From Bad to Worse

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Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

When Chris turns seven or so, I find that Jeff often behaves in a menacing way towards him. I fear the worst – that Jeff will be an abusive parent, since his stepmother abused him. It seems that I am constantly stepping in to prevent that from happening.

Chris, at nine years old, has a temper and a short fuse.
“Just like you,” Jeff tells me.
One evening, Chris has a meltdown in the living room. Jeff walks over and grabs Chris by the ankles. He pulls him from the sofa, onto the carpeted floor. Chris continues to scream and cry. I stand up, and step between Jeff and Chris. I don’t know what Jeff is planning to do, but I have to intervene.
Chris gets up and runs to his room.
Jeff stares at me.
“What do you think you’re doing, dragging him to the floor?”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t touch him!”
“Oh yes you did!”
Jeff shakes his head. He doesn’t realize what he’s done, and that scares me.
One night, Jeff and I have a big fight. I attacked his behaviour when I was in B.C. all those years ago. The argument becomes very heated, and like Chris, I get loud and angry. Jeff reaches out and punches me in the mouth.
I run to the bathroom and see that I have a bloody lip. Not only that, but one of my front teeth, which was very crooked, has moved, so that it is straighter in my mouth. I cry. Jeff goes to bed.
I can’t go to work the next morning. My mouth is swelled. I call in sick and do so for a few days. When I return to work, I am very self conscious, afraid that someone may notice my still slightly fat lip. I try to hide the evidence with carefully placed makeup. No one says anything.

When Jeff is given the opportunity to move to Medicine Hat, to be the partsperson at a heavy truck shop, I encourage him to take the job. We can get out of Calgary and live a better life.
No longer will I “have to” work. That will alleviate some of the stress in my life.
Jeff will go on ahead, and find us a house and work Mondays to Fridays. On Friday night he will come home to Calgary for the weekend.

I will need to drive to work and home again, for a month, until we all move to Medicine Hat, so I need to get my driver’s license. I’ve had a learner’s permit for years. I have trouble learning to parallel park, and when Jeff takes me for the test, I fail only due to that.
I tell him, “I’d be very happy to agree to never try to parallel park, if they’d give me a license for everything else.”
I catch a ride to work that week from a coworker and try for my license again. This time I pass, so I can to drive to work myself. I have my stepdad come out to the garage with me, every morning, as I am afraid someone might be lurking around the building.

I thrive on the receptionist position – I love answering the phones, and being busy, typing up quotes for the various salespeople.
Friday afternoons are usually quiet. I sit at my desk in reception, and have little to do except read a book. I hear a male voice making funny comments while I sit there, and sometimes I giggle. I know this is wrong, but at the same time, it seems perfectly normal, to hear a voice, with no one about.
I continue to deteriorate mentally, but don’t recognize the symptoms.

During the week, in the evenings, I pack, for the move. Mum and my stepdad are packing too.

Jeff leaves on a Sunday night, and he has not been gone for more than perhaps, two minutes, when the phone rings.
I pick up and hear a guttural voice say something. I can’t quite make out the words, but it sound like, “Do you want to f-”?
I am shocked, and slam the phone down. It rings again the next Sunday when Jeff leaves. Again, I answered.
“Do you want to f-?”
I slam down the phone, and he calls right back. Again I hang up.
Now I am angry. I make a call the next day at work to the phone company. They tell me tap the phone receiver with a pencil, and say, “Attention, security. Please trace this call.”
It seems like a dumb idea, but sure enough, the phone rings as soon as Jeff drives away, and I do as instructed.
The caller hangs up and then phones right back.
“What was that?” he demands.
“I was told to do that by security.” I tell him. “It was a stupid idea.”
I hang up.
The next moment, my stepdad enters the room.
I tell him that I’ve had one of those calls again, for I have told mum and him about the harassment.
“That’s funny,” he says. “I didn’t hear the phone ring.”
That announcement spooks me.
Surely I’m not imagining things?

As soon as he leaves, another call comes in. I answer, and I ask the caller if he has a sister.
“Yes,” he says.
I demand to know what he would think, if someone called his sister the way he’s been calling me?
Then he asks me out! I tell him that I am “very married” and “off the market”.

I hang up and don’t get any more calls. If they ever happened at all.

I am glad when the end of the month comes and the big moving truck arrives to haul our belongings to Medicine Hat.
This will be the beginning of a better life. The obscene phone caller will not be able to harass me anymore.

All Downhill From Here….

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Nineteen

The first thing we do, once we move in, is build a suite in the large windowed basement for my parents. Jeff is lucky, for a relative of one of his coworkers offers to help and that man teaches Jeff all there is to know about putting up gyproc, and electrical wiring, and plumbing!
While they work one day, early on, mum and I sit at the kitchen table in our part of the duplex. She puts her hands over her ears, and says, “Make them stop! I’m tired of the banging.”
For they were hammering a lot that day.
I can’t make them stop of course.
“Mum, they’re busy building the suite. They have to make noise. I’m sorry!”
She remains unhappy throughout the work, until the suite is ready. Even then, she seems not to be happy and I worry that our moving in together is a huge mistake.
At Christmas, that first year my mum and stepdad are with us. Mum gets angry and tearful after we open presents on Christmas Day and goes to her room in the basement suite.
It is hard to know how she’ll react to things. She complains that day that Chris was “too noisy”. Well, he is a child, and Christmas morning is special! I am torn between wanting her to be happy and protecting and defending him.

I find work at a truck repair shop, as an office clerk, working in the office attached to the truck shop. It is noisy at times, with the dyno running a big truck, and some of the tools are loud when the mechanics use them. I am a bit shy of everyone at first, but the mechanics who pop into the office are cordial and I soon relax.
Jeff still has sleep problems, and I am losing valuable sleep because of it. I am awake until late in the night, while he tosses and turns and flings out his limbs.
None of the doctors we consult seem to care. Some of the suggestions include no caffeine after noon, and exercise, while I am told to try sleeping pills.
The truck shop is within a couple of blocks of Jeff’s place of employment. At first, I walk there, because I get off work earlier than Jeff, but I am frightened of the traffic. Suppose someone stops and forces me into a vehicle? I feel so unsafe, that I choose to wait at the front counter when I am done work, until Jeff picks me up.
One of the jobs I am required to do is the mechanics’ time cards. Every other Friday, I have to stay later and tally up the hours each mechanic has put in for that week, then the information is sent to Edmonton for processing.
The shop closes up at four o’clock so it is very quiet. Sometimes everyone, including the shop manager, whose office is behind my desk, all leave. It is rather unnerving, after the noise of the day, to sit there and work in the quiet.
One late afternoon, the door to the hallway is slammed shut. I look up in time to see one of the partspersons walking away! He has locked me in! I panic. I begin to shake. I quickly jumped from my chair and walked to the side door, which leads out into the parts department. The lights are off and all is still. As I make my way to the front of the building, there is Bert, the parts guy who locked me in.
“Oh, Trina, you’re still here?”
“Y-yes,” I stammer, trying to stop shaking. “You locked me into the office back there.”
“Oh, sorry. If it ever happens again, just page to the front.”
This makes sense, because the parts department, where Bert works, is open for an hour after the service department, where I work, closes. I have no logical reason to be afraid of getting locked in.
I return to the office and finish the time cards. I put them in an envelope and pop the envelope into the bag at the front desk. Jeff picks me up at the door as always.

From that time on, I am terrified every other Friday, when I have to do the time cards. I begin to shake and can’t stop. I try to hide it from everyone who passes by my desk. I often call in sick on Fridays, just to avoid having to go through the anxiety.
I make an appointment with my doctor, who prescribes Valium. It doesn’t help. I go back to him and tell him that I am having anxiety at work. He tells me to quit.
I can’t afford to quit. Between the house and car payments and all the rest, we need both Jeff’s pay cheque and mine to get by.
It doesn’t occur to me that perhaps I should go on sick leave, for the anxiety and find counseling. Not for a minute do I think that I might be descending into mental illness again.
Today, when I look back, I realize that there were signs, but by I was far gone to recognize them.

July and August, 1970 excerpt from novel

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Back in Kelowna, the next afternoon, I meet someone who will change my life forever.
Jessie has gone off with some guy as usual, leaving me to sit in the park.
A tall guy approaches me and sits down on the grass near me. He shrugs off the army green backpack and sets it down.
He has brown wavy hair, short, unlike the current long hair style for men, and a mustache. He wears glasses, brown framed ones that have been taped up on the side. I love his smile the minute he introduces himself. I like his accent, which I soon learn is a Kansas drawl. He tells me his name is Brad and that he is just a country boy from Kansas, touring the country. Then he says that as soon as he saw me, he told the friend with whom he was hitch hiking “There’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
That is it. I fall in love. What a suave and debonair way to introduce himself. I am intrigued. This is the first guy to mention marriage to me. If I go with him, I am guaranteed to be safe from potential rape and murder. This guy will take good care of me, I am certain. He seems so open and happy.
Jessie comes back from one of her forays away with some guy, and I see her jealousy for the first time. She glares when I introduce Brad. She takes me aside.
“You don’t know anything about this guy. What are you thinking?”
I could point out to her that she keeps taking off with strange guys all the time, and that the last few nights have been dangerous for both of us, as we spend that time on the beach with boys we have just met, but I don’t. I tried to avoid confrontation as always.
“I’m sorry, Jessie, but I am leaving with Brad.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” she asks.
“You could find work picking fruit,” I say, and I don’t mean it in a nasty way, but that is how she takes it. She watches me and Brad leave.
As evening comes, he and I walk with some other people to an old house, where everyone in the group is going to stay. He takes my hand and I am swept away by his care and concern.

And so I lose my virginity that night. We have sex, and while I’ve read about it in books at my sister Doreen’s, it is nothing like I imagined. As we lay beside each other, I whisper, “That was my first time.”
“It was? Oh, wow.” Brad gives me a hug. He kisses me and promises right then and there that he will marry me. It is my biggest dream come true. We cuddle together in Brad’s sleeping bag and I fall asleep.
In the morning, we walk upstairs to the kitchen and Brad has coffee. I didn’t drink coffee or tea, because it is against my religion.
After that, we hike to the park. We sit with the same group of people, and talk. Brad is outgoing and talks away to some of the others. I admire his easy going manner and wish that I wasn’t so shy.
A few people panhandle on the street, and along the paths in the park. We collect enough money for cheap wine and bread and bologna. Everyone shares in the goods, although I refuse to drink the wine. The girl with the guitar starts to play and we sing along.
We meet up with a guy who sells acid (LSD) and mescaline. He is about my height, and wears an Australian bush hat. He is dressed in a denim vest and shorts. He and Brad get talking and exchange where they are from. It turns out that Duffy is from Hamilton, Ontario, which is my birth place.
We walk the streets of town, panhandling. Who should I run into but Brad – the “first” Brad? He looks at Brad and then back at me.
“Are you still interested in work?” he asks.
“No, not anymore.”
He nods and walks away.
I am not sorry. I don’t feel that I owe Brad anything. And since he too has had sex with Jessie, the thought of working for him is rather distasteful.
I am beginning to really dislike Jessie. Maybe not her, but her promiscuity.
Later in the day, we walk across the floating bridge, and up into the hills. The stars are bright above us. Someone wants to start a campfire, but they are prevented by cooler heads, as it is pointed out that not only might the cops see the fire and come to investigate, but it is too dry on the hillside for a fire. People form small groups, and talk. Brad and I are joined by a few others, and Brad chatters away while I hang back, quiet and shy. There is a discussion about the rattlesnakes that lurk in the hills, which scares me. I am too young, though, to worry about the danger. Nothing bad will happen to us.
There are falling stars, from the Perseid’s shower, which occurs every year in early August. We watch the show in awe, voices dropping off as the stars fall. Brad scores some weed, and he smokes it. He offers it to me, and I tried it, just a little. My conscience bothers me, but his urging wins out. It is kind of alright. It makes me feel relaxed. No more anxiety that night.
Long after the voices quiet and people fall asleep, Brad and I have sex. This time I really enjoy it. Brad is a thoughtful and caring lover. As I fall asleep, I wonder at my good luck in the two of us finding each other.
We spend a couple of days like this, in the park in the sunshine, music and panhandling and night time in the hills.
We meet Rob, Dustin and Gary, three guys who are from Red Deer. We comment on how small the world is, when I say I am from Lacombe.
Brad said, “I think we should move on. I’d like to see more of Canada. Will you come with me?” he asks, his head turned a bit towards me, long eyelashes half hiding his brown eyes. There are crinkles at the corners of his eyes as he grins at me, dimples prominent.
“Of course I will,” I say. Whatever else would I have chosen to do? This boy has rescued me from danger – spending the nights with strangers all alone and vulnerable – and he talks of marriage, just as I have hoped someone would. I have found my perfect man. I love his jokes and his general sense of humor. He says he loves my Canadian accent. He and I gather up my belongings, and he puts them into his large army green backpack. I leave my empty suitcase abandoned in the Kelowna park.

The morning is bright and it is already getting hot. We walk out to the highway and stick out our thumbs.
We are picked up by an older white haired man who drives a dark blue Ford pickup truck. It reads, “Handeler’s Orchard” on the cab door. He waits while we pile in and then says, as he starts to drive again, “So where are you two headed this morning?”
“As far as we can go I guess,” says Brad.
The elderly man says, “I envy you two. What a world we live in today. I’d sure have liked to just up and take off like that when I was younger. No job, no responsibilities, just the open road.”
Brad grins over at the man.
“Sure enough, that’s how it is for us.”
“Say, what kinda accent is that you’ve got?”
“I’m a country boy from Kansas, USA.”
“Kansas, eh?”
“Yup. Where the corn and wheat and sunflowers grow tall and yellow in the sunshine.”
The old man smiles.
“You a draft dodger?”
“Nope. I was honorably discharged, sir.”
The old man nods, pleased by this answer.
The truck travels smoothly along the winding paved roadway of Highway 97, running past the lake, blue as a sapphire in the hot sunshine, and past orchards and houses and small shops. There are fruit stands, some not open yet, as the main harvest would not be for a couple of weeks. At last, the man says this was as far as he can take us, and he pulls over to the shoulder of the road. He points off towards the gravel road that leads to the west and tells us, “That’s where my orchard is at. Out that way. If you two ever decide you want a job picking fruit, I’ll sure give you a chance.”
With that, he is gone up the road and we hold out our thumbs again. The next ride is in a Duster, driven by a younger guy who takes us as far as Vernon, the next largish city north of Kelowna. As Brad and I walk along the street, the sun beats down. I am thirsty. We panhandle, stopping strangers with “Excuse me, do you have any spare change?” And I, more fortunate than Brad, collect enough for a soda for each of us in short order.
This boosts my confidence! I find talking to strangers and begging is not so scary after all!
We come out of the air conditioned corner store and meet a couple of guys, in blue jeans and t-shirts, who tell us, “There’s a youth hostel over at the church on Porter Street. They offer a place to sleep and a breakfast in the mornings.”
“Hey, thanks, man,” says Brad.
We make our way to Porter Street and I admire the small church which is painted a sandstone color, with brown trim. The building attached is about the size of a modest bungalow, and a big sign on the door states that it is a shelter for transients. I can’t believe our luck.
Brad says, “This is a good place to stay. Let’s go in and see if we can get out of the hot sun.”
By this time, it is late afternoon, and the priest who runs the shelter meets us at the door. He wears a collar that indicates his calling. He has a bald head and a big smile as we enter. The room is large, with a doorway leading, we would soon learn, to a kitchen. Down the hallway are rooms for couples, and for women and men respectively.
After Brad and he chat, he takes us to the couples’ room and Brad and I set out the sleeping bag. Brad takes off his back pack and sets it beside the sleeping bag. He shifted his shoulders.
“I’m glad to be rid of that burden,” he tells me. “The weight hurts my back.”
He brings out his map of Canada, and then his US map. Unfolding them both, he points out the little town where he is from, in Kansas, and then we pour over the Canadian map, and plan our route for the next day. As it turns out, we would not leave the following day after all. But that is because we meet a nice couple that evening, and get to talking. The couple, Maxine, age fourteen, and her boyfriend Keith, twenty, have come to B.C. from Alberta. She’s run away with him and her parents don’t know where she is. Along with the rest of the people who amble in by evening, we talk and laugh and have a good time. Maxine is little, short, with long brown hair and brown eyes. Keith is tall and has black hair and his eyes are aqua blue. I have never seen anyone before or since who has such eyes as his.
When it is time for bed, Brad leads me to the couples’ room. We are off to one side, while Maxine and Keith are over on the other. Brad and I lay awake talking softly for a while, and then we make love. I fall asleep with his arms wrapped around me. I notice that Brad sleeps with his glasses on, which I think is a little strange. “I can’t see very well without them. If I keep them on, nobody can sneak up to me,” he says, the next morning when I ask him about it.
It seems an odd thing to say, but what do I know? After all, we are sharing a house with a group of strangers, so maybe Brad is more sensible about the danger than I.
While hostels originated in Europe years before, for the traveler, the youth hostels in Canada are based on the same idea, but for those hitch hikers – hippies – that have a transient lifestyle. There is a network throughout the country, and this hostel in Vernon would be the first of several where we stayed.
It is a pleasant oasis after the heat in summer or cold in winter of being on the road. There is usually some food, and while there were rarely beds, the floor provides ample room for an unrolled sleeping bag.
Brad tells me that he is going to “liberate” me. He will change my old fashioned ideas and ways and make me a free person. I don’t question this. I don’t wonder what he has in mind, or why he wants to take this job on. I don’t stop to wonder why he feels the need to change me. And do I really need changing?
The morning brings toast for breakfast, and coffee for the coffee drinkers. I don’t drink coffee. It is against Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. We leave the shelter and along with Maxine and Keith and few others, we roam the streets. We panhandle enough money to go to the little corner store near the hostel, and buy bologna and bread for sandwiches, which everyone shares. I overcome my initial misgivings about eating meat, and wolf down my share. The food is delicious.

Writing Excerpt: Arriving in Alberta: 1964

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We arrive in southern Alberta after four days on the train. We spend all the nights “sleeping” on the train seats, but learn from the man who hired mum that the sleeping car was included in the price he paid!
The rain comes down in buckets as we alight at the train station in Brooks. A little man wearing cowboy boots, hat, western shirt and jeans approaches us. After introductions are made, and we collect our baggage, we climb into the blue pickup truck the man drives and we are off. The ranch is a few miles out of town. There is a modest one bedroom house, and a shack and lean to as well as barns and corrals where a herd of horses stand. He leads us into the house and shows us the room which is ours. I am to share the double bed with mum. The rancher explains that he will sleep out in the shack. I have time to wonder where he will sleep in winter, but don’t say anything. I am still very shy.
That day, mum unpacks our things, and then she makes supper. It consists of canned yams, meat and cherry pie. We soon learn that this rancher eats only canned yams and cherry pie – for every supper. Mum and I soon grow tired of this fare.
The next day, the rancher shows me his older mare, suitable for riding for a young person with no experience. I am overjoyed. I am able to ride this horse out in the fields and can’t believe how lucky I am to have this dream become reality.
Later, I meet the rancher’s young niece. She rides a pinto horse over from her home, and we go riding together.
One day, as we canter across the field, my horse rears up and I fall off. I hurt my shoulder, and it bothers me for some time after.
One hot sunny afternoon – it seems that southern Alberta is always hot and sunny – so different from the rainy day on our arrival – I tag along with the rancher when he delivers a horse to another ranch. There are a lot of cowboys milling around when we pull up in the rancher’s truck.
These are not the “rhinestone cowboys” of Hollywood, or those Calgarians who don blue jeans during Stampede week in July. These are real cowboys. Blue jeans, cowboy boots and cowboy hats, worn, not for effect, but because of the hot sun. Weathered faces and some, like the rancher with bowed legs from growing up riding horses all their lives.
In the evenings, I read the Western Horsemen magazines to which the rancher subscribes, and there is the popular prairie weekly newspaper, The Western Producer. They have a kids’ page, and I submit a poem which they publish.
This first published work excites me. I am just eleven years old, and about to enter sixth grade. I wonder if perhaps I could be a writer? The thought has never occurred to me before. I’ve had thoughts of becoming a teacher like my big sister, but writing is something that might be even better!
Mum finds the Seventhday Adventist church and pastor in the phone book, and we attend church a few times. Members of the church invite us to Sabbath dinner a couple of times, and Mum complains to me, that there was meat on the table! SDA’s don’t eat meat, she said. I learn eventually that there were a lot of differences in beliefs between the SDA people in Ontario and in Alberta.
One Saturday morning, she tells me that we aren’t going to go to church that day. Well, we stay in the bedroom and when the minister comes to the house, he and the rancher knock on the door. Mum will not answer. I am embarrassed that we are hiding. Why is mum doing this? Still, she calls through the closed door, at last, and tells the pastor she is not going to church. From the sounds, we know that they have left the house, and I hear the minister’s car start up. We stay in that room all day, and mum doesn’t open the door until after sundown, when the Sabbath is over.
The rancher tries to ask her about this behaviour but she ignores him.
My mum contacts her sister, Lena, in Calgary and she and her boyfriend come down to bring us back to Calgary to live. Mum plans to get on welfare, as she has found the everyday work as a housekeeper is more than she could handle. The day arrives, and mum hasn’t told the rancher that she is leaving. He is quite angry. We have only lived on the ranch for the summer, and I am sure that he doesn’t believe he’s got the money he’s paid for our train tickets back yet.
Nothing will change my mum’s mind though, once she reaches a decision. We leave that afternoon, crammed into the car. First, we stay with my mum’s sister. Lena is a bit rowdy. She smokes, drinks, gambles on the horses and has a great sense of humor. She wears a lot of makeup and jewellery and she dyes her hair. She is the complete antithesis to my mother.
One evening, a young fellow arrives at Lena’s. She introduces his as one of my cousins. He is very handsome I think to myself. We all sit down and have a game of Scrabble. Mum will play this game, and let me play it despite her religious beliefs. The cousin tries to make words but is a terrible speller. When I correct him he teases me.
The game finished, Lena brings out cards and shows us how to play “Hearts”. I don’t remember if Mum allowed me to play, or if she played or not. Cards are forbidden to SDA’s.
Mum and I go downtown to apply for welfare and are given vouchers for food, and to pay for an apartment. She finds a seedy little place right in the downtown, across a river in an older part of town. The school I will attend is across that river, so everyday I have to cross the bridge to reach the school. I don’t settle in very well. By this time, I believe the constant changing of places to live and of schools has taken its toll. I don’t remember much about the class, although I do remember this. I walk home one day, to have the boy in the next apartment stop me.
“D-do you want to listen to some records?” he asks.
The poor kid! I bustle away, blurting, “No!” as I run to my door.
I tell Mum and she says that I am way too young to be around a boy. In later years, I pity that boy and tell myself that I was rude. I was embarrassed whenever I thought about my reaction. The poor kid. I probably scarred him for life. Gets up the nerve to ask a girl to listen to records, and she bolts!
From the seedy apartment, which my older sister, Doreen, calls a slum, we move to an older, two storey house that has been converted into apartments. We will live next to her, in a bright little second story apartment. She lives just next door and it should be a cozy ending to our nomadic life. That is not to be. My mum resents Doreen, as Doreen is free with her advice and guidance, which mum calls “bossiness.”
We are now in a nicer neighbourhood. The elementary school is not far off.
I settle in at the new school. For the first time in my life, there is a girl in my class who is taller than me! Freida and I become fast friends. We take turns having our lunch at her place or at mine. She is funny and kind. At recess, I am included in ball games, and I am happy. I belong, at last. I like the teacher. He is the first male teacher I’ve had, except for a short stint in the small Ontario town, with a military minded teacher who, on dismissal, commanded, “Stand, turn, forward,” as though we were soldiers. This teacher is nice.
Despite the new friendship and my happiness with this new school, I am still very shy. I leave my slip on black shoes under my desk at the end of the school day, and when class starts the next morning, I am mortified to see that my shoes are on the teacher’s desk! I cringe, when he asks, “Whose shoes?” I don’t answer. He asks again, then picks them up and holds them above the wastebasket next to his desk.
“Going, going, gone!” He waits a moment, then drops them into the trash.
I tell myself that the shoes didn’t fit right, anyway, which is true. They were a bit big. Still, I am ashamed of my paralyzing shyness.
Mum makes plans, and we are on our way, in a moving truck, to live in central Alberta, in the town where her other sister lives, as well as her dad, my grandfather. True to past behavior, she doesn’t tell my sister Doreen that we are moving. Doreen will come home after school to find us gone. It is a cold winter day with snow on the ground and a sky of pink and gray. I want to move and yet I don’t. I find my sister overbearing at times and yet I am going to miss her. I like the fact that she promised me a small allowance, and told me that I would be responsible for my saving and spending. That is all gone now. The future is unknown. How I would miss my friend Freida.

Lunch For Two

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

I make my way down the tree lined street. It is early in the season, and the leaves won’t be fully out on the maples until later in the month. The houses are crammed onto small lots in the neighborhood. Mostly postwar houses, with the odd infill standing out as though young interlopers. My destination is about halfway down the block.
I like the little house. It is red brick, with a green door and green shingles.
I ring the doorbell and wait. At last the door opens.
“Well, Judith, so you came after all.”
“Of course,” I say. “You wanted me to come to lunch, I’ve come to lunch.”
Mary steps back so that I can enter. The hallway is bright, with maple hardwood and yellow walls. She takes my jacket and hangs it on the coat rack. I remove my sensible oxfords and pad after Mary. She leads me to the dining table, already set with the rose china she loves so much. It was a wedding gift all those years ago.
She motions to one of the six oak chairs and I sit down.
“So just wait there, and I’ll bring out our meal,” she commands.
“Is there anything I can help you with?’
“No,” she calls, already in the kitchen.
She returns with a tray and sets out the contents on the table in front of me and to the left.
She sits down there, and I look over the plates and bowls.
“I made chicken soup this morning,” she says, gesturing at the bowls.
“Oh, Mary, such a lot of work!” I say as I pick up my soup spoon.
Mary waves her hand.
“Does me good, having someone to cook for,” she says.
She sobers and gazes at me, spoon halfway to her mouth.
“I still miss Albert,” she confesses.
Impulsively, I reach over and pat her free hand.
“Of course you do, and you will for a long, long time. It’s only natural.”
“It seems like just yesterday that we were getting married. The years just went so fast!”
“They do, at that,” I reply, thinking of my own losses. “But we carry on, don’t we Mary?”
“Yes, I suppose so. Here, try the biscuits I made.”
I take one, cut it in half and butter it. It is good. Mary’s cooking is always good.
Too bad that Albert didn’t appreciate her more.

The soup is hot and with lots of noodles, just the way I like it. Mary knows this. She frequently makes foods I like, and invites me to eat with her.

“So, how is the traffic around City Hall? You would have come by there on the bus today from your place.”
“Mary, it was crazy. I saw a crowd of people all carrying signs and causing general confusion.”
“Well, I guess I’m not surprised. How he got away with it for so long, I’ll never know.”
I laugh and nod my head.
“And the way the reporter dropped that scandalous behavior of his, on TV that night.
I was shocked, and I bet others were, too.”
“I still can’t figure out, how a mayor – such a prominent position and all – could hide a second wife and all that it entails, while living in Port Helena.”
“Mary, I can’t either. The man must have been a very good actor.”
“And a liar,” observes Mary, as she picks up her biscuit and takes a bite.
“I feel bad for the women. To think that he fooled them all that time!”
“At least there weren’t any children involved. Thank heavens for that!”
“Small mercies,” I say.

We finish our meal, and I help Mary, despite her protests, to clear the table.
After we load up the dishwasher, we prepare for our afternoon walk. It isn’t a long way, that we go, just enough to keep us in shape, I always tell her.

When we return, having chatted with Mary’s next door neighbour, another widow lady, who has a love of gardening, and insists that we both take some strawberry preserves before we depart, we have tea.
“Judith, I have something to tell you,” Mary says. She sets down her teacup and turns to face me, where I sit on the sofa, across from her chair.

“Sounds serious,” I say, taking a sip of my tea, which has finally cooled enough to drink.

“Well, I suppose it is. Judith, Albert was not all everyone thought he was, either.”
“No?” I won’t say anything, not yet. I must wait to hear what she has to say first.
Mary takes a deep breath, and then she says, “After Albert died, I found proof that he
cheated on me, over one summer, years ago.”
“How did you find that out?” I ask.
“Well, he had some motel receipts, hidden in his dresser, behind his socks.”
“There could be some other reason -”
“No, Judith. I recognized the dates when he paid for the room. You see, that summer, he began to act strangely, and I made notes in my journal. It was all there, when I checked the dates of the receipts. He would dress up and leave the house, claiming to be headed to Stan’s to work on that old antique car of his. But I knew better. I just didn’t say anything.”
“Why did you keep silent, if you were so sure? Why not accuse him?”
“I couldn’t. It was within months after we lost Jonas, and I was grieving still. I couldn’t face losing Albert, too.”
I sigh and get up. I walk over to Mary, and lean down and give her a hug.
“I am so sorry, Mary. It must have been hard for you. Why didn’t you talk to me?”
“Same thing. I was afraid I might lose him, that you might say something to him. You’ve always been so protective of me!”
I smile and sit back down.
“What can you do about it now?”
“Not a thing. Just try and accept it, I suppose.”
“Well, you have me if you need to talk about it more.”
“I know. I’m lucky to have such a good friend.”

I leave Mary’s shortly after her disclosure, and catch the bus home. The protestors are nowhere in sight, as the bus passes City Hall. It is getting cloudy, and I think that we are going to have rain soon. No matter. I will be home before it starts.
I walk up to my apartment and let myself in.
I kick off my shoes, and go into the bedroom. I open my jewellery cabinet and then open the little drawer along the bottom. I bring out a photo and look at it. It was taken a long time ago, in Stouffville, the next town from Port Helena.
It is a picture of a man with a mustache, dressed in a blue shirt with a corduroy jacket visible in the shot. Beside him, is a woman who is me. I always thought Albert looked especially nice in blue.
I put the picture away again.
I decide that I will order in for dinner. Pizza, I think.