Apart from the awkwardness involving anything to do with William’s parents, who kept calling Cindy “Becky,” which baffled William—they actually remembered her?—it felt good being back in Toronto. The day he had returned was hot, muggy, and smoggy. The cab ride from the airport to his parents’ house in Scarborough took more than an hour, most spent creeping through poisonous air on the 401. He said to the driver, “Look how big this road is! Twelve lanes! Now this is a highway!” Everything seemed bigger than in BC, except for the trees, which were smaller, but in their familiar eastern way more lush and inviting.
Winter came. One day William stood on the curb in a howling wind, waiting for the light at Bay and Charles Street, surrounded by condominium towers that blocked out the sky. His nose was running, his fingers were numb. He looked at a bundled-up woman beside him and gave her a frozen-faced smile, because sure this hurt, but they were in it together, two strangers, feeling what life in Canada ought to feel like. She probably thought he was deranged. Later, William found himself holding the overhead bar in a jam-packed suburb-bound subway car stalled halfway between Eglinton and Lawrence Avenues. They were stuck for twenty-five minutes, overheating in their heavy winter clothes. His thoughts? Yes, this is unpleasant, but it’s familiar. It’s part of who I was, and who I am. For better or worse, this is my home.
His old friend Alan went to Vancouver to find his wife, to fix the hole in his life, and as one of several side projects sent him home. William hoped that wherever Alan was, he was happy as hell. He sometimes thought, Maybe we’ll sometime, in a long time, ride together again in our Sailboat of Fun. That’s what Tom Carlisle said would happen. He and Ross visited William and Cindy in their new home on the last leg of their “merry jaunt around the planet.” They brought gifts, a prayer wheel from Bhutan and a thirty-foot extension cord. “That’s for the vacuum cleaner,” said Ross, “so it doesn’t come unplugged.”
Fooj and Monique had a baby girl on Remembrance Day. They named her Madeline Kiyumi. They sent photos.
“Oh, she’s beautiful,” said Cindy.
Fooj had been disappointed when William told him he wouldn’t be able to become the Director of Education of the Kazuo Fujiwara Biological Centre, but he understood. William agreed to serve on the Board of Directors, fulfilling most of his duties by internet and teleconferencing.
The first six episodes of Smoke Jumpers got sky-high ratings and the series was given the go-ahead for a full season. Fooj instantly became an international sex-god, so asked to have his character killed. The producers countered by tripling his salary. He phoned in the middle of the night to ask what to do.
“I dunno. Maybe ask your grammaw,” William said.
Judging by the results, Obachan said to go for the money.
He tried hard not to make the same mistake twice, and did his best not to lose touch with the world out west. He made the most of email, writing Fooj weekly and Stacey almost daily. The latter would tail off though. Stacey and Greg became engaged, and would marry next summer. She had folded her final t-shirt at The Gap and accepted a permanent job in the head office of the GVRD. He learned from her that Ed Daddle no longer worked at Central Area Office.
Stacey: He was seconded to Solid Waste Management. Not many young women to ogle there. Maybe he’s given up.
William: Maybe he found somebody.
Stacey: How are your parents?
William could not believe that the story of Ed Daddle would end in Solid Waste Management. He would probably second his way up to running the whole show one day, with the authority to oversee the hiring of hundreds upon hundreds of cute, perky, young women. He would still never get laid though. He would die from terminal frustration, curled beneath his executive desk, clutching his tree-puller, his executive closet filled with unused raincoats and ranger hats.
He had no way of knowing what became of Baba the sciurophobe ice cream truck driver, or Milt, putative Jesus of the West, although he understood that Alan left enough money in trust to keep him going for years. Since the world had not been destroyed by widespread nuclear calamity, he felt sure they had not been wrong in rescuing Milt from the Jesus of the Easters, although the method had been nothing to be proud of. He imagined Milt wandering the shores of Burnaby Lake with his bags of bird seed and jumbo marshmallows, sharing peculiar secrets and unhealthy snacks with his beloved rogue beaver.
Their house was only a five minute drive from Becky and Geoff’s. Geoff turned out to be a quiet, thoughtful fellow who liked to kid you for your foibles, but laughed hardest when you kidded him for his. Becky Pang had claimed that Geoff was a sweet man. When Cindy and William first moved into their house, there was a fair amount of renovation to do. Geoff appeared, sans Becky, but with his tool belt, his truck, and a wealth of experience in household repair. Over several weekends he helped install a new tub and toilet, sand and refinish the downstairs hardwood, change the ceiling light fixtures, and build an interlocking brick patio. So yes, he was a sweet man. Had Geoff and William met under any circumstances, William believed they would have become friends.
Although he and Geoff had never spoken of William’s long-ago relationship with Becky, everyone knew the story. This led to some awkwardness during early get-togethers. Geoff and Becky observed a no-touching rule, always sitting a chaste two or three inches apart. Seated on the opposite sofa, Cindy and William followed suit. One day William asked Cindy if she could speak to Becky—to tell her it was okay now.
“Why don’t you tell her?” she asked.
“It seems more of a sister-sister discussion.”
She gave him a look that told him he could forget about ever lying to her, and then picked up the phone and speed-dialled Becky. She said, “Hi! William wants you guys to screw on our sofa next time you’re here.”
Becky and Geoff came over to watch the television premiere of Dan Imamura’s film, “Two Hands: the story of Alan and Hannah.” They watched with the room lights out, which had been at William’s insistence. He didn’t want to see the others’ reactions. He cringed at parts where he was speaking, because he hated seeing or hearing recordings of himself. At other parts he had to avert his eyes — there was way too much of him in that film. There he was in a tuxedo, battling Odd Job. There he was, running, screaming through a crowd, swinging a BB gun. There he was, wrestling with a speed freak in the parking lot. There he was, hip-checking a cameraman into the mud. There he was with Alan, being placed in the back of an RCMP Crown Victoria.
There was a low-light shot of Alan and William fighting in the canoe, ending in a blinding flash that turned the screen into a luminous purple blob, which lit up the darkened room. Daniel Imamura was narrating, describing the fight, and did not give an explanation as to what it was about. “William doesn’t remember,” he said. “The lightning erased his short-term memory of the event.” William glanced across at Becky, who was cuddled against her new husband. His arm was draped around her. He could tell from the gleam of her eyes that she was looking back at him. In the months since his return, her thirty-five-year-old face had become indistinguishable from her eighteen-year-old face. It was the same face, which William had never stopped loving. It was the face that when he was hopelessly pinned in the bow of a canoe had given him the strength to kick Alan Lennox in the gut and rip a hole in the existential cheesecloth. Becky Pang was what the fight was about.
He had never been a shirt-off kind of guy, but had allowed Dan to photograph his torso. In fact, a schematic of his torso was also the logo of the film, a white male torso with a large red right hand over the heart, and a smaller red right hand lower down, on the right-hand side. (It was very easy to convert to a promotional t-shirt, which both Cindy and William were wearing as they watched.) William understood that in a way he would be wearing that t-shirt the rest of his life. The burns on his skin remained visible as pigment deposits. A dumbfounded physician told him they would likely diminish over time, but would never fully disappear.
The film ended with a fade-out of an overturned canoe pinned against the Cariboo Dam, and Daniel calling Alan’s name in the background. The viewer was left wondering what had really happened, how there could be no body, and what the second handprint on William’s torso really meant.