WEDNESDAY: Wild Life

BY SHAUNA CLINNING

Copyright is held by the author.

JOHN WALKS into the kitchen and pours himself a strong cup of coffee. He uses the antique green firestone mug his mother gave him, adds just enough milk to make it murky and takes his first sip of the day. Perfect. On mornings such as this — Saturday mornings — he can usually be found sipping his coffee and doing the weekend crossword on the deck of his well-equipped cottage. He is a man of habit.

He walks across the kitchen to the living room and opens the patio doors that lead outside and onto his deck. There’s been a change in weather overnight and he can feel an undercurrent of warmth in the early spring air. He thinks that he might not need his sweater after all but he leaves it on, just in case.

He walks out and across the deck and sits down in his favourite chair. It’s a Muskoka chair and it is grey and weathered and beginning to show its age. And John likes it this way. This has come as a bit of a surprise to him as he knows himself to be a fastidious old coot — like his father before him and, most likely, like his father’s father before him. I’m not really that old, John thinks. Only 57, and I feel great. Look great too. He adjusts the glasses on his face.

He leans back in his chair and looks out onto the lake below. Even though everything is wet and spongy and grey, he thinks of how he loves the advent of spring. There aren’t a lot of people around, there are no bugs — not just yet — and it is blissfully quiet. No other cottagers to be seen or heard.

But as he looks out across the lake, John sees a long, dark green canoe making its way towards his small bay. It breaks the water without making a sound. He leans forward and strains his eyes and sees that there are three figures paddling in perfect syncopation. And his heart sinks. Three teenage boys. Shit. For a brief moment he considers going inside to sit on the leather couch instead, but something about the image makes him pause.

The boys are paddling their way to a small rocky outcropping that sits in the middle of John’s bay. They pull up alongside of it and climb out. They yank the canoe up onto the rock — painfully scraping the keel in the process, which makes him cringe — and then lay their paddles on the ground. They neglect to turn the canoe over as they should and John shakes his head at their carelessness. Then they reach into the canoe and pull out three fishing rods and what must be an old tackle box and they get to work baiting their hooks.

And suddenly, it occurs to him that they don’t know he is there, that they haven’t yet said a word. They are as silent as he is. This is like that time last year when I came upon that doe, he thinks. He pulled his Volvo off to the side of the road, turned off the engine and watched as she ate the bark off a young birch tree. The boys — they can’t be more than 15 — are just like her. They are oblivious to his existence.

And so, John decides not to go in. He sits, sips his coffee and begins to contemplate the soul of a 15-year-old boy.

And that’s when the tallest of the three boys places his rod on the ground, and with hands on narrow hips, turns and takes stock of his surroundings. He slips off his ratty old T-shirt and squats down behind the other two who are still fishing. John sees the boy flick a small puddle of water with his fingers. Then he stands up and, very quickly, slips off his jeans and dives silently into the open water. The other two, the two who are fishing, don’t seem to notice or don’t seem to care. They certainly don’t turn around; they are too intent on the fish.

The boy in the water surfaces and with a few short strokes heads towards the shore. After no more than a minute, he flips and heads back to the rock. God, the water must be cold. Placing his two hands on the rock, the boy hoists himself up, stands and shakes himself off like a dog. He struggles to pull his jeans back on over his slick body, pulls on his old T-shirt, picks up his rod and throws his line in the water once again. And still, the boys have not uttered one word.

John takes another sip of his coffee. With his left hand, he reaches up and wipes away a small tear that is running down his cheek. This is his favourite time of year.

4 comments

  1. Charles Pinch

    Starting from ‘And suddenly…’ and ending with…’uttering one word’ is beautiful writing. You capture the emotional and psychological tension of an experience that is more than appearances. The description of the boy swimming is especially fine. For me, that’s where the story begins and ends.

  2. Pingback: RERUN FRIDAY: Wild Life |

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