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It had been nothing but a light tap on the back of the head, that’s all. The fork of the forklift had merely grazed him. Sylvain Belanger, one of our dock workers, the guys who load stuff into the 18-wheelers that are backed up against our loading docks, had felt nothing.

Working in the docks is hazardous duty, no question about it, though its much safer now than a few years back. We have had incidents of trucks rolling away while the forklift is about to enter, sending it crashing through the widening gap, down to the ground, 15 feet below. They now have a hydraulically operated catcher that holds on to the bumper while the trailer is at the dock, so it won’t roll away.

If you work in the loading docks and don’t have a few twisted arms and cracked ribs, you aren’t a dock loader, though if you can get away with just a few cracked ribs, it isn’t too bad. You get time off, maybe a month, sometimes two, with 90% of your last drawn salary being credited into your bank account while you sit at home, beer in hand and watch your favourite TV show and wait for your broad ta come home so you can get it on. The choice of positions is restricted but some wimin love it when they sit on your lap facing you and sorta take charge of the whole process, if you know what I mean. Now don’t get me started.  This is not about sex.

If on the other hand, the injury is serious, it gets nasty. Another loader, Chuck St. Martin, was squashed under his forklift when it thudded to the ground on its side. He is now a paraplegic and needs help to even take a pee. His girlfriend, tired of having to do everything for him, left him two weeks after the accident. Chuck has a son who lives in Moncton and hasn’t dropped in to see him or find out if he needs help. He must be scared his father might say yes. The west is unashamedly everyone-for-himself, like. Chuck would have done pretty much the same thing if his girlfriend was bed-ridden. It is a given and understood quite clearly, without rancour.

Sylvain is 57 and divorced, his ex-wife working at a good job (so no support payments) and his children all grown and living their own lives in St Julie and St. Hilaire. Sylvain’s story was an all-Canadian story. Up until now. He was happy with his boat and his Harley, to which he had fitted a $2000 stereo blasting ‘Dark side of the moon’ all the time.  Christ, you could hear him a mile away.

Summers you found Sylvain with the other members of his motorcycle club, Les Solidaires, all over 50, some even in their 70s, roaring down the 132 in a sedate formation, stopping over at roadside cafes like a swarm of bees, for a smoke and a coffee. If he wasn’t on his bike, you would find him on his boat on Oka Lake, lazing around with a crate of beer and his girlfriend, Lisa, whom he had met when Les Solidaires took off on a trip up north to Gaspé, last summer. Lisa owns a 1700cc Yamaha with swept-back, Easy Rider style handle bars. Like him, Lisa is in her 50s and divorced.

This June, Lisa and Sylvain were planning a sail down to Rockland, in Maine, where his bro-in-law has a beachfront property.

Back at Oka, Sylvain’s mum was a Mohawk living in the Kanehsatake Indian Reserve in a ranch-style home on the banks of the Ottawa River. A beautiful  scenic place. God’s own country. His father, Marcel, a French Canadian, had descended from the Frenchmen who lived around the Sulpician Fathers’ Seminary, guarding it from possible raids by the natives. The seminary was old, established by the French way back in the early 1700s.

During his father’s days, there was a tremendous amount of animosity between the natives inside the reserves and the white folk who lived in large ranches just outside, around the seminary. That’s because the mayor of Oka had suddenly got it into his head to build a golf course which would encroach into land that the natives held sacred. (The friction would boil over later on in the 90s into a full blown crisis when the mayor’s successor decided to extend that golf course by another nine holes).

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The pristine beaches of Oka in summer 

It was during those tension-filled days in June 1971 that Sylvain’s father was one day driving his pick-up truck filled with manure to the small farm that they had at the back of their home and he was driving through Mohawk territory, when he busted an axle.  Another pick-up truck that was passing by, stopped to take a look-see. There was a Mohawk driving it, a grizzled weather-beaten guy, and beside him sat this girl who looked at him with big round eyes. Her name was Aponi. Sylvain’s Dad found out later that it meant ‘butterfly’.  Marcel Belanger Jr. (Sylvain) didn’t take long coming.

About the tap he got on his head, Sylvain has had his share of scrapes and taps at the dock but the one he got last month was nothing like the ones he had before. The pain had subsided, the sex was still great and all (oh yeah, over here, you’re doing fine if the sex is great. I love this joint), but just to be sure, his twin bro, Zach, suggested he get a brain scan done and he did.

They found a tumor the size of a golf ball. Usually with a tumor that big, you would expect some level of discomfort at least, maybe headaches or something. But Sylvain had felt nothing at all. They operated on it and he was fine for a while, but then it came back and this time there were two of ‘em, dime-sized bastards, somewhere in his frontal lobe and the doc said they were spreading fast. That was ten days back.

Funny thing is that Sylvain otherwise felt fine and had no special sensation or any special pain or anything till then. He had put on some weight though, from all the rest and recreation (the beer) he had been having of late, relaxing at home. Anyways, he had an appointment with his neurologist yesterday. The secretary told him not to drive, to have someone drive him to the hospital.

Good thing Zach drove Sylvain to the appointment. He has started having the headaches that the doc had warned him about and he keeps bumping into things when he walks. The neurologist has given him 60 days max and asked him to set his affairs in order asap. He told Sylvain that the end will most likely come in a spectacular blinding flash, instantaneous and painless. Sylvain was relieved to hear that. The whole thing, from planning the sail to Rockland and planning his last will and testament, has been breathtakingly swift.

Sylvain has expressed that he start on his last sail from his own bed at his beloved lakefront cottage in Oka. His parents are buried there, in the backyard under some maples. Zach has moved in with him. That is where he is in the picture below the title right now, gazing out at the placid blue lake, waiting to set sail.