When Miss Hempstead’s brother died in Lac St. Louis, it was a tragedy. Miss Hempstead’s brother was known as a powerful swimmer and trained canoeist, but he had tipped into the middle of the lake—still frigid in May. Patches of ice hung grayly just below the surface. He should not have been in that water, everyone said. Should not have gone canoeing.
All of the girls said Miss Hempstead’s brother was a real hunk, which was difficult to swallow given Miss Hempstead’s obvious homeliness but not out of the realm of possibility as she might have made an attractive man. Still the fact that he, the brother, had not been ugly made his death all the more tragic to the girls of Miss Hempstead’s grade six class.
Mouse liked to think of Miss Hempstead’s brother when she couldn’t sleep at night. Liked to think of Miss Hempstead’s hunky brother canoeing out onto the foggy waters of Pooey Louis—for that is what they called it because everyone knew it was polluted, was full of shit.
Perhaps he felt hopeful on that May morning. The snow was gone, the cold. Perhaps he was ready to share his love of the water with his friend. They might have been training for a trip up north in the summer, where they would boat and portage across the black-fly covered water and land. They might have camped by the edge of a lake, and as they fell asleep they might have heard a grandfather telling a story to his 21 grandchildren.
First there would be the voice of the grandfather, low and long, telling a story, followed by the children laughing, highly and brightly and urgently.
This would go on for quite some time: grandfather, children, grandfather, children.
But they were not people. They were coyotes. The children, the smaller ones, the betas, circling around, howling high to the leader’s low moan.
As the cold of the water became too much, was he missing the coyotes? Was he thinking of the way the sky is wreathed in green and pink up there, up north? Was he thinking of the sound of moose teeth scraping together with the chewing of the cud?
And did he ever wear clogs like the boy at her bus stop? And when the road crusted over with ice for the whole of the winter, had he been one of those boys who latched onto the bumper of a school bus as it passed, sailing impossibly over the ground, flying with the speed, risking death for that moment?
Was Miss Hempstead’s brother thinking of his homely sister as he died—her tightly permed hair, her pale lips? How her anger was so quick, so easy with young girls who make mistakes?