Here’s the fourth installment in my Winter Short Story Series telling the story of a long road trip across Canada. Scroll down to catch the earlier installments. Enjoy and feel free to share…
The rest of Ontario slid past my window like an old cassette skipping in the tape deck: trees, lakes, little houses with large trucks in the driveway, every hour or so a general store and a gas station. Occasionally, like a thundering refrain, a stacked logging truck passed us and my father would sweep away chunks of bark and woodchips with the windshield wipers. I knew, every time, that the smell of it took him back to his days working in the woods – planting and cutting, planting and cutting, life and death, life and death…
Eventually, the tempo quickened: less trees, bigger houses, cars made more for pleasure than hauling. Into Quebec where the Laurentian-style houses peeked out from under their curved eaves. Through Montreal where we dreamed of sesame bagels while locked in traffic. Passed the silhouette of Quebec City cut out against the reddening sky. And on to Riviere du Loop where we bought french fries from an old bus and slept in a chain hotel.
“Let’s find some place to get pancakes,” my father said the next morning. “There’s nothing like Quebec maple syrup.”
There was a small restaurant not far from the ramp back onto the Trans-Canada where an old lady in a yellow dress spoke in French and my father pointed to the photo of pancakes in the menu and held up his fingers to indicate two.
“I only learned the swear words when I lived in the Townships with your mother,” he admitted afterwards.
“Tell me one,” I whispered.
My father laughed. “They all have to do with the Church. I don’t remember.”
“Yeah right.” I fiddled with the brown napkin lying helpless at the side of my placemat. “You never remember the good stuff.”
“I remember the first time we tried to tap the maples,” my Dad answered, holding the glass bottle of dark syrup up to the light.
“You worked all spring and only got a liter of syrup.”
“Yes. Your mother made cheese blintzes and we ate about half of it that first night!” he laughed.
“Yeah, I know that one.”
We ate our pancakes then my father slapped twenty-five dollars onto the table and we snuck out before the French waitress could attempt to describe the exact amount of the bill.
“Can I drive?” I asked as we approached the Jeep.
“Not till New Brunswick,” may father answered.
“You said after Montreal.”
“New Brunswick is after Montreal.”
I rolled my eyes and rounded the back end of the car to the passenger side. A tall woman stood smoking with a leather leash hanging from her wrist. A black dog stared in the opposite direction the woman was blowing her smoke. Neither moved to acknowledge us, although they stood inches from where our front bumper aligned with the curb.
“French women,” my father said with a bit of a wink as we backed out.
“Yuck. How do you even know she’s French? She could be from Alaska or Peru for all you know.”
“Not Peru,” he said.
“Okay. Not Peru. But anywhere else.”
“Maybe.” He steered the old Jeep back toward the highway, glancing for a moment into his rearview mirror. “Did that sign say east?” he asked as we took a ramp onto the highway.
“Est.” I exaggerated the accent.
So we headed east again. Toward New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island where I was born and where my father was too, in some ways I suppose.