used to feel hits me - a waft of despair that rekindles an anger as black as night in the country during a new moon.

"There are many like me who left Canada because we couldn't find jobs. Affirmative action should be illegal in my opinion.

"I'm not going to leave Canada to find work, "he says. "I'm not like you. You've always been a little different, wouldn't you agree?" Memories of university life return to me like bullets spewed out of a Gatling Gun. Recklessness and rebelliousness conspiring to destroy everything in its path void of apologies. All burned and charred in its bitter wake.

"C'est la vie," I reply. His shoulders slouch like a balloon with a slow leak.

"What happened to your eye?" he asks. I shake my head slowly and feel self-conscious of one of my windows to my soul.

"Ah, it's nothing really. I had an eye injury in Hong Kong about six months ago. Some maniac kicked me in the balls and kneed me in the face. He was a mixed martial artist world champion for five years who was running a gym in Hong Kong. It's still healing from three fractures in the orbital socket." I point to the broken bones around my eye. "No damage to my eyesight though." My body language tells him I don't want to talk about it. I look away and watch the tattooed customers becoming louder as a restless resentment returns disrupting and destructive, now free to find its place in this new land. Seething when it surfaces, better locked away where I can use its pungent fumes to fuel my fire in a constructive manner. The surface smooth and pleasant hiding the true turbulent emotional core of my being like a lid covering water almost boiling.

"So what's your plan Trapp?" I tell him I'm back to look for a writer's cabin so I can finish a book I'm writing about China. "Right now my brother Remy is on his way to Prince George where I'll meet him. My uncle has 16 acres for sale just outside of Prince George, so I think we'll begin looking for property there."

"Good land?"

"Don't know. Apparently there aren't any liveable buildings on the property and a resident beaver has taken over."

"Beaver? Familiar theme: beavers wrecking things."

"From there, if we don't like the property I guess we'll keep looking around in the mountains until I find something I like - something rustic and cheap. There's a bus leaving every morning at 8:30 arriving in Prince George 12 hours later so I might take the bus tomorrow or the next day."

"Well, knowing you Trapp, you won't stop until you've found what you're looking for. I envy you. It should be a good trip" All the variables of the road ahead come into my mind: the lack of vehicle, the unpredictability of my brother, the absence of pressing deadlines, and how a quest like this seldom yields its intended results.

"How is your brother these days? Is he still as wild as he used to be?"

"He's well as far as I can tell. I haven't seen him much over the year."

"What's he doing?" Here it comes I thought to myself.

"He's been studying Native American culture under a medicine man in Manitoba. He works as a firekeeper at his sweat lodge." From the look on his face I knew I would have to tell him about the unconventional path he had chosen. I told him how Remy had had what he called a ‘vision' one night just after I left Canada and how he left Vancouver Island and drove east to Manitoba where he met a Cree elder and medicine man named Tom Cardinal, and how the native elder had had the same dream and had been expecting him. So he took Remy under his wing. For six years Remy worked as a fire keeper at Tom Cardinal's sweat lodge learning his teachings. Adopting the Anishinabec way of life over the white man's culture and its inequities against him, he had himself become a White Indian or Métis. I told Danny that Remy was given the spirit name "Rainbow Thunderbird" by his teacher and that he was now a shaman - a man who can heal a person's spirit. What I didn't tell him was by embracing this new identity, the extreme aspects of his personality were brought to the fore, like thinking he was the long-awaited Messiah.

After a few more beers, Danny tells me he's leaving for Kamloops tomorrow to compete in a triathlon.

"Is that why you're so cut? You must be 20 pounds lighter than the last time I saw you. Your beer muscle is gone." Just as I say this, he asks me for a cigarette.

"Old habits die hard," he says, smiling. "One won't kill me."

"Speaking of the old days, ever see Alexa around?"

"Sure, she's around. The flame still burns does it?" If he only knew. Time and distance makes the heart grow fonder or in my case, more daring.

"I want to call her while I'm here," I say. "You have her number?" He hits a button on his mobile phone and hands it to me. She picks up the phone after a few rings.

"This is your old friend Trapper McFlynn calling."

"Trapp? Is that really you?"

"Yeah, it's me. I'm in Vancouver. I'm staying with Danny Rourke tonight."

"You've finally come home?" Her voice cracks just a little bit, only noticeable to one looking for it.

"Can I see you tomorrow? I'm heading up north to Prince George the next day to meet my brother." There's a brief pause.

"Yes, I can see you tomorrow. Do you have a bike or access to a car?"

"Bike?" Danny nods when I look at him. "Yes. I have access to a mountain bike."

"I'll see you tomorrow at two o'clock in English Bay by the Wharf." I tell her I know where it is and that I'll see her there. Danny scrutinizes my face after I hang up. Naked and exposed like an open book.

"Boy, that was pretty suave."

"If I'm in Van, I have to see her," I say, but we both know that I've liked Alexa ever since I first met her 20 years ago. "Is she married yet?" He laughs and shakes his head. He tells me how she was engaged a couple of years ago but it didn't happen. A shot of excitement runs through me like an arrow tipped with nicotine, then I remind myself that Alexa is the kind of girl who always seems to have a boyfriend. Timing, a target one cannot see but must be struck, like a stone thrown in the dark at a tree in the distance.

 

 

2

 "Respect yourself and others will respect you." - Confucius

I was living in a small apartment complex where there was a young woman who lived below who had focused on her career instead of her social life and dating. She was attractive but she had a severe look on her face. There was a nosy old woman in the other apartment beside her who made it her business to interfere with my courtship. I made an effort to get to know the young woman but my advances went unanswered. I blamed it on the nosy old neighbour and, for that reason, lost my temper. With a baseball bat I bludgeoned the old woman to death. When I struck her head it burst open all over the apartment. After killing her, I left the apartment where I saw a view of a graveyard in the distance across the sea. I found a small boat and rowed to the far shores but was pushed back by a huge tidal wave. I was able to surf back to the apartment. When I returned I met the young woman and she was very warm and invited me to her place for dinner. I was overjoyed but then I remembered the murder I had committed and the blood all over the old lady's apartment. When I arrived for dinner police cars were parked in the driveway. I wanted to walk past the police and play dumb but I was sure there was plenty of evidence pointing to me as the murderer. I was so determined to see the young woman that I walked past the police cars to her door. I stood there unable to decide what to do. Then I woke up.

Still horizontal and blinking in astonishment, a deep cringing guilt murmurs somewhere in my person. I'm positive I have never killed someone in my dreams before. What did it mean? Who or what did I want to kill?

"You awake old man?"

"I'm awake if there's coffee," I groan from the couch with blood on my hands.

"I need to push off now. There's coffee in the kitchen for you." Danny takes his bag and flings it over his shoulder, holding his coffee in the other hand.

"I'll call you to let you know what happens with my search."

"Yes, keep me in the loop old friend."

"Good luck with the marathon and the thing," I say.
Still shocked by the dream, I choke up because somewhere in the back of my mind I'm aware that this will be the last time I see Danny for another long stretch of time.

  The pot of coffee done, I take Danny's mountain bike down the front steps and cycle along the empty side streets designated with bike lanes. Air sprinkled with the sea, sluggish and happy, lush in its richness like flavoured oxygen with the power to heal long-abused lungs. Comparing the well-paved streets of western Canada, riding in Hong Kong was like pedalling up and down the tops of volcanoes sticking through the surface of the South China Sea, rounded, crowded obstacles calling on gravity to slow the legs on streets way too narrow. Crossing the Burrard Street Bridge, I enter English Bay and follow the bike path to the Ministry of Transportation. My driver's licence had expired a year before so renewing it is a necessity

Inside the government office is cool and empty, the grey walls barren and unpropitious. . The woman behind the counter is shockingly obese, maybe 300 pounds. It feels eerie inside the transportation office, as if it were a stage for actors going through a familiar script-reading towing the party line. I expect a gruff greeting - as is usual in Asia - but am surprised by the affable greeting from the woman with many chins under a dyed canopy of short hair. She instructs me to another counter where drivers licences are renewed. Walking there I see a sign behind her. For a second I think it reads:

COMRADES, STATE YOUR BUSINESS BRIEFLY.

PROLETARIAN EFFICIENCY IS THE DISCIPLINE

OF PEACETIME REVOLUTIONARY CONSTRUCTION.

A sign I had seen many times during the course of traveling through communist China, for a moment I am confused. I hang, perplexed by the words ‘proletarian efficiency' - an oxymoron to the extreme - and a classic piece of communist propaganda. For a moment I'm lost in thought, but when I look closer at the sign with my eyeglasses on, I see that it reads:

IN ORDER TO FOSTER AN ENVIRONMENT OF MUTUAL RESPECT, THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION WILL NOT ACCEPT OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOUR OR THE USE OF COARSE LANGUAGE.

I don't remember signs like this being here seven years ago, but at least it isn't a crowded room with spit on the floor. A flitter of anxiety nibbles at me at the thought that Canada has moved closer to a socialist totalitarian regime. It is an anxiety long known to me but that had become dormant since I left the country. It is a fear of mine that constant policing and laws of morality have replaced the laissez-faire freedom of my childhood. This being the most likely reason for Remy to embrace the Indian way of life.

Another startlingly obese, short-haired woman behind the counter asks me for ID. Now photographed and officially living at Danny Rourke's address on Water Street in Vancouver, I'm now back on the Canadian grid. In five minutes I have renewed my licence and am given a temporary card that is valid for three months. It's like Swiss efficiency compared to doing the simplest administrative tasks in Asia where getting my ID card requires personal data such as yearly income and blood type.

I cycle to the waterfront where I see Alexa stopping on the corner in front of the Wharf. Perfect timing. When I pull up on my bike, we are both smiling and speechless. After our embrace she steps back and looks at me deliberately, seeing new lines on my face and noticing my bad eye. Alexa's hand reaches out to the front of my shirt and pulls me towards her.

"Where have you been?" The tone of her question has a disapproving, almost maternal tone. Cross but happy.

"Many different shores and many new vistas," I reply. People try to walk past us on the sidewalk so I suggest we ride. I lead the way down a shaded side street that runs parallel to Stanley Park where I jump the curb, pedal past pedestrians and find the bike trail leading into the park. We pass some roller-bladers and a cluster of Chinese walking with baby strollers along the shoreline. We soon find peace beyond the rowing club past the old cannon on the east side of Stanley Park. We try to talk as we ride but there are too many people, many of them immigrants from Asia, which causes me to crave escape from the city. Too much of that. Saturation point. Time to find my own space full of trees, peace and quietude. On one of the fields there is a game of cricket being played, so we find a place to watch from the boundary of the pitch despite the grass being covered with Canadian Goose shit. The players look sharp wearing the requisite whites in front of the Tudor-style clubhouse on the hill behind the wicket keeper.

"So what are you going to do now, mister super-traveler of the world?" The smile on her face is girlish. Her shirt flutters in the salty breeze, still lithe and firm under her blouse. Her light brown hair in the breeze is like a curtain of silk caressed by the invisible hand of God. Her ocean-blue eyes sparkle in the sun so eager to hear my plans. If anything, Alexa's beauty has become more pronounced after seven years.

"Find my writer's retreat in the woods where you'll come and live with me to help skin beaver pelts. I will need leather garments for this excursion." A blush appears on her cheeks, but as she turns her head to the cricket match there's a crease in her brow. I stroke my droopy moustache and think of why someone as beautiful as Alexa would be stressed.

"How's work these days?" I ask. "How's your photography?" She brightens. 

"It's going well. I'm about to open a new gallery in Kenya." The words stay there in the stirring coastal air, heavy and leaden and dull. For a moment everything is quiet under the afternoon sky, but it's interrupted by the crack of a cricket bat, followed by a roar of clapping. Both of us look over at the batters running between the wickets when we see the ball rumbling fast along the ground towards us. The ball hits an incongruity on the field that causes it to veer directly towards me but I don't move. With Alexa directly behind me, calm as melted butter, I raise my hand to catch the ball when it's officially out of play. Before the throw the ball to the player in front of us I study her face. I see it: that look of love, of pride, of faith and security, firm in her emotional commitment to me. There is yearning there, a loss - an unrequited love 20 years old. A profound sadness stirs in my heart and I begin to feel a sense of loss.

"So you're going off to Africa to do what exactly?"

"I'm opening a gallery there to benefit orphans from the civil war." There is hope on her face. Too much compassion can kill a woman.

"Why?"

"Because they are in need and I can help them."

"But why Kenya? What's your particular connection to Africa?"

"I've always liked Kenya and there are starving children there. It's a project I'll see through." She says it to me as if I have not seen the nobility and selflessness in the deed, as if I'm stupid and backwards. What I see now is one of the seven deadly sins in her eyes, pride that has now replaced the compassion.

"What about marriage and having kids?"

"What about them? Why have kids with all these starving children in Somalia and Kenya? I can help. You've seen it on TV. I'm not doing anything here in Vancouver so why not go make a difference in a place that really needs it? Canadians are well provided for. I just think having kids is selfish when others don't have enough to eat. I don't want to have kids because the world is overpopulated."

"The world is over-populated in third world countries, but how does that translate into you not getting married and not having kids versus spending your last years in your thirties in disease-ridden Africa where it's very likely you'll pick up a disease or parasite, like malaria or dengue fever, that will last for the rest of your life? A friend of mine who joined Medicines Sans Frontiers had five different diseases after nine months in Kenya and was forced to leave for Hong Kong to recover. Nine months in Africa wrecked his health. You should see him. You should hear what he has to say about it. It's very serious business."

"I know you care," she says, reaching for my hand. Her hand gives me a jolt. A deep stirring love mixes with the exasperation I feel at the tragedy about to happen. I'm more ticked off at the power of television that at her ignorance. The fundamental thrust of it is honourable but the sacrifice outweighed the effect. Misfortune and calamity only inches away.

Back on our bikes we ride around the perimeter of Stanley Park. After we round the western tip past the jagged rocks, we stop for fish and chips on the beach in English Bay.

"Did you hear about Daphne?" she asks as we're sitting at a table on the patio beside the water. I was hoping she could fill me in on our mutual university friends.

"No, I haven't spoken to her in years. How is she?"

"She had a miscarriage." Something in my stomach drops. An ugly bile winnows upwards from my guts, repugnant and distasteful. The evil-flavoured choleric taste on my tongue incongruous beside the sandy shore. Askew social basket. At first I think I have mistaken what she said because I see a twinkle in her eye. I look at the ocean realizing my appetite has left me. There is nothing I can say. I change the subject to Danny and his Ironman.

"Danny lives right over there," I say pointing to Kitsalano across the water.

"You're staying with Danny?" She knows I am but asks me anyway.

"Yes, nice pad. Cool neighbourhood near the pool and park. Looks like he's been training hard." Between the three of us we've shared a lot of laughs.

"Is he gay?" she asks, eyes wide open.

"No, I don't think so," I reply, startled. Just because Danny's single and handsome, she thinks he's a homosexual? Clearly I'm not use to the societal norms of Canada yet. I reach for one of her French fries and dip it into the mayonnaise on her plate.

"I still think you should come stay with me in my writer's retreat to help me skin the deer I'll need for my food during the winter months." I reach for her hand.

"When are you leaving?" she asks in a disapproving tone. I think about her question as I look out to the ocean, and then make a decision.

"Tomorrow. I'm going to take a bus up to Prince George tomorrow morning to meet Remy."

"How is your brother Trapp? Is he OK or is he still drinking a lot?" I am put off by the question, offended by her bluntness.

"He's all right but I haven't seen him in a while. But that's part of this journey: to find a home and to get to know my twin brother again." I'm not sure if she can sense the tension in my voice, but I can. "It's been way too long since we've hung out for a long period of time." I didn't want to mention that he now thinks he is the long-awaited Messiah, that he has lost touch with reality and that he believes he is the only one able to save the world.

"The last time you two were together you had a fight, didn't you?"

"Good memory," I reply, "but that was a while ago now - over seven years. Water under the bridge." In the silence only the soft waves kissing the shore are heard. The kiss, the touch, the caress that never comes.

 
 
Table of Contents
 
1. Buoyed by Hope
2. Alexa
3. Remy
15. Atlin Man
23. Buffalo
25. Blow Out
27. Inge
29. The Man
34. Landowner
 
 

  
 
   
 
 
 

 
 

This book is dedicated to my identical twin brother Mike

 

"Sawest thou ever thy friend asleep - to know how he looketh? What is usually the countenance of thy friend? It is thine own countenance, in a coarse and imperfect mirror...

Art thou pure air and solitude and bread and medicine to thy friend? Many a one cannot loosen his own fetters, but is nevertheless his friend's emancipator."

- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 'On Friends'

 

  "You cannot travel on the path before you have become the path itself."

- Gautama Buddha

 
  

 
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