Cottage Country

So you meet your friend in cottage country. It’s summer and people are having a good time. You relax by the water. Go out for drinks. You know. You know the writer Leacock? Sunshine Sketches? We’re staying at my uncle’s place not far from Leacock’s old summer estate. I’m showing my buddy Josh around Ontario.

There’s this bar in town and an Italian guy, out alone, attaches himself to us. He’s talkative. He starts talking to a bachelorette party too. The girls are in pink tops with tiaras and a checklist.

So I get Virginia’s number and Josh gets Sylvie’s. It happens naturally enough and we drift naturally enough and I’m dancing naturally enough and later the four of us are standing at a tall table outside and I’m defending my smoking as a stage that I’m in and two of us are talking about Africa and two of us are talking about jobs. The others from the bachelorette party are looking for the bride (the Italian’s disappeared too) and then the bar staff tells the crowd on the patio it’s time to go home and Josh and I lose the girls in the shuffle.

One pairing seems to have more potential than the other so it’s me texting Virginia about the pool back at my uncle’s and why don’t you girls come and yes I’m cheeky (suggesting we all go skinny dipping) and sorry I smiled at your friend just being friendly that’s all I thought it was a good move to get to know your friends, wasn’t it? But it’s no use. The girls are already on their way to a cottage outside town so the boys (being us) are left with nothing to do. So we eat.

Then I show Josh the Orillia Opera House and the new library as we turn toward my uncle’s place. Josh goes for a piss somewhere acceptable and while he’s in the bushes a van passes with a kid who yells “asshole” out the window. I step onto the road. The van stops. And this kid walks up into my face and starts saying things. I’m saying things. I finish my last cigarette.

The idea this kid and his friends have is that Josh and I should back off. So then this kid knocks out a tooth, of mine, which is annoying because I don’t really have dental coverage but the punch isn’t hard or well-executed and really what happens is a tooth chipped before, also from a punch (that’s another story), gets re-chipped—as in this kid knocks out the patch. So. Do you hit a kid back?

I take a breath and ask for a smoke instead. Our conversation goes why do you want to bum a cigarette you guys are like thirty-five years old is the direction the conversation takes and I actually squat on the ground as if there’s some primal business to conduct like come down son because it seems the kid never really had a father. Just back off just walk away he says my father’s in prison he killed someone and I can only see him if I go there so you can tell the police my name, my name is … As for me, I want to talk over a smoke together but no one has any and this kid and his friends are getting much worse than edgy and not understanding at all what I’m trying to say about how learning to take a punch is part of growing up.

The thing that’s so cool about the word “father” is that it sort of means pattern. Like your father is your pattern. The histories of the two words are related. My father was around when I was young but not much after the divorce, so I think I can relate to this kid. And we seem maybe to be getting somewhere as I’m still literally squatting and the kid and his two friends are asking why we care and why don’t we just back off and I say the wrong thing, which is that maybe I’m trying to listen and give you what your father never did.

Things go violent now again.

So Josh and I are jogging backwards because two more of the kid’s friends have gotten out of the van and one of them has handed the kid a shotgun. It’s not like we’re running away really but more like finally backing off—and but now it’s the kid who wants to talk. He’s shouting you don’t know my father come back here I promise I won’t hurt you. And this seems like a funny promise to receive. We’re still not going to run, me and Josh, but we’re not going to fight what’s now five teens with a vehicle and at least one visible weapon. So the move is again toward understanding. We slow down.

The kid wants me to touch my forehead to his own and he wants an apology. I perform one, pressing my skin against his troubled skin. I am sorry I mentioned your father, I say.

It’s only after the incident that we realize they were probably high on meth. I dial the police and decide to charge the kid. Oh yeah, we know him well, says the responding officer. Charge him, I say. So at least my traveler’s insurance will be sure to cover an emergency trip to the dentist.