She was a goose. A white goose with a long neck. She came equipped with coloured plastic donuts that fit over her head. Her designers thought children would spend hours tossing the donuts at her face in hopes of sliding one down her slender neck, thereby scoring.
They were right. My brother and I loved throwing donuts at the goose. Or at least we did, until I came up with something better.
I was three and a half years old. We were staying at a little motel on the banks of the Rideau Canal. Built for large boats, the banks of the canal seemed to drop vertically from the shore. Unidentifiable vegetation could be glimpsed in its oily black depths. What kind of bush grew under water? We didn't know. But any dark place teeming with strange plant life was sure to hide even stranger creatures. The canal was fascinating.
To play the new game all you needed were the donuts, a stick, and the canal. One person tossed the donuts in the water, the other fished 'em out. Excellent. Best of all I could play with my two year old brother Max, who was smart enough to be either thrower or picker.
It was a Sunday morning. Our mother had dressed us, put us on the verandah and told us to not go anywhere while she got ready. Now normally we were obedient children, but there was the goose, there was the canal, and sticks were everywhere.
Max started. He was a great thrower because, being two, he couldn't throw the donuts out of range. He tossed the stack of donuts, I fished 'em out. My turn.
Because Max was so young I always made sure to throw the rings in the water right in front of him. But I made a bad throw. It was too far. "don't!" I said. It was too late. Max toppled into the black water and disappeared.
It's funny what we remember from childhood. My father was a flatulent man. I remember him always walking around the house wearing nothing but his briefs. To my horror these invariably featured both a brown spot and holes in the ass, mute testament to the power of his loud, frequent outbursts. For his part my father seemed unaware of these markings. did he not see them when he got dressed? The thought of him deliberately wearing these garments was too horrible to consider.
Memories. The way I remember it I stood on the shore, paralyzed with fear, trying to call for my mother but unable to make a sound. Then, as if by a miracle, she appeared at the back door and asked where my brother was. All I could do was point and croak.
My mother remembers it differently. She says she heard me screaming that Max had fallen in the canal, and coming to the back door saw me running towards the house. She also says that I was so pudgy that I wasn't actually running so much as waddling as fast as I could.
The rest we agree on. My mother ran to the bedroom to wake my father, who burst from the back door, wearing only his briefs. Sure enough as he ran past me I saw the spot, I saw the holes. He dove in the water.
The power of underwear. My brother was wearing the rubber shorts fashionable for toddlers in those days. My father found him hanging upside down a few feet from the surface. It seems his rubber shorts had filled with air, becoming a sort of floatation device. The rubber shorts had saved his life.
To this day the sight of deep black water makes me uneasy. And to this day I will only wear clean new boxers.