Sandy looked with dismay at the bleak, early spring grayness. The pre-dawn light seemed to add a deeper gray to the already depressing pall that dominated both the landscape and Sandy’s thoughts. Along the highway, the ditches were piled deep with dirty snow. Where the half-hearted sun reached the ground, the snow had turned to slush or to small rivulets of melt water that ran down the gradual prairie terrain and gathered at the lowest sink holes, with other gray melt water from other gray fields. The sun and wind-bleached fence posts outlining mile after mile of stubble, protruding from the last of the winter’s snow, added a severe touch to the grayness of the landscape. The barbed wire stretched tight between the fence posts seemed to tell Sandy “You’re out and you can’t get in.”
Sandy thought absently, “Perhaps I am in, and all the rest of you are out.” The thought passed.
Sandy had sworn that she would never return to rural Alberta, much less return with two children, little money and riding the Greyhound. But here she was, and she wasn’t even sure there would be anyone meeting her when the bus ride was over. The thought took her deeper into her depression.
“When I was alone in Toronto,” she thought, “It wasn’t so bad. Everyone is alone in Toronto. But out here people have friends. Perhaps Father will shake himself out of his early morning bed and come to town. Mother won’t. Mother will not be happy about us coming, although she will make a fuss over the kids. Maybe Uncle Herman will come in. We used to be good friends. But it’s been so long, and I haven’t written much. And I left on such bad terms, saying unkind things about small towns and red-neck, narrow minded farmers.”
Three-year-old Travis was asleep on his mother’s lap while seven-year-old Julie dozed fitfully under the protection of Sandy’s right arm. Neither of the children had slept well during the long night of crossing southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. Both had woken up at the bus depot in Calgary but went back to sleep after changing busses for the trip north to Innisfail. The trip from Toronto had been tediously long. Tiring almost beyond description. Sandy had never known such exhaustion.
She watched the now familiar countryside go by in the early dawn light feeling defeat and a deep sadness, deepened by her need of sleep. She soon started to recognize some of the farm homes and absently named off old familiar names, as the houses and barns passed into sight. Most of the home-sites had all-night yard lights burning. Many had lights already showing in the houses and the barns.
“Early morning country,” Sandy said to herself.
Julie stirred and sat up. Looking out the window at a well-lit farm yard she asked, “Are we nearly there Mom? Are we nearly home?”
“Just a little while yet, honey, that’s the town of Olds over there and then comes Bowden and then Innisfail.”
Julie was satisfied with the answer. She sat up straighter to try to shake off her sleepiness.
To herself Sandy said, “But is this home? When I left I said I was never coming back. I said it so many times it got to where I had left room in my mind for no other possibility. I don’t want this to be home. Toronto has become my home and I’ve grown to like it. The hustle and energy of the city drives me to want to excel. I’ll bet nothing has changed in Innisfail in the ten years I’ve been gone. I couldn’t live with that. I need more. The lights. The ideas. The habit of thinking big. It’s all so different. I just couldn’t live in a small town again.”
Sandy thought then about Uncle Herman. Uncle Herman, who has always been kind and gentle with every living creature.
“How could I have hurt Uncle Herman? Why, he and Aunt Mary thought of me as their own. Was I really that young and foolish?”
A tear trickled from the corner of Sandy’s eye and Julie noticed it.
“What’s wrong Mom”, she asked.
“I’m just tired”, Sandy lied, “It will be good to stop, whether we call it home or not.”
Sandy went off to Toronto to complete her studies nearly ten years before. She was a good student and a popular member of her school. Her natural beauty caused many young men to vie for her attention. At the university she met Walter, and in a matter of weeks they were married. She hadn’t even told her family about the wedding until two weeks later. That act drove a wedge between her and her mother as perhaps no other could have. She knew its cruelty but didn’t really understand it.
Sandy was a headstrong nineteen years old. She was ready to throw off the customs and habits of small-town Alberta. Having a big wedding was not at all important to her.
Her mother was the opposite. A lover of tradition, her thoughts didn’t extend beyond the familiar. She gave no indication over the years of having forgiven Sandy for her thoughtlessness.
After the birth of her own daughter, Sandy reflected on her actions and a glimmer of understanding began to take form.
But at least the marriage had been good. She and Walter loved each other deeply. They welcomed their two children with great hopes for their futures. Sandy had been able to complete her studies and get established in a good job. Their careers were going well, and they had saved towards the purchase of a home. If they could have written their life script, there would have been little changed.
But in a moment of carelessness, on a coal-black, bitterly cold night, amidst broken glass, torn metal, exploding gas tanks and screams that no one heard, their dream life came to an end.
There was no question that the fault had been Walter’s. The police report said he was dialing a number on his cell phone. He wandered across the centerline, and in trying to correct on the snow-covered highway he had turned into the path of an oncoming minivan. The minivan carried a family of five. Walter was killed instantly along with the mother of the family, and one of the children. The father had injuries that would keep him from ever working again.
Sandy had memorized every word of the phone call from the police. In the months since, she had repeated those words over and over to herself. “Mrs. Terblain, this is Constable Walker of the Ontario Provincial Police—–.” Sometimes at night she would dream, and then wake up hearing those words; “Mrs. Terblain, this is—-.” She had cried until there were no tears left. She cried for herself and her children, but she also cried for the other family that was torn apart. She carried considerable guilt over the other deaths, although she knew it was out of her control.
She had phoned her Mother and they cried together on the phone. A short note arrived from Uncle Herman. Uncle Herman was never much at writing, but the note was welcome, and she kept it in her purse. Most of her Toronto friends seemed to disappear. Their busy lives didn’t allow for much more than a surface friendship. Sandy found herself more alone than she ever thought possible.
The money saved with such difficulty for their dream house was soon gone to lawyer’s bills and other expenses. Within a few months her financial position was desperate.
Her own income was dependent on turning technical data into easily understandable journals. She tried to work a few times but found that she was unable to concentrate, or finish the tasks assigned to her. Finally, she picked up the phone again and talked with her father. She was thankful that it was her father that answered. She could talk to her father, but she and her mother seemed to clash no matter how hard they tried not to.
Even the day of Walter’s death, although Sandy’s mother had felt genuine sorrow, they still clashed. Sandy couldn’t even remember what the clash was over. It just seemed to be a pattern they had fallen into years ago and had never broken.
Sandy poured her heart out to her father. Finally he said the words she had been praying to hear: “Why don’t you come home for a while, honey, until you get your feet under you again. Everyone would love to have you. It’s time I taught those kids how to ride a horse anyway. Come. I want you to come. We all want you to come.”
After much assurance from her father, Sandy made the preparations for the long trip. She sold enough of her possessions to pay for the fare, and for two months storage on the remainder of her furniture.
Once, as the Greyhound was passing through some small Ontario town in the middle of a quiet night, Sandy thought of the evening that a young man had visited with them and tried to sell them life insurance. But they were so sure of themselves. The young man left, inviting them to call him if they changed their minds. Absently Sandy thought, “That was a mistake. I wonder if this trip home is a mistake too.”
Finally, the Greyhound slowed to make the turn into the overpass that would take Sandy and the children into the small town that her family had called home for three generations. Sandy sat up straighter, amazed at the changes that had come over the little town. She had pictured it as it had been. She was unprepared for the sight of shopping malls and new businesses. She hardly recognized the place.
It was only a matter of moments before the bus was wheezing to a stop and the driver opened the door, letting in a blast of early morning cold.
Julie stood up and yelled excitedly “There’s Grandma and Grandpa. And some other people too. Who are they Mom?”
Sandy stood in response to the question and bent over to glance out the window on the other side of the bus. She stared in amazement, not believing what she saw. The tears came then and flowed freely.
“Who are all those people, Mom?” Julie asked again.
Sandy had some trouble with the words. Finally, she said quietly, “That’s your family, honey. That’s your family.”
Sandy stepped off the bus into a rush of opened arms and a barrage of questions. Her father soon had Julie wrapped in his big arms and Uncle Herman tucked the baby inside his oversized winter coat. Sandy held back for just a moment but then she returned her Mother’s embrace and the two of them stood there crying and hugging. In a few minutes Sandy was able to greet her two brothers, then Herman and Mary, plus three cousins.
Sandy looked again at her family and felt a deep rush of mixed thankfulness and embarrassment. Finally, she spoke. “I never…I don’t…I never expected… It…, It’s so good to see you all. Thank you for coming.”
Sandy’s brothers picked up the suitcase and the two cardboard boxes Sandy brought with her and placed them in the back of a pickup truck.
Her father said, “Let’s get out of this cold. We’ll all go to our house for breakfast and then Sandy can get some sleep. I don’t think I have ever seen three more tired looking people.”
On the way home Sandy’s mother started asking questions, but her father came to her rescue. “Let’s leave the questions until later. There’s time,” he said slowly, “There’s time enough.”
Except for a new machinery shed and the new roof on the house, the old farm looked just as Sandy remembered it.
“Mom, Dad,” she said, barely able to hold back her feelings, “It’s good to be home. And thank you for picking us up.”
Her mother squeezed Sandy’s hand and then said, “Let’s get in the house. I’ll get breakfast on while the men start the chores. Come on Julie, you can help Grandma. I’ll bet you’re a big help.”
Sandy and the kids were soon in bed. They slept soundly for most of the day.
Sandy and her father had always been close. Sandy was the oldest of the children and her father had doted on her from the day she was born. As a little girl she went most places with her father, whether riding the big tractor doing fieldwork or driving the farm truck to town for a load of feed. Sandy wouldn’t be left behind. The men at the feed mill and the hardware store used to give her small treats and tell her father, “Jake, I believe you just may make a man out of this little girl yet, why I think she knows as much about your farm as you do.”
The teasing was good-natured, and Sandy took it that way.
Sandy was never quite sure what to expect from her mother. One day her mother would seem to be friends with the whole world and the next day she would rail endlessly over some trite issue. But there had never been any open problems until Sandy made it up in her mind to go off to school. Sandy’s mother had no experience to prepare her for the idea of her daughter seeking a different life than the one she herself had known.
She had always assumed that Sandy would marry someone from their home area and settle down to be a wife and mother. Throughout high school Sandy made her plans and expressed her wishes. And with each plan and each wish a wall was built between her and her mother.
Finally, they fought, and Sandy left. That was the only time Sandy had seen her father with tears in his eyes. Her parents had been to Toronto a few times to visit but Sandy had never been back home. Lying in her old bedroom she wondered how much, if anything, had changed.
The first days back on the farm went by quickly, with Sandy spending most of her time looking after the children or leaning on the rail fences as she watched her father and brothers work in the barns and corrals. Occasionally she took the children for a walk in the woods behind the house showing them where she played as a little girl and where to find spring crocuses. One of Sandy’s brothers helped her repair the old swing and Julie spend hours swinging under the newly budding poplar trees.
One day her father said “Come on Sandy, get in the pickup. There’s something I want you to see.”
They drove out past the cattle shed and along the newly greening pasture. Sandy opened the barbed wire fence leading to the coulee pasture and her father drove the pickup through. Starting down the winding hill on the same dirt track that she remembered from so many years ago Sandy said, “It looks the same as it always did, Dad.”
Then after a few moments “What’s out here that you want me to see?”
“Just wait a little, I think you’ll be pleased.”
The old pickup bounced over a fallen aspen tree and wallowed a bit going through a small bog. Some white-faced cattle turned and ran from the noise of the truck. Sandy felt a sense of newness as she watched the calves jump and kick their feet. She had her eyes on the cattle when her father stopped the truck and said, “What do you think?”
Sandy looked away from the cattle and turned her eyes in the direction her father was looking. There, standing in the shade of a small clump of diamond willow stood a horse. An old roan horse with a liberal sprinkling of gray, showing his age. He stood on three legs, his head down, his tail brushing at the circling flies.
Sandy looked for several moments before she said “Sammy? Is that Sammy? Dad. Is that Sammy? Oh Dad! I thought you had sold him. You even sent me the money from the sale.”
Throwing her arms around her father’s neck she hugged him and said “Dad, I love you. Who else would pay me for my horse and then keep him all these years?”
Sandy stepped out of the truck and walked slowly over to the old horse. Sammy had always been a lively animal but now, with old age upon him, Sandy was able to walk right up and touch him. She hugged his neck and stroked his face and looked happier that she had looked in months, remembering the many happy hours spent raising and grooming and riding this old horse.
Her father walked slowly up to her and said, “He’s getting old. I’m surprised he made it through the winter. I brought hay down to him on the snowmobile and he made it through just fine. Built a little shed for him just over that hill. Keeps him out of the wind.”
Sandy asked “How long since he’s been ridden? I wonder if he would let the kids ride?”
“I think he would,” answered her father, “You drive the truck back and I’ll lead the horse up to the yard. See what we can do with him.”
“You drive, Dad, I’ll bring Sammy up. I’ll enjoy the walk.”
Sandy was absorbed with the horse for the next few days. Although she didn’t ride herself, she managed to get both of the children on the old gelding’s back. He seemed to enjoy it as much as the kids did.
Sandy had very little else to do. The first day home she had offered to help in the kitchen, but her mother made it plain that her help was neither wanted nor appreciated. Sandy was hurt by the rebuff, but she kept her thought to herself.
When the fields dried up enough to get the machinery on them Sandy took a turn driving the tractor. It was a good, if temporary, tonic. But all the while Sandy was asking herself what her future was. She was wise enough to know that her time back on the farm was a short-term respite at best. She knew it was impossible to truly go back home after so long a time, and some days she longed to be back in Toronto. Other days she was not so sure. The good memories of the city, and there were many of them, were overshadowed by the horror of her loss. The self-confidence she knew for so many years had melted into a pool of misery and doubt.
Her long days of mourning and depression slowly changed into a serious quietness, forcing a maturity to develop that had not been needed when she and Walter had each other to lean on.
Herman and Mary took Sandy out to dinner a few weeks after her return. They ate and visited and then fell silent.
Finally, Herman said “Sandy, it’s good to have you back. No matter what’s happened, it’s just good to have you with us. We know you probably won’t stay. You outgrew our little town by the time you were twelve years old. But while you’re here we just want to enjoy your company and get to know those two little ones of yours.”
“Thanks, Uncle Herman. It’s good to be back. I wasn’t sure just how welcome I would be. I said some very foolish things back then. I hope you’ve forgiven me. And I may not have outgrown your little town as much as I use to think. Some days the big city seems very far away. I don’t know. I just don’t know. My life seems to be so full of confusion right now that I can’t make any decisions. I think one thing and then another. And then I walk in those woods behind the house and cry. I plan one thing and then think up a hundred reasons why it won’t work.
“I look at the children and know they need me more than ever and I try not to give in to my sadness. But I’m not always successful at that. And I feel selfish. Then I get a new idea and I’m right back where I started from, more confused than ever.”
Mary said “Sandy, you have every right to feel sad and no one will criticize you for feeling a little selfish right now. You’ve been through something that most of us have not experienced. This isn’t the time for you to be solving the problems of the rest of the world. This is the time for you to be thinking of yourself. The world’s problems will still be there when you’re ready for them again. Take your time. Take your time.”
“I appreciate your encouragement,” Sandy responded, “But I’m going to have to make some money pretty soon. I’m not sure how long Mom wants me underfoot. I’m coming into town tomorrow to look for a place to rent.”
“Don’t you be too quick about that renting idea,” said Herman, “If I know your folks, and I do, you’re welcome there for as long as you want to stay. Why, I saw your dad in town the other day with your little Julie tagging along, just the way you used to. I had to look twice just to make sure it wasn’t you, twenty years ago. Your Dad, why he was as proud as a Banty rooster, strutting around with his big hand holding Julie’s, showing her the feed mill and the hardware store. Your Dad looked twenty years younger.
“Your Ma now, she’s still got some things to learn Sandy, and maybe she’ll never learn them, but don’t you be in too big a hurry anyway. There’s no real hurry.”
After another cup of coffee, and some small talk Herman said “Sandy, I’ve never really understood what it is that you worked at. Your brothers have tried to explain it to me, but my mind has a hard time getting beyond the price of feed barley and white-faced cattle. You go slow for your old Uncle Herman and try and see if I can understand.”
“It’s really simple,” answered Sandy, “I write technical papers. Training material mostly. The designers and engineers provide me with all the technical data for operating industrial machinery and I write it all out in a way that everyone can understand. Every piece of machinery you own has come with an instruction book. Someone wrote that book. Someone just like me. That’s what I do. I write.”
Herman thought for a few moments and then said “Well now, that’s what the boys told me you did, but coming from them it didn’t seem to add up. Now tell me. Why do you have to be in Toronto to do that? Couldn’t you do that just as well from here, or from any other place?”
“I could, Uncle Herman, I just haven’t convinced myself that I want to. But maybe it’s time I tried.”
The next day Sandy phoned her old boss and was pleased to hear that she was missed and that she was still considered under contract. He promised to send out an assignment immediately.
The same day she found a little cottage to rent. It was within walking distance of the grocery store and there was a playground for the children just two blocks away. Although she had no intention of staying, and still thought of Toronto as her real home, Sandy made up her mind to stay the summer at least, and to see what happened after that.
She telephoned a friend in Toronto to ask her to look after the sale of some stored items. She arranged for the shipment of the few items that were worth the cost of the freight.
Sandy was soon settled into the little cottage and Julie was registered for school. Sandy set up her computer in one end of the oversized kitchen and found that if she restricted her work to four hours a day she could manage quite well. That wouldn’t provide a full income, but the cost of living was so much less than what she spent in Toronto that she was able to scrape by. Her periods of mourning and depression were becoming less frequent.
Bly Davis owned one of the more prosperous farms in the area, just a few miles west, across the Red Deer River. Bly was thirty-three years old, a bachelor, a graduate in Economics from the University of Alberta, and a man who had never doubted what he wanted to do with his life, and who had set about doing it the day he sold his first 4H calf.
Bly was spending a rainy June morning in his machine shop, doing service work on a seed drill. He straightened up from his hunched over position and reached into his coverall pocket for his wiping rag. As he wiped the grease from his hands, a muddy pickup truck drove too fast into the farmyard, skidded a little in the wet dirt and then drove right inside the machine shop. Before the truck had stopped moving, Frenchy Dilabough had the door open and was stepping out grinning a greeting to his neighbor. “Howdy, Bly, great day if you enjoy rain. What’ch’all doing?”
Bly looked serious, “Frenchy, you’re going to kill someone some day, the way you drive. Why you might run over kids or chickens or whatever. When you going to slow down?”
Frenchy ignored the question. “There’s no fear of hitting anything around here, old friend. You’re the most alone person I ever knew. Ain’t no kids. Ain’t no chickens. Ain’t nothing but you and that lazy dog of yours. Where is that dog? Seems a farm dog should do some barking. Why I might have come to rob the place but that no good dog wouldn’t care. I’d be doing you a favor if I ran over that dog. Then you could get you a good dog. What you need is a good dog. Some chickens would help too. Kind of make it feel like home around here. They could roost up there in the cab of that fancy tractor of yours. And kids. What you need is kids. Why don’t you get some kids? Far as that goes, maybe you could take one or two of mine. Getting crowded around our table anyway. Which two would you most like to have Bly? I’ll arrange it. Of course, the wife would want them to visit once in a while, and I may need some help with the chores, but I’m sure we could work something out.”
When Frenchy got to rambling there was no stopping him.
Bly laughed and shook his head. “Frenchy, you’re something else. I don’t have any kids because I don’t have a wife. I don’t have a wife because I don’t know any woman I want as a wife or who wants me as a husband. And you can keep your kids. I like your kids, but I don’t want any of them. And I hate chickens.”
Frenchy tried to look serious. “Trouble with you is; the reason you don’t want the kids is, they might keep you from working a little. You got to stop working all the time Bly, got to take some time to spend some of that money you got stashed away. You got to get to town and find a woman.”
Bly smiled and turned again to his work. He reached for a wrench, but Frenchy picked it up first and held it away from him.
“This can wait, neighbor, it’s going to rain for four days at least. You can fix this tomorrow. I’ve come to take you to town. Horse sale on today. We’re going to go to the auction sale and see what’s going on. Have one of Daine’s greasy burgers and seven cups of coffee. Might buy you a new dog, or a Shetland pony, which would do you as much good as that useless mutt you have. Now, come on, get out of those coveralls and let’s go. Lots of things happening in town and if you stay out here, you’ll never know what they are.”
Bly protested a little but eventually took off the greasy coveralls and climbed into the pickup. Frenchy spun the wheels on the gravel of the machine shop floor, backed onto the wet yard grass and turned the steering wheel sharply, causing the pickup to lurch sideways and then head out the driveway. The dog charged from around back of the pump house and chased the truck out of the yard, barking furiously.
“Stupid dog,” Frenchy said.
At the auction the two old friends climbed out of the pickup and ran through the pouring rain, laughing and calling out to a group of men huddled beneath the shelter of an overhang on the side of the auction market. On the wall above was a sign that announced “Daines Auction Market.” Both men knew most of the people in the crowded auction room, but Bly spoke only to a few.
Frenchy shouted and waved at anyone who caught his eye, as if he hadn’t seen them for years. Frenchy glad-handed his way through the crowd, while Bly quietly found his way into the cattle barn which, that day, was full of horses. He wandered down isle after isle of horses, seeing only a few that he felt were worth buying.
He had no intention of buying a horse, although he owned several and rode regularly. He just didn’t need another one. But there are few happenings more sociable than a small-town horse sale, so he looked at horses and talked to old friends.
Frenchy caught up to him and slapped him on the back, saying, “What do you say, friend? Beats working, huh?”
Frenchy didn’t wait for an answer, nor did he seem to need one. He appeared to be looking for someone, turning his head this way and then that way, like an owl sitting on a branch. Finally, with a look of recognition that Bly didn’t notice, Frenchy turned down an isle, pulling Bly along with him. About halfway down the isle a young woman was holding two children up on the pen railing so they could pet a particularly friendly horse.
Frenchy walked in her direction and when he was almost up to her he waived at a friend in the next isle over and hollered, “Hey, Howard, good to see you. Look who I managed to drag to town today. Old Bly. How long since you seen Bly in town Howard?”
Bly was embarrassed, as several people looked his way smiling. The young woman also looked his way.
“Bly?” she asked, “Is that really you?” Bly didn’t notice Frenchy grin and turn back the way he had come. Frenchy was soon lost in the crowd, his self-appointed task for the day completed.
Bly looked a question for just a moment and then said “Sandy? Sandy McDougal? Well I’ll be! I’d heard you were back. It’s good to see you Sandy. Say, I’m real sorry to hear about the accident. I just heard about it a short while ago, so I didn’t have a chance to send a card or anything. I guess I don’t get to town often enough to hear all the news. But it is good to see you. You’re looking fine Sandy. Are these your children?”
“This is Julie and Travis. Can you kids say hello?”
The children said hello and Bly smiled at them nervously. Bly had no experience at all with children, and he felt awkward. In fact, he felt quite awkward with Sandy too. He had dated Sandy a few times in high school but neither one took it seriously. And the difference in their ages seemed to get in the way. When he heard about her marriage, he experienced feelings that he couldn’t quite identify. He had buried himself in his studies and, later, in his work. He had dated no one since and had given little thought to it.
“It’s good to see you too, Bly.” said Sandy. “It seems a long time ago that I was Sandy McDougal. I’ve been Sandy Terblain for ten years now. And thanks for thinking about me, you know, the card and all.”
Sandy and Bly were both awkward with the meeting, and yet there was something good about it, like rediscovering an old taste from food long forgotten.
Just as Sandy started to say, “How is….” Bly started to ask, “Do you……” They both stopped and laughed nervously.
Into the silence Julie spoke. “Can we have some lunch soon Mom?”
Bly answered, “Come on, they make the best burgers in the whole world here. I don’t know how good they are for you but they sure are tasty. Will Travis let me carry him?”
Sandy assured Bly that it would be all right to carry the three-year-old and they all headed for the restaurant.
Frenchy, watching from the end of the isle, where he was laughing it up with a group of young men in high-heeled boots and big hats, could hardly contain himself. He was grinning even more than he usually did and he was congratulating himself for a good idea well carried out.
“Antoine,” he said to himself, “You ain’t the brightest person ever born in Alberta, but then again, you ain’t the dumbest neither.”
The kids sat in awe of the mound of food placed before them. Bly and Sandy ate in an awkward silence. The place was alive with activity and noise. Several people came over to the table to speak to them.
Finally, no longer able to contain himself, Frenchy made his way over. “How’s the food,” he asked. “You think I should eat here or send out for Chinese?”
With that he grinned again and walked away looking for someone else to talk to.
Sandy laughed and watched Frenchy walk away. “He’s a little obvious, but he means well. Frenchy never had a bad thought in his whole life, but he is a little obvious. I hope he hasn’t embarrassed you Bly, I know you’re good friends”
“I’m not embarrassed, Sandy. Frenchy is just Frenchy. And yes, we are good friends. You and I were good friends too at one time Sandy. I’d like it if we could still be friends. And your little people too.”
“I’d like that too, Bly,” spoke Sandy. “I’ve made contact with a few old girlfriends since I came back. A lot has changed since I went away.”
“Are you home to stay,” asked Bly.
Sandy hesitated a moment before answering. “For the summer anyway. But I’ll probably go back to Toronto. In many ways I miss the big city, and Mom and I are not getting along really well. Dad has been great and they both dote on the kids, but Mom and I started clashing years ago and we don’t seem to know how to stop, although some days it seems better.”
They talked for a while longer and parted after Bly made Sandy promise that she would bring the kids out for a horse-back ride sometime soon.
On the ride home Frenchy talked without stopping. He talked about how lonesome Bly must be and how a home really needed more than one person and a dumb dog.
“Needs a woman, and some chickens,” he said.
Bly had been silent, only listening to half of what Frenchy said. Finally, he said, “I hate chickens.”
That’s all he managed to say on the entire trip. Frenchy was still talking and grinning when he slid to a stop in front of Bly’s machine shop. Bly got out of the truck and, waving to his friend, entered the machine shop and reached for his coveralls. He held the coveralls in his hands and watched Frenchy’s truck disappear down the driveway. He made a move to pull on the coveralls when an overwhelming feeling of aloneness overcame him. Suddenly the desire to work was gone. He shut off the machine shop light, pulled the door closed and walked towards the darkened house. He was deep in thought as he washed up and took some leftover stew from the refrigerator. The house was always silent, but he seldom noticed it. Tonight, he did.
At the little cottage in town Julie said, “Who is that man, Mommy, the man at the horse sale?”
Sandy answered, “Just an old friend, honey, a very good old friend.”
Later, after Travis was in bed, Sandy and Julie were watching TV. Sandy had spoken very little since coming home from the auction.
After a while Julie spoke “Are we going back to Toronto, Mom, or can we stay here. I like it here. And Grandpa promised to get me a horse of my very own. Can we stay Mom?”
Sandy didn’t answer right away. Too much was happening. It was too soon after the accident. She was too unsure of herself. She didn’t dare to make a decision in her present frame of mind. But she felt so loved and accepted by everyone but her mother. Some days she thought even her mother was softening. And what, after all, was calling her back to Toronto?
She told herself that Bly had nothing to do with her indecision, but she didn’t really believe it. Maybe. Just maybe.
She would need some time.
“Honey,” she said to Julie, “Maybe we’ll stay for a little while. We’ll give it a little while and see what happens.”