Angie’s books include the short story collection Anything Boys Can Do and two novels, The Bone Cage, a CBC Canada Reads 2011 finalist and 2011-2012 MacEwan Book of the Year, and her new, critically acclaimed, The Canterbury Trail
Her piece below features a character from that novel, which follows a tragic-comic trek of a group of snow pilgrims up a mountain in British Columbia’s deep interior, during the last ski weekend of the season.
In The Canterbury Trail I worked very hard to make sure there was no single protagonist. There’s a very large cast and every single character thinks she/he is the main character. However, to be honest, there was one character with whom I identified the most: Loco the local. I wrote quite a bit of back story for him but had to cut it in the interests of keeping momentum pushing forward, and keeping the characters moving up and over the mountain. Here’s a bit of that material. This comes from a moment (night is falling, some of his companions are digging through deep snow) when Loco is thinking how, despite his shtick of being local, in fact he hated Coalton while he was growing up there, and how he couldn’t wait to leave. He recalls a picture of the life he’d earlier imagined for himself—a life that was nothing like the lives of his parents, teachers, and neighbours in Coalton….
That’s how Loco pictured life playing out. But during his first week away at university in the big city, he experienced unprecedented terror. The constant buzzing of his skin reminded him of the time he was eight and, spurred on by braver friends, he’d climbed to the highest diving tower at the outdoor city pool. The nervous crawl of his skin, the tingling bladder, the shortness of breath, the dull ache radiating down his arms to his fingertips. All of it—exactly the same.
At the pool, he’d been paralyzed, peeking over his toes, assessing the impossible distance to the water below. He knew immediately he couldn’t jump. He hung back while one friend flew off the end, and then the other, both making it look easy, even fun. But he could not do it, could not will his legs to take those trusting steps forward into empty air. He’d held tight to the safety bar and edged his way back to the ladder that he’d ascended to get to the platform. Surely, if he could climb up, he could climb down.
But his body disagreed with his mind. Looking down, he squeezed the railing so tight that his palms burnt, and (just as surely as he’d known he couldn’t jump) he knew that he couldn’t possibly take that first narrow step to descend the ladder below. Too high. Simply too high.
And so he’d paced—platform-edge to ladder, back and forth, one hand holding the metal railing and the other clasping his eight-year-old penis, sure he’d pee himself before he found a way down.
In his dreams, he still paced that high diving board, paced while familiar faces—the town doctor, his grade four teacher, his grandma, his father, the first girl he kissed—stared up at him. Come on! Do it. Do it! And still he couldn’t jump. In the dreams, his adult body was stuffed into an eight-year-old Speedo, the crack of his ass visible to all the spectators below.
The city was like that. For real life.
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