A Canadian tale

Something took pity on my whimpers of despair


A Canadian tale
by jamh

Listening to an all Canadian band playing Neil Young and Loverboy songs, Sema is wearing her "Enjoy California" T-shirt, lying on the lawn in front of the government buildings in Victoria. She is re-reading her Lirael book. I'm trying to put off or convince myself that my premonitions of evil tides have less to do with the signs and more with my sense of drama.

A true Story.

It started on another blue summer day in Lake Cowichan. We were kayaking in the river. The water was warm and transparent. Dina stopped at a small sandy beach to go for a dip. I kept diving in as deep as I could, or at least as much as the pressure in my ears would allow. The sun was illuminating the depths in shafts of light simmering with clarity. I picked up two bottle caps from the bottom and Dina was laughing. "You're always finding things!". On the last dive I saw something sparkle. When I reached it I was almost out of breath but I could see that it was a watch. East European, was the thought that entered my mind when I was looking at it on the beach. In Cowichan river, of all places. It was still working, showing the correct date and time.

"Woohoo!" I said to Dina, "a gift from the river! Isn't it the nicest! And no rust at all!"

It was too big for my wrist so I put it in the compartment of the kayak and shut the lid tight. We continued on, letting the river's flow carry us through the rays of sun peering from the big maple leaves, through exhilarating patches of white water, through stones scratching the bottoms of the Kayaks and through absolutely still dark water, mirrors that created perfect symmetries of the fractal coast lines.

"We should head back, it won't be easy going against the current" I said more than once to Dina, but you know her, once she starts on a candy, there is no taking it away. She navigated with difficulty a fast bend as the current pushed her towards logs on the bank. I followed with dread, thinking of the return journey, but I underestimated the current and got stuck against the logs. I gave it all I had and was almost out when the kayak overturned and pinned my against the log.

The water was so strong. I panicked and let go of the kayak. It took off like a missile. I went down and using the rocks as leverage with my hands and feet came out a certain distance from the bend, completely out of breath and exhausted. I glimpsed Dina catching my kayak and going for the paddles. She had an expression between triumph and concern, knowing what was coming and bracing herself for it. Chuckling too, for sure.

"You went too close" she said.

"I told you we should get back!" I started.

We straightened the kayak. The watch was gone.

"Argg." I said, "I'm going back to find it. It's all your fault."

"You're absolutely mad!" she was now afraid.

I swam back to the heavy current going in and out and feeling the force of the river like something out of a fairy tale. Of course there was no point. No point drowning, none at all. Going back took hours of hard work, having to walk the kayaks most of the way, the round slippery rocks twisting our ankles.

We kayaked many times after that, never that far. Dina remembers that day with fondness. I sometimes dream of powerful hands gripping me by the shoulders, shaking me to let go.

A year later, another long weekend in Cowichan, Dina and Sema were taking the kayaks out for an outing on the lake, when Dina runs to me and says "Pick a hand." "No, the other one!" she is jumping up and down. I'm holding it, but not comprehending. "It's the watch!" she didn't have to elaborate. "I found it in the kayak!". I know I searched it completely. I compare it with my cell phone. The right time to the second. "This is weird" I finally say. After they take off, I look at it carefully, not expensive looking but not that cheap either, no brand name except Stainless Steel and waterproof to 30m.

Everything goes wrong after that. Our toilets overflow and I spend hours trying to unplug them. There is brown slush everywhere, then the bath tub fills with it too. No matter how much I wash up, I can't erase the sticky feel of my hands, arms and legs. Our beautiful house is soiled and stinking. "It's the watch." Dina says with conviction when she gets back. We end up arguing and decide to head back early.

I feel impending doom. I feel powerless. It reminds me of the time we were staying at a Big Sur lodge and my sister lost the diamond ring my mother had given her in the sink. I undid the plumbing under it and searched through the gunk and hair and god knows what. I never found the ring, but we did find lumps on Sema's back. She wasn't even one year old yet. We rushed back. The memory of that dark time, in hospitals and doctor offices still stings me hard.

By a miracle that I don't yet fully understand, the doctors reversed their diagnostic and the lumps ended up being benign when all hope seemed lost. Something took pity on my whimpers of despair. Or some sacrifice was accepted and the torch light in our faces went out as suddenly as it appeared. I promised to be different. Like a relapsing alcoholic, we always drift back to our fog of objects and desires. Our nature is the same as what brings eastern clocks to a pristine river.


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