In the end I played out the season and I agreed to go to the Marlboro training camp the next fall. I didn’t want the pressure of landing there midway through their season. I didn’t want to leave Manitouwadge just like that. I’d come to feel that the Moose, the Kellys and the town were mine. I went to school, I’d started working part-time at one of the mills, I was known wherever I went. I’d come to a place in the world that I could live in forever. Wanted to live in forever. I couldn’t leave before I was ready.

Making myself ready was hard, but Virgil stayed by my side. We ran the hills outside of town. We did wind sprints up and down those rugged slopes and he pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed before. He cut an eight-foot length of birch, made me put it across my shoulders and run uphill with it. He made me bound the talus boulders, like Father Leboutilier and I had done, only now I did it with a thirty-pound pack on my back. He fashioned a harness out of a broom handle and some rope and I used it to raise fifty-pound bags of cement off the floor by rolling my wrists. We went to the dump, where he set up rows of tires and had me jump back and forth between them with my feet tied together. When I got so I could do that easily, he made me do it faster. I took a lot of tumbles among the trash. Occasionally, he took me to the bush and I’d chop a tree down. It would take hours, the axe in my hands getting heavier and heavier as I bulled my way through it. Afterwards, we’d buck the length of it with a saw and carry the branches and detritus to a slash pile for burning. Then he made me carry the sawn rounds to the truck, where he’d watch while I split them for firewood with a thirty-pound maul. It was immensely tough work, but I got stronger. I got leaner. I felt powerful

When the time came to leave, he walked me to the bus. I said goodbye to Fred and Martha and the boys on the Moose, but it was Virgil who took me to the Greyhound station. Manitouwadge was quiet. It was late August. I was almost seventeen. I was as tall as I would ever be, but Virgil had managed to pack muscle onto every inch of me. My forearms bulged like Popeye’s and my thighs swelled against my pant legs. We didn’t say much to each other as we walked through town. The sun sent shimmers of late summer heat up off the pavement. Flies buzzed around our faces. Pine gum and sulfur bit at our noses.

“I’m gonna miss this place,” I said.

“Manitouwadge? Nothing to miss, really.”

“I feel like I grew up here.”

“Guess you did. You were a slack-bellied little pup when you got here.” He punched me on the shoulder. “You worked damn hard, Saul. You’ll do good down there.”

“They’ve billeted me with a white family.”

“Yeah. There’s not many Indians down there probably. I’ve never been there. Toronto. But I can’t imagine many skins really wanting to hang out in that big smoke and noise.”

He stopped to light a cigarette. He offered it to me and I took a long drag before returning it, though I rarely smoked. We sat on the set of steps outside the bus station and watched traffic eke by. “You’re like a brother to me. You know what I mean?”

“I had a brother once,” I said.

“What happened to him?”

“I never talk about it.”

He stubbed out his cigarette on the step. “My dad never talks about the school,” he said. “Mom neither. And they don’t say anything about what happened before that. Maybe someone just gave you a chance to rub the shit off the board once and for all.”

He looked at me. “I don’t know a whole lot about a whole lot of things. But if I know one thing for dead certain, Saul, it’s that hockey is what you were sent here to do.”

“What if I don’t make it down there?”

“Then you don’t make it, but at least you’ll have been out there rattling the cage.”

“Virgil? Thanks for everything.”

“Don’t sound so damn final. You can come back anytime.”

“All right.”

“All right.”

He stood beside the bus as we rolled out, one hand above his eyes to block out the sun, the other raised in a kind of salute. When the driver swung the bus out onto the main street, Virgil disappeared. I sat in my seat and stared at the floor. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. Instead, I watched the land. Watched it stream by in lakes, rivers, trees and huge upward thrusts of rock until I fell asleep.