Tom and Kelly’s story.

Well, I think I can safely say that there is going to be a prequel to A Time to Mend.

The draft has now reached four hundred and thirty pages. It tells the story of Tom and Kelly’s marriage. Of course, readers of A Time to Mend will know that this story will have a sad ending. I hope, however, that it will be a good story. It probably won’t be up here for a while yet, though.

I also know that the story has surprised me a couple of times, in ways that will necessitate some further revisions to A Time to Mend. Oh well.

A Time to Mend – Chapter 32

Link to Chapter 31

In mid-December Owen and Wendy and I played a Saturday night concert together at the ‘Plough and Lantern’. Bill Prentiss was retiring at the end of the year, and he had decided to spend the autumn bringing in some of his favourite amateur musicians from the thirty years he had been hosting live music at the ‘Plough’. Wendy had taken a little persuading, especially as the date for the concert was only a couple of weeks after our wedding. We had decided to wait until after Christmas to go away for a honeymoon, but still she dragged her feet about the concert for a long time, and before she finally agreed to it she extracted a solemn promise from Owen and Bill that there would be no public mention of the fact that she and I were newlyweds.

It was Wendy’s idea to make the occasion a Christmas concert, and this meant that the three of us had to do a lot of learning and rehearsing of songs, as we had never had much Christmas material in our repertoire. Once we started, though, we discovered that there was a lot of traditional Christmas music we all liked, and we enjoyed creating new arrangements, learning harmonies, and weaving in the instruments Owen had learned to play over the years, including the cittern and the octave mandolin. Wendy also had the idea of making the occasion a fundraiser for the Oxford Gatehouse, and Bill readily agreed to put out a donation box.

 

Wendy and I arrived at the ‘Plough’ around seven o’clock in the evening; Owen was already there setting up the sound equipment, and he gave us a cheery wave from the small stage as we came in. The place was about half full, and behind the hum of conversation I could hear Christmas music playing in the background. Bill came out from behind the bar and greeted us with warm handshakes. “Congratulations!” he said with a wide grin; “I hear the wedding went well?”

“It was lovely, thank you, Bill”, Wendy replied.

“You’re not going away yet, though, I hear?”

“No, we’re going to Ireland for a week after Christmas. Actually, we’ve been spending a lot of time this past couple of weeks fixing up our new house”.

“Ah, so you got the new place, did you?”

“My house was a bit small for five people”, Wendy explained, “so we bought a slightly larger one up in Marston, not far from Tom and Emma’s old house”.

“And it’s been plenty of work for you, no doubt?”

“Well, it helps that Wendy’s son Colin is an enthusiastic carpenter”, I replied; “He built all our kitchen cabinets for us, and he and my daughter Emma have been helping us out with the painting and decorating”.

“Is your son in school?” Bill asked Wendy.

“He started a carpentry apprenticeship program in September. And Emma started her nursing degree at the same time, so they’ve been working on the house with us in their time off”.

Owen had stepped down from the stage and threaded his way between the tables toward us. He greeted Wendy with a hug and a kiss, clapped me on the back with a grin, and said, “You look outrageously happy; married life obviously agrees with you!”

“I think so; I think I might just have beaten the odds and gotten lucky twice in a row!”

We all laughed, and Wendy took my arm and said, “You keep forgetting that I’m the lucky one here”.

“It’s our only argument so far”, I said to Owen with a grin, “and she just won’t admit that she’s lost it!”

“That’s because I haven’t!” she replied mischievously.

“See?” I said; “If this keeps up, we’re going to need marriage counseling!”

Bill laughed; “Well, it’s good to see you two looking so happy”, he said. “Would either of you like anything from the bar to be going along with?”

“Maybe a bit later”, I replied; “I think we should get busy with the sound checks now”.

 

We had wanted to be married before Christmas, and our window of opportunity turned out to be quite small; Rick had been released from prison two weeks before, and we had not wanted to leave it much later because of the busy time around the Christmas holidays. So we had settled on the last Saturday in November.

Stephen Jeffreys had been delighted to officiate at our wedding, although he had taken me to task light-heartedly for stealing Wendy from his congregation and making an Anabaptist of her. He had been very happy to have Rees participate with him in the service. Wendy’s parents were there, of course, looking quite frail, but obviously very happy about our marriage. All the members of my immediate family were there, including Sarah in her wheelchair, and Joe and Ellie had come from Meadowvale, along with Will and Sally. Merton College hosted the reception; Owen had been the master of ceremonies, and of course he had roasted us enthusiastically, regaling the guests with stories about me going all the way back to the first day we met. Afterwards Wendy and I had slipped away to a nearby hotel for the rest of the weekend before driving back in to work on Monday morning.

Early in the planning process my mother had asked us why we wanted to get married in late November, when neither of us could take the time to have a proper honeymoon. “Why not have the wedding after Christmas?” she asked, “and then you could go straight off afterwards”.

Wendy shook her head and said, “The thing is, Irene, we want to have this Christmas together, as a family. We don’t want to have to wait until next year for that”.

I saw the understanding in my mother’s eyes, and she reached out to give Wendy a warm hug. She had been doing a lot of hugging since my father died; we had all noticed that she had abandoned some of the reserve that had characterized her for as long as I could remember. At the wedding, before Wendy and I slipped away, she held us both close with tears in her eyes, whispering in my ear, “I only wish your Dad could have lived to see this”.

 

Mike and Becca brought my mother to the concert, arriving at about a quarter to eight. Becca had an engagement ring on her finger now; the day after our return from Canada she and Mike had come to visit us and tell us the news, and she had been delighted to discover that Wendy and I were also engaged. She and Mike were planning a summer wedding; they had bought a small house in Oxford, and while they fixed it up they were staying out at Northwood with my mother. My little sister had an air of contentment about her that I had not seen in years.

I saw them coming in as Owen and I finished a final tuning of the instruments on the little stage: our two guitars, and Owen’s cittern and octave mandolin. My mother and Mike waved as they found a seat at a table toward the middle of the room, and Becca came over to the stage to chat for a minute. “All ready, then?” she asked me.

“Pretty well”.

“Are you nervous?” she asked Wendy.

“Just a bit!”

“I don’t know why”, Owen said with a smile; “She knows the songs well, and her voice is as gorgeous as ever”.

“Of course it is”, Becca replied, “and you three sound better than you’ve ever sounded before”. We had done some of our practicing out at my mother’s home, in the big piano room, and Becca had listened in on a couple of our rehearsals.

At that moment I saw Emma, Lisa and Colin coming in; Emma had spent the afternoon with Sarah, including supper with the family, and she had then driven back to Marston to pick Lisa and Colin up. A young man of about Emma’s age was with them; his name was Andy Gates, and he was a student of Wendy’s at Merton. He had been coming to our little church since early September, and he and Emma had been seeing quite a lot of each other lately.

Emma had started her nursing degree in the Fall, and it was obvious to me that she was loving every minute of it. Her course load was heavy, and she often sat up late at night studying; she also continued to spend a lot of time with Sarah, and she went out to visit my mother at least once a week. I had no idea how she and Andy were finding the time to date; I had asked him about this once, not long after they started going out, and he had smiled and said to me, “I’m as busy as she is, Tom, but at least we can sit together at church!”

“Excuse me a minute”, I said to Wendy and Owen, and I stepped down from the stage and went over to greet our children. Lisa had a backpack full of books and papers slung over her shoulder; she was in the final year of her degree program now, and the workload was punishing. “You brought some work with you, I see?” I observed.

“Hope you don’t mind”, she replied apologetically; “I’ve got that paper due on Monday”.

“Of course not; hopefully we don’t distract you too much! How are you, Andy?”

“I’m okay, thanks, Tom; hoping to get a few extra marks for coming to watch my tutor sing!”

I put my arm around Emma; “Is Sarah all right?” I asked her.

“She’s fine; Uncle Rick and Auntie Alyson are coming in a few minutes”.

“Oh, good – I didn’t know if they’d be able to”.

Wendy appeared quietly at my shoulder; she handed me a bottle of water and said, “Something to drink before we start?”

“Thanks”.

“This must be so weird for you three, playing here again”, Emma observed; “Do you feel as if you’ve stepped into a time warp or something?”

Wendy smiled at me before replying. “I can close my eyes up there and imagine we’re all three students here again”, she said, “except that your Dad and Owen never played this well when they were students!”

“It’s the instruments”, I said with a grin; “We were trying to play on crappy guitars in those days!”

We all laughed, and Wendy took my arm and said, “No, you’re a much better player now than you were then, and so is Owen”.

“Well, I suppose there’s no substitute for twenty more years of practice”.

“I’m just going to step outside for a minute of fresh air before things get going here”, said Wendy.

“Maybe I’ll come with you”.
Outside, the December air was cold. There was a small patio area in front of the pub, with steps leading down to Walton Street. We walked hand in hand down to the street, the wind lifting Wendy’s hair from her shoulders. “What about you?” she asked as we rested our backs against the low patio wall; “Are you nervous?”

“No, not really”.

She moved a little closer, and I put my arm around her. “How are you doing tonight, Mrs. Masefield?” I asked.

She turned her head and looked up at me, and after a moment she reached up and touched my cheek with her fingers. “I like the sound of that name”, she whispered; “I like it a lot”.

I bent and kissed her lightly on the lips; “I’m glad”, I replied.

She leaned back a little, looking at me with a sudden intensity in her eyes. “What?” I asked.

She shook her head; “I’m just trying to work out what exactly I did to deserve you”, she replied. “I can’t, though. I never expected to get a second chance; I expected to be alone for the rest of my life”.

I drew her close again; “Me too”, I whispered.

We stood there quietly for a few minutes, watching the cars go by on Walton Street; I recognized my brother’s car and waved as he turned off toward the car park around the back of the pub. Eventually I said, “Well, shall we go in and do our stuff?”

“It’s about that time, is it?”

“I think so”.

“Well, lead the way, my man”.

Back in the pub I saw Owen chatting with Lorraine beside the stage. Bill Prentiss was standing just inside the door looking at his watch, and when he saw us coming in he smiled and said, “About ready, then?”

“Ready as we’ll ever be”, I replied.

The bar was almost full now, and we threaded our way between the tables to where Owen and Lorraine were standing; I saw Rick and Alyson sitting with my mother and Mike and Becca, and I greeted them with a wave. Owen smiled at us and said, “Ready then?”

“Let’s do it”, I replied.

He led us up onto the little stage; we sat down on high stools as the people in the pub applauded, and Owen and I picked up our instruments and plugged in our patch cords. Owen looked questioningly at Bill Prentiss, wondering if he was going to introduce us, but Bill smiled and gestured for him to continue. Owen leaned toward his microphone, his octave mandolin in his hands, and said, “Welcome to the last of Bill’s nostalgia concerts”.

Everyone in the pub laughed, and he continued, “How about a big round of applause for Bill?

He’s been a loyal supporter of live folk music in Oxford for over thirty years, and there must be hundreds of people in that time who got their first taste of performing here at the Plough. Bill Prentiss, everyone!”

There was a tremendous outburst of applause, cheers and whistles, and Bill smiled and waved from behind the bar. When the noise died down, Owen spoke into his microphone again. “The three of us sang together on this stage back in the spring when the Ferrymen played a gig here”, he said, “but we haven’t actually had a gig by ourselves since the spring of 1982, when we all had a lot less grey hair”. He waved his hand toward Wendy and me; “This is Tom and Wendy Masefield”, he said with a mischievous grin, “and I’m Owen Foster, and for tonight, we’re Lincoln Green”. He leaned back from the mike and nodded at me; I played a single chord on my guitar, Owen counted us in, and the three of us began to sing simultaneously:

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray –
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy”.

THE END

A Time to Mend – Chapter 31

We were climbing the Edith Cavell Meadows Trail in Jasper National Park. Emma was ahead of me, dressed in shorts, a hiking shirt and a ball cap, a backpack on her back and her trekking pole in her hand. We were above the boreal forest now; away to our left the vast green slope of the valley wall was rising toward a grey ridge. To our right the ground sloped down sharply toward the glacial valley far below, and on the far side the looming bulk of Mount Edith Cavell dominated the horizon. It was a clear sunlit day, not too hot, perfect for this sort of climbing, and we could see other people on the trail, both above and below us. Emma and I had done this particular climb many times; she was in her element, striding confidently ahead, using her trekking pole to help on the steep parts, stopping from time to time to catch her breath, enjoy the scenery and allow the rest of us to catch up. Wendy was following me, and Colin and Lisa were bringing up the rear.

Emma had flown to Saskatchewan the first week of July, and the rest of us had followed right after my school term finished. We had spent two weeks in Meadowvale, with Wendy and her children staying at Joe and Ellie’s house, and Emma and I staying with Kelly’s parents. We had introduced Wendy and the children to our family and friends, taken them on day trips to nearby lakes and spent a couple of days in Prince Albert National Park with Krista and Steve and their children. Emma had obviously relished the company of her Reimer cousins; they had gone for long walks and sat up late at night talking, and she and Jake had played music together on their guitars for hours at a time. Occasionally they had invited me to join them, and a couple of times I had persuaded Wendy to sing with us as well.

I had rented a minivan for our long trip; we had driven to Saskatoon to see two Shakespeare plays, and had then made the journey west into Alberta to Edmonton, where we had spent the weekend on Gallagher Hill listening to the likes of Earl Scruggs, Martin Simpson, Ani DiFranco and Jerry Douglas at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Wendy had lapped it all up, wandering from one small stage to another, sampling the many different musical styles on offer; even Lisa, who was not a real folkie, had admitted by the end of the weekend that she had had a great time.

The next day we had driven west to Jasper. I had borrowed a couple of tents and some camping gear from various friends and relatives in Meadowvale, and we had set up camp at the Whistler’s campground not far from town, booking our site for a week to give us plenty of time for exploring. Knowing that Lisa was not an outdoor person, Emma and I had deliberately planned to make the first couple of days’ hikes relatively easy, with a slightly more ambitious trek around the Valley of the Five Lakes on the third day. Now, on the fourth day, we had decided to attempt the Edith Cavell Meadows trail, a 750 metre climb starting in the boreal forest, trekking past glacial moraine, and then up into the alpine meadows and the bare rocks above them. It had been one of Kelly’s favourite climbs in Jasper, and we had done it almost every year when we visited the park.

I saw Emma stop and lean on her trekking pole, looking back at me with a grin. “What a fantastic day!” she said as I caught up with her.

“We couldn’t have asked for better weather”, I replied.

After a moment I felt Wendy’s hand on my arm, and I turned to her with a smile. Like Emma she was wearing shorts and a hiking shirt, with a Tilley hat to protect her face from the sun, and I could see the sweat running down her tanned cheeks. We had all been out of doors a lot over the past couple of weeks, and we were as brown as berries.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“I’m fine”, she replied, leaning on me a little for support; “It’s quite a steep climb, though, isn’t it?”

“It is. We don’t have to go all the way to the top if you don’t want to”.

“No, I do want to. I’m not sure if Lisa will make it all the way up, though”. We turned and watched as Colin and Lisa climbed slowly up the trail toward us. Colin was in pretty good shape, but he was obviously taking his time to help his sister out. Lisa was visibly tired, leaning on her trekking pole for support, and stopping frequently to get her breath.

“There’s a viewpoint not too far ahead”, I said. “We can stop there for a rest and a bite to eat, and if Lisa doesn’t want to go any further, I’ll stop and wait with her. I know Emma’s not going to be satisfied until she gets to the top; the view from up there’s pretty spectacular”.

“But you want to go all the way up too, don’t you?”

“I’d like to, but I don’t mind; I’ve seen it lots of times”.

Wendy took off her hat, wiped the sweat from her eyes with a handkerchief, and smiled at Emma. “You’re a real mountain goat, Em!” she said; “Don’t you ever get tired?”

“I’ll be tired at the end of the day, but it’ll be a good kind of tired”.

“Aren’t your legs sore?”

“A little”.

Wendy grinned at me again; “I didn’t realize how much of a mountaineer you are”.

“I’m not really a mountaineer; I like to follow a trail”.

“But it’s a pretty challenging trail”.

At that moment Colin and Lisa reached us; Lisa was breathing hard, and without a word she sat down on a rock, took off her hat and wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand. Emma shrugged her backpack off her shoulders, took out an extra bottle of water, unscrewed the cap and handed it to her sister. “Have some water”, she said; “It’ll help”.

Lisa took the bottle, lifted it to her lips, and tilted her head back to drink deeply. After a moment she handed the bottle back to Emma; “Thanks”, she said. Reaching for her mother’s arm, she pulled herself to her feet, grinned doggedly at Emma, and said, “God, you’re in good shape! I feel like a pathetic wimp up here; you can tell I’m not an outdoors sort of girl, can’t you?”

“You’re doing pretty good, actually”, Emma replied; “Considering that you haven’t been used to this sort of thing, you’ve done well to get this high”.

“There’s a viewpoint about ten minutes further ahead”, I said; “We can eat our sandwiches and rest there for a while”.

“Don’t want to rest too long, though”, Emma added, “or our legs will just get stiff”.

“But if you want to wait there”, I said to Lisa, “I’ll wait with you while the others go to the top”.

“How much further is the top?” Lisa asked.

“Oh, I’d say a good forty-five minutes to an hour, at the pace we’re going”. I turned and gestured to the grey ridge off to our left, pointing to the peaks rising from it against the blue sky. “We don’t go all the way to the highest peak”, I said.

“Well, we could”, Emma interrupted mischievously.

I took a playful swipe at her head; “You’re not helping, Miss Mountain Goat!”

“Have you really been all the way to the top of the highest one?” Colin asked.

“We’ve made it up there a couple of times”, I replied. “When Kelly was alive she never stopped until she got to the very top, but the official trail doesn’t go that far – it goes to that one over there”, I added, pointing toward a closer peak.

“But just remember”, Emma added – “when we finish the climb and get back down to the campsite, we can go to Annette Lake and swim”.

“Right!” Lisa retorted with a wry grin; “You’re trying to comfort me with the thought of a lake that feels like it’s fed by a glacier!”

“It’s not actually fed by a glacier”, Emma replied playfully; “Now there are lakes here that are fed by glaciers, if you want…”

It was Lisa’s turn to take a swipe at Emma’s head. “I didn’t realize before just how annoying you can be!” she exclaimed; “Shouldn’t I be able to shut you up or something? Shouldn’t being the older sister count for something?”

We all laughed; I took off my hat, ran the back of my hand across my sweaty forehead, and said, “We should get going”.

 

After we ate our sandwiches at the viewpoint, Lisa and I stayed behind while the other three went to the top of the trail. She was obviously very tired, but I warned her against simply sitting down and waiting for an hour and a half; her muscles would get very stiff and she would be limping all the way back down to the valley below. So we walked around the bare open space, enjoying the views of the surrounding peaks, and the Angel Glacier spread out ghost-like on the face of Mount Edith Cavell across from us. There were other people coming and going as well, gazing around at the view, taking photographs, eating food and drinking from bottles of water.

“It really is spectacular”, Lisa said quietly, looking up at the Angel Glacier. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to a glacier before. And I don’t think the photographs are going to do it justice”.

“No, they never do; they never give you the sense of how massive everything is”.

She smiled at me; “It’s quite a contrast with the wide open spaces back in Saskatchewan”.

“Those wide open spaces have a charm of their own, though”.

She sat down on a grey rock, and I sat down on the ground beside her, trying to avoid the mosses and lichens. “You had such a different life from us”, she said quietly.

“I guess so”.

“I grew up in a huge city”, she said, “So I grew a city girl’s instincts. If I’d grown up close to this sort of thing…” She looked down at me; “When did you learn to be an outdoor person? Were you always like that?”

“My Mum liked walking, but it was really Owen that got me into it; he loved being outdoors. When we were teenagers we often spent Saturdays rambling in the country around Northwood, or even further”.

“But that’s pretty tame compared to this”, she said, looking up at the vastness of Mount Edith Cavell. “Not that this was all that close to you when you lived in Meadowvale, either; when you talked about it before, I don’t think I realized how far away it was”.

“Well, you can do it in a day if you start out early enough, but then you won’t be setting up camp until late evening. When we came from Meadowvale, we pretty well always stayed overnight in Edmonton, and then finished the drive the next day”.

“I’m curious that you really like the flat country back in Saskatchewan, but you like the mountains too”.

“You find that curious, do you?” I replied with a grin.

“I do. The scenery’s so different”.

“But it’s all about vastness, isn’t it? Here it’s the vastness of the mountains, and there it’s the vastness of the sky. I remember times in Meadowvale when I could see three or four separate thunderstorms in different parts of the sky”.

She inclined her head a little and smiled; “I wouldn’t have thought of that”, she said.  “So it’s all about remembering how big the world is and how small we are?”

“That’s a good way of putting it”.

“Do you like being reminded of your own insignificance?”

“You didn’t say ‘insignificant’; you said ‘small’; there’s a difference”.

“Okay, but why is that difference important?”

“I guess it’s because to me, as a Christian, it’s not so much the vastness of the world that I want to be reminded of; it’s the vastness of God. I like praying out of doors because it reminds me that God isn’t a being who spends all his time in small confined spaces, and it also reminds me that my limited view of the world likely isn’t the last word on the subject. But that doesn’t mean I’m insignificant”.

“But if the universe is so vast, how can one tiny human being be significant to God?”

“We may be tiny, but we’re incredibly designed. Not only that, but God has gone to the trouble of giving us a conscience, which would seem to indicate that he finds our behaviour significant”.

“But hasn’t conscience just evolved out of behaviour patterns that helped groups of humans survive better?”

I grinned; “That’s a long and complicated philosophical argument, and I’m not a long and complicated philosophical arguer”.

She laughed; “Are you asking me just to take it on faith?”

“No, I’m not – at least not in this instance. What I’m saying is that there’ve been plenty of books written on this issue; I’ve read a few of them, and I don’t think either side has argued its case conclusively. If they had, the whole world would be flocking to one side or the other”.

“So what does that mean?”

“I think it means that in the end the intellectual case for Christianity is good, but not conclusive – just like the intellectual case for atheism is good, but not conclusive. Argument will only take you so far. And for people like you and me, I don’t think it’ll take us very far at all”.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re not abstract intellectual thinkers, Lisa – at least, I’m not, and I don’t think you are, either”.

She shook her head; “No, I suppose not”. She gave me a thoughtful look; “So why did you decide to become a Christian, if it wasn’t because of a conclusive argument?”

“Well, the short answer to that is, the Reimers; they were a pretty good argument for the truth of Christianity for me”.

She nodded; “I can understand that; they’re pretty amazing people. I can’t get over how kind Joe and Ellie were to Mum and Colin and me, even though we were complete strangers to them – how they just opened up their home and welcomed us into it”.

“That’s how Will and Sally were to me when I moved to Meadowvale, although I didn’t actually live with them. They invited me to their place for Thanksgiving dinner in October, which is where I met Joe and Kelly and Krista for the first time. Krista was still in university, and Kelly was nursing here in Jasper; she was home for the long weekend. Joe had just moved back to Meadowvale and opened up his vet practice; he and Ellie had just gotten engaged. Will’s mom and dad were there too, and a few aunts and cousins. And then there was me, a young expatriate Brit with a guitar and an attitude, surrounded by all these Mennonites”.

She laughed again; “Did they try to convert you?”

“No – at least, not right away. But they were very welcoming, and Sally told me that I was to come over and join them whenever I didn’t feel like cooking. I didn’t take her literally, of course, but I was over there a lot. And Joe and I soon became friends; he was the one I had my first serious talks about Christianity with”.

“Not philosophical arguments, though?”

“No – Mennonites tend not to do that. We talked about Jesus a lot, and his life, and the things he taught. Mennonites really emphasize following the teaching and example of Jesus in daily life”.

“That’s where your ‘loving your enemies’ thing comes from?”

“Yes”.

She was quiet for a moment, and I saw the faraway look in her eyes. I got to my feet slowly; “I need to walk around a bit”, I said.

“Are your legs getting stiff?”

“They will if I sit much longer. What about you?”

She pushed herself up from the rock, took a step, and said, “Ouch! Perhaps I should walk around a bit as well!”

 

It was about an hour later that we caught sight of the others coming back down the trail toward us; after a few minutes they arrived at the viewpoint with smiles on their faces. “That was pretty amazing!” Colin exclaimed.

I smiled at Wendy as she stood there leaning on her trekking pole; “You made out all right, then?” I asked.

“Oh my God, I thought my lungs were going to burst!” she exclaimed with a grin. “I felt like an old woman up there, trying to keep up with these two!”

“What did you think of the view?”

She put her arms around me, kissed me on the lips, drew back with a smile and said, “It was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen in my life!”

“Isn’t it amazing? I never get tired of it”.

“Did you get photographs?” Lisa asked.

“I got loads”, Colin replied, “but the sun’s a bit too bright here; I’ll show them to you later”

“So”, said Emma, “are we going to swim again when we get back down?”

“We’ve got to get down first!” Lisa replied with a grin.

“Well, then”, Wendy said; “Let’s get going!”

 

I sleep soundly when I’m camping, but I usually wake up early, and when I do, I can’t get back to sleep. I usually go for a walk to get my body moving, but when I woke up the morning after our climb, I could tell by the stiffness in my legs and back that my muscles weren’t ready for another walk yet. I crawled quietly out of my sleeping bag, doing my best not to wake Colin up as I slipped into my clothes; he and I were sharing a tent, and Wendy, Lisa and Emma were in the other one. I unzipped the door and stepped out into the early morning light; the sky was clear, promising another warm and sunny day ahead, but the mountain air was still cold, and I was glad I had pulled on a fleece top over my tee shirt.

After returning from the bathrooms, I warmed up some water over the Coleman stove, made some coffee and sat quietly in a folding chair by the picnic table to drink it, enjoying the peace and stillness of the early morning. Our campsite was surrounded by tall trees, with other sites on either side of us; above the tree line I could see the bulk of Whistler’s Mountain, and I remembered that I had promised everyone we would ride the cable car up there before we left Jasper. I took a sip of my coffee, thinking of all that had happened in the past few months, and breathing a few quiet prayers of thankfulness.

After a while I heard the sound of the other tent door being unzipped, and Wendy emerged, wearing jeans and a warm sweater, her hair still messy from sleep. She came over to where I was sitting, bent and kissed me on the forehead; “Did you sleep well?” she asked.

“Very well. How about you?”

“Like a log; I must have been exhausted. I can feel that climb in my leg muscles this morning”.

“I know; me too. Would you like some coffee?”

“Give me a minute to use the facilities”.

When she returned from the bathrooms I poured her a cup of coffee; she took it from my hand with a smile and sat down in another folding chair beside me. “I didn’t put my watch on”, she said; “What time is it?”

“About seven”.

“So – what are we going to do today?”

“Well, I’m guessing that we’re all a little tired after yesterday’s exertions; perhaps we should drive down to the Athabasca Glacier today”.

“That’s the one where you can walk on the glacier?’

“That’s right. But then, on the other hand, we might want to just take a ride up there in the cable car”. I pointed toward Whistler’s Mountain; “There’s a rather nice restaurant at the top of the tramway, and from there it’s a short hike to Whistler’s summit. The views are spectacular”.

More spectacular views?”

I smiled at her; “There are rather a lot of them around here, aren’t there?”

“It’s a wonderful place, Tom; thank you so much for bringing us”.

“It’s my pleasure”.

She was quiet for a few minutes, sipping at her coffee, cradling the cup in her hands for warmth. I could see that she had tried to tie her hair back, but a long wisp of it was falling over her forehead. I reached over and took her hand; she smiled at me, opened her mouth to speak, and then hesitated and closed it again.

“What?” I asked.

“You must really miss Kelly here”, she said.

“Yes”, I replied quietly, “I must admit that I think of her a lot when I’m up here”.

“The night your dad died, you said that something unusual had happened on the day of her death; you were going to tell me about it”.

“Right”.

“But perhaps you’d rather not talk about it right now?”

“No, I can talk about it”. I sat forward in my chair, resting my elbows on my legs. “She died in hospital”, I said. “She’d been in a coma for a few days, and the whole family was there – Will and Sally, Krista and Steve and their kids, Joe and Ellie and Jake and Jenna,  and a few others. And Emma and me, of course”.

“Emma would have been about fourteen?”

“Yes. We’d been awake all through the night, much as we were the night my Dad died, except that Kelly lasted into the late morning. We were all sitting or standing around her hospital bed; her breathing was getting more and more shallow, and we all knew that it wouldn’t be long. I was sitting on her right side, and Emma on her left; Emma was holding her hand and talking to her, but Kelly had her eyes closed, and we had no way of knowing if she could hear or not. Eventually Emma just sort of leaned forward and put her head on her mom’s shoulder. And then we all saw Kelly’s left hand come up and around Emma’s back, as if she was remembering how she used to hold her when she was a little girl.

“I remember that I leaned forward a bit, and then Kelly’s other hand came up; it was as if she knew exactly where my face was. Her eyes were still closed, but she traced both of my eyebrows with her finger, really slowly, and then her hand went down to the sheet again. A few minutes later she died”.

Wendy stared at me and shook her head slowly; “That’s amazing”, she whispered.

“Yes, it was almost unearthly, in the most literal sense of the word”.

We were silent for a few minutes, each of us alone with our thoughts. On the edge of our campsite a squirrel ran down a tree trunk, stood up straight for a moment to scrutinize us, and then darted off into the undergrowth.

Wendy spoke in a small voice; “I’m so different from Kelly, Tom”.

“You are”, I agreed.

“I told you once that I didn’t feel intimidated by her memory, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true any more. Having spent the past few weeks in her haunts, it’s not hard to feel as if she’s still somehow present”.

I didn’t say anything for a few minutes; I got to my feet, poured myself another cup of coffee and took a sip of it, stretching my back and looking up at Whistler’s Mountain. Eventually I turned to her and said, “I had a rather vivid dream a few nights ago; I dreamt about that night in Oxford when you came to my room”.

“You mean the night Lisa was conceived”, she said softly.

“Yes”. I took my seat beside her again, took her hand, and said, “Do you remember me telling you a few months ago that a part of my psyche had sort of gone to sleep after Kelly died?”

“I do; you said you thought it might be waking up again”.

I nodded; then, choosing my words carefully, I said, “When I thought about that dream, I realized that I’m actually quite looking forward to making love with you again, and that I hope it won’t be too long. But all the things I’ve told you about my feelings that first time we made love – all those things still apply”.

She tightened her grip on my hand, her eyes searching mine; “You’re telling me that it’s not just sex that you’re looking forward to”, she whispered.

“No – it’s being together with you for the rest of my life”.

I watched as a slow smile spread across her face. “Tom Masefield, are you proposing to me?” she asked.

“Wendy Howard, I think I am”, I replied.

“You think?” she said playfully; “I’d been hoping for something a bit more definite than that!”

I lifted her hand to my lips, kissed it, and covered it with my other hand. “Will you marry me, Wendy?” I asked; “The sooner, the better!”

She laughed quietly, her eyes shining. “Well, since you ask so nicely…”

“Is that a ‘yes’?”

“I think it is”.

“You think?” I replied; “I’d been hoping for something a bit more definite than that!”

We both laughed this time, and then she smiled at me and said, “Yes, Tom, I will marry you. And I’ll count myself a lucky woman”.

“No, no”, I replied, shaking my head; “I’m the lucky one”.

“Excuse me, sir, but after I rejected you and turned you away all those years ago, I’ve never had any right to expect this from you – so, I repeat, I’m the lucky one”.

I grinned; “Is this our first argument?”

“Possibly”, she replied, her eyes sparkling merrily at me.

“When shall we do it?” I asked.

“I suppose that all depends on what sort of wedding we want”.

“Do you want something big and formal?”

“No, not really. Would you mind being married in the Church of England?”

“Of course not; were you thinking of Merton Chapel?”

“I was, actually; is that all right?”

“Perfect”. I frowned suddenly and said, “But is Stephen allowed to do it, with you being divorced?”

“I think there are some extra hoops to jump through. That might slow the process down a bit”.

“All the more reason for us to start it soon, then. Shall we go and see Stephen when we get home?”

“I’d like that”.

“What sort of time frame are we talking about, though?”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, if Stephen looks at us and says, ‘So, when would you like to get married?’ – what shall we say?”

“What do you think?”

I grinned at her; “Decisive this morning, aren’t we?”

She laughed softly; “Give me some time, all right? This is only my first cup of coffee of the day!” She took a sip of her coffee, thought for a moment, and then said, “I honestly don’t want to wait until next summer”.

“Neither do I”.

“Actually, I’d like to do it before Christmas, if possible”.

“Then let’s start with that, and see how close we can get to it”.

She grinned at me; “When shall we tell the kids?” she asked.

“Shall we feed them first?”

“Good idea!”

“Of course, that means we might have to wait for a while; they’re in no danger of waking up any time soon”.

“No”.

I stood up again, stretched my back, and said, “When I first got up I thought my legs were too stiff to go for a walk, but now I’m thinking a quiet stroll would be nice. What do you think?”

“Can I come?”

“You don’t seriously think I’d leave you behind, do you?” I replied, holding out my hand to her.

She took my hand with a smile, got to her feet and slipped her arm into mine. “Lead the way”, she said, “but don’t go too fast, if you don’t mind; I wasn’t joking about my legs being stiff”.

We strolled out of our campsite and down the lane, passing other tents and a few bleary-eyed campers who were already moving at this early hour. The trees around us were tall, casting long shadows on the road ahead. A family of grey jays was flitting in and out of the branches, stopping here and there to look for food; a little further away I heard the chirruping of a squirrel.

“So when did you decide you wanted to do this?” Wendy asked.

“I think I’ve known for a long time, actually”.

“Has something been holding you back?”

“Fear, I think”.

“Fear?”

“Yes”.

“Fear of what?”

“Fear of not being able to get it right. Fear that I might still be too sad about Kelly to be able to give you the sort of love you deserve. Fear that you might say ‘no’”.

She stopped abruptly and looked at me in amazement. “Fear that I might say no?” she exclaimed; “Where on earth did that one come from?”

“Well, I do come with rather a lot of emotional baggage, Wendy; I was afraid you might not be willing to take it all on”.

She shook her head as we began to walk again. “I’ve got some emotional baggage of my own, too. I’m afraid you might still find yourself woken up at night sometimes by my nightmares, and…” she hesitated, biting her lower lip and looking away, “to be absolutely frank, I’m not altogether sure that sex is going to be easy for me for a while, even with you”.

“I understand”.

“And I understand too, Tom”, she said.

I put my arm around her, pulled her close and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you”, I said.

“I love you, too – more than you can imagine”.

“I don’t know – I can imagine a lot!”

We both laughed, and she took my arm again as we walked on together. We were quiet for a few minutes; I could smell wood smoke in the air from early morning campfires, and a little further down the road a truck drove noisily past us, pulling a large fifth-wheel trailer.

“Should we talk about some practical things before we mention this to the kids?” Wendy asked.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, there’s the issue of where we’re going to live, for a start. The obvious thing is for you and Emma to come and live with us, since I own a house and you’re a renter. But on the other hand, our house will be a little tight for five people, since we only have three bedrooms upstairs. I know Lisa sleeps at Christ Church a lot of the time, but I’m still not sure she’d welcome the idea of sharing her room at home with Emma, much as they like each other”.

“So we might have to buy a bigger place”.

“Yes”.

“Fair enough; if you’re okay with that, I’m okay with it too”.

“I’m okay with it; it’ll probably be quite expensive, though”.

“Well, Dad did leave me quite a bit of money, and I think I’ve persuaded Emma that we don’t have to give away every penny of it”.

“How did you manage to do that?”

“It started with Air Canada tickets” I replied; “She’s got a vested interest in being able to come over here on a regular basis!”

We both laughed. “She’s right, though, Tom”, Wendy said; “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t give some of it away; that would be a Christian thing to do, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t hurt us to have a mortgage”.

I was quiet for a moment, and then said, “It’s a load off my mind to hear you say that, Wendy”.

“How so?”

“Well, I do want to give some of it away – a substantial amount, in fact. I was worried that you’d be upset about that”.

She shook her head; “Let’s go into this marriage with the idea of following Jesus together, shall we? Even if we don’t always know exactly what that means. And that leads me to the next thing we need to talk about”.

“What’s that?”

“Church. I’m assuming you think it would be a good idea for us to go to church together”.

“I do, and if it means we can do that, I’m quite willing to start going to Merton Chapel with you. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a real Anglican, but I can certainly worship in an Anglican congregation”.

“No, listen, Tom, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought”. She smiled at me and said, “I’ve suspected for some time now that sooner or later you might ask me to marry you…”

‘You have, have you?” I teased her, leaning over and kissing her.

“I have!” she replied, her eyes sparkling at me. “And as I said, I’ve given this church issue a lot of thought. I know I’ve made no secret of the fact that I like Merton Chapel, but the thing is that it is Merton Chapel – it’s a congregation of people involved in Merton. At the moment you’re not involved in Merton, and no matter how hard you tried, I don’t think you’d find it easy to penetrate that barrier. I think you’d always feel like an outsider”.

“David Wiseman doesn’t feel like an outsider”.

“No, but he’s a don, even if he’s at another college. I don’t think you’d find it as easy as he does”.

“I won’t know until I give it a try, will I?”

“Tom, I’m really grateful to you for your willingness to do it, but I think I’ve known for a while now that if you and I ended up getting married, even if we attended an Anglican church together, it would be better for us to find a different one – an ordinary church, I mean – with a mix of people from all sorts of backgrounds, not just a university crowd. And, quite frankly, if I’m going to move churches anyway, I might just as well try yours for a while; that way we don’t both have to leave our home congregations. I like the people in your church, and I don’t dislike the form of service. I’m just not about to go through believer’s baptism; I hope you can understand that”.

“Of course I can, but you don’t have to do this, Wendy; there’s no reason why we couldn’t find a parish church to go to”.

“Then you’d have to leave your church too, and anyway, I’m quite sure that Emma’s not going to want to become an Anglican in the foreseeable future”.

“No”, I conceded; “You’ve got that right”.

“So, then, she’d probably want to stay at your church, and what’s the point of the two of you having to part company on Sundays like that? If there’s a way that we three can go to church together, I’d like us to do it”.

I looked at her for a moment as we walked slowly together, and I said, “You’ve really thought this one through, haven’t you?”

“I have. I’ve been having a few serious conversations with God about it”.

“Are you really sure you want to do this?”

“I’m really sure”.

“Okay”. I kissed her, and she smiled and laid her head against my shoulder for a moment, her arm still in mine, as we walked slowly along the side of the road.

 

When we got back to the campsite about half an hour later Emma was standing at the picnic table, wearing a fleece top and her green Saskatchewan Roughriders ball cap, warming up the coffee over the Coleman stove. “Hello there!” she said, looking at us curiously; “Where did you two wander off?”

“Oh, just went for a walk, that’s all”, I replied.

“Listen, Dad, I’ve just had a great idea; why don’t we wake the others up and go into the Bear’s Paw Bakery for breakfast?”

“I could go for that”, I replied, “but I’m not sure I want to be the one to wake Lisa and Colin”.

“What’s the Bear’s Paw Bakery?” Wendy asked.

“It’s a really cool place, Wendy”, Emma replied; “you really have to go there to be able to say you’ve experienced the Jasper ambience!”

“What’s so special about it?”

“On the surface, nothing”, I replied. “It’s thoroughly crowded at this time of day – you probably have to stand in line for twenty minutes to get to the counter – and the chances of getting a table are pretty remote; most people just get take-out. But the food is amazing, and like Emma says, it’s a classic part of the Jasper ambience”.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to stand in line for twenty minutes for the privilege of not getting a table?”

“Once you’ve tasted their bakery stuff, you’ll never ask that question again”.

“Well, okay – but my two offspring aren’t very good in the morning, as you know!”

“Trust me – it’ll be worth it”.

 

We drove into town at about eight-thirty with two very sleepy young people in the back of the van. Lisa had protested loudly about being woken up so early; Colin fell asleep again, and it took us a few minutes to wake him up after I pulled into the parking lot across from the Bear’s Paw.

The bakery was situated on a side street just off the main road, and as I had predicted, the line-up was already out the front door. Lisa groaned as we crossed the street; “Whose bright idea was this, anyway?” she complained.

“Mine”, Emma replied cheerfully.

There were a couple of benches outside the bakery, and people were sitting on them drinking coffee and eating muffins and cinnamon buns and other assorted baked goods. A group of five people had arrived just ahead of us; they looked at the line-up, and one of them suggested trying somewhere else. The rest of them agreed, and they walked off down the street. I grinned at a young man sitting on the end of the nearest bench eating a cheese bun. “I love it when I hear people say they’re going somewhere else”, I said to him.

He nodded; “They’re making a big mistake!” he replied.

We stood quietly in the line for a few minutes; Lisa was listening carefully to the young couple ahead of us, and after a moment she whispered to me, “They’re speaking German”.

“Yes; tourists from all over the world come to Jasper”.

She listened for a few more minutes, and then to my surprise she said something to the couple in German. They looked at her in amazement; the young woman responded, Lisa spoke again, and the next minute they were talking away to each other. Eventually Lisa smiled at the rest of us, apologized, and introduced the couple to us; the young man shook my hand and said in perfect English, “Your daughter speaks very good German”.

“No I don’t!” Lisa protested; “I was struggling a bit back there”.

“I’d forgotten that you spoke German”, I said to Lisa; “I always think of you as being a Russian speaker”.

“I had to have two modern languages to get into the degree program”, she replied.

The three of them quickly switched back to German as the line-up moved slowly forward in the bakery. It was crowded in there, and the temperature was stiflingly warm. We were close enough now to be able to see the food on display on the various counters, and Emma and Colin were talking about what they wanted to eat. I put my arm around Wendy, and I felt her move closer to me, laying her head on my shoulder. “I feel like a teenager”, she whispered.

“You don’t look much older than a teenager”, I replied with a grin.

By the time we got to the counter Emma had spotted a free table in the corner, and she had left the lineup to claim it for the rest of us. We bought our coffee and food, and then made our way over to the corner; there was a gentle breeze blowing in through an open window, I took my seat gratefully beside it, and the others squeezed in around me.

After a few minutes of eating and quiet conversation, I glanced at Wendy and then said, “Wendy and I have something we want to tell you”.

They all looked up, and Colin said, “What is it?”

I looked at Wendy again; she took my hand and said, “Tom and I have decided to get married”.

“Big surprise!” Emma replied with a grin; “You two had that ‘star-crossed lovers’ look about you when you came back from that walk this morning!” She was sitting beside Wendy, and she leaned over and kissed her. “Congratulations!” she said; “Have you set a date?”

“Not yet”, Wendy replied, “but we’re hoping for sooner rather than later”.

Lisa was sitting beside me, a smile on her face too. “How soon is ‘sooner’?” she asked.

“Well”, I replied, “I don’t think you should count on having a year to order a dress”.

“Ah – a winter wedding?”

“We’ll have to wait and see how soon we can do it”, Wendy said; “We won’t have a definite idea about that until we get home and start making some inquiries”.

“So this means we’re all going to be living in the same house, does it?” Colin asked. “Our house would be a bit tight for all five of us”.

“We’ll probably have to get something bigger”, Wendy replied; “We’ll have to talk about that”. She put her hand on Emma’s arm; “Are you okay, Em?” she asked.

“Oh yeah; I’m really, really happy for you guys. Truly, Wendy – I am”.

“I would never presume to try to take your Mum’s place in your life, you know”.

Emma nodded; “I know that, but thanks for saying it, anyway”.

“So where are you going to get married?” Lisa asked with a smile.

“Well, we’ve only just made the decision this morning”, Wendy replied, “so we haven’t actually arranged everything, but we’re hoping for Merton Chapel”.

“Beautiful!” Lisa exclaimed; “A fairly small wedding, then?”

“That’s what we thought”.

I looked across the table at Colin; “What do you think of this?” I asked.

“I think that if we buy a new house, I’d like to build the kitchen cabinets!”

We laughed; “I don’t think you’ll get any argument on that one!” Wendy said.

“So do we get to be in the wedding party?” Emma asked.

“We’ll find a way to fit you all in”, Wendy replied.

“What about getting the Ferrymen to play for the reception?” Emma suggested.

“Absolutely not!” Wendy exclaimed; “I’m not going to give Owen Foster the slightest opportunity to pressure me into singing at my own wedding!”

We laughed, and Lisa said, “Perhaps you could get him to sign a written contract…”

Emma looked at me with a sudden frown; “Will you wait until Uncle Rick’s out of prison?” she asked.

Wendy and I looked at each other, and she said, “We have to do that, Tom”.

“I guess so; that had completely slipped my mind. It’s possible that he might be out before Christmas; my Dad’s old partner thought he might actually serve six months, which would put it some time in late October”.

“We’ll have to find out about that”, Wendy said; “It’ll be really important for you to have your brother there”.

“Yeah”. I took her hand again; “Speaking of brothers, are you going to ask if Rees can be a part of the occasion?”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea!”

“This small wedding is getting bigger!” Lisa observed.

I looked down at my empty coffee cup. “Looks like we’ll need another round of coffee to plan the occasion”, I said; “Anyone care to stand in line with me for another twenty minutes?”

“I will!” Wendy replied; “You and I can go and talk fiancée-talk and leave these youngsters to talk about – well, whatever children talk about on these sorts of occasions”.

“You three okay with that?” I asked as Wendy and I got to our feet and scooped up the coffee cups.

“Absolutely!” Emma replied; “You two go away; we’ve got some serious plotting to do at this table!”

Note: there is one more chapter to come!

Link to Chapter 32

A Time to Mend – Chapter 30

Link to Chapter 29

Over the next few weeks spring came to Oxfordshire. The days lengthened, the rain showers did their part in greening up the grass and trees, and the spring bird migrations were in full force.

We continued to spend a lot of time with my mother. She gradually got into the habit of staying over a couple of nights each week at Becca’s flat in town, and Emma and I often hosted her for supper, along with Becca and Mike if they were free. I knew that my father’s death was hitting her hard; I spent as much time as I could with her, and she talked freely with me about her loneliness and sadness and general lack of energy. I was used to seeing her as the steady, unemotional member of our family, the one we relied on to hold things together and get things done; it was a new experience for me to see her openly struggling with depression and having difficulty with simple everyday tasks around the house.

Emma was a big help here. She realized what was happening, and as she had done with my father, she quickly moved into her familiar supporting role without any fanfare or fuss. At least once a week, when she wasn’t working and I was busy with marking and other schoolwork, she took the car and drove out to Northwood to spend the evening with her grandmother. When I asked her what they talked about together, her reply was almost identical to what she had said to me about her earlier conversations with Sarah: “We talk about everything, Dad”, she explained; “Actually, a lot of the time she talks, and I listen”.

About the decision she was struggling with herself, Emma said very little to me, although I knew she talked occasionally with Becca. She was well aware that the longer she waited to put in an application, the harder it would be to get into the University of Saskatchewan if she should decide to take that option. The anxious parent in me wanted to raise this issue with her, but I restrained myself; she knew about deadlines as well as I did.

I heard from Mickey several times. His calls always came late in the evening, sometimes after I had gone to bed; he never stayed on the phone for long, but his questions about Colin were persistent and relentless. What had he been doing? What had I been doing with him? Had he mentioned his father at all? What had Wendy and I been saying to him about his father? How long did I think it would be before Colin would want to see him again? I was honest in my replies; Colin rarely spoke about him, and on the few occasions when he did his words were not complimentary. Wendy and I tried to avoid any mention of Mickey around Colin, but when we were alone together we admitted to each other that we were worried about his new interest in his son.

On a Saturday morning in late May I drove over to Aylesbury with Alyson to bring Sarah home for good. Alyson was in the process of getting their home ready to be sold, but it was taking longer than she had hoped, and so for now Sarah was going to sleep in the spare bedroom on the ground floor. When we pulled into the driveway there was an enormous ‘Welcome Home Sarah!’ banner hung above the front door, and all the rest of our extended family, along with some of Sarah’s school friends, were inside ready to join in the celebration. My mother had baked a cake, and Emma had helped Eric and Anna decorate the house with streamers and more banners. We spent most of the day there, leaving in the late afternoon because Emma had to get ready to work a night shift and I had a date with my other daughter.

That evening I went with Lisa to hear a concert of choral music at the Sheldonian Theatre on Broad Street. The program included works by Palestrina, Gibbons, and Byrd; the unaccompanied voices sounded ethereal, and I could tell by the expression on Lisa’s face that the music was touching her deeply. I had always enjoyed Gibbons’ English compositions from the 16th century, but the Latin pieces by Byrd and Palestrina were new to me, and I had to concentrate hard at times to follow the intricate weavings of the melody lines.

When we emerged onto Broad Street at about nine-thirty we stood still for a moment outside the theatre, the crowd milling around us; Lisa slipped her hand into my arm and said, “Are you going to come back to the house for a cup of hot chocolate or something?”

“Sounds good”.

When we arrived at the Howards’ Lisa let us in the front door with her key; stepping into the front hallway, she called out, “Anyone home?”

It was Colin who answered; he opened the living room door, and I saw immediately the expression of fear on his face. “Colin”, I said, “What…?”

“Dad’s here”, he whispered, “and he’s drunk”.

“Oh shit!” Lisa exclaimed; “Has Mum called the police?”

“No – he’s been threatening her”.

Lisa pulled out her mobile phone. “Is Mum all right?” she asked.

“Yes, but…”

“Who’s that?” came Mickey’s drunken shout from the living room; “Why don’t you tell them to come in?”

Lisa keyed in in a number and brought her phone up to her ear; “I’ll go outside to call the police”, she whispered to me; “Can you go in and try to help Mum?”

Okay”, I said; “Maybe you’d be better to stay out there, Lisa”.

She shook her head as she slipped outside and closed the door quietly behind her. I put my hand on Colin’s shoulder and said, “Right; let’s go back in, then”.

Wendy was sitting on a hard backed chair by the dining table at the far end of the room;

Mickey was standing in front of the fireplace, his long grey hair untidy, his clothes creased and dirty. As I moved closer and held out my hand to him I could smell the stale whiskey on his breath. “I didn’t know you were coming to Oxford, Mickey”, I said quietly.

“You!” he exclaimed; “I thought you were supposed to help me meet Colin!”

“Colin wasn’t ready to meet you yet”, I replied; “I told you that the last time we talked”.

“Liar!” he cried, lurching a little as he stepped forward and grabbed my arm; “I told you not to get between me and my son!”

“Why don’t you sit down?” I replied, trying to keep my voice as even as possible; “We can talk about this over a cup of coffee. Is there any coffee, Wendy?”

“I can easily make some”, she replied, getting to her feet slowly.

“Sit down!” Mickey bawled at her; “I don’t want any coffee! I told you; I want to take my son home with me!” He tightened his grip on my arm and fixed me with his drunken stare; “Don’t you try to stop me, Tom!” he warned.

I heard the front door open and close, and a moment later Lisa slipped into the living room. “The police are on their way, Mum”, she said, moving over and putting her arm around Wendy’s shoulders; “They’ll be here in five minutes”.

“You bitch!” Mickey cried, and before I could stop him he had lifted his arm and slapped Lisa hard across the face. She cried out, her hands flying up to protect herself as he raised his hand to strike again, but I grabbed him from behind, grasping his outstretched arm. “Lisa, you and Colin get outside; you can wait for the police out there”, I said.

“Oh no you don’t!” Mickey cried, twisting in my grip with surprising speed. I saw his clenched fist too late to avoid it, and the next thing I knew I was staggering backwards from the impact of a punishing blow to my jaw. Mickey raised his fist to strike again, but I sidestepped him, and at the same moment Lisa and Wendy both grabbed him from behind. “Mickey, stop this!” Wendy cried; “This isn’t going to accomplish anything for you other than sending you back to jail”.

“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you!” he retorted, twisting in their grip and wrenching himself free. “But I can get out of Britain, you know”, he said as he turned to face us again; “Colin and I can go away somewhere where you won’t be able to find us”.

“Dad, I’m not going anywhere with you”, Colin replied; “I don’t want to live with someone who gets drunk and attacks people”.

Mickey stared at him for a moment, then turned to look at me, lifting his finger accusingly at me. “I told you”, he said slowly, his speech slurred, “not to turn him against me”.

“You’re doing a pretty good job of it right now”, I replied. “Mickey, why don’t we all sit down and calm down and talk about this quietly? This confrontation is getting us nowhere, and it certainly isn’t helping you get what you want”.

“Sit down until the police come, you mean?” He shook his head, a sinister smile playing around his lips. “I’m not such a fool; I don’t think the police or the courts are going to give me what I want”. He looked from me to Lisa, then to Wendy, and finally his gaze rested on Colin, standing by the open door to the front hallway. I saw the fear in Colin’s eyes, and was opening my mouth to speak when suddenly Mickey darted across the room and grabbed his son’s arm. “Come on, Colin!” he yelled; “we’re getting out of here!”

“No!” Wendy screamed, and the next moment she had flung herself on Mickey, her hands pulling at his, trying desperately to free Colin. Colin was fighting too, yelling and pulling against his father’s grip, and after a moment’s desperate struggle he succeeded; Mickey fell back against one of the easy chairs by the fireplace, and Wendy pushed Colin toward the open doorway. “Get outside and wait for the police!” she cried.

“I’m not leaving you in here with him”, he replied; “He can’t take on all four of us”.

Mickey was getting to his feet slowly, and I saw the drunken rage on his face. “Can’t take on all four of you?” he repeated, thrusting his hand into his pocket; “Let’s see what you say about this!” As his hand came up from his pocket again I heard the click, and as the light flashed on the polished steel I realized that he was holding a switchblade.

I heard Wendy catch her breath. “No, Mickey”, she said, and I heard the tremor in her voice; “Please don’t do this. Put the knife down, and let’s talk”.

He took a step forward, the switchblade moving in slow threatening circles in his hand. “I took to carrying this in Iraq, you know”, he said, the sinister smile back on his face. “Wanted to protect myself; all sorts of nasty people out there. A couple of U.S. Marines taught me how to use it; handy little thing, isn’t it?”

I felt my heart pounding as I realized that I was facing the exact situation we’d discussed hypothetically for years in Bible studies about nonviolence in Mennonite churches. What would we do if someone carrying a knife or a gun threatened our loved ones? Did nonviolence mean we should just sit back quietly and let the attacker kill us all? I took a step forward, my eyes fixed on the switchblade as it moved slowly in Mickey’s hand. “Wendy, get everyone outside”, I said quietly.

“No”, she replied, “I’m staying with you. Lisa, please get your brother outside”.

At that moment Mickey lunged forward, thrusting the knife toward my body. I sidestepped him again, putting out my leg as he went past; he swore as he fell to the floor, and the knife flew from his hand toward the corner where Lisa was standing. She bent instinctively and grabbed it; I heard Mickey cry out in rage, and the next thing I knew he was lunging toward her on his knees. She backed against the wall, the switchblade pointing toward him. “You bastard!” she cried out; “You touch me and I’ll kill you – I swear I will!”

He got to his feet slowly. “No you won’t”, he said softly, straightening up and taking a step toward her; “You wouldn’t dare”.

Mickey had his back to the rest of us now; I glanced across at Wendy, and as our eyes met she gave a slight nod. We moved forward slowly as Mickey said, “Give me the knife, Lisa; you know you’re not going to use it”.

She was breathing heavily, the switchblade steady in her right hand, and as I looked into her eyes I saw the hatred there. “Oh, you are so wrong!” she whispered menacingly; “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for years!”

He stopped moving, and I guessed that he had suddenly realized she was serious. “Now don’t do anything foolish, Lisa”, he said slowly, his speech still slurring a little. “You don’t want this on your conscience, do you?”

I saw the sudden fury flash across Lisa’s face. “My conscience!” she screamed, taking a step toward him. “My conscience! Fuck you, Mickey; my conscience is absolutely clear! You’re a pig, and I’m going to stick you just like a pig!”

He took a step backwards; I nodded at Wendy, and we each grabbed one of his arms and held him fast. “Put the knife away, Lisa”, I said, holding tight as Mickey struggled in our grip; “We’ve got him now, and he isn’t going to hurt anyone”.

She shook her head slowly, the knife steady in her hand, the point a mere couple of feet from Mickey’s belly. “There’s only one way to make sure he never hurts anyone again”, she said menacingly.

I saw her lunge forward with the switchblade, and instinctively I reached out, trying to keep my grip on Mickey with my right hand and grab her wrist with my left. As if in a slow motion movie, I saw the switchblade slice into my left hand; I fell against Mickey in agony, the blood streaming from my wounded hand. I heard Wendy’s cry as Mickey and I both went over backwards; I saw Lisa standing over us with a stunned expression on her face, still holding the bloodstained knife, and at that moment I heard the police sirens in the distance.

I did my best to ignore the pain in my hand as I rolled over and tried to hold Mickey down; I saw my blood smearing his shirt and sweater as he struggled in my grip. “Colin, help me!” I cried out. “Wendy, get that knife away from her!”

I saw Colin drop to his knees, pinning his father’s other arm and shoulder to the floor. The sirens were outside the house now, and as Mickey continued to struggle against us I heard the front door open. “Police!” someone cried, and the next moment two uniformed policemen were in the living room. I saw them taking in the situation, glancing at the switchblade in Lisa’s hand and the blood streaming from my wound. The one with sergeant’s stripes on his arm frowned at Lisa as she stood there, her face white, her breath coming in short gasps. “I think you should give us that knife, miss”, he said.

She nodded slowly and handed him the knife, the tears beginning to run down her face. Then she knelt down beside me and put her hand on my shoulder. “I’m really sorry, Tom”, she whispered; “that was a stupid thing to do”.

“What’s happening here?” the sergeant asked as he closed the switchblade and slipped it into his pocket; “Whose knife is this?”

“This man is Mickey Kingsley”, Wendy replied; “he’s my ex-husband, and he’s served jail time for assaulting me and my daughter Lisa here. There’s a court order requiring him to stay away from Lisa and me and his son Colin here. He came into this house tonight and tried to abduct Colin. Tom here is Lisa’s father; he and Lisa were out at a concert, and they came back to find Mickey here. Mickey attacked us and eventually threatened us with that knife, but Tom was able to trip him up and he dropped it. Lisa picked it up, and unfortunately she lost her temper and attacked Mickey with it. Tom stopped her, but as you can see his hand was wounded”.

The sergeant nodded slowly; “You agree with that story, do you, sir?” he asked me.

“I do”.

“It’s all lies!” Mickey screamed; “Can’t you see I’m the one who’s been assaulted here!”

“You don’t seem to be the one who’s bleeding, though, Mr. Kingsley”, the sergeant replied. “Let him go, please, sir”, he said to me; “we’ll handle it from here”.

I moved over and pulled myself up into a sitting position on the floor, holding my wounded hand and trying to staunch the flow of blood. The two policemen pulled Mickey to his feet; he cried out in anger and tried to struggle against them, and they pushed him face forward against the wall, one of them holding him there while the other snapped handcuffs in place on his wrists. “We’ll get him into the car”, the sergeant said, “and then I’ll come back in and get some more details”. He glanced at my hand, and then said to Wendy, “You’d better ring for an ambulance; that looks like a nasty wound”.

“I’ll do it”, Lisa replied, getting to her feet. “Mum, get something to bandage Tom’s hand until it gets here”.

Wendy bound up my hand with strips of an old sheet, and I sat on the floor with my back against the wall, my head swimming, watching the red bloodstains spread across the white bandages and feeling the throbbing pain in my hand. Wendy sat on the floor beside me, her arm around me; Lisa sat in an armchair by the fire as she and Colin answered the policeman’s questions. A few minutes later the ambulance arrived, and when the paramedics came into the living room I saw to my surprise that one of them was Mike Carey. “Hello, Tom”, he said, crouching down in front of me and taking my wounded hand in his; “What have we got here?”

“It’s a stab wound, Mike”, Wendy replied; “It was an accident”.

“How are you feeling?” he asked me.

“A bit light-headed”, I replied.

“You’ve probably lost a bit of blood”, he said. “I’ll dress that hand and then we’ll take you to the hospital. Wendy, can you make him a quick cup of tea while I dress the wound? Put a couple of spoonfuls of sugar in it”.

“Okay”.

Wendy went out to the kitchen to put the kettle on; Mike slipped a pair of surgical gloves on his hands, and then slowly unwrapped the blood-soaked cloths from my hand. He cleaned up the wound with disinfectant swabs, shaking his head and saying, “You’re going to need some staples there”. He was just finishing the dressing when Wendy came back into the living room with a mug of tea. Squatting down beside Mike, she handed it to me and said, “Can you hold this with your good hand?”

I nodded, taking the mug of tea from her; she leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead, then glanced at Mike and said, “Are you taking him to hospital?”

“Yes; he’s going to need some staples. What happened here, Wendy?”

“Mickey attacked us with a knife. Tom got in the way”.

“I see”. He glanced at me and said, “Can you get up without fainting?”

“I’ll have a try”.

“Take a few sips of that tea first, and then take your time; we’ll help you”.

I sipped at the hot sweet tea for a moment, feeling the warmth as it went down. After a minute I nodded and handed the cup back to Wendy; Mike and his partner put their hands under my arms and slowly pulled me to my feet. I stood still for a moment, the world spinning around me. “Hold me up, Mike”, I said; “I think I’m going to faint”.

“We’ve got you”, he replied; “Deep slow breaths, okay?” He glanced over at the policeman who was now getting slowly to his feet. “Sergeant, I need to take Tom to hospital”, he said.

“Very good, sir”, the policeman replied. “I can get statements from Mr. Masefield and Miss Howard later”.

 

Wendy rode with me in the ambulance to the JR, her hand holding mine as I lay on the stretcher. At the hospital I was given a local anesthetic and a doctor cleaned up my wound again, fastened it with surgical staples, and bandaged it up. I was given some blood and a couple of other injections and was then taken up to a room on one of the wards. “We don’t expect any complications”, the doctor explained to me, “but we’d like to keep you in overnight just to make sure”.

There were three other people in the room with me; visiting hours were long over, but Wendy sat with me for a few minutes, holding my hand in hers. “I expect Lisa’s already rung Emma”, she whispered,

“She’ll want to come”, I replied; “I know she can’t, though; I know she’s got to wait until visiting hours tomorrow. What time is it, anyway?”

“About twelve-thirty”.

“Can you let Becca know? She’ll tell my Mum”.

“I expect Mike’s already told her, don’t you?”

“Of course; I should have thought of that”.

“It’s possible you’re not thinking too straight, my love”.

I nodded and tried to smile; “I suppose not”.

At that moment a nurse appeared at my bedside; “Time to go, Miss Howard”, she whispered.

“Right”. Wendy got to her feet, bent and kissed me on the lips. Holding her cheek to mine, she whispered in my ear, “You sleep well, alright?”

“I will”.

As she straightened up I put my hand on her arm and said, “Wendy, tell Lisa it’s okay, alright?”

She nodded; “I will; see you tomorrow”.

 

The next day was a Sunday, and Emma picked me up at the hospital in the early afternoon, after the doctor had looked at my hand again and pronounced himself satisfied. There was blood all over the shirt and pants I had worn into the hospital the night before, so I had asked her to bring me in some clean clothes to wear. She appeared at the door at around two o’clock with a backpack slung over her shoulder; I saw her glancing around for a moment, taking in the other patients in their beds, and then she saw me in the corner, standing beside my bed. She came over, put her arms around me, and held me so tight that I could hardly breathe. “Are you okay?” she whispered in my ear.

“Oh yeah – a bit sore, but no lasting harm done”.

She continued to hold me close; “I was so worried about you when Becca called me”, she said.

I tightened my grip around her; “I’m okay now”, I replied.

She released me, stepped back a little and took my injured hand in hers, scrutinizing the dressing for a moment. “No infection?” she asked.

“Apparently not, nurse”.

She laughed, and I leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead. “Are my clothes in that backpack?”

“Yes”.

“Right – give me a minute to change into them, and then we can get out of here”.

When we got home, Emma insisted that I sit down in my easy chair by the fireplace; she went out to the kitchen and made a fresh pot of coffee, and then we sat across from each other for a while, drinking coffee and talking quietly. It was a warm afternoon, and through the open window we could hear the sounds of children playing outside and cars going by on the street. Emma was wearing her hair loose; she had let it grow in the past few months, and it was now hanging below her shoulders again.

“Wendy and the kids are coming over for supper”, she told me; “They’re going to cook something and bring it with them. They wanted us to go over there to eat, but I told them it would be better for you to stay here and rest”.

“You did, did you?” I said with a smile.

“I did”, she replied defiantly; “I plan to take good care of you until you’re well again”.

“Thanks, love, but I’m pretty well again already”.

“That’s not what I hear from Becca”.

“Becca?”

“Yes; she’s been talking to your doctor, and she told me about the wound and the surgical staples and all that. It’s going to take a while for that to heal up, Dad”.

“Do the rest of the family know?”

“Becca talked to Grandma this morning; she’s probably going to bring her over in an hour or so to have a cup of tea and a visit. I called Auntie Alyson and the kids this morning myself; they all send their love”.

“Thanks”.

“Dad, what exactly happened?”

I took a sip of my coffee, cradled it in my hands, and said, “When Lisa and I got back to their place after the concert Mickey was already there; he was drunk, and had apparently been threatening Wendy and Colin. He wanted to take Colin away. He got aggressive pretty quickly; he slapped Lisa and then attacked me. We tried to restrain him, and that was when he pulled the switchblade. Fortunately he was so drunk that it wasn’t hard to avoid him; I tripped him, he dropped the knife, and that would have been the end of it if Lisa hadn’t picked it up. She was really angry, and she took a stab at him with the switchblade. I tried to stop her, and unfortunately my hand got in the way of the blade”.

“What happened then?”

“That was when the police arrived”.

“Did Lisa get arrested?”

“No, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. No harm came to anyone except me, and I’m not going to lay any charges against her. What she needs is some patient loving, not punishment. Even if it did come to charges, I’m sure a jury would take into account the years in which she saw her mother beaten, and the times she’d been attacked by Mickey herself. He slapped her pretty hard across the face last night; I won’t be surprised if she has a pretty good bruise when I see her”.

“You’ve got a pretty good one yourself”.

“Yes, I saw that in the mirror this morning. I’d forgotten that he landed a punch on my jaw before he pulled the knife”.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m okay, love”. I took another sip of my coffee, frowned, and said, “The problem is, I can’t help thinking that it was at least partly my fault”.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I was thinking about it quite a lot this morning, and I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that events may have proved Lisa right after all. She always said there was no point in trying to have a peaceful relationship with Mickey, and she was afraid of where my conversations with him might lead. The fact is, if I hadn’t talked with him and given him the impression that I was in sympathy with his wish for a better relationship with Colin, last night wouldn’t have happened. I might have put the whole family in danger by my actions. That’s not a pleasant thought”.

She leaned forward and put her hand on mine; “You can’t know that, Dad”.

“No, but it does bear thinking about”.

“So you think that loving your enemies was wrong in this instance?”

“I think that the way I chose to love may not have been appropriate, given the other relationships I was in”.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the relationships I was in with Wendy and the children put me under a certain obligation to protect them from harm. My actions toward Mickey might have had the unintended effect of exposing them to harm. I’m not saying I should have been mean toward him; I’m simply saying that it might have been better if I’d given him a polite but firm refusal right from the start”.

“That’s twenty-twenty hindsight”.

“Yeah, I know. I guess we all muddle through in our lives, trying to find the right thing to do”.

“I guess so”.

I drained my coffee cup, glanced at hers, and said, “Can I get you some more coffee?”

“No, you definitely cannot!” she replied with a grin, getting to her feet and taking my mug from my hand. “What is it about this ‘I will wait on you hand and foot until you’re better’ idea that you don’t understand?”

We both laughed; I took her hand for a moment, smiled at her, and said, “Thanks, love”.

“You’re welcome”, She stooped to kiss me, then took our mugs out to the kitchen. A moment later she returned, handed me a newly refilled mug of steaming coffee, and took her seat across from me again. Putting her own coffee cup down on the end table beside her chair, she said, “Speaking of finding the right thing to do…”

“Yes?”

“I’ve decided not to go back to Canada”.

I took a deep breath; “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes – as sure as I think I’ll ever be. But let me say that I do want to spend the summer in Saskatchewan”.

“I think the family are pretty well decided on coming to visit us over here, aren’t they?”

“I know that, Dad, but I want to talk to them about it. You see, once I start my university course I doubt if I’ll have the time to visit Saskatchewan again for more than the occasional couple of weeks, so I’d like to make the most of it this summer. I’d like to go home for a while, and then go to Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and the Edmonton Folk Festival and then up to Jasper for a while – all the stuff we used to do”.

“Okay”.

“Are you going to come?”

“I won’t be able to come for as long as you. Don’t forget that our school summer holidays here in England are a lot shorter; we only get about five weeks off”.

“Right – I forgot about that”.

“Still, I’d like to spend as much of my holiday as I can with you. And there’s another thing, too: Wendy wants to see Meadowvale”.

“So you’re going to bring her with you?”

“We haven’t made any definite plans yet”.

She nodded; “Do you think Lisa and Colin might come as well?”

“I don’t know; we’d have to ask them. Another thing that might change things is that Mickey might be going to trial, and we’d probably be required to testify; depending on when that happens, that might have an impact on our plans”.

“I guess so”.

“What made you decide to stay here, love?”

She gave a little frown; “I’ve thought about it for a long time, Dad. You know all the issues – we talked about that before. This weekend has brought it all to a head, but I was already inclining toward staying. By the way, thanks for not trying to make me talk about it before I was ready”.

I smiled at her; “I know you well enough to know that doesn’t work!”

“Too true!” she replied with a wry grin. “Well, anyway, I gradually came to realize a few things. I really like being close to Becca, I like Oxford, I like being able to spend time with Grandma, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my cousins. I like our little church, and I also like Marston Court and the people there. Also, I know Sarah’s going to need a lot of help for the next year or two, and so is Grandma. And it’s not like I can’t go and visit the folks back home; Grandpa left you a lot of money, and I’m sure I can sweet-talk you into letting me have some of it from time to time to buy Air Canada tickets!”

We both laughed, and I said, “If that’s the price of having you stay here – I’ll pay it willingly!”

She smiled; “I know you will, Dad – and that’s the other thing, of course. I don’t want to be that far away from you”.

“Thanks, love”, I whispered.

“I knew that before, of course, and for a while I was sort of mad at you for wanting to stay here. But on the other hand, when you talked about a return to Meadowvale being a return to loneliness for you, it made a lot sense to me; I thought of how happy you and Wendy are with each other, and how one day I hope I’ll find someone and have that sort of happiness with them as well. So I gradually came to realize that it was pretty wrong and selfish of me to be mad at you for finding with Wendy exactly the sort of happiness that I’m hoping to find with someone else”.

She paused, taking a sip of her coffee, and then as she put the mug back on the end-table she continued, “And then I got Becca’s call last night, and I suddenly realized that there was no difficulty at all making a decision. When Becca told me that you’d been stabbed, I thought at first that it was a lot worse than it actually turned out to be. I thought about – about losing you, and how awful that would be, and then I was like, why am I even thinking about moving away? That would be like voluntarily losing you! I mean, I know I’m going to leave home eventually and start a family of my own, but I don’t want it to be across an ocean from you”.

“No – I wouldn’t like that either”.

“So, I guess that’s where I’m at right now, Dad. And it’s not that I don’t care for Grandma and Grandpa Reimer, and if they get really sick in the future – well, I can always go over then and spend some time with them, can’t I?”

“You can”.

“So, do you think you and Wendy can put up with me for the next few years?”

I smiled at her, leaning forward in my chair and taking her hand. “We can put up with you for as long as you can put up with us”, I replied.

 

My mother and Becca arrived at around four o’clock. My mother was visibly shaken by what had happened, and I had to spend some time reassuring her that although the wound was nasty it was healing fine, and I would be all right. Emma then cheered her up immensely by sharing with her and Becca the news that she had decided to stay in England. I thought that, of the three of them, Becca was the most obviously elated; she hugged Emma close and held her tight for a long time.

Wendy and her children arrived at around five-thirty with a casserole wrapped in a towel. As they came in I saw that Lisa did indeed have a spectacular bruise on her cheek. “Ouch!” I said to her; “That looks painful!”

“It’s a bit sore”, she agreed; “How’s your hand?”

“A bit sore too, but it’ll heal just fine”.

Wendy assured my mother and Becca that she had brought lots of food if they wanted to stay, but they had made arrangements to have supper with Mike and so they excused themselves after a few minutes of conversation. Wendy and the children put the food out on the dining table, but we ate sitting around the living room with plates on our knees because, as Emma said, “We don’t want Dad to have to move out of his easy chair”. I protested that they were making far too much out of a little cut, but at that point they all leveled withering glances at me, and that was the end of the discussion.

After supper Colin and Emma did the dishes, leaving Wendy, Lisa and me in the living room. While Wendy was looking at some of the books on my bookshelf Lisa caught my eye; “Can we go somewhere by ourselves to talk for a minute?” she asked.

“Sure. It’s a nice evening; let’s go out the back”.

We stepped out the back door into the yard and sat down together in the wooden chairs by the window; the evening was warm, and the sun was still hanging over the western skyline.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

She leaned forward, staring straight down. “Tom, I’m really, really sorry”, she said; “What I did last night was absolutely stupid. If you hadn’t stopped me, I’d be in jail today; I suspect that, as it is, I’ve only barely avoided being arrested. And then, to top it all off, you had to be the one…” She looked up, and I saw the tears in her eyes. “I am so sorry!” she said again.

I reached across and took her hand. “Set your mind at rest”, I replied; “I was never angry at you. If forgiveness is needed, then I forgive you; I know you didn’t mean any harm to me at all”.

“I didn’t, I honestly didn’t!” she exclaimed; “I stood there looking at you with all that blood, and I couldn’t believe what I’d just done!”

“Hey”, I said, tightening my grip on her hand; “Let’s put it behind us, shall we? Like I said, I was never angry with you. Anyway, I’ve got an apology to make to you as well”.

“An apology?” she said with a little frown; “What for?”

“Well, events have proved that you may well have been right; I was foolish to believe that it would be possible for me to have a peaceful relationship with Mickey without bringing the rest of you into danger. If I hadn’t been talking with him, I doubt if he would have even thought of coming and attempting to take Colin away. I’m sure I contributed to that, and I’m sorry. You were right, Lisa; I should have listened to you”.

She stared at me; “You mean you’re changing your ‘loving your enemies’ line?”

“No, but I’m ready to admit that I don’t always know the most appropriate way to love them. In hindsight, it might have been better for me simply to admit that my relationship with you and your Mum and Colin meant that I couldn’t be the one to give Mickey the help he needed”.

She smiled at me through her tears; “I really do respect you for the way you live by your principles, you know”, she said.

“Thanks; I think I fall quite a bit short, myself”.

She sat back in the chair, took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “I swear, one day I’m going to have a serious conversation with you without crying!”

I laughed; “Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can just do ordinary family-type things together, rather than dealing with courtrooms and hospital emergency rooms and all that. Speaking of which, there’s something I want to ask you about”.

“What is it?”

“Do you feel like a trip to Canada this summer?”

“Canada?”

“Yeah – I’m going to be going over for the summer holidays”.

“You’re spending the whole summer there?”

“Yes – actually, Emma’s decided to go over for the whole of July and August. She’s got some plans for it, too. She’s going to spend a lot of time in Meadowvale, but she also wants to go to a Shakespeare festival in Saskatoon; she wants to go to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, and she wants to have a camping trip to the mountains – to Jasper National Park, where we used to holiday all the time”.

“That sounds like quite a trip”.

“Well, it might not be up there with Russia, but…”

“I’m sure it would be wonderful; I’m not sure I can afford it”.

“Money isn’t a problem; as Emma kindly reminded me, my Dad left me a lot of it, and even though I plan to give a substantial amount away, air fares to Canada appear to be an allowable indulgence in Emma’s thinking!”

We both laughed. “It sounds wonderful”, she said; “I’m not really a camping person, but I think I might even be able to put up with camping if it meant seeing the Rocky Mountains. I’ve seen the photos in your albums”.

“Of course you have. Well, shall we go and talk to your mum about it?”

“Okay”. We got to our feet, and I put my arms around her. We held each other in silence for a moment, and then she spoke into my shoulder in a quiet voice; “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course”.

“Can I call you ‘Dad’?”

For a moment I couldn’t speak; I kissed the top of her head and held her closer as I struggled to bring my emotions under control. Eventually I stepped back a little and looked her in the eyes. “It would be an enormous privilege for me, Lisa”, I said; “I can’t even begin to tell you how much it would mean to me”.

“Thanks”, she said, looking suddenly a lot younger than her twenty-one years. “I can’t promise that I’ll always be a model trouble-free daughter – as you’ve already seen!” She gave a sudden frown; “Is Emma going to mind me calling you ‘Dad’?”

“I don’t think so, but why don’t you ask her?”

She smiled; “We talk about lots of things, but I’ve been a bit nervous about bringing this up with her. You’re right, though – she’s the one I should be asking”.

“Why don’t we go in and talk to your mum and Colin about going to Canada? And maybe later on, you’ll get a minute to talk to Emma”.

“Right; I think I’m ready now”.

A Time to Mend – Chapter 29

Link to Chapter 28

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”.

“Oh?”

“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.

“Alyson?”

“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”.

“I know”.

“Were you angry when Kelly died?”

“I was”.

“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?”

“Yes”.

“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?”

“Yes”.

“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.

“You’re welcome”.

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?”

“Okay”.

“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?”

“Yeah”.

“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”.

“I know”.

“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”.

“Totally”.

“And yet…?”

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”.

“That’s fine”.

“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”.

“Yes”.

“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.

A Time to Mend – Chapter 28

Link to Chapter 27

A few nights later I was jarred from my sleep by the sound of the telephone. Reaching for the cordless receiver on my bedside table, I peered at the luminous hands of the clock; it was about one-thirty in the morning. In the darkness of the room I pulled myself up into a sitting position and put the phone to my ear. “Hello?” I said.

“Tommy, it’s Becca. You need to come down here right away”. My sister was covering the overnight shift at my father’s bedside.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“He’s fading fast. I don’t think he’ll last the night”.

“Does Mum know?”

“As soon as you get down here, I’m going to go and get her. Please be as quick as you can, alright?”

“Do you want me to pick Mum up at your place?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet; I wanted to tell her in person”.

“I’ll do that if you like”.

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather be the one”.

“Okay; I’ll wake Emma up, and we’ll be down as fast as we can”.

“Right; see you in a few minutes, then”.

“Okay”. Pressing the ‘end’ button, I turned on my bedside light, got out of bed, pulled on my dressing gown, and went down the hall to Emma’s bedroom. Knocking softly on the door, I called, “Em?”

“What is it?” came the sleepy reply.

“We need to get down to the hospital”.

I heard the creaking of the bed, and after a moment the door opened; Emma’s hair was messy from sleep, and her eyes were screwed up against the hallway light. “Is it Grandpa?” she asked.

“Yes; Becca says he’s fading fast”.

I saw the sudden stillness on her face; “Give me five minutes to get dressed and brush my teeth”, she said quietly.

“Becca wants us to hurry so that she can leave the hospital to go and get Grandma”.

“Right – I’ll be as fast as I can”.

Ten minutes later I was backing my car out of our parking spot; it had been raining for several hours, and the water was lying in puddles on the surface of the road. As I put the car into gear and pulled away, Emma took out her mobile phone; “Do you think we should call Wendy and the kids?” she asked.

“I was going to do that when we got to the hospital, but you can do it now if you like”.

I heard her keying in the number, and a moment later she said, “Wendy, sorry to wake you up; it’s Emma. Dad and I are in the car on the way down to the hospital, and I thought we’d better call you… Yes, Becca called us a few minutes ago and told us he’s fading fast”.

She listened for a moment, and then said, “Well, I can’t see why not”. Covering the phone with her hand, she said, “Dad, is there any reason why Wendy and Lisa shouldn’t come down to the hospital?”

“None whatsoever”, I replied; “Tell her my Dad and Mum would want that”.

Emma spoke into the phone again; “He says I’m to tell you that Grandpa and Grandma would want that… Right, we’ll see you down there”. Closing the flap on the phone, she said, “Lisa’s at Christ Church tonight, but Wendy’s going to call her and then go and get her; apparently they’ve already talked about what they would do in this situation”.

When we got to my father’s room we found a nurse standing beside the bedside talking quietly with Becca. My father was wearing an oxygen mask; his eyes were closed, and I could hear the sound of his laboured breathing as we entered the room. My sister greeted us both with hugs and said, “Right – I’ll go and get Mum”.

“Wait a minute, Becs”, I said; “What’s happening?”

“He’s never really shaken off the pneumonia; there are a few other factors as well, but the pneumonia’s the main thing”.

“He’s not in a coma, right?” Emma asked.

“No – he doesn’t appear to be conscious, but we assume…”

Emma nodded; “I remember”, she said softly.

“Of course you do”. Becca reached out again and gave her another hug, then stepped back, looked her in the eye, and asked, “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’ll be okay”.

“Becs, does Rick know?” I asked.

“He’s on his way; he should be here before I get back”.

“Wendy’s coming too”.

“Good – I was hoping you’d let her know. I’d better go, Tommy”.

“Okay”.

She turned and went out, and we sat down in chairs on either side of my father’s bed, holding his hands, now and then talking quietly to him, not knowing whether or not he could hear us, but wanting to believe that he could.  From time to time I stole glances at Emma; her hair was tied back in a ponytail, her eyes were red from lack of sleep, and I could see the emotion clearly on her face as she watched my father’s tortured breathing.

Alyson and Rick joined us a few minutes later, slipping quietly into the room and moving over to stand beside Emma. When she saw Rick, she got up quickly; “You sit here, Uncle Rick”, she said.

“No, no”, he replied in a quiet voice, putting his hand on her shoulder; “I’ll take my turn in a minute, but for now you stay right where you are”. He glanced across at me; “Has Becca gone for Mum?”

“Yes; she should be back in fifteen minutes or so. Are any of your kids coming?”

“We woke them up and told them”, Alyson replied, “but Anna seemed a bit scared of the idea of coming, and Eric said he’d stay with her”.

“We rang Sarah too”, Rick added; “She can’t come, of course, but I thought we ought to let her know”.

“Was she okay?” Emma asked.

“Sleepy, and of course a bit sad”, Rick replied.

“I’ll call her in the morning”, Emma said.

We lapsed into silence, Emma and I continuing to hold my father’s hands; my brother moved around the bed to stand at my side, and I saw Alyson put her hand on Emma’s shoulder. After a few minutes the nurse came back into the room, checked the monitors, glanced briefly at my father, and left as quietly as she had come. A couple of times Emma reached out and stroked my father’s emaciated face, whispering, “I love you, Grandpa”.

My mother and Becca arrived a few minutes later; I could see the tiredness in my mother’s face, and as she came around the bed toward me I stood up, held out my arms and gave her a hug. “You look exhausted”, I said.

“I didn’t sleep. Somehow, I think I knew this might be the night”.

I stepped back from the bed, and she took her place beside my father on the chair I had been using. Taking his hand, she said, “I’m here, Frank; the children are all here, too, and Alyson and Emma”.

I put my hand on her shoulder; she glanced up at me and said, “Did you ring Wendy?”

“She’s on her way, but she had to go into town to get Lisa at Christ Church”.

“Good”.

Wendy and Lisa arrived a few minutes later, both of them showing evidence of hasty dressing. By then Rick had taken Emma’s place across the bed from my mother, and Emma and Lisa stepped back into a corner together, talking to each other in low tones. Wendy came around the bed to where I was standing; I put my arm around her shoulders, and felt the answering touch of her hand on my back.

We kept vigil at my father’s bedside for the rest of the night. At around three o’clock Mike Carey came in and took his place at Becca’s side. Nurses checked the monitors by my father’s bed at regular intervals, and a doctor in a white lab coat spent a few minutes in the room, checking my father’s vital signs and talking quietly with Becca. At some point Emma resumed her place at my father’s side, holding his hand, and now and then talking quietly to him.

At about four-thirty Wendy and I went out to the parking lot for a breath of fresh air. The eastern sky was beginning to get light, and the rain had stopped. We leaned against the back of the same bench Lisa and I had used a few nights before; “Are you okay?” she asked me.

“Yeah; sad, of course”.

She took my arm; “Sad is okay”, she said.

“Yes”.

We were quiet for a moment, and then she said, “You and Rick seem quite relaxed with each other – not at all the sort of distant relationship you had a few weeks ago”.

“I know. That’s partly Emma’s doing, with all the time she’s spent with Sarah”.

“And it looks to me as if there’s been some sort of reconciliation between Rick and Alyson, too”.

“I haven’t had time to ask Rick about that. I’m not sure what’s happened there”.

“Your dad’s got his family all around him tonight”.

“Yes. I think he’d have preferred it to be at home, but we all knew that wasn’t going to be possible. It was the same when Kelly died. She’d spent the better part of the previous six months at University Hospital in Saskatoon”.

“Was that where she died?”

“Yes”.

“Was the family all there?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but suddenly Wendy frowned and shook her head in annoyance. “I’m sorry, Tom”, she said; “That’s a very insensitive question for me to ask you on a night like this”.

“I will tell you about Kelly’s death soon, though”, I replied; “There was something really special and unusual that happened at the end”.

At that moment Lisa emerged from the doors of the hospital and walked slowly over towards us. “Am I intruding?” she asked hesitantly.

“Not at all”, I replied. “Everything pretty much the same in there?”

“His breathing’s getting a bit quieter”.

“Are you all right?” Wendy asked her.

Lisa nodded; “A bit tired, and a bit sad”.

“I’m glad you’re here”, I said.

“Thanks, Tom. It seems somehow unfair, doesn’t it?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I get a new grandfather, and then a couple of months later I lose him”. She smiled at me; “I actually rather like him”, she said.

“Yes, he’s rather grown on me, too”. I straightened my back, stifled a yawn, and said, “Well, perhaps we’d better go back inside”.

My father died just after six o’clock in the morning. For the last hour of his life, we could clearly hear his breathing getting shallower, and eventually it just seemed to fade away into silence and stillness. Emma and my mother were sitting on either side of the bed, holding his hands; Wendy and Lisa and I were standing behind my mother, with Becca and Mike beside us, and Rick and Alyson on the other side of the bed. A doctor had slipped into the room at around five forty-five, and it was he who finally checked my father’s vital signs, looked up at us, and said, “It’s over”.

Becca crouched down beside my mother and put her arms around her, and for a few minutes they held each other; I could hear the sound of my mother’s quiet weeping, and I could see the tears on my sister’s face, too. Emma had gotten to her feet on the other side of the bed, her face stricken; I moved around the bed and took her in my arms; I felt her body begin to shake, and I held her close. “You were with him all night”, I whispered; “That was exactly what he would have wanted”.

I felt her nodding her head against my shoulder. “I wanted to do that for him”, she sobbed; “I really wanted to stay with him to the end”.

“And you did”.

After a few minutes, I felt the shaking of her body subsiding; she stepped back, wiped the tears from her eyes with a Kleenex from her pocket, and said, “I need to go out and call Sarah”.

I felt Becca’s hand on my shoulder, and as I turned to face her she spoke to me in a low voice; “We need to give Mum a few minutes here by herself”, she said.

“Right. I expect there are some formalities here that need to be looked after, are there?”

“Nothing that can’t wait until later in the day”.

“Okay”. I glanced around at the rest of the family; “Where shall we go?” I asked.

“Come to our house and have some breakfast”, Wendy replied; “You all know where it is by now”.

My father’s funeral took place five days later at the Oxford Crematorium. His two brothers and his sister and their spouses were all present, along with my mother’s sister Brenda, and a number of my father and mother’s friends. All of our immediate family members were there, including Sarah who had been brought from the rehab hospital in her wheelchair. Rick had managed to have his sentencing postponed for a few days in order to be able to attend the funeral; he sat at the front with his family, Alyson’s hand in his. Becca and Mike sat beside my mother, and Wendy, Colin and Lisa sat with Emma and me. Owen and Lorraine were a little further back in the chapel, and Owen’s father and mother were with them.

My mother had surprised me the day after my father’s death by handing me a sheet of funeral instructions in his handwriting. As I had expected, he had not wanted a standard church ceremony, but in a short note addressed to me at the bottom of the page he had said, “Prayers and observances according to your Mennonite religious tradition may be added at your discretion, Tom”. We had asked my father’s old partner, Jack Marlowe, to lead a short memorial service with stories and remembrances of my father’s life, and at the end Emma read a short passage from the Bible, and I led a simple prayer of thanksgiving. Afterwards there was a reception at Northwood; my mother had insisted on making the arrangements for it, and she had hired a catering company to provide a stand up lunch in the large piano room at the back of the house.

Late the next afternoon we went to the offices of Masefield and Marlowe in Oxford for the reading of my father’s will. My mother had insisted that I bring Wendy with me, which was why we were meeting late in the afternoon, after her last tutorial of the day. As we gathered in my brother’s luxurious office I saw that Becca had brought Mike as well; Jack Marlowe was sitting behind Rick’s desk, and the rest of us took our places on various chairs and sofas around the room.

The will was much as I had expected it to be. He left his share in the house to my mother, and he left educational bequests in the amount of £25,000 each to all of his grandchildren, including Lisa. I had not said anything about this to Wendy beforehand; I heard her catch her breath when she heard it, and I felt her grip tighten on my arm. Various smaller bequests were listed in the will, and at the end my father left the remainder of his investment money to be divided equally between Rick, Becca, and me. At this point Jack looked up from the document in his hand; “I haven’t got the exact figures yet”, he said.

“I don’t expect there’ll be much after the inheritance taxes”, Becca said.

“No, actually, your father was wealthier than you think”, Jack replied. He told her what my father had told me, about the money he had received from his father and had left in investments. “Inheritance tax doesn’t apply to what he’s left to your mother”, he continued; “bequests to spouses are exempt. For the money he’s left to you three and to the grandchildren, the first $325,000 is tax-free; after that it’s taxed at 40%. As I said, I haven’t got the exact figures, but I’m pretty sure that after taxes and the other bequests, the three of you will be dividing a sum of approximately £550,000 between you”.

There was a stunned silence in the room; from the expressions on the faces of my brother and sister I could tell that my father had not said anything to them beforehand. Becca’s face had gone white; she gripped Mike’s hand and whispered, “Oh my God! I had no idea…!”

“But what about you, Mum?” Rick asked.

“Your Dad and I have had joint bank accounts for years”, my mother replied; “There’s more than enough money in those accounts for me to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Don’t worry, Rick; your Dad and I talked this over very thoroughly before he died”.

Jack Marlowe folded the document in his hands and replaced it in its envelope. “These things take time to wind up”, he said, “so it’ll probably be a couple of months before we’re in a position to actually make any of this money available to you. Meanwhile, if I can be of any help to any of you, don’t hesitate to ask”.

Wendy suggested that I tell Lisa myself about my father’s bequest to her, and so I invited them up to our house after supper. Emma and I had a quiet supper together; I didn’t say anything to her about my father’s will, and she seemed to know instinctively that I didn’t want to talk about it. I mentioned to her that Wendy and the children were coming around later, and she said, “I’ll make some oatmeal cookies if you like?”

“That’d be fine”.

Wendy and the children arrived at about seven-thirty, just as Emma was taking the first batch of cookies out of the oven. Colin came into our living room, sniffed at the air, and observed, “Something smells very good in here!”

“Fresh oatmeal cookies!” Emma replied with a smile as she came into the living room from the kitchen.

I made a pot of coffee and we sat around the living room, talking quietly about the events of the last few days. The evenings were getting longer now, and Emma had a fondness for natural light, so we had left the curtains open and only had one small table lamp burning in the darkest corner of the room. Eventually Lisa said to me, “You and Mum haven’t mentioned anything about your meeting today”.

“No”, I replied; “We wanted to get you all together so that we could tell you about it”.

“Were there some surprises, then?”

“Not for me”, I replied, glancing at Wendy; “My Dad had discussed it with me a few weeks ago. I could tell that it came as a surprise to almost everyone else there, though”.

“What did he do, Dad?” Emma asked softly.

“Well, he turned out to be a much wealthier man than I had known. He’s left the house and all of his money from his own business earnings to my mother, and apparently it will be quite adequate for her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. Nothing unusual about that, of course, but there’s more”.

I paused, took a sip of my coffee, and continued. “Apparently he received a pretty substantial inheritance from my grandfather when he died eighteen years ago, and he never touched that money; he simply invested it. Out of that money, he left bequests to all of his grandchildren to help with their education. That includes you, Lisa, and Emma too. Emma’s already received some money from him, so her bequest is a bit smaller, around £19,000. He left you £25,000, Lisa”.

Lisa’s face went pale; “Oh my God!” she whispered.

“That will pay for your postgraduate degree, if you still want to do it”, Wendy said softly.

“I’d be an ungrateful idiot not to do it, wouldn’t I?” Lisa replied.

“There’s one more thing”, I said. “That investment money of my Dad’s turned out to be a very large sum. Of course, there will be inheritance taxes to pay, but when all of that has been taken care of, he’s left the rest to Rick, Becca and me. It’ll be about £180,000 for each of us”.

There was a stunned silence in the room for a moment, and then Lisa said, “Mum, would you please marry this man, or something?”

We all laughed, and I saw Wendy’s face flush. “I’m not so desperate that I need to marry a man for his money!” she said.

“No, but it does add to his many other attractions, doesn’t it?”

Wendy shook her head with an embarrassed smile. “You’ll be in a much better position to be able to buy the house you’ve wanted”, she said to me.

“Maybe; we’ll have to think about that”.

Later on, after Wendy and her children had left, Emma and I sat in our usual places on either side of the fireplace, drinking our hot chocolate. Emma had been unusually silent after I had broken the news of my father’s bequest to me, and now I looked across at her and said, “You don’t think I should keep it, do you?”

“It’s not my business, Dad”, she replied; “He left it to you, not to me”.

“But nonetheless…?”

She shook her head. “We’ve got enough, especially with the money he left me for university”.

“So do you think I should give it away?”

“Well, to start with, I’d give Colin the same amount of money for his education that Lisa and I got”.

“I thought about that. Have you got any other thoughts?”

She shook her head. “I’m still coming to terms with it, Dad. It’s a huge amount of money, and we were getting along fine before Grandpa left it to you. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough. And what about all the people in Britain who don’t have fathers who can leave them £180,000 – what do they do? They live modestly and do the best they can. Why shouldn’t we do that? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do?”

I got to my feet slowly, and went over to the back window; it was dark outside now, but still we had not closed the curtain. I took a sip of my hot chocolate and said, “Yes, it is what Jesus taught us to do – although I can’t deny that the thought of buying a house and having a very low mortgage payment is pretty attractive to me”.

“If we stay in England”.

“Yes”, I said, “if we stay in England. We have to think about that one now, too, don’t we?”

“Yes, we do”.

Link to Chapter 29

A Time to Mend – Chapter 27

Link to Chapter 26

For the next few days we were back to our old routine of spending every spare minute at the hospital. My mother was at my father’s bedside almost every waking moment, going to Becca’s flat each night around eleven o’clock and returning each morning around nine. Rick, Becca and I managed to persuade her to let us handle the night shifts; she seemed to feel better about leaving my father for the night if one of us stayed at the hospital, and so we took it in turns to stay with him. Once Emma joined me in my all-night vigil; I fell asleep, and when I woke up at around four in the morning I discovered she and my father talking quietly together. When I asked her later what they had been talking about, she replied, “A lot of things – you and Mom, me, Meadowvale, nursing – we even talked about Christianity for a while”.

Almost every night, Wendy and Lisa came back with us to the hospital after supper; somehow, without it ever really being talked about, Wendy had taken it upon herself to provide a light supper for us at her house on Grays Road, which was quite close to the JR. The only one who raised any objection to this was Rick; we were cleaning up the dishes one night before going back, and he protested that she mustn’t put herself to all this expense and trouble. “Don’t be silly, Rick”, she replied quietly; “I’m the obvious person to look after it”.

“How’s that?” he asked.

“Well, I’m not really part of the family, am I? You people are all tied up with what’s going on at the hospital; you don’t want to be bothered with worrying about supper every night, and I’m happy to take care of it”.

“Not part of the family?” he replied, smiling across at me as I bent over to load the dishwasher. “Is that what Tom’s told you? I wouldn’t let him get away with that if I were you! Tom, have you really told Wendy that she’s not part of the family?”

I straightened up, leaning my hand against the kitchen counter. “Not that I can remember”, I replied, grinning mischievously at Wendy. “Emma”, I called, “did you tell Wendy that she wasn’t part of the family?”

Emma put her head around the door of the kitchen. “Not part of the family?” she replied with a frown; “If she’s not part of the family, why’s she doing all this cooking for us? And anyway, she’s Lisa’s Mom, and Lisa’s my sister, so that makes her part of my family, for sure!”

I saw a smile playing around Wendy’s lips as she looked at Rick and me. “Thank you”, she said softly.

“No”, Rick replied, “thank you”.

“So you and Mum are definitely a couple now, are you?” Lisa asked.

She and I had slipped out of the hospital for a breath of fresh air; a strong wind was driving the scudding clouds across the darkening sky overhead. She was wearing a leather jacket against the cold, and her hair was whipping around her face as we sat on a bench by the parking lot together.

I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that”, I said; “I haven’t forgotten what I said to you at the lake at Mum and Dad’s: that you’d be  one of the first to know if I came to love someone again. But after that, things got a little complicated between you and me”.

“I know”, she replied, “and I still don’t understand about you needing to meet Mickey. I still think you’re making a big mistake”.

“I know that, Lisa”. I sat back, stretched my arms across the back of the bench, and looked at her. “Are we going to be able to get past that?”

She looked away, and for a long time she said nothing. I waited, and eventually she spoke in the barely audible voice that she used when she was thinking out loud. “I know you’re a good and decent man, Tom”, she said. “God knows, you’re the closest thing to a decent father that I’ve ever had. I’m just scared”.

“I know”.

“But it doesn’t change anything for you?”

“Well, at the moment, nothing’s happening anyway. All my time is being taken up with Dad; I’m not answering Mickey’s phone calls, and to tell you the truth, for the past few days he hasn’t left me any messages. I’ll worry about him after…” I stopped suddenly; I had been going to say, “After Dad gets out of hospital”, but I had suddenly realized that I was no longer expecting him to get out.

“After…?” she prompted me gently.

I looked away; “You know what I mean”, I said softly.

She didn’t respond, but after a moment I felt her hand on mine. I glanced across and saw her looking at me; “I’m sorry”, she whispered.

I shook my head; “No need”, I replied.

We were quiet again for a few minutes while I struggled with my feelings. When I could trust myself to speak, I said, “So, back to your mum and me; yes, we’ve discovered that we love each other”.

“So does that mean…?”

“We don’t know what it means at the moment; we’re both sort of preoccupied with all the other crazy stuff that’s going on in our lives right now. I think we both want our future to be together, but there’s a lot we have to talk about yet”.

“I understand”. She looked away again, and in that same quiet voice she said, “Emma and I talked about it last night”.

“About your mum and me?”

“Yes; she seemed to be happy enough about it. Actually, I was a bit surprised that she had such a positive attitude; I thought she might resent it”.

“We’ve talked about that, Emma and me. She’ll always miss her mom; I know that. I miss her myself”.

“Still? Even though you and Mum…?”

“Yes”. I reached across and put my hand on her arm. “How about you?” I asked; “Are you okay with this?”

She turned her face toward me again. “I think so, Tom”, she whispered. “I’m still really confused by this whole thing with Mickey, but…”; her voice trailed off, and she looked down at her hands.

“But?”

She shook her head. “I suppose I’ve watched the way you are with Mum, and the way you’ve been with Colin and me, and the sort of relationship you and Emma have, and…” she hesitated, biting her lip and looking away again.

“And…?”

“And, I suppose I feel really torn. On the one hand, I’d like to think there’s room for me in there somewhere. But on the other hand, you and Emma live your lives on the basis of such a big risk, and I don’t know if I’ve got the guts to do that”.

“A big risk?”

“Yes: trust. This whole thing with Mickey is a case in point; you seem prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t bring myself to do that. I don’t even want to do that”.

“I understand; I don’t really trust him either”.

“And yet you’re prepared to give him a chance?”

“Whether or not he responds to that chance, I think I should be willing to talk with him. It’s about my attitude, not his”.

“Emma and I talked about that, too”.

“You must have had a long conversation”.

“We did. I like Emma; she’s a good listener”.

“When were you talking with her?”

“When you and Mum were in with your dad last night. We went for a walk for about an hour. I told her all about life with Mickey, and all about how hard it is for me to believe in God. She was really good about it. She didn’t try to fix me or change me or anything”. She paused, and in the dim light I saw that she was frowning again. “The truth is, Tom”, she continued, “you and Emma might just be the most decent people I’ve ever run into. I really want to trust you; I’m just not finding it easy”.

I reached across and put my hand on hers; she hesitated for a second, and then tightened her grip around my fingers. We sat there for a few minutes without saying anything, while the cars came and went in the busy parking lot. Eventually she said, “I’m getting cold; can we go back inside?”

“Just one more thing, Lisa”.

“What is it?” she asked, turning in her seat to face me again.

I tightened my grip on her hand. “I promise I’ll never, ever do anything that puts either you or Colin in danger. I won’t take it upon myself to come to any sort of understanding with Mickey; I’ll just listen and keep the door open. If he asks me to consider any course of action, my first response will be to talk to you and Colin and your mum, and if any of you feel at all unsure about it, the answer will be ‘no’. I promise you that, Lisa”.

In the darkness I saw her look away suddenly; after a moment she ran the back of her free hand across her eyes, looked up at me again, smiled through her tears, and said, “Thanks”.

I shook my head, but she squeezed my hand and said, “No, I mean it – thanks. And thanks for putting up with me, too”.

“Putting up with you? That’s not been too hard”.

“Oh, you are such a liar!” she exclaimed. “One minute I’m friendly, and the next minute I’m swearing and yelling at you, and then the next minute I’m crying my eyes out!”.

I smiled at her. “That’s not what I see, Lisa”.

“Isn’t it?”

“No. I see a beautiful young woman, very smart, a hard worker, a person who’s been through some very difficult times over the past few years and somehow still manages to stand tall. And I know I had absolutely nothing to do with bringing you up, but I have to say that you make me very proud anyway”.

She looked at me, her eyes still wet with tears. “Thank you”, she whispered.

“You’re welcome”. I got to my feet slowly; “Are you ready to go back inside?”

“I think so”.

Emma and I got home at around eleven o’clock that night; we hung up our coats in the porch, and as we moved into the living room she said, “I’ll make the hot chocolate”.

“Okay”. I glanced at the answer phone; the message light was blinking steadily. “I’ll check for messages”, I said.

As Emma went out to the kitchen I moved over to the telephone table and punched the button on the answer phone. The machine beeped, and I heard the voice of Mickey Kingsley. “Tom”, he said; “Mickey here. I’m out of hospital now, and I’m going to be in Oxford over the weekend. I’ve got a contract to take the photos for a story someone’s doing on one of the colleges. Ring me at home, please; I’d like to meet with you while I’m there”.

Emma walked slowly back into the living room. “He’s coming to Oxford?” she said.

“Apparently”.

“Are you going to call him back?”

“I’ll call him in the morning before I go to work; it’s a bit late now”.

“What are you going to say?”

“I really don’t know”.

Emma had an early shift the next morning, and she left the house just after seven o’clock. I went out for a walk, and when I returned I put some toast in the toaster, poured myself a cup of tea and sat down to call Mickey. I keyed in the number of his London flat; I heard the phone ring three times before it was picked up, and to my surprise a woman’s voice said, “Hello?”

“I’m sorry”, I said. “Perhaps I’ve got the wrong number; I was looking for Mickey Kingsley”.

“Mickey’s gone to work already; can I take a message?”

“I’m sorry – who am I speaking to?”

“This is Marina”.

I hesitated, and then said, “And you would be…?”

“Who wants to know?”

“This is Tom Masefield calling from Oxford. Mickey left me a message last night; I got in late, and I’m returning his call at the earliest opportunity”.

“Ah, yes, sorry – we’ve talked about you. I’m Mickey’s girlfriend”.

I was astonished; “Mickey’s girlfriend?”

“What’s the matter?” she asked icily; “Isn’t he allowed to have one?”

“Of course – I’m sorry, he just never mentioned to me…”

“Have you got his mobile number?” she snapped.

“Yes”.

“Ring him on his mobile then”.

She slammed the receiver down, and for a moment I sat there motionless with the phone in my hand. Then I shook my head, pressed the ‘end’ button, and put it down on the table. Getting to my feet, I went out to the kitchen, took my toast from the toaster and spread peanut butter on it. Taking it back into the living room, I sat down at the table again, picked up the phone, and punched in Wendy’s number.

“You’re up early this morning”, she observed.

“I’m always up early; I’m just not in the habit of making early phone calls”.

“Something wrong?”

“Did you know that Mickey has a girlfriend?”

“A girlfriend?”

“Apparently”.

“No, I didn’t know that. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; he’s a handsome devil, and he’s never been able to go without sex for any length of time. How did you find out?”

“There was a message for me to ring him when we got home last night. I rang his house this morning, a couple of minutes ago, and a woman answered. When I asked who she was, she said she was Mickey’s girlfriend – Marina, I think she said”.

“She stayed the night; typical. What did Mickey want?”

“He wasn’t there – he’d already left for work, but I knew what he wanted; he’d already told me in the message he left last night. He’s coming to Oxford this weekend, and he wants to meet with me”.

“He’s coming to Oxford?” I heard the sudden chill in her voice.

“Apparently”.

“When, exactly?”

“I’m not sure; I haven’t spoken to him yet”.

She was silent for a moment, and then she said, “Could you do something for me, Tom?”

“Of course”.

“Could you find out exactly when he’s going to be here?”

“Are you going to get out of town?”

“Yes; I’ll ring Rees and arrange to take Lisa and Colin down to Chelmsford. I’ll also ask Rees to ring Mickey and lay down the law”.

“Wendy, are you all right?”

“He’s never done this before, Tom”, she replied in a voice suddenly devoid of emotion; “He’s never come to Oxford since he got out of jail”.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Just find out when he’s going to be here”.

“I will. I love you”.

“I love you too”.

I met Mickey for morning coffee on Saturday at the Randolph Hotel. I had stipulated that it be fairly early, as I had schoolwork to do and I also wanted to spend as much time as possible at the hospital with my father. Mickey had readily agreed; he had work to do and only a weekend to do it in, he said, so why didn’t we have breakfast together? I had been on the brink of agreeing when I suddenly found myself feeling very strange about the thought of Mickey, the man who had once broken the jaw of the woman I had come to love, treating me to breakfast at the Randolph. I had used Emma’s early shift that day as an excuse; I wanted to have breakfast with my daughter before she went to work, I explained, and I proposed coffee at 9.30 instead.

If Mickey had wanted to intimidate me by his success in his chosen profession, he could not have chosen a better location to do it. The drawing room at the Randolph had chandeliers hanging from a high ceiling, polished wood paneling on the walls, a large fireplace, and elegant tables covered with white tablecloths. It was already filling up, even at this early hour; the maitre de directed me toward the far corner of the room, and as I approached the table I saw Mickey sitting there alone, a cup of coffee at his elbow, reading the newspaper.

I stopped for a moment, looking at the man who had loomed so large in my past, and far larger in the lives of Wendy and her children. He was still wearing his curly hair long, but it had gone almost completely grey, and he was wearing a pair of reading glasses as he studied the newspaper. There were lines around his eyes, but with his long patrician nose, high cheekbones, and cleft chin, he was wearing his years well. Wendy was right, I thought; he was still a handsome devil, and the clothes he was wearing – casual, yet obviously expensive – were carefully chosen to underline the youthfulness of his appearance.

He glanced up from his newspaper, saw me standing there, and got to his feet. “Welcome, Tom”, he said, holding out his hand with a smile.

I took his outstretched hand; “How are you feeling, Mickey?” I asked.

“Better, thanks. You’re looking well; the years have been good to you. Have a seat”.

“Thanks”.

“Coffee?”

“That would be great”.

He signaled for a waiter, ordered a second cup of coffee, and then turned to face me again. “So – still teaching, then?”

“Yes, I seem to have settled into it”.

“Bit of a difference between Canada and here, I should think?”

“Canada’s a little more laid back. Discipline’s a bit better here, but I don’t care for wearing a tie all day long”.

“Really? I’d have thought you’d fit right in there – isn’t your father a lawyer or something?”

“Yes, but I didn’t pick up a lot of my habits from him”.

The waiter arrived with my coffee; he set it down on the table, and I thanked him as he turned to go. Mickey waited until I had taken a sip, and then looked at me and said, “So, you and Wendy are a couple, now, are you?”

I cradled my coffee cup in my hand, eyed him for a moment, and said, “Tell me about Marina”.

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, maybe I’ve been misreading you, but over the past few months you’ve called me a couple of times, and whenever you’ve talked about Wendy, and made insinuations about a developing relationship between us, you’ve sounded rather jealous and possessive. If I’d been going on your tone in our phone conversations, the last thing in the world I’d have expected would have been that you had a girlfriend”.

He avoided my gaze. “Wendy’s obviously moving on”, he replied; “Why shouldn’t I?”

“No reason in the world – except that when you talked to me, you didn’t sound like a man who was moving on”.

“And what about you – are you two moving in together?”

“No”.

“Is her newfound religion making it difficult for you?”

For a moment I didn’t answer; I sipped at my coffee, looking at him steadily. Putting the cup down on the table, I said, “What do you know about what happened in my life after I went to Canada?”

“Nothing. I know that you came back with a daughter; I’m assuming she has a mother somewhere in Canada”.

“She had a mother in Canada, yes. My wife Kelly died of cancer nearly three years ago”.

He stared at me for a moment, and then said, “Well, I put my foot in my mouth with that one, didn’t I? I’m very sorry; I didn’t know”.

“No, and there are a few other things you don’t know, either. Kelly and I met in my first couple of years in Saskatchewan. Her last name was Reimer, and she came from a Mennonite family. She’d moved away from her family faith as a young teenager, but was on her way back into it when we met. I got curious about that, too, and I ended up making that faith journey with her. We lived our married life as practicing Christians, and Emma and I have carried that on. So when you asked if Wendy’s newfound religion was getting in the way of something – well, you couldn’t have been more wrong about that, either”.

He smiled ruefully; “Shall we start again?” he asked.

“I think that would be a good idea”.

“Tell me what you’ve been up to since the last time we met, Tom?”

So I told him about my move to Meadowvale and how the community had adopted me; I told him about Will Reimer and his family, and my growing relationship with them, leading eventually to my marriage to Kelly. I told him about Emma’s birth and Kelly’s first bout with cancer, about our trips to England and our involvement in Third World missions. I told him about her death and how Emma and I had dealt with it, about my father’s cancer and our decision to come to England, and about my surprise at finding Colin in my class, and meeting Wendy again.

“Quite a story”, he said when I was finished.

“I don’t know – it seems pretty ordinary to me. What about you – what have you been up to?”

“No need to play ignorant with me, Tom”, he replied; “I’m sure Wendy’s given you the gory details”.

“To a certain extent, yes”.

“I lost my marriage, and I went to jail, but I’ve managed to crawl out of that hole and I’m actually doing quite well for myself at the moment”.

“I hear your career’s going well”.

“I’ve been lucky; I got some good contracts early on, and my name got around. I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for going to hot spots and taking photographs; I tend to be one of the first ones newsmagazines call on when they want pictures taken in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. You know – all the places you need to wear a flak jacket”.

“You were in Afghanistan too?”

“I was. Actually, I was there several times before the invasion. One of the American magazines did a feature on the Taliban, and I did the photography for them. I’ve been in the Sudan a few times, too, and I was in Rwanda while the genocide was going on”.

“It sounds like an exciting life”.

“Well, this is the first time I’ve actually been injured in the pursuit of photographs, and I have to tell you, it’s caused me to think again about my exciting life. I don’t know if I want to go back into that sort of situation”.

“I guess not”.

“Still, I’ve done well financially; I can afford to take it easy for a while”.

“Except that you’re not taking it easy this weekend – you’re working, and rather soon after your release from hospital, too”.

“Yes, well, I wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t been in Oxford”.

“Oh?”

“It gave me an excuse to come up and see you”.

“So this whole work trip was just a pretext?”

“To a certain extent, yes”.

I put my coffee cup down on the table slowly. “I don’t like the feeling of being manipulated, Mickey”, I said.

“I’m sorry you see it that way – I wasn’t trying to manipulate you”.

“When someone hides part of the truth from me in order to get me to do what they want, I call that manipulation”.

“Call it what you like”, he replied, his tone suddenly cold.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment, and then I saw him glance behind me. “Ah – Marina’s here”, he said.

“Marina?”

“Yes – she came up for the weekend with me”. He stood up slowly, a smile spreading on his face, and I turned in my chair to see a woman coming toward the table. I guessed her to be in her late thirties; her brown hair hung loose behind her back, and she was wearing designer jeans and a white jacket, her face discreetly made up. I got to my feet as Mickey took her hand; “Tom Masefield, may I introduce Marina Spencer?” he said. “Marina, this is Tom”.

She took my hand with a dazzling smile; “I’m delighted to meet you”, she said in a perfect BBC accent.

“Likewise”, I replied; “Sorry we got off to a bad start on the phone the other day”.

“I’m sorry, too”.

We sat down again, and Mickey signaled for a waiter. “Coffee?” he asked Marina.

“Yes, please”.

“How’s yours, Tom?”

“I’d enjoy another cup, if you’re ordering, thanks”.

“Of course”.

He ordered fresh coffee for us all, and then turned to Marina and said, “Tom was just filling me in on everything that’s been happening since he went to Canada all those years ago – it’s a fascinating story. He’s been teaching in a small town for over twenty years”.

“I take it you enjoyed it?” she asked me.

“I did, actually. The place became home”.

“Have you got a family?” she asked.

“One daughter. I’m a widower, actually”.

“Oh – I’m sorry”.

“What about you?” I asked.

“I’m a fashion designer of sorts”, she replied; “I own a little company in London. Never married, no children, but I’ve got lots of uncles and aunts and cousins and nieces and nephews and all that”.

“Are you from London?”

“Yes, I was born and raised there, but my family’s from the Midlands – Northamptonshire, actually. I’ve still got lots of relatives there”.

“And how long have you two…?”

“…been together?” Mickey completed my sentence. “We’ve known each other for a few years, actually. I did some work for some of Marina’s relatives – her family’s quite aristocratic, and they wanted some photographs taken on an estate of theirs in the Midlands. I was between jobs at the time, and they contacted me about it. I went up for the weekend, and that’s where I met Marina”.

“We kept in touch”, she continued, “and I moved in with Mickey about nine months ago”.

A waiter appeared silently at our table, a tray of coffee cups in his hand. We waited while he set the cups on the table; I thanked him, and he nodded and slipped away without a word.

“So how are you getting on with Lisa?” Mickey asked me.

“Fine; I’m enjoying her, actually”.

“She’s done well for herself at Oxford, I hear?”

“She’s very bright, yes”. I took a sip of my coffee, glanced at my watch, and said, “I can’t stay for too long, Mickey – was there something you specifically wanted to talk about with regard to Colin?”

He nodded; “He’s my son”, he said, “and I’m very sorry that I’m not allowed to see him”.

“He emails you, does he?”

“Occasionally. Usually I have to prod him a bit to get a reply”. He hesitated, gave a little frown, and then said, “Tom, I know you think very highly of Wendy, so I don’t want to cast aspersions or anything, but the fact is that she’s done a good job of turning Colin against me”.

I looked him in the eye; “I think you did a pretty good job of that yourself”, I replied softly.

“I’m not surprised that she’s said the same sorts of things to you”.

I sipped at my coffee slowly, trying to gather my thoughts. Shifting a little in my chair, I said, “Here’s what I know. A couple of years after Lisa was born, you started hitting Wendy, and you did it continually for the next twelve years, sometimes when you were alone with her and sometimes in front of the children. Also, when you were traveling overseas you often cheated on her with other women. Wendy of course took the blame for a lot of this, as abused women tend to do, but she drew the line after twelve years of abuse when you attacked her daughter as well. Colin’s afraid of you, not because of anything that Wendy’s told him, but because of what he remembers about life at home with you, and Lisa hates you – in fact, when she found out that I was even having a conversation with you, it came very close to wrecking my relationship with her”.

He shook his head; “I can see they’ve poisoned your mind, Tom”.

“I should think so!” Marina added hotly; “I’ve been living with him for nine months, and I’ve never seen any of this so-called abusive behaviour!”

I put my coffee cup down on the table. “Look”, I said, “I don’t want to get into an argument with either of you. The facts about the injuries Wendy and Lisa sustained the last time you assaulted them are a matter of medical record, Mickey, and you know that. Still, you tell me that you’re trying to get your life together and that you want to have some contact with your son in the future, and I think that’s good. But it’s not going to happen if you continue to deny responsibility for what’s happened between the two of you”.

“So you deny that she’s influenced Colin in any way, do you?” Marina asked.

“Have you met Wendy?”

“Of course not; Mickey’s not allowed to have any contact with her”.

“Then I think you should reserve judgement”.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean that I think you should reserve judgement. You’re basically saying to me that I’ve only got Wendy’s word to back up the abuse stories. Well, in fact, that’s not true – I’ve heard them from Colin and Lisa too, and Wendy’s brother Rees was the one who found Wendy and Lisa after Mickey’s last assault on them”. She opened her mouth to protest, but I held up my hand and said, “Hear me out. You’ve implied that I’ve only got Wendy’s word to go on; I respond to that by reminding you that you’ve only got Mickey’s word to go on to back up his version of the story. And if you tell me that you love Mickey and you know he’d never lie to you, I’d respond that I love Wendy and I know she wouldn’t lie to me, either”.

“But she did lie to you once, Tom”, Mickey said; “She lied about Lisa”.

“That’s different”, I replied defensively; “She did that because she was afraid of me getting angry if I found out the truth”.

“Still, you can’t say she’s never lied to you”.

“True, but I think that’s in a different category”.

“Of course you do”, Marina replied; “It’s no surprise that you would take her side”.

“Well, let me ask you this”, I said to Mickey; “Do you deny the court record from your trial? Do you deny the truth of the medical records from that assault on Wendy and Lisa?”

“You know I can’t deny them”, he replied, avoiding my gaze; “All I’m saying is that they were more of an isolated incident than Wendy made out. As I told you once before, she had a very good lawyer, and the courts are always biased against the husband in cases like this”.

“So we’re basically at an impasse”, I said. “You maintain that Wendy’s lying about the extent of the abuse; she maintains that she’s not. Meanwhile, you want me to work for a reconciliation between you and Colin”.

He laughed grimly; “I’m not simple enough to believe that you would do that”, he replied. “All I’m asking is that you not get in the way”.

“How could I possibly get in the way? I’m not his Dad and I have absolutely no authority or influence in his life”.

“Really? Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“I think you may actually have a growing influence in his life. In the few emails I’ve had from him in the last few months, he’s spoken very highly of you”.

“Still, if I tried to put any pressure on him to do something he didn’t want to do, he’d baulk – and he’d have every right to do it”.

“So you won’t try to influence him against me?”

“I think reconciliation between you and Colin would be a good thing, Mickey. I just don’t think it can happen unless you’re willing to admit the truth about the past – to yourself, and to him. I understand why you don’t want to do that. I know how hard it would be to you to have to admit the damage you’ve done in Wendy’s life and the lives of her children”.

I saw a momentary flash of anger in his eyes, but it was gone almost instantly, replaced by his familiar polished smile. “Well, as I said, I’m not surprised that you believe everything Wendy’s told you – and I can’t blame you for it. Just keep an open mind, please, and remember – it’s not wrong for a man to want to see his son occasionally”.

“I’m sure it’s not”, I replied, draining my coffee cup. “Look, I have to go”, I said, getting to my feet; “My Dad’s very weak, and I need to go to the hospital to spend some time with him”.

“Of course”, he replied, standing up and holding out his hand. “Thank you for coming out, Tom; I hope things go better for your father”.

“Thanks”. I shook his hand, then turned to Marina and said, “It was a pleasure meeting you”.

“And you”, she replied, but the expression on her face was cold.

“Keep in touch, Tom”, Mickey said.

“I won’t promise anything”, I replied; “My life is rather hectic at the moment. Well, I’ll be on my way, then”. I smiled at them both again, then turned and made my way out.

Link to Chapter 28