For Baeth, the journey back across the river holds a certain giddiness in it. She sees that things have changed on the river. The wind is gusting. The clouds are flat and grey. The maples and birch, just in bud, have their palms up, stretching. The cedars growing along the edge of the far shore are glowing from within. She takes it all in a breath. Somewhere nearby a raven gives out a deep throaty caw. It ripples upon the surface of her skin.
Across the river John is sitting on a rock out of view of the others. He is looking down the path they made through the bush to get here. In his mind, he follows the path back, some many miles across two lakes to where his van sits at the end of gravel road. Is it safe there?, he wonders. Stupidly, now he thinks, he left his wallet hidden under the front seat thinking at the time that this was the right thing to do, thinking it would be safer there than out here. He’s given up on looking for cell reception, though he played a bit of Tetris on his phone a while back because he was bored.
He sees that he’s not ready to be here out in the middle of the bush. There’s a strange tension building in his gut. He has missed golfing with the guys for two Wednesdays now. He has missed his Friday steak night at the Keg. Without knowing it, he takes the photo of his daughter out his pocket. He realizes that he is looking at her as she sits smiling in front of blue swirling studio-sky. She looks so much like her mother.
The divorce was hardest on her. She had trouble falling to sleep for years after Jean and he split. She missed a lot of school. Hopefully that is over now. She’s in grade 10. She hates math, but does well in English. He feels a yearning reach out to her. He hugs and tells her that everything is all right.
He stands impulsively, instinctively shifting his body to shake off the weight of things gone wrong, of changes in life that have come with such a cost. He sees across the river that Tranzi and Baeth are on their way back. Baeth? Why’s she coming back? It doesn’t make sense.
After John and his wife split Baeth called him a few times. She said she wanted to help. She wanted to let John know that she was there for him. He felt uncomfortable with it. It brought back high school feelings of Baeth waiting for him in the hallway after class with a hungry, needy look. The feeling of being pursued. Hunted. One night during this time Tranzi finds Baeth on her front porch crying. She takes her in and makes tea. Silently, Tranzi sets up the chessboard and Baeth, somewhat sullenly, plays with her. She loses, but finds that her mind is now clear.
John is in motion and starts to make his way down the river to the point where he thinks they will land.
On the other side of the river, Stefan finds that Baeth has made a fire and has set aside a good supply of wood. He sits down. His energy is intense from the experience on the canoe. He tries to connect more deeply. Yet, his mind begins to flash images of Baeth. He is fantasizing. He cannot clear his mind and direct himself. Such a powerful urge to run screaming into a tree. His muscles tear away from his bones. He holds himself here. He breathes. He tries to find his center. Each breath is an hour. Each minute a day. He is roasting on his own fire as he stares down into the flames in front of him.
As Tranzi pilots the canoe with finesse, Baeth feels something slipping away from her. It’s her giddiness and sensation of adventure. On the other side of the river she sees the same old Baeth in the same old dress at the same old party, feeling the same old things. She lets out an “Arrrgghh” without knowing.
Tranzi laughs gently. “What’s a-feeling in ya there girl?” Baeth lets go a bit on her hold around Tranzi and leans back to look at the out-of-focus sky. Tranzi starts to sing in a high 1930’s warble. “Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money. Maybe we’re ragged and funny, but we’ll travel along, singing a song, side by side.”
She continues with a dramatic flourish of her head as she sings the bridge part. “Through all kinds of weather, what if the sky should fall?” She pauses for the answer. “Just as long as we’re together …” And with extra pizzazz, “IT”, she pauses for the band to catch up, “doesn’t matter at all.”
Head bobbing. “When they’ve all had their quarrels and parted, we’ll be the same as we started. Just a travellin’ along…” Drum roll with her head. “Singin’ a song…” Big finish, “Side by Side”.
Baeth lets the final notes of Tranzi’s song merge with the sound of the river. She is now awake to the river and sits up to notice. It is place of change, a place where the surface has a being of its own, deep currents surging up from the body of the river met by the flow of the wind. Rocks standing firm around which curious patterns turn like dancers. The canoe is a fragile impossibility amidst so much raw force. Water, canoe and paddler striving to blend into something purposeful.
John is waiting to catch the canoe as they land. Baeth lurches forward to see John steady the canoe against the strong flow of the river. He looks handsome in his outdoor gear with stubble on his face. But she sees something different. Or rather, she sees the same thing differently. She sees the discomfort in his eyes, his glancing away. The same old feeling of hurt wells up into her throat, but instead she says clearly and without sentiment, “Hi John”, for the first time in her life.