It was a Friday, mid October. Russell had found a way to escape the confines of gritty Verdun, working the all-night grocery and his drunken mother and father. He was fifteen and had already been working for two years. He hadn’t seen his folks, the last few days. They were probably on one of their nightly benders at the bar and Martha was with her steady fellow so never home.
He’d left a note Gone North and headed to Lakefield for the weekend. He assumed they’d be up at the cabin by tomorrow. He sat on the rocking train heading north to Lachute, trying to forget all that. The train afforded him time to read Sad Sack Sarge or Spiderman comics.
He looked up at the rolling landscape going by and slowly let go of the city stuff swirling in his head, working nights, never knowing if he’d find a ransacked mess at home or his mother passed out on the floor. He ordered a cold Dow from the porter and cracked the shell, on some peanuts. It was time to celebrate a clean getaway.
Russell wondered what the boys had planned. It was supposed to be a mild weekend, probably the last one before winter.
Having a place to go up north, was the best gift, his parents ever gave him. Getting up here provided him freedom and inspiration and a special connection, to a rural country he could call his own.
Everyone in the area knew, the Hughes’ and the Regan’s. Dot and Rudy’s drunken carousing often made the surnames infamous, some thought they were to be avoided at all cost. They were often the subject of gossip and had scared off, many an upstanding citizen with their brand of honesty. They were also in no short supply of drinking buddies. A variety of best friends passed through, an assortment of other drinkers and carousers like them, making the tiny cabin a revolving door of fun and frivolity.
Russell had managed to carve out his own circle of pals. Neil and Gordon O’Connor, the O’Connor boys were Russell’s best chums up north.
Gordon was the intellect. He knew when it was time to leave the girl alone or skip a party that was going to get busted.
Neil was the passionate artist; he had a talent for providing the guys with great one-liners, handy for procuring dates at the dance hall, lines that made the girls melt like taffy!
Going up north, meant Russell could be his own man; he didn’t have to answer to anyone. He liked his adventurous self. The city guy was a drone, working long hours to contribute to groceries and rent. He was a different person up north. Nothing could get in his way. He was the crazy one, the guy who said, “Hey fellas, we’re going to pack some brewskies and jump off the west-end cliffs. Who’s in?” Russell would ask. The cliffs were at a remote, untamed cove on Lake Dawson, where no one dared to go.
“You’re a fool, Russ, that’s a dumb idea. We’ll only suffer minor asphyxiation and probably death,” Gordon would say. His voice of reason, born and bred on the lake, which made him worth listening to. Of course, they jumped off the cliffs with a bit of liquid courage and it was thrilling.
Russell was a thrill seeker. Up north, he didn’t have to protect Martha. The way things were headed, she was bound to leave home soon. Russell would leave too but he was holding out, figuring Ma would break out of the spell she’d been in and they would get away from him together.
The train pulled into Lachute, at 5:30 p.m. Russell felt the excitement. He’d just got paid; the train was on time, what more could he want? Sure enough, he could see Neil leaning against his emerald green Olds, pulling on a cigarette.
Clouds lifted off Russell’s brain, as he made his way down the path to the gravel parking lot, “Hey Pally, good to see you! Thanks for the lift,” he said.
“Any time. Come on. The lads are waiting for us at Bert’s,” he said. Bert’s was the local favorite pool hall, on Sideline Road. It was only for another week then a big white sign would say Closed for the Season.
“What’s new Neil?” he asked.
“Gordy’s been working in the bush all week with Dad, so I ain’t seen much of him. I been working on re-shingling a cottage roof on Lake Barron, so we need to seriously blow off steam! Good to see you kid. You eating enough? You’re a bit scrawny… Hey, just teasing. What’s the word from the city?” Neil asked.
“Same old shit. Working for the man. They’re down a lad at the store so all I been doing is working. I couldn’t wait to get outta Dodge. Any idea on who’s going to the hall?” Russell asked, with Sheila in mind, the raven-haired lass he’d seen a few times before. She wasn’t around.
“You might be in luck! I heard she was up, visiting her cousin. I ran into one of their cousins working at the general store,” Neil said. He hit the gas pedal and passed a pickup truck full of rusty metal scrap, likely excavated from an old water tank.
“Geez, could he go any slower? Grab a beer behind my seat. They’re nice and cold,” he said. Two spritz sounds later and the bottles were wedged between their legs, for the duration of the ride.
Neil veered from the two-lane highway onto Sideline that circled Lake Dawson. The place was an old gas station converted into a snack bar, pool hall and drinking hole. Famous for running booze out to the homes and cabins surrounding the lake, deliveries 24/7, guaranteed.
They pulled into the gravel driveway. Russell got excited seeing the trademark painted white tires, with geraniums planted in them. He could let the city go, he felt at home at Bert’s.