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Summer Fiction: The Point a Road Can Make

A Métis girl meets a monster out walking by Georgian Bay.

The Point a Road Can Make

Marie grew up with stories. They covered her childhood, tucked around her days like a patchwork quilt. She didn’t mind them when she was small, but at age seven they became tedious, the worry of old women with more time than teeth. These stories were the boring bits of summers spent on Georgian Bay in Penetanguishene, the hours she had to spend with her grandmother and great aunts playing euchre before getting to jump off the dock with her cousins. Finally, the year she turned 13, she decided she was too old for stories. That year, that same quilt fell from the summer sky and came to collect her like so many crows making a solid grip out of feather and bone.

Two months after her birthday, Marie began the annual journey north up Highway 11. Her parents drove her and her grandmother in the Ford Fairmont; her head on her grandmother’s smooth shoulder, the backs of her thighs stuck to the blue vinyl seat. Two hours later, they were dropped off at her great aunt’s house with one suitcase apiece, her grandmother’s full of Harlequin Romance novels she was passing on to her sisters. The one-bedroom apartment was all wood panelling and crooked picture frames. Her two great aunties were at the kitchen table, mugs of tea and a deck of cards in front of them.

“Holy, Marie, you sure grew up,” Philomene remarked, picking up the cards.

“Got boobs and everything, my girl,” Esther said without a hint of tease. “Taking after your favourite auntie, then.”

The Point a Road Can Make

The old ladies looked at one another. These kinds of changes brought out new concerns. And since they were in charge that summer, they took careful note. “Come sit.” Esther patted the chair next to her. “You can deal out the first hand.”

Marie stayed where she was. “I’m going to Tammy’s.” Tammy was the one cousin who would understand that 13 meant something different was going to happen this year. “I’m going to stay at her place. So we can do stuff.”

Her aunts and grandmother looked at each other. Marie clarified, “Fun stuff.”

“I don’t know, you shouldn’t be on the road by yourself. Summer people are around and we don’t know them,” Philomene warned. “Plus, Dorothy said people saw a rogarou out there by Pitou’s place.”

Of course, a rogarou. She had been here 10 minutes and already they were telling stories. And as if it wasn’t enough to imagine a man being turned into a vicious dog, she was also supposed to believe that he was casually haunting the road into town. She sighed, thinking about the kids from her class at water parks and loitering at the mall. “I’m good. I’m not a little kid.” She made a break for it, letting the screen door bounce behind her.

The road curved as it climbed, up around the water’s edge, past the small church where her parents were married. The trees refused the quiet that the air demanded. And like lazy flower girls, birds too hot to fly rustled their wings and threw half-hearted chirps that fell behind her stride. For the first time in a year, she was alone. No pedestrians, not even any sidewalks. No friends, no grandmother. She felt her independence in her limbs and stretched them in the dusty heat. She sang a soundtrack of freedom under her breath, stopping to lop the heads off downy dandelions with a thin stick.

The Point a Road Can Make

Suddenly, a cloud covered the sun and the breeze ran cold like a tap with no hot water. Something was wrong. She was no longer alone. Marie walked faster. Why hadn’t she had Tammy meet her halfway? She came to the split in the trees where a dirt road brought you to old Pitou’s boat shed. At the side of the road, on a scratched post, a mailbox leaned precariously. And beside the box, watching her with marble eyes, was a black short-haired dog.

“Jesus!” She jumped, her sneakers shuffling back. The creature didn’t move. Not even its gaze. Was it a statue? One of those weird cement animals that people decorated their garden beds with? She took a step forward, reached out an unsteady hand to touch it. And then it dipped its head, tucking a narrow snout into its chest while its legs flexed and it stood unfolding and sharpening into the musculature of a man. But not a man. Not a dog either. This could only be the rogarou.

She ran like the Devil himself were at her heels; arms pumping, dust in your lungs, ice at the back of your neck kind of running. She didn’t stop until she got to Dusome’s Garage. The place had been locked up since his funeral and the windows were covered with yellowed newspaper. Marie waited there, in front of the padlocked door, catching her breath, eyeing the road for the impossible black dog.

The Point a Road Can Make

Every boat motor echoing off the lake made her clench toes and teeth. Each rustle of branches in the wind sent her spinning to check behind her. She paced there in the driveway. How was she going to get home? Tammy’s was too far to go it alone. And all along the same road the dog guarded. A rogarou could tear you to bits. She had heard countless stories about him, guarding the road, hungry for lone travellers; a dark emergency born of any number of transgressions: breaking Lent, disrespecting women, forgetting your responsibilities. So many stories. And that’s where she went to now, back to her memories of how to deal with such a thing.

She heard the answer in Philomene’s voice. “Remind him he is a man under it all. Bring out his blood. Make him remember.”

Marie found one of Dusome’s old wrenches at the side of the garage and tested its weight in her hand. She started back down the road. She was sure she saw his shadow stretched across the pavement; still fur, even in the cold breeze. “All right then,” she said out loud. “Let’s see if I can jog your memory.”

The Point a Road Can Make

From behind her came the sound of a car. She watched it pass, wondering if she should warn them, or better yet ask for a ride to safety. It slowed down just up from her, coming to a rolling stop. She picked up her pace, striding toward the shiny black door. Just then, a man stuck his head out the passenger window. Maybe it was the brake lights, but the way he looked at her, the way his lips curled into a cruel smile, she was sure she saw red woven into his blue eyes like a dark emergency. She stopped walking, raised the wrench to her waist and squared her shoulders. After a few seconds, the man pulled his head back inside and the car drove on.

When it had made the turn onto Marina Road she took off running, not stopping to give more than a glance at Pitou’s lopsided mailbox.

She pushed back into the kitchen, out of breath, gravel in her knees like on a Chinese-checkers board. The old ladies were still seated at the table. They didn’t ask her about her early return. They didn’t question the wrench she put down by the shoe rack. They just dealt her into the game and started a new story. Marie watched the crows gather on the telephone wire out the front window and listened as hard as she could.

About the author

Cherie Dimaline is a Métis writer from Georgian Bay. Her young-adult novel The Marrow Thieves won the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature - Text.