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Authors: D.R. MacDonald

Cape Breton Road

BOOK: Cape Breton Road
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Copyright © 2000 by David R. MacDonald
Anchor Canada paperback edition 2001

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher — or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency — is an infringement of the copyright law.

Anchor Canada and colophon are trademarks.

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data

MacDonald, D. R.
Cape Breton Road: a novel

eISBN: 978-0-385-67437-9

I. Title.

PS8575.D6295C36 2001a    C813′.54    C2001-902333-2
PR9199.3.M23C36 2001a

Published in Canada by
Anchor Canada, a division of
Random House of Canada Limited

Visit Random House of Canada Limited’s website:


For Emma, with love and hope

An cuir tobar a mach as an aon shùil
uisge milis is searbh?

Will a spring send forth from the same opening
water both bitter and sweet?


The author wishes to thank the following
for their help, direct or indirect:

Richard J. Schrader
Mike Mullery
Jack MacDonald
Jessie MacDonald
Russell Leblanc
Dr. Mahmoud and Rae Naqvi
the late Rev. Randolph MacLean
June Bonner Arnold
Gerrit Schuurkamp
And, in ways beyond measure, Sheila


like a firebreak through the wooded ridge and Innis could follow it easily now, his private road, could take it a long way beyond his uncle’s boundary and cross, unseen here in the upland, other people’s woods, veering down into them when something caught his eye. The afternoon was growing colder under a lazy snowfall and he captured on his tongue the cool taste of a downy flake. He carried a bucksaw loosely in one hand, in the other his walking stick that beat snow out of boughs, showed him snow depth, ice thinness, heard but unseen water, and if he found himself without the stick, he would retrace his steps in a crouch until he saw where he had set it down, distracted by something he wanted to inspect—tracks, a bush, a hole in the snow that said an animal lives here. Back in his uncle’s woods he’d been thinning young spruce, improving a clearing well above the power line, the spot he had staked out in the fall for his own seedlings. Starr never went up in the trees anymore, would never know what went on there, one way or the other. For what Innis had in mind, summer light in that clearing would do. And it would, by fall, light his way out of here, though at the moment collas swaying in the sun were not easy to conjure.

His tracks were filling so quickly he could barely see how he’d meandered along the break. He liked his tracks to dip into the lower trees, then out again, a snaking trail someone might follow, looking for whatever creature was at the end of it. Overhead, the power line, two widely spaced cables, sagged gracefully toward a wooden pylon visible on the next rise, then disappeared into the snowgreyed air. If he were to follow it in that direction, east for maybe an hour, he could hit the TransCanada highway and thumb down a car or a semi the way he had last October. People still hitched in this part of the world, even women. But he was not ready for it. He was not a prisoner after all, except to himself, but he knew now the ride out would have to be a long one, all westward. He hadn’t the nerve yet to go it alone in this country, though he would never admit that to Starr, not for a second. He had once wished for nothing but to be back in the streets of Watertown, of Boston better yet, but that city, that whole country down there, was closed to him now, forbidden—a hurt he woke to some days like a bruise in his chest. With some real bucks in his pocket, he kept telling himself, he would find his way maybe to Montreal or Toronto, even all the way to Vancouver, cities big enough to start over in. But last night when he’d looked at a map in Starr’s old atlas, Canada’s vastness disheartened him, diffusing him into its indefinite spaces, unmoored and anonymous, a nobody.

Now the snow whirled down, gently blinding him in the grey light, and he was weary of this relentless season. A hatred for North St. Aubin seized him so strongly he nearly fell to his knees. That ragged skyline of thick spruce wherever he looked, one little store with a gas pump. March in Watertown could be nasty, sure, but winter wasn’t nailed down like this. Pot
plants growing in these woods? A pipedream. In the deep wall of trees below him he saw a few different evergreens, a small grove, stately, fuller, and when he took a branch in his hand and shook it free of snow and felt the long needles like coarse hair, he knew it was a pine, a Scotch pine. A soft swirl of wind soughed through it, a timbre he never heard in the other needled trees. In all his trampings he had come across but a single pine, a white pine hidden in spruce, so old its crown was out of sight. Christmas presents had this smell on them when he was a kid, his mother urging him to tear them open when he tried to save the pretty paper, to hell with it, never mind, she’d say, but he’d liked the figures on the wrapping, the designs. They’d had no Christmas, he and his uncle, Starr said it was mushy, the whole sentimental business, and he spent Christmas day and night in Sydney with some woman, clear of any duties toward or expectations from his nephew boarder. Innis’s mother had always wanted Scotch pine for Christmas. So how about this fifteen-footer, Mom? I’ll ship it to you, you can save it for next year, I won’t be there to haul it up the stairs but your boyfriend can do the honors. He ducked under its branches, snow trembling down his neck as the saw ripped into bark, the blade pungent with resin, sawdust dribbling into the wooly snow like cornmeal, and when the tree fell away from him with a hiss, he drew back and inhaled the turpentine smell. Resin. Jesus, it jacked him up, like that other resin he loved to smoke. He stood panting, snow in his eyelashes, his hair. His back muscles burned, water trickled cool then warm along his spine, over the chill of sweat. The pine lay humbled against the snow. But his angry exhilaration faded with every smoky breath, the satisfaction seared through him so fast he
didn’t know what made him do it, just take it down like that. When he heard the faint squeak of footsteps behind him, he thought first, it’s getting colder, the snow is noisy, and then his mind was already racing toward a lie.

“God, if my dad wasn’t near ninety, he’d kill you.” The man stood planted like a stout child dressed up and sent out into the snow, his big mittened hands at his sides. His face was flushed beneath the brim of a green stocking cap. “He’ll have the Mounties on you, boy, and that’s the least of it.”

Innis picked up the bucksaw he’d flung down: Starr’s name was carved into the handle, and Starr would be wild anyway if Mounties showed up at the door. Well I knew you’d bring them sooner or later, you have this thing with the police, eh?

“These trees yours?” Innis hated the boyish supplication in his voice, the register it always rose to when he’d been caught. “I didn’t see any signs or anything. I figured they were just anybody’s.”

The man swung his weight slowly about as if he wore snowshoes, not heavy galoshes. “Trees are always somebody’s,”. he said. “You can’t come into our woods with a saw in your hand. You haven’t the right, you see.”

Don’t get in trouble like you did in Boston, Starr told him when he first set foot in the house. There’s not the chance, b’y, for one. And for another, they’ll put you away so quick you’ll think you’d never been here.

“I only cut the one,” Innis said.

“For what?” The man lifted the pine by its tip like a dead animal.

“Listen, I’ll pay you, whatever you think it’s worth.”

The man didn’t seem to hear. “Only stand of trees like
this on the whole goddamn island,” he said. He touched the oozing tree stump, then sniffed his glove. “Where you from? Not from here, are you. I can tell by your talk.”

Innis wanted to tell him I
from here, I left here a baby and my folks are from here clean back to my great-grandfathers. But he didn’t feel the truth of that, it was just what he had been told, and when you were seized in the act, it was not the time to open up a genealogical cupboard the man could rummage in. Like it or not, you’re a Corbett, Starr told him. You don’t have to care about that, I can’t make you. But I care. Your great-grandpa built this house. Don’t shame it.

“Sydney,” he said. He’d been into Sydney twice with Starr, the big town, malls and all.

“Who do you belong to? I know all kinds of people in Sydney.”

“You wouldn’t know mine.”

“But your name, what’s your name?”

“MacAskill.” Innis knew there were no MacAskills in North St. Aubin.

“You Englishtown MacAskills? North River?”

“No. We haven’t lived here very long.”

“Queer place to be cutting down a tree, if you live forty miles away. What did you mean by it?”

“How the hell did you know I was up here?”

“My dad,” the man said. “ ‘Finlay,’ he said to me, ‘somebody is at the trees.’ He always knows when somebody’s in the woods what don’t belong.”

“You mean he saw me?” Innis looked into the dark trees around them, blacker now in the late afternoon light. There was no house near, he knew that. “That’s crazy.”

“He saw you, in a way. My dad sees things the rest of us don’t. What MacAskill are you? Not Jimmy Angus’s family? No.” Snow had whitened the man’s cap, gathered on his thick mackinaw like a shawl. Innis was tensed to run, the slow whirl of flakes closing around him, his heart beating harder now. The guy couldn’t give chase, could he, chubby as he was, and if he sicced the Mounties on him they wouldn’t get here for an hour, spread as thin as they were, and they’d be looking for a car anyway, a car he didn’t have, not a young guy on foot and where would they look in the woods? Would they even give a damn, for a pine tree? But he didn’t run.

“I want you to come with me,” the man said calmly, as if it were the natural step now.

“I’m not going to hang around waiting for the Mounties, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not as young as I look.”

“You come meet my dad. You come meet Dan Rory. He’s a man you should know and you just cut down a tree he likes very much.”

Innis backed away a couple steps.

“I can disappear pretty damn quick. I know these woods.”

“Odd, that, for a Sydney boy. You hunt up here? Oh, you won’t disappear, it’s not that easy, is it? Run if you like. Walk away.” He turned slowly and started back. “We know who you are, me and my dad,” he said over his shoulder.

Innis picked up his walking stick and watched him. “What do you mean?” he yelled. “I’ve never seen you before, or your old man either!” The man kept on, not hurrying, retracing his tracks down the hill until he slipped out of sight in the dark trees.

BOOK: Cape Breton Road
6.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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