Sea Without Shores – Chapter 1

IMG_0649 Subterfuge

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”

My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk

ADAM WROTE: “I have always been of an inferior race.” The recluse closed his daily journal and looked out the cabin window.

Dawn fog slowly tumbled from the lagoon and over the still waters of Refuge Cove. He watched the fog drift across Lewis Channel and careen against the opposing shore of Cortes Island, where it broke into lesser lumps of mist and ether.

He sipped his tea.

Soon the sun crested the hills behind The Refuge and bathed the small community in modest warmth and fall light.

A blue fibreglass canoe sliced over the water approaching the northern shore where Adam lived. Wade paddled from the stern, and two dogs, Duende and Angel, jostled for lookout at the bow. As the boat glided closer, Duende curled his upper lip and nipped at Angel’s ear, but she refused to concede her preeminent position.

In anticipation, Adam walked down to the beach and took up his position on a surf-tumbled log. He heard Wade’s words drifting across the water, “Settle down up there.” Though a boy, the dogs heed him, knowing they can push their eagerness only so far.

Adam waved to the boy. By way of response, Wade interrupted his rhythm and lifted the paddle. Angel – an unadulterated Labrador – shuddered and whined, hardly able to contain her excitement, and Duende nipped at her ear again.

The canoe bow gently crunched on the pebbled shore, and the sea gave the tiniest licks at the land. “No,” the boy warned the dogs, “not yet.” Wade maneuvered the boat so that it rested broadside to the shoreline. He gave the “OK,” and Angel exploded from the bow. Within seconds she greeted the recluse with enough slather, tail whips, and wet paws to convince, not only him, but also the ocean, bluffs, and trees that he was the most beloved personage on the planet. By way of contrast, Duende vacated the bow with the dignity of a pompous arsehole, careful not to get one claw of one pad of one paw wet. The mutt scooted down the beach feigning an interest in harassing two seagulls.

The boy reached under the center thwart. “Dad asked me to bring your supplies.”

“Lucky guy. You get an extra recess.”

“Our second this morning.”

“I thought as much when I saw the girls dancing on the dock.”

Adam held the gunnel to avoid a mishap, and Wade stepped out of the canoe carrying a heavy cardboard box. They sat on the log while Angel sniffed the contents. Inside, Adam found seven mickeys of scotch, a can of Vogue tobacco, matches, cigarette papers, two squat bottles of indigo ink, page size blotters, twelve Key-Tab scribblers, an old weekend edition of the Vancouver Sun, and a large bundle of Heinrik’s venison jerky. Then he saw a small parcel from the Parker pen company addressed to Mr. Adam Wilkes, General Delivery, Refuge Cove, British Columbia, Canada.

“Will you start to write now, Mr. Wilkes?” Wade asked.

“No excuses, I guess.”

The boy pointed at the scribblers, “Dad got you the fat ones.”

“Just as I ordered,” said Adam, as he thumbed through the blank pages.

“Everyone says you’ve got tons of stories.”

“That’s all they leave you with.”

He gave the boy a jerky, tore off a piece for Angel, and another for Duende, who had now decided to join the party.

“Will the stories be about here or Cortes?” Wade asked.

“Whatever pops into my head.”

“Tara says you know everything about everything.”

“A slight exaggeration.”

“She wants you to remember as far back as you can.”

“Tell your sister the stories won’t be about remembering.”

Wade didn’t quite understand that last comment, and the aspiring storyteller didn’t care to continue the discussion, as he had no desire to capture the past in a Reader’s Digest genre. The stories he had in mind would be more in the style of investigative journalism, but with a touch of invention for those times when certainties became illusive. In other words, and in heroic fashion too, much like the cub, Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate scandal, Adam would use the pen rather than the sword to plumb the depths for truth, or whatever else might hide down there.

Wade took a drawing from inside his jacket and handed it to Adam. “This is for your calendar.”

Adam looked at the drawing and immediately recognized the L.O.Larson, a tug that pulled out of Teakerne Arm.

“She’s low in the water.”

“Dad fuelled her yesterday and put 3108 gallons in the bow tank.”

“That trimmed her nicely.”

“The L.O. will be good for September.”

“September’s a busy month for pulling booms. I’ll paste it over a stupid prairie wheat field.”

The solitary man had often imagined that the boy knew how to draw even before he saw his first boat. He suspected that this creative aptitude came from Wade’s mother, Nicole, whose watercolours – primarily local flora and fauna – were remarkably accurate and beautiful. He feared though, that this skill, more likely the sensitivity accompanying his rare gift, would leave him vulnerable in the flight through life.

“By December,” Wade boasted, “you’ll have the best boats on the coast.”

“What ship will October be?”

“Maddie’s Tom Forge.”

“The Forge has special meaning for me.”

“How come?”

“You’ll have to wait for the stories now won’t you.”

Wade looked back at the dock and said, “The girls stopped twirling. I better go.”

He and Angel climbed into the canoe, and Adam helped them shove off. Apparently, Duende wanted to extend his visit. As they pulled away, Adam commented, “When I watch you shoot baskets in front of the freight shed, I see the ball bounce before I hear it.”

“That’s because sound goes way slower than light.”

HIS KITCHEN nook consisted of a wrap-around wooden bench and Arborite table. The chrome legs looked indestructible and ugly. His altered calendar hung on an easily accessible patch of wall where the story fabricator could make his daily entries: sunless days, moonless nights, temperature readings, boat traffic, bird sightings, reminders, clever witticisms, and on and on.

He took down the calendar. The August drawing that Wade had given him a month ago revealed the self-dumping log barge, Island Forester, which Adam had crewed on for many years. He flipped to September, opened his bottle of Lepage’s paste, and brushed the glue over the prairie wheat field. He positioned the L.O. Larson over top and pressed it down. He scribbled a note in the September 1 square: white raven, Maddie’s Forge.

His Key-Tabs waited in a neat pile aligned with the corner of the table. The new fountain pen, recently filled despite shaky hands, had been christened, Parker. The indigo inkbottles, now known as Indiga One and Indiga Two, anticipated their glee in consigning truth to immortality. As added insurance, his pagesize blotters guaranteed that the edges of truth would remain crisp and clear.

He still used older forms of technological advancement, ill at ease with the ballpoint pen and the wasteful notion of onetime use. The smooth quiet glide upset him too. To be sure, the raucous scratch of a nib across a page confirmed progress, much like a baptism to an entirely new emotion, which could dilate the eye, so that for an instant only, the writer clearly witnessed the daemons shaking Time’s hours and minutes before falling off the planet. And would not a pause to refill Parker with Indiga’s juices allow the writer to re-consider headway, the opportunity to lance the sprouting of boils and blisters from past transgressions?

Already he had started the undertaking by numbering his scribblers one through twelve, not a prodigious beginning, but a beginning nonetheless. Twelve months for those who believed that time was worth counting. Twelve steps (Adam – firmly planted on step one) for those who kept alive a history with intoxication. Twelve disciples for those who lusted after magical tongues of fire and their many voices. A jury of twelve for those who held steadfast faith in justice. And twelve Stations of the Cross (mistake, there’re fourteen) for those who loved to suffer. If he became flamboyant, which certainly seemed a possibility, James stocked more ink and scribblers in his general store.

The aspiring, pen-pusher kept his writing paraphernalia close at hand in the event that a change in the weather, a strange boat entering the harbour, a community member failing to conceal their innermost desire, or a bolt of lightning splaying his toes, might provoke inspiration. His favourite spot at the table faced the window. Often, Duende sat on a cushion beside him. Through the gap on Centre Island, man and dog could see the small community of Seaford on Cortes Island where Adam had been born. From their shared perspective, the pair saw all of The Refuge and could watch the boat traffic in Lewis Channel too.

They drank their tea, or scotch, Adam from his chosen cup, and Duende from his best-loved saucer, which the man’s best friend easily reached with his elastic tongue. If ever sloppy, the diligent dog mopped the splashes from the table and licked the drips hanging from his chops. Adam never had to concern himself with the waste of precious liquids.

To be clear, the alpha male was not Adam’s dog. Rather, everyman’s dog. Or, no man’s dog. The decision always Duende’s. The pooch arrived, or departed, when least expected. He approached during beautiful sunsets, as Adam brushed his remaining teeth, or when he concentrated on splitting the thinnest sticks of dry, cedar kindling, but rarely when the scriber held a pen. Often the dog went AWOL on days when Adam felt particularly alone. He doubted that Duende fully comprehended that stark emotion of abandonment, or why, even without a pressing need for the long journey into desolation, humans were attracted to that forsaken place.

Unquestionably, his sole companion was the quintessence of the agreeable canine. Two hands high. Hazel-brown eyes. Broad head. Well-sprung ribs. Short, coarse, black hair – a little too oily for Adam’s liking – but waterproof nonetheless. The beast bore the countenance of a saint, though that was a deception, which the mutt often used to his advantage. He was a good swimmer with webbed paws, but only when other means of locomotion were lacking. He wore proudly and honourably a small, white heraldic over his chest, displayed with the aplomb of a retired general. His muzzle showed as grizzled grey, suggesting inevitable decline, yet even so, Duende remained agile on the trails and frisky when he and Adam roughhoused. If excited, the Heinz 57 produced long strings of drool – wet, messy, and socially unacceptable.

Adam thought of Duende (his patronymic during seriously introspective moments) as the mendicant on the move. Doo-Doo (the name he hated most) held low regard for the other dogs in the bay, though he had a grudging tolerance for Angel. Canines in The Refuge could be counted on one hand: Duende, Angel, Moocho, Son of Moocho and De Gaulle. Oh dear, another mistake, we forgot Pemah so two hands were required. Felines outnumbered community members by a factor of ten to one, and they shall remain nameless except for a few pampered pets, such as Winifred and Felix-the-Cat. Seagulls persisted as Duende’s greatest hate, one can presume because they – not he – enjoyed the freedom of flight.

Other non-humans lived in these backwaters too. One old, black bear (the community scourge). Honey bees (fireweed pollinators). A mangy, malnourished cougar (the cat culler). Eagles (overlords of the sky). Deer (tick ridden), mink (scarce, though a family lived under Alice’s house), beaver (in the Lagoon, where they smacked their tails, woke the dead, and watched clandestine meetings of the living), rats (in the freight shed), flying squirrels (nearly extinct), flying ants (only on the first hot day of summer), boring flightless squirrels (chatter boxes), dexterous raccoons (nocturnal garbage eaters), common river otters (who spent most of their time in the sea just like their flippered and lush pelted cousins, eating crabs, urchins, perch, and banana peels), and a lone, omega wolf that howled into the darkening nights from the high bluffs overlooking The Refuge.

One never had to worry about stepping on Duende’s messes, which was a constant worry in the summer with the appearance of rhinestoned, poofed, and yappy tourist dogs off the yachts – mostly poodles and Pomeranians. The other day, using his binoculars, Adam saw him smoothly release three, hard stools while straddling two sections of dock. Clean as a whistle. Three quiet splashes gratefully accepted by the sea. Without exception, the community conceded that a clean dog would always be welcome.

Duo (the children liked that name best) made daily rounds of the homes in The Refuge and spent the nights wherever a warm fire burned, and wherever scraps from a delicious dinner were served along with informing conversation. As well, he patrolled the docks and whined until the vessel owners invited him aboard for an aperitif and mouth watering hors d’oeuvres. The tugs coming in to refuel had become his favourites. The crews fed him packages of wieners, thick slices of bologna, and charred T-bone steaks until his hairless gut gathered splinters from the planks on the dock. They encouraged him to shake a paw, or roll over and play dead, but he always refused, though Adam now realized from experience that the little critter knew all these tricks and more.

A sailboat had abandoned him when a pup, and his owners never returned to reclaim their pet. One wonders, upon seeing the splendours in The Refuge, had Duende quickly decided in his juvenile, doggy way to reject the gypsy life, rather than stow on the next vessel leaving the harbour?

The hound began speaking to our solitary man a few months earlier – a rich, born-to-rule, baritone voice coming from one so small. The recluse didn’t question this unusual phenomenon, though he perceptively chalked up the event to his hermitic existence. At the time of their first chat, Duende arrived riding on a wind, as in a fairy tale, or so Adam had hallucinated, but that fancy must be dispelled, and given over to the distortion of wisdom in a glass, which moments earlier, he had energetically emptied into his blood stream.

In any event, company was company.

When Adam thought back on the pleasant colloquies they’d shared over the last months, at the very least, he took delight in finally having someone to talk to: they engaged in highbrow, philosophical debates (unfortunately, the dog had no idea who the hell Heidegger and Nietzsche were); and then a whole week of psychological digressions on the verifiable sources of emotion (there again, the pooch had little to offer except to say, “Watch my tail.”); and they spent a two-mickey, all-nighter bleating their confessions – the dog’s, brief and without shame, and the hermit’s, laughably long and more to do with regret than repentance. Unfortunately, no saviour appeared to grant absolution and dole out the necessary penance.

Strangely, on that debaucherous night, these bits of remorse edged their way to the surface when the man explained to the dog that the name, Strait of Georgia, was nothing more than British hubris insulting the ear, whereas he much preferred Salish Sea, which the indigenous folks promoted as a substitute. Despite that superlative alternative, our budding scribe had boasted a third option, Sea without Shores.

When Duende wisely asked, “A sea without shores, why such a breach in logic?” Adam gave a long-winded justification, not because he’s a verbose son of a bastard, but simply because at the time, alcohol compelled his tongue to waggle in self-reproach and the guilt of a lifetime. “My own preference,” he said, while rolling his fourteenth cigarette of the evening, “had its genesis in a moment of youthful bliss. The absurd notion arrived as I toppled out of my workboat and splashed into the sea, following an all night party, no longer aware that a brew of scotch, rye, vodka, and a dozen beers should manifest an extraordinary feeling of fear rather than the levity engulfing my soul. Given the circumstances, that this sudden prospect of danger should – but didn’t – take sovereignty over all other emotions, second thoughts did raise serious objections. As I clawed at a cold December ocean, and as the vital juices rushed from my heart into my brain, the unorthodox thought gnawed, to be precise, at a spot in the left temporal lobe, where a state of curiosity could still magically blossom; that is to say, I wondered if I had chanced upon a Sea without Shores. Fortunately, before this dream of life ended, Captain Perry Jenzen grabbed me by the collar and hauled me – like a stubborn, tail-slapping, white-bellied, and eye-migrating halibut – into his fish boat. I never returned the favour.”

“Who’s this Captain you speak of?” the intrigued canine asked.

“You want to use the past tense my little pet. He was a good friend, who killed himself and others. ”

IT MAY be due to Duende’s influence that Adam has made a commitment to fill the scribblers with his fabrications. As Adam now looks for a favour from the dog, he asked the following question already knowing the answer.

A: I call you Duende, but others call you, Do, Duo, Doo-Doo,or Do-End. Which name do you prefer?

D: Duende.

A: Did you say, Duende?

D: I don’t like repeating myself.

Adam threw the four-legger a chunk of jerky.

A: Fine. I thought as much. Nicknames can be endearing at times, but on other occasions, disrespectful. Don’t you agree?

Adam threw him another jerky.

A: I plan a number of vignettes about life, death, and sex in The Refuge, perhaps a sojourn to Cortes Island and Desolation Sound on occasion, and find myself bereft of essential details. Would it behoove you to lend an assist?

No answer.

The soon-to-be scrawler on scribblers downed his scotch, and that lubricant induced a thought to whizz by: The mongrel enjoys my begging.

A: Seeing as you have access to all homes here, it would be easy to gather the information required. People would be completely unsuspecting, as they could never imagine that you understand the talk of humans.

Adam threw him another jerky.

A: I’m asking you in particular, because the other dogs in The Refuge have less than two brain cells to share between them, and that certainly is not the case for you, as I have come to realize during the challenging chinwags we’ve had over the last weeks and months.

D: You want me to spy.

A: That’s not a pleasant way to put it, Duende.

D: It may not be pleasant, but I know the truth when I smell it. Is it not the case that you wish for me to scratch on the community’s scabs and sores?

A: In a manner of speaking, yes, and I enjoy your use of metaphor, but more simply, all I want is for you to report any heart-to-heart of interest, although if you have access to their dreamworld that would be a bonus. At the very least, if I’m to fill these pages and give the needed exercise to Parker, I’ll require a modest foundation of fact. You must assuredly grasp that the blanks in my imagination have taken on the properties of an empty universe.

Adam sipped on his scotch.

Doo-Doo jumped down from his cushion and looked up at Adam.

D: I’m not interested.

A: Just a few tidbits. Then the stories’ll write themselves.

The dog trotted to the door and gave a few customary scratches. Adam opened the door and heaved his last jerky onto the welcome mat. The dog inhaled the treat and ran off with his flaccid tail signalling discontent.

A: Start with the bear. How come I hear rifle shots every night?

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