On Monday—a day when Harlen usually comes to Will’s in the evening to watch football and share a pizza—Louise calls Will and asks him to come over so she can consult with him about buying a house. When Harlen hears, he thinks that Louise wants Will to live with her and this is her way of asking him.
Harlen makes Will take a shower and wear a shirt and tie before he leaves to meet Louise. When he arrives at her apartment, she tells him that he looks great. Now that South Wing is getting bigger, she says, “we need more room.” Will knows that “we” refers to Louise and South Wing, but part of him likes the idea of being included in the collective pronoun as well.
The narrative shifts back to the past, six months after Susan moved out of Will’s apartment. She calls him and invites him over for dinner, and Will thinks he can hear pain in her voice, which he interprets as her needing him. He plans to tell her that he doesn’t need her the way Susan needs him, and he feels resolved about ending the relationship so that he doesn’t lead her on.
In the present, Louise wants Will to take photos of the houses she tours so she can keep track of them. At the first house they visit, the realtor mistakes Will for “Mr. Heavyman” and says that the home has plenty of space for three people.
Louise, Will, and South Wing tour many houses, and Louise is undecided and uncertain about what she wants. Harlen thinks that Louise is waiting for Will to “step in and be the man” who makes the decision.
Back in the past, the more Will thinks about how Susan left him, just as she left Ralph and her children, the angrier he becomes at her. He practices how to turn her down when she asks him to stay overnight. When he arrives at the house, however, he finds that rather than having an intimate dinner with Susan, he is joining a dinner party attended by thirty of Susan’s guests.
Louise calls Will, excited to report that she has found a house. Because the current owner is a photographer, the basement has been converted into a darkroom. Harlen concludes that Louise’s purchasing of that house means she wants Will to live with her.
Two months later, Louise moves into her new home and invites Will to stay for dinner. They have sex that night, which prompts Louise to ask Will if he ever thinks about them as a couple, because sometimes she gets lonely. Will responds, “You’ve got me.”
The narrative returns to Susan’s party. Susan gives Will a tour of her new house and apologizes for behaving the way she did. She explains that she felt as if she kept giving her life away to people—to Ralph, to her kids, to Will—and that she needed to learn to live for herself. She then finally introduces him to Ralph.
In the present, Will wonders if perhaps Harlen is right: Louise is just waiting for him to ask if they should live together. For the next week, Will spends every night at Louise’s. On Saturday morning, Louise shows him the basement, which she had renovated. The darkroom is gone, and the room is being prepared to become a bathroom. Harlen is upset, but Will understands why Louise got rid of it.
Ultimately, Louise lives in her new house and Will stays in his apartment, telling himself, “It was probably just one of those times in...
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life that we would all laugh about in the years to come.”
Will describes how he likes to spend his Sundays: sleeping in, watching cartoons, and then watching sports. By contrast, Louise spends her Sundays going to yard sales, though she rarely buys anything.
Will recalls how his mother also went to yard sales. She buys all of her clothes for her sons there, though she’s careful to select items that look brand new. She’s skilled at bartering lower prices, and even after Will moves to Toronto, she sends him a clean and pressed item of clothing for Christmas.
Louise invites Will to come with her to an estate sale, and Harlen invites himself along. Harlen summons Will to show him an old battered canoe and claims that he and Will can take it out on the river like their grandparents used to do. Will replies that the Blackfoot never used canoes, and the boat is in bad shape, but Harlen persists in goading Will to buy it. Will, trusting that Louise will take his side because she’s sensible, asks for her opinion, but Louise says it might be fun.
Will remembers that James sat by their mother’s bed while she was in the hospital in her final days. James told Will that Rose talked about him a lot, recounting stories from the boys’ childhood.
In the present, the canoe sits in Harlen’s backyard for a month while Harlen and Will work to repair it.
The narrative turns to a trip Rose and the boys went on to Lake Pokagon. They rent a rowboat and are just getting into the rhythm of it when they hit a rock. As water begins to pour into the boat, the three of them merely sit there and watch.
Harlen chooses a place for their canoe adventure using an old book on canoeing trails, opting for a stretch of the river that, according to the book, is relatively gentle, with easily negotiated rapids. He tells Louise that she can’t come on the first trip, because he and Will need to make sure it’s safe first.
Harlen chooses to sit in the front of the canoe because, he claims, he has more experience. He shouts paddling directions back to Will. Before long, they encounter white water and the canoe tips over, throwing both men into the current. The force of the water propels them further, finally washing Harlen ashore and pushing Will into shallower water where he can stand. Harlen is gleeful, exclaiming about the fun. They both look around for the canoe and finally find it beached downstream, broken and upside down. Together, the men drag it back up the river, cursing and laughing and splashing. Harlen quotes facetiously from the canoe trail book about how the rapids are allegedly easy and gentle. When the sun sets, the air quickly cools and the men shiver.
In the past, James asks, as their rowboat fills with water, if they are going to die. Rose snorts and stands up in the water; it’s shallow and warm. Laughing, she tells her sons that they’re not going to die today. Will remembers wading through the water with James and Rose, just as he and Harlen are doing now.
James was with Rose when she died, but Will was in Toronto. In the present, Harlen starts to sing as he and Will continue to tow the canoe “back through the dark water and into the light.”
David Plume is arrested, and when Harlen arrives at Will’s studio with lunch, Will assumes that’s what he wants to talk about. Surprisingly, Harlen didn’t know about David; rather, he had come to tell Will that Billie Camp is pregnant.
Harlen does some investigating and learns that David was arrested for questioning because Ray Little Buffalo had been shot in the stomach, and when he was found, he was wearing David’s infamous red jacket. Will thinks back to something Rose used to say whenever things in life happened that didn’t make sense: “That’s the way things are.”
Harlen has learned that two months ago, David was in a bar telling his stories about Wounded Knee, and Ray, having heard all of David’s stories before, finally lost his patience. He provoked David and a fight broke out, causing animosity between them.
Local gossip says that on the night of David’s arrest, Ray and three of his friends caught David and beat him up, and then Ray took the jacket for himself. Being too large for the jacket, he ripped it trying to put it on, inciting David to try to fight back. When the beating was over, David went home to get his deer rifle and confront Ray.
However, Ray was never shot—David missed, and when he ran out of bullets, he returned home. When the gun started firing, Ray tried to hide, and as he ran he fell on a bottle and cut his stomach.
Will remembers that when he and James were kids, Rose bought them a pink rubber ball. James loved it and played with it every day after school. One day, as the brothers played catch by the river, Will unintentionally threw it too far, and it landed in the water and disappeared. James ran along the bank looking for it, and Will laughed. Though James looked for a long time, he never found it, and when he returned to Will there were tears in his eyes. He picked up a rock and threw it at Will before running home.
Louise and Will have fallen into a habit of his coming over for dinner once a week. South Wing is potty training, and Will helps out and gives her her evening bath.
Will asks Louise if he can stay over on Christmas Eve, but she surprises him with the news that she is taking South Wing to Edmonton to see Harold, South Wing’s father. Louise feels bad about the way she treated him and he has been trying to have a relationship with his daughter. She assures Will that she doesn’t love Harold.
Harlen invites Will to spend Christmas Eve with him and his sister, but Will elects to be alone on the holiday. The day after Christmas, Louise calls Will to tell him that Harold proposed, but she really doesn’t want to get married. James calls, too; he is in San Francisco working for a commercial art company. He and Will talk for a long time, reminiscing about their childhood days.
Will takes the musical top that his father sent years ago out from where he keeps it and spins it on the floor. It hums as it spins. He wraps it up to give as a gift to South Wing.
Though the day began overcast, the sun is beginning to come out. Later that afternoon, Will goes for a long walk in the snow.