I was in the courtroom again on the Friday afternoon three days later when my brother was sentenced to a year in prison. As he stood there in the dock, dressed smartly in his barrister’s three-piece pinstripe suit, I found myself wondering how it felt for a man who had so often plied his trade as a lawyer in this same courtroom. He listened with no visible emotion as the judge pronounced his sentence; I knew he had been expecting it, and had been steeling himself to face it, but I still had no idea how he could look forward to such a prospect with anything other than fear. Alyson was beside me as the sentence was pronounced, and she made no attempt to hide her emotion; as Rick was led from the courtroom I gave her a sideways glance and saw the tears running down her face.
That night Emma and I went to Northwood for the weekend, and Alyson and her children joined us there. The mood over supper was subdued, and afterwards Eric and Anna gravitated up to Emma’s room. Alyson and I helped my mother clean up and wash the dishes; my mother made a pot of tea, and the three of us sat down around the kitchen table to drink it. It was early May now and the evenings were lengthening; we had left the curtains open and the lights off in the kitchen.
It was my mother who finally asked, “Alyson, my dear, are you going to be all right financially?”
“It’ll be a bit tough, I expect, but we’ll get by. When Rick’s inheritance from his father comes through it will be a big help, but until then we’ll have to be very careful with our money. We’ve talked about selling the house and getting something smaller, but of course we’re going to have to find something that’s wheelchair-accessible – or that we can make wheelchair-accessible – and that’s going to be quite expensive”.
“Can I help you at all?”
“Thank you, Irene, but I’d rather not make a dent in the money you’ve got left to live on. Rick and I talked about that, too”.
“It’s a big decision, to sell your house”.
“Well, when Rick gets out of prison he’ll probably have to find something else to do, since lawyers who’ve done jail time don’t tend to find it easy to get clients. For a while I’ll probably have to be the main wage earner, and my salary won’t pay the mortgage on that place, I’m afraid. We’re going to have to get used to a different lifestyle; we’ve talked a lot about what that means for us”.
“It sounds as if things are a lot better between you and Rick”, I observed.
She nodded; “Yes, they are”. She sat back in her chair, a thoughtful expression on her face, and said, “I’ve watched Sarah and Rick together, you know; for some reason, Sarah’s been able to get past her injury and not hold it against him. I expect she’s had some long talks with Emma about that”. She smiled at me. “Also”, she continued. “for the past three weeks or so I’ve been going to an open AA meeting with Rick, and it’s been quite an eye-opener for me; it’s really helped me to understand what it feels like to be an addict. But actually, I think it was my mum and dad who had the most to do with improving things between Rick and me”.
“Your mum and dad?” I said.
“Yes, and the ironic thing is that they intended exactly the opposite! They told me that they would be willing and able to support the children and me financially for as long as we needed it, but only if I left Rick and filed for divorce”.
“Did they, indeed!” my mother replied indignantly.
“I’m afraid so. Well, I shouldn’t be too critical of them; in the weeks after the accident, the thought had often been in my mind, too. But when they made that offer it forced me to decide what I really wanted. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I really wanted was my husband; I wanted to try to fix things between us so that we’d be able to do the best we could for Sarah in the years ahead”. She looked at me, and I saw the sadness in her eyes; “Of course, in the short term, that’s not going to be very easy”, she said.
“I guess not”.
“It’s going to be very difficult for the kids, especially when the word gets around at school that their dad is in prison”.
“Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Well, I think the first thing I need to do is sell the house and get somewhere smaller and more affordable. I was actually thinking of somewhere on your side of town, Tom, in Headington or Marston, where we’d all be a bit closer together”.
I hesitated, and then said, “Don’t base your decision on Emma and me; it’s not absolutely certain that we’ll be staying where we are”.
“Well, right now the prospect is about fifty-fifty of Emma staying in England or moving back to Canada”.
There was a silence in the kitchen for a moment, and then my mother said, “I’ve been afraid of this. It’s perfectly understandable that she should want to go home, of course, but we’ve all become so fond of her, Tom”.
“I know”, I replied, “and, of course, that’s not the end of it”.
She put her hand on mine. “It raises some big questions for you, too, doesn’t it?”
“I’m afraid so”.
“You mean that you might move back to Canada too?” Alyson asked.
“I mean that I really don’t know what I would do. If she decides to go back to Canada, every possible course of action for me means a separation of some kind”. I smiled at my mother ruefully; “Some people would say my past actions were coming home to haunt me”.
She shook her head. “Don’t blame yourself for what happened long ago; you did what you thought you had to do, and we all had a part in it”.
“But what about you and Wendy?” Alyson asked.
“I know; believe me, I’m well aware of the consequences of all this”.
“I had no idea this was even an issue”.
“No; we haven’t talked about it a lot. Emma hasn’t even said much about it to me, but I know she’s thinking about it. The Reimers are an extremely close family; Emma’s cousins are more like brothers and sisters to her. And she’s lived in Meadowvale all her life, and she loves the area, and before we heard about Dad’s illness she was really looking forward to going to university in Saskatoon. God knows, I was finding it hard enough to come to terms with the idea of her moving ninety miles away to Saskatoon! For a while early last year, when we were discussing a possible move to England, she was thinking seriously about staying in Canada and letting me come here on my own. Now it’s the other way around; she might be the one to leave, and me to stay”. I shook my head and looked at Alyson. “Anyway”, I said, “this isn’t about me and my problems; Emma and I will work it out, one way or the other, and I know she’s going to want to continue to be in close contact with her cousins here, no matter what she decides to do”.
“I’d love to say that her cousins will come to visit her if she moves back to Canada”, Alyson said, “but it’s going to be rather tight for us financially for the next year or so”.
“I understand, and she will as well; I’m sure all of this is in her mind as she’s weighing her options”. I got to my feet and went over to the counter where the teapot was sitting. “Anyone want some more tea?” I asked.
“Yes, please”, my mother replied.
“None for me, thank you”.
I refilled my mother’s cup and then emptied the pot into my own mug. “You sure you don’t want any more?” I asked Alyson; “I could make another pot”.
“I think I’ve had enough”, she replied, getting to her feet. “Actually, I’m very tired, so I think I’ll say good night and go and find my bed, if you don’t mind?”
“Have you got everything you need up there?” my mother asked.
“Yes, thank you, Irene”, Alyson replied. She bent to kiss my mother on the cheek, smiled at me, and then slipped out of the room. I put the teapot back down on the counter and sat down again beside my mother. We were quiet for a moment, listening to the sound of Alyson’s footsteps going up the back staircase to her room.
“I hope she’s all right”, my mother said. “You’d think I would know her quite well after all these years, but sometimes I’m still not sure what’s going on in her head. But I thought it might be a difficult night for her, and I didn’t want her to have to be alone”.
“It was good of you to invite them out here; I’m sure they appreciated it”.
“I can’t help wondering how poor Rick’s finding his first night in prison”.
“It won’t be too bad, Mum; he’ll be in a minimum security institution, and I doubt if he’ll serve the whole year”.
“You think they’ll let him out early?”
“If Rick was his own lawyer, he’d already be preparing for the hearing”.
“How long do you think?”
“Six months, I’d guess”.
“You’d think after being married to a lawyer for all these years I would know these things…” Her voice trailed away, and as I scanned her face I saw the tears in her eyes. I moved my chair toward her a little and put my arm around her, and I felt her head come down on my shoulder. “Oh, Tom”, she whispered, “What am I going to do without him?”
“I know”, I replied softly.
“I walk around this house and I keep expecting to see him”.
“I know; you’re so used to going into a room and seeing him there, and you just can’t get your head around the idea that he’s gone now”.
I felt her shaking her head against my shoulder; I kissed her forehead, and for a few minutes we said nothing. Eventually she moved away, wiping her eyes on a handkerchief. “Look at me”, she said; “this isn’t helping anyone, is it?”
“You don’t have to help anyone”, I replied softly; “This is about helping you, and if you need to have a good cry, then go ahead. I know what it feels like”.
She nodded; “I know”.
I pointed to her mug; “Your tea’s getting cold”.
She laughed suddenly; “Now you sound like me!”
“Well, I could do worse”.
She drank some of her tea, cradled the mug in her hands and said, “How long did it take for you to get over Kelly?”
“I’m not sure how you decide when you’re ‘over’ someone. I still miss her. Mind you, I don’t find myself suddenly in tears with no warning any more, like I did for the first couple of years”.
“So that’s normal, is it?” she asked, staring into her mug.
“Well, it was for me, anyway; how about you?”
“I wake up crying in the night, and I don’t remember if it was a dream that started it, or what it was”, she whispered. “I can be busy doing something in here, and suddenly without any warning I break down”.
“Yeah – that’s how it was for me, too”.
“So, I’m not going crazy, then?”
I smiled and put my hand on her arm. “Of course you’re not going crazy, Mum”, I replied; “You’re one of the sanest people I know, actually”.
“Well, that’s reassuring, anyway!”
We both laughed, and I smiled at her and said, “It was good to see you and Dad happy together in the last few weeks”.
She nodded; “It was as if we went back to the beginning again, only without leaving behind anything that had happened in between”, she said. “It seems almost cruel, now, though – to have had him back for such a short period of time”.
“Were you angry when Kelly died?”
“Who were you angry with?”
“Doctors, for taking her from me and making her spend most of the last six months of her life in hospital. But I know they were only doing their best to save her. I was angry with God, mostly, for not giving her back to me”.
“But you got over that?”
“I suppose so. After a while it just didn’t seem to make any sense going around the same unanswerable questions over and over again. Kelly’s death was pretty hard to fit into my view of God, but the world made even less sense to me when I left God out of it altogether”. I paused, and then said, “Dad and I actually talked about this stuff not long before he died, you know”.
“He told me about that”.
“It was an amazing conversation – totally unexpected. It was one of those nights when I was sitting up in his room – I think it might actually have been the first night, after you’d gone over to Becca’s flat, and Lisa and Wendy had left. He woke up about four o’clock in the morning, and we started talking about things. I’ve got no idea how we got onto life after death, and Kelly, and God, but we had quite a good talk actually”. I took a sip of my tea, glanced at her, and said, “You never told me Dad had been a believer when he was younger”.
“He rarely talked about that part of his life, and he had already lost his faith when we first started seeing each other. He did tell me about it once or twice, but it already seemed such a minor thing to him. Later on, of course, being an atheist became such a big part of his view of things that it was easy to forget he hadn’t always felt that way. But I think he softened a bit in the end; that was your doing, Tom”.
“Emma had a lot to do with it as well”.
“You talked about that with him, didn’t you?”
“Yes. He told me that we hadn’t made a believer out of him, but we had succeeded in giving him doubts about his doubts. A few nights later he had a long talk with Emma about it, too”.
“That’s what he told me”.
“Did you know ahead of time about those instructions he left for his funeral – the ones you gave to me?”
“I’ve wondered a few times what that meant”.
“It meant that you and Emma had impressed him with the genuineness of your faith, and that you’d opened his mind to the possibility that there might be something in it”.
“You and Dad talked about that too?”
“You did talk a lot in the last few weeks, didn’t you?”
“For hours and hours”. She looked away from me; “Some days we talked from the time he got up until his afternoon nap”, she whispered, “and then again until he was too tired to carry on in the evening”.
“What did you talk about?”
“Everything. We talked about you children, and the things you’d done and the struggles you’d had. We talked about our courting days and the early years of our marriage and the days when you and Rick were little boys when we were living in Summertown. We talked about our memories of childhood before the war, and how much the world has changed. We talked about our grandchildren and how proud we were of them; your Dad was especially pleased to have had the chance to get to know Emma this past year, and it meant so much to him that she obviously liked him and enjoyed his company. We talked about Rick and Alyson and Sarah and the troubles they were having, and Becca and how much we hoped things would work out with her and Mike. And we talked about you and Wendy too; we weren’t exactly sure at the time whether there was anything special happening between the two of you, but we suspected there was, especially after you brought Lisa out for a visit and we saw the way you and Wendy acted toward each other”.
“Dad and I talked about Wendy”.
“Yes, he told me what you’d said”.
“No keeping secrets around this place, is there?”
“Not for the last few weeks, anyway – time was too short”. I saw her bottom lip beginning to quiver; “It was far too short”, she repeated, and I saw the tears in her eyes again. I put my arm around her, and this time as she turned and laid her head on my shoulder she whispered, “I miss him so much, Tom! God, how I miss him! I knew when Kelly died that it must be terrible for you, but I had absolutely no idea how terrible”.
I didn’t answer; instead, I held her a little more closely and kissed her gently. The house was quiet except for the sound of someone moving around upstairs, and I guessed that Alyson was getting ready for bed in one of the rooms in the old servants’ quarters.
Eventually my mother lifted her head from my shoulder, smiled at me through her tears, and wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “Thank you”, she said softly.
She got to her feet slowly, moved over to the window and drew the curtains shut. “I think there’s still some Scotch left in that bottle we opened a few weeks ago”, she said; “Would you like a little?”
“That would be fine”.
“Can you reach up and get it down from the cupboard for me?”
I got up, went to the cupboard above the fridge and took down the bottle of Glenlivet. My mother took down two glasses, put ice in them from the fridge, and poured the amber liquid into each glass. “Shall we take it through to the living room?” she asked; “We could sit in the comfy chairs and put our feet up”.
“Let’s do that”, I agreed.
I went to bed just after midnight, but for some reason – probably the mixture of three cups of tea and a glass of Scotch – I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake in my bed for a while, tossing and turning; eventually I sat up, turned on the bedside light, and read for a while. At about one o’clock I got up to use the bathroom and then slipped quietly down the stairs to the kitchen for a glass of cold water from the fridge. I was surprised to see a light under the kitchen door, and when I pushed it open I found Emma sitting at the table in her pyjamas and housecoat, a mug of hot chocolate at her elbow, reading a book.
“Couldn’t sleep either?” I asked.
“I slept for a while, but then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep”.
“What are you reading?”
She closed the book and lifted it up to show me the cover. “It’s yours, actually”, she replied; “The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry”.
“Ah”. I moved over to the sink, rinsed out a glass and then opened the fridge and poured myself some cold water; “What do you think?” I asked.
“I think he’s brilliant; I love his descriptions of nature”.
“Yeah, he’s very gifted that way. He’s a very visual poet, isn’t he?”
“Totally. I like the things that annoy him, too – I think he’s a curmudgeon of some kind, isn’t he?”
I sat down beside her at the table and took a sip of my water; “I think so”, I replied. “Do you have any particular favourites so far?”
We poured over the book together for a while; she read me the poems that had particularly touched her, and I shared some of the ones I liked best. Eventually she closed the book, smiled at me, and said, “I love talking about poetry with you, Dad”.
“Yeah, it is kind of nice, isn’t it?”
She hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Since you’re here – can we talk about what we’re going to do now that Grandpa’s gone?”
“What do you want to do, Dad?”
I looked down at the empty water glass on the table in front of me. “I’m torn, of course”, I replied. “If you go back to Saskatchewan, part of me wants to go with you, so we can keep talking about poetry together”. We smiled at each other, and I continued, “But it won’t be any surprise to you that there’s a lot of things keeping me here, too. I love Wendy, and I would very much like our future to be together”.
“You mean you want to marry her?”
“Well, she and I haven’t talked about that, but yes, the thought has occurred to me”.
“I’m not surprised; I’d be really happy for you, Dad”.
“Thank you. Then there are a few other factors, too. My Mum is in particular need of some help right now, and I’m the one who can best give it to her, since I know what it’s like to lose your spouse to cancer. And sooner or later she’s going to have to decide what to do about this enormous house. She’s a very practical person, as you know, and I can’t see her staying here by herself for ever; she’s in good health now, but even so, looking after the grounds and the garden and the repairs and maintenance and everything is going to be a lot of work for her. She’s going to need some help with all that”.
I got to my feet slowly, took my glass to the fridge and poured myself some more water. “Then there’s Alyson and the children”, I continued. “She’s going to need a lot of support while Rick’s in jail. It won’t be long now till Sarah comes home, and that’s going to present them with a whole new set of challenges. Also, they can’t really afford to stay in that house; Alyson wants to sell it and get something smaller and more wheelchair-accessible, and that’s going to be a big job for her by herself”. I leaned against the kitchen counter, took a sip of my water, and said, “Those are just a few of the things I’m thinking about”.
She nodded; “Those are some pretty strong reasons for staying”.
“But you’ve got other things in mind, haven’t you?”
“Being close to our other family again”.
“Yeah”. She gave a little frown; “Dad, would you come and sit down beside me again?”
“Okay”, I replied with a smile, moving back over to the table and taking my seat at her side. She took my hand in hers, and as I looked at her face I saw the childlike expression there; for a moment she looked much younger than her eighteen years. “Please don’t be mad at me, okay?” she said.
I shook my head; “I’m not mad, I promise you”.
“It’s just that, when we came over here, it wasn’t meant to be permanent; I put things on hold so that we could be close to Grandma and Grandpa, and so that you and Grandpa could make things right before he died, and I know that was the right thing for us to do. But it’s been hard, Dad; I haven’t talked about it a lot, but I’ve really missed home and the people there”.
“I know you have”.
“And there’s another part of me that says, well, my other grandma and grandpa aren’t getting any younger, either”.
“Everything’s set for me to go to Oxford Brookes, and that would be really good, but there’s a big part of me that just wants to abandon it all and go home, and go to Saskatoon as soon as I can. I could share an apartment with Jake and Jenna, and we could be together all the time”.
I nodded; “You’d really enjoy that”.
She shook her head slowly, and when she spoke again, her voice was so quiet that I could barely hear her. “You’re not coming, are you, Dad?”
I turned away, feeling the lump in my throat. I felt her grip tighten on my hand, but for a long time I sat in silence, struggling with my feelings. Out in the corridor the grandfather clock struck two.
Eventually I turned back to her and said, “I feel really torn, Em. I love you so much, and I love the folks back home, too, and miss them”. I smiled at her, reaching over to touch her cheek. “You’ve grown into such a wonderful young woman; your mom would have been so proud of you. It’s so great to see you making your way in the world, and yet still working at being a follower of Jesus. I know that sooner or later you’re going to leave home and make your own life, but I want to be close enough that I can watch that happen and be there if and when you need me”.
I paused, struggling to control my emotions. “But there are people here who need me, and there’s Wendy too. And, Em, please understand that as much as I love Meadowvale, for me the thing that stands out the most about it is that your Mom isn’t there any more. Much as I love Will and Sally and the rest of our family, for me to go back to Meadowvale would be to go back to loneliness. And I’ve had enough of loneliness, Em; can you understand that?”
She nodded, and I saw the tears brimming in her eyes. “I can, Daddy”, she whispered.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t go back if I thought it was what I was meant to do”, I said. “I mean, it would be hard, but sometimes God asks us to do hard things, and if I really thought I was being asked to do it, I would. But I can’t believe any of the unexpected things that have happened this past year have been an accident. I think God has brought Wendy and me together, and Lisa and me too. And I think that God has some things for me to do to help your Grandma, and Rick and Alyson, and Sarah and Eric and Anna. I can’t duck out on that, Em. I have to stay”.
The tears were running down her face now, and the next thing I knew we were holding each other tight. I felt her body shaking, and suddenly I was crying too, and we were clinging to each other desperately, as if we were afraid that if we let go some powerful force would wrench us apart.
Eventually a sort of stillness came over us; we shifted our bodies slightly, and I felt her head coming down on my shoulder; I kissed her lightly on the top of her head. “I love you”, I whispered.
“I love you, too”.
We were quiet again for a moment, and then she said, “I’d miss my cousins here too – and my sister”.
“I thought you might”.
“I’ve gotten kind of attached to them”.
“I think it’s mutual”.
“I’m going to have to think hard about this, Dad”.
“I understand that”.
She lifted her head from my shoulder, kissed me on the cheek, and took my hand again. “I don’t know how long the thinking’s going to take, either”.
“Dad, are you going to talk to Wendy about getting married?”
I gave her a wry grin; “You know how to ask ‘em, don’t you?”
She frowned; “Are you scared?”
I hesitated, then said, “Yes – I suppose I am a little scared”.
“What are you scared of?”
“All kinds of thing. I’m scared that I’m still too sad about your mom to really be able to give Wendy the sort of love she needs. I’m scared that what Wendy and I can achieve together won’t be as good as what I had with your mom. I’m scared that I’ll fall into the trap of comparing her with your mom, and not wanting to put her through all of that. Yeah – if you must know, I am quite scared”.
“But you love each other”.
“Don’t be scared, Dad”, she whispered. “You’re a good man, and Wendy’s a great person. I think you’re right – I think God brought you together. I think you should ask her”.
She smiled at me, and for a long moment I looked at her, wondering, not for the first time, where at her age she had gotten wisdom beyond her years. Eventually I said, “Thanks, Em; I think I needed to hear that”.
“You’re welcome”, she said; “Sorry if I was going too far”.
“No, you weren’t going too far”.
“Good”. She sat back a little, stretching her arms over her head. “Well”, she said, “I think I’d better go back to bed and try to get some sleep”.
“Me, too”, I replied as we both got to our feet. “May I walk you to your room, Miss Masefield?”
She laughed and put her hand in my arm. “Lead the way, kind sir!” she said.