Friday, September 28, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #6

“… so that’s about it,” Max finished. “What do you think I should do?”

He leaned back in his chair and watched Mossy closely as the big man mulled it over. They were seated at a relatively quiet table far from the entrance of the pub, the remains of their fish and chips littering the table top between them.

The juke box switched from one God-awful 80’s song to another as Mossy took a long swallow of beer and placed his mug back on the table without rattling a fork.

“Well,” he began at last, “what’s the worst that could happen if you tell Caitlin how you feel about her?”

“Let me see,” Max said slowly. “She says no thanks. We endure working together with awkward silences and even more awkward small talk. Eventually, one of us can’t take it any more and leaves the hostel.”

“Yes, but…” Mossy tilted his head back and studied the ceiling fan for a few moments, then returned his gaze to Max. “Alright, yeah, that would suck. A lot.”

“Thanks mate.”

“Have I ever told you how I met my wife?” Mossy asked suddenly.

Max stared at him, trying to figure out if he was joking or not.

“Mossy… mate… you never even told me you were married.”

“Oh,” Mossy shifted a bit in his seat and glanced away. “Sorry Max, I like to keep my private and business life separate. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Think nothing of it,” Max told him with a smile, trying to hide his surprise at seeing this side of his boss. Almost as an afterthought, he glanced down. “Oh good, I’m not a completely ignorant fool, you’re not wearing a ring.”

“I wear it on a necklace,” Mossy replied, patting his chest. “It doesn’t ah… fit on any of my fingers.”

“I knew you were Bigfoot in disguise, I just knew it. So how come she never comes by the hostel?”

“The hostel is my passion, not hers. She leaves me to it and I,” Mossy shivered dramatically, “I leave her to her law firm.”

“A lawyer? I can’t picture you being married to a lawyer, mate. Well, go on; tell me all about how you met Mrs. Mossy.”

“Mrs. Mossy?” he snorted quite indelicately. “Her name is Ana.” He shifted in his chair again. If Max had not known better he would have thought Mossy was blushing. “We met at the University of Southern California in ’79. It was my last year of studying Environmental Sciences and she was doing a year long exchange from Switzerland.”

“A Swiss Miss? Very nice!”

“Do you want to hear this or not?”

“Yes, sir. Shutting up, sir.”

“A mutual friend threw a Halloween party where we met and sparked almost instantly.” Max drowned the urge to ask what they were dressed as with a swig of beer. “But nothing came of it at first – we were both very much interested but at the end of the year she would be going home and I’d be coming back here.”

“Another round boys?” asked the waitress who had once again appeared at Max’s side from out of nowhere. He guessed she was in her early forties, although it was impossible to know for sure with the five layers of makeup she was wearing.

“Yes please Eve,” Mossy told her.

“Be back in a flash!” she announced with a big smile and whirled away, once again leaving the dinner plates untouched. Max shook his head, then motioned for Mossy to continue.

“Well, Ana went home to spend Christmas break with her family so I got a little taste of not having her around.” Mossy cleared his throat noisily. “It bloody well sucked.”

“So you went for it.”

“Damn rights I did! I met her at the airport with the biggest bouquet of tulips I could get my hands on and told her I wanted to give us a shot. After a twelve hour flight she didn’t stand a chance.”

Max laughed, clinked his mug against Mossy’s and emptied the last of his beer just in time for the next round to arrive.

“This one’s on the house boys!” Eve told them before dashing off again.

“You reckon she expects us to eat those?” Max asked, indicating their neglected empty plates. Mossy let loose a booming burp in response. “Fair enough. So four months was enough time for your obvious charms to take hold and she came back here with you?”

“When you find something precious in this life Max,” he answered, beginning to slur his esses slightly, “you don’t let it go without a fight.”

Max rolled this around in his head for a few minutes, periodically sipping from his newly arrived beer. He was pretty sure it tasted better than the ones he would be paying for. But wasn’t that always the way?

“Well, I’d hate for this to be something I regret not doing. And what fun is life if you never take any chances?”

“Exactly! Exactly. Life is too short for regrets!” Mossy finished off his free beer and thumped it back onto the table, sending a fork skittering to the floor. Oblivious to the clatter, he carried on. “Besides, if yer single much longer Eve just might up and club ya over the noggin’ and drag yer arse to Father Timothy!”

Max barely managed to avoid choking on his drink.

“What? Yeah right mate!” he spluttered. “It’s you she’s got eyes for!”

“Nah Max, she’s met Ana.” Mossy winked grandly at him. “She knows better than to stick her nose in that hornet nest!” The big man roared with laughter and came dangerously close to falling out of his chair. No one in the pub seemed to notice.

“Alright, alright. One more round of darts and then we go?”

“I’m not sure either of us should be tossing arrows at this point – we might make a bull’s-eye out of someone’s bottom!”

“God, you sound like a teenager. It’ll be fine, come on.” Max stood up with as much dignity as he could muster, which was not much. At least he wasn’t swaying too much, as best he could tell anyway.

“You just want to impress Eve, I understand.”

“Go to hell Mossy.”

“No, it’s ok, it’s ok. I’m sure that if ya dig through two or three inches of makeup you’d find a very attractive woman!”

“Let’s get out of here,” Max said as he tossed some cash onto the table. Then he turned and, without looking to see if Mossy followed, weaved his way through the crowd and into the fresh night air.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #5

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Max could barely make out the road in front of him but he could see enough to avoid the potholes without breaking stride. The only sounds disturbing the pre-dawn quiet were his steady, deep breaths and the rhythmic thumping of his runners meeting the asphalt.

He had set his alarm for 5 am so that he could make it to the beach in time for sunrise. The three other guys in his dorm did not seem to appreciate the early morning buzzer – in fact if he had been facing a touch more to the right the shoe Tobias threw at him would have ended this run before it even began. As it turned out, his right hip was a bit sore but here he was.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

We are not happy with you, his body told him for the tenth time in the last two minutes.

“Don’t care,” he said aloud. “I need this today.”

But it’s Sunday, his body replied. You never run on Sunday.

“Shut. Up.”

Sunday is the day of rest.

“Don’t you dare bring religion into this.”

We should be in bed right now.

“We’re done here. No more. Be quiet, I need to think.”

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Normally Max ran with his iPod blaring to keep himself distracted from the aches and pains and the desire to stop. This morning, however, he had left iT behind at the hostel. He needed the peace to bring some order to his chaotic thoughts.

“Ok,” he said to the morning. “What the hell is going on?”

The morning, wisely, remained quiet while awaiting further clarification.

“I’ve known this girl for a whole eight days. Eight!”

Max jogged on for a few moments in silence, passing a farm house to his right. When he came by during the day the front yard was always alive with dogs and children but they had enough sense to still be abed at this hour; thus he remained the only intrusion to the tranquility of the morning.

“What do I know about her after eight days? She’s smart. Pretty. Fit. Funny as all hell. I have met women like this before. So why the hell am I arse over tea kettle for this one?”

The morning, quite unhelpfully, remained mute.

“This makes no sense. I don’t get it at all.”

The morning stubbornly held firm to its silence, tempted as it was to respond. It was not about to ruin a few thousand years worth of work just because some dumb arsed Canadian was getting all worked up about a girl.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

The sky was beginning to brighten noticeably as he navigated the final S-curve and began the last straightaway to the beach. He picked up the pace slightly to ensure he got there in time. His legs groaned. He ignored them.

He could feel a fine trickle of sweat travel down his spine so he unzipped his pale grey hoodie a bit further. He was wearing a ragged old once-white t-shirt underneath it with his favorite chocolate brown, knee length cargo shorts – they weren’t ideal for running but they were ridiculously comfortable so he made do.

Max gradually slowed his pace so that he hit the fine sand of the beach at a brisk walk. He sat himself down on his thinking log with a few minutes to spare before daybreak, gazing out to sea with his brow furrowed as his breathing leisurely returned to normal. He rested his forearms on his thighs and listened to the gentle cacophony of the waves as he attempted one more time to marshal his thoughts.

“Alright. Romance and travel. So tempting but rarely a good idea. I’ve seen far too many couples break up while backpacking. But what if it works out? That would be pretty incredible. But I don’t even know if she likes me! What if I go for it and she says ‘no thanks’? What then?”

The sky was rapidly transforming from plain black night into a raucous blend of reds, oranges and yellows. Max’s head finally went silent as he lost himself in the glorious display of nature.

“Nothing like a touch of spectacular natural beauty to make you feel like an insignificant git,” he muttered.

The first rays of sunshine finally peaked over the horizon, painting the water with a golden hue. Max remained seated on the driftwood, treasuring the few moments of peace he had regained.

“Living on the west coast back home is great,” he murmured. “But there’s definitely something to be said for this.”

As the sun climbed higher, the colors overhead faded to a soft blue. The shade of blue reminded Max of the exterior of his parents’ home back in Vancouver – he could vividly recall the last time he saw it. It was his big sister’s 30th birthday and everyone was gathered in the backyard watching Vicky open her presents and eating the black forest cake Mom had made. That cake, like every other she made, was so mind-blowingly good that…

“Stop it! Stop avoiding the bloody subject!” he yelled suddenly. “I came out here to figure this out, not day dream about cake! Stupid, worthless brain cells!”

This was not working, he grudgingly admitted. He needed to talk this over with someone. But who? Cindy? Maybe. She and Greg had decided last night to extend their stay for another week, so he had a bit more time to speak with her.

Max stood up, stretched himself out and strolled back towards the road, his mind still buzzing with ideas. What about Mossy, he thought suddenly. The big man had a good head on him and he had been like a second father to him these last few months. Max had yet to see him steer a single backpacker he had encountered wrong, he was just always full of good advice.

His mind began to settle down, as it always did once he had reached a decision after a long struggle. He liked this notion a lot. This could work. He stepped onto the asphalt and began the run back to the hostel with a small smile creasing his face.

We thought we were done with this nonsense, his body sighed. We liked it on the beach.

“Shove a dirty sock in it,” Max said contentedly.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #4

Fascinating, Max thought to himself as he absent-mindedly dripped his paddle into the water. You could actually see the difference in her muscles when he wasn’t helping. Not that you could tell by her breathing or pace – she just kept driving her paddle through the crystal clear water. Up, down, up, down, like clockwork. There was just something deeply, deeply attractive about a fit woman, he reflected.

Caitlin was in the front seat of the two person kayak, wearing a white tank top that complimented her dark tan. That it also allowed her to display her nicely defined shoulders and arms currently had Max praising whoever invented the design. At that moment he had settled on referring to him as “Sir Tanka Topopoulos.”

Max, ensconced in the back seat, had removed his t-shirt shortly after they had pushed off. He knew he was in good shape, he simply did not see much point in showing it off. He was just hoping that the late morning sun would even out the remains of his farmer tan.

Also, Max mused as he decided to help for a couple of strokes, while he didn’t mind the dark curly hair occupying the top of his head, he was less thrilled with the ones residing on his chest. As for the ones that had recently begun appearing on his back, he was pretty sure there was a special place set aside for them in hell.

“It is absolutely brilliant out here,” Greg announced from the kayak he was sharing with Cindy. They were a few feet ahead of Caitlin and Max because Cindy tended to remember the way to their picnic destination best. There really were not very many branches to worry about, but both guys were hopeless with directions and this was Caitlin’s first time on the river.

“It really, really is,” Caitlin said happily. She stopped paddling for the first time since they had set out and drank in the scenery as Max hurried to pick up the slack. On their left was a tree lined bank fronting a huge expanse of farm land. In the distance to their right the hills rose rapidly to become dramatic, jagged mountain peaks. The sky overhead remained cloudless and a peerless shade of blue.

“I just love that Mossy has these around for anyone to use,” Cindy sighed as she stretched her arms above her head to loosen the knots in her shoulders. “It’s just a bit further Caitlin, once we settle in for lunch you’ll never want to leave!”

A few minutes later they rounded a bend in the slow moving river and Max spotted the small tree lined beach that he had told his friends back home was “the best picnic spot on Earth.”

As they neared the bank everyone jumped into the knee-deep water and those in front (Caitlin and Greg) pulled and those in back pushed the kayaks up onto the beach. Once they were secure Cindy began pulling the food out of their boat and Max bent to deal with the water bottles and wine in theirs.

“Can you give me a hand with these?” he called to Caitlin, who had her back to him as she soaked in the location.

“Oh, sorry of course I – oh!” She had turned and started towards him before stopping abruptly. Max looked up to see her gaze flick to his bare chest, then back to his face. He saw something briefly in her eyes but it vanished before he could tell what it was. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable.

“Yeah I don’t know how he does it either,” Greg lamented while running his hand over his beer gut. “If I had known carrying around a feather duster could get me a body like that, I might ‘ave pitched in ‘round the house a lot more before we went gallivantin’ ‘round the world.”

“No,” Cindy told him straight-faced, “you wouldn’t have.”

“Hey!” Max said defensively as he struggled to regain his mental balance. “I go for a run twice a week and we’ve kayaked every weekend since you two jokers rucked up. And to be fair, apple picking has slimmed you down quite a bit.”

“Yeah, Apple Picking: The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About, I can see it on the best sellers list now,” Greg laughed, then narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Max. “You never told me you were running.”

“Didn’t see a need to announce it. I just go to the beach and back after lunch.”

“Can we discuss fitness regimes while we eat?” Cindy asked as she tossed Max his dark red lunch bag. “I’m a bit pear shaped over here.”

Everyone found her suggestion agreeable and before long they were sitting in the sand eating their packed lunches and sipping wine from plastic cups. Max had managed to resist the urge to put his shirt back on, but not by much.

“Alright, I have to ask,” Caitlin said after the food had disappeared. “What the hell does ‘pear shaped’ mean?”

“The quasi-Brit doesn’t know?” Greg gasped, faking shock as well as he faked everything else. Which was not very well at all. “It means starved. I’ll have your honorary Brit passports back now.”

“I knew what it meant,” Max told him with a small smile. “I met so many Brits, Aussies and Kiwis during the six months I was in Europe, I almost came home sounding like I had never left the Commonwealth.”

“Aye and you guys have all the good slang,” Caitlin chipped in. “What do Canadians have? Oot and aboot? Hoser? Blah! Give me dodgy and brilliant any day.”

“So you picked it up from fellow nomads as well then?” Cindy asked.

“Some, but mostly I got it back home before I even left since my boyfriend…” and she paused to finish off her cup of wine.

Max froze with his cup halfway to his lips. His heart took the express elevator to his stomach while his head filled with confusion, sorrow, hurt and a touch of anger. The whole world seemed to be closing in around him. An eternity after she had stopped, Caitlin finished her drink and continued.

“… was Australian. Lord was it a struggle to understand him when we first met!”

Relief flooded Max’s every nerve ending. Time resumed its normal pace and his heart regained its natural position, albeit beating much faster than seemed necessary. He glanced at the others to see if they had noticed his reaction, but no one seemed to.

Jesus Christ, he thought, dull with shock at the strength of his response. What the hell was that?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #3

“So how did you find the three days of vineyard work? I haven’t seen too much of you since Sunday night.”

“Yeah, I’ve been crashing early this week,” Caitlin replied. “Those early starts combined with all that fresh air just knocks me right out. But it was alright. Thinning grapes isn’t exactly my idea of a good time though, so I’m glad to be done with it.”

“Just be glad you weren’t working with the young plants,” Max told her. “A couple weeks back I pitched in for two days because one of the growers Mossy is friends with had a bit of an emergency. My knees and lower back have never been so sore.”

“Oh bloody hell!” Caitlin exclaimed. “There were a couple rows of those at the lot we were at yesterday. They barely came up to my shins!”

“Yup. Crouched down in front of your first plant at seven a.m. Spend a minute or two saving it from itself. Up you get, over to the next one and back down you go. Repeat for nine hours. I felt like a ninety year old man by the end of the second day.”

“No wonder it’s so easy to find work around here. Only backpackers are dumb and desperate enough to do this crap. I guess you and I have got the posh jobs ‘round these parts!”

“Yeah, other than the toilets this job is pretty sweet.”

“Well from what I’ve heard,” Caitlin said with a little laugh, “I won’t have to worry too much about that.”

Max stuck his tongue out at her. He always figured if you can’t beat ‘em, stick your tongue out at ‘em.

“So have you stayed at a Wo’ Ho’ before?” he asked, steering the conversation away from his lacking card skills.

“A woe hoe?” she asked, an utterly confused look on her face.

“Yeah, a Working Hostel.”

“You’re joking. People don’t actually call them that!”

“Sure they do. Ask anybody.”

“Please,” Mossy called out from the other end of the hostel, “For the love of all that is good and holy, do not believe a word that comes out of Max’s mouth!”

“Hey Mossy?” Max yelled back. “Hurry up and grow old and lose your bloody hearing already!”

“Do you reckon he actually heard us? Or,” Caitlin straightened up and looked at him shrewdly, “Do you think that was just a bit of well-timed general advice?”

“I reckon he was just being a cheeky bastard,” Max muttered.

“General advice it is then,” Caitlin said with a smile and returned to watering the plants.

“Oh, speaking of which,” Max called over his shoulder as he got back to dusting the bookshelf, “You know Tim, the American…”

“The Texan, right.”

“Whatever. Can you imagine if we did that? ‘Hi, I’m Max and I’m a British Columbian!”

“It would be even worse for people from P.E.I.” she replied with a big smile.

“True enough. But we digress. So, the Yank that checked in yesterday? I may have been telling him… um, less than factual things about our home and native land.”

“You haven’t!”

“It’s just something I do every now and again to keep things interesting. Just play along if you want a good laugh, I’ll set him straight in a couple days. He seems like a good guy, I think he’ll take it pretty well.”

“I’m not so sure about this Max…”

“Trust me. Just wait ‘till you try it. Ignorance truly can be bliss.”

* * * * *

Max raised his eyes from the latest edition of National Geographic to see Tim stroll through the front door. He looked at Caitlin sprawled on the couch opposite him with a grin, which she returned with a concerned expression. He gave her a reassuring wink and turned to greet his target.

“Howdy Texas, how’d apple picking go today?”

“Howdy Canada,” Tim drawled back, exaggerating his southern twang for Max’s benefit (he knew Max thought it was just the greatest accent ever). “Nice hot day for it and Anton treated us to ice cream at lunch.”

“Sweet as, he’s a really good guy, eh?” Max returned, tacking on the Canadianism for Tim’s amusement (he may not know much about Canada or her residents, but he sure knew how they were supposed to talk – he was still getting over the fact that neither Max nor Caitlin had a French accent). “Come have a seat, we’ve got fresh, cold lemonade over here.”

“Thanks mate!” Tim said as he dropped into the bean bag chair situated at the end of the two couches. Max was reasonably certain that Tim had picked up “mate” from himself and was a little worried the lanky Texan thought it was another Canadianism.

“So Caitlin,” Tim began while pouring himself a second glass. “Does your family have a winter igloo too?”

Then again, “mate” wouldn’t be the worst of his cultural crimes at this point.

“I’m sorry?” Caitlin replied, obviously struggling to keep a straight face already.

“You know,” Max intervened, “It’s like the opposite of a summer cabin. I was telling Tim last night about my family’s winter igloo – great spot, right on the Artic Ocean. We keep a couple polar bears in the backyard.”

Caitlin looked at Max with a mixture of horror and disbelief, slowing shaking her head from side to side. Uh oh, he thought, if she doesn’t like that one she will definitely not approve of…

“No?” Tim continued, completely misinterpreting her head shake. “Well have you at least taken part in the Annual Baby Seal Hunt?”


Ah, hell.