Jodie pulled my blue lifejacket from the back of the minivan and handed it to me. “Do you have the map?” she asked, a hint of panic edging into her voice.
“Don’t worry, I’ve been planning this trip for over a hundred years.” The sarcastic exaggeration might have been much, but it was ridiculous to think we could get lost canoeing around the shores of the cove. I knew my way around well enough to guarantee it. The map I brought was more for Jodie, to keep her sane.
Jodie slammed the trunk shut and whirled around to glare at me. “You’re twenty-three, Ryan.”
Fine, so I’d tried to make a joke, but I knew these woods and this ocean cove just as well as if I’d been coming for a good hundred years or so. To be honest, I never brought a map with me; these forested hills I had committed to memory, and my sense of direction was near-perfect.
I looked over my shoulder at her, grinning as she scoffed at my bad humour. Hauling her pack onto her back, she grumbled under her breath. “If we get lost…” She mumbled, leaving her threat open-ended.
Bending together, we hauled the heavy canoe above our heads. The weight was distributed evenly and was hardly noticeable until we began our first incline up a rugged hill. Passing between the trees was difficult to manoeuvre with such a bulky load, but Jodie and I made a great team; getting to my favoured castoff point was accomplished in record time.
“See, Jodie,” I teased, “and all without the map.” Women…women and their maps. Why can’t they just trust that a man doesn’t need directions since he already knows where he’s going?
Panting, Jodie laid her pack aside and gulped generously from her metal water bottle. Regaining her breath, she wiped the sweat from her brow and surrendered. “Alright, but you’ve only passed the first test. Next you must prove yourself on the water.”
I smiled, raising my oar. “What are we waiting for?” I asked excitedly.
“One thing,” she added. “Don’t get cocky. You might get us killed.” There was no way I would let that happen, we’d been preparing for this trip for three real months. Jodie, although a city girl, loved adventure. It made me suspicious of her sudden seriousness.
Lowering the oar to the ground, I stepped around the canoe placing myself in front of her. Her head was tilted slightly, her eyes downcast. Touching her chin, I gently coaxed her to look in my hazel eyes. “Ok,” I said, “I’ll stop with the jokes. I love you, Jodie. You know that, right? Let’s just relax and have a good time.”
Relief washed over her face as I pulled out my map and traced the red line I’d marked out, pretending to review our trajectory. Fastening her blaring yellow lifejacket around her blue raincoat, Jodie grabbed her oar and climbed in the front of the boat. With effort, I shoved the canoe off of the rocks, hopping in just as it slid into the icy water. We bobbed up and down for several seconds until we found our balance and I gained control of the steering. In no time, we’d smoothed ourselves out on the calm water, setting out to find an ideal campsite.
“This is beautiful,” Jodie exclaimed, after we’d made it a fair distance from the shore. A sigh escaped her serious façade, and I revelled in it. There was hardly any wind, but our speed created a small, welcoming breeze. I inhaled; the smell of the saltwater embraced me, expelling the stresses of life.
“It’s peaceful out here,” I added, agreeing with her. Pulling our oars in, we relaxed, allowing the canoe to glide along with the momentum of our previous efforts.
“How long have you really been doing this sort of thing?” she asked. I watched her as she brought a hand up to fix her misplaced flaxen-coloured curls.
I reflected for a moment and then replied, “About fourteen years now. I used to come here a lot with my Dad and my brother Dan.”
“Did your other brother ever do this kind of thing?”
“Who? Jason? Oh, no. I think we convinced him to come out once or twice, but that was back when he wasn’t in to…well, you know. I guess it was a struggle for him being the oldest.” It hurt to talk of Jason. He and I used to spend a lot of time together before he turned fifteen. He was the golden kid with marks everybody envied, he played sports and he was good at them too. When he turned fifteen, though, things started to change. His grades dropped and he got in with a group of friends who were always stoned out of their minds. The following year, Jason… I took a deep breath. The following year, Jason had committed suicide. Still to this day, it remained a mystery. It haunted me, not knowing why he did it.
My expression must have betrayed my thoughts because Jodie began apologizing, awkwardly suggesting that we continue paddling the canoe before it got dark.
“You know, he enjoyed this trip the couple of times that he did come,” I began as though to assure her that there was no harm done. “I’ll never forget this one time.” A memory sprang forth, crumbling all defenses. “We were paddling just like this. My father, mother and younger brother, Dan, went ahead of us in their own canoe. Jason began complaining saying that canoeing is boring and how he’d rather be playing Call of Duty. Then…” Something caught my eye.
“What?” Jodie traced my line of sight to a break in the water’s surface. An oil-black, crescent sliced through the water, reaching heavenward. “Incredible,” she gasped, almost dropping her oar as the sleek dorsal fin of an orca–a killer whale–made a wave that rocked our boat.
“That! Just like that!”
The awe was exhilarating. I bellowed a joyful cry as the aquatic mammal blew out a burst of air, spewing spray towards the sky. Tears sprung to my eyes and a sense of peace flooded in, coating my aching heart with its soothing ointment. I was immediately and acutely aware of God’s presence. It no longer mattered why or how Jason died, but that God in His infinite and boundless mercy, remained all-powerful, forever reaching beyond my comprehension; who was I to judge?
All anger, bitterness and heart-ache was melting away, being replaced by this concept of hope in God’s love. For the first time since Jason’s passing, I was no longer consumed by the dark and painful circumstances of his death. Don’t despair, this sense of God’s voice spoke warmly to my heart, I have heard your daily prayer: be at peace.
“You already know how he died,” I told Jodie who was leaning forward, searching for more of God’s creative power and beauty. Then she turned. Her eyes met mine, sympathetic and compassionate.
“It’s time,” my voice cracked. “It’s time I celebrate the life he lived.”
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1 thought on ““Be At Peace” A Short Story”
Beautiful, Vanessa; thanks.