Canoe

By Mandy Lui

We push two blue and two red canoes into St. Nora Lake. The sun beams down on us and loons call and mosquitoes buzz and we dip our fingertips and paddles into the cool water and we gaze at forests and cliffs around and we spot a campsite and we paddle and paddle and paddle.

We steer towards an island and flat rocks scrape against the bottom of our canoes. Tina, Jill, Amanda and I jump out from the bow and drag the canoes onto the root-tangled land. Linda, Ginger, Meghan and Christine crawl from the stern, over backpacks, shovels and food barrels onto land. Meghan and Christine toss work gloves and green garbage bags at us.

“Pick up anything that doesn’t belong here,” Meghan says. White streams of paper hang off branches, clusters of white balls hide between bushes and scraps of candy wrappers colour the ground.

We slip on the gloves, grip the bag in one hand and grab any garbage we see. I swoop up wads and wads of toilet paper and dump them into the garbage bag. I see a pile of white paper in a bush. I creep into the bush and pick up balls of used toilet paper covered with brown goop. I gag at the stench.

I catch sight of something white lying on the ground. I tiptoe towards it and pick up the stringed-end with my fore finger and thumb. Blood soils the white cotton tampon and I drop it into the green plastic bag.

“Can someone with a garbage bag come over here?” Christine yells.

I scurry over. “You called, Christine?”

Christine digs a hole with a metal shovel. Across from her sits a blue plastic toilet seat and a hole with flies swarming over it. “Yeah. Caitlin, you see the hole over there? We need to get the plastic garbage out before we can cover it with dirt.” Christine digs some more.

I haul myself over to the flies’ hang out. I look down and stare at brown feces with pieces of plastic sticking out. I close my mouth and stop the flow of air. I jab my hand into the soft gunk and I yank up a pink plastic wad with brown bits covering it. I choke and inhale a reek of feces and rotten blood. I gag. I drop the pad into the bag while brown chunks stick to my gloves.

Christine shovels dirt into the hole, and pats it down. She places the toilet seat over the newly dug hole and says, “There, a new hole for people to shit in. Is that shit on your gloves?”

I nod.

“Throw those out, we brought extra gloves.” She takes my bag and I whip off the gloves. We head towards our canoes.

“Alright, grab all the garbage bags and put them in the canoes.” Meghan places her hands on her hips.

“Ew, someone smells like shit,” says Tina.

Our eyes dart around.

“Caitlin! You have shit on your shoes and your leg,” Ginger scrunches her face.

“Ew, get it off me, get it off me!”

Tina and Ginger scamper away.

“We clean one campsite and you’re covered with shit already. How are you going to last for the next four days?” Christine shakes her head.

“Just try to wash it in the water before you get in the canoe,” Meghan says.

I take a branch and I scrape off brown paste from my leg. I sink my feet into the water and scrub my shoes against a rock. “Alright, I’m ready to go.”

Ginger and Jill, Amanda and Meghan, Christine and Linda pair up in canoes. “Come on guys! I’m not going in the same canoe as Caitlin,” says Tina.

“Why not? I’m clean. See,” I point to my leg, “no poo.”

“But you smell!”

“Fine, I’ll switch with you.” Meghan stands up. She hops out of the red canoe and Tina hops in.

I step into the empty blue canoe and smile at Meghan. “See, no poo.”

Meghan looks at me and looks away. She puts one foot into the canoe and pushes the canoe off the land with the other foot. We paddle and paddle and paddle to the next campsite.

Mandy Lui is an undergraduate student in the Professional Writing and Communication program at the University of Toronto. After working for the Ministry of Natural Resources as an Ontario Ranger, she hates people who litter, especially campers.

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