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Summer Fiction: The Furies

A ghost and her ex-boyfriend plunge into an old relationship.

The Furies

What does the ghost in your front seat look like? Like my niece Valerie, I’ve decided. The ghost has her thick brown hair, her easy way of moving. Your truck is parked outside your mother’s overstuffed house near Horseshoe Bay, the long driveway like a junkyard — a broken trampoline, a boat in need of varnish, a heap of unsplit logs under a tarp. The view of the ocean interrupted by prison-bar trunks of stripped Douglas firs, their branches lost to disease and windstorms. I’ve aged you appropriately, made you soft at the edges, added a white frost to your beard. Into the bed of the truck, you load your tent and a few four-litre jugs of drinking water. You throw your sleeping bag and backpack in the cab and pile the passenger seat high with supplies, but the ghost is unmoved. There is somehow always room for her. She stretches her lithe arms overhead, presses her palms against the ceiling. The structure of her face is similar to mine, though — like Valerie’s — shrewder despite its youth, the mouth tighter and more discerning.

Valerie is 19 now, if you can believe that. She and her friends held a poetry reading last night. Her mother and I sat at a table at the very back, as far from the stage as possible, so as not to embarrass her. The most popular subject was ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends. The poets looked so young — the fat cheeks and cooked-spaghetti limbs of newborn babies, stretched to adult proportions. How could they already have former lovers, ones they spoke of with such vitriol and certainty? When they bowed together at the end, shoulder to shoulder across the stage, they looked like the Furies on a Grecian vase, vengeance demons primed for flight.

The Furies

As you start the truck, I wish you no ill as trivial as rain. I want the opposite: The rain passed the night before and the sun rises in triumph, and when you turn onto the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the road seemingly links Vancouver and Whistler and heaven. Impossible shades of green brighten in the shadow of stratified granite, and the fist-shaped islands are aglow in the glittering sea. You remember when the highway was narrower, a thinner ribbon cut into the mountainside. The breeze through the rolled-down window blows the ghost’s hair around her face, wafting the heady, dried-flower smell of her shampoo. I want all this beauty to unfold around you, and I want you to be unable to enjoy it.

You drive past a dozen places to camp, brown aluminum signs pointing to provincial parks, beaches, waterfalls, a ski hill refitted for summer, the cliff face of the Stawamus Chief crawling with rock climbers. You could stop at any of these places, but you continue on, not stopping for coffee in Squamish as we would have, once; you drink gritty swill in a travel mug from your mother’s old Mr. Coffee.

You drive until you reach our favourite campground at Alice Lake. The lakeshore is writhing with other people’s happiness, loud with the shrieking laughter and splashing of children, teenagers making out beside portable speakers, meat hissing on grills even this early in the day. There will be no reflective silence here, no restorative solitude. The ghost jumps from the truck as you park at your campsite. She stands close behind your back as you stake in the tent without a second pair of hands, as you unfold a single chair. You can feel her, the skin at the back of your neck hot and irritated.

The Furies

You hike away the morning. The trails are crowded and everyone other than you is carefree, in a sweet, summery state of mind where nothing bad can happen: toddlers playing on exposed ledges, selfie-takers in flip-flops. The ghost runs ahead of you and drifts back, like a loyal unleashed dog. When you return to your site to cook lunch, you remember the time you forgot to pack the tongs and I flipped the burgers using twigs as chopsticks. The ghost crouches on the opposite side of the fire, her face lit from below as mine was then. She exhales, rankling the wind, and ash blows into your eyes.

After lunch, you swim out past the thickest part of the crowd, to a floating dock at the far side of the area roped off as safe for swimmers. You grab hold of the dock, your legs stirring slowly beneath you. You remember how we used to duck under the edge of the dock, then tread with our heads in the air gap below, kissing and chatting in that private space below the slats, everyone else drowned out, the quiet sloshing of the lake against the wood. You want to see it again. You let go of the dock, meaning to just dip under the lip and back up again. But the water feels heavy against your face. The ghost rests a hand against your eyes, holding them shut. In the darkness, your forehead bumps against the dock, and you start to panic. You try to swim, throwing your body forward to float on your stomach and find the practised strokes of a front crawl. You can feel the open air on the backs of your heels and the top of your scalp, but you can’t lift your head to take a breath. She holds your head gently, casually in place, just under the surface. Pressure builds in your lungs, and you suddenly wonder if that’s how I felt, the last time we were here, holding in a scream, not wanting to cause a scene, not wanting to make a fuss, not knowing what was worth screaming for.

The Furies

When the ghost finally releases you, you’re somehow almost all the way back to shore. You burst above the water with a full-throated gasp and startle a family playing with a beach ball. You military-crawl onto the sand and rest on your belly. The ghost stands over you, your fingertips almost touching her toes.

Why have you come here? For penance, for a peace that will always elude you. The last time we came, there was no way for me to leave, no buses, no cellphones. All our friends’ relationships died in a state of exhaustion, wrung out like a kitchen rag, while ours mutated, different in character but undiluted in strength. I couldn’t recognize it for what it was. When we yelled at each other and I went to sleep in your truck — the stick shift I couldn’t drive, couldn’t use to escape you — and you followed me. What Valerie and her friends would surely, hopefully, recognize and name as violence, as I could not, and some part of me hesitates to do so still. Those young poets on stage, lit with rage and earnestness, the future we live in that I never could have imagined. Let them haunt you the rest of your days.

About the author

Kim Fu is the award-winning writer of For Today I Am a Boy and The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore.