Read February Online

Authors: Lisa Moore

Tags: #Grief, #Widows, #Psychological Fiction, #Newfoundland and Labrador, #Pregnancy; Unwanted, #Single mothers, #Family Life, #General, #Literary, #Oil Well Drilling, #Family Relationships, #Fiction, #Domestic fiction, #Oil Well Drilling - Accidents

February (7 page)

BOOK: February
10.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

She lit the smoke, her cheeks caving, and pushed the button so the window went down a crack, and she blew the smoke out the window. After a while she threw the cigarette outside into the snowbank.

Cancer sticks, she said. They watched an ambulance pull up and park, and someone got out and went into the building and the door closed behind him. After a very long time a woman came out and there was a man with her and he had his arm around her. He brought her over to a Buick and opened the door and the woman got in, and the man trotted around the front and got in himself and started the car, and they drove off.

Helen said, Okay.


Let’s go, Helen said.

You’re not going in, Louise said.

I should get home, Helen said. She blew her nose as hard as she could. Jesus, Louise, she said.

I know, honey, Louise said. You’re my baby sister.

And now they were sitting in the car outside Helen’s front door. Louise’s husband was a car salesman and they’d always driven a Cadillac because Cadillacs were big and safe, and Louise liked a luxury car.

A pickup truck came up behind them. The road was narrow because it wasn’t plowed properly, and the truck waited for them to move.

Louise watched the truck in the rearview. She narrowed her eyes.

The guy tapped his horn once.

Go around us, you bloody fool, Louise whispered. Then she pressed the button and her window rolled down and she put her hand out and waved him around. Her hand outside the window did two slow turns and she pointed with one finger. The finger looked stern and mocking in her black glove. She drew her hand back inside the car. The cold air came in and all the noises of the street. She took two fingers of her glove in her teeth and pulled it off and then she tugged off the other glove, one finger at a time.

The driver of the pickup didn’t attempt to go around them because there wasn’t enough room. Only one side of the street had been plowed. Louise opened her purse with a loud
and found the pack of cigarettes again without taking her eyes off the rearview.

Look at that fool, she said. There was a group of teenagers coming down the hill too. They had their coats open and their breath was visible in the air and they were bright-cheeked and loud. A scrawny girl at the back was full of shrill giggles. She was running to catch up with her friends and her boots slapped loudly on the pavement.

Helen knew the mail in the mailbox was a valentine from Cal. He always sent a card on Valentine’s Day. He liked to mark all the occasions with a card. He liked the card to arrive more or less on time.

The lighter popped and Louise lit her cigarette and turned her head and blew smoke out onto the street. Then she tilted the mirror to watch the guy in the truck.

He pressed his hand into the horn. He kept the horn blaring for as long as he could, and then he let up and then he pressed it again. There was traffic behind him now and he couldn’t back up. And he couldn’t go around. The kids coming down the hill had stopped and gently collided with one another, their heads all turned, trying to see what was going on.

I guess I better go on inside, Helen said. But she didn’t move. She felt like she couldn’t move. Or that she
moved, had got out of the car, had lived out the rest of her life, and had died and was dead and was back in the car, a ghost, or something without musculature or bone. Something that could never move again.

The guy was out of the truck now and he slammed his door. He was in a fury and he brought the flat of his hand down on the roof of Louise’s car and it made a hollow
. He bent down to look Louise in the eye and his face was very close. But Louise kept looking straight ahead. She took a draw on her cigarette and blew smoke at the windshield. The man might have kissed her temple if he were a couple of inches closer. His eyes were a pale watery hazel and he was bald, a pale face with high cheekbones and a weak chin, and his lips were pressed tight.

You’re blocking the goddamn road, he said.

My sister’s husband was on the
Ocean Ranger
, Louise said. We were just up identifying the body. But actually she didn’t go in.

Louise, Helen said.

The man stood back from the window.

We’re just sitting here now because we’re worn out, Louise said.

The man looked back at his truck.

I don’t even smoke, Louise told him. She was looking at the cigarette as if she didn’t know what it was. She dropped it out the window.

It’s a dirty habit, she said.

I should help you, the man said.

Oh, we’ll be fine, Louise said. Helen put her hand over Louise’s hand. Her sister was holding tight to the wheel. Louise always drove leaning forward slightly, gripping the wheel. She drove as if she required the seat belt to hold her back from something she wanted.

I’m going now, Louise, Helen said.

The man came around the front of the car and he opened Helen’s door for her and he held her by the elbow as she walked as if she were an old lady. Or as if she was leaning on him. Helen was leaning, because she had a feeling she couldn’t walk. She felt drunk. It took her a long time to find her house keys in her purse. Finally the man took the purse from her and dug out the keys and he opened the door and put the keys back, and he was standing there holding the purse. The traffic all down the road was backing up bit by bit and turning around and finding side streets. When the door was open, Louise toot-tooted and drove off.

Helen let herself into the house and it was quiet. The kids had gone to school that morning. They must have discussed it amongst themselves because they hadn’t awakened Helen. They’d let her sleep. She took off her coat and hung it on the banister and she put her boots by the heater. The heat was off in the kitchen and she turned it on high. She put on the kettle and dropped a teabag into a cup, and she drank the tea without taking out the bag because she forgot to take it out. She had taken a butter knife from the drawer and it was lying on the table next to the red envelope. There was also a phone bill and some kind of flyer from a pizza shop. Then she just opened the red envelope.

There was a card with a picture of a big bouquet of red roses on the front. The words were in gold swirling italics and they said
For My Wife on Valentine’s Day
. Inside there was a greeting-card poem that didn’t rhyme about love. The poem touched on the meaning of a life and generosity and kindness and all the good times, and on the back, in extremely small print, it said the card was a product of China. Cal had written over the top of the poem,
My Love
, and he’d signed it at the bottom,

. . . . .

Baptism, October 1982

life but it’s as though you are behind a glass partition and the sparks fly up and you cannot feel them.

You know it’s your life, because people behave as though it is. They call you by your name. Helen, come shopping. Helen, there’s a party.

Mom, where’s the peanut butter.

There are bills. You wake in the middle of the night because you hear water and there is a leak in the kitchen roof. The plaster has cracked open and water is tapping on the tiles, faster and faster.

She did not want a tree the first Christmas after Cal died but Cathy demanded a tree.

Mom, we have to have a tree.

Hit the sauce. Do not hit the sauce. Gain weight. There are two outfits in her bedroom closet and they are both black because black is slimming. Because you didn’t notice there were only two outfits and you didn’t notice what colour; thirty pounds and you didn’t notice.

Stop believing in meaning. Hurry by staying very still. There is no meaning. The unheralded velocity hidden in not moving; watch all of time flick by.
Tap, tap-tap-tap. Tap, tap-tap-tap
on the kitchen tiles. Hear the pause and the speeding up of time. She has spent many precious hours of her life helping her toddler (which one?) sort Cheerios on the high-chair tray. You fall into a kind of doze where the blue of the high chair looks more blue. It bristles with blueness. There’s a pattern in the distribution of the Cheerios over the vibrant blue and the time between each drip from the tap, and then the big spoon comes down and all the Cheerios jump and skitter.

Don’t cry in front of the children. Cry all the time. Eat meat loaf. Beg for forgiveness. Beg to go back to the wedding night or the birth of the children or an ordinary moment cooking in the kitchen or when there’s a bill to figure out, a snowfall, skating on the pond. She thinks of an afternoon when they all went skating on Hogan’s Pond. The wind blew the children and they sailed forward with their arms out.

John could skate. Johnny was in hockey. Cathy’s eyes are exactly like Cal’s, a medium blue with flecks of a pale blue and the iris rimmed in black, and the white of her eye is very white and she has his freckles—black Irish, Cal’s mother said, the O’Maras from Heart’s Content—and the trees were full of ice and the sun ran itself all over, sparking, flaring, and the wind crashed the treetops, knocking the ice off, and it shattered and rained down on the snow.

She and Cal liked the heat on bust. Sometimes they put in a fire. It was always stifling when Cal was home. He fell asleep on the couch. Shift work messed up his sleep and Helen would hear him in the early hours plugging in the kettle. He read in bed and she’d have to go to sleep with the light on. He slurped his tea and this infuriated her. Could you stop making that noise?

The youngsters want a tree: What are you thinking? Haul your sorry ass out of bed. Are you thinking you won’t have a Christmas tree?

The phone company believes you exist; they cut off the phone. How dead a phone can sound when it is dead. It’s time to shape up. It’s time to smarten up. Get up, for the loving honour of God.

There is nothing on the other end. No sound at all. No buzzing. Just silence. Has there been lightning or something? Has the wind knocked down a pole out there? They cut off the phone and Helen was there with four kids; it was a safety hazard. And she couldn’t even phone to find out what had happened; she had to go to Atlantic Place and use a quarter, only to hear them say, Oh yes, that phone’s been cut off.

Fall apart. Take note: You are falling apart. Fat cow. You are now, my God, look at you, fat as a cow. You’re listening but there’s nobody there. Are you hearing me? I’m screaming at the top of my lungs here. How long do you imagine that money will last? Try harder.

Someone said, Get a grip.

Someone said, You have children.

Pretend it all matters. See this sneaker? It matters. See this violin? See this sale on prime rib? The earnest karate instructor. The earnest art teacher. Supermarket coupons. And this is how you make a mask from papier mâché. Look at my painting, Mommy. The whisk matters. Where is the whisk?

Do you smell something? You left the pot on the stove. You turned on the pot and you walked away. One of the children has an earache. There is fever; there is heat.

Let me tell you something: There are things you don’t get over. But what matters is a tree. What matters is that you have to laugh if there is a joke. Look like you’re having fun. And you can go to your room, young lady. You can’t talk to your mother that way. I am your mother. You want a goddamn tree, I’ll get you a goddamn tree.

There’s a seventy-five-dollar reconnection fee. You received three notices.

Did I?

Absolutely; we never send out our field staff until three notices are delivered.

What did the notices say?

They said, Disconnect.

Where is her husband? Listen intently, even in your sleep, in case, just in case, he sends a message from the grave. This is what Helen expects and longs for. It’s her due.

She sleeps and sometimes she dreams him, and it is wrenching to wake up. There is no talk in these dreams, no actual words in these dreams, but she knows what he wants; he wants her to follow him.

How awful. Death has made him selfish.

Forget the children. This is what he means. Forget yourself. Come with me. Don’t you want to know what happened?

And she
want to know what happened. She wants to know so badly, but something is holding her back—the children, the roof, the phone. Is there a way to go and come back? Why can’t Cal come back?

When she wakes up she is full of guilt because she decided to stay. Something rigid and life-loving and unwilling to cave in takes over. She betrays him in this way, every single night of her life, and it’s exhausting. She denies him, she forgets him. Every time she says no to him in a dream she forgets him a little bit more.

She remembers the time he poured boiling water on his foot and the blister was as big as the palm of her hand, and how he left his sneaker unlaced and the tongue hanging out and he could not walk for a week, but she doesn’t remember if that happened before or after the children.

She will never forget his face. She won’t forget the green cotton scarf he had. Or the time he patched the canoe and there was the smell of Varathane.

To remember his voice she has to think of him speaking to her on the phone. She could feel if the phone was going to ring. She’d have a feeling, and the phone would ring and it would be him, and they’d say just a few things. About groceries, or did she want to get a babysitter and go out. Did she want to go to a movie? Helen thinks of Cal on the phone and she can hear his voice perfectly. Or she can remember his voice if she thinks of him singing.

If they were in the car she’d say, Sing me a song, and he knew Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and every single thing Leonard Cohen had written, and he mimicked whoever the singer was because he was shy about singing, even when it was just her.

Or she remembers the way he held her hand when John was born, nearly breaking every bone, and how he wasn’t afraid.

Or she remembers the times when they had to push the Lada to get the motor to catch. The guy who sold it to them saying the car didn’t have reverse. He was going to charge an extra twenty-five bucks for reverse. They’d leave the two doors open and lean in and feel the weight of the car, and then when it started to roll they had to half-jog and jump in and pull the doors shut, and the car coughed and backfired and shook and the engine came on and there was a hole in the floorboards. She could see the asphalt under her feet.

BOOK: February
10.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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