As I was saying, in this state, between waking and sleeping – and it is a state, in a different country – my father and I were driving down this awful road.
You must understand that in this state – the one you and I are in now, the one we call reality – my father is dead. Passed away several years ago. And he loved his pickup truck.
As I was saying, my father and I were driving down this awful road in a country of terrible beauty. We were in the mountains, heading south, to Thunder Bay. Now, in reality, there are mountains between my home and Thunder Bay. In the vicinity of the Great Lake called Nipigon. I imagine that most people from my community drive through them without blinking an eye. Or wiping away a tear. I find that hard to do. They are so beautiful.
Years ago, driving south, I met a man hiking northward. He waved at me, and smiled, and so when I got to Nipigon, I asked about him, and learned he was an American on a trek to Canada’s northern sea. I made a point of catching up with him, a day or two later, and asked him about his trek. He was a white-haired gentleman, retired, from Tennesee, and he was on a quest to find James Bay. The last few miles he’d have to ride a train, the Polar Bear Express, because you can’t get to there from here on foot, you run out of road. He’d had a son, a young man, who died recently – from cancer, I believe –and before he died, he and the father had planned a road trip, and now he was undertaking that trip to honour his son’s memory, on foot – to prolong it, I guess, and to soak up every experience he could. What I remember him saying is that the mountains through which the road runs to Thunder Bay were the most beautiful country he had seen since leaving Tennessee.
My father and I were driving down this awful road in a country of mountains, and I recognized the mountains, for they were in B.C. (That’s a place, not a time, for we were in a timeless place.) I recognized the place because, before he died, my father and I took a road trip, up to the Yukon and Alaska, and then south through B.C. And then we came to this curve at the bottom of Lake Nipigon, in the mountains, where the road slopes down to a placid little lake. And the snow and slush were grabbing the wheels of the pickup, and we were losing control, and the river beyond the curve was foaming over the rocks, and we slid off the road and landed flat on the surface of the roiling water.
Still I did not lose confidence. Not when we were sliding helplessly. Not when we left the gravel shoulder. Not when we hit the water. We floated like a boat. I could see other pickups floating by. Others too had encountered the same conditions. We floated around the curve of the river, all the trucks half-submerged, water up to our waists.
All this time I was conscious that we had a passenger. No name. In the back seat, I guess. And the most distinctive thing about him was that the lower part of his face had been burnt, or scalded, so that the skin of his cheeks and chin and throat was white, dead white.
He also was a benign entity.
[Concluded in Chapter 3]