After that, whenever one of us asked where were we, someone would say, “Here.” Or if he wondered which road to take, someone would say, “The one from here to there.” Come to think of it, it was just Gus and me. I think Wesley only half-got we were making fun of him.
We hardly stopped driving the rest of that day and all night. Through Saskatoon and past a bunch of smaller towns that all looked the same at night. Gus slept in the back without a sound. I tried to fool myself into sleep. You know how you pretend to be asleep, your head back on the headrest, bouncing around a bit, your mouth open and eyes closed, pretending to fall asleep? And next thing you know you are asleep? Well, it didn’t work. I tried about five times and it seemed the most I ever got was a few minutes before jerking awake.
Wesley’s face was like a green ghost in the dashboard lights. Nothing was visible outside except the road in the headlights. I was thinking off and on about home of all things. Home in Toronto seemed closer then. Closer than it did in Winnipeg, though I knew we were moving in the opposite direction. Driving at night’s like that. Everything blanked out, all the distance behind you kinda disappears. Nothing anywhere except that lit-up patch of road in front and your thoughts.
So I watched the white dotted line and tried to figure out whether the paint had something in it to make it glow when the lights hit it. I watched it turn dull as the night faded. A pink highway reached out before us.
Wesley had his sunglasses back on now. His face was grey around them.
He lit a cigarette as he drove. He noticed I was awake and passed me one too. It was bitter in my dry mouth and good.
“How do you do it, just keep going without sleep?” I said
“I had sleep.”
“When we pulled over last night. An hour. You were right out of it at the time.”
“I don’t remember sleeping.”
His throat chuckle was back.
“Anyhow one hour of sleep isn’t enough,” I said.
“It’s all I need. A trick you learn.”
“You’ll be okay driving today?”
“Listen, my friend,” he started. “No, listen. Your mind can do anything if you let it. Nothing you can do that can’t be done.”
He gave this meaningful pause and I thought I was in for a long spiel. But the pause stretched out and he concentrated on driving.
The sky got brighter. The world widened out from the road to these huge fields on both sides. The highway stretched so far ahead, it got swallowed up in the land. This was more like how I had pictured prairies, going on endless in all directions, except for a crinkle on the horizon which could be mountains or could be low clouds I thought.
Wesley opened a vent and wet morning air filled the car. Gus sat up in the back.
“Is this Alberta?”
“Smack dab in the middle,” Wesley replied. “British Columbia coming up.”
Gus fell back across the seat and shut his eyes again.
I said to Wesley, “I dunno how he can sleep like that in a car all night.”
And we were off again.
WESLEY: You dunno how he can sleep and you dunno how I can stay awake.
MARK: I guess I dunno nothing.
WESLEY: You were wondering how I could be so confident of accomplishing anything I put my mind to.
WESLEY: Not just me. Anyone. Anything they want.
MARK: Anything, eh?
WESLEY: Enn-nee-thing. By the way, how’s your hand?
MARK: All right. Can I take this garbage off it now?
WESLEY: Shoot yourself.”
[Mark notes there was some puss on the bandage where the tea, soap and brown sugar had been plastered. It seemed to have worked, drawing out the infection.]
MARK: But this has nothing to do with your being able to do anything you want. Like my grade five teacher saying, you can be anything you want in this world if you only work hard. Apply yourself. Blah blah blah.”
WESLEY: It’s the grain of truth in those clichés.
MARK: But no one can do just anything that pops into their head.”
WESLEY [turning his head, taking off his sunglasses, to give Mark his significant look]: Yes.
MARK: You couldn’t become a millionaire just like that. [Snaps fingers.] You couldn’t.
WESLEY: Let me think about that one. Become a millionaire.... Course, I wouldn’t want to become a millionaire. You have to want it.
MARK: That’s how you get out of it.
WESLEY: But if I sincerely wanted to, I could. Like to know how?
MARK: Why not?
WESLEY: Did you see my mountains? Just a few minutes ago. On the horizon.
MARK: You mean that sorta crinkle out there?
WESLEY: My mountains.
MARK: Your mountains?
WESLEY: I am not a jealous god. They can be everybody’s mountains.
MARK: Okay, but don’t try and get out of it. How could you become a millionaire if you put your mind to it? Like you said.
WESLEY: You really do want to know, don’t you? It bugs you. It’s something you have to know.
MARK: Oh, for fuck sake — You’re the one who said you could. I’m just trying to get you to back up what you said in the first place.
WESLEY: All right. I’ll tell you how.
MARK: Thank you.
WESLEY: In the mountains, when we’re in them, I’ll point out some rundown buildings. These are deserted homesteads. Where people lived off the land as best they could, until something made them leave. Maybe the original inhabitants grew old and their children weren't into taking over. Or they just couldn’t make a go of it. Couldn’t get through the winters. Each place has its own story. But there’s lotsa them, completely vacated. Many more back in the hills that you can’t see from the main roads. What most people don’t realize is these properties can be bought up for back taxes alone. A few hundred dollars in some cases.
MARK: So you’d buy them up and sell them.
WESLEY: Better idea — buy some up, renovate them and advertise them as vacation getaways. Advertise them in Vancouver, Edmonton, Seattle, all the big cities around. Unique vacation getaways. And charge a fortune for a week’s stay.
MARK: Who’d pay a fortune to stay there?
WESLEY: You’d be surprised. Wealthy businessmen, idle rich. Pay a small fortune for a respite in the mountains every year with all the natural amenities. Lovely hillside, sunny valley. [Spreads one hand across the air in front of him.] Mountain air, clear spring water, away from the noise and hubbub. I might even fly them in by helicopter.”
WESLEY: There’s a chopper pilot in Vancouver made a mint ferrying rich people to mountaintops. You know what for? Picnics. Rich people picnicking on mountain tops. Can you dig that?
MARK: But you still can’t do just anything that pops into your head.
WESLEY: Enn-nee-thing. Hey, I suddenly feel like driving on the other side — [Pulls the wheel, so the car swerves across the road.] Just popped into my head. Hey, I wanna drive on the right side again — [The car swings back to the right side of the dotted line.] Just popped into my little head. Whoa, there it goes again — [The car lurching back and forth.
WESLEY [doing a crazy laugh like a madman in a movie]: Whoa, things keep popping in my little old head —
MARK: Okay. Stop it. Geesh, what a stupid argument.
MARK: Okay. Stop it. Geesh, what a stupid argument.
GUS [from the back]: Everything all right up there?
“Just Wesley being insane,” I said.
But he kept it up and I didn’t really mind. There was no other traffic. He looked a riot now, sunglasses falling on an angle across his face and his eyes looking crazy happy and with his crazy laugh and everything. I was giggling myself again.
And so we carried on swerving down the road as the sun came up behind us in the middle of Alberta.
On the ride after that, Wesley talked to me like we had some understanding. I think he saw me as being on his side now. Maybe a follower or something. Follower of what, I didn’t have a clue. Around noon I think it was, Wesley said, “There’s my mountains.”
It still looked like wrinkled tinfoil across the horizon, but bigger than the ruffles I’d seen before. Then the road dipped and followed a river through a low area. When we came up again the mountains weren’t on the horizon. But we were going over and around these rises that Wesley said were the foothills.
We never did hit a point I had sorta pictured, where we’d all of a sudden enter the mountain range from outside. It happened gradual. Four or five hours after the first sighting, the hills around us were growing big enough that I finally knew we were in the Rocky Mountains. Breath-taking, majestic, rugged — all that stuff. For real. Some of the peaks we saw were sheer rock and capped with snow and ice like in the postcards. Those always seemed to be off in the distance. The ones we were on, were all alive and growing up around us with dark green trees.
There were all these different mountain ranges inside what I thought was supposed to be just one buncha mountains called the Rockies. Wesley would say, “These are the such-and-such mountains. The people back in there live like hillbillies. Over that way, you get the so-and-sos, descended from prospectors. And up that way are the remnants of a glacier from the Ice Age. And this hill here is one of my favourites.” Like he was showing off his house to some guests. But it was interesting enough. “Over there. See? They’re after the salt in the banks.” Some scruffy animals with these big, curly horns were on the side of a cliff by a river and seemed to be licking the rocks.
He took us through a place where he said a mud slide had once killed something like a thousand people. It was weird to think the hillside up there could just fall over on us and bury us before we knew it. But I guess it only ever happened like once in a hundred years. Still we lowered our voices through there.
Later Gus asked, “Are we getting anywhere?”
“How’s that?” said Wesley.
“I just wonder if we’re getting closer to Vancouver.”
“Yes and no,” Wesley said. He chuckled in his throat once more like he knew something, like he knew everything.
“Christ,” said Gus. “What I wanna know is, are we going through your Rocky Mountains towards your Vancouver? Or are we just getting your cook’s tour?”
“You think you’re just getting a tour?”
Wesley said, “You guys. Right now we’re going in the opposite direction from Vancouver.”
“You mean the road curves around,” I said.
“Yes and no.”
“I can’t take it,” said Gus.
“How bout you?” Wesley said to me. “Can you take it?”
“I don’t even know what we’re talking about,” I said.
“Look,” Gus said. “In simple English, explain why we’re getting closer to Vancouver while going in the wrong direction. What does that mean, wrong direction? We heading east again?”
“South,” said Wesley. “A moment ago it was northwest. The road curves. To get around mountains it has to. But we are also choosing our own course.”
“And how are we doing that?”
All right. I could almost decide now. He was nuts for sure. I glanced back at Gus. He was looking at me. “Yep, makes perfect sense to me. Make perfect sense to you?”
“Sorry, I don’t follow anything.”
“Wesley here was just explaining he’s our spiritual leader, don’t you know? He and God have decided that we should wander for forty days in the mountains in a Volkswagen.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Until we reach our destiny which is Vancouver or until we run outa gas money, whichever comes first. I keep hearing this buzzing in my head. I have this built-in bullshit detector. Works pretty good too. And lately I keep hearing this buzzer going off. BS, BS, BS, BS.”
“Sounds serious,” I said. But I really was worried. Gus was going too far, seeing as we still needed the ride.
“It’s all right. His words, not mine,” Wesley said. “Let him get it all out.”
“Ah, forgiven,” said Gus.
“I don’t dig all this God business,” Wesley said. “Some personal demon of yours. I’m into reality, man. I’m talking about our lives, our lives right here and now.”
Possible he wasn’t nuts? Maybe there was something here to get. Maybe I didn’t know what to think.
“And these are my Rocky Mountains.” He smiled, still knowing everything.
“Back to that,” said Gus.
“They could be yours too.”
“Then they’d be ours.”
Wesley ignored him for a minute. He began humming again. It was cool and dark in the shadow of a mountain, almost night. Then the road bent back into the light, the sunset squeezing between hills and through pine trees to our car.
Wesley said, “You’d have to do it on your own though.”
“Do what?” I said.
“Do what?” I said.
“My grandfather taught me to swim,” said Wesley. “He took me out in the boat and threw me in the water. Said sink or swim. And so I learned to swim.”
“So out you go.” He stopped the car on the shoulder of the road.
“You kicking us out?” said Gus.
“Take your gear.”
“Right here? The middle of nothing? You’re doing this to us?”
I wondered if we should make some drastic move. We could overpower him and take the wheel ourselves.
Gus just clapped his hands once. “Right.”
He stuffed some things in his bag and climbed out. I joined him, dragging my dufflebag out of the back of the car.
Wesley leaned across the passenger seat. “Make them your mountains,” he said. He rolled up the window, locked the door and drove off.
We watched the car disappear around a bend.
We looked at each other. “Right,” Gus said again and lifted his pack onto his back.
We were on a flat stretch of road with woods on both sides. We could be on a high plateau or in a valley, we couldn’t tell. I could make out three peaks over the tree tops. It was chilly.
“I guess we walk,” I said.
“Not much choice.”
“Haven’t we been here before?”
We hiked along the road in the direction the car had taken. Neither of us said anything but around the bend we both looked ahead to see if the car was parked there waiting for us. It wasn’t.
The light was fading now. The last thing I remember Gus saying before it turned completely dark was, “I never believed that story people tell about how they learned to swim.”
On the road, various
Life is a trip
Hippies are a media invention
Ronnie B. was here April 19. Next stop the ocean.
Revolution is not a tea party
Nietzsche is pietzsche
I love Jamal. Jackie
God damn the pusher man
Nixon pull out like your father should of
Eric Clapton is God
No other God before Jimi
U.S. out of Canada!
Eat the rich
The answer is Yes!!!