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BUS-RIDE

BUS-RIDE

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BUS-RIDE

Lunghezza:
241 pagine
3 ore
Pubblicato:
Jul 16, 2019
ISBN:
9781922309327
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Bus-Ride is a week in the lives of the people of a small Ontario town in March 1939, most notably in the life of Bill Underhill. Bill is the town’s star hockey player, scouted by the big leagues and certain of a pro career. Everyone is sure he will leave the village one day as the Leafs’ new centre, everyone but Bill. This is definitely a poet’s novel. What might have been another pedestrian boy-grows-to-manhood-unsubtle-autobiography becomes first-class fiction with Gutteridge’s skill and wit – not unlike Alden Nowlan’s Various Persons named Kevin O’Brien. The body of the book is written in a mordant style that has a delightful old-time quality, framed by two highly poetic counterpoints which supply both context and contention. Ironic detachment pervades incidents of hostile Canadian weather, adolescent miscouplings and locker-room bravado, and the feeling is that Gutteridge is very serious about his story but refuses to take seriously his character’s pretensions – much in the manner of the Victorian novelists, particularly Thackeray. The bus ride of the title is a highly vivid piece of writing that climaxes the novel and brings Bill to a decision we knew he must make. Bus-Ride is a mature piece of work by a writer deserving careful reading.
Pubblicato:
Jul 16, 2019
ISBN:
9781922309327
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Don Gutteridge is the author of 40 books: fiction, poetry and scholarly works. He taught high school for seven years and then joined the Faculty of Education at Western University in the Department of English Methods. He is now professor emeritus and lives in London, Ontario.

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BUS-RIDE - Don Gutteridge

imagined

PROLOGUE

On a summer’s day the Lake seems vaster than it is, blue waves rolling from west to east under the urging of the prevailing summer-time wind. Out here, only the sun is audience, spectator. The waves, a thousand thousand of them, merge one into the other with a circular, sexual violence. Pause, interplay, slight sweat of foam, touch of the wind’s magic, and new waves breeding before them — endless life-cycle of motion and urgent journeying, west to east, over and over. A journeying. But where? To what end?

If the sun knows he isn’t about to tell — watching, way up, above it all. Feeling his heat reborn in each contraction of wave mounting wave. Content to let his other face lie in the vast mirror below, moving with it, going wherever it must go. Audience and actor, as it were, caught up in the simultaneous movement of the play, in league with the plot, each in his own way believing in playwrights, denouements, endings.

No doubt this naivete, this trust, is due to the perspective of things. Up here (which is where we are now, somewhere closer to sun than earth) what was vastness below, what seemed to be a meaningless, self-sustained and pointless motion of water turns out to be, from this heady angle, simply a lake. What the waves don’t know (and we, up here, now do) is that there are shores all the way round, containing and contributing to this journeying of wavelets, that there is a beginning and an end to the formless water. In fact a river to the north, another to the south: in apparent contradiction, we can see, to the prevailing west-east urging of the waves or to what those in them or on them must necessarily feel. But the Lake, vast or simple, is big enough to hold all obtruders — steamships, tankers, sailboats, swimmers — suspended in the space of its self-cancelling cross-currents.

The ships, of course, know where they’re going or have been: out to sea or back in from it. The sailboats, less sure of themselves, are nevertheless venturesome, drifting far out where the shoreline is a hazy horizon, the wind, always reliable in summer, their last contact with land. The swimmers (I use the term loosely, for most never leave the shelter of the sand-beaches) edge cautiously into the last wave, content to feel water under or over them, but giving in ultimately to the wind, the current, pushing them back gently where they belong.

As we move higher (assuming you’re still with us) closer to that watchful but unparticipating spectator, these venturings, these certainties become what they are: illusions. For there is really no shore: land, yes, but from this angle it is clear that the water has its will. Even the river at the southern extreme is seen to hold the current for a fraction of a moment only, an inch of distance, before new lakes are born and reborn. And what we thought were waves, individual and self-generating, or wind-driven currents, are merely water now, sea without salt, oceans in embryo. And the sun can no longer be described as a watcher from its own night, for there— you can see its face mirrored in every surface, its light transformed in the tidal energies that move with their own terrible inevitability.

So what are these ships now? That seemed to move like floating cities with such disdain for current or tide? Going to or coming from, the sea has its will with them, the last word. And those swimmers, what of them? Are they not grains of sand, washed out (albeit bravely) from the same beach which takes them back gratefully with the next wave? It’s hard to be certain, though, for we are not accustomed to such heights; we’ve been up here far too long already; vertigo is setting in, the wax begins to melt. Mirage or mirror, who can tell?

That’s better. It’s July. The sun (our sun) is high overhead; a westerly wind sweeps over the Lake from the distance of water, the far-off States. Our wavelets have found their way to the southernmost reaches of the Lake. No ships to challenge the current, indeed no swimmers along the ample beaches. The waves move with their solitary and collective energy into the river below. And we can see, just where lake and river merge — that vast and diluted movement gathering speed and audible power — what we had overlooked till now: the village, the point of meeting. It looks as if it has been there always, a natural impediment redirecting the eastward (and dangerous) flow to the south. Or an outpost guarding the land crouched behind it. For our village lies on a tiny peninsula of sand surrounded on one side by marshes and dunes, on the other by forests obviously as old as the earth sustaining them. But of course this is mere fancy, or rather the illusion of our less heady perspective. Nevertheless, it would be easy (and comforting) to believe that peninsula and village sprang fully-formed from some ancient glacial twinge. In any case, whether from necessity or predilection, it serves its purpose: the Lake pours its waves upon the exposed beaches and finds them conveniently redirected; the prevailing winds sweep water and sand up and over till the forests hold them. Certainly no one living there could fail to feel the presence of those tides we have mentioned, however little they — or any unwinged human — understood the meaning in their movement.

Did we conclude that there were no swimmers here on this sunny afternoon of mid-July in, let’s say, 1939? Well, you can see how wrong we were, and why. Two small figures, boys perhaps (that is why we overlooked them?) too far out for their own good. Closer now, we can see they areboys, too old for children who would not dare so much, too young to be called men who would know better.

The waves on this day are gentle but big enough to be challenging and they swim strongly into them, arms stroking the water simultaneously, muscles moving in unison. As if, like fish, they gained courage by travelling together. And how large that challenge must look from their level! To the north-west, the angle of their swimming, there is no horizon. The Lake seems to rise higher than the land that must lie somewhere behind it so that one has the feeling of swimming not out but up. And they must have known, though they could not see, they had trespassed beyond the sinister line where the water turns from blue to dark green.

Suddenly (for the vigorousness of their perfectly matched strokes gave no indication of a slackening of the will) as if a bell has been rung, the young swimmers stop, disappear beneath the surface, then bob back into view. Only now they are heading shoreward with exactly the same determination that marked their moving out. Thus it can not have been fatigue which caused this sudden change of course. Does the blood have a barometer to measure the weather of waves? Can the skin take temperature, calculate depth from the chill of water? Is there some delicate timing device deep in the brain to sound the alarm, the secret adrenalin running, fear in the blood, in the lungs? Whatever the cause, the sun on this July day must have been as bemused as we — strangers to the vertical perspective — to watch the synchronized motion of two boys swimming back.

From their level the shoreline ahead must seem as strange and terrifying (if indeed such feelings were manifest in young and foolish minds) as the vastness of the Lake behind them. Sand beaches glisten from far right to far left to the edge of the eye-lid. Beyond them only the dunes, a scattering of poplars, and the faceless sky. Just as it was and had been since the last geological twinge. The village, yet to be born, is nowhere visible.

As they draw closer in, however, the landmarks of the year 1939 one by one make their reassuring appearance. On the left, the Pier, or breakwater — even now a community joke: someone had dreamed a harbour there in greener days. There is no harbour and all that remains of the Pier is a double row of forlorn and crookedly-driven spiles with chunks of concrete dumped between. The Lake has long ago decided not to take the thing seriously, indeed seems rather kind, almost deferential, as it rolls over, under and (more often) through it. Nor are the harbour-dreamers taken seriously any more, especially by those who have built a proper one safely downriver and constructed a city around it — showing, I should add, scant gratitude to this valiant forerunner of piers or to the pugnacious villagers who dreamed it into being.

On the right: the Bridge, almost a year old but just as strange as the day when the two halves met in the middle, high over the rapids below. Strange, because somehow the River seemed less, spanned by a gawky arch of steel, a shadow over water and sky. Most villagers, however, managed to suppress whatever secret reservations they felt — streaming across to the bright city on the other side. Another country. Full of cities as big and bigger than this one, stretching back and beyond who knows how far. Each with its own strangers, its dangers, its allure: Even the boys, perhaps these very swimmers, could be seen on a summer’s day perched like pigeons on the farthest branch of steel, eyes leaning out over the long water, wishing for wings.

For the moment, though, Pier and Bridge, point and crossing, provides merely a frame for the beach ahead, deserted. At precisely the spot where their feet touch bottom, the synchronized rhythms of arm over arm slow, and break. There is no hurry now. As the afternoon wears on and we continue our watch (time has its verticals too) we are witness to a curious and repeated ritual. Two boys — they are indistinguishable — dive and surface, chase each other, grapple and sink: arms/legs entangled, released, they shoot out in opposite directions like dolphins gliding. Then are drawn back, grapple again, roll, go under together, rise, bodies still locked in what can only be described as a sensual embrace. In fact the entire ritual — tirelessly, effortlessly repeated — appears to be a kind of foreplay, albeit practised with animal innocence. Yet surely this is another of our illusions, for these are mere boys and their love is as much with the water as one another. And the game is never consummated but played over and over: the chase, the grappling, the sudden sinking, space of water all around as they break apart smoothly, whole again, reassured by their own weightlessness. Dolphins in their lawful element. Odd, you may think, how we rehearse, over and over, these acts for a drama we have not yet seen, whose plot is as inscrutable as the deep currents pulling the waves a way they are not going.

Then, as if another tumbler has dropped somewhere inside, both boys abruptly end their play (more properly their prologue). Sun, wind, and waves low now. They float motionless, shoreward, all will abandoned. Bodies flattened, merge with the surface. Arms held close to the side, palms out, like rudimentary fins. The water takes them wave over wave to the dry shore. No movement. Flesh shuddering in the strange air. Then hands, then feet recognize the beach beneath; the bodies lift, wobble, crawl, uncertain the first few dangerous feet, till the boldest wave no longer washes over them.

Beyond the eye’s reach (theirs, not ours) the dunes welcome the long shadows, hold the cool wind poised in the bowls of their upturned mouths. The same wind these boys, petrified now upon the sand, feel blowing over their shoulders, blowing eastward the ceaseless waves, blowing the far-off poplar leaves one way, opening through them the secret boy-paths that wind through the dunes, become the first dusty roads leading down into the distant village below.

The place, the point where our story begins, and ends.

I

1

The snow came down upon the village that night as it had for the last seven days. Not continuously of course. At unexpected moments it would cease and there would be sun again, blinding and new, or sudden stars, startling in the brilliant dark. Then mysteriously, snow again, coming out of nowhere, and everywhere: humped over window-sills; drifted against walls, fences, doors; rings around trees and hydro-poles; filling up the ruts, paths, roadways, even footsteps made only an hour before.

And like the night in question, there was no wind driving it in from the frozen Lake. It fell, unaided, with the soft profusion of its own weight, straight down, in perfect verticals, as if it would not bend even with the urgent turning of the earth under it. And so thick that night the Bridge was only a broken shadow through it, and you could not see the Lake standing on the shoreline, or the dark ridge of the forests to the north and the east, or the bright lights of the country across the River, or the City which lay to the south. Its falling was almost imperceptible — that kind of snowfall which seems, looking up at it, as if it’s moving up and down at the same time, like miniature galaxies expanding and contracting, continuously adrift and directionless. It wasfalling, though, as you could see if you watched it crawl perceptibly up your window-pane, shutting the room, the house, in. Day or night, it did not matter.

The first sign that not all villagers were occupied in this sort of ocular activity was the noise. Muffled by the snow but distinguishable: shouts, cries, groans, squeals, mass exhalations of indrawn breath, mass inhalations of rather soggy night-air. Sounds of excitation? Terror? Triumph?

Then the lights. Blinking up through the down-falling snow, a great ring of them. And in the larger ring of illumination thrown by them, the first bumpy outlines of a rectangle. It is clear now that both the bumpy outline and the noise emanate from a common source — human beings, villagers to be precise. Gathered in this incipient rectangle, three or four deep, and venting their breath (with certain vocalizations of rage, frustration, ecstasy) towards a series of rapidly moving shadowy figures.

Here at last underneath the lights and looking crosswise through the snow you will recognize an open-air hockey rink, surrounded by bleachers, now filled with cheeks, toques,

gesticulating hands. And on the somewhat snowy ice the usual complement of hockey players making the gestures and moves appropriate to the intricate rules of that game — with an awkward gracefulness, a rough-edged fluidity. (Though admittedly a bit more awkward than graceful, here, almost two hundred miles from Maple Leaf Gardens).

Strange, you might think, to find almost the whole population out on a Friday night like this one, with the village besieged by snow, windows buried, the very doors blocked. But in truth they were: grocer, butcher, druggist, policeman (the only one), housewives, young-wives, dock-workers, day-labourers from the pool room, a foreman from the Refinery, the Reeve and those who voted for him, and some who didn’t — young or old, wet or dry, you could not find a larger single gathering of villagers anywhere else except at Church on a Sunday morning, and since there were three houses where God dwelt (or visited on Sabbath) it was not nearly as unanimous a conclave as Friday night at the hockey rink. And one suspected, along with a certain trinity of clerics, the level of devotion was not so high nor so deep as it was here, with the score three to nothing in favour of the hometown Flyers and less than two minutes to play.

Despite the comfort of an assured triumph over the deservedly despised enemy, there remained in the air an unusual tension. Most of the several hundred pairs of eyes were not trained upon the puck nor the players who swooped awkwardly around it, but rather upon two players who only occasionally came in contact with it. Indeed, most of their vocal encouragement, somewhat strained after fifty-eight minutes and three spectacular goals, was now directed toward two of the twelve players on the ice.

Watch it, Bill, watch it!

Don’t take any crap from that guy!

Oooh . . . ! did you see that? Brute! Brute! (A decidedly feminine voice.)

Get the Yank!

Board him!

Kill him!

The Yankee player alluded to wasa huge brute of a player, all shoulders and hips, craggy face, black arrogance in the eyes, with the distinctly un-Yankee name of Danulchuck. How this alien came to play for the Wanderers from Landsend was still a smouldering mystery in the village, and his unamerican name did little to diminish the anxieties of the local fans. That he was American was condemnation enough: the foreign flavour of his appellation merely intensified the mystery and thus the level of resentment. And never was the resentment so deep as it was at the moment: with Danulchuck cruising the ice like a bear in full stride, with an ambling ferocious elegance — his prey in sight.

The prey provided a suitable contrast: slim but muscularly so, and tall: moving gracefully on skates that were mere extensions of the leg. And speed, muscular speed, and quickness, as he darted with apparent ease — here, there, just beyond the reach of the cumbersome lunges of the bearish Danulchuck. Now and then a blur of light brown hair, a flash of blue eyes wary but not fearful. Certainly not scared. If this were prey it was a kind who seemed secure in his swiftness, seeking pleasure in the quick strides of escape so that, for a moment, the partisan lookers-on were not sure who was pursuing, who was pursued. Just moments before this same striding had brought the Friday night village crowd to its communal feet (for the third time) — speed and elegance generating more power than beauty, but the thrust of energy in control, endlessly practised muscular movements (which led the local sportswriter to call him a natural).

This natural — the local fans knew him as Bill — had just scored his third goal of the night, had virtually won the game and tied the series single-handed. All of which may seem hyperbolic when viewed from this distance and this age — of T.V. hockey and commercialized enthusiasm. But it is not exaggerating to say that during the two-minute standing ovation (most of them stood anyway since there were no seats, but the ovation was genuine) accorded to their hero, the people of the Point came alive - individually and collectively — as they did on few other occasions. (Six years later when the bells began to ring out again over Europe there was dancing in the streets of the Point and a triumphal tolling of bells, but for now this triumph would do very nicely). For this was their team and their boys: Bill’s father worked at the Refinery, MacDonald was the druggist’s son, Murphy the butcher’s boy, and so on. So, the victory was to be shared, the triumph communal. And in the sharing and the spontaneous approbation of their applause, all the petty human divisiveness, the pain of ordinary days, the long dream-distorted nights, the memories of Wars on far-away ground, the half-healed scars — all that divides us from each other and ourselves faded with the blending voice, the harmony of the universal cheer. The momentary shout of

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