Win Szczedziwoj, a man known for photographing subjects in the rain, would like to get some pictures of the wind-scoured islands in Georgian Bay. His wife won't let him go alone, so he cons an friend into going with them.
It wasn't supposed to be complicated, but the two barely get the tent up before it becomes apparent that some locals don't want them there, at least not that night. Even before they can consider getting out of there, things get out of control.
Phil was a close friend, but now we sort of avoid each other. Maybe he can go screw himself, because I've done all I can. But it didn't start that way.
Of course I lied to Phil. The son-of-bitch deserved it, after all.
Hey, a lie isn't always bad. Some lies are designed to help people through bad times. Some lies - like Santa Claus and the provincial lottery - are merely part of people's dreams.
I've never figured out whether dreams are the best or the worst lies.
So I made a special lie to Phil. Just enough to make his eyes light up and his heart skip a beat or two.
But, I swear to you, I don't think anyone could have seen the crude line of fate that connected that elaborate and comic lie to a dead guy on a rocky little island, a couple of weeks later and a few hundred miles away.
This is a book about lies, as you've probably figured out by now. At least partly, anyway.
It's also about islands, so I have to explain about me and Phil and canoes and islands before I get too much further.
This book took a lot of writing and remembering and thinking, so I thank you for reading it. But I suspect that, a year down the way all you'll remember of it is that snapping turtles breathe through their anuses in winter, and you'll not be able to remember where you got that information, or whether it's true or not.
Islands figure pretty big in this story, so I'll start with them. Then I'll get on to my elaborate con job, and Phil, and how we ended up in a canoe in waters designed for ocean freighters.
First thing to get straight is that islands weren't the death of Phil - that is, it wasn't Phil who died - so I'm spared that thought in long nights. It was someone else who died a snake-sucking death on a rocky little island. Someone else took that heart-stopping leap into eternity, the leap that's always climbing the inside of our skulls like a little black gecko lizard.
But the dead person comes later, too. You'll just have to wait for that.
I like islands. When I was a little kid, we lived in the Muskokas for a year, where my parents taught in one-room schools.
The Muskokas are a set of lakes that have been the playground of Ontario for a hundred years or more. Like any place else, they have a number of year-round residents, and kids that need to be taught. My father, in a bout of restlessness, found jobs for both himself and for my mother. My mother taught in a schoolroom in the village we lived in. The locals had converted a town meeting hall into two rooms; half became the elementary school, and the other half became our home for the year. It was post-war, the baby boom had caught the country by surprise, and
there was a desperate shortage of classrooms and teachers.
That summer, on the weekends, dad would pile the family into a fourteen-foot plywood boat he'd built in spring, and buzz out across Lake of Bays. The noise of the air-cooled three-horse outboard made conversation difficult, so we'd watch the cottages and seagulls and the other boats disappear into our wake.
I'd watch every island as it came up, then turn to watch it go by.
Sometimes that summer, or late into the fall, seeing the longing in my face, dad would stop at some uninhabited little island and let us out. After the first couple, I was the only one that wanted out. The family would wait in the boat while I "explored" the island.
And sometimes all I did was go to the far side and sit in the shrubbery and pretend I was all alone. Like I'd anchored my sloop in the lagoon and the ruins of civilization were just behind some palms.
Those islands were pretty small; any island in the Muskokas big enough to have a cottage on it usually did.
I didn't know then, and I don't now, why I had such a fascination with islands. Maybe it was just that an isolated little boy needed an isolated little place to sit on. And watch the clouds drift by.
Now I'm older. I stand on shores and watch islands in the sunset, riding the lake like worlds just out of reach.
I still like to be alone a lot. It's the way I am. I dream of being alone as the sun goes down and the silences and darkness come sliding in among the trees like a mottled velvet anaconda, swallowing the day.
It had been months since I'd watched the evening come down in solitude. I was getting antsy. That has to be taken into account.
Win Szczedziwoj, rainy-day photographer (that's me), was real desperate. I hadn't developed a tic in my cheek yet, but it was getting close. That's pronounced "Cheh - Gee - Voy", although adding an "sh" at the front makes it more accurate. The "Win" is for "Winter". Don't ask.
So I had a hunger for some isolated little island in the rain, swept by wind and pounded by the waves and home to an isolated little photographer pounded by his own winds and rains.
And wondering if his little red tent will blow down at three in the morning. Stay tuned.