Chez Pierre

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           "Take a week off." The manager plopped his hand on my shoulder, as I completed another long shift. "You've earned it."
     The company always gave time off, rather than pay for overtime.
     "Thank you!" I shook his hand. "I think I'll go fishing."
     "Up at the cottage?"
     "I don't have a cottage" I answered, "But you know, I think I know where I can find one."
     Hurrying home, I mentioned the good news to my wife while she was sewing.
     "I'd like to do something really different." I looked at her expectantly. "Maybe we could get away some where."

      She didn't miss a stitch.
      "And just where is 'somewhere'?"
      "Oh, I don't know." I knew she did not like rash unplanned excursions. "Just away."
      "Away."
      She had an irritating way of repeating what I said, thus forcing further explanation.
      "Well, you know. Away. Away from…" I was at a loss for words. "From this." I motioned my hand around the room.
      "This."
      She did it again!
      "Yeah!" I hurried on. "You know. Away to some quiet little place."
      "It's quiet here."
      "I know, but a place like," I knew I was on dangerous ground here, "Like Pierre's cabin." I rushed on "Remember, he said we were welcome to use it any time."
      "His cabin."
      Good. She was coming around.
      "Yes. His little cabin up by Katiska Lake."
      "Katiska Lake."

      I felt hopeful.
      "Yeah! Apparently, it's a lovely little spot. No TV, no radio.
      "No water."
      "No telephone."
      "No lights."
      "No noisy neighbours." I added quickly, but knew I was losing the battle.
      Her eyes suddenly blazed up at me. She was gorgeous when she was irritated.
      "You think I'm crazy?"
      "Gosh! No, Honey!" My mind was attempting to scramble out of the hole I had inadvertently dug. "It's just that it would be different. It might be fun"
I tried to emphasize the 'fun' part.
"Look." Her voice was calm and dead level. It always seemed to denote some impending disaster.
I was determined to ignore it this time.

"If you really want to turn pioneer for a week, here's what we will do."
      I was encouraged by the 'we' bit.
      "We will find the camping clothes, and we will organize the supplies, and we will pack the truck."
      My mind raced ahead. 'Wow! We are going!'
      "And you will go for the week."
      The statement had finality.
      "But, I thought that we…"
      "No. No. There is no 'we' here."
      "But I thought…"
      "Look," she smiled. "You go and have your quiet week at Pierre's cabin. You have been dying to get there for ages. You can fish and canoe to your heart's content."
      It sounded exciting but I felt a bit disappointed that she would not be there to share in 'the fun'.
      "But, what about you?"
      "I will be fine." She patted my arm. "I have a few projects in mind. It will be great to get at them without you hanging around my neck."

      "Well, alright." I felt somewhat better. Then almost like asking permission, I said "I'll pop over and see Ol' Pierre, okay?"
      She continued with her sewing.
      "Er. I'll go and see if I can have the cabin."
      "GO!" The flashing eyes dismissed me.
      I scurried out, feeling somewhat like a little boy who had been sent to his room.
      I found my neighbour puttering in his rose garden.
      "So, hew would like to go hup to my cabin, eh?" he said. I nodded, trying not to smile at his heavy French accent that I have grown to like.
      "Member, now. It's just a basic place, nice and quiet. No phone there, no sir. No electricity neither. Lots of water in the lake. Wood in the shed. Pots and pans there. Just bring some food and your sleeping bag." Then, he stroked his stubbled chin. "Better take lots of mosquito coils, there."
      Other than that last ominous quality, the place sounded perfect. I was becoming excited.
      "So, now, how do I get there? Is it far?"
      "No, no, mon chum. It's not too far a'tall. Maybe a little hard to find."
      "I'm sure I can find it." I confided.
      He peered at me over his half-lensed glasses. "Hew know a little something about logging roads?"

      "A little." I nodded.
      Man, was that an overstatement!
      "Okay. I draw hew a map."
      I looked around for something to write on, but Pierre had already split open his cigarette package. A pen appeared from somewhere. We sat down at his lawn table.
He described as he drew. A ragged line began at the right side. The pen nib stabbed at various spots.
      "This is Highway 511. Hew just take the second left here past the burned down house south of Mabel's."
      "Excuse me. Where's Mabel's?"
      "Mabel's is a little café up here."
      "But, won't I be coming from down here?" I pointed to the bottom of the package.
      "Oh, yes, but if hew miss the burned house, just
go up and turn around at Mabel's, there. Then the road will be the first right."
      Too proud to admit to my surfacing doubts, I smiled stupidly. I asked myself, how hard could it be?
      "Okay, now." The pencil became more definite. "Hew drive west down here till hew come to a fork. Take the right side here. Then hew go a bit further, and hew come to another one." He glanced sideways at me. "Hew understanding all this?"

      I continued to nod. I felt like one of those toy dogs you see in some cars.
      "Now, this fork here has a big White Pine in the middle there." His pen made a little circle in the 'V'. "Hew go left here. Hew can't miss it, 'cause Ned's trock is still there where he hit it." Pierre cackled. "Hee! Hee! Dronker than a skonk, he was." I could tell he was reliving a precious moment. "He just left his old bazoo right there." He paused, lost in a memory. "Eeeyah."
I waited.
      "Where was I?" Pierre asked suddenly.
      "At the second fork...with the tree...and the truck."
      "Oh, no! The trock is at the third fork."
      "You only mentioned two."
      "Oh, yes, but the one back here," He pointed to a spot between the two existing forks, "Is not really a fork."
      "What is it?"
      "It's just a place where a few roads that come together. But, hew just go right t'rough on the left, there."

      "On the left." I echoed.
      "Right."
      "Oh, sorry." I said. "I turn right, then."
      Pierre's black eyes blazed.
      "Mais, non! Hew turn left here!" pointing at the new spot between the two forks. "And a nother left here at the trock!"
      I must have appeared pretty stupid.
      "It's easy. Hew just go right, left, left."
      "Are you counting the left at the highway?"
      He gave me a funny look.
      "Er, I'm just trying to keep things sorted out. If you count the turnoff, I would go left, right, left, left."
      He was still staring. I think he was wondering how I could complicate something so simple.
      "Excuse me." I pulled the map over and borrowed his pen. "I'll number the various points...just so I don't get lost." I smiled weakly.
      The task was completed. An 'L' or an 'R' was ensconced beside each numbered branch.
      By this time, the map resembled a river delta.
I noticed he had not put in any distances. I mentioned this fact.
      "Oh, it's easy. On the logging roads, hew think of time rather than distance. It's about twenty minutes to here (pointing at #2) and a nother forty minutes to the trock, (pointing at #4)."
      "Great! And how far is it from #2 to #3?"

      "Nomber three is about half way."
      I noticed Pierre's pen sort of wandered around at this junction.
      "So, it's about twenty minutes either side of two and four." Now, we were getting somewhere.
      Pierre began to stroke his whiskered chin.
      "Of course, it depends upon the roads, hew know. If there's not too many washouts, hew can make good time, eh? But..."
      I didn't like the way he left the sentence unfinished.
      "Any way." He pointed at the truck spot. "Hew just make a left here, go down the hill, and hew are right there." He put an 'X' beside a quickly sketched lake.
      "And how far is that?"
      "About another ten minutes. Hew can't miss it."
      If I couldn't miss it, why did I have the uneasy feeling I may never be seen again.
      "Thank you very much." I said, standing up. I shook his weathered hand. "I'm looking forward to my week at your cabin."

      The rest of the day was spent planning and organizing.
      The next day, by the time I had tied on the canoe and packed the truck, it was noon hour. Oh, well. I'd have a bite to eat and then go. There was lots of daylight left.
      It was rather disconcerting, that when I kissed my wife goodbye, she did not have that I'll-miss-you look.
It was after two-thirty when I reached the designated area and about three o'clock when I finally found the correct road, after turning around at Mabel's. Pierre had neglected to mention that the house had burned over twenty years ago and was now almost completely hidden by overgrowth!
      I taped my precious map to the dash. With the sun shining in my face, I turned onto the logging road. I immediately realized the road had not been maintained after the lumber company left. The truck pitched and swayed. Finally, I reached the first fork, the one labelled number two on the map.
      So far, so good.
The afternoon sun was already casting long shadows across the road. I checked my watch.
      "Five o'clock!" I blurted out loud. 'Calm down, I told myself. There is still lots of time.'
      Turning right, I headed for point number three.

I could almost smell the bacon and eggs.
      Over an hour later of almost continuous bumping and thumping, I arrived at point number three. Well, it looked like number three. In the fading light, I could see it was an intersection of four logging roads. I turned left. The road immediately split again! One leg looked newer. It must be the 'left' Pierre meant.
      Fine.
      About forty minutes later, the road dead-ended in an abandoned cut. Oh great! I swung around, with some difficulty I may say, and headed back to the intersection.
      It was getting quite dark now. I followed the other 'left'. It also petered out.
      The truck's lights offered little encouragement.
      The gas gauge read 'Half'!
      Had I missed something crucial from Pierre's instructions? Was it right and then left? My mind blurred.
      The first twinges of panic were setting in. I began the mental preparations for sleeping in the truck.
      With a deepening despair, I swung out of another incorrect road. As I did, a red flash reflected in the headlights. I drove closer. It was the rear end of Ned's old rusting truck!
      What a welcome sight!

      I immediately steered left. The truck's lights revealed a gentle but rocky road sloping downhill. With renewed hope, I thumped along until the little road swung abruptly right and ended in front of a rustic cabin.
      A plank painted CHEZ PIERRE was tacked above the door. I had survived!
      About an hour later the little cabin began to feel cozy. The wood-burning stove was spreading its warmth, and the smoke from several mosquito coils, while I laid out the sleeping bag on the iron bedsprings. It was going to be a bit lumpy tonight, but I was too tired to care. After munching on some biscuits and milk, I crawled in.
      I was looking forward to the morning.
      As it turned out, finding the cabin was the easy part. What with chopping wood, fetching water, cooking and cleaning amid the constant din of mosquitoes, fishing became secondary. The cherished thrill of the outhouse, where the mosquitoes laid in ambush, just added to my 'fun'. It was almost a pleasure to get to bed each night.
I mentally thanked my wife who had insisted I bring extra boxes of mosquito coils.
      It was a long week. Actually, the last few days were not so bad, as I began to adapt to the situation.

      The return trip home was much less memorable.
      "Has it been a week already?" grinned my wife when I almost fell into the kitchen.
      "Feels like a month!"
      "I hope you had lots of fun, dear." There was an undeniable teasing in her voice.

      "Oh, yeah. Lots of fun."
      She looked extremely well rested.
      I hated her, for an instant.
      I headed for the hall.
      "I'm going to take a long bath. I'll unpack the truck tomorrow…..sometime."
      "That's fine, dear." She called after me. "Supper will be ready in about an hour."
      "Wonderful." I mumbled. "What are we having?"
      "Fish!"
      Her laughter followed me upstairs.
      Later, I discovered she had one of her marvellous stews simmering on the stove.
      When I looked up from my dinner, I found her staring with a rather thoughtful look on her face. I could not help but wonder if she was planning to have me to go back again next yea
r.


 
© J. Graham Ducker