Friday, 1 August 2014

A path less straight (pt. 3)

Needing a bigger boat

“Are you sure Vesta’s going to be okay with your aunt?” I asked Egg somewhere over the North Sea.

We had deposited the girl in a cottage halfway up a hill in the middle of nowhere. Someone had added electricity and indoor plumbing, but the rest of the house looked unaltered for the last two hundred years and that included the furnishings. There was more than a healthy number of cats.

“Lily is my aunt by marriage, now divorced from Uncle Fez, she’s just normally odd,” Egg explained. “It will do Vesta good to get some country air, and avoid the telly and the Internet for a while. She likes cats.”

“Normally odd?” I enquired.

“Normally odd is buying a house in a remote area and filling it with a feline collection, the equivalent in family odd would probably involve building a successful urban giraffe farm.” He took a sip of horrid lukewarm tea. “Its Bracken’s expression.”

It was an early morning flight and possibly due to dozing lightly on the plane everything felt as though I had not woken up and was still in a dream. We had our passports checked, collected our luggage and hired a car. Egg drove us a short distance until he found a café at which we sat outside and drank coffee.

My senses slowly came awake as the caffeine joined my bloodstream and I took in the differences that make a place foreign, all of which were small but somehow made it like suddenly finding yourself on the wrong side of the mirror. The language, of course, was a complete mystery to me, but Egg appeared to know a few words here and there from a previous visit. The weather seemed far too sunny and warm for the distance North we had travelled.

“Have you figured out where we are headed?” I asked him. He had a small laptop open on the table and was taking advantage of the café’s free wi-fi.

“Here,” he said, rotating the computer so that I could see the screen.

Egg had run a local news story through an online translator. Reading through the mangled English interspersed with Finnish words the program had baulked at I gleaned the tale of encounters with a lake monster.

“And this is something that was likely to attract your brother?” I asked.

“Bracken loves to swim,” Egg told me in lieu of an explanation.

We took turns to drive, stopping frequently to buy refreshments, stretch our legs and take in the air. Helsinki was quickly left behind, the road signs all pointed to unfamiliar places, but the map program on Egg’s phone was unerring in directing us to the small town outlined in the article. I had given up trying to pronounce place names, the combinations of letters appeared all wrong to me.

The road took us through forest and past lakes and farmland, gradually the mix changed, more forest and less farms and then the lakes started to become more dominant. I had quickly vetoed Egg’s choice of West African pop played from his phone and the local radio stations with their incomprehensible adverts, so we voyaged to the sounds of seventies disco I had downloaded onto my MP3 player one night while drunk.

At our destination Egg managed to hire a small boat for the afternoon. We chugged gently out onto the lake, passing a bunch of kids clowning about on inflatables. After rounding a headland the town disappeared completely, leaving us alone on a glass-smooth surface. Fir trees lined the shores and for a moment I thought us fully alone in the midst of a wilderness, until Egg pointed out the summer cottages. Set back slightly from the lakeside, they were spaced out evenly so that each never had to glimpse its neighbours.

Somewhere out on the middle of the lake Egg turned the small outboard motor off and let us drift silently. The water formed a mirror of the sky, blue and flawless. A quiet lapping of water was the only sound.

“Is this your plan for finding your brother?” I asked Egg quietly, not wanting break the peace.

“I admit I hadn’t thought much further than this,” he murmured in reply. “Just sit back and keep an eye out for lake monsters.”

I scanned the lake, adjusting my hat to cut out more of the glare from the sun. When I glanced back at Egg he had his eyes closed and was breathing rhythmically, sprawled on the seat at the back of the boat. Stern, I reminder myself, I wondered if nautical terms applied to small boats.

My eyes wandered and my mind relaxed, recalling the last time I had been abroad. I had been with Jason, all he had wanted to do was get drunk, party until the small hours, sleep until the afternoon and then repeat. Somehow I could not imagine Egg doing the same, even if we had not been attending a family emergency I surmised we would probably end up doing something similar as we were doing now. I wondered if it was the disturbed sleep or too much sun that was turning me sappy.

A line of bubbles rose up through the lake to my left, I peered into the water wondering if there were fish down there. Something indistinct moved in the murk and was gone. Further out a large v-shaped wave pointed at our boat and the was gone, I did not know if I had imagined it. The boat moved as though suddenly caught in a current.

I turned to wake Egg and a flipper or tail breached the surface of the lake about four metres from the boat, it had protruded half a metre from the water and then slipped back under. My mouth gaped open and my arm, outstretched to shake Egg, dropped back to my side.

Something grabbed the side of the boat and I gave an involuntary shriek. My eyes quickly focussed on a tanned hand.

“Sorry,” said a deep, melodious voice in a sheepish manner as a head appeared from the water. “Hey, bro, what are you doing all the way out here?” It added, spying Egg.

Egg helped his brother into the boat. Bracken, in way of thanking him, managed to soak Egg quite well. The brotherly love calmed down a little as Egg turned the boat around and explained the situation.

Bracken was taller and better toned than Egg, his hair was much longer and lighter in colour. You could have missed the family connection altogether, but then I caught them both with the same thousand mile look in their eyes.

“Allow me to formally introduce myself,” said Bracken, standing up in the boat and taking my hand in his. “I am Sir Bracken, a crusading knight from Beauchamp Avenue.”

He bent lithely at the waist and placed his lips on the back of my hand as though he was dressed in his court finery and not just a pair of tight swimming trunks. Egg rolled his eyes.

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