Carl Leggo

LIGHT LUNACY

1

When I was young, my parents burned coal in the little house on Lynch's Lane. Old Man Giles delivered coal in a horse-drawn sleigh. The horse gasped and snorted, and its breath rose up like light smoke from its dilated nostrils. Old Man Giles removed the hatch in the side of the house, and shovelled the coal from his sleigh into the basement of the house. Later the sun shone through cracks in the hatch door, and lines of coal dust filled the air. My memories of Lynch's Lane are motes of dust in a beam of light. Sometimes when Old Man Giles wasn't looking, Cec, Frazer, Macky, my brother, and I sneaked rides on his sleigh, especially along Dove's Road on our way home from the Salvation Army Academy. We grabbed an edge of the sleigh, leaned back on our heels, and raced over the snow. Really we didn't go very fast, actually not a lot faster than we walked, but I always conjured up more in my imagination. Old Man Giles probably knew we were hanging on, and let us stay a while before he turned, and said, shoo shoo shoo, in a whisper that sounded just like the sleigh in snow, and I was never sure if he was telling us to get off the sleigh or just humming with winter's echoes. Cec and Macky sometimes grabbed the bumper on ESSO trucks and pretended they were water-skiing. Sometimes they went really fast. I was never brave enough. I liked fictional adventures.

2

One summer I bought three tickets for a quarter on a boat in a bottle, the main prize in a Shriners raffle in the Millbrook Mall. I prayed earnestly and energetically every night in faithful anticipation that God would fix the contest so I could win the boat. I didn't win. I told God he was a big disappointment. But that same year, Santa Claus proved to be an even bigger disappointment. I ordered an ice cream maker from Eaton's catalogue. Carrie explained that Santa Claus used Eaton's in order to keep track of all the Christmas orders. I was looking forward to making ice cream for everybody on Lynch's Lane, selling it in my own ice cream hut in July and August. Entrepreneurial dreams filled my imagination till I was a competitor with Brookfield Ice Cream. Then two days before the Santa Claus parade, I was hiding from my brother, and I burrowed down into old coats and blankets in my parents' closet, and found a box which contained an ice cream maker, and I had no idea why it was in my parents' closet days before Christmas. I was shocked with how small the ice cream maker was, and I knew with a convert's conviction that I didn't want it anymore. So, at the Santa Claus parade, I chased the truck with Santa in his sleigh, and shouted that I didn't want the ice cream maker, and please bring me something else, anything else, and he looked at me and waved, and I felt relieved that everything would work out. But on Christmas morning, I found the ice cream maker under the tree, a little box of tin and plastic like a child's toy. I knew I wouldn't be selling Dixie cups next summer. And I could feel my faith melt away.

3

The neighbours said Alfie Buckle was slow. He didn't go to school. Sometimes he hung out with Cec, Frazer, Macky, my brother, and me, but he didn't talk much. He said he wanted to help us build snow tunnels, but he always complained he was freezing to death, and he generally left quickly with the same few words, I think I can hear my mother. One night we were all returning from another adventure with John Wayne at the Majestic, and Alfie Buckle popped his head out of a hole in the snow tunnel we had constructed earlier in the day. At first he looked like a gopher; a tuft of brown hair and wild round eyes held us. Then he slipped out quickly and ran through the snow in O'Reilly's yard. Like a plucked abominable snowman, he was buck naked. Cec said, I didn't know a guy's dick could be that small.

4

Wilhelmina Hicks was the most beautiful girl on Lynch's Lane. Her parents were soldiers in the Salvation Army. They wore a uniform all day on Sunday which they mostly spent at the Citadel. They always shook a little bell and greeted people with a hearty God bless you as they stood for hours beside the Christmas kettle in the Millbrook Mall. They wore the uniform for mid-week prayer service, too, and for Remembrance Day and the first of July, and visits to the Boy Scouts and the hospital, and for selling the War Cry door to door. They seemed to wear the uniform all the time. One winter Wilhelmina Hicks wore her own uniform. Even in a blustery winter night, Wilhelmina Hicks strolled down Lynch's Lane in red high heel shoes and pale stockings and a cream coat with a mink collar. On her way to Whalen's Lounge. She looked like Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Cec's mother worshipped at the Salvation Army Citadel, too, and Cec said his mother said, Wilhelmina Hicks is breaking her mother's heart. By the next winter, Wilhelmina Hicks was saved, a soldier, even wore the obedient soldier's uniform, stood for hours beside the Christmas kettle. Her conversion broke our hearts.

5

Beta Sue Pollard quit school in grade ten, and left Lynch's Lane, left her mother and sisters and brother. I didn't really know her since I was only in grade five, but like a crow, I was always collecting bits of stories, scraps of words, even sighs and whispers. I didn't know Beta Sue Pollard, but when she returned to Lynch's Lane during my final year at Herdman Collegiate, I remembered her as if I had known her. She had gone to Toronto, and her mother seldom spoke about her, except to say she sometimes heard from her but wasn't expecting her to return to Lynch's Lane. But now she had returned, and not alone. She was with a man who had enough wrinkles and gray hair to be her father. He laughed from an apple red face like I have seen drunks laugh. Beta Sue introduced him as Lucky Lou, a successful businessman in Toronto, and she emphasized successful by prolonging each syllable so the word kept ringing like a door chime, but she didn't say what kind of business he was successful in. She said they were staying at the Glynmill Inn in the honeymoon suite, but nobody asked if they were married. Beta Sue said, Lucky Lou is rich. As soon as the snow plow clears Lynch's Lane, Lucky Lou will drive up here in his car. Sure enough. A couple days later, Lynch's Lane was plowed, and Lucky Lou crept down Bannister's Road in a wintermint Mercedes-Benz like James Bond drives. Cec, Frazer, Macky, my brother, and I had been sliding down Lynch's Lane on old linoleum Cec's father had replaced for Christmas. When we saw Lucky Lou's car, we jumped up on the snowbank to watch Lucky Lou with Beta Sue huddled close to him. We waved, and Lucky Lou shot past us like he was an Olympic bobsledder. He's nuts, we said, but stopped assessing Lucky Lou's mental state when my brother pointed out scraps of shiny linoleum in the snow. Lucky Lou's Mercedes-Benz spun at least a couple times near the bottom of Lynch's Lane, and then shot around the bend into Old Humber Road. We hid in Cec's basement for a few days. Cec said, We almost killed Lucky Lou and Beta Sue.

6

Cec, Frazer, Macky, my brother, and I claimed Lynch's Lane as our playground, all of it. Winter erased all markers like fences and paths, and created the illusion that we lived on a barren plain without boundaries, a limitless land like the Old West that invited rugged, imaginative adventurers. We built snow tunnels and caves and forts and houses. We pretended to be Eskimos and engineers and explorers. We challenged each other to contests of strength and feats of endurance and military conquests. My brother once jumped three stories from the top of Mugs O'Reilly's house up to his waist in snow. It took an hour to find his boots after we plucked him from the snow. On our favourite days blizzards rewrote the whole hill in a frenzy of wind and swirling snow. On these stormy days no cars or trucks could trespass Bannister's Road and Lynch's Lane, and our dominion was complete. And on our favourite nights, a full moon and stars and street lights splashed exorbitantly in hollows of snow and fired icicles four feet long dangling from eaves precariously like Damocles' sword. We played hockey till we lost all our pucks or broke all our sticks. We raced our sleds with bold taunts, and we pretended to be California surfers standing up on toboggans, and we navigated sharp bends and steep ridges and boy-built bumps with wild winter's rhythms. And we always instinctively knew when supper was ready.