First chapter of phatwilson

Chapter 1: Wayne Conrad (Monday-Tuesday)

If I hadn’t had to take a leak, I wouldn’t have seen it. It would have just sat there and decomposed in the rain and the snow and the sun until there was no longer anything to see.

But I had to take a leak.

A car swooshed by. Then another. A blaring horn. An unintelligible shout dopplering away.

Yeah. Very funny.

My pee carved a path down the slope and pooled around that thing at the bottom of the ditch and… snap. I saw the crisscrossed grass, every blade of it. I saw the litter and the bugs and the little improbable blue flowers. I saw the blue sky, being sucked down by the sun. I saw it all as it was, independent from me. Independent from time.

These moments happen to me. Not often. But often enough that I know what they are.

They are moments in which you can see the pattern.

I wasn’t surprised at all when a bit of dirt was washed away and I saw the number engraved on that thing at the bottom of the ditch: 234.

I zipped. Turned. Put away one thing, stuck out another.

Gordonalan and I were hitchhiking. Although I had never done it before, I was starting to realize I was pretty good at it. We had left Bowmanville at 34 minutes after midnight Monday and here we were, just after 8 o’clock Monday evening, already at… um…

I looked down the highway and saw a sign pointing to a turnoff.

Already at the Orphan Lake Trail.

Big help that is.

So… how about 90 minutes past Sault Ste. Marie, then?

And… where was Gordonalan anyway?

“Over here,” Gordonalan shouted, like he could read my mind.

He probably could.

He was turning off toward the Orphan Lake trail.

“We are going too fast,” Gordonalan said when I caught up to him. “You are catching too many rides. I am calling it a day.”

We had decided early on in the trip that I’d be the guy with his thumb out on the side of the road. Gordonalan would be the guy sitting on the packs. He would be visible, of course. We didn’t want any of those naive souls who were kind enough to stop to think they were being ambushed when they suddenly saw two guys reaching for the door handles.

That was our plan. And apparently, it was a good one.

People seem to like me. God knows why. How do they know, at 60 miles per hour, that I’m not some serial killer?

And yet, they stop.

People like Gordonalan, too. They like him a lot. But usually only after they have known him for a while; after they’ve had some time to get used to how he looks. And acts.

Except what you got from Gordonalan wasn’t an act.

“Slow down, you move too fast,” I sang, because I knew Gordonalan hated that song.

He just kept walking.

The aspens were trembling. The trail rose gently. The sun, at 8:34 on a summer’s eve in Northern Ontario, was low enough to be a friend now. I took off my sunglasses.

How does Gordonalan look? He looks like a bull. He’s all shoulders and big arms. And he’s dark. His eyes are dark; his hair is dark. He’s not very tall, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to Gordonalan. He looks like a force to be reckoned with.

Funny thing is, after you have hung out with him for a while, you realize he’s really a gentle guy. He’d have no problems at all in a China shop.

Aspen shadows crossed the path, all regular, like grooves in a record. When you are driving, and they lie across the road like that, it’s almost like you can hear a vibration as you zoom over them.

When the path crested a hill, we could see Lake Superior draped across the horizon. It was such a peaceful scene; the lake just faded to a fuzzy blue line on the horizon, like someone had taken an eraser to it.

“Look,” I said. “If I promise not to sing anymore, will you tell me what the hell we’re doing on this path?”

“We are going to set up camp at Orphan Lake.”

Alright then.

“Hello aspen. Whatcha knowin’?”

Gordonalan — and the aspens — didn’t deign to reply.

We were too tired to light a fire. We could see one, though — a little pinprick of light way down on the shore of the big lake. Beyond it, the lake slowly turned from blue to dark blue to immense. The horizon was a razor slash right across the south. It bled into the sky.

We stared at the lake, and at that little fire, until the bugs forced us into our sleeping bags and we — or I, anyway — felt the immensity of the earth radiating up through the rocks beneath us.

Who knows what Gordonalan felt.

I was about five years old when I first laid eyes on Gordonalan. When I remember that day, it always starts with the light.

Light was the enemy above. It was a bully. It pushed my head down. But I had already learned something about bullies even at such a young age: Just don’t let yourself feel bullied. If your head is pushed down, then look at all the little things around your feet. Crumpled leaves. Bits of dirt. Cracks and unevenness in the pavement. Or sometimes a big, barely chewed glob of bubblegum, glowing pink.

My mom was somewhere up there. Every few minutes I squinted my eyes and quickly looked up, like I might catch the hospital window by surprise. Then I just as quickly looked down.

My auntie wore brown shoes with little round heels. The skin on her feet bulged around the edges. I hoped I wouldn’t have to wear shoes like that when I was a grownup.

I had to go to the bathroom. I fidgeted a bit, hoping Auntie would notice and ask me what was wrong. But she was busy staring at the window, so I was forced to blurt it out.

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

One of the heels of Auntie’s shoes went click on the pavement. She’d been sitting on the bumper of the car with her legs crossed while I sat on the curb.

“You can wait,” she said uncertainly, then again more firmly. “You can wait. Your mother is going to wave to you. You don’t want to miss that, do you?”

No, I didn’t.

Behind us was a park. Some trees whispered with the light, far above our heads.

There was an interesting looking stick beneath one of the trees. And several candy wrappers. And cigarette filters tips with red stains on them. I wondered if they were bleeding.

At the far edge of the park I could see a small, low-roofed brick building that looked promising, so I stood up and started to walk toward it.

“I don’t think that’s a bathroom,” Auntie said. “You’re gonna to have to wait.”

No. I don’t have to wait. I’m a boy.

Auntie lifted her feet and laughed as a little yellow river snaked around her legs.

And laughed.

And laughed a bit more nervously as I just kept peeing.

The yellow river flowed across the parking lot. It flowed with a force that, up until that time, I didn’t know I was capable of.

“How much pee can there be in such a little boy?” Auntie asked.

And then a little later: “Do you think you can just pinch it off?”

No. I couldn’t. And I wouldn’t even if I could. I was proud of that river. I looked up at the window, hoping my mom was there, and she would wave and smile, clearly impressed. Nope. Nobody there.

Halfway across the parking lot, somebody else’s mom click clacked to her car with a boy in tow. He was bigger than me.

She suddenly stopped at the edge of the river, made an amused sound, and did a  dainty hop across. The boy looked over at me and smirked. His mother said something to him, then grabbed his hand and pulled him across. He kept looking at me and smirking.

I squinted at him and he stared at me until his mom pushed him into the car and drove away. The light flashed on the chrome bumper.

“There she is,” Auntie shouted. “There’s your mom. She is holding up your brand new sister.

I couldn’t see anything. My eyes were still swirling from that flash of chrome.

The boy with his mom was, of course, Gordonalan — although I didn’t know his name until five years later.

I never forget a face. They are burned onto my brain, like a photograph.


As I lay there on those big, ancient rocks above Orphan Lake, I thought. Yeah. It’s always about the light.

Or maybe, it’s always about the pee.

In the morning, Gordonalan was gone. His pack was still there, so I didn’t think much of it. It was a bit of a relief, really. I’m usually kind of a chipper guy. A look on the bright (but not too bright) side kind of guy — except in the morning. In the morning, I’m a Gordonalan. A real Gordonalan. I’m dark, inside and out.

I wandered down to Orphan Lake, picked my way through the rocks into the water and swam out to the middle. It was a small lake. Runt of the litter, really.

I flipped over on my back, looked at the blood in my eyelids backlit by the sun, and let myself slip under.

It is a beautiful thing, being suspended in water. Everything just folds up around you and it doesn’t matter if you are in a wading pool or in a clear cold lake in the middle of god knows where.

The world is just filtered light, muffled sounds and the soft pressure of the water, holding you like an old friend.

Who knows what’s going on above the surface.

Who cares? Until you run out of breath.

The ultimate goal, I guess, is to not run out of breath.

When I did finally lunge to the surface, the world looked a whole lot better.

Gordonalan still wasn’t back.

I rummaged around in a pack and found a gooey chocolate bar, then pulled out a chocolate stained book and tried to read, moving from shade to shade as the sun moved across the sky.

When pretty much the whole campsite was in shade, I figured Gordonalan and I wouldn’t be going anywhere this day, so I set up our little pup tent.

Then I must have napped, because when I opened my eyes, Gordonalan had just thrown down an armload of wood.

And, kneeling next to a tree on the far side of our campsite was a girl quickly putting on her underwear.

  1. Robert says:

    Sounds like it has possibilities

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