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MOST PEOPLE THINK cumulonimbus are the best cloud-watching clouds, but Dad and I prefer cirrus spissatus. If you ask me, the whole cumulus family of clouds is too obvious. It's like they shout danger when anyone can tell they mean trouble at first glance.
But cirrus spissatus clouds are hypnotic. They promise mystery and hope: a thin veil between earth and heaven that might dissolve at any moment. We most often see Mom in the long, thin cover of the cirrus spissatus clouds. We seek her out every day, unless it's cloudless, of course, which means she's giving us the all clear. It's like a contest to see who can find her first. Maybe her face is our good luck charm or the act of looking is our prayer for the coming day.
When I was little Dad used to beat me to her, but now I find her first. When I do, when I point her out in some distant cloud formation, he sighs and, with a dreamy distant look in his eyes, says: "She's the most beautiful woman in the world."
And not until then, not until one of us sees her face in the clouds, do we start our day.
I lie back in the sun with my hands behind my head and scan the sky above me while Tuff dozes in a patch of dappled sunlight farther up the slope. The leaves overhead sift the sunlight across his body in a trembling pattern. His legs jerk slightly and I wonder if he's chasing a dream squirrel or a rabbit or maybe a raccoon. There're so many critters to chase and new places to explore in the ravine, I don't think he misses the boat at all. But I do. I miss the slap of the waves on the hull and rocking in a half-doze on the glinting sea. I miss Dad, too. But never mind.
I slip the last soda cracker into my mouth and chase it with a mouthful of water from the Tropicana jug. Then I empty crumbs from the plastic sleeve into the palm of my hand and eat those, too. I expect the rustling to wake up Tuff, but he's oblivious to me, whining in his sleep.
When I finish scouring the northern horizon, my eyes drift east. I split the sky into quadrants and search for her that way. North, east, west, and last of all, south. Dad prefers to let his eyes wander across the sky randomly, following her clues from thought to thought. But my way's faster.
"There she is, Tuff." I point out her face near the edge of the eastern horizon, beyond the overpass. "She's smiling today and her hair is streaming in the wind. She sure looks beautiful." I say it for Dad and then stand up.
Finally Tuff raises his head and assesses me from his patch of sunshine and green grass.
"Well, c'mon. Up you get. We can't lie around here all day. We've got stuff to do."
Tuff devours a bowl of kibble while I pack the tent and zip it closed. Then I pull the branches over the front door until it's completely hidden. It would take a psychic, or maybe a U.S. Marine, to find our campsite.
I pat my front pocket for my phone and charger. Then check for the lump in my back pocket, which is a small fold of twenty-dollar bills and the credit card.
"Everything's in order. Let's go!"
Tuff follows me out to the trail and up the side of the ravine, sniffing at every stalk of grass and tree trunk like he's met them all before and has to say hello to a long-lost friend.
"Don't get too used to living on land."
He tilts his head and barks once.
"Of course, I'll always take you for walks so you can chase squirrels."
As if to demonstrate his joy, Tuff races up the side of the ravine and stops at the base of a stately maple tree. He stares into the branches and dances around the trunk, trying to get a sightline on whatever he chased up there. When I get too far ahead, he abandons the tree and runs to catch up.
It's a glorious summer day. The sun is warm and bright without making the day oppressively hot. It's the air quality in Toronto that surprises me most. Even though it's July, the clarity of the air makes me feel optimistic and it's easy to breathe. It's never like that in the Keys, or even farther north in Tampa. No, the air in Florida is thick and heavy, and you can't ever forget that you need your lungs to survive. The summer air in Miami could sear your throat if you inhaled too deep.
When we get to the cemetery, I clip the leash onto Tuff's collar and head toward Bloor Street. I haven't been in Toronto long, but I already know the major intersections and basic landmarks downtown. I know the names of some of the neighbourhoods and can find my way to a few places.
There are even a couple of people I see day after day. Like the girl who sits on a square of cardboard near the intersection of Yonge and Bloor, her legs folded like a pretzel and her back as straight as the wall she melts into. She sits on the same block, though not always in the exact same place. Today she's on the northeast corner. As I turn onto Yonge Street, I look at her and nod. Tuff sniffs at her cup of change and I tug lightly on his leash.
"It's okay. He's cute," she says and reaches out to ruffle the fur behind his ears. I let Tuff introduce himself.
"Sorry. I don't have any change," I say apologetically.
"No worries. I'm happy meeting your dog. What's his name?"
She wrinkles up her nose. "What sort of name is that?"
"My mom named him when he was a puppy because he was always trying to show the bigger dogs that he was boss."
"Is he?" She leans close and wraps her arms around Tuff's neck. He sits down, happy to be adored by a pretty girl. And she is pretty, despite the layers of dark clothing hiding her petite frame and the rings of black eyeliner that make her look like she's scowling. It's obvious she wants people to think she's badass, even though I can tell she isn't. Not even her black dreads or eyebrow rings can camouflage her perfect smile.
"Is he what? Tough?"
"Yeah, and the boss?"
"Not really. He's a pushover."
The girl unknots her legs and stands up. She reaches out her hand. "Lise Roberts," she says.
I hesitate and Lise chuckles.
"It's okay. I don't bite and I wash every day. With soap."
A hot blush washes over my cheeks and I take her hand.
"Harbour Mandrayke. Nice to meet you."
"You should stop and talk sometime, when you have a few minutes," Lise suggests. "I think Tuff would like it."
Tuff leans against her leg with a hopeful expression and points his muzzle up at her like a wolf getting ready to howl at the moon.
"I will," I say and pull Tuff down the street after me.
* * *
When I walk into the library I stop and take it in — the wide-open lobby, the stacked floors overlooking a cluster of study tables, the sunshine streaming down through the skylights. I love the way the staircases curve and rise like waves from one floor to the next, how the tidy stacks of books are moored in place like rows of boats in a marina. But more than anything I love that there are so many books waiting to be read.
Before I head to my favourite pod, I stop by the washroom. The washroom on the fifth floor is always empty and I feel more comfortable having a wash when nobody else is around. I don't imagine it's every day you find some girl having a bath out of the sink. But seriously, it's a pretty nice washroom for a public place. I plug the drain with a ball of paper towel and fill the sink with warm water. Then I lather up with soap from the dispenser and scrub my face before I take a wad of paper towel and, as Dad would say, wash my bits and pits. It makes me wonder where the girl on the street washes — Lise. I mean, she said she washes every day with soap. Does she have a favourite washroom on the top floor of some obscure building?
When I get to the pod, I plug in my phone to charge and pull up "Harbour's Summer Reading List." Dad compiled a list of books on ancient philosophy that will take me a couple of months to get through. I guess you could say I'm home-schooled, but not in a traditional way. I don't exactly excel at routines and neither does he. Like, we don't do a little bit of math and English and science every day. Some days we don't do anything at all but fish or snorkel or find a new place to moor. No, we tend to grab on to a topic until we're both ready to move to the next one. Before our ancient philosophy phase we spent four months in the forward cabin dismantling and assembling a 1977 Porsche 911 3.0-litre, air-cooled, flat-six engine. I mean, you never know when you're going to break down on the side of the road in your 1977 Porsche 911. Right?
The next book on the list is an autobiography that I've been looking forward to. Dad read me a few passages when I was a kid so I'm expecting it to feel something like a homecoming. Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography is a thick, sturdy book with a fair heft to it and will probably take me a couple of days to get through. Even though it was published in 1946, it feels like it was written yesterday.
I slouch in my chair and read about Yogananda's childhood. I'm completely mesmerized. It's like you can feel his wisdom and inner peace radiating from the pages. Almost two hours slip by before I start to feel hungry. When my phone is fully charged, I tuck it into my front pocket. Then I take a small knife out of my pocket.
"I'm sorry, Yogananda," I whisper before I cut the bar code and microchip from the spine, tuck the book into my day pack, and head outside into the warm summer day.CHAPTER 2
THE SPORTING GOODS store has an insane number of sleeping bags. Who knew, right? It's kind of mind-boggling. After thirty minutes of reading labels and feeling overwhelmed, a bearded man asks me if I'd like any help. He's one of those super-outdoorsy types: tanned, wiry, intense. I'm a bit suspicious of his hair hygiene, which is significant coming from someone who's been washing out of a sink at the public library for three weeks. But his hair is so, well ... long and messy. It's like he forgot he has hair to take care of at all. I wouldn't be surprised if something with four legs is living in it. He could be packing a pet hamster or ferret.
"I need a really warm sleeping bag," I tell him. "Like, suffocatingly warm."
The store is jam-packed with so much camping equipment and military gear there's hardly room to move. The sleeping bag display is crammed between the hiking boots and the hunting knives. There are about fifty sleeping bags hanging from the ceiling in what would best be described as a hallway.
"Where will you be sleeping and what time of year?" he asks as he stops beside me.
Despite his appearance and lack of attention to grooming, this guy makes me feel at ease. Maybe it's the bushy beard that feels familiar. Or maybe it's because he's dressed super casual in shorts and a T-shirt with brown sandals on his feet. He could have just stepped off a sailboat in Key West.
"Let's say I wanted to sleep outside in the winter? Like, here, in Toronto?"
His eyes leave my face and scan my body. I can feel him assessing my clothing, calculating my height and weight. I'm surprised sleeping bags are so specific. I wonder if they're customized.
"Will you be in a tent or roughing it?"
"Like, exposed to the elements?"
"Oh. No. I'll be in a boat."
"Is this hypothetical ... are you really planning on sleeping in a boat in the winter in Toronto?"
"That's the plan. But I get the sense you think there's something wrong with it?"
"Nothing wrong, I guess. It's just that most Canadians store their boats in the winter, due to the lakes freezing over."
"Even the big lakes freeze over? Like Lake Ontario?"
The man nods and presses his lips together as if he's delivering catastrophic news. It makes his moustache and beard touch so that his mouth completely disappears in facial hair. I wonder if Dad knows about the ice issue in Canada during the winter. I make a mental note to talk to him about it next time he calls and wonder about starting a list on my phone. I already have quite a few things to talk to him about: did he remember to charge the auxiliary battery at the first of the month; does he still have a spare phone; ask him again why I had to come to Toronto alone (I'm seriously starting to wonder how he talked me into this); and now, did he know the lakes freeze completely over in Toronto, including the Great Lakes?
"I take it you're not from around here?" the man asks, interrupting my mental list-making.
"No. I'm from Florida."
He nods, as if everything suddenly makes sense, then turns to consider the sleeping bags hanging in front of us like discarded condoms.
"In that case, I would suggest one of our higher-end bags. Probably a hybrid. The synthetic keeps the moisture out and the down layer keeps you warm. Probably something rated to twenty below. I mean, it doesn't often get that cold, but that's what I'd get just to be safe." He turns the bag inside out as he speaks to show me the down-filled liner.
"You mean, like twenty degrees below zero? Celsius?"
He nods again and pulls at his beard thoughtfully. I shift my weight from one foot to the other and the wide, worn floorboards groan in response.
"Wow. That must be really cold. I mean, I remember one time it got down to like forty degrees Fahrenheit. We were up north, near Panama City. And I thought that was a cold night's sleep."
"If you think that's cold, then I definitely recommend one of our warmest bags."
"I need two. One for my father, too."
"How big is he?"
"Six feet. Hundred and eighty pounds."
The man pulls down one of the bags and starts to explain the hood and drawstrings. He shows me the inner pocket and tells me about how to decide whether to get a left-zip or a right-zip bag. He explains how the quilting is offset to eliminate cold spots.
"I had no idea sleeping bags were so scientific," I say when he pauses between facts.
"For cold weather they are. I mean, we have one that's good for forty below. It's for camping on the side of a mountain. There's nothing worse than being cold all night when you're out in the winter."
I feel the sleeping bag he's picked and wonder if it's really as warm as he says. If it's not, I suppose we can always come back and buy a second liner. And there's a space heater in the boat, so that will help.
"I'll take two. Both right zips. One for me and one for my father."
The man pulls two small nylon bundles from a cupboard. Stuffed into sacks they look remarkably small and I stare at them doubtfully.
"That's the great thing about down bags. They're lightweight and extremely compact," he says, as if he needs to rescue his sale.
When he rings them in, the total takes me by surprise, but I do my best not to react and hand over the credit card as if spending several hundred dollars is no big deal. I don't want him to start asking too many questions. While he deals with the credit card machine, I add another item to my list of things to talk to Dad about: don't flip out about the price of the sleeping bags.
The man examines the card and looks up at me.
"So you're H. Mandrayke?"
I smile and nod. "Harbour."
"Cool name," he says and finishes the transaction.
* * *
On my way into the library I drop Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography in the returns bin. It lands with a thud and I look around to see if anyone has noticed. I feel awkward with an overstuffed day pack and a sleeping bag tucked under my arm. An elderly man at a nearby table looks up, but then goes back to his magazine just as quickly. Relieved, I climb the stairs to charge my phone and find the next book on my reading list. I haven't been sitting long before I notice a set of legs in my peripheral vision, but I don't look up from reading.
"Excuse me? Miss?" A librarian is standing beside me, holding Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography in her hand.
I swallow hard and my heart gives two heavy thumps to make sure I feel suitably guilty about taking a knife to her book. I sit up straight and try to look, I dunno, studious. I don't want her to ban me from the library. Dad gets annoyed when I don't take my reading list seriously.
"I think you were the last one to read this book?" she says softly and gazes at me directly, but not with an accusation in her eyes.
I nod and glance down at the book in my lap.
"Did you enjoy it?"
Her question is so unexpected I look back at her face. She's leaning against the pod, which disarms me further. I lean toward her and speak in a low voice.
"I did. Very much. I found myself believing that Yogananda could actually move physical objects and influence events with his thoughts." I pause, then add dreamily, "or maybe I just wanted to believe in a world like that."
She considers my comment a moment then examines the book as if she's never seen it before. "We don't get a lot of people interested in this book."
"That's too bad. I think more people should read it. Maybe you should read it?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Safe Harbour"
Copyright © 2019 Christina Kilbourne.
Excerpted by permission of Dundurn Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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