"Jesus Gene. C'mon!" My brother yelled at the top of his lungs. I could hear another shithead team mate of his laughing, so I didn't move.
Gene! Now! And the same shithead laughing.
My brother had copied rather well our father's serious voice, one that i was quickly learning was always better to obey. I glanced over at him standing by the ice covered door next to his friend. He looked more like our father too, who wanted the best for his sons, or so he would constantly tell me, and we wanted for nothing accoording to him, as long as out grades were to his high standards. My brother regularly achieved that and at the same time was one of Muskoka's best athletes, a great hockey player and an even better baseball player. I, on the other hand hated school, was an abysmal athlete and wanted things my father simply wouldn't give to me, had he been able to, I would have tried harder. My mother had told me more than once that if Dan became a professional baseball player that it would be up to me to grant the one wish my father had; that one of his sons would take over his medical practise. My mother didn't know yet how little that meant to me, or how much I resented my father. I didn't realize I was staring blankly at my brother until:
"What are you lookin at dummy? Let's GO!" I turned away from him and looked at my best friend.
"You'd better get goin Gene." Paul was now standing over me, I was surprised to see how tall he was, how much he'd grown since last summer.
"That asshole." I said.
"Take it easy Gene, he'll kill us both." Paul whispered back.
Paul would fight in my place without asking -even with Dan if it came to it- he was as loyal a friend as you could hope for. I still had my skates on and I started struggling with a knot I had poorly tied.
"Here son, let me help. Mr. Frazer said, and he bent down and started untying my skates, he had them off in no time when we all heard one of my brother's team mates yell:
"Ah Miss Fenn, look at him. Give the boy a kiss, all the colour isrunnn out of him. A kiss. ...that'll warm him up."
Margaret Fenn, the prettiest girl in Bracebridge, and my brother's new girlfriend, obliged with one on the hero's cheek, and a lot of hooting and hollering ensued, led in part by Paul -which didn't go unnoticed by the hero.
"Jesus Paul, quit it. I'm in enough..." I hesitated with Mr. Frazer so close.
"You can say shit Gene, my ol' man don't care." Paul smiled at his Dad who had just lost a hockey game, and we both knew wouldn't be happy.
"Let's go boys." He said sharply.
I looked at Paul when his father was far enough ahead of us and he said:
"Dat old woman looked like that old crow I shot outta the sky last september eh Gene?"
"Ya, I remember." And she did in that black overcoat with her arms flailing away and screaching out that same word over and over. It was funny; but I didn't laugh.
"I think my parents know her."
"O shit. Really?" Paul said.
"Ya. I think so."
"I'll get my Dad to take ya home Gene, wait."
"Nah Pauly, I wanna walk."
"Are you nuts? It's freezing."
"C'mon Paul! ...stop prickin around." Mr. Frazer yelled to us, he was at the front door with my brother.
We walked slowly towards them. Paul nudged me. I knew what was coming, I saw the legless wonder.
"There he is!" he whispered with delight.
"Look, the old circus act is back." I smiled and pointed toward the thin looking man with no legs. We both liked picking on this old joke of a man. I nodded my head at Paul and pretended I was throwing a grenade at the old fart. I looked at him again, he went to our church, and my grandfather had gotten my dad upset when he had told us what a coward he had been. but that wasn't the story he came home with, the story my dad had heard, long before the real heroes arrived back in Muskoka.
"Retreat!" I whispered to Paul. "Don't pay no attention to your friends goin the other way, retreat! I smiled and tried to figure out again how you could blow both your legs off on a dead run with your own grenade, running away from where you should have been while your friends went the other way and beat back the krauts. When he came back to Muskoka his story was nothing like that and he was welcomed back as a hero of the war, and given a job at thetown library which didn't last long, and then later the arena,which mainly involved leaning on his broom -just like he was now, and we called him the man with three wooden legs any time we saw him.
"You ready Gene? Can we go now?" I didn't say anything.
"See ya Dan. Good game son, say Hi to your Mom and Dad." Mr. Frazer said trying to ease the tension a bit, and he opened the door for Paul.
"Yes sir, thanks."
"Christ Jesus on a stick, it's fucking cold." I said softly to Paul.
"Gunna get colder from here Gene."
"You gotta be kiddin me?"
"Nope. Fraid not. Why don't you ask your parents if you can come to Port next weekend. I'll teach you to skate."
I shook my head no and swiped at him gently. "I'll see ya Paulie."
"Alright. I'll see ya I guess." I could hear the disappointment in his voice as my brother and his girlfriend exited in front of us.
"Be real careful of him tonight Gene." My best friend whispered to me as we walked out into the cold wind.
I let the door go and it slammed shut.
"Call when you get a chance Gene." I nodded. A lie to make Paul feel better, but I didn't have to, he knew I only cared about being in Port in summer.
"You won't call." He waved as he turned and ran after his Dad.
"See ya Paulie."
I walked away from the building and the wind grew stronger, a bitting wind howled down Wellington Street. I could see several dust clouds for a moment, as the wind ripped the sides off snowbanks, they looked like mini tornados, something else I hadnt seen. My eyes began to water and I turned the corner of the building to get out of the wind, I set my skates down and started putting my mitts on. As soon as I did I curled my fingers inside them and felt the warmth of my palms help a little, I grabbed my skates with both curled up mittenhands and slung them over my shoulder. I pulled my scarf up over my mouth and felt my breathe warm my chin and cheeks. But I was freezing, especially my feet.
"Ga Ga God dammit." I said aloud, my teeth began chattering.
"Mrs. B is very upset with you Gene. I went out to help your brother calm her, but she's really very angry with you."
I didn't even look at her. I didn't care what she was saying, it was so cold, all I could think of was how I was going to get back to the house alive. Although she did identify the old crow, and I knew instantly I was in deep shit. Her nervous husband had already gotten me in trouble.
He had been injured in the war according to my dad -even though you couldn't see an injury. My grandfather hadn't seen it that way with this man any more than the coward with three wooden legs; and when I told my father last summer what my grandfather thought of him he got very angry with both of us. He told us both he didn't want me going to my grandfather for advise, that his opinion was all that mattered, and that we should remember that. Remembering now added to the shitty way I was feeling tonight, and now it was his wife's turn to get me in trouble.
"Didn't you hear me Gene? She's very upset, and she'll get your brother in trouble for nothing. Gene?"
"Christ Mae. I. truly. don't. give. a. shit. Did you hear that? I don't give a shit!" I began picking a frozen sliver off my face when I heard:
"Look out Mae." My brother yelled.
I turned into the hardest punch I'd ever felt. Another new sensation. I couldn't breathe. The thud of the punch to my chest registered and then the pain. I doubled over and fell to my knees. My skates hit the frozen sidewalk. My anger drove me. I got up and swung wildly. I caught Mae weakly on the shoulderand she fell to the ground.
"Come here you little asshole." My brother grabbed me hard around the neck and threw me to the ground. This time I hit with my elbows and then my chin, something happened in my mouth, a tooth, I spit out a small piece of one of them. I still couldn't catch anything but a short breath. I pulled off a mitt and felt my lip, it was split, but it wasn't bleeding bad. Then when I finally got a big breath I felt my chipped toooth with my tongue. And asharp pain startedrepeating with my breathing.
"Ah shit. you bastard. You fucking bastard."
"Shuddap Gene, Shuddap!Or I swear to God I'll..."
"You're so mean to him." Mae spoke, and then probably saved me from more than I could handle right now when she started to cry.
"Oh Jesus Mae, I'm sorry."
I rolled over onto my side and reached in my mouth and felt the chipped tooth.
"Christ" I got up quickly and ran across the street. A man I didn't know stopped and said:
"You alright kid?"
I didn't say anything back, I just started running down Wellington street.
"Gene!" My brother yelled. I stopped and looked back and saw him tending to Mae.
"Go to hell you bastard." I yelled back. And I ran harder than before, I ran under the new street lights and past the homes with bright Christmas lights, some with glowing fires you could see through their front windows. I slowed and started breathing through my nose, which helped with the pain. By the time I made it from any lights, or smells of burning wood and could hear in the distnce the dull roar of the falls I knew the long driveway leading to my parents house was close -although it was too dark to see it. I'd lost one of my mitts, and the exposed hand was freezing, even though I had it hidden in my jacket pocket.
I started running faster afraid of getting picked up by anyone, but I was too far from the house. I looked back and Mr. Frazer's truck was bearing down on me.
I stopped and waited, he pulled up beside me and Paul opened the door.
"Get in Gene." He barked.
"Nah, it's alright, I'll walk Mr..."
"Shove over Paul. Gene! Get in, now."
I squeezed in beside my best friend. Mr. Frazer had a flashlight ready and shone it on my face.
"Jesus." Maybe it looked worse than it felt I thought.
"Open your mouth Gene." I did what he asked. "OK. Let's get you home."
I nodded and knew the jig was up. I grew very nervous thinking: What if my dad is home already?
"Dad and me saw it all from the parking lot across the street. He couldn't get the truck started, or we woulda picked you up quicker. You OK Gene?" Paul said quietly as we started downour long driveway.
"No. Not really." I said back softly.
" Can't feel nuthin. ...I'm in deep shit Paulie."
"Why? It'll be Dan that catches it."
"I snuck out tonight." I whispered to him.
"Again? Holy shit." He whispered back. Paul knew I'd been a handful, skipping school whenever I could. Thenmissing school because of fighting, and then fighting at home with my brother and going to school with black eyes or split lips had gotten my parents in some trouble which Mr. Frazer had heard about.
"Your lip ain't bad Gene, but you'll have to get your Dad to look at that tooth." he said as we pulled up to the house. Fortunately my Dad's car wasn't there.
I got out of the truck as quickly as I could but Mr. Frazer started following me: "Thanks Mr. Frazer, goodnight sir."
But he kept on comin. I knew I was in trouble, I opened the door and yelled for my Mom. I stood there while Mr. Frazer told her what he had seen with his flashlight, he didn't say how it happened, so I said:
"I slipped on the sidewalk Ma."
Neither said anything.
"I'm gunna go upstairs and wash up. Sorry about sneakin out Ma."
"OK Gene." Was all my Mom said.
"Goodnight Mr. Frazer."
I went upstairs and into the bathroom and surveyed the damage, my chin was skinned. My mouth was really throbbing now. I spit a little blood into the sink, but nothing was bleeding bad. Both elbows stuck to my sweater as I pulled it off, there was bloodstains on each sweater sleeve. I washed off the blood on my elbows then lookedin my mouth. My lip was split dead center and it hurtwhen I opened my mouth, but the cold must have stopped any real bleeding. I opened my mouth as wide as my lip would allow and saw my broken tooth, when I pressed my tongue on top of it the pain sent me to my knees.
"Jesus Christ's shit that hurts!" But even that pain, and the thought of having it pulled out of my head pailed to the worry of my Dad arriving home any hearing the news of me not being in the house studying.
I listened at the top of the stiars to Mr. Frazer saying goodnight to my Mom and the door closing behind him. I went into the bathroom and envied them astheyheaded up the drivway in their truck and out of Bracebridge;and then I got into bed.
I couldn't sleep, I just lay there staring at the ceiling with one my my pillows against my face for the pain.
Dan came into the house about 1/2 hour later. He came into the room we shared, he had my skates and placed them carefully in the closet.
He asked nervously. "Did you tell Mom?"
"Why not?" He was relaxing a bit. He turned the bedroom light on. I turned away from the light and him and faced the bedroom window. He didn't say anything for quite some time.
I didn't say anything back.
He came closer. "I said I'm sorry."
"Get away from me."
"Goddamit your such a..."
"I'm in deep shit." I told him.
"What are you talking about?"
"I got a test tomorrow. Dad told me to study, but I snuck out anyway."
"I know that stuff backwards, where's your textbook."
"I don't know. Forget it." I said dispassionately.
"C'mon Gene, get up; I hear from Mom Dad's gunna be late. We got time."
"I said forget it."
"Jesus, I don't understand you Gene. I really don't. ...you know you're gunna catch it from Dad, again."
"I don't care." And I didn't.
"You will when he pulls his belt out."
"I can take anything."
My brother didn't say anythig for a bit: "We'd better get our story straight Gene." He said, nervously again.
I didn't say anything.
"Gene?" His voice changed back to the one I was used to.
"Leave me alone."
"You're such a little prick Gene. How did I end up with you as a brother?"
"We're not brothers."
"You got that right you little shit."
As it turned out there was no time anyway, not that I wanted his help. We both saw the headlights illuminate our room only a few minutes later, my brother quickly turned offthe light in our bedroom, threw off his clothes and got into his pajamas, he scrambled into his bed as we both heard:
"Again!" From our father.
"It won't do you any good to pretend to be sleeping." I said.
I didn't take long to have our bedroom light switched back on.
"Get up Gene." He barked. I got up and walked towards my old man. My Mom stood in the hallway holding my Dad's black medical bag.
He looked at me, the second son, the one born in Florida, the one born when no one knew if I would have two parents, or two grandparents; the one who grew up with his real brother rather than the one I was stuck with now -which took until this past summer to figure out, and I thought everyone must have considered everyone else'sfeelings but mine when this decsion was rendered, and I felt betrayed. I had been doing my best to change that decision; knowing why it had taken so long, but my brother beating me up constantly smade it seemlikeit may not be thebest course of action, but i was determined to get my life back.
I stared at the person keeping me apart from him, then said unconvincingly. "I fell on the sidewalk."
"Open your mouth." he looked at me for a moment or two.
"Get him in the bathroom after I wash up."
"Come here Dan."
He took my brother into his bedroom -my parents had seperate bedrooms, each with their own bathroom.
"It's alright Gene" my Mom said and took my hand leading me into the bathroom.
My Dad who was very good at extracting teeth, and the truth, did both in short order.
"You'll probably be better without that one anyway." He said after he took it out. I hadn't made a sound the whole time.
The punishment came down the next morning, right after the obligatory dictionary exercise -which was even more unispiring than usual. Dan was miserable for two weeks; the second most when it was game night and he was still grounded. Even his coach's pleas fell on deaf ears, and then Dan was at his most miserable after each successive loss.
I got the same length of punishment, although my Dad had made the wise decision to not coincide them so mine got delayed for a week, which made for only one miserable week. the second seemed more like a vacation as my brother joined his team up north at a hockeytournament, the weather warmed considerably, the snow and icereceding and everyone but me in town worrying over a ruined Christmas as I pretended to do school work dreamed of summer.
Then watched my Mom being admitted into the hospital on Christmas eve and spent the rest of the holidays with no dreams of my real brother to comfort me, admidst depressing mountains of snow, going back to the hospital early each day and praying to God intently for the first time in a long time for another brother, until she gave birth to my first sister on the tenth day of our lengthened Christmas break thanks to twoblizzards of the century in the same week, and I stopped praying to him for a very long time.
The day following when we went to seeour tiny sister Mary crying as loud as anyone I'd ever heard,my brother was on me again. I had gotten what I asked for Christmas but according to my brother I hadn't thanked Dad properly for it.
"Thanks for the bike Dad." I said at my first opportunity and then stared at my brother.
Mom saw us staring and said. "Gene your father and I love you very much."
I din't say anything. I kept staring down my brother.
"That's it? He doesn't even mean it!" My brother groaned out. "He doesn't even wantto live with us!" During the week our groundings had coincided, I let him know in no uncertain terms that I'd be happiest if they just let me go home, and when he couldn't understand whyI told him what he didn't know, and he didn't believe it, and it led to the biggest onesidedfight we'd ever had; which got me two black eyes and confirmation from ourparents that what I told him was true.
My brother was behind me and without looking back I said:
"Go to hell." I was quickly struck in the face. I wasn't expecting it from in front of me.
"I'm tired of your swearing."
I stared at my feet, my cheek stinging I sighed out. "I don't care what you think anymore."
"Cec!" Mom yelled out. He may have been ready to slap me again and she wanted it to stop,but it came from behind. My brother slapped the back of my head hard.
I was ready andturned quickly and caught him with the best punch I was capable of, even one that Paul would have been impressed with, but it only made things worse. He threw me against the wall and I hit my head hard near the door of the hospital room our Mom and now screaming baby sister was in, he grabbed me around the neck and we spilled out into the hallway and before my dad could seperate us my brother got in a short punch to my mouth.
"I'll kill him, let me go." I yelled.
"Let him go dad."
"You stay there, if you move you'll be sorry." He yelled at my brother,pointing and staring at my brother, holding me with the other he pulled me roughly back nto the room, where my Mom was crying. Two nurses came into the room.
"Dr. Quinn?" One of them said.
"It's alright. It's over."
"No doctor. Mrs. Crassweller is in trouble."
"Sit right there Gene. Don't move." My Dad hurried out of the room and said the same to my brother about moving.
"Gene?" my sobbed.
I could feel my lip swelling and taste blood in my mouth again, a familiar feeling, but this bump on the back of my head was growing by the second. I felt dizzy.
"Gene, come here." I waited for a minute, I startedfor her bed but my anger took over and I turned and went outside. I started for my brother.
"You come near me Gene and I'll kill you." That didn't stop me, blacking out did.
I came to on my mother's hospital bed, a nurse was pressing a cold compress against the back of my head, my Mom was sitting up on the side of the bed looking at me.
"O thank God." She said to me. "Gene, my darling. My darling." She was crying again.
I saw my brother, who I now truly hated in the doorway. I started to get up.
"No Gene, you have to wait for your father." The nurse said.
"Let me up."
"Gene, please." I looked at my Mom, she never looked this sad before, and she had looked sad plenty of times to me in the past.
I started feeling nauseous. I rolled over with the nurse complaining to me about not moving and staying on my back. I hid my face in the pillow.
"You bastard." I said loud enough for my brother to hear.
"He is such a..." My brother stopped whatever he was going to say as my father said angrily:
"Get back in the hallway Dan!"
Before my father knew how bad it was for me he said:
"Mrs. Crassweller family is coming up, you two must be quiet."
"Is she gone?" the nurse asked.
"yes. Nurse, try and settle the baby"
The nurse who had been looking after said very quietly: "Dr. Quinn your son's head. I think you'd better have alook."
"God help me." He said even more angrily. After amoment he said softly to Mom "Lois I just lost another patient, I have to see to the family. I'll be back."
The he said firmly: "Gene. ..get up, let me look at you."
I din't move. He started to pull at my arm and I pulled it away from him with as much strength as \I could muster.
"Leave me alone." I said without looking.
He pulled me up roughly and Iwhispered to himwith tears in my eyes:
"I fucking hate being here." and he slapped me hard across rthe face. I slumped back onto the bed and curled up.
"Nooo! Cec he's hurt. Please!" My mother pulled me towards her. I was crying now.
"I'm sorry. I'm so tired Lois." My father's voice cracked as he said those words.
"That's right, cry those fake tears Gene." I heard my brother angrily say. I tried pulling away from my mother but my Dad stopped me.
"Get out Dan, I swear to God I'll hurt you."
He tried to lift me but I held onto my legs as hard as I could to prevent it, he righted me easily and I sat on the bed.
"Please. Please don't." I pleaded with my eyes closed as he asked me to open my mouth.
"No Cecil, look." My Mom directed. My father held me and felt the back of my head.
I looked at him because it sounded bad. He looked at me wearily. Lay here for a minute. I lay on the pillow face first.
"Please, let me go home. Please. Please."
"You can go Gene."
Then I whispered his name over and over and over and my Mom started to cry again.
A little more than a couple of months of relative peace later, after enduring another boring day at school, and my brother and I were alone something I don't remember being said got us going again, I readied myself; and despite what my brother and I had heard as a repercussion my brother allowed me one good punch on his chin,then he broke my nose with one of his own.
I spilt a lot of blood that day, but felt good about the one I had gotten in, until Dad arrived home and I heard Dan getting the strap so badI felt bad for him -then he left the house for good to live with friends of my parents, because they realized no repercussion would keep him from killing me, and nothing they could think of could reconcile us either, there was just too much water under the bridge.
There was even more passing under the Wellington bridge now, and more every successive day as March led to April with temperatures rising but more snow falling. And early in that curious month of weather I could better endure my sister sleeping only when I didn't need to, and this long winter which didn't want to end, and school mates I had nothing in common with, and a mother I tried mostly to avoid, and a father I just couldn't forgive, not because my brother was gone; but because of my best friend Paul.
He had sent up a letter his father had received from my grandfather -which Paul had stole and then found a kid in Milford Bay who went to my school, and asked me sincerely to make sure Paul knew thathe had given me the best news I had gotten since I was told I wasn't going to florida in the winters anymore.
I counted all the remaining days of winter down, not by the calender, for it was still wrong; but by the forrest and river and then the lake. Including counting one that was more like one in the dead of winter, one where I had already learned that if you were not smart enough to retreat to shelter by the snap of a freezing tree, your toes and fingers would punish you later for walking on snow as dry as sand, snow which was blasted by a vicious winter wind into anything exposed, one that sadly refrooze everything that had started to thaw, one where you'd hear the familiar cracking of frozen branches as they duelled each other for space, but thankfully there only was one of those.
The rest were easy, ones that you could walk atop hardened snow and look a the all the stark beauty of Muskoka against a sky as blue as I'd ever seen from anywhere. Then subsequent warmer ones where I watched all the snow compress into soft banks that sank you to your crotch if you walked on them, slowly dissappearing at first, and then with the help of April showers seeing exposed ground, brown and frozen, and watch water run over that groundalways to theriver, and watching the falls in Bracebridge look more like the one in Niagara, and the river rise as high as I'd ever seen it, carrying all of Algonquin Park's winter, and anything else near it's banks, toward the big lake, which I happily followed every day after school,happier aftersome local adult idiot told me it was spring.
During those long treks along the banks of the river I watched all the dead grass, dead trees, dead animals, one picnic bench and one flipped over rowboat rushing in the dark water, all hurrying out the Muskoka River, then churning and disapperring under the thick blue ice of Lake Muskoka. Ice which looked weaker every successive day in April, with temperatures so warm I didn't need anything but an undershirt during my run to the mouth of the river where it met my lake.
I was transfixed by the river's water worrying the blue ice covering my lake to look so grey and weak in no time, with dark rimmedholes which at first I thougt only near the shore, and which flooded out rythmically every few minutes with brown water and grew much bigger each day, until I could see they were everywhere; for days I wondered how long it would take to see it like I knew it, the greyice didn't release it's grip easily.
Then after spending one long dayin the rain soaked to the skin, I saw every waterlogged chunk of darkened ice left sink, waterlogged, to the bottom of my lake; and the few that were still trapped to the mainland becoming true islands again, and I knew for sure that mine must be free.
And finally, spending one glorious windy afternoon watching my lake as I knew it, free of ice and flecked with white caps, I felt compelled to pray carefully like I was properly instructed by others who practised their faiths much better, to Buddah first in honour of my great grandmother, and then the Great Spirit in honour of Michel Oulette, and then just to be safe, the father, the son and the holyghost for this brutal Muskokan winter being truly over, and yet as much as that meant to me, feeling obliged to thank someone else even more.
Which I did as I watched the sun go down, and the wind subside, and my lake calm, andknowing my real brother was on Idlewydle watchingall thattoo, but those were notthe reasons I shouted out:
"Thank you Paul Frazer!"
Imeant it as a praise tomy best friendfor knowing and then letting me know well before the winter ended what I wasn't suppossed to know -even now.
The best news possible.
That I almost had my life back.