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We could travel together, me and Petra, I sorta thought. Another fantasy. Though there was the time we did a bit of it together. Time we went to the island for the day. That was cool.

We packed sandwiches and fruit, borrowed Wesley’s car and drove across the bridges to North Vancouver and on toward the ferry landing at Horseshoe Bay. It was the first time I’d been driven by her, first time I’d been in a car with her. It made me feel we were a real couple. I’d been surprised she’d even ask Wesley for his “fascist” car, let alone drive it. She had some explanation about not being an unreal revolutionary, not trying to boycott the entire capitalist world. The complicated brain again.

So she sat there in the driver seat, filling me with fantasies about the two of us taking off, driving into some other dimension of exploring the world together. Was she really gorgeous or was it just me? I knew she wouldn’t want me thinking this way about her, comparing her looks to some Hollywood standard. It should be enough what we meant to each other. And it was. But it was interesting to me that I couldn’t tell what she looked like any more. She was too close. I couldn’t see her as anything but my Petra. Like trying to read your own face in the mirror.

“Having your ashes hauled,” I said to her.


“One you missed the other day. I thought of it last night. I remember my dad when I was a kid and my uncle was bitching. ‘You just need to have your ashes hauled,’ my dad told him. I didn’t know till later what it meant.”

“Fine, another point for you. But the red kid from northern Ontario still has you beat.”

“No, it’s a new game today and I’m up one on you.”

“Having intercourse,” she said. “Getting your rocks off.”

“You spend all your time thinking these up when everyone thinks you’re listening to political speeches?”

“No, that’s what you’ve been doing. It’s my one party trick, though I never actually performed it at a party. I came up with it to get back at people who call me a prude since I don’t go around acting like sex is the great liberator.”

“Okay, okay, you win again,” I said. “Have it your way.”

“How about having your way with me?”


“One I hadn’t thought of before. To have one’s way with.”

“Add it to the list,” I said. “What I want to know is when are we gonna work through this list. We have to try them all out. Make sure they’re scientifically accurate.”

“Hmm. I think we’ve already started the testing procedure.”

See? Like she could be so easygoing, talk smutty with me, her kinda smutty, at certain times and then other times —

But there was a pattern to it. I understood. Though I couldn’t explain. I just got when it was appropriate to talk a certain way with her and when it wasn’t. Thought I did.

At Horseshoe Bay, the boat that pulled into the docks was nothing like the little Toronto ferries I’d been on. It was like an ocean liner to me. Three decks. We roamed all over them. We watched a flock of gulls swooping down behind the boat until they dropped out one by one and flew back to the mainland. We stood near the front of the boat to let the salt brush our hair back and the wind roar in our ears so we had to yell to be heard. We bought coffees in the lounge and found a tiny private cabin, a cubicle hardly bigger than a closet, to cuddle in.

Once or twice I thought it was too bad Gus wasn’t there. I was going further west, continuing our trip sorta, without him. But I was with Petra in a place where everything was new to me, like I was starting a new life. This is what being with her forever would be like.

We docked in Nanaimo. The island was so big it seemed just like another mainland. Petra said we didn’t have time to drive across to the ocean side. That’d take another day. But we had a couple hours to tour the mountains on this side of the island.

The scenery was beautiful and all that. We kept stopping to look out over these quiet, untouched bays that appeared suddenly around the corners of hills. But the whole time I was thinking of the trip back on the ferry with Petra, making out in one of those little cabins.

On the ferry again we watched the gulls again, chasing the boat. We finally figured out they were after the fish churned up by the propeller. Sometimes one would get tired and fly ahead to rest on the boat’s railing next to us for a minute. Then it would lift its wings and let the wind carry it back to its place behind the boat where it watched the wake for something to eat.

We did another tour of the decks but the wind in our ears bugged us more this time. Petra didn’t want to go to a cabin yet and so we sat in the lounge. This was a big place near the front with rows of seats, like a movie house but with picture windows all around so you could sit and watch where you were going.

The only people sitting near us were two middle-aged guys smoking in the row behind us. Petra let me hold her hand and we watched the water out the window while our ears recovered from the wind. Then Petra said, “I really feel like a cigarette.”

“I know what that means.” I squeezed her hand.

“Funny, what makes me, more than anything else, yearn for a smoke — more than making love, more than beer or coffee or a big meal — is this. Something about having been exposed to the natural forces of nature makes me want to draw tobacco smoke into my lungs. And I didn’t bring any.”

“I don’t think they sell them in the canteen here.”

“I’d give a limb for a smoke now.”

Fingers holding a cigarette appeared in front of her.

“Keep your limb,” said the man, one of the two in the row behind us. They musta overheard us. He held out another for me.

We turned in our seats. The men were forty or fifty, in working clothes. Tired and grimy.

“Getting off work?” Petra said.

“Same thing every day. Ferry over in the morning, ferry back in the afternoon.”


“Construction. New road across the island. Started this spring.”

“Which contractor?”

“We’re Jethrop.”

“I don’t know that one.”

“Small outfit. Subcontractor. Sub-sub-subcontractor. I used to be with DMT. They’re the big outfit there.”

“They had that strike last year, didn’t they?”

“Busted. I got left high and dry. Gerry here got me into Jethrop. Open shop. But it’s a paycheque.”

“It’s a paycheque,” his friend agreed.

“Benefits?” Petra asked.

“What’s that? Don’t raise no shit and you keep getting paid. That’s the only benefit.”

“Just a paycheque,” Gerry agreed again.

I got up. “I’m getting a Coke, anyone want something?”

At the back of the lounge I watched them from a distance. For just a moment I could see her as other people did, as these two men must see her. Young but not a kid. Big girl. Squarish face, even harsh when she wasn’t smiling. Not obviously sexy, plain dressing, but definitely female.

Our two new middle-aged friends weren’t seeing her as a woman, were looking into her face as they talked, like I’d seen others do. Her face had the glow I knew so well. The glow that probably didn’t even come from her but from us who talked to her and who started to like her hard face after all and who would come to love her face and fall in love with her without realizing that’s what it was.

Before these two older strangers I was proud that I was the man with this woman. I tried to hand her drink to her in a way to show that Petra and me were lovers. I tried to talk before them in a tone that showed how incredibly close the two of us were and how confident I was in this and perfectly at ease with other men falling in love with her.

Petra and me never got a chance to go looking for a private cabin to mess around in cause we stayed in the lounge talking with the two men for the rest of the ride. But that was okay with me then. Being her lover as we sat and chatted with strangers falling in love with her was enough.

Alone with her in the car from Horseshoe Bay back to Vancouver, I watched the sun setting over the hazy humps of the island we’d just come from. I was thinking about being with her that night. But just having her in my arms, not necessarily anything more than that. Now I can’t remember if that was one of the nights we made love or not. I can’t remember for the next little while when we did or didn’t. It all sorta runs together.


Continued >



Part I





Part II





Part III






Part IV





Part V







Part VI







Part VII















Part IX



Part X