‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 21

Link back to Chapter 20

Wendy and Colin picked us up at our house the following Friday evening at about six-thirty. Lisa had been talking about possibly coming with us, but on the Thursday evening she called me to tell me she’d decided she needed to stay in Oxford. “I feel really torn”, she said. “I know you’ll be meeting our family down there for the first time and I’d like to be there for that, but I’ve got so much work at the moment and I really need to put some serious time into it”.

“Don’t worry about it. I was a student once – I remember what it’s like”.


“I’ll tell you what, though – why don’t you join us for supper at our place after we get back on Sunday? Your mum and Colin are going to eat with us; Emma’s going to make pizza”.

She laughed; “I hear Emma’s a very good pizza cook!”

“Yes she is. Shall I give you a call when we’re leaving Chelmsford so you’ve got an idea of when we’ll be getting back?”

“That would be nice; thank you”.

“You’re welcome; I’ll talk to you soon, then”.

“Thanks; bye for now”.


Wendy took the most direct route from Oxford to Chelmsford: east on the M40 toward London, and then around the northern side of the city on the M25 until she got to the Brentwood junction. The weather had been overcast and drizzly all day, and the roads were wet. Colin and Emma sat in the back of the car together; this was the first time they had met and I could hear them chatting comfortably with each other, although I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. In the front Wendy and I talked quietly; I brought her up to date on my father and Rick and Sarah, and I told her about people’s reactions to the news about Lisa and me. “They’re all curious about what comes next. I’ve been asked a couple of times what sort of relationship Lisa’s going to have with the rest of the family”.

“What did you say?”

“I said it would be up to her. She already told me she’s okay with meeting Mum and Dad; beyond that, I’m happy for her to go at her own pace”.

“Thank you for that”.

“You’re welcome. How’s your mum doing?”

“She’s feeling a bit better at the moment”.

“You haven’t told me much about your brother’s family”.

“Rees and Megan have three children. Rod’s the youngest; he’s Colin’s age and he’s still at home. Sean and Bronwyn are the older two; they’re away at university. Sean’s older than Lisa and Bron’s a bit younger”.

“Interesting combination of Welsh and Irish names”.

“Well, they are the children of a man named Rees Howard and a woman named Megan McCready”.

“So Megan’s Irish?”

“Yes she is”.

“Was Rees born in Wales?”

“Yes, but he’s four years older than me, so by the time I came along my parents had moved to Essex”.

“How come you never told me your parents were Welsh?”

She smiled mischievously; “Did I not?” she asked in a broad Welsh accent.

“Nope, not once”.

“Surely I must have”.


“Well, then, I apologize. Yes – my dad was born in Pontypridd and my mum’s from Cardiff”.

“Now, if you’d referred to them as your ‘mam’ and ‘da’ I might have guessed”.

She laughed again; ‘I think I did use those words when I was a little girl”.

“Do you speak Welsh?”

“No, but my dad does. I understand a few words, but that’s about it. I wouldn’t mind learning, but somehow I never seem to have the time”. She glanced at me; “What language do Mennonites speak – Russian?”

“Nowadays they speak English like anyone else, but their traditional language is Low German. I picked up quite a bit of it over the years. I already spoke modern German, so it was quite easy”.

“I didn’t know you spoke German”.

“Didn’t I ever tell you that?”

She laughed; “I think we’re even!”

“I guess so!”

“How did you come to speak German?”

 “My mum has an old school friend who lives in Austria. We visited back and forth quite a bit when I was a kid and I liked the sound of the language, so I took quite a lot of it in high school. I actually spent a summer in Austria at the end of my second year in university”.

“Have you told Lisa about that?”

“No. I should, shouldn’t I?”

“You should; she’d enjoy knowing that about you”.

“I got the impression that Russian was her main passion”.

“Yes, but she’s still quite fond of German too”.


The Friday night traffic was heavy and it took us about an hour and a half to get to the South Mimms service area, just north of London. There were three or four little restaurants and cafés there; the Starbucks was almost full but we were lucky enough to find a table where we could sit for half an hour. Colin seemed to be wide awake but I could see Emma was fading fast, and I noticed the tiredness on Wendy’s face as well. “Would you like me to drive for a while?” I asked.

“Would you? Do you mind driving on the motorway?”

“I’ll be fine. When we get closer to Chelmsford I’ll wake you up and ask for directions”.

“I probably won’t sleep, but I won’t mind not being behind the wheel for a while”.

On the way out of the café she and I both picked up more coffee in takeaway cups. I steered the car back out onto the motorway, and she found a radio station that played a rather mellow blend of folk music and light rock. Before too long we noticed that the conversation in the back of the car had died away; she glanced over her shoulder, smiled and said “They’re dead to the world”.

“Emma’s been pretty busy”.

“I hear she and Lisa got together again this week”.

“Yeah – Lisa invited her for dinner at Christchurch Wednesday night, and they had a good long visit afterwards”.

“Did she enjoy herself?”

“She did. She said it took her a while to get past Lisa’s perfect Oxfordness, though”.

Wendy laughed; “Was that her phrase?”

“It was”.

“Sounds like my girl; she tries to come across as if she’s very self-assured, to hide the fact that she’s not”.

“She did some of that the night I met her at Merton, but for some reason when she came over to my place the other week she seemed to let her guard down a little”.

“She felt comfortable with you; she told me that. And with Emma too”.

“That’s good to hear”.

“Emma seems to be taking all this in her stride”.

“She’s not doing too badly. I was a bit worried at first that she might be a little possessive; she’s had me to herself for quite a while”.

“I thought about that. I was afraid she might resent Lisa”.

“It’s not in her nature to be resentful. Sad, but not resentful”.

“Sad about losing her mum, you mean?”

“Yes, but as she said to me when we were talking about it the other night, ‘It was a clean break – lots and lots of sadness, but no regrets’”.

“She’s wise for her age”.

“She is. Every now and again she comes out with something so deep that I chew on it for the next few months”.

“Like what?”

“Well, on the flight over from Canada last summer we were talking about how hard it was for us to leave the folks in Meadowvale. I said I’d understand if she was mad about it, and she said the problem was she couldn’t figure out who to be mad at. I’ll never forget what she said next: ‘I guess I could be mad at God but he sort of holds all the cards, doesn’t he? Anyway, I’ve had enough experience at being mad at him to know it’s not really very satisfying, because he refuses to get mad back!’”

“That sounds like something a mystic would say”.

“Owen used to use that word to describe Kelly. She had a strong sense of connection with God; Owen said it was almost mystical”.

“Did Emma pick it up from her?”

“Maybe, but there was a lot of stuff she picked up by herself. Like prayer, for instance – she told me once that prayer wasn’t really about words for her; it was more to do with living her feelings in God’s presence without any need to verbalize them. She tells me that’s still the way she prays, and sometimes she senses God speaking to her, although there aren’t any words”.

“That’s very mystical”.

“I guess so”.

“Have you ever experienced anything like that?”

“Only once”.

“You remember a specific occasion?”

“It was hard to forget. January 1st 1984; Kelly and I were engaged, but she was sick in bed with the flu. I went out snowshoeing at the lake, and at one point in the afternoon I was taking a break; I was sitting on a picnic table watching the sun set behind the trees. And then something happened that I still find very hard to describe. It was like the world suddenly became transparent; I could see right through it to the presence of the Creator behind it. I felt this love reaching out to me – the  love of Christ – in a way that touched me right down to my depths. It completely changed my life”.


“Yeah. It didn’t last very long – probably less than a minute – but every time I tried to talk about it for the next year or so I started crying”.

“It was real, then”.

“I think it was one of the truest experiences I’ve ever had in my life”.

“You’ve never had anything like that happen since then?”

“No, but I don’t let that bother me; I like to think God knows what’s best for me.  What about you; have you experienced anything like that?”

“Not as vividly as that, although I do get hints of the presence of God quite frequently. I like to go into Merton Chapel during the day and just sit in the silence; I find I’m attracted to silence. I suppose I’m looking for a sense of conscious contact with God but I try not to get anxious about it; when it happens, that’s good, and when it doesn’t, the silence works well for me anyway”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her smiling; “It’s ironic that my professional life is all about words, but I don’t tend to be very wordy when it comes to praying”.

“That is interesting”, I agreed.

For a few minutes neither of us said anything. I was getting a slight headache from the glare of the headlights; the motorway was busy with people travelling for the weekend, and despite my earlier assurances to Wendy, it was not the kind of driving I was familiar with.

When she spoke again her voice was so quiet I could barely hear it. “On a completely different subject…”


“Lisa told me she asked you about our relationship back in our student days”.

“She did”.

“She said you told her you needed to talk to me again before you could answer her”.

“That’s right”.

“What did you want to talk to me about?”

“I think she was asking me if that night at my flat was just a one-night stand or if there was more to it than that. I didn’t want to answer her because you and I have never discussed it”.

“No”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her frowning; “I think I was afraid to talk about it at the time”.

“Me too. Do you want to talk about it now?”

I saw her looking quickly over her shoulder and I knew she was checking that Colin and Emma were still sleeping. “Okay – you go first”.

I thought for a moment, and then said, “If you’d asked me at the time I don’t know how I would have responded; maybe I was too close to the events to be able to put them in any sort of perspective. But I’ve been giving it quite a lot of thought lately and I’ve started to see things in a different light. I’ve used the ‘one night stand’ language in my own mind for over twenty years, but I’m not using it any more, because I don’t think it’s accurate”.


“No. You and I had a serious difference of opinion about friendship and love. There were lots of things I liked about you from the beginning, and when you started to come to my room and we got to know each other better I found a lot more to like. I realize now that in those last few months I was starting to fall in love with you. But I never talked to you about it because I knew I was going to Canada and it wouldn’t have been fair to you. And of course I knew you felt so strongly that friendship and love were incompatible”.

Again she spoke very quietly; “So when we made love that night, it wasn’t just about sex for you?”

“I was as interested in sex as the next twenty-three year old male. But no – I don’t think that was the whole story”.

She didn’t reply, and I was too nervous to even glance in her direction. I fixed my eyes on the road ahead and the red glare of the tail lights in front of me; in the background the radio was playing an old Dire Straits number, ‘Your Latest Trick’. When the song ended the DJ made some quiet comments and then passed on to the next tune, and still Wendy had not spoken. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She gave a heavy sigh, shook her head and said, “Yes and no”. She turned in her seat to face me and I saw the sudden smile on her face. “I’m sorry, Tom – you’ve just paid me an enormous compliment and I’ve left you hanging there”.

“I wasn’t fishing for a response”.

“I understand, and I want you to know I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years too”. She took another sip of her coffee and looked away again. “There were lots of times while I was married to Mickey that I was consumed with regrets. He’d fall asleep at night and I’d lie awake wishing there was some way I could undo some of the things I’d done. And one of those things was my decision to go to him instead of contacting you. It became very clear to me that all the reasons for that decision were utterly stupid. I remember lots of times asking myself why I’d made such a foolish mistake, and a big part of the answer was that when you went to Canada I wasn’t certain about your feelings for me. I thought perhaps you saw me as more than just a friend, but I wasn’t sure.

“So you can understand why I just said ‘Yes and no’. On the one hand, of course I’m happy when you tell me you were falling in love with me back then – no girl in her right mind would be sorry to be loved by you. But on the other hand, now I know for certain that the last twenty-one years didn’t need to turn out as they did. I can’t help feeling a bit of regret about that”. I heard her voice falter; “Quite a lot of regret, in fact”.

I glanced at her again, and I saw that there were tears in her eyes. After a moment I reached out hesitantly, found her hand, and covered it with my own. I felt her fingers tighten in mine, and for a long time we sat in silence, holding hands as we had sometimes done in my room all those years ago.

Eventually she released my hand, and I saw her take out a handkerchief to wipe her eyes. “I’m sorry”, she said. “I know there’s not much point in regret, and I’d have to be enormously selfish to begrudge you the happiness you’ve enjoyed with Kelly and Emma. And of course I’ve got Lisa and Colin, and I’m not unhappy in my career and my friends. We can’t turn the clock back”.

“No, we can’t. There is one thing we can do though”.

“What’s that?”

“From now on we’ll stop using the phrase ‘one-night stand’, shall we?”

She laughed softly; “I would really like that”.

“So, if Lisa asks me again…?”

“It’s up to you. If you want to tell her what you’ve just told me, I’d be alright with that”.

“Okay. And what about you?”


I laughed softly; “Are you going to make me dig?”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw her smile. “You’re a lot more up-front than you used to be, you know?”

“So I’ve been told”. I was quiet for a moment and then I said, “Look, Wendy – I don’t have any kind of ulterior motive here other than just wanting to be clear about the past. I’ve been asked several times over the last few days whether or not we’re dating again, and I’ve said no – I’m pretty sure you’re not ready for anything like that, and I’m certainly not. I’m nowhere near being over Kelly and it wouldn’t be fair to any woman for me to lead her on and then promise more than I can give. I’m glad we can be friends again and I’m glad to know Lisa and be a friend to her, if she’ll let me. That’s where I’m at”.

“Me too”. She shifted a little in her seat again. “Okay – I’ll try to be as honest with you as you’ve been with me. I’m not really sure what I was feeling back then. I know I’d really come to look forward to those evenings in your room; I felt safe there, and cared for, and the more I got to know you the more I liked you. Deep down inside, maybe I was starting to fall in love with you –  I don’t know. I do know I wanted you to hug me and hold me, even though I told myself at the time it was nothing to do with love”.

“I understand”.

“Do you?”

“You had some pretty strong ideas about love and friendship”.

“I was young and opinionated and I really didn’t know what I was talking about. I’m sorry”.

“No need – that was then, and this is now”.

She nodded. “As you said – I’m glad we can be friends again, and I’m glad you’re part of Lisa’s life now too”.

“So am I”.

“And I really understand what you’ve said about not being ready for anything more than that. You’re right – I’ve got scars of my own, too. I’ve actually been quite happy to be by myself with the kids for the past six years, even though it’s been hard sometimes”.

“That makes sense”.

She shrugged. “Is that a straight answer to your question? I don’t know if I know myself well enough to be as straightforward about it with you as you’ve been with me. I think I might have been falling in love with you at the time, but I wasn’t anywhere near being ready to admit it. That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid”.

“That’s fine”. I frowned; “Are you going to talk to Lisa about this?”

“If she asks me, I’ll tell her. We’ve had a couple of fairly honest conversations since all this came out, but there’s still a level of tension in our relationship. We haven’t got anything like the sort of closeness you and Emma have”.

“I understand”.

“Thanks. And thank you for being willing to dig a bit!”

We both laughed, and I said, “What goes around, comes around; there was a time when Kelly had to do a lot of digging with me, too”.


We arrived at Wendy’s brother’s house just before nine-thirty. I pulled the car into the forecourt of the house and stopped in front of the garage; we woke the sleeping teenagers in the back, and Wendy was just opening the tailgate to unload the luggage when her brother emerged from the side door, dressed casually in jeans and an old sweater. He and Wendy gave each other a hug, and then he turned to me and held out his hand. “I’m Rees Howard, Tom; welcome to our home”.

I shook his hand. “Thank you; you really look like your sister!”

“So I’ve been told!”

I introduced him to Emma, and he greeted her with a smile and a handshake, and then put his arm around Colin’s shoulders. “Come in out of the cold, all of you. How are you doing, Colin?”

“Okay, thanks; is Rod home?”

“He’s upstairs; go on up if you like, but take your bag with you”.

Colin was the first through the door, his backpack slung over his shoulder. “Colin and my son Rod are the same age”, Rees said to me, “but I expect Wendy’s told you that”.

“She was filling me in on the family on the way here”.

“So she warned you about the Irish woman then?”

“Irish woman?” Emma asked.

“She’s the one in charge around here”.

He led us into a spacious kitchen at the back of the house; it was fitted with modern-looking appliances and ample counter-space, with a dining table and chairs on one side of the room. A cheerful-looking woman with thick dark hair was placing a large teapot on the table as we entered the room; Wendy greeted her with a hug and introduced her to me as Rees’ wife Megan. She was indeed Irish, and as soon as I heard her speak I was captivated by the musical lilt of her voice. When she heard that Wendy had let me drive the last half of the trip she gave her sister-in-law a playful slap on the wrist. “What would you be doing a thing like that for? Making the poor man drive on the M25 on a Friday night! First thing you know he’ll be running back to Canada with his tail between his legs!”

We all laughed, and then Megan took us upstairs and showed us our rooms. The vicarage was very large, with five bedrooms. Colin would be sharing a room with his cousin Rod, which left a bedroom each for Wendy, Emma and me. We dropped our bags in our rooms and then headed back downstairs for tea and scones.

Rees was pouring the tea into large mugs when Emma and I entered the kitchen. “Come on in and have a seat”, he said; “Wendy’s just gone to the study to ring Mum and Dad”. He grinned at me; “I suppose you know that mobile phones are against my sister’s religion?”

“She doesn’t have a mobile?” asked Emma.

“She keeps one in her bag but it’s never turned on. She says it’s there for emergencies only, and if you ask her she’ll go on a rant about how mobiles are destroying the social skills of the young generation”.

“Which is completely true!” Wendy said with a smile as she came back into the kitchen.

“But something of a lost cause”, he replied with a grin. “Sit yourselves down, everyone, and have something to eat”.

“How are your parents doing?” I asked him as we sat down around the table; “I heard your mum was ill over Christmas”.

“They’re mostly all right this week”. He handed us our tea and helped himself to a scone. “Dad’s going to be eighty on his next birthday and Mum’s seventy-five; he’s got bad arthritis and she’s going very deaf. They live in sheltered accommodation about ten minutes from here; I see them most days and they come over here for a few hours at least once a week. Dad used to walk over here regularly but the walk’s a bit much for him now”.

I heard Megan out in the hallway calling up the stairs for Rod and Colin to come and have some tea, and then she slipped into the kitchen with a smile. “They’ll be talking half the night”, she said. “It’s a mystery to me how two boys who talk to each other so frequently can have so much left to say when they get together!”

A moment later Colin came into the kitchen with a boy of his own age. Rod had his mother’s thick dark hair and pale skin, and he gave us the same cheerful smile when he was introduced to us. He and Colin were talking to each other non-stop and for a few minutes the kitchen was a lively place. The hour’s sleep Colin had enjoyed in the car seemed to have given him all the refreshment he needed but I could see that the effect on Emma had been the opposite; she was having difficulty staying awake as she drank her tea. Megan asked her a few polite questions, but eventually she smiled mischievously at me and demanded “What have you been doing to this poor child? She’s utterly worn out! The last thing she wants to do is sit here and be sociable with complete strangers like us!” She put her hand on Emma’s arm. “Take your tea upstairs and find your bed, love – there’ll be lots of time for talking in the morning”.

Emma gave her a grateful smile; “I think I will if you don’t mind”. She got to her feet wearily, said goodnight to everyone and slipped out of the kitchen, her tea mug in her hand. She was followed not long afterwards by Rod and Colin, who managed to take a few scones with them to help fuel the continuation of their conversation.

After a moment of quiet Rees smiled at Wendy. “The kids are doing all right with things then?”

“Colin hasn’t said much, but he met Emma for the first time tonight and they were having a long talk in the back of the car”.


“I think she’s doing okay – she’s actually talked to Tom and Emma more than me. What about Mum and Dad?”

“They’re still not saying much. I suspect they’re going to have some questions”.

“I know they are; that’s why I asked Tom to come down”.

Rees glanced at me; “I assume you won’t mind meeting them?”

“I’m looking forward to it. Wendy said she thought it might be better if she talked to them first, though”.

“I think that’s wise. My parents are both rather shy, Tim – they’ll feel better if they can hear the whole story from Wendy first, before talking about it with anyone else”.

Wendy nodded; “I explained to Tom about them having a difficult time hearing on the phone, especially Mum”.

“Mum’s going rather seriously deaf”, Rees agreed, “and her hearing aid doesn’t seem to be helping very much”.

“So what’s the plan for tomorrow?” I asked.

“Wendy and I are going over to their flat tomorrow morning, and we’ll probably stay ’til after lunch. We’ll leave them to rest for the afternoon, and then I’ll go back over later on and bring them over to meet you and Emma and stay for dinner”. He smiled at me; “You’re thinking of going walking, I hear?”

“Weather permitting”.

“There are some very nice walks within easy distance of here”.

“That’s what Wendy told me”.

“The countryside’s pretty flat but we’ve got two river estuaries within easy reach, and an old seventh century church – not to mention a mothballed nuclear power station”.

We smiled, and Wendy said “The sea wall walk from Bradwell Waterside to St. Peter’s on the Wall is very nice, except for that old power station”.

“St. Peter’s on the Wall is the old church, is it?”

“Yes. It was built by St. Cedd in the seventh century; the story is that he used stones from the old Roman border fortress of Othona”.

“Nice – Emma will like that”.

Rees smiled at me; “Your accent is an interesting combination”.

“So I’ve been told. Apparently it comes and goes; my family think I sound Canadian but the folks back home disagree”. I took a sip of my tea. “So how long would the sea wall walk take?”

“It depends how you do it; you could just go to St. Peter’s and back, or you could come back by an inland route, which would take a little longer”.

They talked about the walk with me for a few minutes and then Rees went to get an Ordnance Survey map, which he spread out on the table in front of us. As we continued to drink our tea he pointed out several other possible walks in the immediate area, most of which he had done himself at one time or another. At some point in the conversation Megan refilled our tea mugs, and eventually Rees folded up the map, looked at his sister and said “On a completely different subject, have Lisa and Colin heard from Mickey?”

“They had emails a few days after he rang Tom and me, describing the situation in full from his perspective. Lisa told me she sent him a reply but she wouldn’t tell me what was in it”.

“He rang me last night to say he was going back to Iraq today; he expects to be in England again in a couple of months. It was the first time I’d heard from him this time around, so I warned him about not contacting you by phone. He swore and ranted a bit, but I’ve got all the cards so in the end he had to agree”.

Wendy smiled gratefully; “Thanks”.

“Well, you don’t need to be bothered by him; if I reported him to the police he’d be charged with breach of the court order. And I told him that if it happens again that’s what I’ll do”.

“Well, this is a cheerful conversation, to be sure!” Megan exclaimed. “Here’s us meeting Tom for the first time and you want to talk about Mickey Kingsley! Your imagination leaves a lot to be desired, Rees Howard!”

Rees put his hand on his wife’s arm affectionately. “Sorry”, he said with a sheepish grin; “We can change the subject if you like. I saw a guitar case coming into the house; are we finally going to get to hear the legendary ‘Lincoln Green’?”

“Well, two-thirds of it, anyway”, Wendy replied with a shy smile. “We haven’t had much chance to sing together yet, so we thought we’d take advantage of the opportunity”.

“I assume you won’t mind if we listen in?”

“As long as you’re not expecting too much; it really has been a very long time”.

“She still sounds great, though”, I said.

“Of course she does”, Rees agreed; “I’ve always known that”.

Megan smiled at her husband; “Your dad will enjoy hearing them”.

“He will. My dad loves folk music too”, he explained to me; “He used to sing old folk songs around the house when we were kids”.

“My mum played the piano for him”, Wendy added.

“My mother’s a pianist, too”, I said to Rees; “She was classically trained and she still teaches piano lessons regularly – although lately they’ve been kind of interrupted by my father’s illness”.

“How is your father? It’s lymphoma, right?”

“Yes. At the moment it’s under control, but it’s a reprieve, not a cure”.

“How old is he?”


“Not very old, then”.

“No”. I stifled a yawn; “Well, I think I’m for my bed too if you don’t mind. It’s been a long day, and I tend to be a morning person”.

“Have you got everything you need up there?” asked Megan.

I got to my feet wearily; “I think so”.

“Well, if you notice anything missing, just come and ask for it”.

“I will. Thanks for the tea, and thanks for having us”.


I came gradually out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night. At first when I opened my eyes I couldn’t remember where I was, but then it came back to me, and I waited as the darkened bedroom gradually swam into focus. Then I identified the sound that had registered on my subconscious brain and summoned me from sleep; someone was whimpering, as if they were in pain.

I pushed myself up on my elbow and listened carefully. The noises were coming from the room next to mine; the head of my bed was against the adjoining wall, and I could hear the sounds clearly. They were getting a little louder, and I was beginning to hear words; “No, no! No, please, no!” I suddenly realized what was happening; the person in the room next to me was having a nightmare.

I tried to remember who was in that room; it didn’t sound like Emma, and anyway Emma very rarely had nightmares. It had to be Wendy, and I suddenly remembered what she had told me about having bad nights from time to time. The voice was getting louder still, and the words were plain now: “No, please, no! Please stop; please stop”; I guessed that others in the house would be able to hear her now. I was trying to decide if I should do anything when the voice suddenly stopped; after a moment I heard a door opening, and the creak of footsteps on the stairs.

I lay down again, thinking about what I had heard. Like Emma, I was rarely afflicted by nightmares; I’d had sleepless nights since Kelly’s death, but they had more to do with loneliness or depression than with fear. I tried to imagine what it would be like to wake up after a nightmare so terrifying that you were afraid to close your eyes again until you had read for long enough to completely take your mind off the horrific images that had emerged from your psyche. I remembered what Lisa had said about her mum’s sense of obligation to forgive Mickey, and I wondered if that was the whole truth; if Wendy read from the book of psalms in the darkness of the night, she would have found some prayers of vengeance against one’s enemies that must have seemed very attractive to her.


Emma and I left the house around nine-thirty the next morning; the weather was cold and clear with a thick frost on the ground, and we had dressed warmly as we expected to spend the entire day out of doors. I packed a backpack with sandwiches, a small thermos of coffee and some granola bars, and we each took water bottles as well. We drove out east of Chelmsford to the estuary of the Blackwater River; at the village of Bradwell Waterside we left the car in a parking lot and set out along the sea wall. The estuary was on our left as we walked in a roughly eastward direction toward the North Sea coast. The coastline was flat, with marshlands stretching out from the sea wall toward the water’s edge. Ahead and to our right was the huge boxlike concrete structure of the old nuclear power plant Rees had told me about. The farmland behind the sea wall was flat and open, with the occasional line of trees breaking the uniformity of the landscape.

About two hours into the walk we came to the old chapel of St. Peter’s on the Wall; it stood tall and square against the backdrop of the sea, with a stand of trees just to the north and fields and marshland all around. Rees had told me that the chapel was usually unlocked; Emma and I pushed open the solid wooden door and slipped inside. The darkened church was lit by small windows set high in the walls, but we could easily make out the stark modern altar and the simple bench-style pews. The walls were bare unadorned stone but the floor had obviously been refinished at some time in the recent past. We sat down on one of the benches, poured ourselves coffee from the thermos and chewed on our granola bars.

“This place is amazing”, Emma whispered.

“You like it, do you?”

“Yeah. It’s cool to think of it being so old. People were praying here nine hundred years before Menno Simons”.

“We Mennonites are a fairly recent arrival in the Christian world, aren’t we?”

“Ah, but we take after the earliest Christians, Dad!”

I laughed; “Let’s hope so anyway!”

“Rees seems like a nice guy; do you know anything about his church?”

“I think it’s the same sort of thing as St. Clement’s”.

“It should be lively then”.

“That’s what Wendy told me”.

Emma was quiet for a moment, sipping her coffee thoughtfully; then she looked over at me and asked, “Did you hear someone crying during the night?”

“You heard that, did you?”


“I think Wendy was having a nightmare”.

She stared at me; “That must have been some nightmare. Do you know if she has them often?”

“She told me they’ve been getting less common”.

“I thought I heard footsteps on the stairs; she must have gotten up”.

“She told me she makes herself a cup of tea and reads a book, or prays the psalms”.

We lapsed into a comfortable silence; I was enjoying the peace of the chapel and the company of Emma on a day when neither of us had to rush to get anywhere. After a couple of minutes she finished her coffee, put the empty cup down on the bench beside her and looked away toward the altar. “I was awake for part of the time in the back of the car last night, when you and Wendy were talking”.

“So you heard what we said?”

“Some of it. It wasn’t easy to hear above the music and the car noise, and I was trying not to be nosy, but I did hear a few things”.

“Do you mind me asking what you heard?”

“I heard you talking about me and about Mom. I heard you telling Wendy you thought you’d started to fall in love with her when you knew her before. I knew that already, of course – you’d already told me”.

Again we were quiet for a moment; in the old chapel the silence was a tangible thing. I had sometimes heard Catholic friends talking about the special experience of praying in places where worship had been going on for hundreds of years, and I remembered what Wendy had said the night before about enjoying the silence in Merton Chapel.

Emma said, “I like Wendy”.

“You’ve mentioned that before”.

“I know. Are you two going to sing tonight?”

“That’s the deal, so I hear”.

“I really like listening to you. I like trying to imagine what it was like in the old days when the three of you were singing together”.

“It was fun, but I don’t get nostalgic about it”.


“No. I enjoyed it, but I was pretty shy and insecure at the time. And I was full of anger at your grandpa and I didn’t know what to do about it”.

“You make it sound like a really dark time”.

I shrugged; “There were lots of good things about those days, but I’m glad I moved to Meadowvale”.

She smiled; “Me too!”

I got to my feet; “Ready to walk some more?”

“More than ready”.


We spent the afternoon exploring the marshes, finding our way with the Ordnance Survey map Rees had lent me. I had my binoculars with me, along with a bird book, and Emma and I both enjoyed catching glimpses of unfamiliar marsh birds and trying to identify them. We would amble along at a leisurely pace for a while, listening for birdsong and watching the trees for movement, and then she would say, “Okay, time to stretch our legs!” and we would do a mile or so at a faster pace. In the middle of the afternoon we stopped to lean against the gate to a farmer’s field; I saw the contentment on Emma’s face as she stood beside me with her arms on the top bar, and I smiled at her. “This was a good idea, wasn’t it?”

“It really was”.

We got back to Rees and Megan’s house at around five. My muscles had begun to stiffen on the drive home, and I found I was limping a little on the way into the vicarage. We had walked about fifteen miles, and we were drunk on the beauty of the countryside and the touch of fresh cold air on our faces.

Megan met us in the kitchen with a cheery smile. “You didn’t get lost and fall into a bog somewhere then?”

“No, we did quite well, thank you”, I replied. “I think we’d like to hit the showers though, if that’s all right?”

“Help yourself. Colin and Rod went out for a while but they should be back soon. Rees’ parents are in the living room with Rees and Wendy”.

“How are they doing?”

“Pretty good. Wendy and Rees spent the morning with them and then they drove them over to Halstead this afternoon for a couple of hours; Mum and Dad still have a few friends there and they like visiting the place. They’ve been here for about an hour. We’re going to eat around six; is that all right?”

“That’ll be fine”. I glanced at Emma; “Do you want to hit the shower first?”

“After we say hello”.


We went through to the living room, a large room with big windows situated on the south-west corner of the house. Wendy’s parents were sitting by the fireplace; Rees was on a chesterfield across from them, and Wendy was sitting at her mother’s side. Her father was tall and thin with a wisp of white hair on his head, dressed in a sweater and a checked shirt, and he got to his feet slowly as we entered the room. “No need to get up, Mr. Howard”, I said quickly, holding out my hand. “I’m Tom Masefield”.

“Martyn Howard”, he replied in a gentle Welsh accent, taking my hand with the loose grip of an arthritis sufferer. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Masefield. May I introduce my wife Carrie?”

Carrie Howard was surprisingly short, with her white hair tied in a tight bun at the back of her head. She took my hand with a warm smile. “You’ll have to speak a little louder to me, I’m afraid; the hearing aid does the best it can but I’m a bit of a hopeless case”.

“I’ll try to remember that; this is my daughter Emma”.

Emma shook hands with them both, greeting them politely as I knew she would. “So you’ve been hiking on the marshes today, I hear”, said Wendy’s father.

“Yeah, it was great!” Emma replied; “We haven’t had much chance to do that kind of walking since we moved to Oxford”.

“I expect Canada’s a wonderful place for that sort of thing”.

“It is, but Wales must be great too”.

“There are some lovely walks and hikes, and if you like mountains – well, we’ve got a few of them!”

“Do you get back there very much?”

“Sadly, no – we’re not very mobile these days. But we like Essex too; we’ve lived here for a long time. Did you enjoy your walk?”

“Oh yeah”. She gave them a grin; “Well, folks, I can smell myself coming, so I’m going to head for the shower. See you all in a few minutes. Dad, sit in the corner where they can’t smell you!”

Everyone laughed as she slipped out of the room. “What a delightful girl!” Wendy’s father said as he sat down again beside the fire. “Do sit down, Mr. Masefield, and don’t sit over in the corner either or my wife won’t be able to hear a word you say!”

“Thanks – and please, call me Tom”.


There were nine of us crowded around the supper table that night; it was a long and leisurely meal, with lots of time for conversation. I was sitting beside Wendy’s father, and at one point I said to him, “So, a Welshman moving to England – there’s obviously a story there”.

He smiled at me. “Not an uncommon one, I’m afraid. Lots of Welsh boys left the valleys to look for a better life, but in my case I’d gone to theological college in London and I’d made some friends in the area. I went back to Wales to serve a couple of curacies, but then I came to Essex in 1956 to be vicar of Halstead. I ended up staying there for a very long time”.

“Did you go straight from school to college?”

“No – I was born in 1924, so I joined the navy when I left school and served ’til the war ended. After that I went back to Wales and did my first degree in Cardiff. That’s where Carrie and I met; she was studying to become a schoolteacher. You’re a high school teacher yourself, I understand?”

“Yes – I teach English, and when I lived in Canada I taught drama too”.

“Speaking of stories, ‘Oxford boy moves to Canada’ sounds like an interesting one, too”.

“I got a lot of questions about that when I first moved over there”.

“From Mom?” Emma asked with a smile.

“Yes – as you know, she wasn’t exactly backward about being forward!”

“So you married a local girl then?” Wendy’s father asked.

“I did; she was the daughter of my principal”.

Carrie Howard had been listening carefully, her head tilted a little to try to catch what I was saying. “Was she a teacher too?” she asked.

“No – she was a nurse, and now Emma’s going to be following in her footsteps”.

“Are you doing nursing training, Emma?”

Emma shook her head; “Not yet, but I hope to start at Oxford Brookes in the Fall”.

We talked for a long time over the meal; Emma and I told Wendy’s parents about our home and family in Canada, and later on, when he and I were drinking our coffee together in the corner of the living room, I told Martyn Howard about my reasons for moving to Canada. I could see he was curious about our Mennonite faith so I talked with him about that for a while as well.

Eventually Rees said “It must be just about time for ‘Lincoln Green’, isn’t it?”

“It’s not really going to be ‘Lincoln Green’”, Wendy replied with an awkward smile; “We’re missing our noisiest and most outgoing member!”

“That’s true”, I agreed; “It won’t be quite so lively without Owen”.

“And we still haven’t had much time for practice”, Wendy added.

“Excuses, excuses!” Rees replied; “Just sing for us – I know we’ll enjoy it”.

So I brought my guitar down from my room, took a moment to tune it, and then glanced at Wendy. “You pick songs you know, and I’ll follow along with you”.

She nodded; “Okay then”.

We started with ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest’, continuing with ‘The Recruited Collier’ and then ‘Reynardine’. Emma smiled at us when we finished the third song. “You’re playing through the Anne Briggs songbook tonight!” she said.

“I suppose we are”, Wendy replied.

Her father said, “I remember when you were a little girl you used to sing those songs a cappella”.

She grinned at him; “I learned ‘The Snow It Melts the Soonest’ from you, remember?”

“Possibly you did”. He nodded at me. “You play very well, Tom. Have you always been a traditional player?”

“Well, for a very long time anyway”.

He smiled at Wendy; “Do you remember ‘The Dark-Eyed Sailor’?”

“I haven’t sung that one for a very long time!” She glanced at me; “Do you remember it?”

“Vaguely; I’ll try to remember the guitar part if you try to remember the words”.


So we fumbled our way through the song; a couple of times Wendy forgot the words but her father joined in and got her going again, and when we were finished everyone in the room applauded. “Excellent!” Wendy’s father said; “Thank you very much!”

Wendy looked at me; “How about one more, and then we call it a night?”

“Have you got one in mind?”

“Do you remember ‘Ten Thousand Miles’?”

“I do”.


Rees drove his parents back to their flat at about nine. Wendy and Megan and I stood outside and waved as the car pulled out onto the road; the night was clear and cool, and I guessed that out in the country the sky would be full of stars.

“Right”, said Megan, “Time for me to find my slaves and get the washing up done”.

“I’ll do that, Megan”, said Wendy.

“Nonsense! Don’t even think about it!”

We went back into the house to discover that Emma was already running water in the kitchen sink and organizing the dishes on the side. “Won’t you look at this?” Megan exclaimed; “A foreign invasion in my kitchen!”

Emma grinned at us over her shoulder. “Come on, Dad – this won’t take long”.

So we sent Megan to the living room to keep Colin and Rod company while I found a towel and dried the dishes, and Wendy stayed with us to put everything away in its proper place. “Aren’t you tired?” she asked as Emma lifted the first dish from the sink and put it on the drying tray.

“It’s a good kind of tired,” Emma replied.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to walk with you, but it was really good to be able to spend some time with my mum and dad”.

“It obviously went well”, I said.

“It did. I knew they weren’t going to make things awkward; that was never going to be the issue”.

“I understand. And they definitely seemed to be okay with Emma and me tonight”.

“Well, you two have a way of winning people over”.

Emma gave her a smile over her shoulder. “Your dad and mom aren’t hard to like; your dad really knows a lot about folk music, doesn’t he?”

“He does. When I was a little girl, he was the one who got me interested in those songs in the first place”.

Emma glanced at her with a grin; “We have that in common, then”. She frowned suddenly; “What do you want me to call you? ‘Doctor Howard’? ‘Miss Howard?’”

“Oh please – no! ‘Doctor’ sounds so pretentious and ‘Miss’ sounds so formal and prim! Call me ‘Wendy’, Emma; I really hope we can be friends”.

Emma gave her a smile, lifting another plate from the rinse water and placing it on the dish tray. “So do I”.

“How are you getting on with George Eliot?”

“I read Daniel Deronda before Christmas, and then Dad gave me Adam Bede in my stocking”.

Daniel Deronda’s my favourite”.

“Yeah, I really liked it too”. Emma frowned; “You know, when I read your books I was really surprised to find that George Eliot had abandoned Christianity. She describes her religious characters so sympathetically”.

Wendy picked up a couple of newly dried plates and put them up in one of the cupboards. “Do you think perhaps it’s not just her religious characters?”

“How do you mean?”

“Perhaps she’s just really good at drawing character portraits we can understand and identify with; we can see them from the inside because she lets us in on their thought processes so much”.

“We don’t identify with all of them, though”.

“No, of course not; not many people can work up a good feeling for Grandcourt or Lush. But most of her characters are complex and multi-dimensional, aren’t they? Dorothea Brooke is idealistic but she’s sometimes rather foolish. And Mr. Irwine in Adam Bede has his strengths and his flaws; Dinah Morris starts out by thinking of him as a hypocrite, but by the end she sees there’s a lot more to him than she’d thought”.

“That’s right! I love the way she describes real human beings. They aren’t black and white; they’re kind of like Old Testament characters that way. We admire them and we shake our heads at them, too”.

“Nicely put. So perhaps she just has a talent for making all of her characters real and believable. Have you read Felix Holt, the Radical?”

“Not yet, but it’s on Dad’s bookshelf”.

“I’d be interested to hear what you think about that one. Personally I don’t think the Christian characters in it are as successful as in her earlier books, especially Adam Bede. Dinah Morris and Seth Bede are really convincing as Methodists, aren’t they? You feel like you understand their emotions even if you don’t share them. But I don’t feel the same way about Rufus Lyon in Felix Holt, although I think it’s a superb book”.

“I’m looking forward to reading it. Have you read any Rudy Wiebe?”

“Your dad’s mentioned him to me; he’s a Mennonite author, isn’t he?”.

“Yes. I’ve only read his first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many. It’s set in a Mennonite farming community during the Second World War; it’s about some of the conflicts in the community over war and peace and separation from the world. He does a great job of portraying religious characters too, but then, he’s a Mennonite himself”.

“He’s written some good novels about western Canadian history”, I added.

“You mentioned that; I’ll have to borrow one of them from you”.

For a few minutes Wendy and Emma continued to talk about books, while I mainly listened as they told each other about authors they enjoyed. I found it fascinating to watch the way Wendy participated in the conversation; despite the fact that she was the one with the doctorate in English literature she treated Emma as an equal, listening carefully to what she had to say and responding to her ideas with respect. I remembered conversations between Wendy and me when we were students; she had always been a knowledgable reader and I had enjoyed discussing books with her, but she had also been much more opinionated and less ready to listen, especially if I disagreed with her.

Eventually the conversation drifted back to Wendy’s parents. Emma said, “It’s hard for people who have hearing aids when they’re in groups, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid it is – Mum finds it difficult to screen out the background noise. But I suppose you’d know a lot about that, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah – lots of our old folks at Marston Court have hearing aids”.

“What exactly is it that you do there?”

“I’m a care worker, so I’m there to provide general help for the residents under the direction of the manager and the nursing staff. I’m a jack of all trades really, but I like it because I’m with the old folks all the time. We’ve got some real characters there!”

She told Wendy about some of the old people she worked with; I noticed that she spoke in general terms and was careful not to use names, but nonetheless it was obvious she had become very fond of them. After a moment Wendy said, “It must be really hard when you get to know people like that and then – well, you must lose people from time to time, don’t you?”

Emma nodded. “We’ve already had some deaths since I started volunteering there”.

“How do you deal with that?”

For a moment Emma didn’t answer; she frowned slightly as she lifted a mug out of the sink and inspected it thoughtfully. Placing it on the drying tray, she said, “Mom and I used to talk about that when she worked at the special care home. Sometimes when someone died she’d come home and cry for a while, and when I realized I wanted to be a nurse I asked her how she handled that. She said nurses and caregivers who work regularly with old people tend to make one of two choices; they either build an emotional wall to protect themselves from it, or they decide it’s better to love and feel pain than not to love and feel nothing. She’d chosen to love and feel pain, she said, and it was hard sometimes but it was the only way she knew how to do her job. I guess I sort of decided to follow her example”.

Wendy smiled; “Somehow I’m not surprised”.

“It’s not really such a big deal, Wendy; thousands of nurses and caregivers make that choice every day”.

We heard the back door opening, and a moment later Rees came into the kitchen. “What’s this?” he said with a grin; “Have you got Megan tied up somewhere?”

“Emma can be pretty persuasive”, Wendy replied; “She’s got a way of charming people into letting her do what she wants”.

We laughed, and then Wendy said, “Rees, have you got any hot chocolate in the house? I happen to know it’s a Masefield family custom to have it at this time of night”.

“Don’t trouble yourself about it”, I protested.

“It’s no trouble”, he replied; “I’m sure there’s some in the pantry”. He grinned at his sister; “Nice work tonight. You too, Tom; Wendy’s told me about your musical partnership but it was really nice to actually hear you both tonight”.

Wendy smiled shyly at him; “I was nervous when we first started!”

“You did fine. And Tom and Emma – just so you know, Mum and Dad were impressed. Especially with you, Emma; they both mentioned how you were so polite and thoughtful when you were talking to them at the supper table. Thank you for that”.

She shook her head. “I had a good time; I really liked them”.

“Well, the feeling was mutual”.


The next morning we all went to church together. As I had expected the service was lively, with contemporary music, spirited preaching from Rees and a warm sense of fellowship in the congregation. Afterwards we went back to the vicarage for lunch and another long, leisurely visit, and then at about three-thirty we put our bags in the car, said goodbye to Wendy’s family and began our journey home.

Just before leaving Chelmsford I called Lisa to let her know we were on our way. “Excellent”, she said; “Have you had a good weekend?”

“It’s been very nice, thanks; how about you?”

“I’m out with Mark at the moment; he picked me up at college about an hour ago and took me out for lunch. I was ready for it; I haven’t really stopped working since Friday night except to eat and sleep”.

“Are you still interested in pizza tonight?”

“Absolutely. Will you come down and pick me up?”

I looked at my watch; “Shall we say six o’clock?”

“Alright. I’ll try to meet you at Tom Tower but if I’m not there, come to my room. I’ll let the porter know you’re coming”.


We stopped for a coffee break at the South Mimms service centre at about four fifteen. The rain began just west of London and by the time we got home at about five forty-five it was coming down in sheets. Emma and I grabbed our bags from the back of Wendy’s car and we all made a mad dash for the front door. We were laughing as we burst into the living room; Emma kicked off her shoes and said “Right – I’ll make some tea”.

“I’ll go and get Lisa”, said Wendy.

I shook my head. “Actually, I told her I would go. You guys can put your feet up and enjoy a cup of tea in peace”.

“You just don’t want to help me cook, Dad!” Emma teased me.

“You’re such a great pizza cook!”

“That’s true – I can’t deny it!”

“I’ll stay and watch Emma” said Wendy; “I’m not a great pizza cook so maybe I’ll pick up a few tips from the expert”.

When I pulled up in front of Tom Tower just after six there was no sign of Lisa. I waited for a few minutes, and then, remembering what she had said about going up to her room, I found a parking spot, left my car and walked briskly through the rain up to the gate. The porter recognized my name and let me through; I crossed the quad and climbed a staircase in the far corner, and a moment later I found myself in front of Lisa’s door. I knocked, and I heard her say “Is that you, Tom?”


“Can you give me a minute?”


I waited, and after a moment she opened the door for me. I noticed immediately that her eyes were red and swollen from crying, and I could see why; an angry bruise was forming on her cheek, just below her left eye. “Come in”, she said softly, in a voice that was barely under control.

I went into the room and she closed the door behind me. I turned to face her; “Are you okay? What happened?”

She swallowed. “Mark and I had a fight and it got violent. I asked him to leave about ten minutes ago”.

“Has he ever hit you before?”

“No – this was the first time”.

“Is it just that bruise, or did he hit you somewhere else too?”

“He only hit me once”.

“Have you called the police?”

She shook her head, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “Do you think I should?”

“I do. They can decide whether or not they’re going to charge him, but if there’s an incident report then there’ll be a paper trail”.

“But it’s just one bruise – are they going to take that seriously?”

“Yes they are, because it’s still an assault. And just think for a minute how your mum’s life would have been different if she’d reported Mickey after the first time he hit her”.

She stared at me for a moment and then nodded. “You’re right, of course. Should I call them right now?”

“Do you want me to do it for you?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ll do it. Could you call Mum though, to let her know what’s going on? I expect we’ll have to wait here for the police to come”.


The room was a bed-sitter, a little larger than the one I had lived in at Lincoln, with a desk and chair under the window, a couch and an armchair and some bookshelves, and a bed in one corner of the room. Lisa turned to the desk and picked up her mobile phone, while I took my own phone from my pocket, thought for a minute and then called Emma’s number. She answered it on the third ring; “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me”.

“Dad – is everything okay?”

“Listen carefully, Em; I’m at Christ Church, and Lisa’s boyfriend Mark has hit her. It’s just a bruise on the face but I’ve encouraged her to call the police and she’s doing that right now. I need to tell Wendy what’s going on but I wanted you to know before I talked to her”.

“Is Lisa okay?”

“She’s a little shaken”.

“I guess”.

“What’s the pizza situation?”

“It’s in the oven and it’s nearly done”.

“We might have to wait to eat it”.

“I understand. Do you want to talk to Wendy now?”


I heard her calling Wendy, and a moment later I heard Wendy’s voice. “Tom? Is everything all right?”

“Not exactly. I got here a few minutes ago and Mark had just left. He hit Lisa across the face and she’s going to have a nasty bruise”.

“Is she all right?”

“She’s all right but she’s calling the police right now; I encouraged her to do that”.

“Good – thank you”.

“I expect we’ll need to stay here until someone comes”.

“Can I talk to her?”

“Just a minute”. I turned to see Lisa closing her own phone. “Did you get through?” I asked her.

“Somebody’s coming down; they’ll be here in twenty minutes”.

“Are you okay with talking to your mum?”

“Of course”.

I handed her my phone. “I’ll just slip out of the room to give you some privacy”.

She shook her head; “There’s no need, Tom”.

I glanced around the room and saw a kettle sitting on a side table, with a tea pot and some mugs. “Shall I boil some water for tea then?”

“That would be great”.


Wendy and the young policewoman arrived at almost the same time. Wendy and Lisa held each other for a moment, and when they stepped back they both had tears in their eyes. “Are you okay?” Wendy asked her.

“My face hurts, but I’m all right”.

The policewoman introduced herself; “Do you feel you need medical attention, Miss Howard?”

Lisa shook her head; “I know it’s not a pretty sight, but I’ll be okay”.

“I’ve got some questions I’ll need to ask you, if you’re ready?”

“Of course”.

“Do you want me to stay around?” I asked Lisa.

“I’ll need to take a statement from you, too, sir”, the policewoman said.

“Fair enough. I’ll pour the tea, then, shall I?”


Much later that night Wendy called me on my mobile; “I hope I didn’t wake you?”

“No; I’m just doing some last minute schoolwork for tomorrow”.

“Sorry – I didn’t mean to interrupt. I just thought I’d ring and let you know I brought Lisa home from Christ Church”.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s a lot more shaken than she’s letting on”.

“I thought she might be”.

“You were brilliant with her, Tom; she was so appreciative of the way you handled it when you got there tonight. Thank you”.

“No need. Is she saying much?”

“She hasn’t told me what the argument was about but she says she’s done with Mark”.

“Did she tell him that?”

“I think so”.

“Did the police officer say what she was planning to do?”

“She was pretty sure they’d have enough to charge him”.

“That’s good. Is there anything else I can do?”

“I think I’ve persuaded her to stay home for a couple of days; I know it’s just a bruise, but it wouldn’t hurt for her to take some time for herself. Come over to see her, if you have time”.

“I’ll do that; Emma will want to come, too”.

“That would be fine”.

“Is she still awake?”

“I think she’s in bed, but I don’t know if she’s asleep”.

“Better not bother her then. Will you tell her in the morning I was asking after her?”

“I will; thank you, Tom”.

“You’re welcome”.

“Well, I’d better let you get back to your schoolwork. I’ll talk to you tomorrow some time”.

“For sure. Good night, Wendy”.


‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 20

Link back to Chapter 19

I called Rick and Becca to arrange for the three of us to get together for coffee at Rick’s house on Saturday morning. Both of them asked what it was about, but I told them I would prefer to talk about it when we were together. “It’s important”, I added; “Please trust me on that one”.

Rick asked me if Alyson could sit in on the meeting; “Unless it’s something private between the three of us”, he added.

“No, I’d be fine with her sitting in. Not the kids though – at least, not yet”.

“You’re not going to give me a hint, bro?”

“I’m afraid not; see you Saturday”.


I picked Becca up at her flat just after 9.30 Saturday morning and drove her out to Rick and Alyson’s house at Cumnor Hill. As we were driving around the southern end of Oxford on the by-pass I heard a chime from her bag; she took out her mobile phone, glanced at the screen, smiled and said, “Excuse me just a minute”.


“No; I’m not working today”.

“That’s what I like to hear. So what’s my little sister up to?”

She didn’t reply, and I saw that she was reading a text. After a moment she closed the phone and put it back in her bag; “Well, if you must know, Mike and I are going out for dinner tonight”.

“He’s taking you out on a date?”

“Well, we haven’t used that word yet, but…”

“But it’s a date?”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw her smile; “I think so!”

“That’s great, Becs! So things are moving forward?”

“I don’t want to say too much, Tommy; I’m just letting things unfold at their own pace”.

“I understand. That doesn’t stop me being happy for you, though”.


When we arrived at the house in Cumnor Hill Alyson welcomed us at the door and led us down the corridor to the den. It was a smaller room at the back of the house with a few armchairs grouped around a large fireplace, and a flat screen TV off in the corner. Rick was already there, seated in the most comfortable-looking armchair with his crutches on the floor beside him; he apologized for not getting up but we laughed at him and told him to stay right where he was. We took our seats around the fireplace, Alyson poured coffee and handed it around, and then as they all looked at me expectantly I said “I’ve got a story to tell you this morning and I want to ask you not to interrupt or ask me any questions until I’m finished. Is that okay?”

They agreed, and so they sat quietly while I told them the whole story of my relationship with Wendy, starting with our first meeting in the Fall of 1980 and leading up to my recent discovery that Lisa was my daughter. When I was finished there was a stunned silence in the room for a moment, and then Rick shook his head in disbelief. “Wow – you really had no idea?”

“None at all”.

“That moment when you worked it out – it must have been a shock”.

I shrugged. “I guess so, but I got distracted pretty quickly; it was only a couple of days before your accident”.

“Right. So how are you getting on with them?”

“Wendy and the kids? Pretty well, I think. Wendy and I are certainly happy to be friends again”.

“Just friends?”

“Yes; I’m not ready for anything more than that, and I’m sure she’s not either”.

He nodded sympathetically; “I understand, bro”.

Alyson looked at me hesitantly; “It’s not really any of my business, but are you going to talk to your mum and dad about this?”

“They’re next on my list”.

“I wonder how they’ll take it?” Rick mused.

“Once they get over their surprise I expect they’ll be curious”.

“When are you going to tell them?”

“I’m going to the hospital this afternoon; I know Mum’ll be there then”.

“Do you mind if I come along?” asked Becca.

“No, of course not”.

“Should we be telling the children about this, Tom?” asked Alyson.

“Certainly, if you want to”.

“What sort of relationship is Lisa going to have with us? Is she going to want to think of your mum and dad as her grandparents?”

“I don’t think she’s even come to terms yet with seeing me as her biological father. She and Emma are getting together for a couple of hours this morning; they’ve got a lot to talk about”.

Becca put her hand on my arm; “How’s our girl doing with this sister business?”

“She’s doing okay”.

“She’s not feeling insecure after all this years as an only child?” asked Alyson.

“I wondered about that, but so far I’m not seeing any evidence of it. She was pretty welcoming the first time she met Lisa; it was her suggestion that they get together again this morning”.

“Our kids are pretty comfortable with her; would it be alright if they called her if they have any questions?”

“Of course, and if there’s anything she can’t answer I’d be glad to talk to them”.

“Thank you”.


“Have you talked to the folks in Meadowvale?” Becca asked me on the way home.

“Yeah, I called Will and Sally yesterday, and Joe late last night”.

“How did that go?”

“Well, you know, Will and Sally remember how Kelly struggled with not being able to have any more kids…”

“Are they a bit resentful?”

“I wouldn’t say resentful; subdued, maybe?”

“How did Joe take it?”

“Good. He was surprised, but he’s not the kind of guy who overreacts to stuff”.

“That’s what I was thinking. Are you going to talk to anyone else over there?”

“I asked Joe and Will to pass it around. I wouldn’t mind calling a few other people, but with the time difference and the hours we work…”

“Yes, I always found that difficult to negotiate”. She grinned at me; “On a completely different subject, do you remember in the summer of 1987 when I told you for the first time that Peter Davies and I had been sleeping together?”

“Wow – now we’re dragging up ancient history”.

“Something new and different for us this morning?”

“Point taken. As it happens, I remember that conversation quite well”.

“Do you have any idea at all just how terrified I was to tell you?”.

“I think I knew that”.

“I was afraid you were going to play the big brother on me, and get suitably indignant. But the funny thing is, it never even occurred to me that you’d had a past before you and Kelly got together”.

“I believe I’m about to get an earful”.

She chuckled; “Not an earful, but I’m just going to spend a minute enjoying the delicious irony!”

“Well, you’re entitled, I guess. The only thing I can say in my own defence was that it was certainly on my mind when you were telling me the story, and I was quite sure Kelly was thinking about the same thing”.

“She knew about Wendy, then?”

“Yes; I told her when she and I started dating”.

“That was rather brave, for a shy guy”.

I grinned; “Well, she asked me”.

“She asked you if you’d ever…?”


“Completely out of the blue, she just came right out and asked you if you’d ever had sex with anyone before her?”


“I’m finding it hard to imagine that conversation”.

“She called it ‘the sex talk’; it was about establishing what the boundaries were going to be while we were dating”.

She gave me a wry grin; “Tommy, it’s an amazing thing to me that you fell in love with someone as up front as Kelly Reimer”.

I nodded; “It was a little challenging, but in a paradoxical kind of way I found it really refreshing, too. She was always completely straightforward and open, and at that point I was so sick and tired of subterfuge and complicated relational dynamics that I found her a great relief”.

“I think I know what you’re talking about. Walking on eggshells got really tiring sometimes around our house, didn’t it?”

“It did. I remember you talking about that a few times in the early years when you came to stay with us; you said you felt the relief, too”.

“God, yes! I suppose by then Kelly must have had some influence on you, because I never had the sense that there were any elephants in the room at your house – no hidden agendas, no unspoken expectations. Everything was always open and honest; that was one of the things I loved about coming to stay with you”.

“Kelly taught me well”.

She reached across and put her hand on mine; “Yes she did, Tommy”, she whispered.


Emma and I went over to the J.R. in the middle of the afternoon; Becca had told us she would meet us there around three-fifteen. We found my father sitting up in bed wearing an old cardigan over his hospital gown, with a single IV line in his left arm; there was a copy of Middlemarch lying face-down on his bedside table. My mother was sitting in the chair beside him, and they both looked up and smiled when we entered the room. “Well, here’s Emma!” said my father.

“I brought Dad along too”, she replied mischievously.

“So you did; he was hiding behind you as you came through the door!” He held out his arms to her, and they gave each other a brief hug. “How are you, my dear?”

“I’m good, thanks! How about you?”

“The doctors say I’m almost strong enough to get out of here, so that’s good news”.

We greeted my mother with hugs and Emma pulled up a chair beside her, while I went around to the other side of the bed, shook my father’s hand and said “How are you getting on with Middlemarch?

“I like it so far, but I’m only a few pages in. Emma tells me it’s a good one though, and I take her opinion seriously”.

“So you should”, I said, leaning back against the wall; “Has she given you any poetry recommendations yet?”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid I’m not very interested in poetry”.

Emma grinned; “Uh-oh – Dad won’t like hearing that!”

I nodded; “My philosophy is that people who aren’t interested in poetry just haven’t found the right poet yet”.

“Well, you may be right”, my father replied, “but I think I’ll stick to novels for now”.

We talked about books and poetry for a few minutes, and I had just started to tell my father about Wendell Berry when Becca walked into the room. “Well”, she said with a smile, “am I late for the party?”

“You’re right on time”, I replied.

She went over to the bed and bent down to give my father a gentle hug. “How are you feeling today?”

“I’m feeling fine; I wish I could get out of here but I doubt if anyone’s going to discharge me on a Saturday. You can’t do it, I suppose?”

She shook her head; “I’ve got absolutely no jurisdiction in the JR”.

He smiled at her apologetically. “I’m sorry – we seem to be out of chairs”.

“Don’t worry about it” she replied, leaning back against the wall beside me; “There seems to be a spare piece of wall beside Tommy here”.

“So what have you all been up to?” asked my mother.

“Well”, I replied, “as it happens, I’ve got some rather momentous news for you”.

“Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine, but let me tell you the story. It’s about Wendy Howard – I think you know how she became friends with Owen and me during my last couple of years at Lincoln?”

“Is this the girl who used to sing with you and Owen?” my father asked. “Your mother told me you’d met up with her again unexpectedly”.

“That’s her. I guess I need to start by saying that there was more to my relationship with her than I’ve told you. When Owen and I first met her she had a boyfriend, Mickey Kingsley; they’d been together for years but in our last few months at Lincoln they had a traumatic breakup. After that Wendy and I started to spend more time together; we weren’t dating or anything like that, but we became close friends”. I shrugged; “One thing led to another, and in late May of 1982 we spent a night together”.

My mother glanced at Emma, and I said “Em knows about this, Mum; I told her a couple of days ago”.

“Ah”. She looked across at Becca; “And I suppose you’ve known for a long time, have you?”

“No, Tommy’s actually been rather close about this one; I just found out about him and Wendy this morning”.

My mother frowned; “Why has this suddenly become important…?”

“Because there was more to the story than I knew. After I moved to Canada I only ever had one letter from Wendy, but in the last six weeks I’ve discovered that she and I conceived a child that night and she concealed it from me. Apparently her daughter Lisa is my daughter; she was born on February 25th 1983 so she’ll be twenty-one later this month”.

For a moment there was silence in the room; I could see by the expressions on their faces that my mother and father were both stunned. They stared at me open-mouthed, and then my father cleared his throat and said, “I think we’d better have the longer version of the story now”.

So I started from the beginning, as I had done with Rick and Alyson and Becca that morning, telling them how Wendy had met Owen and me, about her relationship with Mickey, and her growing friendship with us. I told them about Mickey’s volatility, his drinking and his occasional drug use, his overdose, and Wendy’s breakup with him. I recounted how he had refused to accept his dismissal from her life, and I told them about the two months during which she had come to my room to study almost every evening, culminating in the night we had spent together and how it had basically ended our friendship.

“When did she find out she was pregnant?” my mother asked softly.

“She had started to suspect before I left, but she didn’t know for sure until afterwards”.

“Why didn’t she contact you?”

I told them what Wendy had said to me about her decision to go back to Mickey and his insistence that the baby not know who its real father was. I gave them a brief summary of what had happened in her life since then, leading up to her return to Oxford six years ago and the tightly restricted access Mickey now had to her and the children. Finally I recounted the phone call I had received from Mickey and my subsequent conversations with Wendy and Lisa.

When I finished there was silence in the room again for a moment, and then my father said, “So what happens now?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, what sort of relationship will you be having with them?”

“Wendy and I are friends, and that’s going to continue. Lisa’s only just found out about me and we’ll proceed at a speed she’s comfortable with. I have no idea how long it’s going to take her to think in terms of a relationship with me, let alone the other members of our family, and I’m not placing any expectations on her; that’s up to her”.

“Are we going to be able to meet her?” my mother asked.

“Would you like to?”

She and my father exchanged glances; “I think we would”, he said.

“Then we’ll try to make it happen. Emma and I raised that issue with her the other night and she told us she was willing”.

“She’s a student, then?” my mother asked.

“Yes; she’s studying Russian and German at Christ Church”.

My father gave me a sympathetic look; “This must have been quite hard for you to come to terms with”.

“At first it was, but I’ve had six weeks to get used to the idea”.

My mother put her hand on Emma’s arm; “How about you, darling?”

“I’m all right. Like Dad said, it was a big surprise, coming out of nowhere like that. But Lisa came over to our house for a visit Thursday night, and she and I went out for coffee this morning and had a long talk. She’s kind of overwhelmed right now; she’s trying to take in our family and the people in it, and the extended family in Canada. And as for her mom – well, I’ve liked her ever since the day I met her.”.

My father frowned thoughtfully; “Wendy has a son too, you say?” he said to me.

“Colin; he’s sixteen. He’s in my tutor group at school and I have him for Year Eleven English as well”.

“Quite the coincidence”.


“We’d better be careful about not leaving him out of things”.

I nodded appreciatively; “That’s a good thought, Dad”.

“If you do invite them to come here to visit us, be sure to invite him as well”.

“I’ll do that. I’m not sure how quickly that will happen, though. Wendy makes regular weekend trips down to Essex to spend time with her parents; her brother’s a vicar in Chelmsford and her father’s a retired clergyman”.

I saw the amusement flicker across my father’s face. “A clergyman’s daughter? I wonder what her father thought when he found out she was pregnant?”

“She had dropped out of organized religion by then; she’s actually come back to it in recent years”.

“It seems to be contagious”, he observed with a wry grin, glancing at Emma and me; “Perhaps I’d better make inquiries about an effective vaccination!”

We laughed, and Emma said, “It’s not a dangerous infection, Grandpa; you might be surprised to discover that you like it!”

I glanced at him, wondering for a moment whether he would take offence, but he gave her a little smile and said, “I’m afraid I’ve got an incurably skeptical mind, my dear”.

My mother was shaking her head slowly. “Sorry, but I’m having trouble taking this in”, she said softly; “I’ve got another granddaughter, who I’ve never met”. She looked across at me; “All those years when Kelly was longing for more children…”

“I know; that was my first thought, too”.

Emma put her arms around my mother and hugged her. “You’ll be fine, Grandma; Lisa’s a good person, and so is her mom. It’s going to take some getting used to, but we’ll make it work”.

My mother kissed her, leaned back and held her at arms’ length; “One thing I do know is that you, my darling, are a very special granddaughter”.

“Yes, she is”, my father agreed.

“Thanks”, Emma replied with a smile; “You guys are pretty special too”.


My father was discharged from hospital the following Wednesday, and on Friday Emma and I went out to Northwood for the weekend. We set out just after supper and Emma fell asleep in the passenger seat almost as soon as we left Oxford. It was a cold and windy night, and the rain began coming down in sheets as we drove into the outskirts of the village. I turned the car into the courtyard beside my parents’ home, shut off the engine, and then reached over and touched Emma’s hand lightly. “We’re here, Em”, I said.

She stirred, opened her eyes, looked at me in surprise for a moment and then sat up in her seat. “Sorry! I must have fallen asleep”.

“You did; maybe you need an early night”.

“I think so!”

My mother had given me a key to the house, and we ran through the rain to the back door, our bags in our hands. As we entered I could hear the sound of piano music and I felt a sudden thrill as I recognized it. It was a Beethoven sonata, and it was my mother’s playing.

“Your grandma’s playing the piano”, I said; “She’s playing Beethoven”.

“It sounds really good!”

We left our bags at the foot of the spiral staircase and tiptoed quietly over to the doorway of the piano room. A couple of hardback chairs were scattered around the room and the upright grand piano was in the far corner; my mother was playing and my father was sitting in an easy chair beside her, a blanket over his legs to keep him warm. I took Emma’s arm to stop her from going in; we stood silently in the doorway, unnoticed by my parents, as the sonata continued. It was obvious that my mother’s playing was a little rusty; she was making a few mistakes and stumbling over some passages, but still I was thrilled to hear her play again.

The sonata came to its conclusion and we clapped enthusiastically. My mother and father looked up, startled, and then smiled at us as we entered the room and walked across to where they were sitting. I hugged my mother and said “That was wonderful, Mum. Don’t stop because we’re here”.

“Have you had anything to eat?” she asked.

“We ate before we left home”, Emma replied as she leaned over to give my father a hug. “Are you going to play some more, Grandma?”.

“Bring one of those chairs over here and sit beside me, Emma”, said my father. “When I first met your grandma, she used to play like this all the time”.

“Can I make you a cup of tea or something?” my mother asked.

“We know where the kettle is!” I replied with a smile. “You play, and we’ll get tea if we get thirsty”.

We sat for over an hour listening to her play. She gave us another Beethoven sonata, tried her hand at some Bach and then moved on to Mozart, her favourite composer. My father’s eyes were closed but he wasn’t sleeping; he was still looking frail but there was a strange peacefulness about him too. I knew he was awake because after each piece of music he and my mother would exchange a few comments; she might joke about being especially out of practice on that one, and he might say something about remembering another time she had played it.

Eventually my mother said “Well, that’s about the limit of what I can do without serious practice. Emma my dear, you look really tired; do you want to go and find your bed?”

“I am tired”, Emma replied, “but I’ll wait up for a few more minutes, especially if we’re having hot chocolate”.

“I think I’d better go up now, Irene”, my father said, “much as I’m enjoying the music and the company”.

“Do you want anything before you go up?” my mother asked him.

“Perhaps just a glass of water”.

“I’ll get it”, Emma said, getting to her feet. “Shall I put the kettle on while I’m out there?”

“That’s a great idea”, I said.


Emma went to bed not long after my father, but my mother seemed to be in the mood for talk, so I found the whiskey decanter and poured a small glass of Scotch for each of us. We went to the living room to drink it, facing each other in the easy chairs by the fireplace, our feet sharing a single footstool. “It was wonderful to hear you play again tonight”, I said; “I really like those Bach pieces from the ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’”.

“Since your dad’s been ill I haven’t had as much time to practice; that’s why I was so rusty”.

“You sounded pretty good to me!”

“Liar!” she replied with a twinkle in her eye; “I was stumbling over some of those passages, and if you didn’t hear my mistakes then you’re a worse musician than you claim to be!”

I laughed; “It was way better than I could do anyway”.

“Do you ever play the piano any more?”

“Occasionally, if I’m in a place that has one. I haven’t entirely forgotten everything you taught me”.

“I’m glad to hear it”. She stared reflectively into the fire for a moment, and then said “Have you seen Wendy or her children this week?”

“I’ve seen Colin at school but beyond that we haven’t really talked. I’ve been a bit busy, with it being the last week of term”.

“Right – you’ve got a week off now, haven’t you?”


“Have you got plans?”

“Emma’s working, I’m going to stay close to home, and we’re hoping to visit Sarah a few times. Rick and I have talked about having lunch together too. Next weekend Emma and I are going down to Essex with Wendy and Colin”.


“Wendy’s talked to her mum and dad about me. Apparently they’re curious”.

“Do they get over here very much?”

“No; they’re a bit older than you and Dad, and Mrs. Howard’s had some health challenges lately, so it seemed easier for us to go down there”.

“But Lisa’s not going with you?”

“We’re not sure yet; Hilary Term’s still in full swing and she’s pretty conscientious about getting her course work done, so Wendy tells me. And she has a boyfriend, too”.


“His name’s Mark Robarts and he comes from a rather wealthy family; he’s a biochemistry student and he sings in Lisa’s choir. But Lisa and I have promised each other that when the university goes down for the Easter vac we’ll spend a day or two together, just the two of us”.

“Will we get to meet her before then, do you think?”

“Probably; running out here for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday isn’t quite as big a time commitment as going down to Essex for the whole weekend”.

“I imagine Emma’s been talking to her and Colin?”

“I think so”.

We lapsed into silence again for a couple of minutes; out in the hallway, the grandfather clock chimed the half hour.

“Dad seemed very knowledgeable about your music tonight”, I said.

“Yes, he knows quite a lot about classical music”.

“Dad? My dad knows about music?”

“Of course; that’s one of the things that brought us together in the first place”.

I stared at her in surprise; “You and Dad?”

“Yes; I suppose we haven’t told you very much about that story, have we?”

“No you haven’t; do you feel like telling me about it now?”

She smiled; “Well, since you’ve told us some rather personal things lately, I suppose I can’t really refuse, can I?”

“Sorry, Mum; I don’t mean to be nosey”.

She shook her head; “Don’t worry about it”. She looked up at the ceiling for a moment, trying to work things out in her head. “Now let me see – yes, your dad was going into his last year of law studies, so it would have been the autumn of 1954. I was involved in a piano recital; I had done a year of music studies at the university, and some of us students were doing a recital at the Holywell Music Room for the beginning of the Michaelmas Term. It wasn’t a very big thing; there might have been a hundred people in the audience, most of them students. I remember I played a piece from the ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ and a Mozart piece. Afterwards there was a little reception and Frank came over and introduced himself to me”. She smiled; “He looked very dashing in a dark suit and tie, but what really made an impression on me was that he was such an intelligent listener. We talked about the pieces I’d played and he asked me about other pieces he knew by Bach and Mozart; he wanted to know if they were in my repertoire too.

“After that I saw him quite often at recitals and he always came over afterwards to talk to me. Eventually he took me out for tea one afternoon and we had a long conversation; I think that was the first time he told me he was reading Law. I asked him why he wanted to be a lawyer and he seemed surprised by the question; he told me his father was a lawyer and it had always been assumed that he would follow the family tradition”.

“I know that story from personal experience”.

“I know you do. I remember I pressed him on that particular issue; I asked him what would have happened if he had wanted to study any other discipline. He said he didn’t think his father would have paid for any other kind of education for him”.

“Good old Masefield family dynamics!”

She frowned. “Please don’t be unjust, Tom – your dad financed the entire cost of your five years of university, even though he wasn’t able to persuade you to read Law. I know he made life very unpleasant for you but it’s not fair to him to say he behaved in exactly the same way as his father”.

“You’re right of course. I’m sorry; please carry on with the story”.

She sat in silence for a long time, her eyes down, and I began to think I had offended her. Eventually I asked “Are you okay? Have I upset you?”

“No – I’m all right, but I’m trying to decide whether to tell you something I’ve never told you before”.

“Don’t tell me anything that’s going to make you uncomfortable, Mum”.

“There are more important things than my comfort or discomfort”.

She took another sip of her Scotch, cradled the glass in her hands, and said, “Your dad changed quite a bit during the early years of our marriage, but the change wasn’t all his fault. I expect you’ve often wondered over the years why I stayed with him; we must have seemed so different from each other. But we weren’t always like that, and I’ve always hoped that eventually the man I married would come back to me. Not that you can ever go backwards, but over the years things sometimes get lost and I suppose it’s natural to hope they can be found again”.

“I know what you mean”.

She glanced at me apologetically. “I’m sorry; I should have chosen my words more carefully there”.

“I’m fine, Mum; carry on with the story”.

“Alright; where was I? Oh yes – well, your dad articled at his father’s law firm when he finished university. We got married that same year, and in the early days of our marriage he worked really hard to keep some kind of balance in his life. He tried to take me out to concerts and plays, and he tried to work reasonable hours so we could have time together.

“But his father kept putting pressure on him; he told him that if he wanted to be a successful lawyer he would have to be prepared to work longer hours and bring more work home and so on. And gradually, as the months went by, Frank gave in and did what his father wanted. He was dreadfully insecure, you see…”

“Insecure?” I exclaimed; “My father, insecure?”

“Yes – believe me, he was dreadfully insecure. Just think for a moment about the way he treated you when you were growing up, Tom, and ask yourself the question, ‘Where did he learn to be that kind of father?’ The answer is, he learned it from his father, and that’s why he was so insecure. Imagine him receiving from his own father the same kind of treatment he gave you; if you can do that, you might be able to identify with him. I tried to help him stand up to his father, but I wasn’t strong enough. He was hungry for his dad’s approval, and there was only one way he could get it”.

“Being a successful barrister”.

“Yes – and you see, when you were in your teens you had an advantage; you had Owen and his family. Owen’s father gave you the sort of affirmation and support you weren’t receiving from Frank. I knew that, of course. Not that I begrudged it to you; I only wished you could have found it from Frank. But he didn’t know how to give it to you; no one had ever shown him how. You were lucky; Owen’s father showed you another way, and then of course Will Reimer did too, so you were able to break the mould and learn how to be a real father. Don’t imagine that Frank doesn’t see that; he sees it very clearly. He sees how dearly Emma loves you and how close the two of you are. He watches the easy and open relationship you have with her, and he feels so much regret about how deeply he failed you as a father”.

“Mum, forgive me for asking, but how do you know he feels this way?”

“Because we talk about it, of course”.

“He tells you that he regrets failing me as a father?”

“Yes, and many other things as well. He talks about what a wonderful job you and Kelly did in bringing Emma up, and what a remarkable woman Kelly was. He talks about how much he regrets that he couldn’t swallow his pride and visit you in Canada while she was still alive”.

“Why doesn’t he talk to me about this?”

“Because he’s afraid to, of course”.


“Yes; can’t you see that?”

“Mum, when I was twenty-four he attacked me with a walking cane! He’s never been afraid of anything in his life!”

She shook her head emphatically; “No, I can assure you that’s not true”. She smiled at me. “Look at you; when you left here in 1982 you were a shy young man, very insecure, extremely defensive when it came to your relationship with your dad, and very prickly when people tried to guide you or control you”.

I gave her a wry grin; “I think I recognize myself in that description”.

“But you’re not the same person any more, and your dad knows that. You’re secure in yourself, you know who you are, you’ve made decisions about the sort of life you want to live, and you stick to them without getting defensive about them. I know you’ve had an enormous sadness in your life over the past three years, but it’s also true that you’re more comfortable in your own skin than you’ve ever been – at least, that’s how it looks to me. And you’re willing to take the risk of vulnerability too, even if you shy away from it. Being willing to tell us about Kelly’s life insurance policy and how strongly you felt about not spending it on anything other than Emma’s education – I know it was really hard for you to let your dad see how deeply you continue to grieve for Kelly, and it was very brave of you to do it”.

“Thank you”, I said quietly.

“What I’m trying to say in my own clumsy way, Tom, is that you’re very much your own man now, and your dad finds that more than a little intimidating. So yes – he does want to talk to you about the important things, but you’ll have to be patient with him, because he’s afraid”.

I was quiet for a moment, and then I spoke softly; “Is he afraid of dying, Mum?”


“Has he accepted the fact that he’s going to die?”

“Yes, although when you and Becca push him…”

“I know; we’ve talked about that”. I sat up slowly in my chair, reached for her hand, and said, “How are you doing with this?”

“One day at a time, one foot in front of the other; I know you understand, and I find that a great comfort”.

“I’m glad”.

“And on the brighter side of things, I’m beginning to get my wish”.

“Your wish?”

“My wish that the man I fell in love with would come back to me”.

“And has he?”

“He’s started to. And when he gets his courage up I know he’ll talk to you about the things that matter; he knows he hasn’t got very long”.

“What can I do to help him?”

“You’re doing very well already; you keep visiting him, and you talk about the things you’re doing and the things you’re reading, and you’re patient with him, and most of the time you manage to be gentle with him even while you’re trying to stick to your guns”.

I chuckled; “Not the most appropriate figure of speech for a Mennonite pacifist, Mum!”

She smiled; “No, I suppose not. Anyway, just keep on being patient with him, Tom; that’s really all I can say. He’s over seventy, and old habits die hard”.

“I understand that, and so does Emma”.

“She’s so good with him; you and Kelly have done an extraordinary job in bringing that girl up”.

“Thank you; I’ve been incredibly lucky with her”.

We lapsed into silence again for a moment; I finished my Scotch and held the empty glass on my lap, staring into the fireplace.

“Would you like another one?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No, I think I’ve had enough”.

She glanced at the clock; “It’s getting late, isn’t it?”

“It is; are you going to head up?”

“I think so; how about you?”

“I’ve got about an hour’s worth of marking to do, so I’m going to sit up and do it tonight”.

“You look tired, too; are you sure you wouldn’t be better to go to bed now and come to it fresh in the morning?”

“No, I’ll sleep better if I know it’s done”.

“All right, then”. She got to her feet slowly, leaned forward and kissed me on the top of my head. “Good night, Tom. I’m very glad you and Emma are here”.

“Good night, Mum”.

Link to Chapter 21


‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 19

Link back to Chapter 18

I got home from the pub about nine-fifteen; Emma had a Bruce Cockburn album playing on the CD player, and she was curled up in her easy chair by the gas fire, a cup of hot chocolate at her elbow, reading a book. She smiled at me as I came into the living room, but I saw the dark circles under her eyes.

“You look tired”, I said as I bent to kiss her on the top of her head.

“I am a little”.

“How’s everybody at the hospital tonight?”

“Grandpa’s doing pretty good. Doctor Khoury’s starting to sound optimistic about him getting home in the next week or so”.

“He’ll be glad about that”, I said, standing opposite her with my elbow resting on the back of the other armchair.

“Yeah, I think he’s going stir-crazy in there. He asked after you and I told him you were busy doing schoolwork tonight”.

“I was, until I got a phone call from Wendy”.

“I read your note”.

“I’ll tell you about it in a minute. How’s Sarah?”

“Better tonight”.

I stared at her; “Better?”

“In a better mood, I mean. We actually talked, and we had a pleasant conversation. Don’t get me wrong – she’s still in a lot of pain and she’s still getting headaches, but the double vision seems to have gone now. And she was in a better state of mind – almost cheerful at times, actually”.

“Well, that’s great; well done, Emma Dawn”.

She laughed; “I don’t think I can claim the credit for it, Dad!”

“Some of it, anyway. You’re quite good at stubborn love”.

She looked at me for a moment with the ghost of a smile playing around her lips. “I like that; ‘stubborn love’; I’ll take that as a compliment”.

“So you should. Now – is the water in the kettle still hot?”

“Probably; I only made the hot chocolate about five minutes ago. Sorry I didn’t wait for you; I wasn’t sure when you’d be back”. She gave me another smile; “So you and Wendy went for a date?”

“It wasn’t a date; it was just two friends spending some time together”.

“Having a drink at the pub?”

“Friends do that sort of thing all the time”.

“Sorry Dad; I’ll stop bugging you about it. I just think it’s great, that’s all”.

I stared at her; “You do?”

“Yeah”, she replied softly, “I do”.

“I’ve always thought you might be upset at the idea of me going out on a date with someone”.

“That depends on who the someone is. I have standards for you, you know!”

“You’re going to vet my possible future dates?”

“Of course. Wendy’s okay though; I approve of her already”.

“I’m glad to hear it. But just so we’re clear, Wendy and I don’t have that kind of relationship”.

She nodded; “I understand”.

I listened to the music for a moment and then said, “Nothing But a Burning Light; I haven’t heard this for a while”.

“Yeah – every now and again I feel like listening to some of Mom’s music”.

“She had good taste in music. Well, I’m going to make myself some hot chocolate. Would you like a refill?”

“I’m good, thanks”.


I made my hot chocolate, went back into the living room and took my seat in the other easy chair across from her; she had turned off most of the lights, giving the living room a cosy and somewhat subdued atmosphere.

“Tell me more about Wendy”, she said. “She wasn’t in the same college as you, right?”

“No – she was at Merton, so it’s a nice piece of serendipity that she’s a tutor there now”.

“But she studied in London before she came here?”

“Yes. She came up to Merton to do graduate work in English”.

“Weren’t you taking English too?”

“Not at the same time as her – when we met I was already doing my teacher training”.

“And she was going out with Lisa and Colin’s dad at the time?”

“Yes”. I told her about how we had first met Mickey and Wendy when they were playing together at the ‘Plough and Lantern’, and about the unusual relationship they had. “Wendy had  strong opinions about relationships. She thought love and friendship don’t mix; people can’t be friends and lovers at the same time”.

“That’s weird”.

“I thought so too, but on the other hand it described her relationship with Mickey very well. She told me several times that they weren’t friends, but they were very much in love with each other”.

“But it didn’t work out for them?”

“No – it ended up being an abusive relationship. Actually, Mickey was charged and spent some time in prison”.

She stared at me, her eyes wide. “That must have been some pretty awful abuse”.

“I think so; Wendy told me she had broken bones”.

“Which ones?”

“She didn’t say”.

“Is Mickey still in prison?”

“No – he’s out, and living in London again. He’s a photojournalist and he’s very successful; he travels all over the world to do photography on contracts for magazines and publishers. He’s spent most of the past year in the Middle East”.


“I think so”.

“I hope he took a flak jacket”.

“No kidding”.

She was quiet again for a moment; she finished her hot chocolate, put the empty mug down on her end table, and looked at me hesitantly. “Dad, I want to ask you about something”.


“I’ve known Uncle Owen all my life and I’ve always known he was your best friend; there’s been visits both ways and we’ve seen a lot of them. But you’ve hardly ever talked about Wendy – just when I asked you out the photographs – and there’s never been any visits, even when we came over to England”.

“That’s true”.

“But before Christmas when you three got together to sing I saw you giving each other a three-way hug, and lately you’ve been talking as if you were really good friends with her in your university days. So I’m just trying to figure out why we’ve never seen or heard anything of her over the years”.

For a moment I didn’t answer, and she noticed my hesitation. “I’m sorry; am I prying?”

“No, you’re not, but you’ve touched on something big”.


“Yeah”. I leaned forward in my chair again. “First, I want to apologize to you for not being entirely truthful about this when you asked me the last time back in October. I didn’t tell you any lies, but I didn’t tell you the whole truth about Wendy and me”.

“So she was your girlfriend for a while?”

“No – like I said, I didn’t tell you any lies. What I told you was true: she was never my girlfriend. But there was more to our relationship than simple friendship”.

“What does that mean?”

“I’ll try to explain”. I was quiet for a moment, gathering my thoughts, and then I said “During our last year at Oxford Wendy and Mickey went through a bad breakup. He had a drug habit, and one day she found him lying on his bed after he’d taken an overdose. Obviously his life was saved, but she decided she didn’t want to share that kind of life, so she broke up with him.

“But he wouldn’t accept his dismissal from her life and he started to harass her. He would come around to her place in the evenings and bang on the door; he wouldn’t leave her alone until she let him in. You have to understand that they’d been a couple for seven years and even though she’d made the decision to break up with him she was still more than half in love with him. So she told me what was going on and she asked me if she could start coming over to my place in the evenings to study. Of course, I agreed to that.

“For a couple of months she came over almost every night. I would make tea, and we would study for a couple of hours. We weren’t studying together – we were taking completely different courses – but still, we often talked about what we were reading. Then I would make another pot of tea and we would talk for another hour or so before she went back to her place. In fact, I would often walk with her, just to make sure Mickey wasn’t hanging around there.

“That’s when things started to change between Wendy and me. Until then my friendship with her had always included Owen; the three of us would be playing music together, or having a beer together after a gig, or going for long walks in the country. Wendy and I had hardly ever spent time together one-on-one. But now that was changing and for the first time the two of us became really close friends. Other people noticed; some of our other friends assumed we were dating, but we weren’t. Well, if I’m honest, I was probably starting to fall in love with her, but nothing had been said or done about it between us – other than lots of talking and the occasional cuddle on my couch.

“However…” I stopped, and although I was avoiding her gaze I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was watching me intently.

“You don’t have to tell me any more”, she said quietly;  “I think I know where you’re going”.

I shook my head. “No, having gone this far I do have to tell you the rest; if I don’t, I’ll never be sure what you’re assuming about Wendy and me”.

“Okay; I take it that at some point the two of you slept together?”

“Just once. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it happened by accident; it was a choice we made and we could have chosen not to do it. But when we looked at each other the next morning in the cold light of day I think we both felt really awkward. And that was really the end of our friendship; she didn’t think love and friendship could co-exist, but I wanted our relationship to go further than she did, and I think she knew that. She never came around to my room again after that; we met a few times for coffee or a beer but things were always awkward between us”. I shrugged; “So our friendship was basically over by the time I left England; that’s why you haven’t seen or heard much about her before this”.

“You never heard from her again?”

“I wrote to her a couple of times and she wrote me back once, but she never gave me a return address”.

She reached out and took my hand. “I’m sorry I’ve embarrassed you; I really had no right to ask you about this”.

“No, it’s all right; I’m glad we’ve talked about it”.

“Does anyone else know about this? Does Auntie Becca know?”

“No; Owen’s the only other person who knows”.

“You didn’t tell Auntie Becca?”

“She was eleven at the time so it didn’t seem appropriate; since then there’s never been the need or the opportunity for us to talk about it”.

“Did Mom know?”

“Yes; I told her the whole story when we first started dating”.

For a moment neither of us spoke, and then she said, “I appreciate you being so honest with me about this, Dad”.

“Actually, I haven’t finished being honest with you yet”.

She frowned; “What do you mean?”

“Well, since we came back to England I’ve discovered there’s more to the story than I thought there was. Like I said, after I moved to Canada I wrote to Wendy a couple of times but she only answered once, and after that there was silence. Eventually I came to the conclusion that she just didn’t feel comfortable with being in touch with me because of what had happened between us, and I had to accept that and get on with my life. So I did, and that was where things stood until I saw her again last October.

“But now I know there was more to it than that; now I know the main reason Wendy cut off contact with me: she didn’t want me to know that she and I had conceived a child together that night”.

Her face went pale and I saw the shock in her eyes. “You and Wendy have a child?”

“We do”.



“Oh, Daddy”. She got up quickly from her chair and left the room; I heard her footsteps on the stairs, and then the click of her bedroom door closing.

After a moment I got to my feet, picked up our mugs, and went out to the kitchen. There were a few other dishes in the sink; I ran some hot water and began washing them slowly and methodically, all the time praying quietly for Emma and me. I had no idea how long it would be before she came down; I knew her well enough to know that it might not be until the next morning.

I finished the dishes, went back into the living room, took out my guitar and began playing softly. After a while I slipped into some early Bruce Cockburn numbers, songs Kelly had known and loved long before she and I had met. I sang the words softly, my fingers moving lightly over the strings; in my mind I could see Kelly’s face as she listened to me playing the songs for her, and I could even hear her voice filling in a quiet harmony line on some of the tunes.

I got lost in the music after a while and didn’t notice Emma standing in the doorway, listening intently. When I finished playing ‘All the Diamonds in the World’ I heard her cough hesitantly; I looked up and saw her there, her eyes red, her face still pale.

“Mom loved those songs”, she whispered.

“Yes”. I got to my feet, propped my guitar against the couch, went over and put my arms around her. I felt her arms coming up around my back, and I whispered, “You are the most precious thing on this earth to me, Emma Dawn”.

“I love you, Dad”.

We held each other for a few minutes, the only sound in the room the quiet ticking of the clock on the wall. Eventually I said “Are you ready to talk some more?”

“I think so”.

We took our seats again; she stared into the gas fireplace for a few minutes, and then said, “How did you find out, and when?”

“The night of Lisa’s concert at Merton. Wendy had told Owen and me that Lisa was born in the summer; she didn’t want me to know I was Lisa’s father because she was afraid I’d be angry with her for keeping it from me. But the night of the concert I was home before you and I was just finishing off a few end of term things on my computer. I’d had a good conversation with Lisa that night, and on a whim I did a search for her in our school database. I found her records and her date of birth was listed: February 25th, 1983. That meant she had been conceived in May, and I knew the only person Wendy had slept with in May 1982 was me”.

“Was it a shock?”


“Were you angry?”

“At first, but the next day Owen and I had a talk about it and he helped me see things in perspective”.

“You didn’t talk to Wendy about it?”

“I thought I would at first, but then I decided I’d wait and let her be the one to raise the subject”.

“And she raised it tonight?”

“Sort of; she kind of got backed into it”.

“What do you mean?”

I told her about my conversation with Mickey earlier that evening and his subsequent phone call to Wendy. “So she knew that I knew, and she was afraid Mickey would just blurt out the whole story to Lisa and Colin out of spite. She wanted to talk to me before she told Lisa; that’s why she and I went out to the pub tonight”.

“So it wasn’t a date at all”. She shook her head; “Sorry, Dad; I really blundered on that one, didn’t I?”

“You had no way of knowing what was going on”.

“So – wait up, I’m still catching up here – when Wendy and Mickey got back together, he knew she was pregnant and you were the father?”

“Yes”. I told her what Wendy had told me about her conversation with Mickey in London, and the agreement they had come to. “Of course, it didn’t work out too well for her”, I concluded.

“Poor Wendy” she said thoughtfully, looking down at the blue flames of the gas fire; “She must have had an awful life”.

“She says not; it’s been difficult at times, but there have been lots of good things too. She’s a remarkable person, actually”.

“You like her, don’t you?”

“I’m very glad she and I are friends again, and I’d like it if our families could be friends too”.

“I enjoyed meeting Lisa after the concert at Merton. Of course, I didn’t know…” She shook her head slowly, her eyes suddenly far away; “I have a sister”, she said softly. “All those years Mom wished she could have had a bigger family…”

“I know; that was what hit me when I first heard about it, too”.

“What would you have done if you’d known, Dad?”

“I don’t think there’s any point in asking that question; I didn’t know, and I moved to Canada and met your mum, which was the best thing that ever happened to me. And then you were born, which was a dream come true for your mum and me”.

“I was a lucky kid”.

“I was lucky too, there was a time in the summer of ’86 when I was sure I was going to lose your mum. But then God gave us fifteen more years”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she put her hand on mine; “I wish he’d given us a few more”.

“So do I, honey”.

We both leaned forward spontaneously and put our arms around each other, and for a minute we held each other tight. Eventually she released me, wiped her eyes with her hand and said, “So – what happens now?”

I sat back in my chair. “I don’t really know. Wendy was going to go home and arrange to have lunch with Lisa tomorrow; she stays at Christ Church and Wendy thought it was a bit too late to go over there tonight to talk to her. We’ll have to wait for tomorrow and see how she takes it”.

“Are you going to try to talk to her?”

“I’m going to wait and see what she wants”.

“I hope she decides to talk to you. Actually, I hope we can all talk – you and Wendy, and Lisa and me, and Colin too. I think we all need to talk this through”.

I nodded; “I think you’re right, and I’m glad to hear to hear you say it”.


“Are you okay, love?”

“Oh, Dad – ask me another! The whole world’s just shifted under my feet, and you want to know if I’m okay?” She smiled at me; “But I know it must have been hard for you too, when you first found out. I need some time to think about it, though. Can I talk to Jake and Jenna about it?”

“I think that’d be fine but I need you to let me talk to Joe and Ellie first, and maybe your grandma and grandpa Reimer too – okay?”.

“Okay”. She was quiet for a moment and then she said, “Actually, I think I’d like to talk with Lisa by myself before we have any kind of family discussion”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah”. She turned her head to face me again. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be brought up in a situation where you’re afraid of your father. I’ve led such a sheltered life”.

“Some people would say you’ve gone through the worst sort of tragedy in the past three years”.

She nodded. “Yes, but it was a clean break; lots and lots of sadness, but no regrets”.

“I know what you mean”.

“Does Lisa have any close friends?”

“I don’t really know; I know she’s got a boyfriend, and I think her mum feels a little uneasy about that, but I don’t know if she really has a reason”.

She grinned; “Parents and daughters; no-one’s ever good enough, you know!”

“You got that right!” We both laughed, and then she said “Let’s have a second cup of hot chocolate, Dad”.

“Okay; I’ll put the kettle on”.


The following day Emma started working in the afternoon and didn’t expect to be home until around ten. I got home from school around five-thirty to find a note from her on the table:

‘Hi Dad. I made you some pizza; it’s in the fridge, ready to go in the microwave. I’m just off to work; see you late tonight. Love you lots. Em’.

I smiled, went to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea; while the kettle was boiling I looked in the fridge and discovered a mediterranean pizza large enough to feed four people and still have leftovers. I felt vaguely hungry but somehow the thought of a quiet half hour with a book was more attractive. I took a mug of tea into the living room, sat back in my armchair and picked up my current book from the end table.

I was jerked out of sleep by the sound of my cell phone ringing beside me. I glanced at the mug of cold tea on the end table, picked up the phone and stifled a yawn; “Tom Masefield”.

“Mr. Masefield? It’s Lisa Howard”.

Suddenly I was wide awake; “Lisa!”

“Mum said you wouldn’t mind if I rang”.

“So she told you then?”

“Yes, she did”. There was an awkward silence for a moment and then she said, “This is very strange”.

“Yes. It must have been a shock for you”.

“I think Mum tried to soften the blow but in the end there really wasn’t any way to make it easy”.

“Was it a blow?”

“Sorry – that’s probably not the right word. What about you – were you shocked?”


“Angry at Mum?”

“Maybe a little, but I’ve had some time to get over it. How about you?”

“To be honest, I’m really not sure how I feel: shocked, relieved, amazed, angry, resentful…”

“Angry with your mum?”

“Yes. By the way, I asked her not to phone you tonight until after you and I had talked”.


“Do you understand why?”

“Would it be that you didn’t want us comparing notes about you behind your back?”


I glanced at my watch; it was about six-thirty. “Lisa, have you eaten yet?”


“There’s some cold pizza in my fridge; Emma made it and then left it for me to warm up. She makes really good pizza and there’s more than enough for the two of us. Would you like to come up and help me eat it?”

“Where’s Emma?”

“Working ’til ten”.

“I haven’t got a car or a bike here; the bus might take a little while”.

“I can come and get you”.

She didn’t answer immediately, and I wondered for a moment whether I was being too pushy with her. “Perhaps you’d prefer not to?”

“Mum said some pretty complimentary things about you today. Of course, it wouldn’t be hard to be an improvement on the bastard she married. I must say I’m quite relieved to discover that I’m not biologically connected to him after all”.

“Has he contacted you today?”

“Not yet, but I’m expecting an email from him soon, breaking the shocking news to me that I’m the product of a one-night stand. As if that could be more repulsive to me than the idea of being his daughter!” She laughed grimly; “Forgive me if I’m rather profane and abusive about Mickey, Mr. Masefield; he did his best to fuck up our lives, and unlike Mum I feel no obligation to be Christian and forgiving towards him. Of course, you don’t approve”.

“It’s not for me to approve or disapprove; I’m happy just to listen”.

“You know, I think I’ll take you up on that pizza offer. Do you know how to get to Christ Church?”


“I’ll wait for you outside Tom Tower. What are you driving?”

“A red Ford Escort”.

“About fifteen minutes, do you think?”

“That should be about right”.


The mist was rolling in over Oxford again as I drove down into the city; I was thoroughly acclimatized to the dry climate of the prairies and I felt colder in the damp Thames valley winter than I ever had in Meadowvale. I saw Lisa standing under the huge bulk of Tom Tower as I pulled up to the sidewalk; she was bundled up in a thick coat with a long colourful scarf wrapped around her neck. She darted out from under the arched entrance to Tom Quad, opened the door of my car and slipped in beside me. “It’s a cold night out there!” she exclaimed as she pulled the door closed.

“It sure is”.

“What were you doing when I rang?”

“I was asleep in the chair actually”.

She laughed; “Sorry I woke you!”

“I’d meant to drink a cup of tea and read a little before supper but apparently my body had other plans”.

“You said Emma was working?”


“Where does she work?”

“Marston Court Care Home; it’s a seniors’ care facility not far from our place”.

“What time will she finish?”

“I expect she’ll be home just after ten”.

We talked about Emma’s job as I turned the car around and headed back up St. Aldate’s. The mist was heavier now and I had to slow right down as we got closer to Marston. When we got back to my house I unlocked the door and stepped back to let Lisa go in ahead of me. I took her coat and hung it on a peg in the hall beside my own, taking in at a glance her faded black jeans and oversized white shirt open at the front to reveal a black tee-shirt. “Come on in and make yourself at home in the living room”, I said; “I’ll go through and put the pizza in the microwave”.

I worked in the kitchen for a few minutes, warming up the pizza and getting out some dishes and cutlery. When I started carrying things across to our tiny dining table, I saw her standing by the CD rack in the living room, looking through the CDs. “Anything there you recognize?” I asked.

“Your tastes are more eclectic than I’d expected”, she replied, following me and leaning against the back of a chair while I took the pizza out of the microwave. “I thought you’d just have traditional folk music; I never expected to see the Police or Dire Straits or Billy Joel”.

I nodded at the fridge; “There’s a bottle of Shiraz that needs finishing off in here. Would you care for a glass?”

“That would be very nice, thank you”. She inclined her head a little, and I felt a thrill of recognition at Wendy’s characteristic pose. “What on earth should I call you, anyway?”

“I’d be very happy if you called me ‘Tom’”.

“That sounds a bit presumptuous”.

“No, really – I’d be quite okay with it”.

“Alright”, she replied with a shy smile; “Thanks”.

“Can you give me a hand carrying these glasses and things?”

We sat down at the table together; I lit the candle, poured us each a glass of wine and served the pizza. Taking my cue from our earlier conversation, I said “My wife’s musical tastes were a lot wider than mine. When she and I met I was really only interested in traditional folk music. Kelly liked that but she also enjoyed a lot of contemporary stuff, as well as classic rock; most of those CDs you were looking at were hers. She was a big Bruce Cockburn fan too”.

“There’s some pretty hard edged stuff there”.

“You’d be more of a classical music fan, though”.

“It’s not that I dislike other genres; I quite like some of Mum’s old folk records”.

“I like your choir, too; I’ll have to get out to hear you again as soon as I can”.

“We’ve started practising for a concert in May; we’re doing some Brahms, including the German Requiem. It’ll be at the University Church; I think the Oxford Sinfonia’s going to be playing for us”

“Sounds like a big event”.

“Well, we’d like to think we’ll get a good audience”.

“I’m sure you will. Do you like Brahms?”

“I like the stuff we’ve practiced so far. But my favourite composers are older: William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tallis. I like Vaughan Williams, too; I expect I got that from Mum – so much of Vaughan Williams’ music is based on old folk songs”. She smiled at me; “Do you know much about classical music?”

“My mother’s a classically-trained pianist and she had music playing in the house all the time when I was growing up, so it kind of seeped in through the pores of my skin”.

 She laughed; “That would either have put you off it forever or made you a devoted fan”.

“I quite enjoyed it, but I can’t claim to have taken any great interest in it since then. Still, I know the composers pretty well”.

She took a sip of her wine and gave a little frown. “Does Emma know about me?”

“I told her last night”.

“Was she upset?”

“It was a shock for her at first, but she’ll be okay”.

“Mum says you and Emma are quite close”.

“We are”.

“Mum and I used to be close when I was younger, but I’m afraid we’ve drifted apart”.

“Tell me about that if you want to”.

“Why do you want to know?”

“I want to know anything about you that you feel like sharing with me”.

She looked at me steadily, and I was struck by the fragile beauty of her face and the depth of pain in her dark eyes. “There’s a lot about me you don’t want to know”, she said.

“Maybe – I might surprise you, but it’s up to you”.

“Did Mum tell you she’s worried about Mark?”

“Your boyfriend, you mean?”


“Not in so many words. Is he a student too?”

“Yes; he’s in the third year of a biochemistry degree”.

“Have you known him long?”

“We were in high school together; I met him when we first moved here from London”.

“So he’s from around here?”

“Yes – his family live in one of those mansions in Pullen’s Lane. They’re very wealthy”.

“What’s he like?”

“He’s interesting and funny and enjoyable to be around. He shares a lot of my interests; he likes the same sort of music as me and he plays the piano a bit too. He’s easy to talk to”. She shrugged; “Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why you like someone. I can’t deny that I like the expensive dates he takes me on”.

“Nice restaurants?”

“Yes. I know his family’s rich, but they don’t flaunt it like my Kingsley grandparents”.

“Are Mickey’s parents still alive?”

“Yes – they still live down in Halstead. We hear from them occasionally. But enough about them – what about you? I don’t know much about you at all; did you grow up around here?”

“I was born in Summertown but when I was about eleven we moved to Northwood, down near Wallingford. I went to high school in Wallingford and came up to Lincoln College in 1977”.

“My mum said something about some conflict between you and your parents”.

“My dad’s a lawyer and he always assumed I would follow in his footsteps, but I rebelled because I wanted to be a teacher. Dad and I fought about it for several years. He never really forgave me for rejecting his plan for me, and eventually I decided I’d have to leave the country to get away from his need to control me. That’s why I went to Canada. We had minimal contact while I lived there; it’s only lately we’ve begun to have a slightly better relationship”.

“What about your mum?”

“She and I are close; she’s the one who taught me to enjoy the outdoors and to love music. And I also have a baby sister, Becca; she’s twelve years younger than me and we get on really well together”.

“I’m close to my little brother too. He’s in your tutor group, isn’t he?”

“Yes; that’s how I found out your mum was back in Oxford”.

“It’s seems so strange that you had no contact for all these years”.

“Did she told you why?”

“Mickey and his morbid desire to keep me all to himself, you mean?”


“He’s pathetic, isn’t he?”

I shrugged; “I haven’t seen him for over twenty years…”

“You think he’s changed drastically in that time?”

“I know I have; I expect your mum’s noticed a few differences in me”.

“What about her – has she changed too?”

I helped myself to another piece of pizza. “I haven’t really seen that much of her yet, so I’m not sure I can really answer that one yet. She seems more mellow than she used to be”.


“Yeah; she was pretty feisty in the old days, and we had some sharp disagreements; she was never shy about letting me know when she disagreed with me”.

She gave me a shy smile; “What did you disagree about?”

“Our biggest argument was about whether lovers could be friends as well. She thought friendship and love were incompatible, and I was sure she was wrong. Of course, at the time she had a lot more experience than me, and she used to throw that in my face; she’d say ‘You’ll learn!’” I grinned. “Well, I learned all right; I learned that she was wrong!”

“So you had a good marriage?” She frowned and tossed her head; “Sorry – that was a really presumptuous question for me to ask. It’s absolutely none of my business”.

“Not at all – I don’t mind you asking. Yes: Kelly was my best friend, and she and I were in love with each other until the day she died”.

“How long ago did she die?”

“It’ll be three years in May”.

“What happened?”

“She had breast cancer”.

“I’m sorry; you obviously really miss her”.

“I do”.

She was quiet for a moment, sipping reflectively on her wine, her eyes far away. “Sometimes life doesn’t seem to make any sense”, she said softly.

“I have to admit, I’ve sometimes felt that way since Kelly died”.

“And yet, you…” Her voice trailed away.

“Go on”.

She shook her head again; “I don’t want to pry”.

“Ask anything you want, Lisa; I’ll tell you if I don’t want to answer”.

She inclined her head again; “And yet you still believe in God?”

“I do”.

“I can’t understand that. When I think of how Mickey repeatedly assaulted my mum over the years I ask myself, ‘If there’s a God who’s so loving and powerful, where was he when that was happening?’ And then I think about all the suffering in the world and the people like your wife who die of awful diseases when they did nothing to deserve it. I just can’t make sense of it”.

“No – that’s a tough one for me too”.


“That’s a tough one for me, too”.

She frowned; “You’re a strange mixture of faith and doubt”.

“Is it a surprise to you that a person can believe in God and still struggle with doubts?”

“It’s a surprise to me that a person can believe in God and admit to doubts”.

I smiled. “When Kelly died I raged against God for months; it made absolutely no sense to me that God would allow that to happen. Three years later it still makes no sense to me, but God’s still there, listening patiently, and every now and again I get a sense of his presence. I freely admit that I can’t make sense of the problem of pain and suffering, but I know the world makes even less sense to me if there’s no God”.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean that if all love and morality and art and beauty are purely chemical phenomena – in other words, if they aren’t really morality and love and art and beauty at all, but just highly developed survival mechanisms – then all the deepest things we humans believe about life are a lie, and most of the greatest writers and poets and artists in the history of humanity are completely misguided. I can’t accept that. Kelly couldn’t accept it either – even when she was dying of cancer”.

“Could I see a picture of her?”

“Sure; come with me”.

We got up from the table and went through to the living room, and I showed her the framed photograph of Kelly and Emma and me. She looked at it in silence for at least a minute, and then nodded slowly. “She’s very beautiful. How long ago was this taken?”

“About five years”.

“Emma looks even more like her now”.

“Yes she does”.

She glanced at the other pictures, and leaned forward to look closely at the black and white photograph from Kelly’s grandparents’ wedding. “Was this taken in Russia?”

“Yes; that’s Kelly’s grandparents in the middle, Dieter and Erika Reimer”.

“What year was it?”

“August 1921”.

“So they’re gone now?”

“Yes; Dieter died before I met Kelly, and Erika died in 1990”.

She glanced at some of the other photographs for a moment, and then she straightened up and turned to face me again. “Can I ask you a really personal question?”

“Like I said, ask me anything you want; I’ll tell you if I don’t want to answer”.

“Okay: what’s happening with you and Mum?”

“Right now, you mean?”


“We’re old friends, and we’re enjoying getting to know each other again”.

“You’re not in a romantic relationship?”


She looked at me for a moment, and then she nodded again; “You’re still not ready for anything like that, are you?”

“No, I’m not”.

“What about when you knew Mum in university – were you in love with her?”

“What did she tell you about our relationship at the time?”

“She said she started going round to your room in the evenings because she felt safe there, and you used to study together and then talk. She said you became really close friends during that time”.

I frowned; “We haven’t really had a chance yet to talk about what was going on between us back then. After the night you were conceived things got really awkward between us; I think we both knew instinctively that we couldn’t talk about it. I think we probably can now but we just haven’t had the opportunity yet. So I think I’m going to wait for a while before answering your question, if you don’t mind?”

“Fair enough. I’m sorry”.

“No, not at all; you’re curious about me, and that makes sense to me because I’m very curious about you too”.

She laughed; “I suppose you are!”

“Would you like coffee or tea?”

“Coffee, if you have it. Can I help you make it?”

“Come over and keep me company while I make it, anyway”.

We cleared the table together and she helped me carry things across to the kitchen counter. I filled the kettle and plugged it in, took the cafetière down from the shelf and spooned ground coffee into it. While I was waiting for the water to boil I started to fill the sink, intending only to soak the dishes, but she said, “Will you let me wash those?”

“I wasn’t really planning to wash right now”.

“It’ll only take a minute; I’ll be finished before the coffee’s made”.

“All right then; you wash and I’ll dry”.

We worked side by side, Lisa washing the dishes and placing them in the drying rack, me picking them up, drying them and replacing them on the shelves. While we worked we continued to talk; she asked me to tell her more about our university days, and I told her about Owen and Wendy and me and our gigs together. After I had finished drying the last dish I turned to pour the hot water into the cafetière while she emptied the sink. “Do you take anything in your coffee?” I asked.

“Milk and sugar, please”.

“Shall we take it into the living room?”


When we were seated by the gas fire with our mugs in our hands she said, “This hasn’t been quite the conversation I was expecting”.


“No; I suppose I thought it would be all about you welcoming me into your life as your long-lost daughter”.

I smiled. “I’m guessing that you’re not ready for anything like that”.

“Honestly, I’m not, or at least not yet. Are you disappointed?”

“Not at all; I know I’ve had a head-start on you when it comes to getting used to this idea”.

“It would have been a big adjustment for you”.


I was quiet for a moment, looking away, although I was conscious of her eyes on me. Eventually she said “Penny for your thoughts”.

 I looked across at her. “Lisa, I don’t mind telling you that Kelly really struggled about not being able to have any more kids”.

“Why couldn’t she have any more?”

“She had ovarian cancer after Emma was born; she had to have her ovaries removed”.

“So she actually had cancer twice?”


She shook her head; “You’ve got to wonder, haven’t you?”

“Yes, but we’re not going to solve that one over coffee tonight”.

She laughed softly; “I suppose not”.

“What I wanted to say was that not being able to have more kids was one of the biggest challenges of Kelly’s life”.

“What about you? Did it bother you?”

“Not so much. I was afraid I was going to lose her when she went through that first bout with cancer, so I was just so thankful when she came through it that I didn’t feel the least bit like complaining about the terms of the reprieve. And her brother Joe and his wife Ellie have two kids, Jake and Jenna. They’re about the same age as Emma, and sometimes when they were growing up it felt more like they were three siblings and we four parents were sharing them. Emma’s really close to Jake and Jenna, especially Jenna”.

“I envy her that. I get on well with Uncle Rees’ kids, but I don’t see much of them”.

“What about on Mickey’s side? I don’t know if I ever knew anything about his family”.

“He’s got a sister, but she’s never had children”.

I took a sip of my coffee and then put the mug down on the end table beside me. “Lisa, do you want to talk about Mickey?”

She stared at the fire, a frown on her face. “What do you want to know?”

“Anything you want to tell me. If you don’t want to tell me anything, that would be fine, too”.

“You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘coercion’, do you?”

I shrugged; “I just don’t want to go any faster than you want to go”.

“Tom, if you don’t mind, I think I won’t talk about Mickey tonight. I’m feeling very comfortable and mellow here right now, and I don’t know how to talk about him without using the f-word and a few other choice phrases. He’s a monster, and I will never, ever forgive him for what he did to us. I hate him – I really do. There – see, I’m already getting angry about him. I’m sorry; can we talk about something else?”

“Sure; what would you like to talk about?”

“You, and your family, and Emma, and your life in Canada, and – well, everything about it”.

“We’ve got thousands of photographs; would you like to have a look at some of them?”

“Yes, that might be fun”.

“Okay; I’ll just go upstairs to get a few of the albums”.


When Emma came home just after ten o’clock Lisa and I were still pouring over my photographs. We had gone through my earliest albums of Meadowvale, when I was still single and was exploring Saskatchewan. I had shown her the pictures from my first trip to Jasper to visit Kelly, when our friendship was gradually turning into something deeper. I had told her about some of our early hiking and canoeing experiences together and showed her a few of the photographs; she admitted that she was not an outdoor person but she was captivated by the scenery from the lakes of northern Saskatchewan and the Rocky Mountains. I had also found a very old photo album from my Oxford days which included some shots of Wendy, Owen and I on stage at the ‘Plough and Lantern’, and a couple of pictures from country hikes the three of us had done together. We were still laughing at the clothes and the long hair in those pictures when I heard Emma’s key in the front door. A moment later I heard her cheerful greeting out in the hall: “I’m home; are you still up?”

“Yeah, and we’ve got company”.

She pushed the door open and slipped into the living room. Lisa immediately got to her feet; for a brief moment her guard slipped and I saw the anxiety on her face. I knew instinctively what that expression meant; she was unsure of her welcome, hoping Emma would be happy to see her but wary of getting her hopes up. All this I saw in an instant, and then the polished smile was back on her face. “Hello, Emma”, she said.

I saw the sudden surprise on Emma’s face; “Lisa!”

“Wendy told her the whole story today”, I explained. “Lisa called me tonight, and I invited her up for a bite to eat and a chat”.

“But I should be going now”, Lisa added quickly; “I shouldn’t have stayed so long. I don’t want to intrude on your time together”.

I saw Emma’s face change and I knew she had recovered from her surprise and had understood immediately how important this moment was. “I’m sorry”, she said, stepping forward and putting her hand on Lisa’s arm; “I just wasn’t expecting to see you here. Please don’t leave on my account; as soon as Dad told me last night, I knew I wanted to talk to you again”.

I sat there riveted, looking at my two daughters facing each other: Lisa, tall and dark, with her willowy form and fragile beauty, and Emma with her trim athletic figure and blond hair, looking up at the older girl with a warm smile. For a moment neither of them said anything, and I could see the uncertainty lingering in Lisa’s eyes; then she gave Emma a shy smile and said “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. Dad and I usually have a hot chocolate together at this time of night; the last one through the door gets to make it. Would you like to join us for it?”

“That would be really nice; thank you”.

I was still sitting in my easy chair looking up at the two of them; Emma turned to me and kissed me. “You okay, Dad?”

“I’m fine thanks”.

“Lisa, come on out to the kitchen with me”.

I watched as the two of them disappeared through the entrance to the kitchen diner. I got up and moved to the other side of the living room; voices carried easily in our small house, and I wanted to give them some space. My guitar was leaning against the couch; I picked it up and began to pick out an old folk tune, my mind still dwelling on the image of Lisa and Emma face to face.

After a few minutes they came back into the living room, and Emma came over and handed me a mug of hot chocolate. “Mind if I take your chair, Dad?” she asked.

“Of course not”. They took their places across from each other by the fireplace, and I set my guitar aside and sat back on the couch.

“We were just talking about Grandma and Grandpa”, Emma said to me. “Are you planning on telling them about Lisa?”

I looked across at Lisa; “That’s entirely up to you. What do you think?”

“I don’t know”.

“Grandpa’s still in hospital right now”, said Emma; “He’s had a lot of chemotherapy and he got a really bad infection back in January. He’s starting to feel better though, and the doctor says he might be able to go home next week some time”.

Lisa was obviously trying to get our family straightened out in her head. “So I know you’ve got a sister,” she said to me, “and I think Mum said something about a brother, too, with a family? Was he involved in a car accident recently? Am I getting that right?”

“My brother Rick, yes – he’s two years younger than me, and my sister Becca is ten years younger than him. Rick and Alyson have three children – Eric, Sarah and Anna. Sarah’s the one who was in the car accident with him”. I told her about what had happened to Rick and Sarah since Boxing Day, and Emma added a few details from her perspective. Lisa listened quietly, a little frown on her face. Eventually she looked at me; “I think your mum and dad probably have enough on their plate right now without having me to deal with, don’t you think?”

“That’s up to you, but there’s something else you might like to consider. My Dad’s probably got less than a year to live; I think it would be important for him to know about you and to meet you and get to know you a little, in the time he’s got left”.

“What’s he going to think, though?”

“Like the rest of us, he’s probably going to be very surprised at first. I don’t think you need to worry about anything more than that”.

She looked away, and for a few moments the silence hung between the three of us. I glanced at Emma; she was watching Lisa’s face intently but I knew she would wait for the other girl to speak before saying anything more herself.

“All right”, Lisa said; “If you think it would be a good thing, I’m willing to give it a try”.

Emma gave her a warm smile; “Great!” she said. Gesturing toward the coffee table, she asked, “How were you getting on with those photo albums?”

“We were just looking at some really old ones, actually, from the time when your dad and my mum were in university together”.

“The really cheesy ones with the long hair and the baggy pants?”

Lisa laughed; “They are funny, aren’t they?”

“Would you like to look at some more of them?”

Lisa glanced at her watch; “I don’t want to keep you up too late”.

“Let’s look at one more, anyway”, I suggested, “and then I can run you back down to Christ Church”.

Link to Chapter 20


‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 18

Link back to Chapter 17

On the following Wednesday evening it happened by accident that almost all of us were at the hospital visiting at the same time: my mother, Alyson and Becca and me, as well as Emma and Eric. Rick was still using his crutches to get around but he had been told he would be going home the following afternoon. My father was sleeping fitfully, but the rest of us got into conversation with one of the residents who was going around the unit checking on the various patients. “His blood count was very low”, she said to us as we stood around her in the corridor outside his room, “and unfortunately there are at least three different infections taking advantage of the situation. Doctor Khoury’s using a cocktail of different antibiotics to fight them but it’s going to take time, and meanwhile we need him to rest”.

“You think a hospital’s a good place for him to rest?” my mother asked irritably.

“Probably not as good as his own bed, but we need to keep him here so we can give him drugs intravenously and monitor him. I’m sure Doctor Khoury will talk to you about that if she hasn’t already done so”.

My mother nodded; “She was talking to me today, actually”.

“Where did he pick up these infections?” asked Rick.

“Actually the vast majority of infections that chemo patients struggle with are already present in their bodies”.

“Really? I didn’t know that”.

Becca grinned; “You’d be amazed how much bacteria’s already living in your system, Rick – especially in your stomach. Normally it’s not a problem because your body’s immune system keeps it in line”.

“Are you a doctor?” the young resident asked Becca.

“I’m just a lowly G.P.; the really specialized oncology stuff is a bit above my level of expertise”.


While my father was in hospital my mother slept over several nights each week at Becca’s apartment. She wanted to be with my father every day, and some days she seemed to be with him from morning until night. Becca was worried about her. “She’s going to wear herself out”, she said to me one evening; “I don’t want two sick parents on my hands, and if she doesn’t get enough rest that’s what’s going to happen. We’ve already got three family members in that hospital; I don’t want a fourth one going in”.

“I know how it is though”, I replied quietly. “You want to be at the hospital as long as you can; you want to take advantage of every possible chance to be together”.

Becca looked at me for a moment, and then she put her hand on my arm. “This is hard for you, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is”.

“Lots of memories?”

“I remember a few nights when I slept in the chair beside Kelly’s bed”.

“I’m sure that didn’t make for a very good sleep”.

“No”, I admitted, “but I didn’t care; I just wanted to be with her”.

“Of course you did”, she replied softly.


Colin Kingsley seemed to have taken a liking to me.

He had managed to scrape through his mock exams with marks in the fifties and low sixties, but he was still struggling in his academic subjects and I made a point of setting aside extra time to help him. Our regular tutorial sessions took place on Thursday afternoons, and lately he had gotten into the habit of staying a little longer just to chat.

One day, completely out of the blue, he started talking about his father, who was currently in the Middle East on a photojournalism contract. “I haven’t heard from him for a while”, he said, “but that’s normal for him. He’s allowed to write to me or send me emails but he doesn’t do it very often. I don’t really care; I don’t get on with him”.

“I remember that”.

“I wonder about him sometimes, though. He’s been in Iraq a lot since the war started”.

“Are you worried about him?”

He frowned thoughtfully. “I don’t know; maybe”. He shrugged helplessly; “I honestly don’t know how I feel about him”.

I waited for a moment, and then said “Are you afraid of him?”

He nodded slowly; “Sometimes I am. He’s not allowed to see me, but I still remember things”.

“Your mum told me he was quite violent sometimes”.

“He hit her a lot”.

“You saw him do that?”

“Not very often. Sometimes at night I heard them, though”.

“That must have been terrifying for you”.


“Have you ever talked to anyone about it?”

“Like a counsellor you mean?”


“I went to a counsellor for a bit after Dad went to jail”.

“That would have been a few years ago now?”

“About six years ago”.

“Did it help?”

He shook his head. “To be honest, I can’t remember much about it. I was only eleven at the time. I remember the counsellor was kind but I don’t know how long I went to see her for. I don’t think it was more than a few months”.

“Do you ever feel like you need to talk some more about it?”

He shrugged; “I don’t know. Sometimes”.

“Have you thought of talking to our school counsellor?”

“Mrs. Franklin?”


He shrugged again; “Maybe”.

“Think about it; some people find that kind of thing helpful. When we go through trauma like that it can come back to haunt us later on, and sometimes we need help to work through it”.

He glanced at me. “What about you?”

“Yes – I had a couple of pastors I talked to”.



“Oh right; like my grandpa. He was a vicar”.

“I hear you get on very well with him”.

He smiled; “Grandpa’s all right”, he said.


A few days later, completely out of the blue, I received a phone call from Mickey Kingsley.

It was early evening in the middle of the week; Emma had gone down to the hospital to visit our patients, and I had just started working at my desk when the telephone rang. I picked it up and said, “Tom and Emma’s”.

“Tom Masefield?”


“Mickey Kingsley here”.


“That would be me”.

“I thought you were in Iraq?”

“Just got back a couple of days ago; I’m in the country for two weeks. It’s been a long time; how are you?”

“I’m fine; how did you know I was here?”

“I get copies of all Colin’s school reports”.

“So you recognized my name?”

“Yes, and I e-mailed Colin last night to find out if you were the same Tom Masefield I knew long ago. Sounds like he quite likes you. Just as a matter of interest, why did you come back to England?”

“My Dad has cancer”.

“Oh – I’m sorry to hear that. Of course, you two never did get along very well, did you?”

“We’re doing a little better now”.

“Oh – well, my sympathies, then. Is it terminal?”

“I’m afraid so”.

“How long has he got?”

“Hard to say; when he was diagnosed they gave him two years, and that was just over a year ago”.

“I see”. He paused, and then said, “Have you been seeing much of Wendy?”

“We’ve met two or three times; why do you ask?”

“So you know about Lisa, then?”

I saw immediately where this conversation was going. “I’ve only met her once, at one of her choir concerts. We had a nice conversation at the reception afterwards”.

“She’s not my daughter, you know, Tom; she’s yours. She’s the product of that little one-night stand you and Wendy had not long before you left the country”.

“I know that”.

“Wendy told you?”


“Ah, so you’ve been counting the months, have you? I take it Wendy doesn’t know you’ve guessed the truth?”

I was silent for a moment; I knew that I felt uncomfortable talking with him about Wendy, but I also felt instinctively that it would be wrong to simply brush him off.

“Actually”, I said, “I would prefer not to talk about Wendy behind her back like this”.

“What exactly is going on between the two of you that you don’t want me to know about?”

“Nothing. We’ve met a few times, we’ve talked – that’s it”.

“She’s told you all about me, no doubt?”

“I know that you went to jail for assaulting her”.

“The stories were exaggerated; she had a good lawyer”.

“Presumably the court had access to the relevant medical reports?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line; I waited, listening to the sound of his breathing. Eventually he said, “I may not be allowed to see Colin, but I’m still his father, Tom. Don’t forget that”.

“Sorry, but what’s Colin got to do with this?”

“He seems to like you”.

“It’s always helpful when a pupil likes his teacher, and he’s in my tutor group too”.

“Right. So how long do you plan to keep your little secret from Wendy?”

“I think I’ll choose not to answer that one”.

“Why are you being so hostile?”

“I’m not being hostile at all; I just don’t want to talk with you about stuff that concerns her before I’ve had a chance to talk with her about it”.

“Sounds like you two are getting pretty cosy”.

I didn’t respond, letting the silence hang between us. Eventually he said, “Okay, I get the message. I’ll say goodbye, then”.

“Goodbye Mickey”.

I heard the click as he hung up. I put my own phone down, thought for a moment, and then got up and went downstairs to get myself a glass of water. I stood at the sink for a moment, staring at my reflection in the darkened window, and then I took my mobile phone from my pocket and called Owen.


“Hey, it’s me”.

“Tom; what’s up?”

“I just had a phone call from Mickey Kingsley”.

“Mickey? How on earth did he come to be phoning you?”

I gave him a summary of my conversation with Mickey; when I was finished, he said “Well, this changes things, doesn’t it?”

“I think so”.

“Are you afraid he’s going to talk to Lisa and Colin about you?”

“He’s always been volatile; there’s no knowing what he might or might not do”.

“Does this mean you’re going to tell Wendy what you know?”

“I think I have to; I’d hoped to leave it and let her decide when she wanted to tell me, but I don’t think that’ll work any more”.

“He hasn’t lost his talent for causing chaos, has he?”


“Do you think he was warning you to keep your distance from Colin?”

“That was really weird; I honestly couldn’t figure out what he was getting at. As far as I know he’s had very little to do with Colin for the past six years; surely he’s not so insecure that he’d be threatened by a schoolteacher who has a good working relationship with his son?”

“I’d never presume to try to psychoanalyze Mickey Kingsley”.

“No – I know what you mean”.

“So you’re going to talk to Wendy?”

“I think so; I’m going to call her as soon as I get off the phone with you”.

“Okay; let me know how it goes”.

“I will”.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah – just a bit rattled, that’s all”.

“By Mickey?”

“He surprised me, and he seemed a little unbalanced”.

“There’s a reason Wendy’s got a restraining order to protect her and the kids”.

“No kidding”.

“Call the police if you feel you’re in danger, alright?”

“I don’t think it’s gone that far”.

“I know, I’m just saying – if it does…”

“I’ll be sensible – I promise”.



As I was on my way back upstairs the cordless phone started to ring again; I went back into the office, sat down at my desk and picked up the receiver; “Tom and Emma’s”.

“Tom, it’s Wendy”.

I guessed immediately that Mickey had called her as soon as he finished talking to me. “Hi; is everything okay?”

“I hear Mickey was talking to you”.

“Did he call you afterwards?”

“I’ve just got off the phone with him”.

“I thought he wasn’t supposed to have direct contact with you?”

“He’s not. He’s supposed to write or use e-mail with the children, and in an emergency he’s supposed to contact me through Rees, not directly like this”.

“Has he ever done this before?”

“One or twice. Now and again he likes to push the boundaries of the court order; it’s a power thing with him”.

“I see”.

“So you know about Lisa”.


“Are you angry with me?”

“I was, but I’ve gotten over it. Would you like to get together to talk about it?”

“Yes – if you’ve got time”.

“Let’s do it tonight; this is important”.

“Are you sure?”


“Are you alone?”

I glanced at my watch; it was about seven forty-five. “I’m expecting Emma back from the hospital in about an hour”.

“Right – that doesn’t leave much time. Is there a place near you where we could meet?”

“Do you want to go up to the Red Lion for a pint?”

“That’ll work; see you there in about fifteen minutes?”



The Red Lion was an old stone-built pub up in Old Marston, a three minute drive north of our place. A handful of customers were seated at the bar when Wendy and I walked in; we found ourselves a table in the corner and I left her there while I went to get drinks. When I returned I handed her a pint of cider and sat down opposite her; “Cheers”, I said, raising my glass to hers.

“Cheers”. She took a sip of her drink and put it down on the table; she opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again with an awkward frown.

“It’s all right”, I said gently.

She looked at me apprehensively; “Is it?”


“How long have you known?”

“About six weeks”.

“How on earth did you find out?”

“I’ve got access to school records; they include birth dates”.

She frowned again; “Why would you go searching through Lisa’s school records?”

I shook my head; “I don’t know why I did it. It happened the night of her choir concert. I got home before Emma, and I was finishing off a few end of term things on my computer. I’d enjoyed my conversation with Lisa and I got curious, so I had a look at her records”.

“And that was when you found out I hadn’t told you the truth about when she was born”.


“Why didn’t you say anything to me?”

“I was going to at first, but then I thought about it a little and I came to the conclusion that you obviously had a reason to want to keep it from me. So I decided to leave it to you to tell me the truth in your own time. And then Rick and Sarah had their accident and my dad got sick again, and we’ve been kind of busy since then”.

“So it wasn’t a power thing?”

I shook my head. “It really wasn’t. Believe me, that was the last thing on my mind. In fact it never even occurred to me ’til now”.

She looked away again, and for several minutes she said nothing. Behind me I could hear other people coming into the pub; someone greeted the bartender in a loud and cheerful voice, and he responded in the same way. In the background I heard the voice of Sting on the radio singing ‘How Fragile We Are’.

Eventually she looked up at me; “You must have been very upset”.

“I was at first, but like I said, I’ve gotten over it”. I smiled at her; “It must have been difficult for you to decide what to do when you found out you were pregnant”.

She took a sip of her cider, her eyes down. “Do you remember the last time we met before you went to Canada?”

“Yes; it was at Owen’s house the week before I left. I remember you were looking a bit under the weather than night”.

“I had a rotten cold, but I was worried, too; I’d already begun to suspect I might be pregnant. I wanted to take you aside and talk to you about it, but I also realized I had no right to assume we could be a couple. After all, I’d been pulling back from you; it would have been very shabby for me to ask for your help after I’d basically rejected you for the past few weeks”.

She looked up, and her eyes met mine. “Then you left for Canada, and about a week later I had a pregnancy test. So then I knew – I was pregnant, and I was going to have to find a way to deal with it”. She shook her head; “To be honest, I was completely overwhelmed. I’d had my future all planned out, and now this totally unexpected factor had come along and everything had changed. I felt totally inadequate. I knew women who’d raised children as single parents but I couldn’t begin to imagine doing that myself; I knew I had to find some help.

“I never even considered trying to end the pregnancy. I didn’t have any really strong religious convictions by then but I couldn’t bring myself to think of my unborn child as anything other than a human being, and I couldn’t imagine disposing of that human being for my own convenience. I thought about trying to get in touch with you in Canada, but I was afraid; I knew I’d turned you away and I thought you wouldn’t be able to get past that. And of course I knew what had just happened between you and your dad and I was pretty sure you wouldn’t want to come back to England. I knew you’d moved to a small town, far away from any university, and one thing I knew for certain was that I still wanted to do my doctorate. And anyway I couldn’t see myself moving to a strange country and starting all over again out there. So I decided against trying to contact you. But I still couldn’t imagine trying to bring up a child by myself, without any help; the thought of even attempting to do that was just too overwhelming to contemplate.

“So I had to find a solution that didn’t include you. My family – well, again, I knew I’d taken a different path from Dad and Mum. Not that they would ever have rejected me – I know that now – but at the time I had a rather superior attitude toward their simple-minded faith – that’s how I would have described it – and I couldn’t bring myself to ask for their help. And my brother had recently been ordained and he was going through a time when he was the most self-righteous pharisee on the planet!” We both laughed, and she continued, “Poor Rees! He’s been such a help to me since my marriage broke up and I’m sure I misjudged him in those days, just like I misjudged everyone else. But I really didn’t want to end up as an illustration in one of his sermons, so I decided Mickey was my only option”.

She shook her head. “I was so pathetically stupid”, she whispered, looking down at her half-empty glass. “I wanted to believe that Mickey and I could work things out, and I succeeded in convincing myself. He was living in London by then and I knew the city well; I knew I could study there, and get work too in a pinch. And after all, he and I had been a couple for seven years and it hadn’t all been grief; we’d had a lot of good times, and there was a lot of feeling for him left in me still.

“So I went to London and talked to him. I told him the absolute truth; I told him I was pregnant and you were the father, but you didn’t know anything about it. I told him you’d gone to Canada and I didn’t want to follow you there because I didn’t think you and I were a couple. I asked him if he would take us in – my unborn baby and me – and help me raise the child. I was honest with him – I told him I wasn’t sure how I felt about him, but I was in a tight corner and if he still wanted me, I was willing to give it a try again”.

She shook her head. “I find it hard to recognize myself when I look back on it now. What I was actually doing was throwing myself on him in exactly the shameless way that I refused to contemplate doing with you or my own family, and I couldn’t see how stupid I was being”.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself”, I said gently; “it was a tough situation and you didn’t have many options”.

“No, but I was brilliant enough to choose the worst one, wasn’t I?”

“How did he react?”

“He was angry when he heard that you and I had slept together. Of course, he hadn’t exactly been Mr. Purity himself since moving to London – denying himself an attractive roll in the hay wasn’t something he was ever very good at – but I didn’t know anything about that at the time. He shouted at me a bit – we were at his flat, not a public place – and for a while I started to think it wasn’t going to work out the way I wanted. When I left that night, he still hadn’t given me an answer.

“But deep down inside I was fairly sure he would say yes in the end. I knew instinctively that I had the winning card; I knew he still wanted me, and in the end his desire would overrule everything else. And of course I was right. It didn’t occur to me that basing the security of the rest of my life on Mickey’s lust was a rather risky policy; I can’t believe how short-sighted I was”.

“So eventually he agreed”.

“Yes. He rang me up a couple of days later and asked me to come back and talk again. He told me he still loved me and he was willing to take me in, but he insisted that we were going to tell the baby he was its father; you would never be mentioned or even hinted at. Well of course I had to agree to that; I didn’t really have a choice, and anyway I didn’t think you’d be coming back to England any time soon”.

“So that’s when you moved in together?”

“Yes, and I spent that autumn studying at UCL”.

“I had a letter from you at the end of September”.

She nodded, looking away again; “I remember every word of that letter”, she whispered. “I said that I might have led you on a little, and I was sorry if I’d misled you. It was a totally despicable letter; of course I’d led you on, and I’d given you every reason to believe there was something between us, despite all my talk about friendship and love not being compatible”. She shook her head, looking up at me with guilt in her eyes. “It was a shameful letter, Tom; I’ve felt bad about it for years. I’m very sorry”.

“It was a blow”, I said quietly, “but I got over it a long time ago”.

“I was paying the price for Mickey taking us in”, she said. “I knew I had to sever all connection between us, and between Owen and me as well. I couldn’t risk you finding out about the baby, not after what Mickey had said about wanting it to think he was the father”.

“I understand”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she whispered, “Thank you”.

I shook my head; “Carry on with the story”.

“Well, Lisa was born in February, and Mickey and I were married the following summer”.

“How did you get along?”

“Quite well at first; he was happy I’d come back to him. But of course the fact that I’d had to come and ask him to take me back appealed to his love of power, and it didn’t take long for me to notice that the dynamics were different in our relationship”.


She frowned. “I ignored it at first; in fact I don’t think it became really clear until after we were married. But he was more directive with me; he seemed to like ordering me around more. He’d been directive when we first started going out as teenagers, but that was when I was the sheltered vicarage girl and he was the man of the world with a motor bike and a reputation, so it had seemed only natural for him to take the lead. Later on after we started playing and singing together our relationship became more equal, and he seemed comfortable with that. But after I went to London and we moved in together we seemed to revert back to our old style.

“Anyway, after Lisa was born I started to notice he was losing his temper with me more often. At first I didn’t think anything of it; I was rather strong-willed myself too, and we’d always had arguments. But after a couple of years he started to really shout at me and say demeaning and insulting things when he was angry. And then he hit me for the first time”.

She was silent for a minute, and I waited, knowing by the expression on her face that she was reliving the experience as she recounted it for me.

“It was during a reunion of friends from my undergraduate days at UCL. We went to a nice club, and one of the people who came was a guy who’d been an occasional study partner of mine. We shared a drink and caught up with each other, and we even danced a couple of numbers together. I never thought anything of it, and I certainly didn’t mean anything by it. But afterwards, when we got home, Mickey lost his temper and accused me of shaming him in front of our old friends. I got very angry with him; I told him it wasn’t my job to pander to his childish immaturity all the time. And that was when he hit me across the side of the face, completely without warning, with the palm of his hand.

“I can remember it as if it were yesterday. He hit me hard enough to bruise, but at first I didn’t notice the pain; I was too shocked. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me; abuse was something that happened to other people. And then I cut that thought off – I told myself this wasn’t abuse, it was just a momentary lapse. We’d get over it.

“The next day he was profusely apologetic. He said he didn’t know what had got into him and he promised me it would never happen again. So we had an emotional reunion and we gushed over each other for several days. Of course, at the time I didn’t know this is a common cycle in abusive relationships: deterioration, abuse, repentance, round and round again. I lived in that cycle for the next twelve years”.

“I’m sorry Wendy; I didn’t mean for you to have to relive all this tonight”.

She looked at me and shook her head slowly. “No – I’m not sorry I’ve told you. And I need to add that even though it’s still painful for me to think about it, I’ve done a lot of healing since I moved to Oxford – especially since I’ve got to know Elaine at St. Michael and All Angels. She got the story out of me after a while, and she put me in touch with a group for survivors of abuse which was really, really helpful. And being away from London has been tremendously important for the children and me; for the most part we feel safe now. Rees calls regularly to check up on us; he’s turned out to be one of the truest friends I’ve had through the years, and of course I’ve got other friends at the college and in my church community. I’ve discovered I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I’ve realized that other people have pain too – lots of them worse pain than mine. I’m grateful for your concern, Tom, but please don’t think I spend a lot of time paralyzed by memories of the past. I don’t. I still get nightmares from time to time but I’ve learned how to deal with them; I get up, I make myself a cup of tea, I read a good book or pray the psalms, and eventually the fear passes and I can go back to sleep again. For the most part I’m coping well; I really am”.

I shook my head in admiration; “You’re a remarkable person”.

“No – really, I’m not. This sort of thing is common with survivors of abuse; I could introduce you to at least five or six people just in my small circle in the academic community who’ve been through the same thing, and have dealt with it in the same way. It’s not an uncommon story”.

“I still think it’s remarkable”. I pointed at her empty glass; “Would you like another one?”

“A two-pint night? Isn’t that a bit adventurous?” She shook her head; “I’d better not – not when I’ve got to work tomorrow. I’ll tell you what, though; if you ask for a pot of tea, I’ll help you drink it”.

“Okay; excuse me for just a minute”.

I got up and went across to order a pot of tea. The pub was fuller now; there were six or eight people standing or sitting at the bar and a few others seated around the tables. A couple of cigarettes were burning, and in the background an old Benny Goodman tune was playing on the radio.

When I returned to our table and sat down again I said, “So Lisa’s always assumed Mickey was her father?”


“Did you put his name on the birth certificate?”

“Of course not; her birth certificate doesn’t list a father”.

“How did you explain that to her?”

“She didn’t actually see her birth certificate until a couple of years ago when she applied for a passport before going to Russia. I told her it had just been an oversight when she was born, because we hadn’t been married at the time. By then she already hated Mickey so much that she thought it was rather ironic and funny”.

“I notice she goes by ‘Howard’ now, not ‘Kingsley’”.

“Yes. Mickey had legally adopted her after we got married, so she went by ‘Kingsley’ when she was young, but when she turned sixteen she asked me if she could have her name changed to ‘Howard’ again”.

“Mickey didn’t put up any resistance?”

“He was in jail for assaulting us at the time”.


“Please tell me you’re not going to ask her to start going by ‘Masefield’ any time soon”.

I frowned; “Of course not – the last thing I want to do is barge into her life. I think it would be better to take things slowly, don’t you?”

She nodded; “Sorry, Tom; I shouldn’t have been so defensive”.

“Not at all”. I looked across at her; “You must have been nervous when you found out I was back in Oxford”.

“Yes – I got quite a shock when Colin first mentioned your name, but then I thought, ‘There must be lots of Masefields in England; it must be a coincidence’, and I put it out of my mind. But after you rang me – well, then I knew it really was you, and I knew I had a problem.

“I knew that sooner or later you’d want to meet me, and actually I wanted that too. But I was afraid about what would happen if you found out about Lisa. I tried to put myself in your shoes, finding out you’d had a child for over twenty years without being told about it; it was really hard for me to imagine you reacting in any other way but anger”.

At that moment the bartender appeared at our table; I smiled my thanks as he put the tea tray down. “Let me know if you need more hot water”, he said as he turned and went back to the bar.

Wendy took the lid off the teapot and stirred the bags around for a moment. “You probably noticed I tried to avoid meeting you again. It was hard, because I really did want to see you and talk to you, especially after we’d had that conversation at the school and I’d met Emma. But I couldn’t risk you finding out the truth about Lisa, so when you asked me about getting together I put you off”.

She poured milk into the bottom of the cups, filled them both with thick black tea and handed one of them to me. “I did my best to avoid you, but then after we’d had such a good time together playing music with Owen I realized I still liked you and I didn’t want to jeopardize any chance we might have of being friends again. So I continued to hide the truth from you; I was afraid that if you found out, our friendship would be over. I know it was wrong of me to do that, and I’m certainly not proud of what I did, but there it is”. She looked across at me; “I’m really sorry, Tom; please forgive me”.

“There’s really nothing for me to forgive; I’m just glad that we’ve finally been able to talk about it together”.

“So am I – really glad”. She smiled awkwardly at me. “Actually, I can’t tell you how relieved I am; I’ve been worrying about this for the past four months”.

I returned her smile; “Time to stop worrying”, I said softly.

“Thank you”.

I shook my head; “No need”.

She took a deep breath; “So, what are we going to do now?”

“Well – do you think Mickey’s going to talk to Lisa and Colin?”

“It’s impossible to predict what he’ll do, but I’d say it’s likely. I’m going to have to tell them, aren’t I, before they get it from him?”

“I think so”.

“What about you; who do you need to tell before the story comes out?”

“Emma first, then Becca”.

“Are you afraid of how Emma will respond?”

“A little. Owen thinks I’ve got nothing to fear; he thinks Emma and I have a strong enough relationship that we can get through this”.

“Owen knows?”

I nodded; “I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have told him, but he already knew about the night you and I spent together – I told him about it years ago, just a few weeks after it happened. We went out for a drink one night about a month before I left for Canada; I was feeling really down about things between you and me and I told him the whole story. And then six weeks ago when I first found out about Lisa I was kind of in shock, and I called him. I’m sorry, Wendy; I probably shouldn’t have done that”.

She shook her head; “It’s totally understandable”.

“Thank you”.

“Does anyone else know?”


“So he was talking to you about Emma?”

“Yes; I told him I was afraid this news would break her heart but he disagreed. I’d like to be sure he’s right, but I have to admit I’m worried”.

“Of course you are; she’s very special to you”.

“Yeah, she’s – she’s all I’ve got left…” I stared into my teacup for a moment, then looked up at her and said, “What about you? Are you worried about how Lisa and Colin will take it?”

“I’m worried about how Lisa will take it. Not that there’s any love lost between her and Mickey but I’m sure she’ll quietly hold it against me as one more example of how I’ve failed to protect her. She’ll tell me that if I’d chosen to go to you instead of Mickey, she would never have had to go through that day when he assaulted her”.

“Would you rather I talked to her?”

She smiled at me. “Thanks, but I know I’ve got to do it. Can she talk to you afterwards if she wants to?”

“Of course. Are you going to tell her tonight?”

“I can’t really – she’s at her room in college. I’ll probably ring her and ask if we can have lunch tomorrow. What about you; will you talk to Emma tonight?”

“Probably, if she’s not too tired. She’s been working all day in her new job at Marston Court, and then she went in to see Dad and Sarah tonight”.

“I like Emma”.

“Thanks. I’ve enjoyed your two as well – not that I know Lisa very well”.

She frowned thoughtfully; “Would you mind if I told the rest of my family about you being Lisa’s father?”

“‘The rest of the family’ meaning…?”

“My mum and dad, and Rees and his family”.

“That would be fine”.

“Of course, after I do that, my mum and dad might want to meet you”.

“Do they ever get over this way?”

“Not very often, although Lisa’s birthday’s coming up in a couple of weeks”.

“Well, one way or the other I’ll look forward to meeting them”.

“Thanks Tom – I know you’re really busy right now”.

“That’s true, but this is important”. I glanced at my watch; “Well, I’d better get going if I’m going to talk to Emma tonight”.


I got to my feet and went to the bar to pay our bill, and then Wendy followed me out into the night air; a mist from the river was slowly rolling in, and I felt the chill in my bones as we walked across the parking lot to our cars.

“Thanks for coming out, Tom; I’m sorry if I put you behind on your schoolwork”.

“No – I’m really glad we talked about this stuff, even if Mickey backed us into it”.

“So am I”. She leaned forward and gave me a gentle hug. “Good night”.

“Good night. Call me when you’ve talked to Lisa”.

“I will”.

Link to Chapter 19


‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 17

Link back to Chapter 16

The following Friday Emma and I drove out to Northwood to spend the weekend with my parents; we picked Becca up at her flat just before six o’clock and got to my parents’ place about six-thirty. The temperature had been plunging all day long, and as we got out of the car Emma said, “There’s going to be another frost tonight”.

“Minus three tomorrow morning, I heard”, Becca replied.

“No snow, though”, I said, looking up at the night sky above us; “The sky’s clear”.

After dropping our bags in our rooms we went down to the kitchen for supper. My father was wearing a thick sweater and an old tweed jacket, and he was leaning on his stick as he greeted us. However, he seemed cheerful enough as my mother served up the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; he asked after our news and listened carefully to our replies. Emma had been to the hospital to see Sarah that afternoon, and I had dropped in on Rick for an hour the night before.

“How was he?” my father asked.

“They’ve been doing physiotherapy with him”, I replied, “and they’re teaching him to walk properly with crutches. It’s going to be a long time before he can put his full weight on that leg, though”.

“How much longer will he be in hospital?”

“He thinks another couple of weeks, but he won’t be able to go back to work when he gets home. He’s going to have to go in for daily physio for quite a while”.

“An open fracture like that can take six months to fully heal”, Becca added. “And of course the fact that he’s also got a broken arm has complicated things”.

“How so?” my father asked.

“It makes it harder for him to use a crutch”.


“And how was Sarah today?” my mother asked Emma.

“Not very good. Her vision’s getting better, but she’s still getting the headaches and they’re really wearing her down. The doctors are trying to get her up to do some exercises to strengthen her leg muscles, but she doesn’t always feel up to it. I’ve been trying to encourage her but sometimes it doesn’t seem to make any difference”.

My mother reached across and put her hand on Emma’s. “Don’t be discouraged”, she said. “I know she really appreciates all the time you’ve been spending with her. I was in to see her yesterday and she told me that. She also said she knew she wasn’t always very good company for you and she was sorry if she’d been a bit short-tempered with you at times”.

Emma nodded. “Thanks, Grandma. She apologized to me today too, but I told her not to worry about it. I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to be in her situation”.

Becca shook her head. “Two years ago she might have said the same thing about you, Emma Dawn. I think you’ve got more capacity for feeling other people’s misfortunes than you give yourself credit for”.

“Thanks”, Emma replied awkwardly. “Could we maybe talk about something else now?”

“Of course”, said my father; “How are things at Marston Court?”

“Well, I’ve got something to tell you about that”.


“I’ve applied for a paid position”.

“A paid position?” he said with a smile.


“What sort of a position?” my mother asked.

“It’s a care worker job, so it’s about looking after the needs of the residents in a general way – the standard nursing home grunt work, you know?”

“Is it full-time or part-time?” asked my father.

“Part-time, but that’s the standard now – there aren’t that many full-time positions at Marston Court. They say it’ll probably be twenty-five hours a week, day shifts or evening shifts”.

“When would it start?”

“February 1st”.

“Are you happy about it?” asked my mother.

“Oh yeah – I like the people, and the staff are pretty good to work with”.

“And it probably won’t hurt to have it on your CV”, my father added.

“That’s what I thought too”.

“Hopefully it won’t mean you can’t get out to see us, though”.

She shrugged; “The shifts could be any time days or evenings, including weekends, so I’m guessing it will vary from week to week. But it doesn’t matter – twenty-five hours isn’t a lot, and I can still slip out here for a day or two when I’m not working”.

“You’re getting to have a busy calendar”, Becca observed, “between work and Sarah and your grandparents and your friends”.

“I’ll be fine”, Emma replied.


When the meal was over my mother made a pot of tea and we went through to the living room. I laid a fire in the fireplace and lit it, and we took our seats around the hearth, drinking our tea and talking quietly.

After a while the conversation turned to my father’s health. “I’m not feeling too bad, my dear”, he replied in response to Emma’s query; “Coughing a bit today, but all in all, pretty good. I think we’ve got that cancer on the run”.

Becca and I exchanged glances and she spoke quietly; “I don’t think that’s exactly what they said, Dad”.

“Eh? What’s that?”

“I don’t think that’s exactly what they said”, she replied in a louder voice.

“How do you know? You weren’t there”.

“No, but I was there at the conference with your oncologist last March when she explained the treatment plan. That was when she said the cancer was too widespread to hope for a cure; they were going to use a moderate dose of chemo to control the growth of the tumours because anything more than that would be too much for you to tolerate”.

“As it is, he’s had some pretty bad days with it”, said my mother.

“Oh, I’ve done all right”, my father replied.

“So what exactly did your specialist say?” I asked.

“She said the cancer has stopped growing”.

“Right”, said Becca, “which is what the treatment was designed to do. But the cancer’s still in your body; if they wanted to try seriously to wipe it out they’d have to use a much more potent dose of chemo, and your body wouldn’t be able tolerate it”.

“How do you know so much about what’s going on in my body?” he demanded; “You weren’t at the last meeting with my oncologist”.

“Frank”, my mother replied softly, “she’s not trying to be unkind”.

He was quiet for a moment, looking at my mother, and then he shook his head and reached out to put his hand on Becca’s. “No, I know”, he replied; “You’re a doctor, and you’re just trying to understand what’s happening”.

“I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp of what’s happening”, she replied testily, “and I also heard how your oncologist described the situation: ‘This isn’t a victory, it’s a successful rearguard action’. I know what that means”.

“There’s no need for you to be so eager to put me in my grave!” he snapped.

“Dad, that’s not…”

“No, no, of course not – except that whenever there seems to be any encouraging news, you’re quick to dismiss it and give the darkest possible interpretation of what’s been said”.

“That’s not fair!” she protested. “I’m just repeating what your oncologist said; there’s no interpretation involved. I’m glad they’ve managed to stop the growth of your cancer – truly, I am”.

He opened his mouth to reply, but then he began to cough. After a moment Becca moved over, knelt down beside him and began to rub his back; “Em, could you please go to the kitchen and get your grandpa some water?” she said.

Emma nodded, got to her feet and slipped out of the room, returning a moment later with a glass of water which she handed to Becca. My father was still coughing, his face flushed; Becca lifted the glass to his lips and he drank a few sips, nodding at her. Eventually his coughing eased, and he smiled at her; “Thank you”, he said hoarsely.

“That’s all right”, she replied, putting the glass down in front of him and taking her seat.

“Do you want some more tea, Grandpa?” Emma asked.

He shook his head; “No thank you. I don’t think I’ve got the chemo drugs completely out of my system yet; the tea still tastes like gun metal, I’m afraid”.


Becca and I sat up for a while after everyone else had gone to bed; she made hot chocolate, I threw another log on the fire, and then we sat side by side on the couch, put our feet up and talked about our week. After a while the conversation came back to my father; “He’s still in denial”, she said.

“I’m not so sure he is; didn’t it sound just a little to you as if he was trying to convince himself?”

She was quiet for a moment, and then she frowned and said “Maybe”.

I drank some of my hot chocolate and cupped my hands around the mug. She looked at me for a moment and then said “What?”

“What do you mean, ‘what’?”

“I mean, you’ve got something else to say, haven’t you?”

“Have I?”

“Tommy, you can be very annoying sometimes!”

I shifted my body a little on the couch, smiled at her and said, “He’ll get there by himself eventually, you know”.

“You think I shouldn’t be telling him the truth?”

“The important thing isn’t what you tell him; the important thing is what he believes”.

She frowned again; “I don’t follow you”.

“If you tell him the truth and he doesn’t believe you, how are you further ahead?”

For a moment she didn’t reply, and I could see she was considering what I had said. Eventually she shook her head; “Why doesn’t he believe me, Tommy?”

“I think he does, but the problem is he feels like he’s being attacked”.

“What do you mean?”

“Did you hear what he said? ‘Why are you so eager to put me in my grave?’ He felt as if you were taking pleasure in pointing out to him that he was still dying”.

“But I told him I wasn’t”.

“I know, but his defences were already up”.

She looked away for a moment, cupping her mug in her hands; out in the corridor the grandfather clock struck the half-hour. Eventually she spoke in a small voice. “I know you’re right; you’re not telling me anything I don’t practice every day in the clinic. I just find it hard to remember it when I’m dealing with Dad”.

“Of course you do; we all revert to kid status when we’re around him”.

“You too?”

“Especially me; when he and I butt heads I become that fifteen-year old again – the one who was fighting for his right to follow the career he wanted. He and I had an argument about this back in the summer, a couple of days after we got here, and I made exactly the same mistake you were making tonight – trying to force him out of his denial. It got me precisely nowhere”.

She tilted her head a little, gave me a wry grin and said, “It’s rather ironic that you’re the one giving me advice about how to talk with him”.

“I know; I can remember a few times over the years when it was you and Kelly who were talking me down!”

She put her hand on mine; “We’ve all had our times of helping each other”.

“Yes we have”.

We lapsed into silence for a few minutes, sipping at our hot chocolate and staring into the fire. I could feel the tiredness in my bones and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I fell asleep.

Eventually she shifted a little on the couch and said, “I’ve got some other news”.


She smiled at me; “Mike and I had lunch together this week”.

I stared at her; “Mike Carey?”


“How did it go?”

“We talked, and I apologized, and he apologized too, and we agreed to go out for dinner next week and talk again”.

“You’re happy about this, I presume?”

“Honestly? I’m almost too scared to let myself be happy; I’m so good at messing up when it comes to relationships…”

I shook my head; “Just relax, and let it unfold at its own pace”.

She gave me another wry grin; “This is me we’re talking about, remember – the girl who can’t relax?”

“Well, if you keep saying that about yourself I guess you’ll believe it”.

She stared at me for a moment. “Thank you”; she said quietly; “I deserved that”.

“So you and Mike…?”

“We’re talking; that’s a big improvement over what went before”.

I put my hand on hers; “I’m happy for you, Becs”.

“Thanks. But please, if you see me relapsing into my old frenetic ways with him, don’t let me get away with it, alright? Remind me where that kind of stupidity got me in the past”.

“You’ll do fine”.

“I hope so. I know I’ve been given another chance and I really don’t want to waste it”.

“Are you going to tell Emma?”

“Actually, do you mind if I don’t? You can tell her later if you like, after you go home, but I’m almost afraid to talk about it right now until I see where it leads; do you know what I mean?”

“I think so; would you rather I not talk to her, then?”

“I don’t mind you talking to her – just don’t do it until after you go home. I don’t want her to ask me anything about it this weekend”.

“Okay; I understand”.

“Thank you”.


I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of my father coughing down the hall; a dry, rasping cough that went on for some time. I heard the sound of footsteps on the landing and then the creak of the stairs, and I guessed that my mother was going down to get him a glass of water to drink. After a while his coughing eased a little, but from time to time through the rest of the night I heard it again.

I was up early as usual and went out for a walk in the cold and frosty morning air. When I got back I was surprised to see Becca in the kitchen in her pyjamas, making tea. “I was going to bring you a cup!” I said, going to her and kissing her on the cheek.

“Dad’s coughing woke me up”, she replied, pouring the hot water into the tea pot. “I think we may be calling an ambulance for him before too long”.

“Is he okay?”

“He’s been coughing up a storm for the last half hour or so; sounds to me like he’s got a chest infection of some kind”.

I counted the days on my fingers. “It’s about right; just over two weeks since his last chemo”.

“Yes; the white blood cell counts are just about to start going up again”.

“Have you got your bag with you?”

“It’s up in my room; I threw it into the car at the last minute, just in case”.

“Good call, Dr. Masefield”.

“Well, I’m not going to treat him, but I’ll listen to his chest and make the call if I have to”.


At that moment my mother came into the kitchen in her bathrobe and slippers. “I thought I heard you two in here”, she said quietly.

Becca covered the pot with a tea cosy, then turned to my mother; “Do you want me to listen to his chest?”

“If you’ve got your bag with you, love; he’s had a really bad night”.

“I heard him. Has he got any nausea or shivers or anything like that?”

“Shivers, but no nausea”.

“Right; just let me get dressed and run a comb through my hair, and I’ll be right in”.

“Should I be worried?” my mother asked anxiously.

“It’ll be a chest infection, Mum; it’s not unexpected, given the stage of the chemo cycle that he’s in. We’ll probably have to get him into the JR and hook him up to some antibiotics”.

“For how long?”

Becca shook her head; “I really can’t say. I’ll be there in a few minutes, Mum – meanwhile, let Tommy pour you a cup of tea, alright?”

“Alright, darling – thank you”.


An hour later Emma and I watched as my mother helped my father get into the passenger seat of their car; he was wearing a thick overcoat and scarf, with a wool toque on his head, and he was still coughing. Becca loaded a couple of bags into the trunk, then turned back to me. “You’ll follow later on?”

“We will. You don’t think there’s a rush, though?”

“It’s going to take them a while to get him through emergency and get the tests and things done. There’s no point in us jamming up A and E with extra bodies; I’ll ring you when we know anything”.

“Right; we’ll clean up and then we’ll go over and have coffee with Owen’s parents. We’ll probably drive into town late morning”.

“Your mobile’s on?”


“So is mine”, Emma added.

“Good”. Becca hugged me briefly, kissed me on the cheek and said, “I’ll see you later, then”.

“You drive safely now, Becs”.


It was evening before we got in to see my father at the JR, and by then he was sleeping soundly. We sat around his bed for a while with my mother and Becca, talking quietly; later on Rick came in on his crutches, and Emma and I went home about nine o’clock.

The following afternoon I put my head around my father’s door shortly after lunch. He had been moved into a private room, and he was lying asleep, his head and shoulders slightly raised by the angle of the bed. He was wearing a loose cardigan over his hospital clothes; there were two IV tubes leading into his left arm, and on the far side of his bed another machine was monitoring his vital signs. An open paperback was lying face down on the bedside table. Outside the window the sky was grey and overcast.

I slipped quietly into the room, sat down beside the bed and watched him sleeping. His head was still completely hairless, there were dark circles under his eyes, and his skin had taken on a translucent quality. His mouth was open a little as he slept; he was snoring lightly, and I could hear the faint rattle of the congestion in his chest.

I thought back to what Becca had said a few months back about having mixed emotions. She was right; for as long as I could remember my habitual stance toward this dying man had been resistance, and he had certainly given me plenty of reasons to justify that attitude. Now, however, watching him lying there, his frailty and suffering obvious to see, I felt something older and deeper stirring inside.

I sat there quietly for fifteen or twenty minutes, listening to his light snores, my thoughts drifting. I prayed for him for a while, and then I found my mind wandering to Wendy and her family. It was almost a month now since I had discovered that Lisa was my daughter, and in all that time I had said nothing about it to either of them. Was I being a coward, I wondered, or was I waiting for Wendy to decide to tell me the truth rather than forcing it on her? And if I was to raise the issue, how would I go about it? For a few minutes my mind went around that situation, and then I told myself to put it on one side for now and concentrate on making things better with my father.

He stirred and opened his eyes, and I waited silently until he turned his head on the pillows and saw me sitting beside his bed. “Hello, Dad”, I said.

“Hello, Tom”, he replied, his voice a little hoarse; “How long have you been sitting there?”

“Fifteen or twenty minutes, I suppose. You were sleeping well, so I didn’t want to wake you”.

He tried to push himself up on his elbow but the effort was too much for him. “Could you put the bed up just a little? I can never remember how to use those buttons”.

“Of course”. I surveyed the controls on the side of the bed and then held down what looked like the right button; sure enough, the head of the bed started to move slowly upwards. When he was satisfied I released the button. “Would you like some water?” I asked.

“Yes please – there’s a jug on the table there”.

I poured some water into a blue plastic cup for him and helped him sit up a little to drink it through a bent straw. “That’s better”, he said; “Thank you”.

“Is Mum here?”

“She and Becca were sitting right there a little while ago; they must have slipped out after I fell asleep. I expect they’ve gone to have a cup of tea or something. Where’s Emma?”

“She went to church with me this morning and now she’s gone in to volunteer for a couple of hours at Marston Court. She told me to tell you she’ll be in a little later”. I nodded toward the open paperback on his bedside table; “What are you reading?”

“Thomas Hardy – The Woodlanders. You know it, of course?”

“I know it quite well actually”.

“I’m not surprised; are there any nineteenth century novelists you don’t know?”

“There are a few, but they’re all ones I’m not interested in getting to know any better!”

He laughed, and suddenly he went into a fit of coughing. After a moment I leaned forward, poured him some more water and helped him sit up a little to drink it. He sipped at the straw for a few seconds, nodding when he was finished, and I put the cup back down on the bedside table. “Thanks”, he said.

“You’re welcome”.

“It looks like I was somewhat premature in claiming to have turned a corner”.

“It’s an infection, Dad; it’s not unexpected. It’s the down side of chemo”.

He laughed softly; “That side is rather crowded, it seems to me!”

“Yeah, I know what you mean”.

He nodded wordlessly, and for a moment we were both quiet. Then he said, “I just started this book a couple of days ago. I’ve got to admit I’ve never read any Hardy before, so I didn’t really know what to expect; it’s a dark and cheerless tale but he is something of a genius, isn’t he?”

“I really like his novels, and he wrote excellent poetry, too”.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me I should read that as well?”

“I think you should read exactly what you want to read. I don’t believe in ‘best book’ lists and reading books just because other people think they’re ‘essential reading’”.

“Really? You surprise me; I thought that’s what teaching literature was all about”.

I shook my head. “I don’t want my students to read Hardy because someone’s decided he’s required reading. I want them to read him because he’s brilliant and enjoyable and he wrote powerful stories – and used the English language vividly and beautifully while he was doing it. My job isn’t to persuade them to read good literature out of a sense of obligation; it’s to take away any barriers that might be preventing them from enjoying it for themselves”.

He stared at me; “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk like this before”.


“You obviously feel very strongly about it”.

“I do”.

He nodded at the book on his bedside table; “Do you teach this book at your school?”

“Sadly, no. It’s actually rather hard to get most high school kids interested in Thomas Hardy. Far From the Madding Crowd is on our list but it’s an unusual book for Hardy, since it has a happy ending”.

“I remember a film version of that one; I think it was from the 1960s”.

“That would be the one with Julie Christie and Alan Bates”.

“That’s right”.

“There was also a TV miniseries in 1998 with Nathaniel Parker and Paloma Baeza; it’s actually quite excellent”.

“I’ll have to look it up when I get out of here; perhaps the library will have it”.

“I’m sure they will”. I smiled at him; “What’s got you interested in Thomas Hardy?”

“I remember you talking about him years ago – when you were in high school I think, or perhaps in university”.

I nodded; “I read two or three of his novels in high school: The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native, and maybe Far From the Madding Crowd. I read most of his others when I was in university”.

“I seem to remember you were quite taken with them”.

“I was. Most modern novels have a happy ending with all the main characters surviving the drama, but real life doesn’t work that way, does it? I was fascinated by the way Hardy just let fate grind on inexorably, no matter what it did to his heroes and heroines”.

He gave me a wry grin; “Not exactly a Christian view of the universe”.

“No”. I smiled back at him; “Curious, isn’t it?”

“Your fondness for him, you mean?”

“Yes; I’m a mass of contradictions. I like Hardy the bleak agnostic, but I also like Charles Kingsley and Charlotte Yonge, and especially Jane Austen; I think Pride and Prejudice is one of the most brilliant novels ever written”.

“What about Dickens?”

“He’s brilliant but I find him hard work. I like David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol, but I have to confess there are some of his books I’ve never finished: Great Expectations, for one”.

He smiled mischievously at me; “Your secret is safe with me”.

“I appreciate that”.

“Which is your favourite Hardy novel?”

“The one you’re reading, actually”.

We continued to talk for a few minutes about Hardy’s books in general, and The Woodlanders in particular; I was surprised at his questions and his astute observations about the plot of the book. Eventually I said “Well, you’ve succeeded in surprising me, Dad”.

“You didn’t think I had any interest in this sort of thing?”

“I honestly didn’t”.

He shrugged; “Well, perhaps you were right”. He looked down at his hands for a moment; “Perhaps it’s not a bad thing for you and I to have something we can talk about that doesn’t lead to an argument, though”.

I nodded slowly; “Not a bad thing at all”.


Joe Reimer and I had gotten into the habit of calling each other once a week, usually on Sundays. That evening when I was talking to him on the phone, I told him about the events of the past weekend, and especially this conversation with my father.

“So he’s taken a step to bridge the gap between you”, he observed.

“Well, he didn’t say so explicitly, but I got the distinct impression that he’d started reading The Woodlanders so that he and I would have something to talk about”.

“And you were defending him in conversation with Becca, too”.

“I don’t know if I was defending him; I was asking her to be a little wiser about how she talked to him about his illness”.

“So you’ve discovered that being adversarial isn’t a very good strategy”.

“I think I’ve always known that; usually he’s the one who’s taken an adversarial position”.

“Things seem to be changing though”.

“Maybe a little”.

“Did you honestly expect that when you moved over there?”

“No – I have to admit I didn’t”.

“Do you know how long he’ll have to stay in hospital?”

“Not really. Apparently he’s picked up a nasty chest infection, and it’s potentially quite dangerous for him. They’re going to keep pumping him with antibiotics until they’re sure they’ve got it beaten”.

“It might be a while, then?”

“It might be”.

“How’s your mom?”

“She was quite anxious yesterday, but she seems a little more like her old self today”.

“And Becca?”

“Becca’s being a star. Of course, she knows what’s going on much better than the rest of us, and she knows what to do about it”.

“What’s she saying about his long-term prognosis?”

“Nothing’s changed”.

“She thinks it’ll still be a couple of years from the time he was diagnosed?”

“For a while she was thinking he wouldn’t make it that far. Lately I haven’t heard her being quite that pessimistic but she still thinks he’ll be lucky to see next January”.

There was silence on the line for a moment, and then he said, “I’m glad you’re there, Tom. We all miss you like crazy but it’s good that you’re with your family right now”.

“Yes”, I replied softly, “I’m beginning to believe that it is”.

“On a completely different subject, have you been talking to Beth?”

“She emails me fairly frequently; we haven’t talked on the phone in a while. Why?”

“She’ll probably call you before you go to bed tonight”.

“What’s up?”

“I should let her tell you”.

“Is she pregnant?”

He laughed; “Good deduction, Sherlock! She told us in church today; I guess they just found out on Friday. She told me she was going to call you this afternoon”.

I glanced at my watch; “I guess it’s still afternoon there, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. She was going to Don and Lynda’s for lunch and then driving home”.

“I’ll wait for her call”.


Emma and I took Beth’s call on two separate phones; I had not told Emma what Joe had said, and she squealed with delight when she heard the news. “When are you due?” she asked.

“The middle of August. It was just confirmed on Friday”.

“Congratulations”, I said; “Your grandma and grandpa Robinson must be pleased”.

“They’re both really happy”.

“Actually, now that I think about it, this is a first for four generations on that side of the family, isn’t it?”

“First child for Greg and me, first grandchild for my mom and dad, first great-grandchild for Grandma and Grandpa. Is it a first for my great-grandma too?”

“I think it is. Your grandpa is old Joanna’s oldest son, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have any other great-great-grandchildren yet”.

“You knew her, didn’t you?”

“I did. I first met her not long after Kelly and I got engaged, and by the time she died we were pretty good friends. She liked the fact that I was English; we used to drink strong tea together, and she liked poetry too. I was very fond of her”.

“I’m trying to remember what year she died?”

“1990; I think she was eighty-four”.

“I would have been about twelve, then. I remember her pretty well; she always looked like an English lady, didn’t she?”

“Becca once said she looked a bit like the Queen wandering around her estates in a headscarf and rubber boots”.

She laughed; “Well put. One of these days you should tell me more about your memories of her, Tom; I wish I’d known her better”.

“Well, one thing I can tell you for sure is that she’d have been delighted with your news today. She was immensely proud of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; she was always reminding me of just how many she had. She got a little forgetful toward the end, but she never forgot those numbers; they were always dead on”.

“That’s amazing”.

“Come on over for a visit, Bethie; there are more stories where that one came from”.

“Believe me, I’d love to do that. Are you guys coming back at all in the summer time?”

“I am for sure”, Emma replied. “Dad…”

“Depends on my dad”, I said. “I’d like to get back for a few weeks, but we’ll need to see how he’s doing”.

“Of course”, Beth replied; “I understand”.

“Maybe I’ll be there when your baby’s born!” said Emma.

“Maybe you will!”

Link to Chapter 18


‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 16

Link back to Chapter 15


For the next week we seemed to live at the JR. Starting on Monday Emma was volunteering her mornings at Marston Court; she came home each day and ate a quick lunch with me, and then we went over to the hospital together. My mother was driving into town each day from Northwood; most of the time my father came with her, but on a couple of occasions he was too tired and he stayed home to rest. Most evenings Alyson, Eric, and Anna ate supper at our house or at Becca’s flat, and sometimes my parents joined us as well. During those evening meals I noticed that Emma spent a lot of time talking with Eric and Anna and a couple of times they stayed over for the night, Anna sleeping in Emma’s room and Eric curling up on a mattress in my den.

Sarah came out of her coma on the fifth day, New Year’s Eve. She woke up with a severe headache, nausea, and double vision, and she was immediately terrified. Alyson was not at the hospital at the time, but she was called and she came immediately. Emma and I joined her later; by then Sarah had calmed down a little but she was still in pain, and I could see that Alyson was frantic with worry. The doctor tried to reassure her; “This is not unusual”, he said. “She’s had a severe blow to the head, and the brain will take time to heal. She’s going to be scared, and she needs her family and friends to be calm and comforting”.

One person in our family who was very good at being calm and comforting was my mother, and I watched as she rose to the occasion, despite all her ongoing worries about my father and my brother. For the next few days, whenever she entered Sarah’s room she seemed to bring an aura of tranquility with her; no matter how agitated Sarah was when she arrived, she seemed to calm down visibly in my mother’s presence.

The other person Sarah found reassuring was Emma. They were close enough in age and interests to be able to talk each other’s language, but far enough apart for Sarah to be able to look up to Emma and lean on her a little. Emma knew this, and she quietly began spending more time with her cousin. The two of them were often alone together, and I asked Emma at one point what they did during those times. “Do you read to her, or just talk, or…?”

“Sometimes I read stuff she likes; she’s having trouble focussing on the page and her headaches get worse if she tries to read for long. But mostly we talk. We talk about everything. Actually, a lot of the time she talks and I listen”.

I was as concerned about Sarah as anyone else, but I was also worried about my brother; I knew he was blaming himself for the accident. His mood was quiet and subdued, and I mentioned to Becca one night that I was afraid he was sliding into depression.

“It’s not unexpected”, she replied, sitting across the kitchen table from me with a cup of herbal tea cradled in her hands.

“I know, but it’s hard to watch it happening”.

“Does he talk to you?”

“Sometimes. That first morning he was really open. Now his guard’s back up a bit, but sometimes if I catch him at the right moment he’ll let it down again”.

“I wonder if he’s talking to anyone else?”

“I really don’t know”.


On the evening of the first Friday in January I was feeling very tired. I still had a little work to do in preparation for school, which was beginning again in a couple of days, so I decided to stay home from the hospital that night. After everyone had left I washed the dishes and then made myself some herbal tea and went upstairs to my office. I had been working steadily at my computer for about an hour when the cordless phone rang on the desk beside me; I picked it up automatically and said “Tom and Emma’s”.

“Well, stranger – Happy New Year!”

“Wendy! I’m sorry – I tried to call you a couple of times this week but there was no answer”.

“I know; that’s my fault. We only came home today; we’d planned to come back earlier but Mum wasn’t well”.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s on the mend. She caught a bad cold that went down to her chest, so she was in hospital over Christmas”.

“That doesn’t sound good”.

“Well, she’s seventy-five and she’s been getting frail so I suppose this sort of thing shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it does anyway. What about you? How was your Christmas?”

“Christmas was good but after that things went downhill; my brother and his daughter were involved in a serious car accident on Boxing Day”.

“Oh no! Are they alright?”

“They’re both still in hospital. Rick had a broken arm and leg, three broken ribs and a mild concussion. But Sarah’s a lot worse; both her femurs are broken, and her wrist and her collar bone, and she has five broken ribs. Both her lungs were collapsed too, but they seem to be getting better now. When they first brought her in she was in a coma but she came out of it a couple of days ago”.

“How old is she?”

“She turned fifteen back in June”.

“So young! How is she today?”

“Struggling. She still has severe headaches and double vision; I guess it’s going to take a while for the brain to heal. They’ve put a titanium rod in her left leg and they’ve been working on the other fractures too. It’s going to be a long process”.

“I’m so sorry, Tom; I shouldn’t be bothering you at a time like this”.

“You aren’t bothering me; I’m glad to hear from you. I’ve been thinking about you on and off”.

She laughed; “No you haven’t!”

“Actually I have. Aside from your mum’s illness, did you have a good time with your family?”

“Pretty good, thanks. We spent a lot of time with Mum in the hospital but we did a few other things too. We went to church Christmas Eve, and my brother Rees brought Dad over for supper a few times. Lisa and Colin spent time with their cousins and I went for some walks and did some reading. Oh, and I listened to some good music, too; I’d taken a few of my old records with me”.

“Your brother still has a record player?”

“Funnily enough, he does! My old folk LPs are getting a bit scratchy these days, but I’ve got a sentimental attachment to them”.

“I know what you mean; I’ve still got all my old Nic Jones and Martin Carthy records”.

“Those early Nic Jones albums are hard to find”.

“I know; that’s why I take good care of them”.

“I really enjoyed that afternoon singing with you and Owen”.

“It felt good, didn’t it?”

“It really did”.

“You’re off for for a while yet, right?”

“Yes – the university’s down for the better part of January. You’re starting again on Monday, though”.

“Yes we are”.

“I suppose between prep work and hospital visits you’re rather busy”.

“Yeah; the curriculum’s still strange to me so getting ready for classes is taking longer, and hospital visiting has put me behind. I don’t have a lot of free time this weekend or through the week, but next weekend might work; do you want to do coffee some time next Saturday?”

“I’d love to, but are you sure you want to take the time?”

“Next Saturday will be okay as long as we can do it in the morning. Visiting hours at the hospitals start around noon”.

“Are you still an early riser?”

“Yes I am”.

“How about nine o’clock at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House?”

“That’ll be fine; I like that place. I’ll look forward to it”.

“Me too. And again, I’m sorry I didn’t ring you to let you know we were staying longer in Essex”.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you soon”.

“Bye, Tom; I hope you have a better week this week”.

“Thanks. Bye for now”.


And so we met at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House the following Saturday. It was still barely light at nine o’clock on a January morning, but the coffee house was brightly lit. It was divided into two rooms, with small round tables, and a glass-covered counter off to one side showing all sorts of delicious-looking baked goods. Wendy was already there when I came through the door, and she waved to me from a table in the back corner. She was dressed casually in faded jeans and an old shirt and top; she had a cup of coffee at her elbow and a hardback book open on the table in front of her. As I approached, she removed a pair of reading glasses and got to her feet, looking at me with concern in her eyes; “You look exhausted, Tom”, she said.

“I am a little tired; we were at the hospital last night, and then I had all my usual schoolwork to do”.

We exchanged kisses on the cheek and sat down across from each other. “How’s Sarah doing?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Not much change. Her vision seems to be getting better but she still has headaches and nausea, and she can’t handle too much noise. Her left leg seems to be healing pretty well from the surgery but it’s going to be a while before she can put any weight on it. Apparently there are several other surgeries ahead for her as well”.

“She must be having an awful time”.

I nodded; “It’s very hard for her”.

“How’s your dad?”

“Quite well actually; his latest round of chemo finished on December 31st. He had a few tests and scans this week and apparently his cancer has stopped growing”.

She stared at me; “Is he in remission?”

“No – the cancer’s still there and he’s still experiencing the symptoms, it’s just that the chemo seems to have done a good job of controlling its growth, which was what they wanted it to do. The way his oncologist put it was ‘This is not a victory, it’s a successful rearguard action’”.

“So what happens now?”

“They’re going to give him a break from chemo for a while, but he’s supposed to go back once a month for scans so they can keep an eye on things”.

“He must be pleased”.

“I think so. Actually, Becca’s worried he’s going to read too much into this”.

“You mean he’ll think he’s cured?”

“I think he might; denial’s been a problem for him all along”. I gestured toward her cup; “What are you drinking?”

“Americano, but this one will last me for a while yet”.

“Excuse me while I go and get one for myself”.

I went to the counter, ordered a coffee and waited while they made it. When I got back to the table she was just putting her book away in her bag; I sat down, took a sip of my coffee, and said, “What are you reading?”

“Oh, it’s just a dry academic book about the Lake Poets; I try to keep up with the scholarship but sometimes it’s not very inspiring. What about you? Have you got a book on the go right now?”

Sweeter Than All the World, by Rudy Wiebe”.

“I’m not familiar with him”.

 “He’s a Canadian writer, a Mennonite actually; some of his novels are about Mennonites and some are about the history of Western Canada. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea; I don’t like everything he’s written but I’m enjoying this one”.

She smiled at me; “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do”.

“Yes we do, Doctor Howard! Do you find it strange to be teaching at the college where you were a student?”

“Interesting; I now know what goes on behind all the mysterious closed doors!”

“You must be pleased, though; it can’t be easy to get a fellowship at an Oxford college. How long had you been at UCL?”

“Nine years, eight of them full-time”.

“It took you a few years to get on there, then?”

“Yes”. She looked down at her half-empty coffee cup. “I moved in August, after you left for Canada. I – well, I was missing Mickey, and on the spur of the moment I decided to apply to go back to UCL for my doctoral work. Mickey and I were able to get past our differences and we ended up moving in together. He’d started working for the Telegraph Magazine by then and he was doing well; he’s always been a gifted photographer”.

“Your work must have slowed down a little when you started having kids?”

“I took a break from studying for a while after Lisa was born, but by the summer of ’86 I’d finished my doctorate. I taught at UCL part-time for a year before Colin was born, and I went back again in September of ’88; Mickey and I were married by then. I got a full time position in ’89 and I stayed there ’til I came back to Oxford in ’97”.

“When did you start writing?”

“My first book was basically a worked-up version of my doctoral thesis; it came out in 1988. I wrote the next one from scratch, so it took a bit longer”.

“I’ve read it. I’ve read all three of them, actually; I thoroughly enjoyed them”.

She gave me a shy smile; “Thanks”.

“Your latest one’s a little different from the first two”.

“Yes; my editor thought I should write a big picture introduction to George Eliot. The idea was that it might be used as a text in undergraduate courses, so I needed to write at entry level. I’ve been teaching undergrads for years, of course, so that wasn’t especially hard”.

“Emma enjoyed it, so you must have succeeded”.

She smiled again; “Has she been reading Eliot for long?”

“She read Middlemarch about a year ago and she’s read a few others since then. She’s become a big fan”.

“You must be pleased”.

“Well, she’s been raiding my bookshelves for a long time”.

“Do you point her in the right direction?”

“Not really; most of the time I let her read whatever catches her interest, and if she has questions I do my best to answer them. She watched the Pride and Prejudice miniseries a few years ago; that’s what got her started on Jane Austen. She hasn’t really looked back since then”.

“What was she reading before that?”

“Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Ursula Le Guin and people like that. She picked up some of her mum’s tastes over the years too”.

“What did her mum like?”

“She was a wide reader; she liked novels and poetry, but she enjoyed theology and science too. She was very interested in the connection between science and faith”.

“Some people find that a challenge”.

“It was a challenge for Kelly when she was in her teens; she actually took some time away from her faith for a few years because of it. But when she came back she had a real hunger to think the issues through”.

“She sounds like a remarkable person”.

“She was”. I took a sip of my coffee, cradled the mug in my hands and said, “So you wrote your last book here in Oxford, then?”

“Yes. I’d started to plan it several years ago while I was still in London, but then I got a bit preoccupied with other things. My marriage was breaking up and I needed to get away from London and re-establish myself somewhere else. Bev had already moved to Oxford; she was the one who told me about the English Fellowship at Merton. I didn’t think I had much chance at it, so I was quite surprised when they called me in for an interview and even more surprised when they offered me the position. It came along at just the right time”.

“Your kids have adjusted all right?”

“They have. Lisa loves it; they both grew up in London but she was getting really tired of it. We’d visited Oxford a few times over the years and she’d always said this was where she’d like to go to university. And for her, London was so closely associated with Mickey; I’m afraid the two of them were thoroughly estranged by then”.

“I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you and Mickey”.

“Well, you and Owen warned me, didn’t you? I’ve got no one to blame but myself”.

“The victim of abuse isn’t to blame, Wendy”.

“I know, but I was the one who put myself in an abusive situation, and all the signs were there. I should have seen it coming, but I was young and in love and I was only seeing what I wanted to see. And Mum and Dad had been warning me about him long before you and Owen came into the picture”.

“Does Colin still get on well with your dad?”

“He does. They made that connection through carpentry, and they’ve never looked back”.

“That’s great. I like Colin a lot; he’s pretty easy-going and friendly”.

“He is, isn’t he? And he’s a lot better than I am at just taking life for what it is; I’m always trying to manage it, and that doesn’t often work out well”.

“It’s a fairly common human weakness”.

“I suppose”.

I smiled at her; “So you’re the mother of a boy who plays sports!”

She gave me a sheepish grin. “I know; hard to believe, isn’t it? I’ve actually become quite good at standing on the edge of cold football fields cheering for his team. What about Emma? Is she an outdoor sort of person?”

“Yes, but she’s not really into competitive sports. She loves walking and hiking, and canoeing and snowshoeing and horseback riding…”

“She’s a real renaissance girl, isn’t she? Music, and reading, and nursing, and all the outdoor stuff…”

“I’ll tell her you said that – she’ll enjoy that description! What about Lisa? You said she’s not really into Colin’s football games”.

“No – she’s not an outdoor girl. She likes reading, and of course she loves listening to classical music and singing”.

“Was she in other choirs before the Radcliffe Singers?”

“She’s always been in choirs, right back to her primary school days. Since I’ve started going back to church I’ve sometimes wished I could get her involved in a church choir, but she’s not in the least bit interested in churchgoing. Neither is Colin, despite the fact that he and my dad get on so well together”.

“You sing with Merton Chapel choir, you said?”

“During the week, but I’m not very conscientious about attending practices. I enjoy it, but I find it hard to give it the time it deserves. And on Sundays I’m mainly at St. Michael and All Angels now”.

“You’re enjoying that?”

“Yes. It’s actually quite refreshing to belong to a church that’s not made up entirely of academics – although having said that, the vicar’s also a part time tutor at one of the Oxford theological colleges, so she’s quite brainy. But I still attend Merton Chapel two or three times a week, so my churchgoing loyalties are a bit divided”.

“Ours too; we go to Banbury Road Baptist when we’re in town, but when we’re at Mum and Dad’s we go to the parish church in Northwood”.

“That would be a bit different for you – going to an Anglican church”.

“Yes, but we’re okay with it; Owen’s mum and dad go to that church, and we like the vicar. But I’m glad we’ve found the Banbury Road church; the pastor there’s been strongly influenced by Mennonite ideas and that’s important to us”.

“You’ll have to tell me more about that some time; I realized when we were talking the other week that I know next to nothing about Mennonite Christianity”.

“Well, you did know we were pacifists”.

“That was probably the only thing I knew!”

I sat back in my chair and took a sip of my coffee. “On a completely different subject – getting back to Mickey for a minute, can I ask you one more question about him? Feel free to say no; I don’t want to cause you any distress”.

“Ask away; if I don’t want to answer, I’ll tell you”.

“You mentioned he was charged with assault and he went to prison. Were you very badly hurt?”

“I had broken bones. And it wasn’t just me; Lisa was hurt as well”. She stared off into the corner. “Rees had come into town to meet me for lunch, and when I didn’t arrive at the restaurant he came over to the house to see if I was all right.  He found Lisa and me and he got us into hospital. He was the one who persuaded me to have Mickey charged”.

“I’m sorry, Wendy; it was really none of my business”.

She shook her head; “No, I don’t mind. You were always a good friend to me; I appreciate your concern”.

“Thanks”. I smiled at her; “Would you like another coffee?”

“I think I would, but why don’t you let me buy for us both?”

“You don’t have to do that”.

“Don’t be silly; I’m the Oxford don so you’re on my ground today!”

“Well – if you insist, Doctor Howard”.

“I do!” she replied with a mischievous grin, getting to her feet and picking up our cups to go over to the counter.

When she returned with fresh coffee she took her seat again and said, “Alright, now it’s your turn; tell me your story”.

“Oh, my story’s quickly and easily told. I went to Canada. I met a girl. We fell in love and we got married. We had a daughter. We were all very happy together. The girl died. I miss her. That’s pretty well it”.

She tilted her head a little and spoke in a quiet voice. “Now it’s my turn to ask you: would you prefer not to talk about Kelly?”

I shook my head. “Actually I don’t mind talking about her; sometimes it helps”.

“Are you sure?”


“Tell me about Meadowvale, then”.

“Well, that’s a big subject; it’s hard to know where to start!”

“What were your first impressions?”

“That’s easy – distances. Meadowvale is seventy-five miles northeast of the city of Saskatoon, and there are only three towns in between”.

“So it’s just wide open spaces?”

“It’s mainly open farmland. It’s beautiful in late summer, with the different coloured crops – like a patchwork quilt of green and yellow and blue”.

“What’s the blue?”

“Flax. The yellow is canola”.

“Right. So how many people live in Meadowvale?”

“I think about two thousand in town and another three thousand or so on the farms around. It’s shrinking, though. Hundreds of small towns in Saskatchewan have died out; the people have been moving into the cities. A lot of grain elevators have closed and that means farmers tend to truck their grain further and do their business in the larger towns. So far Meadowvale’s benefitted from that but the smaller places are struggling to survive. I think sooner or later Meadowvale will have that struggle too. The big issue is that there’s a really good road to Saskatoon and it only takes an hour and fifteen minutes”.

“So people tend to shop when they go to the city?”


“What are the people like in Meadowvale?”

“Very diverse – their ancestors came from England and France, eastern Europe, China and Japan – to mention just a few. There were already aboriginal people in the area of course, and there are still some of them living in Meadowvale. And then there are the Mennonites. They came from Russia in the early 1920s – Kelly’s grandfather Dieter Reimer and two of his brothers arrived in 1924. They now have close to three hundred living descendants”.

“Three hundred!”

“Well, Dieter and Erika had eight kids, and they all married and had big families”.

“Do you ever have family reunions?”

“Actually we do; they’re very popular. Kelly used to help organize them”.

“You would have needed a big hall”.

“Fortunately there’s a community hall designed for exactly that sort of thing”.

“So Meadowvale isn’t very old, by our standards?”

“No; it really got going in the 1920s. When Dieter and Erika first arrived they had to clear the land of trees, dig stumps and roots out of the ground, pull out rocks and boulders, build their houses and barns – all without modern machinery, and in some really severe weather. They’d come from a very comfortable Mennonite colony in Russia so it was a whole new world for them. But everyone was in the same boat of course, and their kids were raised to that kind of life. Most of the older folks in Meadowvale can do pretty well anything they put their hands to – fix tractors, build barns and houses, work long hours during harvest and get up the next day and work the same hours ’til the job’s done. But they don’t seem to define themselves by their careers the way we do; that’s what they do to make a living but they can turn their hands to other things if need be”.

“You obviously really admire them”.

“I do. Of course a lot of the younger ones have left town and moved to the city, and they see life much the same as we do. Some of them have moved back, though; my brother-in-law Joe went to Saskatoon and trained as a vet, but he came back and joined a practice in Meadowvale. And my friend Glenn Pickering went to Law School in the city but after a few years he moved back home, and now he’s the most popular lawyer in town”.

“It must be a close-knit community; was it hard to get into it?”

I smiled. “It could have been, but I had the good fortune to be working for Kelly’s Dad, Will Reimer. He was my principal and he’s easily the most gregarious guy I’ve ever met in my life. He met me in Saskatoon the day I arrived and drove me back up to Meadowvale; he’d arranged a house for me to rent and he’d put some borrowed furniture into it for me. He and his wife Sally had me over for meals once or twice a week for the first few months I lived there, and he took me out and introduced me to all kinds of people in the community. So it wasn’t really hard for me, because of him and Sally”.

She smiled at me; “You make him sound like an incredible person”.

“He is. He was my mentor and my friend; I can’t begin to describe how much I owe him”.

“So Kelly was his daughter? How did you meet?”

“When October came around, Will and Sally invited me to join them for a family Thanksgiving dinner. They had three kids: Joe, Kelly, and Krista. Like I said, Joe had not long moved back to town after qualifying as a vet; he became my closest friend in Canada. His two kids Jake and Jenna are like brother and sister to Emma. And then there was Kelly; she was working as a nurse in Jasper in the Rockies, but she’d come home for the weekend. She was very beautiful; she had long blonde hair and she lived in jeans as much as possible, and I was attracted to her right away. We soon found we had a lot of interests in common”.

“Like what?”

“We both liked doing outdoor things, especially hiking and canoeing, and later on she taught me to ski. But we were both on a spiritual journey too. When she was a teenager she’d left her Mennonite faith for a while but she’d never stopped believing in God, and when I met her she was gradually finding her way back. And I was spiritually hungry too”.

“I remember you saying something about that; you’d been having some conversations with Owen about God”.

“We talked about it a lot in my last year at Oxford. I guess I’d come to realize I wasn’t satisfied with my dad’s materialistic approach to life; I knew atheism was just too cold and impersonal for me”.

“You and Kelly talked about that?”

“Yes – we started writing to each other almost immediately, and we had quite a correspondence going for the next few months. She came back to Meadowvale for a week after Christmas and we did a lot more talking then, and it just went on from there”.

“And eventually you found your way to faith”.

“We both did”. I frowned thoughtfully. “Joe gave Kelly a good tip. He reminded her that Christianity isn’t just about ideas; it’s about putting the teaching of Jesus into practice. So it’s not enough to try to find intellectual answers; you need to train yourself to follow Jesus. He told her to start reading the gospels each day and pray that God would help her figure out who Jesus was as she was reading. But the most important thing was that sooner or later something she read would hit her between the eyes, and then she should stop reading and ask God to help her put it into practice”.

“That could be quite challenging”.

“Sometimes it was. Kelly and I talked about it when I visited her in Jasper after Easter, and eventually I agreed to work on it with her”.

“What kind of things did you do?”

“She’d already been struck by‘Blessed are the peacemakers’; she told me it had prompted her to try to stay out of conflicts at work and be a mediator instead. But the one that became very important to us both was ‘Lay up not for yourselves treasures on earth’. We both found that attractive – as well as challenging – so we decided to try to live our life together in a simple way, without a lot of luxuries. Kelly was better at sticking to it than me but we both felt strongly about it”.

“Would this be a specifically Mennonite thing – this strong emphasis on putting the teaching of Jesus into practice?”

“Mennonites make a big deal out of it, although I’m sure other Christians do it to”.

“I don’t know – I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s tried to be that literal about practising the teaching of Jesus”.

“We didn’t always find it easy to figure out how to do it; we struggled with it, but we kept coming back to it”.

“And meanwhile you were falling in love with each other”.

“Yes; that came on gradually, but after my visit to Jasper we both knew what we were feeling. We got engaged at Thanksgiving in 1983 and we were baptized in February of 1984. By then Kelly had moved back to Meadowvale and got a job as the resident nurse at the special care home. She and I were married at Thanksgiving, two years after we first met”.

She grinned at me; “Tom Masefield, that was very romantic of you!”

“It was, wasn’t it?” I replied with a smile.

“So you obviously had a good marriage”.

I frowned. “Yes, but not an easy one. We had a normal married life for about a year and a half; we had Emma, and Kelly had always wanted to be a mum, so she was really happy. But then early in 1986 she started to have sharp pains in her abdomen; they did surgery in May and discovered cancerous growths on both her ovaries, and the cancer had already started to spread to the uterus. She’d always wanted to have a big family, but of course the ovaries and the uterus had to come out, so everything changed for her after that”.

“That must have been awful for her”.

“It was unbelievably hard. She had chemo all through the summer and into November, and she went through a big black depression. But eventually she came out of it, although it stalked her for years afterwards”.

“That kind of thing is so hard to deal with”.

“Yes. We prayed about it a lot. That was something we did our entire married life; every night we would read the Bible and talk about what we’d read, and then pray together. I guess her struggles made us pray a lot harder. It wasn’t a magic cure, though. Still, that’s what life’s like, isn’t it? Good times and hard times”.

She nodded; “That’s so true. It’s nothing like what we thought, is it?”

“No – and yet somehow, that’s okay”.

“I suppose so, although I have to admit I wonder sometimes”. She frowned;  “How long were you and Kelly married, Tom?”

“Sixteen and a half years; she died on May 26th 2001”.

“Had she been ill for a long time?”

“She found the lump in her breast on September 26th 2000, but by then it was already in her lymph nodes too. She had surgery, but it had metastasized to her bones, and then it jumped to her liver. She had radiation and chemo but it was always a losing battle. She was incredibly brave and serene about it; she faced her death with her eyes wide open, and when the time came she was at peace”.

“I can’t begin to imagine how awful that must have been for you”.

I nodded; “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me”.

She reached out impulsively and put her hand on mine. “I’m sorry”, she said softly; “I shouldn’t have asked you to talk about her”.

I shook my head emphatically. “As I said, I don’t mind talking about her; I find it a comfort somehow”.

“Are you sure?”


She squeezed my hand and let it go; “Owen said he and Lorraine really loved Kelly”.

I nodded; “We visited back and forth quite a bit with them, and Becca came to us even more often”.

“You were always close to Becca, weren’t you? She must be happy to have you back here”.

“I think we’re both enjoying it”.

“But you and Emma must miss home. Are you planning to go back after…?”

“We’re not really planning anything at the moment”.

“I get the impression you and Emma are really close”.

“We are. How about you and your kids?”

“Colin and I get along well; we enjoy doing things together. With Lisa it’s more difficult; we used to be close when she was younger, but when she got into her early teens things got more complicated”.

“Was this about Mickey?”

“Yes. The situation with him was getting very bad, but like a fool I stayed around for a few years, hoping things would get better. I blamed myself for our troubles and I thought if I just tried harder to be a good wife he wouldn’t get so angry sometimes. At that time he wasn’t abusing the children – only me. The first time he ever went beyond an ordinary spanking with one of the children was the day he put Lisa and me in hospital; that was when I left him. But Lisa blames me for staying in the marriage and exposing her to that. She’s not nasty with me or anything; she very rarely loses her temper or shouts at me, she just keeps her thoughts to herself most of the time. I miss the good times we had when she was younger; I miss them a lot, actually”.

I saw the sadness in her eyes. “I’m sorry”, I said; “It was really none of my business”.

“Tom, you don’t have to keep apologizing for asking me questions about my life. Everyone has pain; lots of people have worse pain than me. Besides”, and she gave me a shy smile, “we were close friends once, and I hope…”

“Yes – so do I”.

She tilted her head a little to one side, the smile lingering on her face; “Really? I’m glad”.

“What about your other friends? I know I’ve made some really close friendships over the past twenty years”.

She frowned; “I don’t know – maybe not so much as you”.


“More since I moved away from London, perhaps. I knew Bev before, but we’ve become really close since I came back to Oxford; we get together once a week for a good visit, and I see her and David as a couple as well”.

“He seems like a really genial guy”.

“He is; he and I have become good friends over the past few years. And then there’s my church communities – Merton Chapel and St. Michael and All Angels. They’ve both become really good support groups for me”.

“That’s a story I’d like to hear”.

“How I found my way back to Christianity, you mean?”


“I suppose it was a bit like your story, actually. I’d become aware of a spiritual hunger; I wasn’t sure what it was about but I knew I was looking for something. My brother Rees is an Anglican priest, like Dad, but his faith’s quite evangelical and charismatic and I wasn’t really attracted to that at the time, even though he was such a huge help to me when my marriage broke up. But I was hungry for God – I know that now – so when I moved here I started going to chapel from time to time. Alan Hargreaves was our chaplain then. He noticed I’d started attending and one day he struck up a conversation with me. And that was the beginning of a series of really good conversations that eventually led to my confirmation”.

“I don’t know much about confirmation”.

“In the Anglican tradition it often happens when young people are in their teens. The theory is that it’s the time we take for ourselves the promises our parents made for us when we were baptized, and then the bishop lays hands on us and prays for the Holy Spirit to fill us. I suppose for a lot of people it’s more of a formality; lots of the kids I went to school with were confirmed, but it was more about what their parents wanted than any sort of faith commitment of their own. I never wanted to do that; my parents asked me about it when I was a teenager, but I wasn’t sure what I believed at that point, so I said no. They were good about it, but I could see they were disappointed”.

“It was probably good that you waited til later, til it really meant something to you”.

“That’s what I think. For me it was a real moment of commitment”.

“That’s very similar to the way we Mennonites see believers’ baptism”.

“Interesting. Do you do anything for new babies, then?”

“Kelly and I had a dedication service for Emma; we were giving her to God and promising to bring her up as a Christian”.

She grinned. “So our churches both give children to God and ask adults to make faith commitments; we just use different symbols to do it”.

“I guess so, although we would say that we’re following New Testament practice in baptizing adult believers. But there’s no need for you and I to argue about that; carry on with your story”.

“Well, Alan taught me to pray, and he taught me that prayer together is important, so I kept going to chapel on Sunday evenings and sometimes on weekdays too, and gradually the community there became more important to me. The students change all the time of course, but there are a few other dons who attend, and as well as going to services they do things together regularly on an informal basis”.

“I noticed you said ‘they’, not ‘we’”.

“I’m really only part of the chapel community midweek. They have daily services, and I try to get in for them a couple of times a week, especially now that Colin’s older and doesn’t need my help to get himself up for school. But for Sundays I needed something that was consistent all year round, and at a more convenient time. So after a couple of years I started going to St. Michael and All Angels on Sunday mornings. I still enjoy the chapel community and I still go on Sunday evenings about once a month, but St. Michael’s is really my church now”.

“And you like it”.

“I do. As I said, it’s quite diverse – lots of different kinds of people. And Elaine’s been good for me; she’s the vicar there. She’s quite well informed about the history of spirituality; she’s been teaching me lately about contemplative prayer and the Rule of St. Benedict. I find that really attractive”.

“I don’t know very much about the Rule of St. Benedict”.

“Benedict was the founder of the Benedictine order of monks in the early sixth century. He wrote a monastic Rule that became the basis for almost every Rule written since. I’m not a nun of course, so a lot of it doesn’t apply to me, but I still find plenty of food for thought in it”.

“I’ll have to read it”.

“It’s not something you read only once; it’s more like a daily discipline; something you dip into regularly, in a sort of liturgical fashion”.

“Like reading the Bible, you mean?”

“Yes. But Benedict has just been the beginning for me; there are other writers in the same tradition who I enjoy too”. She gave me an awkward grin; “Sorry – I didn’t mean this conversation to take such an intensely monastic turn!”

“Nothing to apologise for; I’m interested, although I’ve got a feeling that this Benedictine stuff is quite different from our Anabaptist approach”.

“You’re probably right; monastic spirituality does talk about imitating Christ but I haven’t come across the sort of intensely practical approach to discipleship you were talking about”.

“That would be very typical of Anabaptism. Like I said, Kelly and I picked it up from Joe, but Rob Neufeld was my mentor in it too. He was our pastor at the time”.

“Are you still close to him?”

“Yes – especially since Kelly died – him and Ron Bergen, who followed him at our church in Meadowvale. They’ve both really helped me a lot over the past couple of years. Not so much by giving advice, though, if you know what I mean”.

“I know; sometimes it’s not so much advice that you need, is it?”

“No; I’m afraid a few of the good Mennonite old-timers in Meadowvale don’t understand that”.

“Are they full of wise advice?”

“They’ve always meant well. I’m thinking of the time just after Kelly died. Don’t get me wrong – most of them understood that warm hugs and casseroles were the best thing for us. But a few of them took the opportunity to point me to all sorts of helpful Bible verses, and to tell you the truth, for the first few weeks I wasn’t really sure I had anything to say to God any more, so the Bible verses weren’t very useful for me”.

“You made it through somehow, though”.

“Yeah, although I still struggle with the ‘why’ questions”.

“Some questions can’t be answered, can they? I used to think there was always an answer, but now I’m not so sure. I think some things just can’t be fixed”.

“I think you’re right”.

“But at least people can be there for each other. That helps”.


“How are things going between you and your father, Tom?”

I shrugged. “We have our days. At the moment we’re doing a little better, but it’s not always easy”.

“The past gets in the way?”

“It does. We had a rough patch back in November”.


I told her about the ongoing argument between my father and me about Emma’s fees, and how I had eventually told him how I felt about Kelly’s life insurance policy. “I should have told him a lot sooner of course, but I just didn’t want to break down in front of him”.

“I understand”.

“Emma was a lot more sensible about it than me. And she was right – once I was honest about it Dad understood, and he hasn’t raised the issue since”. I shook my head; “I found it so hard to believe he wouldn’t try to control Emma’s life like he tried to control mine”.

“Sometimes the past won’t stay in the past”.

“You’re right. Sometimes I think I’ve laid it to rest but at other times I’m not so sure”.

“What about your brother? You hardly ever saw him or talked about him in our student days”.

“No – well, when we got into our teens we had so little in common. And Owen and I became such good friends, and sometimes I think Rick resented that. And then when I refused to go into Law all Dad’s hopes for an heir passed over to Rick. That really strained things between us, because he seemed to embrace it so enthusiastically; whenever I came home all I heard from Dad was what a good son Rick was and how he was going to make such a fine barrister”.

“Tom, you never talked about any of this in the old days”.

“No – I didn’t want to think about it, I suppose”.

“How are you getting on with him now?”

“We’re still not really close, but since the accident I’ve been visiting him three or four times a week and we’ve had a few good conversations. But most of the time his guard’s still up with me. I guess I just have to be patient”.

“Is he starting to feel any better?”

I shook my head. “It’s a slow process. And I know he’s feeling intensely guilty about the accident; he still blames himself for it”.

“The police haven’t charged him with anything, though?”

“No; they say no one was at fault. Everyone seems to have been obeying the speed limit and exercising proper caution; it was just a freak accident caused by black ice”.

“But of course he finds it hard to convince himself of that”.

“I think so. And getting back to your question about how we’re getting along, I should add that Emma’s been a big help. Since we got here she’s become really good friends with all three of her cousins. She and Eric both play guitar and they enjoy playing together. And she and Sarah are both great readers, so they get along well too; Emma’s spending a lot of time in hospital with her right now”. I smiled at her; “Speaking of music – do you ever perform in public any more, other than singing in church choirs?”

She shook her head; “I’m afraid I’ve very rarely even been out to a concert, other than Lisa’s choir events – which is a shameful admission when there are so many live shows in Oxford”. She tilted her head to one side, looking at me with a wistful expression on her face. “To tell you the truth, Tom, you and Owen spoiled me for making music with anyone else. I tried singing again with Mickey in the early years of our marriage but the magic was gone. I never realized how much I enjoyed singing with you two until it was over, and I always regretted that I’d never told you that”.

I smiled at her. “Thanks; those were good years”.

“They really were. And while we’re talking about regrets, there’s something else I want to say. That night in your flat – well, I really spoiled things between us after that, and I know it. I was fixated on the idea that you couldn’t combine love and friendship – which seems more and more bizarre the more I think of it – and I let that night spoil our friendship. That was a really ungrateful way to pay you back for all the kindness you’d shown me after Mickey and I broke up; it was a rotten thing to do to you after we’d become such good friends. I’ve felt bad about that for years. I’m very sorry, Tom”.

“I’m sorry, too; I was probably as much to blame as you were”.

We sat in silence, looking at each other, both of us knowing that the moment was special and fragile, and neither of us wanting to be the one to bring it to an end. Eventually I was the one who smiled and said, “So, would you like to get together again to sing with Owen and me?”

“I would; I realized after our time together the other week how much I’ve missed it”.

“We’ll have to see if we can make our calendars work. Of course, things are a little hectic for me right now”.

“Of course; I wouldn’t think of asking you to do anything while Rick and Sarah are in hospital”.

“Sarah’s likely to be there for a few months, so we might not want to wait quite that long”.

“Well, count me in, whenever you can find the time”.

“I’ll talk to Owen”.

She glanced at her watch, grinned at me apologetically and said, “I’m sorry – I need to get going; Colin’s got a football match in a couple of hours and I need to drive him there”.

“No need to apologize; that stuff’s important”.

“Yes, it is”.

“This has been a real pleasure, Wendy”, I said as we both got to our feet; “Thanks for taking the initiative and calling me”.

Tilting her head on one side in her characteristic pose, she said, “I’m glad I did”.

She held out her hand and I took it, leaning forward and kissing her on the cheek. “Take care, and give my regards to Lisa and Colin”.

“I will, and you give mine to Owen – and to Emma too. Tell her to keep on reading George Eliot, and to ring me if she wants to talk”.

I smiled; “She’ll like that; she really did enjoy your books”.

“All the better”, she said with a grin; “authors always enjoy talking to their fans!”

We both laughed, and she said, “Well, I must be on my way. Bye for now”.

“See you soon”.


I told Emma about my visit with Wendy while we were eating supper that night; she had been volunteering at Marston Court for part of the day, and had then spent the afternoon visiting with Sarah. She was very excited to hear about the possibility of Owen and Wendy and I singing together again. “That would be awesome!” she said; “Would you let other people listen?”

“By ‘other people’, you mean you?”

“Well, maybe Alanna and me”.

“I’d have to think about Alanna; I think Wendy might prefer to keep it to close family until we’ve spent more time practising”.

“I understand”. She took a forkful of chilli, ate thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, “So you had a good visit with Wendy?”

“I really did. It was a little strange actually”.

“How strange?”

“Well, you know, I’m still a bit of an introvert…”

“Just a bit”, she replied mischievously.

“Not as much as when your mum first met me; she really helped me come out of my shell”.

“Maybe I’ll come out of mine one day”.

“I think you do pretty well, Emma Dawn”.

“Thanks. Anyway – a little strange, you said?”

“Yeah; I said things to her about – well, about our life, and your mum, and some other pretty personal stuff – things I wouldn’t normally say to people on the first meeting”.

“It wasn’t your first meeting, though”.

“No, but we haven’t talked at that level for a very long time”.

“Maybe you and Wendy are better friends than you thought you were, Dad”.

“Maybe we are”.

Link to Chapter 17


‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 15

Link back to Chapter 14


I woke up during the night to the howl of the wind and the sound of rain beating against my window. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I returned I turned out the light in my room and lifted the curtain to look outside. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see that it was blowing hard; the trees were shaking and the rain was slanting down at about a forty-five degree angle. It was cold in my room, and when I got back into bed I pulled the comforter up around my neck, thinking as I often did of the many winter nights over the years when Kelly had come back to our bed and wrapped herself around me to get warm again. She had felt the cold far more than I did; it was a constant running joke between us that she had married a hot water bottle and I had married an ice pack.

I woke up again at around seven and got up shortly afterwards to go for a walk. The rain had stopped but the streets and pavements of the village were slick with ice and wet snow. I had to walk slowly to save myself from falling, and the few cars that passed me at that early hour of the morning were crawling along at a sluggish pace.

It was about nine o’clock by the time we sat down at the table in the kitchen to eat breakfast together. In answer to my query, my father told me that he had slept reasonably well and was feeling good, although I noticed that he ate his bacon and eggs very slowly. “How was the weather outside this morning?” he asked me.

“Cold and icy; the roads are pretty slick”.

“Is there much snow?”

“A little, but it’s mainly ice. I was awake at about two and I heard the rain coming down in sheets; it must have turned to sleet after that”.

“I hope everyone got home alright yesterday”.

“We would have heard by now if they hadn’t”, said Becca.

“Yes, I suppose so”. He glanced back at me; “Are you expecting some phone calls from Canada today?”

“I think Steve and Krista might call us a bit later on, but the person I’m actually expecting to hear from fairly soon is Owen”.


“He’d said they were coming out to see his dad and mum today, but with this weather I’m hoping they might change their minds and stay home”. I glanced at Becca; “Are you going home today?”

“I’m supposed to take over from Owen at noon”.

“Being on call, you mean?” Emma asked.


“You drive carefully now”, my mother said quietly.

“Don’t worry, Mum; I’ll be fine”.


Owen called me on my mobile phone just as we were finishing breakfast; I apologized, excused myself from the table, went out to the hallway and said “I hope you’re calling to tell me you’re staying home today”.

“Yes. The police aren’t advising travel, at least until mid-afternoon”.

“That’s good; you get a bit more time to enjoy your family”.

“Yes, and I might as well stay on call too. Tell Becca I can cover for her for the next twenty-four hour period”.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure”.

“Okay. How was Christmas at your place?”

“Messy; very messy. How about you?”

“It was good; we had a pleasant family gathering and my brother even left his Blackberry at home”.

“Bit of an addict?”

“I’m afraid so. My dad’s brothers and their wives were here; I got to have a nice visit with my cousin Ann and her family”.

“You haven’t seen her for a while”.

“Not since we were here in ’97, even though she just lives in Oxford. We agreed that we’re going to try to get together again soon. She’s always kept in touch with me over the years; she’s the only one of my cousins that’s done that”.


“You’re going to miss seeing your family today”.

“Well, we see each other a lot so I’m not really worried. I think Fiona and Jeff are staying at Mum and Dad’s for the weekend; hopefully the weather will clear up tomorrow so we can get out”. I heard someone calling him in the background and he said, “Well, I’d better go; apparently there’s some sort of family snowballing thing going on outside!”

“You’ve got snow on the ground in town, then?”

“Yes; haven’t you?”

“Just a skiff”.

“We’ve got enough for snowballs here; the kids are pretty excited”.

“Give them my love, Owen; we’ll see you soon”.

“Bye for now, Tom”.


We spent our morning indoors; my father and Emma sat talking by the fireplace in the living room while Becca and I helped our mother finish the cleanup from the day before. At about eleven o’clock Becca made coffee, and we were just taking the tray into the living room when the phone rang in the hallway. My mother started to get up, but Emma, who was standing in the doorway, said “You stay where you are, Grandma – I’ll get it”.

“Thank you, my dear”.

Emma disappeared back into the hallway; Becca put the tray down on the coffee table and began to pour, and she was just handing the mugs around when I heard my daughter’s call: “Dad, could you come please?”

I was on my feet instantly, recognizing the note of urgency in her voice. Out in the hallway she was standing with the phone in her hand, her face pale.“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“It’s Auntie Alyson and she’s really upset – something about an accident involving Uncle Rick and Sarah”.

I took the phone from her hand, put it to my ear and said “Alyson, it’s Tom”.

“Oh Tom, thank God!” she sobbed; “I think it’s really bad! Rick was driving Sarah up to Woodstock to visit Brittany and he spun on the ice and got hit by a lorry and another car. They’ve been taken to the J.R. and the police say Sarah’s been badly injured!”

“Where are you calling from?” I asked as calmly as I could.

“A police car on the way to the J.R.”.

Becca appeared from the living room with a little frown on her face; I gave her a warning glance and then spoke into the phone again; “Can you tell me what you know?”

“A policeman came to our door a few minutes ago”, Alyson replied, struggling to hold back the tears. “He said…he said there’d been an accident on the Woodstock Road, a collision, and Rick and…and Sarah were both injured, and so was one of the other drivers. He said it sounded as if Sarah…as if Sarah had been very badly injured”.

“Where are Colin and Anna?”

“They’re at the house – I didn’t think I could look after them at the hospital as well as dealing with whatever happened there, so I…”

“Right”. I looked at Becca; “Rick and Sarah were in a car accident”, I whispered. “They’re both injured; the ambulance is taking them to the J.R. and Alyson’s on her way there right now in a police car”.

“They’ll go to the Trauma Unit”, she replied softly; “That’s where the ambulance will be going”.

I repeated this to Alyson, and then said, “Don’t worry; we’ll make sure Colin and Anna are okay and we’ll come and join you as quickly as we can”.

“Thank you, Tom: I – I’m going to need some help at the hospital”.

“We’re on our way; you hang in there”.


As I put the phone down my mother emerged from the living room; “Is everything all right?” she asked uneasily.

“I’m afraid not” I replied, and as my father appeared in the doorway behind her I repeated what Alyson had said to me. When I was finished we were all quiet for a moment, and then Becca said, “So we need to look after two things; someone needs to go to Eric and Anna to make sure they’re all right, and someone needs to go to the hospital right away to help Alyson”.

I glanced at Emma; “We’ll go to Eric and Anna”.

“Eric will want to go to the hospital”, said Emma.

“Then we should bring them both. Will you call Eric?”

She nodded, digging in her jeans pocket for her mobile as she turned away toward the back of the hall and went through the open door into the piano room. Becca looked at my parents and said, “I’d better go to the J.R.”.

“We’ll come with you”, my father replied.

Becca shook her head; “I don’t think that’s a good idea Dad”.

“Why not?”

“If the injuries are serious they’ll take them through for surgery right away, and it will probably take a long time. We’re probably going to be sitting in waiting rooms until late tonight”.

“We’d like to be close, though”, my mother said.

“I know, Mum, and I understand, but believe me – it’s very unlikely that we’re going to get anywhere near them tonight; we’ll be with Alyson and the kids, not Rick and Sarah. And I think if we’re there for twelve or fourteen hours Dad’s going to be worn out”.

My father shook his head, and I saw the determination on his face. “This is my son and my granddaughter we’re talking about. I want to be there”.

My sister looked at him for a moment, and then nodded reluctantly; “Alright then. Let’s all remember that the roads are treacherous today so we can’t go fast. Tommy, I’ll go straight to the Trauma Unit with Mum and Dad; it’s on the north side of the J.R. and it’s got its own parking lot. I’ll probably get there before you, so when you arrive, wait for me in the reception area; I’ll come to you as soon as I can”.

“Where are you going to go?”

“As soon as I get there I’m going to try and find Alyson, and then I’m going to try to pull all the strings I can to find out what’s going on. But I’m only a GP, not one of the trauma surgeons, so I might not get very far”.


Emma slipped back into the hallway, putting her mobile back in her pocket. “Eric knows we’re coming”, she said to me; “He told me Anna’s really upset. He’s trying to reach his other grandparents in Edinburgh; his mom asked him to call them”.

“We’d better get going”, I replied.


Emma and I arrived at Rick’s house in Cumnor Hill just after noon. Eric and Anna were ready for us; by the time my car had come to a complete stop in the driveway they were already emerging from the front door, wrapped up warmly in winter coats and scarves. They climbed into the back of my car and Eric said, “Thanks for coming, Uncle Tom”.

“Have you heard anything else from your Mum?” I asked over my shoulder as I reversed the car out of the driveway.


“Were you able to get through to your Mackenzie grandparents?”

“Yes; they’re going to start out this afternoon some time”.

As we drove into Oxford I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw that Eric had his arm around his little sister; after a moment Emma reached back and took her hand as well. I kept my eyes on the road ahead; traffic was beginning to get busy despite the slippery conditions, and I guessed that the lure of Boxing Day sales was prompting people to brave the slick highways.

“I don’t know where we’re supposed to go when we get to the hospital”, Eric said.

“Becca told me to go to the Trauma Unit; that’s where they treat people who’ve had injuries in car accidents and things like that”.

“The policeman didn’t say anything about how bad their injuries are; he just said Sarah’s were more serious than Dad’s”.

I glanced at the two of them in my rear view mirror again; Eric had both his arms around Anna now. Emma squeezed her hand; “It’ll be okay”, she said softly. “They’re going to the best possible place; they’ve got some of the best doctors in the world there and they’ll look after them well”.

Anna didn’t reply, and after a moment Eric said “It was supposed to be Mum driving Sarah today”.

“What was happening?” I asked; “Was Sarah going to a party or something?”

“Not a party – just two or three friends getting together at Brittany Coleman’s in Woodstock”.

“She’s Sarah’s best friend”, Emma explained to me; “They’ve known each other since they were little kids”.

“Mum was going to drive her”, Eric continued, “But when she woke up this morning she had a bad headache – she gets them sometimes – and so Dad said he’d do it. He was really busy today; when I got up he was already working in his study”.

 “He told me yesterday he had a big trial to get ready for”.

“Yes, I heard him tell Mum last night he was going to be working on it all day today”.


It took me a few minutes to find the car park for the Trauma Unit, and a few minutes more to find a parking spot; apparently the JR was a busy place on this Boxing Day. Once inside the main doors I looked around helplessly; people were walking here and there or sitting on chairs scattered about the reception area, and lines of people were waiting at the desks. Eric was still holding Anna’s hand; he looked at me and said “How are we going to find them?”

“Becca told us to wait here”.

“There’s Grandma and Grandpa”, said Emma, looking over to the far side of the room. I followed her eyes and saw my parents sitting at one end of a row of vinyl chairs with a plant pot beside them; my mother had just seen us, and as we made our way over to them she got to her feet and held out her arms to Anna. “It’s alright, darling” she said, drawing her close and holding her tight; “Auntie Becca’s gone to find them. She’ll be back in a few minutes to tell us what’s happening”.

“Are you okay, Dad?” I asked my father.

“I’m fine; Becca told us not to be worried if she was gone for some time”.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking”.

It was actually about twenty minutes later that my sister emerged from one of the elevators. She saw us immediately, came over and gave Anna a hug, and then put her hand on Eric’s shoulder. “You two come with me”, she said; “Your mum’s on one of the units and I’m going to take you to her”. She glanced up at the rest of us and said, “Sorry, they’ll only allow immediate family; I’ll come back as soon as I can and let you know what’s happening”.

“What is happening right now, Becs?” I asked.

“They’re both being prepped for surgery. I don’t know Rick’s surgeon but I heard someone say that Sarah’s surgeon is John Fellows; he’s an old friend of Owen’s from medical school days. He and I know each other a bit”.

“Right; I guess we’ll wait here then”.

“It could be a while, Tommy”.

“I understand”.

Becca led Eric and Anna across to the elevator, and Emma and I sat down with my parents. “Shall I try to find a coffee machine?” she asked.

“That’s all right; I think I’ve had enough”.


And so we waited there for the next three or four hours, flipping absent-mindedly through magazines, talking quietly to each other, and getting up occasionally to stretch our legs. New people were coming in all the time; some were able to move on quickly but most, like us, sat down to wait, not knowing how long they would be waiting for. I tried to stop myself from continually checking my watch; the numbers seemed to be changing with excruciating slowness. At one point my father shook his head impatiently; “What the devil is taking so long!” he exclaimed.

“They said the injuries were serious, Dad”, I replied quietly.

“But why can’t Becca come and tell us something?”

“It’s possible that she’s the calming voice in there right now, with Alyson and the kids”.

He looked at me for a moment, and then he nodded and said, “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry – I just hate waiting, that’s all. And I hate this place”.

“I know”.

At about four o’clock in the afternoon Emma got up and went outside for a few minutes; she was finding the atmosphere stuffy, she said, and she needed a breath of fresh air. She had just returned and taken her seat again when I looked up and saw Becca coming across the room toward us. I immediately stood up; “Any news?” I asked.

“Sit down and I’ll fill you in”.

We took our seats, and Becca covered my mother’s hand with her own. “Rick’s got a broken arm and a broken leg, along with three broken ribs. He seems to have a mild concussion but the team doesn’t seem overly worried about that. They’re still working on him and he’s under general anaesthetic right now, but he was conscious when they brought him in”.

“What about Sarah?” Emma asked.

Becca shook her head; “Things are a lot more serious with her. Both her femurs are broken and one of them is an open compound fracture; the bone’s broken in three places. She’s also got several broken ribs, a broken wrist and a broken collarbone. Also both her lungs are collapsed, and she’s in a coma”.

“A coma?”

“Yes. That’s probably the result of a severe blow to the head”.

Emma stared at Becca, her face pale. “Is she going to be okay?”

“They’re working on her right now to stabilize her. I think they’ll probably try to address the situation with the lungs and the compound fracture first, but I wasn’t in the operating room so I don’t know for certain”.

“So she’ll come out of the coma then?”

“We can’t know that, but the best thing for them to do is to assume she will, and to start to address her other injuries”.

My father took my mother’s other hand. “Becca, is her life in danger?” he asked softly.

“She’s in critical condition right now, Dad. I’ll feel a lot better if and when she comes out of the coma but it’s impossible to say when that might happen”.

“What do we know about the accident?”

“It happened on the A44 just south of Begbroke. As far as we can tell Rick lost control of his car on black ice and was struck by a lorry and also by a smaller car. He hit the meridian and flipped; his car was upright when it came to rest but the roof was badly damaged, so it must  have gone all the way over, 360 degrees. I’m assuming that’s when Sarah sustained the blow to her head. Several other vehicles were involved in the accident and one of the other drivers was killed. The police aren’t releasing any names yet, for obvious reasons”.

“How are Alyson and the kids doing?” asked Emma.

“Alyson and Anna are really upset. Eric is too, but he’s doing his best to be there for his mum and his sister. Speaking of which – I should probably go back and give him a hand”.

I looked at Emma; she smiled at me as bravely as she could but I could see in her eyes that she was shaken by the news. I reached over and took her hand; “Are you going to be okay?”

She nodded; “Can we go and see them?” she asked Becca.

“Not yet – as I said, they’re both still in surgery”.

“Give Alyson and the kids hugs for me”.

“I will”. She glanced at my father; “Are you alright, Dad?”

“Don’t worry about me; we’ve got far more important things to think about!”

“Are you getting tired, though?”

“A bit, but I’ll be alright for a little while yet”.

“Will you two stay in my spare room tonight?”

My parents glanced at each other, and my mother said, “Let’s see how the evening goes, shall we? We can always take a taxi home if we need to”.

“Why don’t you find the cafeteria and have a bite to eat? I’ll ring Tommy’s mobile if anything important happens”.

“That sounds like a good idea”, I replied; “How long do you think, Becs?”

“I’ve really got no idea; it could be several hours yet”.


We stayed at the hospital until after ten o’clock. Rick was out of surgery by then, and Alyson and the children went in to see him briefly, but his nurse said he needed rest more than anything else, and after a few minutes she asked them to leave so that he could get some sleep. Sarah was in intensive care with a nurse monitoring her around the clock; Alyson was allowed in to her room briefly, but the rest of us were limited to looking at her through the window.

The next day was a Saturday. Shortly after one in the afternoon I stuck my head around the door of my brother’s room in the Trauma Unit. His right leg had a sort of pulley and weight contraption attached to it; his right arm was in a cast, and his chest was heavily bandaged. He was staring vacantly into space, and although he turned and looked at me when I entered the room, he seemed at first to be having difficulty focusing on my face.

“Does it feel as bad as it looks?” I asked.

He shrugged; “Not too bad at the moment, but then they’ve got me on a fairly heavy dose of pain killers. They’re making me a bit drowsy though, so you’ll have to forgive me if I nod off”.

“Do you mind if I come in?”

“Be my guest. Are you here by yourself?”

“Emma came with me but she’s gone down to Sarah’s room. Is there anyone else around yet?”

“Alyson was here for a while but she went to see how Sarah was doing. Mum and Dad are with her. Becca’s doing a Saturday morning clinic, I hear”.

I nodded. “I talked to her earlier on; she’ll be here soon”.

We lapsed into silence for a moment; he reached for a glass from the bedside table, sipped cold water through a straw, and then put it down again.

“Do you remember anything?” I asked gently.

“About the accident, you mean?”


He looked away. “I lost control of the car”, he said quietly. “I must have hit a patch of black ice; that’s what the police think. After that it’s all a bit hazy. Something big struck us on the passenger side; the police say it was a lorry. I’ve got a vague memory of colliding with another vehicle on the rebound, and then we hit the barrier – it’s a dual carriageway up there – and I must have been knocked out. When I came to, the car was upright but my head was touching the roof. Sarah was unconscious beside me, and she was covered in blood”. He glanced at me, and I saw the horror in his eyes. “God, Tom, I thought she was dead; she looked awful”.

“Have you heard anything about her this morning?”

“Apparently they put a chest tube in last night to drain the air from around the collapsed lungs”.

“The collapse would have been caused by punctures from the broken ribs?”

“Yes; she’s got five of them. I’ve got no idea why her injuries were so much worse than mine”. He shook his head; “I’d have been glad for it to be the other way around”.

“She’s still in a coma?”

“Yes”. He looked down; “They don’t seem to  know how long that’ll go on for”.


He was quiet for a moment, looking down. I waited, not wanting to inadvertently say anything that might interfere with the raw honesty of our conversation.

“One of the other drivers was killed”, he said, his eyes still down.

“That’s what I heard”.

“Apparently she was a single mum”.

“I didn’t know that”.

“She had a two-year old boy at home”. He shook his head slowly; “Imagine being two years old and losing your mum”.


“Is Emma all right?”.

“She was a little shaken last night but I think she was doing okay this morning. What about your other two?”

“Alyson left them at home with her parents today; they got in from Edinburgh around eleven last night”. He glanced at me; “I heard you were the one who brought Eric and Anna in yesterday”.


“Thanks for that”.

“Not at all; it was the least we could do. Emma and your kids have been getting pretty close”.

“Emma’s special. She’s old for her age, isn’t she? I sometimes have to remind myself she’s only eighteen. Still, I suppose she’s had to do a lot of growing up in the last few years”.


He looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then he said, “You never know what life’s going to send your way, do you?”

“No, you don’t”.

He picked up the water glass for a moment, took another sip and stared away into space. “I wish I could see Sarah”, he whispered, “but I doubt if I’ll be able to get out of this room for a while”.

“Are they saying anything about how long you’ll be here?”

He gestured toward his broken leg. “They say it could take three months to heal properly. I’m not sure how soon I’ll be able to go home, but they’ve told me I’ll need to be very patient with myself. I’ll be off work for a while, I think – or at least, I won’t be going in to the office”.

“Someone else is going to have to cover that trial for you”.

“Yes; funny how completely unimportant that seems now”.

“I think I can understand”.

He nodded slowly; “Yes – I think you probably can”.

“How was Alyson this morning? She seemed pretty shaken yesterday”.

“Still the same, I think. She can be a bit fragile”.


“There’s not really much she cares about more than the children. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, and with me working so much…”

“It’s the nature of the job, so I understand”.

He gave me a wry grin; “Dad and I have given you that lecture a few times, haven’t we?”

“You have”.

“I wonder how Dad feels about it right now”, he said softly, looking away toward the window.

“Have you asked him?”

“Me? Good heavens, no! The old man and I don’t talk on that level”. He frowned thoughtfully at me; “Have you?”

“Not yet”.

“You plan to, though?”

“If I can”.

As he opened his mouth to reply there was a gentle knock on the door. We both turned to look as my mother and Becca appeared in the doorway.

“Did you just get here?” I asked Becca.

“I’ve been here for a few minutes. Mum called and asked if I could come over a little earlier, so I gave away some appointments and came right away”.

“Is there a problem?” asked Rick.

My mother shook her head; “Not a problem – I just wanted her to be involved in a conversation we were having with Sarah’s doctor. He wants to do a procedure on her today”.

“What sort of procedure?”

“They want to insert a titanium rod into her left leg”.

Rick frowned; “That sounds rather drastic”.

“It’s standard procedure in situations like this”, Becca replied; “They might do the same thing for you in a few days. Sarah’s bone’s broken in three places and they need to fix it in position so it can knit together properly. The titanium rod is called an intramedullary nail; they’ll insert it into the marrow canal of the femur either at the hip or the knee and it’ll be screwed to the bone at both ends. It’ll keep it in proper position so it can heal”.

“How long will it be in place?”

“It’ll be permanent”.

“Permanent”. He looked away, shaking his head slowly. “This is going to affect her for the rest of her life, isn’t it?” he said quietly.

“She’ll be all right, Rick”, Becca replied softly; “Lots of people are walking around with these rods in their legs”.

“They’re just doing it on the one leg?”

“Yes; the other one isn’t so badly injured; it’s just a transverse fracture. They’re going to put it in traction and wait for a few days before they do anything”. She sat down on the other side of the bed from me. “This is just the first of several surgeries Sarah’s going to have, Rick”, she said. “It’s going to take a long time for her to come back from this. But she’s alive and she’s in good hands. I know you’re going to worry; that’s only natural. But the people here know what they’re doing; you can trust them”.

“Is she still in the coma?”

“Yes. There are no indictions at the moment as to when she’ll come out of it”.

“Or if she’ll come out of it”.


He was quiet for a moment, his eyebrows creased into a frown, and then he looked at Becca again; “So do they need my consent for this procedure?”

“They asked Alyson, but she said we should ask you too”.

“You think it’s a good idea?”

“As I said, it’s absolutely standard procedure”.

He nodded; “Right then – let’s do it”.

Becca got to her feet; “I’ll go and tell them”, she said.


Link to Chapter 16