The lake, surrounded by mountains, was deep and treacherous and prone to sudden and violent storms. It measured about thirty miles long and was divided into two sections by a large peninsula of rock. The largest settlement, the Foot, was at the southern end of the lake. By the early nineteen twenties there were a few permanent buildings clustered on the shore: two hotels which competed with each other for the rich tourists from England, a somewhat disorganized school, and a few stores dotted along the main street.
Across the lake and to the north, stood an isolated logging camp called Inlet Bay. It was assessable only by water, a four hour boat ride between the Foot and the camp. Anthony was in the process of building a church at Inlet Bay and in a few short months the community would see its first school.
Like most of the settlements in the area the houses floated on the water. Little gable-roofed cabins made of sturdy two by fours were built on rafts so they could move easily from one lumbering site to another. On a sunny day a stranger coming upon the floating community would have thought he had found a mystical village, shimmering in the mist of the surrounding rain forest, a Camelot or Avalon. The houses were surrounded by a platform and were connected to the land by a wooden walkway. However, only yesterday in the worst of the storm, one of them floated away from its moorings because the guy lines were rusted and they broke. Some houses stood firmly on land: a grocery store, two hotels that competed with each other for the rich tourists from England, a post office and the Anglican Church.
Jim Chow, his shoulders rounded and frail, face wizened, carefully wrapped the clean shirts in newspapers as he prepared for delivery. He hoped he could borrow someone’s rowboat since the road through the village was flooded and his parcel to heavy to balance on the handlebars of his bicycle, even if the way was passable. It was Thursday. In anticipation of a weekend in Vancouver, the loggers had given him their best clothes to be cleaned and pressed: trousers worn at the knees, shirts frayed at the cuffs, buttons missing which he had painstakingly sewn back on. He knew the clothing would be returned more worn than before, covered with vomit or blood, pockets or collars torn and dangling, holes out of the knees which he would patch again. But they always returned, their money gone.
He fumbled while trying to tie string around the last parcel. His fingers, usually quick, moved heavily, awkwardly, as if they wanted to undo the parcel and shake the dress and put it out on a clothes line in the sun, as Megan probably would have done if he were alive.
Edith Weatherstone had brought the frock to him. The bodice was blood stained, not badly, because the bullet had gone clean through Megan’s temple and the blood had trickled down her neck and over her left shoulder on to the floor. They had found her before the blood had dried and caked.
“Shot herself,” said Mrs. Weatherstone. Her voice, almost as deep as a man’s broke. She knew it and tried to gain her composure by drumming her fingers impatiently on the counter.
“Who?” He had to look up at her because she was quite tall.
“Megan. Shot herself” Jim didn’t respond, so the woman thinking he didn’t understand put it another way. “She’s dead.” Jim blinked. He felt his Adam’s apple jerk up and down in his throat and that was the only sign he made that he had heard the dreadful news. “Reverend Naylor wants her dressed in this to send her back to her mother. Funeral’s in Victoria.” Mrs. Weatherstone brandished the dress at him, shaking it in his face as if it was his fault. “Oh no,” he said. He steadied himself against the counter.
“Are you all right?” He wants it to be ready by tonight.” She tossed the dress on the counter.
“So sorry,” he said.
“Yes. We’re all sorry.” She wheeled about and with her back turned to him muttered, “Very sorry.” Without putting on her umbrella, she went out into the pouring rain. That was the longest conversation they had ever had.
Usually, he dropped into the supermarket for groceries. He made an exotic shrimp wok dinner. Shopping together was fun, not hectic and tiring as it was with her two kids. She loved the drive to his acreage most of all. Once they had left the city and gone out on highway 14, she felt like she used to as a child when her mother took her to toy land to see Santa. She rode a little train through a magical village replete with elves, candy canes and coloured giant snowflakes. In the middle of the scene stood stuffed animals, spotted fawns, reindeer and camels that swayed their heads from side to side. Sitting beside Jacques as they drove out of the city, she watched the landscape open up into flat white squares like a giant chessboard.
At one spot in their journey, Llamas surprised her. They stood in a farmer’s field like the exotic stuffed of the magical village she remembered. Huddled under a tree, they braced themselves against the cold. The gentle contours of their backs blackened against the bright colours of the prairie sunset. As it receded over the horizon, the sun seemed to get bigger and brighter us if to make up for its sinking. The white snow banked around the llamas’ slender legs turned orange.
“He breed ‘em,” Jacques sai. “Sells ‘em to the zoo. They eat a lot less than cows.”