S E V E N Y E A R S A F T E R T H E D I V O R C E , Captain Canada completed construction on the new lake house and invited his family up over the long weekend to celebrate. The cabin—or, as his sister’s hand-carved sign dubbed it, The Fortress of Relaxitude—was three thousand square feet of house and six thousand square feet of deck hugged by the old growth rainforest that blanketed the surrounding hills. Down a small flight of wooden stairs, Chloe Canada and her brother Kyle stood at the end of the dock and stared down at the lake, which was as smooth and undisturbed as maple syrup in the dead summer heat.
Captain Canada had bought the lot with his wife, Evelyn, when the twins were toddlers. Five years after they’d separated, she’d sold her half to him—I thought if I waited long enough, I could go without becoming sad, she said to her daughter. But the smell of the lake reminds me of him. I stare at the walls where we took family photos down. The sun had bleached the wood around the frames a slightly lighter shade of gold. Evelyn sold the family house in West Vancouver and used the money to buy a sprawling penthouse overlooking English Bay. It’s like living in a vacation home, she said. She transferred Chloe and Kyle’s childhood bedrooms to the new residence without forgetting a single thumbtack. They both thanked their mother for being so considerate, but secretly Chloe had trouble sleeping in her new room. Light came through her old curtains differently, reflected off the walls differently, created new ghosts. When she opened her eyes everything looked as it should and then it didn’t, like she was still trapped within a dream.
Their father had shown no such consideration when it came to the lake—Captain Canada had demolished the old cabin with a single punch, leaving most of the old furniture and artwork inside. It took nearly two years for contractors to remove the rubbish and rebuild.
Kyle pulled the last of the bags from the boat and it bobbed up in gratitude. They had ridden low across the lake, not daring to break five knots in case they hit a wave and went under. Their father refused to take ferries or drive long distances, and had flown, leaving the twins to pack all of his clothing and supplies into Kyle’s tiny Civic, and then, when he didn’t meet them at the public dock or answer his cell phone, into the rusted skiff they’d borrowed from a neighbour.
“Do you think he hit a plane?” Chloe asked. “Or one of the mountains. Or a flock of birds.” Captain Canada wore thick goggles when he flew, but if he smoked a 747, there would be no survivors. He was strong, sure, but lots of things are strong. An ant could balance forty-nine other ants on its back, but it would still die if you crushed it with a rock.
She knelt to pick up a flat of beer, but struggled under the weight. Neither Kyle nor Chloe had any sort of powers; the radiation poisoning that had given Captain Canada his Herculean abilities had failed to super-heroize his sperm.
Kyle shook his head. “He’s probably just busy.”
Chloe’s left hand slipped and before she could catch it, a bottle tipped off the flat and rolled onto the dock and into the water. She steadied herself and watched the bottle sink until it blinked out like a twinkle in an eye. “Shit,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it, Dad can fish it out later,” Kyle said. “Christ, put that down before you hurt yourself. Leave the heavy stuff for Dad.”
“I’m fine.” She teetered along the dock and started up the stairs. “Who knows how long he’ll be?”
Eight years ago, her mother had come home at midnight with salt stains on her favourite red dress and a strand of seaweed tangled in her long black hair. She’d thrown open the door to Chloe’s bedroom, and plucked the novel she was reading from her hands. You are beautiful, strong and intelligent, Evelyn had said, cupping Chloe’s face in her thin hands. You can save yourself. Evelyn meant it as an affirmation, but as she slipped into sleep, Chloe curled up around her—at twelve, she was already taller and heavier, and this was the first time it occurred to her she could be the armour that protected her mother instead of the other way around—and whispered back, I promise.
Chloe heard the roar of the engine long before she saw the speedboat dart across the lake toward them.
They walked down to meet the boat as it rounded the party island float and three-pointed in to the dock. Their aunt Noemi waved from the bow. Captain Canada lounged behind the wheel, naked except for his maple leaf swim trunks and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. Noemi’s husband and children, Tony and Ally, sprawled out on the seats behind him. In the passenger’s seat, Captain Canada’s manager sat cross-legged in professional white shorts and a loose red tank top, rapidly typing
something onto her phone. Christina was in her late thirties but looked much younger. She had protected herself with a wide-brimmed hat and a thick layer of sunscreen that made her pale olive skin glow. Chloe could barely see Christina beneath the hat, only her skinny elbows jutting out on either side like the leaves of a flower.
Captain Canada sprang out of the boat and almost flipped the dock when he landed on it. Chloe grabbed Kyle’s forearm for balance. “We called you,” she said. “We were calling you.”
“Sorry about that, honey.” He tousled her hair and laughed.
She batted him away. “Are you drunk?”
Christina stood and turned her phone towards the twins. “Check it out. We already have two hundred retweets.”
On the screen, Captain Canada caught a rainbow ski rope and hooked the triangular handle around his shoulder. He started to run across the water, towing a small party boat with a dozen twenty-somethings behind him. They had their hands in the air to toast him with beer cans and cell phones. One girl—a bottle blonde in an orange bikini—tossed him a can of Canadian, which he caught, drank, and tossed back in a single motion. After five or six seconds, the video looped and Captain Canada caught the rope again, hooked the handle again, caught the beer again, saved the day again.
“Oh man,” Kyle said. “They should offer you an endorsement.” “Pretty sick, right?” Tony clambered out of the boat. “Folks were super chill. Al, throw the rope.” He secured the boat as his family spilled out onto the dock.
“We lost track of time! Were you waiting long? How’d you get over?” Noemi swept Chloe up in an enormous hug. Like her younger brother, Noemi was tall, strong, dark-haired and tan. Chloe always felt very small with her father’s family. She was a half-foot shorter than her aunt and brother and Ally, and nearly a foot shorter than Tony and her father. Her father’s arms were thicker than her legs.
Captain Canada lifted the skiff over his head and took off across the lake to return it to its owner. Chloe lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the orange glow of the late afternoon sun, watching the ripples spread where her father’s feet had glanced off the water. Next to her, Tony cracked open another beer and one-handed Kyle towards the edge of the dock. Kyle staggered forward but caught himself before he went over. “The hell, man? My phone’s in my pocket.”
Tony laughed and jumped into the lake feet-first, submerging and emerging with his beer held proudly above the water like an Olympic torch.
Chloe felt like her family was dancing to a beat she couldn’t quite catch. The lonely feeling she’d had in the forty-five minutes they’d been missing hadn’t gone away the way she had expected it to when the boat brought them back.
“Why the long face?” her father asked as he landed on the deck. “You shouldn’t drive the boat when you’ve been drinking,” she said. He laughed and disappeared inside the cabin. He returned with a large knife, and handed it to Chloe handle-first. “Here.” He leapt backward. “Throw it at me.”
“Throw it at me.”
“Are you kidding? No.”
“I’m serious, honey, just throw it at me.”
“Dad, I’m not going to throw a knife at you!”
“Son! What about you?”
Kyle glanced up from the game of cribbage he was playing with Ally. He laid his cards face-down on the table and put his beer on top of them. “What’s up?”
“Take the knife from your sister and throw it at me.”
Kyle shrugged and stood. Chloe narrowed her eyes at her brother and tightened her grip. They’d spent every second together in the womb and had grown more and more apart since they’d slipped out of it. He took the knife from her and flung it as hard as he could. A year ago, Chloe thought, he would have been on her side. Then she realized: a year ago, she would have thrown the knife.
Captain Canada caught it by the handle when the blade was less than an inch from his nose. “Even drunk,” he said, juggling the knife in one hand carelessly, “my reflexes are a thousand times faster than a normal man’s.”
“It’s not your reflexes, it’s your judgement,” Chloe said, but no one seemed to hear her.
He pointed to one of the taller, thicker trees past the far side of the deck. “Wanna bet I can hit that tree? Kyle? Ally?”
“No one’s going to bet you, Uncle C. We all know you can do it.” “Five bucks says you can’t stick the blade,” said Kyle.
He did it on the second try.
Over on the table, Chloe’s cell phone buzzed. She picked it up and saw a text message from Evelyn: How is it?
It was a trap. Positive or negative, there was absolutely nothing Chloe could say that would not upset her mother. She pondered over her answer, then showed her phone to Kyle. After a moment, he typed it’s okay and hit send, and went back to his game.
Tony disappeared and reappeared about half an hour later with three girls who looked around nineteen or twenty. Chloe recognized the girl in the orange bikini from the video—she had thrown Captain Canada the beer as he towed their party boat to shore.
Tony bounced across the deck with a huge grin and disappeared inside the cabin. Chloe lowered her book when she heard her father’s voice bellow out the door—“Of course! The more the merrier!”
Tony emerged with Kyle and four fistfuls of beer bottles. “Ladies! To the floaty!” The Party Boat Girls cheered and all five of them padded back down to the dock. Chloe watched as Tony and Kyle distributed the beers, and they jumped in the water and swam over to the island float.
She dropped her book on the lounge, stood and walked into the cabin. Inside, Aunt Noemi aggressively chopped vegetables. Christina was at the kitchen table, hunched over a stack of papers with a pen jutting out of the side of her mouth.
“Where’d Dad go?”
“He went to the store to pick up a few more steaks,” Noemi said. Chloe sidled up to her. “Does that mean they’re staying for dinner, then?”
“I imagine so.”
She peered up at Noemi and noted, with relief, that her aunt appeared to be somewhat irritated about her son’s guests.
“Do you need help?” Chloe asked.
“No, thank you,” Christina answered. Her pen tumbled from her lips and clicked down on the table. Then she sat straight up. “Oh! I’m sorry. Not me. Sorry. It’s hard, finding time to go through this with Danny.”
Danny. Chloe had thought the only people who called him that anymore were Noemi and his mother. Even Evelyn referred to him as Captain Canada or your father. “No worries,” Chloe said, her throat tight.
Noemi handed her the knife. “Chop large. We’re roasting them on the barbecue.” She went over to the stove to attend to the croutons. “What are you working on?” Chloe asked.
Christina flitted through the papers. “Licensing agreements. We’re meeting with the lawyer next week. Twenty-five years and no action figures, no movies? He’s getting older. What does super-speed do with cancer? What does super-strength do with arthritis?”
“Or Alzheimer’s,” Noemi interjected.
“That’s a long way off,” Chloe said.
“I know,” Christina said. “But there’s something to be said about an early retirement.”
“For sure.” Chloe slid the knife through a zucchini, again, and again. She paused. “Kyle could write a movie.”
“That’s what he’s studying at UBC—writing and journalism. He’s really good. He’s had a few stories published.”
“Hmm.” Christina said again. “That’s interesting.” She popped her pen back in her mouth.
Chloe felt a fresh wave of rage wash over her and stick to her skin like salt. “So what do you guys think of the new cabin?” she baited them both.
“I love it,” Christina said at the same time Noemi said, “It’s nice.” “It’s very elegant, classy,” Christina continued.
“Yes, it is,” Noemi agreed. “But I liked the old cabin too. It was homey, it had character.”
“I miss it,” Chloe said, her voice an octave higher than normal. She watched the back of her aunt’s head as she walked over to the fridge and pulled out a head of lettuce and took it to the sink. She looked for signs that Noemi understood that in the eight years since he had moved out of their house, barely a conversation passed where Evelyn did not mention Captain Canada. That when her mother asked how is it? she meant has anyone mentioned me?
Her mother and her aunt had been close once, but after the divorce Captain Canada filled the space between them and expanded. At first, they met weekly. Then monthly. And then only at events hosted by mutual friends, where they stood close together, clinked their wine glasses, and promised to meet up again soon. Once, Chloe’s mother had a glass too many and said I miss you. Chloe had been seventeen or eighteen, and when she overheard she couldn’t tell whether Evelyn was speaking to her former sister-in-law or her former husband, who was off saving lives after some natural disaster, and also, as always, standing between them. There was a light thud as Captain Canada landed on the deck.
“Me too,” Noemi said placidly.
A year earlier, as Evelyn drove Chloe across the country to McGill, she’d brought up the night before the separation—the night she’d crawled into bed with her daughter with seaweed in her hair.
You know, she said, your father used to rescue me a lot.
It was true. Evelyn had been a regular Mary Jane / Lois Lane / fivefoot-two-ninety-pound-damsel-in-distress. She’d been in and out of hostage situations and in and out of hospitals all throughout Chloe’s childhood.
They were at a restaurant a few blocks from their hotel. He was only ever there for me when I needed help, she said. He wouldn’t be there for coffee or for dinner or for watching TV. He was the sun and I was the moon, and it was like I disappeared from the sky when he wasn’t looking, she said. When he went away, he didn’t even miss me.
She bent forward and stared at her daughter through her wine glass. Do you understand?
Chloe was old enough and well-read enough to recognize the metaphor, and was vaguely disappointed in her mother for using it. I think so, she said. She wondered why, in every story, and in every song, the sun was male and the moon was female. People were greater than that, she thought, people were suns and moons and black holes all at once, emitting their own light while reflecting and absorbing the light of others. The whole world pulsed with their energies.
Evelyn’s words echoed through Chloe’s head as she took her plate and wine glass and squeezed her chair up to join her family and Tony’s Party Boat Girls at the table on the deck. She let her sunglasses fall from
her forehead over her eyes. Noemi stood as Chloe sat. “I’d like to thank my brother. For generously hosting us here this weekend.”
Everyone raised their glasses. Chloe hesitated and glanced across the table at her brother. Kyle had his wine glass in the air. She quickly lifted hers.
“To Captain Canada!”
“To Dad!” Chloe and Kyle said in unison. Kyle met her eyes and smiled.
The night before he left, I’d had enough. We were on a gala cruise, with local politicians and celebrities. It was my idea. I didn’t want to go, but I thought I could get him to go, do you understand? But he ignored me the whole night. It was windy, and English Bay was rough. I was standing next to a railing, and I lost my balance. At this, Evelyn had paused. I could have caught myself, but I didn’t. I let the wind carry me over.
No. I jumped.
I fell. And then I was in the ocean. I thrashed about and waited for him to come save me. But he never did. He didn’t even notice I was gone.
So I swam to shore.
A few months later, in a Psych 100 lecture at McGill, Chloe would learn that lonely people took more baths and showers—that water could act as a substitute for human contact. She would wonder if lonely people were more likely to become swimmers, or more likely to drown.
I never needed him to save me.
You’re going to be alone for the first time in your life, Evelyn said. I want you to remember this: you’ll be fine.
She had reached across the table and hugged her daughter.
You’ll be great.
Chloe realized she was muttering her mother’s words and sucked her lips to her teeth to stop them from tumbling out. Kyle’s eyes were still locked on her. He wrinkled his brow and shook his head slightly.
Chloe paused for a moment, then mouthed the words it’s nothing and dropped her wine to her lips.
As Noemi settled into her seat, Ally stood and raised her glass again. “And to Mom! For preparing this wonderful meal!”
They began to dig in.
After a few bites, the Party Boat Girl in the orange bikini stood. “To Captain Canada!” she shouted.
Everyone raised their glasses again. “To Captain Canada!”
Chloe could barely take her eyes off her plate.
At the end of the meal, as Chloe pushed her chair out to help clear the plates, she noticed that underneath the table, Christina’s knee tilted against her father’s.
She barrelled into the kitchen and dumped her dishes in the sink. She was in the middle of yanking open the dishwasher when Tony popped his head in. “We’re going out in the boat!” he shouted.
Chloe kicked the dishwasher door back into place and followed him outside. The Party Boat Girls had shed their sundresses on the deck and were plucking beach towels from the clothesline. Ally pulled a wetsuit over her bikini. Captain Canada had his foot to an air pump quick as a hummingbird, blowing up one towable tube and then two more in under a minute. The nylon covers were bright red with twin lightning bolts wrapped around each side and a deranged-looking smiley face scrawled across the top.
Christina appeared beside her. “You like them? The clerk said they were the best for speed and getting air.” She said the last two words as though they were in a foreign language.
“Who’s driving?” Chloe said.
Kyle rounded the cabin with a small beer cooler. Captain Canada stacked the three tubes on top of each other and lifted them with one hand. The Party Boat Girl in the orange bikini bounded up to him. “Can you carry me too?” she trilled. Chloe watched Christina’s face, but her gaze had dropped back down to her phone and she betrayed no emotion.
Captain Canada nodded and crouched with his free hand palm-up at her knees. She gingerly stepped on to his hand one foot at a time, clutching a fistful of his hair for support.
“Careful!” Chloe called out. “His hair’s not nearly as sturdy as it once was.”
They both turned towards her. “You brat,” he said with a half-grin. “You coming?”
“You sure it’s a good idea to take the boat out now?”
“For sure,” Tony said. “We only got like ninety minutes of light left.” “That’s not what I meant.”
“Watch your balance.” Captain Canada hoisted Orange Bikini into the air. “Come on, now, Miss Sober,” he said to Chloe. “I’ll need a good spotter.”
Tony, Kyle, Ally and the other two Party Boat Girls were already staggering along the stairs. Through the trees, Chloe could see her aunt and uncle waiting on the dock below. All at once, the whole lot looked back up at the cabin, and even though Chloe knew it was ridiculous, she could swear they were all looking straight at her. The evening sun beat down and cast a golden glow on them. A teardrop of sweat shivered down her spine.
“Uncle C!” Tony shouted. “Hurry it up!”
“Coming?” he asked her.
“Yeah.” She started towards the stairs. Her father stepped behind her with unusual care, his arms extended with their loads like a human scale. It reminded Chloe of a picture of her parents that had hung in the old cabin: they’re both in their early twenties, and she is sitting on
his shoulder with his arm fastened firmly around her calves. Her arms and fingers are extended, jazz-handed, while his other arm is bent, his palm spread like a falling star. His face is turned up to hers and hers is turned down to his. He’s smiling and she’s laughing. It had been taken the summer after they’d both graduated from the University of British Columbia—he in engineering, and she in political science—and one year before the accident turned Danny Cordano into the country’s mostbeloved superhero. Chloe realized with a jolt that the photo had probably been carted away with the wreckage.
Down at the dock, Kyle, Tony and Ally jumped aboard the tubes. Tony grinned up at the Party Boat Girls as they piled into the back of the boat. “We’ll show you how it’s done.”
Chloe took the seat behind her father, facing the stern. She nudged the beer cooler open with her bare foot and bent down to grab an apple cider. On the dock, Aunt Noemi untied the last rope and jumped into the hull next to her husband. Captain Canada started the engine and inched the boat out into the open water. Once the tubes were clear, he turned the boat sharp left, straightened out and gunned it, yanking the tubers up over the wake and into the air.
He jerked the wheel right as they landed, skipping the three tubes out of the wake until they were almost perpendicular to the boat. As they flung back to the wake, Kyle grabbed the side handle of Tony’s tube and held on until the last second, sending him flying over the wave and skyward. The tube tilted, and Tony’s legs and torso hinged up away from it, but he kept his death-grip on the front handles and shifted his weight mid-air to land with only a slight bounce. The Party Boat Girls gasped, and Orange Bikini snapped a series of pictures and eagerly showed her phone to the others. Chloe took another drink and let her gaze drift down to the screen. Orange Bikini had impeccable timing—she’d caught all three in the air, their faces frozen, mouths open between fear and joy.
Orange Bikini leaned across the boat and put a hand on Captain Canada’s arm. She said something Chloe couldn’t hear over the sound of wind and waves and the Blue Rodeo song Noemi blasted through the boat’s speakers from her iPod. He looked at the photo and laughed. Chloe wanted to rip the other girl’s hand away from her father. He was more than twice her fucking age. Chloe would not have been surprised to learn this girl was on the wrong side of a high school diploma. She wanted to tell her that Captain-fucking-Canada hadn’t taken three whole days off to entertain an insipid celebrity-worshipper with greasy roots. That in all likelihood, somewhere someone had died because Captain Canada wasn’t there to save them.
After all, wasn’t that the whole point? Every birthday, every hockey game, every anniversary, their high school graduation, Kyle’s reading at the university, every dinner, every breakfast, every weekend morning—how many lives were they willing to sacrifice so he could be there for them?
Shortly before the divorce, she and Kyle and their mother had watched an interview with Captain Canada on The Hour.
I love it, he’s saying. I’m anxious when I’m not working. I worry. I love my country, I love my world. I love everyone in it. I know I can’t save everyone. George Stroumboulopoulos nods sympathetically. But I can do my best. Applause. Canada’s hero smiles graciously at the camera.
Chloe had wondered whether there was someone out there who wouldn’t get rescued because Captain Canada was at the CBC.
That’s bullshit, Evelyn said. If you love everyone in the world, that’s the same as loving no one at all.
How selfish we are, Chloe thought, to want him to love us more.
Captain Canada turned the boat again and sent all three tubes flying across the wake. Tony extended his foot sideways as Kyle zipped towards him, preparing a frog-leg kick.
Chloe swallowed the rest of her cider and bent down to grab another from the cooler.
The Party Boat Girls gasped. Chloe lifted her head. Kyle’s tube was bouncing, dragging down at the front where it connected with the rope. Kyle was nowhere to be seen.
“Cut!” she said. “Kyle’s off!”
Captain Canada cut the engine and then Chloe saw the blood, saw Kyle’s knee and toes jut out from the water in front of the tube.
“Dad!” she screamed.
She watched, frozen, as Ally and Tony threw off their lifejackets and jumped in the lake. But Captain Canada got there first. He gently pushed the tube off of Kyle, and un-looped the rope from the tube, and then from Kyle’s ankle. He cradled his son in his arms and slowly rose into the air. “Holy shit!”
Kyle’s right foot dangled by a bloodied thread. The rope had burnt through to the bone. He wrapped his arms around his father and screamed into his bare shoulder.
Captain Canada glided over to the boat. His face was stone, but his eyes shone—with lake water or tears, Chloe couldn’t tell.
“Pass the towel,” he said.
One of the Party Boat Girls threw the towel she was sitting on up to Captain Canada. He caught it with one hand and wrapped it around the severed ankle. “Kyle? Son, I need you to hold this.” He wrapped his arm back around Kyle, hugging him against his chest.
Chloe stood. “Kyle!” she cried.
“I know it hurts, son. I need you to be brave. I need you to let go of me. I need you to hold the towel.”
After a moment, Kyle nodded into his father’s shoulder and released his hands. He bent himself towards his foot and firmly clasped his hands on either side of his ankle, around the towel.
“Close your eyes.”
And then, like a speeding bullet, Captain Canada and Kyle shot up into the sky and disappeared on the other side of the mountains.
“Kyle!” Chloe angled her way to the hull, elbowing a Party Boat Girl out of her path. She vaulted onto the seat between her aunt and uncle, and then to the tip of the bow and leapt. For a second, she hovered, like she might be able to follow them, but then she fell straight down into the lake.
As she sank, she opened her eyes slowly.
Sunbeams and shadows spun around her like the striped top of a carousel. When she looked down, the rays circled into a dark pupil, as if a giant were pinching all the light in the world between his thumb and finger hundreds of kilometres below. She stopped sinking after a couple of metres and hovered, held still in the lake’s embrace. She’d never felt more loved.
She held her breath for as long as she could, then kicked and clawed her way back to the surface.