Cap­tain Canada

Prairie Fire - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - MEGHAN BELL

53

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Hmm?”

“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.

Mom?

No. I jumped.

Mom.

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.

No.

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!”

“To Noemi!”

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.

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