It is a bright, cold day in Canada.
Then again, this is no different from any other Canadian day. If the day were not bright or the day were not cold, could one truly say that it was a Canadian day? Could one truly say that it was the best of all possible days?
With glowing hearts, we see the sun rise in the east. With true patriot love, we see the mercury drop in the thermometer. And with curiosity, we see a man trudging through the snow.
But worry not for this man. Let his gait, his “trudge,” be no cause for alarm. Trudging is the national walk of Canada. From far and wide, those who love her with all their hearts gladly trudge through the white, fluffy gift from above. With every step comes a soft crunch underboot.
That crunch is the very beating heart of Canada!
The man knows this. He also knows that if the snow ever were to disappear, so, too, would Canada. It is only one of countless ways the man knows of that Canada may someday die.
He would know.
Many of them involve him.
He stops to stare into the sky, scratching his beard in deep contemplation. The patterns of mist streaming from his mouth with each breath flutter and dance around his vision of the clouds. The snow on the ground is enough, he decides. It will not snow again for several days. He chose the right time for his walk.
Even as the cheerful patterns float heavenward, the man’s attention is attracted to street level. To the people walking by and past. The people who tip their caps and clutch their bags of milk. The people who munch on ketchup- or dill pickle–flavored potato chips. The people who stop to greet one another with a hearty “Hello, eh?” The people with whom he knows – deep in his soul’s heart and his heart’s soul – that he belongs.
These people are also the very beating heart of Canada!
Still, though. One thing… slightly raised… slightly elevated… manages to crawl into the man’s vision.
It is a sign. A sign with two ovals, laid over a series of black and yellow vertical stripes.
He doesn’t realize it, but the sign calls to him. He thinks he is only focusing more and more on the sign – trying to take in every possible detail while still seeing the essence of the sign for what it is. The finer points become ever clearer, and the man discovers that he is standing directly underneath it. His mouth is agape, and he stares upwards.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” another man says. “Can I help you?”
This man wears a uniform with part of the sign embroidered upon it. Pinned to his shirt is a name tag, and above his name is the word MANAGER.
The manager continues, “I’m just out here for some fresh air, but if you go inside, I’m sure we can take your order, eh?”
The man raises a finger up toward the sign. He speaks as though they are the first words he has ever spoken.
“You’re going to have to take out the apostrophe someday,” he says.
“Eh?” the manager replies, startled.
He lifts his thumb up to where the man points, blocking out the red apostrophe. Changing the name of the establishment to read simply Tim Hortons.
“Oh, because they don’t use them in French,” he realizes.
“I… don’t know, eh?” the man says. “I don’t speak French.”
“Well, the Quebecois’re always trying to split off. Maybe someday they’ll realize that it’s better to play the game.”
The manager counts incidents off on his fingers.
“There was that referendum back in ’80 that failed, as I recall. Then they built the Souveraineté de l’espace satellite – the one with the laser that tried to cut Quebec free from continental Canada, eh? – but it failed. Oh, and the Charlottetown Accord, it failed, too.”
The man doesn’t take his eyes off the sign.
“They’ll all fail,” he says.
“Is that so, eh?”
“I’ll make sure of it.”
The resolve in the man’s voice throws the Tim Horton’s manager back. He is forced to lean against a wall to make sure he doesn’t fall down.
What man is this? he wonders.
What man is this whose very words stir my heart and make me feel the weight of the ground beneath my boots?
And also, I wonder if he can sell coffee, eh?
“You know,” he says, “and I’m sorry if this isn’t true, but you look like a man who’s a little lost.”
“We’re all a little lost, eh?”
Once again, the manager feels… a link, a connection, a bond between himself and everything around him. Never has he felt more alive. Never has he felt more universally healthy. He feels the urge to run back inside to pull a thousand doughnuts and a thousand double-doubles.
Or two thousand single-singles, whichever was actually ordered.
The man turns his eyes away from the sign and meets the manager’s gaze. “We’re all a little lost,” he repeats. “And that’s why I’m here.”
“That’s why you’re here… at Tim Horton’s?”
“A couple of minutes ago, I wouldn’t have thought so, eh?”
The man scratches at his beard. His eyes look deeper than Frobisher Bay. As though one can see all of Canada reflected within them.
“But now that I am here,” he continues, “I think that this establishment may be the very beating heart of Canada!”
The manager can no longer contain himself. “Do you want to come inside?” he says all in a rush. “Maybe pull some coffee, eh? I mean, if you think you belong here, then who am I to argue with that, eh?”
“I’m sorry to be so forward,” the man says.
“No, no. I’m sorry,” the manager replies.
The manager chuckles. “Let’s settle this over a few double-doubles and a maple-glazed, eh? We’ll get you an application and a shirt with your name on it. We could even…”
The manager’s words trail into silence.
“Say,” he says, “what is your name, eh?”
The man’s eyes immediately close off. Not his eyelids, but his eyes themselves. No longer do they reflect anything. They are only flesh. Living flesh, but dead of the magic that had pervaded them. He stands like that for several moments.
Then he speaks with a voice like maple leaves floating gently to the ground.
“Heart. Man. Hartman.” He nods sharply. “Larry Hartman.”
Larry’s eyes return to their former dizzying depths.
The manager smiles. “Larry Hartman, Larry Hartman,” he says, testing the name’s weight on his tongue. “Then welcome aboard, Larry, eh?”
He takes a few steps over to the Tim Horton’s entrance and pulls the door open. He holds it for Larry, who peers inside.
A broad smile grows over Larry’s face.
He puts his foot over the threshold and takes his first step into –
“Oh!” he says suddenly. He pulls his foot back and scratches at his beard sheepishly. “Can I carry my weapon in here? That’s OK, eh?”
The manager turns, his heart sinking. He wouldn’t be able to stand losing Larry now.
“It’s not a… you know, a g-word, eh?” he asks.
“No, it’s just a sword,” Larry says.
And he pulls from off his back a one-and-a-half meter long claymore sword. Its blade gleams in the sunlight, exactly the same way that Larry’s eyes gleam. The hilt is wrapped in flannel, the traditional garb of the noble lumberjack. Larry holds it effortlessly, as though his spirit – or the spirit of… something – renders its weight entirely moot.
The manager sighs with relief. “You can put that anywhere,” he says.
That his new hire has produced this large, dangerous weapon entirely fails to bother him for some reason. Perhaps it is that in Larry’s hands, the sword looks perfectly safe. Perhaps it is that the sword resonates with a part of his soul that loves poutine and can speak two languages with equal ease.
For whatever reason, the memory of the sword entirely vanishes from his conscious mind.
“I’m sorry,” Larry says, “I should have mentioned it earlier, eh?”
“Perfectly fine, perfectly fine,” the manager says, slight confusion tingeing his voice. “Now, let’s get those coffees and that uniform, eh?”
“Eh!” Larry repeats enthusiastically.
He puts his foot over the threshold and takes his first step into destiny.