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Authors: Brenda Chapman

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In Winter's Grip

BOOK: In Winter's Grip
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Text © 2010 Brenda Chapman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, digital, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior consent of the publisher.

Cover design by Emma Dolan
Tree photo by Frank Bowick
Photo of woman by Emma Dolan

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) for our publishing activities.

RendezVous Crime
an imprint of Napoleon & Company
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Printed in Canada

14 13 12 11 10 5 4 3 2 1

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

For Ted, Lisa and Julia
with love

One night came Winter noiselessly, and leaned
Against my window-pane.

In the deep stillness of his heart convened
The ghosts of all his slain.

-Charles G.D. Roberts, 1895

































onight, I dreamed I was back in Duved Cove, dreamed I was sitting on the concrete steps in front of our house on Strathcona Road, the smell of pine and damp earth in my nostrils. The darkness thickened around me like a curtain falling. When I looked back at our house, the lights were out, and the emptiness I felt was mirrored in the drawn blinds and blackened windows. The air was still and silent like it gets when the day tucks itself in for the night. Loneliness rose in my throat and held me in its ache.

In my dream, I reach down to strike a match on the stone walk at my feet and watch its flame flicker, orange over indigo, travelling down the stalk before I wave the match like I'm shaking out a rag. I snap another red match head across the same stone, holding it in front of my eyes and blowing out the wavering flame just as I feel its heat on my fingers. I peer through the darkness, past the place where I know the pines and birch trees stand at the edge of our property, and I wait for Billy Okwari to come. Wait for Billy like we're sixteen again, knowing he'll find me in the shadows where I sit every night after supper. Fearful my dad will find me first.

I woke then, with tears on my lashes and a yearning for Billy Okwari that I could almost taste. Forty years old, and I still wanted him. I rolled onto my side toward the window and drew my knees up, curling into myself. I felt movement next to me. Sam reached over and settled his warm hand on my hip. He pulled me closer and mumbled, “You're dreaming again, Maj.”

I nodded into my pillow, biting my bottom lip, and listened to Sam's breathing deepen into long, regular pulls. Already he'd slipped back into sleep. I envied him the simple ability to fall into it like a cat. I closed my eyes and thought again of my dream. It had been so real this time. Like the other times, I'd guiltily hold it to me for the rest of the day. I'd be careful to keep Sam from learning of the dream and the emotions rising in me like waves that he'd never been able to stir. I was thankful this dream had come tonight and not the nightmare that was its twin. A day of stirred feelings was preferable to one of trying to shake off fear.

I moved away from the heat of Sam's body and slipped from under the duvet. The morning's coolness caused me to shiver in my thin cotton nightgown. A car's engine grew louder as it passed by on the street and then silence. The ashy light through the window cast enough illumination for me to make my way on bare feet to the stairs and down their length to the kitchen. Without turning on the light, I padded over to the window seat that looked out over the back garden and wrapped myself in the mohair throw lying at one end. I hoisted myself onto the corner of the seat and tucked my feet under the blanket, wrapping my arms around my legs and resting my cheek on one knee. My tangle of sleep-messed hair hung across my face like a veil. I pushed it aside and stared into the moonlit yard. Shapes of garden furniture and pots empty of flowers stood like sleeping fairies around the yard. Behind them, trees and shrubs held their dark limbs into the night sky.

Most times, when I dream of Billy, it comes out of nowhere. I won't have thought of him for ages and then, without warning, a dream so vivid I can almost believe I'm a teenager again with nobody but Billy Okwari on my mind. Back in Duved Cove with my heart open and raw. Back when I believed in things, back before my mother's death. Sometimes, it is too much. The restlessness will take me over for days afterwards until the dream's power recedes and I can return to my safe, middle-aged life with Sam. But this dream was different. This time, it hadn't come out of the depths of my subconscious. A phone call the day before from my younger brother in Duved Cove had shattered my forty-year-old peace.

I'd been at work when his call came, packing up my briefcase to go home. My last patient had mercifully cancelled, and I was thinking of the steak I would eat and the red wine I would drink in front of the six o'clock news. The phone had rung three times while I'd sorted papers and decided whether to ignore its unwelcome persistence. The work ethic had won out. I'd straightened as I picked up the receiver and lowered myself onto my chair beside the desk. “Yes? Dr. Cleary here.”

“Maja? Maj, it's Jonas.” My brother's voice, questioning and hesitant. I pictured him cupping the mouthpiece with his fingers, pacing the kitchen with his free hand wrapped in the coiled cord, twisting it into a tangle. His blue eyes would be focused on some distant point, and his blonde curls would be uncombed and lying every which way. It would have taken a lot for him to have made this call. My brother was riddled with self-doubt that kept him from spontaneous gestures.

“Of course it is,” I'd teased. “But you've never called me here before.” The implication hit me. I asked more sharply, “Is anything wrong? Are Gunnar and Claire okay?”

“It's Dad.”

I closed my eyes. I'd known this call would come one day. I was not surprised at how empty Jonas's words left me. I asked automatically, “Is he ill?”

“Yes...well, sort of. He fell off the ladder cleaning ice from the roof. Luckily, he was on his way down when he fell. Doctor Galloway thinks he may have had a heart attack.”

“That's too bad.”

“Yeah, not the best. He's in the hospital but not because he wants to be. Galloway is keeping him there to run some tests.”

Was I prepared for my father's death? Even if I never spoke to him again, it would be painful not to have the option. I didn't say anything, trying to settle all the feelings that rose to the surface with unexpected force.

“You still there, Maja?”

“Yes.” A catch in my throat made the word come out raspy.

“Will you come? It's likely nothing serious—like, I doubt he's kicking off any time soon, but you never know.” Jonas's voice trailed off.

“I'm not sure that I can. It means rearranging a lot of patients and,” I took a breath, “it would just be hard.”

“I know, but I thought you might want to come...after all this time. It would be good to see you, anyhow.”

“I'll think about it, Jonas.”


“How are you and Claire and Gunnar?” I asked, anxious not to lose this tenuous line to my brother.

“Claire's teaching first grade this year. Gunnar's in sixth grade.”

“That's right. Gunnar's twelve now, isn't he? Seems like he was just born.” I was filling in space, all the time knowing I'd let these relationships slide. I should have known more about my brother's life than I did.

“And you and Sam?”

“We're fine. Fine. Sam is thinking of retiring next year.”

“Talk about time flying,” Jonas said. “It's hard to think of him giving up his work.”

I picked up the stapler from my desk and squeezed until it hurt my hand. “I'll try to come, Jonas. That's all I can promise.”

“Might be good for you to see him. Dad's got more interest in family these days. Hardly the father you remember.” Jonas laughed harshly. I was startled by the bitterness.

“I can't imagine,” I said, and I really couldn't. Memories of my father did not include meaningful family time. A flash of repressed childhood anger shot through me with unnerving strength. “I'm surprised he didn't get you to clean the ice off his roof. Seems to me, Dad never liked to get his hands dirty.”

“I'd offered to do it on Saturday, but he said it couldn't wait until the weekend.”

“When I want something done, I want it done as soon as I ask,” I growled, a weak imitation of my father's deep voice.

“It does no good, Maja. Don't even go there.”

Suddenly, I was a child again with my brother trying to keep me from fighting our battles. Battles with my father that we'd never been able to win. I wouldn't let myself upset Jonas now. Besides, I'd given up the fighting spirit long ago. “How about I call you back tomorrow, Jonas?”

I could tell Jonas was relieved I wasn't going to pursue Dad's past trespasses, or maybe, he was just relieved the call was coming to an end. “Okay. I'll be home late afternoon, or you can leave a message with Claire. Good talking to you, Maj.”

BOOK: In Winter's Grip
9.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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