‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 40

Link back to Chapter 39

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We did”.

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

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

“Is Colin in school?” Bill asked Wendy.

“He’s doing a carpentry apprenticeship. And Emma’s in the second year of her nursing program, and Lisa just started her masters in Modern Languages, so we’ve got a rather studious house right now”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Mickey’s trail had begun as scheduled on October 24th and had lasted for three days. The crown prosecutor had stressed the seriousness of the offence, given that the breach of the restraining order had taken place in concurrence with an assault with a dangerous weapon, and that Mickey had a previous record of violent offences against both Wendy and Lisa. The defence had argued that he had not actually used the switchblade to hurt anyone – in fact, the only person to hurt anyone with it had been Lisa – but the prosecutor had made short work of that argument; intent was clear, he said, and the crown had chosen not to lay any charges against Lisa. In the end the judge had agreed with the crown’s case, and a week later we had been present in the courtroom again when Mickey was sentenced to four years in prison with no possibility of parole until two years had been served.

As I had expected, Lisa had found the trial process very upsetting, and I was glad Wendy and I had left a few weeks for her to get past it before our wedding. We had chosen the last Saturday in November for our wedding day; we had asked Rees about participating, but in the end he had elected to sit in the congregation with his parents. Wendy’s vicar Elaine had been delighted to officiate at the service, although she had taken me to task light-heartedly for stealing Wendy from her congregation and making a Baptist out of her. Wendy’s parents were looking quite frail, but they were obviously very happy about our marriage. All the members of my immediate family were there, and Joe and Ellie had come from Meadowvale, along with Will and Sally. Merton College hosted the reception; Owen had been the master of ceremonies, and of course he had roasted us enthusiastically, regaling the guests with stories about me going all the way back to the first day we met. Afterwards Wendy and I had slipped away to a nearby hotel for the rest of the weekend before driving back in to work on Monday morning.

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

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

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

******

Mike and Becca brought my mother to the concert, arriving at about a quarter to eight. They were living out at Northwood now; the day after our return from Canada they had come to visit us and tell us that they had been talking to my mother and had decided to move into the old house with her, to help her with it for as long as she wanted to stay there. “It’s not that far from Oxford”, Mike said to me; “It’ll be a short commute, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it”.

“Are you sure it’s not going to cramp your style a little?”

He grinned. “It’s a big house, Tom!”

“Well, that’s true. Rick and I used to set plastic model kits on fire at the back of the servants’ quarters, and no one was any the wiser!”

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

“Pretty well”.

“Are you nervous again?” she asked Wendy.

“Just a bit!”

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

“Of course it is”, Becca replied, “and you three sound better than you’ve ever sounded before”.

At that moment I saw Emma, Lisa and Colin coming in, along with Matthew and Alanna McFarlane. Emma was now in the middle of another practicum, working on the oncology ward at the Churchill Hospital. It had been an emotional time for her, with her experience of cancer in her immediate family, but I was proud of the way she was handling it, talking about her struggles sometimes with Becca and me, but still doing what was required of her and – as far as I could tell – doing it well.

Matthew was in the middle of the second year of his Masters degree in political science, and he was also doing some interning with the Oxford Research Group. “Do you know about them?” he had asked me earlier in the Fall, when we had gone out for a drink together.

“I can’t say I do”.

“They’re an independent organization – sort of a peace and security think tank. They do research and dialogue and develop policy recommendations to try to move the world away from militarism and toward human rights and a more equitable distribution of resources”.

I grinned at him; “Sounds like that came from a publicity leaflet!”

“Well, one of the jobs I do for them is website development!”

I laughed; “What else do you do with them?”

“I’ve done some writing – they do a lot of work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I’ve helped with some recent policy papers. It’s early days yet, but there’s a chance I might be able to get a job with them as a full-time intern once I’m done my masters”.

“Where would you need to live if you did that?”

“Probably London, although I think there’s some flexibility”.

“How old are you now, Matthew?”

“I’ll be twenty-four in a couple of weeks”.

“Quite a bit older than Emma, then”.

“Four years, give or take. But she’s older than her years in some ways, isn’t she?”

“In some ways”.

He looked at me steadily for a moment, and then he said, “She’s told you that we love each other, hasn’t she?”

“Yes. I don’t pry, though, Matthew; I don’t usually ask her for information unless she volunteers it”.

“That’s what she’s told me”.

“I know enough about the way she sees the world to know that she won’t always see eye to eye with you about the kind of work you’re interested in”.

“She’s more interested in the little picture – humans being good to each other, small scale, local level. I’m not against that, of course – especially not as a Christian – but I think it’s going to take more than that to stop some of the awful things going on in the world”.

“How do you handle that disagreement?”

“What does she say?”

I smiled at him; “Smart move there!”

He grinned; “Thanks!”

“She says it’s not a disagreement, it’s a difference in emphasis. I worry about it being a bigger difference, though. I don’t want to get ahead of you guys, but I think if two people are going to have a life together, there needs to be a basic respect and appreciation for each other’s career choices”.

“I get that, Tom. The best I can say right now is that we’re talking about it. We talk about it a lot, actually”

“That’s good”. I looked at him in silence for a moment, and then I said, “I like you, by the way. I’ve tried not to be an overprotective dad, but I can’t say I’ve always gotten it right”.

“I’ve got no complaints. Neither has Em, but I’m sure you know that”.

“I do”.

******

I excused myself from my conversation with Owen and Wendy, stepped down from the stage and went over to greet our children. Lisa had a backpack full of books and papers slung over her shoulder. “You brought some work with you, I see?” I said.

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

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

“I’m okay, thanks, Tom; looking forward to hearing you play”.

Emma had her hand on his arm; she gave him a mischievous grin and said, “He’s got this ‘making a good impression thing’ down pat, hasn’t he?”

“It never hurts!” I replied. “Listen, have you heard from Sarah?”

“She and Eric are coming, and so are Uncle Rick and Auntie Alyson”.

“Oh, good – I didn’t know if they were going to be able to make it”.

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

“Thanks”.

“Are you looking forward to this, Wendy?” asked Emma.

Wendy shrugged awkwardly. “You know me – I get nervous sometimes”.

“You sound great; you’re going to be amazing up there tonight”.

Wendy leaned forward and gave her a gentle hug. “You’re pretty amazing yourself. You should be up there with your dad, you know?”

“I’d rather listen to you”.

“Thank you”. Wendy glanced at me; “I think I’m going to step outside for a minute of fresh air before things get going here”.

“Maybe I’ll come with you”.

******

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

“No, not really”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s about that time, is it?”

“I think so”.

“Well, lead the way, my man”.

******

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

“Ready as we’ll ever be”, I replied.

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

“Let’s do it”, I replied.

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

Everyone in the pub laughed, and he continued, “How about a big round of applause for Bill? He’s been a loyal supporter of live folk music in Oxford for over thirty years, and there must be hundreds of people in that time who got their first taste of performing here at the Plough. Bill Prentiss, everyone!”

There was a tremendous outburst of applause, cheers and whistles, and Bill smiled and waved from behind the bar. When the noise died down, Owen spoke into his microphone again. “Most of you know us”, he said. “We played as a folk group here in Oxford back in the early 1980s, but then we left university and did our own thing for a while. But now we’re back together again”. He waved his hand toward Wendy and me; “This is Tom and Wendy Masefield”, he said, “and I’m Owen Foster, and for tonight, we’re Lincoln Green”.

He leaned back from the mike and nodded at me; I played a single chord on my guitar, Owen counted us in, and the three of us began to sing simultaneously:

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

******

THE END

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‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 39

Link back to Chapter 38

******

We were sitting on Will and Sally’s deck in the cool of a summer evening. Will had hosted one of his epic barbecues for us, and many of our friends and family had come to it. Ellie had brought her fiddle and Darren his mandolin and banjo; Emma and Jake had their guitars too, and so did Beth. For a good hour and a half we had enjoyed an old-fashioned singaround, with the musicians sitting in a circle sharing their songs with each other. Wendy and I had sung as a duo, sharing a couple of our favourite traditional songs, but Ellie and Darren and I had played together too, and I was glad that Wendy had the opportunity to hear my ‘other band’, as she called it, as we played a few of our bluegrass numbers, including one of Ellie’s own compositions.

Beth had brought Claire with her; the little girl was almost one now, and had just begun to walk. Don and Lynda were there too, and Lynda spent a lot of the evening following Claire around, playing and laughing with her. Don grinned at me; “I think she’s just about ready to retire and become a full-time grandma!” he said. “She’s down in Saskatoon at least a couple of times a week. It’s funny – the Fuhrs live right there in the city, but Claire doesn’t see half as much of them as she does Lynda”.

“I’m sure she sees plenty of you, too!”

He gave me a mischievous grin; “I like to see her now and again!”

After about nine-thirty the crowd started to thin, but some people were obviously in no hurry to leave. Hugo and Millie were there; I thought Millie was looking surprisingly well, although her speech was a little slower and more deliberate, and every now and again I saw her staring vacantly at nothing in particular. Hugo stayed close to her, and now they were sitting together, his hand on hers. Claire had fallen asleep with her head on Emma’s shoulder, and Emma was rocking her gently, with a thin blanket wrapped around her to keep her warm as the air cooled off.

Lisa had been quiet for most of the evening; she was happy to participate in conversations but she seemed more interested in listening than talking. Now, however, she was sitting with Will and Hugo, asking them questions about their early years in Meadowvale. “So you weren’t born in Russia, then?” she asked.

Hugo shook his head. “Our brother Karl was the only one born in the Old Colony; the rest of us were all born here”.

She frowned; “The Old Colony?”

“Ah – your dad hasn’t told you about that, then?”

“I have”, I replied, “but I didn’t use that name for it”. Turning to Lisa, I said, “He’s talking about the Chortitza Mennonite Colony – the one I told you about, where the pictures were taken on my wall back home”.

“Oh, right – now I remember”.

“Our mom and dad came to Canada in 1924”, said Will, “and Sally’s parents were in the same group too. Canadian Pacific lent the Mennonites the money for their passage by sea and rail; it took them years to pay that off, but they did it”.

“What was it like here then?”

“There wasn’t much of anything. Some of the land had been cleared, but there were no roads to speak of, no electricity, no access to heating oil or anything like that”.

“For sure no high speed internet, let’s put it that way!” added Hugo.

We all laughed, and Beth smiled and said, “My Grandma was born in 1930; in those days they lived in a pretty small house, and the kids used to sleep in the loft”.

“How many kids?” asked Lisa.

“She was one of seven; she was the middle child”.

Seven! It must have been a big loft!”

“You can fit quite a few kids in one bed”, said Will, grinning mischievously at Hugo.

“As long as the little guys behave themselves!” he replied.

Beth grinned at Lisa; “Sometimes I think it’s better not to ask them too much about it!” 

Lisa frowned. “I’m sorry – can you tell me again how you fit into the family?”

“My Grandma was born Rachel Wiens; she’s Aunt Sally’s sister. Tom’s wife Kelly was her niece”. 

“Right – so Sally’s not really your aunt, then?”

“No – sorry – I’ve just gotten used to calling them Aunt Sally and Uncle Will, but they’re actually my great-aunt and uncle”.

“I do that with Uncle Hugo and Auntie Millie”, said Emma; “They’re really my great aunt and uncle”.

Hugo grinned at her. “Like I used to tell your mom, I am a really great uncle!”

Emma laughed; “Yes you are, but it’s a long time since I’ve heard you say that!”

I could see that Lisa was working things out in her head. “So you and Beth are second cousins?” she said to Emma.

“Yes – although she’s kind of like my older sister, too”.

“That’s on account of the fact that Kelly and I tried to steal her a few times from Don and Lynda”, I said, flashing a mischievous grin at Beth.

Beth smiled and nodded; “As you can see”, she said to Lisa, “I was brought up in a rather large family!”

“When she was twelve we managed to twist her arm to become Emma’s babysitter”, I said.

Beth grinned. “Was that how it was? I seem to remember Kelly was the reluctant one, and I was the one who did the arm-twisting!”

“Kelly was a little protective”, I replied.

Sally glanced at Will; “She came by that honestly!”

We all laughed, and Will raised his hands in surrender; “I liked to make sure my girls were safe!”

“Just his girls”, Joe interjected; “It was an entirely different story with his son!”

“Here comes Joey’s hard-luck story!” said Krista.

“You were the baby”, he replied; “What do you know about hard luck?”

Everyone laughed, and Krista exchanged grins with her mother; “I guess they had the parenting thing down pat when it came to me!”

Colin had been sitting quietly, listening to the conversation, but now he grinned at Wendy; “Is that how it works?” he said.

She gave him a playful smile; “You tell me!”

“If only Becca were here”, I added; “She could tell a few stories”.

Will grinned at me; “Becca was spoiled by her big brother as well as her parents!”

“Yeah, I think that’s definitely true!” Emma agreed.

******

Much later, Wendy and I were still out on the deck with Will and Sally, with the citronella candles burning around us. The air was much cooler now; Wendy had slipped on a sweater, and Sally had made hot chocolate for us.

“Is Sarah okay?” Sally asked me.

“She’s having a bit of pain from her leg – the one with the rod in it. She did a lot of walking before we came, and I think she might have overdone it a bit”.

“Is she going to be okay when you guys go to Jasper?”

“I don’t know – we’ll have to see”.

Will gave Wendy a sympathetic glance. “So how was it tonight? Were you completely overwhelmed?”

“A little, but it was wonderful anyway – I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time”.

I could see Will was pleased; “Well – that’s good to know!”

She glanced at me; “We’ve talked a lot about Meadowvale, and all the people here”.

I nodded; “Wendy’s been writing things down, and drawing family trees to keep everyone straight!”

“Good luck with that!” said Sally; “Sometimes we can’t keep everyone straight in our own minds!”

Wendy gave me a quizzical look; “Has it changed a lot since you first came?”

“Meadowvale? There used to be old fashioned wooden grain elevators; now we’ve got those concrete grain terminals. And some of the stores have changed hands. But it’s mainly the people changes that I notice”.

Will nodded; “We’ve lost a lot of folks since 1982”.

“Will’s mum was still alive when I came here”, I said, “and both Sally’s parents; they were in that group that came over in 1924. And there were lots of other old-timers like them, people who had been pioneers in the early days of Meadowvale”.

“Charlie Blackie”, said Sally quietly, “and old Joanna Robinson”.

“Joanna was Beth’s great-grandmother”, I explained to Wendy; “Her son Mike married Sally’s sister Rachel. She came over from England in 1929 with her husband, but she always looked as if she’d just gotten off the boat”.

“You were very fond of her”, Sally said to me.

“Yeah; we were good friends”.

Wendy smiled at me. “I’m thinking back to the Tom Masefield I knew in the spring of 1982 – long hair, a bit left-wing, anti-establishment, very intellectual and bookish and introverted, and more than a bit defensive. And I’m thinking about what I’ve seen so far around here…”

Will laughed softly; “Yeah, we did wonder how long he’d last!”

I grinned at him; “Meadowvale people were very patient with me”.

“You ended up surprising some of them, though; you turned out to be a lot more adaptable than they’d been expecting. But the changing wasn’t all on your side. Yeah, you became a Christian – and you learned to be more of a people person – but in lots of other ways you stayed true to yourself, and people came to respect that. And there were plenty of people around here – especially the younger ones – who liked the fact that you were kinda hippie-like”. He smiled at Wendy; “They used to refer to him as ‘that hippie teacher from England!”

“There were quite a few girls around here who had crushes on him, actually!” Sally added.

“Including a certain daughter of mine”, said Will.

Sally nodded; “I remember her telling me Tom was a refreshing change from the boys around here. He was spiritually curious, and he liked going for long walks, and she found him interesting to talk to. Plus, she was kind of attracted to his music”.

Wendy put her hand on mine; “I remember that boy”, she said.

“You guys met through your music, right?” asked Sally.

“We did. It was at an open stage in the autumn of 1980. I was one of the early acts, and Tom and Owen were up later. They liked my songs and I liked theirs”.

“So you didn’t actually know each other all that long before Tom moved to Canada”, said Will.

“No. Of course, when you’re in your early twenties, two years seems a lot longer than when you’re in your mid-forties”.

“They were pretty formative years”, I added.

We were quiet for a moment, each of us occupied with our own thoughts. Above our heads a slight breeze was lifting the branches of the poplar tree; around the front of the house I heard a truck go by on the street, its tires singing on the pavement.

Wendy drained her hot chocolate and set it down on the table. Leaning forward a little in her chair, she looked across at Will and Sally in the dim light from the porch lamp. “I want to thank you two”, she said softly.

“For what?” asked Will.

“For being so open and welcoming to me. I know this can’t be easy for you”.

They glanced at each other, and Sally said, “I have to admit that when I first heard about you – and the fact that you had a daughter, and Tom was her father – I was resentful. Our Kelly struggled so much with the fact that she couldn’t have any more children”.

“I know”, Wendy whispered; “Tom and I have talked about that”.

“We knew your name”, said Will, “but we didn’t know very much about you – other than that you’d been a member of Tom’s old band, and he had a picture of the three of you on his wall. But we didn’t know he’d been in love with you; he never really talked about you”.

“In the early days I was still too sore”, I replied softly, ‘and after that, when I started to get to know Kelly – well, then there were other things on my mind! But Kelly and Joe were the only ones around here who knew the full story”.

“What would you have done if you’d known about Lisa?” Will asked me.

“I’d like to think I’d have gone back, even though fear of my dad was still a really big factor for me at the time. But if I’d found out later, after Kelly and I were married, I know I’d have done my best to be involved in her life and to support Wendy, if she’d let me – and I know Kelly would have stood by me in that”.

Sally nodded; “You’re right about that”.

Wendy shook her head; “It was never a possibility for me. Mickey made it quite clear when he agreed to take me in that the baby wasn’t to know anything about Tom – she was to be told she was Mickey’s child. And I was desperate for help, so I thought I had no choice. I really regret that now”.

“We were kids”, I replied, “doing what we thought we had to do”.

“But getting back to what you mentioned about being open and welcoming”, said Will, “I think you need to know that you’ve made it a lot easier for us, because of your attitude toward Kelly”.

“That’s absolutely right”, Sally agreed. “The fact that you’ve come here with Tom, and you’re obviously so interested in meeting his Meadowvale family and making connections with the life he and Kelly had here – that’s made a huge difference to us”.

Wendy glanced at me. “I told him a long time ago that I’m not threatened by Kelly’s memory; in fact, what I feel for her is mainly gratitude. She’s the one who made him the person he’s become”.

“That’s true”, Will replied, “but don’t let him tell you it was all one way. Honestly, Wendy, if you could have seen the way he stood beside her when she had cancer – especially the first time, when she went through that big, black depression – well, the only thing I could say to myself was, every father would wish for a son-in-law like that. She was so low, she basically shut him out – she shut everyone out except her baby – but he was totally patient with her, looking after Emma and doing all the housework, and being so gentle and understanding with her. It was heartbreaking for us as parents, but it was a beautiful thing to watch, too”.

“I had a lot of help”, I said; “I could never have done it alone. People came over and did what needed to be done. Sally, you were over every week, cleaning the house from top to bottom”.

Sally shrugged. “I was her mom; what else was I going to do?”

“And I was her husband, and I loved her. Giving up wasn’t an option”.

Will shook his head. “Sadly, not everyone takes that view – but you did”.

Wendy squeezed my hand. “And you’re a stronger person because of it. I’ve watched you since you came back to England, standing by your dad and mum – and Rick and Sarah – and the way you’ve been there for Lisa when she needed you – and I’ve said to myself, ‘That didn’t come from nowhere’”.

I nodded; “Thank you”, I whispered.

“Anyway, Wendy”, said Will, “we hope you’ll always feel this family is your family, too. I know Tom feels that way, and that’s the way we feel about him. He’s our son, and his mom and Becca have always been part of that, and when we got to know Owen and Lorraine it was like they were our son’s friends, you know? So we hope you and Lisa and Colin will be part of our lives, too”.

Wendy shook her head slowly; “You two are incredible”, she said. “I can’t believe how lucky I am – I honestly can’t”.

Will smiled at us both. “Yeah, it hasn’t worked out too badly, has it?”

“Not too badly at all”, I agreed.

******

On August 9th we rented a van and headed west, driving to Edmonton to take in the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, where we spent the weekend on Gallagher Hill listening to the likes of Alison Brown, Danú, Maria Dunn, Steve Earle, Jerusalem Ridge, Alison Krauss, and Loreena McKennitt. Wendy lapped it all up, wandering from one small stage to another, sampling the many different musical styles on offer; even Lisa, who was not a real folkie, admitted to me by the end of the weekend that she had had a great time.

The festival ran until Sunday night, and the next day we drove west to Jasper. I had borrowed a couple of tents and some camping gear from various friends and relatives in Meadowvale, and we set up camp at the Whistler’s campground not far from town, booking our site for a week to give us plenty of time for exploring. Knowing that Sarah was having some pain in her leg and Lisa was not an outdoor person, Emma and I had deliberately planned to make the first couple of days’ hikes relatively easy, with a slightly more ambitious trek around the Valley of the Five Lakes on the third day.

On the fourth day we decided to attempt the Edith Cavell Meadows trail, a 750 metre climb starting in the boreal forest, trekking past glacial moraine, and then up into the alpine meadows and the bare rocks above them. It had been one of Kelly’s favourite climbs in Jasper, and we had done it almost every year when we visited the park. Sadly, Sarah was still having some pain and was afraid of attempting the climb, but Emma immediately said she would stay with her. Sarah protested, but Emma insisted, and so they spent a few hours canoeing on Pyramid Lake together while the rest of us went up the Cavell Meadows trail. Lisa made it as far as the first lookout, but by then she was obviously too tired and sore to go on, so I stayed and chatted with her while Wendy and Colin went on up to the top of the trail. Afterwards, when we got back to town, we all went swimming in the frigid waters of Lake Edith. We went to bed that night tired and sore, but happy.

******

The next day I woke up early as usual. I crawled quietly out of my sleeping bag, doing my best not to wake Sarah and Emma as I slipped into my clothes; I was sharing a tent with them, and Wendy was in the other one with Lisa and Colin. I unzipped the door and stepped out into the early morning light; the sky was clear, promising another warm and sunny day ahead, but the mountain air was still cold, and I was glad I had pulled on a fleece top over my tee shirt.

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

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

“Very well. How about you?”

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

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

“Give me a minute to use the facilities”.

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

“About seven”.

“So – what are we going to do today?”

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

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

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

More spectacular views?”

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

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

“It’s my pleasure”.

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

“What?” I asked.

“You must really miss Kelly here”.

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

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

“Right”.

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

“No, I can talk about it”. I sat forward in my chair, resting my elbows on my legs. “She died in hospital in Saskatoon; the whole family was there with her, and a couple of others besides”.

“Emma would have been about fourteen?”

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

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

Wendy stared at me; “That’s amazing”, she whispered.

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

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

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

“You are”.

“I know I said a few days ago that I didn’t feel intimidated by her memory, but I must admit that I’m not entirely sure that’s true any more. Having spent the last couple of weeks in her haunts, it’s not hard to feel as if she’s still somehow present”.

I didn’t say anything for a few minutes; I got to my feet, poured myself another cup of coffee and took a sip of it, stretching my back and looking up at Whistler’s Mountain.

Eventually I turned to face her again. “I had a rather vivid dream a few nights ago; I dreamt about that night in Oxford when you came to my room”.

“The night Lisa was conceived?”

“Yes”. I sat down beside her and took her hand. “Do you remember me telling you a while back that a part of my psyche had sort of gone to sleep after Kelly died?”

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

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

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

“I’m looking forward to being together with you for the rest of my life”.

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

“Wendy Howard, I think I am”.

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

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

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

“Is that a ‘yes’?”

“I think it is”.

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

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

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

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

I grinned; “Is this our first argument?”

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

“When shall we do it?” I asked.

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

“Do you want something big and formal?”

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

“Of course not; were you thinking of St. Michael and All Angels?”

“I was, actually; is that all right?”

“Perfect”. I frowned suddenly; “But is Elaine allowed to do it, with you being divorced?”

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

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

“I’d like that”.

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

“How do you mean?”

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

“What do you think?”

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

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

“Neither do I”.

“Actually, I’d like to do it before Christmas, if possible; that way we could have Christmas together as a family”.

“I like that idea. But we’d have to wait until after Mickey’s trial, right?”

She looked at me for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. “I suppose that would be prudent, wouldn’t it?”

“Chances are we couldn’t book anything before then anyway”

“Probably not. So the trial starts on October 24th and lasts for a few days?”

“They told me we should allow for five, just in case, but they didn’t think it would take that long”.

“Shall we aim for some time in the second half of November, then, to give us a few weeks to get the bad taste out of our mouths?”

I nodded; “Nicely put. Let’s start with that and see how close we can get to it”.

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

“Shall we feed them first?”

“There’s a thought!”

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

“No”.

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

“Can I come?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s been holding you back?”

“Fear, I think”.

“Fear of what?”

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

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

“Well, I do come with some emotional baggage, Wendy”.

She shook her head as we began to walk again. “Do you think I know you well?” she asked.

“I think you do”.

“Have you been hiding things from me? Putting on an act, or pretending to be stronger than you actually are – that kind of thing?”

“Not that I’m aware of”.

“Well, if what I see is what I get, I think I’m more than content”.

I laughed; “Nicely put!”

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

“I understand”.

“And I understand too, Tom”.

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

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

“I don’t know – I can imagine a lot!”

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

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

“How do you mean?”

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

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

“Yes”.

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

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

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

“How did you manage that?”

“It started with the Air Canada tickets”.

She laughed; “I can see you’re going to want to be able to buy them from time to time”.

“Yes. And I think it makes sense, if we’re going to need a bigger house for a couple of years, to pay as much up front as we can. That way we can save on interest payments and have more disposable income to be generous with”.

“Let’s try to be as generous with it as we can, alright?”

“I absolutely agree. That’s the way Emma and I have always lived, and I know you’re not really into accumulating lots of possessions and stuff”.

“I’m not, and your Anabaptist writers have been making a big impression on me that way too. I really want to go into this marriage with the idea of following Jesus together, even if we don’t always know exactly what that means”.

“Me too”.

She grinned at me. “Good. And that leads me to the next thing we need to talk about”.

“Have you got a list in your head?”

“Of course!”

“So what’s the next thing, then?”

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

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

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

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

“I have!” she replied, her eyes sparkling at me. “And as I said, I’ve given this church issue a lot of thought. I really appreciate your willingness to move out of your comfort zone, but there’s someone else to think about, isn’t there?”

“Emma?”

“Yes. Emma’s the kindest and most thoughtful of people, and she never makes a fuss, but I know her well enough to know that she feels much more comfortable at Banbury Road than she does at any Anglican Church”.

“Well, that’s probably true; she appreciates some things about Anglicanism, but in her heart she’s a very committed Anabaptist”.

“Exactly. And I know she’d never make an issue of it, but I don’t want her to be secretly resenting the fact that I took you away from her to my church, or that I made her feel as if she should come with us”.

“She wouldn’t…”

“I don’t even want to think about it, Tom; having a good relationship with her is too important to me. So if there’s a way we three can go to church together, I’d like us to do it”.

I put my arm around her shoulders. “You’ve really thought this one through, haven’t you?”

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

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

“I’m really sure”.

“Okay”.

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s so special about it?”

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

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

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

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

“Trust me – it’ll be worth it”.

******

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

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

“Mine”, Emma replied cheerfully.

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

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

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

“Yes, but not from Germany, right? It’s Österreichisches Deutsch – they’re from Austria”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes”.

“Let’s ask”. She smiled at the young couple and spoke to them in German. “Excuse me”, she said; “My father and I are having a difference of opinion about where you’re from”.

They looked at her in surprise, and then the young woman smiled; “What’s the issue?” she asked.

“My father thinks you’re from Austria, and I’m not sure; he speaks Österreichisches Deutsch, but I don’t”.

The young man grinned at me; “You’re absolutely right – we’re from Innsbruck”.

“I spent two months there once, working at the summer festival”.

“Really? What year was that?”

“Before you were born, probably – 1979”.

He laughed; “Yes, the year before I was born”. He held out his hand to me; “I’m Christian Schröder, and this is my wife Petra; we’re actually on our honeymoon”.

I shook hands with them both; “I’m Tom Masefield, and this is my daughter Lisa”.

“Are you Canadian?” the young woman asked; “You speak very good German”.

“Thanks. Actually, we’re both English, but I lived in Canada for twenty years. We’re holidaying here too”.

Christian gestured toward Wendy and the other kids; “And this is the rest of your family?”

Lisa and I looked at each other, and we both laughed; “It’s a long story!” she said.

“By the expressions on their faces, I don’t think they speak German!”

“My younger daughter Emma speaks a little, but the others don’t”.

“Shall we switch to English, then?”

“Sure!”

We introduced them to the rest of the family, and for a few minutes there was a lively conversation going on as the line moved forward and we got closer to the counter. Eventually, after we had picked up our coffee and muffins, we said our goodbyes; Christian and Petra were taking their breakfast with them, and Emma had spotted a free table for the rest of us and moved quickly to claim it. It was really too small for the six of us, but we crowded around it anyway.

“Well, that was brilliant!” said Lisa. “What are the chances of that – ending up in a queue behind a couple from Austria?”

“Pretty good here, actually”, Emma replied. “People come up here from all over the world”.

After a few minutes of eating and quiet conversation, I glanced questioningly at Wendy. She gave a little nod, and I said, “Well, Wendy and I have something we want to tell you”.

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

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

“Big surprise!” Emma replied with a grin; “I thought I saw something different about you two when you came back from that walk this morning!” She was sitting beside Wendy, and she leaned over and kissed her. “Congratulations!” she said; “Have you set a date?”

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

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

“Well, let’s put it this way – I don’t think you should count on having a year to order a dress”.

“Ah – a winter wedding?”

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

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

“We’ll probably have to get something bigger, at least for a while”, Wendy replied; “We’ll have to talk about that”. She put her hand on Emma’s arm; “Are you alright with this, Em? I’m really asking, because I want to be sure”.

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

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

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

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

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

“Very appropriate”.

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you going to ask Uncle Rees to do it?” asked Lisa.

“There’s a thought!” Wendy replied. “I’ll have to talk to Elaine about having him involved in some way”.

“Of course”, I added, “he might just want to be the brother of the bride”.

“That’s true; I’ll have to ask him”.

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

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

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

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

******

Link to Chapter 40

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 38

Link back to Chapter 37

******

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

We continued to spend a lot of time with my mother. She gradually got into the habit of staying over a couple of nights each week at Mike and Becca’s flat in town, and Emma and I sometimes hosted her for supper, along with Becca and Mike if they were free. Rick and Alyson sometimes had us all over to their place; Rick was discovering a new hobby in cooking, and he enjoyed discovering interesting recipes in his cookbooks and trying them out on us. “Anna likes helping me out, too”, he said to me one day.

“Really?”

“Really. She’s been helping Alyson for years, and lately she’s decided she doesn’t mind helping me too. And I like having something the two of us can do together”.

“Very cool. And the recipes are good, too”.

“Thanks! Maybe one day I’ll retire and become a chef”.

“Maybe ‘Lincoln Green’ will come come and play at your restaurant”.

“Oh God, no! All those songs about drownings and stabbings – very bad for the customers, you know!”

******

I knew my father’s death was still hitting my mother hard. I spent as much time as I could with her, and she talked freely with me about her loneliness and sadness and general lack of energy. I was used to seeing her as the steady, unemotional member of our family, the one we relied on to hold things together and get things done; it was a new experience to see her openly struggling with depression and having difficulty with simple everyday tasks around the house.

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

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

I heard from Mickey several times. His calls always came late in the evening, sometimes after I had gone to bed; he never stayed on the phone for long, but his questions about Colin were persistent and relentless. What had he been doing? What had I been doing with him? Had he mentioned his father at all? What had Wendy and I been saying to him about his father? On a couple of occasions when he called I could tell he had been drinking; his comments were erratic and some of his words were slurred, and he refused to take the hint when I told him I needed to end the call.

I was honest in my replies to his questions; I told him that Colin rarely spoke about him, and when he did it was not complimentary. Wendy and I actually tried to avoid any mention of Mickey around Colin, but when we were alone together we admitted that we were worried about his interest in his son. “He’s just jealous of the fact that Colin obviously likes you”, Wendy said to me one night, “but that scares me. Jealousy does bad things to Mickey”.

******

One evening early in May Wendy and I went out for a walk to the village of Old Marston. It was a warm evening and we were both wearing jeans and tee-shirts; we walked as far as the old church of St. Nicholas, then turned back and stopped in at the Red Lion pub for a drink on the way home. Wendy had been unusually quiet, and I could tell she had something on her mind, but I was learning that when something was bothering her I needed to be patient and wait until she was ready to talk about it. After fifteen years of marriage to Kelly, this was a new experience for me.

We sat in the beer garden behind the pub, with a trellis over our heads and spring flowers in pots around us; there were a few other people out there sitting at the tables, but it was not crowded. Wendy took a sip of her cider, gave me a little frown and said, “Sorry I’ve been a bit preoccupied tonight”.

“Something on your mind?”

“Yes. Colin got a cheque in the mail from Mickey this morning”.

“A cheque?”

“For £25,000”.

I stared at her; “Is this about my dad’s inheritance money?”

“I think so”.

“Crap!”

She nodded; “Exactly”.

“How does Colin feel?”

“He’s really angry. He doesn’t want to take a penny of Mickey’s money; it’s been bothering him for years that I get child maintenance for him, and he really wasn’t happy when I told him Mickey was going to be helping with his vocational college costs. But this has crossed the line”.

“Is he going to send it back?”

“Or tear it up and write his dad a scorching email about it”.

“And what do you think?”

She shook her head. “I sympathize with him, but I’m worried about what Mickey will do. He can be so volatile”.

“Have you mentioned that to Colin?”

“Yes, but he’s determined. I asked him to wait forty-eight hours before making a decision; honestly, he was ready to tear it up as soon as he took it out of the envelope this morning”.

“That might be a problem”.

“Yes. I’m going to ring Rees after I get home”.

“Are you going to have him talk to Mickey?”

“Yes, but I’d prefer to do it before Colin does anything with the cheque; at least then we can present it to Mickey as a conversation, not as a fait accompli”. 

“Even though it is a fait accompli”.

She shrugged; “I suppose you’re right, but what else can I do?”

“I know”. I hesitated, and then said, “A couple of times when Mickey’s called me lately I’ve noticed he’s been drinking”.

She nodded slowly; “I’m not surprised”.

“Be careful about this, okay?”

“That’s what I’m trying to do, Tom”.

******

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

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

“Sounds good”.

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

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

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

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

“No – he’s been threatening her”.

Lisa pulled out her mobile; “Is Mum all right?”

“Yes, but…”

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

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

“Okay; maybe you’d be better to stay out there”.

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

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

“You!” he exclaimed. “What gives you the right to give my son money and then refuse to let me do the same?”

“Neither of those statements are true”, I replied.

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

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

“I can easily make some”, she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

Colin laughed; “You’re out of your mind!” he said scornfully. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you feeling?” he asked me.

“A bit light-headed”, I replied.

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

“Okay”.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll have a try”.

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

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

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

“Okay”, the policeman replied. “I can get a statement from him later”.

“Is it alright if I go with Tom to the hospital?” asked Wendy.

The policeman nodded. “Going to the JR?” he asked.

“Yes we are”, Mike replied.

******

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

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

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

“About twelve-thirty”.

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

“I expect Mike’s already told her”.

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

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

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

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

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

“I will”.

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

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

******

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

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

She continued to hold me close; “I was so worried when Becca called me”.

“I’m okay now”.

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

“Apparently not, nurse”.

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

“Yes”.

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

When we got home, she insisted that I sit down in my easy chair by the fireplace; she went out to the kitchen and made a fresh pot of coffee, and then we sat across from each other for a while, drinking coffee and talking quietly. It was a warm afternoon, and through the open window we could hear the sounds of children playing outside and cars going by on the street.

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

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

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

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

“That’s not what I hear from Auntie Becca”.

“Becca?”

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

“Do the rest of the family know?”

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

“Thanks”.

“Dad, what exactly happened?”

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

“What happened then?”

“That was when the police arrived”.

“Did Lisa get arrested?”

“No, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. No harm came to anyone except me, and I’m not going to lay any charges against her. Mickey slapped her pretty hard across the face last night; I won’t be surprised if she has a pretty good bruise when I see her”.

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

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

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

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

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Lisa always said there was no point in trying to have a peaceful relationship with Mickey; she’s never thought it was a good idea for me to be having conversations with him. And maybe if I’d listened to her, last night wouldn’t have happened. I might have put the whole family in danger by my actions. That’s not a pleasant thought”.

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

“No, but it does bear thinking about”.

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

“No, but I think the way I chose to love may not have been appropriate, given the other relationships I was in”.

“What do you mean?”

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

“That’s twenty-twenty hindsight”.

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

“I guess so”.

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

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

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

“You’re welcome”, She stooped to kiss me, then took our mugs out to the kitchen. A moment later she returned, handed me a newly refilled mug of steaming coffee, and took her seat across from me again. Putting her own coffee cup down on the end table beside her chair, she said, “Speaking of finding the right thing to do, I’ve decided not to move back to Canada”.

I took a deep breath; “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I am going to go over for a couple of weeks this summer though, if I can”.

“I was hoping you’d help me show everyone around”.

“Well, I kinda promised Sarah, too…”

“You did. Of course, if Mickey goes to trial for last night’s little piece of work, that might have an impact on our plans”.

“I guess so”.

“How did you make your decision?”

She gave a little frown; “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. What you said about a transatlantic family really helped me; I realized there’s really no perfect solution to the problem – and maybe, since the problem’s built right into my genes, I should stop using that word for it anyway!”

I laughed softly; “You may have a point there”.

“So it becomes a question of what’s needed right now. I’ve started a course at Oxford Brookes so it makes sense to finish it. Grandma’s just lost Grandpa and she needs help, and I think I can play a role there”.

“So do I”.

“And I’ve been getting closer to my cousins and Lisa and Colin, and I’m not ready to leave them yet. And then there’s you and Wendy; someone’s got to make sure all of that moves along  to its proper conclusion!”

I laughed again; “You’ve really thought this one out, Emma Woodhouse!”

“Thank you, kind sir!” She gave a heavy sigh, shrugged her shoulders and said, “And then there’s Matthew”.

“You and Matthew”.

“He can be frustrating at times. He’s got way too much faith in politics and he can be a theological nerd, but he’s also super kind and thoughtful and he loves Jesus and wants to make the world a better place and…” She hesitated, smiled helplessly and said, “I’m in love with him”.

I nodded; “I know”.

“Is it that obvious?”

“I think you may be the last person in the family to have figured it out”.

She grinned sheepishly; “Are they all laughing at me behind my back?”

“No – they all think it’s kind of charming, actually”.

She was quiet for a moment, the expression on her face suddenly serious. “There’s one more thing, of course”.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t want to be that far away from you”.

“Thanks, love”, I whispered.

“I knew that before, of course, but I was dragging my feet, thinking about all that things I’ve just said, but also thinking about the folks back home, and Grandma and Grandpa getting older, and Auntie Millie’s Parkinson’s, and Beth and Claire and so on. But then I got Auntie Becca’s call last night, and I suddenly realized there was no difficulty at all making a decision. When Auntie Becca said you’d been stabbed I thought at first it was a lot worse than it actually turned out to be. I thought about – about losing you, and how awful that would be, and then I was like, why am I even thinking about moving away? That would be like voluntarily losing you! I mean, I know I’m going to leave home eventually and start a family of my own, but I don’t want it to be across an ocean from you”.

“No – I wouldn’t like that either”.

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

“You can”.

“So, do you think you can put up with me for a couple more years?”

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

After supper Lisa caught my eye; “Can we go somewhere for a minute, just by ourselves?”

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

Emma frowned at me; “I don’t know if you should be doing that”.

“I’ve just had an excellent supper, and Lisa will be with me in case I need someone to get my wheelchair”.

She gave me a reproachful glance; “Smart ass!”

“Thank you, Nurse Emma!” 

So Lisa and I stepped out the back door into the yard and sat down together in the wooden chairs by the window; the air was warm out there, and the sun was still hanging over the western skyline.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

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

I reached across and took her hand. “Don’t worry about it; I was never angry at you. If forgiveness is needed then I forgive you; I know you didn’t mean any harm to me at all”.

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

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

“What for?”

“For not listening when you told me it wasn’t a good idea to be having conversations with Mickey. You were right – I should have been a lot more cautious”.

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

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

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

“Thanks”.

She was quiet for a moment, looking at me with a serious expression on her face, and then she said, “I know it was a good day for Mum when you came back into her life, but I want you to know that it was a really good day for me, too”.

I nodded slowly. “And for me”, I replied.

******

Link to Chapter 39

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 37

Link back to Chapter 36

******

About a week after Will and Sally flew home, Emma and I had an unexpected meeting in the kitchen in the middle of the night. Neither of us had been sleeping particularly well since my father’s death; I had heard her a few times, moving quietly around the house, and I was sure she had heard me as well. But this was the first time we had actually bumped into each other; I went downstairs at about three in the morning to get a drink of water and there she was, seated at the kitchen table, sipping herbal tea out of a glass mug with a book open in front of her. She gave me a little smile as I went over to the sink to pour my water. “Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

“I’ve been awake for about half an hour; how about you?”

“A little longer than that”.

“You’re going to be tired in the morning”.

She shrugged helplessly; “I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it, Dad. I guess it’s just something I have to work through”.

I took my glass of water over to the table and slipped into a chair beside her. Leaning over to kiss her on the top of her head, I said, “What are you reading?”

She showed me the book; “The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Do you know it?”

“Sure; your mum liked it a lot. Kind of heavy for three in the morning, though”.

“I know. Matthew gave it to me a while back, but I don’t seem to have a lot of time for general reading right now”.

“College is keeping you kind of busy”.

“Yeah”.

“Are you still liking the new placement?”

“It’s good; I like being on a community health care team”.

“Better than acute care?”

“Different. I didn’t think I’d find it as interesting, but it’s grown on me pretty quickly”. She grinned; “People keep asking me if I’m an American”.

“Brits can’t tell the difference between American and Canadian accents”.

“I’ve noticed that”.

We lapsed into silence for a minute, both of us occupied with our own thoughts. The house was quiet, and on our residential street late-night traffic was rare. I sipped at my water slowly, and she cupped her hands around her mug. “I’ve been trying to think of my earliest memory of Grandpa”, she said.

“Have you figured it out?”

She frowned. “I’ve got really vague memories from the first time we came. I don’t think I remember actual events or conversations; just pictures or impressions. I must have been really little; I remember the spiral staircase, and sitting on the bed in my room at their house with Auntie Becca. But I can’t make Grandpa come into focus”.

“We didn’t see much of him on that trip. It was the summer of 1990; you were four and a half”.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. There’s a boat in there somewhere, too, out on the sea”.

“That was in Scotland; Becca took us on a holiday. Your mum loved the sea and wanted to go out, so we took a trip out from Aberdeen in a tourist boat”.

“Were Grandma and Grandpa with us?”

“No – they didn’t come. I never had any success getting my dad to go on holidays with us”.

“He was always working?”

“Mostly. Mum was able to pry him away for a week or two most summers, but it was never much more than that. So have you figured out what your earliest memory of him is?”

“We’re kneeling down together beside the Christmas tree; that was 1994, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah; that’s the only year we came over for Christmas. Your mum was freezing cold”.

She laughed softly; “I remember that! She was always wearing three or four layers, and she had these multi-coloured wool socks”.

“Dad took one look at her shivering and ordered an extra load of wood for the fireplace”.

“Did he? I didn’t know that”.

“He liked your mum. He never said that to her, of course; he told me a few months ago”.

“It’s sad that he didn’t tell her”.

“I know. He was in an adversarial rut. So was I, so I can’t judge him”.

She sat back in her chair, her eyes far away. “I really didn’t expect to come to love him”, she whispered.

“No?”

She shook her head. “I remember pretty clearly how he was the last time we were here with mom; how he got after Jake for capsizing the punt, and how he was always saying little things to get at you. I was always easy with Grandma – and Auntie Becca of course – but I was scared of Grandpa”.

“I didn’t know that”.

“I guess I never told you”.

“You hid it well. You didn’t say anything when we were talking about moving here”.

“I wanted to do the right thing, the thing Jesus would have wanted us to do. The thing Mom would have done”.

I smiled at her; “You’re so much like her, you know”.

“Thank you; I’ll take that as a compliment. If I can be half as good a person as she was…”

“I know. But don’t try to be a carbon copy, okay? She wouldn’t want that; she’d want you to be you, the person you were meant to be”.

“I understand, Dad. Anyway, I can’t be the kind of bubbly extrovert she was”.

“Yeah, you kind of got doomed by the Masefield genes there!”

She smiled at me again; “Nothing wrong with the Masefield genes”.

“Especially when they’re mixed with the Reimers’”.

She was quiet again for a minute, and then she looked at me. “Were you scared of Grandpa too?”

“When I was young I was really scared of him. He was hardly ever home, and when he was home he wasn’t pleasant to be around. I was always walking on eggshells, afraid of upsetting him”.

“What about when you got older?”

I nodded. “I told your mum once that I hated what the house in Northwood did to me when we visited; it was like I reverted back to being that fifteen year old boy who felt like he had to fight for his right to live the life he wanted to live, and study the things he wanted to study. Whenever we came here to visit I got that ‘Oh no, here we go again’ kind of feeling”.

“Did you feel that way this time too?”

“Not so much this time”.

“How come?”

“I’m older now, and your mum had a good effect on me. And I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own skin, or so Wendy tells me”.

“She thinks you’ve changed?”

“She thinks I’ve gotten a lot more confident in myself, and a lot more mellow”.

“Do you think she’s right?”

“Probably; what do you think?”

She gave me an awkward laugh; “I don’t know – you’ve always just been ‘Dad’ to me, and I’ve always liked you just fine, ever since I was little”.

I leaned over and kissed her again. “You’re a sweetheart, and you’ve never been hard to love”.

“I love you, Dad”.

“I love you too, Emma Dawn”.

“I like it when you call me ‘Emma Dawn’”.

“I know”.

She took a sip of her tea, cradling the mug in her hands. “I did love Grandpa in the end”, she whispered.

“I know”.

“It was like he got easier to love as he got weaker and more frail”.

“You made a big impression on him, too”.

“Did I?”

“He told me that; he told me he’d never met a young person who was more genuine and thoughtful than you. And he told me that he really regretted not being able to tell your mum how impressed he was with the daughter she’d raised”.

She stared at me, and I saw the tears spring to her eyes. “Did he really say that?” she whispered.

“He did. I got a little emotional about it, too”.

She moved over a little and laid her head on my shoulder. “I’m really missing him”.

“Me too; we had better conversations in the last year than we’d had in my entire life”.

“Yeah. He asked me about all kinds of things; about the music and books I liked, and what I thought about stuff in the world, and whether Matthew and I talked about his political ideas, and why I was still a Christian. When we first moved here he could be really harsh and dismissive sometimes – like he didn’t really want to listen – but as time went by he changed; he really started listening and asking genuine questions. And he told me about his life too, and when he was a kid and all that”.

“We talked about that”.

“His dad was away in the navy a lot in the Second World War”.

“I know”.

“I can’t imagine that – if you’d been away for two or three years, and I hadn’t known whether or not you were going to be killed in a battle. That must have been awful”.

“Yeah. Of course, plenty of people were going though that at the time”.

“I guess so”. She moved a little closer, and I put my arm around her. “Grandma’s going through a rough time”, she said softly.

“Has she been talking to you about it?”

“A little”.

“My daughter, the one who helps everyone”.

I felt her shrugging. “I just listen, that’s all. She doesn’t ask for my advice, but I think she likes talking to me”.

“She does”.

“Is she talking to you?”

“Yes”.

“Comparing notes?”

“Something like that”.

“I think she’s going to need you around for a while”.

“I think so too”.

******

A few days later we went out to Northwood on Friday and stayed overnight; Emma had the whole weekend off, and Rick and Alyson had made the rare decision to stay over as well. Eric had elected to stay home; Rick had told me that the two them were locked in conflict again over Eric’s future, and at the moment they were hardly talking to each other. “It’s more than a little discouraging, to tell you the truth”, he said to me as we were having a pint at the pub together earlier in the week. “I’m doing my best to remember all you told me, but we just can’t seem to get past this”.

“When you’re in a deep rut, it’s hard to get out”.

“That’s exactly right”.

Sarah had been working hard at her schoolwork and was now preparing to take the GCSEs she should have taken a year before. We had been having conversations lately about her English literature coursework; all of the set books were familiar to me, and I enjoyed hearing her talk about them. “Are you going to go on to an English Lit A1?” I asked her.

“That’s what I want”. She grinned at me; “Dad just smiles helplessly and tells me I’m turning into my Uncle Tom!”

After supper that night the children gravitated up to Emma’s room; Rick and I did the dishes together, and then the four of us sat at the kitchen table for a while, drinking a pot of tea and talking.

“So what about Emma?” Rick asked me at one point. “Has she decided to stay?”

“She’s not sure yet”.

“Surely it would be hard to leave Brookes after just one year and take up back home; the courses must be quite different”.

“She’s well aware of the complications, and she’s happy here too. The truth is, she’s torn”.

“You both are, I expect”, said Alyson quietly.

I shrugged; “I’ve got many years’ experience at the challenges of a transatlantic family situation, but this is really the first time she’s felt the full force of it”.

“And she’s got a boyfriend, too”, said Rick.

“Yeah, although I’m still not quite sure whether they’re using that word”.

He laughed softly; “They’ll be the last to know what’s obvious to everyone else!”

“It’s certainly obvious to Matthew’s mum and dad”.

“Right – you work with the mum, don’t you?”

“Kathy’s my Head of English, and Jim’s the pastor of our church, so we see quite a bit of them both”.

“Is Emma really considering going home?” my mother asked quietly.

“Yes, and she knows she’s got to make a decision soon. Part of the problem is that Kelly’s mum and dad are the same age as you, Mum”.

“I’m well aware of that”.

“And Kelly’s Auntie Millie has Parkinson’s, and we’re really close to them too”.

“Are you thinking about going back too?” asked Rick.

I shook my head. “I’ve already told Don Robinson I won’t be coming back to Meadowvale school. They’re going to advertise my old job, but I’m pretty sure the woman who’s been doing it for the past couple of years is going to apply; Don says she’s great and everyone likes her”. 

He gave me a sympathetic glance; “That must have been a hard decision for you to make”.

“Yes, but I’ve known for a while I was going to make it”.

He nodded slowly. “I can’t say I’m sorry, Bro, but I know you’re going to miss a lot of people”.

“Well, I’ll take a trip in the summer again. Em might come with me for a couple of weeks; she’ll have a summer placement but she should be able to get a couple of weeks off. And there are some people who want to come with us”.

“I hear that”.

“You’re okay with Sarah coming?”

“Absolutely; thanks for giving her the opportunity”.

“You’ll have a lot of teenagers on board”, Alyson added.

“The more the merrier. I might have to rent a big van when we go to Jasper, though”.

“Are all Wendy’s family going with you?” my mother asked.

“Looks like it. Lisa’s a bit worried about slowing us down when we’re hiking in the mountains; she’s putting in some extra walking times right now, to get into practice”.

My mother laughed softly; “I know how that feels!”

“You did well, that summer you came to us”.

“That’s because I doubled my daily walking distance for six months to get ready for it!”

******

Rick and Alyson went to bed around ten-thirty, but my mother and I were both wide awake, so we warmed up the kettle again and made ourselves some hot chocolate. “Do you want to go through to the living room?” I asked.

She shrugged; “I’m alright here for a bit. Somehow the kitchen feels comfortable tonight”. She put her hand on mine; “I’m grateful to you all for coming out to spend the night with me. Sometimes the place seems so big and empty”.

“We’re glad to come. I hope you’ll feel free to let us know when you just want to be alone, though; I know that can happen sometimes”.

She nodded, looking down at the mug on the table in front of her. “There are days…”

“I remember”. I moved my chair toward her a little and put my arm around her, and I felt her head come down on my shoulder. “Oh, Tom”, she whispered, “What am I going to do without him?”

“I know”.

“I walk around this house and I keep expecting to see him”.

“Of course you do; you’re so used to going into a room and seeing him there, and you just can’t get your head around the idea that he’s gone now”.

I felt her shaking her head against my shoulder; I kissed her forehead, and for a few minutes we said nothing. Eventually she moved away, wiping her eyes on a handkerchief. “Look at me”, she said; “this isn’t helping anyone, is it?”

“You don’t have to help anyone. This is about helping you, and if you need to have a good cry, then go ahead”.

“Thank you”. She picked up her mug, sipped at the hot chocolate for a moment, and then said, “I know it took you a long time to get over losing Kelly”.

“I’m not sure I’m over it yet”.

She gave me a sympathetic glance. “Sorry; that wasn’t a very sensitive thing for me to say”.

I shook my head. “I’m not sure I know what it means to be ‘over’ someone. I still miss her, and I think I always will. But I don’t very often find myself in tears with no warning, like I did for the first couple of years”.

“So that’s normal, is it?”

“It was for me, anyway; how about you?”

“I wake up crying in the night, and I don’t remember if it was a dream that started it, or what it was. I can be busy doing something in here, and suddenly without any warning I break down”.

“Yeah – that’s how it was for me, too”.

“So I’m not going crazy, then?”

I smiled and put my hand on her arm. “Of course you’re not going crazy; you’re one of the sanest people I know”.

“Well, that’s reassuring, anyway!”

We both laughed, and then I said, “But to get back to what you said, I know I still love Kelly, and I think I always will. I think what’s happened is that I’ve learned to live with her absence, and I’ve learned to be happy again, which at the beginning I couldn’t even imagine. And I think it was probably a couple of years before I began to realize those things were happening”.

“And now you’ve got Wendy”.

“Yes; that definitely helps. Curiously enough, it doesn’t seem to make a difference to the fact that I miss Kelly, though; it’s like they’re in two separate compartments in my brain. But I’m glad not to be lonely any more”.

“I’m glad for you, too. And I like Wendy a lot”.

“She’s kind of special, isn’t she?”

“She is”.

“Getting back to Dad – it was good to see you two happy together in the last few months”.

She nodded; “It was as if we went back to the beginning again, only without leaving behind anything that had happened in between. It seems almost cruel, now, though – to have had him back for such a short period of time”.

“I know”.

“Were you angry when Kelly died?”

“I was”.

“Who were you angry with?”

“God, mostly, for not giving her back to me”.

“But you got over that?”

“I did. After a while it just didn’t seem to make any sense going around the same unanswerable questions over and over again. Kelly’s death was hard to fit into my view of God, but the world made even less sense to me when I left God out of it altogether”. I smiled at her;“Dad and I actually talked about this stuff not long before he died, you know”.

“He told me about that”.

“It was an amazing conversation – totally unexpected. It was one of those nights when I was sitting up in his room – I think it might actually have been the first night, after you’d gone over to Becca’s flat, and Lisa and Wendy had left. He woke up about four o’clock in the morning, and we started talking. I’ve got no idea how we got onto life after death, and Kelly, and God, but we had quite a good talk actually”. I took a sip of my hot chocolate, glanced at her, and said, “I didn’t know he had been a believer when he was younger”.

“He rarely mentioned that part of his life, and he had already lost his faith when we first started seeing each other. He did tell me about it once or twice, but it already seemed such a minor thing to him. Later on, of course, being an atheist became such a big part of his view of things that it was easy to forget he hadn’t always felt that way. But I think he softened a bit in the end; that was your doing – yours and Emma’s”.

“That’s what he said to me – that we hadn’t made a believer out of him, but we’d succeeded in giving him doubts about his doubts. A few nights later he had a long talk with Emma about it, too”.

“So I heard”.

“Did you know ahead of time about those instructions he left for his funeral – the ones you gave me?”

“Yes”.

“I’ve wondered a few times what that meant”.

“It meant that you and Emma had impressed him with the genuineness of your faith, and that you’d opened his mind to the possibility there might be something in it”.

“You and Dad discussed that too?”

“Yes”.

“You did talk a lot in the last few months, didn’t you?”

“For hours and hours”. She looked away from me; “Some days we talked from the time he got up until his afternoon nap”, she whispered, “and then again until he was too tired to carry on in the evening”.

“What did you talk about?”

“Everything. You children, and the things you’d done and the struggles you’d had – our courting days, and the early years of our marriage, and the days when you and Rick were little boys when we were living in Summertown – our memories of childhood before the war, and how much the world has changed – our grandchildren and how proud we were of them. And we had some conversations about you and Wendy too”.

“Dad and I talked about Wendy”.

“He told me what you’d said”.

“No keeping secrets around this place, is there?”

“Not for the last few weeks, anyway – time was too short”. I saw her bottom lip beginning to quiver; “It was far too short”, she repeated, and I saw the tears in her eyes again. I put my arm around her, and this time as she turned and laid her head on my shoulder she whispered, “I miss him so much, Tom! God, how I miss him! I knew when Kelly died that it must be terrible for you, but I had absolutely no idea how terrible”.

I didn’t answer; instead, I held her a little more closely and kissed her gently. The house was quiet except for the sound of someone moving around upstairs in the old servants’ wing, and I guessed that one of the children was getting ready for bed.

Eventually she lifted her head from my shoulder, smiled at me through her tears, and wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “Thank you”, she said softly.

“You’re welcome”.

She got to her feet slowly, moved over to the window and drew the curtains shut. “I think there might be some Scotch around here somewhere”, she said; “Would you like a snifter?”

“That would be fine; is it up in the usual cupboard?”

“I think so; can you reach up and get it down?”

I got up, went to the cupboard above the fridge, and opened it to reveal several bottles. “Dad’s got quite a stash up here”, I said. “There’s a Laphroaig, and a twelve-year Macallan. Oh, there’s also a very nice looking Connemara, if you’re interested in going Irish instead of Scotch?”

“Connemara sounds good”.

I took the bottle down from the cupboard. “You sit down again; I’ll pour”.

“Thank you”.

I took down two snifters, put ice in them from the fridge, and poured the amber liquid into each glass. “Shall we take it through to the living room? Somehow it seems like the appropriate venue for sipping whiskey; we could put our feet up and make ourselves comfy”.

“Let’s do that”, she agreed.

******

I went to bed just after midnight, but for some reason – probably the mixture of tea, hot chocolate and whiskey – I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake for a while, tossing and turning; eventually I sat up, turned on the bedside light, and read for a while. At about one o’clock I got up to use the bathroom and then slipped quietly down the stairs to the kitchen for a glass of cold water from the fridge. I was surprised to see a light under the kitchen door, and when I pushed it open I found Emma sitting at the table in her pyjamas and housecoat, a mug of hot chocolate at her elbow, reading a book.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” I asked.

“I slept for a while, but then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep”.

“What are you reading tonight?”

She closed the book and lifted it up to show me the cover. “It’s yours, actually”, she replied; “The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry”.

“Ah”. I moved over to the sink, rinsed out a glass and then opened the fridge and poured myself some cold water; “What do you think?”

“I think he’s brilliant; I love his descriptions of nature”.

“Yeah, he’s very gifted that way. He’s a very visual poet, isn’t he?”

“Totally. I like the things that annoy him, too – I think he’s a curmudgeon of some kind, isn’t he?”

I sat down beside her at the table and took a sip of my water; “I think so. Do you have any particular favourites so far?”

We poured over the book together for a while; she read me the poems that had particularly touched her, and I shared some of the ones I liked best. Eventually she closed the book, smiled at me, and said, “I love talking poetry with you, Dad”.

“Yeah, it is kind of nice, isn’t it?”

“Did you and Grandma and Rick and Alyson have a nice visit earlier on?”

“We did. How about you and the kids?”

“It was good. Sarah and I sat up for a long time”.

“I thought you might”.

“I had a text from Colin. His dad’s been bugging him again”.

“Again? I knew he’d gotten an email a few days ago”.

“He got another one yesterday. I don’t know why his dad won’t leave him alone; he must know he’s not helping the situation”.

“Strange as it may seem, I think Mickey’s threatened by the fact that I get on well with Colin. Colin never seemed to mean that much to him when he had him to himself, but now…”

“Right”.

“I’ve told him that I’m not trying to be Colin’s dad, but he doesn’t seem to want to believe me”.

“I think Colin would be very happy for you to be his dad”.

I stared at her for a minute; “Did he say that?”

“Yes”.

“In what context?”

She shrugged; “We were just talking about parents – me and Lisa and Colin – it was a few weeks ago. Lisa’s really happy to have you as her dad even though she doesn’t always see eye to eye with you”.

I gave her a wry grin; “There is that!”

“It’s okay, though, Dad – she knows that’s not always how it works”.

“And Colin?”

“He said he found you really easy to talk to, and he liked how you were always encouraging him, and he liked that we took him walking with us and that sort of thing. And he told Lisa he was a little jealous of her, because you were her dad, and he’d like to have that too”.

“I remember months ago having a conversation a bit like that with him; it was before Wendy and I decided we were a couple. He said he wasn’t really sure where he was with us; Lisa was my daughter, and if Wendy and I were married, or at least together, I’d be a kind of step-dad to him. But of course I was moving pretty slowly on that at the time”.

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then said, “Are you and Wendy going to get married?”

“We haven’t talked about that yet”.

“Are you going to?”

“You know how to ask ‘em, don’t you?”

She frowned; “Are you scared?”

“Yes”.

“What are you scared of?”

“All kinds of thing. I’m scared that I’m still too sad about your mom to really be able to give Wendy the sort of love she needs. I’m scared that what Wendy and I can achieve together won’t be as good as what I had with your mom. I’m scared that I’ll fall into the trap of comparing her with your mom, and not wanting to put her through all of that. Yeah – if you must know, I am quite scared”.

“But you love each other”.

“Yes”.

“Don’t be scared, Dad”, she whispered. “You’re a good man, and Wendy’s a great person. I think you should ask her”.

I shook my head; “I’m not ready yet, Em. Don’t push me on this, okay?”

Her eyes searched mine, and she gave a little frown. “Are you upset with me?”

“I’m not upset. I do love Wendy – I love her a lot. But it took me a while to get this far; it’s going to take me a while longer to move to the next stage”.

She nodded; “I understand, Dad”, she whispered.

******

Link to Chapter 38

 

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 36

Link back to Chapter 35

******

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

“Tommy, it’s Becca. You need to come down to the hospital right away”.

“What’s happening?”

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

“Does Mum know?”

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

“Do you want me to stop by your place and pick her up?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet; I wanted to tell her in person. I don’t want Mike to be the one who tells her”.

“I can do it if you like”.

“Will you let me do it please, Tommy?”

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

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

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

“What is it?” she replied in a sleepy voice.

“We need to get down to the hospital”.

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

“Yes; Becca says he’s fading fast”.

She nodded; “I was thinking yesterday that it might be soon. Just give me five minutes to get dressed and brush my teeth”.

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

“Right – I’ll be as fast as I can”.

******

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

“Sure – thank you”.

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

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

“None whatsoever; Dad and Mum would want that”.

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

******

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

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

“It’s the pneumonia; he’s never really shaken it”.

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

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

Emma nodded; “I remember”.

“Of course you do”. Becca reached out to give her another hug, and then asked, “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’ll be okay”.

“Becs, does Rick know?” I asked.

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

“Wendy’s coming too”.

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

“Okay”.

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

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

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

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

“We woke them up and told them but Anna seemed a bit scared of the idea of coming, and Eric and Sarah said they’d stay with her. To be honest, I think they were all a bit scared”.

I nodded; “It’s only natural”.

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

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

Becca and Mike arrived a few minutes later with my mother. I could see the tiredness in her eyes, and as she came around the bed I got to my feet to give her a hug; “You look exhausted”.

“I didn’t sleep. I think somehow I knew this would be the night”.

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

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

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

“Good”.

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

“He’s fine. I told him what was going on and asked him if he wanted to come, but I think he was a bit nervous about the idea of being here when your dad died”.

“I understand; not everyone’s comfortable with that kind of thing”.

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

At about four-thirty Wendy and I went out to the parking lot for a breath of fresh air. The rain had stopped, but the air was still cool and damp and I was glad I had put my coat on. We leaned against the back of a bench, our arms around each other’s shoulders. “How are you doing?” she asked.

“Okay; a bit sad, of course”.

“It’s alright to be sad”.

“I know”.

We stood there in silence for a few minutes, neither of us needing to say anything; I was enjoying the warmth of bodily contact, and it came to me that it had been a long time since I had experienced anything more than brief hugs from people. 

She spoke softly; “Your dad’s got his family around him”.

“Yes. I think he’d have preferred it to be at home, but we all knew that wasn’t going to be possible”. I gave a heavy sigh; “It was the same with Kelly. She spent the better part of the last three months of her life at University Hospital in Saskatoon”.

“Is that where she died?”

“Yes”.

“Was the family all there?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but suddenly she shook her head in annoyance at herself. “I’m sorry; that’s such an insensitive question for me to ask you on a night like this! Forgive me, Tom; I don’t know what I was thinking”.

“Don’t worry about it. And I will tell you about Kelly’s death soon; there was something really special and unusual that happened at the end”.

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

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

“His breathing’s getting a bit quieter”.

“Are you all right?” Wendy asked her.

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

“I’m glad you’re here”, I said.

“Thanks, Dad”. She shrugged helplessly; “It seems somehow unfair, doesn’t it?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I get a new grandfather, and then a year later I lose him”. She smiled at me; “I actually rather like him”.

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

******

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

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

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

“And you did”.

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

“Are you going to call Colin too?”

“Lisa’s going to do that”.

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

“Right. I expect there are some formalities that need to be looked after, aren’t there?”

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

“Okay”.

******

Wendy invited us back to her house for breakfast, and while we were there Rick made the initial calls to the funeral director. My father had made most of the arrangements months before, and the staff already knew exactly what he wanted. “Mum and I are the executors”, Rick said to me, “but Jack Marlowe’s got the will. He’s the one who made it up for Dad”.

“I thought Jack was retired?”

“He is, but he’s still got an office and a filing cabinet at our place”. He gave me a wry grin; “He likes to come in and read there a couple of times a week, but he doesn’t interfere with stuff unless we ask for his help”.

“There are some additional instructions that the funeral home might not know about”, said my mother. “Frank wrote them down a couple of months ago. They’re at home in his study; I know exactly where to find them”.

“We’ve got a meeting at the funeral director’s first thing Monday morning”, said Rick. “We’ve got the 15th booked as a tentative date for the service, so that gives us lots of time to make sure all the arrangements are right. But today, the thing we all need is to get some rest”.

My mother looked at him quietly for a moment and then nodded, reaching up and kissing him on the cheek. “You’re right, of course”, she said quietly. “I know I can leave it in your hands”.

Rick glanced around at Becca and me. “Between the three of us, I think we can manage”.

******

Emma and I drove my mother home to Northwood in the middle of the afternoon; by now she was totally exhausted, and we managed to persuade her to go to bed for a while. Becca had gone into the clinic for a few hours, but she had told us she and Mike would come out in time to help us cook supper.

“Emma and I may as well stay at Mum’s tonight”, I said. “With tomorrow being Saturday, we’ll have the weekend to give her any help she needs”.

“We might do that too”, Becca replied.

Wendy had been standing quietly in the background, but now she stepped forward and put her hand on my arm. “If there’s anything I can do…”.

Becca nodded; “Mum will want you to be involved, Wendy. You and the kids are part of our family; we all know how Dad felt about that”.

I put my arm around Wendy and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll call you later on; do you think you might come out over the weekend?”

“If that’s alright”.

“Absolutely”.

******

On Sunday morning Emma and I went to church in Northwood with Wendy and my mother. Emma and Lisa had decided that they would look after Sunday dinner; they had started working on it before church, and Lisa had stayed behind to continue the preparations with a little help from Colin. Rick and his family had told us they would not be out until later in the afternoon, but there were still nine of us sitting around the kitchen table for dinner, including Auntie Brenda who had come out to be with my mother.

We sat around the table for a long time afterwards, talking and reminiscing, and it was about two-thirty by the time we finally started clearing up and taking things back to the kitchen. My mother put the leftover food into containers to go into the fridge, and Becca and I were just starting to do the dishes when my mobile phone rang. I took it from my pocket and put it to my ear; “Hello?”

“Tom, it’s Will”.

“Will! This is a surprise! It must be pretty early there yet”.

“Eight thirty; we’ll be off to church in an hour or so. How are you? We got your email yesterday afternoon; I’m so sorry about your dad”.

“Thank you; it’s tough, but in some ways it’s a relief, too, you know?”

“I know. Do you guys have a date for the funeral yet?”

“February 15th. The date’s booked, but that’s all we know for sure right now; we’re meeting with the funeral home people tomorrow”.

“Listen, Tom – I’ve got a question for you, and if the answer’s ‘no’ then feel free to say so, okay?”

“Sure; what’s the question?”

“Would it be okay if Sally and I came?”

“Came to the funeral? That’s an expensive trip, Will”.

“You let us worry about that, okay? Is your mum there?”

“She’s right here in the kitchen with us; we’re just cleaning up after Sunday dinner”.

“Do me a favour and ask her right now – as long as it’s okay with you, that is”.

“Absolutely”. I put my hand over the phone. “It’s Will”, I said to my mother. “He wants to know if you’d be okay with him and Sally coming to the funeral”.

She stared at me; “I can’t begin to imagine how much that would cost them”.

“I think they really want to do it; he told me to ask you”.

“Can I talk to him?”

“Of course”. I handed her the phone, and she put it to her ear. “Will? It’s Irene. Just a minute while I take this phone where we can talk in private”. She smiled apologetically at me, and then turned and slipped out of the kitchen.

Becca had been listening as she ran the water in the sink; now she turned off the taps, dried her hands, and turned and kissed me on the cheek. “You’ve got the world’s best in-laws, you know”.

“I’ve always known that”.

“Were you expecting this?”

“No, but somehow I’m not surprised”.

“You’ve always been there for them, Tommy; you’ve been to lots of Reimer and Weins funerals over the years”.

“Well of course – I’m part of their family”.

“They obviously feel the same way about you”.

“I know”. I rolled up my sleeves; “Let’s get started on these dishes”.

My mother returned to the kitchen a minute later and held out the phone to me; “Here’s Will for you”, she said.

I quickly dried my hands and took the phone from her; “Hey, Will”.

“It’s all arranged; I’ll book a flight tomorrow. If you guys have room for us, that’s fine, and if not, we’ll look after ourselves. I know things can get kind of crazy at times like this, with relatives coming out of the woodwork and all that”.

“You’ll stay with Emma and me; we’ve got a spare room”.

“Are you sure? I’ve seen pictures of that house; it doesn’t look too awful big”.

I laughed softly; “Don’t you start on my house, Will Reimer!”

“It’ll be good to see you and Emma again, Tom”.

“Thank you, Will; I’m so glad you’re coming”.

“Hey – you’re our son; you know that”.

“I know, but thank you anyway”.

“You’re welcome. Now, I hear you’ve got dishes to wash, so you’d better get back to them. Give Emma a hug for us, okay?”

“I will”.

******

My father’s funeral took place on February 15th at the Oxford Crematorium. His brothers and sister and their spouses were all present, along with some of their children including my cousin Ann and her husband Mark. Auntie Brenda was there, of course, and a number of my father and mothers’ friends, including Pat Schuster and her daughter Jana. Rick sat at the front with his family, Alyson’s hand in his. Becca and Mike sat beside my mother, and Wendy, Colin and Lisa sat with Emma and me, and Will and Sally. Owen and Lorraine were a little further back in the chapel, and Owen’s father and mother were with them. Toward the back of the room I saw Jim and Kathy McFarlane with Matthew and Alanna; I had noticed Matthew spending quite a bit of time with Emma in the days since my father’s death, but she had not said anything about it to me, and I had not asked.

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

I made a point of talking to as many people as I could at the reception, but I especially enjoyed catching up with my old friend and honorary cousin, Jana Schuster; I introduced her to Lisa, and soon the two of them were chatting away in German. Over by the piano I could see Wendy sitting with Will and Sally; she had taken to them immediately, and they had gradually warmed to her, although I knew it had been a struggle at first for Sally. Wendy and I had talked about this on the phone a couple of nights after they arrived; “It’s perfectly understandable, Tom”, she said. “She can try to think her way through it as much as she likes, but in her heart I’m taking her daughter’s place, and that’s going to be hard for her to accept”.

“But you’ve been quite clear from day one that you’re not trying to take Kelly’s place”.

“I know that and you know it, but it’s taken you a year to accept it, hasn’t it?”

“I guess you’re right. You usually are”.

She laughed softly; “I think you’re confusing me with some other woman”.

“I don’t think so, Wendy”.

Toward the end of the reception Will and Sally came over to the corner of the room where I was standing talking to Owen and Lorraine. Will looked up at Owen and grinned; “I do believe you’re getting taller, Owen Foster!”

“I think you’re shrinking with old age, Will!”

“Oh, that’s been happening for quite a while!”

They both laughed, and Will glanced at the two of us and said, “It’s really good to see you two together again; it must have been great for you to be this close after all these years away from each other”.

“Actually Tom’s been rather busy”, Owen replied. “Especially in the last few months. I’m hoping I might see a bit more of him now”.

Sally glanced over at Wendy, who was standing by the piano talking with Emma and Colin. “Are we going to get a chance to hear ‘Lincoln Green’ before we go back?” she asked; “We’ve heard about you three for so many years”.

“Would you like to?” said Owen.

“We definitely would”.

“I’ll have to check with our lead singer; she’s got a mind of her own, you know!”

“I already checked with her”, Sally replied mischievously; “She said it was up to you!”

“Oh, well then, I expect we’ll make it happen!”

******

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

The will was much as I had expected it to be. He left his share in the house to my mother, and he left educational bequests in the amount of £25,000 each to all of his grandchildren and to Colin, with an additional amount set aside for any grandchildren who might come along in the future. Various smaller bequests were listed, and then the remainder of the investment money was to be divided equally between Rick, Becca, and me. At this point Jack looked up from the document in his hand; “I haven’t got the exact figures yet”, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

“That’d be fine”.

“Would you like us to make ourselves scarce for a while?” asked Will.

I shook my head; “There’s no need”.

“Are you sure?”

“I am”.

******

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

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

I made a pot of coffee and we sat around the living room, talking quietly about the events of the last few days. Eventually Lisa said to me, “You and Mum haven’t mentioned anything about your meeting today”.

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

“Were there some surprises, then?”

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

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

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

I paused, took a sip of my coffee, and continued. “Apparently he received a pretty substantial inheritance from my grandfather when he died eighteen years ago, and he never touched that money; he simply invested it. Out of that money, he left bequests to all his grandchildren to help with their education. That includes all three of you; he’s left each of you £25,000”.

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

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

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

“But why has he left me money?” asked Colin; “I’m not one of his grandchildren”.

“He wanted to include you”, I replied; “He mentioned that to me specifically”.

“Wow – I wasn’t expecting anything like that. It’ll certainly help with my apprenticeship costs”.

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

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

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

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

Wendy gave me a sympathetic glance. “Actually, I think this is going to be a struggle for you, isn’t it?”

I nodded slowly; “You know me well”.

******

Will and Sally did a few days of touring by themselves before going home. They flew out of Heathrow on the Sunday afternoon a week and a half after my father’s funeral; I drove them to the airport, and after we got them checked in we sat in the café together and had a cup of coffee.

“So”, I said to them, “what did you think of England?”

Sally grinned; “I want to come back when it’s a little warmer!”

“Yeah – February’s not the nicest month”.

“It’s still very beautiful, though”, said Will, “and Oxford’s quite impressive. I’m glad I had the chance to see the place you grew up and the college you went to. And of course the main thing was seeing your mom again, and Becca”.

“Your mom’s amazing, Tom”, said Sally quietly; “I can’t believe how strong she is”.

“She’s not feeling quite so strong in herself. When she’s with the grandchildren she tries to be strong for them, although she doesn’t seem to worry about that with Emma”.

“And Emma’s found herself a boyfriend”, Will observed.

“I think so. She doesn’t say much, and I try not to pry”.

“Glad to see you’re following my good example”, he replied with a twinkle in his eye.

I laughed softly; “You’re my role model, Will!”

“Don’t forget to call and check on her when she’s not expecting it!”

“Oh, I plan to make a real nuisance of myself!”

“What are his plans?” Sally asked.

“Matthew? He wants to change the world, I think”.

“He and Em will be a good match, then”.

“Yeah, but their methodology’s not the same. Matthew’s doing a master’s degree in political science right now, and I think he still wants to get into politics in some form. Em’s more of a ‘change the world by following Jesus’ kind of girl”.

“He’s a Christian too, though, right?”

“Oh yeah, and he’s very thoughtful about it”.

“You like him, then?”

“I really do”.

“So is she going to stay here?” Sally asked quietly.

I shook my head; “I don’t think she knows, Sally. And she’s a smart girl; I think she knows it’s early days with Matthew yet. They haven’t even told me they’re dating, although I suspect they will before too long”.

“It’s obvious how much she loves her cousins”, said Will. “And her sister”.

“That’s been a beautiful thing to watch”, I replied. “Rick and Alyson are really happy about it”.

“You and Rick are getting along okay?”

“Rick and I are getting along very well. Dad and I were, too”.

“You’re going to miss him”.

“I am”, I replied. “For the last year or so, we’d really been enjoying each other’s company”.

“Kelly would have been very happy”, said Sally softly.

“Yes”.

We were quiet for a couple of minutes, sipping our coffee, each of us occupied with our own thoughts. Eventually I cleared my throat and said, “Can I ask you guys something?”

“For sure”, Will replied.

“I’m uneasy about Dad’s money”.

He nodded; “I thought you would be”.

“Wendy and I are the same that way; we’re not too interested in accumulating stuff. And while I can’t deny it would be useful to help with housing costs – not to mention trips back to Meadowvale – I still can’t help feeling awkward about it”.

“It doesn’t sit well with your Anabaptist conscience”, said Sally.

“That’s exactly right”.

“So if you chose not to keep it, what would you do with it?” asked Will.

I shrugged; “I don’t really have any developed thoughts on the matter. I guess that’s partially connected to the fact that I haven’t settled in my own mind what I’m going to do at the end of the school year, either”.

They exchanged glances, and Will said, “Are you sure about that?”

“What do you mean?”

He smiled; “This is me, Tom. You can be honest with me”.

“I’m not trying to be dishonest”.

“You and Wendy are in love with each other”.

I nodded; “We are”.

“And you’re a lucky man; she’s a wonderful woman and you’re well suited to each other”.

“I think so”.

“Are you going to ask her to marry you?”

I shook my head slowly; “You’re way ahead of us there. It took me the better part of a year to admit to myself that I was falling in love with her”.

“Because you weren’t over Kelly yet”.

“Because I didn’t even want to be over Kelly yet”.

He looked at me steadily for a moment, and then he said, “But you’re not going to want to leave Wendy and move back to Meadowvale, Tom”.

I shook my head. “No”, I whispered, “I don’t think so. I’m really sorry. It’s not just Wendy – it’s Lisa and Colin, and my mum, and Becca and Mike, and Rick and Alyson and the kids…”

“Your mom’s going to need some help”, Sally observed.

“Yes, she is”.

“It’s okay, Tom”, said Will, putting his hand on my arm. “We’ll miss you like crazy, but you have to do what you think you’re meant to be doing. And it’s pretty clear to me what you’re meant to be doing”.

“Me too”, said Sally, with tears in her eyes, “Although I hate the thought of you and Em being so far away”.

“We hate it too”, I whispered, feeling the emotion welling up inside; “You have to believe that”.

Will nodded; “We do”.

“You guys will always be a mother and father to me. Nothing’s ever going to change that”.

“We know”, he replied, “and because we’re a mother and father to you, we want our son to be happy. We don’t want him to be sad and lonely for the rest of his life”.

“Agreed”, Sally said, taking out a tissue to wipe her eyes.

“We’re always going to be coming to visit”, I said.

“We know that. And if we think you’re neglecting us, we’ll unleash our secret weapon”.

“What secret weapon is that?”

“Beth; she can be pretty persuasive”.

I laughed softly; “Yes she can”, I agreed.

******

Link to Chapter 37

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 35

Link to Chapter 34

******

For the next few days we spent every spare minute at the hospital. My mother was at my father’s bedside almost every waking moment, going to Becca and Mike’s flat each night around ten and returning the next morning as early as the hospital would let her in – usually around nine. Rick and Becca and I managed to persuade her to let us handle the night shifts; she seemed to feel better about leaving my father if one of us remained at the hospital with him, so we took it in turns. Once Emma joined me in my all-night vigil; I fell asleep, and when I woke up at around four in the morning I discovered she and my father talking quietly together. When I asked her later what they had been talking about, she replied, “A lot of things. You and Mom, me, Meadowvale, nursing, Christianity…”

Almost every night Wendy came back with us to the hospital after supper, accompanied either by Lisa or Colin; somehow, without it ever really being talked about, Wendy had taken it upon herself to provide a light supper for us at her house. The only one who raised any question about this was Rick; we were cleaning up the dishes one night before going back, and he protested that she mustn’t keep on putting herself to all this trouble and expense.

“Don’t be silly, Rick”, she replied quietly; “I’m the obvious person to look after it”.

“How’s that?”

“Well, I’m not as emotionally connected as the rest of the family, am I? I mean, I know you call us ‘the extended family’, and that’s really nice of you, but we’re not really in the same category as the rest of you, are we? And you’re all tied up with what’s going on at the hospital; you don’t want to be bothered with worrying about supper every night, and I’m happy to take care of it”.

“But you’ve got to work, and I’m sure you’re a big wheel over at Merton”.

She laughed; “I’m a lowly college tutor, that’s all! I give lectures, lead tutorials and produce paper – and with a little effort at rearranging things, most days I can get away a bit earlier”.

“Well, we appreciate it. And by the way, I don’t think we’re going to let you get away with that ‘not really in the same category as the rest of us’ line. Did my brother tell you that? Tom, did you tell her she wasn’t really in the same category as the rest of us?”

I had been bending to load the dishwasher; I straightened up, leaned on the kitchen counter, and said, “Not that I remember. Maybe it was Em; hey, Em”, I called, “did you tell Wendy she wasn’t really in the same category as the rest of us?”

Emma put her head around the door of the kitchen. “Not in the same category?” she replied with a frown; “So how come she’s doing all this cooking for us? And anyway, she’s Lisa’s mom, and Lisa’s my sister – sounds pretty connected to me!”

Wendy smiled at us; “You’re all very kind”, she said gently.

Rick shook his head; “The kindness is definitely working both ways. Thank you”.

******

Owen and I weren’t seeing much of each other, but he called me most nights to check on the situation. One night when we stayed particularly late at the hospital he left a message on my answering machine; it was just after ten-thirty when we got home, but I called him back right away to explain. “Dad was in quite a lot of pain”, I said, “and they were trying to adjust his meds. Mum wanted to stay to see if they could get the situation resolved”.

“Did they?”

“Not completely. There’s really not a lot they can do”.

“Is this from his femur?”

“Yes”.

“Is the tumour still growing?”

 “Yes, and he’s really not strong enough for them to do the targeted radiation any more”.

“Is he still communicative?”

“Oh yeah – there’s nothing wrong with his mind. He sleeps a lot, though; they’ve got him on a pretty high dose of pain meds”.

“How’s everybody else doing?”

“Mum’s exhausting herself. We’re trying to make sure she gets enough rest, but I don’t really have the heart to lay the law down about that. I remember what it’s like; you want to be there every minute you possibly can. And personally, I don’t think it’s going to go on much longer”.

“Are they saying anything about that?”

“Not really; it’s just a hunch”.

“Well, you’ve seen it before”.

“Yeah”.

“Are you finding that hard?”

“Yes, but there’s nothing I can do about that”.

“Well, let me know if you need a coffee break, alright? Any time of the day or night, I’ll make it work”.

“Thanks, mate”.

“And give my love to Emma – and Wendy”.

“I will”.

******

The next night Emma and I got home around ten; we hung up our coats in the hallway, and as we moved into the living room she said, “I’ll make the hot chocolate”.

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

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

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

“Apparently”.

“Are you going to call him back?”

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

“What are you going to say?”

“I really don’t know”.

******

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

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

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

“I’m sorry – who am I speaking to?”

“This is Marina”.

I hesitated, and then said, “Are you related to Mickey?”

“Who wants to know?”

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

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

I was astonished; “Mickey’s girlfriend?”

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

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

“Have you got his mobile number?”

“Yes”.

“Ring him on his mobile then”.

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

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

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

“Something wrong?”

“Did you know that Mickey has a girlfriend?”

“A girlfriend?”

“Apparently”.

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

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

“Marina? Interesting…”

“Do you know her?”

“Well, it’s not a common name, is it? A couple of years before we broke up he did some photographic work for the Spencer family – you know, the family Princess Diana comes from? Marina was a distant relative – sort of a ‘third cousin, once removed’, you know? I think she was a sort of fashion designer in London. If it’s the same Marina, he’s known her for a long time. Very posh”.

“I’m not sure – she didn’t say anything about herself”.

“What did Mickey want?”

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

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

“Apparently”.

“When, exactly?”

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

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

“Of course”.

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

“Are you going to go away for the weekend?”

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

“Wendy, are you all right?”

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

“Is there anything I can do?”

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

“I will. I love you”.

“I love you too”.

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks”.

“Coffee?”

“That would be great”.

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

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

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

“Canada’s more laid back. Discipline’s a bit better here, but I don’t care for school uniforms any more – I’m used to a less formal approach”.

“Really? I seem to remember your father being a rather conservative lawyer or something like that”.

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

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

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

“What do you want to know?”

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

He avoided my gaze. “Wendy’s obviously moving on; why shouldn’t I?”

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

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

“No”.

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

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

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

“She had a mother in Canada, yes. My wife Kelly died of cancer, four years ago this coming May”.

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

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

He smiled ruefully; “Shall we start again?”

“I think that would be a good idea”.

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

So I told him about my move to Meadowvale and how the community had adopted me, about Will and his family and my growing relationship with them, and about my marriage to Kelly. I told him about Emma’s birth and Kelly’s bouts with cancer, about our trips to England and Mexico, and about Kelly’s death and how Emma and I had dealt with it. Finally I told him about my father’s illness and our decision to come to England, and my surprise at finding Colin in my class and meeting Wendy again.

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

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

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

“To a certain extent, yes”.

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

“I hear your career’s going well”.

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

“You were in Afghanistan too?”

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

“It sounds like an exciting life”.

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

“I guess not”.

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

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

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

“Oh?”

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

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

“To a certain extent, yes”.

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

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

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

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

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

“Marina?”

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

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

“Likewise; sorry we got off to a shaky start on the phone the other day”.

“I’m sorry, too”.

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

“Yes, please”.

“How’s yours, Tom?”

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

“Of course”.

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

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

“I did; the place became home”.

“Have you got a family?”

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

“Oh – I’m sorry”.

“What about you?” I asked.

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

“Are you from London originally?”

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

“So you’re from the famous Spencer family, are you?”

She nodded; “I am”.

“And how long have you two been together?”

It was Mickey who replied. “We’ve known each other for quite a long time actually. I did some work for some of Marina’s relatives and they wanted some photographs taken on an estate of theirs in the Midlands – not Althorp, but another property. I was between jobs at the time, and they contacted me about it. I went up for the weekend, and that’s where I met Marina”.

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

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

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

“Fine; I’m enjoying her, actually”.

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

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

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

“He emails you, doesn’t he?”

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

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

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

I sipped at my coffee slowly, trying to gather my thoughts. Shifting a little in my chair, I said, “Here’s what I know. A couple of years after Lisa was born you started hitting Wendy, and you did it regularly for the next twelve years – sometimes when you were alone with her and sometimes in front of the children. Of course Wendy took the blame for a lot of this – abused women tend to do that – but she drew the line after twelve years of abuse when you attacked Lisa as well. Colin’s afraid of you, but not because of anything Wendy’s told him; it’s because of what he remembers about life at home with you. And Lisa hates you, plain and simple – in fact, when she found out I was even having a conversation with you it made things very difficult between us for a while”.

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

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

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

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

“Have you met Wendy?”

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

“Then I think you should reserve judgement”.

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I say: I think you should reserve judgement. You’re claiming I’ve only got Wendy’s word to back up the abuse stories. Actually that’s not true – I’ve heard them from Colin and Lisa too, and Rees Howard was the one who found Wendy and Lisa after Mickey assaulted them”. She opened her mouth to protest, but I held up my hand and said, “Hear me out. You’ve implied that I’ve only got Wendy’s word to go on, but the same is true for you: you’ve only got Mickey’s word to go on. And if you tell me that you love Mickey and you know he’d never lie to you, I’d respond that I love Wendy and I know she wouldn’t lie to me, either”.

“So she told you the truth about Lisa being your daughter immediately, did she?” asked Mickey sarcastically; “Right from day one?”

“That’s different. She concealed that from me because she was afraid of me getting angry if I found out the truth”.

“So you can’t say she’s always been truthful with you”.

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

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

I could feel myself getting annoyed with Marina’s presence, but I was determined not to lose the initiative in the conversation. “Let me ask you this”, I said to Mickey; “Do you deny the court record from your trial? Do you deny the truth of the medical records from that assault on Wendy and Lisa?”

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

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

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

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

“Really? Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“I think you actually have a growing influence in his life. In the few emails I’ve had from him in the last few months he’s spoken very highly of you. He really enjoys it when you and Emma take him out walking or canoeing; he loved that walking trip you made to the Peak District last year. He doesn’t say much about how he feels, but he doesn’t need to – it’s easy to read between the lines”.

“Still, if I tried to put any pressure on him to do something he didn’t want to do, I’d get nowhere – he knows his own mind”.

“All I’m asking is that you not try to influence him against me”.

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

He smiled indulgently; “Well, as I said, I’m not surprised that you believe everything Wendy’s told you – and I can’t really blame you for it. Just keep an open mind, please, and remember – it’s not wrong for a man to want to see his son occasionally”.

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

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

“Thank you”. I shook his hand, then turned to Marina and said, “It was good to meet you”.

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

“Keep in touch”, said Mickey.

“I can’t promise anything; my life is rather hectic at the moment”. I smiled at them both again, then turned and made my way out.

******

Link to Chapter 36

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 34

Link back to Chapter 33

******

Emma and I went out to Northwood on Friday January 16th and stayed until after lunch Saturday. We had planned to stay a little longer, but it became clear that my father was not up to it. He was in some pain from the cancer in his femur, which had begun to grow again; he was was very weak and thin, he could not get warm, and he was finding it hard to keep any food down.

“You should get him into hospital, Mum”, I said to her as we were leaving. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”

She shook her head; “He doesn’t want to go – he’d rather stay at home”.

“And who wouldn’t, if they had the choice? But can you really look after him here?”

“At the moment I’m alright”.

“Do you want me to stay and help you, Grandma?” asked Emma. “I can skip classes for a few days if you want”.

“That would be the last thing your grandpa would want, darling; it means a lot to him that you’re doing you’re nursing training and that you’re enjoying it”.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call an ambulance?” I asked.

“I’m very sure”.

“Well, you ring us if you need anything, alright? I’ll leave my cell on”.

“I have your number, and Becca’s too. I promise if I need help I’ll call one of you”.

******

I talked to her before church on Sunday morning; she said my father had been coughing a lot during the night and she was quite worried about him, but he still refused to let her call an ambulance. I asked if she wanted us to go back out, but she said no; it was better if the place was quiet for him. When I asked her if she was all right, she said “I’m a bit tired, Tom, but I’ll be fine”.

“Are you sure you don’t want one of us to come out?”

She hesitated, and then said “I’ll ring you later on in the afternoon, alright?”

“Of course; I’ll wait for your call”.

******

Rick called early in the afternoon to see what we were doing. “Alyson and I were thinking of getting some Indian food in”, he said, “and then it occurred to us that we’ve never actually had our three families together. I just got off the phone with Becca, and she and Mike are coming over. What about you and Emma and the extended family?”

“Today’s the first day of the new university term”, I replied, “and classes start tomorrow, so Wendy and Lisa are both horrendously busy. We’re trying our best to stay out of their way for a couple of days”.

“Oh, right. Well – do you and Emma want to come over?”

“Sure”.

******

We ate our supper on paper plates in the den. The young people sat in one corner, talking quietly; Emma had brought her guitar with her and she and Eric had already played a few songs together. Alyson and Rick were in the easy chairs by the fireplace, and Becca and Mike took one of the couches, sitting close to each other, leaning toward each other for the occasional kiss. Rick had opened a bottle of wine, Mike had brought some beer, and Alyson had brewed some coffee for those who were not interested in anything stronger.

We were just finishing up the last of the food when Becca’s mobile phone rang. She rummaged for it in her bag, put it to her ear, and said, “Becca Masefield…Oh hi Mum…yes, we’re all here…”. She was silent for a moment, and I saw the expression on her face change. “When was he admitted?” she asked.

The conversation in the room stopped, and everyone was suddenly watching Becca; Alyson had just brought a fresh pot of coffee into the room, and was standing beside me, holding it in her hand. Becca was listening intently, and after a couple of minutes she said, “Right – I’ll tell the others. I’ll be there in a few minutes, Mum”. She closed the phone, dropped it into her bag and got to her feet. “Dad’s been admitted to the JR; they took him in an ambulance this afternoon. He’s coughing a lot and he’s having trouble breathing; it sounds like pneumonia to me”.

“You’re going over?” I asked.

“I’m going right now”. She held out her hand to Mike; “Will you come?”

“Of course”, he replied, getting to his feet; “I’ll drive”.

“Should we all come?” asked Rick. “What do you think, Becca?”

“You and Tommy and I should be there anyway; we probably won’t be able to see Dad for a while, but at least we can sit with Mum”.

“I want to come too”, said Emma.

“Right”, I said, getting to my feet; “Let’s go”.

******

We found my mother in an almost empty waiting room, sitting in a corner with a cup of cold coffee in her hand. When she saw us she got to her feet, the relief plain on her face; we exchanged hugs with her, and Becca asked what was happening. When she heard that no one had been out to talk to my mother for a while she frowned and said, “I’m going to find out what’s going on here. I’ll be back soon”.

Rick and Emma and I sat in the corner with my mother for a few minutes; her face was grey with exhaustion, and there were dark circles under her eyes. “What happened?” I asked, putting my hand on hers.

“You were right”, she replied apologetically; “We should have called an ambulance last night, but he didn’t want to come back into hospital, so I let him persuade me not to. I should have called Becca, I know, but I didn’t. Anyway, he didn’t sleep much; he was coughing all night long, and of course he had to sit up to be able to breathe properly. But even this morning he wouldn’t let me call an ambulance; it wasn’t until this afternoon that he got so short of breath that he gave in”.

Rick and I sat on either side of her, holding her hands, until Becca emerged from the Intensive Care Unit. She came over and sat down across from us. “You can go through, Mum”, she said; “They’ve got him on oxygen and antibiotics”.

“What about the rest of us?” I asked.

“I’ll just take Mum for now; there’s only room for two visitors at a time”.

So while my mother went through with Becca to the ICU the rest of us sat in the waiting room, talking and sipping coffee from one of the vending machines. After a while Alyson and Sarah arrived; Alyson slipped into a chair beside Rick, put her hand on his and said, “Any news?”

“He’s on oxygen and antibiotics. Mum and Becca are with him right now, but there’s only room for two visitors at a time”.

“Right”.

Emma and Sarah had been talking quietly together; Emma glanced at me and said, “We’re just going to wander for a few minutes”.

“Okay – don’t go too far, though”.

“Don’t worry – we’ll stay close”.

******

After about an hour my mother and Becca came out to us again. “He’s breathing a little better”, Becca said as we gathered around, “and they’ve told us that one or two at a time can go through and sit with him, if we want to. But it is getting late and they really want him to rest, because he’s exhausted from lack of sleep last night, so they don’t want us to try to make him talk”.

“Are you going to go home, Mum?” asked Rick.

“No, I’ll stay here”, she replied, “but I’ve been with him for a while; I don’t mind sitting out here for a bit if a couple of you want to go in and see him”.

“Tommy and Rick should go”, Becca suggested; “I’ve already seen Dad tonight”.

I saw Rick take Alyson’s hand as he glanced across at me. “Actually, if you don’t mind I’d like to go in with Alyson. Why don’t you and Emma go in now, and then we’ll follow you a bit later?”

I nodded; “That’s fine with me”.

So Emma and I went into the Intensive Care Unit together. My father’s room was small, and the space was taken up almost entirely by the large bed he was lying on and the various monitors and bits of IV equipment. The light in the room was dim, but we could see that the head of the bed was raised slightly; he was wearing an oxygen line to his nostrils, and his eyes were closed.

As Emma moved a chair over to the bed his eyes opened slowly; he saw her and tried to smile. “Thank you for coming, my dear”, he whispered.

She put her hand on his; “I love you, Grandpa”, she said simply.

“I love you too”, he replied. He turned his head on the bed, focusing on me. “I’m sorry – I know this is when you do your lesson planning”.

“Don’t worry about that, Dad”, I replied, moving closer to the bed and putting my hand on his arm. “And don’t feel you have to stay awake for us either; they want you to sleep. We’ll just sit here with you; if you feel tired, just let yourself drift off. We won’t worry”.

“Thank you”, he said in a voice that was barely audible.

We sat on either side of his bed for about half an hour, holding his hands and saying very little. Around us the subdued noises of the Intensive Care Unit continued; the low hum of equipment, the quiet conversations out in the corridor, the occasional sound of someone being paged or a telephone ringing at the nursing station. Gradually my father drifted off to sleep, and eventually I nodded at Emma and we quietly got to our feet and slipped out of the room. I put my arm around her as we walked slowly back toward the waiting room; “Are you okay?” I asked.

She shook her head, and I saw that there were tears in her eyes. “He’s so frail”, she said in a voice choked with emotion.

I stopped, turned to her and put my arms around her. She laid her head on my shoulder and for a few minutes we just stood there, holding each other, with the people coming and going around us and an occasional nurse giving us a sympathetic glance as she went past. I could feel Emma’s body trembling a little in my arms as she cried.

Eventually she looked up and gave me a teary smile; “Thanks, Dad”, she whispered, digging in her pocket for a Kleenex.

“Are you okay to go out there?”

“I’ll be alright for now; what about you?”

“I’ll be all right for now too”.

When we got back to the waiting room I saw to my surprise that Wendy and Lisa were sitting with the rest of our family in the corner. Wendy looked up and saw us coming into the room; she got to her feet, held out her arms to us both and hugged us. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“We’re okay”, I replied; “How did you hear?”

“Becca rang me”.

Rick caught my eye; “How’s Dad?” he asked.

“Sleeping soundly. Go ahead if you want to go in, but I don’t think he’ll wake up”.

“I think we will go and sit with him for a bit”, he replied, taking Alyson’s hand in his. “See you all in a little while”.

I sat down beside Wendy, and she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

I shrugged; “I’m worried, of course”.

“Is he still coughing?”

“He’s sleeping pretty soundly right now; I think they’ve got him on a pretty strong dosage of drugs. He coughs a bit from time to time, but it doesn’t seem to wake him up”.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No, but I’m glad you’re here”.

Lisa and Emma had sat down across from me; I smiled at Lisa and said, “Sorry to mess up your last night before term”.

“Don’t even think about it; I’m all ready for the morning”.

“What about you?” I asked Wendy.

“I’m done. We were just sitting watching a DVD together, actually”.

“What was the DVD?”

She gave me a playful grin; “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.

“Nice!”

******

At about ten o’clock a nurse of about my own age came looking for us. “I don’t think there’s going to be any change tonight”, she said; “Hopefully he’ll get a good sleep, and that’ll be the best thing for him. There’s no need for you all to stay here all night. Especially you, Mrs. Masefield; you look very tired, and I think you should go home and try to sleep”.

Becca was nodding her head; “You can stay at our flat, Mum; I’ll give them the number, and if anything happens, we can be here in five minutes”.

I saw my mother’s hesitation, and I took her hand; “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to, Mum”, I said gently, “But if you want to get some sleep, and if you’d feel better if one of us stayed here, I’d be happy to do that”.

“What about your work tomorrow?” she asked.

“I can call Kathy McFarlane and tell her I won’t be in in the morning. She’s my department head”.

“Are you sure that would be okay?”

“I told Kathy this morning that Dad wasn’t doing well; she won’t be surprised. Don’t worry about me, Mum; this kind of thing isn’t uncommon”.

“Well, if you’re sure you wouldn’t mind?”

“I’d be glad to stay with him”.

She nodded. “All right; I am actually feeling very tired”. Turning to Becca, she said, “Perhaps I’ll just go in one more time and see him before I go; do you think that would be all right?”

“What do you think?” Becca asked the nurse. “My brother and his wife are in there right now; would it be all right for Mum just to go in briefly before she comes home with me?”

“I’m sure we can bend the rules a bit”, the nurse replied. Putting her hand on my mother’s arm, she said, “Come with me, Mrs. Masefield; I’ll take you in”.

“Thank you”.

We watched as they went through the doors into the Intensive Care Unit. “That’s a relief”, Becca said to me; “I was hoping I could get her to go to bed at some point tonight”.

“Do we all have to leave?” asked Lisa; “I think I’d like to stay. I’d like to sit with him for a while, even if he is asleep”.

“By all means”, Becca replied gently; “If that’s what you want to do, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it”.

“I’ll wait out here for you”, Wendy said; “That way I can drive you home any time you like”.

“What about your work in the morning, Wendy?” Becca asked.

“Don’t worry; I’ll be fine.”.

******

Emma decided to go home and get some sleep, so we agreed that she would take our car. Rick took his family home, and Becca and Mike took my mother back to their place. “Ring me if anything happens, alright?” Becca said to me as they were leaving.

“Count on it. Go, and get some sleep. Mike, don’t let her stay up for half the night, alright?”

He nodded; “I’m on it”.

When everyone had left, I took Lisa through to my father’s room and sat there with her for a while. The lights in the room were all out now; the only illumination came from the door to the corridor, and the only sounds were my father’s laboured breathing and the ordinary background noises of the ICU.

Lisa and I were quiet for a long time, sitting across the bed from each other, but eventually she spoke in a voice that was only just above a whisper; “I’m really glad I’ve had a chance to meet him and get to know him”, she said.

“So am I”.

“Have you talked about the things you needed to talk about with him?”

“Yes; we’re good now”.

We lapsed into silence again, Lisa watching my father’s face, me glancing at her from time to time, trying to read her expression in the dim light from the corridor. Eventually she said, “I know this is going to sound a bit weird, but would you let me sit alone with him for a while?”

“Of course; it doesn’t sound weird at all”. I got to my feet slowly, stretched my stiff back, and said, “I’ll be out in the waiting room with your mum”.

“Alright; thank you”.

******

When I got back to the waiting room Wendy was sitting alone on the corner couch with her legs crossed and her glasses on, reading a small leather-bound book that looked to me like a Bible. She looked up and smiled as I walked over and sat down on the couch beside her. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Yes; she wanted to sit with him by herself for a while”.

“You don’t mind?”

“No, I don’t mind”. I glanced at the book in her hand; “Is that a Bible?” I asked.

“Yes; I was just reading the evening psalms”.

“From the Rule of St. Benedict?”

She grinned; “Good guess, but no – from the Book of Common Prayer. Do you remember the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer?”

“Yes, but more from my literature classes than the few times we went to church as kids. It’s written in Tudor English, isn’t it?”

“Yes – it dates back to 1549. Anyway, it divides the psalms up into daily portions, morning and evening, so that you read through the whole book once a month”.

“I didn’t know that. Do you like the psalms?”

“I really do. I love the fact that they’re not shy about expressing negative as well as positive emotions. They help me be real and honest when I pray, if you know what I mean?”

“I do”. I frowned; “Before Kelly died she and Pastor Ron had a really significant conversation about the psalms. She’d always enjoyed them, but for the last few months of her life she had a very close relationship with them”.

“Because of something he said?”

“Yeah. He was a widower, you see – he’d lost his wife to leukaemia – and he told Kelly about how the psalms had really saved his prayer life. He said when he couldn’t summon up the emotional energy to pray in his own words, he would just read the psalms until he found one that spoke for him, and then he would pray it and add his own specific twist to it. Kelly was really struggling with the whole issue of unanswered prayer at the time, to the point that she was finding it difficult to pray at all. That conversation made a big difference to her”.

“What about you?”

“I guess I’ve been fond of them ever since – for all kinds of different reasons. Of course they make me think of Kelly, but in a strange way they make me think of Jesus too. Pastor Ron preached a sermon about that once – about how the psalms were the prayers Jesus would have learned and used, and praying them was like joining our prayers to his. That stuck with me”.

She smiled at me; “A point of connection between us, then”.

“I guess so. They’re pretty important to Benedictines, right?”

“Really important – St. Benedict had a system of praying the whole book once a week”.

“Those monks had a lot more time for that sort of thing”.

“Yes – I tried to do that for a couple of weeks once, but I couldn’t make the time for it and it became more of a burden than anything else. But the monthly system of the prayer book – I can follow that”.

“Do all Anglicans follow that, then?”

She laughed softly; “I don’t think so! But my dad used to – he used to say Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day, and the psalms are part of that. It’s part of the prayer discipline Anglican priests follow”.

“Do you talk about that kind thing with him?”

She nodded. “I’ve had really good conversations with my dad since I came back to Christianity. He’s a really wise man; I look up to him a lot”

“How is he, by the way?”

“I think he’s okay; I’ve talked to him a couple of times a week since we got back, and I’ll go down again toward the end of the month. Mum’s feeling better now, too”.

“I’d love to go and visit them again, but with my dad’s health being so precarious right now…”

She put her hand on mine. “Don’t even think of it, Tom; they understand”.

“I like them, though, and I’d like to get to know them better”.

“They’d like that. They’re still very curious about you”.

“Oh yeah?”

“They have fond memories of last year when you and Emma came down with me. And since I told them that we’re definitely a couple now, they’d naturally love to get to know you better”.

“You know, it must have been great to have a dad who was so supportive of you when you were growing up. I never had that”.

“I’m sorry, Tom”.

I shook my head; “Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asking for sympathy, and I’m happy to be getting on well with my dad now. But I know I missed out on it when I was younger. I used to latch on to father-substitutes; I think I saw Owen’s dad in that way, and I definitely saw Will Reimer like that, too. I still do, to tell you the truth”.

“It’s only natural, with him being your father-in-law and you two getting on so well together”.

“Yes. I told him this summer that for years he had been the only real father I’d ever had. Of course, he was my teaching mentor too; I learned a huge amount from him”.

“Was there never any awkwardness between you because of him being your father-in-law?”

I laughed. “We got over it, but when Kelly and I first started dating, he was very protective of his little girl, even though she was in her mid-twenties by then”.

“In what way?”

I shifted a little on the couch, angling my body toward her. “Remember I told you about the time Kelly and I had what she called ‘the sex talk’?”

She smiled; “I do”.

“I think I told you it happened when she came back from Jasper for her cousin Corey’s funeral”.

“You did”.

“It was actually the day of the funeral; she came back to my place afterwards and we made some tea and cuddled on the couch for a while. I got the messages a bit mixed up and thought she might be interested in going further, but she straightened me out about that, and eventually we were both so tired from the week we’d had that we fell asleep on my couch and didn’t wake up until the phone rang at ten o’clock”. I grinned at her; “It was Will, looking for his daughter”.

She laughed softly; “Awkward!”

“Yeah. Anyway, Kelly convinced him that we hadn’t actually gotten up to anything, and it became a standing joke between Will and me for years after that. But that was what led to ‘the sex talk’; she wanted to have a conversation with me about boundaries, and what sex meant to her – the joining of lives, not just bodies. That was a significant conversation for us”.

“Oh yes?”

“Yes. She made it pretty clear to me that even though we were in love with each other, she wanted to wait. So the first time we slept together was our wedding night”. I grinned at her; “Pretty old fashioned, weren’t we?”

“To tell you the truth, Tom, her point of view makes a lot of sense to me. And I’d have thought you’d have learned from past experience that when sex comes into a relationship too soon it can do a lot of damage”.

“You’re right, of course; I should have learned that from my experience with you, without Kelly having to lay the law down”. I shook my head; “‘Lay the law down’ isn’t the right way to describe it; she initiated a conversation, but she wanted to know what I thought, too. Still, she was pretty clear about where her boundaries were”.

“You weren’t upset about that?”

“I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed, but I loved her and I was willing to wait”.

She hesitated, looking away for a moment, and then she looked back and put her hand on mine again. “Do we need to have that sort of conversation?”

“What do you think?”

“Since you came back to England I’ve never felt you were putting any pressure on me in that way”.

“No. It’s a funny thing, but after Kelly died, it was like that part of me went to sleep”. I grinned at her mischievously; “It may be starting to wake up again though, so I’ll need to keep a close eye on it”.

“Is that going to be a problem?”

I looked at her steadily for a moment, and then I shook my head. “I don’t think so”.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure”.

“Tom, you have absolutely no idea how much of a relief it is for me to hear you say that!”

“How so?”

She shook her head slowly. “It’s all tied up with Mickey and the fact that we had a sexual relationship so young, and then later on of course he hit me a lot, and – well, his idea of sex was pretty self-centred and controlling toward the end”. She glanced around quickly, as if to reassure herself that no one was listening, and then continued; “It’s not that I’m permanently scarred on sex or anything like that; it’s just that I really don’t want to rush into anything, and – well, to tell you the truth, I’ve been worried that you might want to, and that you might be really upset if I said I didn’t want to”.

“I’m quite all right with going slow – I honestly am”.

She looked at me, her eyes questioning; “So, since Kelly died, you’ve never…?”

I shook my head. “Never had the opportunity, and to tell you the truth, never had the desire, either. Like I said, it’s as if that part of my psyche went to sleep”. I grinned at her; “Since we’re getting so personal, how about you?”

“No. Not that I haven’t had the opportunity. Jeremy Bayly was after me for a while…”

“The organist at St. Michael’s?”

“Yes; he’s got a weakness for the prospect of an attractive roll in the hay. I’ve had to help him crawl out of more than one disaster that way”.

“So he was after you, was he?” I said with a grin.

“Yes, but I told him in no uncertain terms to bugger off!”

We both laughed; “A fine turn of phrase, Dr. Howard!” I said.

“Thank you, kind sir; I didn’t earn that doctorate in English for nothing, you see!”

I shifted a little in my seat; “Do you want some coffee or something?”

“No thanks, but you get some if you like”.

“No, I’m alright”.

I was quiet for a moment, and she looked at me curiously. “Is something wrong?”

I frowned. “You just said something that made me think, but maybe you don’t want to go there, and if so, that’s fine with me”.

“Are you talking about Mickey and me?”

“Yes – about his idea of sex being very controlling toward the end. We don’t talk about Mickey very much, Wendy”.

She shook her head; “I don’t enjoy those conversations”.

“Okay – that’s fine”.

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry – that’s not a good plan is it? It’s not right for me to wall you out of that part of my life”.

“I’m not interested in causing you unnecessary pain. If and when you’re ready, we can talk, but if it’s too hard for you, I understand”.

She opened her mouth to respond, but at that moment Lisa came quietly into the room. She glanced at us, smiled awkwardly and said, “Is this a bad time?”

Wendy shook her head. “Not at all; are you okay?”

“Yes, but I think I’m ready to go home now”.

“Alright then”. Wendy glanced at me as she was getting to her feet; “What are you going to do?”

“I’ll go and sit in Dad’s room. I imagine I’ll probably snooze a bit in the chair, but at least I’ll be there if he wakes up or if he needs anything”.

“How are you going to get home in the morning?”

“It’s only a fifteen minute walk”.

“I could come over in the morning and take you home, if you want”.

“No, I’ll be fine; you’ll want to be down at Merton early, and I’m planning on taking the morning off, so I might stay here until someone else comes in to take over from me”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes”.

I got to my feet and gave her a hug, then turned to Lisa. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes”. She gave me a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for letting me sit in there for a while”.

“I’m glad you had the chance to be with him. Are you going to come back again while he’s here?”

“Is that alright?”

“Of course; he’d want it, and so would my mum”.

“Thanks, Dad”. She gave me a brief smile before turning to Wendy; “Ready?”

“Yes”. She glanced at me; “Ring me tomorrow, alright”.

“Sure”.

******

After they left, I returned to my father’s room. He was sleeping on his back, his mouth slightly open; I could hear his breath rasping in his chest as I took my seat beside his bed. I watched him for a while, my mind wandering, and eventually I nodded off to sleep in the chair, my head resting on my shoulder.

I was jarred from sleep by the sound of coughing. As I opened my eyes I could see him in the dim light from the slightly open doorway, trying to push himself up on one elbow, his other hand clenched in a fist in front of his mouth. Ignoring the stiffness in my neck and back, I got to my feet, moved over to the bed, and slid my arm under his shoulders. “Here, Dad”, I said; “Let me help you sit up”.

He nodded, still coughing violently, as I slowly lifted him to a sitting position; I raised the bed a little, rearranged the pillows to support him, and then poured him a glass of water from the plastic jug on the table beside the bed. I held the glass to his lips, rubbing his back gently with my other hand as he took a few sips of the water.

Gradually his coughing eased, and he motioned for me to take the glass away. “Would you like anything else?” I asked.

“I think I’m all right, thank you”. He frowned; “Have you been sitting there all night?”

“Yes”.

“Is anyone else here?”

“No. Mum was really tired, and we persuaded her to go and get some sleep at Becca and Mike’s. Rick and his family were here, too, but they left at about the same time. Wendy and Lisa came for a while; Lisa sat with you for half an hour or so, but Wendy took her home just before midnight”.

“What time is it now?”

I looked at my watch; “Just after four o’clock”.

“You really don’t need to stay, Tom; you’ll be tired out at school in the morning”.

“I’m going to take a discretionary day”.

“You don’t need to do that”.

“I’m going to do it, though”.

At that moment a young nurse appeared in the doorway; “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“He woke himself up coughing”, I explained; “I gave him a little water, and things seem to be settling down now”.

She came into the room, glanced at the monitors and the level in the IV bags, and asked, “Is there anything I can bring you, Mr. Masefield? A cup of cocoa or something?”

“No, thank you”, he replied, settling back on his pillows, “but my son might appreciate something”.

“No – I’m fine”, I said.

“All right; don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything”.

She slipped quietly out of the room, and my father said, “I think I could have the bed down just a little, if you don’t mind, Tom”.

“Right”. I worked the buttons until he indicated that he was satisfied, and then I sat down again in the chair. “You seemed to be sleeping pretty well until you started to cough”, I said.

“I feel as if I did, anyway”. He shifted his body in the bed, angling himself toward me a little. “So Wendy and Lisa were here?”

“Yes; Becca rang them, and Lisa wanted to come over to be with you and Mum”.

“That was very thoughtful of her”. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Not that it’s any of my business, but how are things between you and Wendy?”

“We’re doing well”.

“Have you got any plans?”

“Are you talking about marriage?”

“Yes”.

“We haven’t talked about it. To be honest, I think we’ll probably take it slow”

“Do you mind me asking about it, Tom?”

“No”.

“Emma tells me she really likes Wendy”.

“Emma’s been amazing. I know how much she misses her mum”.

“I expect you still miss her too”.

I nodded; “I’d always thought that coming to love someone else might make me miss her less, but somehow the two things seem to be entirely unconnected”.

“But you and Wendy love each other?”

“We do”.

“I’m glad for you; you deserve a bit of happiness, after the sadness of the last three or four years”.

“Thanks, Dad”.

He turned a little on the bed so that he was lying on his back. For a moment we were quiet, and then he said, “You’re going to be able to be a special help to your mum in the days ahead. You’ll understand how she feels, more than anyone else in the family”.

“I know”.

He was quiet for a long time, to the point that I was beginning to think he had fallen asleep again. Eventually, however, he spoke in a voice so soft I could barely hear it. “Do you really think there is life after death?”

“If there isn’t, then Kelly’s life was a cruel joke, and I don’t believe that”.

“No”. He gave a heavy sigh, turning his body on the bed again so that he was facing me; “There are times when it’s easy to believe in cruel jokes, though”.

“Yes, there are”.

“Was your faith shaken by Kelly’s death?”

“Yes”.

“Did you stop believing in God?”

“I don’t think I’d put it as strongly as that. What I found difficult was to keep my faith in the goodness and love of God”.

“Ah yes, I see; it’s no comfort to believe in God if God turns out to be a monster”.

“No”.

“How did you get through it?”

I frowned, shifting a little in my chair to relieve my stiff back. “People helped me a lot. Not so much by giving me the answers, though – I didn’t respond well to that – but there were people who were willing to sit with me and listen to me, and not try to fix me. My pastors were especially good at that, but so were Kelly’s family, especially her Uncle Hugo”.

“Did you ever find an answer to the intellectual problem?”

“The problem of, ‘If God is good, why do bad things happen to good people?’ you mean?”

“Yes”.

“Not an entirely watertight answer, no, but you and I are different that way; you’re such a logical person, and you find your way through the intellect. I’m more intuitive, and my Mennonite friends also taught me that a life of obedience to Jesus is an important part of learning to understand the faith as well. In fact, that may well be the single most important thing Rob Neufeld said to me after Kelly died”.

“What was that?”

“I don’t remember when it happened, exactly, but it would have been a few months after she died. Rob and I were having coffee together one day, talking about the fact that I was still struggling to regain my faith in a loving God. He listened to me for a long time, and then he said something very simple. He said, ‘If you were able to completely regain your faith in a loving God, what effect would it have on your behaviour? What would you actually do?’ And I said something like, ‘Well, I suppose I’d love my neighbour as myself – doing things to care for the poor and needy and doing my best to put the teaching of Jesus into practice and all that’. And he said, ‘Why not do it anyway, and see if it doesn’t help you regain your faith?’ I went away and thought about that a lot, and I said to myself, ‘What have I got to lose?’ So I gave it a try”.

“Did it help?”

“It did; it helped a lot”.

He looked away again, and for a few minutes neither of us spoke; I was beginning to feel sleepy, but I was also very conscious that something significant was happening between the two of us, and I was anxious not to miss anything.

He cleared his throat. “I lost my faith in my first year of university, you know”.

I was astounded; “I had no idea that you’d ever had any faith to lose”.

“No, I’ve never talked with you about that part of my story. I’ve very rarely even talked about it with your mother”.

“Do you mind me asking about it?”

“No, I don’t mind”. He turned his head to face me again; “I’m not sure that I’d ever had any sort of really intelligent faith, but when I was young we had been churchgoers. I was confirmed when I was eleven, and I remember that I took a real interest in the confirmation classes. But then I started having doubts”.

“How so?”

“Well, ironically, it was the confirmation classes that prompted them. That was when I read the gospels seriously for the first time, and it seemed to me that the church I knew was nothing like the sort of thing Christ had in mind. My father, for instance, went to church every Sunday and wanted his children to be regular churchgoers, but in his personal life and his professional life I couldn’t really see the sort of thing Christ talked about – you know, turning the other cheek, and not storing up for yourself treasures on earth, and so on. And so I began to wonder – was it all just an act? Did anyone really believe it enough to practice it?”

He shifted his body a little, and I could see that he was trying to get comfortable in the bed. “When I went up to Oriel I attended chapel regularly and I still considered myself to be a believer, although my attendance had more to do with the fact that I enjoyed the music than with any real faith. I took some philosophy classes in my first year and my teachers were all agnostics or atheists with very strong arguments against the existence of God. They also taught me that you didn’t need Christianity to lead a decent and good life; there were all sorts of people living good lives without being Christians. Gradually what they were saying came to make more and more sense to me. I’d had a troubling sense of unreality about my faith for a long time, and in some ways it was a relief to abandon the pretence and adopt an outlook that seemed more honest and consistent with reality as I was experiencing it. I’d never seen a miracle and I’d certainly never met any Christians who didn’t lay up for themselves treasures on earth, so why carry on with the charade?

“Still, to a certain extent I did carry on with it. I knew my father would be very upset if he knew I’d abandoned Christianity, and anyway I still wanted to sing in the chapel choir. I didn’t actually stop churchgoing until after I left university, but I’d been saying the creed with my fingers crossed behind my back for years by then”.

He was quiet for a moment, but somehow I knew he was not finished. I could hear two nurses talking quietly out in the corridor, but in the darkened room the only sounds were the quiet hum of the various monitors and the rasping in my father’s chest.

He cleared his throat again. “When you mentioned what your pastor said about practicing the teachings of Christ, you reminded me of how I lost my faith. I think it would have made a real difference if I’d seen someone actually making an honest attempt to live out the things the gospels say. They wouldn’t even have had to do it perfectly; just an honest attempt would have got my attention, I think. But the truth is, Tom, that until you and Emma came back to England I’d never really known anyone who tried to do that”.

“I’m sorry, Dad”.

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for. As I said, you and Emma are the first people I’ve ever known who seem to be making an honest attempt to live by the teachings of Christ. And I’m not going to claim that you’ve succeeded in making a Christian out of me, but I will say this – you’ve succeeded in giving me doubts about my doubts”.

“That’s a real compliment”, I said softly. “Thank you – can I pass that on to Emma?”

“Yes. In fact, I might talk to her about it myself”.

“Do that, Dad; it would mean a lot to her”.

He nodded slowly. “Well, son, I think I’m going to try to sleep a little more. How about you?”

“Yes, I think that might be wise”.

“Don’t you think it might be easier if you stretched out on a couch in the waiting room or something?”

I grinned at him; “You really are trying to get rid of me, aren’t you?”

“No”, he replied; “In fact, I very much appreciate the fact that you’re here. But I’m not good at falling asleep when someone’s watching me”.

“Okay – that I can understand”. I got to my feet, leaned forward and put my hand on his arm. “Are you going to be all right? Is there anything I can get for you?”

“No thank you, son. Try to sleep yourself, all right?”

“I will”. I squeezed his arm, and then turned and slipped out of the room.

******

Link to Chapter 35