Mary sat in her car waiting for it to warm up, waiting for the lighter to heat so she could light a cigarette. She hadn’t smoked a cigarette in 3 1/2 years and she waited with silent anticipation for the means to impose some chemical upon her body to change the chemical composition of her altogether too tired brain; something to change the way she was feeling, anything at all.
The lighter popped out with a snap and she grabbed at it, yanking it free of the dashboard and holding it close to the end of the cigarette, puffing lightly, quickly, giving life to the flame, inhaling deeply. She felt the smoke fill her lungs, felt the nicotine find her bloodstream and move its way through her body, tingling its way to her fingers, and resting at last in her head where it had the desired reaction: it changed the way she felt.
She sat for some time in her car, enjoying her cigarette and her temporary freedom from the emotional turmoil she had been experiencing. She watched the smoke leave her mouth and fill her car. She exhaled with fervor, attempting to force the last few days out of her body, blowing so hard that she thought she might blow the windshield out, trying to free herself of the incredible weight that she felt forcing itself down upon her. And at last she achieved what she had intended when she bought the cigarettes. She felt nothing.
She waited a few more minutes before putting the car into Drive, then pulled out onto the snow covered streets, the tires packing the snow beneath them, the crunchy sound that says that winter is here and is here to stay.
This was not a drive she was looking forward to. It was, in fact, something that she had put off for as long as she dared. She did not want to actually admit that she had to perform this task. That the time had come for her to finally clean out her father’s house and find a place for all his belongings.
As she drove along Patricia she glanced up at Old Man, leaning back on his snowy pillow with his eyes closed, seemingly at peace, and she thought of her father in his last days. He had lain in his hospital bed saying nothing. He would only smile and squeeze Mary’s hand as she tried to talk to him. She hadn’t been offended that he hadn’t spoken to her, she knew he was in pain and was happy to see him finally do something for himself after a lifetime of dedication to his family and his friends in Jasper. She was happy just to see him restful.
She pulled up to the house and butted her cigarette in the ashtray, the first time she had ever used it in this car. She waved the smoke away from her face and opened the door, inhaling the crisp winter air as one drowning, searching for the breath of life. She inhaled deeply through her nose, and walked up the steps to the door of her father’s house.
You can do this Mary, you can do this. You must do this and so you shall. Open the door, walk in and finish this.
With an effort, she placed the key in the door, unlocked it slowly, and walked into her father’s house. She stood inside the doorway for a moment, not believing that she would never again hear her father call out to her as she came in the house.
“Mary? Is that you?”
Yes, Dad. It’s me.
She stood there, not bothering to take off her shoes, then sat down on the bench in the hallway, feeling her stomach tighten, the feeling of loss finally hitting her as she realized that the man who had been the most important in her life would never again sit next to her, laughing with her, crying with her, sharing her hopes and dreams and giving her all the support she had ever needed. She rested her head in her hands and presently began to shed the first tears since her father’s death. She did not sob, or heave or otherwise, she merely let the tears flow fully and freely for several moments, a small pool of tears collecting briefly at her feet, mixing with the melted snow from her shoes.
In the distance a crow announced to his friends that he had found something for all of them and this discordant sound snapped Mary back to her present reality. She sat up straight, not bothering to wipe her salt-stained cheeks, and decided with sudden and strong determination that she would embrace and welcome the feeling of loss, the pain and discomfort, and even with all of these potentially disabling emotions, she would carry on and complete the task at hand.
Her father had spoken to her of what should be done after his death and he had suggested she move into the house that she had grown up in, but Mary had felt the memories of her parents would be too great and had decided that she would keep whatever items she felt were of the greatest importance to her, and sell or give away the rest. She would not, however, sell the house. Though the idea of living in the house was too much for her to bear, her father had then suggested that instead of selling the house, she convert the entire building to a Bed and Breakfast that Mary could operate herself, giving her the freedom to pursue her other interests. Though hesitant at first, she had agreed with her father and as she told him so she could see the pleasure that this gave him and sensed that he felt he had fulfilled his mission in life: that of raising a child and allowing her to become the sort of woman who could be independent, self-reliant, and strong. The sort of woman that her mother had been, the sort of woman that her father would be eternally proud of, and Mary felt a sense of profound joy as she saw the look in her father’s eyes. She also felt such gratitude that she had been lucky enough to have had the sort of parents she had.
Mary rose slowly to her feet and walked down the hallway to the Master bedroom, where she had decided she would begin the process of sifting through her father’s belongings. It was strange to enter that room. Even though her father was not a private or secretive man, since the death of her mother they had each respected the other’s privacy, understanding the importance of having a space of one’s one, so she had rarely been in that room. She knew the look of it, but knew little of the contents therein; had in fact never given it much thought. A large window allowed what little sun there was into the space and as Mary looked around she felt strongly the presence of her father. The room was not a large one, but it was cozy and secure, furnished with the dark, hard woods that her parents loved so much. The warm tones of the woods against the mellow burgundy walls made for a pleasant aesthetic. A desk: atop it a green desk lamp, cluttered endlessly with paper; two large oak dressers, a dressing desk with an oval mirror framed with wood, cherubs carved into the framing. The center-piece of the room was a huge king sized canopy bed that her mother had fallen in love with when her parents had traveled to Edmonton for a short vacation/business trip in the mid-50’s.
Mary sat on the huge bed, running her hands over the soft duvet and remembered her mother telling her the story of the bed.
“Your father and I were at the farmer’s market in Strathcona, not looking for much more than lunch for that afternoon, browsing through the stalls at a leisurely pace – something we’ve always enjoyed doing together.” She looked at Mary’s father, smiling as she remembered the afternoon. “We came to a stall where an old Dutch woodworker had some of his pieces displayed, these wonderful hand crafted tables, chairs, there was a baby crib, things that not only looked gorgeous, but they were so wonderful to touch as well. You could tell that this man had put his entire heart and soul into each of his creations. They were so beautiful, Mary. We didn’t have a lot of money so I just admired the pieces for the works of art that they were, running my fingers over the sensually smooth surfaces, drinking in this exquisite craftsmanship. As I looked on, mesmerized, the old Dutch craftsman walked up to me and said, ‘You have like these, jah?’ I laughed because he startled me, so rapt was I by his artwork and I told him that I did, indeed love his work.
“‘They are like children to me’, he said, ‘each one of them being precious in their own way, always having some troubles in their childhood, but they grow to be good heart in them, jah?’
“Then he told me that he wanted to show me something special. He led your father and myself through a curtain to the space behind his stall and there sat the most unimaginably handsome thing I had ever seen. This massive canopy bed made of the most heartbreakingly beautiful wood. It stood in the middle of the room, occupying the space and drawing one’s attention as to a wild animal. It was proud and strong and it beckoned me, I could feel it enticing me to lie down and let it embrace me in its wonderfully comforting arms. I walked to it, Mary, and I swear that it was speaking to me. Not in words, but it told me of where it had come from, it’s development, the careful determination the craftsman had applied to its construction; that if I would let it, it would give me rest and sweet, sweet dreams for the rest of my life.
I looked at your father, but could see by the look on his face that there was no possible way we would be able to afford it and so I just walked away, heartbroken.
“Oh, I was horrible for the rest of that trip, like some spoiled child who hadn’t gotten her way, and I knew that’s how I was behaving, but I was so disappointed by losing that bed – not that I lost it, I never had it – I was unable to do anything about it. Your father told me we had to wait an extra day, so I just sat in our hotel room, sulking and smoking.
“On the way home though, I decided that I should just get over it and resigned myself to the fact that I would not have that bed. I leaned over to your father who sat next to me on the train and kissed his cheek, silently asking his forgiveness for my behaviour. He smiled at me, took my hand in his and squeezed it, and we said not one word of it – until we got home. As I walked into the house, Mary, I could sense something different, and bringing my bag into the room I stopped, let out a scream, and ran and jumped into your father’s arms. We had stayed that extra day in Edmonton so that your father could have the bed shipped to our home and set up so that it would be here when we arrived. Never before have I slept the way I slept that night, for a variety of reasons’, she said, winking at Mary’s father, ‘and the bed has fulfilled its silent promise to me every night since.”
Mary smiled as she remembered the delight she had felt at the telling of this story. She had looked at her father and mother and had seen their eyes, could see that they were looking deep inside of each other and were happy with what the other saw. She wondered then if she would ever find that love.
Not knowing quite where to start, she sauntered slowly to the desk, looking at the papers strewn about the desk in the haphazard way her father favored. He’d called it ‘organized’. She disagreed.