A Story From a Friend, millionth draft

The skin between my toes has disintegrated, raw and stinging as sweat and miles of movement rub them against one another. The cold too, the cold doesn’t help. Running through the snow is slow and as it continues to fall so the slowness will grow.

But this can’t wait so I hurry.

When Jim first came to the camp he was kind of broken, but kind of fixing too. We used to say he was on the mend and a heavy drinker for sure, and he had his scars for sure, but he seemed to be the one of all of us that would make it back from trouble. I’d have put my money on it.

He used to tell me stories of his family, how back home they had great dinners when his uncles killed a moose, of how they boated their way up the shores of Georgian Bay out of Midland, passed Penetanguishene, all the way up passed Parry Sound and towards the mouth of the French River. They hunted up there, deer, sometimes moose if they were lucky, or a black bear, and would boat it all the way back down and drag the animals to the trucks waiting there at the boat launch. They’d be gone for days at a time, he said, and some years they’d miss a boat coming back smashed on the Canadian Shield and the boaters freezing in seconds in the icy water of Lake Huron. He said he swam once after a boat smashed on the rocks and he felt the water pull him in but his uncle grabbed him from another boat and dragged him over the gunwale and kicked him for losing an animal to the lake. His father wasn’t there. They didn’t bring him along.

He told us how his father used to reach to him and his brother when they were kids, how he held them in their beds, how his brother smashed his father’s skull in with a rock taken from the fire pit in the yard and his brother now in jail or out of jail and out of touch, he didn’t know. But his father was dead and by the sounds of it that’s a good thing, but I never said nothing when Jim was telling his stories. We drank together just because, and it would get him going, him quiet at first like we both would be, but he’d get going when the liquor hit his belly and warmed him up and fed whatever it was within him that needed to come out. We got along fine but we were pretty much the only ones out of all of us that did, and we kept quiet when there was work to do.

Once we had an American hunter from Michigan or New York I think come up and hunt moose with us. This American had a chip on his shoulder and that didn’t go well with Jim. The American wanted Jim out of there but my dad told the American he had no right, and he didn’t. He told him to lose the chip on his shoulder and fuck off or go home to his wife without a moose. The American shut up after that and got his moose but he didn’t pay us a tip at all. On his way out on the plane he gave us all the finger out of the window and Jim and I laughed which probably pissed him off even more, and my dad smacking us in the back of the head for showing disrespect. Jim and I got drunk that night on whiskey the American left behind, and Jim told me this one last story.

Jim’s dad was a trapper and a hunter just like Jim. They grew up in Kitchener but his dad never had any work. I guess his dad quit high school pretty early, and then his back gave out crashing a dirt bike and he never could do physical work after, that really being the only work he could do. But he could hunt, so his wife back then grew a garden in the yard of the house they rented off welfare, and Jim and his dad would spend their days in the farm fields around Kitchener hunting what they could. Out of season they’d shoot ground hogs and coyotes and they’d eat them just like any other meat. In season Jim’s dad would hunt deer around the farm fields and later wild turkeys when they came back to Ontario. The conservation officers told him to shoot deer out of season because they saw him and his boy all the time carrying groundhogs to the truck and felt sorry for him, but Jim’s dad never hunted out of season. It would be Jim and Jim’s dad, but Jim’s brother wouldn’t go.

So back to the hunting up north. The uncles wouldn’t have Jim’s dad along. It seems they knew he was no good and they left him be. It seems once he had his own kids he left theirs alone, so the uncles left him alone and ignored him and ignored his kids until Jim’s dad got his head smashed in. Then the uncles stood up and took care of Jim and his brother, but Jim and his brother were already hurt, and it was too late.

So now the skin between my toes is raw, and we’ve got a missing snowmobile a missing bottle of whiskey and a missing Jim. My dad’s snowmobile almost ran out of gas following the tracks so he turned back and told me to wait, but once he turned back I started to run along the tracks of Jim’s snowmobile, the moon is up so I’ve got light and can follow the tracks so long as the tracks don’t fill up with snow. I’ve been an hour running, running in the snow, no sound of a machine behind me or in front, just the sound of me running in the moonlight, the slosh of soft snow collapsing under my feet and then the terrified “huh uh huh uh huh uh” of my breathing. And all this fresh snow and the cold, the cold coming on quick and my cheeks getting frozen with it. There’s a lake up ahead I know about, about an hour and a half by foot so I’m close and I know Jim’ll be there all the way drunk on that whiskey and I’ll drag him back and leave the sled out there for tomorrow, but this is a long, long way, and the cold?, the cold is coming in awful quick and the snow? it’s pretty heavy now. The track is filling in quick.

I know when I get to Jim he’ll be just sitting out there on the frozen lake watching the stars. He’ll be drunk pretending like he isn’t, doesn’t have a care in the world and that’s why he’s drinking way out here by himself and drove his sled till the gas ran out and brought enough booze to take out a moose. And a knife. A gun. He’s a tough son of a bitch and he’ll be okay, he never hurt himself for real just talked about it a lot. He’s just talks about it and me? my toes’ll warm up again and heal and Jim and I’ll be working the camp again in a couple of days after this cold is over. After I bring him home.

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