From Degrees of Nakedness, published by House of Anansi Press.
Anita slept with a tourist named Hans. He was a German gymnast who had trained for the Olympics for eleven years and gave it up. Now he was driving a vw van across Canada. St. John’s was his starting point. He was golden, muscular, but small. He walked with his hands loose by his sides. He seemed to place his steps, walking on the balls of his feet as if he were stepping onto a mat in front of a large audience. He had been sitting alone at the Ship Inn drinking milk. It was as though the blondness of his hair alarmed almost anyone who might have joined him. Hans and Anita discussed what was scenic, the hospitable Newfoundlander, and Jiggs dinner, briefly. He had come from California, that was his first stop in North America. He had learned to speak English in a place called Pure Springs, a self-awareness camp with hot springs where they practised Gestalt and taught hyperventilation to relax. Hans talked about group therapy.
You are one of twenty-five for a month. You come to know each other very well and one day you step outside the room and the others decide on one word or a simple phrase that describes your essence. Sometimes it’s very painful, but for the first time you see your true self. Everyone hugs and is supportive.
Anita asks, What was your word?
Outside the Ship Inn a rusted sign pole stuck out from the brick wall. The sign itself had been removed. Hans climbed on the windowsill easily and, jumping, gripped the bar. He swung back and forth, then with his legs straight, toes pointed, lifted himself into a handstand. It was the moment while he was upside down that Anita realized she would sleep with him because he was passing through and because her faithfulness to Carl was a burden. When he swung down, Anita felt the pocket of warm night air he cut with his body.
Hans swept the seats of the vw van with a small hand brush before she got in. The van was spotless. There was a string bag full of fruit, none of it bruised. On the wall was a calendar from Pure Springs. The photograph for June was four pairs of naked feet, toes twisted, all caught in the same hammock net. Nestled between the hand-brake and the driver’s seat was a glossy purple diary. Anita picked it up and opened it.
Inside were poems written in German, diary entries, dried flowers, and coloured pencil drawings of mountain peaks.
My ex-fiancée made that for me.
Hans took out his shiny Swiss Army knife from the glove compartment and effortlessly cut the rind from a pineapple while he spoke, She was a gypsy. Long dark hair, black eyes, small like me, we wore each other’s clothes. We hiked together in the mountains of Switzerland for two and three months at a time. We were together for ten years and were to be married. The invitations were sent. One hundred invitations. A week later she said she wanted to go to Africa. She met another fellow there, a German. The wedding was called off.
Hans held a quivering slice of pineapple out to Anita on the blade of the knife.
You must be very hurt, said Anita.
No, at Pure Springs they taught me to see myself as I really am. When I have finished my trip I will return there as a counsellor.
They sat in silence looking at the stars over Long Pond.
The fruit is very sour, remarked Hans. In the morning Anita could see the Arts and Culture Centre from where they had parked. She saw Carl get out of his car.
Hans dropped her off later at Mr. Crawhall’s. When he left she could only imagine him in a hat with a little red feather, shorts with straps, and a walking stick; Julie Andrews’s voice echoing off the Alps. Such is the cry of the lonely goatherd la-he-o, la-he-o, dee-lo.
It shocked her later to think her baby might be blond with eyes like an iceberg, if she had it.